The legend of the Fair Florence of Rome is extant in the following versions:
La Chanson de Florence de Rome. French, rhymed alexandrines, c. 1200-1225. Edited by A. Wallensköld.
Le Dit de Florence de Romme. By Jean de Saint Quentin. French. Rhymed alexandrine quatrains, c. 1300-1350. Edited by Achille Jubinal in Nouveau Recueil de contes, Dits, Fabliaux et autres Pièces Inédits des XIIIe, XIVe, et XVe Siècles. Volume 6.
Le Roman de Florence de Rome. French, 4,500 rhymed Alexandrines, 1400’s. Included in Volume 1 of Wallensköld’s edition.
Flourence de Rome. A prose rendering of the story was also attached to the end of the prosification of Florent et Octavian, to which it was made the sequel. Printed in a dissertation by Sarah Crisler (U of Texas, 2000), which will never see the light of day outside Proquest. Support copyright reform!
Le Bone Florence de Rome. English, tail-rhyme, 1400’s. To be found in Ritson’s Ancient English Metrical Romances. Volume 3.
Cuento Muy Famoso del Enperador Ottas de Roma. Spanish prose, 1400’s. Can be found in volume 5 of Amador de los Rios’ Historia Critica de la Litterature Española.
Nobody is quite sure how all these versions are related, but they differ only in trifles.
LA CHANSON DE FLORENCE DE ROME (LMP)
King Oton of Rome’s daughter, Florence, is born to the accompaniment of terrible omens, and her mother dies shortly after. Her father dotes on the girl, who grows up to be beautiful and wise. King Garsire of Constantinople sends messengers seeking her hand in marriage, threating war if he is refused. Oton consults with his barons and with Florence, and rejects the offer. Garsire declares war.
Meanwhile, Milon and Esmeré, the two sons of King Philip of Hungary are currently serving the King of Slavonia, since their father has died and their mother was remarried to Justamont of Syria, who sought to kill his step-children. Milon, the elder, is wicked, and Esmeré, the younger, good. They decide to help King Oton in the war. In the course of the war, Milon displays his treachery, Florence falls in love with Esmeré, Oton is killed, and Esmeré taken captive. Florence thinks it prudent to marry a knight who can protect her, wishes she could find Esmeré to marry him, but resigns herself to Milon.
At this juncture, however, Garsire releases Esmeré from captivity, in gratitude for a favor King Philip once rendered him. He returns to Rome, prompting Florence to jilt Milon. Esmeré and Florence are wed, while Milon stews and schemes. Florence refuses to consummate the marriage until Garsire is defeated. Another battle is joined, in which Esmeré routs Garsire. The Romans pursue the Greeks to the seashore, where they board their ships and escape. Esmeré vows to pursue and destroy him, and leaves Milon and a hundred knights behind to guard Rome and Florence, while he and he bulk of the army set sail. Milon offers much wealth to the hundred if they will say that Esmeré is dead and crown him king. Only Sir Sanson opposes the plan, so Esmeré kills him, mutilates his body, and passes it off as Esmeré’s. Florence, however, refuses to marry him, and Sanson’s brother Agravain repents his part in the treason, confesses to the Pope, and rouses the people of Rome to arrest Milon and his men. Meanwhile, Esmeré has conquered Constantinople and returns to Italy with Garsire as prisoner, landing in Gaeta. Florence is so happy at the news that she pardons Milon and sends him to meet his brother. Milon attempts to convince Esmeré that Agravain has committed adultery with Florence, but fails miserably and is banished. Milon leaves Gaeta, returns to Rome, tells Florence that Esmeré has requested her to come forth in triumph to meet him, and then abducts her from the triumphal parade.
They travel beyond the empire’s borders. On the way, Milon kills a lion, two apes, an old hermit who rebukes his conduct (by locking him in his chapel and burning it to the ground), and a great serpent. He forces Florence to swear never to reveal her identity, but her magic brooch preserves her chastity. Milon, angry at this turn of events, hangs her by her hair from a tree and beats her. In the forest, however, is the Lost Castle (Château-Perdu), ruled by Thierri with his wife Eglantine and their daughter Beatrice. Theirri is out hunting, and Milon flees at the sound of his dogs. Thierri discoveres Florence and takes her home, where she is warmly received by the family, sharing a bed with Beatrice every night.
