The word “fairy” was used to describe an individual inhabitant of Faerie before the time of Chaucer.
Fairies appeared in medieval romances as one of the beings that a knight errant might encounter. A fairy lady appeared to Sir Launfal and demanded his love; like the fairy bride of ordinary folklore, she imposed a prohibition on him that in time he violated. Sir Orfeo’s wife was carried off by the King of Faerie. Huon of Bordeaux is aided by King Oberon. These fairy characters dwindled in number as the medieval era progressed; the figures became wizards and enchantresses.
The oldest fairies on record in England were first described by the historian Gervase of Tilbury in the 13th century.
Morgan le Fay, whose connection to the realm of Faerie is implied in her name, in Le Morte d’Arthur is a woman whose magic powers stem from study. While somewhat diminished with time, fairies never completely vanished from the tradition. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late tale, but the Green Knight himself is an otherworldly being. Edmund Spenserfeatured fairies in The Faerie Queene. In many works of fiction, fairies are freely mixed with the nymphs and satyrs of classical tradition, while in others (e.g., Lamia), they were seen as displacing the Classical beings. 15th-century poet and monk John Lydgate wrote that King Arthur was crowned in “the land of the fairy” and taken in his death by four fairy queens, toAvalon, where he lies under a “fairy hill”, until he is needed again.