St. Digory?

Well…no. Not that you’d notice.

But actually this is probably a Breton name, had some English popularity, and became a popular Cornish first name for centuries. Today, it’s mostly known from C.S. Lewis’ character, Digory Kirke, and from Dowland’s tune, “Captain Digorie Piper His Galliard.” Cedric and Amos Diggory from the Harry Potter books were named after Lewis’ character, and Diggory Island is a real place in Cornwall on the sea coast. There’s also a Thomas Hardy character named Digory Venn, which makes sense because Hardy’s books are set in the south of England, close to Cornwall.

(Btw, Digorie Piper was from Launceston, Cornwall, and Dowland might just have met him at some point. But Piper became a pirate, and was executed in 1586. The galliard wasn’t published until 1604, and it’s a sad one.)

The name “Digory” comes from a medieval romance in the style of a Breton lai, called “Sir Degare,” “Syr Degore,” or “Degarre.” If the “teg/deg” particle were from Breton, it would mean something like “excellent one,” and would be a name in the same family as the Welsh “Tegau/Tegan.” But there’s also the Breton word “digor,” which means “open” or “opened.” That seems more likely. Some claim the name is “D’Esgare.” But the French version of the story says that his name is “D’Egarre,” and means “the lost one.”

Sir Digory was the son of a human princess and a fairy knight, who either raped her, abducted her, or seduced her while she was lost in the woods. Either way, he left her with only one-half of a broken fairy sword to know him by. Scared to keep the resulting baby, his mother dropped the kid off at a holy hermit’s doorstep, along with gold, a letter, and magic gloves that will only fit his mother’s hand.

The hermit got his sister to raise the baby, then educated the child when he got old enough. Then Digory set out to find his family, killed a dragon with a wooden club and saved an earl, was knighted by him and given a horse and armor, and then headed back to Brittany, to fight for the hand of the princess you couldn’t marry unless you beat the king of Brittany in combat. He won, he got married — and it turned out to be his mom.

Luckily his mom recognized the gloves, and Bad Stuff was averted. His mom decides that it’s probably time to ‘fess up to her dad about the teen pregnancy. Digory spares everyone embarrassment and heads out to find his fairy dad, and his mom gives him the broken sword to know his dad by. (Unless it’s a version where the mom left the sword for the baby, along with the gloves.)

So first Digory meets a mysterious lady in a hidden castle in the woods, falls in love with her, is put to sleep magically, and then gets rebuked for not waking up fast enough. The castle is under attack by a wicked knight who wants to marry the lady, and he has just slain all her dead father’s knights. So Digory fights the bad suitor, wins, and is offered the lady’s hand. He says he can’t stay but will be back within a year to collect.

Digory goes off. He runs into a fairy knight, who challenges him to a fight. (In many versions, they fight, equal each other, are both unhorsed, start to fight on foot, and then they pause and talk.) Digory shows the fairy knight the broken sword, and the knight acknowledges Digory as his son, producing the point of the sword as proof. They ride back to Digory’s mom, and the fairy knight marries her. Then they ride to the mysterious lady’s castle, and she marries Digory. Everybody lives happily ever after.

The puzzling part is that we don’t know why the rape, abduction, and/or seduction, and why the fairy knight didn’t just marry the girl in the first place. He doesn’t seem to be cursed, evil, or anything like that. He’s not portrayed as a bad guy. And why does Digory’s mom have magical gloves? Are these like the gloves or cloaks that only fit an honest woman, or what? This is one of those stories that seems to be missing a lot of context. (Not to mention the incest/misunderstood relationships, the Rustam/CuChulainn son as challenger thing, etc.) Clearly the idea is that things need fixing, but why did they go wrong?

In the longer versions, the problem is that the King of Brittany, Digory’s grandfather, is so protective of his teenage daughter that he himself duels all her suitors, and keeps defeating them. So I guess you’d have to be okay with killing your father-in-law in order to woo his daughter. The other problem is that the princess looks too much like her dead mother, and is only allowed to leave the castle to visit her mother’s grave in the woods. The princess’ maidens fall asleep under an enchanted chestnut tree near the grave, and the princess wanders into the woods to seek help or escape. And that’s when the fairy knight grabs her.

So yeah, some kind of curse or taboo, for sure. Very similar to other stories like “Tam Lin,” where the girl doesn’t seem willing or unwilling, and the knight prophesies that she’ll have a fated son, and so on. So whatever is wrong that’s binding the girl, there’s also something wrong with the guy that’s binding him. Why is the sword broken, for instance? And a sword is a Frankish marriage gift or betrothal gift, so what does a broken sword mean? And why is “Degore” sometimes included in lists of Arthur’s knights?

But anyway, this is not anything that most people would know about, so it doesn’t really affect the name of Digory today.

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