Selected Old-Timey Words!


A small selection of old-timey words found in Le Morte D’Arthur! There are more, but these are the ones that really caught my eye.

Aventre, verb. To advance upon a goal, as though thrusting a metaphorical spear.

Bobaunce, noun. Pride and arrogance.

Brachet, noun. Old-timey speak for a female dog.

Courtelage, noun. The wall or fence enclosing a courtyard.

Departition, noun. In addition to being the process by which hard drives cease to be partitioned, means separation.

Fianuce, noun. Promise or oath. “Bertha made a fiaunce to pick Ronald up.”

Hove, verb. To loiter. “Ronald hoved around the 7-11 parking lot until Bertha picked him up.”

Mickle, adjective. Large in value. “As mickle as the bill is, I can’t pay it” means “The bill is simply too much for me.”

Orgulous, adjective. Haughty and proud, but also accomplished; justifiably arrogant. A great word we should reclaim. “In his later years, Orson Wells sure was orgulous.”

Usance, noun. Local custom. Same root word as usury; interest rates used to vary widely by region.

Venery, noun. The three arts of hunting wild animals with trained dogs, hunting wild animals with trained hawks, and sex (not with wild animals). Also known as the arts of Sir Tristram.

Yede, verb. Went. “Bertha yede to pick up Ronald.”

Bonus: a selection of idioms!

And then the king sent him plain word again, and bade him be ready and stuff him and garnish him, for within forty days he would fetch him out of the biggest castle that he hath.

I believe you well, said Lambegus, but when thou meetest with Sir Tristram thou shalt have thy hands full.

And if she send out any knights, as I suppose she will, for to joust, they shall have both their hands full.

But Sir Gawaine, said Sir Launcelot, ye shall not think that I tarry long, but sithen that ye so unknightly call me of treason, ye shall have both your hands full of me.

When she found Sir Launcelot there armed in that place she cried and wept as she had been wood.

Queen Guenever was wood wroth with Sir Launcelot.

When Sir Launcelot felt himself so hurt, he hurled up woodly, and saw the lady that had smitten him.

Then was Arthur wood wroth out of measure, when he saw his people so slain from him.

Thus Sir Tristram endured in Cornwall until he was big and strong, of the age of eighteen years.

Then Sir Tristram reposed him there till that he was amended of his sickness; and when he was big and strong they took their leave.

Thus Anglides endured years and winters, till Alisander was big and strong.

And so within three days or four Sir Launcelot was big and strong again.

A Reasonably Comprehensive List of the Major Characters in Le Morte D’Arthur for a Liberal Definition of Major


Agravaine — Introduced in Book II. Brother of Gawaine, Gaheris, Gareth, and Mordred. Minor knight who comes to prominence accusing Guenever of infidelity in Book XX, just before Launcelot kills him.

Alisander — Introduced in Book X. Slays Mark in a flash-forward in Book X.

Arthur — Introduced in Book I. King of the realm. Son of Uther and Igraine. Husband of Guenever as of Book III. Father of Borre and Mordred. Brother of Morgan le Fay, Elaine, and Margawse. Conquers Rome in Book V, then takes a narrative backseat until the civil war with Launcelot in Book XX. Dies slaying Mordred in Book XXI, unless he survives and travels to Avalon.

Balin — Introduced in Book II. Strikes the dolorous stroke in an adventure stage-managed by Merlin before dying in his brother Balan’s arms at the end of Book II.

Ban — Introduced in Book I. King of Benwick, brother of Bors and Gwenbaus. Father of Launcelot and any brothers Launcelot has.

Blamore — Introduced in Book VIII. Brother of Sir Bleoberis and cousin of Sir Launcelot. Thus probably brother of Sir Bors de Ganis?

Bleoberis — Introduced in Book VIII. Brother of Sir Blamore and cousin of Sir Launcelot. Thus probably brother of Sir Bors de Ganis?

Bors — Introduced in Book I. King of France, brother of Ban and Gwenbaus. Fights alongside Arthur in Book V. Father of Bors and any brothers Bors has.

Bors de Ganis — Mentioned several times before his formal introduction in Book XI. Son of Bors, king of France. Nephew, brother, or cousin of Sir Launcelot. Adventures in Books XI, XVI, and XVII. Wins the Quest of the Holy Grail in Book XVII, displays nebulously-defined supernatural powers in Books XVIII to XXI. Joins Launcelot’s monastic retreat in Book XXI. Brothers or cousins include Sir Bleoberis, Sir Blamore, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Lionel, and Sir Launcelot.

