The Quatre Fils Aymon gave rise to a Dutch poem, which begot a multitude of descendents of its own, as follows.
Renout van Montalbaen, in Dutch verse. 1200’s. Only fragments survive. Editions:
Renout van Montalbaen, met inleidning en aanteekeningen door Dr. J. C. Matthes, Groningen, Wolters (Bibliotheek van middelnederlandsche letterkunde, 15), 1875. This one has six of the fragments.
Roethe, G., “Günser Bruchstück des mnl. Renout von Montalbaen”, Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Litteratur, 48, 1906. This one has a seventh fragment.
Vita Sancti Reinoldi Rythmice. A Latin saint’s life in verse, printed by Joseph Floss in Annalen des historischen Vereins für den Niederrhein, inbesondere das alte Erzdiöcese Köln, Volume 30, 1876, pages 185-203. Clearly from the Dutch, as evidenced by the names of the brethern, their mother being the sister of Charles, Clarice being Yon’s daughter, and Renaud’s slaying of three sultans in the Holy Land.
De Historie van den vier Heemskindern. Dutch prose adaptation, 1508. This is the ancestor of the Dutch and German chapbooks. Edition: De Historie van den vier Heemskindern editor G. S. Overdiep, 1931, available for free online from the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren.
In 1619 a censored edition, expunging passages considered contrary to morals and the Catholic Faith, received the imprimatur and became the standard version in the Catholic Low Countries. The Protestants continued to print the old version. The censored version was used in Dutch schools well into the twentieth century, and thus escaped the corruptions of the popular French versions.
Die vier Heymons Kinder. German prose adaptiation of 1604. The standard German edition and ancestor of the German chapbooks.
Reinolt von Montelban oder die Heimonskinder. Middle High German verse, 1450. Two manuscripts survive, complete. Edition: Reinolt von Montelban oder die Heimonskinder, edited by Fridrich Pfaff, 1885, Volume 174 of the Bibliothek des Litterarischen Vereins in Stuttgart.
Histôrie van Sent Reinolt. Short prose adaptation of the Dutch poem and other sources into Colgone-dialect German, c. 1450. Edited by Al. Reiffersheid. Zeitschrift für deutsches Philologie. Volume 5, 1874, pp. 271-293.
THE GERMAN POEM
The German Reinolt von Montelban is a very close adaptation of the Dutch, as far as anyone can tell. Since it is complete, and the Dutch is fragmentary, we will give a summary of the German as our base.
Charlemagne holds court at Pentecost, to which come Heyme [Aymon], Eymerich von Narbonne [Aymeri], and their nephew Hugh of Dordonne. Hugh asks Karl to requite his uncles for their long service. Charles cuts his head off. This begins a war that lasts sixteen years, in which the rebels are aided by Maugis. At last Charles makes peace by giving his sister Aye to Aymon in marriage. Nonetheless, Aymon swears that he will kill any of Charles’ relatives he finds. This leads Aye to conceal her four pregnancies, which produce Ritzart, Fritzart, Adelhart, and Reinolt. Meanwhile, Charles has a son, Ludwig [Louis the Pious]. When these five lads are of age to bear arms, Charles holds court at Pentecost again, to which Aymon does not come. Charles sends Roland, William of Orange, Bertram, and Bernard to summon him. At his castle, the talk turns to heirs, and Aymon laments his childlessness after thirty years of marriage. Aye sounds his feelings, and reveals that he actually has four sons. Aymon dubs his sons knights and gives them horses. Reinolt tests his horses by punching them in the head and kills three, before his father says he will have to have Beyart, who has the strength of nine horses, and is the son of a “dromedarius”, born on St. John’s Day. Reinolt and Beyart have a brutal fight, but Reinolt masters him. He is white behind and before, but his head has spots like a leopard’s. After this, Charles announces that he is going to crown Ludwig his heir and co-emperor. At the feast, Ludwig, urged on by the traitors Gavelon, Hardrich, and Macharius, insults the Sons at every turn, but they best him at the games and sports. Finally, Ludwig and Adelhart wager their heads on a game of chess. Ludwig wins three games, but Reinolt draws Adelhart away. They confront Ludwig later on in the hall, before King Charles. They behead Ludwig, and the Four Sons flee on Beyart. Aymon at first fights for them against the pursuing knights, but he is reconciled with Charlemagne. The Sons briefly stop by their castle of Pierlepont before fleeing south, to take service with King Safforet of Spain. After three years, in all which time they are not paid, they quarrel with him, cut his head off, and present it to his foe, King Yves of Dardone. They conquer Safforet’s kingdom for Yves, and live in peace in Dardone for seven years. Charles hears news of them, and sends threats, but Yves scoffs and gives his daughter Claradys to Reinolt and helps him build the castle of Montelban on the Gironde.
