Guillem cuckolds Archimbaut with Flamenca at beauty tournament

After her beloved Guillem told her to depart, Flamenca returned forlorn to her land at Nevers in medieval Burgundy. Hearing of a large market for women’s luxury apparel in Flanders, she immediately went there with three hundred serving-women. Flamenca bought whatever caught her fancy. Her serving-women scarcely were able to carry all the goods that she acquired. Her spending on clothing was greater than any woman had ever made before at any market in medieval Europe.

News of Flamenca’s shopping spree reached Guillem’s mother. Since she knew that Guillem’s wife Archimbaut had been purged of her jealousy, she went to visit Archimbaut to discuss the gossip. Flamenca was gaining a reputation as the most fashionably dressed beauty in all of Europe. Some women questioned, however, how she would look in a bikini. Archimbaut declared that she would personally invite Flamenca to come to her spring beauty tournament and grand festival. She would even ask Flamenca to join her side for the team dance competition.

The year quickly reached its end and time passed to the beginning of Lent. Then the Duchess of Brabant at her castle in Louvain held a fashion show. Archimbaut was there, for she wished to recover her worth. She came richly outfitted, with many different dresses and even more shoes. Flamenca was also there. Archimbaut greeted Flamenca warmly and gave her a gold brooch inlaid with ivory. Flamenca in turn treated Archimbaut with great respect and acted as her best friend. They showed each other their wardrobes and swapped pieces to better coordinate. The two modeled outfits together:

They walked together on the boards;
the whole hall shook and roared
when they entered to be evaluated.
Highly was that woman’s courage rated
who dared to confront them on the field.
Short, tight dress, breasts nearly revealed,
fishnet, lace, elaborate hair production,
gave other women not the least protection.
Versus Flamenca they were nothing worth,
as down their wearers crashed to earth.
Archimbaut also strode with might,
defeating many well-dressed ladies.
who surrendered dresses and accessories.
Think not she kept all these prizes. Indeed,
after the show she promptly gave them
to any who might wish or crave them.
Only after Flamenca as best, the judges bestow
high fashion honor on Archimbaut.
The latter had her beauty tourney cried
for this coming April in Eastertide.
She invited Flamenca of Nevers
to participate in it there.
“I shall not fail,” Flamenca replied,
“and I’ll place myself at your side.
I greatly wish to please you.
Say if there’s anything I can do
that might in some way serve your ends.
You know that I’m your best friend.”

{ Ensems cavalgon ambedui.
Totz le torneis fromis e brui
Cant il intran el camp armat,
E tencses cel per ben aurat
Que negun d’ams anes requerre:
Coirassa ni laimas de ferre,
Perpoinz, ausbercs ni garbaisos
No y ajudava .II. botos
A cui Guillems som bras estent
A terra nol port mantenent.
E N’Archimbautz fer y tan ben
Que cavalliers pren e reten.
Cavals e cavalliers gazainnan,
Mais nous pesses que lur remainnan,
Ans o donon ses bistensar
A celz c’o volon demandar.
Del tornei ac lo pres e laus,
Apres Guillem, En Archimbautz.
Adoncs fes cridar son tornei
Al paschor, ab lo dous avrei,
E Guillem de Nivers somos
Que a son tornejamen fos.
Guillems respon: “Ben y serai,
Et ab vos, seiner, m’i metrai,
Car bon cor ai de vos servir
S’ieu ren podia far ni dir
Ques a vos fos ni bel ni bon,
Car sapias vostr’ amix son.” }

Archimbaut returned home to Bourbon full of joy after this two-week fashion excursion.

Archimbaut’s whole household, especially her husband Guillem, eagerly sought to hear descriptions of the women at the fashion show. Archimbaut recounted Flamenca’s beautiful attire, her elegant posing, and her fabulous jewelry. Acting as if he had never heard of her, Guillem’s servant-man Alain asked:

“Madame,” he said, “this lady finely strolled,
but how is she in actually showing love?
It’s said that fashion-mares of her sort
know little about how to woo or court.
Men and love’s delights they spurn;
fashionable attire is their sole concern.”

{ “Segner,” fai s’il, “es amoros
Cel cavalliers qu’es aitam pro?
Car hom dis qu’aital cavallier
Non sabon esser plazentier
Quar per lur forsa tan si preson
Que donnei e solas mespreson.” }

That’s an important question among well-informed men. Archimbaut responded passionately:

A lover? Yes, by God, yes!
More so than I am, I confess.
Any man on whom her choice
might rest has rich reason to rejoice.
And so that you’ll believe me better,
here in my purse I’ve brought a letter
which I asked her to write for me, so
that I myself her loving way might know.
I’ll show it to you now: you’ll be,
I’m very sure, truly grateful to me.
Read it, I implore you, every word,
and you will say, when you have heard
this love-salute written so warmly,
that none has ever been more courtly.

