Cheshire Dialect

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The Cheshire dialect has existed for centuries and is distinct from standard British English. The works of the 14th century poets; such as, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and others (Pearl, Patience, and Purity) supposed to be by the Gawain poet are written in this dialect. According to some, this also includes the religious poem St. Erkenwald, which dates from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.

Perhaps unsurprisingly many of the surviving commonplace dialect words in Cheshire are farming terms, particularly those relating to dairy farming, such as "shippen" (or shippon) from the Old English scypen (cow-shed, stall). It is not unusual to hear "kyne" for cattle. However Gawain is a much older text and contains words and even alphabetic characters which have long since passed out of commonplace usage, although they were at the time representative of the "standard" form of English as written in Cheshire.

As well as "Gawain" another route into the local language of Cheshire are the Chester Mystery Plays, of which the written texts which survive appear to date from the 16th century. It is worth noting how much more modern the language of the Mystery Plays appears just 200 years after the date of "Gawain". Comparing Gawain with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales shows how modern English is much more clearly derived from the southern English of Chaucer than the northern English of Gawain. A major influence on the standardisation of English was the development of printing (see: Bookseller) which appears to have arrived in Chester around 1600 and was associated with the family of Randle Holme a herald-painter of the city.

Dialect Features

Elements of dialect include pronunciation, word use and grammar, It can be influenced by socio-liguistics and may vary over a very short geographical distance and show changes on relatively short time-scales. Consider the "r" in "arm". In the 1950's how this was pronounced showed a sudden change across a line from Chester to London, with a few islands of a strongly sounded "r" in Lancashire and on Tyneside. By 2010 the stronger pronunciation had become confined to a few areas in the west-country and had become a parody of the "country bumpkin" or pirate accent, although Tolkien himself used the trilled "r" in readings of "Mordor" from Lord of the Rings, rather that saying "Mawdaw". This is the explanation for the way the word is spoken in the Peter Jackson film adaptation.

On longer time scales even the letters used may change. Gawain is written in a latin text but retains the runic character thorn (þ), which would be later on replaced by "th". It also has some sounds which no longer exist in English, such as "ȝ" which sounds like the "ch" in "loch". Many of the peculiar dialect features of a text can help locate it in time and place and possibly assist in the interpretation of the meaning and purpose of what was written. Unfortunately, dialect has come to be associated with educational standard, which is one reason why variations have been erroded. Other reasons date back to the introduction of printing and the development of standardised spelling, and more recently mass-communication such as radio, film and television.


What Middle and Old English sounded like is by definition speculative as only written records survive. In many cases spelling was phonetic, with a work being written as it sounded to the person writing the text down: and this can lead to some interesting spellings. In Dublin for example there is a Church of St Werburgh, but the street on which it stands is "Sráid Bharbra", which actually sounds quite like "Werburgh", as the Irish alphabet does not include "w" and the "gh" combination is not used. "Pure" Middle English had no silent letters, so "listen" was "list-en" and "warned" was "warn-ed". "Knight" would sound something like "Knicht" rather than "nite". Perhaos the most pronounced difference between Middle English and Modern English was brought about by the "Great Vowel Shift". In 1400 "meet" would sound like "mayt", and "meat" like "mert", whereaa "mate" would sound like "mart".

The opening lines of Gawain and the Green Knight are written:

  • "Siþen þe sege and þe assaut, watz sesed at Troye, Þe borȝ brittened and brent, to brondez and askez, Þe tulk þat þe trammes, of tresoun þer wroȝt, Watz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erthe."
One map of the linguistic variations in England. The "Trap-Bath" boundary cuts across the middle of the country and is shown in bold. "Gawain" is written with a word-set, grammar and rhyming pronunciation which appears to place it in the West- or North-West Midlands. These sub-regions can be split into even smaller areas.

Matters are complicated in that the final "e" was sometimes silent and sometimes modified an earlier vowel. However, as Gawain is a rhyming text this enables the silent and spoken letters to be identified: one reason why it is such an important text. The sound of the opening lines (using a non-phonetic notation) would be something like:

  • "Sithen the say-ger and the ass-out, watz say-sed at Tro-yer, the bor-gh brit-ten-ed and brent, to bron-dez and as-kez, the tulk that the tram-mez, of tree-zown there raw-te, watz tree-ed for his tretch-er-ee-er, the troo-est on erth-er" ("soon as the seige and assualt, was ceased at Troy, the borough battered and burnt, to brands and ashes, the trooper that the tricks, of treason there wrought, was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth,")

Many other changes to the Cheshire dialect have occured since Gawain was written, even after the development of what is recognisibly more modern English.

The "Trap-Bath Split" is probably the best-known dialectical variant in the UK. The Cheshire accent does not have this feature. Unlike in the south of England, words like bath, laugh, etc. usually have the same vowel as words like cat, trap, man. The divide between the two dialect regions runs across the Midlands from the Wash to the Welsh border, passing to the south of the cities of Birmingham and Leicester. The letter "a" has however changed somewhat in some dilects over a longer time period. In Gawain we find "mony" instead of "many". Although this latter spelling can be found as a feature in other northern dialects' texts it is an example of how an overlapping patchwork of individual linguistic features can be used to localise a document.

English frequently replaces the "l" after a vowel with the softer "w", such that "balk" becomes "bawk" and "talk" becomes "tawk". The Chester accent does not take this to the extreme seen in Lancashire where "talk" may be pronounced "torque", but it would change "old" to "owd", "cold" to "cowd" and "always" to "aw'ways".

The "Foot-Strut Split" is also absent from the Cheshire dialect accent, although it is found south of a line from the Severn to the Wash. To the north of this line "foot" sounds like "fut", and rhymes with "cut".

In the Cheshire dialect the "h" is often dropped. An example being "Cestrian" rather than "Chestrian". "Headland", uncultivated area left at the end of a furrow where the plough turns, becomes "adland". "Hounds" become "Ainds".

A lack of "ng fusion" is highly characteristic of the Cheshire and Lancashire accents. "Kingly" and "singly" rhyme in Cheshire but not in London. This is also seen in the various ways in which the word "tongue" is spoken (as "tong"/"tung" with or without the "n" and "g" being clearly separated). This occurs in Gawain, where the extra g/k sound is added.

Puting all this together, the sound of some words such as "five" or "find" can be used to localise speech quite accurately. In Gawain the rhyme stucture is one element which localises the text in time and place.

Word Use

The vast majority of the words from the extract quoted above are of Germanic origin (Anglo-Saxon). All these evolved directly from Old English up to Middle English. These incule: borȜ (OE "burg"), brittened (OE "brytnian"), brondez (OE "brond"), and trewest (OE "trew"). There is occoasional a bit of French influence, with "quile" being used instead of "while". We also find words of Norse origin "brent" (burnt: from the ON "brenna") and "askes" (ashes: from the ON "aska"). "Bonkes" which occurs later in Gawain is from the Old Norse "banki", meaning bank. Borrowings from French include the words for "seige" and "assault", "treason" and "treachery". It is not that the Anglo Saxons did not have these forms of warfare (they beleagered and attacked) or politics (they betrayed and tricked), merely that the French term became commonplace.


One of the difficult things for the native English speaker to grasp when trying to learn other languages (such as Latin) is the use of infexions at the end of words. Modern English has lost many of these and even by the time Gawain was written they had started to go, which also helps to date and localise the text.


J.R.R. Tolkien did not write it, despite what the cover says. Note the pentagram on Gawain's shield.

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is a late 14th-century Middle English chivalric romance. The author is unknown; the title was given centuries later. Various clues suggest that the anonymous poet of Sir Gawain came from the vicinity of Wirral. The poem itself is written in the medieval dialect spoken in Cheshire, and it is noticeable that the topography of Arthur’s kingdom is vague until it reaches North Wales and Wirral. In 1925, J.R.R. Tolkien and colleague E.V. Gordon published a scholarly edition of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". The book, featuring a text in Middle English with extensive scholarly notes, is frequently confused with the translation into Modern English that Tolkien prepared alongside those of "Pearl" and "Sir Orfeo", later in his life. Many editions of the later work, first published in 1975, shortly after his death, list Tolkien on the cover as author rather than translator. It is therefore also amusingly common to see Sir Gawain erroneously ascribed to Tolkien as the original author.

Gawain appears in other works and is one of the most pervasive figures of the Arthurian tradition. He appears in nearly all of the major Arthurian stories, medieval and modern, and plays a central role in many. There are, in fact, more medieval romances devoted to Gawain's exploits than to those of any other of Arthur's knights, including Lancelot, Tristan, and Galahad. In Chrétien de Troyess' Perceval, for example, more than half of the narrative focuses on Gawain rather than the title character, and in Thomas Malory, Gawain figures prominently throughout, and plays key supporting roles in both the Grail quest and in the Morte Arthur. Gawain's importance in the Arthurian world stems in part from his familial relationship to Arthur, which is established in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (written about 1136). Though Gawain may in fact appear in earlier Arthurian tales — he is sometimes associated with Gwalchmai, a figure who appears in Culwch and Olwen and some of the Welsh Triads — it is in Monmouth's History that Gawain is first presented as the son of Loth of Lothian and Arthur's sister Anna.

