did Guiborc offend her husband William of Orange?

According to the twelfth-century epic cycle known as William of Orange {Guillaume d’Orange}, Guiborc and the Frankish count William enjoyed married life together for more than a hundred years. Guiborc was formerly known as Orable, queen to the mighty king Tiebaut, a bitter foe of the Franks. Throughout the difficulties of her second marriage, Guiborc experienced the fullness of life:

She had much pain and suffering
and many joys — that was the truth.

{ Mout ot ëu et paines et lasté
Et mainte joie, che fu la verité. }[1]

As an old woman, Guiborc became mortally ill. She then acted in a way nearly inconceivable today:

The lady-lord commanded Sir William to come,
and he came to her. He didn’t wish to refuse her.
“What would please you, lady-lord, for holy charity?”
“I will tell you,” said the lady-lord, “in God’s name.
I am very sick. I cannot escape it.
We have often joked and laughed together.
Now I beg you, for holy charity,
if I have ever offended you, in word or in thought,
by God I pray that you forgive me my offense.”
And William said, “As you wish!
By God and by me to you let all be forgiven.
Little will I have joy when you depart from me.
It troubles me to lose you so soon.”

{ La dame a fait dant Guillaume mander,
Et il i vint, ne le vaut refuser.
“Que vous plaist, dame, por sainte charité?”
“Jel vos dirai,” dist la dame, “en non Dé.
Malage ai grant, jou n’en puis escaper.
Par maintes fois avons ris et gabé:
Or vous pri jou, pour sainte charité,
S’ainc vos mesfis en dit ne en pensé,
Pour Dieu vos pri que le me pardonés.”
Et dist Guillaume: “A vostre volenté!
De Dieu, de moi vos soit tout pardoné.
Poi avrai joie quant de moi partirés;
Che poise moi quant si tost me falés.” }

Why would a privileged women, as most women have always been relative to men, ask her husband for forgiveness?

As a young man, William, known more fully as William Fierebrace {William Fierce-Arm}, enjoyed having sex with many young women. In fact, one spring in Nîmes, the young, unmarried William lamented that he and his knights lacked “young ladies to delight our bodies {damoisele por noz cors deporter}.” He said to his nephews Guielin and Bertrand:

Listen to me, worthy valiant knights,
from France we came not very long ago.
If only now we had a thousand young women
so that our barons might be delighted,
and I too might go to frolic with them.
That activity appeals to my desire.

{ Entendez moi, franc chevalier vaillant.
De France issimes il n’a mie lonc tens;
S’éussons ore mil puceles ceanz,
De ceus de France, as genz cors avenanz,
Si s’i alassent cist baron deportant,
Et ge meïsmes allasse donoiant,
Icele chose me venist a talant. }[2]

William had strong, independent sexuality. While wives with this characteristic now garner much public praise, such husbands often are required to apologize to their wives. Nonetheless, Guiborc on her deathbed didn’t ask William to apologize to her for his ardent love for women.

William with apparently narrow desire fell ardently in love with Orable. Gilbert, who escaped captivity in the Saracen city of Orange, told William about its queen Orable:

There you might recognize the lady-lord Orable.
She is the wife of Sir Tiebaut the Slav.
There is no one so beautiful in all of Christendom,
nor in pagandom wherever you would know to seek.
She is lovely in body, slender and soft,
are her eyes are gray-blue like those of a molting falcon.
How wicked it is for her to know great beauty
when she does not believe in God and his goodness!
A noble man could delight in her.
She could be saved if she wished to believe.

{ La porrïez dame Orable aviser,
Ce est la feme a dant Tiebaut l’Escler;
Il n’a si bêle en la crestïenté,
N’en paienie qu’en i sache trover:
Bel a le cors, eschevi et mollé,
Et vairs les eulz comme faucon müé.
Tant mar i fu la seue grant beauté,
Quant Deu ne croit et la seue bonté!
Uns gentils homs s’en peüst deporter;
Bien i fust sauve sel vosist créanter. }

God promised seminal blessing to his people. William vowed to win the African-Persian-Slavic-Turkish queen Orable and her enemy city. He was almost surely thinking only of his own passionate desire.[3]

Just as many men died in the horrific war over Helen of Troy, many men died in William’s attempt to win Orable and Orange. Gilbert warned William against the attempt:

If you had a hundred thousand men with swords,
with beautiful armaments and golden shields,
and you wished to begin the battle,
if there had been no water or obstacle,
before you had even entered the large gates,
there would be a thousand blows of the sword,
many belts torn, many shields pierced
and many fine barons killed in the street.
Let it be. It’s madness to consider.

{ S’estïez ore .c.m. as espees,
A beles armes et a targes dorees,
Et vosissiez commencier la mellee,
N’i eüst eve ne nulle destornee;
Ainz qu’eüssiez es granz portes l’entree,
I auroit il feru .m. cops d’espee,
Tant cengles routes, tantes targes troees,
Et tant baron abatu par l’estree!
Lessiez ester, folie avez pensee. }

William’s nephew Bertrand, who appreciated beautiful young women, nonetheless also urged William not to be insane:

If you were now in the palace of the city
and you could see those Saracen people,
you would be known by your nose-bump and your laugh.
So they would know well that you are a spy.
And then, I fear, you would be brought to Persia.
They would feed you without bread and without flour.
They would not wait long before they killed you.

If by love you were to come to judgment,
the people of your empire would say
that you saw evil through Orable the queen.

{ S’estïez ore el palés de la vile
Et veïssiez cele gent sarrazine,
Connaistront vos a la boce et au rire,
Si savront bien que vos estes espie.
Et lors, espoir, vos menront en Persie;
Mengeront vos sanz pain et sanz farine,
Ne targeront que il ne vos ocïent.

Se por amor estes mis a joïse
Dont porra dire la gent de vostre empire
Que mar veïstes Orable la roïne. }

With the insane love that the foolish Roman general Gallus championed, William insisted on seeing Orable:

I would much prefer to die and have lost my life
than that I eat bread made from flour,
or eat salted fish or drink fermented wine.
Instead, I will see how Orange is seated
and the palace Gloriete with its marble tower
and lady-lord Orable, the courtly queen.
Love for her torments and governs me.
A man who loves is full of insanity.

{ Mielz voil morir et a perdre la vie
Que je menjuce de pain fet de farine,
De char salee ne de vin viez sor lie,
Einçois verrai comme Orenge est asise
Et Glorïete, celé tor marberine,
Et dame Orable, la cortoise roïne.
La seue amor me destraint et jostise;
Home qui aime est plains de desverie. }

William had never even met Orable. Why wasn’t he satisifed with having a thousand young women from France?

William, Gilbert, and the loyal knight Guielin disguised themselves as Turkish interpreters from Africa and entered Orange. There they met King Aragon, the son of the African-Persian-Slavic-Turkish king Tiebaut. They asked to see King Tiebaut’s wife Orable. Aragon lamented that his father was an old man with a snow-white beard and a young, beautiful wife. Aragon declared that it would be better for his father to love Soribant of Venice, a pleasure-loving young man with his first beard. Aragon observed:

Much too much foolish is an old man who loves a young woman.
Soon he is cuckolded and driven into folly.

{ Trop par est fox vielz homs qu’aime meschine,
Tost en est cous et tornez a folie. }

William shrewdly suspected heterosexual jealousy. He asked Aragon whether he loved his father’s wife. Aragon insisted that he did not.

William and his companions visited Orable in her lavish palace called Gloriete. It had marble walls and windows sculpted from fine silver. Pine trees and other fragrant plants grew within the palace. Most beautiful of all was Orable:

There sits Orable, the African lady-lord.
She is dressed in Persian ceremonial cloth,
tightly laced on her noble body,
with rich silk sewn on the sides.
Rosiane, the niece of Rubiant,
makes a breeze for her with a fan of silver.
She is more white than snow that shines
and more red than the fragrant rose.

{ La sist Orable, la dame d’Aufriquant;
Ele ot vestu un paile escarinant,
Estroit lacié par le cors qu’ele ot gent.
De riche soie cousue par les pans.
Et Rosiane, la niece Rubiant,
Le vent li fist a un platel d’argent.
Ele est plus blanche que la noif qui resplent
Et plus vermeille que la rose flerant. }[4]

Orable sat the men next to her on a silver and gold bench. William’s body trembled in awe. He declared that this place was Paradise. Orable asked them why they had come to Orange. They said that they were carrying a message under duress. William Fierebrace had captured them, they claimed, and freed them only under oath that they would convey to the leaders of Orange that all must flee the city immediately, for William will come to attack it. Orable asked:

What sort of man is Sir William Fierebrace,
he who has taken Nîmes, the palace and the halls,
and killed my men and is still threatening me?

{ Quiex hom est dont Guillaumes Fierebrace,
Qui a pris Nymes, le palés et les sales,
Et mort mes homes et encor me menace? }

William answered:

“You see,” said the count, “he has a very fierce heart,
and his fists are huge and his arm marvelous.
There is no man so great from here to Arabia,
who if William strikes him with his sword that wounds,
would not have all his body and arms cut apart.
From here straight to the earth cuts his sword that wounds.”

{ Voir, dit li cuens, moult a fier le corage,
Et gros les poinz et merveilleuse brace.
N’a si grant home desi que en Arabe,
Se il le fiert de l’espee qui taille,
Que ne li tranche tot le cors et les armes;
Desi en terre cort l’espee qui taille. }

Upon hearing of William’s impressive sword, Orable responded with mixed emotions:

“You see,” said the lady-lord, “this is a very great injury!
By Mohammed, he should hold well domains.
Happy the lady who has his heart.”

{ Voir, dist la dame, ce est moult grant damaige!
Par Mahomet, il doit bien tenir marche;
Liee est la dame en cui est son coraige. }

Orable was attracted to William just as William was attracted to her. Medieval literature doesn’t typically gender-demonize men’s impulsive desire.

Armed pagans began massing outside Gloriete. With the help of an informer, the Saracens had identified the disguised William and his companions. The trio fought strongly against the pagans attempting to capture them. They seemed certain to be killed. Then the Persians would attack Nîmes for further revenge. Guielin taunted William for his madness:

Because of love you came here.
There is Orable, the lady-lord of Africa.
There is none so beautiful living in this age.
Go sit beside her on that bench,
throw both your arms around her sides,
and don’t be slow to kiss her.
For by the apostle that penitents seek,
never will we have the value of that kiss
unless it’s worth twenty thousand silver marks
and much suffering in sadness to our families.

{ Par amistiez entrastes vos ceanz;
Vez la Orable, la dame d’Aufriquant,
Il n’a si bele en cest siecle vivant;
Alez seoir delez li sor cel banc,
Endeus vos braz li lanciez par les flans
Ne de besier ne soiez mie lenz;
Que, par l’apostre que quierent peneant,
Ja n’en avrons del besier le vaillant
Qui ne nos cost .xx.m. mars d’argent,
A grant martire a trestoz noz parenz. }

Without being asked for her advice, Orable urged William and his companions to surrender. She said that if they didn’t surrender, they would be killed. Men are commonly averse to receiving unsolicited advice from women who love them. Yet Orable’s advice had much merit. Her giving unsolicited advice to William probably wasn’t an offense for which she sought forgiveness on her deathbed.[5]

William didn’t follow Orable’s advice to surrender. She wasn’t offended. He urgently asked her to give him weapons and armor. She gave him her husband Tiebaut’s bejeweled golden helmet, his golden mail, his magnificent sword, and other armor and weapons. She also provided William’s companions with armor and weapons. So equipped, they killed many pagans and drove the rest of the Persians out of the palace. Then they secured the palace gates. The Saracens, however, entered via a secret passage. After a horrific battle, the Slavs captured the Franks. That wasn’t Orable’s fault.

The pagans intended to place the captive William and his companions into a ditch and burn them alive. Queen Orable, however, requested custody of the captives. King Aragon refused her request and blamed her for arming them. The king apparently forgot who actually rules:

The lady-lord hears him, and no more enraged could she be made.
“Wickedly you thought of this, you son of a whore, you pig!
By Mohammad, whom I praise and adore,
if it weren’t improper now by these other barons,
I would strike you on the nose with my fist.
Get out of my tower quickly!
If you stay longer here you will never regret it more.”

{ La dame l’ot, a pou d’ire ne font.
“Mal le pensastes, filz a putain, gloton!
Par Mahomet qui ge pri et aor,
Ne m’estoit ore por cez autres barons,
Ge vos dorroie sor le nes de mon poing.
Isnelement issez hors de la tor!
Ja plus ceanz mar seroiz a sejor.” }

King Aragon wisely accepted Oracle’s command.

Orable visited the Franks held in the city’s dungeon. She said that if William promised to marry her, she would become Christian and free them from the dungeon. William immediately, enthusiastically agreed. Some might judge that Orable coerced William into marrying her. That’s vain judging. William didn’t feel wronged, and Orable on her deathbed didn’t seek forgiveness for the way she married William.

After Orable and William married, she became a Christian and changed her name to Guiborc. King Tiebaut subsequently waged war against William and the Franks in order to recover Guiborc and Orange. William’s Franks suffered a terrible defeat at Aliscans. Then the pagans surrounded Orange. Guiborc urged William to summon help from his brother-in-law King Louis, Charlemagne’s son. Nonetheless, she was concerned about the danger involved in William journeying to Louis’s court:

There you will see many well-colored young women
and many lady-lords adorned with nobility.
I know very well that soon you will forget me.
Then your love will turn to another there.

{ Mainte pucele i verés couloree
Et mainte dame par noblece acesmee.
Je sai tres bien, tost m’avrés obliëe,
Lués i sera vostre amors atornee. }[6]

William looked at Guiborc and began to weep:

He embraced Guiborc so that she was comforted.
Much and often he has kissed and caressed her.
The count said: “Lady-lord, don’t be upset.
You have my oath that I swear to you:
I will not have this shirt removed,
nor my pants or hose removed, nor my head washed;
I will not eat meat or taste pepper,
I will not drink wine nor any spiced drink
from a wooden cup or a golden goblet,
except water, which should be allowed to me;
I will not eat kneaded hearth-cakes,
only the coarse bread where the chaff is found;
I will not rest on a feathered mattress;
I will not have my linen and embroidered cloth,
only the felt that covers my saddle
and that robe that I will be wearing there.
Never will my lips be touched to any other person’s,
until they have kissed and savored your lips
in this palace, where the hallway is paved.”

{ Guiborc enbrace, si l’a reconfortee;
Molt l’a sovent basie et aeolee.
Dist li quens: “Dame, ne soiés trespensee;
Tenés ma foi, ja vos ert afiëe,
Ke je n’avrai cemise remuëe,
Braies ne cauces, ne ma teste lavee,
Ne mangerai de char ne de pevree,
Ne bevrai vin ni espesce colee
A maserin ne a coupe doree,
Se aige non, icele m’ert privee;
Ne mangerai fouace buletee,
Fors le gros pain ou la paille ert trovee;
Ne ne girrai desor coute enplumee,
N’avrai sor moi linéuel, cortine ovree,
Fors la suaire de ma sele afeutree
Et tele robe, que j’i avrai portee.
Ne ja ma bouce n’ert a autre adesee,
S’iert de la vostre basie et savoree
En cest palais, dont li aitre est pavee.” }

By promising to become a dirty, stinky man during his stay at Louis’s royal court, William added credibility to his vow of faithfulness. William strove to assure Guiborc of his steadfast love for her. On her deathbed, Guiborc didn’t need to seek forgiveness for her concern to keep her husband William’s love.

