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From The Story of Flamenca: the First Modern Novel, arranged from the Provençal Original of the XIIIth Century by William Aspenwall Bradley, illustrations by Florence Wyman Ivins; Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York; 1922; pp. 1-23.







COUNT Guy of Nemours had a daughter, Flamenca, whose beauty was such that the fame of it passed into every land, and all who heard thereof would fain have her for wife. Many sent messengers to make their suit: knights, nobles, and even the Slav king, who offered to ally himself with the count and aid him against his enemies.

But Guy, who loved his daughter, did not wish her to depart so far thence.

”I would rather,” he said, “she were a simple chatelaine, and see her each week or 4 month or even year, than a queen and lose her forever.”

Thus, in the end, he made choice of Archambaut, lord of Bourbon, whose friendship he had long sought, and than whom no better knight girded on sword from there to the end of the world.

Now when Archambaut heard these tidings, how the count would have him for son, and none other; and when he learned, too, from his messengers, that the hundredth part had not been told him of the damsel’s beauty, he rejoiced greatly and set out with a fair following of one hundred knights and four hundred squires, all mounted, for Nemours.

He arrived there three days before the time appointed for his wedding, and when he saw Flamenca he felt his heart inflamed, all flooded over with a sweet amorous fire. Trembling without, he burned within; and though that of which he suffered was not a fever, yet might it have proved fatal, had he not found for it a speedy cure.


Three nights he did not sleep, and Sunday morning he was already clad and shod betimes when the count, entering his room, gave him good morrow from Flamenca.

”Come,” he said, “if you would see the damsel in her bower.”

Then he took Archambaut by the hand, and led him to Flamenca, who was no whit confused, but only a little blushing.

”Here is your bride, lord Archambaut,” said the count. “Take her if you will.”

”Sir,” he answered, “if there be no hindrance in her, never took I aught so willingly.”

Then the damsel, smiling, said to her father:

”Sir, you show clearly you hold me in your power, who dispose of me so lightly. But, since it is your will, I consent.”

At this word, “consent,” Archambaut felt such joy that he could not keep from taking her hand and pressing it.

Thereupon they departed. Archambaut 6 knew right well with whom he had left the heart he bore not back with him again. Without once quitting the damsel with his eyes, he drew towards the door, where he bade her farewell. Nor was Flamenca disdainful, but smiled at him and repeated graciously: “God keep you.”

Five bishops and ten abbotts, in their robes, awaited them in the church, to marry them. When they had done this and said mass, all went to partake of the feast that had been prepared. Lord Archambaut and the count served at this feast; but the eyes of the first wandered oft to where his heart was, and, could he have had his way, he would have bidden the guests arise from the table before they had half fed.

When the feast was finished and the table was cleared, the jongleurs began. Some sang, others played. All this was a sore trial for lord Archambaut and, had not the night made him amends, I think that neither by 7 food nor by drink, would his live ever have been restored.

The feast lasted more than eight days. Lord Archambaut was happy, for he now had what he most desired, nor was he beset by other care than to serve her whom he wished to honor and please. Had it not been for manly shame which restrained him, he fain would have tired her and handed her himself her gown, her comb, and her mirror.

When, at length, he saw the feast was drawing to a close, and it would ill beseem him to stay longer, he took his leave and set out straight for Bourbon, to prepare his own feast, which he wished to make of such surpassing splendour that the other would no longer be spoken of.

He sent messengers to the king of France, pressing him to come and bring his queen with him. He bade them say to the king, that, if he would deign to pass by Nemours, and lead with him the lady Flamenca, he would be his forever.


Then Archambaut caused the city to be decked, and the streets hung with banners and fine tapestries, with silk and with samite. Gold, silver, clothes, and all things else were, by his order, brought together to be given feely to whoever might deign to accept them.

Five hundred suits of raiment, of purple and fine gold, a thousand lances and a thousand shields, a thousand spears and a thousand coats of mail, were made ready in the armory, and a thousand steeds were held waiting in their stalls, for those whom lord Archambaut would make knights.

The king came with a great array, and led Flamenca with him. More than six leagues, more than seven, reached the great company; and, before all the rest, rode the count’s son, Flamenca’s brother. For he wished to be the first to greet Archambaut, who rode forth to the encounter right well attended with a thousand knights, a thousand burghers, and a thousand varlets.

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Each welcomed the king and besought him to lodge with him. He refused saying:

”You press me in vain, for I have the lady Flamenca in my keeping; but my barons will gladly make their abode with you.”

So, at the end, all were lodged, and no man kept his door closed. The queen had a good pavillion, and Flamenca was her neighbour.

At the ninth hour all went to meat, and took with them good appetites. Fish of every sort was served, and whatever else is fitting for fast-days, including the fruits that are in season in the month of June, both pears and cherries. The king sent a present of two pieces of agate to Flamenca, who thanked him graciously when the repast was over.