The "Green Knight" is one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its plot combining two types of folk motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight appears before Arthur's court during a Christmas feast, holding a bough of holly in one hand and a battle axe in the other. Despite "disclaim of war" (a supposed Christmas truce), the knight issues a challenge: he will allow one man to strike him once with his axe, with the condition that he gets to return the blow the next year. At first, Arthur accepts the challenge, but Gawain takes his place and decapitates the Green Knight, who retrieves his head, reattaches it and tells Gawain to meet him at the "Green Chapel" at the stipulated time. Unfortunately, the Green Knight does not mention where the Green Chapel is, placing Gawain in the awkward situation that he must not only search for it's location but expect to die there when he arrives. This is a clever narative ploy on the part of the author: Gawain faces a "doom" which he must actively seek out to preserve his honour at the cost of his life.

The Green Man is a recurring theme in literature. Sometimes the figures of Robin Hood and Peter Pan are associated with a Green Man, as is that of the Green Knight in Gawain. The tradition of the Green Man being carved on to Christian churches exists across Europe, including examples such as the Seven Green Men of Nicosia carved into the facade of the thirteenth century St Nicholas Church in Cyprus. There are early Romanesque foliate heads in 11th century Templar churches in Jerusalem. Some tentatively suggest that the symbol may have originated in Asia Minor and been brought to Europe by travelling stone carvers. There is certainly some early middle eastern evidence for sources which have a "Green Man" being dismembered and reborn: such as Khidr and Osiris.

The story later contains an account of Gawain's journey in search of the "Green Chapel", and includes some recognisable places:

  • alle þe iles of anglesay on lyft half he haldez and farez ouer þe fordez by þe forlondez ouer at þe holy hede til he hade eft bonk in þe wyldrenesse of wyrale wonde þer bot lyte þat auþer god oþer gome wyth goud hert louied (All the isles of Anglesey on his left side he holds, And fares over the ford by the forelands, Over by the Holy Head, until he again had the shore. In the wilderness of Wirral dwelt there but few, That either God or man with good heart loved.)

Several scholars have attempted to find a real-world correspondence for Gawain's journey to the Green Chapel. The Anglesey islands, for example, are mentioned in the poem as being to his left, which implies he is travelling north towards the North Wales coast. He then appears to pass eastwards along the coastline, crossing estuaries as he comes to them. In line 700, Gawain is said to pass the "Holy Head", believed by many scholars to be either Holywell or (less likely) the Cistercian abbey of Poulton in Pulford. Holywell is associated with the beheading of Saint Winifred. As the story goes, Winifred was a virgin who was beheaded by a local leader after she refused his sexual advances. Her uncle, Saint Beuno, put her head back in place and healed the wound, leaving only a white scar. The parallels between this story and Gawain's make this area a likely candidate for the journey. Chester has its own version of the Winifred legend see: Shoemaker's Row.

Possible remains of a stone circle at Overchurch. Despite being a potentially important site of archaeology the site has been much altered. The only surviving stone appears to be that at the "seven-o-clock" position. The positioning of the original stones, as marked on the OS map, is highly unlikely to be due to random chance given that all the stones marked save one fall on a circle with the church at its center and many are close to the corners of a hexagon. The position of the stone which is not on the circle is at the midpoint of a sextile chord and opposite the point where the single surviving stone is to be found.

Gawain is in part a moral tale which places a large emphasis on the number five, and for this reason Gawain bears the pentacle as his arms. In fact, while the symbol is much older, Gawain is the first work which contains the word "pentacle". At the time that the poem was written, the pentacle/pentagram would not have been associated with "witchcraft" to a normal audience. The unnamed poet credits the symbol's origin to King Solomon, and explains that each of the five interconnected points represents a virtue tied to a group of five. These include the virtues of a theoretical ideal of knighthood which are generosity, friendship, chastity, chivalry, and piety. A similar symbol is the "Jerusalem Cross" (also known as the "five-fold cross").

The middle section of Gawain contains a series of scenes which alternate between the beautiful Lady Bertilak's attempts to seduce Gawain and her husband's hunting exploits. The seduction scene is a common motif often referred to as the "Bed Test". Three times the lady attempts to seduce Gawain, who resists (just barely), and during each of these three episodes her husband is out hunting. She offers Gawain three gilfs, including a glove and a gold ring with a red stone. In the end she gives him her "lacy girdle", which he agrees to wear and which is generally taken to be a reference to the Garter Knights. It is in this middle section that the "exchange of winnings" motif appears. Bertilak proposes that while Gawain is staying at his castle they should exchange any "winnings". Bertilak goes out hunting and Gawain struggles to resist the charms of Lady Bertilak, eventually winning a "comely kiss" (comlyly kysses). This Gawain duly gives back to her husband.

At the end of the poem it is revealed that the entire Green Knight plot has been instigated by Gawain's aunt, Morgan le Fay who takes an appearance of an elderly woman (contrasting from the beautiful Lady Bertilak), as a test for Arthur and his knights and to frighten Guinevere to death. Morgan's importance to this particular narrative has been disputed and called a deus ex machina or simply an artistic device to further connect Gawain's episode to the Arthurian legend, but some regard her as a central character and the driving force of the plot. Opinions are also divided regarding Morgan's intentions and whether she succeeds or fails, and how the story's shape-shifting and enigmatic Morgan might be, or might be not, also Lady Bertilak herself. What the poem leaves unsaid, but what the medieval audience may well have discussed, would be the alternative ending in which Gawain does give in to the Lady's charms. and the consequences which might follow.

Gawain then returns to Arthur's court after many adventures which are not recounted. He tells the court his story and shows them the "lacy girdle", which he considers a symbol of his "shame" that he did not fully live up to his knightly code. The king then declares that all the other knights and ladies of the court should wear the same, echoing one story of how the "garter" worn by the Garter Knights came about. The order was actually founded about 1348 under Edward III, although legends which arose later dated it variously to the time of Richard I and others. In the poem Arthur seems to completely miss the point that the girdle was a magical gift from the "evil" sorceress Morgan le Fay.

Only one copy of "Gawain" has survived, known as "Cotton Nero A.x.", following a naming system used by one of its owners, the sixteenth century Robert Bruce Cotton, a collector of Medieval English texts. Before the Gawain manuscript came into Cotton's possession, it was in the library of Henry Savile in Yorkshire. Little is known about its previous ownership, and until 1824, when the manuscript was introduced to the academic community in a second edition of Thomas Warton's History edited by Richard Price, it was almost entirely unknown. Even then, the Gawain poem was not published in its entirety until 1839. Whether the document was ever widely known has not been determined with any certainty. However a later poem, simply known as "The Greene Knight" appears to have been intended for popular recitation. This poem mentions the Delamere Forest (line 87) and the Green Knight is here Sir Bredbeddle (line 40). The later poem mentions very few other places but does include a reference to "Hutton Castle". Hutton is a fairly common place name and could even be a mis-reading of Halton or Hooton, which again provides a link to the locality of Cheshire.

Few would suggest that Gawain is actual history and that the "travel" section depicts an actual journey. One explanation for its topographical references is that the author knew of places that had a reputation for mystery, danger or a mythical association and wove these into the tale. This may reflect the writer's available pallet or have simply been to entertain an audience which was familiar with the area. It is possible that the surviving version of Gawain is a "local" version in which geographical refereneces have been inserted by a copyist. The poem also has long descriptions of armour, spending over 70 lines on it. The armour as described is that of the 14th century and features many articles of "plate" which at the time the poem was written was at the cutting edge of military technology.

Perhaps the popularity of Gawain owes much to the translation by Tolkien and the popularity of the translator's other works. Another reason for the popularity of the poem is that, like much Arthurian legend, it seems to refer to real places and people have often sought to identify the location of these places.

Arrowe Park

The "Wilderness of Wirral" is one of the few locations of which the Gawain author has a specific description, with a reference to its possibly pagan inhabitants and/or outlaws. Gawain seems to reach it by a ford, which is possibly a reference to a ford across the River Dee at Shotwick, an area much altered by reclamation of land from the estuary. The suggestion in Gawain that the inhibitants of Wirral are, in effect, godless outlaws has been the subject of much debate. Some read it as a condemnation, others as simply an illustration of the strange landscape through which Gawain travels. As discussed below, there is some evidence of "paganism" but there were also political events in the Wirral at the time that the poem was written which may have given rise to this comment.

One source of evidence for "paganism" in Wirral is to be found in place names and field names containing the element "harrow". This possibly derives from the Old English "hearg", meaning a pagan shrine, related to the Old Norse hörg. A harrowe hay is recorded in Heswall in 1293, while a group "harrow" field names is to be found not far from the apocryphal Thor’s Stone (often wrongly assumed to be the origin of Thurstaston). Possibly the best known occurence is "Arrowe Park", with its possible connections to the Gawain legend through nearby Woodchurch and perhaps more importantly, the mysterious stone circles of Overchurch. A ninth century stone found at Overchurch by the Victorians was for many years in the Grosvenor Museum.

The Overchurch Runestone inscription. This 9thC. stone bears what for many years was the only runic inscription from Cheshire and reads: FOLCÆ ARÆRDON BECUN .... GEBIDDATH FOTE ÆTHELMUND - "The folk raised a memorial .. Pray for Æthelmund."

Human activity in the Wirral is truly ancient, with with excavations near Greasby Copse between 1987 and 1990 by archaeologists from the Museum of Liverpool revealing a substantial settlement with stone floor, pits, large working hollows and a fireplace together with over 12,000 early stone tools. At that time, the site was dated at 7000 BC or earlier and ascribed to the Mesolithic period. Later work dates the site to around 8,500 BC.

