views updated May 21 2018

Tristram in medieval legend, a knight (also called Tristan) who was the lover of Iseult and nephew of her husband king Mark of Cornwall; sent by the king to Ireland to bring the princess to Cornwall, Tristram falls in love with her, a love which is reinforced by the love potion which they accidentally drink, and which binds them to one another.

Despite their fated love, Tristram leaves Cornwall, and later marries Iseult of Brittany; in some versions of the story, he returns to Cornwall and is killed by the jealous Mark, in others (used by Wagner) he falls ill, and asks that Iseult of Ireland be sent for. The ship bringing her is to fly a white sail if she is on board; his jealous wife tells him that it is black, and Tristram dies before Iseult of Ireland can reach him.

The story of Tristram is now seen as one of the Arthurian romances, but it was incorporated at a late stage.