Bevis of Hampton Summary

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The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The bold spirit of Bevis is first displayed when he is only seven years old. His father was treacherously murdered, and now his mother and the assassin are engaged in shameless revelry. Bursting into the castle hall, Bevis cudgels his mother’s paramour, Sir Murdour, into senselessness. The mother, fearing future outbursts, sells Bevis into slavery.

Honor, not slavery, awaits the courageous youth. Taken by slave merchants from England to a Saracen court, Bevis so impresses the king, Ermyn, that the monarch makes the youth a chamberlain. After holding this position for eight uneventful years, Bevis begins a series of remarkable exploits. The first is his single-handed slaughter of sixty Saracen warriors who make the error of deriding his Christianity. Next, he attacks and kills a man-eating boar and, to retain his trophy, beats out the brains of twelve keepers of the forest. These successes of the fifteen-year-old boy lead Ermyn to place him in charge of a small troop that defends the kingdom against the aggression of Bradmond, a rival king. Bevis, astride his incomparable horse Arundel and wielding his good sword, Morglay, lays waste to the enemy forces. To his later misfortune, however, he spares Bradmond’s life.

Bevis’s valor does not escape the attention of Josyan, the king’s daughter. In fact, this fair young girl becomes so enamored of him that she agrees to renounce her religion and become a Christian if he will marry her. Hitherto reluctant, Bevis, under this condition, consents. When news of his daughter’s apostasy reaches Ermyn, the incensed king determines to get rid of her corrupter. To accomplish this task, he sends Bevis unarmed to the court of Bradmond with a sealed letter requesting the bearer’s execution. Only after a considerable number of men are slain is Bevis subdued and thrown into a dungeon.

For seven long years Bevis remains in the dungeon, and during that time he grows in Christian virtue. At last divine intercession, as a reward for his piety, and his own initiative lead to an escape in which Bevis kills two jailers and a dozen grooms. Immediately, he heads for Jerusalem to confess his sins and give thanks to God. Killing a sturdy knight and a thirty-foot giant on the way, he reaches the Holy City and there receives absolution, accompanied by an injunction never to marry a woman who is not a virgin.

Then, in order to be reunited with Josyan, he starts toward Ermony, but on the way he learns that the maid, during his imprisonment, married King Inor of Mounbraunt. To have one last look at his beloved, he dresses himself as a palmer and goes to Mounbraunt. There Josyan, discovering his true identity, implores him to take her away. He at first refuses; but when she reveals that, though seven years married, she has by magic avoided defloration, he relents.

After they escape from the city by trickery, Bevis turns his thoughts toward returning to England and avenging his father’s death. Several years before he learned that Saber, his uncle, was waging war against Sir Murdour and needed his nephew’s help to gain the victory. Imprisonment, however, detained Bevis, and he was to encounter other obstacles before he again saw England.

Killing two lions with one blow and subduing a thirty-foot giant, Ascapard, who then becomes his page, the indomitable Bevis, accompanied by his mistress, makes his way to the coast. In a ship taken from the Saracens, they set sail for Germany. In Cologne, Josyan is at last baptized. Near this city, Bevis has the most perilous adventure of his life. A burning dragon is his opponent on this occasion. Only after suffering a broken rib, being knocked unconscious, and falling into a miraculous healing well is Bevis able to defeat his enemy.

Leaving Ascapard to protect Josyan and taking with him a hundred men, Bevis finally sails to England. Posing as a French knight, he tricks Sir Murdour, who is now his stepfather, into providing him with arms and horses. These supplies he then...

(The entire section is 1,702 words.)