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The King of Tars


1 There [heathen] hounds chopped Christian men [to pieces]

2 He (the king) bore him (the sultan) to the ground, i.e., he unhorsed him

3 It seemed to them that he burned like a spark on a live coal

4 Arrange things quickly so that I will be there (with the sultan)

5 And [the messengers] said he (the sultan of Damascus) was all at his (the king of Tars’s) will

6 Even if she were ten [times] as beautiful (virtuous)

7 [Their sadness] changed them both complexion and hue (i.e., their entire appearance changed)

8 That lady was delivered from confinement in child-bearing

9 For as long as it would take one to walk five miles

10 He (the king of Tars) read the letter that he (Cleophas) brought (see note)

11 There should be no protector for him

12 When he (the sultan) saw his (the king of Tars’) wounds bleed

13 Why do you let the Christians chop us to pieces





Abbreviations: Ak: National Library of Scotland Advocates MS 19.2.1 (the Auchinleck Manuscript); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; Vernon: Oxford, Bodleian Library 3938 (the Vernon Manuscript).

Title The title in Ak, “The King of Tars,” is a marginal rubric over a small illumination. The picture presents the sultan praying to his idols, then praying with the princess at a (presumably) Christian altar. The Vernon manuscript prefaces the work with the descriptive title “Her bigineth of the Kyng of Trars / and of the Soudan of Dammas.” See the appendix for other substantive readings from the Vernon.

2 For Marie’s love. The poet here invokes the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Devotion to the Virgin, while always part of popular Christianity, grew from the fifth century to flower in the high Middle Ages. Karen Saupe notes that in the twelfth century devotion of Mary assumed a preeminent role. Saupe observes that while Christ, who was human and divine, was also the judge “and therefore to be feared,” Mary was a “virtuous virgin, queen of heaven, and loving human mother” and much more accessible as an intercessor for regular people (Middle English Marian Lyrics, p. 9). Her close relationship to Christ also gave her a special position that other saints did not have, further increasing her perceived power: “countless romances and secular poems begin or end with invocations to Mary. And of course she is the subject of hundreds of medieval poems, songs, carols, and prayers which survive today” (Saupe, Middle English Marian Lyrics, pp. 10–11). While the current poem is not a work devoted to the Virgin, its focus on a strong woman who gives birth to a miraculous child certainly responds to popular interest in Mary. Later in Ak are three works devoted to her: “The Nativity and Early Life of Mary” (folios 65v–69v), “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” (72r–78r), and “How Our Lady’s Sauter was First Found” (259r–260v). For more on the contents of Ak, see the introduction, pp. 7, 17-18. For more on Mary and Marian devotion, see Miri Rubin, Mother of God.

6 Dames. Damascus was long a center of trade, religion, and learning, and, therefore, power. Its proximity to Jerusalem made it desirable to both Christians and Muslims. Unsuccessful Frankish attacks on Damascus in 1126 and 1129 were followed, in 1148, by an attempt to take the city that failed spectacularly and, as Christopher Tyerman posits, “destroyed the Second Crusade” (God’s War, p. 335). Still, Damascene leaders considered the Franks to be the lesser threat, and often allied with them against their fellow Muslims until Saladin conquered the city in 1154. In the romance, it is a logical place to capture both the legendary East and still be convincing as a location close to a Christian kingdom.

