Book I, Canto XVI, Part 1

The Orlando Innamorato in English, Book I, Canto XVI, Stanzas 1-20


Orlando and King Agricane duel
To th’admiration of the heathen crowd.
But they are parted when, to save his jewel
King Gallifron arrives, to vengeance vowed.
With him is Archiloro, tall and cruel
And allied with him is Marfisa proud,
Who does not deign as yet to join the fight.
Meanwhile, Rinaldo meets a woeful knight.
Ev’rything which beneath the Moon is found,
The riches and the kingdoms of the earth,
Are Fortune’s playthings, and she wheels them round
Without a thought, except to give her mirth.
She overthrows whatever seems most sound.
But, above all, in war there is no dearth
Of her caprices and her wayward freaks.
A parallel it would be vain to seek.

This may be seen in Agricane’s case,
Who was the emperor of Tartary,
And in the world had such a lofty place,
And ha many kings his slaves to be.
But when he tried to win a lovely face,
Dead and destroyed was half his company.
And seven kings who knelt at his command
Died in one day, at Count Orlando’s hand.

Desperate now, he rides across the field,
Blowing his horn and seeking for a fight,
Or else demanding Count Orlando yield,
With his companions, to that valiant knight.
Himself alone will fight, sword, lance, and shield,
Any who dare to here contest his might.
Now comes the drawbridge of Albracca down,
And the French count appears, armed tow to crown.

Beside him ride Oberto dal Leon,
And Brandimart, of chivalry the flower,
King Adriano and frank Chiarïon.
With these, Angelica may mock the power
Of Agrican, as she in beauty shone,
Leaning out of the window of her bower
So that the Count may see and be inspired.
The five ride down the slope, in arms attired.

King Agricane stands athwart the path,
Scorning to ride ahead to meet so few.
His face burns like a fire, such is his wrath,
Which ev’ry corner of his mind imbues.
He turns t’address the coward troops he hath,
Who lack for strength and chivalry, and who
Don’t even dare to look him in the face
As this invective spews he in that place.
“Now listen well, you churls with knocking knees.
Nobody move to give me any aid!
A thousand thousand could not make me flee,
Not even if their allies they had made
Samson, Achilles, Hector, Hercules.
I still would leave them mangled and filleted.
And once I have cut down these braggart five,
I will not leave a man of you alive.

“For every one of you, accurséd folk,
Before the evening star tonight I’ve viewed,
I’ll cut in tiny pieces, brain, or choke,
And leave the plain with all your corpses strewed,
Lest turning home, you should in wedlock’s yoke
Raise up in Tartary degenerate broods
Who should bring such dishonor to my sway
As ye did in the battle yesterday.”

The people trembled when his speech they heard,
Like poplar leaves amidst a hurricane.
Nor do they dare to answer him a word,
So much they feared their ruler’s wrath insane.
Alone King Agrican his charged spurred
And left behind him all his vast brigade.
He blew upon his horn with lusty breath,
Playing the song of flesh and blood and death.

Orlando, who had noticed as he fought
Agrican’s matchless bravery and might,
From Jesus Christ in humbleness besought
To bring him to the true religion’s light.
He signs himself, and then, as Christians ought,
Commends himself to God. He soon caught sight
O’ th’ Tartar coming with intention dire,
Baiardo left a trail of wind and fire.

If you have ever seen two thunderstorms,
From east and west turning the heavens drear,
Some hint of those two barons you may form;
They knock each other o’er their horses’ rears.
Their lances shatter, and the armor worn
By them makes such a rattle in men’s ears,
That upward turn the eyes of one and all,
Thinking the heavens are about to fall.

Every looker-on calls on his God,
Asking aid for the cause he thinketh just.
Great Brigliadoro lies upon the sod:
Orlando spurs him up, but only just.
But good Baiardo with such swiftness trod
You could not see him for the clouds of dust;
But then he halts, and paws, and turns around,
Leaping Orlando with a seven-foot bound.

The Count by now is ready to withstand
All of the force his foe can bring to bear;
Almonte’s former sword* is in his hand,
And Agricane has the sharp Trancher;
The two combatants face to face now stand,
Whose equals cannot be found anywhere;
As on that day to one and all was shown,
Rarely on earth hath such a pair been known.

Neither one seeks a rest, and neither grieves,
Nor to they halt from giving heavy blows;
But as the trees are stripped bare of their leaves
By the great blasts the mighty tempest blows,
E’en so the fighting of these barons leaves
Their armor tattered from their heads to toes;
Their shields are ruined and their surcoats tattered.
They had no crests left, at least none that mattered.

Orlando thinks that he will make this brief,
And end the battle with a single clout.
He brings his sword down on the helmet’s chief;
It bounces off, while sparks of fire shoot out.
King Agricane says through gritted teeth,
“Just wait a moment, and we’ll see how stout
Thy helmet is, and I believe we’ll find
It is not worthy to be named with mine.”

