conflicts and death don’t part Josiane & Boeve

In the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman romance Boeve de Haumtone, the English boy Boeve of Hampton was sold to traveling merchants. He was lucky. His mother wanted him dead after he complained about her arranging to have his father killed. In a slave market far from England, King Hermin of Egypt bought Boeve. In Egypt, Boeve grew to be an excellent young knight. He helped King Hermin to repel the attacking king of Damascus. King Hermin then urged his beautiful young daughter Josiane to help Boeve undress and to serve him food in his room.

After helping Boeve to remove his armor, the Saracen princess Josiane brought him meat. She herself cut and served him meat. After he had eaten all that he wanted, she said to him:

Beautiful sir Boeve, I won’t seek to hide it from you —
love for you has made me weep many tears
and many nights made me lie awake with too much breath,
and for that reason, beautiful sir, I would like to beg you
that you would not refuse my love.
If you refuse it, I will not be able to endure any longer,
I must die and perish of grief.

{ Beau sire Boefs, ne vus en quer celer,
vostre amour me ad fet meint lerme plurer
e meint nuit me ad fet so vent trop veiller;
e pur ceo, beau sire, jeo vus voil prier
que vus ne voillez mie ma amour refuser;
si vus la refusez, ne purrai plus durrer,
de doel me covent morer e afiner. }

In medieval Europe, lovesickness was regarded as a grave medical condition. Moreover, medieval women were strong, active leaders in love with men. Men, however, have long suffered from lack of self-esteem. So it was with Boeve:

“My beautiful young lady,” so said to her Boeve,
“by God, let this great folly cease.
Already King Bradmund has asked for you in marriage.
There isn’t a king, so I believe, in the entire world,
nor prince, emir, count, or baron,
who would not desire you, if he would see your face.
I am a poor knight from another land.
I have not yet seen my fief nor my house.”

{ “Ma bele damoisele,” ceo li dist Bovoun,
“pur dieu lessez ester ceste grant folesoun,
ja vus ad demaundé le roi Brademound;
il n’i ad roi, ceo crei, en tretut le mound
ne prince ne admiré ne counte ne baroun,
que il ne vus desirrunt, si il veient vostre fasoun;
jeo sui un povere chevaler de un autre regioun,
jeo n’i vi unkes uncore mon fu ne ma meisoun.” }

Too many men don’t understand their intrinsic worth. Josiane declared to Boeve that she loved him more in his tunic than she would a king with ten kingdoms. She again asked for his love.

Boeve again rejected Josiane’s love. She blushed, felt profound grief, and wept. Then she said:

By God! Sir Boeve, you tell the truth.
In our age there isn’t a king, prince, or emir who doesn’t admire me,
who wouldn’t willingly take me, if he came to please me.
You’ve refused me like a depraved peasant.
You’d be better off mending ditches,
and rubbing down saddled horses with straw,
and running like an errand-boy crudely on foot,
than being a knight in an honored court.
Go to your own country, you wretched, proven low-born man!
May Mahomet, who made us all, destroy you!

{ Par dieu! sire Boefs, vus dites verité:
el secle n’i ad roi ne prince ne admiré
ke ne me preist volunters, si me venist a gre.
Vus me avez refusé cum velein reprové
Meuz vus avenist redrescer ceo fossés
e torcher a un torchoun ceo chevaus selés
e coure cum coursseler vileinement a pe
ke estre chevaler ou en court honuré.
Alez en vostre pais, truaunt vil prové;
Mahun vus confoundue, ke tuz nus ad formé! }

Josiane’s harsh words caused Boeve to feel slandered and insulted. He said he would return to his country, and she would never see him again for the rest of her life. He also said that he would return the magnificent horse Arundel that she had given him. She fell in a faint. He swiftly left the room.

Later Josiane sent a messenger to ask Boeve to come to her. Boeve told the messenger that he wouldn’t go to her. However, he gave the messenger a silk tunic ornamented with gems as a reward for his service. Josiane was impressed with Boeve’s generosity. Not wearing a cloak, she herself went to Boeve, He saw her coming and pretended to be asleep and snoring. She came and stood before his bed:

“Wake up, beautiful, sweet, dear friend,” she said.
“I would like to talk a little to you in person.”

{ “Enveilez vus,” fest ele, “beau duz amy cher,”
un petitet vodrai a vus ore parler.” }

He wearily told her to let him rest. Then she began to weep. She begged for his pity, promised to make amends for the wrong she had done him, and said she would become a Christian for his sake. Boeve understood that she valued him highly. He forgave her for her nasty words to him. They kissed lovingly.

