The Franklin’s Tale


In old Armorica, now Brittany,
There was a knight that loved and strove, did he
To serve a lady in the highest wise;
And many a labour, many a great emprise
He wrought for her, or ever she was won.
For she was of the fairest under sun,
And therewithal come of so high kindred
That scarcely could this noble knight, for dread,
Tell her his woe, his pain, and his distress.
But at the last she, for his worthiness,
And specially for his meek obedience,
Had so much pity that, in consequence,
She secretly was come to his accord
To take him for her husband and her lord,
Of such lordship as men have over wives;
And that they might be happier in their lives,
Of his free will he swore to her, as knight,
That never in his life, by day or night,
Would he assume a right of mastery
Against her will, nor show her jealousy,
But would obey and do her will in all
As any lover of his lady shall;
Save the name and show of sovereignty,
Those would he have, lest he shame his degree
She thanked him, and with a great humbleness
She said: “Since, sir, of your own nobleness
You proffer me to have so loose a rein
Would God there never come between us twain,
For any guilt of mine, a war or strife.
Sir, I will be your humble, faithful wife,
Take this as truth till heart break in my breast.”
Thus were they both in quiet and in rest.
For one thing, sirs, I safely dare to say,
That friends each one the other must obey
If they’d be friends and long keep company.
Love will not be constrained by mastery;
When mastery ‘comes, the god of love anon
Beats his fair wings, and farewell! He is gone!
Love is a thing as any spirit free;
Women by nature love their liberty,
And not to be constrained like any thrall,
And so do men, if say the truth I shall.
Observe who is most patient in his love,
He is advantaged others all above.
Patience is virtue high, and that’s certain;
For it does vanquish, as these clerks make plain,
Things that oppression never could attain.
One must not chide for trifles nor complain.
Learn to endure, or else, so may I go,
You’ll have to learn it, whether you will or no.
For in this world, it’s certain, no one is
Who never does or says sometimes amiss.
Sickness, or woe, or what the stars have sent,
Anger, or wine, or change of temperament
Causes one oft to do amiss or speak.
For every wrong one may not vengeance wreak;
Conditions must determine temperance
In all who understand good governance.
And therefore did this wise and worthy knight,
To live in quiet, patience to her plight,
And unto him full truly did she swear
That never should he find great fault in her.
Here may men see an humble wise accord;
Thus did she take her servant and her lord,
Servant in love and lord in their marriage;
So was he both in lordship and bondage;
In bondage? Nay, but in lordship above,
Since he had both his lady and his love;
His lady truly, and his wife also,
To which the law of love accords, we know.
And when he was in this prosperity,
Home with his wife he went to his country,
Not far from Penmarch, where his dwelling was.
And there he lived in bliss and all solace.
Who could relate, save those that wedded be,
The joy, the ease, and the prosperity
That are between a husband and a wife?
A year and more endured this blissful life,
Until the knight, of whom I’ve spoken thus,
Who at Kayrrud I was called Arviragus,
Arranged to go and dwell a year or twain
In England, which was then known as Britain,
To seek in arms renown and great honour;
For his desire was fixed in such labour;
And there he lived two years (the book says thus).
Now will I hold from this Arviragus,
And I will speak of Dorigen his wife,
Who loved her husband as her heart’s own life.
For all his absence wept she and she sighed,
As noble wives do at a lone fireside.
She mourned, watched, wailed, she fasted and complained;
Desire for him so bound her and constrained,
That all this wide world did she set at naught.
Her friends, who knew her grief and heavy thought,
Comforted her as they might do or say;
They preached to her, they told her night and day
That for no cause she killed herself, alas!
And every comfort possible in this pass
They gave to her, in all their busyness,
To make her thus put by her heaviness.
With passing time, as you know, every one,
Men may so long with tools engrave a stone
That thereon will some figure printed be.
And so long did they comfort her that she
Received at last, by hope and reason grown,
Imprinted consolations as her own,
Whereby her sorrow did somewhat assuage;
She could not always live in such a rage.
And, then, Arviragus, through all her care,
Had sent her letters home, of his welfare.
And that he would come speedily again;
Otherwise had this sorrow her heart slain.
Her friends saw that her grief began to slake,
And prayed her on their knees, for dear God’s sake,
To come and wander in their company
And drive away her gloomy fantasy.
And finally she granted that request;
For well she saw that it was for the best.
