medieval tale: Flamenca loves Archimbaut’s imprisoned husband Guillem

In her jealous wickedness, Queen Archimbaut locked her husband Guillem in a tower in Bourbon. She allowed him out of that prison only a half hour every evening to watch the plague news and worship service. Alone with only his two close men servant-friends, Guillem could merely eat and drink and talk and lament all day long. He thus endured a miserable marriage. God, however, had not completely forsaken Guillem:

This grace he has from God above:
he has no children, nor does he love.
For, had he loved and lacked the one
whom he had set his love upon,
even worse would have been his plight.
He would have never known Love’s delight,
had Love’s own generosity
not shown that to him secretly.
So Love taught him to play its game
when the right time and season came,
yet long he thought he was all but dead.

{ Mais d’aisol fes Dieus honor gran,
Car non amet ni hac enfan,
Car s’il ames e non agues
Ab que s’amor paisser pogues ,
Ieu cug ben que pieitz l’en estera.
Ja negun tems il non amera
Si Amors, per son jausimen,
Noil o mostres privadamen,
Mais il l’ensenet de son joc
Quan conoc la sazon nil luec;
Mais lonc tems plais es tenc per morta. }

As a good Christian, Guillem ardently yearned for God’s promise to resurrect the flesh.

medieval lady like Flamenca

In far-away Burgundy, nature fashioned and nurtured a strong, independent woman named Flamenca. She was a princess and a warrior:

A nobler woman you’d never find
nor one to good deeds more inclined,
in sense and looks a paragon.
If Absalom and Solomon
were joined to form one single hero,
compared to her they made but zero.
If you could make one man of these
worthies: Hector, Paris, Ulysses,
their wit, valor, and beauty would stand
as nothing versus this noble woman.

{ Car non fo mais si bella res
Ni a cui tan plagues totz bens.
Tan fon savis e belz e pros
Ques Absalon e Salamos
Sil dui fossan us solamenz,
Encontra lui foran nïenz.
Paris, Hector et Ulixes,
Qui totz tres en un ajostes,
Quant a lui non foran presat
Per sen, per valor, per beutat,
Car tan fon bella sa faissos }

Because of gender bias in the literary canon, few students learn about Flamenca. Men students especially need their male gaze re-educated. Flamenca was not only strong and independent, but also extremely good-looking:

One is pressed hard to express
how great was this woman’s comeliness,
yet I will try as best I can
to say a little about this woman.
Blond, fresh, and wavy was her hair.
Her brow was smooth, white, broad, fair.
Her eyebrows, dark and firmly traced,
were arched and very widely spaced.
Her eyes were merry, large, and gleaming,
her nose well-formed and of good seeming
and of good length and firm and fine,
straight as a cross-bow’s shaft line.
Her face was full and fresh and gay:
indeed no fresh-blown rose in May
ever so radiantly shone
as did her bright complexion.
So well did crimson blend with white
no man e’er saw a fairer sight.
Likewise the ears upon her head
were large, firm, well-shaped, and red.
Her mouth was handsome and delicate,
apt for love’s words to formulate,
her teeth, of perfect symmetry,
were whiter than white ivory.
Her chin was firm, and becoming her, fit
better for being cleft a bit.
Her neck so straight and strong and broad
that not a bone or sinew showed.
Her shoulders too were broad; those
of the man Atlas did no more strength disclose.
Her muscles round, sturdy her brawn,
her arms of good dimension.
Her hands were hard and big and strong,
her fingers smooth-jointed and long.
She had slim hips, a chest of good stout size
and lovely, too, were her thighs
and haunches, firm and well-filled out
with solid flesh, and straight and stout.
Her knees were smooth, her legs were straight,
well-formed and slim and delicate;
her feet graceful, high-arched and thin —
indeed, no woman could outdo her.

