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Early English Romances in Verse done into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Love; Oxford University Press, New York, (undated); pp. 141-152, 191-192.
SHE was fair and pleasant to look upon, gentle and amiable to men of all ranks, and as true to her husband as the turtle-dove on the tree. For her goodness and grace, she was loved alike by young and old.
There lived in that same land a brave knight, wise and full of prowess. Indeed, so much was his hardihood 142 spoken of by rich and poor, that he was called The Noble Knight of Courtesy.
Now this lord heard tell of the knight’s good conditions, and sent to him a messenger with a letter, to say: “Sir, I pray you may one day see God! My lord of Faguell by me sends you greeting an hundredfold, and bids you come anon to dwell at his court, where you shall lack no manner thing, nor town nor towered castle.”
The courteous knight was content to go with that messenger to offer his service; and they rode fast, day and night, until they were come thither, and were met by that lord and greeted with friendly welcome. So richly was he soon endowed with towns and towered castles that other men envied him, and thought by some treachery to rob him of his high estate.
Seeing him so good and true, the lady of whom I spoke before, set her heart and soul on him above all other men, and thought to be loved by him, nowise in sin but in chastity, even as children are kind one to another. And so likewise he loved her firm and fast in his heart and soul, sinlessly, but with a love that lasted till they died.
Day and night these true lovers suffered great pain, sorrow, and distress, because they might not reveal their hearts to one another, till at last, by a sudden chance, the knight was in a green garden, thus complaining mournfully: “Alas, now is my heart in woeful pangs! I cannot refrain from lamentation, so doth love of this lady wound 143 me! And me, I fear, she disdains!” And with that he threw himself on the ground.
Now the lady lay in a window, her heart as cold as any stone. She wist not what to do or say when she heard the knight’s complaint. Sorely she sighed, and the colour fled her face. But when she came down into the garden where he lay on the ground, and when she saw him thus for her sake, her heart was almost broken for sorrow; and finding no comfort, she fell upon him in a swoon.
Presently the knight recovered, and when he saw her by his side took comfort, and began to cheer her, saying: “Lady-love, who hath brought you into this grief?”
And she: “My lover and my comfort, so your fairness standeth in my thought that, had I no mate in this world, none but yourself should ever have my heart!”
The knight said: “Lady, I shall in all honesty hold you dear, for your own sweet sake! Our love shall be none other, chaste and true and free from sin, than that which is between brother and sister. And wherever my body be, day or night, at all times my simple heart shall ever more abide with you, my lady!”
Then she, white as a flower and full of feminine shamefastedness, began to change her fair colour, saying to him: “Never doubt, my love, that in such wise shall I love you faithfully, next to God on high, alike in wealth and in adversity!”
They kissed each other in sign of troth; but even 144 then, alas! there was a foe behind the wall to espy them, who after turned all their joy to woe.
When they left the garden they parted; but their sorrowful laments were all past, for each had eased the other’s heart.
Then the spy of whom I spoke, that had stood behind the wall, went boldly to his lord, and said: “Sir, I must tell you that, as I was walking by your garden, I heard the Knight of Courtesy talking secretly with your lady of unlawful love. Therefore, if you suffer him to proceed to have his joy of her, either he will be led away from you, or between them they will compass your end.”
When the lord understood the spy’s words, he swore that the knight should be driven from that land, were he never so strong and bold; and he vowed by Almighty God never to rejoice while that knight remained there, nor until by some means he should be slain.
He let cry a feast for all that would come thither, great or small; and there arrived many, old and young. The lord was set at the head of the table, and his lady by him; and the Knight of Courtesy was fetched and placed on the other side. The hearts of these lovers would have been woebegone, had they known what was in the lord’s mind!
When they were all still, he spoke these words: “Methinks it is fitting for a knight to seek adventures, and not always to sojourn at home by the fire. Therefore, Sir Knight of Courtesy, I counsel you to go and ride through 145 the country, seeking chances that may turn to your advantage, as to fight in Rhodes2 and maintain the Christian faith, or show your strength by deeds of arms in Lombardy, Portugal, and Spain.”
Then said the knight to that lord; “For your sake, and for my lady’s, your dame’s, I will risk my life, whether I ever return or no. If I did not so, I were at fault.”
At that word, the lady sighed, for her heart was ta’en with deep grief and pierced as by a sword.
After dinner, the knight went to make ready his horse and harness; and this woeful lady came to him, and said right piteously: “Alas, if ye go, I must lament here alone, a creature full sorrowful; and if ye be slain in battle, I may not endure to live! Alas, unhappy woman! Where shall I go? Where shall I bide? Now indeed am I sure of death, and shall set aside all earthly joy!”
She took a pair of shears, and cut off her bright yellow hair. “Wear this, “ she said, “on your helmet, for my sake, gentle knight.”
“Dear lady, for your sake I will,” the knight answered, with still mourning; and finding no comfort, he could not but sigh heavily.
