The Legend of Ciperis of Vignevaux

The legend of Ciperis de Vignevaux survives in the following versions:

A chanson de geste from the mid 1300’s in rhymed alexandrines, surviving only in one badly damaged manuscript, which also includes the Enfances Doon de Mayence.

Histoire du Noble Roy Silperic de Vinevaux qui fut Roy de France. A highly abridged mise en prose, from the court of Burgundy. The oldest surviving copy is from no later than 1467. It was printed in the 1500’s, made its way into the Bibliothèque Bleue, and was last printed in 1842. The Burgundian manuscript has been printed under by Laura Ramello under the title: Un mito alla corte di Borgogna: Ciperis de Vignevaux in prosa.

There are, of course, no English translations.

The following summary of the story is taken from William Woods’ edition and the account in Histoire Litteraire de la France XXVI, by Paulin Paris. Passages in italics represent lacunae in the verse, and are supplied from the prose.

Vignevaux is, or was, a forest in Normandy, apparently near Caux. In these woods Philippe, son of King Clotaire of France, makes love to Clarisse, daughter of Duke Marcus of Orleans, and produces an illegitimate son, Ciperis [Chilperic]. When their love is made known, Phillippe is banished and becomes King of Hungary. How he does so is unknown, but these adventures seem to have been based on those of Philippe in Dieudonne of Hungary. Ciperis is raised at the court of his uncle King Dagobert.

Clotaire was the thirteenth king of France, in the year 632. He was not the Clotaire who was son of Clovis. This Clotaire had three sons: Dagobert, Ludovis, and Philippe, in that order. Philippe was sent to the court of Duke Marcus of Orleans, where he fell in love with and seduced Marcus’ daughter Clarice. Since the punishment for adultery in those days was burning at the stake, they fled to the Forest of Vignevaux, now called the Forest of Eu. There they were separated by bandits. Philippe, under the impression the bandits had taken Clarice to Paris, hurried thither and left her in the woods, where she fell in with a hermit. In the meantime, Duke Marcus had put two and two together, gone to Paris, and obtained a sentence of exile for Philippe and Clarice. Philippe reaches Paris, hears of his banishment, and flees to Hungary before being recognized. There he serves the king so well that he wins his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Meanwhile, Clarice is nearing her time to give birth, so the hermit sends for Marguerite, wife of the local lord Foucaut. Unfortunately, Foucaut, though Christian, is a giant and a tyrant, and Marguerite has to slip out of the castle to serve as midwife. He tracks her to the hermit’s hut, arriving just after Clarice gives birth, while the hermit is out gathering food. He takes the women back to his castle, leaving the baby. The hermit returns, grieves, and baptizes the boy Ciperis of Vignevaux. Ciperis has a fleur-de-lis birthmark on his shoulder. A goat miraculously agrees to suckle him, for seven years, and the hermit teaches him to read and hunt.

King Clotaire dies, and Dagobert his son becomes king. When Ciperis is ten, he gets lost in the woods and is found by King Guillaume of England, who takes him back to Paris. King Dagobert wishes to adopt the foundling, but Guillaume refuses to give him up, and takes him to London, where he raises him alongside his daughter, princess Hermine. When Ciperis is still a squire, he overthrows King Henri of Norway in a tourney, incurring his undying hatred. The king masked it, however, and invited Ciperis to hunt with him, planning to kill him. He leaves him for dead, but Ciperis is only unconscious, recovers, and returns to court, angrily storming into King Guillaume’s palace just as the princess is getting suspicious of Henri. Ciperis tells all, King Henri denies all, and they agree to trial by combat. Dagobert arrives to support the foundling and dub him a knight. Ciperis wins the duel, but Henri is pardoned. He makes an alliance with certain English nobles, including the Duke of Lancaster, to whom he offers his sister Florence in marriage. These nobles take Ciperis hunting and try to kill him, but he foils them and kills many of their men. Unfortunately, he also kills King Guillaume in the confusion. Ciperis flees to France and returns to the woods of his birth, where he meets the hermit (who has thought him dead). Hermine enters a nunnery.

The hermit tells Ciperis the truth of his origins, and that his mother is still a captive of the giant Foucaut, who has openly relapsed into Islam. Ciperis, with the help of some charcoal burners (especially one named Hellie), kills the giant, frees Clarice and Marguerite, and becomes lord of the castle.

