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Brangaine: Tristan’s Handmaiden

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A relatively minor character in the Arthurian legends is Brangaine. She primarily – if not exclusively – features in the Arthurian tales about Tristan and Isolde.  

In this article, we will learn about:

  • Who Brangaine was
  • Which sources mention her
  • What role she plays in the legends


Brangaine is a character who features in most versions of the tales of Tristan and Isolde. She is Tristan’s handmaiden, and she also acts as his confidante.

She is truly faithful to Tristan, someone whom he can rely on. She was also beautiful.

Yet, although they were close, Brangaine and Tristan were not romantically involved. However, some versions of the legend indicate that she was secretly in love with her master.

Despite being a fairly minor character, she is also a very important one to the story of Tristan and Isolde, as we will see later.

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Brangaine’s name is spelt many different ways across the sources.

One common variation in modern sources is Brangain.

The medieval sources also spell her name:

  • Brangaene
  • Brangien
  • Brangwane
  • Brangwin


The legends do not provide much information about Brangaine’s family. One thing we can conclude is that she did not come from a wealthy or royal family.

She had two brothers. Their names were Perynin and Mathael. Brangaine presented them to Tristan as servants.



Brangaine’s first role in the legend is her most important one. Her master, Tristan, was to travel to Ireland to escort Isolde to Cornwall to become the wife of King Mark of Cornwall.

Naturally, since Brangaine was Tristan’s handmaiden, she accompanied him. Her mother had given her a love potion which was supposed to be used for Isolde and Mark on the day of their marriage. 

However, Brangaine leaves the potion unattended on the boat. During the journey back from Ireland to Mark’s land, Tristan and Isolde find the potion and mistake it for a normal bottle of wine. 

They drink the potion and fall in love with each other. This is the catalyst for the entire Tristan and Isolde story, which is founded on their undying love for each other.


Later on, Brangaine plays another important role. Because of Isolde’s love for Tristan and the fact that she was no longer a virgin, she needed someone to take her place on her wedding night with King Mark.

Therefore, Isolde sends the virgin Brangaine in disguise to pretend to be her. Under the cover of darkness in the bedroom, King Mark is fooled, and the plan works. 


Despite Brangaine’s loyal service to her masters, Isolde becomes afraid that she might reveal to King Mark the secret of what really occurred on his wedding night. 

Therefore, Isolde decides to have Brangaine killed. It is possible that she was not motivated just by this concern. In Thomas Malory’s version, at least, there are hints of strife between Isolde and Brangaine, indicating that Isolde may have been slightly jealous of her.

In any case, Isolde gets her other servants to take Brangaine to the woods and kill her.


Despite Isolde’s orders, the servants responsible for killing Brangaine cannot bring themselves to do it. Instead, they tie her to a tree and leave her there.

In some versions of the legend, Isolde eventually realizes the wickedness of what she has done and goes to the forest to rescue Brangaine. 

In the Prose Tristan, Brangaine is saved through different means. The Saracen knight Palamedes finds her and rescues her.

Furthermore, in this version, Isolde did not order Brangaine’s execution; rather, the servants took it upon themselves to take her to the forest, due to their jealousy of her.


Later on in the legend of Tristan and Isolde, when Tristan is in Brittany, he shows his friend Kahedins a statue of Brangaine. Kahedins immediately falls in love with her.

He and Tristan travel to Cornwall so that Kahedins can meet her. In one version of the story, Brangaine evidently does not desire Kahedins, so she uses a magic pillow to put him to sleep.

In Thomas Malory’s version, Brangaine does return Kahedins’ love. However, she hears a false report that Kahedins fled from combat, causing her to despise him.


Brangaine’s death is not a huge focus in any of the sources. One source, by Eilhart von Oberge, simply informs us that she died before her masters.

In the 15th-century Italian tale La Tavola Ritonda, she dies of grief when Isolde is taken by King Mark from Tristan’s castle.


One of the original sources for Brangaine is the 12th-century Tristan, by Béroul, a Norman or Breton poet.

Another 12th-century source is also called Tristan – a French poem written by Thomas of Britain.

In the later 12th century, there is Tristrant, written by the German poet Eilhart von Oberge.

Yet another 12th-century source is the Tristan written by another German poet, Gottfried von Strassburg.

The first major prose version of Brangaine’s legend is Prose Tristan, written in the 13th century.

Thomas Malory’s 15th-century Le Morte d’Arthur is also another source for her legend.


Brangaine has appeared in a few of pieces of media:

  • Tristan and Isolde – Restoring Palamede: This 1932 novel by John Erskine features the story of Brangaine being tied to a tree, except this is done by pagan tree worshippers.
  • Tristan and Isolde: This 2006 movie by Kevin Reynolds presents a character called Bragnae who serves as Isolde’s maid, clearly based on Brangaine.

See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.

Arthurian Bibliography

See also my ever-expanding list of primary and secondary sources.

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Jason is a Mythic Fantasy Author and creator of MythBank. He loves mythology, history, and geek culture. When he's not writing, his favorite hobbies include hiking, chilling with his wife, spouting nonsense words at his baby daughter, and developing this (and other) websites.

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