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From Early English Romances: Done Into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Love, Chatto and Windus: London, Duffield & Co.: London, 1908; pp. 1-32, 178-180.
THERE1 was once a pagan king called Felis, who came out of Spain and crossed the sea in his ship with a great company of knights, and landed in Galicia. He was bent upon making a raid on the Christians, on gathering booty, and on burning their towns to ashes. A month and fifteen days he sojourned there, and every day he and his meiny issued forth to rob cities and bear away the spoils to their ships. There was not left an ox or a cow, a castle or a town, throughout that countryside; but it was all laid waste, to the great joy and delight of the pagans.
But at last the king bade load his ships, and summoned his pillagers to the number of forty knights, saying: "Arm you straightway, and leave the lading to others. Let us go up along the roads, and lie in wait for pilgrims as they climb the mountain-side."2
This, accordingly, they undertook, and set upon the pious folk, who did not fight, however, but for the most part rendered themselves up in great fear.
And yet among them was one French knight, brave and goodly, on his way to the Baron St. James,2 and with him his daughter, who had vowed herself to the apostle, and had come from her own country by reason of the death of her husband, by whom she was yet to have a child. Now this knight, loth to be taken alive, defended himself, and so was struck down and left dead; and his daughter was led away to the harbour and brought before Felis.
The king readily perceived by her face that she was of high lineage, and said that he would give her to the queen, who had prayed him for such a thing before he crossed the sea on his raid.
Presently they entered their ships, raised their sails on high, and with a fair wind returned home rejoicing, and within two days were in their own country, and went ashore, the king with his baronage. Word of his arrival had come before him to Naples,3 and the townsfolk issued forth to meet him with great merry-making on all sides. Thus he entered the city, and dealt out the plunder with great largess among his barons. For his own part, he gave the captive woman to the queen, who received her with 3 great joy, and led her away to her own chamber, where she was guarded well, according to the heathen law,4 and well served and honoured.
Often the queen talked with her, and jested, and learned French; and the woman herself was so gentle and so courteous that she was loved by all and served as honourably as the queen herself.
One day as she worked in the chamber at a standard for the king, whereon were broidered himself and his queen, she grew pale and trembled, and pressed her side and groaned often, like one in great pain, as indeed she was. And when the queen asked the cause of this, she found that they two were to have children at the same time.
Accordingly, on the flowery day of Easter, a boy was born of the pagan queen, and a girl of the Christian woman; and the two babes were named from that feast-day, the little girl Blancheflour, and the king’s son Floris.
Now the king and queen trusted their child to the fair, wise Christian woman to care for and govern in all things, save that the nurse was a pagan, as their law5 commanded.
In all that land were no fairer children than these, whom the Christian brought up until they were seven years of age, loving each full as well as the other.
Then one day as the king looked at his dear son, he said 4 it were a great pity save the boy were set to learn letters in the books, as do men alike of high and low estate.
“Fair son,” said he then, “now must thou be learning; look thou do it willingly.:
But Floris wept as he stood before the king” “Shall not Blancheflour learn with me? I cannot go to school without Blancheflour!” And he said again: “I cannot read or sing in any school without Blancheflour!”
Then the king answered: “She shall learn for love of thee.”
So they were put to school, and both were so good of wit that it was a wonder to see their lore. But yet was it more wonder to see their love, which was so strong that they might never be parted asunder.
After they had gone to school five years, they had learned so well that they knew enough of Latin, and could write readily on parchment.6 But the king, perceiving the great affection between them, thought that it would not grow less when they were of age, and that he might not be able to withdraw Blancheflour’s love when Floris should take wife according to the law,7 so he spoke to the queen, and told her of his trouble as to how Floris would fare.
“Dame,” he said, “by my counsel, Blancheflour must die! When that maid is slain and brought out of her life-days, as soon as Floris becomes wiser, he will forget her, and then he will marry to our liking!” 5
The queen answered him, as thinking by her counsel to save the maid from death: “Sir,” she said, “indeed, we must devise that Floris live as our son ought to do, and not lose his honour for that maiden’s sake; but I hold that to steal her away, so that she might come by her death afterward, were more fitting than to slay her outright!”
The king could not but grant that this was so, and said: “Dame, counsel us what is to be done.”
“Sir, we must send Floris into the land of Mountargis.8 My sister, the lady of that country, will rejoice; and when she knows for whose sake we have sent him away, she will do everything in her power, day and night, to make his love of Blancheflour as it had never been. And, sir, I rede that the maid’s mother say that she is sick, and therefore the child may not leave her.”
Now are these children so heavy-hearted because they may not go together, that sadder little ones were never seen.
