The Legend of Bevis of Hampton, 2: English, Norse, Welsh, and Irish

The legend of Bevis of Hampton is extant in three great families of redactions: the Anglo-Norman, the Continental French, and the Italian. The Italian versions are the only ones to link Bevis with the legend of Charlemagne, but we will here treat of the Anglo-Norman version first, as it is generally believed to be the earliest, and it is the version best-known to English readers.

The Anglo-Norman family consists of the following versions:

Boeve de Hantone. The Anglo-Norman chanson de geste. Assonanced decasyllables. Sometimes attributed to Bertrand de Bar, though this is no longer a widely-held theory. Translated by Judith Weiss in Boeve De Haumtone and Gui De Warewic, 2008.

Bevers saga. The Norse prose translation of the Anglo-Norman, which exists in two major versions.

Bevusar Taettir. The Faerose ballads based on the Norse saga. See Corpus Carminum Faeroensium, volume 5.

Bown o Hamtwn.  The Welsh prose translation of the Anglo-Norman. Translated by Robert Williams in Selections from the Hengwrt Mss. Preserved in the Peniarth Library.

Sir Beves of Hampton, the English poem, translated from the Anglo-Norman, which adds many incidents and rearranges others. All six MSS are printed in EETS Extra vol 46, 48, 65. An edition for the general reader is available from TEAMS in Four Romances of England.

Bibuis o Hamtuir.  The Irish prose translation of the English, c. 1452-1500. The only manuscript ends in the middle of the episode of Josiane’s “marriage” in Cologne. Copied, or possibly written, by Uilliam Mac an Leagha. Translated by Frederick Norris in The Irish Lives of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton.


Bever’s saga exists in two versions. One, the most common, follows the Anglo-Norman closely until the baptism of Escopart, and thereafter begins abridging freely. The second, found only in one manuscript, abridges throughout, and changes the order of many incidents. It is most likely derived from the first Norse version.


Bevers is summoned to King Edgar’s court instead of going himself to demand his rights. No wedding ceremony is held between Bevers and Aglantine [the lady of Cevile]. Bevers and Terri are the godparents of each other’s children. Yvori kidnaps not only Arundela, but also his foal. In the duel, Guy and Miles intervene, and Guy kills Yvori, to Bevers’ fury. When the fifteen kings convert and destroy their idols, a talking dog leaps out of one of them [a demon in disguise, most likely].


Bevers’ mother is named Oda, her page and confidant Spyrant. Yvori does not attempt to ride Arundel. Terri is Bevis’ son. Escopart, Beves, Josiane, and Terri are all banished from England. Escopart falls asleep while guarding Josiane while the men are out hunting, and at this  very moment, Ivorius’ goon Amonstrei arrives, through his magic knowledge. He kills Escopart, and kidnaps Josiane. Bevers and Terri take the newborn twins to Sinolle [Cevile], where they die. Bevers and Terri save Lady Susanna from the besiegers, but Yvori sends his men to steal Arundela. Sabaoth has a dream telling him to go to Jerusalem to free Josiane from Munkbrand. They meet there and form a plan. Josiane schemes to seduce Amonstrei, who at her instigation, kills his ten sons. As he is undressing in hopes of his reward, Sabaoth leaps out and kills him. They flee with Arundela, and meet Bevers in Sinolle.

King Edgar’s son is named Ranin, his daughter Gyridr. In the duel with Yvori, Bevers kills him fairly.


The Faeroese ballads based on Beverssaga cover only the beginning of the story, down to Bevers’ arrival at the heathen King’s court. As I can find no more information about them, and I cannot read Faeroese, I am unable to say how closely they follow the Saga.


The Welsh prose translation, from the French. A close translation, with no peculiarities.


Bevis is seven years old when his mother and Emperor Devoun of Germany kill his father. He is sold to King Ermonie of Armenia, whose deceased wife was named Morage. His first battle is fought at the age of fifteen, on Christmas Day, when a Saracen taunts him for not knowing what day it is. Bevis answers that, while he doesn’t know as much about his faith as he’d like to, he will defend it against all insults. A fight breaks out, and Bevis kills him and his friends. Josiane persuades the king to spare Bevis’ life, and nurses him back to health. Ermonie’s seneschal, not his foresters, tries to claim credit for killing the boar, and it is from the steward that Bevis wins his sword Morgley. Three years go by between the fight with the boar and the invasion of Bradimond. Boniface is given the role of go-between for Bevis and Josiane. The palmer Bevis meets en route to Damascus is Terri, who has been sent by Saber to search for him. No explanation is given for why Bevis conceals his identity, but we are told how Terri took the news home to Sabot [Saber], who wept. Brandimond clasps Bevis’ hand in “friendship”, but really to overpower and seize him. Josiane has a magic ring, not a girdle. Arondel is imprisoned for seven years. Bevis’ dungeon is filled with flying adders, which he kills with his club, and a dragon, which he kills,, but not without receiving a scar above his right eye that never heals. He can’t escape for seven years. When he finally does escape, he kills some stable boys. Grander is just a king, and his steed is named Trenchefis. Bevis kills Grander, and then rides Trenchefis off a cliff into the sea to escape the rest of Brandimond’s men. On the far shore, he makes the giant’s wife taste all the food she serves him, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem orders him to marry only a virgin. Seeking Josiane, he trades clothes with a palmer, and pretends to Josiane that he met Bevis in Rome and heard him boast of Arondel. Josiane and Boniface take the “palmer” to see the horse, who recognizes him immediately.