Breunor — Introduced in Book IX. Adventures in the first part of Book IX. Known as La Cote Male Taile, the Knight in the Ill-Fitting Suit. Not slain by Tristram in Book VIII; that’s a different knight of the same name.

Dinadan — Introduced in Book IX. Adventures with Tristram throughout Book IX and Book X. More or less replaces Lamorak as Tristram’s sidekick.

Dinas — Introduced in Book VIII. Seneschal of King Mark of Cornwall; fights alongside Tristram as he appears in Books VIII, IX, and X.

Ector de Maris — Introduced in Book VI. Sir Ector the Lesser. Sir Launcelot’s younger brother, unless he’s Launcelot’s cousin. Relatives include Bors de Ganis and Lionel.

Elaine de Blank — The Maiden of Shallot. Appears in Book XVIII as Launcelot’s possible lover. Dies in Book XVIII.

Elaine, the only other one that counts as a major character — Introduced in Book XI. Rapist, lover, and wife of Launcelot. Mother of Galahad. Daughter of Pellam. Dies of grief some time after Launcelot and Galahad abandon her in Book XII.

Evelake — Introduced in Book XIII. Centuries-old wounded king fated to live until he meets Galahad; is healed at the climax of the Grail Quest. The other Fisher King, Pellam being the first one.

Gaheris — Introduced in Book II. Brother of Gawaine, Gareth, Agravaine, and Mordred. Assists Gawaine with the murders of Pellinore and Lamorak. Slain by Launcelot in Book XX.

Galahad — Introduced in Book XI. Adventures in Books XIII and XVII. Son of Launcelot and Elaine. Holy; dies after achieving the Grail in Book XVII.

Gareth — Introduced in Book VII. Gawaine’s youngest brother. Adventures in Book VII. Slain by Launcelot in Book XX.

Gawaine — Introduced in Book III. Eldest of Arthur’s nephews, presented by Malory as the beneficiary of nepotism. Adventures in Book IV and appears in small roles throughout, until his death in battle with Mordred in Book XXI.

Gouvernail — Introduced in Book VIII. Sir Tristram’s French tutor, manservant, and irregular sidekick throughout Books VIII, IX, and X.

Gringamore — Introduced in Book VII. Brother of Linet and Lionesse.

Igraine — Introduced in Book I. Arthur’s mother. Duchess of Tintagil, then Queen of the realm. Reunites briefly with Arthur before fading out during Book I.

Isoud, the lovely — Introduced in Book VIII. Daughter of the king of Ireland. Marries Mark but loves Tristram; is game piece fought over throughout Books VIII, IX, and X.

Isoud, the white — Introduced in Book VIII. Daughter of the king of Brittany. Marries Tristram, even though he loves the lovely Isoud. Disappears abruptly from the narrative in Book IX.

Kay — Introduced in Book I. Arthur’s adoptive brother and confidante. Guest-stars in Book VI and Book IX, and makes cameo appearances throughout.

Lamorak — Mentioned several times before his formal introduction in Book VIII. Relative of Launcelot, and an excellent knight. Son of Pellinore. Adventures alongside Tristram in Books VIII, IX, and X, until his death at the hands of Gawaine and Gaheris.

Launcelot — Introduced in Book IV. Longtime lover of Guenever. The best knight. Son of Ban. Father of Galahad. Husband of Elaine. Adventures in Book VI, Book XI, Book XII, Book XIII, Book XV, Book XVII. A major character in Books XVIII to XXI. Cameo appearances throughout. Witnesses the Grail. Becomes a priest before his death in Book XXI.

Linet — Introduced in Book VII. Gareth’s companion. Lionesse’s sister.

Lionel — Introduced in Book VI. Younger brother of Sir Launcelot, with Sir Ector the Lesser, unless he and Ector are Launcelot’s cousins. Cousin of Sir Bors de Ganis, unless he’s Bors’s brother.

Lionesse — Introduced in Book VII. Gareth’s lover. Linet’s sister.

Lot — Introduced in Book I. King of the Orkneys, brother-in-law of Arthur, and his rival. Battles Arthur repeatedly in Book I and Book II, before being slain by King Pellinore. Father of Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth.

Lucius — Introduced in Book V. Emperor of Rome. Slain by Arthur in Book V.

Mador de la Porte — Minor knight who comes to prominence in Book XVIII when he accuses Guenever of murder, prompting Launcelot to rescue her from fire for the first time.

Margawse — Introduced in Book I. Arthur’s eldest half-sister on his mother’s side and his onetime lover. Wife of Lot, Queen of the Orkneys. Mother of Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, Mordred, and Gareth. Reappears in Book VII.

Marhaus — Introduced in Book III. Brother-in-law of the king of Ireland, adventures with Gawaine in Book III. Slain by Tristram in Book VIII.

