Celtic Mythology 14, Gawain and Dame Ragnell: Original Arthurian Legends from Wales

Celtic Myth 14, Gawain and Dame Ragnell: Original Arthurian Legends from Wales

One of the most humorous Arthurian tales features an unlikely marriage between the courteous knight Gawain and Dame Ragnell, a Celtic style hag of a type commonly referred to as a “Loathly Lady”. Geoffrey Chaucer adapted the story for The Wife of Bath’s Tale.

One day a hideous hag came to Camelot in order to test the honor of King Arthur’s Court. The hag challenged the king to engage in a riddle test. He would have one year to answer her riddle, but if he failed to do so he must grant her one wish. Arthur agreed to the challenge and the hag asked her question. “What does a woman want most?”

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.Arthur’s knights spent the next year scouring every corner of his kingdom for the answer to the riddle, but without success. Finally, when the hag returned for her answer, Arthur admitted his failure and, true to his word, asked her to state her wish. “I ask for a husband,” said the hag. Arthur felt honor-bound to marry her himself. His knights were horrified and Gawain, the supreme example of chivalry and champion of women, stepped forward to offer himself as the hag’s bridegroom in his uncle’s place. Arthur readily agreed and Gawain and the hag were married.

On his wedding night, Gawain approached his marriage bed with some reluctance, only to find that his wife had become a beautiful woman, Ragnell, instead of a hag. Ragnell explained to her husband that she was under a curse. “I can be beautiful either by night or by day but not both. The rest of the time I must appear as the hideous hag that you saw. I give you the choice whether to have me beautiful when we are alone at night or when we must face your friends and the whole court during the day.”

Gawain gave the matter considerable thought but simply could not make up his mind. In the end he declared,”You must do whatever you will!” Ragnell was delighted. “Your answer has broken the curse,” she exclaimed joyfully, “and now I can remain beautiful all the time. For that was the solution to my riddle. What a woman wants most is her own way.






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