Sir Gawain

Real Name: Gawain Gwalltafwyn, King of Gododdin (Welsh-Gwalchmai, Latin-Walganus, English-Gavin)

First Appearance: born c.491





Known Relatives:


Base of Operations:

History: Like many of the knights of the Round Table, Gawain's origins have been altered by so many historians that a true consensus on who he was may never be reached. Most seem to agree that Gawain was the eldest son of King Lot Luwddoc, who ruled either Gododdin or perhaps Orkney, and either his mother was either Morgause or Anna (the latter according to Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century). He is generally said to be the nephew of Arthur, and many sources identify his brothers Aggravain, Gaheris, and Gareth, and his half-brother Mordred. He is often mentioned in early Welsh literature as Gwalchmai, the Hawk of May.

Prior to the introduction of Lancelot into the mythology, Gawain was commonly presented in tales as the principal hero and the exemplar of courtesy and chivalry, as he is for example in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. With the addition of Lancelot he is often given a heroic, but secondary role, being overshadowed by either Lancelot or Percival. Either way, one of the most generally accepted biographies of Gawain runs thus:

Following his baptism as an infant, the child Gawain was set adrift in a casket (Moses anyone?) before eventually being found by a poor fisherman. The youthful Gawain travelled to Rome to be educated, and there he was knighted by Pope Silpicius, before returning to Britain and the court of Arthur. There he was reunited with his parents and acquired the nickname Gwalltafwyn or "hair like rain" due to his handsome appearance. He would go on to distinguish himself both in the adventure of the Green Knight and in the peculiar circumstances by which he got married.

Arthur was staying with King Urien at Caer-Ligualid (Carlisle), but one day outside the city walls he was defeated by a local knight in battle. The knight spared King Arthur's life on condition that he return a year later with the answer to a riddle: "What is it women most desire?" The wrong answer would mean his life was forfeit. As the year passed Arthur failed to discover the correct answer, and so a year later he returned to Caer-Ligualid to meet his doom. En route he encountered a hideous old hag seated at the side of the road. Listening to his tale, she said she could answer the riddle, but only if he promised to find her a husband. Arthur agreed, and was immediately told that what all women desire most is their own way! This proved to be the correct answer, and Arthur was able to return to Camelot.

Now he had the dilemma of finding someone willing to marry the hag, whose name was Ragnall. Gawain, not wishing to have the king suffer further embarrassment, volunteered, and he and Ragnall were swiftly and unceremoniously wed. But on the wedding night the old woman revealed she was actually a beautiful maiden trapped in a curse. By day she was hideous, while by night she was beautiful (what, you think the movie Shrek got the idea all by itself?), or vice versa; the choice was Gawain's. Torn by the decision, Gawain remembered King Arthur's riddle and told his wife she must have her own way and choose herself. Delighted, the lady declared that Gawain's answer had broken the spell, and from then on she remained beautiful forever.

Gawain appears to have taken on his father's kingdom upon the latter's death, though these tales of his knightly exploits abroad may indicate that he was an absentee-king for much of his reign. In later years, he is said, by some, to have abdicated in order to lead a saintly life on the Pembrokeshire Coast. Irish pirates once pursued him along the shore here until he managed to hide in a cleft in the rock. The fissure closed up to conceal Gawain and, in thanks, he established his small hermitage on the spot still known at St. Govan's head. Nearby is Huntsman's Leap, a deep chasm between the cliffs. The Devil is said to have told a man, who had sold him his soul, that he would forgo payment if the fellow could ride across this impossible jump. The canny debtor persuaded St. Govan/Gawain to bless his horse and thus made it clean across the divide!

Later in the saga the accidental death of Gawain's brothers at Sir Lancelot's hands caused Gawain, one of the mightiest warriors at court, to become the bitter enemy of his once greatest friend. He was mortally wounded in a fight with Lancelot who, it is said, lay for two nights weeping at Gawain's tomb. Before his death, Gawain repented of his bitterness towards Lancelot and forgave him.

When Gawain died, he is said to have been buried under the altar in his little chapel. He was succeeded in Gododdin by his son, Cawrdaf, though little is known of his descendants who appear to have continued to rule the kingdom for a number of generations.

Powers/Abilities: Gawain was one of the best knights of Arthur's court.

Comments: Gawain is probably most famous for his encounter with the Green Knight.

Further details on the Knights can be found here


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