Mark — Introduced in Book II. Tristram’s enemy, as such appears mainly in Books VIII, IX, and X. Marries the lovely Isoud in Book VIII. Slain by Sir Alisander in Book X. Kills Tristram sometime after Book X. Miserable and unlovable loser.

Meliagrance — Minor knight who comes to prominence in Book XIX when he abducts Guenever. Slain by Launcelot with, literally, one hand tied behind his back.

Merlin — Introduced in Book I. The wizard. Makes many prophecies and advises Arthur during the earliest years of his rule. Nimue seals him into a magic cave at the start of Book IV. He never emerges, though an extremely Merlin-like figure escorts Sir Galahad into Camelot in Book XIII.

Mister 100 — Introduced in Book I. Better known as the King with a Hundred Knights. Real name Sir Berrant le Apres. Ally of Lot’s against Arthur, and one of the best fighters among that group. Reappears later as opposition for Arthur’s knights in jousting tournaments and in a few other places.

Mordred — Introduced in Book I. Son of Arthur and Margawse. Makes cameo appearances throughout (most notably in Book IX with Breunor) until taking center stage very briefly in Book XXI, just before Arthur kills him.

Morgan le Fay — Introduced in Book I. Arthur’s youngest half-sister on his mother’s side. Queen of Gore and a powerful sorceress. Attempts to assassinate Arthur in Book IV. Abducts Launcelot in Book VI. Appears briefly in Book IX. Escorts Arthur to Avalon in Book XXI.

Nacien — Mysterious figure appearing in Books XIII through XVII. Ancestor of Launcelot, Bors, and their relations. Guides knights on the Quest of the Holy Grail. Is almost certainly intended by Malory to be a whole group of nearly-identical people.

Nero — Introduced in Book II. Brother of Rience, slain in battle alongside Lot in Book II.

Nimue — Introduced in Book III. Merlin’s protege and replacement. Saves Arthur’s bacon several times in Book IV, appears occasionally thereafter. Married to Pellas the Good, one of the best knights. With Morgan le Fay, escorts Arthur to Avalon in Book XXI.

Palomides — Mentioned several times before his formal introduction in Book VIII. Muslim knight and frenemy of Tristram; competes unsuccessfully for the love of the lovely Isoud. Adventures throughout Books VIII, IX, and X, with a finale pasted into Book XII. Joins Launcelot’s faction in Book XX. Also spelled Palamides

Pellam — Introduced in Book II. The Fisher King. Father of Elaine. Suffers the dolorous stroke from Balin in Book II. Reappears in Book XI as lord of Corbin, the home of the Grail. Appears throughout the Grail quest, culminating in Book VII. Also spelled Pelles; not to be confused with Pellas the Good. In some traditions Pelles is the son of Pellam, but Malory does not seem to think so.

Pellas the Good — Introduced in Book IV. Husband of Nimue the Sorceress. His reputation as a badass knight seems unfounded until Book XX, when he finally acts defending Guenever from Meliagrance.

Pellinore — Introduced in Book I. King and associate of Arthur. Father of Percivale, Aglovale, and Tor, among others. Slays Lot in Book I; Gawaine and Gaheris avenge their father sometime after Book IV.

Percivale — Mentioned several times before his formal introduction in Book XI. Adventures in Books XI, XIV, and XVII. Son of Pellinore. Castrates himself to defeat the Devil in Book XIV. The other Chosen Grail Knight, Galahad being the first one. Dies after coming in second on the Grail Quest, in Book XVII.

Queen of the Waste Land — Introduced in Book II. Responsible for Balin’s death in Book II. Aunt of Percivale, according to Book XIV. In some traditions the mother or wife of Pellam/Pelles.

Rience — Introduced in Book I. A rival of Arthur’s, captured by Balin in Book II.

Tor — Introduced in Book III. Illegitimate son of Pellinore. Adventures in Book III. Slain by Launcelot in Book XX.

Tristram — Mentioned several times before his formal introduction in Book VIII. Nephew of Mark, king of Cornwall, and lover of the lovely Isoud. Husband of Isoud the White. King of Brittany, until he quits. frenemy of Palomides. All-around jackass. Cameo appearance in Book VII. Adventures in Books VIII, IX, and X. Eventually slain by Mark sometimes between Book X and Book XX. Finale of adventures pasted into Book XII.

Turquine — Introduced in Book VI. Giant of a knight, slain by Launcelot in Book VI. Nevertheless participates in a tournament in Book VII.

Uther Pendragon — Introduced in Book I. King of the realm and Arthur’s father. Turns the infant Arthur over to Merlin, then dies of an illness during Book I.