Floris said, weeping, to the king: “Sir, verily ye send me away to mine own damage, now that she may not go with me! Since we may not be together, all my joy is turned to sorrow!”
But the king said: “Son, within this fortnight, be her mother quick or dead, verily the maid shall come to thee!”6
“Yea, sir,” he answered. “I pray you it be so! If ye send her to me, I reck never whither I wend.”
When the child had granted this, the king was glad, and entrusted him to his chamberlain. They went with all the state befitting a king’s son, and were well received by Duke Orgas,9 the lord of that castle and his lady. But however blithe they were to see Floris, he thought ever on Blancheflour; nor would any game or glee divert him since he might not look upon her.
His aunt hath set him to book, with other lads and maidens a many that came thither for that; but he only sighs and learns nothing, ever mourning Blancheflour. Howsoever any man speak to him, love is so rooted in his heart that he finds nothing so sweet — nor galingale10 nor liquorice — as is her love. So much he thinks on her, that one day when he seeth her not seems as long as three.
Thus he abides in great trouble the fortnight, and when he perceives that she is not come, so heavy is his sorrow that he cares for neither meat nor drink, nor partakes thereof.
The chamberlain sent the king a letter to tell of his son’s estate; and presently the king broke the wax for to know what it said. Quickly his mood changed, and he understood, and full of ire sent for the queen, and told her how he was vexed, and said in his anger:7
“Let that maid be brought forth, and her head shall from her body!”
The good queen was sorrowful, and said: “For God’s lover, sir, mercy! At the nearest haven are come rich chapmen, merchants from Babylon, that would gladly buy her. Thus may ye have for her much goods and chattels, and soon she will be taken from us without that we slay her!”
Scarce would the king grant this, but so it fell out. He let send after the burgess, a civil, kindly man, who knew all about buying and selling, and had many languages in his mouth.
To him presently was the maid delivered, and so brought to the haven, where she was sold for twenty golden marks, and the richest cup in all the world and the best carven. He that wrought it was no fool, for it portrayed how Paris led away the queen, and on the covercle was the love of those two, and on the knob stood a carbuncle11 so brilliant that in the deepest cellar in the world it would light the butler to draw his ale and wine. Of silver and good fine gold.12 . . . The noble King Æneas won it at Troy in battle, and brought it to Lombardy and gave it to Lavinia his love. A thief afterwards stole it from the treasure-house of King Cæsar, and that same thief gave it for Blancheflour, knowing well that if he might bring her into his country, he would win three such.8
Now these merchants sailed away with the maid to their own land, and journeyed till they came to Babylon, where they were soon at one accord with the emir13 to sell her to him; and he bought her for seven times her weight in gold as she stood, for he thought to have her for his queen one day, and accordingly placed her honourably among the maidens in his tower. Well might these merchants depart contented with their bargain!
Now leave we Blancheflour and return to the land of Floris. The burgess came back to the king with the gold and other fee, and yielded up to him alike the money and the cup. And the king made to build in church a very fair tomb, and let place above it a new-painted stone, with splendid letters written all round about it. For him that might read, they spoke and said —
Now Floris himself had set out to return to his father’s land, and presently dismounted in the hall and greeted fair the king and queen. This scarcely done, he asks where might be his sweetheart, and awaits no answer, but hastens away to the bower to the maid’s mother, and asks again: “Where is my sweet Blancheflour?”
“Sir,” she answered, “of a truth I know not where she is.” For she remembered her of the lie that was ordained by the king.9
“Thou art befooling14 me!” he cried; “and thy jesting is grievous! Tell me where she is!”
Then she answered, all in tears, “Sire, she is dead!”
“Dead?” quoth he.
“Sire, yea, of a truth!”
“Alas, when died my sweet thing?”
“Sire, within this sevennight the earth was laid upon her; and she died for love of thee!”
Then gentle Floris fell a-swooning on the pavement; and the Christian woman began to cry out on Jesu Christ and St. Mary.
The king and queen hearing her, ran into the bower; and there the queen beheld her child thus a-swoon, and the king was sorrowful to see how his son fared for love.
When he awoke and could speak, he wept and sighed bitterly, and besought his mother: “Dame, take me where the maid lieth!”
They brought him thither, near dead for love and sorrow. And when he came to the tomb, and read the letters that say —
10“Blancheflour,” he said, “Blancheflour, the sweetest thing in any place! Of high lineage were thou born.15 . . . In all the world is not thy peer among women! Enough thou wist of books and of all courtesy; and great and small alike loved thee for thy beauty and goodness! If death were dealt out justly, we should have died on the same night, as in one day we were born! We should have died together! O Death, full of envy and all treachery, thou hast robbed me of my dearest — to betray folk is thy wont! If any man would live, thou wouldst it not; and fain would I die, and thou wouldst it not! Whither I would that thou come, there wilt thou no whit; and whither I would thou come not, there comest thou enough! He that boasteth him of life is thrust under the rib by thee; and if any worn-out wretch cares naught for his life and fain would die of old age, on him wilt thou not glance! I will no longer live out my life; I will be with her ere the night! I will cease to call upon death, and will make an end of my days!”
