The Legend of Hervis of Metz

The legend of Hervis de Metz is found in the following versions:

A chanson de geste of some 10,000 assonanced decasyllables, from the start of the 13th century. Three manuscripts, all of which go on to include Garin and Gerbert. Also two fragments.

A mise en prose of the entire cycle made by Philippe de Vigneulles in 1515. Both manuscripts were lost in the 20th century, but fortunately copies were made. A printed edition is underway.


Duke Pierre of Lorraine and Metz is bankrupt, and constrained to marry his daughter Alice to the rich provost Thierry. With his son-in-law’s money, he pays off his debts and goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thierry and Alice have a son, Hervis, who learns to read and write and joust and fight.

Hervis wishes to be dubbed a knight. His father, however, wants him to be a merchant, and sends him to his (Hervis’) uncles in Provence to teach him the same. Hervis squanders all his money on hawks, hounds, horses, and lavish banquets to which he invites all the town’s merchants, thereby showing his innate nobility. His father, when he returns home, is furious, but Alice restores the peace.

Thierry is stubborn, and sends Hervis with his uncles to Lagny Fair, threating to disown him if he repeats his behavior in Provence.

Meanwhile, the king of Spain has decided to ask in marriage Princess Beatrix of Tyre, sister of King Flore of Hungary [perhaps the hero of Florus and Blanchefleur, but this is nowhere made explicit]. King Eustace of Tyre agrees, but his daughter is kidnapped by slavers on her journey to Spain. They sell her at Lagny Fair, where Hervis sees her and admires her beauty. When she swears she is a virgin, he buys her for 15,000 marks, knowing nothing else about her. He returns home with his new fiancée, at which his father disowns him, and chases the unhappy pair out of Metz.

Fortunately, Hervis has a half-sister who has married the rich burgher Baudris of Metz. She persuades Thierry to take back his son. Hervis and Beatrix (who has not yet revealed her true identity) are married, despite some reluctance, and they conceive Garin the first night.

A tournament is announced at Senlis, between the counts of Bar and of Flanders. Hervis decides to enter. [At this point, MS E switches to alexandrines]

Baudri’s nephew Gerart accompanies Hervis to the tournament, where he fights on the side of Bar and captures the Count of Flanders. Unfortunately, he gambles away all the prize money. This sort of life goes on for seven years, in which time he has his second son, Bégues. After seven years, Baudri and Hervis are bankrupt. [Here E returns to decasyllables].

Beatrix embroiders a beautiful cloth, and tells her husband to sell it in Tyre. He arrives in that city, manages to obtain a loan from prince Baudri, which he squanders on lavish banquets for his fellow merchants. Hervis learns his wife’s true identity, and King Flore of Hungary recognizes his sister’s handiwork (she embroidered her family into the cloth). King Eustace of Tyre buys the cloth for an extravagant sum, but the Queen orders Hervis arrested and tortured until he reveals where her daughter is. The merchants obtain his release, but Eustace sends spies to follow him all the way back to Metz. Hervis returns home, followed by an entourage and the spies, fighting various bandits along the way. One of them, Thierry, he spares and befriends. He presents his newfound wealth to his starving wife and children, who reconcile him and his father Thierry the provost.

Duke Pierre finally returns home from the Holy Land and dubs his grandson Hervis a knight. Pierre’s brother, the Duke of Brabant dies childless, and Pierre is obliged to rescue his newly inherited duchy from the invading king Anseis of Cologne. The spies, meanwhile, have returned to Tyre, and King Flore is en route to Metz. The war between the Lorrainers and the Brabanters proceeds, Hervis defeats Anseis in single combat, who flees, and the Lorrainers lay siege to Cologne. King Flore arrives at Metz, disguised as a merchant. He makes friends with Baudri of Metz, and then kidnaps his sister. Hervis hears the news and leads his army to Tyre. The Tyrians royals rejoice to have Beatrix back, and send word to the king of Spain that he can finally come and marry her. Hervis reaches Tyre first, sends Thierry the ex-bandit into the city disguised as a pilgrim, and through him Beatrix arranges her rescue. Hervis ambushes and “kidnaps” her while she is riding through the woods with her friends. She brings with her the dowry that was meant for the king of Spain. King Flore and King Eustace arrive, reject Hervis’ attempts at reconciliation, and force the Christians to retreat. The Christians eventually return to Metz safely, where King Anseis has rallied his forces and has Duke Pierre on the ropes. Hervis rides to Brabant, and fights Anseis’ ally King Eudart of Scotland (a giant) in a single combat, among other adventures.

The King of Spain, meanwhile, furious at losing his fiancée twice, invades France and lays siege to Metz, with Eustace and Flore as his allies. In the fighting, they capture the provost Thierry and the young Begon. The King of Spain wishes to hang Begon, but Eustace and Flore object. Hervis forces Anseis to make peace and hurries back to Metz, only to find the invading alliance has been dissolved. The King of Spain contents himself with finally laying eyes on his could-have-been-bride, and returns home, as do the other Saracens. There is much rejoicing.


MSS NT interpolate a link between Hervis de Metz and Garin le Loherain, which we have discussed under the legend of Girart of Roussillon. E ends Hervis and begins Garin without any attempt to link the two.


A typical mise en prose, fairly faithful, expanding in some places and abridging in others, but the only important difference is that Philippe explicitly states that King Flore is the hero of Floris and Blanchefleur and the father of Bertha Broadfoot.


The story was written after Garin and Gerbert, but probably before Anseis and Yonnet. Like the first two mentioned poems, it was probably written in Lorraine, by a Lorrainer. The episode of the Tyrian merchants appears to be taken from an obscure work called De Diversitate Temporum, by one Alpert of Metz, of which the only known manuscript is still kept in the monastery of Saint Vincent in that city. The bulk of the work, however, appears to be its author’s own invention, a new combination of various stock motifs, to present a cheerful, light-hearted roman d’aventure, in strong contrast to the bloody tale of revenge it introduces.

The work remained popular in Lorraine, but little known elsewhere. Around 1400, the first few episodes of Hervis were included, greatly abridged, in the Chronique messine rimée.

Let thus much suffice for Hervis of Metz, and let us now speak of his son, Garin the Lorrainer.


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