As they escape, Amustrai does not appear, and Ascopart is here Garcy’s servant. When they come to Cologne, there is a dragon there. Two kings, of Apulia and Calabria, were at war for twenty-four years, until they were turned into dragons. They fought for thirty-four more years, until a hermit rove them away. One flew to Rome, where he was enchanted by wise clerks to sleep under Saint Peter’s Bridge until Doomsday. But every seven years he turns in his sleep and causes fever [the famous Roman malaria]. The other lives in Cologne, under a cliff, and has eight tusks, each seventeen inches in diameter. He has a beard and a mane, and is twenty-four feet from shoulder to hindquarters. His tail is sixteen feet, and his wings are bright as glass, his scales as hard as brass. According to some manuscripts, Bevis uses the sword Alondite [or Arondite], which was once Sir Lancelot’s, and which some knights of England brought to Armenia, where Bevis got it.

Ascopard is too scared to fight, but Bevis sallies forth, is sorely wounded, but falls into a holy well, which a virgin once bathed in, and which cures him. As he fights again, the dragon spits venom which dissolves his armor, and he is again saved by the well. Bevis at last slays it, thanks to a timely prayer, and takes its tongue as a trophy.

When Ascopart kidnaps Josiane to sell her to Yvori, she asks for leave to go to the woods for privacy, but really she’s gathering herbs to make her look like a leper. Yvori is disgusted at her new appearance, and locks her in a castle with Ascopart as her guard, where she stays for six months. Bevis leaves Guy with a forester, and Miles with a fisher. Then comes the tourney at Aumbeforce [Cevile]. Then Sabot dreams that Bevis is wounded en route to Compostela and Saint Giles. His wife says it means Ascopart is a traitor. Sabot and twelve knights find Josiane, kill Ascopart, and resuce her. The two [the twelve vanish from the story] wander for seven years, till Sabot falls ill in Greece, and Josiane must support them by minstrelsy, for half a year. When he recovers, they go to Aumbeforce, where all are reunited, and Terri weds the Lady. Bevis sends for his children. After the first war of Yvori and Erimone, Armenia [lesser Armenia, in Anatolia] is converted. After the second war, with the single combat, Yvori’s men are slaughtered, not converted. When Bevis returns to England to recover Robart’s lands, King Edgar’s steward gathers his faction and rouses the London mob against Bevis. A very realistic account of medieval urban warfare follows, until Miles and Guy arrive to save the day, Miles on a dromedary, Guy on an Arabian. Josiane and Bevis and Arundel die after twenty years of peaceful reigning, and are buried in the monastery of Saint Lawrence, where the monks pray for their souls, if it be right to pray for the soul of a horse.


The Irish prose translation, copied, or possibly written, by Uillam Mac an Leagha. Written between 1452 and 1500. A close translation of the English, but flowery as all get out. Bevis’ mother loves the son of the Emperor. She sees her beauty reflected in her bathwater, convincing her to kill her husband. Bevis decides to avenge his father when his fellow swine-herds (not shepherds) accuse him of cowardice. He flees prison not to Jerusalem but to India, where the Patriarch shrives him. Coming home, he is shriven again at Rhodes. The fragment breaks off as Esgobard is hurrying to Bibius to tell him that Earl Milis is about to marry Sisian [Josian].

Let this much suffice for the Anglo-Norman family, and let us now speak of the Continental French family.

Or rather, let us go back and speak of the original Anglo-Norman poem.


The Legend of Bevis of Hampton, 1: The Anglo-Norman Boeve

The legend of Bevis of Hampton is extant in three great families of redactions: the Anglo-Norman, the Continental French, and the Italian. The Italian versions are the only ones to link Bevis with the legend of Charlemagne, but we will here treat of the Anglo-Norman version first, as it is generally believed to be the earliest, and it is the version best-known to English readers.