As a man that would slay himself, he drew his hanger out of its sheath, and had smitten it into his heart had not the queen, his mother, perceived and fallen upon him, and reft him of his little knife, whereby she saved him.
All weeping, she ran forth and found the king and said: “For God’s love, sir, mercy! Of twelve children we have none left alive but this only; and it were better 11 he mated with Blancheflour than that he died for her sake!”
“Dame, thou speakest truth,” said he. “If it may be no other, I had liefer she were his wife than lose him altogether!”
The queen was fain of these words, and ran back to her son: “Floris, my child, make thee glad! Thou shalt yet see thy sweetheart alive! Dear son, by a device of they father’s and mine, we let make this grave so that thou shouldst forget the maid, and take a wife to our liking!”
Now hath she told him, beginning and end, how they have sold the maiden.
“Is this truth, my dear mother?”
“Yea, verily, she is not here!”
They took off16 the stone, and he saw that Blancheflour was not therein.
“Now, methinks, mother, I may live! But I shall not rest, or night or day, till I have found her; and I will go forth to seek her even to the world’s end!”
He went to take leave of the king his father, who implored him to stay.
“Sir, I will not for any price! It were great sin to ask me!”
Then the king said: “Since thou wilt do no other, we shall find thee in all that thou needest; and may Jesu free thee from thy care!”12
“Dear father,” he answered, “I will tell thee all wherein thou shalt find me: seven fine horses of my choosing, two charged with silver and gold, two with money to spend by the way, and three with the richest clothes in thy kingdom; seven horses and seven men, and three knaves besides, and thine own chamberlain to guide and counsel us; for we shall go in the guise of merchants.”
His father was a gracious king, and had brought to him that selfsame cup for which Blancheflour was sold. “Have this, son,” he said. “Herewith, perchance thou may buy back that sweet thing, that fair white maiden, Blancheflour!”
Moreover, the king let saddle a palfrey, with trappings half milk-white, half as red as silk — I cannot tell you how richly it was wrought! The arsons17 were of fine gold set with stones of virtue,18 and all hung about with gold fringes.
The gentle queen took a fair ring from her finger. “My son,” she said, “take this; and while it is thine have no fear lest fire burn thee or sea drown thee, or iron or steel do thee to death! And be it early or late, thou shalt have ever somewhat to thy liking!”
Now would Floris abide no longer, but took his leave, kissing them with soft mouth, bitterly weeping. He brought upon them no less grief than if he were laid on his bier, for they thought never to see him again — nor did they.13
He went forth with all his men, including the chamberlain; and they came presently to the haven, and dismounted to take their inn at the selfsame house where Blancheflour had been a few nights before.
A splendid supper was prepared, and there was merry-making. Floris did not spare money for fish, flesh, and new bread, and wine both red and white. The master of the inn was courteous, and set the child in the fairest seat; but while the others ate and drank lustily, and made glad cheer, playing and joking one with another, Floris thought only on Blancheflour, and ate and drank right naught.
The lady of the inn perceived that he sat mourning, and spoke to her lord aside: “Sir, dost thou not mark how this child sits and grieves? Meat and drink he so forgets that he eats little and drinks less. He is no merchant, methinks.”
“Floris,” she said, “what ails thee to be so pensive? Thus in this very place, the other day, sat fair maid Blancheflour. She was brought here by merchants, who will take her to Babylon and will there sell her to the king. Thou art like her in all ways, in thy looks and in thy grief, in thy fairness, and in thy stature, save that thou art a man and she is a maid.”
When Floris heard tell of his sweetheart, so blissful to him seemed that voice that he filled a cup of wine and said: “Dame, this is for thee, the wine and eke the cup, for that thou hast spoken of my dear love! I was thinking how I 14 might seek her; but I knew not where she was. And now no weather shall keep me from going to Babylon!”
He went to his bed, but had no rest that night for thinking of Blancheflour, until at last dead sleep overcame him.
On the morrow as soon as it was day, he took leave and went forth on his journey. He embarked upon the salt flood, but had fair wind and weather; and he gave largess to the mariner who brought him happily over to the land where he would be. And the land wherein his sweetheart was, to him seemed Paradise!
Anon tidings reached him that the emir would give a feast to which should come earls and barons, and all that held19 of him. Thereupon Floris was blithe, and hoped to be at that banquet, and there among that company to see Blancheflour in the hall.
