Bevis of Hampton Summary

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 entire section is 1361 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Billings, Anna Hunt. A Guide to the Middle English Metrical Romances. New York: Haskell House, 1965. Although it is dated in its commentary, this study contains useful details about the date of composition, authorship, and poetic qualities of Bevis of Hampton. Helpful as a starting point for further scholarly study.

Fellows, Jennifer, and Ivana Djordjevic, eds. Sir Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition. Rochester, N.Y.: D. S. Brewer, 2008. Collection of essays considering the work within its historical and literary contexts and analyzing its Anglo-Norman, Welsh, Irish, and Icelandic versions. Some of the essays examine the work’s narrative structure, representation of gender, and reception in the Renaissance. Includes a bibliography of Bevis scholarship.

Field, Rosalind. “Romance in England, 1066-1400.” In The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, edited by David Wallace. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Field’s essay includes a discussion of both the English and French versions of the Bevis romances.

Holmes, U. T. A History of Old French Literature from the Origins to 1300. New York: F. S. Crofts, 1938. Discusses Bevis of Hampton as one of several chansons de geste that were immediately popular and that influenced subsequent literature in a number of countries. Believes the work is misclassified as a romance.

Loomis, Laura Alandis Hibbard. Medieval Romance in England: A Study of the Sources and Analogues of the Non-cyclic Metrical Romances. Rev. ed. New York: Burt Franklin, 1963. Discusses the sources of Bevis of Hampton and its international flavor, achieved through the wanderings of the hero. Includes a bibliography of secondary sources.

Mehl, Dieter. The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. Describes the form of the work and traces its popularity with medieval audiences. Mehl notes that the writer achieves unity by focusing on the hero; the emphasis throughout is on action rather than ideology.

Rickard, P. Britain in Medieval French Literature, 1100-1500. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1956. Links the Continental version of Bevis of Hampton with other French works dealing with the theme of “rebellion against English domination.”