The Legend of Bertha Broadfoot 3: The Italian Family

Section 1:

MS V13: Berta de la Pie Grant

Venice, Biblioteca marciana fondo francese manuscript XIII (=256), usually abbreviated V13, is a collection of chansons de geste in Franco-Italian assonanced decasyllables, containing: Bovo d’Antona (Part 1, unknown number of pages lost at the beginning), Bertha Broad-Foot, Bovo Part 2, Karleto, Berta e Milone, Enfances Ogier, Orlandino, Chevalerie Ogier, and Macario, of all of which it is the only copy. Franco-Italian was never a spoken dialect, but rather a literary creation. The MS and poems date from the early 1300s.

Pepin holds court in Paris on Pentecost, at which Aquilon of Bavaria (father of Naimon), Bernard of Clairmont, Salomon and others attend. They urge him to take a wife, and a çubler announces that the most beautiful woman he has ever seen is named Berta da li pe grandi, daughter of King Alfaris of Hungary and his wife Belisant. The barons all agree that this is a good plan, and Pepin sends as ambassador to Hungary Aquilon, Bernard, Morando de Rivere, and Grifon of Altafoglia [Hauteville]. The King receives them warmly, then consults with his family. He tells Berta that Pepin is short and ugly, but very rich and very brave. She agrees to marry him, and they depart. On their way home, they stop at the castle of Belençer of Magance, whose daughter happens to look exactly like Berta. The two become friends at once, and Berta takes the damsel with her to Paris. As they near that city, Berta asks the girl to take her place in King Pepin’s bed, because she is exhausted from the long ride. King Pepin is surprised to see his bride’s tiny feet, but decides the çubler must have been lying. In the morning, the girl bids her henchman take Berta into the forest and kill her. The man is touched by pity, however, and spares Berta’s life after making her swear never to return to France. Berta wanders into the forest.

In Paris, the woman has three children: Lanfroi, Landrix, and Berta the mother of Roland. Meanwhile, Berta has been wandering the woods and at last comes to the castle of Sinibaldo, where he lives with his two daughters (their mother is dead). She stays there for a year. After a year, Pepin comes to that forest to go hunting, sees Berta, and falls in love with her at once. He asks Sinibaldo if he can sleep with her, and he consents. Berta is willing, too, and they make love on the back of a cart, where a boy is conceived. Pepin goes home to Paris, but when he hears of his son’s birth, he gives orders that he be named Karlo.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Hungary is worried that she has heard nothing from her daughter in seven years. She sets out for Paris, where the false queen pretends to be ill. Belisant confronts the impostor in her bedroom, turns down the covers, sees the tiny feet, and begins beating her, demanding to know the truth. Pepin, summoned by the ruckus, puts two and two together and realizes his concubine in the woods must be the real Berta. He sends for her, and she comes and tells her story. The false bride is burnt, but Berta raises her three children alongside Karlo at court, though the boys grew up to be traitors anyway. Belisent returns to Hungary, and the MS returns to Bevis of Hampton.


Morgan, Leslie Z. La Geste Francor: Editions of the Chansons de geste of MS. Marc. Fr. XII (=256). MRTS 348, ACMRS: Tempe, AZ, 2009.

Section 2:

Andrea da Barberino’s I Reali di Francia, Book VI

Pepin is now old and still has no wife, so Bernard of Clairmont and Gherardo da Fratta (Girart d’Eufrate) summon every eligible maiden to his Pentecost court, but Pepin will have none of them. He sends the two, with Morand of Riviera and Raymond of Trier to find him a wife. No one, however, wants their daughter to marry the old and short Pepin, except king Filipo of Hungary (son of Sicurans, son of Sinibaldo), and his daughter Berta del gran pie’, whose right foot is larger than her left. With Berta is her maiden Falisetta, daughter of Guglielmo di Maganza, son of Galione the murderer of Bovo [Bevis of Hampton]. Guglielmo, his wife, and daughter have been living in Hungary since the murder, and Falisetta has been raised alongside Berta, whom she exactly resembles save for her feet. King Filipo agrees to the marriage, so long as Pepin has no objection to Berta’s feet. He doesn’t, and sends for her. Among the knights who are sent to fetch her are the Maganzans Grifone, Spinardo, and Tolomeo, who plot with their cousin Falisetta on the way. Berta is already nervous about marrying such an old man as Pepin, and no one has told her about his age and ugliness. When she sees him, she is downcast, and asks Falisetta to take her place in bed. Falisetta hesitates and consults with her cousins, who persuade her to replace Berta not just for the night, but for good. That night, Pepin begets a son by Falisetta, and the Maganzans’ goons kidnap Berta and take her to the Forest of Magno to kill her. The goons, however, think they are executing Falisetta, until they remove her gag. They decide to simply leave her tied up in the forest, in exchange for her promise that she will keep them from being executed if anyone ever learns of this. Little does it avail them, for Grifone has them killed upon their return. Falisetta gives birth to Lanfroy and Oldrigi, and writes letters to her “parents.”

