was a medieval poem popular in 16th century Scotland, set to music and performed for James IV of Scotland
James IV was King of Scots from 11 June 1488 to his death. He is generally regarded as the most successful of the Stewart monarchs of Scotland, but his reign ended with the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Flodden Field, where he became the last monarch from not only Scotland, but also from all...
and James V of Scotland
James V was King of Scots from 9 September 1513 until his death, which followed the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss...
. The poem was also called Syr Egeir and Syr Gryme
, Eger and Grime
, the names of the two knights who fight Greysteil and whose contrasted virtues are the poem's real subject.
The name of the protagonist, a strong and agile knight, opulent and perhaps tainted with the black-arts, was adopted as a nickname for several 16th century courtiers, including Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie
Sir Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie , also known as Greysteil, was a Scottish nobleman and courtier, who served as Treasurer of Scotland, and Provost of Edinburgh.-Rise:...
, William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie
William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie , known as The Lord Ruthven between 1566 and 1581, was a son of Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven.-Life account:...
, and Alexander Montgomery, 6th Earl of Eglington.
The poem has over 2500 lines. It was published from Bishop Percy's folio manuscript in 1867 and by David Laing in 1826. The text is known only from 17th century copies. Though the epic was popular in 16th century Scotland, the original Eger and Grime
is thought to have been written in the North of England in the mid-15th century, although a Scottish origin is argued for one of its two versions.
Sir Greysteil is a knight thought invincible who lives in the Land of Doubt or the Forbidden Country. He is challenged by Sir Eger or Eager who seeks to impress a high born lady, Winglaine. Eger is defeated, and Greysteil cuts off the little finger of his right hand.
Eger is nursed by Lillias or Loosepain, who tells him his efforts are worthless if they are not reciprocated by his lady. Eger ignores this advice and decides to try again. As he is still weak from his wounds, his friend Sir Grim or Graham takes his armour and sets out, bidding farewell to Winglaine. Following the advice of a third brother knight, Pallyas, Sir Graham obtains a sword of supernatural character called 'Egeking' from Eger's aunt. Egeking was wrought far beyond the Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...
for the price of a jewel of highest quality. Armed with virtue and now the love of Lillias, he rides to the land of Doubt and overcomes Greysteil. He continues the charade, and Eger marries Winglaine. After Graham's death, when Eger tells her the truth she leaves him.
In a final episode sometimes suggested to be late addition, Eger joins the crusades, and on his return marries Lillias.
When Greysteil is close to defeat, Graham asks him to yield;
Grime sayd, "yeeld thee, Sir Gray-Steele,
for thou can never doe soe weele.
the other said, thou mayest lightlye lye;
that man I shall never see;
that man was never of woman borne,
shall make me yeelde, one man to one.
However, no man of woman born could abide the drawing of the sword Egeking. Mabel Van Dusee reviewed the relation of this epic to the Arthurian cycle and tales of the Die Zwei Brüder
type in 1963. Deanna Delmar Evans has more recently looked at the question of English or Scottish origin, noting the lack of intrinsic linguistic evidence in the surviving texts and concluding a root in cross-border ballad tradition, and the 'Huntingdon-Laing' version its Scottish branch. She also highlights possible similarities to Cumberland
Cumberland is a historic county of North West England, on the border with Scotland, from the 12th century until 1974. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 and now forms part of Cumbria....
place-names suggesting an association at some date with the western border. In the poem itself, the action is located in 'Beame', meaning Bohemia
Bohemia is a historical region in central Europe, occupying the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech Lands. It is located in the contemporary Czech Republic with its capital in Prague...
Performance, reception, and tune
Although the epic may have originally been an English composition, the oldest records of its performance and reception are Scottish. The poem was sung by two fiddlers to James IV on 17 April 1498, and a lutenist
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....
called 'Gray Steil' was given 5 shillings on 22 January 1508. The poem was mentioned twice by David Lindsay of the Mount and listed in the 1549 Complaynt of Scotland
. When Lindsay mentions the poem in his 1555 prologue, the Auld Man and Wife
or the Cupar Banns
, he has the boasting soldier Fynlaw place the Forbidden Country, which was bounded by sea and river, near Bo'ness
Bo'ness, properly Borrowstounness, is a coastal town in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It lies on a hillside on the south bank of the Firth of Forth within the Falkirk council area, north-west of Edinburgh and east of Falkirk. At the 2001 census, Bo'ness had a resident population of 13,961...