Now stood her castle very near the sea,
And often with her good friends wandered she
For pleasure on the cliffs that reared so high,
Whence she saw many a ship and barge go by,
Sailing their courses where they wished to go;
But that was part and parcel of her woe.
For to herself full oft, “Alas!” said she,
“Is there no ship, of many that I see,
Will bring me home my lord? Then were my heart
Recovered of its bitter pains that smart.”
At other times there would she sit and think,
And cast her two eyes downward from the brink.
But when she saw the grisly rocks all black,
For very fear her heart would start aback
And quake so that her feet would not sustain
Her weight. Then on the grass she’d sit again
And piteously upon the sea she’d stare,
And say, with dull sighs on the empty air:
“Eternal God, Who by Thy providence
Leadest the world with a true governance,
Idly, as men say, dost Thou nothing make;
But, Lord, these grisly, fiendish rocks, so black,
That seem but rather foul confusion thrown
Awry than any fair world of Thine own,
Aye of a perfect wise God and stable,
Why hast Thou wrought this insane work, pray tell?
For by this work, north, south, and west and east,
There is none nurtured, man, nor bird, nor beast;
It does no good, to my mind, but annoys.
See’st Thou not, Lord, how mankind it destroys?
A hundred thousand bodies of mankind
Have died on rocks, whose names are not in mind,
And man’s a creature made by Thee most fair,
After Thine image, as Thou didst declare.
Then seemed it that Thou had’st great charity
Toward mankind; but how then may it be
That Thou hast wrought such means man to destroy,
Which means do never good, but ever annoy?
I know well, clerics gladly do attest,
By arguments, that all is for the best,
Though I can never the real causes know.’
But O Thou God Who made’st the wind to blow,
Keep Thou my lord! This is my argument;
To clerks I leave disputing on what’s meant.
But O would God that all these rocks so black
Were sunken down to Hell for my lord’s sake!
These rocks, they slay my very heart with fear.”
Thus would she say, with many a piteous tear.
Her friends saw that to her it was no sport
To wander by the sea, but discomfort;
And so arranged to revel somewhere else.
They led her along rivers and to wells,
And such delightful places; and told fables,
And danced, and played at chess, and played at tables.
So on a day, all in the morningtide,
Unto a garden which was there beside,
Wherein they’d given command that there should be
Food and whatever else was necessary,
They went for pleasure all the livelong day.
And this was on the morning sixth of May,
And May had painted with his soft warm showers
This garden full of foliage and of flowers;
And work of man’s hand had so curiously
Arrayed this lovely garden, truthfully,
That never was another of such price,
Unless it were the very Paradise.
The scent of flowers and the fair fresh sight
Would have made any heart dance for delight
That e’er was born, unless too great sickness
Or too great sorrow held it in distress;
So full it was of beauty and pleasance.
After their dinner all began to dance,
And sing, also, save Dorigen alone,
Who made alway her same complaint and moan.
For him she saw not through the dancing go,
Who was her husband and her love also.
Nevertheless, she must a time abide,
And with good hope held, let her sorrow slide.
Amid these mazes, with the other men,
There danced a squire before this Dorigen,
That was more blithe, and prettier of array,
In my opinion, than the month of May.
He sang and danced better than any man
That is, or was, since first the world began.
Therewith he was, description to contrive,
One of best conditioned men alive;
Young, strong, right virtuous, and rich, and wise,
And well beloved, and one to idealize.
And briefly, if I tell the truth withal,
Unknown to Dorigen- nay, least of all-
This pleasant squire, servant to Queen Venus,
The name of whom was this, Aurelius,
Had loved her best of anyone alive
Two years and more (since she did first arrive),
But never dared he tell her of his state;
Without a cup he drank his draught of fate.
He had despaired, for nothing dared he say,
Save that in songs he would somewhat betray
His woe, as of a general complaint;
He loved, but none loved him, though he went faint.
Of such a subject made he many lays,
Songs and complaints, rondels and virelays,
How that he dared not his deep sorrow tell,
But languished, as a fury does in Hell;
And die he must, he said, as did Echo
For her Narcissus, daring not tell her woe.
In other manner than you hear me say
Dared he not unto her his woe betray;
Save that, perchance, there would be times at dances,
Where young folk honoured all that makes romances,
It may well be he looked upon her face
In such wise as a man who sued for grace;
But nothing knew she of his love’s intent.
