The Man with Two Wives
The question "Is it possible to love two people at once?" sounds very modern; yet this sort of theoretical puzzle was also debated in the middle ages. Sophisticated ladies at the court of the Count of Champagne laid down rules for love, and debated their application to specific cases, and their conclusions were codified in a Latin treatise by Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the Chaplain) in the late twelfth century. Which is better, the love of an older or a younger man? Is love possible between husband and wife? De Arte Honeste Amandi (The Art of Courtly Love) owes more to Ovid than to contemporary Christian morality not only in the answers it gives to these questions, but in being prepared to consider such questions at all. It should be regarded more as an elaborate parlour game than as a source of advice about how real life should be lived. Even so, as if to be on the safe side, the two books on love as an aspect of aristocratic social life are followed by a third, which advocates the rejection of the love of women in favour of the love of Christ. But first Andreas lists thirty-one rules of courtly love, of which the third is "No one can be bound by a double love".
Yet one of the most famous lovers of medieval romance attempted to enter into a second love affair. Tristan, separated from his beloved Yseut, travelled to Brittany, and there he met Yseut of the White Hands. He agreed to marry her, according to the poet Thomas "because she was beautiful and because her name was Yseut". But on their wedding night, remembering his golden-haired Yseut, he was unable to consummate the marriage. Thomas invites his audience to consider which of his four leading characters is in the worst position. King Mark loves his wife Yseut the Fair, and can make love to her when he will; but he knows she does not love him, she loves Tristan. Yseut longs for Tristan, but must endure Mark's attentions. Tristan likewise yearns for Yseut the Fair; but he chooses not to accept the physical satisfaction his wife wants to give him. And Yseut of the White Hands, who has married her husband in good faith, asks nothing better than to be a good and loving wife to him, and does not know why he rejects her.
Marie de France is the earliest woman known to have written in French; she probably lived in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, and the name by which she is known is based on her own statement (in the Fables) that:
Marie ai nun, ci sui de Francewhich may indicate that she was a Frenchwoman writing at the English court, or may simply mean that she came from the Ile de France, the region around Paris. Her best-known work is the collection of twelve short narratives, or lays, in which she records what she claims are ancient Breton tales. Marie may or may not have known the tradition in which Tristan is committed to two women, but she certainly knew some version of the story of Tristan and Yseut; her Lai du Chevrefoil (Lay of the Honeysuckle) recounts an episode from the time of their separation, in which Tristan returns in disguise to visit Yseut. The longest tale in the collection is the Lay of Eliduc which explores in detail, and with some sympathy, the theme of the man who loves two women:
I will tell you the story and the whole content of a very old Breton lay, as I understand the truth of it, to the best of my ability.
There was once a knight, who lived in Brittany; he was virtuous and courtly, proud and brave, and his name was Eliduc. I think there was no-one so valiant in all the land. His wife was a high-born lady of good family, noble and wise. They had been married for a long time, and loved each other most truly; but when war broke out he went away to fight as a paid soldier: there he fell in love with a young woman, who was the daughter of a king and a queen. There was no-one in the whole kingdom more beautiful than this maiden, whose name was Guilliadun. The wife was called Guildelüec, back in her own land. The lay is named after the two women, Guildelüec ha Gualadun. Originally it was called Eliduc, but now the name has changed, because it happened to the ladies. I shall tell you the adventure which the lay recounts, truly, as it happened.
Eliduc's feudal lord was King of Brittany, who valued him and loved him dearly, for Eliduc served him most loyally. Wherever the king might travel, he had the keeping of the land; he retained him for his prowess. Many things happened to him because of this good fortune: he could hunt anywhere in the forests, and no forester was bold enough to refuse him that right, or even to grumble about it once. As it has often happened to other people, envy of his good standing caused the King to quarrel with Eliduc, to accuse and displace him; he dismissed him from the court without speaking to him. Eliduc did not know why. He asked the King again and again to hear his defence, and not listen to slanderers, for he had served him very loyally; but the King did not reply. Since the King would not hear a word from him, he had to go away from there. He went to his house, and called together all of his friends: he told them how his lord the King was angry with him. He had served him as best he could, and did not deserve his ill will. When a peasant scolds his ploughman, he quotes the proverb, that the love of a lord cannot be trusted. A man who is wise and cunning is loyal towards his lord, and loving towards his neighbours. He did not want to stay in that country, he said, but would cross the sea and go to the kingdom of Logres to pass the time for a while; he would leave his wife in his own land, commanding his men to look after her loyally, and all his friends likewise. His mind was made up on this policy, and he dressed himself richly. His friends were full of grief because he was leaving them. He took ten knights with him, and his wife said goodbye to him; she was deeply grieved at being parted from her husband, but he promised her that he would be faithful to her. Then he left her, and went ahead on his way, until he came to the sea, crossed it and arrived at Totnes.