The Anglo-Norman family consists of the following versions:

Boeve de Hantone. The Anglo-Norman chanson de geste. Assonanced decasyllables. Sometimes attributed to Bertrand de Bar, though this is no longer a widely-held theory. Translated by Judith Weiss in Boeve De Haumtone and Gui De Warewic, 2008.

Bevers saga. The Norse prose translation, which exists in two major versions.

Bevusar Taettir. The Faerose ballads based on the preceding. See Corpus Carminum Faeroensium, volume 5.

Bown o Hamtwn.  The Welsh prose translation of the Anglo-Norman. Translated by Robert Williams in Selections from the Hengwrt Mss. Preserved in the Peniarth Library.

Sir Beves of Hampton, the English poem, which adds many incidents and rearranges others. All six MSS are printed in EETS Extra vol 46, 48, 65. An edition for the general reader is available from TEAMS in Four Romances of England.

Bibuis o Hamtuir.  The Irish prose translation of the English, c. 1452-1500. Copied, or possibly written, by Uilliam Mac an Leagha. Translated by Frederick Norris in The Irish Lives of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton.


Count Gui of Haumtone marries the King of Scotland’s daughter, who, however, loves the emperor of Alemaine [Germany]. He begets on her Boeve. Ten years later, in early May, the princess sends word to the Emperor, telling him how to ambush and kill Gui. He agrees. She pretends to be ill, and that only boar’s flesh will cure her. Luckily, she knows where a boar lives: the very spot the Emperor is hiding. And so Gui is killed. The Emperor brings his head to Hampton, and marries his widow. Boeve calls his mother a whore, and swears vengeance. She orders his tutor Sabot to kill him. Sabot kills a swine, bloodies Boeve’s clothes, and sets Boeve to tend his sheep while he plans to escape. But Boeve goes to the castle, kills the porter, and then knocks his stepfather unconscious. He is seized, and his mother sells him to English slavers. They sell the lad to Hermine, king of Egypt, who has a fair daughter, Josiane. The king is touched by his story, and impressed by his refusal to convert to Islam, even when offered Josiane and the kingdom. He decides to raise the steadfast youth at his court as a knight.

By the time Boeve is fifteen, he is the best knight at court. A wild boar savages the kingdom, and Josiane watches from the castle tower as Boeve slays it, alone. Foresters ambush him, seeking the credit for saving the kingdom. He kills them all, causing Josiane to fall hopelessly in love with him. Boeve presents the boar’s head to King Hermine.

Hermine, looking out the window one day, sees Brademond of Damascus and his army of a hundred thousand. He has come to wed Josiane. Josiane tells her father how Boeve killed the foresters, so Hermine dubs the lad a knight, giving him the sword Murgleie. Josiane gives him the horse Aroudel. Boeve leads the army to victory, and spares Brademond’s life on condition that he become Hermine’s vassal. After the victory feast, Josiane confesses her love. Boeve protests that he won’t have her. Angered, she calls him a churl. Angered in turn, he announces he will leave on the horse she gave him. He goes to take lodgings in the town. She sends a messenger after him. He sends back a present of silk. She goes to see him in person, and promises to convert to Christianity. They kiss.

Two courtiers whom Boeve saved from Brademond during the battle tell the king that Boeve has defiled Josiane. He sends Boeve with letters to Brademond, ordering his new vassal to kill the lad. He convinces Boeve to leave Murgleie and Arundel behind, for faster travel.

On the road, Boeve meets on the fourth day of travel a palmer, who turns out to be Sabot’s son, seeking Boeve. Boeve tells him that the lad he’s searching for has been hanged. The palmer weeps, and offers to read the letter Boeve is carrying. Boeve refuses, since he trusts Hermine. They kiss and part. In Damascus, Boeve kills a heathen priest and breaks his idols before delivering the letter. He is promptly seized, and thrown in a thirty toise deep dungeon, filled with snakes and other vermin, and is fed on a quarter-loaf of bread a day.

Josiane asks her father where Boeve is. He says he went home to avenge his father, and said he would never return. Now King Yvori of Munbrant comes wooing Josiane. He has conquered fifteen kingdoms. Hermine marries her off, but luckily she has a magic chastity-protecting girdle. Hermine delivers Josiane, Arundel, and Murgleie to Yvori, but when that king tries to ride Arundel, the gallops off and throws him, nearly killing him. He locks the horse in a stable, where he has to be fed through a door in the ceiling, because he kills anyone who comes near him. Yvori falls asleep beside Josiane every night and only dreams that he has her, thanks to her girdle.