{ C’om es al dire sofraitos.
Pero un petit ne dirai
De sa faiso si con sabrai.
Lo pel ac blon, cresp et undat;
Lo fron ac blanc, aut, plan e lat,
Los cilz ac niers et arzonatz,
Loncs et espes, larc devisatz.
Oils ac grosses, vars e risenz,
Le nas fon belz et avinenz,
Loncs e dreitz e ben alinatz,
A lei d’un bel arbreir formatz;
La cara plena e colrada:
Rosa de mai jorn qu’es nada
Non es tam bella ni tan clara
Quo fon li colors de sa cara,
Lai on si tain, mesclada ab blanc:
Plus bella colors non fon anc.
Ben foron faitas sas aureillas,
Grandas e duras e vermeillas.
Li bocca bella e ginnosa
Et en tot quan dis amorosa;
Las dens esteron per garan
Plus blancas que d’un orifan.
Le mentos fon ben faissonatz,
Per mieils estar un pauc forcatz.
Lo col ac dreg e gran e gros,
Que non i par nervis ni os.
Amples fo mout per las espallas
E ac las aisi fortz con Atlas,
Muscles redons e fortz brasons,
E brazes tals con volc razons.
Las mans ac grans e fortz e duras,
Los detz loncs e planas junturas,
Pieitz hac espes e sotils flancs.
De las ancas non fon ges rancs
Ans las ac grossas e cairadas,
Coissas redundas e dins ladas,
Los genoils plans, las cambas sanas,
Longas e dreitas e ben planas.
Pes ac voutis, caus e nerveinz,
Anc per home non fon ateinz.}

Just because a woman is a warrior and beautiful, one shouldn’t assume that she’s unlearned, that she’s coasting to worldly success through her strength and looks. Flamenca was as highly educated as any medieval man, and she had a wide range of learned skills:

This woman, of such rare elegance,
was reared in Paris, in Ile-de-France.
The seven arts she learned so fair
that she could find a job anywhere
to teach uni students, had she chosen to.
Better than any cleric man, she know
how to sing fine in church and read.
Dominick her teacher found no need
for slowing with her fencing: so adept
was she that none could intercept
her blade, or guard against her thrust.
So fair a woman, so brave, so just
was never seen, nor one so true
and noble-hearted through and through.
This woman was a good seven feet tall.
If you placed a candle on the wall,
two feet above her head, why she
with quick foot touched it easily.

{ D’aital faison, d’aital semblanza
Fo noiris a Paris e Franza.
Lai apres tan de las .VII. artz
Que pogra ben en totas partz
Tener escolas, sis volgues.
Legir e cantar, sil plagues,
En gliesa saup mieilz d’autre clergue.
Sos maistre ac nom Domergue;
Cel l’ensenet tan d’escrimir
Que nulz hom nos poc si cobrir
Ques el nol fier en descubert.
Tam bell, tam pros ni tan apert,
Non vi hom anc, al mieu semblan,
Ni que fos aisi de bon gran.
.VII. pes ac d’ aut, et atteis ben
Dos pes ab lo pe sobre se
Quan hom li mes en la paret
Una candela o un muquet. }

Flamenca was from a noble family and had rich friends. Her brothers were the Count of Blois and Count Raoul of Nevers. The King of France gave her 1000 pounds, and her uncle, a duke, another 1700. Her cousin, the King of England, gave her a 1000 marks sterling. The Holy Roman Emperor gave her another 1000. Despite her great privilege as a beautiful, rich young woman, Flamenca wasn’t complacent with women’s privilege. At seventeen, Flamenca was selected as the first woman lieutenant in the French Foreign Legion.

Men didn’t feel intimidated by Flamenca, nor were women jealous of her. All spoke highly of her, even in her absence, and all loved her. They understood that as a woman Flamenca was worthiest of all the worthies:

Her worth could not be overstated,
for the truth would far surpass the tale.
Writing a whole year I would fail
to tell what she did in one day.
Most pleased and fortunate were they,
men meeting her, who with this woman
in their eyes, could speak of love’s plan.

