Floretta and Maugalie fought for Floovant in medieval epic

Amid the massive violence against men in epic literature, women seldom are killed. Women predominately fight not enemy soldiers, but women-rivals in love for a particular man. In the twelfth-century “song of deeds {chanson de geste}” Floovant, the Alsatian princess Floretta and the Saracen princess Maugalie fought fiercely for the love of the French knight Floovant. The woman who prevailed rescued her beloved man from prison while engaging in what’s now recognized as criminal sexual behavior. Most importantly, she showed compassion for his feelings.

Exiled from his father’s realm and journeying in hope of serving King Flores of Alsace, Floovant saw three Saracen knights abusing a young woman. As men have done throughout the ages, Floovant risked his life to save the damsel in distress. He learned after rescuing her that she was Princess Floretta, the daughter of King Flores.

King Flores held a feast to celebrate the return of his daughter Floretta to his palace at Belfort. She sat across from Floovant. Unlike many self-fashioned princesses today, the actual medieval princess Floretta was a strong, assertive woman. She spoke her mind to Floovant:

“Do kiss me, beautiful sir,” said Floretta known for her prized body.
“There isn’t a man in this world whom I desire so much.”

{ “Car me baisiez, bau sire,” dit Florote au cors gant;
“Il n’ai ome an cest segle que je dessiere tant.” }

Floovant didn’t crudely say “no,” and then “no means no.” He begged her to stop her amorous pleading. He explained that he was merely a poor, traveling knight. He worried that her love for him would cause nobles of her palace to accuse him of doing wrong. Floretta ultimately respected his love choice, but chided him:

Now so be your desire.
It’s for Maugalie that you would talk such.
I think well that you love her, because she has a prized body.
But for her body would yet be another 100 men like you.
All of them torment themselves for her, and they are there serving her.
And if one of them died, the others would be still living.
The grief that is her domain isn’t at all worth death.

{ … Or soit vostre talant.
Ce est por Maugalie où vos parlestes tant.
Bien la devez amer, car elle ai le cors gant;
Mas de tex com vos estes en aurai ancor .c.
Tut se penent por li et i sont atandanz,
Et se li uns est mors li autres sunt vivanz.
Le doel que ele demoine ne vaut à mor néant. }

Floovant perceived Floretta’s enmity toward Maugalie, but apparently he didn’t know who that woman was. He sensed that Maugalie had wronged Floretta, but he didn’t know how. Men are oblivious to competition among women for men’s love.

Floovant and Alsatian knights subsequently captured Maugalie when they took the castle at Avenant from the Saracen king Galeen. Maugalie was Galeen’s daughter. She saw Floovant vigorously thrusting in battle before the Alsatian force captured her. She was a beautiful young woman. She yearned to have Floovant in love.

After the battle for Avenant Castle, Maugalie and Floretta argued viciously. Maugalie stood next to Floretta as Floovant divided the spoils among the knights. A strong, assertive woman, Maugalie spoke her mind aloud:

If it were pleasing to Mahomet, who established the world —
this French soldier, who is valiant and loyal,
he would marry me as his principal wife.
If he kept me, my father, the rich Emir,
would give me more land than the Roman Empire could want.

{ Car plaüst à Maon, qui le segle estora,
Ce soudoiiers de France qui prouz est et loiaus,
Qu’i m’éut prisse à famme, à moilier principel.
Si me tenist mes pères, li riches amiraus,
Plus me donroit de terre Romenie ne vaut. }

Floretta turned to Maugalie and chided her, “You have too intense passion {vos avez trop grant chaut}.” Floretta then crassly said that Floovant would get Maugalie pregnant and then have sex only with his three other wives. Some Christian men aspired to have multiple wives as some Muslim men did, but some Christian men soon realized they lacked the necessary sexual stamina. Maugalie fiercely counterattacked Floretta:

By my faith, young lady, very base are your jibes.
Not yet one month has passed since you spoke totally other.
I saw you at the court of my father the Emir,
and to a hundred or to fifty knights you were very intimate,
each for one dollar, like a common whore.