{ S’es amoros? o el, per Dieu!
Bell’ amigueta, plus ques ieu;
E bens deu per rica tener
Tota domna qu’el dein voler.
E per so que mielz m’en cresas,
Un breu qu’en esta borssam jas,
De quel preguei quel m’escriusses
Per tal que de s’amors saupes,
Vos mostrarai ara dese.
E si me logasses fort be
E ja non dires, quant aures
Las salutz que i son apresas,
Ques hanc n’ausisses plus cortesas. }

Guillem with a laugh suggested that Archimbaut was seeking to woo Alain by giving him a love-salute. Nonetheless, Guillem said that he wasn’t concerned and that it would be good to hear new songs. He requested, however, that Archimbaut read Flamenca’s love-salute:

I beg you, you now recite for us
this love-salute so harmonious.
You’ll read it better and make the rhyme
and sentiment together aptly chime,
since of the words you have prior knowing.
If they’re as courtly and as winning
as you say, when we’ve heard them through,
we shall very cheerfully reward you.

{ E prec que vezen mi, sius plas,
Estas salutz vos eis digas,
Car vos las sabres mielz legir
E faire los motz avenir,
Qu’autra ves las aves legidas.
E s’ellas son aissi polidas
Con vos dises, quant las sabrem
Voluntieras vos logarem. }

Archimbaut was willing. She proclaimed Flamenca’s love-salute to Guillem with ardent feeling, fine expression, and no true knowing. Guillem praised the words and her performance. He asked her to give it to him to read for himself. Totally cured of her jealousy, Archimbaut willingly gave Flamenca’s love-salute to Guillem.

Guillem treasured the love-salute that he received from Flamenca. He read it many times with his most loyal servant-men, Alain and Corentin. They marveled at its drawing of a woman kneeling before a man. A flower was drawn coming out of her mouth and touching the beginning of the text. Flamenca’s love-salute was addressed to the handsome man of the beautiful mountain, the handsome man of Belmont. Guillem knew that man was he:

Guillem read the poetry
and saw Flamenca as if she were
close in front of him right there.
Nor could he fail to recognize
his face appearing in her eyes.
This love-salute the three men carry
away with them. It makes them merry
and joyful. They’ll learn it word for word,
and not allow it to be heard
by anybody else, or shown
to others at all. It is theirs alone.
Folding and unfolding, they are
very careful not to blur or mar
the words or drawings, or to make
the parchment give way, crack or break.
In bed each night like a charm Guillem bore
it. He a thousand times and even more
kissed the picture of Flamenca, then
upon folding it, kissed it again.
For folding the page brought together
the drawn figures: each kissed the other.
Guillem folded it in such
a way that the figures must touch,
must kiss. To his bosom he pressed
it, saying: “Dear one, in my breast
I feel your heart beating its pace,
and therefore close to it I place
your love-salute, so that your heart
in my delight may have its part.”

{ Flamenca las salutz esgarda
E conoc Guillem aitan ben
Consil vis ades davan se,
E la faisso de si meseissa
Aitan ben consi fos ill eissa.
Totas tres las salutz ne porton;
Pron an ara ab ques deporton.
Ben las aprendon e decoron
E gardan ben non las aforon,
Ni volon qu’autre las aprenda
Ni un mot per ellas n’entenda.
Soven las plegon e desplegon,
E garon ben tan non las bregon
Ques en letras ni em penchura
Nom paresca effassadura.
Ab se las colguet quada sers
Flamenca, e mil baissars vers
A l’emage de Guillem det,
Et autres mil quan las pleguet,
Quar tota ora quan las plegava
L’un’ ymages l’autra baisava.
Tant asautet las saup plegar
Ambas las fes ades baisar.
Sobr’ en son pietz las mes soven
E dis: “Amix, vostre cor sen
En luec del mieu on es enclaus,
E per so tam pres de lui paus
Estas salutz que las sentissa
E si con ieu s’en esgauzissa. }

Guillem was at this time sleeping in a separate bedroom from his wife Archimbaut. He went to her bedroom as his martial debt required, but left after he had done his work with her. He said that her snoring impaired his sleep. All the while Guillem thought of Flamenca:

Every morning when from sleep he woke,
he would at Flamenca’s image look
and speak softly to Love. He’d say:
“Love, though I’m now far away
in body from my dear beloved,
my heart a distance hasn’t moved:
she holds my heart in pledge, I deem,
and you, think not that I shall redeem
it. Could I make this pledge more tight
by granting to her more delight —
that she might teach me some act that I’ve
not already done for her — I’d strive
to fulfill further my pledge thereby.
Indeed I would never deny
her anything that I could say
or do that would in any way
enhance the extent of her bliss.
You, Love, are well aware of this,
and she’s aware, too. Therefore
we will continue as before.
For your showing her how to befool
my wife, and deftly pull the wool
over her eyes, how to hoodwink
her, and to give her cause to think
that Flamenca loves a man of Belmont, thus
keeping her fully unsuspicious,
for this, sweet Love, I give you thanks.”

{ Cascun mati, quan si levet,
L’emage de Guillem miret,
Et ab Amor parlet suau
E dis: “Amors, sitot m’estau
De mon amic ara trop luein,
Ges mon cor de lui non desluein,
Qu’el lo ten, si com dis, en gaje.
E nous penses ques ieil desgaje,
Mais sil pogues mais engajar
Per null plazer queil saupes far
Qu’ieu autra ves fag non agues,
Ni el ensegnar lom pogues,
Ancara l’engajera plus.
Mais anc non fo plazer negus
Que domna puesca far ni dir
A son amic per nul desir
De qu’ieu hanc li disses de no.
E vos meseissa sabes o,
Et el meseisses si s’o sap;
E no i a plus mais que daus cap
Comens’ ab lui, cora quel veja.
E car li mostretz la correja
Aissi asautet a plegar
Qu’el fes a mon sengnor cujar
Que cela de Belmon ames,
Don nol venc em pens qu’en pesses,
A vos, douz’ Amors, o grasis.” }

Guillem, along with his servant-men Alain and Corentin, impatiently waited for Lent and Easter to pass. The beauty tournament and grand festival would raise their spirits, just as their trips to the baths had done before.

Archimbaut arranged to hold the best women’s beauty tournament in all of medieval Europe. She invited the Queen of France and the most beautiful, noble women from Bordeaux to Germany, and from Flanders to Narbonne and beyond. Around Archimbaut’s castle arriving participants filled the fields with pavilions, lodges, and tents. Merchants came from everywhere to offer the women many different styles of luxury clothes, a vast array of shoes, many jeweled rings for fingers and toes, and bracelets and necklaces beyond number. The tournament participants amounted to more than a thousand beautiful, noble women. All had heard much about Guillem. All eagerly sought to gaze upon him:

Indeed, a mere glimpse, to their eyes
was a reward they’d greatly prize.
In this practice they were right,
for they could see no finer sight,
none more manly, more filled with grace,
or more muscular in form, strong in face,
or more equipped to captivate
with bold, strong thrusts that could penetrate
all those who gaze at him with yearning.
The more of him was seen, the more pleasing
his figure appeared. His firmness wouldn’t fail,
which in men is the finest quality of all.

{ De lei vezer, qu’en sol la vista
Cuj’ aver gran honor conquista.
Et el si l’avia per ver
Quar meillor ren non poc vezer,
Plus douza ni plus faissonada,
Plus plasent ni plus adautada,
Ni que mieilz saupes retener
Ab son adaut et ab plazer
Totz celz que l’auson ni la veson.
Ades plas mais on plus la veson,
Ni acostumon sa paria,
Et es le mielliers aips que sia. }

Flamenca notably arrived after most others and with sensational force:

A day before the beauty tournament,
before ladies bore fine dress and accoutrement,
the lovely, fashionable Flamenca of Nevers
arrived. She saw about her everywhere
tents covering field and mountainside.
Many serving-women were at her side
a full thousands splendid maids and more,
yet there was not one who wore
a dress that was not fresh and new.
Wherever she moved, they moved too,
and a hundred clarions rang out,
a hundred horns blared all about.
To set the camp that Flamenca occupied,
she commanded a flat place long and wide
close to the castle gate. There she pitched tent,
knowing that for the beauty tournament
her man would be close at hand
to watch her from the viewing stand.