Guiborc, however, had good reason to seek forgiveness from her husband. When William, chased hotly by enemy troops, had returned to Orange, the city gates were locked. He pleaded to Guiborc to let him in. She delayed because she wasn’t able to distinguish her husband from other men:

I will not order the gate or postern opened
until I have seen your head uncovered
and examined the bump on your nose with my eyes,
because many men resemble each other in their talking.
I am here alone. No one should blame me.

{ Ne ferai porte ne guichet desfermer,
Des ke je voie vostre cief desarmer
Et sor le nes la bouce as iex mirer,
Car plusors homes se semblent au parler.
Chaiens sui seule, ne m’en doit on blasmer. }[7]

Guiborc’s claim that many men talk similarly carries a whiff of anti-meninism. Nonetheless, William didn’t denounce his wife for sexism. He lowered his visor so that she could see his nose.

Just then a hundred pagans were crossing the field outside Orange. They led two hundred captive Frankish men and thirty captive Frankish women. Men suffer more than women in war. Guiborc said to William that if he were William, he would rescue those captives. Women should not goad men into dangerous feats. William responded to Guiborc’s incitement as men have throughout history:

“God,” said the count, “now it is wished for me to prove myself!
But by the one who has saved all,
I will not stop for my head being cut off,
even if I must be all dismembered alive.
In front of her I will go now to fight.
For her love it is required from me that I greatly endanger myself.
In order that God’s law is exalted and lifted up,
I must suffer and be tortured in my body.”

{ “Dex”, dist li quens, “or me velt esprover!
Mes par celui, qui tot a a sauver,
Je nel leroie por la teste a coper,
Se m’en devoit trestoz vis desmembrer,
Que devant lui ne vois ore joster.
Por soe amor me doi je bien grever;
Por la loi deu essaucier et monter
Doi je mon cors traveillier et pener.” }[8]

God’s law doesn’t require men to suffer violence against men. Neither should women require men to engage in violence against men in order to earn their love. Lacking meninist learning, William quickly killed four men. The rest of the enemy men fled. Guiborc then called out to William:

Come back, beautiful lord, now you may enter here.

{ Venez, biau sire, or i poez entrer. }Al, 1715

Guiborc on her deathbed needed forgiveness from William for her actions that encouraged and promoted violence against men.

Unlike many women today, Guiborc didn’t use men only for violence against men. She declared that when William left to get help from King Louis, she and other ladies would fight for Orange:

I will remain in Orange the Great
with the lady-lords, of whom so many are here.
Each one will have an Algerian hauberk
and on her head a shining green helmet
and at her side she will have girded a good sword,
at her neck a shield, and a sharp spear in her fist.
Also here are knights, I don’t know how many,
whom you rescued from the non-believing people.
We will climb onto these walls in the front
and defend them well, if the Turks are attacking.
I will be armed according to the norm of combat.
By Saint Denis, whom I take as surety,
there will not be a pagan, Saracen, nor Persian
who if I can reach him by throwing a stone,
will not have his body knocked off his charger.

{ Je remanrai en Orenge le grant,
Aveuc les dames, dont il a caiens tant.
Cascune avra le hauberc jaserant
Et en son cief le vert elme luisant
Et au costé avra chaint le bon branc,
Au col l’escu, el poing l’espil trenchant.
Si sont caiens Chevalier, ne sai quant,
Ke delivrastes de la gent mescreant.
Deseur ces murs monterons la devant,
Bien desfendrons, se Turc sont assaillant.
Jou ere armee a loi de combatant.
Par Saint Denis, que je trai a garant,
N’i a paien, Sarrasin ne Persant,
Se je l’ataing d’une piere en ruant,
Ne le convingne chaiir de l’aufferrant. }[9]

While Guiborc probably shouldn’t be regarded as a proto-meninist, she certainly had some sense of women’s obligations within authentic gender equality. William surely credited Guiborc on her deathbed for her proto-meninist sentiment.[10]

On her deathbed, Guiborc rightly asked for forgiveness from her husband William of Orange. She sought forgiveness for her offenses in word or thought. That specification implicitly encompasses any intentional action. Forgiveness is to be sought not only from God.[11] All spouses should ask each other for forgiveness — and not just on their deathbeds.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] The Monastic Life of William {Le Moniage Guillaume} (short version / version I) vv. 9-10, Old French text from Cloetta (1906-11) vol. 1, English translation (modified) from Ferrante (1974). The subsequent quote above is similarly from Le Moniage Guillaume, vv. 24-36.

Here’s more on the epic hero William as a monk. Before Guiborc died and William became a monk, William and Guiborc had at least three children together: the counts Bertrand, Gerard, and Anseis. Aliscans vv. 8391-2.

Le Moniage Guillaume is a “song of deeds {chanson de geste}” within the major Old French epic cycle known as the Deeds of Garin de Monglane {Geste de Garin de Monglane} or Cycle of William of Orange {Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange}. The Crowning of Louis {Le Couronnement de Louis}, The Taking of Orange {La Prise d’Orange}, and Aliscans are also chansons de geste in that cycle. Many other chansons de geste exist.

[2] The Taking of Orange {La Prise d’Orange} (redaction AB), vv. 85-91, Old French text from Régnier (1977), English translation (modified) from Ferrante (1974).

When fierce Saracen enemies besieged Rome, the Pope urgently sought William to fight them. If he did, the Pope offered William an amorous indulgence. He could henceforth “have as many women as your heart desires {feme prendre tant come il t’iert corages}.” Le Couronnement de Louis, v. 391, Old French text from Langlois (1920), my English translation.

While humans are entitled to love by their human dignity, men’s entitlement to love tends to be socially devalued. Prise d’Orange features in William an epic hero more fully human than the warrior-man driven to engage in violence against men. “William’s preference for amorous pleasures over heroic pursuits … becomes in fact the motivating force of the entire epic.” Kibler (1974) p. 12. Critics have difficulty understanding men escaping from gender constraints:

Consistently comedic on both a stylistic and a situational level, pointedly irreverent in its treatment of conventional epic motifs, narrative patterns, and characters, and self-consciously given to sidelining heroic military exploits and the stern warrior ethos affirmed by their narration so as to make room for erotic desire and burlesque episodes, the Prise has tempted critics to emphasize its scandalous infidelity — whether symptomatic of generic “decadence” or “renewal” — to traditional or canonical models of the chanson de geste.

Wood (2021) para. 1. Wood, however, failed to move beyond a conservative reading of La Prise d’Orange, and instead concluded with military language: tactical resources, arsenal, maneuvers, and operations. Id. para. 31.

Other quotes from La Prise d’Orange are similarly sourced. The previous short quote above, “young ladies to delight our bodies,” is Prise d’Orange, v. 57. Subsequent quotes above are Prise d’Orange vv. 252-61 (There you might recognize the lady-lord Orable…), 308-16 (If you had a hundred thousand men…), 336-42, 348-50 (If you were now in the palace…), 353-60 (I would much prefer to die…), 628-9 (Much too much foolish is an old man…), 660-7 (There sits Orable…), 722-4 (What sort of man is Sir William Fierebrace…), 725-30 (“You see,” said the count, “he has a very fierce heart…”), 725-30 (“You see,” said the lady-lord, “this is a very great injury…”), 911-20 (Because of love you came here…), 1237-43 (The lady-lord hears him, and no more enraged…).

[3] Love between a Frankish hero and a Saracen princess or queen is a motif in Old French romance and epic. Kinoshita smothers the love of Orable and William {Guillaume} in ideologically satisfying invocations of colonialism and the dominant gender narrative:

Guillaume’s infatuation with and seduction of the foreign and female Other constitute a quintessential scenario of desire, crusade, and conquest. … the key to this ideologically satisfying gendered representation of medieval colonialism is the conversion of Orable, whose seduction makes standard tales of courtly love seem like stylized, depoliticized repetitions. … By gendering its politics of conquest, La Prise d’Orange anticipates the strategy of later colonial administrations that sought to collaborate with the women under the pretext of liberating them from oppression by their own men.

Kinoshita (2006) pp. 48, 72. The claim that women need to be liberated from their own men’s oppression has long been part of oppressive, imperialist gender projects. Unlike Kinoshita, La Prise d’Orange uses African, pagan, Persian, Saracen, Slav, and Turk capriciously to highlight a distinctive sense of Frankish identity.

[4] When Orable was thrown into the dungeon with William and Guielin, Orable lamented being punished “as if it were for whoring {comme fust par putage}.” Guielin responded sarcastically that she at least now was with William. William then furiously threatened Guielin. Guielin told him not to be foolish and declared:

Once you were called William the Fierce-Arm,
now you will be called William the Lover.

{ L’en soloit dire Guillelme Fierebrace,
Or dira l’en Guillelme l’Amïable. }

Prise d’Orange, vv. 1552p, 1162-3.

[5] When William was in despair at the destruction of Orange, Guiborc assertively told him:

Good counsel, when given, should be followed,
and I am one who will give you good counsel.
Rebuild Orange! It will regain its glory.

{ Le bon conseil, se li done, crera,
Et je sui cele qui bon le vos donra:
Refai Orenge! A grant pris tornera. }

Aliscans, vv. 8411-3,Old French text from Wienbeck, Hartnacke & Rasch (1903), English translation (modified) from Ferrante (1974). Even if medieval men resented women’s privilege, sometimes they recognized good counsel.

[6] Aliscans, vv. 1974-7, Old French text from Wienbeck, Hartnacke & Rasch (1903), English translation (modified) from Ferrante (1974). Here are citations to manuscripts of Aliscans.

Engaged in fighting for Rome, William had nearly married the daughter of King Gualifier. “Quickly he seemed to have forgotten Orable {Trestot aveit entroblïé Orable}.” Le Couronnement de Louis, v. 1433, Old French text from Langlois (1920), my English translation. William rushed away from that marriage ceremony only because messengers announced that Charlemagne had died and his son and heir Louis needed William’s help. Le Couronnement de Louis, laisses 32-34.

Subsequent quotes from Aliscans are similarly sourced. Those above are Aliscans vv. 1985-2003 (He embraced Guiborc…), 1656-60 (I will not order the gate or postern opened…), 1681-88 (“God,” said the count…), 1715 (Come back, beautiful lord…), 1948-62 (I will remain in Orange the Great…).

[7] William was known for his distinctively shaped nose. His nose was shaped through a blow from the Saracen giant Corsolt:

He struck William with a blow so fierce
he tore the helmet, the nasal was pierced.
He cracked the hood of the hauberk that gleamed,
and crushed the hair on his forehead lean,
cut the end of his nose with his sharp steel,
for which the count would much ridicule hear.

{ Et fiert Guillelme par tel devision
Que le nasel et l’elme li desront.
Trenche la coife de l’alberc fremillon.
Et les chevels li trenche sorle front,
Et de son nés abat le someron.
Maint reprovier en ot puis li frans om. }

The Crowning of Louis {Le Couronnement de Louis}, vv. 1037-42, Old French text from Langlois (1920), English translation from Ferrante (1974). William later remarked that he suffered little:

Only the nose is shorter on my face,
but I am sure that will lengthen my name.

{ Mais que mon nés ai un pou acorcié;
Bien sai mes nons en sera alongiez. }

Le couronnement de Louis, vv. 1159-60, sourced as previously. William came to be called William with the Short Nose {Guillelme au cort nes}.

[8] With respect to La Prise d’Orange, Kibler declared:

The martial values which created a Roland or an Isembart, or even the earlier William of Orange, have ceded their place to the amorous values of romance. William, the epic hero in love, can only appear ridiculous.

Kibler (1974) p. 25. Kay (1995) perceptively challenged the successionist view of chansons de geste yielding to romance. From a humane perspective, the epic hero is always ridiculous. That’s presented clearly in Aliscans, vv. 1681-8.

[9] Guiborc and the ladies of Orange actually did fight against besieging Saracens. Aliscans, vv. 3978-86. Here’s some discussions of Alvild and other medieval Viking women-warriors.

Guiborc showed admirable love for William in other ways. For example, William led the Frankish force in the arduous journey back to the besieged city of Orange. Guiborc honored her husband’s difficult and dangerous work:

Before brave William had come to the palace,
Guiborc has dinner prepared.

{ Ains qu’el palais fust Guillames li ber,
Ot fait Guibourc le mangier aprester. }

Aliscans, vv. 7502-3. Guiborc transgressively challenged other privileged women’s value as wives.

[10] As Kay (1995) makes clear, meninism is part of the political unconscious, the non-dit, of status-seeking academic discourse. Meninism challenges the dominant relations of academic production in which patriarchy functions as an obscuring myth for the unspeakable desires and interests of gynocentrism.

[11] Asking for forgiveness (“I confess {Confiteor}“) was incorporated into the medieval Christian Mass. That Mass element includes confession of having sinned “in thought, word, and deed {cogitatione, verbo et opere}” (in the Sarum rite, “cogitatione, locutione et opere”). This became a common template of confession, e.g. “through work or through word or will of my heart {þorugh werke or þorugh worde or wille of myn herte}.” Piers Plowman, B.14.14.

[images] (1) “La Chanson de Guillaume.” Musical recording by Diabolus in Musica, Antoine Guerber, director. Via YouTube. (2) “Chanson pour Guillaume.” Avalon Jazz Band, featuring Tatiana Eva-Marie. Song released in 2019. Via YouTube.


Cloetta, Wilhelm, ed. 1906-11. Les Deux Rédactions en Vers du Moniage Guillaume; chansons de geste du XIIe siècle, publiées d’après tous les manuscrits connus. 2 vols. Paris: Firmin-Didot pour la Société des Anciens Textes Français. Vol. 1 (editions). Vol. 2 (commentary and supporting matter).

Ferrante, Joan M., trans. 1974. Guillaume d’Orange: Four Twelfth-Century Epics. New York: Columbia University Press. Review by Diana Teresa Mériz.

Jonckbloet, W.J.A., ed. 1854. Guillaume d’Orange. Chansons de geste des XIe et XIIe siècles publiées pour la première fois. La Haye: Martinus Nyhoff.

Kay, Sarah. 1995. The Chansons de geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kibler, William W. 1974. “Humor in the Prise d’Orange.” Studi di Letteratura Francese. 3: 5–25.

Kinoshita, Sharon. 1995. “The Politics of Courtly Love: La Prise d’Orange and the Conversion of the Saracen Queen.” Romanic Review. 86 (2): 265-87.

Kinoshita, Sharon. 2006. Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Chapter 2 (pp. 45-73) is a revised version of Kinoshita (1995).

Langlois, Ernest. 1920. Le Couronnement de Louis, chanson de geste du XIIe siècle. Les classiques français du Moyen Âge, 22. Paris: Champion. Alternate presentation.

Régnier, Claude, ed. 1977. La Prise d’Orange: Chanson de geste de la fin du XIIe siecle. Fifth edition. Paris: Editions Klincksieck. Rédaction AB.

Wienbeck, Erich, Wilhelm Hartnacke, and Paul Rasch, eds. 1903. Aliscans. Kritischer Text. Halle A.D.S: Verlag Von Max Niemeyer.

Wood, Lucas. 2021. ‘Reading “Guillelme l’Amïable”: Hypertextuality and La Prise d’Orange.’ Perspectives médiévales. 42. Online.

