March 2011
640 pages
24.4x17.2 cm
Arthurian Studies
ISBN: 9781843842620
Format: Hardback


The Prehistory of King Arthur's Britain

Translated by Nigel Bryant

A highly readable version of this remarkable and largely unexplored work.
Perceforest is one of the largest and certainly the most extraordinary of the late Arthurian romances. Justly described as "an encyclopaedia of 14th-century chivalry" and "a mine of folkloric motifs", it is the subject of rapidly increasing attention and research. The author of Perceforest draws on Alexander romances, Roman histories and medieval travel writing (not to mention oral tradition, as he gives, for example, the distinctly racy first written version of the Sleeping Beauty story), to create a remarkable prehistory of King Arthur's Britain.
It begins with the arrival in Britain of Alexander the Great. His follower Perceforest, the first of Arthur's Greek ancestors, is made king of the island and finds it infested by the "evil clan" of Darnant the Enchanter. Magic plays a dominant part in the adventures which follow, as Perceforest ousts Darnant's clan despite their supernatural powers. He founds the knightly order of the "Franc Palais", an ideal of chivalric civilisation prefiguring the Round Table of Arthur and indeed that of Edward III. But that civilisation is, the author shows, all too fragile.
The vast imaginative scope of Perceforest is matched by its variety of tone, ranging from tales of love and enchantment to bawdy comedy, from glamorous tournaments to unvarnished descriptions of the havoc wrought by war. And the author's surprising view of pagan gods and the coming of Christianity is as fascinating as the prominence he gives to women and his understanding of how the world of chivalry should work.
Because of its enormous length - it runs to over a million words - Nigel Bryant has provided a version which gives a complete account of every episode, linking extensive passages of translation, to make a manageable and highly readable version (including the previously unpublished Books Five and Six), of this remarkable and largely unexplored work.

Nigel Bryant has worked as a producer for BBC Radio 3 and as head of drama at Marlborough College. This is his fourth major translation of medieval Arthurian romance.

Table of Contents

Manuscripts, editions and dates
Further Reading
Book One, Chapters I-LX
Book Two, Chapters I-LXIII
Book Three, Chapters I-LX
Book Four, Chapters I-LIX
Book Five, Chapters I-XLII
Book Six, Chapters I-LXIX


Perceforest has attracted increasing attention from scholars in recent years, and this adaptation, which must have been a huge undertaking, helpfully provides a flavour of the romance for the benefit of a wider readership. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW

Quoi qu'il en soit, cet imposant volume constitue une importante contribution au champ des études arthuriennes et apparentées, et facilite considérablement l'accès à l'une des ouvres les plus fascinantes de la fin du Moyen Âge. CAHIERS DE RECHERCHES MÉDIÉVALES ET HUMANISTES

[A] gripping new abridged translation of the Old French Perceforest [...] while interest in the Arthurian legend remains strong, this Old French text demonstrates that the medieval prehistory of Britain's once and future king is no less fascinating. TLS

An English translation of the fascinating, but little known, Roman de Perceforest is a welcome contribution that should help make this text more accessible both to undergraduates, and to medievalists from fields outside French Studies. MEDIUM AEVUM

Scholars and students owe Nigel Bryant a debt of gratitude, for his new English translation makes the Perceforest truly accessible for the first time to those wishing to engage with its marvellous episodes. [...] One can imagine the possibility of using this text - or large sections of it - in the classroom, something preciously difficult or impossible. MEDIEVAL REVIEW

Brewer is to be congratulated on its enormous contribution to Arthurian studies over past decades. [...] Bryant has given us a delightfully fast-paced read which rattles along through quests, battles, beautiful maidens and enchantments. [...] A wonderful addition to the Arthurian corpus. FORTEAN TIMES

Faced with this fascinating but enormous text [...] the translator and publisher of this [book] [.] took a very sensible decision: to publish a modern, easy-to-read, re-telling in English, which includes all the stories, but not every word of the text. [...] The introduction [...] discusses the many remarkable sides to the fourteenth-century, anonymous author's view of the world. THE RICARDIAN

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