Uwaine — Introduced in Book IV. Son of Morgan le Fay and Arthur’s nephew. Goes on an adventure with Gawaine in Book IV. Slain by Launcelot in Book XX.

A Brief History of the Grail and its Protectors

  1. Jesus used the Grail at the Last Supper.
  2. On the Cross, stabbed with the Spear of Destiny aka the Spear of Longinus, Jesus bled out a wound in his side. Joseph of Arimathea used the Grail to catch some of Jesus’s blood.
  3. Joseph of Arimathea relocated to Sarras, possible home of the Saracens.
  4. The pagan king of Sarras, Tolleme la Fientes, warred with Evelake, another pagan king and Tolleme’s own cousin.
  5. Joseph converted Evelake to Christianity, presenting him with a magic shield to commemorate the occasion. Galahad eventually obtains this shield. Evelake, now going by his baptismal name of Mordrains, uses the shield in battle against Tolleme and wins.
  6. Joseph relocated again, this time to the country of Logris aka Britain.
  7. The pagan king of Logris imprisoned Joseph.
  8. King Evelake invaded Britain and rescued Joseph.
  9. Joseph converted Britain to Christianity, en masse.
  10. Several decades passed.
  11. Joseph lay dying, he entrusted the magic shield to Evelake, who passed it on to Nacien, who founded the order of white monks to guard it for Galahad.
  12. Nacien and Evelake had strange adventures together involving the Sword of Strange Girdles.
  13. Roughly three hundred years went by.
  14. King Labor, descendent of Joseph of Arimathea and father of Pellam, went to war with King Hurlame. Hurlame, having lost a great battle, seized the Sword of Strange Girdles and struck a dolorous stroke against Labor.
  15. An indeterminate time passed.
  16. Pellam and a sidekick, out on a strange adventure, stumbled across the magical ship bearing the Sword of Strange Girdles. Pellam drew the sword, which compelled his companion to punish him by striking him with a dolorous stroke.
  17. An indeterminate time passed, again.
  18. Pellam’s brother Garlon attracted the ire of Sir Balin, who decapitated him in the midst of a court feast. Pellam attacked Balin to avenge his brother, but Balin picked up the Spear of Destiny and struck Pellam with a dolorous stroke.
  19. Castle Corbin, described as containing a special chapel (contents: the Grail, the Spear of Destiny, and the mummified corpse of Joseph of Arimathea) collapsed.
  20. An indeterminate time passed, again. Castle Corbin was rebuilt.
  21. Sir Launcelot, a descendant of both Evelake and Nacien (also Jesus), visited Castle Corbin, meeting Pellam and Elaine. They showed him the Grail, which had been in their family’s care for more than three hundred years.
  22. Sir Bors de Ganis, Launcelot’s cousin and likewise a descendant of both Evelake and Nacien (also Jesus), visited Castle Corbin. He too saw the Grail.
  23. A decade or so passed.
  24. Sir Percivale and Sir Ector de Maris fought a wholly unnecessary duel, and would have died of their wounds but for the Grail appearing and healing them.
  25. Sir Launcelot, mad with grief over his infidelity with Elaine, appeared in Pellam’s court as a fool.
  26. Dame Brisen, Pellam’s enchantress, placed Launcelot in a tower containing the Grail; overnight he was healed of his madness though his body remained ravaged by his ordeals.
  27. At the Pentecost feast wherein the Grail Quest was begun, the Grail was brought into Camelot under a red coverlet.
  28. At a crossroads in the wilderness, Sir Launcelot witnessed a Mystery Knight’s Grail encounter; the maimed Mystery Knight was healed, and with his squire’s permission, stole Launcelot’s horse and gear.
  29. Launcelot reached Castle Corbin after years of self-mortification and penance, and was permitted to peer into the Grail chamber. He entered the chamber with the goal of helping the old priest within, who had collapsed, but he was smote by the power of the Grail. He eventually recovered and returned to Camelot.
  30. Galahad encountered Evelake aka Mordrains, and healed him of his wounds. Evelake regained his sight as well as his youth and vitality, then died.
  31. Galahad, Percivale, Bors, and nine other knights from distant lands (Ireland, France, and Denmark) entered Castle Corbin and the Grail chamber. Evelake, Joseph of Arimathea, and Jesus appeared in turn. Galahad healed Evelake, again; this time Evelake departed to join Nacien’s order of monks.
  32. Galahad, Bors, and Percivale sailed with the Grail to Sarras, where the pagan king imprisoned them.
  33. After the king died, Galahad became the new king. He ruled in Sarras for months, then died and was borne up to heaven, alongside the Grail.
  34. Despondent, Percivale renounced his knighthood and lived as a hermit for some months until he too died. He was not borne up to heaven.
  35. Sir Bors returned home to Camelot.