7 Tars. A fictional Christian kingdom in the Orient. The word “tars” appears in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (lines 77, 571, and 858) and has sparked a fair amount of speculation regarding its location. Keith Harrison, translating Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, reads “Turkestan” in each instance, noting “The ‘tars’ of the original can be loosely interpreted to cover Turkestan, Turkey, and the biblical Tharsia — all places in the Orient such as could be associated with the silk trade” (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Verse Translation, p. 92n5). Perryman identifies three possibilities for a real location: first, the poet may have meant “‘Tartars’, or ‘the land of the Tartars’, but there is a second possibility, that he intended Tarsus, the port in Armenia Minor” (p. 47); her third theory, anticipating Harrison’s suggestion, is that “Tars was thought of by the romance writer as the mythical kingdom of Tharsia, located by Mandeville roughly in present-day Turkestan” (Perryman, p. 47). However, Perryman abandons this historicizing impulse at the end of her discussion of Tars as a real place, noting “the indefiniteness of the name Tars along with the lack of personal names for the chief protagonists would appear to be an aspect of the author’s attempt to use names symbolically as part of the pattern of imagery expressing the poem’s theme” (p. 49). The poet is clearly using the name as a fictional, Christian space in the Orient, much like the legends of Prester John, to heighten religious tension without the interference of specific political or historical readings.

11–16 Non feirer woman . . . white swere. The description of the princess is fairly standard and relies on formula to describe her beauty. Although, as Shores notes, “This catalogue is a conventional description of feminine beauty” (p. 200 n12–16A, V), the description of the princess emphasizes her appearance, and suggests that her beauty crosses cultural boundaries, appealing to all men. See the introduction for more on beauty and desire crossing cultural boundaries.

16 lowe scholders. Clearly a mark of beauty, “lowe” may indicate the shape of the princess’s shoulders, suggesting they gently slope. It may also imply modesty or humility; Shores glosses lowe as “low, humble” (p. 281). I have glossed the adjective as “lovely” not to imply some form of love, but to emphasize the beauty of her body, particularly her shoulders in relation to her statuesque neck.

19–24 Although falling in love through hearsay is illogical according to modern conventions, it is commonplace in medieval romance. For an aristocratic audience used to arranged marriages, hearsay might have been enough to spur interest. Further, the princess is the most beautiful woman alive, and the sultan may be convinced that he deserves the best and so might overlook her faith in his objectification of women. A later close analogue can be found in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, where merchants spread the rumor of the beauty of the Roman princess, inflaming the desire of the sultan (CT II[B1]171–89).

22 his hert it brast ofive. Shores dismisses any significance here, observing “the number ‘five’ is popular as a final word in metrical romance for purposes of rhyme. Its use here, probably as a rhyme tag, has no profounder significance” (p. 200n22A, V), five being commonly affiliated with the body and the five senses. However, the sultan’s heart breaking into five parts resonates with sensuality. The pentangle on Gawain’s shield (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. Winny, lines 619–65) presumably protects him from such a bursting. There is further resonance with Jesus’s five wounds (line 57) and Mary’s five joys (line 785), both mentioned in this poem and also in the explication of Gawain’s pentangle; see below (note 57) for more on the five wounds.

38 wode. This is the first of two instances of madness in the poem. Here, the king of Tars is nearly mad with grief; his daughter, whom he loves, is sacrificing herself to end a war that he is losing. His near madness is certainly reasonable, unlike the sultan’s (see below, note 97–106). Regarding the frequent appearance of madness in romance, Mary Flowers Braswell notes “Madness, following the separation or estrangement from one’s beloved, is a part of the courtly code (see, for example, Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale or ‘Sir Orfeo’)” (Sir Perceval of Galles and Ywain and Gawain, p. 196n1640). Although there is no romantic connection between the king and his daughter, his paternal love for her could certainly drive him nearly mad when he considers threats to her life and, in marrying a Saracen, her soul.

43 Sarazin. “Saracen” is generally used as a vague term for a heathen, pagan, or infidel in Middle English. Here, it refers specifically to Arab or Muslim opponents of Christianity, especially those fighting the (Christian) king of Tars.

45 to drawe. MED drauen, sense 2d, “to get, obtain.” In response to the sultan of Damas’s threat that he will win the princess by force if she is not sent to him (lines 31–33), the king of Tars suggests the sultan would have an easier time winning the devil than his daughter, unless she consents to the marriage and seals her own fate.

46–48 The meaning of these lines seems to be “Unless she will destroy herself through a marriage to him (the sultan), I do not know her thoughts.”