And when he’s spoken, with both hands he starts
To bring Tranchera down, and he is sure
He’ll cleave the Count Orlando in two parts,
And even his horse will be beyond a cure,
But damage none unto the helm imparts,
For by enchantment was the work procured.
Wizard Albrizach, the curséd one
Made it to give to Agolante’s son,

Who lost it, when Orlando by the fount
Slew him and saved the crown of Charlemagne,
As all men know. Now turn we to the Count,
Who has received he blow of might and main.
In sweat he broke out – ’twas no small amount,
And vengeance was the thought that filled his brain;
Ever and ever stronger grows his wrath.
He swings his sword with all the strength he hath.

The cruel sword glanced off the helmet’s marge,
And landed on the shoulder, splitting steel.
It slices off the third part of his targe,
And opens steel and leather to reveal
The white flesh, with his muscles bulging large.
Down to his waist it glances, and he feels
It lightly graze his flesh and pierce him there.
The armor’s torn away; his side is bare.

King Agricane felt such grievous pain,
He thought, “I must withdraw and rest a spell.
If of a poultice I were not so fain,
You would be dead before the twilight fell.
But all his prowess will be all in vain,
For I will shortly send him straight to Hell;
And mail and plate have never yet been wrought
That could protect the man whose life I sought.”
And with such thoughts, he lifts in his right hand
Tranchera, his inimitable blade;
Orlando’s shield could not the blow withstand,
But he was forced to drop it on the ground.
The sword glides down his flank, and all to-rends
His hauberk, with an awful grinding sound.
Pieces of metal scatter here and there,
But no skin’s broken, no blood anywhere.

They stand and watch, those four good cavaliers
Who with Orlando rode in company,
And marvel at the fight, the blows so fierce,
And each and ev’ry one swears certainly
That all the world has never seen the peers
Of those two knights for strength and chivalry.
The pagans likewise doth the fight astound,
“The two of them are equal, by Mahound!”


Pietro Aretino’s Orlandino

Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) was an Italian author most famous for his ribald verses and his exquisitely devastating satires. These latter won him such a great reputation that he was eventually able to live almost entirely off blackmailing the nobility of Italy, all of them fearful lest he turn his pen against them. He died laughing. He won a place in our pages by beginning no fewer than four Carolingian epics in ottava rima, all of which he abandoned after a few cantos.

Pietro Aretino must not be confused with Leonardo Aretino (1370-1444), mentioned in the beginning of Pulci’s Morgante Maggiore. That Aretino was a humanist and historian who was the first to introduce the concept of the “Middle Ages.”

Pietro’s abandoned epics are as follows:

Marfisa, Three cantos, 338 stanzas. First two cantos printed 1532, the third in 1535

Angelica, Two cantos, 181 stanzas. Printed 1536.

Orlandino, Two cantos, 56 stanzas. Written between 1536 and 1547,

Astolfeida, Three cantos, 121 stanzas. Written after 1547.

Rodamonte, A pirated and abridged version of Marfisa, comprising two cantos and 79 stanzas, a few of which are not attested elsewhere. Printed 1532.

There are, of course, no English translations of any of these.


Canto I

The author roundly abuses Turpin for his lying chronicle from which Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Pietro Aretino drew their heroic stories. He presents the truth: all the paladins and the great Saracen knights were mere drunkards, gluttons, and libertines, who spent as little time as possible fighting and as much time as possible wenching, wining and dining. Their fine ladies were all on a level with the most amorous of the enchantresses whose gardens the paladins kept destroying. The poet dismisses the pagan gods as similarly worthless, and invokes as his muse one Vincenzo Gambarino.

Charlemagne holds court at Pentecost, at which the Paladins overindulge in food and wine, while boasting about how they will skewer their enemies like they skewer their meat and will eat up their lady loves like they do their food. Oliver carelessly flings a shoulder of mutton, which hits Ganelon. The Maganzan is silent but swears revenge, which will ultimately lead him to betray the Paladins at Roncesvalles.

Charles brings out a giornea (a type of tabard) which is embroidered with pornographic scenes, and is about to begin a contest to see who shall have it, when the feast is interrupted by the arrival of a Spanish Almansour named Cardo, lord of Sabomia, who challenges the Paladins. Charlemagne bids Orlando fight him. The Count declines. Charles calls on Astolfo, who accepts with boasts, then prudently decides to make his confession and his will first. Turpin helps him with both. Upon still further reflection, Astolfo starts to slink away. Charles now calls upon Rinaldo, who would be glad to fight if someone would lend him armor: his own is in hock. Charles is reduced to shouting at Astolfo to shame him into returning to battle, which at length he does. The English prince swears that he will go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, Loreto, and Compostella if he escapes, but Cardo knocks him off his horse.

Canto II

Astolfo kneels before the Saracen and asks for mercy. Cardo laughs…

Pietro Aretino wrote no more of the Orlandino.


This work, despite its name, has no relation to the narratives of Orlando/Roland’s childhood which often go by the title of Orlandino, or “Young/Little Roland.” Later editions bore the title “Le Valorose Prove delle Arcibravi Paladini” (“The Valorous Deeds of the Very Brave Paladins”) or variants thereof.

Book I, Canto XV, Part 3

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto XV, Part 3, Stanzas 41-60

The great battalion now is close at hand;
The fierce Udone leads, with Agrican.
The might army covers all the land,
The plain below the mountainside they’re on.
What can Orlando do, who seems trepanned,
Alone with just a girl and Durindan?
He trembles for his anger and for fear
Not for himself, but for his lady dear.

