William of Orange castigated his privileged sister Queen Blancheflor

Many men have known the feeling. Dirty, tired, and beaten, you appeal to your family and friends for help. Your powerful friend refuses to help you. Your mother courageously supports you. Your brothers are silent, and your highly privileged sister speaks against you. You’re furious and fed up. So it was for William of Orange in the court of King Louis in a twelfth-century Old French epic song.

William walked into the royal court, glared at his queen sister, and denounced the king. King Louis was refusing to help William despite all William had done for him:

Louis, lord, you pay your debts badly.
When at Paris the court was assembled,
just after Charlemagne had left this life,
all the men of the country held you in disdain,
all of yours in France would have been lost,
and the crown would never have been given to you,
when I endured for you such enormous fighting
that in spite of them, the crown was placed on your head,
the great crown that is of pure gold.
They feared me so that they dared not oppose.
Bad love for this you have returned to me today.

{ Loeï, sire, chi a male saudee.
Quant a Paris fu la coiirs asamblee,
Ke Charlemaine ot vie trespassee,
Vil te tenoient tuit eil de la contree.
De toi fust France toute desiretee,
Ja la corone ne fust a toi donee,
Quant je soffri por toi si grant mellee,
Ke maugré aus fu en ton cief posee
La grans corone, ki d’or est esmeree.
Tant me douterent, n’osa estre veee.
Mauvaise amor m’en avés hui raostree! }

In response to William’s blunt words, King Louis recognized his wrong and promised to help William. Queen Blancheflor interjected that helping William would lead to a bad end. William turned to his privileged sister and assailed her with bitter words:

“Shut up,” he said, “you well-proven whore!
Tiebaut of Arabia had you as a concubine
and many times banged you like a whore.
Your words should not be heard.
When you eat your meat and your pepper
and drink your wine from a golden goblet,
honeyed wine, wine mixed with spices,
and eat hearth-cakes kneaded four times over —
when you hold your covered goblet
near the fire, alongside the chimney,
such that you are warmed and roasted
and set on fire and ablaze with lust
by the gluttony that has fully nourished you,
when lechery has so inflamed you
and Louis has turned you over well,
two or three times banged you under him,
when you have been well satisfied of your lust
and sated with eating and drinking,
then you don’t remember the snow and the ice,
the great battles and the privation
that in an outside country we suffer
within Orange from an infidel people.
Little it matters to you that the wheat is ruined!
Evil woman, you well-proven whore,
much have you spoken against my words,
and you have dishonored me in front of the king.
Living devils have set that crown on you!”

{ “Tas toi,” dist il, “pute lise provee!
Tiebaus d’Arrabe vos a asoignantee
Et maintes fois com putain defolee:
Ne doit pas estre ta parole escotee.
Quant tu mangus ta char et ta pevree
Et bois ton vin a ta coupe doree,
Claré, piment a espisses coulees,
Mangus fouace .iiii. fois buletee;
Quant vos tenés la coupe coverclee
Joste le fu, dalés la ceminee,
Tant que vos estes rostie et escaufee,
Et de luxure esprise et enbrasee,
La glotornie vos a tost alumee;
Quant lecherie vos a si enflamee,
Et Loeis vos a bien retornee,
.ii. fois ou .iii. desous lui defolee;
Quant de luxure estes bien soolee
Et de mangier et de boire asasee,
Dont ne vos membre de noif ne de gelee,
Des grans batailles ne de la consieuree,
Ke nous souffrons en estrange contree,
Dedens Orenge, vers la gent desfaee?
Petit vos chaut, que on vaude la blee.
Mavaise fame, pute lise provee,
Molt avés hui ma parole blasmee,
Et vers le roi m’aïe desloee.
Li vif diable vos ont or corounee!” }

William rushed forward, lifted the golden crown off his sister’s head, and threw it to the ground. Then he grabbed his sword and prepared to decapitate her. William would have overturned his sister’s privileged status in the most extreme way.

Queen Elizabeth I in her coronation robes

The siblings’ mother, the courageous Ermengard, intervened to save Queen Blancheflor’s life. No one dared to confront William other than his mother. She hugged him and took the sword from his hand. No man could have attempted that and lived. Blancheflor then ran from her infuriated brother.

Blancheflor’s daughter Aelis approached her uncle William. She knelt down in front of him and begged him for forgiveness for her mother’s behavior. She offered herself as a hostage to ensure that her mother never again betrayed him. Men will do anything for a beautiful, young, importuning woman. William forgave his privileged sister Blancheflor.

After William reconciled with Queen Blancheflor, his father and brothers spoke in support of him. King Louis then pledged 100,000 men to fight for Guiborc and William. William thus finally received the fighting men he needed to defend Orange from the attacking infidels.

Men’s welfare depends on women’s actions. Mothers and wives are vitally important to men. Sisters also matter. While no one should threaten to kill a sibling, sometimes brothers need to castigate sisters who are so privileged that they aren’t even aware of their privileged status. Fortunately, invective against women has the advantage that it doesn’t entail the risk of encouraging castration culture.

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The above story of the furious William of Orange castigating his privileged sister Queen Blancheflor is from Aliscans, a twelfth-century “song of deeds {chanson de geste}.” It’s part of the Old French epic cycle known as the Deeds of Garin de Monglane {Geste de Garin de Monglane} or the Cycle of William of Orange {Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange}. King Louis loosely corresponds to King Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Medieval Europe had a vigorous tradition of invective. The European tradition of invective, however, is less well-developed than that of classical Arabic literature. Invective shouldn’t obscure the reality that medieval men typically would do anything to please women.

The above quotes from Aliscans use Old French text from Wienbeck, Hartnacke & Rasch (1903) and English translation (modified) from Ferrante (1974). Those quotes are Aliscans vv. 2754-64 (Louis, lord, you pay your debts badly…) and 2772-98 (“Shut up,” he said…).

[image] Queen Elizabeth I of England in her coronation robes. Painting by unknown artist about the year 1600, after a lost original painted about 1559. Preserved as accession # NPG 5175 in the National Portrait Gallery (London). Via Wikimedia Commons.


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

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

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