The Legend of Orson of Beauvais

The legend of Orson of Beauvais is found in only one version: a chanson de geste of about 3,700 rhymed alexandrines, written around 1180-1200, surviving in only one manuscript, written in Lorraine in the late 1200’s.

There are also allusions to the story in Valentine and Orson and in David Aubert’s History of Charles Martel.

ORSON OF BEAUVAIS

In the reign of Charles Martel, Duke Orson of Beauvais helps the king win a war against the rebellion Count Hugh of Berry. After the war, Orson and Hugh become companions. Orson marries Aceline, daughter of Count Huon of Auvergne, and has by her a son, Milon. Hugh stands godfather to the boy. Hugh, unfortunately, falls in love with Aceline. He sneaks into Orson’s chamber at night and pretends to be an angel, ordering him to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Hugh. Orson is suspicious and searches the chamber, but Hugh has gone out the window, and Orson, finding no one, concludes it must have been a real vision. Aceline, woeful, gives Orson a gold ring to send her as a token.

Hugh and Orson travel through France and Italy to Barlette, where Hugh sells Orson to Saracen slavers, subjects of King Isoré of Conibres. Hugh also steals Aceline’s ring. The Saracens offer Orson a chance to convert, which he refuses, and so they imprison him.

Hugh, meanwhile, has bought palm leaves from a Hungarian pilgrim, and now returns home with an elaborate false story: Orson had confessed to him that he had been part of a plot to assassinate King Charles, and to do penance therefore he had decided to become a monk at the Holy Sepulchre. He died shortly afterward, and he begged Hugh to marry his widow, take his fiefs, and raise his son. Charles Martel protests that since Hugh stood godfather to Aceline’s child, it would be incest to marry her. Milon also protests the wedding, as Aceline has no interest in marrying Hugh and neither son nor mother believes that Orson is really dead. Hugh administers a judicious mixture of flattery and bribery to Charles, and the wedding is held, but fortunately, Aceline’s chambermaid gives her a herb she bought from a Slavic merchant which leaves Hugh impotent.

Hugh tries to kill Milon, but a kitchen boy warns Aceline, who arranges for the boy to escape with his tutor Guinemand. (It is never stated how old Milon is at the time, but he is already a strong warrior, though still just a lad.). Hugh beats Aceline and throws her in prison, feeding her once every three days. Meanwhile, Milon refuses to take charity from his mother’s kinsmen, and instead heads for foreign lands. On the way, he and Guinemand pass through Berry, and unfortunately arrive at the castle of Baudri of Bourges, a kinsman of Hugh, who discovers their identity and seizes them, despite Milon’s resistance. He plans to hang them, but his castellan, whose life Orson once saved, persuades him to wait until Hugh can come and watch. Baudri foolishly agrees, and the castellan helps the prisoners escape. The guards sound the alarm, and Baudri pursues, but Guinemand kills him and the fugitives escape, passing through southern France, crossing Roncesvalles, and at last arriving at Compostela. There they take service with some Norman knights who go to succor King Basile of Bile against the Saracen Isoré of Conibres. One of the knights, Forcon, recognizes Milon by his resemblance to Orson, under whom he once served in a war against Floclart of Senlis. The Normans reach Bile, Basile dubs Milon a knight, and Milon and  Princess Oriente fall in love. Milon distinguishes himself in battle as Oriente looks on. He fights Isoré, and in the course of trading taunts he reveals that his father Orson was sold to the infidels. Isoré briefly wonders if it could be the Christian he’s holding in his dungeon. The Saracens are repelled.

Basile offers Oriente’s hand to Milon, who accepts it, but refuses to marry her until he has punished Hugh. Isoré returns with an even larger army, but Milon kills him, and the Christians conquer Conibres. They kill the men and baptized the women. Orson is freed from his seven-year’s imprisonment and reunited with his son.