Boeve is in prison seven years, with two guards by day and another two by night. Finally it occurs to him to pray, which so annoys his jailers, that they climb down a rope into his dungeon, whereupon he kills them. He escapes, steals a horse and armor, and rides out the gate, pretending to be a guard chasing Boeve. He travels for three days. But, Brademond sends his nephew Grounder to check the prison. Then, the news discovered, he beats his idols, and rides out with three thousand men to find Boeve, who cuts the top of Brademond’s head off, steals his horse, and flees. Cornered at the edge of a cliff, he rides the horse into the sea and swims away, at which the English give up and go home.

Coming to land, Boeve reaches the castle of a giant who kills English, who happens to be Brademund’s brother. The giant recognizes the horse, but Boeve kills him, takes food and a new horse from his widow, and rides to Jerusalem. Here he confesses his sins to the Patriarch, debates whether to go to England or Egypt, and settles on Egypt. He there learns of Josiane’s marriage, and travels to Monbrant via Carthage. He hears Josiane weeping for him, disguises himself as a palmer, and approaches her. She gives him food, and he tells her that Boeve has married an English lady. She swoons, but on awaking recognizes him. He tries to deny it, but her page Bonefey and Arundel recognize him, too. Josiane offers to flee with him, but he says the Patriarch has forbidden him to wed a woman who is not a maid. Josiane explains, but now Boeve is afraid that Yvori will be back from hunting [where he is] before they can make a clean getaway. They decide to tell him that his brother King Baligant of Abilent is besieged, and to flee while he’s away with his army. All goes as planned, and Yvori leaves the city in King Garcie’s care. Bonefey drugs the elderly Garcie, and they flee. They hide in the forest, where Boeve goes hunting. While he is gone, two lions kill Bonefey, but spare Josiane, as she is a virgin princess. Boeve returns and kills them, and they travel on. They next meet Escopart, a giant who was laughed out of his home for being so short, and now serves Yvori. He tries to reclaim Josiane, but Boeve fights him, until the princess reconciles them, and the giant becomes their squire. They come to the shore, Escopart kills the crew of a ship, and they sail away therein.

Anustrai, the uncle of Yvori, leads nine ships after them, but Escopart scares them back. Our heroes arrive at Cologne, where the bishop turns out to be Boeve’s uncle, and explains how everyone thinks Boeve is dead. Josiane is baptized. Escopart refuses, claiming he is too large for the font. The bishop advises Boeve to go to England, and gives him five hundred knights. He departs, leaving Josiane with Escopart. Arriving at Hampton, he meets Emperor Doon, gives his name as Gerard, and promises to help him fight Sabaoth, who has rebelled and is holding out on the Isle of Wight. The Emperor equips him with a boat and food, and Boeve sails, alone, to a joyful reunion.

Meanwhile, Josiane and Escopart are in Cologne. A count falls in love with her, whom she rejects. He lures Escpoart into a dungeon with a false message from Boeve, taunts him by telling him his plan, and leaves. Escopart escapes, steals a boat, and searches for Boeve. Meanwhile, Josiane has been forced to marry the count, has strangled him on their wedding night, and has been sentenced to burn therefore. Boeve and Escopart rescue her, and return to Wight, where they send a messenger to Emperor Doon announcing their true identity. The Emperor throws a knife at the messenger, but misses and kills his own brother. The messenger taunts him and leaves. After a great battle, Doon is captured and boiled in lead. Boeve’s mother jumps off a tower. Boeve and Josiane are wed.

Half a year later, Boeve goes to King  Edgar’s court to do homage and receive his fiefs. At court, they hold a horse race, which Boeve easily wins on Arundel. The King’s son offers to buy the horse, but is refused. He tries to steal him instead, during the feast that night, but Arundel kills him. The King wants to kill Boeve, but his barons convince him to settle for executing Arundel. Boeve flees with Arundel to Hampton, then flees Hampton with Josiane and his new squire Terri, Sabaoth’s son. Escopart, jealous at being left behind, offers his services to King Yvori in Mombraunt. Boeve and company are wandering in Egypt, when Josiane gives birth to twin sons. Her modesty forbids Boeve and Terri to be nearby while she is in labor, so it is easy for Yvori’s goons and Escopart to kidnap her, leaving the baby boys behind. Boeve and Terri find the boys, name them Guy and Miles, and each take one.

Meanwhile, Sabaoth has a dream that Boeve is attacked by lions en route to Compostella. His wife, Eneborc, explains that it means Josiane has been kidnapped. Sabaoth and his men sail to the rescue, find Escopart and his goons carrying of Josiane, and kill them all. They come to Abreford, where they rest for seven years and three months, while Josiane sustains them by learning the art of minstrelsy.

