eminent medieval knight Gahmuret forced to marry Queen Herzeloyde

According to Christian doctrine well-established by the twelfth century, the freely given consent of both spouses is necessary for a valid Christian marriage. Men thus cannot be treated merely as passive objects in women’s marital schemes. Nonetheless, in medieval Europe the eminent knight Gahmuret was forced to marry Herzeloyde, Queen of Waleis. That actually was a fortunate event for him. Herzeloyde was a warm and gracious wife who loved her husband, provided him with material resources, and respected his independent interests.

No Stepford wife, Herzeloyde was a strong, independent woman such as is seldom seen since medieval times. While still a virgin, she resolved to marry. She desired to marry a valiant knight, one extremely skilled and indefatigable with his stiff spear. To get such a husband, she arranged a high-profile tournament of knights near her castle in Kanvoleis. She declared that the knight who performed best in that tournament would receive a large tract of land from her, and she would marry him.

Men historically have been forced to engage in arduous quests to earn love from their desired women. Herzeloyde’s tournament was different. Medieval knights regularly participated in tournaments for training and sport. Herzeloyde’s tournament rule was as if a woman leader of the Olympic Committee declared that she would marry the man who won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling. Being forced to marry wouldn’t be a prize that competing men necessarily wanted. But what leader has ever pondered what men want?

After performing much violence against men in Herzeloyde’s tournament, Gahmuret was universally acclaimed as the best knight. Herzeloyde thus intended to marry him. But he was already married outside the Christian church to Queen Belacane of Zazamanc in northeast Africa. As a stay-at-home husband to his beautiful black sugar Belacane in her castle in Zazamanc’s capital Patelamunt, Gahmuret inexplicably had begun to yearn for additional knightly action:

But the black woman to him
was dearer than his own life.
No woman had a better figure.
That lady’s heart never neglected
to give him good companionship,
and womanly bearing alongside true chastity.

{ Doch was im daz swarze wîp
lieber dan sîn selbes lîp.
ez enwart nie wîp geschicket baz:
der frouwen herze nie vergaz,
im enfüere ein werdiu volge mite,
an rehter kiusche wîplich site. }

Acting like a jerk, Gahmuret left his wife Belacane at Patelamunt to seek other knightly deeds. Now with Herzeloyde insisting on marrying him as the winner of her tournament, Gahmuret grieved for Belacane:

No, I have no choice but to grieve.
I long for my queen.
I left behind in Patelamunt
one for whom my heart is wounded.
In her pure nature she’s a sweet woman.
Her noble chastity calls to my mind
sorrow for love of her.
She gave me her people and her lands.
Lady Belacane deprived me
of manly joy as a knight,
yet it is very manly
for a man to be ashamed of inconstancy in love.
The lady’s restrictions so tethered me down
that I could find no knightly deeds.
Then I thought that knight-craft
would free me from discontent’s power.
Some knightly deeds I have performed here.
Now many an ignorant man
believes that her blackness drove me away.
But I would rather look upon that than the sun.
Thought of her womanly honor causes me sorrow.
She is the emblem on nobility’s shield.

{ nein, ich muoz bî riwen sîn:
ich sen mich nâch der künegîn.
ich liez ze Pâtelamunt
dâ von mir ist mîn herze wunt,
in reiner art ein süeze wîp.
ir werdiu kiusche mir den lîp
nâch ir minne jâmers mant.
si gap mir liute unde lant.
mich tuot frô Belakâne
manlîcher freuden âne:
ez ist doch vil manlich,
swer minnen wankes schamet sich.
der frouwen huote mich ûf pant,
daz ich niht rîterschefte vant:
dô wânde ich daz mich rîterschaft
næm von ungemüetes kraft.
der hân ich hie ein teil getân.
nu wænt manc ungewisser man
daz mich ir swerze jagte dane:
die sah ich für die sunnen ane.
ir wîplich prîs mir füeget leit:
si ist [ein] bukel ob der werdekeit. }

Medieval romance doesn’t tell simplistic, black-and-white tales. Medieval romance encompasses the full turmoil of human feelings.

Belacane entertains Gahmuret at her castle

Ampflise, the Queen of France, also ardently sought to marry Gahmuret. She had been Gahmuret’s friend from childhood and supported him materially as an adult. Showing no respect for Herzeloyde’s tournament rule, Ampflise sent her chaplain and three young princes to Gahmuret at Kanvoleis. There they gave him an elegant ring and letter from her:

To you I send love and greeting,
I who have known no cure for my sorrow
since I first felt love for you.
Your love is the lock and fetter
of my heart and its joy.
Your love puts me to death.
If your love estranges itself from me,
then love will cause me great distress.
Return, and accept at my hand
crown, scepter, and land.

