The Arthurian Realm: The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: The Tragic Romance of Tristan and Isolde on September 27, 2018 by zteve t evans.

The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

The tale of Tristan and Isolde became a popular Arthurian tale during the 12th century, though it is believed to go back much further, having connections to Celtic legends. It is a tragic romance that tells of the adulterous relationship between Tristan, and Isolde, the wife of Tristan’s uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, making a classic love triangle that sooner or later must be broken by death. In many ways it mirrors the love triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere and King Arthur, though it is believed to be older. The spelling of the names and the names of some characters vary and there are many different versions, but all hold to the same basic structure and story-line. Presented here is a shortened version of their story created from the sources below.

Tristan and King Mark

Tristan was the son of the King Meliadus and Queen Isabella of Lyonesse, but sadly, his mother died giving birth to him. Meliadus loved his son greatly but remarried an evil woman who was jealous of his affections and plotted to kill the boy. Tristan had a devoted servant named Gouvernail, who becoming aware of the plot, took him over the sea to the court of the King of France where he was given sanctuary. As the years passed, Gouvernail sought a place where Tristan could complete his education and took him to the court of King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark was Tristan’s uncle and welcomed him and educated him in all of the knightly manners and fighting skills, at which he soon excelled.

Each year King Mark was obliged to pay tribute to King Argius and Queen Isolde, the rulers of Ireland. To collect this payment, they sent their strongest and most feared knight, Moraunt, the brother of Queen Isolde. Tristan went to his uncle, offering to fight Moraunt if he could be fully knighted. King Mark was very fond of Tristan and feared for him, but his nephew persisted until he reluctantly agreed, and Tristan challenged Moraunt to a duel to the death. After being wounded in the thigh, Moraunt told Tristan his sword was smeared with a deadly toxin and the only one who could save him was his sister, Queen Isolde, who was a skilled healer. In reply, Tristan struck a blow to Moraunt’s head, incapacitating him and notching his own sword in the process.

The servants of Moraunt carried him back to his sister but he died on the way. When his body was finally brought home, his sister found a splinter from Tristan’s sword embedded in his skull. Removing it, she studied it carefully and kept it.

Healing in Ireland

For Tristan, the initial wound was not that bad but the poison was now spreading through his body and the best healers could not find a cure. He decided to seek out Queen Isolde hoping she would heal him. Arriving at the Irish court, and aware of the queen’s relationship with Moraunt, he told them his name was Trantis. Not knowing his true identity, Queen Isolde agreed to heal him, and using special herbal baths and potions she gradually began restoring him to health.

The King and Queen of Ireland had a beautiful daughter, who they had named after her mother. She was known as Princess Isolde the Fair. While Tristan was there, they held a tournament and a knight named Sir Palamedes won the honors on the first day. On seeing Princess Isolde for the first time, he was so smitten he could not take his eyes off her, making no secret of his feelings. Seeing this, Tristan grew jealous and decided he would enter the competition the next day despite still not being fully fit.

In every fight he was victorious and when he fought Sir Palamedes he defeated him and was named champion. Despite Tristan’s triumph, the extraordinary physical effort caused his wound to open and he began to bleed profusely. Princess Isolde took over his care and nursed him back to health, growing to love him more and more every day.

One day while cleaning Tristan’s sword, a servant noticed that it was notched. He had been present when Queen Isolde removed the metal splinter from the head of Moraunt and took the sword to her knowing she still had the splinter. On examination, she found it fitted perfectly together and realized that this was the weapon that had killed her brother. She took the sword and the splinter to the King and, telling him of her suspicions, demanded the death penalty for Tristan.

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Cornish Folktales: The Ghost of Rosewarne

The following is a retelling of a Cornish folktale called the Ghost of Rosewarne  from  Popular Romances of the West of England collected and edited by Robert Hunt.

The Rosewarne Estate

When the De Rosewarnes ran into financial difficulties their own financial advisor, Ezekiel Grosse, gentleman and lawyer, stepped in buying the estate for a pittance. Supposedly, he wanted to save their dignity, but got himself a very good bargain in the process.  Maybe the De Rosewarnes were unlucky, but the feeling was they were more than a little naive as there was more than a hint that Ezekiel, as their financial adviser was less than honest in dealing with the transactions of their estate and it all seemed fall so neatly for him.

Nevertheless, as soon as the Rosewarnes moved out he moved in but he did not find things entirely to his liking.   At night he heard strange noises in some of the rooms and would rush in to see what was there, but there was always nothing to be seen. Sometimes he heard voices talking in the corridor but there was never anyone there. One night as he lay in bed just, as he was dozing off, he heard footsteps approach his bed. Terrified he pulled the covers over his head but he could still hear people whispering to each other. A cold and unearthly atmosphere pervaded the whole house and most people would have fled in terror, but Ezekiel was determined he would not be chased from his ill-gotten estate by fear of the supernatural.

The Ghost

One evening after dusk as he walked in his garden looking at the fullness of the moon he encountered a very old and worn man who approached him but faded into nothing and was gone in an instant.  This happened several times and always in the garden just after dusk. Ezekiel would simply ignore the apparition to begin with but as its appearances increased it also began appearing in the house and became annoying and irritating to him.