They arrived at a great city, where they had good entertainment at a palace the like of which could never be found; for the lord of that inn was a rich man with possessions enough both of land and water in his holding.
Floris spared not money so that there should be fish, flesh, and new bread in plenty, and wine, both red and white. Now this lord, who had travelled far, set the child by him in the fairest seat; but while the others ate and drank merrily, he tasted right naught for thinking ever on Blancheflour. And when the lord of the inn perceived 15that Floris sat mournful, he said to him: “Child, methinks thy thought is much on thy chattels.”
“Nay, sir I think not on chattels, but on another thing.”
Then said the master of the inn: “Thus sat here, the other day, fair maid Blancheflour. Alike in hall and chamber she was ever grieving, and bewailing Floris, her dear friend; and she so lamented that she had no peace!”
When Floris heard tell of his sweetheart, he was blithe and had fetched a cup of white silver, and a mantle of scarlet, cross-barred with miniver,20 and gave them to his host. “Have these,” he said, “to thine honour; and for them thou hast Blancheflour to thank! She was stolen from my country, and now I go my ways seeking her. Well might he gladden my heart that could tell me whither she was led!”
Then said the good burgess: “She was taken to Babylon, where the emir hath bought her.”
Now Floris goes to bed, but hath no rest for thinking all the while on Blancheflour, until at last dead sleep overcame him.
On the morrow as soon as it was day, he took his leave and went forth, giving his host for the night’s lodgement an hundred shillings. And earnestly the child besought the burgess to help with his counsel if he had a friend in 16 Babylon that might show and advise how by some means Blancheflour might be won away.
“Thou shalt come presently to a bridge, and find the warden thereof at one end where his palace stands; he is a courteous man and kind, and my sworn brother,21 and he can counsel thee well. Bear him this ring as a token from me, so that in all ways he shall help thee as he would myself.”
Thereof Floris is blithe, and thanks his host heartily, and, taking the ring, abides no longer, but says farewell, and by high undern22 he is at the bridge.
When he arrived there, he found the warden at one end, sitting on a marble stone, a very goodly and gracious man whose name was Dayre. 23
Floris greeted him courteously, and gave him the ring, and by that token put himself into the burgess’s charge; and he had there fair entertainment, so that they were all blithe and merry that sat in the hall.
But ever Floris sighed bitterly until at last Sir Dayre observed him: ‘Dear child, what ails thee, that thou art so pensive? I ween thou art not in good company, to make such doleful cheer, or thou likest not this inn?”
Then Floris answered him: “Sir, i’ God’s mercy, I had never before so good entertainment! May Our Lord grant me to live until I can requite thee! But I think, now, sir, in one way or another, of my merchandise, lest I 17 find not in the beginning that for which I am come hither. And this is my greatest fear, that I may find it and still must let it go!”
“Child,” said that noble burgess, who was alike courteous and friendly, “fain would I help thee and teach thee to come into better estate. If thou shouldst tell me thy grief, I would gladly lend thee my counsel!”
Beginning and end, he hath told him how Blancheflour was stolen away, and how he was a king’s son come hither for love of her to win her back.
But Dayre held Floris for a fool. “Child,” he said, “I wot thou get they will! Thou seekest thine own death! At the emir’s banquet will be an hundred and fifty great kings, but none of them durst undertake such as deed as to win this maid by strength or by guile! The bare thought of it would nearhand kill the emir! And Babylon,24 as I know, is sixty miles round about, and hath on its walls seven times twenty gates, with twenty towers therein; and every day in the year is there such cheaping25 as is in full fair-time! In that town are seven hundred towers and two, and the weakest of all would challenge the emperor himself to enter by force or by trick. Though all men that are born had sworn by their eyes to win that maid, they would get her as easily as the sun and moon from heaven!
“Right amid the burg stands a strong tower an hundred 18 fathoms high and even so wide, and proudly built of lime and marble stone. There is none other like it in the world, with mortar so well made that it will not break for steel or iron. On this tower are battlements of silver and crystal, and the pommel26 above the leads is wrought with great skill; and high above is a carbuncle-stone that gleameth ever. There is no such other, for it shineth like the sun by day, and there is never so dark a night that torch or lantern needeth to burn in the chambers. And in the tower is a very clear well that runs into a pipe of brass when there is need; from floor to floor in great streams it rushes from bower into hall. In that high dwelling are four and forty maidens; and the man that came among them would never wish for Paradise!27 There be sergeants on each story, eunuchs all, to serve these nobly-born maidens; and at the gate is a warder that is neither fool nor coward; and if any man come within the barbican but by his leave, he will be beaten and eke robbed. It is a proud porter, and every day he walks along the wall.
