The tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table weave a rich tapestry. Many know the famous stories of the good king, who with the aid of his powerful advisor Merlin and his noble knights rules Britain for a season, holding back the advancing evils and bringing peace to the land.
Many of Arthur’s knights, and the other figures of his stories are as famous as the king. Lancelot, and his love for Arthur’s Queen Guinevere, Galahad and Gawain, the sorceress Morgana le Fay and the strange Lady of the Lake, all have their own tales, and all contribute to the mythos.
But in truth there are many more stories of Arthur and his knights than survive in the public consciousness. Some of these lost stories are every bit as engaging and intriguing as those that are commonly remembered, and some are far stranger.
Such as the story of Sir Marrok, a full-blown werewolf at the court of King Arthur.
To be fair, much of the legend of Sir Marrok is a later fiction based on a single sentence from Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Such a tenuous reference is easily missed, but Mallory felt the need to include it, and much can be read into that intent.
Mallory wrote of Sir Marrok as follows: “sir Marrok the good knight that was betrayed with his wyff, for she made hym seven yere a warwolff.” That is correct, this is not some later gloss based on a nebulous description: Mallory literally, and in as many words, describes Marrok as a werewolf.
Much can be gleaned from this brief reference. Marrok’s change was caused by his wife, and in this we see a common theme throughout Arthurian myth as to the power of women to control men, and often to cause their downfall.
Women are commonly cast as the sorcerers and magic users in Arthurian legend, challenges to Arthur’s more straightforward knights. Aside from the witch Morgana le Fay there is Nimue, Merlin’s lover and apprentice who brings him low and (some say) trapped him beneath Stonehenge to sleep for all time.
There is the Lake of the Lake, of course. Sir Gawain is seduced by a lady during his adventure, a magical test the knight fails. And in Sir Marrok’s wife we see another magic user who would corrupt one of Arthur’s knights.
The very brevity of the mention also suggests much. Mallory would not include such a tantalizing and intriguing reference in passing, would not dangle something in front of his readers and then never mention it again, if it were something he had just invented himself.
The brief reference instead suggests that the story of Sir Marrok would be known to his intended readership in the 15th century. His casual mention of the story of Sir Marrok, devoid of any supporting explanation or detail, implies that the reader should nod in recognition but not get distracted by this story for now.
Is there a lost tale of Sir Marrok out there? A “Marrok” appears in a 14th century poem named Sir Tryamour, but this is not a story of Arthur and the name seems only to be a coincidence. And there is certainly no werewolf in Sir Tryamour.
It would seem that the source for Mallory’s Marrok, the werewolf betrayed by his wife, is lost to us. Maybe one day it will be found, and we will learn more of this most unusual and intriguing of Arthurian tales.
Top Image: Sir Marrok is cursed by his wife to become a werewolf for seven years. Source: Midjourney AI / Public Domain.
By Joseph Green
Bangor University, 2023. Sir Marrok: A Tale of the Days of King Arthur. Available at: http://arthurian-studies.bangor.ac.uk/exhibition/rochester/23.php
University of York: Database of Middle English Romance, 2023. Sir Tryamour. Available at: https://www.middleenglishromance.org.uk/mer/65
Nightbringer, 2023. Marrok. Available at: https://nightbringer.se/nightbringer/a_marrok.html