Nevertheless it chanced, ere thence they went,
Because it happened he was her neighbour,
And was a man of worship and honour,
And she had known him in the time of yore,
They fell to talking; and so, more and more,
Unto his purpose drew Aurelius,
And when he saw his time addressed her thus:
“Madam,” said he, “by God Who this world made,
So that I knew it might your sad heart aid,
I would, that day when your Arviragus
Went overseas, that I, Aurelius,
Had gone whence never I should come again;
For well I know. service is in vain.
My guerdon is the breaking of my heart;
Madam, have pity on my pains that smart;
For with a word you may slay me or save,
Here at your feet would God I found my grave!
Time to say more, at present naught have I;
Have mercy, sweet, or you will make me die!”
So then she looked upon Aurelius:
“Is this your will?” asked she, “And say you thus?
Never before have I known what you meant.
But since, Aurelius, I know your intent,
By that same God Who gave me soul and life,
Never shall I become an untrue wife
In word or deed, so far as I have wit:
I will remain his own to whom I’m knit;
Take this for final answer as from me.”
But after that she said thus, sportively:
“Aurelius,” said she, “by God above,
Yet would I well consent to be your love,
Since I hear you complain so piteously,
On that day when, from coasts of Brittany,
You’ve taken all the black rocks, stone by stone,
So that they hinder ship nor boat- I own,
I say, when you have made the coast so clean
Of rocks that there is no stone to be seen,
Then will I love you best of any man;
Take here my promise- all that ever I can.”
“Is there no other grace in you?” asked he.
“No, by that Lord,” said she, “Who has made me!
For well I know that it shall ne’er betide.
Let suchlike follies out of your heart slide.
What pleasure can a man have in his life
Who would go love another man’s own wife,
That has her body when he wishes it?”
Deep sighs Aurelius did then emit;
Woe was Aurelius when this he heard,
And with a sorrowful heart he thus answered:
“Madam,” said he, “this were impossible!
Then must I die a sudden death and fell.”
And with that word he turned away anon.
Then came her other friends, and many a one,
And in the alleys wandered up and down,
And nothing knew of this decision shown,
But suddenly began to dance anew
Until the bright sun lost his golden hue;
For the horizon had cut off his light;
This is as much as saying, it was night.
And home they went in joy and with solace,
Except the wretch Aurelius, alas!
He to his house went with a woeful heart;
He saw he could not from his near death part.
It seemed to him he felt his heart grow cold;
Up toward Heaven his two hands did he hold,
And on his bare knees did he kneel him down
And in his raving said his orison.
For very woe out of his wits he fled.
He knew not what he spoke, but thus he said;
With mournful heart his plaint had he begun
Unto the gods, and first unto the sun.
He said: “Apollo, governor and god
Of every plant, herb, tree, and flower in sod,
That givest, according to thy declination,
To each of them its time of foliation,
All as thy habitation’s low or high,
Lord Phoebus, cast thy merciful bright eye
On wretched Aurelius, who is lost and lorn.
Lo, Lord! My lady has my swift death sworn,
Without my guilt, save thy benignity
Upon my dying heart have some pity!
For well I know, Lord Phoebus, if you lest,
You can thus aid me, save my lady, best.
Now vouchsafe that I may for you devise
A plan to help me, telling in what wise.
“Your blessed sister, Lucina, serene,
That of the sea is goddess chief and queen
(Though Neptune is the deity in the sea,
Yet empress set above him there is she).
You know well, Lord, that just as her desire
Is to be quickened and lighted by your fire,
For which she follows you right busily,
Just so the sea desires, and naturally,
To follow her, she being high goddess
Both of the sea and rivers, great and less.
Wherefore, Lord Phoebus, this request I make-
Without this miracle, my heart will break-
That at the time of your next opposition,
Which will be in the Lion, make petition
To her that she so great a flood will bring
That full five fathoms shall it over-spring
The highest rock in Armoric Brittany;
And let this flood endure two years for me;
Then truly to my lady may I say:
‘Now keep your word, the rocks are gone away.’
“Lord Phoebus, do this miracle for me;
Pray her she run no faster course, being free-
I say, Lord, pray your sister that she go
No faster course than you these next years two.
Then shall she be even at the full alway,
And spring-flood shall endure both night and day.
