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.

5 thoughts on “did Guiborc offend her husband William of Orange?”

  1. William of Gellone and Louis the Pious were cousins, not brothers-in-law.

    Most likely, William’s mother, Aldana, was a daughter of Charles Martel (Charlemagne’s grandfather) and his father, Thierry of Autun, may have been a relative of Bertrada of Prüm, grandmother and namesake of Charlemagne’s mother. Bertrada may have been a Merovingian princess and her husband could have been a relative of the Counts of Hesbaye,

  2. Thanks for your knowledgeable comment. But the William discussed above is William of Orange {Guillaume d’Orange} of the epic cycle called Geste de Garin de Monglane / Guillaume d’Orange. William of Orange of that literary cycle isn’t identical to the historical William of Gellone in family relations. In particular, Aliscans specifies William’s sister Blancheflor as Louis’s wife. See, e.g. Aliscans, vv. 250-1. I prefer that diegetic specification rather than a plausible historical identification.

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