One night as Ezekiel was working late in his office the specter appeared and approached him making strange hand signals.  Startled and annoyed. Ezekiel jumped from his seat and confronted the ghost.

“What in the name of God do you want of me!”  he demanded.

“Ezekiel Grosse, I have come to show you where the Rosewarne gold is hidden.  Are you interested?” replied the ghost.

Few people who have walked the Earth have a greater interest in gold than Ezekiel Grosse, yet even he trembled in fear as he faced the ghost listening to its eerie voice.  He looked longingly at the dreadful specter desperately wanting to know the secret of the Rosewarne treasure, but hardly daring to breathe let alone speak.

The ghost stared at him through baleful eyes making Exekiel quail and then lifting a bony finger beckoned him to follow.  Through his fear, Ezekiel was rooted to the spot and could not move, even though he desperately wanted to follow.

“Come, Ezekiel Grosse,” beckoned the specter again, but Ezekiel was paralyzed.

“Gold, silver, jewels, the Rosewarne treasure, come Ezekiel, come!”  whispered the ghost.

“Where, where!” gasped Ezekiel.

“Follow and you will see the treasure of the De Rosewarnes!” but despite his lust Ezekiel was paralyzed with fear and could not move.

“Follow me, I command thee!” shrieked the ghost.

Ezekiel felt his legs move but it was not by his power but that of the ghost and he followed the specter from the house and into the grounds of the house and beyond.

The ghost led him on through the night until they reached a small dell in a distant part of the Rosewarne estate.  In the center of the dell a small cairn had been built using granite boulders and here the ghost stopped, pointed to the stones and said,

“Ezekiel Grosse I know your lust for gold for I too once had it.  I won more gold than you can imagine and it is all buried here underneath these stones.  

Ezekiel Grosse  if you would win this gold  you will glitter with the evil ones of this world and when you are at your happiest then I will visit you again.”

With that,  the ghost disappeared before the fearful, unbelieving eyes of Ezekiel Grosse who stood trembling in a strange mixture of fear and gold lust and the latter won.

“Devil or ghost , I will have the gold” he vowed, but as he spoke an eerie laugh echoed all around him.

Buried Treasure

Ezekiel returned to Rosewarne where he reflected upon all that had happened.  He decided that at the earliest possible opportunity he could go about the task unseen and pry up the stones and dig underneath.

Biding his time, but bubbling with restrained excitement, he waited a few days and then at dusk went down to the cairn carrying a large crow bar and began levering the stones up.   With this done .he dug up the soil where they had lain. The soil was soft and he soon struck something metallic but the dark was coming down fast and he could barely see. Nevertheless working by touch he cleared the soil and feeling around realized it was an urn of some kind but it was now too dark to see and he had not brought a light. He decided he would carefully recover it, replace the stones and make it look as if it had not been disturbed.

Not wanting to draw attention to himself and trying hard to suppress his excitement he waited for two more nights to pass before he returned to the cairn.  This time he was better prepared and quickly moved the stones and dug down to find the urn by the light of lamp he had brought with him. He soon uncovered the urn and found it bigger than he had thought and made of bronze and when he looked inside he saw it was full to the top with gold coins.   He tried to lift it out of the hole but it was far too heavy. Instead he filled his pockets with as many coins as he could and then reburied the urn intending to return for the rest the following night.

Returning home to Rosewarne he acted as calm and as nonchalant as he could so as not to cause his servants suspicion.  He returned to the cairn the following night and the night after that to bring back the rest of the gold pieces. He was so careful and secretive no one not even his servants had any hint of what he was up to.  Indeed, the only noticeable difference that up to yet could be discerned from his activities was that the ghost had ceased to appear and trouble him from the second he had shown the location of the treasure to Ezekiel.

Birds of a Feather

It was with great surprise that the neighbors and nearby gentry looked on in bemusement as Ezekiel spent lavishly of his secret treasure.  He made improvements to Rosewarne and filled it with expensive furniture and fittings and began to develop the estate. He even brought himself fine clothes and gave up practicing law making a great show of his new found wealth to his neighbors and associates.

Of course, people being people are attracted to wealth even though he was well known as a person of dubious, greedy and sly character. They say birds of a feather flock together and it proved to be the case at Rosewarne where a flock of gentrified scoundrels gathered around Ezekiel Grosse.  Thanks to his money he became something of a celebrity in the locality and people would speak admiringly of his long struggle as a lawyer to make it big, forgetting about all the cheating he had employed in the past.

For his part Ezekiel lived up to the part of the gentleman landowner to the full.  He even preached the value of honesty and integrity to his fawning flock and in return received the admiration that is so often given to one who is fabulously rich beyond compare.