Meanwhile, Terri has left Miles with a fisher, and Boeve has left Guy with a forester. He comes to Civile [Seville?], where he fends off the besieging army, and is thus obliged to marry the lady of Cevile. He explains to her the awkward situation, and she grants him four years to seek his wife, and she will marry Terri if Josiane is found. The ceremony is held, but not consummated. After four years, there is no news of Josiane, and Boeve obtains another three years. Sabaoth finally recovers from his illness, and he and Josiane come to Cevile, where there is a joyful reunion. They send for Miles and Guy.

News comes that King Yvori is at war with King Hermine. Boeve captures Yvori, and send him to Hermine, who spares him for a ransom. Hermine dies, leaving Egypt to Guy. Miles is made a duke. Sabaoth goes home to his wife and his younger son Robant, who at first don’t recognize him. Yvori summons Gebitus, a wizard, to steal Arundel, and he does so. But Sabaoth dreams Boeve is wounded, and his wife says it means Arundel has been kidnapped. Sabaoth goes, disguised as a pilgrim, to Abreford, meets Boeve, goes to Yvori’s castle, and steals the horse back from a stable boy. He flees, with Yvori in hot pursuit. Boeve, Guy, and Miles ride out to meet him, and turn back Yvori, who returns with his army. He challenges Boeve to single combat, wherein he is killed. His fifteen vassal kings convert, and destroy their idols. Guy inherits Yvori’s land. The Pope comes to anoint Boeve and Josiane king and queen, and they return to their dominions.

At Pentecost, news comes that Edgar has disinherited Robant. Boeve, Josiane, Arundel, and Sabaoth go to England, and make peace. Edgar’s daughter weds Miles. Boeve and Josiane go home to Monbraunt, leaving Hampton to Sabaoth. After many years, Josiane falls ill. Boeve finds Arundel dead in the stable, and lays down beside Josiane. They say farewell to Guy, and die together. They are laid in the church of Saint Lawrence.

Let thus much suffice for the Anglo-Norman poem, and let us now speak of the versions descended therefrom.

The Legend of Emperor Octavian

The legend of Octavian has only a marginal connection to the legend of Charlemagne, but it was the inspiration for the second part of Book II of the Reali di Francia, and one Irish version does set it in the reign of Charlemagne. All other versions are set in the reign of Dagobert. This story has no relation to Augustus Caesar.

The legend of Octavian is extant in three major redactions. Please note that I have given them this classification myself; it does not reflect scholarly usage.

Octavian. A French poem in octosyllables, mid to late 1200’s, ancestor of all other versions.

Octovion. The Northern English version. A poem in tail-rhyme. Can be found in EETS vol. 289, or in TEAMS Four Middle English Romances. c. 1350.

Sechrain Na Banimpire. Or “The Wanderings of the Empress”. Irish prose, flowery like most Irish translations. Englished by Carl Marstrander in “Sechrain Na Banimpire.” Ériu No. 5, 1911. [not freely available on the internet, due to a lack of copies of the journal in America and the idiotic length of copyright in Europe. Be comforted, however. You’re not missing much.]

Octovion. The Southern English version. A poem in six-line aaabab stanzas, with the b lines shorter than the a’s. [This is best known nowadays as Robert Burns’ signature stanza]. Can be found in Weber’s Metrical Romances. No modern edition for the general reader. c. 1350.


Florent et Lyon. French prose, first printed around 1500, but perhaps written earlier, the ancestor of the French chapbooks. No modern editions.

Kaiser Octavianus. A German chapbook, from 1545.

Hans Sach’s play, 1555.

Sebastian Wilde’s poem, 1566.

Danish chapbook, oldest surviving from 1597, probably first printed earlier.

A Polish version from the 1600’s.

The Russian translation, made from the Polish around 1670. No edition, to my knowledge.

Komediya Olundina, or Caesar Otto. A play based on the above by Princess Natalya Alexeyevna, sister of Peter the Great. Included in I. A. Shlyapkin’s Tsarevna Natalya Alekseyevna I teatr yevo vremeni.

A Very Edifying and Touching Tale of an Empress and Her Two Sons and a Lioness. A shorter Russian chapbook version, with no proper names. Published in P. N. Rybnikov’s Pesni, volume 3.

Another play based on that, which was part of the standard repertoire in the schools during Peter the Great’s reign. To be found in S. A. Shcheglova’s Neizvestnaya drama Petrovsky epokhi o tsaritse i l’vitse. In the journal Trudy komissii po drevnerusskoy literature, 1932, I, pp.153-229.

Naturally, none of the Russian works have been translated into English.

Dutch chapbook, oldest surviving from 1621, probably first printed earlier.

Icelandic chapbook, oldest surviving from 1733, probably first printed earlier.