In Paris, meanwhile, Prince Stephen of Provence has fallen in love wih Dagobert’s daughter Orable, who despises him. He tries to kiss her by force, so she slaps him so hard that she knocks two of his teeth out. He swears revenge, and tells her father that she is sleeping with the king’s chamberlain. King Dagobert goes to his daughter’s chamber, sees her playing chess with the man with no one else in the room, and in his fury beheads the chamberlain at once. The witness is dead, no one dares challenge Stephen to trial by combat, and Stephen bribes the nurses to falsely report that Orable has lost her maidenhood. As Orable is led to the stake to be burnt, the people raise such an outcry that the king is forced to commute her sentence to banishment. As she wanders southward, Stephen ambushes her in the forest of Vignevaux. Fortunately, Ciperis is out hunting, hears her cry, and resuces her. She conceals her identity, but he takes her back to his castle and makes her his mistress. She conceives twins that very night: Theirry and Clovis. Over the next fourteen years they have seventeen sons:

1: Theirry, King of France. [Theoderic III]
2: Clovis, King of France. [Clovis IV]
3: Galehaut, King of Navarre.
4: Ferrant, King of Brittany.
5: Guillaume, King of England.
6: Bochiquaut, King of Norway.
7: Amaury, King of Ireland.
8: Gracien, Lord of Denmark, who was killed by a pagan maned Justmon and canonized by the Pope.
9: Paris, King of Frisia.
10: Gloriant, King of Cyprus
11: Louis, King of Germany.
12: Samson, King of Gascony
13: Amadas, a great lover and a famous.
14: Alart.
15: Morant.
16: Clariant.
17: Ciperis the Younger, King of Jerusalem and a Saint.

When the youngest is of an age to be dubbed, Ciperis takes the whole family to a tounament in Paris, which they win. They reveal their identites, Dagobert is thrilled to be reunited with his daughter and his nephew, and Ciperis and Orable are finally married. Dagobert rebukes Ciperis for killing Guillaume, and Ciperis decieds to make amends by reconquering England for Hermine. He does so, and offers her whichever of his sons she pleases as her husband. She chooses Guillaume, for that he has the same name as her father.

For various reasons, usually justifiable vengeance, Ciperis now sets out on a series of conquests, thereby winning a kingdom and a wife for each of his other eighteen sons. However, the poet does not develop all of the episodes. It is possible that he intended to include an episode for each son. If so, he must have seen that his work was becoming too long to hold his audience’s attention and cut his materials short. The last nine sons are disposed of in a rather hurried fashion.

The surviving poem opens with the crowning of Guillaume as king of England and his marriage to Hermine. Ciperis and his men return to France. Galadre, brother of the deceased king of Norway, swears vengeance on Ciperis and calls on all his friends to help. Ciperis’ sons distinguish themselves in a tourney at Paris…

Lacuna…Galadre conquers England.

Galadre has captured all of England while Guillaume is tourneying, and he sails for Vignevaux. Dagobert pledges to help Ciperis, who rides to the attack. Galadre is defeated and retreats…

Lacuna…Details of the war.

Another battle ends in England and Canterbury is captured. London is then recaptured by a strategem: having taken Galadre prisoner, Guillaume dons his armor and bids his men take the armor of Norwegians slain in the battle. They infiltrate the city and sieze it. The French prepare to leave for Denmark. They pass through Scotland, and Amaurris marries Princess Aeslis of Ireland. Paris marries Princess Symonne of Scotland. King Andrew of Scotland joins the expedition. Denmark is captured, and Gracien marries Salemonde and becomes king of Denmark. Dagobert defeats the Norwegians and marries Flourette, their queen, to Bouchiquaut. (Flourette had become queen when her father Fendu was slain by Ciperis in England). Frise is captured, and Enguerran becomes ruler thereof and husband of Avice. Emperor Oursaire of Germany decides to help his defeated friends, but is defeated by Dagobert and Ciperis and becomes their ally. Oursaire’s daughter Aragonde weds Louis. They will have a son, Guitequin, who will later feature in Theseus of Cologne.

Hellie, a former charcoal burner, is one of the most valiant French knights. The French army is divided; Oursaire goes to help Phillippe of Hungary and Dagobert goes to recapture France and Paris from the King of Navarre. Ciperis travels via Vignevaux to Paris, which he helps Dagobert recapture. Dagobert entrusts his son Louis to Ciperis, but the treacherous Robert d’Aumarle (whose father Isoré was slain by Hellie in England) poisons the prince. Dagobert thinks Ciperis is the culprit, and swears vengeance. Ciperis takes him prisoner, but he refuses to make peace. Oursaire learns that Phillippe is the father of Ciperis and sends for his aid. Hellie reveals the true murderer of Louis, and Ciperis, Dagobert, and his brother Ludovis join forces. Dagobert has to subdue Guy of Provence, who has treacherously seized Paris. Guy escapes to Hungary and renounces Christianity. The Christians successfully invade Hungary, and Phillippe marries Clarisse, mother of Ciperis. Ciperis then goes to Scotland. During this time Dagobert dies and Ludovis [Clovis II] ascends the throne. Ciperis is annoyed and makes war on Ludovis. In the course of this war, we are told that Thierri of Vignevaux will later found the Abbey of Saint-Vaast, and that a bear helped build the abbey.