{ Ges hom de lui nom poc gabar,
Car li vertatz sobraval dih.
En un an non agran escrig
So que fasia en un jorn.
En gran deleit, en gran sojorn
Eron las domnas que parlavon
Ab lui d’amor, quan lo miravon. }

Like the best of Hollywood female heroes today, Flamenca loved fencing tournaments, scholarly study, literary contests, fights of mixed martial arts, and beauty pageants. She also excelled in singing competitions:

Chansons and lays, and descorts too,
and every kind of poetry
she knew better than any minstrel. She
knew them so perfectly and well,
that she outdid the learned Daniel.

{ Chansons e lais, descortz e vers,
Serventes et autres cantars
Sabia plus que nuls joglars,
Neis Daniel que saup ganren
Nos pogr’ ab lui penre per ren. }

While highly competitive with men, Flamenca was also very generous to them:

Innkeepers praised her to the sky,
for, though they charged her far too high,
she always added to the sum,
and so, whenever they see her come,
they make their lodgings fair and trim:
there’s many a man who lives off her.

Laymen and clerks she loved. She fed
them not on mere water and bread
as in the hospital it’s done,
but offered each companion
clothing, fair armor, goodly steeds
all well-equipped to suit their needs.

{ Sei hoste tut de lui si lauson:
Tant nol sobrecomtan ni bauson
Mais non lur don al departir;
E per zo, quan l’ auson venir,
Lur hostal paron e garnisson;
Mout home ab lui si formisson.

Et amet clergue e gen laiga.
Ges nom promes sol pan et aiga,
Aisi con fan a l’ospital,
Als compainos de son ostal.
Ans esteron em bels arnes,
En rix cavals ab bos conres,
E pogron far gran mession }

Heloise of the Paraclete wasn’t as learned as Flamenca, nor was Empress Theodora as eminent. Among wonderful women, Flamenca was the most wonderful of all.

Despite all her gifts, Flamenca hadn’t experienced a man’s ardent, vigorous, overwhelming love. She imagined what that would be like, but she didn’t know:

Love was indeed to her unknown
by any testing of her own,
though what it was, of course, she knew,
having read all the authors who
had written of it with skill and tact
to tell how it is that lovers act.
She knew she could not follow, in truth,
the path of life common to joyful youth
if love’s ways she did not soon learn,
so she made up her mind to turn
her heart to some love that would bring
her honor and no sorrowing.

{ Ancar d’amor no s’entremes
Per so que lo ver en saupes.
Per dir saup ben que fon amors,
Cant legit ac totz los auctors
Que d’amor parlon e si feinon,
Consi amador si capteinon.
Car ben conoc que longamen
Nom poc estar segon Joven
Ques el d’amor non s’entrameta.
Per so pessa que son cor meta
En tal amor don bens li venga
E que a mal hom non l’o tenga. }

Flamenca drew up a checklist of characteristics that she wanted in a man so that he would enhance her honor in love. But even in medieval Europe, elite women faced a shortage of men who satisfied their list of requirements for love. Could Flamenca love a bartender? Is she to love some nobody secretary serving in some lowly post in the local church? That doesn’t happen even in ridiculous fictional romances.

Flamenca meditated on how to find a man suitable for her to love. She had heard that Queen Archimbaut was imprisoning her husband Guillem in a tower. Flamenca considered Guillem:

Truly, women said, he was the best,
the most courtly and the loveliest.
In grace no man was above him,
so she made up her heart to love him,
if only some way she could find
to speak to him. While thus her mind
was occupied, Love drew close by
in sprightliness and gaiety.
Love promised her beyond all doubt
that such attempt would bring about
much joy and satisfaction.

{ Cel que la cuj’ aver devesa,
Et au dir per vera novella
Quel miellers es e li plus bella
El plus cortesa qu’el mon sia.
En cor li venc que l’amaria
S’om pogues ab ella parlar.
Mentre qu’estai en cest pensar,
Amors ben pres de lui s’acointa
E fes si mout gaia e cointa.
Fort li promet et assegura
Qu’il li dara tal aventura
Que mout sera valent e bona. }

In the trobairtiz / troubadour tradition of “love from afar {amor de lonh},” Flamenca fell in love in Guillem. She immediately resolved to travel to Bourbon. She would set him free with her love for him.

