The Legend of Renaud of Montauban 4: The Quatre Fils in Prose

The MSS of the mises en prose of the Quatre Fils fall into two families.


Sl: British Museum, Sloane 960. (Sloane)

Follows MS D very closely. Aye recommends her sons go to Gascoine, not Espagne. There are some details from later versions, however: e. g. Baiard was raised on an isle in the sea, Charlemagne mobilizes his army at Laon, not Paris. There is an edition by Marie-Henriette Notredaeme which is sitting unpublished in the University of Ghent and will never see the light of day. Support copyright reform!


These MSS omit the prologue, and begin with the Ardennes episode in the standard version, not from CNV. Probably from P, A, or O.

La: BN fr. 1481 (Lancelot)

Bm: British Museum, Royal 16 G II. (the same as MS. B of the Quatre Fils) The best MS.

Ma: British Museum, Royal 15 E VI. (Marguerite d’Anjou)

Tr: Troyes, Bib. Municpale, 743. (Troyes)

Co: BN fr. 19170, (Coislin)


Ar: Arsenal, 3151. (Arsenal)

Ar is the MS, or is very similar to the MS, from which the French printed version is derived, with all its descendants, including William Caxton’s English translation and the French chapbooks in the Bibliotheque Bleue. It is the only MS of the Second Family to include the story of Bueves of Aigremont, after ZM. An edition was done by Jean-Marcel Léard for a doctoral thesis, and sits unpublished and gathering dust in the University of Sorbonne. Support copyright reform!

Sl follows D very closely. Its most interesting detail is that Baiard is a fairy horse, brought up on an isle off the coast of Normandy, by a fairy in Sansbart [does not exist], near Torigny, in the diocese of Bayeux. Other minor details differentiate it from D, such as Charles gathering his army at Laon, and not Paris, when he is making war against the Sons in the Ardennes.


Most MSS of the Second Family omit the story of Bueves, and thus begin with Charles going to war against the four brothers, who live in the Ardennes, for no apparent reason.

Ar is the only one to include the embassy of Lohier, the death of Bueves, and the deadly chess game. The second family, in general, follows A, although the story of Bueves is from the ZM version.

The chase is the most common version, DCVA. Ogier, Naimes and Foulques guard the Paris gates.

Tremoigne is PLOMAH. Maugis succors the merchants. Charlot does not feature. Baiard is thrown into the Meuse at Liege.

The Holy Land episode is from PLOA, as is the Combat of the Sons.

Renaud is killed with hammers, and his body stops in Ceoigne, as in POA.


In some 1500’s editions, Baiard was born not in Etna or Boucan, but on Colchos (where Jason found the Golden Fleece).

The French chapbooks, known as the Bibliothèque Bleue, of the Quatre Fils, under various titles, are descended from Ar. Each one faithfully copied the errors of its predecessors and added new ones of its own. Chapters were dropped, pages sewn in backwards and never corrected, abridgements were made more or less at random, religious references were removed, swear words toned down, etc. A particularly absurd example comes from the death of Bertholai, which he brings on himself by calling Renaud “malheureux [wretch]” because “whoreson” was too offensive to print. Guitelin the Saxon [Le Saisne] becomes Guerdelin the Lazy [Le Fène], etc. Some versions change the ending: Pinabel, of the family of traitors, is in the process of carrying off two damsels, when Renaud happens to see him. Renaud challenges him to battle, and in the ensuing struggle the two of them roll into the river and drown.

We will spare the reader a full list of chapbooks, but he may find such a list in Part VI of Entre Épopée et Légende: Les Quatre Fils Aymon ou Renaud de Montauban.



Book I, Canto III, Part 1

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



The fierce Grandonio is o’erthrown at last.
Maganzans give Astolfo cause to rue.
They have him into Charles’ dungeon cast.
Rinaldo’s cured; Angelica’s imbued
With love, but her beloved flees her fast.
Don Argalía fights with Ferragu.
The victor makes a promise to the dying,
And soon with Count Orlando is he vying.

My lords, remember when I sang before,
Astolfo to the Saracen so fell
Was saying, “Scoundrel, thou shalt boast no more,
Unless thou wish to make thy boasts in Hell,
Of all the mighty barons thou hast floored.
Know, once I conquer thee, I’ll make thee dwell
Within a galley. Thou hast so much strength,
Thou’lt have an oar unto thyself, I think!”

The King Grandonio, though he knows full well
To give insults, knows not how to receive.
For wrath and anger so much doth he swell
That not so much are swollen stormy seas
When racked by mighty winds and stormclouds fell,
The bravest captain falls upon his knees.
The king such anger has, all uncontrolled,
His teeth he gnashes and his eyes he rolls,

And flares his nostrils like an angry snake,
And with a curse, Astolfo he defied,
Then turns around, his starting place to take,
And lays his mighty lance in rest, and rides,
With which he’s certain that he’ll shortly break
Clean through him, and come out the other side,
Or stretch him lifeless out upon the plain,
Or knock him from his saddle, split in twain.