The French prose and its descendents [German, Danish, Dutch, Icelandic, Polish, Russian] are distinguished by renaming the younger Octavian “Lion”, and adding an episode where he wins a tournament and therefore marries the daughter of the King of Spain. They also make Florence become King of England.


Florent and Octavian. A chanson de geste in rhymed alexandrines. Some claim it is the original, but much more likely it is an expansion of the octosyllabic version. c. 1356.

Othovyan. A prose adaptation of the long version and of Le Bone Florence de Rome. Circa 1450. Never printed.



Emperor Octavian of Rome, after fifteen years of childlessness, begets twins on his wife, the daughter of King Dagobert of France. His mother says twins are a sign of adultery. The emperor denies it, but his mother slips a page boy into the empress’ bed and shows him to Octavian. As the empress has a prophetic nightmare, Octavian beheads the boy, and when she wakes up, he banishes her. As she rests by a spring, her children are stolen, one  by an ape and one by a lioness. The one stolen by the ape is rescued by a knight, captured by robbers, and bought by a merchant of Paris named Clement, who names him Florent and raises him as his own. The one stolen by the lioness is recovered by his mother, who journeys with him and the lioness [for lions have no power to harm chaste women of royal blood] to Jerusalem, where she is treated kindly by the king. Her son, Octavian, is dubbed a knight when he comes of age.

Florent, meanwhile, due to his high birth, has no talent for business, and wastes all his money on horses, hounds and hawks, much to his foster father’s displeasure. After some humorous scenes, a Sultan attacks Paris, bringing his giant Aragonour and his daughter Marsibelle with him. Emperor Octavian rides to succor King Dagobert. Aragonour promises Marsibelle the head of King Dagobert. Armed in a rusty suit of armor he found in Clement’s attic, Florent kills the giant, and presents his head to Marsibelle, and proceeds to carry her off, but is obliged to leave her when he is ambushed by pagans, much to the princess’ regret. He returns to Paris, and she with her maid Olive, plans to see him again. Clement and Florent are presented to Dagobert and Octavian, and Florent is dubbed. Much humor is made about Clement’s practical, thrifty, behavior at the extravagant court feast.

Florent volunteers to be a messenger, in order to see Marsibelle again. At the Sultan’s tent, however, he is recognized, and must fight his way home. He does, however, receive Marsibelle’s sleeve, and wears it in the next battle. Later, he sneaks into her garden, and she tells him to steal her father’s unicorn. Clement, disguised as a Saracen, accomplishes this. Nonetheless, the Saracens capture Florent, Dagobert, and Octavian in the next battle.

This news comes to Jerusalem, whence the young Octavian, his mother, and the lioness set out with an army. He saves the captives, and all recognize each other. Marsibelle converts and marries Florent, Octavian’s mother is sentenced to boil in brass, but stabs herself instead, and everyone else lives happily ever after.


Octavian’s seven-year barrenness is cured not by coincidence, but by prayer to Our Lady and by endowing a monastery. Octavian throws the page boy’s head at the queen to wake her up. In the Northern version, he refrains from sentencing her until he has invited her father, [who is not Dagobert, here, but the king of Calabria] to court and asked him what adulteresses deserve. He answers that they deserve to be burnt, and Octavian sentences the queen accordingly, only commuting her sentence to banishment when she is already tied to the stake. The queen, living in Jerusalem, is taken into King Amauri’s household, instead of merely being known to him. In the Southern version, Clement is a butcher, not a merchant.


From the Northern English. King Charlemagne replaces Dagobert, and Roland, Oliver, Ogier, Naymes, Gui of Burgundy, and Denis [probably Saint Denis, but here king of Norway!] at first refuse to fight the Sultan’s giant, and afterwards are captured by the Sultan alongside Plurens [Florent]. Plurens marries the Sultan’s daughter Felicita, and Octavian marries Charlemagne’s daughter.


The French prose and its descendents [German, Danish, Dutch, Icelandic, Polish, Russian] are distinguished by renaming the younger Octavian “Lion”, and adding an episode where he wins a tournament and therefore marries the daughter of the King of Spain. They also make Florence become King of England. I will pass over this redaction, because it has nothing to do with Charlemagne, only noting that by the time the story reached Russia, the emperor was named Otto, and the empress Olunda.