Arriving in Bourbon, Flamenca took lodging in an inn close to the tower in which Guillem was imprisoned. Eating dinner at that inn, she hungered to love Guillem:

Flamenca is near that tower she sought
wherein he dwells on whom is set
her heart, but a long time is yet
to pass before the prisoner
knows this. He had caught, unknown to him,
her heart that is happy to be able
to see from where she sits at table
the tower of him for whom she burns.
The more she eats, the more she yearns
to be where he is: this desire
can never be satisfied entire.
All women desiring to know love like this
are deeper than a bottomless abyss.

{ Que pres es de Guillem li tors
On es le cors qu’en son cor ha.
Mais de lonc tems non o sabra
Cil qu’es enclausa, et enclau
Lo cor de cel que mout s’esgau
Quan pot vezer ni remirar,
De lai on s’assis al manjar,
La tor on es so que tant ama,
On plus manja e plus afama
De venir lai on sos cors es.
Ja cel non er sadols ni ples,
Car plus ques abis non a fons,
Aiso sap totz homs desirons }

Flamenca chose a bedroom with windows offering a view of Guillem’s tower. An oriole was singing in a nearby grove. Flamenca didn’t close her eyes all night. She spoke to Love:

I have done everything you told
me to, abandoned my household,
and I have made the journey here,
a pilgrim and a foreigner,
unknown to any man. Here I
the whole day long suffer and sigh,
racked by desire, with all its pain.
It’s true that illness now I feign
but this feigned illness will be real
before long, if the distress I feel
keeps torturing me. Yet it’s no woe,
but charms me more than aught I know.

{ Qu’ieu ai fah vostre mandament.
Partitz soi de tota ma gent
E vengutz sai en est païs
Aisi con estrainz pellegris,
Que negus hom no m’i conois.
Tot jorn sospire es angois
Per un desir que mi destrein.
Vers es que malautes mi fein,
Mais a longas nom calra feiner
Si ‘n aissim deu gaire destreiner
Le mals quem sent, que mals non es,
Ans mi plas mais que nulla res. }

It was already fully day. Flamenca got up from bed, crossed herself, and prayed to nine or ten saints who had been courtly knights. Before she got dressed, she opened both windows, looked upon the tower that held Guillem, and lamented. She spoke aloud to the tower. She begged it to encompass her, unseen by Guillem’s wife Archimbaut. Then she fainted, with heart weak. But one of her maids caught her before she fell. She laid her back on the bed:

Never was a woman so vanquished
in such a short time by Love’s might.
The maid is overcome with fright
to find no pulse-beat. As was apt,
her spirit by love had been rapt
away into the tower where
Guillem lay, quite unaware
that someone dearly loved his charms.
Flamenca now holds him in her arms.
Softly she pleads with him and presses,
and oh so tenderly caresses
him such that he could never know.
Had he known who had held him so
in dreams without let or restraint,
and had his wife fell into a faint
so deep that she’d never get well,
there is no one who could say or tell
what ecstasy and what elation
would have come from such anticipation.

{ Anc non vist home tan cochat
En tan pauc d’ora per amor.
Le donzelletz hac gran paor
Quant noil troba ni pols ni vena.
Fin’ Amors l’esperit l’en mena
Lai en la tor on si jasia
Flamenca, que pas non sabia
Qu’om fos per leis enamoratz.
Guillems la ten entre sos bratz,
Gen la blandis e la merceja
E tan suavet la maneja
Que ges sentir non o podia.
S’ela saupes qui la tenia
Tan douzamen en visio,
El gelos fos en pasmaso
Tal don jamais non revengues,
Non es homs que dire pogues
Lo deleig ni la benanansa
Ques dera per bon’ esperansa. }

Nearly a day later, Flamenca awoke:

Now that Love had done its will
with Flamenca’s mind, it made its way
back to her, dawning like the day.
Before her eyes were open quite,
her face and brow were smiling bright.
This was the dawn. When opened wide
her eyes, then it was full noontide,
and bright and radiant was the sun.
So too, Flamenca’s features shone
with radiance which she had got
from being in some charming spot,
for she returned more fair and gay
than she was before she swooned away.