Greasby was an Anglo Saxon settlement, as witnessed by the form of the name, Gravesberie, in the Domesday Book. Gravesberie derives from the Old English gräf (a grove) and burh (a fortified place). This has been recorded as meaning "grove farm/settlement", or alternatively, a "stronghold or fortification by a grove, trench, canal or wood". The name was Scandinavianised to Greasby, under the influence of Old Norse speakers in Wirral (gräf and býr, with býr meaning "settlement" or "farmstead"). The story of Viking settlement in Wirral is told elsewhere on this site, but it seems likely that at the time Gawain was written the area might well have been considered somewhat mysterious, especially if remains which would now be considered archaeology were still visible and if traces of the Vikings (such as family names) were still apparent.

The "stone circle" at Overchurch may be a co-incidence of the placement of rocks, and unfortunately the site has been so disturbed by building such that the remains of any potential circle have largely been lost. Statistically, that three points will lie on a circle is a trivial certainty (unless they lie on a straight line). For four points the odds are much lower. At Overchurch five of the six stones marked on the OS map lie very close to a circle, with four being close to the sextile angles and the fifth being the midpoint of a sextile chord. The site of the original church, where the runic memorial stone pictured was found is close to the center of the circle. Nothing is known of the person whom the rune-stone commemorates. Æthelmund is an Old English masculine name formed from the elements æðel "noble" and mund "protection". The name had been widely used in England since the eighth century, but by the end of the tenth century was perhaps becoming both less common and geographically restricted to western Mercia. The Domesday Book places a cluster of the occurances of the name in southern Shropshire with an outlier on Merseyside and there was a notable Æthelmund who was Ealdorman of Hwicce in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. He was killed in 802 at the Battle of Kempsford by Ealdorman Weohstan and the levies of West Saxon Wiltshire while seemingly opposing the succession of Ecgbert, but there is nothing substantial to connect him with the Overchurch Stone.

Other writers echo the poor reputation of the Wirral and the circumstances surrounding its disafforestation as a "royal" hunting preserve (it was technically comital, being a part of the Palatinate). This would have been near contempory with the creation of Gawain. In many ways it would appear that the social upheaval and feuding which was prevalent in the Wirral at the time is what prompts mention of the Wirral in the terms used. Mortimer states that:

  • "the citizens of Chester suffered so much from the proximity of the Forest and the shelter it afforded to the freebooters, that they complained to Edward, the Black Prince"

The charter changing the status of the Wirral dates from 1376 and documents associated with it contain references to the suspension of church services:

  • "..particularly the destruction and desolation of the Holy parish Churches in the said Forest by which the divine services therein accustomed have been withdrawn (sustrez), by reason of the said beasts and also other regulations of the said Forest,.."

One writer (R. Stuart-Brown) notes that is not proof of an irreligious population, but might have simply reflected the problems of upkeep when the "Forest Law" forebade the felling of trees. However there is plenty of evidence of lawlessness: in 1386 a special commission was issued (ccr 9 & 10 Ric II M2(8)) to arrest malefactors in the Wirral "the king having heard of great terror caused by these bands of armed men". In 1392 following "great complaints having reached the King of their evil doings" more commissioners were appointed. Of course, we have only one side of the story from these documents and a clear case can be made out that the disafforestation was part of an attempt at tax reform. A consequnce of the disafforestation was a significant change in the status of the Stanleys who were hereditary "Master Foresters". This led to a dispute between William Stanley and Ranulf Roter (the Abbot of Chester's steward). In 1361 Ranulf Roter took a ten-year lease on the manor of Frodsham, and was soon involved in a murder case. In September 1362 Ranulf (or his son) was himself murdered on his estate at Kingsley. Other Stanley's were involved in more murders.



Gawain's journey does not end on the Wirral, although no certain placenames are mentioned after his departure from there. One perculiar reversal is "Ganysmore" which is a field in the parish of Frodsham that the "Survey of English Place-Names" attributes as "Gawain's marsh", "from the ME pers.n. Gawain, Gawayne and mōr (marsh)". Many have sought to find a correspondence between the endpoint of Gawain's journey and a real-world location. Clearly a reasonable starting point are the places which are identified with some clarity, the most plain of which is the Wirral. A difficulty however is that little guidance is given as to where the knight's journey takes him after departing from there. One might suspect that as the poet has given so much detail about Gawain's journey across North Wales the end-point which the poet envisages could not be far away.

Many interpretations form a consensus and have him continuing to Ludchurch in the Staffordshire Moorlands north of Leek. This district was first suggested by Mabel Day (1940). Later work by R. W. V. Elliot built upon the idea that this was one of the key settings for the climax of the poem's story – "The Green Chapel" – in May 1958. Elliot went on to give a scholarly modern explication of most of the local landscape elements in a series of essays in scholarly journals. His general claim that "The Green Chapel" must be somewhere in that district was supported by other scholarly work suggesting the location as somewhere near "Thor's Cave", above the former railway station at Wetton Mill, to the east of Leek. Both of these locations are interesting to visit, but they are far enough apart that the author of Gawain may have taken some licence with his geography. Some have sought actual place names in Bertilak's hunt for the boar (lines 1421 ff.), the poet has the hunters assemble at a place that features rocherez ('rocky hillsides', 1427, 1432), a flosche ('swamp', 'marsh', or 'pool', 1430), and a knot ('rocky knoll', 1431, 1434). Words for these features survive as the names of the modern Roaches, an outcropping of rock; Flash, a location two miles northeast of the Roaches, and Knotbury, which is a half-mile northwest of Flash, but the link could simply be co-incicence.

One connection with Chester is that nearby Dieulacres Abbey was a Cistercian monastery first established between 1153 and 1158 (under Ranulph De Gernon) at Poulton in Cheshire. It moved, under Ranulf de Blondeville, to the Dieulacres site at Abbey Green near Leek, Staffordshire in 1214, possibly in part as a result from raids at the former location by the Welsh. This has led some writers to try to link the author of Gawain to the Abbey and hence to the Palatinate of Cheshire and its political and religious administration and even to actual historical events or local legends.

One issue that was current among clerics at the time was whether they could marry and Gawain and the three realted poems touch on this issue or the related subject of clerical authority. The development of the society and the economy at the time meant that there was a great demand for clerics and notaries who did little religious work and were mostly concerned with tax and record-keeping. In Cheshire "chaplains" whose work was mostly administrative and could be described as "household scribes" outnumbered all other clerks, monks, canons, rectors and vicars combined. The tension between the spiritual and the worldly is one of the themes which is used both to ironic and comic effect in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" written between 1387 and 1400, as well as playing a central part in Gawain.

Cheshire History had an article placing Bertilak's Castle at Frodsham.

How "Lud's Church" gets its name is something of a mystery. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's legendary History of the Kings of Britain and related medieval texts, Lud was a king of Britain in pre-Roman times who founded London and was buried at Ludgate. Like much in the Galfredian texts this is very suspect. Lud, son of Shem, turns up as the grandson of Noah. Lud's Church is also associated with the Lollards, and may (according to folklore) take its name from a Sir Walter de Lud-Auk (or Ludank) who preached there, or in an associated cave, although some have cast doubt on this. Ludank was supposedly arrested there. "Lud" as a place-name element has also been associated with the Old English "hlud" - meaning "loud" - as in "Ludlow" ("tumulus by the loud waters"). Geologically, Lud's Church is in a bed of coarse Carboniferous sandstone (Roaches Grit) with a steep dip, faults and fracture planes. It probably formed when a large mass of stone fragmented from the main mass along a line of weakness.

The Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe (c. 1320s – 31 December 1384) an anti-monastic reformer during the time of Richard II and one of the first to oppose the established church. However, there is no firm evidence for Lollard activity at Lud's Church during the reign of Richard II and Walter de Ludank appears to have flourished well after the lifetime of the Gawain poet. There was however Lollard activity in Richard's court in the form of the "Lollard Knights" who were a notably cultured group and had associations with the poets of the time, including Chaucer.

Printing was first introduced into Britain by William Caxton around 1476. Chaucer (c.1340s – 25 October 1400) was one of the first authors that Caxton published and English at the time was rapidly becoming the language of the English nobility. Richard's reign, during which the Gawain poem was written dates from before the advent of printing. After the deposition of Richard (1399), works such as "Richard the Redeless" appeared which were critical of Richard. They are written in more recognisably modern English than Gawain.

Tensions in Richard II's time surrounding the Lollards, their association with Ludchurch and the local place names have formed parts of arguments that Ludchurch is the "Green Chapel". It is also a spectacular natural feature and a draw for local tourism.

Alvanley and Frodsham

Although Ludchurch is widely accepted as the inspiration for the Green Chapel in Gawain, J. Philip Dodd put forward the theory (in the Autumn 1990 issue of "Cheshire History") that the "Green Chapel" was not at Ludchurch but at Alvanley, near Frodsham. He bases this on the assumption that the castle mentioned in the poem must be a real castle, and that the mention of caves refers to the caves at Frodsham. His evidence includes mention of the "Green Chapel" in documents as "A Chantry called the Green Chapel in the parish of Frodsham" (PRO Patent Roll C66/820 c. (1547)). If this theory were true, then Bertilak's castle would be Frodsham Castle.

There are some further facts to suggest that Frodsham may have inspired the Gawain Poet to place Bertilak there. These are explored below, to illuminate some local history and to illustrate how an argument can be built for an alternative to the "Ludchurch" theory.

The green glow of Schistostega in the caves near Frodsham.