57 woundes five. Christ’s five wounds are those He suffered on the cross to His hands, feet, and side. They were considered especially symbolic of the Passion, and were celebrated as signs of Christ’s special pains to buy salvation, as, for example, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. Winny, lines 642–43.

72 For thou hast him forsake. An echo of lines 55–57, where the king of Tars asks the princess if she will forsake Christ and she assures him she will not. The poet is engaging in wordplay here: the princess objects to the sultan, but will not abandon Christ.

80 tit. This word is difficult to gloss. Perryman, likely concurring with Shores, glosses this as “to fall as lot or portion” (Perryman, p. 107n80; Shores, p. 201n80A). They draw upon OED tide sense 1. However, the word seems to be derived from tiden, “to happen, occur, come about; also, become (of sb.), happen (to sb.)” (MED, sense 1a). I have chosen to gloss it “he is not obliged” (MED tiden, sense 3) to account for the dative him. Thus, the king of Tars sends the sultan the following message: “Think again, for concerning my daughter I have no obligation [to you].”

81 For tresore no for rent. The king has not, and will not, accept anything from the sultan, neither a one-time payment (tresore) nor ongoing income (rent, payment due to one’s lord) from lands, for his daughter’s hand. Though this refusal may be based on religious or moral grounds, it is fairly clear that the king deeply loves his daughter, and paternal affection should be considered as part of his position.

88 prout in pres. MED suggests “valiant in battle” (proud, sense 3b). An alternate reading might be “proud in [their] number,” given the sultan’s love of display.

92 Of wicked wordes is nought scars. An idiomatic understatement calling attention to the voluminous abuse the king of Tars laid upon the messengers in response to the sultan’s proposal.

93 Hethen hounde. The poet does not specify all the abuse the king of Tars levels against the sultan, but, as Shores notes, this is “a popular romance insult for pagans” (p. 202n93A, V), and it is certainly in keeping with the situation. The hound imagery will reappear throughout the text, most notably during the princess’s prophetic dream (lines 418–53).

97–108 Here is the second instance of uncontrollable anger, as the sultan goes completely berserk. His madness, unlike that of many others (see, e.g., Chrétien de Troyes’s Yvain or its Middle English adaptation Ywain and Gawain, as well as Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale), is not provoked by love for another, but for himself; his is the madness of being denied a selfish claim. The sultan loses any semblance of control and civilization, as he rants and raves, tearing his clothing and beard.

98 Also a wilde bore. Boars are very fierce creatures, and boar-hunts are mentioned in all hunting manuals. According to the bestiary, the boar “signifies the fierceness of the rulers of this world” (Bestiary, trans. Barber, p. 87). The sultan’s ferocity is about to be proven, both in the court and on the battlefield. But there are two further connections the poet likely wishes to invoke. First, the boar’s spiritual significance, “the boar means the devil because of its fierceness and strength,” could easily reflect upon the pagan sultan by virtue of his religion. Second, the boar “is said to be a creature of the woods because its thoughts are wild and unruly” (Bestiary, trans. Barber, p. 87). The sultan’s reaction to the princess’s refusal is entirely unreasonable, and he certainly acts like a boar in responding so wildly to the messengers.

102 Seyn Mahoun. An invocation of Mohammed, the founder of Islam. According to MED, “saint” can mean “pagan demigod or hero” (s.v. seinte, sense 3a). Clearly the term here is meant to indicate status parallel to a Christian saint, not as a sign of reverence or respect. Later in the poem, Mahoun’s status seems to change, as he is treated as an equal to the other pagan gods invoked by the Saracens. Perryman notes that Mahoun “was frequently treated as a heathen god or saint, especially in romances” (p. 107n102). It is likely that, in an attempt to create parallels to the Christian Trinity, Mahoun’s status was becoming similar to Christ’s, a figure equally man and God, thus adding to the confusion of his status within this work.