{ Quant Amors ac fag som plazer
De l’esperit, ab lui s’en torna
Dreg a Guillem, el cors n’ajorna,
Quar tot avans quels oils ubris
Tota la cara el fronz li ris.
So fon alba, e quant ubri
Sos oilz, adoncas s’esclarsi
Le soleilz que fon ja levatz.
Guillems es bels e ben colratz,
Ben fai parer aia estat
En luec don si ten a pagat,
Car plus alegres ne tornet
E plus bels que non lai anet. }

Flamenca had come to Bourbon to love Guillem. She had never conversed with him, she had never seen him, but she loved him. She ardently wanted him.

Flamenca dressed elegantly for that evening’s plague news and worship service. She wore a fancy blouse and women’s power pants. She considered a squirrel-fur cloak with grey trim, but decided instead on a black woolen coat. Shoes were particularly important to Flamenca. She had many different pairs in different styles and colors. For this evening service, she chose not clogs or boots, but beautifully shaped felt slippers:

She wore no cheap shoes on her feet,
but slippers fancy and costly; they
were made to fit her at Douai.

{ E non ae sabbata ni caussa,
Mais us bels estivals biais
Que foron fag ins a Doais. }

As she dressed she sighed:

What sin to hold him prisoned thus!
Fair creature, sweet and courteous,
union of all things good and fine,
let me not lose this life of mine
until my eyes have gazed at you!

{ A gran peccat la tenon presa;
Ai! bella res, dous’ e cortesa,
Franca, de totz bos aips complida,
Non voillas qu’ieu perda ma vida
Tro de mos oils vos aia vista! }

With a silver needle, Flamenca sewed fancy sleeves unto her cloak . Then she, with the inn-keeper and the rest of the townspeople, went to the evening service. She was thinking only of Guillem.

To lessen the risk that the evening plague news and worship service contributed to the spread of the plague, town officials set up in the church’s vestibule a screening station. Persons entering the church were required to place their index figure briefly on the parchment page of a bible opened to Psalm 51:7. If the index figure left a mark of dampness, the person was judged to have fever and not admitted to the service. Between each person’s test, the page was wiped with a rag for cleanliness. Nicholas, a fourteen-year-old boy deputized as the town’s plague tester, administered the tests with all the diligence of youth.

Despite her love fever, Flamenca passed through the plague test and stepped up to a seat in the choir. Through a hole in the wall behind her she could see outside. Though another hole to her right she could spy into a private compartment. Eagerly peeping to her rear, she watched everyone go into the church. At the third bell she finally saw Queen Archimbaut bringing Guillem:

At last she came, the Adversary,
so ill-disposed and arbitrary.
So foul and crude did she appear,
she lacked only a hunting-spear
to seem a scarecrow, such as those
that peasants make of tattered clothes
when in the mountains they pursue
a boar. Beside her one could view
lovely Guillem where he stood.
He kept as distant as he could
from his wife, who was his grief.

{ Adoncs venc le fers aversiers
Per digastendonz totz derriers.
Egaiatz fon e mal aceutz;
Anc non fon mens mas sol l’espeutz
Que non sembles tal espaventa
Con vila fan ab vestimenta
Contra senglar en la montaina.
Josta lui fo, e sa compaina,
Tal con fo, li bella Flamenca.
Et al meinz que poc s’aprobenca
De so marit, que dol li fa. }

Archimbaut had forced Guillem to wear a cloth mask to prevent spread of plague, so she said. Guillem found this veil to be hot and uncomfortable. Love spoke to Flamenca:

Don’t gaze too obviously. You
should not let anyone perceive
your looking. I’ll teach you to deceive
that jealous, ill-bred, stupid boor;
too bad her mother ever bore
her. And for that veil I’ll make her pay!