And save she vouchsafe, Lord, in such manner
To grant to me my sovereign lady dear,
Pray her to sink, then, every rock far down
Into that region dark and cold, her own,
Under the earth, the place Pluto dwells in,
Or nevermore shall I my lady win.
Thy temple in Delphi will I, barefoot, seek;
Lord Phoebus, see the tears upon my cheek,
And on my pain be some compassion shown.”
And with that word in swoon he tumbled down,
And for a long time lay there in a trance.
His brother, who knew all his suppliance,
Found him, and took him, and to bed him brought.
Despairing in the torment of his thought,
Let I this woeful fellow-creature lie,
To choose, for all of me, to live or die.
Arviragus, with health, in honour’s hour,
As he that was of chivalry the flower,
Came home again, with other gentlemen.
O happy are you now, my Dorigen,
Who have your pleasant husband in your arms,
The vigorous knight, the worthy man-at-arms,
That loves you as he loves his own heart’s life.
Nothing he chose to question of his wife
If any man had said, while he was out,
Some words of love; of her he had no doubt.
He tended not that way, it would appear,
But danced and jousted, made for her good cheer;
And thus in joy and bliss I let them dwell
And of love-sick Aurelius will I tell.
In weakness and in torment furious
Two years and more lay wretched Aurelius
Ere foot on earth he went- aye, even one;
For comfort in this long time had he none,
Save from his brother, who was a good clerk;
He knew of all this woe and all this work.
For to no other human, ’tis certain,
Dared he his cause of illness to explain.
In breast he kept more secret his idea
Than did Pamphilius for Galatea.
His breast was whole, with no wound to be seen,
But in his heart there was the arrow keen.
And well you know that of a sursanure
In surgery is difficult the cure,
Unless they find the dart or take it out.
His brother wept, and long he sought about
Till at the last he called to remembrance
That while he was at Orleans in France-
For many young clerks are all ravenous
To read of arts that are most curious,
And into every nook and cranny turn
Particular strange sciences to learn-
He thus recalled that once upon a day,
At Orleans, while studying there, I say,
A book of natural magic there he saw
In a friend’s room, a bachelor of law
(Though he was there to learn another craft),
Which book he’d privately on his desk left;
And which book said much of the operations
Touching the eight and twenty variations
That designate the moon, and such folly
As is, in our days, valued not a fly;
For Holy Church provides us with a creed
That suffers no illusion to mislead.
And when this book came to his remembrance,
At once, for joy, his heart began to dance,
And to himself he said in privacy:
“My brother shall be healed, and speedily;
For I am sure that there are sciences
Whereby men make divers appearances,
Such as these prestidigitators play.
For oft at feasts, have I well heard men say
That jugglers, in a hall both bright and large,
Have made come in there, water and a barge,
And in the hall the barge rowed up and down.
Sometimes there seemed to come a grim lion;
And sometimes flowers sprang as in a mead;
Or vines with grapes both red and white indeed;
Sometimes a castle built of lime and stone;
And when they wished it disappeared anon.
Thus seemed these things to be in each man’s sight.
“Now, then, conclude I thus, that if I might
At Orleans some old school-fellow find,
Who has these mansions of the moon in mind,
Or other natural magic from above,
He could well make my brother have his love.
For with a mere appearance clerks may make
It seem in man’s sight that all rocks that break
The seas of Brittany were banished, so
That right above them ships might come and go,
And in such wise endure a week or two;
Then were my brother cured of all his woe.
For she must keep the word she gave at feast.
Or he’ll have right to shame her, at the least.”
Why should I longer speak of this event?
He to the bedside of his brother went,
And urged him eagerly to get him gone
To Orleans; he started up anon
And forward on his way at once did fare
In hope to be relieved of all his care.
When they were come almost to that city,
Perhaps two furlongs short of it, or three,
A young clerk walking by himself they met,
Who, in good Latin, heartily did greet,
And after that he said a wondrous thing.
“I know,” said he, “the cause of your coming.”
And ere a farther foot the brothers went,
He told them all the soul of their intent.
This Breton clerk asked after school-fellows
Whom he had known through former suns and snows;
And he replied to this that dead they were,
Whereat he wept, for sorrow, many a tear.
Down from his horse Aurelius leaped anon,
And onward with this wizard he was gone
Home to his house, where he was put at case.