For sweet Angelica is all his fear,
For his own skin he had no care at all.
Though on one side of him his foes appear,
King Trufaldino drives him from the wall.
The fight grows ev’ry minute still more fierce.
Though none date come too close, yet they let fall
A shower of arrows, darts, and javelins,
The sunlight as in an eclipse they dim.

Adrian, Aquilant, and Chiarïon,
Against King Agrican defend them well.
And Brandimarte, who’s for valor known,
Wreaks on his enemies a vengeance fell.
The frank Oberto and the brave Grifon
Do deeds more valorous than I could tell.
Beneath the keep the Paladin is seen
With humbleness beseeching Trufaldin

To have some pity on the damosel,
Who has been caught in such a deadly strife.
But by compassion, that damned imp of Hell
Has never once been swayed in all his life.
For none beneath the Moon were e’er so fell
Or with deceit and falsehood were more rife.
The Count keeps pleading, all the while his ire
Is slowly growing, till his eyes flash fire.

Beneath the castle walls he’s hard bestead,
And with his shield defends the lady royal.
And towards Trufaldin he turns his head.
His face contorts; his blood begins to boil.
Orlando isn’t used to making threats,
But in extremity, this baron loyal
Such mighty malediction ’gins to make
As cause the very sky above to quake.

His teeth he gnashes. “Traitor!” loud he calls,
“Think not thy walls security afford,
For I shall cut a way in through the walls
In just four hours with my mighty sword.
And by myself I’ll take thy keep and halls,
And throw thee down into the Tartar’s horde,
And then I’ll kill the army, ev’ry one,
And thou amidst the rest will be undone.”

Orlando shouts so loud, that for his part,
He does not seem to be a mortal man.
King Trufaldino has a timid heart,
As traitors always do in ev’ry land;
He saw Orlando fight as well as Mart.
He saw him ’gainst the Tartar army stand.
Seven kings he saw the Count lay low,
Beheaded, amputated by his blows.

The wicked rascal seems to see already
Albracca keep destroyed by sword and fire
And he himself exposed to vengeance heady
Of Agricane and his righteous ire,
Because he sees Orlando’s purpose steady,
His face contorted and his visage dire.
He sits upon a merlon, says, “My lord,
Please, till thou’st heard my tale, hold back thy sword.

“I won’t deny, indeed I can’t deny,
That to Angelica I have done wrong,
But God and Heaven be my witness, I
Was forced to hand her over to the throng
By my companions and their treachery.
But I have vengéd her, and within strong
Chains and doors I have them pris’ners made,
Thus were the traitors false by me betrayed.

“And thus, thou seest, I am in peril twice,
By them I surely will not be forgiven,
And Agrican will slay me in a trice,
For having ’gainst his army boldly striven.
So I’ll be brief; unless to guard my life
Thou swearest, and thy knightly word is given
To safeguard me against my foemen’s hate,
I will not, dare not, open up the gate.

“And that shall go for ev’ry other knight,,
Who seeketh entry to the keep with thee;
He first must swear to me that he will fight
In my defense, if e’er I challenged be
By any person, be it day or night,
For any cause, unhesitatingly;
Then all must swear together in a ring
That they’ll protect me against ev’rything.”

The Count Orlando will not swear this oath,
But threatens him again with angry face.
But the fair lady in his arms is loath
To lose this chance, and humbly thus she prays.
His noble heart is conquered, and he both
Swears for himself and bids his fellows haste
To swear allegiance to the dwarf likewise.
So highly doth this knight his lady prize.

All take the oath without a further thought,
Thus pledged to Trufaldin beyond recall.
And then he grants the refuge they have sought,
And safely all of them come in the wall.
The folk are nearly to starvation brought.
Save one old horse, there is no food at all.
Orlando could have eaten up a bull.
He gets a quarter, but is far from full.

The other knights devour ev’rything.
Tomorrow they’ll be in a wretched spot.
King Adrian and Brandimarte sing;
Obert and Chiarïon begin to plot,
With Count Orlando, how ’tis best to bring
Victuals and drink before their strength is shot.
Grifon and Aquilante they have made
To guard the fort while they go on their raid.

Because none of the knights had any trust
In the misshapen, shifty Trufaldin.
And so the guard is set, lest he should thrust
The door shut when they come from battle keen.
The peaceful dawn was up, but only just.
Only the brightest stars could still be seen.
The sun had not yet rose to bring the morn,
When armor-clad Orlando blew his horn.

The folk upon the plain no longer rest.
They hear the horn which summons them to die.
The felon race are horribly distressed.
Their faces pale as death, their mouths are dry.
Thy cry and weep and beat their face and breast.
Some run away, and some concealment try,
For all had seen, and wished to see no more,
Orlando’s cruel fury in the war.

And so the greater portion of the horde
Through field and ditch attempt away to get,
But Agricane and his noble lords
Rally their troops with menaces and threats.
No louder sound doth history record
Than that they made as on their arms they set.
Stern Agricane cannot find his mace,
And so his naked sword must take its place.