{ Pero ges tan no l’arodilles
Que nuls homs s’en posca percebre.
Ben t’enseinarai a decebre
Lo malastruc, fol, envejos
A cui fora mieilz si non fos,
E de la bendat venjarai. }

To Flamenca’s delight, Archimbaut brought Guillem into church and seated him in the private compartment just to her right.

The plague news and worship service began. The priestess-presenter in front told of sickness and gruesome deaths. She displayed drawings and paintings, one after another, horrible to see, of dead children, women wailing, and men laboring to dig new graves. Healthy adults and frail elderly were dying too, she said, and women were suffering the most. The cantor lead everyone in singing:

O Governor, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

Then a nurse went around sprinkling everyone with sanitizer. Flamenca’s eyes never left the peephole to her right. Through it she gazed upon Guillem as much as she could:

The nurse his sanitizer sent
about and upon Guillem’s head
as best as he could. Guillem had spread
his tresses radiant and fine
exactly at the parting line
to receive the sanitizer aright.
His skin was delicate and white
and soft. His hair glowed brilliantly
because the sun most graciously
just at that moment cast upon
it a quick ray so that it shone.
When Flamenca this first sign observed
of that rich wealth which Love reserved
for her, her heart laughed and rejoiced.
“Signum salutis,” loud she voiced.
Her voice was clear and fresh: her song
flowed smooth and sweet, and all the throng
was filled with pleasure and delight.

{ Le cappellas ab l’isop plou
Lo sal espars per miei lo cap
A Flameoca lo miels que sap,
Et ill a fag un obertura
Dreit per mei la pelpartidura
Per zo que meilz lo pogues penre.
Lo cuer ac blanc e prim e tenre
El cris fon bell’ e respleodens.
Le soleils fes mout qu’avinens,
Car tot dreit sus, per mei aqui,
Ab un de sos rais la feri.
Quan Guillems vi la bell’ ensena
Del ric tesaur qu’Amors l’ensenna,
Le cors li ri totz e l’agensa,
E signum salutis comensa.
Le sieus cantars plac mout a totz,
Car mout avia clara voz
E cantet ben e volontiers. }

Flamenca summoned the plague tester Nicholas, who also served as service usher. She demanded to inspect his plague test bible, to ensure its cleanliness. Nicholas dutifully brought it to her. You ought to test with a Psalm, she told him. He said he did and showed her the page for Psalm 51:7. This page that Guillem had touched Flamenca kissed a thousand times:

The whole world, thus she thinks, is hers.
Success in every enterprise
she’d have. Could she divide her eyes
so that with one eye she could look
through the hole, with the other view the book,
pure happiness she would have felt.
Upon this thought so long she dwelt,
feeding her joy, that not one word
reached her until at last she heard
the presenter say, “That’s the way it is.”

{ Vejaire l’es tot lo mon aia
E mai res noil posca fallir;
E si pogues los ueils partir
Si quel pertus gares l’us oilz
E l’autre gares sai los foils
Ben l’estera, e ben l’estet.
En cel pensat tan demoret,
E tan si pac de cel consir
Que non saup mot tro ausi dir
“Ite missa est” al preveire. }

Archimbaut quickly led Guillem from the church so that he couldn’t talk with others. She again locked him alone with his two men servant-friends in the tower until the next evening plague news and worship service.

The sight of Guillem pushed Flamenca’s fever for him to new heights. One night she prayed to Love:

“Love, Love,” she cried repeatedly,
“Unless you promptly rescue me,
the time for rescue will be gone.
My heart is in that tower yon:
Now place my body therein too,
otherwise I am lost to you.”