Meanwhile, Hugh has decided to burn Aceline at the stake. Orson’s vassal Count Doon of Clermont, however, rescues her, and a war ensues. Hugh deceives Charles into taking his side, and they lay siege to Clermont, where Aceline and Doon are. The siege lasts six months. Charles at last tells Hugh that he must put Aceline away, and gives him his own niece for his new wife. On the wedding night, the besieged sneak into Charles’ camp and make off with the food.

Orson and company, having visited Jerusalem and bathed in the Jordan, make their way home via Acre, Venice and Rome to France, much to the surprise of the besieged and the besiegers. Hugh, stunned, invents a new story that Orson became a Templar as penance for his attempted assassination of Charles, and begged Hugh to pretend he was dead so as not to embarrass his family. Charles, bewildered, arranges a trial by combat. Milon obtains a dispensation of his godfilial duties from an archbishop in order to fight Hugh and wins. Hugh is hanged in full armor, Orson regains Beauvais, and Milon turns down the offer of Charles’ newly-widowed niece in order to return to Princess Oriante. The poem ends with the statement that he had to endure many hardships before he was wed to her.

VALENTINE AND ORSON

At one point in the story of Valentine and Orson, the titular Orson and his brother-in-law the Green Knight travel to Jerusalem with a knight named Hugh, who has them imprisoned by the Saracens and then forges letters from them saying they intend to stay in Jerusalem fighting the heathens. It is not quite clear whether this is a direct borrowing from Orson of Beauvais or just an odd coincidence.

DAVID AUBERT

There can be no doubt, however, that David Aubert’s brief mentions of Orson of Beauvais are owing to the poem. When Charles Martel is fighting Duke Hilaire of Aquitaine, Count (not Duke) Orson of Beauvais is his standard-bearer and distinguishes himself in battle. Hugh is fighting alongside Charles against Hilaire, even though later on he will sell Orson to the Saracens, which is a story David says he does not choose to tell.

SOURCES AND INFLUENCE

There is no historical basis for anything or anyone in the poem, except Charles Martel. Beauvais was never a duchy and never had a lord named Orson.

The lands of Bile and Conibres may be the Portuguese provinces of Beira and Coimbra, or they may be purely imaginary. Bile may also be the same as the Land of Bire, home to King Vivien at the end of the Oxford Roland.

The king in the poem is sometimes called Charles Martel, and sometimes Charlemagne. Since none of the Paladins or the other usual companions of Charlemagne appear, it is most likely that the original intent was Charles Martel.

The poem ends promising a sequel, but if any such was ever written, it is now lost. Perhaps it was never meant to be more than an exciting ending.

Some tapestries (now lost) were made in the 1400’s depicting scenes from the story.

There is a translation in modern French by Michel Lefèvre, which is available from the Beauvais tourist office. There are no English versions of the story.

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The Spanish Charlemagne Ballads, 14: Broadside Ballads

Spain is home to a large number of beautiful ballads, called romances. Some of these ballads are about lovers. Many are about the Moors who ruled Spain for so many long centuries. There are a large number about the famous Cid who fought the Moors. There is also a large cycle about the Paladins of France, and about Bernardo del Carpio, who, the Spaniards say, killed the mighty Roland in the battle of Roncesvalles. While there are several collections of English translations of the Spanish ballads, scholars and translators tend to focus on the Moorish and love ballads. It is difficult to find any complete account of this branch of the Carolingian legend, which is why I decided to write a summary of every Spanish ballad related to Charlemagne. I quickly discovered that this is an impossible task. The folk tradition is still alive and well, not only in Iberia, but in every land to which the Spanish Jews moved after being exiled by Ferdinand and Isabella. New variants are constantly being recorded, and no Professor Child has yet arisen to make a complete collection of the folksongs and to standardize the titles by which they are known.
The closest thing to a definitive collection of Spanish ballads that currently exists is the Romancero General of Agustin Duran, published in 1877, which includes every ballad printed prior to the 1800’s. This means it does not include any folksongs from the Spain of his day, or, naturally, from later. These folksongs sometimes contain very interesting variants from the printed texts. Many of these later folksongs can be found at the Pan-Hispanic Ballad Project and Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, two confusingly arranged messes of websites which I leave it to you to sift through if my dozen posts on Duran’s ballads leave you wanting more.
Duran’s magnum opus is in two volumes, which are volumes 10 and 14 of the Biblioteca des Autores Españoles.