Ludovis’ wife Baudour [Bathilde] ends the war by reconciling the foes. (Baudour is the sister of Theseus of Cologne). The pagan princess Salatrie (whose father Aquilant was slain in Hungary) conquers Cologne, slaying Emperor Orsaire. Ciperis goes to the rescue. Salatrie becomes Christian and marries Ciperis, the youngest son of Ciperis. The French return home. Ludovis dies. Cipereis conquers Spain. Bouchiqualt becomes King of Navarre. Sanson, king of Gascony. Ciperis, king of France. He is succeeded by his sons Thierri [III] and then Clovis [IV]. Allart gets Artois. Louys gets Vignevaux. Sanson gets Flanders. Amadas gets Noyon. Ferrans gets Brittany. Morant is left with nothing. Even Hellie becomes lord of Normandy.

HISTOIRE DU NOBLE ROY SILPERIC DE VINEVAUX QUI FUT ROY DE FRANCE
[THE STORY OF THE NOBLE KING CHILPERIC OF VIGNEVAUS WHO WAS KING OF FRANCE]

The prose highly abridges the original, and makes a few slight changes, but none of importance.

I can find no detailed information on the chapbooks, but I presume they followed the typical pattern of becoming shorter and more corrupt with every edition.

ORIGINS AND INFLUENCE

Most of what follows is taken from William Wood and Paulin Paris:

The author, or perhaps the scribe, was namd Brienchon. The rhymes and meter are generally smooth. The episodes are pure boilerplate with no originality, and are “lacking in the dignity and loftiness of the earlier epics.” The author criticizes the wealthy, which has led some to believe he himself was poor. He was probably not a clergyman, or at least not an educated one. The poem alludes to Theseus de Cologne, and draws material from Charles the Bald. The author’s knowledge of geography is limited to Picardy and Paris; all else is fanciful. His frequent mention of the abbeys of Saint-Denis, Saint-Pierre de Corbie, and Saint-Vaast of Arras suggests that he had some personal attachment to one or more of them. He knew that they were founded by Dagobert I, Saint Bathilde [wife of Clovis II], and Thierri III, respectively, though he freely changes the circumstances for his poem. According to Alcuin’s Life of Saint Vaast, the saint drove away a ferocious bear from the site where the abbey was being built.

“The author is at his best in depicting certain psychological elements. Robert d’Aumarle’s efforts to avoid fighting are well done. Likewise the anger and sulking of Dagobert after the death of Louis, Ciperis’ patient treatment of him and his righteous indignation refuses the offers of reconciliation, the blow to Ciperis’ pride when he is not consulted about the crown after the death of Dagobert, and the handling of the Salatrie incident when she wants to marry a son of Ciperis testify to an excellent recorder of human emotions. The author seems to be fond of moralizing and has scattered a number of proverbs and sentnetious statements throughout the work.” – Wood.

Krappe has suggested that the poem is from the early 1400’s, based on events that occurred between 1396 and 1410. Emperor Charles IV’s son Sigismund wed Mary, daughter of King Louis the Great of Hungary, in 1377. Through her inherited the Hungarian crown in 1387. The Turks soon after invaded Bulgaria and Serbia. In 1395 Sigismund marched against them and recovered Nicopolis. Queen Mary then died, obliging Sigismund to return home and secure his throne. King Charles VI of France, at the urging of the Pope, sent his cousin John the Fearless, son of the Duke of Burgudy, with 12,000 men to help Sigismund. Sultan Bazajet, however, annihilated the Christian coalition in Serbia. Morons, where much of the Hungarian war takes place, is perhaps Maronia, a region on the Adriatic, south of Spalato.

Most scholars (of those few who have given any attention to this poem) reject these identifications as fanciful. The disastrous battle of Nicopolis would never have been turned into a victory, and the only thing the author knows about the real Hungary is that it breeds fine horses. The language likewise indicates that the poem was written in the mid 1300’s.

In the poem, the sucession of kings is Dagobert, his brother Ludovis, Ciperis, and Ciperis’ sons Thierri and Clovis. The real Dagobert I was brother of King Charibert II of Aquitaine, and father of Clovis II of Neustria and Burgundy, and Sigibert III of Austrasia. Clovis II begot Childerich II of Austrasia, Chlothar III of Neustria and Burgundy, and Thierri III, who inherited the entire kingdom of the Franks by outliving his brothers. Thierri III begot Clovis IV.

Gracien, lord of Denmark, is perhaps Saint Gatianus, first Bishop of Tours. Saint Ciperis the Younger seems to be made of whole cloth; there is no Saint Chilperic.

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