The story is set in the year 240, under Dagobert, the fourth king of his line, who founded the Abbey of Saint Denis. Emperor Octavian, long childless, goes to help him fight the Wandres [Vandals?] and returns to find his wife Florimonde has given birth to twins, and been accused of adultery, despite the red crosses on their shoulders [a sign of royal blood]. The story continues as the short version, only changing a few names (the sultan is Acarius, the giant Fernagu), until the younger Octavian is sixteen, at which time the Sultan of Damascus demands the hand of Esclarmonde, daughter of King Amauri of Jerusalem. Octavian and his lion defeat the sultan, and the lad wins the love of Esclarmonde. Traitors wrongfully tell the king that he has deflowered her, and so Amauri sends Octavian to the Sultan with a Bellerophon-letter. The Sultan decides to keep him imprisoned instead of killing him, and marches on Jerusalem. Amauri surrenders Esclarmonde, who discovers the situation, pretends that she sent the letter, and asks for the favor of killing Octavian herself, immediately. The sultan sends her with a jailer to the dungeon, but she kills him and frees her lover. The two flee with the lion. They sail from Acre to Rome, still under siege by Acarius, who has captured the Emperor and Florent. Octavian’s traitorous minister Couart is mulling how best to surrender, when Dagobert arrives, and saves the day with the young Octavian and the lion’s help. The youth exposes his grandmother as a fraud, and defeats Couart, her lover, in a trial by combat. Couart is hanged, but the young Octavian manages to get his grandmother’s sentence reduced from burning to perpetual imprisonment.
Acarius retreats, but still has Florent and Octavian senior in captivity. Octavian junior follows him to Babylon, stopping en route to save Amauri from the Sultan of Damascus. Amauri is mortally wounded in the battle, but pardons Octavian and bequeaths him his daughter and his kingdom. Octavian leads his new kingdom to war against Babylon, but on the way he learns of Margalie, Marsebille’s sister, who is locked in Castel-Geant, where only minstrels are allowed to visit. Dressed as a minstrel, he goes to her, who fortunately has fallen in love with him by report. Her uncle, King Malaquin, catches the happy couple, and a fight ensues which ends with Octavian and his lady’s maid holding a tower against his garrison. The maid shows him a secret passage, and he slips away to defeat Acarius, and thereby win Margalie’s hand in marriage.
One month later, as they reign in Babylon [Mesopotamian Babylon, for once; not Cairo], Clement, his son Clodoan, Esclarmonde and Marsebille arrive. The awkwardness is resolved by wedding Florentto Marsebille, and Clodoan to Esclarmonde, and giving this last couple the throne of Babylon. Clement receives Jerusalem, and the brothers and their wives go home to Italy.
King Morgan of Tartary lays siege to Babylon. Esclarmonde kills her husband by treason, and sends to young Octavian for aid. He arrives, and she steals his seal to send a forged letter to Marsebille, luring her onto a ship bound for the Levant. Esclarmonde’s goons are about to throw her overboard, when she is saved by prayer. She meets King Corsabrun of Rochebrune’s ship, who is bringing aid to Morgan. He drowns her persecutors, and brings her to Rochebrune, where he leaves her as governor while he makes war. Octavian thinks his wife is dead, thanks to Esclarmonde. King Cladius of Tarse abandons Corsabrun after a quarrel at chess, and joins Octavian, converting to Christianity. They two go to Jerusalem for help from Clement. They rest at Rochebrun, where the lion recognizes Marsebille and refuses to leave her, much to Octavian’s bafflement. On his way back from Jerusalem with thirty thousand soldiers, he besieges Rochebrun to get his lion back, and all is explained. They go to Babylon, rout the Tartars, burn Esclarmonde at the stake, and Octavian is again Sultan.
Florent returns from a trip to Paris to find a note from Marsebille, saying she has taken their son Othonet to Babylon to see her family. But really, traitors told her he was dead, then, when she wanted to sail home, threw her and her son overboard. She is rescued by merchants of Palerne and Aumarie, who take her to be a slave in Palerme and him to be a slave in Aumarie. The traitors try to kill Florent in his bedroom, who jumps out the window, escapes, rallies his faithful men, and kills them. He then goes to Babylon, but is caught be Saracen pirates, who sell him to the King of Palerne. He is comforted by Princess Police. Meanwhile, Corsaut of Aumaries, a giant, defies the King of Palerne, but Florent kills him. Corsaut’s men, though, seize him and sell him to the King of Aumarie, where he meets Marsebille. The two escape and flee to Rome. Othonent, meanwhile, is being raised by the Saracen King of Palerne as his own son, under the name of Aceré. At sixteen, he is dubbed, conquers Aumarie, and learns he is adopted, which gladdens him, as he can now wed Police. He leads his army to Rome, is captured by Florent, who recognizes him. When his fellow Saracens refuse to follow his example in conversion, he is obliged to rout them. Police is the only one who converts. Marsebille dies soon after, and Florent goes to end his days in Babylon with Octavian, leaving Othon as king of Rome. He was the father of La Bonne Florence, whose story is announced to follow in all manuscripts, but only does so in one verse MS, and all the prose ones.