{ Por ma foi, damoiselle, moult sont vilains vos gas.
N’ai pas ancor .I. moi, vos parlates tot d’aul:
Je vos vi à la court mon pere l’amiraur
A .c. et à .L. trestote communaul,
Chacuns por .I. denier, comme fanme venaul. }

Floretta in response insisted on her chastity. Deriding Maugalie’s fidelity, she pointed out that Floovant had killed Maugalie’s brother and her lover:

Now you wish to marry the man who has killed them!
So you would have thirty men, if they would be given to you.
Cursed be one who believes you, and never will I believe you!

{ Or volés celui panre qui ocis les vos ai!
Si ferïés vos .xxx., si fust qui vos donast.
Dahez ait qui vos croit ne qui jai vos crorai. }

Like the quarreling sisters Rose and Lily, Maugalie and Floretta fought more and more viciously:

Strongly they argued about this and that.
They would have struck each other if one hadn’t separated them.

{ Formant se contralient a deçai et délai;
Jai venisent ansanble quan l’on les desservrai. }

The job of separating arguing women should be taken up by women. Men shouldn’t be burdened with that additional, very dangerous combat task.

two women fighting with each other

The Saracen princess Maugalie ultimately won her fight with the Alsatian princess Floretta. In a reversal of fortune, the Saracens liberated Maugalie and captured Floovant. From her dominant position relative to the captive Floovant, Maugalie coerced him into marrying her. In short, she raped him as rape is now defined in at least one gender direction. Then, with Floovant and other escaping captives, Maugalie left the Saracen palace.

During their escape, Maugalie disguised herself as a knight. Floovant jokingly called her “Forqueres,” which could mean “Strong Heart.” When Floovant asked her why she didn’t wear armor or carry a sharp sword, Maugalie explained:

“Sir,” said the young woman, “I don’t seek any arms.
I have my other arms that aren’t so large,
and other arts that I have I’ll need at Belfort,
there where the daughter of the rich King Flores is.
In the hostilities, sir, I must be very strong.
One Saturday morning she said to me such shots
at Avenant Castle where I had come, as you heard.
I wouldn’t wish that for anyone alive.
It was for me then very difficult, because she has a prized body.
And so I turned my eyes and put a smile on my mouth.
If you want to do her, sir, I would have no thought of it.
Two times, or three, or four, then let her alone,
and I will move well for the goods in the marital chase for you.”

{ “Sire,” dit la pucelle, “je ne an quier néant;
Mes autres armes c’ai ne sont mie si granz:
Mestier m’auront ancores à Biaufort çai devant,
Lai où la file est au riche roi Floran.
Des contraïres, sire, me dot je mout formant:
.I. sanbadi matin m’an dit ele jai tant
Au Nof Chatel où je iere, vos ouroiles oiiant,
Je ne vosise mie por nule riens vivant.
Mult durement m’an pois, car ole ai le cors gant,
Et si ai vars les iauz et la boiche riant.
Se vos li faites, sire, moi n’an pese néant,
.II. foiz ou .III. ou .IIII., puis la lasiez atant,
Et je an irai bien lou marchié porchaçant.” }

The Saracen princess Maugalie was extraordinarily generous and compassionate toward the man she loved. Even with just a little generosity and compassion toward a beloved man, a woman typically can tower above her love rivals for him.

The battle between Maugalie and Floretta back at the Avenant Castle went as would be expected. Floretta acted vigorously as soon as she saw the beautiful Maugalie:

She ran and came to Floovant’s villa.
Here where she saw him, with her arms around his neck she pleaded:
“Do kiss me, lovely sir, you noble, valiant knight.
I have no man in the whole land whom my heart loves so much.”

{ Corant i est venue à l’ostel Floovant.
Lai où elle le vit, ses braiz au coul li pant:
“Car me baisiez, bau sire, frans chevaliers vailanz;
Ja n’ai il ome an terre que mes cours amoit tan.” }

Floovant again claimed that he wasn’t worthy to love Floretta. He urged her to stop pursuing him. She saw right through his excuse:

She responded to him, “Sir, as you desire.
This is because of Maugalie, the daughter of the Emir.
Well you are insanely in love with her, because I’ve heard of her prized body.
There isn’t such a beautiful lady-lord here in the West.
Gladly I would have wed you, if you had the desire.
Since it cannot have you, my heart has grief.”