It would appear that the first Norman castle at Frodsham was constructed under the direction of Hugh of Avranches, generally accepted to be the first of the Norman Earls of Chester. Some doubt has been cast on this as there is no mention of castle until the mid 13th century. The site has an obvious military value as it lies on the Roman route from Chester to Warrington and the Mersey crossigs. It may also have been on a prehistoric trade route. Both Frodsham and Macclesfield were owned by the Earl of Mercia before the Norman conquest. Both were valued at £8 in the Domesday survey: amongst the largest sums in Cheshire. Frodsham was also one of the few settlements in Cheshire recorded as having a priest and a church. The available evidence points to Frodsham having originated as the administrative centre of a large royal estate (Higham 1993, 152-3). The estate centre is unlikely to have been in the area of the later town but was potentially located at Overton in the vicinity of the parish church of St Lawrence, and Higham suggests "there is every reason to think this is an ancient mother-church". A carved grave cover of pre-Conquest date indicates that the church was of high status.

The two-mile distance boundary around Frodsham. The Kingswood glass-making site used by the monks of Vale Royal was just south of Newton and close to the bottom right corner of the image. The location of the "cave" proposed as a possible source of sand for glass-making is marked with a "map pin".

Frodsham is regarded as the best surviving example of a planned medieval town in Cheshire with burgage plots lining the north side of Main Street and on Church Street. The original wooden castle structure probably decayed, but was replaced by another building. There is no trace of the typical Norman motte. It is thought that the building was more a fortified manor house than a castle because there is evidence of only minimal fortification and there is no record of any attempt to obtain permission to crenellate. The walls were said to be very thick and it was even used as the local jail. In the early 17th century Sir Thomas Savage of Clifton purchased from the Crown the Manor, the Lordship and the Castle of Frodsham ; these had previously belonged to the Frodsham family. Sir Thomas died in 1635 to be succeeded by his son, John Savage, who four years later inherited the title of Earl Rivers. During the Civil War, John Savage was living in the nearby mansion of Rocksavage. He was a Royalist and his house was damaged by Parliamentary forces. He died in Frodsham Castle in 1654 but while his corpse was still in the castle awaiting burial, the building was destroyed in a fire. The ruins were bought by John Daniels of Daresbury and then in about 1750 by Daniel Ashley, a local solicitor. His son, Robert Wainwright Ashley, who was also a lawyer, demolished the ruins and built a house, Park Place. Part of the foundations of the castle formed the cellars of this house. The site is now occupied by a larger house, Castle Park House. The archives of the Frodsham and District Local History Group are held in the house.

Thus, we have a suitable location for the castle in a place with a long history dotted with "interesting" events such as the cremation of John Savage. It also has the advantage that it is not far from the locations described earlier in Gawain's journey. We now need a candidate for the Green Chapel. As noted, Dodd uses a chantry at Alvanley as his starting point, this is a little over two miles from Frodsham.

In the text of Gawain, Bertilak has made it clear that Green Chapel lies close to his castle, stating that the distance "is not hence two mile" (line 1078). He eventually provides instructions:

  • "...ride down the path by the side of yonder rock till thou shalt come to the bottom of the rugged valley; then take a look round on thy left hand and thou shalt see in the valley the very chapel that thou seekest..." (lines 2144ff)

The knight is surprised when he finally reaches the Green Chapel, secretly wearing the "lacy girdle", to find:

  • "a little mound, as it were, off in a field, a bald barrow by a bank beside the burn".

Clearly the Green Chapel is something other than a conventional religious building. There is also a suggestion that there are caves nearby. The nearest caves and barrow to Frodsham Castle are Upton's caves and Castle Cob. Castle Cob is the further away, but the caves are just outside of Frodsham in Mickeldale, which literally means "big valley" and is known to have existed as a place-name the 1350's when its rent was set in the Chamberlain of Chester's accounts at around 7s 7d. The caves (map here) are the more interesting and were described in the Cheshire Observer (10/08/1878) as follows:

  • "The moment (the visitor) enters the larger cave, or the one in the centre, he is struck with a beautiful, vivid light, of an emerald hue, reflected from the dummit and sides in the autumnal and especially in the winter months. It is very attractive as it has the appearance of a series of minute diamonds hung on the edge of the rocks. Upon close examination it is found to be caused by small drooping leaves or fronds of the Shining Cavern Moss, a very rare species, though it occures here in considerable quantity."
The path to Upton's Cave starts at this gate on the Manley Road south-east of Frodsham and is clearly marked. There is a video here. The caves can just be seen on the top right corner of the photo.

Dodd dismisses the idea that the Frodsham caves are the actual Green Chapel, and prefers the position that the action was displaced from a nearby chapel at Alvanley to avoid having it take place on "holy ground". However, as discussed below there is a strong argument that these caves. or perhaps others like them, were the actual inspiration.


The moss Schistostega pennata is the the only member of the family Schistostegaceae and although described as very rare is quite common in the locallity. It does not look like a typical moss but instead grows into thread-like, multicellular fillaments called a "protonema". This cave plant has adapted to grow in low light conditions by utilizing semi-spherical cells in the protonema that act as lenses, collecting and concentrating even the faintest light. The spherical part of the cells is opposed by a conical part in which the chloroplasts (where photosynthesis occurs) are located. The chloroplasts absorb the useful wavelengths of the light (which are red) and reflect back the remainder towards the light source (like "Cat's Eyes"), giving the moss a greenish-gold glow when viewed from just the right angle. If the moss is removed from the cave it reverts to simply rather drab fronds of vegetation, leading to its common name of "Goblin Gold". Note that the effect is said to be most pronounced in winter and that Gawain visits the Green Chapel on New Year's day. For more on this remarkable moss see Glime, J. M. Bryophyte Ecology.

Robinson was familiar with the biology of mosses and collected local legends, but failed to see the possible link between Upton's cave and the Green Knight.

The "caves" are actually man-made excavations in the local sandstone. These are often said to date back to medieval times and the sand was used for various purposes including sanding floors. The local botanist and chemist/druggist James F. Robinson of Frodsham (his shop was on Main Street) wrote (Nantwich Guardian 17/01/1880) about what are clearly legends surrounding the "Fairy Caves", but curiously involve charcaters, like the Green Knight of considerable stature. These "giants" are fairly commonplace in legends:

  • "Long before the days of Julius Caesar's invasion of these islands. Overton Hill was occupied by a race of men of gigantic stature who offered up their children as a burnt sacrifice to propriate their gods. They did not worship idols, but had altars of stone on which the victims were offered. The chieftain's pillars or stones were in Upton's sand cave fields..."

One local "tale" that Robinson appears to have missed is that contained in the "Frodsham Soul-Caking Play". This features the usual St George, the Turkish Champion and the Quack Doctor, but in the Frodsham version George, who has now become King George, speaks of being imprisoned in stone and fighting not the traditional dragon, but a giant whose head he cut off:

  • "..I once rescued a fair lady from a giant's gate / the night was dark and dunge beneath my feet / why that giant, he nearly struck me dead / but with my sword I did cut off his head"

The entrapment in a rock turns up in a few other mumming, pace-egg and soul-cake scripts (such as that in Manchester), but the claim by St George to have beheaded a giant seems unique to Frodsham.

The strange thing is that Robinson, a collector of local legends and a botanist/bryologist who was very familiar with Schistostega pennata did not at once see the possible connection between the caves, the huge Green Knight and the "Green Chapel". The answer is plainly that Gawain must have been unknown to him in the 1870's. Even though Gawain was published in 1839 it was not generally known until after Tolkein's translation. Had Robinson access to the text of Gawain he might have seen that it is possibly a description of the Upton caves:

Stained Glass from Vale Royal as displayed at the Grosvenor Museum.
  • "Then he goes to the barrow, and about it he walked, debating with himself what it might be. It had a hole at each end and on either side, and was overgrown with grass in great knots; and all was hollow within, naught but an old cave, or a crevice of an old crag – he could not distinguish it well. ‘Who knows, Lord,’ quoth the gentle knight ‘whether this be the Green Chapel? Here might about midnight the Devil his Matins tell"

While the description of the "Green Chapel" does bear some semblance to the caves at Frodsham it is of course necessary that the caves existed in the time of the Gawain Poet if he actually used them as source material. While there are various stories about caves on the mid-Cheshire ridge which place them in use during medieval times none of these seem substantiated by hard evidence.

However, there are some possible reasons why early use might be the case. In some medieval industries such as metal-casting and glass-making, forms of fine-grained white sand with a low degree of mineralisation might be sought-out. Sandstone is generally contaminated with iron which leads to the reddish colour, but this can be washed out by ground-water. In many cases re-mineralisation can occur but in stone at the top of a ridge this is less likely to happen. In glass-making for example even relatively low levels of trace elements can significantly modify the colour of "Stained Glass", with iron leading to very dark tints. In modern clear glass the sand must be over 98% silica and contain less than 0.001% of metal oxides. River sand will also contain clays and organic matter making it unsuitable. The basic ingredients for making glass are sand (silicon oxide), wood ash (sodium oxide, or soda, or potash) and optionally lime (calcium oxide). This combination lowers the melting point of the sand from circa 1600 Celsius to a practical temperature (up to 1300 Celsius) which can be achieved with charcoal and bellows. Hardwood produces particularly good soda and it is believed that glass was made from the wood of Delamere Forest in 1346/7 for the abbey at Vale Royal, such as at Kingswood which was excavated in 1935 and 1947. Vast ammounts of wood are needed to manufacture so called "forest glass" as intense and prolonged heat is required, so it is far more simple to move the sand than shift the wood.