Since La Bonne Florence’s story originated separately, was only attached to Octavian in a late version, continued to circulate independently afterwards, and has nothing to do with Charlemagne, it will be treated of in a later post, if at all.

So let us leave thus subject, and treat of King Rother.

The Spanish Charlemagne Ballads, 15: Ballads not in Duran

Spain is home to a large number of beautiful ballads, called romances. Some of these ballads are about lovers. Many are about the Moors who ruled Spain for so many long centuries. There are a large number about the famous Cid who fought the Moors. There is also a large cycle about the Paladins of France, and about Bernardo del Carpio, who, the Spaniards say, killed the mighty Roland in the battle of Roncesvalles. While there are several collections of English translations of the Spanish ballads, scholars and translators tend to focus on the Moorish and love ballads. It is difficult to find any complete account of this branch of the Carolingian legend, which is why I decided to write a summary of every Spanish ballad related to Charlemagne. I quickly discovered that this is an impossible task. The folk tradition is still alive and well, not only in Iberia, but in every land to which the Spanish Jews moved after being exiled by Ferdinand and Isabella. New variants are constantly being recorded, and no Professor Child has yet arisen to make a complete collection of the folksongs and to standardize the titles by which they are known.
The closest thing to a definitive collection of Spanish ballads that currently exists is the Romancero General of Agustin Duran, published in 1877, which includes every ballad printed prior to the 1800’s. This means it does not include any folksongs from the Spain of his day, or, naturally, from later. These folksongs sometimes contain very interesting variants from the printed texts. Many of these later folksongs can be found at the Pan-Hispanic Ballad Project and Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, two confusingly arranged messes of websites which I leave it to you to sift through if you’re left wanting more.

Based on Floovant, via the Italian Fioravante. Floresvento burns seven cities, and deflowers seven high-born maidens on Christmas Eve. His father wishes to execute him. His mother succeeds in having the sentence commuted to banishment. His father forbids anyone to sell him food. The ballad ends with verses from some version of Duran’s 298 and 299 [Our Goodman/Claralinda/Wife caught in Adultery]. Floresvento discovers his wife Branca’s two lovers hiding in her bedroom; she asks him to kill her then and there. He refuses.

Based on the beginning of Bevis of Hampton, The Queen combs her hair before a mirror, praises God for making her so beautiful, and curses her parents for making her marry an old man. As she looks out the window, she sees Carleto, her lover. They plan to kill the king. He tells her to pretend to be pregnant and to have a craving for a stag/pig/ram/goat that lives in a certain part of the woods. She does so, and he orders his men to prepare for the hunt. She tries to convince him to go alone, but he will have none of it. He meets Carleto, and one of them kills the other. In a few versions, the king dies,  but usually he wins and sticks Carleto’s head on a lance, which he presents to the queen. She confesses that most of her children are Carleto’s, and threatens that his relatives will avenge him. The king cuts her head off, and sticks it besides her lover’s.

The Moorish Queen Xerifa of Almeria sends her men on a slave raid into France, to fetch her a serving maid of high birth. They kill Count Flores, capture his wife, and make her a kitchen maid. The queen and maid give birth on the same day, the queen to a girl and the maid to a boy. The midwives [by accident in some versions, for a bribe in others] switch the babies. On day, the queen hears the maid singing to “her” daughter, “If you were my daughter, I would call thee Marguerete/Flor de los Flores/Blancaflor, which was my sister’s name. She was kidnapped by the Moors.” The queen asks her to describe her sister. Thanks to a birthmark, the two women realize they are sisters, and flee home to France.

This ballad probably is not related to Floris and Blanchefleur, but I include it here in case the names are more than a coincidence.

Based on Mainet. A Moorish King accuses Galiana of loving Carolicho [Charlemagne], and threatens to cut his head off and make her look at it at every meal. Carolicho arrives, disguised as a charcoal maker, and bids his lady escape with him.

Rondale paces in a light rain, with a gold falcon on his wrist, crying “Who will aid me?” He intends to kill the King of France and his men, and marry his daughter. He comes to the castle of Count Argile [Ogier], a lord of great strength.

I will not swear that they are related, but it is at least interesting that in some manuscripts of the Quatre Filz Aymon, Roland, disgusted with his uncle’s single-minded pursuit of Renaldo and Malagise, threatens to leave him, and says “Ogier, what will you do? Will you come with me? Let us leave this foolish old dotard.”

Based on Fierabras. Guarinos is held captive by Moors in dungeon. The Princess Floripas hears him weeping, asks why, consoles him, and promises to set him free and wed him the next day. It is done.
Guarinos’ part is filled by Guy of Burgundy in most versions of the story.