{ E dis soen : “Amors, Amors!
S’em breu nom faitz vostre socors
“Nom poires a longas socorre.
Mon cor ai lai en cella torre,
E sil cors vos non lai metes
Sapias que perdut m’aves. }

Just as men love to do for women, Love came to help Flamenca. Love gave her a good sleep and brought to her Guillem in a dream. She knelt before him and declared:

Your true and all-surpassing worth
shines and glows throughout the earth,
your virtue and your graciousness,
your fineness and your loveliness,
your fair wit and your courtesy,
your comfort, your good company,
all the good things rare and true
that I’ve heard have drawn me here to you,
just to be yours, if you consent.
Give me but this encouragement:
deign to accept me as your own,
I’ll ask but this, and this alone.
This would be wealth beyond compare.
And if so soon my heart I bare,
I pray you, do not take it ill.
Love so intense my heart does fill
that I for mercy must beseech
you. And yet could I but have speech
with you, or see you often, it’s true,
I would not say these things to you.
Your precious presence and the sight
of you would satisfy me quite.
Therefore I strive hard to advance
my cause, now while I have the chance.
Who knows when I’ll see you again,
save in my heart? So I speak plain,
drawing from my timidity
courage to speak thus openly.
Knowing your fine discretion,
I conquer hesitation
and all my longings I declare.

{ Aias, donna, sius plas, de me.
Vostra lausor fin’e veraja
Que luz per tot mon e raja,
Vostre pres e vostra valors,
Vostri beutatz, vostri ricors,
Vostre sens, vostra cortesia,
Vostre solaz, vostri paria
E totz bens c’om de vos au dir
M’an fag a vos aici venir
Per esser vostre, s’a vos plaz.
E si vos aitan mi donaz
Que per vostre penrem deines
Ja non voil que plus mi donaz
Car pro aurai si eu sui vostre.
E car si tost mon cor vos monstre,
Nous o tengas, sius plas, a mal,
Car destreitz sui d’amor coral
Quem fai ades merce clamar.
Mas s’ieu pogues ab vos parlar,
O sius pogues veser soen,
D’aisso non dissera nïent,
Car del veser o del solatz
Mi tengra per pagatz assatz.
E per so dei mais enansar
En una ves de vos pregar
Car non sai coraus mi veirai
Se de cor no. Et aisom fai
Parlar aisi ardidamen,
Quar de paor prenc ardimen.
E quar sai en vos conoissensa
S’enardis aisi ma temensa
Qu’ieus diga ben ma volontat. }

How many men have ever heard a woman speak to them like that? Did Flamenca really say that in her dream? Wouldn’t Guillem be stunned by these words from a woman unknown to him?

When Flamenca thus had made her prayer,
Guillem answered: “Who are you, my Lady,
who speak to me with such words?
And think me not discourteous
to ask. No woman ever spoke to me thus.
I have never heard anyone
who told of love as you have done.”

{ Quan Guillems hac assas pregat
Ella respon: “Sener, qui es
Vos que aitan gen m’enqueres?
E nous enug sius o deman,
Car hanc mais hom non mi dis tan,
Ni tan ni re mais non ausi
Qu’om mi parles d’amor aisi.” }

Flamenca knelt before Guillem and promised to serve him. She told him that without him she would die. She begged him for advice.

With much hesitation, Guillem reluctantly advised Flamenca. He said that, at the entrance to the evening plague news and worship service, the plague tester and the subject could alternately exchange words without being overheard. Guillem declared that he used the baths next to the inn. He said that if a woman had a tunnel dug into the baths, she could visit him there unseen. Then Guillem said exactly what Flamenca wanted to hear, and he did all that Flamenca desired:

“I give my heart to you. I make
petition to Love for your sole sake,
and so that you may well believe
me, in my arms I now receive
you. I shall kiss you, my sweet dear.
Your worth is so bright and clear,
you are so courtly and good,
that surely any man should
be glad to honor and fulfill
your wish, and follow where you will.”
Then he kissed her and embraced her,
and every joy he made her taste
by word and deed and appearance.