“And the emir is such a man that year by year he takes a new wife, even though he love his queen as dearly as himself. From the upper story men bring down all the maidens of rank, and lead them into the fairest orchard that is in Middle-Earth.28 All about it is a wall of splendid crystal — and there are bird-notes so gay that men 19 might live among them for ever. A well springs within, quaintly wrought: the streams, I may say, come from Paradise; the gravel is all precious stones of virtue, sapphire, sardonyx, chalcedony, jacinth, topaz, onyx, and many another that I cannot name. Above the well stands a wonder fair tree called the Tree of Love, which bears leaves and blossoms alway; for as soon as the old be done, the new spring in their places. Under this tree are brought all these maidens, and she on whom falls the first flower shall be honoured as queen. The spring is of so much dread that if any maid unchaste step to the ground to wash her hands, it welleth up like mad and turneth from water to blood, and so rusheth upon her that she is undone, but those that be chaste maidens may wash there, I ween, for the water will run fair and clear and do them no danger. If there is any maiden that the emir loves best, on her shall the flower be made to fall by conjury and enchantment. So he chooses his wife, and now all men deem that it shall be Blancheflour.”
Three times Floris swooned there ere he might find tongue, and when he awoke, he said, with bitter weeping and sighing: “Dayre, I shall die unless thou help me!”
And Dayre answered: “I see full well thou art bent upon thy death! Floris,” he said, “dear friend, the best counsel I can give thee is to go to the tower to-morrow as though thou wert a good engineer. Bear with thee a square and a plan in the guise of a good mason. Study 20 the height of the tower, and with thy foot pace out the breadth. The porter is false and evil, and will at once argue with thee, and charge thee with being a spy. Answer him gently, and speak with him courteously, and say thou art come from far away to try to build a tower after this plan in thine own country, if thou be spared so long. When he hears thee speak so graciously and answer him so mildly, then he will come near and bid thee play with him at chess.
“When the chess-board is brought forth, play not without pence, but have ready in thy pocket twenty marks. If thou win aught of him, hold it of little account, but if he win aught of thine, leave with him all thou hast. Much he will thank thee and be greatly a-wondered of thee; but he is so covetous and eager for chess that he will pray thee come to-morrow to play. Grant him this, and take with thee to-morrow twice as much, and ever keep by thee thy golden cup. And on the third day, bear forty pounds and thy cup again. Earnestly he will bid thee to stake the cup; but answer him at first that thou art weary of play. I wot every day he will honour thee as much as he can, and will take thee to his lodging to win the cup of thee. He will covet it mightily and be anxious to buy it, and he will offer thee much to this end. But thou shalt give it to him blithely, though it be of pure fine gold, for I wot that he may help thee most of any in thy need. Say thou hast no lack of gold and silver and possessions, and that thou wilt 21 share with him so that he shall be a rich man for ever; then will he be glad, and begin to love thee, and fall at thy feet and offer to become thy man. Thou shalt take pledge of him, and make him swear to do thee all the service that a man should yield to his lord. If thus thou win his love, he may help thee with some device; for then thou mayst reveal thyself and show him thy secret.”
And so Floris did as Dayre taught him, and through the cup and other fee the porter became his man. “Now,” said the child, “thou art sworn, and all my trust is in thee, wherefore thou must needs give me help, for without thy service I may not speed!”
Beginning and end, he told him how that maid was stolen away, and how he was a king’s son of Spain come hither for love of her, to try with some device to win her back.
When the porter heard this, he sighed, saying: “I am justly betrayed through thy chattels, and in fear of my life, for I know now how it goeth, and through thee am like to suffer death. Nevertheless, I will not fail thee while I live; whatsoever betide me, I shall keep all the foreward.29 Return thou, Floris, to thine inn while I bethink me of some device. Between now and the third day I will try what I may do.”
Floris sighed and wept, as thinking this term long; but the porter found a thing to do. He let flowers be gathered 22 in the meads, and baskets be filled to strew in the maidens’ bowers; and in one of these he put Floris. Two giggling wenches bare it, and for its weight were wroth, and bade God send him an evil end that had put so many flowers therein.
They did not well understand that they should bear the basket to Blancheflour’s bower, but turned to the left, to another chamber, not hers, and set it down there; so went forth and left it standing.
Now a maiden came to look at the flowers and play with them; and Floris, thinking this would be his sweetheart, leaped out of the basket, whereupon she gave a cry, and shrieked in fear.
When Floris saw it was another, he held him for lost, but crept back into the basket again, and hid among the flowers.