107 Serjaunt. Shores glosses this as “sergeant,” citing OED sergeant (p. 202n107A, V). However, the primary definition of “sergeaunt” in MED is “servingman, servant,” and this meaning is certainly more in keeping with the figures one would meet in a court: servant, squire, clerk, knight, earl, and baron were all struck down by the raging sultan’s actions which emphasize not only the sultan’s madness, but also his indiscriminate violence.

125 worthliche in wede. This phrase has literal and figurative value here. Literally, it indicates that the princess is beautiful, important, or wealthy in clothes or in the world; as an idiom, it means honorable, noble, or respectable. Although MED (s.v. wede, n.2, sense f) also notes that it is “often used for alliteration or as a mere rhyme tag,” it is more likely that the poet is playing with both the literal and figurative meanings, and not using the phrase simply to complete the line.

131–32 Wrotherhele than was he been / Bot Y therto it bring. The sultan here threatens the king of Tars, saying he has been brought to “wrother-heal,” which OED defines as “misfortune, injury, calamity, or destruction,” or perhaps he is threatened “with evil intention.” The sultan has taken it upon himself to bring this evil fortune to the king of Tars for rejecting his request to marry the princess. Shores reads the referent for “it” in line 132 as “the marriage mentioned in 126A,” but the text reads more smoothly if “it” refers to the king of Tars’s misfortune or the sultan’s evil response (p. 203n131 f.A, 125 f.V).

141 hauberk of meile. A coat of mail, or hauberk, was a set of interlocked rings that stretched from the head or shoulders to the mid-leg. It was the primary armor before the advent of plate armor. See David Nicolle, Medieval Warfare, pp. 195-96.

145 unride. MED defines “unride” as “numerous, monstrous” (MED unride, adj., sense 2a). While the poet likely intends both connotations, the context seems to call for a large company, rather than a wild one.

153 maiden hende. “Hende” means courteous or pleasant; the poet is being complimentary to the princess, suggesting her worth is not only in her appearance (see lines 10–18), but also in her personality and high intelligence.

155 Seynt Eline. Saint Helen (c. 250–330) was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine (r. 306–77). She converted late in life (c. 312), though her legend says she had lived a Christian life prior to conversion. She discovered the True Cross while on pilgrimage, and her son nurtured Christianity, ultimately accepting baptism on his deathbed. Interest in Helen has a fairly long history in England, including Cynewulf’s Old English poem Elene and a connection to English bloodlines in Geoffrey of Monmouth, where she is the daughter of King Coel (History of the Kings of Britain, p. 132). For the legend of Helen’s discovery of the True Cross, see Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, pp. 269–76.

the thridde in May. May 3 is actually the Feast of the Invention (“finding”) of the Cross by St. Helen, in whose honor the saint’s day is established; see John McCall, “Chaucer’s May 3,” pp. 201–05, and Russell A. Peck, “Numerology and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde,” pp. 28–29. In the church calendar, Helen’s feast day is August 18. The third of May appears three times in Chaucer’s works, once in Troilus and Criseyde and twice in the Canterbury Tales. Book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde opens on May 3, when Pandarus feels the pain of love and sleeps poorly before he begins to woo Criseyde for Troilus. In the Knight’s Tale (CT I(A)1462–63), this is the date of Palamon’s escape from prison. Finally, in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (CT VII[B2]3187–90), Chauntecleer’s misfortunes begin when he encounters the fox on May 3. For the King of Tars, May 3 is an unlucky day on which he begins a losing war. See also George R. Adams and Bernard S. Levy, “Good and Bad Fridays and May 3 in Chaucer,” pp. 245–48. Perryman suggests that the conflation of the two feasts (the Invention and Helen’s) may account for the “surprising scarcity of entries for this saint in English church calendars . . . considering her great popularity” (p. 108n155). The Vernon’s reading, “Withthinne the thridde day of May,” avoids the error.