The next day was the feast of Saint John, and it was not permitted to pass without due observance. The bishop of Cleremont 10 said high mass and preached a sermon on Our Lord, how He loved Saint John so well He called him more than prophet. Then a herald proclaimed, in the king’s name, that none should leave the court before a fortnight, for any reason, however weighty.

When they heard mass, the king spoke with Flamenca, and led her from the church. After him followed full three thousand knights, each leading a lady.

Together they went to the great hall where the feast was spread. When they had washed their hands, they were seated, not on bare benches, but on cushions covered with cloth; and the napkins on which they dried their hands were not coarse and rough, but fine and soft to the touch.

The guests were served with all manner of meats. Each had what he most liked, and so much that he who had least had no reason to envy him who had more. Yet there were above five hundred who gazed 11 with wonder upon Flamenca and who, while they fed their eyes upon her fair face, let their mouths go hungry.

No one there could compare with Flamenca. For, just as the sun is supreme by virtue of his splendour, so did she take rank above all the other ladies by reason of her beauty. Her color was so fresh, her look so gentle and gracious, her discourse so wise and so witty, that the noblest and liveliest among them remained as if dumb and deeming herself vanquished. They said that one would strive in vain to appear beautiful by the side of this lady. And, when they praised her, you may believe she was indeed fair; for, in all the world, there are not three to whom the others will accord beauty, and praise it.

When all had eaten they again washed their hands, but remained seated where they were, and partook of the wine; for such was the custom in those days. The cloths being removed, great mirrors — those good 12 counselors! — were brought and placed on tall standards before the guests, so that each might arrange his dress according to his liking. Then the jongleurs arose, each wishing to make himself heard.

He who knew a new piece for the viol, a song, a lai, or a descant, did his best to prevail above the others. Harpers harped, fifers fifed. Some sang the words, while their fellows played the notes. Both did their best and all performed so well that a great uproar reigned in the hall.

Then the king said:

“Sir knights, when the squires have eaten, cause your steeds to be saddled, and we shall go to the jousting. While we wait, I would have the queen lead one dance with Flamenca, and I too will dance, with the others.”

Thereupon knights, ladies, and damsels took one another by the hand. Never, in France or in Brittany, had been seen a dance so splendid. Two hundred jongleurs, 13 good players of the viol, took their places in pairs on the benches, and ran the sets without missing a note.

Now the squires had saddled and decked and led around the chargers. When these were seen, the dancing ceased, for never was so brave a sight. Each knight had his squire bring him his arms. Nor did the ladies depart thence, but stayed and found for themselves places in the windows to look out upon those who battled for their sake.

As for lord Archambaut, he lost no time but, with his own hand, dubbed nine hundred and ninety-seven knights, who went forthwith on foot to the palace in silken shoon and presented themselves to the king. He, for handsel, gave them this wish, that they should suffer no greater pain than love might give them. And the queen said likewise.

This day the king himself bore arms. At the tip of his lance he had fastened a sleeve. The queen gave no sign that she was displeased 14 by this token, but she said to herself that, if she knew who had given it to the king, she would make her rue the favor she bestowed. In her heart she believed it was Flamenca and sent for lord Archambaut, who presented himself fully armed before her.

”My lord,” said she, taking him by the hand and seating him beside her in the window, “I am ill at ease and need your counsel.”

“Your highness,” returned he, “may God keep you.”

Then the queen, touching Flamenca, seated nearbye said:

“My lady, I would speak alone with lord Archambaut.”

“Willingly, madam, since you wish it,” replied Flamenca.

At the next window sat the countess of Nevers who, when she saw Flamenca draw near, greeted her and made her a cushion of her own mantle. Flamenca, thanking her, 15 sat down beside her, and looked out upon the jousting.

The queen lost no time but broke forth in bitter rage:

“My lord Archambaut, is it not most unseemly for the king to wear thus, beneath my very eyes, an amorous devise? Methinks it is an affront to you, no less than to me.”

Archambaut saw clearly that she suspected Flamenca of having given the sleeve to the king.

“By Christ, my lady,” he hastened to answer, “I can not see that the king dishonours either you or me in thus bearing the badge of love. With him it is but knightly duty.”

“My lord, that is an excuse of which you yourself will have good need before another fortnight be past.”

“Nay, madam, seek not to make me jealous where there is no need.”

“Do you think then,” demanded the 16 queen, frowning, “that you too will not feel the pangs of jealousy? By my faith, that you shall, and not, perchance, without good cause.”

At that moment a jongleur drew near Archambaut and addressed him, saying:

“Sir, the king desires to bestow arms upon Thibaut, count of Blois, and I come from Thibaut himself, who prays you to join him.”

Lord Archambaut took his leave of the queen more troubled than he let her see. He was, indeed, in a bad humour because of what she had said; and, when he had seen Thibaut and more than four hundred others knighted by the king, he summoned his squire:

“Have the bells rung for vespers,” he ordered. “It will be time to sup when the king has heard them.”