Ash from ferns can also be used as a flux: this is rich in potassium oxide. Some stained glass which supposedly came from the "medieval" abbey was exhibited at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, and this appeared to be of reasonably good quality glass. However, it is known that little of the original abbey glass survived and much of the glass associated with the abbey is actually dated from later, after the dissolution of the abbey, its demolition and the construction of a new house with much "heraldic glass" in the windows. Thus, medieval miners may have seen a benefit to seeking out particular forms of sand in places with relatively poor access, although access to the cave site from Kingswood is actually quite good. Actively worked caves would have probably not been the poet's choice, and would be unlikely to have as impressive a colony of schistostega. However, Frodsham had suffered badly in the Black Death and the caves could have been abandonned for some time before being re-used later. Despite the circumstantial evidence the use of the sand for glassmaking is largely a speculation, which could perhaps be further studied by chemical analysis of the sand and comparison with the glass found at Kingswood.

The dissolution of the monasteries may well have hit the local manufacture of "forest glass" hard. In 1615 the demand for timber led to legislation banning the use of wood in glass production (Crossley 1990). Ashurst (1992) points out that this legislation also provided Crown control over several industries (including glass production) by the issuing of patents and licences. The unpopular patent was controlled by Sir Robert Mansell until 1642 when the patent was withdrawn. The use of coal for glass-making as an alternative to wood also caused glass-making to mirate to new locations. The "Upton" of Upton's cave can be identified as a relatively modern figure from Tithe Maps, but the caves could, as noted, have existed at an earlier date. There is some local reference to excursions from Frodsham to the "Devil's Hole" which could be a reference to the caves, and provides some further weak evidence for early existence.

Robinson also speculates that the "caves" were once very much larger and may have presumed that the depression into which they open may once have been roofed over with a layer of sandstone which later collapsed. There is no other textual evidence of any truth in this, but if the workings were once as extensive as suggested by Robinson then they would have been a spectacular feature and an impressive setting for a fictional tale. In fact Robinson, records (or possible makes-up) a folk-tale from nearby Dunsdale which involves a knight in the service of Earl Rivers who was living at Mickeldale Hall and a mysterious goblet. This is a typical example of a "Fairy Cup legend" and somewhat similar to various other superstitions involving a drinking vessel which contains the "luck" of a house (see: Luck of Edenhall).

"a little mound, as it were, off in a field, a bald barrow by a bank beside the burn" .. "It had a hole at each end and on either side, and was overgrown with grass in great knots; and all was hollow within, naught but an old cave, or a crevice of an old crag.": The caves at Frodsham fit the description in Gawain quite well. While the nearest hamlet is "Five Crosses" this appears to be a reference to the "Jerusalem Cross" and probably quite co-incidental in its symbolism being similar to Gawain's pentagram.

Summing-up the linguistic and place-name evidence, it is clear that Gawain is somehow associated with Cheshire, and it seems a reasonable assumption that the Gawain Poet took inspiration from local topographical features. If the local legends associated with Upton's caves existed at the time, then these may have been used too. No "special pleading" is needed to get Gawain from the end of his detailed journey through North Wales and the Wirral to Lud's Church. Further arguments can be constructed which link Richard II's court directly to Frodsham and these are discussed in further detail below.

The local topography indicates that a "burn" may have had to be crossed to reach the caves.

Visiting the Caves

The caves can be visited by a short walk (c 100m) from the Manley Road along a well marked path starting at a gate by a "No Camping" sign (the caves have been used for "raves"). There is parking at the corner of Manley Road and Simons Lane and the entrances of the caves in a low crag are visible from the road, to the left when approaching from Frodsham. The path from the road crosses a valley which is now dry but appears to have once held a stream. The depression which the caves open into may have once been roofed-over by rock which has collapsed. The remaining underground space is surprisingly large. The first chamber of the caves is well-lit but a source of light such as a bright flash-light is needed to go into the deeper chambers. The caves are clearly a man made excavation out of a layer of pale, soft sandstone of which some pillars remain to support the overhead. Sometimes they are used as shelter by cattle. There is evidence that some past roof-falls have occurred in the form of large rocks on the sandy floor, and these can be a trip-hazard in the darker parts of the cave. It can take 20-30 minutes to explore all the recesses and this should be borne in mind when selecting a light source. Although there are several chambers it would be difficult to get lost as some light from the entrance is almost always visible. The palest sandstone from the site has no trace of visible iron staining which gives the Cheshire sandstone its characteristic red colour and can be crumbled to dust with ease (N.B. the same stuff is holding up the roof!). It is made up of well sorted and rounded grains of quartz, indicating that the clasts in the rocks have traveled a long distance from their source and experienced heavy erosion along the way.

Due to its pale colour the sandstone apparently contains very little iron. This would solve the problem posed by Ridgeway in his 1948 paper on glassmaking at Kingswood.

  • "Sand taken from the vicinity however contains a considerable amount of iron and would therefore be unsuitable for glass making."

The cave is about four kilometers (c 2.5 miles) from the Glaziers Hollow site at Kingsley. A list of other caves on the ridge was compiled by the Crewe Climbing and Potholing Club, but none of these are easier to get to from Kingswood and few show the same quality of sand. Ganister a form of silica, was mined at Astbury and at the north end of the ridge that forms Mow Cop. Ganister is a hard, fine-grained quartzose sandstone used in the manufacture of silica brick typically used to line furnaces but seems not to have been used in early glassmaking.

A gallery of the caves

Cheshire in the time of Richard II

Richard II - deposed, imprisoned in Chester Castle (with tales of a huge hidden treasure possibly hidden at Beeston Castle). Even the painting is a myth - this is the one by Thomas Hughes.

One major cause of religious, social, and economic upheaval, with profound effects on the course of European history was the "Black Death" a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Afro-Eurasia from 1346-53. The Black Death hit the monasteries very hard because of their proximity with the sick who sought refuge there. This left a severe shortage of clergy after the epidemic cycle. Eventually the losses were replaced by hastily trained and inexperienced clergy members, many of whom knew little of the rigors of their predecessors. New colleges were opened at established universities, and the training process sped up. This undoubtedly fed the debate as to whether clerics should be celibate or not - a central theme in Gawain. At the same time the feudal order was slowly breaking down and middle-ranking figures rendered military, political, legal, or domestic service in return for money, office, or influence rather than for land.

Richard II (6 January 1367 – c. 14 February 1400), also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward, Prince of Wales otherwise known as the "Black Prince", died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to his grandfather, King Edward III. Upon the death of Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne. During Richard's first years as king, government was in the hands of a series of regency councils, influenced by Richard's uncles John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. England then faced various problems, most notably the Hundred Years' War. The king's dependence on a small number of courtiers caused discontent among the influential, and in 1387 control of government was taken over by a group of aristocrats known as the Lords Appellant. By 1389 Richard had regained control, and for the next eight years governed in relative harmony with his former opponents. In 1397, he took his revenge on the Appellants, many of whom were executed (by beheading in many cases) or exiled. Also in 1397, Richard II created the title "Prince of Cheshire", which he awarded to himself. On 13 July 1397, he ordered the sheriff of the county of Chester to collect 2,000 archers for royal service. These troops were used to overawe the parliament which met in September - sometimes known as the "Revenge Partiament". The next two years have been described by historians as Richard's "tyranny". In 1399, after John of Gaunt died, the king disinherited Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, who had previously been exiled. Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers. Meeting little resistance, he deposed Richard and had himself crowned king. Richard is thought to have been starved to death in captivity, although questions remain regarding his final fate.

Richard built a considerable power-base in Cheshire, drawing his personal guard from the locals and forming his own private military retinue, larger than that of any English king before him. Richard gave them livery badges with his White Hart (the possible origin of many pub signs). The climax of the campaign to depose him took place in North Wales and Chester, and possibly forms the basis of the legends that his Royal Treasure was hidden at Beeston Castle.

There is little evidence to tie Richard directly to patronage of poetry, but it was nevertheless within his court that this culture was allowed to thrive. The greatest poet of the age, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340s – 25 October 1400), served the king as a diplomat, a customs official and a clerk of The King's Works while producing some of his best-known work. Little has been written on whether Gawain was influenced by the political developments in Cheshire at the time. The supposed creation dates of 1370 to 1400 span a whole range of phases in Richard II's rule: in 1388 the "Merciless Parliament" was convicting many of Richard's court of treason following his retainer de Vere's defeat at the Battle of Radcot Bridge, and in 1397 Richard counter-attacked and had Richard Fitzalan, 4th Earl of Arundel beheaded. Tradition holds that Arundel's final words were said to the executioner, "Torment me not long, strike off my head in one blow". While this does seem a reasonable request in the circumstances it does echo Gawain's comment in a similar position: "wy þresch on þou þro mon þou þretez to longe" - translatable as "Strike then, thou bold man; thou dost threaten too long".

Thomas of Woodstock - Justice of Chester and uncle of Richard II gets his collar felt (8/9 September 1397). He was the first of the Lords Appellant to fall victim to Richard's revenge at the hands of his "Cheshire Archers". Some of these archers were from Frodsham.

Given the "wrong" timing Gawain could easily have been presented to Richard as an almost seditious work - Arthur, the king, is portrayed as childish and Richard had also been a child-king; it has beheadings and counter-beheadings; a henchman stepping in to behead someone who challenges the king, and the Wirral, a part of Richard's self-declared Principality described as "the wilderness of Wirral" where "dwelt there but few, that either God or man with good heart loved".

