Notorious Knight Greysteil and His Magical Sword Sit on the Cusp Between Legend and Reality
Greysteil Castle looking west, courtesy of Chris Sinclair Photography and the Caithness Broch Project.
Comparing the Caithness Greysteil Castle myth with the poetic rendition told in southern Scotland, we find many correspondences, for example in both renditions Greysteil was “otherworldly” and “invincible,” and at both ends of the country the magic sword “was given to the protagonist by a wise old woman.”
Having considered these archetypes within the Greysteil myths, I concluded that they ‘all’ find their origin in early medieval grail romances. In Wolfram Von Echenbach's 13th century Parzival, the eponymous hero is given a “magic sword” and in the legends of King Arthur, he drew a “magic sword” from a stone proving that he was the rightful king. In some variants of this legend this sword was broken, and Arthur received excalibur from the Lady of the Lake - arguably the most famous of all magic swords.
The lady of the Lake, “who nurtured King Arthur in his last hours of life” was the keeper of the “magic sword” and this is precisely what is retold in the Greysteil Castle myths in the north of Scotland. The “wise woman” who protected the sword gave it to a “young aggrieved hunter,” and in these three magic words, we see a north highland reference to a young Arthur, before he wielded the magic sword Excalibur and became king.
Top image: Old rusty sword ( CC by SA 4.0 )
By Ashley Cowie
The History of Sir Eger, Sir Grahame and Sir Gray-Steel, Robert Sanders, Glasgow (1669), 72 pages, cat. Wing (2nd ed.) / H2139.
Basilius, H.A., 'The Rhymes in "Eger and Grime', Modern Philology, vol. 35, no. 2 (Nov., 1937), pp. 129-133.