To him there lacked no victuals that might please;
So well appointed house as was that one
Aurelius in life before saw none.
He showed him, ere he went to supper here,
Forests and parks full of the dim wild deer;
There saw he harts of ten with their horns high,
The greatest ever seen by human eye.
He saw of them a hundred slain by hounds,
And some with arrows bled, with bitter wounds.
He saw, when vanished all were these wild deer,
Some falconers by river flowing clear,
Who with their hawks had many herons slain.
And then he saw knights jousting on a plain;
And after this he did him such pleasance
That he showed him his lady in a dance
Wherein he also joined, or so he thought.
And when this master who this magic wrought
Saw it was time, he clapped his two hands, lo!
Farewell to all! the revels out did go.
And yet they’d never moved out of the house
While they saw all these sights so marvelous,
But in his study, where his books would be,
They had sat still, and no one but they three.
Then unto him this master called his squire,
And asked him thus: “Is supper ready, sir?
Almost an hour it is, I’ll undertake,
Since I bade you our evening meal to make,
When these two gentlemen came in with me
Into my study, wherein my books be.”
“Sir,” said this squire then, “when it pleases you
It is all ready, though you will right now.”
“Then let us sup,” said he, “for that is best;
These amorous folk must sometime have some rest.”
After the supper they discussed, they three,
What sum should this said master’s guerdon be
For moving all rocks Breton coasts contain
From the Gironde unto the mouth of Seine.
He played for time, and swore, so God him save,
Less than a thousand he would not have,
Nor eagerly for that would take it on.
Aurelius, with blissful heart, anon
Answered him thus: “Fig for a thousand pound!
This great wide world, the which, men say, is round,
I’d give it all, if I were lord of it.
The bargain is concluded and we’re knit.
You shall be truly paid, sir, by my troth!
But look you, for no negligence or sloth,
Delay no longer than tomorrow morn.”
“Nay,” said this clerk! “upon my faith I’m sworn.”
To bed went this Aurelius and undressed,
And well-nigh all that night he had his rest;
What of his labour and his hope of bliss
The pain had left that woeful heart of his.
Upon the morrow, when it was full day,
To Brittany took they the nearest way,
Aurelius, with this wizard at his side,
And thus they came to where they would abide;
And that was, as the books say, I remember,
The cold and frosty season of December.
Phoebus was old and coloured like pale brass,
That in hot declination coloured was
And shone like burnished gold with streamers bright;
But now in Capricorn did he alight,
Wherein he palely shone, I dare explain.
The bitter frosts, with all the sleet and rain,
Had killed the green of every garden-yard.
Janus sat by the fire, with double beard,
And drained from out his bugle horn the wine.
Before him stood the brawn of tusked swine,
And “Noel!” cried then every lusty man.
Aurelius, in all that he could plan,
Did to this master cheerful reverence,
And prayed of him he’d use all diligence
To bring him from his pains that so did smart,
Or else with sword that he would slit his heart.
This subtle clerk such ruth had for this man,
That night and day he sped about his plan,
To wait the proper time for his conclusion;
That is to say, the time to make illusion,
By such devices of his jugglery
(I understand not this astrology)
That she and everyone should think and say
That all the Breton rocks were gone away,
Or else that they were sunken underground.
So at the last the proper time he found
To do his tricks and all his wretchedness
Of such a superstitious wickedness.
For his Toletan Tables forth he brought,
All well corrected, and he lacked in naught,
The years collected nor the separate years,
Nor his known roots, nor any other gears,
As, say, his centres and his argument,
And his proportionals convenient
In estimating truly his equations.
The eighth sphere showed him in his calculations
How far removed was Alnath, passing by,
From head of that fixed Aries on high,
That in the ninth great sphere considered is;
Right cleverly he calculated this.
When he the moon’s first mansion thus had found,
The rest proportionally he could expound;
And knew the moon’s arising-time right well,
And in what face and term, and all could tell;
This gave him then the mansion of the moon-
He worked it out accordingly right soon,
And did the other necessary rites
To cause illusions and such evil sights
As heathen peoples practised in those days.
Therefore no longer suffered he delays,
But all the rocks by magic and his lore
Appeared to vanish for a week or more.
Aurelius, who yet was torn by this,
Whether he’d gain his love or fare amiss,
Awaited night and day this miracle;
And when he knew there was no obstacle,
That vanished were these black rocks, every one,
Down at the master’s feet he fell anon
And said: “I, woeful wretch, Aurelius,
Thank you, my lord, and Lady mine Venus,
That have so saved me from my dreadful care.”