The following ballads are what are known as Broadside or Stall Ballads in English. They are not founded in folk tradition, and usually have little literary value. The ones which follow are all from the eighteenth century, written for street peddlers to sell and beggars to sing.

JUAN JOSEF LOPEZ’ CYCLE OF FIERABRAS AND RONCESVALLES

1253, HAVING CONQUERED ROME AND CARRIED OFF THE HOLY RELICS, THE ALMIRANTE BALAN INVADES FRANCE, AND HOW HIS SON THE GIANT FIERABRAS DEFIED THE TWELVE PEERS, AND FOUGHT A REMARKABLE DUEL WITH THE FAMOUS OLIVEROS.
Balan, the Almirante of Turkey, has a fifteen foot son, Fierabras of Alexandria. When said son is twenty, they sack Rome and kill the Pope. Charlemagne rides forth with his twelve Peers. They make camp, and Fierabras taunts him and challenges the Peers. Roldan won’t fight, because Charles had teased him the other day about not being as good as the older knights. Charles is about to kill him for his insubordination, but is prevented. Oliveros and his squire Guarin go to fight Fierabras. Guarin runs ahead to challenge the giant, who is amused and sends him back. Oliveros arrives, and the fight begins.

1254, THE BATTLE ‘TWIXT OLIVEROS AND FIERABRAS CONTINUES. FIERABRAS IS DEFEATED AND WOUNDED SORE, AND CARRIED TO CHARLEMAGNE’S CAMP, WHERE HE SEEKS AND OBTAINS BAPTISM. ALTHOUGH THE CHRISTIANS VANQUISH THE TURKS, OLIVEROS AND FOUR OTHER PEERS ARE CAPTURED.
The title says it all. Fierabras is baptized in Saint Peter’s, by an archbishop. Roldan and Oliveros’ father [unnamed] are his sponsors.

1255, HOW FLORIPES, BALAN’S DAUGHTER, SUCCORED AND ARMED THE CHRISTIANS AND DECLARED HER LOVE FOR GUI OF BORGOÑA, AND ALSO HOW THE ALMIRANTE SENT AMBASSADORS TO CHARLEMAGNE, FOR THE RANSOM OF FIERABRAS, AND HOW THEY MET WITH THOSE CHARLEMAGNE SENT TO THE PAGAN TO EXHORT HIM TO CONVERT AND RETURN THE RELICS. OF THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE HERALDS: HOW SEVEN CHRISTIANS VANQUISHED FOURTEEN TURKS, AND CONTINUED THEIR JOURNEY TO THE ENEMY COURT.
The title says it all. Oger is here mentioned to be one of the captives.

1256, HOW THE ALMIRANTE SIEZED THE AMBASSADORS, AND FLORIPES CLEVERLY SAVED THEM FROM IMMEDIATE DEATH; AND HOW SHE ARMED AND REUNITED THEM WITH THE OTHERS, TOOK REFUGE IN A TOWERT AND DEFENDED IT, AND WEDDED GUI OF BORGOÑA.
Roldan and Naymes are among the ambassadors. Ricarte is in the tower, though whether he was with the first or the second batch of captives is not stated.

1257, BALAN BESIEGES THE TOWER, AND IS ROUTED IN A SALLY THE KNIGHTS MAKE. HE RETIRES WITH GUI OF BORGOÑA CAPTIVE, AND ORDERS HIM HANGED IN FRONT OF THE BESIEGED, WHO RESCUE HIM. RICARTE ESCAPES THE TOWER AND TELLS CHARLEMAGNE THE PERIL OF THE BESIEGED. HE RIDES TO THEIR AID, AND CROSSED MANTRIBLE, KILLING THE GIANT WHO DEFENDS IT.
The title says it all, literally. Mantrible is a [fictional] bridge.