There were several kings in this country, and there was strife and dissention between them. One old man lived in this country, in the region of Exeter; he was aged, and very powerful. He had no direct male heir, but he had a marriageable daughter. He refused to give her to his equal, who responded by making war on him, and laying waste his whole land. He had penned the old king up in one castle; not a single man in the castle dared to ride out and joust or give battle against him. Eliduc heard about this; he had no wish to travel any further, now that he had found a war here; he wanted to stay in this country. He wanted to use his strength to help the king who was hardest pressed, who was suffering and at a disadvantage, and to remain in his pay. He sent messages to him, and told him in a letter that he had left his own land and come to help him. Eliduc asked the king to tell him his desire; and, if he did not want to employ him, to grant him safe conduct through his land, and he would go and seek employment elsewhere. When the king saw the messengers he was delighted, and welcomed them as friends; he summoned his constable, and hastily ordered him to prepare an escort for this lord, and bring him to him, and prepare lodgings where he could stay, and ensure that the visitors were given as much as they could spend in a month. The escort was prepared and sent for Eliduc. He was received with great honour, and warmly welcomed by the king. He was lodged in the home of a citizen of great wisdom and civility; his host made over to him his fine chamber with the rich hangings. Eliduc instructed his servants to act properly; he invited all the impoverished knights who were lodging in the town to dine with him. He ordered all his men that none of them should be bold enough to accept any gift or cash in the first forty days.
On the third day of his stay, the cry arose throughout the city that their enemies had come, and had spread out through all the region; now it was their intention to besiege the town and come right up to the gates. Eliduc heard the noise from the crowd who were in an uproar. He armed himself without delay, and his companions did likewise. There were in the whole city fourteen knights on horseback - there were several who were wounded or captive - they saw Eliduc mount his horse. They went through the houses putting on their armour, and rode out of the gares with him, without waiting to be summoned.
"Lord," they said, "We will go with you, and do as you do!"
He replied: "Thank you! Is there anyone here who knows of an ambush or narrow passage where we could have them at a disadvantage? If we wait for them here, it may be that we shall join battle with them; but there is no advantage in that, if by any chance anyone knows of another plan."
They answered him: "Sir, indeed, near the woods in this thicket there is a narrow cart-track, and that is the way they will return when they have got their plunder; they often return that way on their palfreys without armour, putting themselves at risk of immediate death."
He could certainly do them some harm, and cause them injury and loss.
Eliduc told them: "Friends, I give you my word for this: if a man does not often go into situations where he thinks he could certainly lose by it, he will never win anything much, or increase in worth. You are all the king's men, and should be entirely loyal to him. Come with me wherever I go, and do what I do! I promise you this much honestly, that you will never lose by it, if I can help it. If we can win anything from this, it will be to our great merit to disadvantage our enemies."
They accepted his assurance, and led him from that place to the wood; they lay in ambush near the road until the enemy returned. Eliduc explained to them in detail, and told them and taught them how they should charge the enemy and what they should shout to them. When the enemy came into the narrow pass, Eliduc shouted a challenge to them. He called all his companions, and exhorted them to do well. They struck hard blows there, and did not spare them at all. The enemy were caught by surprise, they were soon dispersed and scattered, and in a short time they were defeated. Eliduc's men captured the enemy's constable, and as many of the other knights - they gave this task to their squires - the men of the city were twenty five in number, and they captured thirty of their assailants. They quickly seized their harness, and made excellent profit there. They went back home full of joy, for they had done great deeds. The king was watching from a tower, very anxious on behalf of his men; he complained bitterly about Eliduc, for he believed and feared that he had treacherously led his men astray. They came back in great disorder, heavily weighed down and tied up. There were far more of them than there had been when they rode out, and for that reason the king did not recognise them, which made him fearful and anxious. He ordered that the gates should be closed, and that all the people should climb onto the walls to shoot and throw things at them; but there was no need for this. They had sent a squire spurring his horse on ahead of them, who could explain the whole story to the king, and tell him about the hired soldier, how he had defeated the enemy, and how he had conducted himself. There was never a knight to equal him; he had captured their constable, and captured twenty nine of them, and killed and wounded many more. When the king heard the news, he was extraordinarily delighted. He came down from the tower to meet Eliduc. He thanked him for his good deed, and Eliduc handed the captives over to him. He shared out the harness among the other knights, and all he kept for his own use were three horses which were allotted to him; he shared everything out and gave it away his own share generally to the prisoners and other people.