The "Lollards" may have been active at Richard's court. Lollard Knights (act. c. 1380–c. 1414), is the name conventionally given to a close-knit group of influential courtiers, accused by contemporary chroniclers ( Henry Knighton and Thomas Walsingham) of promoting heretical Lollard doctrines during the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. Several of the Knights were apparently acquaintances of Geoffrey Chaucer, as they stood surety for him when a charge of "raptus" (abduction) was lodged against him in 1380.

After Richard II's downfall censorship of books became extreme. De heretico comburendo (2 Hen.4 c.15) was a law, "Regarding the burning of heretics", passed by Parliament under King Henry IV of England in 1401, punishing heretics with burning at the stake and is an attack on the Lollards. With the advent of printing censorship became even more oppressive effectively banning much of what was printed with the exception of the "Canterburye tales, Chaucers bokes, Gowers bokes and stories of mennes lieves". Matters may have been even more complex than that: Henry IV's great ally in his ursurpation of Richard was Thomas Arundel, a fanatical anti-reformer who may actually have been responsible for the murder of Geoffrey Chaucer. The story of the "murder" is set out by "Who Murdered Chaucer" by amonst others Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.

Richard II and Frodsham

Frodsham seem to have suffered seriously during the Black Death with Dodd giving figures to suggest that 50% of the population may have died in his study of the Population of Frodsham Manor. When the Black Prince died (1376) Richard became Earl of Chester, subject to the grant of the manor of Frodsham to his mother Joan of Kent and a rent of 40 Marks a year to Thomas D'Anyers. This is all long after the 1362 murder (by the Stanley's of Wirral) of Ranulf Roter who had previously held Frodsham. When Richard became King (1377), he confirmed Henry Torfote in the office of bailiff of Frodsham, which he had held under his father, and Torfote continued to hold the office until his death, in 1379.

In 1383 Joan, the widowed Princess of Wales, the King's mother, died, and the King granted the manor of Frodsham to Joanna, Lady Mohun, for life, she keeping up and maintaining the houses, and paying a rent of ten marks a year. She does not appear to have underlet the manor, but she probably held it only for a short time. Joan, Lady Mohun was one of the more influential ladies of Richard II’s court. This seems likely to be true, if only because the Appellants banished her from court in 1388 at the time of the bloody events of the Merciless Parliament. She had an annuity of £100 for life from Richard II which she later exchanged for the Lordship of Macclesfield. She was also given the Garter in her own right in 1384. Clearly a lady in high favour. Camden records a peculiar tale of her that she obtained from her husband as much common land for the poor of Dunster as she could walk round barefoot in a day - something that seems remarkably similar to Tolstoy's 1886 story of the peasant Pahom. According to Maxwell-Lyte (1909), Joan of Burghersh had a foreceful personality, as she:

An enhanced view of the caves near Frodsham, vertical scale x3.
  • "..was aiming at something more than a life interest in her husband's estates. She seems indeed to have obtained complete ascendency over him, either by the power of the purse or by superior force of character".

Her tomb is in the undercroft of the Lady Chapel at Canterbury cathedral and inscribed "Ione de Borwaschs dame de Moun".

From 1386 John de Frodsham and Richard Torfote farmed the manor under the King. On 8th August, 1386, Robert Torfote received a grant of protection on his going, on the King's service, to Ireland, in the retinue of Sir John Stanley, knight, deputy to the Marquis of Dublin. In or about the last mentioned year the King granted the manor of Frodsham to Radagunda Becket, with 100 marks a year, and for all beyond she was to answer yearly to the King.

It is curious that these powerful women were all associated with Frodsham and that one of them, Lady Mohum is granted the garter which seems remarkably similar to the girdle of "Lady Bertilak". Perhaps curiously, Lady Bertilak is never actually named as such in the poem. Lady Joan de Mohun (nee: Burghersh, died 1404) was born into the noble and wealthy Burghersh family of Kent. Both her husband John de Mohun, Lord of Dunster, and her brother Bartholomew Burghersh were founding members of the Black Prince’s Order of the Garter. What is less well-known is that Joan de Mohun and her daughter Philippa too were members of the Order, although Philippa did not become a member until 1408. Rather than simply wearing the livery of the Garter and attending the ceremonies for Garter members, there is some evidence that these "Ladies of the Garter" also swore chivalric oaths, including promising to pay up to half their dowries to ransom their husbands and sons, if needed.

Lady Mohun had been granted a jointure in all her late husband's lands, but to finance her comfortable life at court she sold the reversion to the Lutterell family (of psalter fame) and thus disinherited her three daughters. The youngest of these was Philippa (born around 1367), who most improbably eventually became the wife of Edward of York (c. 1373 – 25 October 1415) around 1397. On 29 September 1397, Edward was created Duke of Aumale, and as such presided as constable over the aborted judicial combat between Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV and Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, which ended with Bolingbroke and Norfolk being exiled by King Richard as described in further detail below.

It appears reasonably arguable that the Gawain Poet took topographical details from around Frodsham as one basis for his work. It may also be that the character of "Lady Bertilak" is based on Joan Borwaschs given that she was holding Frodsham Castle at around the relevant time. It is also possible that the "crone" could be Joan, while the younger version of "Lady Bertilak" is based on her daughter Philippa.

There were several other royal connections with Frodsham. William Frodsham was chamberlain of North Wales and William Brugge (c. 1375 – 9 March 1450), the first Chester Herald, may have been from Frodsham, being a member of the family who took their name from Frodsham bridge.

An illustration of Frodsham Castle by the Buck Brothers dating from 1727. Halton Castle and Rock Savage are marked in the distance. An earlier building is said to have collapsed in 1357-8 when an individual called Nicholas the carpenter was paid £12 to build "the New Hall of Frodsham".

Therefore there are links between Frodsham and the court of Richard II, most notably through Joan de Mohun and her family.

A Political Purpose?

Is Gawain just entertainment or does it conceal a purpose? On the face of it, the poem is a medieval "romance". Medieval romance worked from both traditions and topics that were well known to the audience: historical and quasi-historical accounts of heroes, battles, and kings; stories surrounding the Trojan War; and other classical and English traditions. Although a broad category, romance is generally characterized by a central heroic character (often the knightly representative of a royal court), the presence of magic, and a quest motif.

Medieval readers and listeners looked to romance for entertainment and edification, as well as for thought-provoking material to fuel conversation and debate over important social issues. Some have seen Gawain as a debate about the nature of Arthurian kingship and courtliness produced at a time when Richard II's court was heading rapidly for tyranny. Others might interpret Gawain's struggle with chastity as a reference to the issues facing clerics. The poem portrays the king in a poor light, like Richard II he is a young, proud, and impetuous ruler: the text describes him as “childgered” [childish], “brayn wylde” [impulsive], and of “ʒonge blod” [young blood]. The Green Knight addresses Arthur’s court as a "gyng", or "gang", instead of using any of the honorific descriptors deserving of a royal court. By the time it was written Richard's "Cheshire Archers" had gained repute as a violent band of thugs, although it might be dangerous to state that openly.

Some have interpreted Richard's possible "obsession" with Authurian Chivalry and absolutism as a sign of insanity. His behavior is described in the continuation of the Eulogium Historiarium which presents a vivid picture of the king sitting silent and enthroned in state in his chamber after dinner and requiring anyone upon whom his glance fell to bow the knee to him. This could apparently go on for some hours.

The "beheading game" in Gawain is not a new reference as there are earlier variants on the same tale. Of course, Richard and the Lords Appellant were busy at the time beheading each other's supporters, with The Lords winning the first half and Richard making a come-back in the second. The beheading game appears much earlier in the "Fled Bricrenn" and in the "Life of Caradoc", it was definitely not created in the context of Richard II, but could it have been intended as a topical reference?

Richard and the Lords Appellant as depicted by James E Doyle as throwing down their gauntlets. From left to right: The Earl of Arundel (beheaded), Thomas of Woodstock (strangled), Earl of Nottingham (exiled, died in Venice), Earl of Derby (exiled, return to usurp Richard and become Henry IV), and Earl of Warwick (exiled, urged Henry IV to murder Richard).

That open criticism of Richard and his court would have been risky, complicates the interpretation of the poem. It may have been far safer to write in ambiguous terms, so that a passage could be read (or explained away) as simple poety, but have a sub-text which refers to actual political events. When Gawain is preparing to depart on his quest many courtiers gather to see him off. However, there is grumbling among them, especially as regards whether this a waste of a potentially capable leader:

  • "Without wonder Gawain would become a duke, and seemed that he would make a great leader of men, and would better have been a leader than bebutchered for nothing by an evil man, all for angry pride. Who ever heard of any king to take such counsel during a Christmas game, from knights in celebration?"

One possible historical parallel is the relationship of Richard II to Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) - who had been Duke of Hereford. According to the simple version, in 1398, a remark by Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, regarding Richard II's rule was interpreted as treason by Henry Bolingbroke and Henry reported it to the king via John of Gaunt (Henry's father). In reality the situation was more complex: Mowbray appears to have been involved in the murder of Richard's uncle Thomas of Woodstock, the duke of Gloucester. Certain chroniclers tell of a meeting between Mowbray and Bolingbroke in which they discussed that they were the next to be tried for treason by the king, and likely beheaded. Bolingbroke then accused Mowbray of misgovernment in Calais and for murdering Gloucester.

The two dukes agreed to undergo a "duel of honour" (called by Richard II) at Gosford Green near Caludon Castle, Mowbray's home in Coventry. Yet before the duel could take place, Richard decided to banish Henry from the kingdom (with the approval of Henry's father, John of Gaunt) to avoid further bloodshed. Mowbray accepted his sentence and departed England on October 19, 1398. He seems to have settled down in Venice, and to have taken a trip to the Holy Land, where he contracted the plague and later died of it upon his return to Venice.