All his old tricks and dishonesty were forgotten. and he spent lavishly on entertaining his flock.  These entertainments grew increasingly more seductive to those who counted themselves fortunate enough to be among his inner circle of friends. The Lord of Rosewarne, became the Lord of the West who everyone bowed low to – one of the chosen few – who owned more of riches of the Earth than they could ever possibly use, yet still lusted after more.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve arrived and Ezekiel gathered together his flock at Rosewarne for a very special evening he had prepare.  Their host was relishing being the center of their attention and in the kitchen his servants were all working hard for his pleasure and emulating their superiors in their attitude.  Everything was going splendidly and the guests were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Ezekiel looked on and saw the influence his wealth had and he was well pleased.

As he reflected upon his pleasure and power the atmosphere in his hall began to grow cold and everyone stopped dancing and shivered as if someone has walked over their graves.  The light became strange and they looked in each other’s faces and saw a deathly paleness and in their eyes the cloud of death.

In the middle of the hall amid the dancers a strange old man appeared with an angry demeanor.  No one saw where he came from – he was not there and then he was. The guests moved back from the specter and made a path from him to Ezekiel.  The old man stared at Ezekiel in cold, stony, silence. Ezekiel stood transfixed to the spot in terror as the terrible apparition pointed at him.  Although it was only for a minute it seemed like an age and then it was gone.

Ezekiel, freed from his paralysis and in an effort to show he was unafraid let out a roar of mocking laughter saying,

“Ha! How do you like my little Christmas play?   Scared you all didn’t it? Ha, you look like terrified rabbits!  Butler pass around the mulled wine. Come, my friends, dance on, be very merry! It was nought but a little play to entertain you all!”

His guests were deeply disconcerted with the appearance of the old man and try as he might Ezekiel couldn’t rouse them to dance, or laughter.  An overpowering atmosphere of unhomeliness remained that made everyone feel uncomfortable. One by one, they made their excuses, bid him him a false Merry Christmas and left well and truly satisfied that all was not well at Rosewarne.

Turning Point

His Christmas Eve party was a turning point in the fortunes and popularity of Ezekiel Grosse.  He put on an air of nonchalance and gaiety as if the incident had never happened but his friends had not forgotten and were convinced of its reality.   He organized more parties and balls but each and every time the same aged old man would appear silently out of nowhere in their midst and staring coldly, point at him.  He never said a word but the sheer aura of power he exuded made everyone dare not to utter a single word, or indeed, hardly breathe.

Ezekiel would make up all manner of lies  to explain the incidents. He would claim the old man was an old friend with a mental impairment that he had represented as a lawyer, who was also deaf and dumb. As he tried to explain, the old man would stand before him, point at him and laugh maniacally and joyfully in his face and then vanish leaving an extremely unpleasant atmosphere of unhomeliness.

His friends made excuses and left despite the earliness of the night and refused to attend his lavish events.  They began to avoid and shun him leaving him all alone. Whereas once he had been the center of their attention, now he was alone despite all of the finery of Rosewarne and his great wealth.  The only friend that remained to him was a man named John Call who was his faithful clerk.

The oppressive  presence of the specter increased more and more and was so strong it did not just remain in the house but followed him outside of it.  Everywhere he went the old man appeared at his side and although he could see it others saw nothing but nevertheless felt its presence.

Shunned

Ezekiel went from being the most sought after and finest gentleman in the county to being completely shunned and avoided by the gentry.   He grew pale and miserable and walked with a drooping back. He became the very personification of misery and being in terror all the time, jumped in alarm at the slightest thing.

Eventually, he began to beg his spectral companion to leave him alone.  To begin with the ghost would not listen seeming content to watch him suffer.   At last the ghost told him that he would set him free on the condition that Ezekiel hand the entire Rosewarne estate and his treasure to the person that he selected and that a proper legal contract would be drawn up to make the deal binding.    Ezekiel readily agreed but when the ghost indicated that it was John Call who would be the benefactor, he began to try to twist and get out of the contract.  The ghost would not allow him to get away with it and shortly the deal was done and John Call became the master of the Rosewarne estate and its treasure.

The Revenge of the De Rosewarnes

After Ezekiel had been legally dispossessed of the estate and treasure the ghost revealed that he was an ancestor of the Rosewarnes and it had been he who had built their fortune.  When he had been a young man he had traveled much and traded in foreign lands and accumulated much wealth, but the lust for gold had got the better of him. Instead of passing it on to his family he had hidden it before he died intending no one else to benefit.

Now he had been sent back to atone for his greed and to punish Ezekiel for fraudulently obtaining the Rosewarne estate and putting its rightful owners into poverty.  The punishment had consisted of the systematic gratifying of his greed, the pampering of his pride until he reached the highest point in society and then causing him to be shunned and avoided.  His status was systematically destroyed making a pitiful exhibition of him for all to see and the estate taken from him and given to a more deserving man.

Ezekiel did not live much longer in misery after that.   He was found dead and it was said that it was a violent death with reports of deep scratches and dark bruising all over his body.  Some even say the specter of Rosewarne was seen leading a group of demons that came and bore away the soul of Ezekiel Grosse. They heard him laugh all through that night having revenged his family and righted a wrong, though whether this freed the soul of the Ghost of Rosewarne from his own doom, we do not know.

© 05/12/2018 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 5th, 2018 zteve t evans

Sacred TextsPopular Romances of the West of England collected and edited by Robert Hunt