See where that Pagan in his fury starts!
And Don Astolfo swift against him sped.
His face was pale, and fear consumed his heart,
He knew he shortly would be shamed, or dead.
The cavaliers towards each other dart
At breakneck speed – now are they fairly met –
Grandonio falls! No words of mine could tell
How loud his armor rattled when he fell.

So great a cry goes up at his defeat,
It seemed the earth would split and heaven fall.
Ev’ryone seated rises to his feet,
And all men shout, the mighty and the small.
And each one presses forth to better see’t.
The Saracens are overwhelmed and galled.
King Charles, when the Pagan he espies
Rolling in dust, cannot believe his eyes.

When the great giant tumbled from his horse,
Because he’d landed heav’ly on his right,
The wound within his chest he’d got before,
When he had clashed with the Viennese knight,
Gives such pain to this king of Afric’s shore,
He lies still on the earth, half-dead and white.
With blood forth spurting, so that, sooth to say,
It seems just like a water fountain’s spray.

Some said Astolfo for this mighty blow,
Should have the prize, but other folk averred
It was pure chance that wrought this overthrow.
Some “yes”, some “no”, each spoke as he preferred.
They bear forth from the field, in pain and woe,
The King Grandonio, who, as I have heard,
Much later killed Astolf in battle’s strife,
But shortly after, he too lost his life.

Astolfo takes his place within the ring
And scarce believes he stands as victor there.
None of the Pagans dares to try to fling
Him from his horse, save for a valiant pair
Of stalwart warriors, and sons of kings:
Gisarte dark, and Pilïasi fair.
Gisarte’s father’s conquered with his sword
All of Arabia, and been crowned lord.

But that of Pilïasi holds in fee
The whole of Russia and some lands beyond
The mountains, reaching into Tartary,
So that his lands are bounded by the Don.
But now I wish to keep my story brief.
These two alone of Saracens came on
Against Astolfo, and, to tell it quickly,
He knocked them to the ground like they were sickly.

A squire comes to Ganelon and tells
The news of King Grandonio’s strange defeat.
At first, he scarce believes that infidel
Was by Astolfo tumbled from his seat.
But then he thinks, and he believes it well
That some unlooked-for chance hath wrought this feat,
And that proud giant’s fall must be a fluke,
And can’t be from the prowess of the duke.

And then he thinks that he will surely win
The foremost honor of the tournament.
With pomp and finery he enters in
The lists. T’impress the crowd is his intent.
Eleven counts, the flower of his kin,
He brought to ride behind him as he went
Before  King Charles, and with haughty words,
He made excuses for what had occurred.

Whether King Charlemagne believed this liar
I cannot say, but he bestowed good cheer.
Then Gano asked Astolfo by a squire
If he’d agree to combat with the spear,
Since none among the Pagans so desired,
And he (Count Gano) was so stout, ‘twas clear
He ought to demonstrate his chivalry
By knocking down the knights of less degree.

Astolf, who never thinks before he speaks,
Unto the herald says: “To Gano tell,
When he’s around, nobody needs to seek
For heathens, for he’s worse than infidels,
That foe of God, oppressor of the weak,
That traitor, heretic, and spawn of Hell.
Go tell that swine I hope to see him hung,
And fear him as I would a sack of dung.

When Gano hears himself held in despite,
He sends no answer, but his wrath burns hot,
And furi’usly he charges at that knight
And calls aloud to him, “Thou glutton! Sot!
Thou’lt cease thy boasting once thou feel’st my might!”
He thought he’d knock him down, for this was not
The first time they had jousted, and each time
Before, he’d laid him on the ground supine.

But things fall elsewise than we think they will,
And Gano on the soil takes his place.
Macario charges to avenge this ill,
And joins in shame the leader of his race.
“How can God suffer that this imbecile –
Says Pinabello – “should bring such disgrace
On House Maganza?” Then he lays his lance
In rest, and spurs his charger to advance.

But he was overthrown just like the rest.
You need not wonder if Astolf felt grand.
He shouts aloud to them, “O race unblest!
I’ll knock you one and all upon the sand.”
The Count Smiriglio, lance in hand, forth pressed.
Astolfo fells him with a blow so grand
They have to bear him, senseless, from the ring.
O how Count Ganelon was sorrowing!

Falcone says, when he beholds him swoon,
“Can Fortune to such malice be inclined?
Can Heaven have permitted this buffoon
To overthrow us all and make us pine?”
An evil plots wakes in his head, and soon
He secretly pulls out a rope to bind
Himself unto his saddle, then he calls
Astolf to combat, thinking he can’t fall.

He gallops forward, hoping him to mangle.
Thanks to the rope, he isn’t overthrown,
But such a blow he takes, his limbs all dangle,
He scarce can sit upright, his life nigh flown.
Ev’ryone sees him, hopelessly entangled,
And thus his subterfuge to all is known.
The crowd, enraged and in a fury, cried,
“See how the traitor to his horse was tied!”