As history shows, Bolingbroke would later, in fact a year later (just like Gawain) return to usurp Richard, but perhaps the departure of Gawain can be read in the light of Bolingbroke's exile? Another parallel with Gawain is that Richard's final journey before his capture was along much of the same North Wales coast as Gawain had traversed. Similarly, while Gawain resists temptation at Castle Bertilak, Robert de Vere (with whom Thomas Walsingham implies Richard enjoyed a homosexual relationship) leaves his wife to bed Agnes de Launcekrona, a Czech lady-in-waiting of Richard's queen, Anne of Bohemia, in Chester. This created a scandal throughout the kingdom. Another topical reference or just a case of adultery?

A further curious reference in Gawain is the rather pointed comment of Bertiak as regards an unspecified cleric, when he reveals that "Lady Bertiak" is actually Morgan le Fay:

  • "Bernlak de Haudesert I am called in this land; and through might of Morgan le Fay, who lodges in my house, and the cunning of the clergy, I am well learned in crafts. She was the mistress of Merlin, and many has she taken captive by her wiles. For she has made love for a long time to that famous clerk that knows all your knights"

The only "famous clerk" mentioned in the poem is "Bishop Bawdewyn", who appears in other Arthurian tales, often as the companion of Gawain and nothing suggests he was involved in any plot as implied. This could be a reference back to the historical Baldwin of Forde (c. 1125 – 19 November 1190) a bishop from the time of Henry II. Baldwin was a somewhat quarrelsome character who, as archbishop, crowned Richard I. Baldwin's long-running dispute with his cathedral chapter caused the chronicler Gervase of Canterbury to characterise him as "a greater enemy to Christianity than Saladin". It could also be a reference to Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) who was instrumental in the usurpation of Richard by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke.

There are some other tentative links with Henry IV's succession: the Epiphany Rising was a failed rebellion against Henry IV of England in late December 1399 and early January 1400. Thus the rising has parallels with the Christmas/New Year celebrations which open Gawain. Gawain's symbol is a pentagram and pentagonal castles figure in the history of the time: with Bolingbroke being near pentagonal and Holt Castle, the storage place of Richard's Royal Treasure being a distinct pentagon. Holt Castle had previously belonged to Richard Fitzalan (beheaded), was taken over by Richard and later raided by Bolingbroke during his assault on Richard's stronghold at Chester. Finally, the pentagon-symmetric red rose of Lancaster (blazoned: a rose gules) was the heraldic badge adopted by the royal House of Lancaster in the 14th century. The red rose was first adopted as a heraldic badge by John of Gaunt, and a similar white rose was adopted by the House of York. If this analysis shows anything, it perhaps indicates that looking hard enough will often reveal "clues" with motifs being misinterpreted as motives. Authors of fiction may often reference current tropes and motifs as part of their literary technique or use them as a "MacGuffin".


There have been many suggestions as to the identity of the "Gawain poet". All that is known for certain is that he (or she) used a Cheshire dialect and appears to have some familiarity with the area. The problem of authorship is complex as some of the "evidence" relates to the authorship of other poems which may have been written at the same time and are found in the same manuscript source. Its author appears also to have written the poems Pearl, Patience, and Purity which appear in the same single manuscript which contains all four works. Of course, it cannot be discounted (given that there is only one surviving document) that the scribe who prepared it simply translated it into his own local dialect, but this seems unlikely given the references to North-West and Wirral topography. The poem itself suggests that the tale existed prior to it being written down in this version: the poet claims that he heard the original story of Sir Gawain recited "in hall" (line 31), but also that it was "linked in measures meetly / By letters tried and true" (that is, it appeared in written format - lines 35–36). There is also some evidence of a previous oral version in the poem: Gawain's donning of his armour seems to be listed as an echo of a mnemonic device. Another theory is that "Gawain" is an answer to Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" one of The Canterbury Tales, published in 1387. Thopas is a rather frivolous burlesque in which the main character desires the elf-queen but is waylaid by the giant Sir Olifaunt ('Elephant'), and is often considered to be a parody of the "romantic" genre.

During the development of the genealogy in the Arthur myth the role of Morgan le Fay shifts. She is not mentioned in the early versions, which have Gawain as the full brother of Mordred. She is later introduced as Arthur's sister.

St. Erkenwald is an another alliterative poem of the fourteenth century, thought to have been composed in 1386. It has sometimes been attributed to the Gawain poet. It takes as its subject Earconwald, the Bishop of London between 675 and 693. The story is somewhat peculiar depicting the discovery of an undecayed and speaking corpse beneath St. Paul's Cathedral in London by workmen digging new foundations. This corpse, belonging to an ancient pagan judge, prompts an investigation of the importance of the sacraments, particularly penance and the Eucharist, by noting that he led a virtuous life and made scrupulous, even-handed judgements, but reveals that his soul is condemned to hell because he lived before England was converted to Christianity. This poem was written during a period of controversy in the church regarding whether the sacraments were necessary for the salvation of souls, and the importance of the cleric in his role as the celebrant. It can be inferred from the events of the poem that the poet's sympathies lie with orthodox thinkers, who affirmed the importance of the Eucharist and the position of the cleric.

The theories about the identity of the poet are supported by two rather shaky pillars - one being the argument that three or perhaps all four have the same author, and the other that there are clues in some manucripts which suggest authorship. These clues have been put together so as to infer the authorship of one poem and hence of the others. However the subject has attracted much debate and some of the commentary on the works might favour one author without mentioning the others proposed.

The following have been suggested who have a particular connection with the area around Chester.

John Stanley

John Stanley has been suggested as the as-yet unidentified "Gawain Poet". The Garter motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense" appears at the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (but in a different hand), and the poet exhibits a detailed knowledge of both hunting (he was Master Forester of Wirral - hence the stags on his arms) and armour. He has also been suggested as the patron of the Gawain poet. He is the same John Stanley who in 1405 was granted the tenure of the Isle of Man, which had been confiscated from the rebellious Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. The garter connection has been used to support other candidates including John of Gaunt (who was also the 14th Baron of Halton), and Enguerrand de Coucy, seventh Sire de Coucy. De Coucy was married to King Edward III's daughter, Isabella, and was given admittance to the Order of the Garter on their wedding day. The garter motto has a rough equivalent in Gawain's exclamation "corsed worth cowarddyse and couetyse boþe" ("cursed be both cowardice and coveting", v. 2374).

Honi soit qui mal y pense (as "hony soyt qui mal pence") turns up both in Gawain and this much later Stanley coat of arms at Stanley Palace.

The Stanleys had risen to prominence at the same time the Wirral had been disafforested and were involved in a considerable ammount of associated feuding and violence. John Stanley was very agile in his politics. Having served Richard II as deputy to Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland (and possibly Richard's lover), he turned his back on Richard and submitted to Henry IV, the first English king of the House of Lancaster. Stanley's fortunes were equally good under the Lancastrians. He was granted lordships in the Welsh Marches, and served a term as Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1403 he was made Steward of the Household of Henry, Prince of Wales, (later Henry V). Unlike many of the Cheshire gentry, he took the side of the king in the rebellion of the Percys. He was wounded in the throat at the Battle of Shrewsbury. In 1405 he was, as noted, granted the tenure of the Isle of Man. Henry IV appointed him a Knight of the Garter. His descendants were to prove equally agile, shifting sides deftly through the Wars of the Roses and after.

Overall, the evidence that Stanley wrote, or more likely commissioned "Gawain" is very slight: he was alive at the time and associated with the Wirral, would have been familiar with hunting and forestry and was a Knight of the Garter. He has a connection with Frodsham through his family feud with Ranulf Roter. This might be balanced against the tendency for the Stanleys to get dragged into "conspiracy theories" (see: Shakespeare and Chester).

John Massey

John Massey of Cotton, was a retainer in the house of Lancaster. The surname of Massey, that of a prominent Cheshire family, is associated with St Erkenwald; the names of Thomas Massey (as Thomas Masse) and Elizabeth Booth (a member of the Booth family of Dunham Massey) are written in St Erkenwald's only existing manuscript. The manuscript was made in 1477, but the poem itself was probably composed much earlier, in the 1390s or the 1400s. Curiously, there is a Saughall Massey quite close to the supposed stone circle at Overchurch. However, the reference to Massey appears to have been added much later than the date of the original manuscript. The last of the original line, Hamo de Masci, died in 1342.

A further problem is that Cheshire had more than one John Massey, de Massey, or de Mascy. There were so many in fact that John de Mascy of Puddington fought for Henry IV against John de Mascy of Tatton who supported Henry Percy and both died in the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403).

The evidence that John Massey (Masse, Macy...) is associated with Gawain is also very slight. The names of some of his relatives appear in the manuscript but may well have been added later. It has been suggested that his name appears part hidden in the illumination, but this is by no means agreed upon by all scholars. Others have claimed to found anagrams buried in the text but this may be co-incidence. Relatives of the Massies are associated with sites on the Wirral, but the gentry of Cheshire were so inter-married that it is generally easy to find such links. For example, in the 1830's tithe maps the site at Overchurch is owned by the Stanley-Massey family. One rather strange commection between the Masseys and the Stanleys is the murder of Thomas Clotton at Storeton by John Stanley who then apparently fled the country. In 1377 an indictment jury headed by Hamo Massey tried to bring him to account. Stanley recieved a pardon (from Richard II) in 1378.