And when a man without his arms he found,
Or who was letting himself fall behind,
At once he laid him lifeless on the ground.
He surveys all, and in his lofty mind
Contemplates his vast army all around,
Which from the mountain to the river winds.
The plain was measured about four leagues square,
You could not find a free space anywhere.

Mighty King Agricane is amazed
To think this army, far too large to count,
Is of one cavalier so sore afraid;
His men so tremble they can scarcely mount.
While he himself, upon Baiard upraised,
Of confidence possessed a great amount,
For Count Orlando and the knights he had
Scare him no more than would a single lad.

He now rides out ahead of all his host
To meet the men who issue from the keep;
Defying all of them, with mighty boasts,
And sounding his own horn with bellows deep.
In my next canto, I’ll tell how the foes
In single combat made the blood outseep.
A battle such as you have never heard of,
And then Rinaldo I will give some word of.


Book I, Canto XV, Part 2

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto XV, Stanzas 21-40

He vivisects his foemen by the score.
Now Radamanto comes before the rest.
(He was so tall, he could be seen before
His men). Orlando cleaves him at the waist.
His trunk falls southward and his legs fall north.
No backwards glance on him Orlando wastes,
But strikes the helmet of King Saritron
And splits him open to his caudal bone.

The Paladin takes not the least repose,
But strikes to right and left with Durindan.
He marks not what the rank is of his foes.
Kings flee before him like the humblest pawn.
Brontino foolishly against him goes,
Who ruled o’er Norway. Soon his life is gone.
His shield is ruined, and his plate and mail.
Hauberk and helmet are of no avail.

King Pandragone,ruler of the Goths
Attacks Orlando, battle-crazéd knight,
While his companion (they’d pledged friendship’s troth)
The great Argante, gallops at his right.
Orlando charges at them with a scoff,
Reckless of Pandragon’s gigantic height.
King Pandragon will lead no more his soldiers;
A heavy weight is lifted from his shoulders.

For Durindana cuts into his neck,
And easily flies out the other side.
Argante is so close, you could not reck
The space between them at a half-foot wide.
And so it follows, as you might expect,
That Durindan into his midriff glides –
For King Argante so much height embraced,
That Pandragone only reached his waist.

The mighty giant turns his horse about
And tries to hide himself within the crowd,
His guts upon his saddle horn spill out.
But Count Orlando, with great strength endowed,
His wonted mercy now he does without.
No one nearby to ’scape him he allowed.
“Mercy!” and “Pity!” fall on senseless ears.
He is so wrathful that he nothing hears.

The world has never held a thing more terrible
Than was the desperate and frenzied count.
Armor to block his sword would be unwearable.
The corpses which he leaves could build a mount.
Even the bravest man finds it unbearable
To look upon his face, of wrath the fount.
His flushed face seems to be on fire the,
All flee before him, crying “Ware! Beware!”

Meanwhile, Agrican and Aquilante
Are fighting, while Orlando brings this grief.
Captive Angelica beholds them fighting, and they
Strike blows which make her tremble like a leaf.
Behold arriving him who rules Anglante;
If Durindana ever paused, ’twas brief.
Now a man’s cut in half, and now a horse.
He slaughters footmen; cavaliers he gores.

The fighting Tartar monarch he espies,
And Aquilante’s lot looks very bad.
He hears Angelica’s despairing cries,
I hope I never meet a man so mad.
He stands up in the stirrups and he hies
To strike with all the Hellish strength he had.
His Durindana swift as lightning sped,
And hit King Agricane on the head.

So fierce and firm that blow was when it landed,
No other ever had one-half its force.
And if his helmet hadn’t been enchanted,
It would have split the Tartar and his horse.
King Agricane’s wits have him abandoned
His steed where’er it will pursues its course.
Hither and thither half a league it roams,
Till Agricane’s senses come back home.

Orlando, following him off has flown,
With Brigliadoro, at a fever heat.
And now Kings Santaría and Lurcon
Arrive to carry off the lady sweet.
The four defend her with their skills well-honed,
But at the best, can but postpone defeat.
So many, many soldiers ‘gainst them stand,
The lady can’t but fall into their hands.

King Santaría quickly grabs the dame,
And swings her to the saddle, him before.
The King Lurcone right beside him came,
Uldano, Polifermo, help them war.
Who is the man who could his tears restrain
To see the misery the lady bore?
She weepeth as she o’er the steeds neck sprawls,
For Count Orlando’s help she ever calls.

Oberto, Aquilant, and Chiarïon,
Meanwhile fight against battalions vast.
Their prowess by their mighty deeds is shown.
Few men have e’er these mighty three surpassed,
But they are three, and they are all alone,
And foot by foot they’re beaten back at last.
Now Agricane has regained his wits.
His sword Tranchera in his hand he grips.

Ruthlessly towards the Count he rides,
To pay him back the blow he had received,
But Count Orlando, when he heard the cry
Of fair Angelica, be it believed
He did not tarry, but he seems to fly.
He’d rather lose the world than have her grieved.
He gnashed his teeth so fiercely that, in fact,
It sounded louder than a cataract.

The King Lurcone was the first he found,
Who charged ahead of his redoubted band.
The Count him strikes so hard upon his crown
That Durindana nearly left his hands.
Dead from the saddle fell Lurcone down.
The blow so merciless was and so grand,
His helm in pieces scattered o’er the plain,
Covered in drops of blood and bits of brain.