Saint Kentigern’s reported virgin birth rationalized with rape

In twelfth-century Glasgow, ordinary persons regarded the great Scottish saint Kentigern, affectionately known as Mungo, to have been born of a virgin mother named Taneu. In Christian understanding, the young woman Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit and as a virgin gave birth to Jesus. Clerics regarded belief that Taneu similarly birthed Saint Kentigern to have arisen among “foolish and stupid people living in Saint Kentigern’s diocese {populus stultus et insipiens in diocesi Sancti Kentigern degens}.”[1] Two clerics authoritatively constructed Kentigern’s reported virgin birth to have resulted from a man raping Kentigern’s virgin mother. Under Christian doctrine, rape cannot deprive a woman of her virginity. A literary construction of rape thus rationalized popular belief in Kentigern’s virgin birth. In deploying rape for rationalizing, medieval clerics shrewdly drew upon deeply entrenched suspicion of men’s sexuality.

According the mid-twelfth-century Herbertian Life of Kentigern, Kentigern’s mother Taneu was the daughter of King Leudonus. That king ruled the province of Leudonia in northern Britannia. King Leudonus was only “semi-pagan {semipaganus}.” Moreover, Taneu was born of a “stepmother {noverca}.” This pedigree opened the possibility for Taneu to have Christian heritage despite her father:

Indeed this young women nonetheless had Christian faith. After the voice of apostolic doctrine was breathed into her ears, she re-oriented herself to learn most devoutly what she could about Christian rites.

{ Hec quippe puella, fide tamen Christiana postquam apostolice sonus doctrine in auribus ejus ventilabatur, Christianis se ritibus quos discere potuit devotissime mancipavit. }[2]

Christians regard Christ as their model. Mary was the first Christian and the preeminent disciple of Christ. Taneu sought to imitate Mary:

She constantly meditated upon the virginal honor and also upon the maternal blessedness of the most holy Virgin Mary, mother of our lord Jesus Christ. Pondering them in her heart, she said simply, “O how glorious is the name of this excellent virgin, and how gloriously her name is celebrated by all people throughout the four regions that constitute the world. I wish that I could be made similar to her in virginity and in birthing for the honor and salvation of my people in these northern parts.”

{ De virginali etiam honore et de materna beatudine sanctissime Virginis Marie, matris Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, iugiter meditabatur, et in corde suo revolvens simpliciter dicebat: O quam gloriosum nomen hujus virginis generose, et quam gloriose celebratur ab omni populo per iiijor climata mundi constituta. Utinam in virginitate et in partu, ad honorem et salutem gentis mee in partibus saltem aquilonalibus, illi possem assimilari. }[3]

Jesus’s disciples James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’s right and left hands in his glory. That’s a prideful desire. Taneu, in contrast, sought the honor and salvation of the non-Christian Leudonians. Perhaps she also desired to have her name honored and celebrated like that of the Virgin Mary.[4] In any case, popular belief celebrated Taneu as a virgin who gave birth to Saint Kentigern.

O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before thee
was there any like thee,
nor shall there be after.

Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel you at me?
The thing that you behold
is a divine mystery.

{ O Virgo virginum,
quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam
similem visa es,
nec habere sequentem.

Filiae Jerusalem,
quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium
hoc quod cernitis. }[5]

Learned clerics insisted that Taneu could not be like the Virgin Mary in giving birth as a virgin. The Herbertian Life of Kentigern perceived Taneu to be challenging the divine order:

Her life could not be as she wished. Moreover, it was imposed because of her mind’s presumption and the impudence of her vainly sought glory that she endure large and dreadful torments.

{ volebat sicut fieri non potuit. Ob mentis autem imposte presumptionem, vaneque glorie petulanciam, tormenta dira et magna sustinuit. }

The Herbertian Life of Kentigern designed those torments to come from the “most elegant {elegantissimus}” young man Ewen, “sprung from the most noble lineage of the Britons {nobilissima Brittonum prosapia ortus}.”[6] The Herbertian Life of Kentigern made this Ewen rape Taneu. It thus taught that even an apparently very admirable man could be a rapist.

Ewen didn’t initially act like a violent man. He was ardently in love with Taneu. He spoke to her words of love and lovingly gave her gifts. He sought to marry her. Moreover, he gained her father’s support for marrying her. Nonetheless, because she wanted to be like the Virgin Mary, Taneu resolutely rejected Ewen’s marriage proposal. She radically misunderstood the glory of human love in Christianity.

Like most fathers throughout history, Taneu’s father wanted the best for his daughter. Daughters sometimes reject their fathers’ pleas without regard for their father being nominally a king, merely a household servant, or even a person academically defined as the pater familias. Mis-educated about father-daughter relational reality, Taneu’s father became furious and acted cruelly toward her:

The king, the father of the young woman, after many sweet words and flattering speeches that he thought would change her mind to love the young man, was seeing himself to be toiling in vain. He then spoke to her shamelessly: “Either you will be handed over to the care of a swineherd, or you will keep warm in marriage to this young man. Therefore, from these two decrees now choose what you wish.” The king indeed said this, aiming to provoke by any means the young woman’s spirit to love for the young man.

{ Cum autem Rex pater puelle, post multa verba dulcia et sermones blandos, quibus animum ejus juvenis amori putabat posse converti, se incassum laborasse conspiceret, illi procaciter intulit: Aut cure subulci traderis aut adolescentis hujus connubio perfoueris: ex his igitur binis decretis nunc elige quod vis. Hoc quippe rex dixit, estimans animum puelle in juvenis amorem quoquomodo provocare. }

The prodigal daughter Taneu preferred to serve a swineherd as a virgin than to abide in the warmth of marital love. Indignant at her choice, Taneu’s father cast her out. That’s the biblical story of the prodigal son, reversed. Taneu’s father was an ungodly father.[7]

The cruel behavior of Taneu’s father saddened Ewen. He regarded his love for her as the cause of her father’s outrage. Ewen also pitied Taneu for her wretched living circumstances. He therefore hired a woman go-between to try persuade Taneu to leave the swineherd to enjoy his love. After many visits in which the go-between reminded Taneu that she could have a much more comfortable life with Ewen, the go-between gave up. She complained to Ewen:

It would be easier to convert rocks into wood and wood into stones than to recall this virgin’s mind from the folly she has begun.

{ Facilius possunt saxa in ligna et ligna in lapides converti, quam hujus virginis animus ab incepta stulticia revocari. }

If a woman prefers to live with a swineherd as a virgin rather than marry a most elegant and most noble young man, that’s her choice.[8] At least she didn’t coerce him into a sexless marriage. Ewen should have found a cure for his lovesickness. Many men throughout history have suffered love rejection and gotten over it successfully.

To have Taneu conceive a child while remaining a virgin, Ewen became a rapist. According to the Herbertian Life of Kentigern, Ewen gained Taneu’s confidence by disguising himself as a female farm servant and helping her to feed the swine. One day Taneu was alone, washing herself at a stream near a forest. Ewen in his female disguise came to her and tenderly implored her for help in carrying wood:

The young woman was influenced by the gentle speech that she heard from the mouth of the young man. He excessively desired to obtain her. She innocently believed all his words. She simply followed the crafty young man immediately wherever he happily wished.

{ Mitis igitur puella orationis effectu quam ab ore juvenis audivit nimis potiri desiderans, quoniam innocens credit omni verbo, mox juvenem feliciter subdolum simpliciter quo voluit sequebatur. }

Everyone shouldn’t merely listen and believe women. Even a gender bigot should stop and consider whether to disbelieve a woman, for a woman might actually be a man in disguise. Taneu’s innocence and Ewen’s wickedness produced a terrible wrong:

When they came to a place suitable to the young man’s inclination, he suddenly seized the young woman as if for sex-play. He impregnated her with a thrust forward and then leaping back like an echo. She resisted being raped with all her strength and exertions.

{ Cumque pervenissent ad locum juvenis voluntati competentem, arripuit repente juvenis puellam quasi ludendo, et velut in eccho resultu ab ictu fecundavit vi oppressam totis nisibus reluctantem. }[9]

Ewen having raped Taneu provided a rational explanation for her conceiving a child. Moreover, from a Christian perspective, rape doesn’t deprive a woman of her virginity.[10] The Herbertian Life of Kentigern thus rationally explained Taneu’s virgin birth.

The Herbertian Life of Kentigern also had to rationalize Taneu’s belief that she never had sex with a man. Moreover, it had to get Ewen out of his beloved Taneu’s life. To serve these goals, Ewen was made to act and speak bizarrely after raping her:

Promptly rising, the youth appraised her, whom he had thought to be a virgin, to have been the swineherd’s concubine. Therefore the young man’s love cooled. He said to the young woman, who wasn’t able to speak because of her tears and sobbing, “Don’t weep, my dear, because I have not known you as a man would usually know a virgin. Am I not a woman like you? To lament for sex-play is therefore wickedness. Go in peace, and it is for you by your choice either to weep or to be silent.”

{ Puer autem statim consurgens, quam putavit fuisse virginem, estimavit subulci esse concubinam. Tepescente igitur juvenis amore, dixit ad puellam pro lacrimis singultivis loqui non valentem, Noli flere, soror mea, quoniam non novi te ut homo virginem nosse solet. Nonne mulier sum ego sicut et tu? Improbitatis est ergo pro ludo lugere: vade in pace, et in tuo sit arbitrio vel flere vel tacere. }

Taneu was a virgin. Yet Ewen in having sex with her wrongly sensed that she had considerable sexual experience as the swineherd’s concubine. He then suggested that he, disguised as a woman, had raped her in a lesbian way. Moreover, he called her lamenting having been raped in a lesbian way to be wickedness. That’s absurd. Taneu reasonably would be confused. That’s the purportedly rational explanation for why she claimed that she never had sex with a man.[11]

Because the Herbertian and other accounts of the life of Kentigern were regarded as unsatisfactory, late in the twelfth century the Bishop of Glasgow requested the Cistercian monk Jocelin of Furness to write another life of Kentigern. After recognizing popular belief that Taneu never had sex with a man, Jocelin declared:

By no means however should the truth of the matter be lost in the mind of anyone who is discerning.

{ nequaquam tamen rei Veritas perire debet in animo cujuslibet discreti }[12]

Jocelin pointed out how Lot’s daughters raped him:

Going to the sacred volumes, we read in the book Genesis that Lot’s daughters not only furtively seized for themselves their father’s sexual embrace when he was drunk and wholly ignorant of the deed, but also both daughters became pregnant.

{ ad sacra volumina accedentes, in libro Genesis filius Loth non solum paternos complexus furtim sibi surripuisse, sed etiam ab eodem inebriato et rei penitus ignaro, utramque concepisse legimus. }

Without mentioning Ewen, Jocelin suggested that Taneu was raped in a similar way:

Many have taken the drink of oblivion that physicians call lethargy to fall asleep. They have endured incisions in their limbs and sometimes burning and abrasions in their vital parts without feeling anything at all. After being shaken out of sleep, there are ignorant about these activities. We frequently hear of fortune-teller’s tricks overthrowing a young woman’s chastity and the very one deflowered knowing little of her deflowerer. Something of this kind may have happened to this young woman by the secret judgment of God, and so she had no sense of sexual intercourse, and now she was impregnated yet understood herself to be undiminished.

{ multos sumpto potu oblivionis quem fisici letargion vocant, obdormisse; et in membris incisionem, et aliquociens adustionem, et in vitalibus abrasionem perpessos, minime sensisse: post sompni excussionem, que erga sese actitata fuerant ignorasse. Audivimus frequenter sortilegorum prestigiis puellarem pudicitiam expugnatam esse, ipsamque defloratam defloratorem sui minime nosse. Potuit aliquid hujusmodi huic puelle accidisse, occulto Dei judicio, et ut commixtionem sexuum non sentiret, ac per hoc jam inpregnata se illibatam intelligeret. }

The verb “deflower {deflorare}” encodes disparagement of men’s sexuality, as does the assumption that pregnancy diminishes a woman. If a woman has sex while drunk, she may not remember having sex. If her husband or boyfriend was drunk after they consensually arranged to get drunk and have sex, then she raped him as much as he raped her. In practice, the crime of rape is judged with grotesque penal discrimination against men. Jocelin’s rationalization of Kentigern’s virgin birth is drenched in anti-men gender bigotry.

Jocelin seems to have internalized the anti-meninism that has long been an aspect of gynocentric culture. While implying that a man raped Kentigern’s mother, Jocelin asserted that Kentigern “nonetheless came forth just like a rose from a thorn {velud rosa tamen de spina … processit}.” The figure of a “thorn {spina}” has long been used in disparaging men’s sexually active penises. Consider moreover how Jocelin lamented the deplorable state of sexual morality in twelfth-century Britain:

Behold, all sexes and all statuses of person, all plunge into a slough of carnal filth, almost as impudently as cheerfully for lack of punishment. And not only the most vile commoners are polluted with such contagion, but also indeed those who are sustained with ecclesiastical benefices and attached to divine offices. As much as they are polluted they judge themselves to be that much happy. But now the hammerer of the entire earth, namely the spirit of fornication, passes through them.

{ Ecce omnis sexus, omnisque conditio, in omne volutabrum carnalis colluvionis, pene tam licenter quam libenter, quia impune, immergitur; et non solum vilissimum vulgus tali contagio polluitur, verum hii qui ecclesiasticis beneficiis sustentati, et divinis officiis applicati, quanto sunt fediores, tanto sese feliciores esse arbitrantur. Sed nunc illos pertransit ille malleator universe terre, spiritus scilicet fornicationis. }

Today the oppressive dogma of rape-culture culture has helped to quell the spirit of fornication. But the hammerer, who engages in banging, remains as a crude figure for men performing sexual labor. Like far too many persons right up to our time, Jocelin had little respect for men’s work:

Surely it is absurd to explore further and concerning this matter judge who was the sower and how he plowed and sowed the earth when, with the Lord giving favor, this earth brought forth the best, most abundant fruit.

{ Sane absurdum, et ab re arbitramur, diutius indagare quis quomodo sator terram araverit vel severit; cum, Domino dante benignitatem, terra ista fructum optimum et opimum protulerit. }

In a common sexual figure, the man-farmer plows the woman-earth. Here Jocelin gave the woman-earth all the credit for the fruit that was the life of Saint Kentigern. Such erasure of men’s seminal gifts contributes to the crisis of men’s self-esteem and supports massive gender discrimination against fathers in family courts.

In the miraculous context of a saint’s life, various means are possible for a virgin birth. Consider, for example, Jocelin’s story of Queen Languoreth having an adulterous affair with a soldier much subordinate to her.[13] She give him a jeweled golden ring in appreciation for his sexual service to her. Her husband, the Cambrian king Rederech, heard through an informer of his wife’s adultery. He secretly took from his wife’s soldier-lover that jeweled golden ring and hurled it into the river Clyde. When King Rederech returned home, he demanded that his wife return the ring he had given her. She urgently, secretly messaged the soldier to return it to her. She learned in despair that he had lost the ring.

Queen Languoreth confessed her sin to Kentigern. She pleaded to him for help. He instructed a man to fish in the Clyde and return with the first fish that he caught. Kentigern cut open that fish. Within it he found the ring. He had it secretly returned to the queen, who returned it to the king. The king then profusely apologized to the queen for suspecting her of adultery. Kentigern mercifully and confidentially told the queen to repent of her adultery and sin no more against her marriage.

