When minstrels sang stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur, they were just some of many such tales and Bevois of Southampton was one of the most popular.

The tale was so famous, that King Henry V ordered tapestries to be made showing scenes from it and John Bunyan, though ashamed to have read such irreligious rubbish in his youth, based events in The Pilgrim’s Progress on the story.

The oldest version known, Boeve de Haumtone, is an Anglo-Norman text that dates back to the first half of the 13th century.

It tells us that Bevois’ father was Sir Guy, the Earl of Hampton.

Bevois’ mother, much younger, was forced into a marriage with Sir Guy in his declining years.

She asks a former suitor, Doon, Emperor of Almaine (Germany) for help, and he murders Sir Guy while he is out hunting in the forest.

She invites him to her bedchamber that very night.

Bevois, aged only 7, but “strong in will, as well as arm” attacks Doon, and threatens his mother.

Daily Echo:

The death of Bevois' father

She orders him killed, but he is concealed as a shepherd.

When he’s aged 10, he returns home and cudgels his stepfather almost to death.

Bevois is saved from death by his faithful tutor who, to get him away in secret, sells him to heathen pirates.

With them, he reaches the court of King Hermin in Armenia. There he grows to adulthood and leads the King’s armies.

The King has a daughter named Josian. They become the greatest of friends and she gives him a flying horse named Hirondelle and a magic sword called Morglay.

Daily Echo:

King Bradmond of Damascus requests Josian's hand in marriage, threatening to destroy Hermin's kingdom should he refuse.

But Bevois leads thirty thousand into battle and slays sixty thousand Saracens.

He becomes a hero in Armenia and the King offers him his daughter in marriage, just as long as he will convert to paganism.

Bevois refuses and incurs the King’s anger.

He sends him to King Bradmond to deliver a sealed letter, but Bevois is unaware that it treacherously demands his own death.

He is taken prisoner and lowered into a dungeon with several dragons. Seizing an old wooden club, he fights and kills them.

Daily Echo:

All those who are watching are astonished to see this and his life is spared.

But for seven years he exists on only water and vermin.

“Rats, and mice and such small deer, Was his meat that seven year”, quotes Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear, showing just how well-known the story was.

Bevois escapes and returns to Armenia, and Josian runs away with him.

During their flight, Josian is left to shelter in a cave. Two lions find her but, because Josian is a King’s daughter and a virgin, the lions are unable to harm her.

Daily Echo:

They lie quietly with their heads in her lap until Bevois returns. The lions attack him, and he kills them both.

In one of many other adventures, he fights a giant, Ascupart, who becomes his page.

Eventually they all sail back to England where Bevois drowns his stepfather in a vat of boiling lead and his mother throws herself off a tower.

Bevois and Josian marry and have several children one of whom, Miles, becomes King of England.

Daily Echo:

Bevois and Josian marry

Bevois, Josian, and Hirondelle all die on the same day. Bevois goes to the top of the Castle Tower and throws out his sword Morglay, stating his wish to be buried where it rests. It is said to have been at Bevois Mount.

Memorials in the City include two large wooden panels with paintings of Bevois and Ascupart which were on display for many years behind the lions at the Bargate and are now inside.

Daily Echo:

The two lions guarding the Bargate are in commemoration of Bevois’ fight against the two lions who laid their heads in Josian’s lap.

There are the roads Josian Walk, Bevois Street and Ascupart Street, and the areas of Bevois Park, Bevois Mount, Bevois Town and Bevois Valley.

There is also a Josian Centre in Imperial Park, Empress Road.