Now maidens came a-running thither, well fifteen in a throng; and they asked what ailed her to make such out-cry. But she thought the child might be Floris, for her chamber was nigh Blancheflour’s, and they were seldom not together, and she had often heard how Blancheflour had been sold away from him; so she answered her women and sent them away: “I came up to the basket to look at these flowers and play with them, and ere I wist, a butterfly had fluttered out into mine eye; and I was so sore affrighted that I shrieked!”
Thereupon the others laughed, and made sport of that 23 sweet maiden Claris; and presently they went away again and let her be. But she ran into Blancheflour’s chamber, crying: “Dear Blancheflour, wilt thou see a pretty blossom? It grew never in this country the flower that I shall put into thy hand!”
“Away, Claris!” quoth Blancheflour. “It doth thee little honour to mock at me! He that loves par amour and is happy, may care for flowers; but I ween, Claris, without jest, that the emir will have me to wife. And that day shall never come, nor shall any twit me that I am faithless, and change old love for new, as doth Floris in his land! Since I may not have him, none other shall get joy of me!”
When Claris heard of all this sorrow and the constancy of this troth, tears fell down her face. “Blancheflour,” she said, “sweet friend! Leave off, sweet Blancheflour, and come and see this fair blossom!”
They went in together, and Floris, who had heard all that they said, leaped out of his basket and ran to Blancheflour. Each knew the other well and changed hue, and without a word they sprang into each other’s arms, and kissed and wept together. Their kissing lasted more than a mile, 30 and even that seemed to them but little time.
Claris beheld their demeanour and their joy, and said, laughing, to Blancheflour: “Fellow, knowest thou at all this blossom? A little erewhile, thou wouldst not look at 24 it, and now thou canst not let it be! She must know much guile to whom thou wouldst give a share thereof!”
Now both these two sweet things, weeping, cried her mercy, not to betray them to the emir, for then were they sure to die; and she had pity of them: “Doubt ye nothing, no more than had it befallen myself! Know ye well, I will hide your love!”
Thereafter, she brought them to a bed of pall and silk, and so left them together.
Floris was first to speak: “Our Lord that madest man, I thank Thee, God’s Son, that I am come to my love! Sweetheart, now I have found thee, all my care is away!”
Now have they told each other of the sorrow and bitter woe that each hath suffered since they were parted; and they embraced and kissed and had great joy together. And Claris served them in secret so well that they asked no other heaven than alway to lead such life. But presently, alas, they were discovered!
It was the emir’s wont that every morning two maidens should come out of their chamber to serve him up in his tower. One should bring comb and mirror, and comb his head with all state; and the other, towel and basin wherein to wash his hands. And every day he was served by a fresh pair; but those that went most often were Claris and Blancheflour.25
Claris — blessings on her! — arose one day in the morning and called her mate to go with her into the tower. Quoth Blancheflour: “I am coming;” but she said it in her sleep.
So Claris went alone, and anon the emir asked for Blancheflour.
“Sire,” she answered, “she hath wakened all the night, kneeling and reading in her book, and praying God’s blessing on thee that thou mayest live long; and now she is asleep and may not come to thee!”
“Is that truth?” he asked.
She said: “Yea, sire, beyond a doubt.”
“She is a sweet thing,” said he. “Well ought I take to wife one that prays so well for me!”
On the morrow when Claris arose, she blamed Blancheflour for making such long delay. “Arise,” she said. “We must go together.”
Quoth Blancheflour: “I come anon.”
But Floris began to embrace her, and she him, unwisely; and so they fell asleep again.
Claris came to the pillar,31 and took the gold basin, and again called Blancheflour to go up with her; and when she answered nor yea nor nay, Claris thought she was already gone. But she was not in the tower, and the emir presently asked for her. “Sire, I thought to find her here; she arose ere I did. Is she not come yet?”
Quoth he: “She holds me too lightly!”26
He called his chamberlain, and bade him to go in all haste to know why she came not as she was wont to do.
And the man went into her chamber, and found two in her bed in each other’s arms, neb32 to neb and mouth to mouth. . . . Soon must they awaken to sorrow!
He returned anon to the tower, and told his master what he had seen; and the emir bade bring his sword, for he would know more of this thing.
Forth he strode angerly, he and his chamberlain, and came where they two lay with sleep still heavy on their eyes.
He bade withdraw the clothes a little, and perceived that one was a maid, the other a man; and he quaked for anguish where he stood, and had it in his mind to kill them. But yet he thought, ere he did so, to learn from them what they were.
Presently, the children awoke, and saw the emir walking there with his drawn sword over them; and sorely they were frightened, as they might well have been!
“Tell me,” quoth he, “good friend, what made thee so bold as to come into my tower and lie with this maid? To a cruel ending wert thou born; thou shalt suffer death for this!”