Jocelin had Saint Kentigern find a lost ring in a fish’s belly in order to conceal a queen’s adultery. A story no less implausible and no more salacious could have rationalized Kentigern’s virgin birth. According to the Alphabet of Ben Sira (Pseudo-Sirach), written in Hebrew about 900 GC, Ben Sira was born of a virgin. Ben Sira’s mother had conceived him by bathing in water into which the prophet Jeremiah had been forced to masturbate. Similar events could have accounted for Kentigern’s virgin birth. For example, perhaps Ewen dreamed passionately of his imagined wedding night with Taneu and ejaculated into his underwear. Ashamed, he then went and washed his underwear in a spring near the palace in which Taneu lived. Taneu soon afterwards bathed in that spring. While remaining a virgin, she thus conceived from Ewen’s spring-born semen. Medieval authors familiar with saints’ lives surely could have imagined such a story explaining Kentigern’s virgin birth.[14]

Hail joy of women through the triumph of glory,
the most noble of virgins across every corner of the earth
that sea-dwelling men have ever heard spoken of —
relate to us the mysteries which came to you from the heavens,
how you ever took on your increasing, through the birthing of a child,
never knowing any kind of coupling that the minds of men
would understand. Truly we have never learned
of anything like this happening in the days gone by,
that you should take hold of this in your unique grace,
nor need we look for that event occurring any time ahead.

{ Eala wifa wynn geond wuldres þrym,
fæmne freolicast ofer ealne foldan sceat
þæs þe æfre sundbuend secgan hyrdon,
arece us þæt geryne þæt þe of roderum cwom,
hu þu eacnunge æfre onfenge
bearnes þurh gebyrde, ond þone gebedscipe
æfter monwisan mod ne cuðes.
Ne we soðlice swylc ne gefrugnan
in ærdagum æfre gelimpan,
þæt ðu in sundurgiefe swylce befenge,
ne we þære wyrde wenan þurfon
toweard in tide. }[15]

Writing lives of Saint Kentigern in the twelfth century, clerics rationalized popular belief in Kentigern’s virgin birth via stories of a man raping Kentigern’s mother without her knowing it. Modern scholars have unpoetically naturalized these stories.[16] Yet in the miraculous context of a saint’s life, rape is a vicious, men-disparaging means for bringing about a virgin birth. Believing an ancient holy woman’s claim that she as a virgin gave birth to a saint should be regarded as more reasonable than believing that a man raped her without her knowing it.

Either of those beliefs is more reasonable than believing the recent newspaper headline, “Nearly quarter of men in Asia-Pacific admit to committing rape.”

Saint Kentigern (Mungo) stained glass window

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Read more:


[1] Jocelin of Furness, Life of Saint Kentigern, Bishop and Confessor {Vita Sancti Kentigerni Episcopi et Confessoris}, chapter 1, Latin text from Forbes (1874), my English translation, benefitting from those of id. and Green (1998). Subsequent quotes from Jocelin’s Vita Sancti Kentigerni are similarly sourced.

According to traditional understanding, Saint Kentigern was born in Scotland in the sixth century. He learned Christianity under the Scottish saint Serf (Servanus). Kentigern evangelized the Scottish Kingdom of Strathclyde and became the first Bishop of Glasgow. He died in 614 GC. For a critical account suggesting that Kentigern was Gonothigernus, bishop of Senlis near Paris, Gough-Cooper (2003).

Jocelin was a Cistercian monk from Furness, a part of Cumbria in northwest England. He wrote his Life of Saint Kentigern for Jocelin, the bishop of Glasgow from 1175 to 1199. Jocelin of Furness most likely wrote Life of Saint Kentigern in the late 1180s or early 1190s. Birkett (2010) pp. 11-2.

Jocelin named Kentigern’s mother Taneu for the first time in chapter 4 of his Life of Saint Kentigern. In the Herbertian Life of Kentigern, she is named Thaney. On other names associated with Kentigern’s mother, Forbes (1874) pp. 326-7. Taneu is honored as a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Christian churches.

[2] Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 1, Latin text from Forbes (1874), my English translation, benefitting from that of id. An unknown cleric wrote the Herbertian Life of Kentigern for Herbert, Bishop of Glasgow.

Subsequent quotes from the Herbertian Life of Kentigern are similarly sourced. The two previous short quotes, “semi-pagan” and “stepmother,” are from the Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 1. The subsequent nine quotes above are seriatum from chapter 1 (“She constantly meditated upon the virginal honor…”; “Her life could not be as she wished…”; “most elegant”; “sprung from the most noble”; “The king, the father of the young woman…”; “It would be easier to convert rocks into wood…”) and chapter 2 (“The young woman was influenced by the gentle speech…”; “When they came to a place suitable…”; “Promptly rising, the youth appraised her…”).

[3] The Herbertian Life of Kentigern here deploys a biblical allusion to Mary. Meditating upon Mary’s virginal honor and maternal blessedness, Taneu was “pondering them in her heart {in corde suo revolvens}.” After shepherds visit the holy family in the manger and tell of an angelic greeting, Mary kept their words, “pondering them in her heart {conferens in corde suo}.” Luke 2:19, with Vulgate text to show the Latin parallel. Jocelin’s Life of Saint Kentigern features other parallels to Mary giving birth to Jesus. Cowan (2017) p. 574.

[4] On James and John seeking to be seated next to Jesus in glory, Mark 10:35-45 and Matthew 20:20-23. When being hurled from a precipice in punishment for her suspected extramarital sexual activity, Taneu acknowledged her folly in a prayer to the Virgin Mary:

O most holy Virgin Mary, because I desired what one cannot do, that is to be comparable to you, you who are the first seen, and no similar existing nor following, I consider this judgement, predestined for me, to be merited.

{ O sanctissima virgo Maria, quia quod nullatenus potest fieri hoc insipienter desideravi, tibi videlicet comparari, que nec primam similem visa es habere nec sequentem, hoc mihi reor periculum merito esse predestinatum. }

Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 4. Taneu here quotes the Gregorian O antiphon “O Virgin of virgins {O Virgo virginum},” vv. 3-5.

[5] O antiphon “O Virgin of virgins {O Virgo virginum},” Latin text from Campbell (1959) p. 53, English translation (modified slightly) from Neale (1851) p. 209. The Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 4, quotes vv. 3-5 of this antiphon.

The O antiphon “O Virgo virginum” goes back at least to the Book of Responses {Liber Responsalis}, dating from about 600 GC and attributed to Pope Gregory the Great. The Frankish liturgist Amalarius indicated use of “O Virgo virginum” in the ninth century. Campbell (1959) pp. 6-8. In England this antiphon came to be used on December 23 (two days before Christmas in the Gregorian calendar). It remains in liturgical use, along with other O antiphons.

Neale (1851) provides musical notation from the Salisbury Antiphonary {Antiphonale Sarisburiense} / Sarum Antiphoner. Cambridge, University Library, Mm.ii.9 is a Sarum Antiphoner from the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Fere (1901-25) is a facsimile of a Sarum Antiphoner from the early thirteenth century. The 1519 Sarum Antiphoner is freely available online.

In an antiphoner from Marseille cathedral (Antiphonarium Massiliense) written between 1190 and 1200, an O antiphon similarly declares:

O surpassingly glorious lady beyond the stars, you who were the first seen, and no similar existing nor following, alone without a precedent, you are a virgin who pleased Christ.

{ O gloriosa domina excelsa super sidera quae nec primam similem visa est nec habere sequentem sola sine exemplo placuit virgo Christo }

Latin text from folio 204v of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 1090 via Cantus, my English translation. Similar praise of the Virgin Mary was incorporated into the Book of Hours (use of Utrecht).

[6] According to the Herbertian Life of Kentigern, Ewen was the son of Erwegende. But the Life reports another parentage: “in the Deeds of the Historical Accounts he is called Ewen, son of King Ulien {In gestis historiarum vocatur Ewen filius regis Ulien}.” Id., Chapter 1. These details indicate that Ewen was a known historical figure.

In fact, Ewen in the Herbertian Life of Kentigern apparently refers to a figure called Yvain / Ewen / Owain / Owein. This Ewen, a prince, was “one of the most famous characters in the medieval Welsh traditions about the Britons of the North.” His father Ulien about 600 GC was the King of Reget somewhere in south-west Scotland or north-west England. Jackson (1958) pp. 283-4. Prince Ewen was a plausible figure for a mythic story:

Incidentally it should be noted that this son of Urien was a popular figure in Welsh (and evidently Cumbric) story who attracted all kinds of tales and legends to himself, and that there is no positive reason to think that he was really the father of Kentigern. A saint had to have a royal father, and ‘Euen son of Uruegen’ would be an obvious candidate in the eyes of a Cumbric compiler of a Life. Indeed it would be absurd chronologically, since Kentigern, who died in 612 according to the Annales Cambriae, would presumably have been born about 540 or 550, which would make Urien’s son a younger contemporary of the man whose father he was reputed to be.

Id. p. 286.

The mythic story of Ewen raping Taneu has similarities with the mythic story of the Viking chief god Odin raping the Ruthenian princess Rindr. Hill (1986). But Odin raping Rindr didn’t arise from the need to rationalize a virgin birth.

[7] As Jephthah also experienced, daughters can act strongly and independently relative to their fathers. Unknown to Taneu’s father, the swineherd was secretly a Christian. He respected Taneu’s chastity and taught her what he had learned of Christian faith and doctrine.

[8] In praying to the Virgin Mary and apparently speaking on behalf of all Christian virgin women consecrated to Christ, Taneu with sensual figures described Jesus’s incarnation in the Virgin Mary:

He, the flower of the angelic mounds, without injury to your snow-white chastity, in your humble valley, fertile of all virtues, was deigned to be made. He is the lily of our ravines.

{ ille flos angelicorum montium, sine lesura tui nivei pudoris, in te valle humili, omnium virtutum fertili, effici dignatus est nostrarum lilium convallium }

Jocelin of Furness, Life of Saint Kentigern, Chapter 3. While men tend to view themselves as merely instruments, women typically appreciate more their own distinctive sexual being. In Christianity, women are much better positioned than men to imagine themselves as the spouse of Christ.

[9] Kentigern “though conceived through rape, is not fathered by a wicked, lustful monster but by a desperate, love-sick swain.” Marshall (2013) p. 72. Before he raped Taneu, Ewen apparently aspired to stimulating Taneu sexually in order to induce her to marry him:

On hearing this {the go-between’s exasperation}, the young man inflamed with the fire of natural love in his heart, with anxious sighs said, “If by chance I could touch the node of this young woman’s virginity, perhaps afterwards she would consent to me.”

{ Hoc juvenis audito naturalis amoris igne inflammatus in corde suo cum anxiis dixit suspiriis: Si fortuitu hujus puelle nodum virginitatis tangere valerem, forsitan mihi postea consenciet. }

Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 2. By “node of this young woman’s virginity {hujus puelle nodus virginitatis},” Ewen was plausibly referring to Taneu’s clitoris. Gardner (1998) p. 117. Men of course should not touch a woman’s clitoris without a warm invitation to do so.

Ewen also rationalized his deceptive request that Taneu follow him:

This the young man said, estimating that by chaste intercourse he could pull her up from cultivating swine to a royal palace, and from a keeper of swine make her a lady ruling over knights.

{ Hoc autem dixit juvenis, estimans illam per castum coitum de ara suili attrahere ad regale palacium, et de custode suium dominam facere militum. }

Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 2. Men commonly seek to raise women’s status. Rape, however, is in no way “chaste intercourse {castus coitus}.” It’s also a wrong way to seek to improve a woman’s welfare.

[10] The Herbertian Life of Kentigern explicitly states that rape cannot deprive a woman of her virginity:

Virginity is after all not lacking there where the integrity of holy devotion remains. Furthermore, under law she who did not assent to her corruptor is not repudiated as corrupted, but thus is acknowledged as a virgin. Therefore when a virgin of Christ suffers violation of her body, she does not lose the reward of virginity, but that is esteemed to her reward, as Lucy said to Paschatius, “If you make me violated against my will, chastity has for me doubled my crown.”

{ Ibi quippe non deest virginitas ubi sancte devotionis permanet integritas. In lege etiam quasi corrupta non repudiatur que assensum corruptori non prebuit, sed ut virgo suscipitur. Cum ergo quelibet Christi virgo violentiam patitur carnis, non amittit virginitatis lucrum, sed deputatur illi ad premium, dicente Lucia ad Paschasium, Si invitam me feceris violare, castitas mihi duplicabitur ad coronam. }

Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 8. Saint Lucy asserted that a virgin who is raped acquires, in addition to the Christian crown of virginity, the Christian crown of martyrdom. Apart from such Christian belief, all women and men of good will today should assert that a man who has consensual sex with a woman should not be smeared as a corruptor, nor should he be martyred.

Regarding rationalization of Kentigern’s virgin birth in the surviving twelfth-century lives of Kentigern, Cowan declared:

Whether the sexual encounter in either case would have been perceived as rape by Jocelin’s contemporaries is unclear.

Cowan (2017) p. 583. The Herbertian Life of Kentigern clearly describes Ewen as raping Taneu, as Cowan subsequently makes clear. Id. Cowan goes on to quote Kathryn Gravdal, “in hagiography, no rape is ever completed.” Id. p. 584. In recent decades of medieval literary scholarship, no demonization of men is ever completed.

[11] The Herbertian Life of Kentigern provides a physiological explanation for Taneu’s confusion about what happened:

The virgin remained most wretched and sorrowful, doubting whether or not she was diminished, since from the young man, whom she considered to be a woman, she heard that she had not been touched in the way that a man touches a woman. In addition, because of the signs of the feminine sex, as in all women during the age of conceiving children, were in her beginning to abound, the sure sign of corruption could not be known, although it would have spread fleshly pain. Since during all the time of menstruation, the vaginal entrance naturally has a loosened structure in virgins as well as in non-virginal women, the opening is always accessible for entrance.

{ virgo squalidissima et mesta remansit, hesitans utrum esset libata vel non: quoniam a juvene, quem mulierem esse rebatur, se non tangi audierat quemadmodum virgo tangitur a viro, et precipue quia sexus femineus, sicut in omni muliere tempore prolis conceptionis, in ipsa tunc florere incipiebat: signum agnosci non potuit certum corruptionis, licet dolorem passa sit carnis. Omni namque tempore menstruo, dissolutis naturaliter membrorum compagibus tam in virginis quam in femine janua, patulus patet semper introitus. }

Herbertian Life of Kentigern, chapter 2. The point seems to be that Ewen alleged raped her when she was menstruating. Neither Taneu nor Ewen would then have been able to distinguish the small flow of blood sometimes associated with a woman’s first sexual intercourse of reproductive type. In addition, the text implies that during menstruation a woman’s vagina is looser. Taneu was thus less able to sense Ewen’s penis penetrating her vagina.

Gardner apparently relied excessively on Forbes’s inexact translation concerning Taneu’s emotional, cognitive, and vaginal circumstances. Here is Forbes’s translation:

the virgin remained wretched and sorrowful, in doubt whether she was defiled or no; since she had heard from the youth, whom she thought to be a woman, that she had not been touched as a virgin is touched by a man, and chiefly because the tokens of her sex were then beginning to appear in her as in every woman at the conception of a child, so that she could not discern the certain sign of corruption, although she had suffered from pain in the flesh. For at such times the membranous structures are naturally relaxed, as well in virgins as in those bearing children, and thus the means of defilement always lie more nearly within reach.