Charles goes on pilgrimage with Roland to St. James, and sees Montelban on the way. He lays siege to it for a year, but is forced to retreat. Reinolt now wishes to go see his mother, whom he has not seen for seven years. The Four Sons trade clothes with pilgrims and go to Dordone in secret. Aye receives them gladly. Aymon, however, is not present. He returns with his army, and attacks his Sons. Reinolt cuts off his hand, nose, and mouth, trusses him up on a horse, and sends him to Charles, who lays siege. Starvation threatens, so Aye sends the three oldest barefoot to Charles to ask mercy. He siezes them and plans to hang them at Monfaucon. Reinolt hurries to Montelban and returns riding Beyart. He offers to give Charles a life-size gold statue of Ludwig and to spend seven years Crusading with his brothers, if Charles will make peace. Otherwise he will lay France waste and behead Charles just like Ludwig. Charles chooses war.
Reinolt, distressed and wondering how to rescue his brothers, falls asleep in the woods. Beyart wanders off looking for food, and is captured by some of Charles’ men. The king gives him to Roland, who promises a lady that he will not ride the steed until Sunday. The army returns to Paris.
Reinolt awakens and despairs. Malegys, Reinolt’s “uncle” [perhaps just meaning “older relative”], arrives in disguise as an ancient pilgrim, and teases Reinolt before revealing himself. Four passing monks tell Malegys about Roland then murders four passing monks and steals their clothes. The two, disguised as monks, ride to Paris, where the abbot of “their” abbey tells them of Charles’ plans for a feast and the execution of Reinolt’s brethren. Malegys disguises Reinolt as a blind man, and the two of them wait for Charles to pass by, with Roland and Beyart. Malegys tells Charles that a wise woman told him that if a blind man sits on Beyart, he will recover his sight. Charles obligingly lets Reinolt sit on the horse, and Reinolt gallops off. Malegys reveals himself and escapes. Charles wishes to hang Reinolt’s brothers immediately, before anything else goes wrong, but the Peers oppose him, and they compromise on hanging the brothers at dawn. At midnight, however, Malegys by magic opens the prison and rescues them, stopping to taunt Charles (who thinks he’s dreaming), tell him they’ll be waiting for him at Montelban, and steal his crown and sword.
Word comes that King Assys’ Saracens are besieging Cologne, so Roland and the peers go and kill them. Charles decides Roland needs a horse worthy of him, and holds a horse race, offering his crown to the winner. Malegys and Reinolt go in disguise, win, reveal themselves, and leave with the crown, scorning Charles’ attempts to ransom it for a hundred-day truce.
When Easter comes around again, Charles sends four mules laden with gold to Yves, ordering him to betray the brothers or else. Yves succombs at once, without even consulting his barons, and agrees to send the brothers to Falcolon [Vaucoleurs], without armor and without Beyart. He goes to Montelban and arranges the treason, claiming that he can’t embrace Reinolt or eat his food because of his headache. Claradys is suspicious, but Reinolt slaps her for believing in dreams and insulting her own father. The brothers go to Falcolon, where they are ambushed by Fauke von Morlyon and Ogier. Reinolt splits Fauke’s head open with Florsberg, Rizhart is sorely wounded, Reinolt duels Ogier on foot, and their horses fight each other, and finally the brothers take refuge on a tall, defendable, rock. Malegys comes to the rescue, and the cousins return to Montelban, whence Yves flees to the cloister of Beaurepar. Rizhart reconciles Reinolt and Claradys.