Boeve then suffered a characteristically gendered false accusation. Two knights falsely reported to King Hermin that Boeve had slept with his daughter Josiane. Those knights didn’t even falsely claim that Boeve had raped her. Without hearing from Boeve or Josiane, the king sent Boeve to convey a letter to the King of Damascus. That letter instructed the King of Damascus to imprison Boeve for life.

Boeve of Hampton imprisoned by King Bradmund of Damascus

Josiane, in contrast, wasn’t punished for allegedly having sex with Boeve. Her father arranged for her to marry King Yvori of Munbraunt. Because she loved Boeve with all her heart, she felt wretched to be marrying King Yvori. She resolved to maintain her virginity even after marrying:

She had learned some kind of enchantment,
and she made a very tight belt of silk.
The belt was made by such a technique
that if a women wore it underneath her clothes,
there wasn’t a man living in the world
who would have any desire to sleep with her,
nor to approach the bed there where she had reclined.
The young woman girded herself very tightly with the belt
so that Yvori of Munbraunt wouldn’t be able to touch her.

{ Ele out apris aukes de enchantement,
une ceinture fist de seie bien tenaunt,
la ceinture fu fete par tele devisement,
se une femme le ust ceinte desuz son vestement,
il n’i avereit homme en secle vivant
ki de cocher ove li avereit accun talent
ne aprucher au lit la ou ele fu gisaunt.
La pucele se ceint mult estreitement,
ke il ne la dust tocher Yvori de Munbraunt. }

With this magic man-repellent, Josiane remained a virgin through seven years of marriage to King Yvori. He must have wondered about his lack of sexual desire for his beautiful, young wife. Perhaps he felt that he was tragically impotent.

After seven long years of brutal imprisonment, Boeve escaped. Disguised as a holy pilgrim, he made his way to Munbraunt. There he entered the palace and sought a meal from Queen Josiane. She was still weeping and lamenting for her lost beloved Boeve:

“Alas,” she said. “Sir Boeve, I used to love you so much.
Indeed my love for you will make me insane.
Since I lost you, I no longer seek to live.”

{ “Hai!” dist ele, “sire Bores, tant vus solai amer,
ja me fra vostre amur afoler;
kant je vus ai perdu, vivere mes ne qer.” }

Josiane asked the pilgrim where he was born. When he said England, she asked if he knew a knight named Boeve. He said that Boeve’s father was his kin, and that he had seen Boeve perform mighty deeds. He further said that Boeve had returned to England, killed his stepfather, and married a beautiful woman. Josiane fell to the ground in despair when she heard that Boeve had married another woman.

Boeve disguised as pilgrim meets Queen Josiane at Munbraunt

Josiane looked at the pilgrim. He looked like Boeve. When she asked him if he was Boeve, he lied and then changed the subject:

“Certainly not,” he said. “Don’t even begin to talk of such nothingness.
But I have often heard talk of a warhorse.
Do you have him within this place? I’d like to see him.
I would be pleased to see if he is as fierce as is said.”

{ “Nanal certis,” dist il. “de nent comencez parler.
Mes jeo ai oy sovent parler de un destrer;
le avez vus seyns? Jeo lui voil ver;
volunters verrai, si il est si fer.” }

Josiane’s squire Bonefey then came forward and said that this pilgrim looked just like Boeve. When the warhorse Arundel heard his beloved knight’s name, his heart was filled with joy. He broke his chains and ran through the court neighing. The pilgrim said that he wanted to mount the horse. Nobody could do that but Boeve. When he mounted, Arundel pawed the ground proudly and began to gallop. Everyone then knew that the pilgrim was indeed Boeve.

Josiane wasn’t going to take any more nonsense. She gave Boeve his prized sword named Murgleie to complement his prized warhorse Arundel. Boeve then said that he would go to England by himself to fight for his inheritance. But first he would have to defeat Josiane. She declared:

“By God,” said the young woman, “you will not do it!
You will bring me with you when you go there.”

