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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter

Francis Ingledew

“Exhaustively researched and insightfully theorized, Ingledew’s study proposes historical, cultural, and discursive contexts for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight more comprehensive, and more persuasive, than any hitherto attempted. It sets an exalted critical and scholarly standard against which to judge future interpretations of this complex and elegant poem.” —Robert Hanning, Columbia University

Francis Ingledew’s book makes the case that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the canonical works of medieval English literature, should be recognized as a response to King Edward III’s foundation in 1349 of the chivalric Order of the Garter. As well as providing the basis for a thorough reinterpretation of the poem’s purposes and meanings, this argument dates to the mid-fourteenth-century reign of Edward III (1327–77) a poem conventionally ascribed to the reign of Richard II (1377–99).

Through close readings of the poem and of an array of overlooked historical sources, Ingledew presents Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as a critique of Edward III’s sexual and military behavior. Ingledew’s argument takes him deep into chivalric practice in Edward’s court of the 1340s, much of it connected with the early years of war with France. Ingledew pursues the significance of sexual scandal associated with Edward, especially the rape of the Countess of Salisbury confidently imputed to him by the formidable Liégois historian Jean le Bel. At the same time that he was trying to conquer France and Scotland and preside over a court vulnerable to scandal, Edward also called on the history (as it was seen) of King Arthur and the Round Table, associating himself with Arthur’s imperial and moral authority through the founding of the Order of the Garter. In its portrayal of the Order of the Garter, Ingledew argues, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sets itself at odds with Edward’s central ethical and political projects.

A new and persuasive interpretation of a central literary text, this book will be of interest to medievalist historians as well as literary scholars.

“This is a daring and provocative book about the great but still mysterious Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ingledew boldly —and, for this reader convincingly—locates Sir Gawain in the triumphal years of Richard’s grandfather Edward III, a period when chivalric aspiration supported a series of Enlgish military triumphs and Edward was the beau ideal of both insular and continental historians, who often align him with King Arthur. He argues for a significant and quite precise connection between the poem and the chivalric ideology ritualized in the Order of the Garter and other international knightly orders. Ingledew links Gawain’s sexual temptation to a disruptive sexual scandal at the core of Edward’s court, in the king’s rumored rape of the Countess of Salisbury. More importantly, in a massively informed but supple opening chapter, Ingledew shows how this scandal figures in the romance historiography of Jean le Bel and Jean Froissart, who respectively narrate and deny the scandal. This leads in turn to the book’s claim that we should read Sir Gawain as much through the canons of its contemporary historiography (both Trojan and Arthurian) as we do in the context of twelfth and thirteenth-century romance. And behind this, even more ambitiously, is Ingledew’s often eloquent call to read both historiography and romance as closely linked manifestations of an erotics of history. No one has explored these issues with the force and focused learning Ingledew brings to them, particularly his subtle readings of Arthurian-inflected historiography from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the fifteenth century.” —Christopher Baswell, UCLA

ISBN: 978-0-268-09900-8
320 pages
Publication Year: 2006

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Francis Ingledew is professor of English at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“Francis Ingledew, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter, proposes a radical, and in many ways plausible, new reading of the poem, which relates it much more closely to the foundation of the Order of the Garter. . . . [Ingledew argues] that the poem fits much better into the heyday of Edward III, perhaps dating from the 1350s, when Edward was regarded as a model of chivalry by English and Continental historians. . . . [Ingledew positions] the poem . . . [as] a contemporary response to, and critique of, chivalry and sexual morality at Edward’s court. . . . Whether they are totally, or partially, convinced by its arguments, medieval literary scholars and historians will need to take account of this book.” — Times Literary Supplement

“Many critics situate the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the alliterative revival of the late 14th century, the reign of Richard II. Ingledew offers here an elaborate mode of correcting the date and associating the poem with the military events, chivalric aspirations, and sexual rumors of the reign of Edward III (1327-77). . . . Ambitious, detailed, and certainly directed at experts in the fields of medieval language, literature, and history.” — Choice

“Francis Ingledew’s thesis in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter is not only that the Garter motto is authorial, but that SGGK itself is a cloaked rebuke of sexual wrongdoing in Edward’s court in the 1340s. . . . A provocative and important book; it cannot be ignored.” — Arthuriana

“. . . After the indignities to which Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is sometimes subjected, Francis Ingledew’s close attention to its relationship with medieval chronicle (notably those of Froissart and Jean le Bel) and the conflicting accounts of Edward III’s alleged crime make for a very compelling and fascinating argument. There is much of value here.” — Medium Aevum

“While a number of studies have explored the importance of the inscription to a reading of the poem—including even whether it was the work of the poem’s original scribe—Francis Ingledew’s ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ and the Order of the Garter is by far the most meticulously researched and the most ambitious.” — Speculum

“What Ingledew does very successfully is to connect the story of Sir Gawain and its vision of history with contemporary historiography and chronicle accounts of Edward and his affair with the Countess of Salisbury. . . . Ingledew’s exploration of the connections between the story of the founding of the Order of the Garter and the plot of Sir Gawain is also rewarding.” — Modern Philology