Places associated with Gawain's journey. The Poet describes this as: "All the isles of Anglesey on his left side he holds, And fares over the ford by the forelands, Over by the Holy Head, until he again had the shore. In the wilderness of Wirral dwelt there but few, That either God or man with good heart loved". Frodsham is a much closer endpoint to the Wirral than Lud's Church.

Dating Gawain

The date of Gawain remains one of the enduring mysteries of Medieval English literature. So can a comparison of place and events help? If there is a thicket of interconnected motifs this might not identify an author, but could point to loci with which the author is associated. Below are some motifs from the poem and dated comparisons based on the assumption that Lady Bertilak is a representation of Joan de Mohun or her daughter.

Gaston III, Count of Foix, Book of the Hunt, 1387–88. Yhe English version, translated by Edward, 2nd Duke of York being known as The Master of Game.

There is another connection between Gawain and the Mohuns in that the author is Gawain often said to have had a detailed knowledge of hunting and armor. Edward, 2nd Duke of York, who married Philippa Mohun was Henry IV's Master of the Hart Hounds. Between 1406 and 1413 he translated and dedicated to the Prince of Wales the Livre de Chasse of Gaston III, Count of Foix, one of the most famous of the hunting treatises of the Middle Ages, to which he added five chapters of his own, the English version being known as The Master of Game. He was killed in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt, whilst commanding the right wing of the English army. Edward was a remarkable survivor having been implicated in at least one murder, the conspiracy of the Epiphany Rising and imprisoned on at least two occasions. As the Duke of Aumerle, Edward of Langley is a major character in William Shakespeare's Richard II. His death at Agincourt (as Duke of York) is portrayed in Shakespeare's Henry V. There is no mention in either play, however, that the Duke of Aumerle portrayed in Richard II and the Duke of York portrayed in Henry V are, in fact, that same historical individual. The only suggestion that he was involved in the Epiphany Rising is found in "Chronicque de la traïson et mort de Richart Deux roy d'Engleterre" which appears to be the work of an anonymous writer in the suite of Richard's queen Isabelle, written in French probably in 1401-2 after the Queen's return from England. It is gererally thought to be an example of Ricardian propaganda trying to rouse the French nobles into action against Henry IV. For convenience, here are some of the potentially important dates:

  • 1374 - Joan of Burghersh (Mohun) sold Dunster, Kilton and Minehead to Lady Elizabeth Luttrell.
  • 1377 - Richard becomes King (aged 10). Richard had an interst in "Arthurian" chivalry and his predecessor as king (Edward III: 1327-1377) hardly fits the desciption of a young king given in Gawain.
  • 1383 - Joan Mohun granted Frodsham Castle (aged 63). Given the dentistry of here times and her remarkably long lifespan she is a reasonable fit for the role of "crone".
  • 1384 - Joan Mohun becomes a Lady of the Garter. This is perhaps odd, as her husband is dead and she has no sons.
  • 1386 - Philippa Mohun's first husband Walter Fitzwalter, dies ("at sea"). Frodsham granted to Radagunda Becket.
  • 1387 - Downfall of Robert de Vere. De Vere was a favorite of Richard and, like Gawain, employed a five-pointed star on his arms.
  • 1394 - Leeds Castle granted to Joan Mohun (aged 72), Anne of Bohemia dies of the plague (aged 28).
  • 1396 - Richard marries Isabella of Valois (aged 6). Philippa Mohun's second husband, Sir John Golafre, dies. He was "Keeper of the King's Jewels & Plate" and very close to Richard having been constable at Flint castle (1390-96) and been granted the hunting estate at Shotwick Park. Flint and Shotwick are connected by the ford mentioned in Gawain.
  • 1397 - Richard takes his revenge. His relations with the Lords Appellant literally become a beheading game.
  • 1398 - Philippa Mohun is by October married to her third husband Edward, 2nd Duke of York - soldier and author of a book in hunting. The future Henry IV goes into exile.
  • 1399 - Henry invades after a year in exile and ravages Cheshire. Richard in North Wales essentially folowing a similar route as Gawain, but he is captured near Flint. Obviously, if Gawain's journey was based on that of Richard, then the poem is dated close to the end of the normal historical window.
  • 1400 - Richard II dies (aged 33)

One thing that is perhaps clear from the above, is that if Gawain is based on real characters and events, they are taken out of order, out of context and much "chopped and changed". The narrative as a whole has so far not been linked to any historical sequence of events. Any conclusions drawn from this must be that on the facts as they stand the case is "not proven", and the origin and possible purpose of the Gawain poem is still unclear. But it does cast a little light on Dodd's view that Bertilak's castle was at Frodsham and the Green Chapel was nearby.


. The land on which the Overchurch "stone circle" stood was owned at the time of the 1830 tithe maps by a branch of the Massey/Stanley families (as shown in orange).

There are many other examples of work by early "Cheshire" authors, but Gawain and the Chester Mystery Plays are two of the more accessible examples with interesting connections to local history and local linguistics. Others include the writings of Lucian the Monk and the Polychronicon but these are written in Latin rather than an earlier version of English, and do not share the interesting feature that their authors are completely unknown. We know something of the religious/political controversey over the Mystery Plays, but far less, if anything, about the politics, if any, associated with Gawain.

The "Green Chapel" has been identified with "Lud's Church" (near Leek), which itself became associated with the anti-monastic and generally anti-clerical Lollards. The Lollards were active in the time of Richard II, who had a close association with Cheshire, making himself "Prince" of Cheshire and spending the last days of his reign in an attempt to reach his power-base (and treasury) there. Interpreting Gawain in the light of Richard's kingship and his association with Cheshire is difficult as the potential meaning shifts depending on whether the initial assumption is that the writer was pro- or anti-monastic or pro- or anti-Ricardian (or indifferent on both counts). While attempts have been made to associate authorship with known historical figures in Cheshire (Massey or Stanley), there is no real consensus. Finding locations in the Wirral that might have been associated with the Gawain legend is also only supported by very weak evidence: there may have been a stone circle at Overchurch on land possibly owned by either the Masseys or the Stanleys and this could have been the basis for adding some "mystery" to Gawain's travels. More likely the "godlessness" of the inhabitants of Wirral was inspired more by the then recent activities of the inhabitants rather than any relics of a "pagan" past. Similarly, Holywell has a beheading legend associated with St Winifred's well, but few would see this as a major key to any "solution" to Gawain.

Curiously, Frodsham Castle also has connections with Stanley (through Robert Torfote) and with the garter (through Joan de Mohun) as well as being close to the Upton Caves, another possible location for the Green Chapel due to its peculiar vegetation and green-glowing moss. Other places have been suggested as the location of the Chapel. Overall it seems possible that the Gawain Poet may have simply included local and contemporary tropes or motifs in the narrative. The fact that the nearest hamlet to the caves is "Fivecrosses" and this (in the form of the "Cross of Jerusalem) bears a symbolic link to Gawain's pentagram is probably co-incidence, the place is also known as Fivelanes End, with the Five Crosses smithy having stood on the patch of ground where five important roads met in a sort of crossroads.

"Gawain" comes from a time (around 1400) when the monasteries had lost their effective monopoly on the production of books, but printed books were not yet known in Britain: the first dated prints in England are an indulgence dating to 13 December 1476. So if the document was widely circulated this could only have been done by making a hand-copied version. The period included the "Manuscript Culture" and the "Devotio Moderna", when non-printed documents were being circulated outside of the monasteries. Criticism of authority can be found in some of these manuscripts, such as in "Richard the Redeless" and other documents in the "Piers Plowman tradition". The elaborate descriptions of armour and hunting found in Gawain could be said to point to a secular rather than a monastic work, and possibly as something which could be read aloud for entertainment. The erotic overtones of the "Bed Test" also do not seem to fit with a monastic origin.

Whether there is a deliberate "political" message intentionally hidden in Gawain, or whether it just made use of tropes from its time and locations from its place remains undecided. There are other theories: Carole Robinson makes out a detailed case in "The Green Knight: A quest for historical identities" as published in "Cheshire History" (51). In her argument locallity is established through Roger de Lacy (1171-1211) who was the Baron of Halton under Ranulf de Blondeville. Robinson makes Halton Castle Bertilak's seat and her version of the Green Chapel is that of St Bertelin at Runcorn (on the site of All Saints, Runcorn). This is an ancient establishment founded by Æthelflæd. As the various theories show, there have been several attempts to locate the Green Chapel much closer to Wirral than at Ludchurch and as a reading of Robinson reveals it is possible to assemble a context for Gawain which does not employ Ludchurch at all and brings in known historical figures.

In conclusion, one can use various techniques to link Gawain with Ludchurch or other locations (Frodsham, Halton) and with various political events, including local feuds in the Wirral and those of Richard's reign and downfall. Characters such as Edward of York, both soldier and huntsman, and the Mohuns (mother and daughter) can be linked-in, whether appropriately or not. This is enjoyable speculation, but does not solve the mystery of how Gawain came to be written and by whom. Tolkien was fascinated by the poem as have been many others since and it has spawned a vast literature. Perhaps the best last words should be Tolkien's own:

  • "The struggle becomes intense to a degree which a merely realistic story of how a pious knight resisted a temptation to adultery (when a guest) could hardly attain. It is one of the properties of Fairy Story thus to enlarge the scene and the actors; or rather it is one of the properties that are distilled by literary alchemy when old deep-rooted stories are rehandled by a real poet with an imagination of his own."

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