After the exploit I have recounted to you, the king cherished Eliduc, and loved him dearly. He kept him in his service for a whole year, with those who had accompanied him. He had complete faith in him, and made him guardian of his land.
Eliduc was wise and courtly, a handsome, valiant and generous knight. The king's daughter heard his name mentioned, and his good qualities recounted. She invited him by her confidential chamberlain, to come and pass some time with her, to talk and get to know each other; she was quite astonished that he did not visit her. Eliduc replied that he would go, and that he would very gladly make her acquaintance. He mounted his charger, taking another knight with him, and went to talk to the maiden. When it was time to go into her chamber, he sent the chamberlain ahead of him. Eliduc lingered until the chamberlain returned to him. He spoke very politely, with a gentle expression and simple manner, with entirely noble demeanour he thanked the lady Guilliadun, who was very beautiful, for being kind enough to invite him to come and talk to her. She took him by the hand, and they sat on a bed and talked about various things. She kept looking at him, and his face, his body and his whole appearance; she said to herself that there was no flaw in him, and she esteemed him greatly in her heart. Love sent a message to her inciting her to love him; love made her grow pale and sigh, but she was unwilling to speak to him about it, for fear he might think badly of her. He remained there a long while, then took his leave and departed; she gave him leave most unwillingly, but nonetheless he departed, and went back to his lodging. He was very downcast and thoughtful, disturbed about the beautiful woman, who was the daughter of his master the king, and who spoke to him so softly and sighed so much.He had a very low opinion of himself, for having been in that country so long, and not having seen her often. When he had said this, he regretted it; he remembered his wife, and how he had promised her that he would be true to her and act faithfully.
Once the maiden had seen him, she wanted to make him her lover. She had never before thought so highly of any man; if she can, she will hang onto him. She lay awake all night like this, she got no sleep or rest. In the morning she rose early and went to a window; she called for her chamberlain, and revealed to him what was in her mind.
"Truly," she said, "I am in a bad way. I have fallen into a dreadful situation. I love the new soldier, the good knight Eliduc. I had no rest all night, and did not once close my eyes to sleep. If he will love me with his heart and his body, I will do whatever he wishes, and much good could come to him because of it; he will be king of this kingdom. He is so wise and courteous that if he does not love me truly, I cannot escape dying in great pain."
When she had said her say, the chamberlain whom she had summoned gave her loyal advice; no-one should reproach him for it. "Lady," he said, "if you love him, send a messenger to him, and have them deliver to him a belt or a ribbon or a ring, to see if it pleases him. If he receives it joyfully, and is glad of whatever you send him, then you may be sure of his love! There is no emperor on earth who would not have great cause to be pleased, if you were willing to love him."
The maiden replied, when she had heard his advice: "How shall I know from my gift whether he is minded to love me? I never saw a knight who had to be asked twice, whether he loved or hated the donor, but would willingly accept a present that someone sent him. I would hate him to mock me. But nonetheless, you can learn something about a person from how they behave. Get ready, and off you go!"
"I am quite ready," he said.
"You shall take him a gold ring, and give him my belt! Greet him from me a thousand times."
The chamberlain turned on his way, and she remained behind in such a state that she very nearly called him back; nonetheless, she let him go, and began to lament, "Alas, why has my heart been captured by a man from another land! I do not know if he is from a noble family. He will go away suddenly, and I shall be left behind to grieve. I have been rash to set my heart on him. I never spoke to him except yesterday, and now I am sending him messages of love. I fear that he will think the worse of me for it; but if he is truly courtly, he will be grateful to me, so everything is in the balance; if he has no inclination to love me, I shall think myself very unfortunate, and will never be happy again as long as I live."