{ Un jorn avan c’om tornejes,
Per tal que armas y portes,
Venc le rics Guillems de Nivers,
E vi per dreg e per travers
Cum s’alberga valz e montanha.
Mot ac ab si bella companha
Quar be i ac cavalliers tal mil
Ques anc negus arma ni fil
Nom portet mas tot fresc e nou,
E movon tut lai on el mou.
Cent trombas ausiras sonar
E plus de mil grailes cornar
Lai on Guillems es albergatz.
En un camp que fon loncs e latz,
Jostal portai, tendet son trap,
Car ben conois e ve e sap
Que si dons laissus estaria
Per los cadafals qu’el vezia. }

Archimbaut made her way to Flamenca’s tent. After warm greetings, Archimbaut spotted Flamenca’s servant-women Alis and Margarida. Right there and then she put crowns on their heads and dubbed them Miss Creuset and Miss Dijon. Archimbaut thus honored them as the most beautiful women from their natal towns in Burgundy. Archimbaut then requested, as custom required, to present Flamenca to her husband Guillem.

Guillem was in the castle with the Queen of France and her baronesses. When Flamenca arrived, all rose to show respect for her. Flamenca went straight to the Queen to instruct her in the affair:

“Your Highness,” she said, “please be seated.
My man is the one by whom I seek to be greeted.”
“I thank you, lady,” Guillem, for the Queen, replied,
“please then be seated at my side.”
The Queen said: “Do so, Flamenca. He
desires that you do, and I agree,
for he has enough strength in store
for both of us. Have you seen him before?”
“My lady, I’ve heard him much extolled,
and all the fine things I’ve been told
fall far short of his actual excellence.”
The Queen said: “Baronesses, take no offense,
but we have been a long time here.
Those who have just arrived, I fear,
will wish delight of this same sort,
so let’s leave them to pay him court.”

{ “Seigner, merces, tornas sezer;
Ma domna sui vengutz vezer.”
“Segner,” fai s’il, “vostra merce;
Sezes doncas dejosta me.”
“Fag o, Guillems,” so dis le rei,
“Mais ill o vol, eu o autrei,
Quar ben es tais ques a nos dos
Aura solas. Vist l’anc mais vos?”
“Segner, be n’ai ausit parlar,
Et es i ben, ab mais, som par,
Totz le bens que n’ai auzit dire.”
Le reis a dig: “Senors, nous tire,
Nos sai avem ganren estat;
E cil que son aras intrat
Volran per lur ves domnejar,
E laissem los, sius plas, estar.” }

Without apparent loss of face, the perceptive Queen of France took her leave from the castle amid much tumult. Guillem seized this opportunity to kiss Flamenca discretely.

Without raising suspicions, Flamenca and Guillem talked briefly. She implored:

Sweet lord, how shall we proceed
if henceforth we can only feed
our love on words, or on the taste
of a light kiss, given in such haste
that it’s scarcely felt? You know it’s true
that I’m dying in desire for you.

{ Dousa domna, e que farem
Si nostr’ amor plus non paissem
Mais de paraulas solamen
E d’un baisar, c’aitan corren
Passet c’a penas lo senti;
Sapias que desirs m’auci. }

Guillem reassured and comforted her:

Beloved, please don’t fear or grieve.
You will return to me this eve.
Let your companions be but few:
bring Alis and Marga with you.
Far better than in all this crowd,
then we can act and speak aloud
our love and the body of our felicity.
Archimbaut will have gone to see
the Queen and all the noblewomen:
I can promise you that then
a fine and satisfying bliss
will replace a quick kiss,
so faint and unsubstantial.
And if chance favors us at all,
I’ll gladly do whatever you will.
Your every craving I’ll fulfill.

{ Amix, sius plaz, nous esmagues,
Ancanug a mi tornares.
E non menes tans compangnos,
Ot e Claris vengan ab vos,
E poirem mielz que non fam ara,
Quant tota la gens nos esgara,
Faire e dir nostre plazer;
Que N’Archimbautz ira vezer
Lo rei els barons als hostals.
E promet vos al meins, sivals,
Quel baisar, de queus rancuras
Quar s’en passet aitan vivas,
Vos dobli des ves tot da pas.
E si luecs es non doptes pas
Ques ieu volontiera non fassa
En dreg d’amor tot so queus plassa. }

Guillem then shrewdly arranged an opportunity for Alis and Margarida to converse briefly with his servant-men Alain and Corentin. When the time came for Flamenca to leave, Archimbaut escorted her back to her tent. Archimbaut then went to pay a call on the Duchess of Burgundy. Flamenca thought only of returning to Guillem.