Berta is rescued by Lamberto, who has a wife and four daughters and is Pepin’s vassal. Lamberto takes her into his castle by the Magno river. She works at embroidery and teaches the girls, and they make so much money that in five years Lamberto can retire. Berta conceives a plan: she embroiders her entire story on a pavilion, and bids Lamberto take it to Paris to sell at the fair of Saint Denis, but to say he bought it from an Alexandrian merchant. She also warns him not to enter any man’s house. Well does she caution him, for Grifone of Maganza sees the pavilion and buys it. The Maganzans burn the pavilion and send spies to Alexandria.

However, Filipo and his wife are growing suspicious, and sent a spy to France, who recognizes Falisetta at once. The King and Queen, much perturbed, decide to go to France and see for themselves. Grifone and Falisetta fake her illness, but the Queen forces her way into the sickroom. She recognizes the fraud at once, but says nothing, fearing Pepin. She hastily consults with the King, who agrees to play along until they can go home and make war on Pepin in safety. Pepin invites them to go hunting by the Magno, but the French king gets separated from the group and takes shelter with Lamberto. As they drink that night, Pepin asks to sleep with Berta. Lamberto begs him not to unless Berta is willing. Much to his surprise, Berta is willing, but the rest of the hunting party luckily arrive at this juncture. After dinner, the men make a bed for Berta and Pepin on a cart. As Pepin begins embracing her, she reveals her identity. Pepin is astonished, but believes her, and begets on her Charlemagne that very night. All is revealed in the morning. The Maganzans are ousted from Paris. Falisetta is burnt, but her sons are spared. When Pepin sends to bring Berta from Lambert’s house, the Maganzans ambush her train, but are defeated. Berta kills Tolomeo in the battle, but the other ringleaders escape. The King and Queen of Hungary go home. Berta’s son is born with a fleur-de-lis birthmark on his shoulder, and named Carro Magno, after the cart and the river. He came to be called Carlo, however. He is fostered by Morando. When Carlo was twelve, his mother gave birth to a girl named Berta, but then Lanfroy and Oldrigi poisoned her, and the story now moves on to the Enfances Charlemagne.


Andrea da Barberino, I Reali di Francia, edited by Giuseppe Vandelli and Giovanni Gambarin. Giuseppe Laterza & Figli: Bari, 1947. Berta’s story is in Book VI, Ch. 1-17.

English Translation:

Wickert, Max. The Royal House of France, and Related Medieval Romances. Internet only, 2009. Link here.

Section 3:

Aquilon of Bavaria

Aquilon of Bavaria is a very long work in Franco-Italian prose, written in the late 1300’s, by Raffaele Marmora da Verona, who claims to be merely the translator of Turpin’s Latin, who translated it from Eraclides, of Dafim, an African philosopher (North African, not Negro). The story is set immediately after Aspremont, and the titular hero is not Naimes’ father, but his otherwise unknown fifth son (after Avin, Avolio, Ottone, and Berenger). The work will be dealt with in full later, but what concerns us here is Roland’s interview with the ghost of his grandmother Gaiete, the villainess of Bertha Broadfoot, who tells him her story. It should be noted that this story appears to have been added to the MS (381) at a later date.

