Maugalie raped Floovant in medieval chanson de geste

Amid the massive slaughter and butchery of men in the Old French “songs of deeds {chansons de geste},” rape occasionally occurs. The path to rape in the chanson de geste Floovant starts with Prince Floovant fighting on behalf of the French king Flores. Prince Floovant captured the enemy princess Maugalie. She was a young woman with jewel-like beauty. She pleaded to Floovant:

By the law of your god, have mercy!
Do not allow me to be dishonored by your men.

{ … Por lou ton deu merci!
Ne me laisiez tu pas à tes homes honir. }

Although he eagerly killed enemy men, Floovant wouldn’t allow an enemy princess to be dishonored:

“Lady-lord,” said Floovant, “for nothing you have said this.
I wouldn’t allow you to endure it for 1000 pounds of pure gold.”

{ “Dame,” dit Floovans, “por néant l’avez dit;
Je ne lou sofreroie por .M .livres d’or fin.” }

Male primates rarely sexually assault females. Like Floovant, most men wouldn’t rape even a beautiful enemy princess that they had captured in war.

King Flores’s two sons betrayed their father and Floovant. The enemy thus rescued Maugalie and captured Floovant. Floovant’s loyal squire Richier, disguised as the enemy king’s nephew, infiltrated the enemy palace to attempt to rescue Floovant. Before Richier could accomplish a rescue, the enemy also captured twelve leading French knights. Richier was playing chess with Maugalie when he heard this terrible news:

Richier left the game so as to sit himself in the dust.
The noble Maugalie, who had great beauty,
sat herself next to him. The noble one thus conducted herself —
she placed her arms about his neck so as to kiss him three times.
“Cousin,” said the young woman, “what sort of men are the French?”
“Lady-lord,” said Richier, “There will never be more valiant ones.
Three of them would fight against thirty heathens.”

{ Richiers let le joer, si s’est aulez soioir.
Maugalie la bale, qui grant bauté avoit,
De joste lui s’essit, la bale, demenois;
Ses branz li mit au coul, si l’ai baisié .III. foiz:
“Cosins,” dit la pucelle, “qués homes sont François?”
“Dame,” dit ai Richiers, “ja plus prouz n’en auroiz.
Contre .XXX. paiens s’an conbatrient .III.” }

Maugalie didn’t ask Richier for affirmative consent before she kissed him. In short, by modern academic standards, she sexually assaulted him.

Maugalie’s offensive behavior became even worse when she secretly observed Richier sympathetically visiting Floovant and the other French prisoners. Maugalie then recognized Richier as a Frenchman who had once treated her kindly when she was a prisoner. He and the other Frenchmen were now in immediate mortal danger:

He fell at her feet and cried out for mercy:
“If you wish, my lady-lord, we will not now die here.”

{ Il li chaï es piez et merci li criai:
“Se vos volez, ma dame, nos i moromsnes jai.” }

From her position of controlling life and death for them, Maugalie proposed:

“Richier,” said the young woman, “brave, praiseworthy knight,
if your feudal lord would avow fidelity
such that he would take me as wife and equal partner,
for love of him I will relinquish my god
and never in another day of my life seek to love Mahomet.
Then I will struggle to honor your heart and mind
and for him and for the others, to do your will.”

{ “Richiers,” dit la pucelle, “frans chevalier loez,
Se de ton seignour lege avoie féauté
Que il me vosit panre à moilier et à pers,
Por la sue amitié relanquirai mon dé,
Jemais jor de ma vie ne quier Maom amer;
Puis si me penerai de ton cors henorer
Et de lui et des autres, à vostre velonté.” }

Richier conveyed Maugalie’s proposal to the imprisoned Floovant and his fellow French prisoners. Floovant enthusiastically consented to Maugalie’s marriage proposal. He clearly acted under a large power differential and dire distress. In short, by modern academic standards, Maugalie subjected Floovant to marital rape.

amorous couple in Iranian ceramic

As folk wisdom teaches, what goes around, comes around. Soon after Maugalie raped Floovant, Maugalie’s father King Galeen forced her to marry the eminent knight Prince Maudaranz. Her father thus arranged for her to be raped by Maudaranz. Maugalie appealed to Richier for help. He arranged for Maugalie and the French knights to make a daring escape. In the battle during their escape, Floovant encountered Maudaranz and killed him. Maudaranz probably would have preferred to be raped.

Medieval chansons de geste don’t just narrate violence against men. They regrettably encompass rape. They depict both men raping women and women raping men. They thus at least promote progress towards an enlightened understanding of gender equality.

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Floovant is a chanson de geste composed by an unknown author towards the end of the twelfth century. Floovant survives, with some gaps, mainly in one manuscript: Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire, Section Médecine, H 441, folios 1r-46r, written in the fourteenth century. Here are images of folios 19v and 20r.

Floovant’s father is the historical King Clovis I, ruler of the Franks from 509 to 511. Clovis united Gaul under his rule and founded the Merovingian dynasty. He converted to Christianity in 496 at the urging his wife Clotilde.

Floovant attracted citations and references in medieval works. Dutch, English, Icelandic, and Italian translations of Floovant were made. The Icelandic version is entitled Flovents Saga. Newth (2014) p. 10.

Maugalie expressed amorous interest in Floovant in a section of the text missing from the main manuscript, but surviving in other manuscript pages. For that additional text, Gehrt (1889). For a summary of Maugalie’s initiative and Floovant’s warm response, Juel (2007) pp. 74-5.

The quotes above are from Floovant, with the Old French text of Michelant & Guessard (1859) and my English translation, benefiting from the poetic translation of Newth (2014). The current best edition is Andolf (1941). That edition wasn’t readily available to me. The quotes above are Floovant, vv. 567-8 (By the law of your god…), 569-70 (“Lady-lord,” said Floovant…), 1472-8 (Richier left the game…), 1535-6 (He fell at her feet…), 1553-9 (“Richier,” said the young woman…).

[image] Amorous couple depicted in ceramic house. Made in twelfth or early thirteenth-century Iran. Such objects may have been wedding gifts. Preserved as accession # 20.120.66 in the Metropolitan Museum (New York). Credit: The Grinnell Collection, Bequest of William Milne Grinnell, 1920. Source image dedicated to the public domain by the public-spirited Metropolitan Museum.


Andolf, Sven, ed. 1941. Floovant: Chanson de Geste du XIIe Siècle, Publiée avec Introduction, Notes et Glossaire. Uppsala, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell.

Gehrt, Paul. 1889. “Zwei altfranzösische Bruchstücke des Floovant.” Romanische Forschungen. 10: 248-271.

Juel, Kristin E. 2007. “The Crime and Rehabilitation of the Errant Son in Floovant.” Romania. 125(497/498, 1/2): 69-86.

Michelant, Henri and François Guessard, eds. 1859. Floovant, chanson de geste publiée pour la première fois d’après le manuscrit unique de Montpellier. Les anciens poètes de la France, 1. Paris: Jannet. Digital edition of Jean-Baptiste Camps.

Newth, Michael, trans. 2014. Heroines of the French Epic: A Second Selection of Chansons de Geste. Woobridge: D. S. Brewer.

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