158 bright armour and brod baner. The sultan is clearly a sight to see here. His armor suggests several possibilities. Its brightness could be a sign of his wealth, in that his armor is either new or properly cleaned; it may also be a sign that he is not battle-weary, and possibly not experienced. His broad banner further adds to his visibility, as is appropriate for the leader of a medieval force; soldiers could see their leader and draw upon his guidance and presence. Further, its breadth is a sign of power in itself; the sultan carries no small pennant, as so many knights in the Bayeux Tapestry do, but a broad banner, a large symbol of his presence and importance.

172 That men might sen alle the fen. The reading in Ak is obviously a corruption since “that men might sen alle the fen” makes little sense, unlike the Vernon reading — “falde hem doun in þe fen [mud/dirt].” Perhaps “fen” should be read as a metaphor in response to line 170 and anticipating line 174, hence my gloss “bloody mess.”

177 Mani a frely rode. Both Perryman and Shores emend Ak’s “frely rode” to “frely fode.” Shores glosses this as “noble or worthy man” (p. 203n177A, 171V). Perryman is silent in her notes, but identifies “fode” as “young warrier” [sic] in her glossary (p. 115). I have retained Ak’s “rode” as the poet’s intention and glossed accordingly, in keeping with the context of a large battle. See MED rode, n.3, senses 1a and c.

205–07 The king of Tars sees the newly-invigorated sultan of Damascus leap into the battle and slay many of his knights, and he flees to the safety of his city rather than remaining on the battlefield.

220 palle. Tars’s daughter, having refused to wed the sultan, now is filled with remorse over the slaughter of both Christians and Muslims. Palle is a fine cloth (See Vernon, line 358 “in cloth or riche purpel palle,” appendix p. 87), associated with royalty but also with mourning, as in the funeral pall over the coffin, or with religious connotations as in purity robes or an altar cloth. Here the poet is perhaps combining two senses of the term as the daughter comes both as the princess but also as one in mourning over the waste of life that she has perpetrated by her earlier decision. See Castleberry, “Devils in the Bridal Chamber.”

223–24 lete me be the soudan’s wiif / And rere na more cuntek no striif. Winstead observes, “The King of Tars applauds a ‘saint’ who stops at nothing to protect her family, obey her husband, and safeguard her people” (“Saints, Wives, and Other ‘Hooly Thynges,’” p. 145). She will be a martyr herself before letting the slaughter continue. But the uniqueness of her “martrydom” sets her apart from the usual female Christian saints, who would die before letting their bodies be defiled.

229–31 Y wil serve . . . And leve on God almight. The princess tells her father of her plan to deceive the sultan. She will continue to believe in Christianity, though she will properly serve the sultan as his wife. Such heroines as the princess of Tars, Constance, and Emaré “rely on and have undaunting faith in God. The heroines are not only examples to other Christians, but they also win souls for God. The author makes stalwart heroes out of passive women. They do not only have the fighting-power of classical heroes, but they are converters, soul winners and savers. Through the ‘activeness’ of their faith these heroines are favored by God, are spiritual role models and deal with adversity with bravado” (Cordery, “Medieval Interpretation of Risk,” p. 184).

230 bothe loude and stille. That is, at all times. To end the war, the princess wishes to accede to the sultan’s demands and to be a dutiful wife, but she also plans to retain her faith as part of her true devotion and to console her father, perhaps as foreshadowing.

244 thou wilt save thi moder and me. The king recognizes that his daughter’s sacrifice will save them all.

260 For now er here bot we thre. The king’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps they are the last three who can save the Christians, who are being slaughtered by the sultan’s overwhelming force.

261 kende. There is no easy gloss for this word, which is like the Latin term gens. It indicates a group and can variously mean “kind,” “species,” or, most commonly, “nature” in the sense of “essential characteristics.” But its use here, “Cristen kende,” suggests a group that is not genetic but spiritual, and I have glossed accordingly. See MED kinde (n.), especially sense 10a.

265–76 The princess shows a great deal of personal character and initiative here, anticipating some of Chaucer’s women, such as patient Griselda, who suffers her husband’s capricious test (The Clerk’s Tale); Saint Cecilia, who converts her husband (The Second Nun’s Tale); and especially Constance, who was married to the sultan of Syria on condition of his conversion to Christianity (The Man of Law’s Tale). See the introduction, p. 17, for more on Chaucer’s potential connection to Ak.