The field he exits, covered with men’s spite,
Their hoots and jeers add to his misery.
Count Gano agonizes at the sight.
Astolfo calls aloud right valiantly:
“Come at me, if you’re itching for a fight,
And if you’re tied, it’s all the same to me.
Madmen like you should not be running round
The countryside, but with a rope be bound.”

Anselmo della Ripa, count perfidious,
Decides upon a most malicious plan.
T’avenge his kinsmen’s shame by means insidious.
“I’ll smite him soon as he has felled his man,
Before he’s ready, with a blow dispiteous.”
Rainieri, count of Altafoglia, ran
Ahead. Anselmo, lance in rest, awaited
A chance to overthrow the man he hated.

Keep reading


Notes to the Second Canto, Part 3

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto II, Part 1, Stanzas 41-60, Notes

43. Chevron. A broad, inverted, V-shape on a shield.
Argent. Literally silver. The heraldic term for white.
Azure. The heraldic term for blue.
Plain. Properly called the field, changed here for sake of rhyme.
Basilisk. A mythical snake, about a foot long, with a white crown-shaped spot on its head, whence its name (Greek for “Little king”). Allegedly so poisonous that the mere look of it eye could kill a man, and that stabbing it with a lance would be fatal to the knight, as the venom traveled through the wood. However, it could be killed by weasels, or by the crowing of a rooster, or by seeing itself in a mirror. Frequently confused with the cockatrice, which is a monster with similar powers and weaknesses, but looks like a rooster with dragons’ wings and a snake’s tail. The creatures were allegedly spawned from chicken’s eggs either laid by roosters, or hatched by toads.
46. Isolieri. Traditional minor character.
47. Gualtiero of Monleon. Or Walter of Montleon. A Christian, and traditional minor character. May or may not be the same as the Walter Hum of the Song of Roland.
48. Spinella of Altamone.
Matalista. No more is known of him than what is given here.
Fiordespina. Will feature much later in the poem.
49. Grandonio. Traditional minor character. Appears in the Song of Roland as Grandonie, where he is killed by Orlando at Roncesvalles.
50. Images of Mahomet are, of course, forbidden by the Koran. Though the prohibition was not always as strictly enforced as it is today, it is doubtful any Saracen ever bore a picture of the camel-driver on his shield.
51. Macario and Grifone. These names are given to Maganzans and other Carolingian villains so frequently that it is impossible to tell which are meant to be the same characters. One Grifone is father of Ganelon. Another Grifone is son of Olivier, and twin brother of Aquilante.
According to two romances, the French La Reine Sibille and the Italian Macaire, Macaire kills a man by treason, and is later killed by the dead man’s faithful dog in a trial by combat. The legend was later transferred to the reign of Charles V. The later version goes by the name of “The Dog of Montargis”, and can be found in Andrew Lang’s The Animal Story Book.
Ranier and Falcone. Very minor traditional characters.
Pinabello. This is the Pinabel who is killed in trial by combat at the end of the Song of Roland. Ariosto, who did not know the Song, kills Pinabello off in the Furioso, well before Roncesvalles.
56. Guido of Borgogna. Traditional minor character.
57. Avin, Avolio, Ottone, and Berlengier. The four sons of Duke Naimo of Bavaria. They are mere names, and always mentioned together. They seem to be derived from the Song of Roland’s Yvon, Yvor, Otho, and Berengier, who are not related to each other, but are merely four of the Twelve Peers, and who all die at Roncesvalles.
58. Ugo of Marseilles. Boiardo’s invention.
Ricciardetto and Alardo. Two brothers of Rinaldo, and with him and Guicciardo, the Four Sons of Aymon. Their sister is Bradamante. Ricciardetto is also known as Richard [Ricardo]. Since he is the youngest brother, he was known as “Little Richard” or “Richardet”. Some commentators on the Carolingian legend wrongly call Ricardo and Ricciardetto two separate characters.
Olivier. Oliver of Vienne [a town in France, not Vienna, Austria], boon companion of Orlando, and brother of Alda, Orlando’s betrothed. His kinship varies from romance to romance, but he is usually a distant cousin of Orlando. The story of how he and Orlando became friends can be found in Girart of Vienne, in Heroes of the French Epic, translated by Michael Newth.
62. My son. Figuratively speaking.
63. Muslims are, of course, forbidden to drink wine. Cards are an anachronism; they were invented in China in the ninth century, but did not reach Europe until the fourteenth.
68. Galleys. The galleys of Greece and Rome were manned by freemen. The practice of condemning criminals to row ships was begun in Christian countries (mostly France) in the mid 1500’s, and somewhat sooner in Islam. The practice began to die out in the late 1700’s, in Christendom first, and in Islam only with the conquest of the Barbary Corsairs by France.
Giant. Grandonio. He is only seven feet or so. It should be noted that a giant’s intelligence usually bears an inverse relation to his height. Charlemagne, Ferragu, and Grandonio are almost ordinary (as knights go). The eighteen foot Margutte is a clever rogue, the twenty-four foot Morgante is honest and loyal, but rather simple, and the thirty foot giants who form Angelica’s retinue are never clearly shown to be sentient.

On to Canto III

Back to Part 3