4.7. The Couplet in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Nero A.x manuscript contains a couplet written above the second illustration to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in folio 129r on the first page after the completion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  This is the first of three blank pages originally following the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  It appears that the couplet was written on the page prior to the production of the illustration (as if the illustrator assumed this was part of the text) which was reduced to allow the couplet to remain visible (this is in contrast to all the other illustrations which are full page except the anomalous one on folio 86r where the illustration is included at the end of Cleanness on the lower half of the page.)


My minde is mukel on on þat wil me noȝt amende
Sum time was trewe & fro scham couþe hir defende.

  --Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (folio 125)

This couplet does not appear to be in the hand of the scribe (see [DAVIS67] and the summary by Savage [SAVAGE56],) although it appears to have been written prior to the production of the illustration.  Just conceivably it might be the hand of the Gawain-Poet himself, rather than the scribe, although there is absolutely no evidence for this.  Roughly translated this becomes “My memory is much on one who can no longer help me, in the past she was true as stone and could always defend herself.”.

An attractive but speculative interpretation might be that James Cottrell in 1415 was remembering his patron, Philippa, just after her death (from plague) on 17 July 1415, and wondering what was to become of himself with his patron gone.  Conceivably he could have written the two lines, prior to illustration, in a copy of his work that was later to travel to England.  In her early days in Portugal Philippa had to contend with opposition from the established Portuguese court and always defended herself well and soon became a strong and dominant queen.