271 thrawe. Shores glosses this as “anguish,” tentatively deriving it from Old English “þrawu,” meaning threat, oppression, or calamity (p. 309). I have instead glossed it as Middle English “throu,” meaning a space of time; thus, lines 271–72 read “Therefore I will suffer Christians to be slain for me no longer.” MED throu, n.1, sense 1a cites three other instances of this use from Ak: Arthur and Merlin, lines 6713 and 9681, and Guy of Warwick (2), p. 146 (line 824 in Stanzaic Guy of Warwick, ed. Wiggins).

274 with wordes stille. Though women are usually portrayed as submissive to their parents and husbands, that does not mean they are voiceless or mindlessly malleable. Here, the daughter speaks with calm determination to both father and mother. The exemplary spiritual behavior of women like the princess “lifts these women above the submissiveness of their worldly existence: they become submissive to a higher authority — to God. The heroines show attributes the audience should wish to emulate. They strike an alliance of faith with God, Jesus, Mary and the saints. This gives them the courage to challenge risk and the strength to fight adversity” (Cordery, “Medieval Interpretation of Risk,” p. 184).

276 With resoun right and even. The princess has control over her mind, and uses logic to persuade her parents that her plan is good. Though it is not generally acceptable for a Christian to wed a Saracen, it is proper for a princess to protect her people. The description of the princess’s mind as “even” should evoke a sense of impartiality and deliberation, in direct opposition to the rash, emotional reactions of the sultan.

290 pers. As the next line makes clear, his “peers” are the dukes, princes, and kings of his land. The term also evokes the twelve peers of Charlemagne romances, the greatest warriors of Charlemagne’s kingdom. Two of the douseperes, Roland and Otuel, are featured in separate romances also present in Ak: “Roland and Vernagu” (fols. 262v stub–267v) and “Otuel, a Knight” (fols. 268r–277v). Like the invocation of Mary (see note 2, above), medieval readers could be expected to be familiar with the characters through the store of common knowledge, as well as by reading these pieces.

302 Arliche and late, loude and stille. These adverbial phrases essentially mean “at all times,” amplifying the princess’s submission of line 230. The sultan of Damascus makes peace with the king of Tars, and respects his position as his father-in-law, promising to help the king of Tars at any time.

308 Bothen hem was wele and wo. Unlike other pairs of contradictory words, as in lines 230 and 302, the contradiction here indicates conflict, rather than being “an empty phrase meaning ‘all circumstances’” (Perryman, p. 109n308). The king and queen are simultaneously glad that the war has ended and sad that their Christian daughter is marrying the pagan sultan to bring about that peace.

309 In rime also we rede. Here, as well as in other places throughout the text, the tension between written and oral presentation of the text is expressed. Although it is possible to read these lines as stock phrases, there is a shift through the text from primarily reading the text to hearing it.

323 Of gret pité now may ye here. This is one of the places where the narrator interrupts the poem to control the audience’s response, and suggests an oral presentation as much as a written one.

338–39 the soudan . . . so noble a knight. The queen’s position is difficult to construe here. She means no disrespect to the sultan in calling him a knight; that is, it is no demotion, but simply a polite way to refer to the sultan’s positive, “chivalric” qualities, those associated with knighthood in the romances. It may be that she also recognizes the nobility of the sultan; however, it is unclear if this is because she is resigned to her daughter’s marriage and wants to make the best of it, or because he is of Saracen nobility. Her next statement, in lines 344–48, is similarly cryptic, as her observation that her daughter is “noght to him to gode” (not too good for him) disparages her daughter. Perryman explains the statements by noting that the queen is submissive to the conqueror, “as is indicated by her milde chere” in line 343 (p. 109n344–8).