{ dir enbiutet minne unde gruoz
mîn lîp, dem nie wart kumbers buoz
sît ich dîner minne enphant.
dîn minne ist slôz unde bant
mîns herzen unt des fröude.
dîn minne tuot mich töude.
sol mir dîn minne verren,
sô muoz mir minne werren.
Kum wider, und nim von mîner hant
krône, zepter unde ein lant. }

Queen Ampflise regarded herself as more worthy of Gahmuret’s love than was Queen Herzeloyde. She insisted that Gahmuret was hers:

You are to be my knight
in the land of Waleis,
at its capital of Kanvoleis.
I don’t care whether the queen sees that.
She cannot do me much harm.
I’m more beautiful and more powerful,
and know better how, with greater charm,
to receive love and to give love.
If you would live in accord with noble love,
then take my crown as love’s reward.

{ du solt ouch mîn ritter sîn
ime lande ze Wâleis
vor der houbtstat ze Kanvoleis.
ine ruoche obez diu küngin siht:
ez mac mir vil geschaden niht.
ich bin schœner unde rîcher,
unde kan och minneclîcher
minne enphâhn und minne gebn.
wiltu nâch werder minne lebn,
sô hab dir mîne krône
nâch minne ze lône. }

When Herzeloyde declared her possession of Gahmuret as the winner of her tournament, Ampflise’s chaplain leaped to his feet and vigorously protested:

He said, “No! By rights he belongs to
my lady, who has sent me to this land
in pursuit of his love.
She lives consumed in love for him.
Upon him her love has a vested claim.
She has a right to keep hold on him,
because she cherishes him more than do all other women.”

{ er sprach “niht. in sol ze rehte hân
mîn frouwe, diu mich in diz lant
nâch sîner minne hât gesant.
diu lebt nâch im ins lîbes zer:
ir minne hât an im gewer.
diu sol behalden sînen lîp:
wan sist im holt für elliu wîp.” }

This was the sort of complex dispute that could only be solved in love courts. Herzeloyde warned Gahmuret:

The noble Frenchwoman
urges her love upon you.
Now honor all women by me,
and let me have my rights.
Remain here until I have the court verdict.
Otherwise, you’ll put me to shame.

{ iu biutet vaste ir minne
diu werde Franzoysinne.
nu êret an mir elliu wîp,
und lât ze rehte mînen lîp.
sît hie unz ich mîn reht genem:
ir lâzet anders mich in schem.}

Of course Gahmuret had to honor all women within medieval gynocentrism. While lawsuits are always regrettable, at least this case wasn’t an impoverishing, soul-crushing divorce proceeding.

Herzeloyde and Gahmuret

Medieval love courts didn’t enrich lawyers, and they ruled quickly. The court considering Herzeloyde’s love case issued its verdict near noon on the very next day:

Whichever knight has here buckled on his helmet,
having come here in pursuit of knight-craft,
if he has won the prize here,
the queen shall have him.

{ swelch ritter helm hie ûf gebant,
der her nâch rîterschaft ist komn,
hât er den prîs hie genomn,
den sol diu küneginne hân.}

Queen Herzeloyde thus won a decisive legal victory. She graciously said to Gahmuret:

Sir, now you are mine.
I shall show you love-service to win your favor,
and make you a participant in such joy
that you shall be merry after your grief.

{ hêr, nu sît ir mîn.
ich tuon iu dienst nâch hulden schîn,
und füege iu sölher fröuden teil,
daz ir nâch jâmer werdet geil.}

Gahmuret responded prudently:

Lady, if I am to live with you,
then let me be free of surveillance.
If grief’s power ever leaves me,
I would gladly do knightly deeds.
If you do not allow me to go tourneying,
then I am still capable of that old trick,
as when I ran away from my former wife,
whom I also won by knightly deeds.
When she tethered me, keeping me from battle,
I abandoned her people and lands.

{ frowe, sol ich mit iu genesen,
sô lât mich âne huote wesen.
wan verlæt mich immer jâmers kraft,
sô tæt ich gerne rîterschaft.
lât ir niht turnieren mich,
sô kan ich noch den alten slich,
als dô ich mînem wîbe entran,
die ich ouch mit rîterschaft gewan.
dô si mich ûf von strîte bant,
ich liez ir liute unde lant. }

Herzeloyde in turn promised not to rule too harshly over her husband:

She said, “Sir, set your own standards.
I’ll let you have your own way in plenty.”

{ si sprach “hêr, nemt iu selbe ein zil:
ich lâz iu iwers willen vil.” }

Beneath claims of men’s nominal authority, women dominate men. In medieval Europe, women dominated men graciously, with appreciation for men’s gender-distinctive and fully human being. Juno was never so indulgent with Jove.

Herzeloyde and Gahmuret begot a son named Parzival. He grew up to be a man who didn’t serve women by engaging in violence against men. Unlike the previous Grail King Anfortas, Parzival was never castrated. Parzival was exclusively devoted to his wife Condwiramurs, whom he regarded as the most beautiful and loyal woman in the world. She allowed him to spend considerable time away from home. Moreover, she wasn’t furious with him for not being home at the birth of their twins.

Parzival became the new King of the Holy Grail. Gahmuret’s forced marriage to Herzeloyde was a happy fault. It produced a worthy guardian of the most sacred earthly totem, the Holy Grail.

