1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bevis of Hampton
BEVIS OF HAMPTON, the name of an English metrical romance. Bevis is the son of Guy, count of Hampton (Southampton) and his young wife, a daughter of the king of Scotland. The countess asks a former suitor, Doon or Devoun, emperor of Almaine (Germany), to send an army to murder Guy in the forest. The plot is successful, and she marries Doon. When threatened with future vengeance by her ten-year-old son, she determines to make away with him also, but he is saved from death by a faithful tutor, is sold to heathen pirates, and reaches the court of King Hermin, whose realm is variously placed in Egypt and Armenia (Armorica). The exploits of Bevis, his love for the king’s daughter Josiane, his mission to King Bradmond of Damascus with a sealed letter demanding his own death, his imprisonment, his final vengeance on his stepfather are related in detail. After succeeding to his inheritance he is, however, driven into exile and separated from Josiane, to whom he is reunited only after each of them has contracted, in form only, a second union. The story also relates the hero’s death and the fortunes of his two sons.
The oldest extant version appears to be Boeve de Haumtone, an Anglo-Norman text which dates from the first half of the 13th century. The English metrical romance, Sir Beues of Hamtoun, is founded on some French original varying slightly from those which have been preserved. The oldest MS. dates from the beginning of the 14th century. The French chanson de geste, Beuve d’Hanstone, was followed by numerous prose versions. The printed editions of the story were most numerous in Italy, where Bovo d’Antona was the subject of more than one poem, and the tale was interpolated in the Reali di Francia, the Italian compilation of Carolingian legend. Although the English version that we possess is based on a French original, it seems probable that the legend took shape on English soil in the 10th century, and that it originated with the Danish invaders. Doon may be identified with the emperor Otto the Great, who was the contemporary of the English king Edgar of the story. R. Zenker (Boeve-Amlethus, Berlin and Leipzig, 1904) establishes a close parallel between Bevis and the Hamlet legend as related by Saxo Grammaticus in the Historia Danica. Among the more obvious coincidences which point to a common source are the vengeance taken on a stepfather for a father’s death, the letter bearing his own death-warrant which is entrusted to the hero, and his double marriage. The motive of the feigned madness is, however, lacking in Bevis. The princess who is Josiane’s rival is less ferocious than the Hermuthruda of the Hamlet legend, but she threatens Bevis with death if he refuses her. Both seem to be modelled on the type of Thyrdo of the Beowulf legend. A fanciful etymology connecting Bevis (Boeve) with Béowa (Béowulf), on the ground that both were dragon slayers, is inadmissible.
- On double marriage in early romance see G. Paris, “La Légende du mari aux deux femmes,” in La Poésie du moyen âge (2nd series, Paris, 1895); and A. Nutt, “The Lai of Eliduc,” &c, in Folk-Lore, vol. iii. (1892).