A most strange thing in Turpin’s book I’ve read.
Even when finished was the battle’s crush,
No one could ever find the monarch’s head.
For Durindana turned it into mush.
When Santaría saw this feat, then dread
O’erwhelmed him. Quick away his courage rushed.
His sword with needful skill he could not wield,
And so he used the lady as a shield.

He knew he didn’t have the strength to fight.
He knew he didn’t have the speed to fly.
And yet he fills Orlando’s heart with fright,
Lest striking him, he make his lady die.
She shrieks and calls for aid with all her might,
“If thou dost love me, baron, strike! Come! Hie!
Slay me, I beg thee, with thine own two hands.
Don’t let this dog escape with me in bands!”

Orlando at this point is so confused,
He has no notion how he ought to fare.
He sheathes the sword in war he’s always used,
And gallops straight to Santaría there.
No weapons but his fists in iron closed
Will he employ to save the lady fair.
King Santaría, since he has no weapon,
Thinks he’s the luckiest man under Heaven.

He holds Angelica upon his left,
And wields his massive broadsword on his right.
A mighty blow he strikes, he is so deft,
But his thick sword is into shivers dight,
Leaving Orlando of no blood bereft,
Who does not hesitate or fear to fight,
But punched his helmet with a blow which spread
The King upon the earth, stone-cold and dead.

His brains are oozing out his mouth and nose,
And crimson blood distaineth all his face.
Now once again the scuffle fearsome grows,
Because Orlando now the dame conveys
And swiftly on his Brigliadoro goes
With so much speed he could win any race.
Angelica in safety thus he carried,
Nor till he reached the castle gates did tarry.

But Trufaldino, in the tower pent,
Will not let anybody ope the door.
To all the knights he sputters dreadful threats,
To wreak them shameful death with plenteous gore.
With rocks and darts Angelica is met.
For grief and fear, she wished her life were o’er.
She turns as pale as chalk, she’s so dismayed,
To see that she has been, alas! betrayed.

Keep Reading

The Legend of the Siege of Milan

The legend of the Siege of Milan is known only in one version:

The Sege off Melayne, 1350-1400, English, twelve-line tail-rhyme stanzas. One MS survives, c. 1450, the London Thornton MS. It is sadly incomplete.


Herrtage, Sidney J., ed. The English Charlemagne Romances II: “The Sege off Melayne” and “The Romance of Duek Rowland and Sir Otuell of Spayne,” together with a Fragment of “The Song of Roland.” EETS ES 35. London, 1880.

Lupack, Alan, ed. Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances. TEAMS Middle English Texts. Kalamazoo, MI, 1990.

Sultan Arabas invades Italy, sacks Rome and other cities, and makes Milan his base, expelling its lord, Sir Alantyne. The Sultan offers to give Milan back to Sir Alantyne if he will become a Saracen. Otherwise, his family will be killed. Sir Alantyne prays for guidance, and an angel bids him seek succor from Charlemagne. That Emperor dreams that an angel gives him a sword and shows him Milan’s walls falling. In the morning, the sword is still in his bed, and Sir Alantyne arrives and tells his tale. Charles wishes to go to war himself, but Ganelon persuades him to stay at home and send Roland to fight. Forty thousand knights accompany him to Milan, but in the first encounter the heathen Sir Arabaunt of Persia, king of Gyon, kills Oliver’s uncle Sir Artaymnere of Bohemia, and Sir Alantyne. Roland is captured alive, because the Saracens think he must be Charlemagne. The old duke of Normandy dies, commending his son Richard to Roland’s care. Sir Belland of Burgundy, father of Sir Guy of Nevynlande, rallies the retreating Christians, but to no avail. All are slaughtered save Roland, Oliver, Charlemagne’s cousin Gawtere, and Sir Guy of Burgundy [apparently the same as he of Nevynlande].

Fitt the Second

The Sultan brings the four captives before him and bids them worship Mahound. They refuse and bid him worship Christ. The Sultan says he has burnt images of Christ, Who did nothing to stop him. He has another crucifix brought in and cast into the fire, but at the prayers of the Paladins, it is unharmed. The heathens pile brimstone and pitch onto the fire, but the crucifix remains untouched, until at last, it splits with an explosion that renders the heathens blind, deaf, and paralyzed. Sir Guy splits the Sultan’s head open, and the Paladins throw the heathen lords into the bonfire before fleeing. The surviving heathens crown Arabas’ brother, Sir Garcy, their new Sultan, and continue the war.

As the Paladins reach the abbey of Saint Denis, the bells ring of their own accord. Turpin comes out to see the miracle, and hears the sad tale. He rebukes the Blessed Virgin for allowing this to happen, and escorts the Paladins to court. Ganelon counsels surrender to Garcy, but Turpin summons all the clergy of France to take up arms. A hundred thousand tonsured men assemble at Montmartre, and Ganelon again persuades Charles to let them fight and stay himself at Paris. Turpin calls Charles a coward. Charles draws his sword on him. Turpin leaves, and lays siege to Paris with his army of priests. Charles surrenders and agrees to come to Lombardy himself.

