July 25, 2014

Summary of The Lais of Marie de France: Chapter 11 "Chevrefoil"

summary of marie de france's chevrefoil

This lay is about Tristram and the queen. They shared a love that was very pure, and because of it they suffered greatly. They suffered so much that they ended up dying on the same day.

There once was a king named Mark, who had a nephew named Tristram. King Mark was very angry with his nephew, because Tristram loved the queen. The king banished Tristram from the court. Tristram went back to his homeland, in South Wales. He was there for about a year, sad and lonely. Finally, he decided to go to Cornwall, because that is where the queen lived. He used the cover of the forest during the day, and only came out during the night. He stayed the night with peasants, and asked them for news of the king. Peasants told him that the king had called his barons to Tintagel, because that is where he wished to hold court at Pentecost.

The Lais of Marie de FranceTristram was very happy about this news, because he knew that the queen would have to pass him on her to Tintagel. On the appointed day of the king's journey to Tintagel, Tristram hid in the forest along the road he knew they would take. "He cut a hazel branch in half and squared it. When he had whittled the stick he wrote his name on it with his knife. If the queen, who would be on the look-out, spotted it (on an earlier occasion she had successfully observed it in this way), she would recognize her beloved's stick when she saw it" (109). He had previously sent word to her that he had been waiting a long time to see her.

As the queen rode along, she caught sight of a piece of wood, recognizing it as her beloved's work. The queen commanded everyone to stop on the pretence of needing to rest. She went into the woods and found her beloved. They were very happy to see each other and spoke to one another without a hint of awkwardness. She told him how he could get back into the king's good graces. She also told him that the king hadn't wanted to banish him, but the king felt that he had to because of the accusation against him. They parted, both weeping, and Tristram returned to South Wales to await word from his uncle.

Tristram wrote this lay for the king as per his instructions from the queen.


The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. Glyn S. Burgess. New York: Penguin, 1999.