While she was lamenting, the chamberlain made great haste. He came to Eliduc, and privately delivered to him the greeting that the maiden sent him; he presented him with the ring, and gave him the belt, and the knight thanked him. He put the gold ring on his finger, and fastened the belt around the waist, but he said nothing to the messenger, and did not ask him any questions, except to offer him some reward of his own. But he would accept nothing, and set off to return to his lady; he found her in her chamber. He greeted her on behalf of the knight, and thanked her for her gift. "In God's name!" she cried, "Hide nothing from me! Is he willing to love me truly?"
He replied: "This is what I think: the knight is not a frivolous man; I found him courtly and wise, and well able to hide what is in his mind. I greeted him from you, and offered him your gifts. He put on your belt, fastening it firmly around his waist, and put the ring on his finger. But he did not say another word to me."
"Did he not accept it as a love-token? Maybe I am betrayed."
He answered her: "I truly do not know. Listen now to what I shall tell you; if he didn't feel most kindly towards you, he would not wish to accept anything from you."
"You are joking!" she said. "I know that he doesn't hate me. I have never done him any harm, except that I love him desperately; and if that is enough to make him hate me, he deserves to die. I never, since I spoke to him, asked him for anything, by you or by any other intermediary; on the contrary, I wanted to show him how hard-pressed I am by love for him. But I do not know if he will stay here."
The chamberlain answered: "Lady, the king has engaged him by oath to stay here for a year, and to serve him loyally. So you will have time to reveal your wishes to him."
When she heard that he would settle there, she was overjoyed; she was very glad of his stay. She knew nothing of the distress he was in, since he saw her: he had no joy or delight, except when he thought of her. He thought he was in a very bad situation; for he had promised his wife, before he left his own country, that he would love no-one but her. Now his heart was securely imprisoned. He wanted to keep faith, but he could not avoid loving the maiden Guilliadun, who was so beautiful, he wanted to see her and talk to her, and to kiss and embrace her; but he would never ask her for a love that could dishonour her, both to keep faith with his wife and because he was the king's man. So Eliduc suffered torment. He got onto his horse, without delay, and called his companions to him. He went to the castle to speak to the king, and to see the maiden if he could; that is why he set off.
The king left the table where he had eaten, and went to his daughter's chamber. He began to play chess with a knight from beyond the sea; he planned to instruct his daughter over the chess board. Eliduc came forward; the king greeted him fondly, and seated him next to himself. He called his daughter, and told her, "Lady, you should become well acquainted with this knight, and do him great honour; in five hundred knights, there is none better."
The maiden was very happy to hear her father's command. She stood up, and called the knight over. They sat well apart from the others; they had both fallen in love. She did not dare address him, and he was afraid to speak to her, except to thank her for the gift she had sent him: he treasured it more than anything he owned. She replied to the knight that she was very glad of it, and that she had sent him the ring, and with it the belt, as a sign that her body was his as well; she loved him so much that she wanted him for her lord; and if she could not have him, he might be very sure of one thing, that there was no man alive that she would ever accept. Now it was his turn to tell her what he wanted!
"Lady," he replied, "I thank you profoundly for your love, it gives me great joy; it is right that I should be extremely happy that you think so highly of me; there will be no holding back on my part. I am committed to the king for one year; I shall not go away on any pretext until the war in which he is engaged is over. Then I shall return to my own country; I have no desire to stay here, if you will give me leave to depart."
The maiden responded: "Thank you very much, my friend! You are so wise and courtly, before you go you will certainly have planned what you wish to do about me, who love and trust you above all things."
They had shown each other the truth of their feelings; on this occasion they did not speak together any longer. Eliduc went back to his lodgings; he was full of joy, and had done much good. He often had the opportunity to talk to his beloved, and there was great love between them. Eliduc pursued the war so actively that he had captured and made a prisoner of the man who was waging war on the king, and in this way he freed the whole land. He was widely esteemed for his valour, for his good sense and generosity, and he gained greatly because of it.