1258, THE BATTLE TWIXT THE TROOPS OF BALAN AND THOSE OF CHARLEMAGNE. BALAN IS BEATEN, TAKEN, AND AT LAST PUT TO DEATH BY HIS OWN SON FIERABRAS, BECAUSE HE REFUSED TO BE BAPTIZED.
To cross the bridge of Mantrible, the knights pretend to be merchants. Ricarte kills the giant who guards the near side of the bridge. Fierabras kills the one on the far side, named Anteon. Anteon’s wife, Damieta, seeks revenge, and Fierabras kills her, too. Her two sons, four months old but twelve and a half palms tall, are baptized by Charlemagne and called Roldan and Oliveros, but they die after being christened. Roldan’s father is unhorsed in the great battle, but it is unclear if he survives or not.

1259, HAVING CONQUERED THE KINGDOM OF BALAN, CHARLEMAGNE RETURNS TO FRANCE, WHERE, LIVING PEACEFULLY, HE SEES IN THE SKY A ROAD OF STARS WHICH LEADS FROM ITALY TO GALICIA. BY A REVELATION FROM SAINT JAMES, HE DEPARTS TO CONQUER THIS PLACE, AND TO FIND AND HONOR THE BODY OF THE APOSTLE. A BATTLE IN WHICH FERRAGUZ IS DEFEATED AND KILLED BY ROLDAN.
Balan’s kingdom is Aguas-Muertas. Charles adorns Saint James’ body with a very rich tomb, but the Almirante of Babilon [probably Cairo], brooding on the death of Aigolante when he hears of Charles’ pilgrimage, sends Ferraguz, who is seventeen and a half palms tall, with thirty thousand men. Ferraguz overthrows Oger, Reinaldos, Constantino of Rome, and others. Eventually Charles sends two paladins at once, but they still lose. Finally, Roldan comes. They fight, and discuss theology. Ferraguz declares that the winner of the fight must be on God’s side. Roldan agrees, and wounds him so badly that his shouts rouse all the camp, and the battle becomes general. All the Moors are killed, and the Christians return to France.

1260, THE BATTLE OF RONCESVALLES. THE DEATH OF ROLDAN. CHARLEMAGNE COMES TO HIS MEN AND AVENGES THEM, DEFEATING THE MOORS. THE PUNISHMENT OF THE TRAITOR GALALON.
The Almirante of Babylon [Cairo], after Ferraguz dies, summons Marsilius and his brother Belengandus, with a hundred and fifty thousand knights, to war against Charlemagne. Galalon, Charles’ ambassador, arranges the treason. He tells Charlemagne that Marsilius and Belengandus have agreed to covnert. In the field of Roncesvalles, the Christians are caught unaware. After a great battle, all are killed. Roldan, sorely wounded, grabs a Turk and asks to be led to Marsilius. The Turk points him out, and tells how he gave great gifts to “your ambassador”. Roldan slaughters Marsilius and his guard, and retreats up the mountain, where he begs mercy from God, bids farewell to his sword [unnamed], and tries to break it, but only succeeds in breaking the rock. He sounds his horn, and Charlemagne comes. Tierri and Valdovinos [Baldwin, Roldan’s half-brother] find Roldan first. He begs Valdovinos for water, who leaves, but can’t find any. As he searches, he finds Charlemagne and tells him all. Meanwhile, Roldan has confessed his sins to Tierri and died. Charles laments, orders Roldan embalmed, and finds Oliveros, with two great gashes and twelve spears sticking out of his body. He is embalmed and laid by Roldan. Charlemagne pursues the Moors, and kills six thousand. Many more drown in the Ebro, trying to flee his wrath. Galalon is torn by four horses. Juan Josef Lopez wrote this; pray for him.

