On Sunday 12th August it was a delight to accept an invitation to contribute from a literary point of view in the intended family project to create a banner depicting Josian, the beloved maiden and later wife of Bevis.
The location for the project was especially significant as it was the ancient guildhall space in the Southampton Bargate. This venerable space hosted many important medieval events. Now, under the almost-obscured gaze of Bevis and Ascupart the artist-in-residence set to work.
The images of Bevis the hero and Ascupart the giant who becomes his squire before betraying him date from the Tudor period and are painted on massive wooden panels. The images are very dark and like the wooden planks of the panels, show their age, but the whole environment was very evocative.
Everyone contributed some idea, or participated in the painting of the long-neglected positive female presence in the story of Bevis of Hampton. Josian is a strong, self-determining young woman, as far as that is possible for a princess in a medieval romance. She does not wait in her tower for things to happen, but asserts control over her life and her body. Many elements of her role within the story offer opportunities for striking visual representation, including the gonfanon or banner she presents to Bevis, and which she would have woven and embriodered for him with his device of 3 blue eagles on a golden ground. She also present him with his noble horse Arondel, whose name probably derives from the French ‘hirondelle’, a swallow.
It was also suggested that her twin baby sons should be depicted, indicating her identity as mother as well as princess.
In her placement between depictions of the Tudor images of Bevis and Ascupart she could be seen in her role as intercessor. Although this turns out to be a bad move, at the time when she pleads with Bevis not to kill the giant she fulfils the role of woman as merciful peacemaker.