Then said Floris to Blancheflour: “There is no help but that we die!”
Together they cried him mercy, that he spare their 27 lives; but he sent for his baronage to pass judgment upon them, bade them arise and dress, and after, had them fast bound and cast into prison.
Now came all the barons to the emir’s fair palace until it was full of earls and dukes. He stood up among them all, in semblance well stern, and said: “Honourable lords, ye have heard tell of Blancheflour whom I bought for seven times her weight in gold, thinking, without doubt, to have her for my queen. I myself came to her bedside, and found her with a stripling! Thereupon I fell into such hate that I thought to have killed them both; but although I was mad with rage, I restrained myself. Now ye have heard the case, avenge me in your judgment!”
Then said a king of that land: “We have understood the affront put upon thee, but ere we deem them to death, we must hear the children speak, and learn what they will say, and if they will allege aught in their defence. Else were it not right judgment, without answer to the charge.”
But the King of Nubiaa said: “Sire, it shall not be so. It is right enough that felons caught in the act should suffer judgment without charge or answer.”
To this all agreed, and bore witness to its truth. So the children were brought forth to the fire that was made for their burning; weeping bitterly, they were led between 28 two sergeants to their death. Sorrowful as they were, each grieved most for the other’s woe.
Said Floris to Blancheflour: “There is no help but we must die, yet mine is the guilt, and it is unmeet that thou suffer death for me! If Nature would allow, I ought to die twice, once for thee and once for me, for had I never come into this tower, thou mightest still be dwelling there in joy!”
He drew forth the splendid ring that his mother had given him when he went away.
“Have this ring, my sweetheart. Thou mayst not die while it is thine!”
He held it out and gave it to Blancheflour, but she said: “The fault is mine for the woe of us both; and this ring shall never save me, for I will not see thee die!”
Then would she have given it back to him, but in no wise would he take it. He thrust it upon her, and she flung it to the ground, where a duke saw it, and was pleased to stoop and pick it up.
Thus these children came weeping to the fire that was to be their doom; and they were brought before all the people, heavy with sorrow. There was no stern man looked upon them but that he would fain have withdrawn the judgment, and have bought them off with much goods, had he dared to speak, for Floris was so fair a youngling, and Blancheflour so sweet a maid that even in their sorrow 29 they were more beautiful than be the men and women nowadays in their times of most joy
The emir was so wild with wrath that he would not withdraw his intent, but bade fast bind the children and cast them into the fire. But when the duke that had found the ring came to him and whispered, and showed him what he knew of them, he let them be called that he might speak with them, and ask Floris his name; and anon he was told.
“Sire,” said Floris, “I entreat thee not to kill that maid, for of all this guile I am to blame! I ought to die, and she go quit and clear!”
Quoth Blancheflour: “Nay, kill me, and let Floris live!”
Quoth the emir: “As I breathe, ye shall die both together! I will avenge myself; and ye shall never go or speak more!”
Thereupon he drew his sword out of its sheath to slay them both. Blancheflour offered her neck, but Floris thrust her away: “I am a man: I shall go first! Thou shalt not take death in my stead!”
Then Floris bent his neck, but Blancheflour dragged him aside; for neither could endure that the other should die first.
All that saw this made dole, and the emir, wroth as he was, changed his cheer.a In that each would die for the 30 other, and he saw so many weeping all about him, and in that he loved that maid so dearly, he himself turned away for tears. His sword fell from his hand to the ground, for he could hold it no longer.
Then the duke that had found the ring sought to speak with them, and in this he sped so well that he saved them both from death.
“Sir emir,” he said, “it is little to thine honour to kill these fair children! It were better that Floris tell thee how he came into thy tower. When thou knowest his device, the more easily mayst thou deal with others.”
All that heard these words besought him to grant this: whereupon he bade Floris tell by what means he came in to Blancheflour, and who counselled and helped him to that end.”
“That,” quoth he, “will I never say, for anything thou canst do to me, unless thou forgive them that taught me the device; else shall it never be told!”
And all prayed for this too, which the emir presently granted.
Now hath he told them, beginning and end, how Blancheflour was sold away from him, and how he was a king’s son of Spain, who for her love came hither to find some device whereby he might win her back, and how by his cup and other fee the porter became his man, and how he was carried within in a basket — and at this all the others laughed. Then he fell at the emir’s feet, and prayed that 31 he might keep his sweetheart. And the emir forgave them both his wrath, and delivered Blancheflour to Floris; whereupon all his barons thanked him.
And afterwards, the emir — blessings on him! — set the child by his side, and said he should be first of all his meiny, and made him stand up and be dubbed knight. And both the children in their joy fell together to kiss his feet.