And to the temple straightway did he fare,
Whereat he knew he should his lady see.
And when he saw his opportunity,
With fluttering heart and with an humble cheer
He greeted thus his sovereign lady dear.
“My own dear lady,” said this woeful man,
“Whom I most fear and love best, as I can,
And whom, of all this world, I’d not displease,
Were it not that for you I’ve such unease
That I must die here at your feet anon,
I would not tell how I am woebegone;
But I must either die or else complain;
You slay me, for no crime, with utter pain.
But on my death, although you have no ruth,
Take heed now, ere you break your promised troth
Repent you, for die sake of God above,
Ere me you slay, because it’s you I love.
For well you know your promise apposite;
Not that I challenge aught, of my own right,
In you, my sovereign lady, save your grace;
But in a garden, in a certain place,
You know right well what you did promise me;
And in my hand you plighted troth,” said he,
“To love me best, God knows you promised so,
Howe’er I may unworthy be thereto.
Madam, I say it for your honour’s vow
More than to save my heart’s dear life right now;
I have done all that you commanded me;
And if you will, you may well go and see.
Do as you please, but hold your word in mind,
For quick or dead, as you do, me you’ll find;
In you lies all, to make me live or die,
But well I know the rocks are vanished, aye!”
He took his leave, and she astounded stood,
In all her face there was no drop of blood;
She never thought to have come in such a trap.
“Alas!” said she, “that ever this should hap!
For thought I never, by possibility,
That such prodigious marvel e’er might be!
It is against the way of all nature.”
And home she went, a sorrowful creature.
For utter terror hardly could she go,
She wept, she wailed throughout a day or so,
And swooned so much ’twas pitiful, to see;
But why this was to not a soul told she;
For out of town was gone Arviragus.
But to her own heart spoke she, and said thus,
With her face pale and with a heavy cheer,
All her complaint, as you’ll hereafter hear:
“Of thee,” she cried, “O Fortune, I complain,
That, unaware, I’m bound within thy chain;
From which to go, I know of no succour
Save only death, or else my dishonour;
One of these two I am compelled to choose.
Nevertheless, I would far rather lose
My life than of my body come to shame,
Or know myself untrue, or lose my name;
By death I know it well, I may be freed;
Has there not many a noble wife, indeed,
And many a maiden slain herself- alas!-
Rather than with her body do trespass?
“Yes, truly, lo, these stories bear witness;
When Thirty Tyrants, full of wickedness,
Had Phido slain in Athens, at a feast,
They gave command his daughters to arrest,
And had them brought before them, for despite,
All naked, to fulfill their foul delight,
And in their father’s blood they made them dance
Upon the pavement- God give them mischance!
For which these woeful maidens, full of dread,
Rather than they should lose their maidenhead,
Unseen they all leaped down into a well
And drowned themselves therein, as old books tell.
“They of Messina did require and seek
From Lacedaemon fifty maids to take,
On whom they would have done their lechery;
But there was none of all that company
Who was not slain, and who with good intent
Preferred not death rather than give consent
To be thus ravished of her maidenhead.
Why should I then hold dying in such dread?
“Lo, too, the tyrant Aristoclides,
Who loved a maiden called Stimphalides.
Whenas her father had been slain by night,
Unto Diana’s temple she took flight
And grasped the image in her two hands so
That from this image would she not let go.
No one could tear her hands from that embrace
Till she was slaughtered in that self-same place.
Now since these maidens showed such scorn outright
Of being defiled to make man’s foul delight,
Well ought a wife rather herself to slay
Than be defiled, I think, and so I say.
“What shall I say of Hasdrubal’s fair wife,
Who in Carthage bereft herself of life?
For when she saw that Romans won the town,
She took her children all and leaped right down
Into the fire, choosing thus to die
Before a Roman did her villainy.
“Did not Lucretia slay herself- alas!-
At Rome, when she so violated was
By Tarquin? For she thought it was a shame
Merely to live when she had lost her name.
“The seven maidens of Miletus, too,
Did slay themselves, for very dread and woe,
Rather than men of Gaul should on them press.
More than a thousand stories, as I guess,
Could I repeat now of this matter here.