This is the sword that slew Greysteill
Nocht half a myle beyond Kinneil
Kinneil House is a historic house to the west of Bo'ness in east-central Scotland. It was once the principal seat of the Hamilton family in the east of Scotland. The house was saved from demolition in 1936 when 16th-century mural paintings were discovered, and it is now in the care of Historic...
Lindsay also compares the valour of Sir Grim to William Meldrum of Cleische and the House of the Binns
The House of the Binns is an historic house near Linlithgow in Scotland, and seat of the Dalyell family. It dates from the early 17th Century, and is currently in the care of the National Trust for Scotland....
in Squyer Meldrum.
A published edition was noted in the stock of an Edinburgh printer, Thomas Bassendyne, in 1577. An English writer, John Taylor
John Taylor was an English poet who dubbed himself "The Water Poet".-Biography:He was born in Gloucester, 24 August 1578....
the Water Poet, who came to Scotland in 1617, recorded the popularity of tales of Sir 'Degre', Sir Grime and Sir Gray Steele in Scotland as comparable with those of Bevis
Bevis of Hampton is a legendary English hero and the subject of Anglo-Norman, French, English, Venetian and other medieval metrical romances that bear his name...
Gogmagog - also Goemagot, Goemagog or Gogmagoc - was a legendary giant in British folklore. According to the 12th Century Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gogmagog was a giant inhabitant of Albion, and was thrown off a cliff during a wrestling match with Corineus who was a...
-Life:The Dictionary of National Biography gives tentative information. He may be identical with the Christopher Middleton of Cheshire who matriculated from Brasenose College, Oxford, 12 December 1580, aged 20. A clergyman of the same name, who graduated B.D. from St...
Francisco de Moraes Cabral was a Portuguese writer. Born in Braganza, he served as personal secretary to the Portuguese ambassador in France, and composed, during two voyages to Paris , a chivalric romance called Palmerin d’Angleterre , a "spin-off" of...
Sir Lancelot du Lac is one of the Knights of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend. He is the most trusted of King Arthur's knights and plays a part in many of Arthur's victories...
Tristan is one of the main characters of the Tristan and Iseult story, a Cornish hero and one of the Knights of the Round Table featuring in the Matter of Britain...
"amongst us here in England; with similar stories "filling whole volumes with the ayrie imaginations of their unknown and unmatchable worth." The oldest published version now existing was printed in Glasgow in 1669.
The musicologist John Purser
John Purser, born in 1942 in Glasgow, Scotland, is an eminent composer, musicologist, and music historian. He is also a playwright.He initiated the reconstruction which commenced in 1991 of the Iron Age Deskford Carnyx, producing a replica which was first played in 1993 by trombonist John Kenny.The...
reconstructed a tune from manuscript notes and a transcription published in Robert Chamber's Book of Days,
from the lost lute book of Robert Gordon of Straloch
Robert Gordon of Straloch was a Scottish cartographer, noted as a poet, mathematician, antiquary, and geographer, and for his collection of music for the lute.-Life:...
, c.1627-29, and it was performed for BBC Radio Scotland's Scotland's music
, broadcast in 1991.
- Basilius, H.A., 'The Rhymes in "Eger and Grime', Modern Philology, vol. 35, no. 2 (Nov., 1937), pp. 129-133.
- Caldwell, James R., Eger and Grime: a parallel-text edition of the Percy and Huntingdon Laing versions of the Romance, Harvard (1933)
- Evans, Deanna Delmar, 'Re-evaluating the case for a Scottish Eger and Grime ', in Caie, Lyall, Mapstone, Simpson, edd., The European Sun: 1993 proceedings, (2001), pp.276-287
- Hales, John W. & Furnival, Frederick J., ed., Eger and Grime: an early English romance, ed. from Bishop Percy's folio ms. about 1650 A.D, N. Trübner & co., London (1867)
- Laing, David, ed., Early Metrical Tales including the History of Sir Egeir, Sir Gryme, and Sir Gray Steill, (1826)
- Purdie, Rhiannon, & Cichon, Michael, edd., Medieval Romance, Medieval Contexts, Boydell & Brewer (2011)
- Purser, John, 'Greysteil', in Hadley Williams, Janet, ed., Stewart Style 1513-1542, Tuckwell (1996), pp.142-152.
- Van Duzee, Mabel, ed., A medieval romance of friendship: Eger and Grime, (1963)