{ “Par deu!” dist la pucele, “nun freyz!”
Vus me amenerés o vus, kant vus en alez.” }

Boeve objected that she was a noble queen and he was merely a young man. Moreover, her father had caused him to be imprisoned for seven years. In addition, Boeve had recently made confession to the Patriarch, who ordered him not to take a wife “unless she was a virgin without falsification {si ele ne fust pucele sanz fauser}.” Boeve said that Josiane couldn’t be a virgin since she was married to King Yvori for seven years. She, however, was eager for him to test her:

“Boeve,” said Josiane, “let all that be,
because, by that God that I must honor,
I can show you and well assure you
that Yvori was never able to touch my body.
Let’s go to England. I want to implore you,
when I have been baptized,
that if I’m not a virgin when it comes to the test,
then you can send me back here
naked in my tunic, without penny or nickel.”

{ “Boves,” dist Josian, “tut ceo lessez ester;
ke, par cele deu ke dei honurer!
jeo vus pus mustrer e ben assurer
ke unkes Yvori ne pout mun cors tocher.
Alum en Engletere, jeo vus voile prier,
kant jeo me averai fet baptizer,
si jeo ne sey pucele, kant vent al prover,
ke vus me facez arere enveyer
nue en ma cote, sanz maile ou dener.” }

Josiane prevailed. Boeve agreed. They embraced joyfully.

Before Josiane and Boeve could go to England, they had to escape from King Yvori at Munbraunt. Josiane wanted to take ten horses laden with gold. Boeve was aghast at traveling with so much baggage. Josiane, however, insisted that they needed it. Boeve agreed. That was much less difficult than attempting to fight with her. With the help of Josiane’s faithful squire Bonefey, they drugged their guards and left secretly at night.

When Yvori’s men awoke, they realized that Boeve had left with Josiane. A large, armed party set out in pursuit. Seeing that pursuit, Bonefey advised hiding in a cave. Josiane, Boeve, and Bonefey hid in the cave, but they had no food. Josiane complained that she was hungry. Boeve left to search for food, while Bonefey stayed to protect Josiane.

Then two lions attacked Josiane and Bonefey. Bonefey attempted to protect Josiane, but the lions tore him to pieces. The lions dragged Josiane to the top of a rock. They didn’t eat her because she was a princess. Like a princess, Josiane cried out in complaint to Boeve:

Alas, sir Boeve, you delay too long!
Now these beasts want to kill me.
Never again will you see me healthy and whole.

{ Hai! sire Boves, trop fetes demorer!
ore me vodront ceo bestes estrangler,
james ne me veras sen ne enter. }

Boeve returned carrying a stag that he had killed for food for Josiane. He saw parts of Bonefey’s body scattered around. Then he saw the two lions guarding Josiane:

Josiane saw Boeve and started to shout,
“Come avenge the death of Bonefey the squire!”
“So I will,” said Boeve, “you can be well sure
that by my two hands I will come to meet with them.”
The two lions heard him and started to rise.
Josiane held on to one of them, so it could not go.
By the skin around its neck she seized it,
and so firmly she held it that it couldn’t move.
Boeve told her to let it go.

{ Josian veyt Boun si comensa a crier:
“Venez venger la mort Bonefey l’esquier,”
“Si frai,” dist Bores, “beu poez saver,
par me deus mains les covendra passer.”
Les deus lions li oyerunt si comencent lever;
Jusian tint li un, ke ne put aler,
par le pel li prist entur le coler,
ausi ferme le tint com out le pouer;
Boves la dist ke le lessa aler. }

When the medieval Lombard husband confronted a snail in his field, he also had to deal with his wife’s advice about fighting it. Confronting two raging lions, Boeve also had to fight with his beloved:

He gripped his strong shield and took his steel sword.
“Let the other raging lion come.”
“No, I won’t,” said Josiane, “so help me God!
Not until you have killed the other one.”
“By God,” said Boeve,”that would be dishonesty,
for if I were in England, which is my kingdom,
and before my barons I boasted
that I had killed two lions,
you would come forward and swear by God,
that in truth you held one
until I had killed the other one.
But I don’t want to hear that for all Christendom.
Now let the lion go, or if you don’t wish to do that,
I will go from here, and you will remain.”

{ Le forte escu enbrace e prist le branc asseré.
“Lessez vener l’altre lion aragé.”
“Nun frai,” dist ele, “si me eyde de!
jekes a tant ke vus eyez l’altre tué.”
“Par deu!” dist Boves, “ceo sereit fauseté;
ke si jeo fuse en Engletere, mun regné,
e jeo me avantas devant mon baroné
ke jeo avai deus lions tué,
vus vendrés avan e jurez par de,
ke vus tenistis l’un pur verité,
tant ke jeo use l’altre tué;
mes ceo ne vodray pur tut cristienté.
Ore ly lessez aler, ou si ne le volez,
jeo m’en iray e vus remeyndrez.” }

For once Josiane relented in a fight with her beloved. She let the raging lion go. She prayed, “May Jesus Christ, who was born of a mother, protect you {Jhesu Crist vus garde, ke de mere fu ne}.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the most powerful figure in medieval Europe. Josiane wasn’t about to allow Boeve to be without a woman’s protection.