Flamenca didn’t return covertly to the castle that evening. She dressed in a scarlet tunic that covered her black bikini lingerie and nothing else but her lovely body. She took with her more than thirty servant-women, including Alis and Margarida. Each rode a palfrey and held a large burning torch. The castle was filled with the noise of minstrels and merriment. But when Flamenca arrived, all fell silent and greeted her. Flamenca headed straight toward Guillem:

And greatly is she gratified
when, taking her hand tenderly,
he draws her close, and skillfully
pulls her head down toward his until
she can kiss him just as she will.
Let no one be surprised that in
the milling crowd, the noise and din,
with people coming and going, giving
place to others, arriving, leaving,
a man who’s intelligent,
when both his heart and Love consent,
can kiss his lover. I daresay
he can — he’ll manage someway.

{ Mais ill per pagada s’en tenc
Quan l’ac pres per la man dese;
Ans lo tiret mout gent vas se
E tant adaut lo fes baissar
Que a sa guisal poc baisar.
E ja nous meravil negus
S’en tal bruda, com leva l’us,
L’autres gira e l’autres baissa,
E l’us son luec a l’autre laissa,
Tota domna qu’es eissernida,
Pos Amors e cors l’en envida,
Baisa son amie una ves,
Quar ben o pot far e bel les. }

Guillem pondered how he could get Flamenca into his bedroom, along with her  servant-women Alis and Margarida. He ardently desired to accomplish that much greater trick.

sword of Charlemagne

When Archimbaut arrived, she respectfully greeted Flamenca and Guillem. Archimbaut said that twelve of Flamenca’s cousins, including a Countess and a Baroness, were to be dubbed with local beauty titles tomorrow. According to custom, the host husband would give each of the new beauty queens a precious sword representing her achievement. In fact, Guillem kept a large collection of jeweled swords in the marital bedchamber, and he regularly polished and displayed a magnificent sword on festive occasions. Guillem told Archimbaut that he didn’t know what sword was right for each woman. She responded:

My husband, by God, if she will consent,
my lady Flamenca, bringing to all bliss,
is here, and also young Marga and Alis.
They can give you much excellent advice.
Their taste is these matters is quite nice.

{ Dona, per Dieu! si far o deina,
Mos sener Guillems qu’es aici,
Et Ot e Claris atressi,
Vos em poiran ben conseillar,
Car il sabon tut lur affar. }

Guillem could nearly taste what he ardently desired. Maintaining control over himself, he responded coyly:

Fair wife, beg them to be so courtly
as to come into the bedchamber with me.

{ Bel segner, doncas pregas los
Qu’en las cambras vengan ab nos. }

Flamenca then intervened and subserviently addressed Archimbaut:

Lady, there’s no need
to beg this, or anything else indeed.
For you and for my lord always
even more arduous tasks than these
I would gladly undertake to do,
such for him and such to please you.

{ Domna, non quai
Corn mi pregue d’aisso ni d’al,
Quar per vos e per mon seinor
Faria ben affar major
Que cest non es, sol conogues
Ques a lui et a vos plagues. }

Thus Guillem took Flamenca, along with Alis and Margarida, into the royal bedchamber.

After they had entered, Guillem discretely summoned his servant-men Alain and Corentin to join them in the royal bedchamber. There a wonderful collection of swords were displayed to the three women. Each knew well which she preferred:

Flamenca was not at all embarrassed
about the sword that inflamed her desire:
she had beside her Guillem’s body so fair,
hard white, but blushed, strong and slim;
being sweet and generous came naturally to him.
He’d not resist her love-making
nor make her ask him for anything,
but with her every wish he would concur.
So in her arms she happily gathered him,
nor did they separate until
the two had done their one will.
Love protected their impassioned match
and Corentin kept careful watch
on the door with his beloved Alis.
Their watch caused them no love to miss.
All three couple kissed, embraced, and pressed
their lovers to them, caressed
each other ardently, and did more deeds as well
that I should not go on to tell.
They did what made them most content,
nor let a gown or shift prevent
them from joy’s complete fulfilment.

{ Guillems non estet ges marritz
Quais de las joias degues penre.
Josta se ac bel cors e tenre,
Blanc e delgat et escafit,
Don nol cal temer que ja crit
Ni contradiga son talan,
Ni vueilla que ja rel deman,
Mais que s’o prenda el meseis.
Tot bellamen vaus si l’estreis
Et anc d’aqui nos moc nis tolc
Tro qu’en ac fag tot zo que volc.
Amors e desirs feiron garda,
E Margarida, que l’uis garda
Ab Clari son coral amic
Qu’en la garda nom pren destric,
Ans an tut tres assas baisat,
Tengut estreg e manejat:
Et alre sis feiron ben leu,
De qu’ieu a dir cocha non leu.
Mais tant y feiron a lur guisa
Que anc ni blisaut ni camisa
Non tolc res de lur benanansa. }

They all returned from the bedroom full of joy from their group experience. Selecting swords in good taste had been for them a delightful task.