Within this time, Eliduc's own lord sent three messengers from his country looking for him. He was suffering great loss and hardship, and was hard-pressed and set about; he was losing all his castles, and his land was being laid waste. He had often bitterly regretted parting from him, he had been ill-advised in this matter, and Eliduc had been misrepresented to him. He had thrown out of the country the traitors who accused him, who had lowered him in his lord's affections and caused the quarrel between them, and condemned them to perpetual exile. Now he was sending to Eliduc, in his time of great need, and summoning him and imploring him, by the bond that he made between them when he accepted his homage, to come to his aid, for he sorely needed his help.
Eliduc heard this news. It made him very sorry, because of the maiden; for he loved her to distraction, and she loved him as much as it is possible to love anyone. But there was no wrongdoing between them, no sin or flightiness; all the lovemaking between the two of them consisted in courtship and conversation, and giving fine gifts. This was her intention and her hope: she thought to make him hers completely, and to keep him from leaving, if she could; she did not know that he was married.
"Alas!" he said, "I have gone astray! I have stayed too long in this country. I wish I had never set eyes on the place! I have fallen in love here with a maiden called Guilliadun, the king's daughter, I love her desperately and she loves me. If I must leave her now, one of us is bound to die, or maybe both. And yet I must leave; my lord has sent me orders by letter, and summoned me upon my oath, and my wife likewise. Now I must act with great care! I cannot stay here any longer, I must necessarily go away. If I were married to my beloved, the Christian faith would not tolerate it. Things are going badly for me on all sides; oh, God, it is so hard to leave her! But whoever may blame me for it, I shall always act rightly towards her; I shall obey her wishes in everything, and shall follow her advice wherever I go. Her father, the king, is at peace; I do not think anyone will make war on him now. Since my lord needs me, I shall ask for leave to depart before the term when I had agreed to stay in this country. I shall go and talk to the maiden, and explain my situation to her; she will tell me her wishes, and I shall carry them out as best I can."
The knight went to take leave of the king without further delay. He told him what had happened, and showed him the letter his lord had sent, and read out to him how he appealed to him in his distress. The king heard the message that had been sent to him, and that he would stay no longer; he became very sad and thoughtful. He offered him a generous share of his property, and would have given him a third of his inheritance and his treasure; he said that he would do so much to make him stay that he would always praise him for it.
"By God," said Eliduc, "since my lord is so hard pressed and has sent for me from afar, I will go to him, now that he needs me; nothing could make me stay here. But if you need my service, I will gladly come back to you with a great group of knights."
The king thanked him for this, and graciously gave him leave to depart. The king put all the wealth of his house at the knight's disposal, gold and silver, horse and hound and fine, rich silk cloth. He accepted these in moderation, and then said politely that, if he pleased, he would very much like to go and speak to his daughter. The king replied "Gladly." He sent a squire ahead of him, who opened the door of the chamber. Eliduc went to talk to the maiden. When she saw him, she called out to him, and greeted him six thousand times. He consulted her about his business, and briefly explained his journey to her. Before he had told her the whole story, or taken leave, or even asked leave of her, she fainted from grief, and went quite pale. When Eliduc saw her faint, he began to lament; he kissed her mouth again and again, and wept tenderly; he took her in his arms and held her until she recovered from her faint.
"In God's name, sweetheart," he said, "give me time to tell you that you are life and death to me, and I have no comfort except in you! And so I seek your advice, because there is faith between us. I am compelled to go to my own country, and I have taken leave of your father. But I will do as you desire, whatever may become of me."
"Take me with you," she said, "for I have no wish to stay here! Or if not, I will kill myself; I shall never be well or happy again."
Eliduc replied gently, because he loved her truly, "Fair lady, I am bound by oath to be true to your father, for the period of time we agreed between us. If I were to take you away with me, I would be breaking my oath to him. But this I pledge to you, and swear it loyally: if you will give me leave, and set a term and name a day, if you want me to return, there is nothing in the world that can stop me doing so, provided I am alive and well; my life is entirely in your hands."
She loved him deeply; she set a term and named the day when he should come and take her away. They both wept bitterly at this parting; they exchanged their golden rings, and kissed each other sweetly.