The two lions then attacked Boeve. He struck one with a strong sword-blow, but couldn’t penetrate the lion’s tough hide. When the lion opened its mouth to swallow Boeve, he thrust his sword within and pieced its heart. When he withdrew, the lion died. The other lion rushed at Boeve, raised its front feet, and began to tear at him. Boeve cut off the lion’s feet. It fell to the ground, snarling fiercely. Boeve then killed it. He thus managed to rescue Josiane from two raging lions without her direct help.

Boeve (Bevis of Hampton) killing two lions

Josiane could be compassionate to a foe. After the Saracen giant Escopart attempted to seize her for King Yvori, Boeve’s horse Arundel knocked Escopart to the ground and sat on him. Boeve then sought to cut off Escopart’s head. But Josiane urged Escopart to become a Christian and Boeve’s vassal. Boeve wondered whether he could trust the Saracen giant. Josiane declared that she would stand surety for him. Escopart then did homage to Boeve and served him well for awhile. But Escopart eventually betrayed Boeve and abducted Josiane. Her guidance of Boeve turned out to be faulty in this instance.

If necessary, Josiane could deal with dangers herself. One day in Cologne, the count Miles captured Josiane and married her against her will. That night he took her to bed:

Before Miles could come into their bed,
the beautiful Josiane took her belt.
Without doubt she wrapped it around Miles’s neck.
The bed was high where he slept,
and the count Miles sat himself on one side,
and the young woman jumped on the other side,
pulled him to her, and broke his neck.

{ Avant que Miles poit vener en son lit,
Josian la bele sa seynture prist,
outre le col Miles le gita tot de fist.
Le lit fu haut ou il gist,
e li quens Miles de une part se sist,
e la pucele de altre part sailist,
a sey le tret e le col li rumpist. }

Miles was found dead the next morning. Josiane had killed him with the same silk belt that she had used to prevent her husband King Yvori from having sex with her through seven years of marriage. Yvori should have been grateful that, rather than depriving him of sex, she didn’t kill him.

Despite Josiane’s domineering personality and serious conflicts between her and her beloved Boeve, they married and had three children. Their oldest son Gui became a king. When his mother was seriously sick, Gui sought to comfort her. She had only one request:

“Beautiful son,” she said, “call Boeve to me.”
The young man called Boeve, and Boeve came running.
When he saw his lady-lord, he took her into his arms
and commended Gui, their child, to the Lord God.
Then the lady-lord died, and Boeve too.
Angels carried their souls to the blessed.

{ “Beau fiz,” dist ele, “apellez Boun avant”
Li enfes Boim apele, e il vint corant.
Kant veit la dame, entre ses bras la prent,
a dampnedeu command Gui, lur enfant.
Ja morust la dame e Boves ensement;
les almes aportent les angles as innocens. }

Arguments and conflicts don’t necessarily compel persons to separate. They might remain together in a relationship of love, without even death parting them.

Boeve and Josiane traveling by boat to England

* * * * *

Read more:


The above story of Josiane and Boeve of Hampton is from the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman work Boeve de Haumtone, also known as Beuve de Hamptone. Just as Boeve is also known as Beuve, Josiane is also known as Josian. Whether Boeve de Haumtone is a medieval romance or a “song of deeds {chanson de geste}” is a matter of scholarly controversy. Ailes (2008). The story is set during the reign of King Edgar of England, who reigned 959-975.

The Egyptian princess Josiane was a Saracen, a medieval Christian term for Muslim. On the cultural geography of the story, Blurton (2019). Like the Saracen princes Guiborc, Josiane is both a domineering and loving woman. Her dramatic initiative in grabbing hold of the lion to lessen the risk to Boeve’s life puts her in the line of proto-meninist women who act to lessen violence against men. Cf. Waugh (2018). Boeve’s remarkable willingness to defy his beloved Josiane’s will points to medieval Christian understanding of an equal conjugal partnership. Cf. Saunders (2008). Nonetheless, violence in Boeve de Haumtone is overwhelmingly violence against men. Many unnamed, voiceless men are brutally killed in this story.