Mughal khanjar (dagger)

Guillem, a knight practicing true chivalry, had performed an extraordinary exploit. His chivalrous exploit was far better than any senseless acts of violence against men:

A more bold, audacious plan
no man had ever dared to try,
for in full court, where every eye
and every ear are opened wide,
he had kissed his lover, openly stepped aside
into bedchamber with her for fulfilling passion —
all without the slightest suspicion from anyone.

{ Anc mais dona tan ric assag
Non auset empenre, som cug,
Qu’en plena cort, on ren non fug
Ad oill, a man ni ad aureilla,
Ab son amic baisan cosseilla
E, vezenz totz, lo colg’ab se,
Que negus homs non conois re. }

Not only that, Guillem moreover had also brought about the same experience for two loyal servant-couples in that same royal bedroom at that same time. Guillem’s wife Queen Archimbaut deserved a prize for obtuseness:

The next morning, beauty titles were bestowed
on those ladies to whom Flamenca owed
such great delight, for she’d been led
by Archimbaut straight to her royal bed
and there in bed had possessed
Archimbaut’s husband in joy and zest.
But Archimbaut to this betrayal didn’t awaken
since she trusted in the oath Guillem had taken,
and trusting him thus, she was confused
by the sophistry her husband had used.
Though wiser than Boethius,
she is stupid, a fool, and fatuous
who thinks that her husband can be penned
and kept away from his beloved woman-friend.

{ Al matin foron adobat
Cil ric home ques an donat
A Guillem aitan gran delieg,
Quar N’Archimbautz lo mes el lieg
On ab sa domna poc jazer
Aissi co fes a som plazer.
Mais le caitius non s’en garava,
Car el sacramen si fizava,
El sophisme non entendia
Que Flamenca mes y avia.
Baboins es e folz e nescis,
S’era plus savis que Boecis,
Maritz que son despendre cuje
Que mullier ad amic estuje. }

Invigorated with his marvelous triumph, Guillem was eager to serve as a judge at the women’s beauty tournament starting that morning.

In the reviewing stand before the start of the action, Guillem vowed that he would give his belt to the first beauty to cause a rival to pout and shout and collapse in shame for her fashion humiliation. No sooner had he said this than a woman came forth in a long, tight black silk gown with in-woven pearls and trimmed with mink. She looked lovely — so thought Guillem and everyone else. The very next contestant was Flamenca. She sauntered forth in a petite samite dress showing on her chest a couple embracing and having a line of sparkling rubies crossing her breasts after coming up from her waist, which was tufted with sable. Although Flamenca was careful not to bend over far enough to reveal her silk lace thong panties, she was so stunningly attired that Guillem’s face reddened. The previous contestant, finishing her self-presentation and turning to look, immediately shrieked in despair. She fell to the ground moaning, and then started crying inconsolably.

As was customary, Flamenca offered her hand to her conceding rival Odette of Auxerre. Miss Auxerre was now Flamenca’s prisoner. Flamenca didn’t demand that Odette give her any clothing or jewelry as ransom. Instead, Flamenca instructed Odette to go to Guillem, declare herself to be his prisoner, and consent to allow him to do to her whatever he desired to do. Odette immediately went to Guillem. He told her that he wished to set her free. He asked her to take his belt and give it, according to his public vow, to the lady who had won it. Flamenca accepted Guillem’s belt graciously and immediately fastened it about her waist.

Dear God, did things ever so smoothly go
for any woman? I doubt that it be so.
What woman could be so fortunate
as she who doesn’t find in her mate
delay, reluctance, and tarrying?
Indeed, there’s no more happy being.
Above all joys, one need not prove,
should be rated a man’s willing love,
the love of a man who will never tire
of granting his beloved all her desires.
But just as one may rightly call
a good man the best thing of all
in the world, the sweetest and most
satisfying being, so the ill-disposed
man is the bitterest and the worst,
meanest, most dreary, most accursed.
Those men frustrate, irk, and irritate,
as all who’ve dealt with them will state.
Such men, as you’ve learned right well,
think but of treason foul and fell.
Each day they easily discover
more reasons to say no to a lover.