{ Elle li respondi: “Sire, à vostre talant.
Ce est por Maugalie, la file l’amiram;
Bien la devez amer, car oie ai le cors gant:
Il n’ai tant baie dame deci en Ocidam.
Volontiers vos préise, si vos fut à talant;
Quant ne vos puis avoir, le cour an ai dolant.” }

Like most men, Floovant surely appreciated Maugalie’s beautiful body. Yet she won his heart with what she did for him. Floretta never had a chance in her love battle with Maugalie:

“Lady-lord,” said Floovant, “Cease now to fight further.
Maugalie is my beloved, or the fitting heart.
That would not change with limbs lost,
because she saved me from extraordinary torment,
and I will wed her to everyone’s praise as my prize.”

{ Dame, dit Floovanz, dès or poignez avant,
Maugalie est ma drue, o le cors avenant,
Ne li faudroie mie por les manbres perdanz,
Car ole m’ai gari de mervoilous tormant,
Et je l’esposerai por lou los de ma gant. }

Floretta left weeping. She went to see her father King Flores .

King Flores was deeply distressed to see his daughter weeping. He immediately, urgently summoned Floovant. He ordered Floovant to marry Floretta and promised to bequeath to him the whole kingdom. But no earthly authority could overturn Floovant’s promise to marry Maugalie. Floovant told this father-king seeking to fulfill his daughter’s desire in love:

Sir, that cannot be, as I know for certain.
There is a young women, with a fine body,
who from prison has delivered me and all the other French
where we were to be hung by the order of the Emir of Persia.
A young woman saved us from death and from torment.
All my men saw that I have pledged my faith
that I will marry this woman, if God be pleased to consent.
I will not renege on my pledge even if I were to be beheaded.

{ Sire, ce ne pout estre, sachez certenemant.
Ci ai une pucelle, o le cors avenant,
Qui m’ai mis fors de chartre et toz ces autres Frans;
Lai où nos devoit pandre l’amiraus des Persam,
Nos gari la pucelle de mort et de tormant.
Ma foi li ai plevie, voiant tote ma gant,
Que fanme la prandroie, se Dex lou me consant;
Je ne l’an matiroie por la teste perdant. }

A woman can’t always get what she wants, even if her father is a king. But surely she can get what she needs.

Floovant suggested that Floretta marry his kinsmen Richier, a vigorous knight. Floretta agreed to this proposition. As for Richier, Floovant treated him as if he were merely a commodity to be offered in an exchange to serve a woman’s interest. Richier said that he would do whatever Floovant ordered. Floretta and Richier thus married. Despite the lack of textual respect for Richier as an individual human being, perhaps Floretta didn’t willfully deny him the medieval debt to one’s spouse and treated him with respect as an equal conjugal partner.

Women fighting against women for men’s love doesn’t effectively function to make men’s lives matter. Men that women fight over as prizes tend to be deprived of their humanity and individuality. Women should unite to move forward in the progressive meninist project of promoting appreciation for men as human beings, not dogs or pigs. Social justice for men begins with women’s compassion for men.

* * * * *

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Floovant is a chanson de geste composed by an unknown author towards the end of the twelfth century. The quotes above are from 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.

Newth translated the name for Maugalie dressed as a knight, “Forqueres,” as “Sir Faucon.” In Old French, “faucon” means “falcon,” but can also be interpreted as “false cunt.” Although Maugalie disguised herself as a knight to escape from her father’s palace, she was a loyal woman in love with Floovant. She was also a big-hearted woman. She undoubtedly would forgive Newth for his offensive name for her.

The quotes above are Floovant, vv. 506-7 (Do kiss me, beautiful sir…), 514-20 (Now let that be your desire…), 643-7 (If it were pleasing to Mahomet…), 648 (You have too intense passion), 655-9 (By my faith, young lady…), 667-9 (Now you wish to marry the man…), 670-1 (Strongly they argued…), 1792-1804 (“Sir,” said the young woman…), 2185-8 (She ran and came to Floovant’s villa…), 2202-6 (She responded to him…), 2222-9 (Sir, that cannot be…).

[image] Two women fighting with each other. Photo by Mark Bonica. Generously shared on flickr under a CC By 2.0 license. Also on Wikimedia Commons. Some medieval Viking women-warriors fought against men.


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

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; alternately on Github.

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

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