Boeve’s father was Count Gui of Hampton. As an old man, he was disparaged for never having married. To quell such criticism, he married the young, beautiful daughter of the king of Scotland. They had the son Boeve. When Boeve was about ten years old, his mother sent a message to Doon, Emperor of Germany, promising to marry him if he killed her husband Gui. When Doon agreed, she sent Gui into an ambush, where Doon beheaded him. She married Doon the day after he killed her husband.

The story of Boeve and Josiane was widely distributed. The Anglo-Norman version is the oldest surviving version, while continental Old French and Franco-Italian versions also exist. The Anglo-Norman version apparently was adapted into Middle English and gave rise to the surviving text known as Bevis of Hampton, dating about 1324. For an edition, Herzman, Drake & Salisbury (1999) and for a modernized English version, Scott-Robinson (2019). For an edition and English translation of a fifteenth-century Irish version, Robinson (1907). Medieval prose translations also exist in Dutch, Romanian, Russian, Welsh, and Yiddish.

The above quotes are from the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone, Old French (Anglo-Norman) text from Stimming (1899), English translation (modified) from Weiss (2008). The current best edition, Martin (2014), wasn’t readily available to me. The above quotes are vv. 670-7 (Beautiful sir Boeve, I won’t seek to hide it…), 680-7 (“My beautiful young lady,” so said to her Boeve…), 695-705 (By God! Sir Boeve, you tell the truth…), 756-7 (“Wake up, beautiful, sweet, dear friend,”…), 999-1007 (She had learned some kind of enchantment…), 1390-2 (“Alas,” she said…), 1428-31 (“Certainly not,” he said…), 1467-8 (“By God,” said the young woman…), 1477 (unless she was a virgin without falsification), 1480-8 (“Boeve,” said Josiane…), 1675-7 (Alas, sir Boeve, you delay…), 1696-1704 (Josiane saw Boeve and started to shout…), 1707-20 (He gripped his strong shield…), 1722 (May Jesus Christ, who was born of a mother, protect you), 2110-6 (Before Miles could come into their bed…), 3831-6 (“Beautiful son,” she said, “call Boeve to me.”…).

[images] (1) Boeve of Hampton imprisoned by King Bradmund of Damascus. Illumination from instance of Beuve de Hantone made about 1280 in northern France. From folio 18r of Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Français 25516. (2) Boeve disguised as pilgrim meets Queen Josiane at Munbraunt. Similarly from folio 24v of Beuve de Hantone, MS. Fr. 25516. (3) Boeve (Bevis of Hampton) killing two lions. Boeve (Bevis of Hampton) killing two lions. Illumination in The Taymouth Hours (Book of Hours, Use of Sarum) made in the second quarter of the fourteenth century in England. From folio 12r (via Wikimedia Commons) of British Library MS. Yates Thompson 13. (4) Boeve and Josiane traveling by boat to England. Similarly from folio 50r of Beuve de Hantone, MS. Fr. 25516.


Ailes, Marianne. 2008. “The Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone as a chanson de geste.” Chapter 1 (pp. 9-24) in Fellows & Djordjević (2008).

Blurton, Heather. 2019. “‘Jeo Ai Esté a Nubie’: Boeve de Haumtone in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Neophilologus. 103: 465–77.

Fellows, Jennifer and Ivana Djordjević, eds. 2008. Sir Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition. Woodbridge UK: D.S. Brewer.

Herzman, Ronald B., Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury. 1999. Four Romances of England: King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelston. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS (the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Martin, Jean-Pierre, ed. 2014. Beuve de Hamptone: Chanson de geste anglo-normande de la fin du xiie siècle, édition bilingue établie, présentée et annotée. Paris, France: Honoré Champion. Review by Claude Lachet.

Robinson, Frank N., ed and trans. 1907. The Irish Lives of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton. Halle a.S: M. Niemeyer.

Saunders, Corinne. 2008. “Gender, Virtue and Wisdom in Sir Bevis of Hampton.” Chapter 10 (pp. 161-175) in Fellows & Djordjević (2008).

Scott-Robinson, Richard, trans. 2019. Sir Bevis of Hampton. eleusinianm. Online.

Stimming, Albert, ed. 1899. Der Anglonormannische Boeve De Haumtone. Halle: M. Niemeyer.

Waugh, Robin. 2018. “Josian and the Heroism of Patience in Bevis of Hampton.” English Studies. 99(6): 609–23.

Weiss, Judith, trans. 2008. Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warewic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 332; The French of England Translation Series, 3. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

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