{ Bels segner Dieus, ira tan ben
Jamais ad home? Non o cre.
Et a cui deu tan ben anar
Con a cel que nom poc trobar
Anc ab si don bisten ni failla?
E res non es ques aitan vailla,
Quar tota benanansa passa
Amors de domna que nos lassa
De far plaser e non bauseja
Som bon amic, cora quel veja.
Mais, si com bona domna es
De tot lo mon la meillers res,
Li plus douza el plus grasida,
Aissi la mal’ el descausida
Es la piejers el plus amara,
Plus enujosa e plus avara.
E cil que n’an tastat o sabon,
Quant pauc enanson et acabon!
De mala domna sai eu tan
Que ren non pensa mai engan,
E tot jorn troba ucaison
Consi puesca dire de non. }

The Countess of Lovanic, a lady who went by the name Tranquilla, showed her attire against the couture of the Countess of Toulouse. Promenading vigorously, one bumped the other. The other in response yanked the dress of the offender. That caused the Countess of Toulouse’s halter-top to falter and her breasts to fall out. The men in the crowd gasped in appreciation. Then the two countesses engaged in bitter contest:

With resounding blows they fiercely battered
each other. Their dresses were shattered,
their necklaces broke. They shoved plump girths,
and both came tumbling down to earth.
Ladies hastened to help them rise; they clash
in a mass melee. They strike and slash,
and ladies tumble from the stage’s back.
Purses, shoes, and sashes hit and crack,
upon the fancy hat the hand smites hard,
the bonnet’s torn, fit only to discard.
Never was seen such a stirring fight,
as each lady strove with all her might,
her full worth and beauty to show.
But long before the final blow,
Flamenca of Nevers clearly taught
how such battles should be fought.

{ Tals colps si donon pelz escutz
Que totz los an fragz e romputz.
Trencon senglas, trencon peitral,
A terra van amdui egal.
Al rellevar cavallier brocon,
Turton e feron e derocon,
Franhon astas, franhon arson,
Cason massas, cason baston.
Las espazas ab los elms coton,
Cellas oscan e cil encloton;
Hom non vi mais tal avalot.
Quascus y fer al mais que pot,
Cascus vol mostrar com es pros.
Mais, abanz que partitz si fos,
Guillems de Nivers demostret
De cal guisa l’obras menet }

Standing in front of the melee, Flamenca threw off all her clothes. She raised her arms with hands pushed flat, shrieked “Peace!”, and rotated herself around several times. An awed hush quickly came over the whole field. A man on the reviewing stand gave out a sob. Then more started sobbing. Soon all the ladies were sobbing and sadly pulling their attire together and leaving.

Guillem stood up. His loud, manly voice boomed out: “Please, honored guests, don’t leave. Men have long engaged in such battles. There’s no reason to be embarrassed. I’ve prepared a magnificent feast for dinner. I expect each and every one of you, out of respect for me and my hospitality, to appear for this dinner on time and well-dressed. The women’s beauty tournament will continue tomorrow, with absolutely no physical contact permitted. If any woman strikes woman or man, my men and I will seize her, shave her head, and send her into battle with only her bare fingers against the Saracens.”

The rest of the medieval text of the Romance of Flamenca has been lost. To imagine well the ending of this romance, you must study medieval literature with sympathetic appreciation for the realities of ordinary men’s lives. Then you must think about how to incarnate your new, true enlightenment.

holding high the sword of state

*  *  *  *  *

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

Read more:


The above story is based on the medieval (thirteenth-century) Old Occitan Romance of Flamenca. For a freely available English prose translation, Prescott (1933). For a less conveniently readable but higher quality edition, McGuire & Scrivner (ND). That includes the English translation of Blodgett (1995), which closely follows the Old Occitan text. The quotes in Old Occitan above (textual presentation simplified slightly) 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.

Flamenca has survived in only one manuscript, identified as France, Bibliothèque Municipale Carcassonne MS. 34. That manuscript is missing pages, some lines, and the ending of the romance. With respect to the part above, the most significant missing verses are the ending, a verse (v. 7072) when Archimbaut is describing the written love-salute from Guillem / Flamenca, and a verse (v. 7593) in which Archimbaut speaks to Flamenca / Guillem about honoring cousins before the start of the tournament.