“With Abradates slain, his wife so dear
Herself slew, and she let her red blood glide
In Abradates’ wounds so deep and wide,
And said: ‘My body, at the least, I say,
No man shall now defile,’ and passed away.
“Why should I of more instances, be fain?
Since that so many have their bodies slain
Rather than that they should dishonoured be?
I will conclude it better is for me
To slay myself than be dishonoured thus.
I will be true unto Arviragus,
Or else I’ll slay myself in some manner,
As did Demotion’s virgin daughter dear
Because she would not violated be.
“O Cedasus, it rouses great pity
To read of how your daughters died, alas!
That slew themselves in such another case.
“As great a pity was it, aye and more,
That a fair Theban maid, for Nicanor,
Did slay herself in such a kind of woe.
“Another Theban maiden did also;
For one of Macedonia her had pressed,
And she, by death, her maidenhead redressed.
“What shall I say of Nicerates’ wife,
Who, for like cause, bereft herself of life?
“How true, too, was to Alcibiades
His love, who chose to drain death to the lees
And would not let his corpse unburied be!
Lo, what a wife was Alcestis,” said she.
“What says Homer of good Penelope?
The whole of Hellas knew her chastity.
“Pardieu, of Laodamia they wrote thus,
That when at Troy was slain Protesilaus,
No longer would she live after his day.
“The same of noble Portia may I say;
Without her Brutus could she no wise live,
To whom in youth her whole heart she did give.
“The perfect wifehood of Artemisia
Was honoured throughout all old Caria.
“O Teuta, queen! Your wifely chastity,
To all wives may a very mirror be.
The same thing may I say of Bilia,
Of Rhodogune and of Valeria.”
Thus Dorigen went on a day or so,
Purposing ever that to death she’d go.
But notwithstanding, upon the third night
Home came Arviragus, this worthy knight,
And asked her why it was she wept so sore.
And thereat she began to weep the more.
“Alas!” cried she, “that ever I was born!
Thus have I said,” quoth she, “thus have I sworn”-
And told him all, as you have heard before;
It needs not to re-tell it to you more.
This husband, with glad cheer, in friendly wise,
Answered and said as I shall you apprise:
“Is there naught else, my Dorigen, than this?”
“Nay, nay,” said she, “God help me, as it is
This is too much, though it were God’s own will.”
“Yea, wife,” said he, “let sleep what’s lying still;
It may be well with us, perchance, today.
But you your word shall hold to, by my fay!
As God may truly mercy have on me,
Wounded to death right now I’d rather be,
For sake of this great love of you I have,
Than you should not your true word keep and save.
Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.”
But with that word began he then to weep,
And said: “I you forbid, on pain of death,
That ever, while to you last life and breath,
To anyone you tell this adventure.
As I best may, I will my woe endure,
Nor show a countenance of heaviness,
That folk no harm may think of you, or guess.”
And then he called a squire and a maid:
“Go forth anon with Dorigen,” he said,
“And bring her to a certain place anon.”
They took their leave and on their way were gone.
But nothing knew of why she thither went
Nor would he to a soul tell his intent.
Perhaps a lot of you will certainly
Hold him a wicked man that wilfully
Put his wife’s honour thus in jeopardy;
Hearken the tale, ere you upon her cry.
She may have better luck than you suppose;
And when you’ve heard all, let your judgment close.
This squire I’ve told you of, Aurelius,
Of Dorigen he being so amorous,
Chanced, as it seems, his lady fair to meet
In middle town, right in the busiest street,
As she was going forth, as you have heard,
Toward the garden where she’d pledged her word.
And he was going gardenward also;
For he was always watching when she’d go
Out of her house to any kind of place.
But thus they met, by chance perhaps or grace;
And he saluted her with good intent,
And asked her, now, whither it was she went.
And she replied, as if she were half mad:
“Unto the garden, as my husband bade,
My promise there to keep, alas, alast”
Aurelius then pondered on this case,
And in his heart he had compassion great
On her and her lamenting and her state,
And on Arviragus, the noble knight,
Who’d bidden her keep promise, as she might,
Being so loath his wife should break with truth;
And in his heart he gained, from this, great ruth,
Considering the best on every side,
That from possession rather he’d abide
Than do so great a churlish grievousness
Against free hearts and all high nobleness;
For which, and in few words, he told her thus:
“Madam, say to your lord Arviragus
That since I see his noble gentleness
To you, and since I see well your distress,
That he’d have rather shame (and that were ruth)
Than you to me should break your word of truth,
I would myself far rather suffer woe
Than break apart the love between you two.
