"the goodlyest yonge man and the fayreste" Malory
Sir Gareth was the youngest brother of Sir Gawain and the son of King Lot of Orkeny, and Morgause - which makes him King Arthur's nephew.
To understand where Sir Gareth fits into the legend we will need to take a look at Malory's Le Morte d' Arthur.
In particular we need to study...
Book IV: “The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney"
Let me set the scene....
It is The Feast of Pentecost.
A handsome man, although very poorly dressed, enters Camelot, along with two other men and a dwarf. Sir Gawain announces them and the handsome man asks Arthur for three boons. Firstly, he would like, food and drink for a year.
Sir Kay - a knight renowned for his honour...or not - as the case may be - scorns this handsome young man and states "as he is, so he hath asked." Being the polite and noble knight Sir Kay is, it is no surprise he makes up a nickname for Gareth. He calls him "Beaumains" - pretty hands. Kay states that the boy may work in the kitchens.
Gawain and Lancelot try to defend the boy, but Kay is having none of that and the boy seems more than happy to work in the kitchens.
1 year later - The Feast of Pentecost
Lynet is in a desperate situation, her sisters' castle is under siege by the cruel Red Knight of the Red Lands. She comes to Arthur for help, but because she refuses to give him her sisters name, Arthur refuses her his knights.
Beaumains decides now would be the time to tell Arthur of his other two boons. He asks that he be allowed to assist Lynet and he asks to be knighted by Lancelot. Arthur agrees.
Lynet is not best pleased when she is presented with this kitchen boy. But if that is all Arthur is willing to give her, then she will take him. The dwarf that travelled with Beaumain, produces - to the courts astonishment - beautiful armour and an equally beautiful horse. Beaumain gallantly rides away without a shield or a spear.
Kay, not one to miss an opportunity, rides after him. Gawain and Lancelot follow. But Beaumain is a knight himself now - he and Kay joust. Beaumain is the better warrior, he beats Kay and wins his shield and spear! Lancelot watches the event unfold and is impressed. Beaumain then admits to Lancelot that he is really Gawain's youngest brother. I can imagine Lancelot raising his eyebrows and giving Gawain a quizzical look!
So the adventure begins...
The Black Knight,
The Green Knight,
Sir Persaunt of Inde,
and of course, not forgetting, The Red Knight of the Red Lands.
At the same time he wins Lynet's approval! (It takes a great deal of effort to impress these Dark Age women.)
Gareth falls in love with Lyonesse, the lady of the castle, and she with him - so she send him away for another year?? (Like you do when you love someone?) Meanwhile Lyonesse sends her brother, Sir Gryngamour, to capture the dwarf - the dwarf reveals Gareth's true identity!
Meanwhile, Gareth is searching for the lost dwarf. He arrives at Grungamour's castle. Here, Lyonesse seduces him, although she is in disguise. She then tells him who she is and they almost make love, but they are interrupted. Gareth is not in a forgiving mood and cuts off the intruders head!
Back at Camelot, Lady Morgause turns up looking for her son. Arthur learns the true identity of the boy and to cut a long story short, there is a joust, a magic ring, 30 weeping widows, enough colourful knights that you can lay them along side each other and create a rainbow - and lets not forget, a wedding!
Unfortunately Gareth and his brother, Gaheris, perish by Lancelot's hands, when he fights desperately to save his love, Guinevere, from the burning pyre. Lancelot is deeply grieved by the deaths of Gawain's brothers, but Gawain will not accept his apology. The grievance demands blood.
You can also read about Gareth in Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
I think Sir Gareth was pretty cool - what do you think?