He came down to the sea; the wind favoured him, and he crossed quickly. When Eliduc returned home, his lord was glad and joyful, and so were his friends and relations and everyone else, and his good wife most of all, who was so beautiful and wise and virtuous. But he was constantly pensive, because love had caught hold of him: he did not smile at anything that he saw, nothing could make him glad, he would never be happy for anything until he saw his love again. He kept his secret entirely to himself. His wife's heart was filled with sorrow, she did not know what was wrong, and she lamented to herself. She asked him repeatedly whether anyone had told him that she had acted in any way foolishly or wrongly while he was out of the country: she would willingly defend herself before their entire household, whenever he liked.
"Lady," he said, "no-one accuses you of folly or misconduct. But I promised and swore to the king of the country where I have been that I will return to him; for he needs me very much. If my lord the king were at peace, I would not stay here another week. I must suffer great distress before I can return here again. I shall never take pleasure in anything I see until I return, for I do not want to break my word."
Then his lady left him in peace. Eliduc was with his lord, he gave him aid which was of great value to him: he acted in accordance with his advice, and so kept hold of all his land. But when the day drew near which the maiden had named to him, he set about making peace; he reconciled all of his enemies. Then he prepared to set off, and chose the people he wanted to take with him. He took two of his nephews whom he loved dearly, and a chamberlain of his - the one who knew their secret and had been his messenger - and his squire, but no-one else; he had no desire for other company. He made these people promise and swear to keep his business secret.
He set sail, without delay; they were soon across the sea. He arrived in the country where he was most ardently awaited. Eliduc was very cunning; he took lodgings far from the port, for he did not want to be seen or found or recognised. He prepared his chamberlain, and sent him to his beloved, to tell her that he had arrived, and that he had fulfilled their agreement. That night, when evening had fallen, she should leave the city; the chamberlain would accompany her, and he would go to meet her. The chamberlain had changed all his clothes, and went quite slowly on foot, straight to the city where the king's daughter was. He took such pains and persevered until he found his way into her chamber. He gave greetings to the maiden, and told her that her love had come. When she heard this news she was overcome by shock; she wept softly for joy, and kissed the messenger several times. He told her that at nightfall she must go away with him. They stayed there all day, and planned their journey thoroughly. That night, when night had quite fallen, they set out from the city, the young man and the lady with him, and no-one besides the two of them. She was very afraid that someone might see them. She was wearing silk cloth, thickly embroidered with gold, and wrapped in a short cloak.
A bow-shot's length away from the city gate, there was a forest enclosed in fine parkland; her lover, who had come to meet her, waited for them there by the hedge. The chamberlain brought her there, and he dismounted and kissed her. There was great rejoicing when they were re-united. He mounted her on a horse, and mounted himself, and took her reins, and set off with her in great haste. They came to the port of Totnes. They boarded the ship straightaway; no-one was there except his companions and his beloved Guilliadun. They had a good wind, and a fair breeze and settled weather. But when the voyage was nearly over, there was a storm at sea, and a wind rose before them and drove them far from harbour; their mast broke and shattered, and all their sails were torn. They appealed to God most devoutly, and to Saint Nicholas and Saint Clement and to our Lady the Virgin Mary, to ask her son to help them, and save them from death and bring them into the port. And so they sailed along the coast, now forward, now back; they were very close to the tempest. One of the sailors cried out loud, "What are we doing? Sir, in here with you is the woman for whom we shall be lost. We shall never reach land! You have a lawful wedded wife, and you are carrying off this other woman against the rules of God and law, against all justice and faith. Let us throw her into the sea, and then we shall come straightway to land."
Eliduc heard what he said, and nearly lost his mind with rage.
"Son of a whore," he told him, "wicked, vile traitor, never say that again! If there were any chance of my beloved being abandoned, I would have made you pay a high price for her."