For great pity I cannot write of the sorrow that was between those two; and my respite for labour3 is all too short to tell of their pain and sorrow. No man could ever depaint the sad parting and lamentation of these lovers 146 twain, so bitterly they grieved. For very dolour, tears ran from their eyes as they said farewell.
The lady remained in her castle, her heart ever replenished with languor; and there let us leave her making moan, and turn to the courteous knight, who has gone forth on his journey.
He said unto himself: “I will not fight against Christians, but will go to Rhodes, there to sustain them with all my might.”
Then he unfolded her hair and set it high on his helmet, with red threads of rich gold that she had given him. His shield was wrought splendidly with azure and beaten gold; but he thought on nothing but herself when he beheld her yellow hair.
Eager for battle, he rode forth by dale and town, to seek adventures in many a town, city, and castle. In every jousting where he came, none was found so good as himself; and in every place he smote his adversary to the ground and won the prize.
When he came into Lombardy, there was a dragon in the neighbourhood, who did great hurt and damage to man and beast. At the knight rode alone, with only his page by his side, he began to bemoan his love with bitter sighs: “Alas, my sweet lady! God wot in what case ye be! God wot when we shall see each other again — I fear me never!” Then, as he looked towards a high hill, he heard a shout of the dragon, and said: “Yonder is a feast 147 indeed!” He blessed him and rode forward, saying: “I shall do my part. Betide me weal or woe, I shall assail this fierce monster!”
With this, he met the dragon, and she, seeing him, gaped wide; but he took good heed, and started a little away, and, drawing his sword like a knight to attack her, gave her mighty strokes, so that the battle was strong and deadly.
The dragon wounded the knight on the head with her tail, so that he fell a-swoon like a dead man; but quickly he arose, and with a prayer to God and Our Lady to help him in that fight, stared with fierce courage up to the dragon, and so watched for his advantage that he smote off her tail. She began to yell, and turned upon her side; and quickly on the alert, he let his sword slip into her body so that she could scarce move. Seeing this, he drew near and lightly smote off her head, and so escaped that danger. Straightway he thanked God of His grace, who by virtue of His Deity, and by His goodness and mercy, had preserved him at that time.
He went to a nunnery there beside, where a surgeon with skilful art healed his wide wounds. And after, he departed thence toward the Rhodes, to fight in battle as he had undertaken to do, and to sustain the faith with all his might; for he would not break his pledge.
At that time there was a rout of Saracens, all armed and in array, besieging Rhodes fiercely towards Good Friday.4 148 Hence, the knight was welcomed by all within the city, and anon they provided him with battle.
So for the time I leave them there, and return to the bright lady who dwelled at home with sorrowful face. Day and night she mourned, crying: “Alas, my love is gone away! Alas, my gentle knight, my heart is sore for thy sake! If only I might see thee once afore my death, I ask no other thing! Alas, what treason or envy hath made him go from me? I think my own lord in anger hath traitorously done him to death! Alas, my lord, ye were to blame thus to betray my love! It is right great shame to you, since our love was pure always, and we never intended sin! Alas, gentle being! Wherever thou goest, love, wherever thou ridest, never shalt thou be out of my mind! Ah, Death, where art thou so long from me? Come and part me from my sorrow; for till I be dead and buried, I can never cease lamenting! Farewell, dear love, wherever thou art! For thy sake, joy is gone from me; and till such time as I see thee again, I must still mourn uncomforted!”
Thus complained this clear-faced lady, grieving alone; and nothing could cheer her or give her ease, so was she oppressed with woe and pain.
So let us leave her in this state, ever bewailing her lover; and let us turn again to the knight of Rhodes. When the day of battle was come, the Christians all armed them, and went out of the city to fight strongly against God’s foes. 149 It was a seemly sight to see them ready for war, many a doughty man come from afar to that battle.
The Knight of Courtesy entered the field, well armed and riding fast; and both knights and barons beheld that none was better geared than he. His helmet was set with many a precious stone, and above was the comely hair as red as gold.
The trumpets sounded, the spears rushed together and broke the array; and with great noise of guns,5 in an encounter not playful, on every side was joined fierce battle. The Knight of Courtesy was not slow to smite down all that awaited him; and his match could nowhere be found.
There was a strong and doughty Saracen who envied him, and ran at him with all his might, saying: “Traitor, I defy thee!”
They rushed together with long spears, and anon the Saracen lay on the ground, and the knight drew his sword and smote off the head.
There came ten other Saracens in a rout, and so strongly assailed and beset him on all sides that fierce battle began again. Presently he cast four to the ground with four strokes; but the others multiplied still, and gave him many a hurt. They laid on him from every side cruel strokes and deadly, and pierced him with such deep, wide wounds that he fell to the earth.