He had them brought to church and spoused with a gold ring; and by Blancheflour’s counsel, Claris he fetched down from the tower and made his queen.
The feast was gay enough, for there was all the glee that might be ever at any bridal.
It was not long thereafter that a messenger came to Floris with word that his father was dead; and all the baronage counselled him to wend home and take over his kingdom. He said farewell to the emir, who entreated him, saying: “If thou dost by my counsel, remain with me, nor go home, for I will give thee a kingdom as long and as broad as ever thy father could render to thee!”
But Floris would not at any price, for he had liefer be with his kin. He bade the emir good-day, and thanked fair Claris and gave her twenty pounds of red gold, and to Dayre for his good counsel he gave twenty pounds, and to all that ever did well by him, he made it worth their while. He commended them all to God Our Lord, and went home when he might, and was crowned king; and his 32 sweet wife was made queen. He received Christendom at a priest’s hand, and ever thanked God for all His mercy.
1 This opening to Floris and Blancheflour (as far as the word “commanded” on page 3, lines 21) is supplied from the French. See note.
2 Of Compostella, in Galicia, Spain. A famous medieval shrine.
3 Apparently thought to be in Spain.
4 A suggestion of the harem (?).
6 See note .
8 In Loiret, central France.
9 See note .
10 An aromatic East Indian root much loved in the Middle Ages.
11 See note .
12 Gap in MS.
13 Text: admiral, an older form for emir.
14 See note.
15 Gap in MS.
16 Text: laid down. It was, then, a raised tomb.
18 See note.
19 Held land.
20 Grey fur. Squirrel (?).
21 See note.
23 From Darius, doubtless.
24 See note.
25 Buying and selling.
26 See note
28 While a man might run more than a mile.
29 Containing the water-supply.
30 This suggests Babylon in Egypt, Cairo.
This romance (1296 lines) exists in four MSS., all slightly differing and all imperfect. The oldest is the famous Auchinleck MS. in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, dated about the first half of the fourteenth century. The poem is supposed to have been written in the second half of the thirteenth century, being the oldest English romance extant which is known to have been translated from a French original. It was modernised by Ellis from a French version differing considerably from the present text. The first edition was made by Lumley for the E.E.T.S. in 1886; and this was re-edited by McKnight in 1901, for the same society, with three MSS. printed together. In 1885, Hausknecht had already published a critical edition, making use of all the MSS., upon which the present rendering is based.
p. 1. There was once, &c. The French text from which the gap is supplied (Du Méril, Floire et Blanceflor, 1856 (A) is certainly not the original of the English version, being a much fuller account, and one differing in many details; but it is believed to be the nearest related among those that have survived. I have omitted its opening lines, which connect the chief figures with the Charlemagne cycle, and further, tell how the poet came to hear the story. As there is nothing to show that these features were in the source of the English poem, I have thought it better to begin with the story itself.179
p. 4. Parchment. A mark of early date. Paper had not yet been introduced.
p. 6. Duke Orgas. The name appears to be Provençal Orgeas. Although this poem was well known in Provence, there is no clear evidence that a Provençal version ever existed.
p. 7. Carbuncle. Allusions to the light-giving power of this stone are common. Cf. Launfal Miles in the present vol. p. 63, and The Story of Gray-Steel in vol. ii., p. 160. The lapidaries note this power, e.g.:
p. 9. Befooling me. Text, gabbest from O. Fr. gaber, to play a practical joke.
p. 12. Stones of virtue. It was believed in the Middle Ages that all precious stones influenced for good or evil the health and fortunes of their possessors. The lapidaries related their various properties at great length. Something of this superstition lingers still, especially in regard to the opal, and in the use of coral as a sort of amulet for babies.
p. 16. My sworn brother. An allusion to the oath of eternal friendship, which was held most sacred among the Teutons.
p. 17. Babylon. This description, notwithstanding its inaccuracies, applies more nearly to ancient Babylon than to Cairo. Mandeville distinguishes between the two, and tells something of both, but doubtless they were confused in the popular mind. This poet, by making the King of Nubia one of the emir’s vassals, seems to be thinking of Cairo.
p. 18. The pommel above the leads. The text is corrupt. One MS. says kanel, apparently in the sense of water-pipe, but as these conduits are described alter, and the context seems to refer to the roof, I have chosen the alternative reading kernel = battlements. Then the sense of the passage is apparently that, 180 above the leads, i.e., on the roof, the battlements are adorned with golden balls.
p. 18. Never wish for Paradise. An allusion to the Mohammedan peris?
p. 18. Middle Earth. Expresses the old Teutonic conception of earth as the middle home, i.e., between the dwellings of the gods and of the powers of evil.
p. 18. A stone wherein, &c., i.e., by crystal-gazing.