* * * * *

Read more:


The above story is from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Arthurian romance Parzival, Books 1 & 2. Wolfram wrote Parzival in Middle High German probably in the first decade of the thirteenth century. Overall, Wolfram’s Parzival drew upon Chrétien de Troyes’s late twelfth-century Old French verse romance Perceval or the Story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal}. In Chrétien’s Perceval, Perceval / Parzival’s mother (Herzeloyde) is an important figure, while his father (Gahmuret) is only mentioned and never appears personally. Neither Herzeloyde nor Gahmuret is named in Perceval.

Wolfram shows subtle concern for systemic violence against men. One scholar courageously observed:

in the events described in the first three Books alone, Wolfram’s audience learns of the chivlric deaths of Parzival’s great grandfahter Addanz, his grandfather Gandin, his uncle Galoes, his father Gahmuret, Schionatulander, Ither, Schentaflurs, Lascoyt, and Gurzgri, to name only some of the most significant knightly fatalities … The weight given to chivalric death and its effects, particularly in the adventures of the title hero and the events pertaining to them, suggests that this problem, the existential limit of chivalry, is one of the central concerns of Wolfram’s text… .

Hasty (1999) p. 226. Most literary authors have scarcely considered how to end epic violence against men.

Some readers see Gahmuret as a father archetype:

Constancy was a highly prized virtue in the Middle Ages and the sheer amount of times it is mentioned in Von Eschenbach’s epic poem in relation to all of the archetypes would make one think it was the highest virtue of them all. The first time we encounter this virtue however, is in its more challenging aspect through the figure of our hero Parzival’s father, Gahmuret. … Though Gahmuret wears the persona of the steadfast and constant hero through his armour and shield he cannot escape the conflicting inner self, the restless spirit that yearns for continual movement and adventure despite courting its reckless dangers and lack of familial responsibility.

Such analysis doesn’t take seriously Gahmuret being forced to marry Herzeloyde. For a more morally complex view of Gahmuret and Herzeloyde, Christoph (1984) and Gentry (1999). The true father archetype seems to me closer to Valerius Maximus’s alien father.

With their female gaze, women found Gahmuret sexually attractive. For an analysis of the female gaze in Parzival, Summers (2013), Chapter 5. Id. strains to link the female gaze to patriarchy and apparently concludes with a call for women to masturbate:

The primary purpose of containing and regulating the gaze of women, as seen in the examples of conduct and romance literature, was to prevent women from taking charge of their own sexuality; this emancipation, of course, is the main goal of the feminist movement.

Summers (2013) p. 125.

For the quotes above from Parzival, the Middle High German text is from Lachmann (1833 / 1891). The English translation (modified slightly) is from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).

The quotes above from Parzival, by section.verse in Book 1 (sections 1-58) and Book 2 (sections 58-116) are: 54.21-6 (But the black woman to him…), 90.17-91.8 (No, I have no choice but to grieve…), 76.23-77.2 (To you I send love and greeting…), 76.23-77.2 (You are to be my knight…), 87.10-16 (He said, “No! By rights he belongs to…), 88.25-30 (The noble Frenchwoman…), 96.2-5 (Whichever knight has here buckled on his helmet…), 96.7-10 (Sir, now you are mine…), 96.25-97.4 (Lady, if I am to live with you…), 97.5-6 (She said, “Sir, set your own standards…).

[images] (1) Queen Belacane entertains Gahmuret at her castle in Zazamanc. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Painting made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 27r in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1part 2). (2) Queen Herzeloyde, Gahmuret, and two serving-ladies. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Detail from folio 62v similarly in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339.


Christoph, Siegfried. 1984. “Gahmuret, Herzeloyde, and Parzival’s ‹erbe›.” Colloquia Germanica. 17 (3-4): 200-219.

Edwards, Cyril W., trans. 2004. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival and Titurel. Oxford World’s Classics (2006 edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Gentry, Francis G. 1999. “Gahmuret and Herzeloyde: Gone but not Forgotten.” Pp. 3-11 in Hasty (1999b).

Hasty, Will. 1999a. “At the Limits of Chivalry in Wolfram’s Parzival: An Arthurian Perspective.” Pp. 223-241 in Hasty (1999b).

Hasty, Will, ed. 1999b. A Companion to Wolfram’s Parzival. Columbia, SC: Camden House.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Lachmann, Karl, ed. 1833. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lieder, Parzival, Titurel, Willehalm. Berlin: G. Reimer. 5th edition (1891)alternate presentation.

Summers, Sandra Lindemann. 2013. Ogling Ladies: Scopophilia in Medieval German Literature. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

Weston, Jessie L., trans. 1894. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Knightly Epic. 2 vol. London: D. Nutt. Vol. 1Vol. 2.

Zeydel, Edwin H., with Bayard Quincy Morgan, trans. 1951. The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translated into English Verse with Introduction, Notes, Connecting Summaries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Alternate online presentation.

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