So I release, madam, into your hand,
And do return, discharged, each surety and
Each bond that you have given and have sworn,
Even from the very time that you were born.
My word I pledge, I’ll ne’er seek to retrieve
A single promise, and I take my leave
As of the truest and of the best wife
That ever yet I’ve known in all my life.
Let every wife of promises take care,
Remember Dorigen, and so beware!
Thus can a squire perform a gentle deed
As well as can a knight, of that take heed.”
Upon her bare knees did she thank him there,
And home unto her husband did she fare,
And told him all, as you have heard it said;
And be assured, he was so pleased and glad
That ’twere impossible of it to write.
What should I further of this case indite?
Arviragus and Dorigen his wife
In sovereign happiness led forth their life.
Never did any anger come between;
He cherished her as if she were a queen;
And she to him was true for evermore.
Of these two folk you get from me no more.
Aurelius, whose wealth was now forlorn,
He cursed the time that ever he was born;
“Alas!” cried he, “Alas! that I did state
I’d pay fine gold a thousand pounds by weight
To this philosopher! What shall I do?
I see no better than I’m ruined too.
All of my heritage I needs must sell
And be a beggar; here I cannot dwell
And shame all of my kindred in this place,
Unless I gain of him some better grace.
And so I’ll go to him and try, today,
On certain dates, from year to year, to pay,
And thank him for his princely courtesy;
For I will keep my word, and I’ll not lie.”
With sore heart he went then to his coffer,
And took gold unto this philosopher,
The value of five hundred pounds, I guess,
And so besought him, of his nobleness,
To grant him dates for payment of the rest,
And said: “Dear master, I may well protest
I’ve never failed to keep my word, as yet;
For certainly I’ll pay my entire debt
To you, however after I may fare,
Even to begging, save for kirtle, bare.
But if you’d grant, on good security,
Two years or three of respite unto me,
Then all were well; otherwise must I sell
My heritage; there is no more to tell.”
Then this philosopher soberly answered
And spoke in. this wise, when these words he’d heard:
“Have I not fairly earned my promised fee?”
“Yes, truly, you have done so, sir,” said he.
“Have you not bad the lady at your will?”
“No, no,” said he, and sighed, and then was still.
“What was the reason? Tell me if you can.”
Aurelius his tale anon began,
And told him all, as you have heard before;
It needs not I repeat it to you more.
He said: “Arviragus, of nobleness,
Had rather die in sorrow and distress
Than that his wife were to her promise false.”
He told of Dorigen’s grief, too, and how else
She had been loath to live a wicked wife
And rather would that day have lost her life,
And that her troth she swore through ignorance:
“She’d ne’er before heard of such simulance;
Which made me have for her such great pity.
And just as freely as he sent her me,
As freely sent I her to him again.
This is the sum, there’s no more to explain.”
Then answered this philosopher: “Dear brother,
Each one of you has nobly dealt with other.
You are a squire, true, and he is a knight,
But God forbid, what of His blessed might,
A clerk should never do a gentle deed
As well as any of you. Of this take heed!
“Sir, I release to you your thousand pound,
As if, right now, you’d crept out of the ground
And never, before now, had known of me.
For, sir, I’ll take of you not one penny
For all my art and all my long travail.
You have paid well for all my meat and ale;
It is enough, so farewell, have good day!”
And took his horse and went forth on his way.
Masters, this question would I ask you now:
Which was most generous, do you think, and how.
Pray tell me this before you farther wend.
I can no more, my tale is at an end.

Dan Moorhouse

Dan Moorhouse graduated in History and Politics and has since undertaken postgraduate studies in Medieval History and Education. Dan is a member of the Royal Historical Society and has previously been a member of the Historical Association’s Secondary Education Committee. Dan’s early publishing was in the Secondary School History Education field. This included co-authoring the Becta Award shortlisted Dynamic Learning: Medicine Through Time series for Hodder Murray and contributing to the Bafta Award winning Smallpox Through Time documentary series by A former teacher, Dan now concentrates on research and writing, predominantly in Medieval English history. Books by Dan Moorhouse On this day in the Wars of the Roses On this day in the Hundred Years War

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