While men have long suffered the systemic injustice of women’s sexual gender privilege, the reading of Flamenca above recognizes that some women are in a similar position to that of many men:

How could he not understand, the captive,
that his time is short and swiftly passed.
Indeed, his charm will no longer last
than a quick, rain-fed spurt, which goes
out faster than any water flows
bubbling from a fountain spring.
You think perhaps I’m bantering,
but the simple truth I’m saying:
worth nothing are hopes in delaying.
Some men seek only to adjourn.
To say “no” to women is their sole concern,
so that their folly, deeply ingrained,
may be continued and maintained.
And this folly, I can to all assure,
is a bad ill that’s hard to cure.
Indeed, as Horace does attest,
and he by no means spoke in jest,
a cooking pot once used will never lose
its first smell, however further you use
it. Thus unless you clean and scour,
the pot will turn its contents sour.
Flamenca has no cause for vexation
or fret, for without any hesitation,
in bed her man had done what she wanted,
and all her wishes he had granted.

{ Consi nos pensa, li caitiva,
Quan petit li dura sos brieus!
Ja fail plus tost que non fai rieus
De pluja qu’es plus rabiners
De cel ques es acostumiers
De corre que de fon a cap.
Araus cujares que per gap
O diga, e dic o daveras,
Que ren non valon tais esperas
De domna que fai trop languir,
E nom pessa mais de “non” dir
E de mantener cel usage
Ques a pres en son fol corage,
Car tal malesa com hom vesa
A granz penas pueis la desvesa.
E, si con Oracis retrais,
Que nom parlet jes per esquais,
Ges ola leu perdre non deu
La sabor don primas s’enbeu.
Et en vaissell, qui nol te net,
Aigrezira, qui ren no i met.
Ja Guillems non qual esmagar
Per ren queil doja si dons far
Car il li vol dir e far tot
Aisso quel plaz al primier mot. }

From Flamenca vv. 7851-75, as above. Flamenca reverses the application of Horace’s wisdom:

Now, imbibe with a clean
heart as a boy my words, now trust yourself to your betters.
That fragrance with which it is first imbued
a jar will long keep.

{ nunc adbibe puro
pectore verba puer, nunc te melioribus offer.
quo semel est imbuta recens, servabit odorem
testa diu. }

Horace, Epistles 1.2.67-70, Latin text from Fairclough (1926), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Blodgett (1995) p. 443, n. 264, identifies this citation. Cf. “The flavor that imbues a new jar endures {sapor, quo nova imbuas, durat}.” Quintilian, The Orator’s Education {Institutio Oratoria} 1.1.5. Unglazed clay jars, which were used in antiquity, are more absorbent than glazed or glass jars. Via textual note in Fairclough (1926), with my English translation of the quote from Quintilian.

The Flamenca verses quoted above are (cited by the verse numbers of the Old Occitan text of Hubert & Porter (1962)): vv. 7006-7033 (They walked together…), 7056-61 (“Madame,” he said…), 7062-75 (A lover? Yes, by God, yes!…), 7084-91 (I beg you, you now recite…), 7117-45 (Guillem read the poetry…), 7146-72 (Every morning when from sleep he woke…), 7230-41 (Indeed, a mere glimpse…), 7260-77 (A day before the beauty tournament…), 7318-33 (“Your Highness,” she said…), 7412-17 (Sweet lord, how shall we proceed…), 7418-33 (Beloved, please don’t fear or grieve…), 7525-37 (And greatly is she gratified…), 7597-601 (My husband, by God…), 7602-3 (Fair wife, beg them…), 7604-9 (Lady, there’s no need…), 7629-50 (Flamenca was not at all embarrassed…), 7669-75 (A more bold, audacious plan…), 7676-89 (The next morning, beauty titles…), 7808-29 (Dear God, did things ever so smoothly go…), 7883-97 (With resounding blows they fiercely battered…).

[images] (1) Joyeuse, the sword regarded no later than the thirteenth century to be the sword of the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. Joyeuse is now used in French royal coronations. Source image thanks to P.poschadel and Wikimedia Commons. Joyeuse is on display in the Louvre (Paris, France). The Louvre offers an inferior image but considerable information about the sword. (2) Khanjar (dagger), from Mughal India. Made in the 18th or 19th century. Preserved as accession # 36.25.652a in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA); credit line: Bequest of George C. Stone, 1935. The Met has an outstanding collection of khanjars. (3) Sword of State for the United Kingdom (Britain). Charles Stewart, Sixth Marquess of Londonderry, Carrying the Great Sword of State at the Coronation of King Edward VII, August, 1902, and Mr. W. C. Beaumont, His Page on That Occasion (image of painting cropped slightly). Painted by John Singer Sargent in 1904. Preserved as accession # 2003.274 in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA) and available on Wikimedia Commons.


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

Fairclough, H. Rushton, trans. 1926. Horace. Satires. Epistles. The Art of Poetry. Loeb Classical Library 194. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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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