King Arthur held court at Gelliwig, and his knights and their ladies assembled there.
One night they were feasting after a day’s jousting, when a strange young lad appeared at Arthur’s side.
The lad drew a magic wand from his silk sash, waved it in the air and a beautiful mantle appeared. It was woven with cloth that changed colour in the light, strong and slender as a spider’s web.
“Lords,” he announced as the court stood expectant, “this cloak will only shine on a constant wife.”
He waved it before them. “If any woman wears it who has loved a man other than her husband, its shining silk will dull to drab rags. A wife you had thought of as a beautiful rose will seem a cankerous weed.”
All the women of the court gazed at the mantle. It was the most beautiful garment any had seen, and all the ladies pictured how its fine folds would enhance their beauty.
All the knights, King and all, imagined their ladies wrapped in its flowing fabric. Each wanted it for his wife.
One by one the women tried it on. First, as befitting her rank, the Queen, Gwenivere took the cloak and threw it round her shoulders. We know the Queen had a roving eye, and had once loved Lancelot as well as Arthur.
The mantle knew too – don’t ask me how – and on Gwenivere it looked like a drab rag – one side too short, another too long, wrinkled here, sagging there.
Arthur was shocked- “You are not true to me” he cried. Gwenivere stormed out in a fury, shamed and ran to her chamber. She would never betray Arthur again.
Next Sir Kay called his wife forward. He was sure she would look beautiful in the mantle – so was she, and she giggled as she stepped forward and twirled on the cloak. All at once its silk shrunk up to her shoulder, leaving her back bare.
She blushed beetroot, and left the hall. The knights thought this was a good game, seeing whose wife they could shame in front of the whole court.
One by one the ladies tried on the mantle, one by one they hung their head in shame as it shriveled and shrunk, dulled and drabbed, curled and contracted about them.
It seemed like there were no true women in Gelliwig.
Finally Caradoc called his lady, Tegan, forward. She was very shy and blushed as she stepped forward, not from shame but from embarrassment. As she put the cloak on its hem began to wrinkle and crackle. ”Stop it!” she said as she smoothed the cloth down, “I’ve only ever loved Caradoc.”
The wrinkles turned to perfect folds, the crackling to glowing; for truth shines.
Tegan shone with beauty, Caradoc shone with pride …and the mantle just shone
Tegan kept it safe in her wardrobe trunk. She wore it as she stood beside Caradoc as he was crowned King of Gelliwig, Callington to you, and she, his honest Queen.
retold by Sue Field
Percy’s Reliques The boy and the Mantle in Bullfinches Mythology
Baring Gould A book of Cornwall places the story in Callington