Boy and the Mantle, The [Child 29]

DESCRIPTION: A boy enters King Arthur's court wearing a rich mantle. He offers the mantle to whichever woman proves virtuous (the appearance of the mantle will show who is chaste and who is not). Only one woman in the court proves virtuous.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1750 (Percy folio)
KEYWORDS: clothes infidelity magic
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Child 29, "The Boy and the Mantle" (1 text)
Hales/Furnival-BishopPercysFolioManuscript, volume II, pp. 301-311, "Boy and Mantle" (1 text)
Percy/Wheatley-ReliquesOfAncientEnglishPoetry III, pp. 3-12, "The Boy and the Mantle" (1 text); cf. pp. 315-323, "The Boy and the Mantle" (a rewritten version)
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 257-264, "The Boy and the Mantle" (1 text, from "The Charms of Melody" rather than tradition)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 113-118, "The Boy and the Mantle" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 17, "The Boy and the Mantle (A Ballad of King Arthur's Court)" (1 text)
Morgan-MedievalBallads-ChivalryRomanceAndEverydayLife, pp. 89-95, "The Boy and the Mantle" (1 text)
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #2627
ADDITIONAL: Melissa M. Furrow, _Ten Bourdes_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2013, pp. 130-140, "The Boy and the Mantle" (1 text, with a different set of emendations from Child's)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSPercyFolio}, The Percy Folio, London, British Library MS. Additional 27879, page 284

Roud #3961
cf. "The Twa Knights" [Child 268] (theme)
NOTES [1071 words]: According to Fowler, p. 158 n. 25, this is one of eighteen ballads in the Child collection found only in the Percy Folio. Furrow, p. 131, follows Fowler in thinking it goes back to the Middle Ages, although the only evidence for this are a few lines which do not rhyme properly in seventeenth century English but which would in Middle English or which would rhyme if an archaic word were used.
The custom in Arthur's court of always having an entertainment before dinner (at least on a high day) occurs also in the (somewhat earlier) "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," Stanza 4 (lines 85-106) -- a story in which, interestingly, it is the *man's* fidelity which comes under attack. We also find a variant on it in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117], where Robin and his men ask their involuntary guests for tales.
The contest over women's fidelity is common in folklore; in the Child canon, cf. e.g. "The Twa Knights" [Child 268]. Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland mentions the French fabliau Le Mantel Mautaillie (which is also the first analog mentioned in Child's notes) and von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet. GArnett-IHearAmericaSinging/Gosse, volume I, p. 300, also believe this ballad derived from a French fabliau, though they do not specify the particular tale. Lacy, p. 155, notes thematic parallels to The Romance of Sir Corneus of c. 1450. Derek Brewer, "The International Popular Comic Tale," mentions a piece called "The Cokwold's Dance" (known from an early sixteenth century copy) in which men at Arthur's court "must drink from a bugle horn, and a cuckold is bound to spill the drink. King Arthur himself spills the drink, but 'he has no gall,' though the queen is ashamed. The other cuckolds dress in scarlet and dance" (Heffernan, p. 134). "Sir Corneus" and "The Cokwold's Dance" are in fact the same tale (Furrow, p. 111), preserved exclusively in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61 (Bodleian 6922). There are edited versions in Furrow, pp. 118-124 and Shuffleton, pp. 164-170.
In Chaucer, we find in the ending of the misogynist Clerk's Tale mention (p. 152, line 1188 in Chaucer/Benson) of the Chichevache, a creature which supposedly ate only virtuous women and hence was always close to starvation (Barbes/Riches, p. 41); the creature was also mentioned by Lydgate. The name is French, meaning "lean cow" (Rossignol, p. 82).
Lupack, p. 121, notes that Le Mantel has the ladies of Arthur's court try the mantle, "and it fits all of them poorly though in different ways -- ways which are sometimes related, in fairly crude jokes, to the manner of the woman's infidelity."
Even Malory's Morte D'Arthur has a drinking horn that reveals unchaste women, which Morgan le Faye intended for Arthur but ended up with King Mark of Cornwall (Furrow, p. 112).
Child gives extensive Arthurian parallels to what happens in this ballad, but these are so exhaustingly long that he perhaps gives too little attention to other tests of fidelity. The Bible, for instance, offers a rather dreadful example, in which a man who suspected his wife of infidelity (but not a wife who suspected her husband) could haul her before a priest, force her to drink the "water of bitterness" (which was carefully prepared to have a high probability of being full of dangerous bacteria), and wait to see if she got sick. If she did, she was guilty of adultery; if she didn't, she was clear (Numbers 5:11-31). So, apparently, you could fool around all you wanted as long as you had a strong immune system.
And it is true that Arthurian versions are common; Ernest Hoepffner wrote (reprinted on p. 356 of Brengle), "Though stories of chastity tests are spread far and wide, and though the Lay du Cor was not derived directly from the Welsh, it may be significant that all medieval versions of the horn test are set in Arthur's banquet hall, and that the hero bears a name renowned in Wales and Brittany."
A possible source for the early Welsh versions of this tale is found in the Mabinogion, in the tale of Math son of Mathonwy. In the middle of the tale, for complicated reasons, Math and his colleagues need to find a virgin. Gwydion suggests Arianrhod daughter of Don, Math's niece. Math asks if she is a virgin, and she answers "I do not know but that I am" (in the translation of Mabinogion/Gantz, p. 106. The incident is a little less than half way through the story). Math sets his wand on the ground and orders her to step over it to test her. In doing so, she "drops" a child, whom Math arranges to be baptized under the name Dylan; he would later be killed by one of his uncles. Curiously, the rest of the story never seems to come out, but the parallel to the tests of fidelity is clear.
For other examples of a magic device to test fidelity, see the notes to "Bonny Bee Hom" [Child 92].
The theme of the "wise child," who speaks up and challenges authority, is also very old. Moore, p. 88, notes a version in the Thousand and One Nights, as well as a Mongolian analog. And the reason that Moore brings it up is that these tales are similar to the story of Susanna in the deuterocanonical/apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel. In that tale, the wise child is Daniel, and he is actually a young man, but it has been speculated that the tale of Daniel's intervention might be based on a "wise child" story. Since the tale of Susanna is known to have been in existence in the second century C.E., and probably was in existence in the first century B.C.E., and the folktale on which it is based is presumably even older, the "wide child" motif must be very ancient indeed -- although it is not absolutely clear that this ballad is derived from any of those other versions.
Incidentally, the Sir Craddoccke (Caradoc) of this song makes a brief appearance in Gilbert and Sullivan: In The Pirates of Penzance, the Modern Major General tells us that "I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's"; one suspects Gilbert got it from Percy (the notes in Gilbert/Sullivan/Bradley, p. 118, appear to contain a reference to this song). Nor is this the only use of the idea in more modern writings; Lupack, pp. 123-124, mentions several retellings of the tale, including an 1844 anonymous American text, "A Romaunt of the Tyme of Gud Kynge Arthur Done Into English from an Authentic Version" which claimed no author except "a Daughter of Eve," plus Stephen Jackson's 1903 "The Magic Mantle." - RBW
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