Forbes (1874) pp. 127-8. Garner interpreted that passage with relevant expertise:

What ‘signs of corruption’ would she look for? Surely a little bleeding associated with the tearing of the hymen. She obviously did not find any, as on my reading of the ‘case-history’ (as it were) it was not torn, although the tender vulvar mucosa may well have been abraded and thus caused some pain. However, the writer appears to imply that the issue was confused by those ‘tokens of her sex’ which he believed to be normally associated with conception. This probably refers to the flow of clear cervical mucus which is one of the signs of ovulation which we teach women whose complaint is infertility to look for as an aid to timing profitable coitus. As Thaney conceived she must have been at this stage in her cycle.

Gardner (1998) p. 119. Gardner had “a full career as a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist for the NHS {U.K. National Health Service}.” Id. p. 126. That makes Gardner an expert in the female reproductive system, as well as in sexual intercourse in relation to conception. Such expertise in no substitute for knowledge of medieval Latin philology. Gardner seems not to have appreciated the value of medieval Latin philology. He complained:

Bishop Forbes then adds a bizarre gloss (at 128): ‘and thus the means of defilement always lie more nearly within reach.’ (A modern glossator might prefer: ‘and thus encourage the successful migration of sperm up the female genital tract’.)

Id. p. 119, n. 20. For the Latin text “patulus patet semper introitus,” Forbes’s translation (“bizarre gloss”) is better than that of Garder’s imagined “modern glossator.” Modern philology has served women better than men. At least Thomas D. Hill, a medievalist with considerable philological expertise, interpreted this passage correctly. Hill (1986) p. 231.

[12] Jocelin of Furness, Life of Saint Kentigern, Prologue. With verbal parallels to Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth and reception by shepherds and a holy man (Simeon for Jesus, Saint Serf for Kentigern), Jocelin nonetheless associated Taneu giving birth to Kentigern with the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. Cowan (2017) p. 574. Cf. “Jocelin does not explicitly note any parallel with the nativity scene in Bethlehem.” Birkett (2010) p. 87.

Subsequent quotes above are from Jocelin’s Life of Saint Kentigern, Prologue (“Going to the sacred volumes…”; “Many have taken the drink of oblivion…”), Chapter 2 (“Behold, all sexes and all statuses of person…”), and Prologue (“Surely it is absurd to explore further…”).

[13] Jocelin of Furness, Life of Saint Kentigern, Chapter 36 (“How the Saint wondrously restored to the queen a ring that the queen had indecently gifted and that for this reason was thrown into the river Clyde by the king himself {Quomodo sanctus anulum a regina indecenter datum, et ab ipso rege in flumine Clud projectum, mirabiliter regine restituit}”). This story is an instance of a story type called the Ring of Polycrates (Aarne–Thompson–Uther tale type ATU 736A), after the earliest known instance in Herodotus, Histories 3.40-42.

King Rederech (Rhydderch of Strathclyde) was the King of Alt Clut in the Old North {Hen Ogledd} about the year 600. His wife Queen Languoreth had been barren, but with the blessing and intercession of Kentigern she gave birth to a son. Life of Saint Kentigern, Chapter 33.

[14] Hagiographers have preferred to construct virgin births through rape. The Welsh saints Saint Cadoc, Saint David (Dewi), and Saint Dubricius (Dyfrig) were reportedly born of virgin mothers through rape. Green (1998), n. 161, and associated main text. The wizard Merlin had a quasi-virgin conception through the apparently consensual action of a daemon-incubus. Kentigern’s teacher Saint Servanus reportedly was conceived miraculously. Marshall (2013) p. 73, n. 26.

[15] “Christ A” / “Christ 1,” vv. 71-82p (poem 4, vv. 1-12p), Old English text (alternate source) from Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501) folio 9r-9v via Campbell (1959) p. 53, modern English translation (slightly modified) from Aaron K. Hostetter, “Advent Lyrics (Christ I).” The Exeter Book was written late in the tenth century. Here’s a digital representation of the Old English letter-forms. Some thoughts on this poem.

Gardner noted:

David Farmer (whose Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 1978, is a standard work) assures me: ‘To the best of my knowledge and belief, orthodoxy of the 11th-12th century was that the Virgin Birth was a quite unique event without any parallel’ (personal communication).

Gardner (1998) p. 120, n. 23. The issue seems to have been more precisely the influence of the O antiphon “O Virgo virginum.” Texts now regarded as non-musical were associated with medieval singing.

Mary has long been a dominant figure in Christianity. The “Christ A” Old English interpretation of the O antiphon “O Virgo virginum” modified its Latin source to include sons of Jerusalem along with daughters of Jerusalem. Daughters, however, occupy the final, more poetically important position in the verse. Nonetheless, in the context of deeply entrenched anti-meninism, the male-inclusive gesture of the Old English poem should be applauded. Cf. Reider (2019) para. 13.

[16] Scholars seem not to have considered any alternate means for rationalizing Kentigern’s virgin birth. One scholar lamented that the two surviving twelfth-century lives of Kentigern contain “men that only cross-dress in order to sexually assault a woman.” Bull (2019) p. 51. That short article contains 39 instances of the word “rape” as well as “rapist” in its title. Another scholar put forward a modern form of literalism-fundamentalism concerning Kentigern’s mother Taneu (Thenew):

St Thenew is actually Scotland’s first recorded rape victim, battered woman and unmarried mother. From the time of her death in the seventh century until the present day, there is a discernable trail of oppression and violence against women.

From promotional blurb for King (1993). The trail of oppression and violence against men since the seventh century has been much less commonly recognized. The story of Kentigern’s virgin birth “is still quietly insisting on its presence.” Cowan (2017) p. 589. Naturalization of men raping women is an even more insistent presence. “Vita Kentegerni was a text written with a contemporary audience firmly in mind.” Birkett (2010) p. 113. Criminalizing men for allegedly “corrupting” women continues to appeal to the public right up to this day.

[images] (1) Verbum Gloriae performing “O Virgo virginum & Magnificat,” Gregorian chant O Antiphon in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Via YouTube. Here’s a recording of “O Virgo virginum” by Gabriel Jackson and The Oxford Choir in 2019. (2) Saint Kengtigern (Saint Mungo) stained glass window by Douglas Strachan in Bute Hall, University of Glasgow. Installed in 1909. Source image thanks to Vysotsky and Wikimedia Commons.


Birkett, Helen. 2010. The Saints’ Lives of Jocelin of Furness: Hagiography, Patronage ,and Ecclesiastical Politics. Woodbridge, Suffolk: York Medieval Press with Boydell & Brewer.

Bull, Andrew. 2019. ‘“Am I Not a Woman Like Thyself?” -The Transvestite Male Rapist Narratives of Óðinn and Rindr, and Ewen and Thaney.’ Kyngervi. 1: 36-56. Alternate source.

Campbell, Jackson Justice. 1959. The Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book. Princeton N.J: Princeton University Press.

Cowan, Mairi. 2017. “A Contested Conception: Jocelin of Furness and St Kentigern in Twelfth-Century Glasgow.” Pp. 571-589 in Tristan Sharp, ed. From Learning to Love: Schools, Law, and Pastoral Care in the Middle Ages. Essays in Honour of Joseph W. Goering. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Frere, W. H. 1901-25. Antiphonale Sarisburiense. A reproduction in facsimile from early manuscripts of the 13th century, with a dissertation and analytical index. London, UK: Plainsong and Mediæval Music Society, Gregg Press.

Forbes, Alexander Penrose, ed. and trans. 1874. Lives of S. Ninian and S. Kentigern. Compiled in the Twelfth Century. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.

Gardner, Rex. 1998. “’Something Contrary to Sound Doctrine and to Catholic Faith’: A New Look at the Herbertian Fragment of the Life of Kentigern.” Innes Review. 49 (2): 115–26.

Gough-Cooper, Henry. 2003. “Kentigern and Gonothigernus: A Scottish saint and a Gaulish bishop identified.” The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe. Issue 6. Online.

Green, Cynthia Whidden. 1998. Saint Kentigern, Apostle to Strathclyde: A critical analysis of a northern saint. M.A. Thesis, Department of English, University of Houston. With English translation Jocelyn, a monk of Furness: The Life of Kentigern (Mungo). Alternate source.

Hill, Thomas D. 1986. “Odin, Rinda, and Thaney, the Mother of St Kentigern.” Medium Ævum. 55 (2): 230–37.

Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone. 1958. “Sources for the life of Kentigern.” Chapter 6 (pp. 273-357) in Nora K. Chadwick, ed. Studies in the Early British Church. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

King, Elspeth. 1993. The Hidden History of Glasgow’s Women: The Thenew Factor. Edinburgh, Scotland: Mainstream Pub.

Marshall, Susan. 2013. “Illegitimacy and Sanctity in the Twelfth-Century Lives of St. Kentigern”. Pp. 67-90 in Clare Downham, ed. Jocelin of Furness: Essays from the 2011 Conference. Donington, UK: Shaun Tyas. Volume review by Julie Kerr.

Neale, John Mason. 1851. Hymnal Noted Parts I & II. London & New York: Novello, Ewer and Company, J. Masters & Company.

Reider, Alexandra. 2019. “Ic ane geseah idese sittan: The Woman and Women Apart in Old English Poetry.” The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe. Issue 19. Online.

Fresne & Fleurie: Galeran’s twin trouble in love

In Jean Renaut’s early thirteenth-century romance Galeran of Brittany {Galeran de Bretagne}, Galeran had grown to love deeply his childhood friend Fresne. She loved him equally. Events, however, separated them as young adults. Galeran, who became Count of Brittany, lost contact with Fresne. He didn’t even know whether she was still alive.

The eminent castle-holder Brundoré invited Galeran to stay with him for a week at his castle in la Roche-Guyon. Brundoré’s wife Gente warmly welcomed Galeran:

She took Galeran by the hand
into the room, after she had greeted him,
and entertained him for a long time there,
along with Fleurie, who sat at her side.
Then Gente begged him to excuse her
as she went to her husband.
“Lovely daughter, do honor,”
she said, “to my lord the count.”

{ Galeren par la main en maine
En chambres, quant salué l’a,
Longuement l’a festoié la,
Et Fleurie qui lez li siet.
Or li prie que ne li griet
Gente, qui va a son seigneur:
“Belle fille, faictes hounour,
Fait elle, a mon seigneur le conte.” }

Gente apparently positioned her daughter Fleurie to gain Galeran as a husband. Fleurie was a confident, courteous, and beautiful young woman. She conversed warmly with Galeran.

chocolate-serving hostess (Liotard's "Chocolate girl")

Fleurie’s beauty bewildered Galeran. She seemed to him as beautiful as his beloved, lost Fresne. Fleurie was wearing a wimple that covered her golden hair. Galeran was lost in thought:

He said, “Beautiful one, do not be offended.
Remove the wimple from your head,
because I want to see you openly.”
“Sir, that should sit well with me
if that suits you, so I want well to do so.”
She does that, while not displaying any pride.

{ Si dist: “Belle, ne vous soit grief,
Ostés la guimple de vo chief,
Qu’apertement vous vueil veoir.”
“Sire, ce me doit bien seoir,
Puis que vous siet, et bien le vueil.”
Fait celle, ou il n’a point d’orgueil. }

Sight of the bare-headed Fleurie was too much for Galeran:

She has removed it. When he sees her,
such has his heart become without sense and without defense
that it doesn’t heed reason or division.
Into his arms he immediately took her,
so to embrace her and kiss her twenty times,
whether to anyone that would be ugly or that would please.

{ Ostée l’a. Quant cil l’esgarde,
S’a le cuer sans sens et sans garde,
N’i entent raison ne devise.
Entre ses braz l’a tantost prise,
Si l’acole et vingt foiz la baise,
Cui qu’il soit lait ou cui qu’il plaise }

Persons in medieval Europe weren’t required to secure affirmative consent prior to each and every embrace or kiss. Nonetheless, Galeran embracing and kissing Fleurie twenty times was a grievous wrong under medieval norms:

And Fleurie didn’t know what to think,
she who against him couldn’t defend herself
and wondered to herself how this had happened.
So she said to him: “How does this happen,
lovely sir, that such a brave man
as you are, would be one so overcome
by great folly and great madness?
When you meet a woman whom in your whole life
you have never seen before, nor she you,
you would like to play with her like a husband
would play with his wife? That is ugly work.
Foolish is a lover who doesn’t restrain himself
until he has helped her to explore if an attempt would be suitable.
If you had sought to request my love,
before you had used me so,
you would have sought it with greater honor,
and I would have granted it.
Little can you be proud of
amusing yourself thus, if I didn’t assent to it,
so it seems to me and so I understand it,
because to entertain one in this way bears honor
only when lovers carry themselves entirely
in each other’s delight and make two hearts into one.”

{ Et Flourie n’y scet qu’entendre,
Qui ne s’en puetvers li deffendre,
Si se merveille dont ce vient;
Si li a dit: “Comment advient,
Biau sire, de si vaillant homme
Com vous estes, qui si s’asomme
De grant folie et de grant rage?
Quant une fame en vostre aage
N’avez veüe n’ele vous,
S’i vourrez jouer come espoux
Joue a espouse? C’est laide euvre.
Fouls est amans qui ne se cuevre,
Jusques i l’ait a essay mise.
Si d’amours m’eüssiez requise,
Ainçoys que vous me baillissiez,
Greigneur hounour y eüssiez,
Et je le voulsisse octroyer:
Pou pouez voustre esbanoier,
Si com moy semble et je le sens,
Loer, si je ne m’y assens;
Car li deduis si s’onor porte
Quant entierement se deporte
Le paire et met deux cuers en un.” }

Medieval women were confident enough to speak assertively for themselves. Medieval women were strong enough to insist that men cease improper behavior. Galeran was ashamed at what he had done to Fleurie. He promptly left her.

Betraying with Fleurie his love for Fresne upset Galeran most of all. Humans, however, are rationalizing animals. Galeran justified to himself his wrongful behavior:

I dishonor my love? I have certainly not done so,
because I didn’t do it for myself,
and she isn’t angry about it.
If I kiss the likeness of my beloved,
have I actually done such a large outrage?
Do I not often kiss the image
that she has portrayed of herself on the sleeve?
What reason have I drawn before?
Fresne has embroidered the sleeve with her hands,
so as to have made there not more nor less
than what she had in her, so it resembles her.
By my faith, it seems to me better reason
to have the young women right here,
than to have the image, which is nothing
compared to her. She presents to me
Fresne, such is her beauty and her nobility,
and I want to love her for Fresne.
She bears the likeness of Fresne in her eyes,
her nose, her mouth, and her face,
her head, her arms, and her figure,
and in her many other aspects.
When I have this reminder of her,
if she is to me dead or lost,
she isn’t totally taken from me,
and for me that is necessary to endure the loss.
In her I see such an opening
by which I can recover her.
God! How well nature knows to work
so as to make for me Fresne revived!
And since this one would make living to me
what I have lost for so long,
if she would like it or she would accept it,
I do not repent that I kissed her.