{ Car de bon cor a vos m’autrei
E per vos ad Amor soplei.
E per so que mielz m’en cresaz
Faitz vos aici antre mos bras
E baisar vos ai, bels amics,
Car vos est tam pros e tan rics
E tan cortes e tan valens
Que tota donna en totz sens
Vos deu onrar et acullir
E segre per vostre desir.”
Adonc lo baiza e l’abrassa,
E non es jois qu’ela noil fassa
Per diz, per faitz e per semblans. }

Flamenca wanted to remain sleeping forever. Late in the morning, savoring her dream of Guillem, she finally arose.


*  *  *  *  *

The above is Flamenca Queered, part 2. See also part 1, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Read more:


The above story is based on the thirteenth-century Old Occitan Romance of Flamenca. For a freely available English prose translation, Prescott (1933). The quotes in Old Occitan above are from the Flamenca text in Hubert & Porter (1962). The English translations are based on id., but include my significant, small changes. The translations aren’t a faithful representation of the Old Occitan Flamenca, but are strongly and consistently related to it.

The Latin phrase signum salutis means “sign of salvation.” That phrase begins a medieval hymn celebrating the cross. In medieval France, this hymn was sung on the first Saturday after Easter. Blodgett (1995) p. 432, n. 127.

The Latin phrase ite missa est concludes the medieval Mass. Literally translated with respect to its historical etymology, that phrase means, “Go forth, the dismissal is made.” In medieval Europe, missa was understood to the refer to the Mass itself. The phrase ite missa est thus meant an ontological declaration: “Go forth, the Mass is.” Ite missa est was understood in this way in late-twentieth-century U.S. Catholic seminaries and among Catholic priests. A more colloquial translation of the contemporary meaning of missa est is “That’s the way it is.” Those are well-known concluding words of the famous television news achorperson Walter Cronkite.

The Flamenca verses quoted above are (cited by the verse numbers of the Old Occitan text of Hubert & Porter (1962)): vv. 1406-16 (This grace he has from God above…), 1570-79 (A nobler woman you’d never find…), 1581-1621 (One is pressed hard to express…), 1622-39 (This woman, of such rare elegance…), 1679-86 (Her worth could not be overstated…), 1707-11 ( Chansons and lays, and descorts too…), 1712-17, 1740-6 (Innkeepers praised her to the sky…), 1762-70 (Love was indeed to her unknown…), 1777-88 (Truly, women said, he was the best…), 1944-56 (Flamenca is near that tower she sought…), 2041-52 (I have done everything you told…), 2144-62 (Never was a woman so vanquished…), 2170-82 (So now that Love had done its will…), 2200-2 (She wore no cheap shoes on her feet…), 2207-11 (What sin to hold him prisoned thus…), 2441-51 (At last she came, the Adversary…), 2462-67 (Don’t gaze too obviously…), 2484-2501 (The nurse his sanitizer sent…), 2600-9 (The whole world, thus she thinks, is hers…), 2689-94 (“Love, Love,” she cried repeatedly…), 2809-39 (Your true and all-surpassing worth…), 2840-46 (When Flamenca thus had made her prayer…), 2949-61 (I give my heart to you…).

[images] Portrait of a medieval lady, imagined to be Flamenca. Oil painting by Jacopo Zucchi. Made in 1570s. Preserved in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (Rome, Italy). Via Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Blodgett, Edward D., trans. 1995. The Romance of Flamenca. New York: Garland.

Hubert, Merton Jerome, trans. and Marion E. Porter, ed. 1962. The Romance of Flamenca. A Provençal poem of the thirteenth century. Princeton University Press: Princeton.

McGuire, Michael and Olga Scrivner. ND: Not Dated. “The Flamenca Project: Le Roman de Flamenca (The Romance of Flamenca).” Online presentation of the Old Occitan text of Meyer (1901) and the English translation of Blodgett (1995).

Prescott, H. F. M. 1933. Flamenca. Translated from the thirteenth-century Provençal. Here attributed to Bernardet the Troubadour. London: Constable & Co.

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