Fitt the Third

The Saracens crown Garcy Emperor, and the King of Macedonia sends him sixty virgins. Garcy sleeps with one every night for two months, and gives them as wives to one of his barons in the mornings. Turpin and Charles arrive with the army. At the first encounter, Turpin kills King Arabaunt. The bishop’s squire begins to despoil the heathen’s corpse, but Turpin rebukes him for being more eager to gain wealth than to kill the foes of God. The fight becomes general. Charlemagne kills King Darnadowse of Famagusta. Turpin is nearly killed by the King of Macedonia, but Charles saves him. The Saracens are routed and flee to the city. The French lay siege. Turpin swears not to dress his wounds, change his clothes, or eat or drink until the city is won.

The Sultan sends Charles a herald to give him a chance to surrender before he arrives with reinforcements to raise the siege. Charles, of course, refuses. Battle is joined, and the succoring Saracens are also obliged to flee to within the city walls, from whose safety the Sultan taunts the Emperor.

As Turpin and Charles are recuperating, news comes that the Sultan’s sister’s son, Sir Tretigon, [later Sir Letygon] is on his way with sixty thousand men…

[At least one page is missing from the only MS here]

A knight refuses to take a message until he has fought his fill. Charlemagne asks Baldwin to take the message to France to ask for help. Baldwin refuses to leave the battle. Charles asks Sir Engelier and Duke Berarde, who both refuse as well. At last, Bernard of Paris, a mere bannaret, agrees to take the message if Charles will dub him a knight. So it is done, but Bernard rides to Milan’s gates first, and the Saracens kill him. No one else will leave the camp, but fortunately Duke Lionel of Brittany arrives with thirty thousand men anyway. Battle is joined. Roland kills the Sultan’s nephew, and the heathens flee. Charles endows Duke Lionel with the Duke of Burgundy’s fiefs. Turpin, by now, has been fasting three days. Charles says it will be a grievous loss if Turpin should starve because of his vow. The army concur, and ready themselves to take the city…

[Here the only MS ends]

Origins and Influence

The great Gaston Paris was of opinion that this work was originally composed in French, or at least Anglo-Norman, as a prequel to the romance of Otuel, or Otinel. He based this opinion on the fact that both poems are set in Italy, an in no other romances is there a Sultan named Garcy. Be that as it may, the English poem is the only surviving version of this story.

We will deal with the legend of Otuel at some future point. For now, let us briefly note that it is placed by its author in the middle of Charlemagne’s final Spanish campaign, after the story of Fierabras, but some time before the battle of Roncesvalles.

The Legend of Ralph the Collier

The legend of Ralph the Collier is to be found in only one surviving version.

The Taill of Rauf Coilyear. Scottish poetry, late 1400’s.

The Taill of Rauf Coilyear was printed in 1572 by Robert Lekpreuik. Only one copy of the edition survives, and no manuscripts. The stanzaic format has not been given a name, but it consists of nine lines rhyming ababababc, followed by a wheel of four shorter lines rhyming dddc.

The barons gather at Charles’ court on Saint Thomas’ Day (December 21). A few days later, they ride out hunting over the moors. The weather is so foul that Charles is separated from all his men, but is found by a collier named Ralph. When they arrive at Ralph’s home, his wife, Jillian, comes out to meet them, and he bids her make dinner. Ralph conducts Charlemagne to the front door, where Charles stands aside to let his host enter first. The collier is displeased, and thrusts Charles in before him, reproaching him for his lack of courtesy. Again when the dinner is ready, Ralph bids Charles enter the dining room with Jillian and sit down first. Charles again demures, and this time Ralph strikes him a blow that knocks him down. Charles complies with his host’s requests thereafter. Dinner includes venison, regarding which Ralph brags that the foresters have threatened to hang him for poaching, but he is too clever for them. They adjourn to the fireside after dinner, and spend a merry evening. Charles calls himself Wymand of the Wardrobe, the queen’s most intimate servant for the past fifteen years. In the morning, Charles departs, bidding Ralph to come sell his coals at court, and he will make sure he is well rewarded.

The Paladins, meanwhile, have been searching for the King all night, and Roland and Oliver are most relieved when he rides into their company. All return to Paris, where Turpin celebrates the Christmas Eve liturgy at Saint Denis with full magnificence.

On Christmas morning, Ralph decides to go to court, against the advice of Jillian, who fears “Wymand” will have him punished for striking him. Meanwhile, Charlemagne sends Roland out to the moor-road with orders to bring him the first person he sees coming that way. Roland is annoyed, but obeys. Soon enough, Ralph comes up, and Roland tells him of the king’s orders. Ralph admires Roland’s armor, which is covered in precious stones, and his shield, which depicts a tiger tied to a tree. Notwithstanding, he insists on going to see Wymand first, before Charles, and at last threatens to duel Roland. Roland, admiring his courage, agrees to duel him tomorrow, after his business is done. They ride to Paris by two different roads, and Roland arrives first. He tells Charlemagne what has happened. Charles is irritated that Roland did not bring the collier with him, but at this juncture the town porter arrives, to report that Ralph is at the gates, earnestly seeking admittance. Roland bids the porter let him in, and follows Charles to the palace. When Ralph comes to the palace, too, he asks for Wymand, but no one knows any man by that name. He stumbles into the hall, where he is overwhelmed by the magnificence, and at last sees “Wymand” seated on the throne. He steps before the queen and begs her pardon for his treatment of her husband. Charles tells his barons the story of his lodging. The barons ask whether Ralph should be hanged for striking the king, but Charles pardons him, dubs him a knight, and promises him the next vacant fief.