{ J’abays m’amour? Certes non faz,
Ne de moy pour ce ne le faz
N’ele ne s’en courroucie mie.
Si je bays le semblant m’amie,
Ay je dont fait si grant oultrage?
Enne bays je souvent s’ymage
Qu’elle a en sa manche pourtraicte?
Quelle raison ay avant traite?
Fresne l’a tyssue a ses mains,
S’en y a fait ne plus ne mains
Qu’il a en li, si la ressemble.
Par foy, greindre resons me semble
A la pucelle de ceens
Qu’a l’ymage, qui est nïens
Envers li, qu’elle me presente
Fresnain, tant est et belle et gente,
Et pour Fresnain amer la vueil.
Le semblant Fresnain porte en l’ueil,
En nes, en bouche et en visage,
En chief, en braz et en coursage,
Et en mainte autre contenance:
Quant j’en ay ceste congnoissance,
S’elle m’est ou morte ou faillie,
Ne m’est pour ce toute tollie,
Si m’en estuet souffrir la perte.
En ceste la voy si apperte
Que par li la puis recovrer.
Dieu! com scet bien Nature ovrer,
Qu’ainsi me fait Fresnein revivre!
Et puis que ceste en soy me livre
Ce que j’ay perdu si grant piece,
Ou li soit bel ou il li siesse,
Ne m’en repens de li baisier }

Fleurie loved Galeran. But she didn’t like or accept him kissing her improperly. Moreover, kissing one woman because she looks like another woman is shallow and cruel.

Fleurie’s ardent love for Galeran made the matter worse. She blamed herself for speaking harshly to him about him suddenly kissing her twenty times. With the bold initiative more characteristic of medieval women than women today, Fleurie went to Galeran and sat beside him:

The conversation she now renewed,
and she said to him: “Sir, forgive me!
I do not want to leave from here
if I would not be reconciled with you.
Much you have looked at me this day,
and you have displayed great pleasure in me.
One whom Love takes in its bond
cannot well control himself.
You should not have fear of me.
I will not speak wickedly to you again.
Since you play without baseness,
I want to endure the play again.
I have come to offer myself to you,
which I have done at my mother’s command,
who said that I should be bright for you
and make for you honor and festivity.”

{ La parolle ra maintenue,
Si li a dit: “Sire, mercy!
Je ne me vueil partir de cy,
Si me soie a vous racordee.
Moult m’avez or huy regardee,
Si m’avez moustré grant soulaz;
Cil cui Amours prent a son laz
Ne se puet mie bien donter;
Ne vous estuet de moy doubler,
Ne vous diray mais felenie.
Quant vous jouez sans villanie
Je vueil ausques d’un jeu souffrir.
A vous me suis venue offrir,
Que je l’ay du commant ma mere,
Qui dit que je vous fusse clere
Et vous feïsse hounour et feste.” }

Mothers ruled in medieval Europe. But Fleurie’s insinuation that her mother had made her go to Galeran and pardon him surely wasn’t true. One shouldn’t condemn absolutely non-hurtful deception in love. Women commonly use cosmetics today.

young woman with nosegay in 16th century

Galeran similarly spoke misleadingly. Galeran responded to Fleurie’s apology with longing for Fresne:

He looked at her face, her head,
her throat, her neck, her arms, her body.
So he saw her as Fresne on the outside
and nearly went so far as to believe she was.
After he had taken such a long study of her,
he said to her: “My young lady,
the heart of one who loves flies in many places,
in many places thinks, in many places goes.
If my having pleasure today grieved you,
I pray that you don’t blame me,
but you blame that on my beloved,
who has made me do this outrage.”

{ Cil la regarde en vis, en teste,
En gorge, en coul, en braz, en corps,
Si la voit Fresnein par dehors
Et prez va qu’en li ne la cuide.
Quant tant y a mise s’estuide,
Si li a dit: “Ma damoiselle,
Cuers qui aime en maint lieu oysele,
En maint lieu pence, en maint lieu va.
Se mes deduiz huy vous greva,
A moy ne vous en prenez mie,
Mais prenez vous en a m’amie,
Qui m’a fait cest oultrage faire.” }

In medieval Europe, a male gazing upon a woman wasn’t regarded as a grave offense. Fleurie thought that Galeran loved her. He actually loved her long-lost twin sister Fresne.

Just as many men have been throughout history, Galeran was pressed into marriage. His companion Brun noticed his lovesickness for a long-lost woman. Brun advised a well-established cure for lovesick men: find another woman, or many other women. Brun insisted that Galeran should have a child-heir. Over time Brun pointed out ten or twelve noble young women who would make a suitable wife for Galeran. Ultimately he insisted that Galeran name a woman that he would marry:

And Galeran responded: “I do not love her,
yet she bears the resemblance of my beloved.
I desire her more than to have
a woman of greater authority.
She is the daughter of Brundoré.”

{ Et cil respont: “Je ne l’aim mie,
Ainz porte le semblant m’amie;
Si la desir plus a avoir
Que fame de greigneur pouoir:
Ce est la fille Brundoré.” }

Fleurie was delighted to marry Galeran. Her father Brundoré happily approved their marriage. Fleurie didn’t know that Galeran was marrying her mainly for her looks. Wrongly marrying a woman is much worse than wrongly kissing her twenty times.

Medieval literature represents men acting despicably. Representations of women acting despicably are commonly called misogyny, particularly if those representations don’t prominently highlight the disclaimer: “Not All Women Are Like That (NAWALT).” Meninist literary criticism thus insists on noting that not all men are like that. Not all men are like Galeran. Not all men are so superficial as to marry a women because they love her identical twin. Even dogs don’t typically love like that.

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Read more:


This story is from Jean Renaut’s medieval romance Galeran de Bretagne. Regarded as a relatively realistic writer, Jean Renaut had keen insight into human nature and gender. For information about how the story ends, see my post on women’s relational aggression in Galeran de Bretagne.

All the quotes above are from Galeran de Bretagne, with the Old French text of Foulet (1925) and my English translations, benefiting from that of Beston (2008). The quotes are Galeran de Bretagne vv. 5206-13 (She took Galeran by the hand…), 5227-32 (He said, “Beautiful one,”…), 5233-8 (She has removed it…), 5239-61 (And Fleurie didn’t know what to think…), 5289-5321 (I dishonor my love?…), 5340-55 (The conversation she now renewed…), 5356-67 (He looked at her face, her head…), 6419-23 (And Galeran responded…).

[images] (1) Chocolate-serving hostess (Liotard’s “Chocolate girl {Schokoladenmädchen}”). Painted by Jean-Étienne Liotard about 1744. Preserved as assession # Gal.-Nr. P 161 in Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Germany). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Portrait of a young woman with a nosegay. Painted by Francesco Ubertini, called Bacchiacca, about 1525. Preserved as accession # P15e13 in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, USA). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Beston, John, trans. 2008. An English Translation of Jean Renaut’s Galeran de Bretagne, a Thirteenth-Century French Romance. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

Foulet, Lucien, ed. 1925. Jean Renaut. Galeran de Bretagne: Roman du XIIIe Siècle. Paris: É. Champion. Alternate source.

Waltharius continued: Christian epic hero becomes monk

In the early medieval Germanic epic poem Waltharius, Prince Walter of Aquitaine and his beloved, Princess Hildegund of Burgundy, escape captivity under Attila the Hun. They contrived for Attila and his court to fall asleep drunk and stuffed with food after a lavish banquet. Hildegund and Walter then sneaked away. In their escape, Hildegund led like a pack mule Walter’s war horse loaded with stolen treasure. The warrior-hero Walter walked away with her. That’s not how epic heroes typically escape captivity. Walter, however, was a Christian epic hero. In subsequent medieval continuations of Waltharius, Walter became a monk. Whether as a warrior or as a monk, Walter was comically distinctive as a Christian.

Ruthwell cross contains scenes from Christ's life and runic inscriptions

According to the late-twelfth century epic The Monastic Life of William {Le Moniage Guillaume}, Count William, a figure associated with the epic hero Walter of Aquitaine, became a monk upon the death of his wife. William and his wife had lived a hundred years together in joy, often joking and laughing together. While William was grieving over his wife’s death, God instructed William to become a monk at the Genevois abbey on the sea. William donned his armor, took up his sword and shield, mounted his war horse, and journeyed to the abbey. There he placed his knightly equipment on the altar. He requested to the abbot that he be admitted as a monk.

While readers of epics typically take for granted massive violence against men, the abbot at Genevois didn’t. He knew about the epic hero Walter / William:

“Sir William,” says the abbot, “good, sweet lord,
you have killed and cut down many men.
I cannot deny you penance
for your sins. You have killed twenty thousand men.”

{ “Sire Guillaume,” dist l’abes, “biaus dous sire,
Maint home avés fait tüer et ocire;
De penitance ne vos puis escondire
Pour vos peciés, dont avés fait vint mile.” }[1]

William apparently knew of such epic behavior only be ear. When the abbot asked him if he knew how to chant and read, William answered, “Yes, sir abbot, without looking at a book {Öil, sire abes, sans regarder en livre}.” The abbot and the monks laughed at William’s illiteracy. They promised to teach him to read the Psalter and sing matins. William’s penance for his massive violence against men was the duties of a monk.

epic warrior-hero William of Aquitaine becomes a monk

William became a highly distinguished monk. After being tonsured, he was given monastic garments. Those garments were far too short for him, for he was nine inches taller than any other monk. He also ate much more. One monk complained:

I’ve never seen a man with such a large appetite.
If we have a loaf and half to eat,
he has three, yet is never satisfied.
Curses on such a monk in the abbey!

He barely fasts from midday to early afternoon.
Mornings he eats three good, large loaves,
so that not a crumb or crust remains.
When we have beans, he demands the beet-root
and fish and in addition good wine —
of a large barrel, not a drop remains.

{ De si grant coust ne vi home en ma vie:
Quant nos avons une mice et demie,
Il en a trois, ne s’en saole mie.
Mal dehet ait tel moine en abëie!

A paines june de midi dusqu’a none;
Au main menjue trois mices grans et bones,
N’i remaint point de mie ne de croste.
Quant a des feves, si demande la joute
Et les poissons et le bon vin encontre;
D’un grant sestier n’en remanra ja gote. }

The monks feared that William’s voracious eating would cause them all to starve. Moreover, he threatened them with his fists if he didn’t get his way. He severely beat the abbey cellarer for not giving him more wine.

According to Le Moniage Guillaume, the abbot conspired with the other monks to have William sent on journey that they hoped would result in him being killed. They sent him to buy fish by journeying through the forest. There robbers regularly waylaid travelers. Deliberately putting William in danger isn’t Christian. Nonetheless, the abbot enjoined William to Christian non-violence. If robbers took his goods, he was not to fight back. William spoke of hypothetical thefts and imagined his furious fighting response. In each case — robbers taking his horse, gloves, boots, and wool tunic — the abbot forbade anger and forbade fighting back. But when the matter got down to underwear, the abbot recognized an exception:

And William says: “If they take my underwear,
the item that we call breeches?”
“Certainly,” said the abbot, “that would be a bad thing,
a thing that should much displease you.
Defend your underwear if you can do some harm to the thieves.
With bone and flesh you may act strongly against them.”
And William says: “This would please me well.
Since permission has been given to me to do that,
I swear to you by the body of Saint Hilaire,
if they should do anything to me that should displease me,
they will find me fierce and cruel.
To have my underwear pulled off of me would be a big shame.
Before they have my underwear, I would make several roar,
if God preserves my fists.

{ Et dist Guillaume: “S’il me tollent mes braies,
Icele chose c’on claime famulaires?”
“Chertes,” dist l’abes, “dont seroit cose laide;
De cele cose vos doit il bien desplaire.
Desfendés lor si lor pôés mal faire:
D’os et de char lor faites grant contraire.”
Et dist Guillaume: “Ice me puet bien plaire.
Quant le congié me donés de ce faire,
Je vos en jur par le cors saint Ylaire,
S’il me font chose qui me doie desplaire,
Troveront moi felon et deputaire.
Grant honte aroie de mes braies hors traire,
Ains que les aient en i ferai maint braire,
Se Dex mes bras me sauve.” }[2]

Depriving a man of his underwear isn’t usual epic matter. The abbot’s specification of bone and flesh for William’s strong response alludes to Adam’s love for Eve: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Moreover, the repeated use of the verbs meaning please / displease contributes to a sexual context.[3] Seeking to seduce the robbers, William wore a silk belt trimmed with gold when he traveled through the forest to buy fish.

Traveling back through the forest with the purchased fish, William encouraged his servant-attendant to sing. The servant-attendant began like a courtly singer of epics:

Would you like to hear about Sir Tiebaut the Slav,
and of William, marquis with the short nose,
how he captured the city of Orange,
and took Orable as his wife and peer,
and Gloriete the principal palace?

{ Volés öir de dant Tibaut l’Escler,
Et de Guillaume, le marcis au cort nés.
Si com il prist Orenge la chité,
Et prist Orable a moillier et a per,
Et Gloriete, le palais principer? }

Before William could cheer on this epic song about himself, the singer stopped. He was afraid of attracting robbers. William, however, commanded him not to stop singing. William said that he shouldn’t be afraid, for he would protect him.

Fifteen robbers heard the singing and came to despoil the travelers. They tied up the servant-attendant and threw him in a ditch. Then they demanded goods from William. Without resisting, William gave them his horse, gloves, robe, wool tunic, and gown. He was then naked except for his boots and his underwear. His luxurious belt held tight his underwear:

The leader of the thieves has seen the belt
and the precious stones and the fine gold gleaming.
He swears by God that he won’t let it go.
He kneels down, for he wants to untie it,
so that he can pull it out of William’s underwear.
The count watches him and can’t help but rage:
“Ah, God,” William says, “now I must go mad!
These treacherous swine have captured me,
and they don’t want to leave me even my underwear!

Our leader in the abbey has commanded me:
if I find a man who seizes my underwear
and wants to pull off my belt by force,
only then could I get angry.
If I much delay, better not to have been born,
for these men are very evil and treacherous.”
He raises his fist and strikes the leader.
He gives such a blow on the front of his face
that he breaks the bone of his jaw into two parts
and throws him dead onto the earth.

{ Li maistres lerres a coisi le braier
Et les jagonches et l’or fin flamboier;
Damedieu jure ne li vaudra laissier.
Il s’agenoille, qu’il li veut deslacier,
Qu’il le voloit fors des braies sacier.
Voit le li quens, n’i ot que courecier:
“He! Dex,” dist il, “com or puis esragier,
Com or me tienent cist gloton losengier,
Que nes mes braes ne me veulent laissier!”

“Ja commanda dans abes, nostre maistre,
Se trovoie home qui me tolist mes braies.
Et mon braier vausist a force traire,
Lors dont a primes me poroie je iraistre.
Se plus ateng, miex vauroie estre a naistre,
Car il sont trop felon et deputaire.”
Hauce le poig, si vait ferir le maistre;
Tel cop li done devant en son visage,
L’os de la goule en deus moitiés li quasse,
Mort le trebuce a terre. }[4]

Kneeling in front of William and tugging on the belt of his underwear suggests sexual assault. Rape of men happens about as frequently as rape of women. In this case, William fought back using only flesh and bone. After killing seven of the thieves, he lamenting not been able to use a sword. Upon looking around for a permitted weapon, he tore the leg off a horse and bludgeoned the rest of the thieves to death with that flesh and bone.

The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis}, an early eleventh-century Latin reader for students, more explicitly points an attack on a man’s underwear. The hero in this version is the great soldier Walter. As an aged man, Walter apparently become a monk and traveled on behalf of his brother monks. They placed him under an underwear rule:

The brothers mandated Walter not to surrender his underwear,
but to defend that alone after everything else had been taken from him.

