The Tale of Ralph Collier

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The Tale of Ralph Collier


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This narrative survives only in a 16th century printed edition. It dates, however, to the late fifteenth century, and is often classed with other alliterative poems of the period. It is also considered one of the “detached romances” of the Charlemagne tradition, because it is tied to neither the Otuel or Ferumbras groups (Lupack 62).

For a full-text version, see Alan Lupack's edition from the Middle English Texts Series: The Tale of Ralph the Collier.
 
 
Summary:
 
The first portion of The Tale of Ralph Collier focuses on Ralph’s encounter with Charlemagne, who introduces himself as Wymond, a servant of the Queen. Not realizing he is in the presence of his king, the collier treats the monarch rather roughly, rebuking him at regular intervals for failing to acknowledge him as the master of his own domain. The king gradually begins to understand the legitimacy of Ralph’s frustration. He invites the collier to come to court and sell some of his coal.
 
The next day, as Ralph sets out towards the court with his coal, Roland is sent out by Charlemagne to bring back whomever he meets along the road; Charlemagne knows that Roland will encounter Ralph.  The two encounter each other as the king surmised they would and, predictably, they do not get along. Roland demands that Ralph come with him to the king, and the collier brashly refuses on the grounds that he promised to meet Wymond. The two eventually agree to travel to court together, but not before they make plans to duel with each other the following day to resolve  their disagreement.
 
Ralph arrives at court and discovers that Charlemagne, his king, is the so-called Wymond. The king announces his plan to knight Ralph, and the next day Ralph proves his worth. He returns to duel with Roland but encounters instead a camel-riding Saracen named Magog. Confusing Magog for Roland, he begins to fight him. He eventually learns that Magog is not Roland but a Saracen, which only delights him further since he is now fighting for Christianity. 
 
Roland eventually arrives and halts the battle. Understanding Magog to be a pagan, he urges him to convert.  Magog is initially resistant, but Roland reveals to him the foolishness of his actions, explaining that by continuing to fight without converting, he will face an eternity in hell. Magog is eventually convinced of the value of Christianity, and says that if “thy God be sa gude as I heir the say, / I will forsaik Mahoun” (ll. 937B38). Magog converts and becomes a knight in Charlemagne’s retinue.
 
 
Analysis:
 
This text includes only an individual battle between a Christian and Saracen, but it is interesting to consider alongside more overt crusades romances because of the alternative perspective it offers on the matter of holy war. Unlike the other Charlemagne romances, or the majority of romances showcased in this section of the Crusades Project, this tale prioritizes conversion over martial victory.  The majority of crusades romances in Middle English tend to emphasize the rarity of Saracen conversion, presenting instead scenarios in which the majority of Saracens are impossible to bring into the faith. 
 
This romance, however, aligns much more closely with Genius’ comments on Saracens in Confessio Amantis, and reveals in the process that this preference for conversion over extermination circulated in both high and low cultural contexts.  While Ralph initially fills the role of an enthusiastic holy warrior, the Roland encountered here differs dramatically from the one encountered elsewhere in the Charlemagne tradition. Rather than join Ralph in combat or announce—as he does quite famously in Le Chanson de Roland—“Pagans and wrong, and Christians are right!”, he puts a stop to the fighting and attempts to convert the pagan in question.  His actions and his conversation with Magog ultimately reveal, as Alan Lupack has observed, that “the verbal contest [in the text] becomes more important than the martial” (163). 
Bibliography

Manuscript/Edition:
 
There are no surviving medieval versions of this text. As Alan Lupack observes, modern editions are based on the following edition:
 
The Taill of Rauf Coilyear: Printed by Robert Lekpreuik at St. Andrews in 1572: A Facsimile of the Only Known Copy. Keppie Facsimilies No. 1. Ed. W. Beattie. Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1966.
 
Bibliography:
 
Putter, Ad. “Ralph the Collier.” In Heroes and Anti-Heroes in Medieval Romance.  Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2012, 145-158.
 
Lupack, Alan, ed. Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1990.