VALENTINE AND ORSON

1281, DON CLAUDIO Y DOÑA MARGARITA – I. Anonymous. “Hoy, señores, hoy se alienta”
Harken to the sufferings of a highborn lady. In France their lived a knight named Don Claudio. He loves this lady, and meets her in a garden. He confesses his love, and she grants hers. They are wed. They hire as their steward Don Alberto, who falls in love with the lady. When Don Claudio goes to war, Don Alberto begins his suit. She rejects him with insults, and he swears vengeance. When Claudio comes home, Alberto murders her page, and pretends it was because he found the lad in bed with the lady. The lady faints at this false accusation, which Claudio takes as proof of her guilt. He laments his Margarita’s infidelity, but orders his men to take her to the woods and cut her heart out and her finger off, and bring them back. His two servants lead her out, but spare her life, instead bringing back the heart and finger of a recently deceased woman at a hospital. As Margarita wanders in the wild, she gives birth to two sons, one of whom is carried off by a bear. She saves the other, and goes looking for water to baptize him. She meets a shepherd, who takes her in and baptizes her son Valentin.

1282, DON CLAUDIO Y DOÑA MARGARITA – II. “Ya dijo el primer romance”
Lady Margarita and Valentin live with the shepherds. Meanwhile, her other son is raised by a bear in a cave. He grows up to be a wild man, and so terrorizes the local shepherds that they send to Paris for help. Don Claudio, with Don Alberto, goes to hunt this monster. He lodges for the night with the same shepherds who took in Margarita. He notices how much she resembles his wife, and sighs. She recognizes him, and tries not to be recognized. In the morning, the knights ride to the hunt. Margarita finds a place where she can lament alone, but is found by Valentin, and is obliged to explain everything. Valentin catches up with the hunt, stabs Alberto, and demands that he confess his treason. He confesses, and dies. Don Claudio is reunited with his wife and one son thus, and when they find the other boy, he recognizes his father by natural instinct. He follows him home to Margarita and Valentin, and recognizes them too. They all ride back to Paris, with the bear following behind. The wild youth is baptized Orson, and Don Claudio gives many gifts to Our Lady.

Notes to the Fourth Canto, Part 1

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

1. When Orlando was a youth, he went on pilgrimage to Compostella, where Saint James gave him three gifts. The first was to be invincible everywhere save the soles of his feet, the second was that no one would be able to stand against him in battle longer than three days. The third I cannot remember, nor can I track down the book relating it.
Orlando will eventually slay Ferraguto shortly before the battle of Roncesvalles. Chiaro, or Claron, is the son of Milone and the nephew of Girart d’Eufrate. Although Chiaro and Orlando fought side by side in the battle of Aspremont, Girart later rebelled against Charlemagne. The war was to be settled by  a duel between Orlando and Chiaro. Orlando killed Chiaro, which caused Girart to turn pagan and flee to Africa. This story may be found in the Italian versions of Aspromont; it is not in any French source.
4. Samite. Silk.
8. Fiordespina. Sister of Matalista. She will be of some importance near the end of the poem.
Thy good sire. Ferraguto is the son of Falsirone and Lanfusa. Falsirone is the brother of King Marsilio of Spain.
9. Gradasso, in case you have forgotten, is Boiardo’s invention. The location of Sericane is unknown.  Some say between India and Tartary, some in south-east China, some between China and the Himalayas.
14. Charlemagne, according to the romances, married Gallerana, sister of Marsilius and daughter of King Galafre, after he spent some time at the Spanish court in his youth, due to his half-brothers Haufrey and Henri conspiring to exile him. The only French romance to treat of these adventures is the fragmentary Mainet, though it is often alluded to in the Italian poems, and Haufrey and Henri reappear in Valentine and Orson and in Bertha Broadfoot. Needless to say, all of this is legendary. The real Charlemagne had four wives and many mistresses, but none of them were Spanish. He never was in that country except on the ill-fated expedition that ended with Roncesvalles, and nothing is known of his youth.
19. Ivon.  Perhaps the Duke of Gascony whose sister Clarice is married to Rinaldo. Perhaps just a name.
Angelin. Of Bordeaux. The Engelier of Bordeaux of The Song of Roland.

On to Part 2

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