Then the Saracens went away and let him lie — a piteous 150 sight! — with mortal wounds. Anon he called his page and said: “My time is come. In my heart is so deep a wound that, without gainsaying, I must die. But ere ye bury me in the ground, I pray thee one thing: cut my heart out of my body, and wrap it in this yellow hair; and when ye depart hence, convey it to my lady. Promise me without delay to take it to her as a present, and bury my body in the cross-ways.
The page was right sorrowful and dolent, but as soon as the knight had yielded up the ghost, he buried his master as he had been commanded, and went towards Faguell with the heart and the hair. Sometime he walked and again he ran, with woeful lament and sorry jest, until he came into the forest near the castle of Faguell.
Now the lord of Faguell was in the wood with his meiny, and presently met the page and asked: “Boy, what tidings with thee? How is the case with thy master? Tell me truly ere thou goest, or thou shalt never leave this place!”
Thereupon the page was afeared, and sad at heart, and gave up to the lord the heart and also the hair. He told him the truth of the whole matter: how the knight was slain in battle, and had sent the lady that thing for a special token of love.
The lord took good heed, gazing upon the heart, that high present, and said: “Their love was hot indeed; and they lived in great torment.”
Then he went home and into the kitchen. “Cook,” he 151 said, “listen to me. Dress me anon this heart6 in the daintiest wise that may be. Make it sweet and delicate to the taste. It is for my lady, who would not be the merrier if she wist what the meat were.” And he said again that such food was doleful and deadly; and so the lady found it when she knew.
Presently the lord went into the hall, and was set at meat, and his lady near him; and he bade the heart to be fetched — whereof proceeded great woe.
“Madam,” he said, “eat of this, for it is dainteous and pleasant.” And the lady did so, undismayed, for there was no lack of good spices.
And when she had done, her lord said to her: “You have eaten, every deal, the heart of him to whom you gave your yellow hair. Of a surety, your knight is dead, and ye have eaten his very heart. Madam, at the last, we must all die.”
Hearing this, the lady cried: “My heart will break for woe! Alas, that I ever saw this day! Now may my life last no longer!”
She rose in parlous estate, and went straight to her chamber, when she confessed her devoutly, and soon after received the Sacrament, Then she laid her grieving on her bed — God wot, woeful was her lament! “Alas!” she cried, “mine own dear love, since thou art dead, my joy is done! Have I indeed eaten thy heart? That meat 152 shall cost me dear! Now, alas, must I die of grief! Ah, noble, peerless knight, thy heart shall certainly die with me! Thereon have I taken the Sacrament, and hereafter I refuse all earthly food. For woe and pain my life is spent! My cruel husband, why have ye done this cursed deed? In slaying him ye have slain me also, and may the high God grant you your meed for this!”
Then said her husband: “My fair lady, forgive me if I have misdone! I repent me that I did not know ye would take this to heart so deeply!”
The lady answered: “I forgive you. Adieu, my lord, for evermore. My time is come, and I may live no longer.”
And he: “I am woe for that!”
Great was the sorrow of all the lords and ladies of every degree; some swooned, and all were full of grief for her death. Piteous it was to hear her complaint: “Adieu, my lord, now must we part. I die, husband, as true a wife as ever was found in Faguell. I never sinned with the Knight of Courtesy; and we are woefully brought to confusion! My lord, ye were to blame to make me eat his heart; but sith I have so done, I shall never touch other meat! Thereupon I have received the Eternal Food, and I shall never eat in earthly wise again. Now Jesus, that was slain on the Rood, have mercy on me, my life is done!”
1 Faïel, near St. Quentin in Northern France.
2 See note.
3 My working-time.
4 See note.
5 See note.
6 See note.
This romance (500 lines) is written in the ballad stanza, and indeed is almost an intermediate form between romance and ballad. No MS. of it is known. It was edited by Ritson from a unique printed book now in the Bodleian library, issued by William Copland before 1568. It is a version, derived, one would say, judging by its lack of proper names and by its general vagueness, from some popular form of the French legend of the Seigneur de Coucy and the Dame de Faïel. 192 This was told at great length in a French romance of the thirteenth century, which deals with historical personages.
p. 145. Rhodes. The allusion to the fighting at Rhodes could scarcely have been written before 1443. In this year the Templars called upon the Pope to summon help for the defence of that island, which was then besieged by the Sultan of Turkey. The change of scene from the Holy Land in the French versions, to Rhodes in the English, seems to show both that the poet was not acquainted with his original in detail, and that his poem was not written long before 1450.
p. 147. Towards Good Friday. The heathen were always supposed, in the romances, to make special efforts to overthrow their enemies on Christian holy days.
p. 149. Great noise of guns. But rarely mentioned, and only in the later romances. Cf. Squire of Low Degree, p. 175.
p. 151. Dress me anon this heart, &c. For parallel tales of a woman forced to eat her lover’s heart, cf. Child’s Ballads (1886), vol. v., 29.