{ Mandant Waltero fratres non tradere brachas,
Omnibus ablatis tacito defendere solas }[5]

While Walter was on a journey, robbers waylaid him. He surrendered to the robbers his horse, his horse’s armor, his whip, all his outer clothes, and his hood. When the thieves sought to take his underwear, he fought back:

Experienced in military service, he was vigorous with weapons, as is well-known.
He scattered their assault and repressed it with great strength.
He hurled them all down from their horses without shedding blood.
He said, “Every other spoil, but none from the anus,
the brothers tolerate for those who carry the brothers’ messages.
Such booty they forbid to the greedy robber.

{ usus militia viguit, quae nota, sub armis:
dissipat assultus macta virtute repressos,
Omnes disiectos ab equis sine sanguine stravit,
dicens: “Omne quidem spolium, de podice nullum
fratres his tolerant, qui fratrum nuntia portant,
tales exuvias avido vetuere latroni.” }

The reference to raping men or boys should be obvious. In the relatively enlightened medieval period, the rape of men and boys wasn’t regarded as merely a laughing matter. Young men students learned a specific example of resisting rape by fighting to retain their underwear. The Christian epic hero Walter defeated gang rape without shedding blood and without penal punishment of the offenders. In Christian understanding, everything is possible for those who believe in God.[6]

monk Saint William of Gellone, a former warrior (see helmet on ground) teaching women and men religious

The mid-eleventh century Chronicle of Novalese {Chronicon Novaliciense} adapted the Waltharius and similarly continued it to make Walter into a monk at the monastery of Novalesa in northwest Italy. Walter joined the great Christian king Charlemagne in the Chronicon Novaliciense’s work of linking the Novalesa monastery to important figures. While its story closely follows parts of the earlier Waltharius, “a more Christian hero now inhabits a more Christian epic.”[7] The Chronicon Novaliciense develops the underwear rule, but here Walter speaks with the formality and deference that Abraham did in bargaining with God to prevent Sodom’s destruction:

Then Walter: “I beg, my lord, be not angry if I inquire further. What should happen about my underwear, if they similarly wish to do what they did previously with my other goods?” And the abbot replied, “Let the humility already displayed suffice for you. I decree nothing to you concerning your underwear, since your humility would seem to me to have been great in allowing the despoiling of your other vestments.”

{ Tunc Waltarius: “Obsecro, mi domine, ne irascaris, si loqui addero. De femoralia quid erit, si similiter voluerint facere ut prius fecerunt?” Et abbas: “Iam tibi predicta suffitiat humilitas: nam de femoralibus tibi aliud non precipiam, cum magna nobis videatur fore humilitas priorum vestium expoliatio.” }[8]

When Walter subsequently went on a journey, robbers seized his other goods and then sought his underwear. He fought back strongly and used metal weapons and the leg of a calf as a club to kill many of the robbers. The most intimately approaching robber bent down to take Walter’s sandals from his feet. Walter struck that robber with a killing blow to the neck.

Within Christian epic, succumbing to pride is the worst loss. In the Chronicon Novaliciense, Walter’s heroic victory over the robbers was nearly a defeat:

Many of the robbers were killed, and the rest were indeed put to flight. They left everything behind. After Walter obtained his victory, he took everything — his own goods and the others’ goods — and returned at once to the monastery. He was laden with his great spoils. When the abbot saw these things about which he had already heard, he however immediately groaned. With the rest of the brethren he gave himself over to lamentations and prayers for Walter and admonished him harshly. Walter then truly accepted the penance that the father advised, lest by such a wicked deed he be overcome with his body’s pride. From pride he could suffer the loss of his soul.

{ Ex illis namque plurimis occisis, reliqui vero in fugam versi relinquerunt omnia. Waltharius autem adepta victoria accipiens cuncta et sua et aliena, repedavit continuo ad monasterium, cum maxima preda oneratum. Abbas autem talia ut ante audierat, vidit, ilico ingemuit ac se in lamentum et precibus cum reliquis pro eo dedit fratribus, increpans eum valde acrius. Waltarius vero exin penitentiam accipiens a predicto patrono, ne de tanto scelere superbiretur in corpore, unde iacturam pateretur in anima. }

Pride in Walter’s heroic deed implied grief. Christians understood pride to be a cardinal sin. Defeating robbers and acquiring much spoils is little gain relative relative to spiritual loss. Even retaining one’s underwear could not compensate for the loss of one’s soul.

While not as important as the fate of one’s soul, underwear was a matter on considerable concern to Christians in medieval Europe. Hebrew scripture commanded that Aaron and his sons wear underwear when ministering to the Lord in the tabernacle. The sixth-century Christian monastic Rule of Saint Benedict declared that in ordinary places simple clothing not including underwear is sufficient for monks.[9] Benedictine monks thus established the practice now commonly known as “going commando.” Some regarded that practice as scandalous. In a letter of instruction issued in 866, Pope Nicholas I declared:

What you have asked concerning underwear we consider to be pointless. … For if you or if your women take off or put on underwear, it does not bring about salvation nor does it offer any increase in your virtues.

{ Quod de femoralibus sciscitamini, supervacuum esse putamus … Nam sive vos, sive feminae vestrae, sive deponatis,sive induatis femoralia, nec saluti officit, nec ad virtutum vestrarum proficit incrementum. }[10]

Nonetheless, the Cistercians, a monastic community founded in 1098 to observe more strictly the Rule of Saint Benedict, rejected underwear along with other luxuries.[11] Whether monks should wear underwear became quite controversial among monastic orders in twelfth-century Europe.

While repenting his past violence against men, the Christian epic hero fought to retain his underwear as a monk. His monkish resolve transcended the bitter monastic controversy over underwear. He fought as a monk against men being raped. More importantly, the Christian epic hero rejected pride.[12] Rejecting pride is the most distinctive sign of being Christian.

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[1] The Monastic Life of William {Le Moniage Guillaume} (short version / version I) vv. 125-8, Old French text from Cloetta (1906-11) vol. 1, English translation (modified) from Ferrante (1974).

Le Moniage Guillaume apparently drew upon epic literature associated with three Walter / William figures. One was Walter of Aquitaine, the hero of the Waltharius. Walter of Aquitaine is associated with the fifth-century Germanic kingdom of the Burgundians in southwestern France. Another was William of Gellone, founder of the Abbey of Gellone and probably the same person as William, Count of Toulouse. William of Toulouse was a counselor to Charlemagne’s son Louis. The third was William of Orange {Guillaume d’Orange}, the hero of a major Old French epic cycle known as La Geste de Garin de Monglane. Guillaume d’Orange was credited with driving the Saracens out of Provence in southern France.

The lives and legends of the three Walter / William figures intermixed in various ways. The early tenth-century Waltharius, the mid-eleventh-century Chronicon Novaliciense’s account of Walter as a warrior and a monk, the early-twelfth-century Life of William of Gellone {Vita Willelmi Gellonensis}, and the late-twelfth-century Moniage Guillaume show the mixing of these Walter / William figures over time.

In the chanson de geste The Crowning of Louis {Le Couronnement de Louis}, Walter of Tolouse appears as William of Orange’s nephew:

The count William sent for him called Walter
the Toulousain, thus to announce the plan.
He was his sister’s son, a noble knight.

{ Li cuens Guillelmes en apela Gualtier
Le Tolosan, ensi l’oï noncier.
Fin sa seror, un gentill chevalier }

Le Couronnement de Louis, vv. 1656-8, Old French text from Langlois (1920), my English translation, benefitting from that of Ferrante (1974). Walter is called “the courtly Walter {li corteis Gualtiers}.” Le Couronnement de Louis, v. 1288, sourced similarly. See also id. v. 567. For further analysis of the Walter / William figure, Smith (2011) pp. 161-5 and Black (2006). For related literature, Learned (1892), Cloetta (1906-11), vol. 2, Magoun & Smyser (1950), and Ziolkowski (2012).

The Genevois abbey of Le Moniage Guillaume seems to refer to the abbey of Aniane in Languedoc, France. Saint Benedict (Witiza) of Aniane was the leading abbot in the reign of Charlemagne. Benedict founded the Aniane abbey about 780. The Benedictine abbey of Gellone, founded in 804, was initially subordinate to the abbey of Aniane. The abbey of Gellone began to be called the abbey of Saint Guillaume early in the eleventh century. By the mid-twelfth-century, it was known as the abbey of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. Along with those name changes, William of Gellone was assimilated to the epic hero Guillaume d’Orange in a new charter for the monastery forged late in the eleventh century or early in the twelfth. In this new foundation legend, Guillaume d’Orange fled the Genevois abbey / abbey of Aniane to found the abbey of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. On re-imagining the abbey’s founding, Remensnyder (1995) pp. 189-93.

Abbey of Gellone / Abbey of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (Hérault, France)

The epic hero William who became a monk in Moniage Guillaume had earlier been known as William Fierce Arm {Guillaume Fièrebrace} and William with the Short Nose {Guillelme au cort nes}. On these names, Ferrante (1974) p. 38, and Hüe (2016). According to the epic, William’s nose had been damaged in his fight with a giant.

Le Moniage Guillaume survives in short and long versions. Subsequent quotes from Le Moniage Guillaume are similarly sourced from the short version, unless otherwise noted. Quotes from Le Moniage Guillaume above are vv. 131 (Yes, sir abbot, without looking at a book), 192-5, 201-6 (I’ve never seen a man with such a large appetite…), 345-58 (And William says: “If they take my underwear,”…), 446-50 (Would you like to hear about Sir Tiebaut the Slav…), 574-82, 590-99 (The leader of the thieves has seen the belt…).

[2] Above I’ve translated braies, from the Latin bracae, as “underwear.” That word probably has the same historical source as the English word “breeches.” To differentiate the Old French word famulaires, I’ve translated it as “breeches.”

Underwear styles have changed through history. Breeches aren’t identical to what today are called boxer underwear. Above I’ve favored in translation the word “underwear” because that’s the most common and easily understood English word for the relevant undergarment.

[3] Cf. Genesis 2:23. The long version of Moniage Guillaume trivializes William’s concern about losing his underwear. Specifically, upon hearing William’s question about underwear, the abbot “laughs to himself {ris desous sa cape}.” Moniage Guillaume, long version (version II), v. 695, Old French text from Cloetta (1906-11), vol. 1.

[4] The long version of Moniage Guillaume deflects concern about rape into concern about nakedness:

If they take my underwear from me, that would be great harm,
because one would be able to see all my matter.

{ S’il les me tolent, chou sera grans contraires,
Car on porra veir tot mon afaire. }

Moniage Guillaume, long version (version II), v. 689-90, Old French text from Cloetta (1906-11), vol. 1, my English translation.

An underwear story included in Chronicle of the Monastery of Montecassino {Chronica monasterii Casinensis} by 1075 similarly avoids the threat of rape. This story concerns Carloman, the son of the Frankish majordomo Charles Martel. Carloman, a Frankish leader himself, retired to the monastery of Montecassino in 747. One day while he was guarding the monastery’s sheep, thieves attacked him:

Those persons of a perverted mind, having robbed him of everything, began to depart. Then Carloman, not suffering the shame of his shameless members, violently snatched from them only his underwear. Unwilling to contend for the rest, he patiently allowed his other goods to be taken away.

{ Illi vero perversae mentis homines funditus eum expoliantes, coeperunt abire. Tum Karolus pudorem pudendorum membrorum non sufferens, femoralia tantum sua violenter eis eripuit; caetera, nolens contendere, patienter illos auferre permisit. }

Leo of Ostia {Leo Ostiensis}, also known as Leo of the Marsi {Leo Marsicanus}, Chronica monasterii Casinensis, chapter 7, Latin text from Monumenta Germaniae Historica, SS 7, p. 584, my English translation. Without any convincing evidence, Cleotta regarded this version of the underwear story as the original. Cloetta (1906-11) vol. 2, p. 132, n. 2, and p. 134. Peter the Deacon subsequently expanded the story. Id. p. 132, n. 2.

[5] Egbert of Liège, The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis} 1.1717-8, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Babcock (2013). The subsequent quote above is similarly from Fecunda ratis vv. 1.1727-32. Voigt (1889), which is freely available, provides a nearly identical Latin text.

Egbert, a teacher at the cathedral school of Liège, completed Fecunda ratis between 1010 and 1026. Babcock (2013) p. xiii, xv. Fecunda ratis has survived in a single, eleventh-century manuscript: Cologne, Erzbischöfliche Diözesanbibliothek, Dombibliothek codex 196, fols. 1r-63r.

The story of Walter and his underwear is titled “About the monk Walter defending his breeches {De Waltero monacho brachas defendente}.” The story begins: “The brothers mandated Walter not to surrender his breeches {Mandant Waltero fratres non tradere brachas}.” Fecunda ratis 1.1717. That verse seems to have been proverbial. Elsewhere in the context of one-verse proverbs, it’s repeated nearly verbatim: “The brothers mandated Walter not to relinquish his breeches {Mandant Waltero fratres non reddere brachas}.” Fecunda ratis 1.214.

The reference to Walter’s “military service {militia}” being “well-known {nota}” (v. 1.1727) points to Walter’s action in a prior epic tradition. That’s plausibly the epic tradition of the Waltharius.

[6] Mark 9:23. Fecunda ratis is “schoolbook for young boys.” Babcock (2013) p. vii. The inclusion of the story “De Waltero monacho brachas defendente” in such a schoolbook points to the continuing problem of men raping boys. Curtius called it a “droll story{Schwank}” and a “droll tale {Schwank}.” Curtius (1953) p. 434. That narrow interpretation seems to me a serious misreading in the institutional context of Fecunda ratis. Consistent with ignorance and gender-bigotry in discussing rape, Woods (1996) ignores rape of boys and men.

[7] Clark (2017) p. 359.

[8] Chronicle of Novalese {Chronicon Novaliciense} 2.11.12-14, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Clark (2017). The monastery of Novalese was founded in 726 in the Susa Valley of northwest Italy. In the middle of eleventh century, a monk of Novalese constructed a history of the Novalese monastery. This Chronicon Novaliciense has survived only incompletely in a parchment roll {rotulus}. It’s probably the original manuscript. It’s now preserved in the State Archives of Turin {Archivio di Stato di Torino}. Id. p. 1. The subsequent quote above is similarly from Chronicon Novaliciense 2.11.37-40.

[9] On the priestly underwear requirement, Exodus 28:42-3, 39:28; Ecclesiasticus 45:8. Saint Benedict of Nursia established his monastic precepts, know as the Rule of Saint Benedict, early in the sixth century. Chapter 55 of the Rule of Saint Benedict contains precepts concerning underwear. Here’s Latin text of Chapter 55 and an English translation.

[10] Response of Nicholas to a Bulgarian emissary {Responsa Nicolai ad consulta bulgaronun}, Latin text from Patrologia Latina 119:1002 via Shopkow (2017) p. 188, English translation (modified slightly) from id.

[11] Robert of Molesme founded the Cistercian Order in 1098. He intended the Cistercian monks to follow the Rule of Saint Benedict more strictly than Benedictine monks then did. Because of the white cowl that they wore, Cistercian monks were known as “White Monks.” The White Monk strictly observed the Rule of Saint Benedict by, among other practices, not wearing underwear.