But he held her in his arms, and comforted her as best he could for her sufferings on the sea, and because she had heard that her lover had a wedded wife besides her in his own country. She fell face down in a faint, ashen pale and colourless. She remained in this faint, not recovering or breathing. The knight who was carrying her off with him really thought she was dead. He was deeply grieved; he got up, went to the sailor and hit him so hard with the oar that he knocked him down full length. He took him by the foot and threw hom overboard; the waves carried his body off. When he had thrown him into the sea, he went to the rudder to steer. He steered the ship and held it firm until they entered harbour, and came to land. When they were well in dock, they set down the deck and cast the anchor. The maiden was still lying in a faint, and looked exactly as if she were dead. Eliduc mourned her deeply; he would have died there with her, if he had had his way. He asked each of his companions where they would advise him to take the maiden; for he would not be parted from her, but she would be buried and placed with great honour, with a fine service, in a consecrated cemetery; she was a king's daughter, and was entitled to this. They were all at a loss, and had given him no advice. Eliduc took to considering where he might convey her. His home was near to the sea, he could be there by dinner time. It was surrounded by a forest, which was thirty leagues long. In the forest there was a chapel where there dwelt a hermit; he had been there for forty years. Eliduc had often spoken with him; he said that he would take her to the hermit, and bury her in his chapel. He would give enough of his land to found an abbey there, and install a convent of monks or of nuns or of canons, who would pray for her forever; may God have mercy on her! He had his horse brought to him, and commanded them all to mount. But he made each of them swear that they would not reveal what had happened. He took his love with him, before him on his palfrey.
They went straight along the road until they entered the wood. They came to the chapel, and called, and hammered on the door, but there was no-one there to answer, or to open the door to them. One of Eliduc's men managed to get in, and to open and unlock the door. The good hermit, the holy man had died a week ago; they found his brand new tomb there. The knight was profoundly grieved, and profoundly dismayed. His men wanted to dig a grave - but he made them draw back - in which to bury his beloved. He told them:
"Not at all; first I shall consult the wise folk of the region about how I may ennoble this spot with an abbey or a monastery. We shall lay her before the altar, and commend her to God."
He had cloths brought, and immediately made a bed; they lay the girl upon it, and left her as if for dead. But when it came to parting, then he thought he would die of grief. He kissed her eyes and her face.
"Lovely lady," he said, "never again, please God, shall I bear arms, nor live a wordly life! Fair love, it was ill fortune that ever you saw me! Sweetheart, it was ill fortune that ever you followed me! My beauty, you would have been a queen now, were it not for the true and noble love you bore for me so loyally. My heart aches with sorrow for you. The day I bury you, I will take holy orders as a monk; each day my lament will echo about your tomb."
With this, he left the maiden; he closed the door of the chapel.
He sent a messenger to his home, to tell his wife that he was coming, but that he was weary and fatigued. When she heard the news, she was glad, and prepared to welcome him; she greeted her lord warmly. But he had little joy to give her in return, for he did not once smile at her or speak kindly to her. No-one dared to speak to him. He spent two days in the house; then he heard mass in the morning and set off along the road. He went through the woods to the chapel where the maiden lay. He found her still in a faint, neither recovering nor breathing. He thought it a great wonder that he saw her so white and ruby-red; she never lost her colour, except that she had grown a little pale. But he wept desperately, and prayed for her soul. When he had finished his prayer, he returned to his house.
One day, coming out of the church, his wife had set one of her serving men to watch him; she promised him a generous reward; he was to follow at a distance and see which way his lord headed; she would give him a horse and armour. The servant obeyed her command. He set off into the forest and followed behind him, so that his master did not notice him. He watched carefully and saw how he went into the chapel. He heard the noise of his lamenting. Before Eliduc came out, he returned to his mistress. He told her everything he had heard, the noise of grief and the cries of his lord within the hermitage. Her heart was entirely changed by this.
The lady said "Let us go at once and search the hermitage thoroughly. I think my lord must be distracted. He goes to court to talk to the king. The hermit died some time ago; I know well enough that he loved him, but that would never cause him to act like this, nor to display such sorrow."
On that occasion, she left it at that.
That same afternoon, Eliduc went to talk to the king. She took the servant with her, and led him to the hermitage. When she went into the chapel, she saw the bed where the maiden lay, looking like a rose-bud. She drew back the cover, and saw her slender body, her long arms and white hands and her long, slim, shapely fingers, and then she knew the truth about why her husband was grieving. She called forward the young man, and showed him this marvel.
"Do you see this woman," she asked him, "this jewel of beauty? This is my husband's beloved, for whom he is mourning so deeply. I am really not surprised at his grief, when such a beautiful woman has died. Whether for pity or for love, I shall never be joyful again."