The next morning, Ralph, newly attired in full knightly armor, rides out to the moors to seek Sir Roland and have their promised duel. Roland is not there, but a Saracen on a camel is, named Sir Magog, sent by the Khan of Tartary to drive Charles from France. Ralph duels him instead. They unhorse each other and are dueling on foot when Roland arrives and parts them. He promises the Saracen, if he converts, the forgiveness of his sins and the hand of Duchess Jane of Anjou. Sir Magog recks not of riches, but desires salvation. He is baptized Sir Walter, and weds the Duchess after all. Nine days later, the marshal of France dies, and Ralph is appointed in his stead. He summons Jillian to court to be a fine lady, and turns his old house into a lodging for pilgrims and travelers.

Origins and Influence

Variations on this story were extremely common in England and Scotland. Professor Child calls it second only to Robin Hood in popularity. Ralph Collier is unique in adding the duel with the Saracen. Most versions end with the commoner’s reward by the king. Among these, in rough order of composition, we may note:

Speculum Ecclesiae, by Gerald of Wales. c. 1216, Latin prose. King Henry II receives jovial harboring at a Cistercian abbey.

John the Reeve, featuring King Edward I. Mid 1400’s, six-line tail-rhyme stanzas. Printed in Ten Bourdes, TEAMS 2013.

King Edward the Third and the Shepherd, c. 1450. Twelve-line tail-rhyme stanzas. Printed in Ten Bourdes, TEAMS 2013.

King Edward and the Hermit, c. 1450. Twelve-line tail-rhyme stanzas. Printed in Ten Bourdes, TEAMS 2013.

King Edward the Fourth and the Tanner of Tamworth, late 1500’s, ballad-meter, printed in Percy’s Reliques. Child Ballad 273.

King Henry the Second and the Miller of Mansfield, late 1500’s or early 1600’s, six-line stanzas, printed in Percy’s Reliques.

The Shepherd and the King. 1578, ballad-meter. King Alfred is the hero, and burns the cakes while staying at the shepherd’s house.

King James and the Tinker. 1600s, ballad-meter. Some texts say James VI and I, but similar tales are told, in prose, of James V. Sir Walter Scott included some in his Tales of a Grandfather.

The King and the Forester. c. 1698, ballad-meter. King William III.

The Royal Frolick. Early 1700s. King William III again stars, and is entertained by a farming family.

The King and the Cobbler, late 1700s. King Henry VIII.

Outside of England, Professor Child notes:

Maria von Ploenies’ Die Sagen Belgiens, features two such stories about Emperor Charles V. In one he meets a broom-maker, in the other a peasant.

Thiele’s Danmakrs Folkesager has Christian IV meet a peasant.

Afanasief, VII, 233, No. 32. The Tsar meets a deserted soldier, who saves him from robbers.

Kulda, Moravské n pohádky. Emperor Maximilian II meets a coal-burner.

In all the foregoing, the incident of a king who gets lost while hunting comprises the entire story. The motif is also often used as part of a longer folktale, but detailing all these would be impossible.

Further Reading

Professor Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Number 273.

Book I, Canto XV, Part 1

The Orlando Innamorato in English Translation, Book I, Canto XV, Stanzas 1-20


Nine cavaliers against an army fight,
And they acquit themselves like mighty men,
Angelica is captured by a knight;
The Count Orlando rescues her, but then
The Nine men find them in a woeful plight:
Albracca’s walls they’ve reached, but can’t get in.
King Trufaldino keeps the gateway barred,
Till one and all have sworn to be his guard.

Stay and attend, my lords, if you’ve a mind
To hear a story which is great delight.
In my last canto sang I of the nine
Redoubted cavaliers, who wished to fight
Two million soldiers of a wicked line;
And now the horns are calling all on height;
Trumpets, drums, battle-cries, such noise is it,
It seems the sky would fall and earth be split.

When in the sea a mighty tempest rises
And the fierce northern wind is shrieking loud,
From passengers and crew lament arises
To see the waves that almost scrape the clouds.
But yet the hurricane’s a lessor noise is
Than that which rose up from the heathen crowd.
Orlando foremost of his comp’ny sped,
To fight King Agricane head to head.

The barons strike each other with their lances,
The spears are strong; the cavaliers are stronger.
Off of each other’s shields each blow just glances,
But neither lance intact is any longer.
Like lions, either cavalier advances
To fighting with the sword, the while the throng there
Advances, and the duel is swallowed by
The battle, growing great on ev’ry side.


The pair of knights were soon obliged to cease
Their duel and fall into the great mêlée.
Though each is grieved hereat and thinks that he’s
Bound to win if they duel again someday.
The Count falls back to his companions free.
Don Brandimart stands by him in the fray.
Oberto, Chïarion, and Aquilante,
Protect the back of him who holds Anglante.