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter

Francis Ingledew

 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter
Cloth Edition

“Exhaustively researched and insightfully theorized, Ingledew’s study proposes historical, cultural, and discursive contexts for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight more comprehensive, and more persuasive, than any hitherto attempted. It sets an exalted critical and scholarly standard against which to judge future interpretations of this complex and elegant poem.” —Robert Hanning, Columbia University

Francis Ingledew’s book makes the case that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the canonical works of medieval English literature, should be recognized as a response to King Edward III’s foundation in 1349 of the chivalric Order of the Garter. As well as providing the basis for a thorough reinterpretation of the poem’s purposes and meanings, this argument dates to the mid-fourteenth-century reign of Edward III (1327–77) a poem conventionally ascribed to the reign of Richard II (1377–99).

Through close readings of the poem and of an array of overlooked historical sources, Ingledew presents Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as a critique of Edward III’s sexual and military behavior. Ingledew’s argument takes him deep into chivalric practice in Edward’s court of the 1340s, much of it connected with the early years of war with France. Ingledew pursues the significance of sexual scandal associated with Edward, especially the rape of the Countess of Salisbury confidently imputed to him by the formidable Liégois historian Jean le Bel. At the same time that he was trying to conquer France and Scotland and preside over a court vulnerable to scandal, Edward also called on the history (as it was seen) of King Arthur and the Round Table, associating himself with Arthur’s imperial and moral authority through the founding of the Order of the Garter. In its portrayal of the Order of the Garter, Ingledew argues, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sets itself at odds with Edward’s central ethical and political projects.

A new and persuasive interpretation of a central literary text, this book will be of interest to medievalist historians as well as literary scholars.

“This is a daring and provocative book about the great but still mysterious Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ingledew boldly —and, for this reader convincingly—locates Sir Gawain in the triumphal years of Richard’s grandfather Edward III, a period when chivalric aspiration supported a series of Enlgish military triumphs and Edward was the beau ideal of both insular and continental historians, who often align him with King Arthur. He argues for a significant and quite precise connection between the poem and the chivalric ideology ritualized in the Order of the Garter and other international knightly orders. Ingledew links Gawain’s sexual temptation to a disruptive sexual scandal at the core of Edward’s court, in the king’s rumored rape of the Countess of Salisbury. More importantly, in a massively informed but supple opening chapter, Ingledew shows how this scandal figures in the romance historiography of Jean le Bel and Jean Froissart, who respectively narrate and deny the scandal. This leads in turn to the book’s claim that we should read Sir Gawain as much through the canons of its contemporary historiography (both Trojan and Arthurian) as we do in the context of twelfth and thirteenth-century romance. And behind this, even more ambitiously, is Ingledew’s often eloquent call to read both historiography and romance as closely linked manifestations of an erotics of history. No one has explored these issues with the force and focused learning Ingledew brings to them, particularly his subtle readings of Arthurian-inflected historiography from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the fifteenth century.” —Christopher Baswell, UCLA

ISBN: 978-0-268-09900-8

320 pages

“Francis Ingledew, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter, proposes a radical, and in many ways plausible, new reading of the poem, which relates it much more closely to the foundation of the Order of the Garter. . . . [Ingledew argues] that the poem fits much better into the heyday of Edward III, perhaps dating from the 1350s, when Edward was regarded as a model of chivalry by English and Continental historians. . . . [Ingledew positions] the poem . . . [as] a contemporary response to, and critique of, chivalry and sexual morality at Edward’s court. . . . Whether they are totally, or partially, convinced by its arguments, medieval literary scholars and historians will need to take account of this book.” — Times Literary Supplement

“Many critics situate the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the alliterative revival of the late 14th century, the reign of Richard II. Ingledew offers here an elaborate mode of correcting the date and associating the poem with the military events, chivalric aspirations, and sexual rumors of the reign of Edward III (1327-77). . . . Ambitious, detailed, and certainly directed at experts in the fields of medieval language, literature, and history.” — Choice

“Francis Ingledew’s thesis in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter is not only that the Garter motto is authorial, but that SGGK itself is a cloaked rebuke of sexual wrongdoing in Edward’s court in the 1340s. . . . A provocative and important book; it cannot be ignored.” — Arthuriana

“. . . After the indignities to which Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is sometimes subjected, Francis Ingledew’s close attention to its relationship with medieval chronicle (notably those of Froissart and Jean le Bel) and the conflicting accounts of Edward III’s alleged crime make for a very compelling and fascinating argument. There is much of value here.” — Medium Aevum

“While a number of studies have explored the importance of the inscription to a reading of the poem—including even whether it was the work of the poem’s original scribe—Francis Ingledew’s ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ and the Order of the Garter is by far the most meticulously researched and the most ambitious.” — Speculum

“What Ingledew does very successfully is to connect the story of Sir Gawain and its vision of history with contemporary historiography and chronicle accounts of Edward and his affair with the Countess of Salisbury. . . . Ingledew’s exploration of the connections between the story of the founding of the Order of the Garter and the plot of Sir Gawain is also rewarding.” — Modern Philology