Milon finds refuge with Guillaume de Dol [possibly a reference to the hero of the Romance of the Rose]. Meanwhile, at the Lost Castle, there arrives a knight named Macaire, who falls in love with Florence. When she rebuffs his advances, he slits Beatrice’s throat at night and frames Florence for the murder. Thierri is about to burn her at the stake, but at the last moment commutes the sentence to banishment. She wanders through the forest and at last comes out on a plain by the seashore, where a thief named Clarembaut is about to be hanged. At her intercession, the folk spare his life, and he swears to protect his saviour. He is lying, however, and takes her to his hideout, where his fellow-bandit Peraut lives. Only Peraut’s wife Solise prevents them from dishonoring and killing Florence. Instead, when she asks them to find her passage on a ship going to the Holy Land, they sell her to a slaver named Escot. Florence boards his ship, ignorant of the fate in store for her When they are safely out at sea, Escot tells her what he intends to do, but Florence calls on God, Who sends a storm that sinks the ship and drowns everyone except Florence and Escot, who wash up on shore, seperately Florence lands near the nunnery of Beau-Repaire, where the bells ring of themselves at her arrival. The nuns are much impressed, and receive her into the cloister, where she cures a sick nun. Her fame as a healer goes out, and crowds flock to be cured by her. Meanwhile, Escot falls ill with swelling, and goes mute and half-blind. Esmeré is shot with an arrow in a war against the King of Apulia, and his doctors cannot remove it, so it festers. Milon, having repented his crimes and served Guillaume de Dol faithfully, is nonetheless striken with leprosy. Macaire goes lame from dropsy. All of them travel to Beau-Repaire, Macaire beign carried by Thierry and Eglantine. Florence recognizes them all, unrecognized by any behind her veil, and orders them to confess their sins or they will not be healed. One by one, they confess their wicked dealings against her, and at last she reveals herself. Florence magnanimosly forgives them all, and returns to Rome as Empress, where she bears Esmeré a son: Oton de Spolète [of Spoleto].
THE SHORT FRENCH REMAINEMENT (Q)
Milon, not Esmeré, saves Emperor Oton’s life in battle, and Oton promises Florence’s hand to Milon. The barons likewise wish to wed the two, but Milon, in foolish pride, asks for some time to consider. Florence and the barons are insulted, and she marries Esmeré instead.
In the war against Garsile [as he is called here], Esmeré saves the life of Sanson, explaining his later loyalty.
Milon’s treasons are reduced in number and complexity, leaving him with no motivation for not returning to Rome after he abandons Florence in the wood, since no one there knows his treachery.
Milon, Clarembaut, and Macaire are burnt at the stake after their confessions.
PROSE FLOURENCE DE ROME
Based on the short redaction, Q. Attached to the end of the prose Octavian, makes Emperor Othon to be the son of Florent and Polisse, from that romance. All Florence’s persecutors are burnt, except for Milon, who is penitent. Florence dies when she is seventy-eight years old, two months before Esmeré.
The prose Octavian was made for John, lord of Crequy, and finished May 1st, 1459.
DIT DE FLOURENCE DE ROMME (D)
A highly abbreviated retelling of the story, closer to LMP than to Q. No bad omens accompany Florence’s birth. Thierri is commanded by an angel not to burn Florence at the stake.
LE BONE FLORENCE OF ROME (R)
The English version, surviving one manuscript. Tail-rhymed, twelve-line stanzas. Half the length of the French. Cuts out some of the weirder details, such as the wild animals that attack Milon. Florence protects her virtue from Milon by praying to Our Lady, not with a magic brooch. At the end, all Florence’s persecutors are executed by Esmeré, instead of being pardoned. The Pope is named Simon, and is said to have written Florence’s story down. [There has never been a Pope Simon].
CUENTO MUY FAMOSO DEL ENPERADOR OTTAS DE ROMA, ET DE LA INFANTE FLORENCIA SU FIJA, ET DEL BUEN CAVALLERO ESMERE (S)
As far as I know, no significant changes from the French. The Pope is again named Simon.
ORIGINS AND INFLUENCE
Stories of persecuted Queens are innumerable, but Florence belongs to the sub-group known as the Crescentia Saga, named after the oldest (surviving) European example, the story of Queen Crescentia in the Kaiserchronik (c. 1150). The distinguishing features of this group are: 1) The heroine’s first persecutor is her amorous brother-in-law. 2) The queen’s healing powers reunite all the characters for the denouement.
It is not our purpose to list all, or even most, of the stories in this sprawling saga, but the following brief outline may be useful:
1st Family: Crescentia Proper. Notable examples: Kaiserchronik. German Volkbooks.
2nd Family: An anonymous Miracle of the Virgin, found first in prose in the 1100’s. Notable examples: Legend of St. Guglielma, Speculum Historiale VII:90-92, Gautier de Coincy.
3rd Family: Florence of Rome.
4th Family: Gesta Romanorum. (Latin 249, in Swann’s translation). Other notable examples: Hoccleve’s Fabulam de quadam imperatrice Romana.
5th Family: Hildegard. Hildegard, wife of Charlemagne, first had the Crescentia Legend attached to her by Johannes Birck, a Bavarian schoolmaster, in the 1400’s. Some twenty-eight later works follow him. They will be dealt with in the appropriate place later on.
Oriental Analogues: Are to be found in the Touti-Nameh, the Thousand and One Nights, and the Thousand and One Days.
Florence of Rome itself was written sometime between 1200 (the date of Guillaume de Dole, to which it seems to allude) and 1225 (when references to it begin appearing in other works).