And with Adrïan the bold they bring
The Frank Grifone, and bold Antifor.
And in the rearguard is Ballon the king.
The mighty host fills all the valley floor,
And half the mountainside. Past reckoning
Their number is. So many flags they bore
That even they could never all be counted.
They charged; their warcry to the heavens mounted.

The cavaliers cry out, “You ugly rabble!
Your yowling will serve you in no stead;
Your rage is feeble like a gosling’s gabble,
In but a little while you’ll all be dead!”
Now could you see begin the cruel battle.
’Twixt half of Asia and the nine knights, led
By Count Orlando, who so wields his sword
It wreaks destruction on the savage horde.

King Agrican alone he tries to sight,
Though this ambition for a time must yield.
While Brandimarte and the other knights
Cut thorough so many platemails, planchets, shields,
And kill so many soldiers in the fight
That none except the dead stay on the field.
Towards the fortress dauntlessly press they;
Now they are scare an arrow’s flight away.

On Agricane’s side there was a giant,
King of Comano, valorous, well-dight,
From head to foot, (on Turpin I’m reliant)
Full twenty feet and no less was his height.
He’d captured easily the far-from-pliant
Astolfo. Rodamanto was he hight.
He lays his lance in rest and spurs his steed,
And straight for king Ballano does he speed.

He struck the king between his shoulder blades,
That giant, treacherous and to be curst.
To tumble from his horse the king he made,
Though King Ballano seldom has the worst.
The strong Grifone sees his comrade splayed,
And faces Rodamant, for vengeance athirst;
And starts a battle bitter and most cruel.
With ardent spirits either fights the duel.

The bold Ballano rises to his feet,
And stoutly on the ground begins to fight;
But he cannot regain his charger’s seat,
Too many foes are crowding in his sight.
His bloody sword he swings, both swift and fleet.
Foolish the foe who doesn’t take to flight.
With comrades by, he nothing knows of dread;
Around him lie a circle of the dead.

The King of Sweden, champion brave and bold,
Whose name is Santaría, well can use
His mighty lance, which now he firmly holds
And rides at Antifor of Belarus.
He cannot lay him flat upon the mold,
For so much potency that knight imbues,
And he defends himself with much puissance.
When they collide, each of them breaks his lance.

Argant of Russia stands a ways apart,
Watching the dreadful and the gory fray,
And, lo, he sees the worthy Brandimart
Who does such wond’rous feats of arms that day
No pen or tongue could tell the smallest part.
He’s drenched in blood which from his foemen sprays.
Wielding his sword with both hands, he lays waste,
Cleaving some to the teeth, some to the waist.

The great Argante therefore to him rides,
Upon a horse most stalwart and most terrible,
And strikes the shield by Brandimarte’s side,
But he so valiant is, and so unscareable
He doesn’t rate the giant worth a fly,
Although his blows are famed to be unbearable,
But turns around, and his sword is not slow.
Turpin relates the combat blow-by-blow,

But I shall leave them, on their fight intent.
You can imagine how they fought amain.
About the other fighters now attend.
Although the dead and dying strew the plain,
In the battalions’ size it makes no dent.
It seems like Hell will not accept the slain,
But sends them back again each time they’re killed,
So many soldiers stream across the field.

Nine cavaliers are they. They can’t stand still,
But press on, ever closer to the keep;
A road they open with their swords, until
Two hundred thousand have they slaughtered, each.
Ballano falls behind, and though their will
Is not to leave him, none can bring relief;
Together ride the eight who still remain,
Though all the Tartar’s hosts against them came.

All of the kings attack them, hand to hand,
Each of them well deserves his crown and throne.
Lurcone, Radamanto, Agrican,
Brontino, Santaría, Pandragon,
Argante, who in height is thirty spans,
Uldano, Poliferno, Saritron,
All these together can, but only just,
Lay Belarussia’s Antifor in dust.

You may recall, my lords, the troop of four
Who ringed the fair Angelica as guard,
They show yet greater valour than before,
But too unequal is the fight, too hard.
King Agricane wishes nothing more
Than to possess the dame. With valiant heart
He never paused. So great an effort made he
That he obliged the knights to leave the lady,

And she, perceiving that she’s guarded not,
Her mind goes empty, overwhelmed by fear.
The magic ring completely she’s forgot,
With which she has the pow’r to disappear.
Stunned and astonished, rooted to the spot,
She cannot think at all for terror sheer,
Except to call aloud Orlando’s name;
For him and for no other calls the dame.

The lady is not far from Brava’s sire.
He, when he hears the voice he loves so well,
Fells in his heart and face a raging fire.
Foam from his mouth and through his ventrail wells.
His teeth he gnashed, and in his anger dire
He spurred his steed so brutally, he fell.
His Brigliadoro, of a matchless fame,
Though strong and spirited, collapsed in pain.

But just an instant later, he arose.
Now hearken, and you’ll hear the matchless fight
Which Count Orlando made. He dealt such blows
That even telling them fills me with fright.
His tattered shield away from him he throws.
For all the world he held in grand despite.
His head he tosses back, as one berserk,
While Durindana does its bloody work.


Keep Reading