In Nigel of Canterbury’s Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum}, Burnel the donkey pondered becoming a White Monk. Despite donkeys being renowned for having big penises, Burnel was anxious about his penis (“tail”) being short. That anxiety influenced his thinking about not wearing underwear as a White Monk:

They don’t have the bother of underwear when lying down
in bed. They are far from fear of that!
Their genital members down below know no underwear.
Night and day together their genitals will be always unrestricted.
Therefore what would I do, if wind coming from the south
would quickly bare my behind?
How could one bear to face such shame?
Afterwards how could one return to the cloister by foot?
So if by chance my shameful nudity might be seen,
I would never be a White Monk for the rest of my life.

{ Taedia de nocte femoralia nulla jacenti
In lecto facient; sit procul iste timor.
Nescia braccarum genitalia membra deorsum
Nocte dieque simul libera semper erunt.
Ergo quid facerem, veniens si ventus ab Austro
Nudaret subito posteriora mea?
Qua facie tantum quis sustinuisse pudorem
Possit et ad claustrum postea ferre pedem?
Quod si contingat mea nuda pudenda videri,
Nunquam de reliquo Monachus Albus ero. }

Speculum stultorum, vv. 2139-48, Latin text from Mozlley & Raymo (1960), my English translation, benefiting from that of Regenos (1959). If his genitals were exposed, Burnel would forever be red in embarrassment. That’s why he would no longer be a White Monk.

Inadvertent exposure wasn’t merely the matter of a medieval donkey’s anxiety. Walter Map’s late-twelfth-century On trifles of courtiers {De nugis curialium} tells of a great procession by the English king Henry II and Rericus, “a great monk and an honorable man {monachus magnus et honestus}.” A White Monk stumbled in front of them:

The wind propelled his habit over his neck such that the natural truth was made clearly visible. The wretched parts of which one is to be ashamed appeared before the unwilling eyes of the lord king and Rericus. The king, that repository of all politeness, pretended that his face was averted, and he was quiet. Rericus, however, said to himself softly, “A curse on the scrupulousness that reveals the anus!”

{ uentus autem uestes eius in collum propulit, ut domini regis et Rerici oculis inuitis manifesta fieret misera ueritas pudendorum. Rex, ut omnis facecie thesaurus, dissimulans uultum auertit, et tacuit. Rericus autem intulit secreto “Maledicta, religio que deuelat anum!” }

De nugis curialium 1.25, Latin text from James, Brooke & Mynors (1983), my English translation, benefitting from that of id.

[12] Tension between Christian values and epic values have long been recognized. In a letter to a Mercian bishop (probably Bishop Unuuona of Leicester), Alcuin of York in 797 asked, “What Has Ingeld To Do With Christ {Quid Hinieldus cum Christo}?” Alcuin, Letter 124. Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-15. Ingeld was an epic hero in Old English literature. Alcuin’s concern, however, wasn’t just the performance of epics at episcopal banquets. He was more generally castigating “an over-cosy alliance between a Mercian bishop and king.” Garrison (2005) p. 252.

Christian remolding of Germanic epic is apparent in the Old English poem “Dream of the Rood.” A scholar observed:

the concept of heroism in Old English Christian poetry does not simply reveal a dichotomy of Germanic and Christian; the Christian itself is many-coloured and, by and large, consonant with the Germanic. But at the deepest level it is flatly contradictory. The Christian hero manifests holiness, which encourages patience, while the Germanic hero reflects courage, which leads to pride.

Woeber (1995) p. 364.

[images] (1) Ruthwell Cross in the Ruthwell Church, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland in 2017. This monument was made in the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. It contains scenes from Christ’s life, Latin inscriptions, and runic inscriptions. Source image thanks to Rosser1954 and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a less mystical view. (2) Epic warrior-hero William of Aquitaine becomes a monk. Carved, painted, and gilded chestnut relief made in the first quarter of the sixteenth century for Saint William’s Church {Église Saint-Guillaume} in Strasbourg. Image thanks to Ji-Elle and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Monk Saint William of Gellone, a former warrior (see helmet on ground) teaching women and men religious. Excerpt from folio 88r of Book of Hours of Simon de Varie, made in 1455 and preserved as MS. Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Hague, Netherlands) 74 G37. (4) Abbey of Gellone / Abbey of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert (Hérault, France). Excerpted from a photo by Fabien Dany. Shared, including on Wikimedia Commons, under a CC By SA 2.0 license.


Babcock, Robert Gary, ed. and trans. 2013. Egbert of Liège. The Well-Laden Ship. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 25. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Black, Patricia E. 2006. “Transformation of the knight in the Moniage Guillaume.” Olifant. 25:1-2: 133-140.

Clark, Elizabeth Artemis. 2017. The Chronicle of Novalese: Translation, Text and Literary Analysis. Ph.D. Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School.

Cloetta, Wilhelm, ed. 1906-11. Les Deux Rédactions en Vers du Moniage Guillaume; chansons de geste du XIIe siècle, publiées d’après tous les manuscrits connus. 2 vols. Paris: Firmin-Didot pour la Société des Anciens Textes Français. Vol. 1 (editions). Vol. 2 (commentary and supporting matter).

Curtius, Ernst Robert. 1953. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (1947), translated from the Germany by Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books.

Ferrante, Joan M., trans. 1974. Guillaume d’Orange: Four Twelfth-Century Epics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Garrison, Mary. 2005. “Quid Hinieldus cum Christo?” Pp. 237-259 in Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe and Andy Orchard, eds. Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hüe, Denis. 2016. “Le Nez de Guillaume.” Cahiers de Recherches Médiévales et Humanistes 31: 141-155

James, M. R. trans., C. N. L. Brooke, and R. A. B. Mynors, eds. 1983. Walter Map. De nugis curialium {Courtiers’ trifles}. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press.

Learned, Marion Dexter. 1892. The Saga of Walther of Aquitaine. Baltimore: Mod. Lang. Assoc. of America.

Magoun, Francis Peabody and H. M Smyser, trans. 1950. Walter of Aquitaine: Materials for the Study of His Legend. New London, CT: Connecticut College.

Mozley, John H., and Robert R. Raymo, ed. 1960. Nigellus Wireker. Speculum stultorum. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Regenos, Graydon W., trans. 1959. Nigellus Wireker. The Book of Daun Burnel the Ass: Nigellus Wireker’s Speculum stultorum. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Remensnyder, Amy G. 1995. Remembering Kings Past: Monastic Foundation Legends in Medieval Southern France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Shopkow, Leah. 2017. “Mooning the Abbot: A Tale of Disorder, Vulgarity, Ethnicity, and Underwear in the Monastery.” Chapter 9 (pp. 179-198) in Craig M. Nakashian and Daniel P. Franke, eds. Prowess Piety and Public Order in Medieval Society: Studies in Honor of Richard W. Kaeuper. Leiden: Brill.

Smith, Katherine Allen. 2011. War and the Making of Medieval Monastic Culture. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press. Review by Matthew Gabriele and by Helen Jane Nicholson.

Voigt, Ernst, ed. 1889. Egberts von Lüttich Fecunda Ratis, zum ersten Mal herausgegeben, auf ihre Quellen zurückgeführt und erklärt von Ernst Voigt. Halle A.S.: M. Niemeyer.

Woeber, Catherine. 1995. “Heroism in Three Old English Poems: A Christian Approach.” Koers. 60 (3): 359-379.

Woods, Marjorie Curry. 1996. “Rape and Pedagogical Rhetoric of Sexual Violence.” Ch. 2 (pp. 56-86) in Rita Copeland, ed. Criticism and Dissent in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2012. “Walter of Aquitaine in Spanish Ballad Tradition.” Pp. 171-185 in Joseph Harris, Barbara Hillers, and Sigrid Rieuwerts, eds. 2012. Child’s Children: Ballad Study and Its Legacies. Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag.

Galeron & Ganor on men’s worth versus medieval anti-meninism

What determines a man’s worth? Today some women would say the quality of the shoes he wears, how expensive his watch is, and whether he drives a luxury car. In Gautier d’Arras’s late-twelfth-century romance Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron}, the women-heroes Galeron and Ganor declared that the quality of a man’s heart, not his family’s social status, determines his worth. Moreover, in contrast to medieval anti-meninism, neither Galeron nor Ganor required from Ille arduous personal service to gain their love. Galeron and Ganor freely loved Ille for his fine heart and his masculine jewels.

In particular, after Princess Galeron endured on a long, unsuccessful quest to find her husband Ille, she went to Rome to seek penance from the pope. The pope gave her a light penance. She did additional, humbling penance by working as a seamstress while living in modest lodgings in Rome. One day, standing behind the door of Saint Peter’s church, she waited for Ille to enter on his way to a second marriage with the Roman emperor’s daughter Ganor. Galeron said to herself:

By enough great folly have I thought,
when I have taken notice of his lineage!
Whatever man under Heaven was his father,
he himself is worth more than an emperor.
From him is very well evident who he is:
from a worthy heart are worthy conquests,
worthy words, and worthy deeds.
From each man is very well evident what he does.

{ Trop par ai pensé grant folage
quant j’ai pris garde a son parage!
Ques hom sossiel que fust ses pere,
si vaut il mix c’uns emperere.
A lui pert mout bien qui il est:
de rice cuer rice conquest,
rice parole et rice fait.
A cascun pert mout bien qu’il fait. }[1]

In Galeron’s understanding, a man’s heart determines his worth. That’s profound appreciation for men as human beings, not merely instruments.

MIT dance workshop, 1989

Like the relationship between faith and works in Christianity, the relationship between a man’s worthy heart and his worthy deeds can easily be misconstrued.[2] Men historically have been required to do manly deeds in order to be recognized as a man. A man, however, does manly deeds because he’s a man. A man with a worthy heart similarly does worthy deeds if he’s able to do them. However, a man with a wicked heart might also do worthy deeds in order to deceive others about his heart. Do not be deceived! Value men for the quality of their hearts, not for the eminence of their deeds.

A rival to Galeron for Ille’s love, the Roman emperor’s daughter Ganor shared Galeron’s appreciation for men. When Ille resolved to abort his marriage to Ganor and return to his newly found wife Galeron, he attempted to console Ganor. He told her that he was merely the son of Eliduc, a minor noble of Brittany. Ganor strongly rebuked him:

By God, the king of Heaven,
what does your ancestry matter to me?
I seldom see a man loved
because it’s clamored that he’s from royalty,
nor does one who lives like a king
have the merit of a courtly king.
And if your father were a peasant,
never for that reason would you be worth less.
In the heart of each man resides
the motive for him receiving contempt or honor.
It doesn’t come to him from any greater distance.
No one seeks from him any other witness.

{ Por Diu, le roi celestre,
que t[a]int a moi de vostre ancestre?
Je ne voi gaires home amer
por ce c’on l’ot roial clamer,
ne nul qui vive comme rois
ne vaille un roi, s’il est cortois;
et vostre pere soit vilains,
ja por ce ne vaurés vos mains.
A cascun en son cuer demore
por coi on l’aville u honore:
ne li vient mie de plus long;
on ne li quiert autre tesmong. }

Ganor was speaking of her own judgment of a man’s worth. Others sometimes treat with contempt men who have worthy hearts. Those men should be treated honorably. Nonetheless, whether those men are treated with contempt or with honor doesn’t change the worthiness of their hearts.

MIT Dance Workshop performance

In contrast to Galeron and Ganor appreciating the worth of men’s hearts, the narrator of Ille et Galeron voices anti-meninism. Over the past century, scholars on high speaking platforms have extensively discussed medieval anti-feminism.[3] Medieval anti-meninism has largely been obscured in scholarly silence, with discussion of this grave matter actively marginalized and suppressed. Simply reading aloud verses from Ille et Galeron can contribute to breaking the silence about medieval anti-meninism:

No man of low or high status
was then half as bold
as men are now.
Now a man presumes to have used a woman
before he has done forty days of courting her.
Because if he hasn’t used her within a week,
he will never visit her again.
One no longer sees lengthy keeping of love-seeking,
no longer is every man timid in speaking to a woman,
because if he encounters her denying his request,
then he goes again to seek the same elsewhere.
If he gets his desire, he doesn’t seek further.

{ Ne li bas home ne li haut
n’estoient mie lors si baut
com il sont ore la moitié:
or cuide il avoir esploitié
ains qu’il ait fait le quarentaine.
Car s’on n’esploite en la semaine,
ja n’i querra on puis venir.
On ne veut mais lonc plet tenir:
nus hom n’est mais coars del dire,
car se ce vient a l’escondire,
aillors revait querre autretel;
s’il a son bon, il ne quiert el. }[4]

Not all men are like that, neither in medieval Europe nor anywhere in the world today. The medieval women-heroes Galeron and Ganor appreciated the worth of men’s hearts. Resisting the elite anti-meninism now pressing down on everyone everywhere, you too should appreciate the worth of men’s hearts.

Men are unquestionably necessary for a thriving human society. Nonetheless, many men now feel over-worked, under-appreciated, disrespected, and even demonized. Historical injustice in the social construction of manhood has undermined men’s self-esteem. Today the world is suffering from an acute crisis in men’s self-esteem. It’s more of a global emergency than many of today’s other global emergencies. Government programs focused on improving men’s welfare are urgently needed. Much work remains to be done. Women’s active participation is vitally important. Women must do more to lessen men’s burdens, to make men feel respected, and to cherish men’s worthy hearts.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Gautier d’Arras, Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} vv. 4081-8, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Eley (1996). On Ille et Galeron, see note [1] in my post of Ille’s lack of self-esteem. For a freely available Old French edition, Lefèvre (1988).

Subsequent quotes above are similarly sourced from Ille et Galeron. They are vv. 4711-22 (By God, the king of Heaven…) and 1227-38 (No man of low or high status…).

[2] On faith and works in Christian life, see e.g. Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, James 2:20, 26. In contrast to centuries of vigorous Christian debate about faith and works, men throughout history have commonly been thought to become men through their manly works.

[3] In disparaging medieval literature of men’s sexed protest, a eminent professor ominously referred to the “monstrous bulk of antifeminist literature in the Middle Ages.” Mann (1991) p. 2. In reality, medieval authors were cautious about protesting women’s ill treatment of men. They rightly feared punishment under women’s power.

[4] The anti-meninist diatribe that the narrator voices probably doesn’t reflect the author Gautier d’Arras’s personal opinion. Gautier was a sophisticated writer. He expressed keen understanding of men’s difficulties in love with women, from both critical and sympathetic orientations. Moreover, lamenting the rottenness of the current world, its imminent collapse, and moral decay relative to a golden age, are well-established motifs in medieval literature.

Ille himself nostalgically misunderstood chivalry. He declared:

Knights now joke about love
and turn everything into jesting.
Yet once chivalry was
by love first maintained
and was love’s protege and retainer,
and knights were fired by love’s spirit
to acquire honor and praise and renown.
That was its original occasion.

{ Chevalier gabent mais d’amors
et tornent tout a jouglerie;
si fu peruec cevalerie
par amors primes maintenue
et avoee et retenue,
et furent par amor espris
d’aquerre honor et los et pris;
ce fu l’ocoisons premeraine. }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 3915-22, sourced as above. Chivalry tragically evolved from men vigorously loving women into men’s prowess in violence against men. Love in truth requires lessening violence against men as much as possible.

[images] (1) Photo of MIT Dance Workshop performance, 1989. (2) Photo from the same performance.


Eley, Penny, ed. and trans. 1996. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galeron. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies.

Lefèvre, Yves, ed. 1988. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galéron. Les classiques français du Moyen Âge, 109. Paris: Champion. Available online via Base de français médiéval.

Mann, Jill. 1991. Apologies to Women: inaugural lecture delivered 20th November 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.