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Sir Cligés
Arthurian Literary Character

The son of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexander, and Sir Gawain's sister, Soredamor, Sir Cligés was born in Britain during his father's years at High-King Arthur's court. His father and uncle, Alis, ruled the Eastern Empire under an agreement by which Alis was to remain single and beget no children, and the throne was to fall to Cligés upon the deaths of the brothers. Alexander died first, however, and Alis broke their pact by marrying Fenice, the daughter of the Emperor of Germany. Cligés accompanied his uncle’s wedding entourage and fell in love with Fenice at their first meeting. The feeling was mutual and the bride managed to preserve her virginity by serving Alis a potion that made him believe his dreams of passionate nights were the real thing. During their return to Byzantium (which is today called Greece), they were ambushed by the Duke of Saxony but Cligés defeated him in single combat. Tormented by his forbidden love, Cligés persuaded his uncle to knight him and allow him to leave for Britain to test his prowess at King Arthur's court, as his father had urged before his death. Arriving at Wallingford, he learnt that King Arthur was holding a tournament at nearby Oxford. So he sent his squire to London to buy him three suits of coloured armour. Wearing the black armour, Cligés defeated Sir Sagramore during the first day’s jousting and carried off all the honours. Back at his lodging, he hid the black armour and wore, instead, the green. The next day, he defeated Sir Lancelot and proceeded so well that he was declared far better than the unknown black knight of the day before. He moved unto the crimson armour on the third day, defeating Sir Percivale and repeating his general success. By this time, people were tumbling to the fact that this was the same knight in disguise. Sir Gawain modestly decided to try his hand on the last day, but Cligés matched him so well that Arthur declared the fight a draw. Cligés revealed his identity and both were delighted to find he was their relative. He stayed with Arthur's court until the following summer, travelling throughout Britain and France performing knightly deeds while Arthur made more of him than of any other nephew. He eventually returned to Byzantium where the lovers developed a plan to unite themselves. Fenice was to feign death, escape from her tomb and live with Cligés in a secluded tower. Cligés's servant, John, constructed a tomb from which the lady could get free. The plot worked a treat and Cligés and Fenice enjoyed a time of bliss before their ruse was discovered by a knight named Bertrand. Forced to flee, the lovers lived abroad until Alis's death, when they returned to claim their crowns.


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