A Spotter’s Guide to Nacien, the White Monk of the Grail Quest

Nacien, the white monk, either appears once in Le Morte D’Arthur or else he appears a dozen times. Malory mentions him several times but identifies him as in a scene by name only once, when Sir Gawaine and Sir Ector seek him out to interpret their dreams. However the overt stage-management of the Grail Quest being what it was, casting a single character in the recurring role of ‘old priest in white robes who advises’ makes at least as much sense to me as claiming that every “good man” or “hermit clothed as a priest” or “religious man” is a different, one-off character.

In Book XI, Sir Bors meets a strange old man wearing snakes, who sings to him about Joseph of Arimathea before telling him that his strange adventure had ended.

In Book XIII, Sir Gawaine meets the good man, who compares Gawaine unfavorably to Galahad and lectures him for hours.

In Book XIII, Sir Launcelot meets another wise hermit, also called the good man, while he’s at a personal low point; the hermit gives him a tough-love pep talk and sends him on his way with a clear heart after three days.

In Book XIV, Sir Percivale gets fished out of the ocean in yet another appearance of the good man, possibly not the same guy, an old man clothed in a surplice, in likeness of a priest, who advises him and warns him of his upcoming bout with the Devil. Later the same holy old man counsels him, once his Devil encounter is over.

In Book XV, Sir Launcelot meets an old man that was clothed all in white full richly; this white monk conjures a demon to learn the story of a different, dead white monk, and who then gives Launcelot further holy penance instructions.

In Book XV, Sir Launcelot then meets another hermit called that good man, who interprets Launcelot’s most recent prophetic dream.

In Book XVI, Sir Gawaine and Sir Ector visit Nacien, whom Malory identifies by name.

In Book XVI, Sir Bors receives guidance from a religious man riding an ass.

In Book XVI, Sir Bors meets a counterfeit holy man, clothed in religious clothing, who turns out to be an agent of the Devil leading him astray.

In Book XVII, a helpful priest in Scotland tells Sir Bors, Sir Percivale, Sir Galahad, and Sir Percivale’s sister about the dying Lord Earl Hernox and the backstory of Castle Carteloise.

In Book XVII, a hermit-priest offers the Eucharist not just to the questing knights and Magdalena, but also to four transformed animals.

In Book XVII, Sir Launcelot peers into the Grail chamber and sees a good man clothed as a priest.

A Few Thoughts on the Timeline

The first thing you have to understand about the timeline is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Brighter people than I have attempted to resolve Malory’s narrative into coherence without anyone being ridiculously young or ridiculously old, and it doesn’t much work. For his book the Great Pendragon Campaign, which I totes recommend if you have any interest in marrying Thomas Malory with tabletop roleplaying games, Greg Stafford put together a chronology that kind of hangs together, but he had to shift some of Book II into Book IV and cut out all the contradictory stuff, like Sir Colgrevance trying to heal Sir Urre in Book XIX even though he died during Sir Bors’s Grail-Quest in Book XVII, and then he dies again in Book XX. Also Stafford had to ignore all the incoherent timeline markers Malory provides, to line up Tristram’s adventures with everything else. Also Guenever and Launcelot’s adultery was discovered when they were 66 and 55 years old, respectively. Launcelot dies in bed at the age of 62, Guenever aged 73.

495 Arthur born

497 Guenever born

508 Launcelot born

512 Mordred born

514 Wedding

534 Tristram becomes active

528 Arthur conquers Roma

550 Tristram and Isoud retire to Joyous Gard

563 Adultery public

565 Arthur dead

Karl Gallagher (under the name Lugodoc) assembled the only other timeline I could find online in my literally minutes of searching. You can find it with the help of your favorite search engine I’m sure. It has the virtue of keeping everything in order and matching Launcelot’s calendrical revelations in Book XIII, but it’s got its own problems:

419 Arthur born

420 Guenever born

435 Launcelot born

438 Mordred born

439 Wedding

443 to 462 Nothing interesting happens

464 Arthur conquers Roma

465 Tristram active

470 Tristram and Isoud retire to Joyous Gard

495 Adultery public

496 Arthur dead

In this schema, Books VIII, IX, and X are squeezed into a single five-year period. Guenever and Launcelot are 75 and 60 years old, respectively, when their adultery comes out, and Guenever dies at 82 followed by Launcelot at 67. Sir Mordred is 58 when he rebels in this schema and 54 in Stafford’s, which is a pretty close match.


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