349–57 This stanza only has nine lines, rather than the standard twelve. Perryman adds three lines, based on Vernon, within brackets between lines 354 and 355: “Thai seye it might non other go; / Bitaughten hir god for evermo / And kist her douhter thare.” Ak omits this touching scene where the king and queen of Tars see their daughter off, potentially for the last time.

353 Her sorwe couthe thai no man kithe. “Kithe,” here glossed as “reveal,” could also mean “describe”; that is, their sorrow was boundless, a reading supported by their initial resistance to allowing their daughter to wed the sultan. However, it is more likely that at this point, they must not reveal their unhappiness in order to save their kingdom and religion. The danger of their sorrow is reinforced by lines 356–57, which suggests they can only release their grief in private. This kind of disingenuous action is later echoed by the princess, who professes one faith in public (i.e., Islam) and practices another in private (i.e., Christianity).

368 Hem chaunged bothe hide and hewe. Unlike the sultan’s metamorphosis (lines 922–24), the transformation of the king and queen of Tars is due to sadness, as they lose their daughter through her self-sacrifice.

371 telle we of that maiden ying. In comparing romances with saints' lives, Winstead observes, “we find that romance writers were in fact combining the familiar stories about virtuous women, sexual persecution, and miraculous deliverance with a new kind of protagonist, a revised set of priorities, and a different system of values. Romances consistently upheld the figures of authority that virgin martyrs had scoffed at — husbands, fathers, judges, and rulers; they extolled the conjugal and filial duties that virgin martyrs had spurned; and they transformed the commanding protagonists of hagiography into [seemingly] passive objects of man’s hatred or desire” (“Saints, Wives, and Other ‘Hooly Thynges,’” p. 141; the addition is mine). The princess will, in fact, be exceedingly strong in her hidden behavior and will bridge the presentation of women in the two distinct genres.

380–81 sche was cladde / As hethen wiman ware. The princess was earlier dressed in fine clothing (“palle,” line 218). Here, the clothing itself distinguishes the two cultures; the princess, to become a “heathen,” must first look the part by wearing the right clothes. A similar re-dressing occurs in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale, where Griselda is stripped and clothed anew when she enters Walter’s household as his wife (CT IV[E]372–78), though her change is one of status, from poverty to riches, rather than a betrayal of culture.

389 bright on ble. This is a fairly standard phrase for “beautiful.” The poet also calls attention to a racial distinction here, since the (Christian) princess is white, and the (Saracen) court is black. See also the sultan’s conversion, lines 922–24 and note, below.

391–93 The princess’s sorrow parallels that of her parents (lines 358–69). However, unlike the king and queen, who are surrounded by supportive people, the princess is alone, and no one might prevent or ease her sadness.

400–10 Islam is presented as a mirror of Christianity here; the sultan will not wed the princess without her conversion. Clearly, he too recognizes the gulf between their religions and does not allow sexual desire to bridge it. Marriage between a Christian princess and a Saracen king is a common first stage of the Constance group, perhaps best known through Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale and Gower’s Tale of Constance (Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, 2.587–1612). The different religions of the sultan and princess are a barrier, and while Gower’s sultan of Persia and Chaucer’s sultan of Syria both offer to convert to entice Constance to wed them, Chaucer’s Man of Law specifically notes the difficulty they face: “They trowe that no ‘Cristen prince woulde fayn / Wedden his child under oure lawe’” (CT II[B2]222–23). Like a Christian man (line 406), the sultan of Damas is loath to wed someone who does not share his faith, but he does not offer to convert; unlike Gower and Chaucer, this poet wishes to play out a true conversion rather than allow a Saracen to convert for lustful reasons. There are few marriages in medieval literature that cross religious lines; perhaps the most successful is between the Christian knight Gahmuret and Muslim queen Belacane in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s German poem Parzival. The offspring of that marriage, Feirfiz, ultimately accepts Christianity as the true law and converts, as will the sultan. Contrast the more romantic religious miscegenation in Floris and Blanchefleur, where religious convictions, whether Christian or Muslim, are swiftly overwhelmed by true love.