Ogier, meanwhile, returns to camp, and thinks Yves must have sent Malegys. The Twelve Peers attack Beaurepar, intending to hang the king for his alleged double-treason. Reinolt comes and rescues him. Charles lays siege to Montelban. Rizhart is captured by Roland and taken with the army all the way back to Paris. but none of the Peers are willing to hang him except Rippe. Rizhart is led out to Montefaucon to be hanged, but Malegys has been spying in Paris disguised as a pilgrim, and returns with the brothers, who hang Rippe instead, kill his men, and dress Rizhard in his armor. Charles and Ogier, meanwhile, are at the palace, when “Rippe” returns. Charles comes out to meet him, Rizhard reveals himself, and his brothers leap out of ambush. A melee ensues. As the two sides are withdrawing, Olivier spots an old pilgrim hobbling away, realizes it must be Malegys, and captures him. The Peers are inclined to treat him well at dinner, but Charles chains him in the dungeon and sets the Peers to guard him. At midnight, he puts them to sleep, steals their swords, and escapes. Reinolt, meanwhile, has had a dream of Malegys being hanged, and rides to his castle to check on him. He is not there, so Reinolt goes to Paris, where he meets Malegys, who has handily escaped and is now carrying twelve swords. They return to Montelban.
Charles pursues with his army, and the siege resumes. Peace negotiations break down, and Charles captures Malegys again. At midnight, Malegys escapes, carries Charles off to Montelban, and departs. Charles will not make peace unless Malegys is executed, and Reinolt cannot hand over his cousin and will not execute his sovereign, so he sets him free, and the siege resumes. Everyone starves except the brothers and Claradys [Yves has vanished from the scene, and Reinolt’s children are not mentioned but are presumably here]. They eat all the horses save Beyart, but they bleed him and survive on his blood for forty days. At last, they are forced to flee. Beyart carries the Four Sons (they leave Claradys [and the unmentioned children] behind) to their castle in Arden, whither Charles pursues them. Duchess Aye persuades the emperor to make peace, but he insists on executing Beyart. Charles ties a millstone around the horse’s neck and throws him in the river, but he sees Reinolt, bursts the stone, and rushes to his side. Charles throws him back in with a millstone on each leg, and he escapes again. Charles forbids Reinolt to watch the execution, and this time Beyart escapes to the wood, never to be seen again. Reinolt returns home to Montelban, dubs his eldest son Emmerich a knight, and gives him the castle as his fief. He then departs on pilgrimage.
He spends three years in a hermitage, until a heavenly voice tells him to go to the Holy Land. He meets some knights sent by Pope Calixtus, and travels with them from Tripoli to Acre. There he finds Malegys, who has been living as a hermit in Galilee. The two of them slay a Sultan, but two more Sultans comewith nine champions. They conquer Nazareth and Jerusalem, slaying many Christians. Malegys is slain fighting them, but Reinolt single-handedly saves the day, and turns the whole land back to Christianity. The Patriarch wishes to crown him king, but Reinolt refuses and sails home to Marseilles. When he arrives, he learns that his son Emmerich is to fight a duel with Count Willam of Romelion in Paris. He goes to Paris, in disguise, and informs the king of the wars in the Holy Land and of Malegys’ death. Gavelon and Pynapel arrange for Pynapel’s eldest son Galleran to fight on William’s behalf, but Emmerich still wins. Reinolt now wanders to Cologne, where he joins the laborers on St. Peter’s Church. He works harder than anyone, but only takes a penny a day for wages. The others, jealous, kill him with their hammers and throw his body in the Rhine, tied up in a sack. Although it is the middle of the night when they do this, they hear a sweet sound and see as clearly as if it were day. An old widow who has been fourteen years lame, blind, and deaf has a dream telling her to go down to the river and to draw out the man’s body in a sack which she will find there. She has herself taken to the river bank, is cured upon seeing the sack, and drags it to land. On the body is a costly girdle, which reads “I am Reinolt von Montelban”. The people of Dorpmund hear tell of this, and wish to have the body, which the bishop of Cologne refuses to grant. But when it is laid in a cart, the cart moves of itself and travels all the way to Dorpmund, obliging the bishop to give in. Charles hears tell of his nephew’s death and threatens to raze Cologne. He settles for hanging the murderers. He then goes to Dorpmund and weeps over his nephew’s body. Saint Reinolt, pray for us, and all say Amen.