When the ladies, seated at the windows, heard the bells, they cried:

“Why, it is not yet none, and already 17 they are ringing vespers! May she lose her husband who stirs a step while yet one knight is left in the lists! Never shall I leave the tiltyard for vespers!”

The king entered at that moment and, going graciously up to Flamenca, led her away. The barons followed him and led the ladies to church. When the office was ended, the king brought Flamenca back and playfully placed his hand upon her breast.

The queen was very wroth at this, and lord Archambaut also, though he gave no sign.

Then they supped. The tables were furnished with roast meats, with fruits, with fresh roses and violets, and with snow and ice to cool the wine, that it might not banish sleep. All were tired with the diversions of this day, and soon went to seek repose till the morrow.

The next morning, at daybreak, the new-made knights, clad in their gear, rode through 18 the streets, ringing bells of every sort. They made a fine hubbub, and Archambaut’s trouble grew as he heard it. In his heart was such grief he was like to die thereof. Yet he sought to hold himself in leash, blaming the queen for the suspicions she had sown in his breast, and concealing his feelings from the others.

Nineteen days the feast lasted, and all marvelled whence Archambaut could draw the great treasure he gave in largesse. On the twentieth day the king and queen took their departure; for the queen did not wish the feast to last the full month, now that she believed the king to be in love with Flamenca; but the king did not love with real love, and thought only to honor lord Archambaut when, in the presence of his host, he embraced Flamenca, and kissed her.

Archambaut set his guests upon their way right courteously, but his heart was gnawed by sharp jealous pangs. As he rode back, he raved wildly and, when he had returned, 19 his companions left him, thinking he had lost his senses. Alone, he cried:

“Alas, of what was I thinking when I took unto myself a wife! Good God, I was mad. Had I not everything I needed to make me happy? A curse on my friends and family who counselled me that which is ever for men a source of sorrow. Now, indeed, I have a wife; but much good does she do me, who consumes me with jealousy.”

Lord Archambaut was in an evil case. Leaving all his affairs in disorder, he made great dole when anyone came to the castle, and could hardly keep from throwing him out head-first. In every visitor he feared a rival. If one so much as spoke to his wife, he thought to see her ravished before his eyes.

“That is how all this came to pass. The king chose well his moment. Even before they left Nemours I believe he essayed her. I thought I had naught to fear from him, or I should have known how to guard her against 20 his devices. Now as many as wish can come and go, and there are never enough for her liking.

“Mark the welcome she gives them! She shows clearly she is no longer mine. Alas, unhappy wretch that I am! Cursed be the hour wherein I was born! The queen knew well what she was saying, when she told me I would be jealous. Curses on her, too, prophetess of evil!”

Then he broke into a great rage, tearing his hair, biting his lips, gnashing his teeth, and glaring fiercely at Flamenca. Scarce could he keep from cutting off her gleaming golden tresses.

“My lord, what ails you?” she asked him.

“What! Christ! I die, and you mock me! This is the work of these brave gallants who come to see you; but, by my faith, they will no longer find the way open to you. He who takes a wife has his trouble for naught if he put her not in some safe place and keep guard over her. This shall I do. The tower is high, 21 the wall is wide, and here you shall stay with only your damsels to keep you company.”

He delayed not, but, sending for a mason, led him straight to Flamenca’s tower. There he ordered him to cut a window into the kitchen, that her food might be passed through to her, and that he himself might spy upon his wife the more easily.

The sweet child now knew not what to do. Her life henceforth was little better than death. If her days were bad, her nights were worse, holding naught for her but weariness. She had to wait upon her two pretty maids, whose sorrows equalled hers, for they too were prisoners. Gentle and kind, they did what they could to comfort their mistress, and thinking only of the love they bore her, they forgot their own pain. The name of one of these damsels was Alis, of the other, Margarida.

God sent great grief unto Flamenca. Many sighs and much agony of heart were hers because of her husband, and she shed 22 bitter tears, being filled with sadness and affliction. Yet one signal mark of grace He bestowed upon her that, having no child, He put not love into her heart. For, loving, and having naught whereon to nourish her love, she would have suffered more sorely.

Long time she lived thus afflicted, never passing the door save on Sundays and feast days. Even in church neither knight nor clerk could speak with her. For Archambaut kept her ever in a dark corner behind a wide screen he had built to the level of her chin. He did not let her go to the altar for Communion, but made the priest bring the offering, which he gave her himself. A little clerk gave her the pax, and he, at least, might have got a glimpse of her, had he but known how to manage it.

After the words: Ite missa est, Archambaut left without waiting for sixte or none.

“Come, come,” he said to the young women. “Let me dine at once. Do not keep me waiting.”


He did not even give them time to say their prayers.

Thus passed two years. Every day the poor prisoners saw their pain redoubled, while Archambaut swore and groaned and guarded them both morning and night.

[Next: Part II]

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