Pepin had never seen Bertha Broadfoot before, but he sent Aquilon of Bavaria, Grifon of Altafoglia, Quintin of Normandy, and Morand of Rivera to fetch her from her father the King of Hungary. Gaiete was the daughter of the King of Corvatie, and the two kings sent her to Paris to be Bertha’s companion. Pepin met both of them, and secretly told Gaiete at the feast that he would have married her if he had known how beautiful she was. This gave Gaiete an idea. She had two of her henchmen lure Bertha out of bed that night and take her to the forest to kill her, while she went to Pepin’s bed. The henchmen had pity on her, however, and brought back the heart of a beast to Gaiete, while Bertha found shelter with an old man and his wife (otherwise childless), whom she told that she was running away because her father wanted her to marry a scoundrel. In the morning, Pepin was surprised to find his wife was gone, but Gaiete told him that she had run off with a serving boy. Pepin, after some time went by, married Gaiete instead, and she bore him Lanfroi, Lodris, and Bertha.

For five years this went on, until the Queen of Hungary was desirous to see her daughter. King Pepin rode out to meet her, but stopped to hunt on the way, and happened to find the home where Bertha was staying. Pepin recognized her, and she told him everything. That night they begot “Zarlemaine,” so called because he was conceived on a cart near the Maine. In the morning, Pepin went to Paris, promising to send for Bertha. He arrived home to meet Aquilon of Bavaria, who told him that the Queen of Hungary had arrived, and was insisting that the Queen of France was not really her daughter. Pepin confronted the women and Gaiete confessed everything. Bertha forgave her, but Pepin had her burnt.

Edition: A. Thomas, “Aquilon de Bavière. Roman franco-italien inconnu,” Romania 11 (1882), 538-569. Gaiete’s story is transcribed on pp. 557-561.

Section 4:

Antonio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno

Antonio de Eslava was born in Sanguessa around 1570, and wrote, among other works Noches de Invierno, a collection of stories told by various characters to wile away the long winter nights. The tenth tale, on the third night is “The Birth of Charlemagne, King of France and Roman Emperor.” The eighth tale, on the second night, is “The Love of Milon de Anglante and Verta, and the Birth of Roldan, and his Childhood.” [The numbering of tales is continuous].

King Pepin of France, son of Charles Martel, reigns in peace, but he has buried two wives without having an heir. He determines to marry the most beautiful maiden he can find, whatever her birth may be. Maidens are summoned from all over to Paris, but the most beautiful, notwithstanding that one of her feet is larger than the other, is Verta del gran pie, daughter of the Count of Melgaria, and sister of King Dudon of Aquitaine. Pepin sees none to match her, and declares that he will marry her. She has gone home by now, so he sends his admiral, Dudon de Lis, to wed her by proxy. Unfortunately, Verta falls in love with the Admiral. As Verta’s train rides from Burgundy to Paris, she tells her love to her confidante, Fiameta de Maganza (who looks exactly like her). The two girls agree to trade places, but Fiameta plots with her Maganzan kinsmen. They seize Verta whilst she is in a garden and carry her off to the woods to kill her. Her tears move them to pity, however, and they settle for leaving her alone in her shirt, taking her fine clothes to Fiameta as “proof” of their deed.

Verta, alone, weeps in a long, learned lament, in which she alludes to Angelica’s rescue by Ruggiero! She is at last found by Pepin’s forester Lipulo, who takes her home to his wife Sintia. They take her in, as they have no children of their own. Their castle is along the Magno [Maine]. Verta stays there for two years.

Meanwhile, Fiameta is reigning in Paris. One day, however, the Count and Countess of Melgaria decide to pay her a visit. She feigns illness, but the Count and Countess recognize her at once, and contrive to secretly view her feet. They suspect that Pepin is in on the deception, and so say nothing, intending to make war on Pepin once they are safely home again. They try to get away, but Pepin, blissfully ignorant, drags the Count on a hunting expedition, on which they get lost and are obliged to spend the night with Lipulo. Verta conceals her identity, but agrees to sleep with Pepin, much to her foster parents’ shock. Lipulo makes them a bed on a cart by the banks of the Maine, and there Charlemagne is conceived. In the morning, Verta reveals herself. Pepin confirms her story, and then has her brought to Paris in her finest clothing. Fiameta is beheaded, and Lipulo is made Count of Ardennes.


The original is available on Google Books, here. The title says “Part 1,” but Eslava never wrote a Part 2. Bertha’s story, pp. 183-197.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.