She began to weep, and to lament the young woman. She sat down in tears beside the bed. A weasel came running out, it emerged from under the altar, and the young man hit it as it ran across his body; he killed it with a stick that he was holding. He threw it into the middle of the floor. It had only been there a moment when its mate came running, and saw where it was lying. It went round about its mate's head, and stepped on it with its paw. When it could not make it get up, it seemed to grieve. Then it went out of the chapel, and came to the herbs in the wood. With its teeth it plucked a flower, bright red in colour; it scurried back in haste, and likewise placed the flower in the mouth of its mate, which the serving-man had killed; at once, it revived. The lady saw this, and cried out to the servant "Catch it! Throw, good man, we are out of luck if it escapes!" And he threw, and hit it, so that it dropped the flower. The lady stood, and picked it up, and returned in haste. She placed the pretty flower in the maiden's mouth. She waited a short time, and the girl revived and took a breath; then she spoke, and opened her eyes. "My God," she said, "I have been asleep for a long time!" When the lady heard her speak, she began to thank God. She asked her who she was, and the girl replied:
"Lady, I was born in Logres, daughter to a king in that country. I fell deeply in love with a knight, Eliduc, the good soldier for hire; he eloped with me. He sinned when he deceived me, for he had a wedded wife; he did not tell me, and never gave any sign of it. When I heard his wife mentioned, I could not but faint from sorrow at what I heard. He was base enough to leave me without help in a foreign land, he has betrayed me and I do not know what to do. A woman is a fool to place her trust in a man."
"My beauty," replied the lady, "there is nothing alive in all the world that gives him any joy; this we can tell you for certain. He believes that you are dead, and he is distraught beyond all belief. Each day he has watched you, and I believe he found you in a faint. I am truly his wife, and my heart aches for him; I wanted to know where he was going, because he was so sad: I followed after him, and so I found you. I am overjoyed that you are alive; I shall take you home with me, and deliver you to the man who loves you. It is my intention to declare him absolutely free, and to take the veil."
The lady comforted her in this way until she led her home with her.
She prepared her manservant, and sent him to fetch her husband. He went on until he found him; then he greeted him in the proper manner, and told him the whole story. Eliduc mounted his horse; he did not wait for anyone to accompany him. That night he returned to his house. When he found his beloved alive, he thanked his wife sweetly. Eliduc was filled with joy, never before had he been so happy; he kissed the maiden again and again, and she returned his kisses sweetly; they rejoiced together exceedingly. When the lady saw their conduct, she addressed her husband; she asked his permission and requested that she should be allowed to leave him, to become a nun and to serve God; she asked him to give her some of his land where she could build an abbey; then he could marry the one he loved so dearly, for it is not right or proper to maintain two wives, and the law should not permit it. Eliduc granted her request, and gladly gave her leave: he would do exactly as she willed, and would give her some of his land. Near the castle, within the woodland where the hermitage chapel stands, there he built her church and her house; he endowed them with extensive lands and great wealth, so she would have everything she needed. When everything was properly prepared, the lady took the veil, and thirty nuns with her; so she established her life and her religious order.
Eliduc married his beloved; the celebrations were conducted with great honour and a noble service on the day of their wedding. They lived together for a long time, and their love was entirely courtly. They gave generous alms and did good deeds, until finally they turned towards God. Eliduc built a church, with great attention and wisdom, near the castle in the other direction, he endowed it with the greater part of his land and all of his gold and silver. He installed there men and other deeply religious folk to maintain that order and that religious house. When he had prepared everything, he delayed no longer: he surrendered himself and gave himself up to live with them and serve almighty God. His wife, whom he loved so dearly, he sent to live with his first wife. She received her like her own sister, and showed her every honour; she encouraged her to serve God, and taught her the ways of her order. They prayed to God for their love, to be merciful to him; and he likewise prayed for them, and sent his messengers to them, to know how they were and in what spirits. Every one of them made a great effort on their own behalf, to love God faithfully, and each of them died a Christian death, by the mercy of the one true God.
The courteous Britons in olden days made this lay about the adventure of these three people, to remember it, for it should not be forgotten.
A translation of the twelve Lais of Marie de France by Glyn S. Burgess is published in a Penguin Classics edition. None of the original versions of the story of Tristan and Yseut survives in a complete form, but Penguin have published two versions of the narrative, one consisting of the surviving texts by Thomas and Gottfried von Strassburg, the other by Beroul.
Translation © Jean Rogers 2000.