This ubiquitous theme is represented first in Arthurian literature in Robert Biketís Lai du Cor and the anonymous La Mantel mautailliť, two late twelfth-century French lays. In Biketís romance, the object that tests chastity is a drinking horn, while in Mantel is a mantle or cloak. These two objects are the most frequently used in later texts, though a crown and a glove also appear. In the Welsh Triads, a chastity mantle is owned by Tegau, a lady at Arthurís court, and it is counted among the Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain. Tegau is also given a horn which may have the same properties as the mantle.
In Biket, a messenger from King Mangon of Moraine brings an enchanted horn, made by a fairy, to a feast at Arthurís Caerleon court, where most of Arthurís nobles are present. A note on the horn says that only a man whose wife is completely faithful in both mind and body can drink from the horn, and that a man with an unfaithful wife will have the contents of the horn spilled upon him. Arthur confidently fills the horn and raises it to his lips, but soon finds himself doused with wine. Furious, he whips out his dagger and lunges for Guinevere, but is held back by Owain, Gawain, and Cadain "who protest that no woman is utterly faithful in both mind and body" while Guinevere explains that the horn has unfairly faulted her for, many years ago, giving a ring to a young knight who had killed a giant.
Arthur calms down, forgives his wife, and passes the horn around to the other nobles so that he might not be alone in his embarrassment. Sure enough, the other knights are thoroughly drenched by the horn - except for Sir Caradoc, who manages to drink from the vessel without spilling any liquid, showing that his wife is, apparently, completely faithful. In recognition of his triumph, Arthur appoints Caradoc Earl of Cirencester. A version of this same chastity test is inserted in the First Continuation of Chrťtienís Perceval, with Caradoc again the hero.
Contemporary to Biket, an anonymous French author wrote Le Mantel Mautailliť, which follows the same structure as Biketís romance, but the object that tests the womenís chastity is a mantle rather than a horn. While in Biket, the men drink from the horn, in Mantel, it is the women who must try on the mantle. Again, it is Caradocís wife alone who is proven faithful. The third late twelfth century chastity test tale occurs in Ulrich von Zatzikhovenís Lanzelet. It also involves a mantle, and Lancelotís lady, Iblis, is the winner. Ulrichís mantle has not only the power to determine chastity, but can also determine the manner in which the woman is unfaithful. The wife of King Guivret, for instance, is embarrassed by his dwarfishness, and the wife of Sir Kailet resented the way he dragged her around on his adventures.
Heinrich von dem TŁrlinís Diu CrŰne includes two chastity tests, one involving a goblet, and the other a glove, which are obvious replacements for the horn and mantle. The goblet is given to both women and men, and spilling the contents reveals the drinkerís own falseness rather than his or her paramourís. Only Arthur is able to drink from it without failure. Even Gawaine, the hero of the romance, fails. Kay makes great sport of all who fail, which leads to his embarrassment when his own lady, Galaida, canít even touch the tankard. Guenevere spills only a little wine in her attempt. The glove, delivered to Arthurís court in a later episode, showed worthiness by turning its wearer invisible. Any part of the body that remained visible bespoke a fault - infidelity or otherwise. Only Arthur and Gawaine were able to wear it honorably, though no one was shown to be completely guileless.
Chastity tests appear in dozens of other romances, including the Dutch Wrake von Raguisel (a mantle proves Guinevereís infidelity; Lancelot therefore develops an irrational rage against all mantles and people who wear them, nearly killing his friend Yder when he sees Yderís lady wearing a mantle); the German Der Mantel; the Norse Mottuls Saga (only Sir Karadinís (Caradoc Briefbas) lady is faithful); the Shrovetide play Ain hupsches vasnachtspill und sagt von kŁnig Arthus, wie er siben fursten mit iren weyben zuo seinem hoff geladen het und wie si durch ain horn geschendet worden gar hupsch zuo hŲren (the Queen of Zipper sends the horn to Arthurís court and all are embarrassed); the German 'Lanethen Mantel' (Arthurís niece Laneth sends a mantle to Arthurís court as part of a rivalry with Guinevere); the English Romance of Sir Corneus; the German Dis ist frauw Tristerat horn von Saphoien (Tristerat of Savoy sends the horn to Arthurís court, and only the wife of the King of Spain is faithful); the Shrovetide play Der Luneten Mantel (a lady named Lunet sends the mantle to Arthurís court; again, only the King of Spain has a faithful wife); another Shrovetide play called Das Vasnachtspil mit der kron (a chastity crown sent to Arthurís court by the King of Abian tests the men by having horns grow out of their heads if they are unfaithful to their wives; the crown is ultimately returned to its sender); and the English ballad 'The Boy and the Mantle' (Caradoc, again, is the hero).
In the Prose Tristan, Morgan le Fay sends a chastity horn to Arthurís court to reveal the adultery of Guinevere, Morganís enemy. Sir Lamorat intercepts the horn en route and re-directs it to King Mark of Cornwall. (Lamorat previously had a fight with Tristan and wanted to embarrass Isolde.) When Isolde failed the test, Mark forced her into a second type of chastity test involving a hot iron. If anyone holding the iron told a lie, the iron would burn the personís hand. Isolde was able to use a trick of language to avoid telling a lie while leaving the impression that she was chaste. This type of test occurs previously in Bťroulís Tristan. Morgan also sends the horn to Arthurís court in La Tavola Ritonda and Maloryís Le Morte Darthur.
In Hans Sachsís Die Ehbrecherbuck, Arthur builds a magic chastity bridge that does not allow adulterers to cross. Though the other ladies at his court fall off the bridge, his wife, Guinevere, is able to pass. Finally, the German ballad "Die Ausgleichung" describes how the women at Arthurís court are tested with a mantle, the men with a horn. All fail except the old knight and fairy who brought the items in the first place.
Without fail, each chastity test occurs in a public setting - generally a court gathering - and each knightís or ladyís failure results in humiliation. Many of the romances that include chastity tests display an implicit or explicit critique of Arthurian chivalry.
Zipper | The Legend of King Arthur