418–53 Prophetic dream visions, as here, are fairly common in medieval literature, though this one is poignantly frightening to the princess. But it is also hopeful. It reassures her that her trials will lead, through her faith, to a good ending. This trope is popular in hagiography, where the saint is often martyred, but it is also popular in romance; for example, Yvain/Ywain has to reinvent himself to regain his true love, and Gowther has to abandon his very identity before he has atoned for his sins and is rewarded with high status and, ultimately, sainthood. As mentioned above, the hound imagery is a clear denigration of the Saracens, a metaphor that is carried throughout the text but nowhere else made so explicitly fearsome.

431 gleive. MED defines “gleive” as “a weapon with a long shaft ending in a point or an attached blade; lance, spear.” This sort of glaive was also used by footsoldiers. While the earliest cited reference, Debate of the Body and Soul (c. 1300), includes “swords” (Disputisoun, ed. Linow, p. 98) as a variant in Digby MS 102, in Havelok the Dane and Stanzaic Guy of Warwick, both present in Ak, the weapon appears to be a spear or lance: “Axes and gisarmes scharp ygrounde / And glaives forto give with wounde” (Stanzaic Guy of Warwick, ed. Wiggins, lines 3088–89; see also that poem’s lines 2175 and 3005, and Havelok the Dane, lines 1748 and 1770).

446–48 Christ here appears in the guise of a knight. This widespread image appears in the Gesta Romanorum; Langland’s Piers Plowman, passus 18; and Henryson’s “The Bludy Serk,” among other places. See Rosemary Woolf’s article “Theme of Christ the Lover-Knight” for more examples of “one of the commonest allegories in medieval preaching books and manuals of instruction” (p. 1).

448 white clothes. This term refers to a white surcoat worn over armor. The Vernon variant whit armuyre, indicating shining armor, “probably reflects the change during the fourteenth century from chain mail to full plate armour of polished steel” (Perryman, p. 109n451).

450 No tharf thee nothing. An instance of amplification of the negative, not a double negative.

451 Ternagaunt. One of the most common names for the Saracen trinity’s version of the Father. The OED identifies “Ternagant” or “Termagant” as “an imaginary deity held in medæval Christendom to be worshipped by Muslims” (s.v. termagant). The term is used repeatedly in Bevis of Hampton (see, e.g., lines 659, 1380, and 1510), and appears in the Tale of Ralph the Collier (line 850) and Henryson’s “The Annunciation” (line 68) as a name for the devil.

454–56 The princess awakens from her nightmare shaking from both fear and love. She fears the vision she was shown, but loves the reassurance the Christ-knight brings her that her story will have a happy conclusion.

460–62 The syntax here is compressed. “Schuld” has no clear subject, which is implied. The passage indicates the princess hopes that, just as her dream promised (lines 418–53), her current situation will end well.

465 temple. While the word was used to describe any place of worship, MED emphasizes its pagan connotations: “A building dedicated to the worship of a pagan god or gods or which housed an idol” (temple, sense 1).

467–77 The sultan attempts to convert the princess through the threat of violence. Because of his own zealous faith, he is convinced he is correct, and he insults the “fals lay” of Christianity (line 469), echoing the rhetoric of Christian proselytization. But he is unable to convert the princess because she too has strong faith, and her dream bolsters her belief in the true religion, Christianity.

474 Jovin and Plotoun. Two of the heathen gods, Jovin and Plotoun are linguistically based on the Roman gods Jove (or Jupiter, god of the sky and king of the gods) and Pluto (god of the underworld), but are here simply included as names of the false idols to which the Saracens pray and are probably not intended to carry further significance, though there certainly are similarities between Pluto’s abduction of Persephone and the sultan’s taking of the princess. Perhaps their top to bottom pairing implies inclusion of all the false gods in between, who subsequently are repeatedly enumerated.

478–89 Although she attends and participates in the pagan ceremonies, the princess does not abandon Christianity but only appears to convert. The fact that her conversion is not true is reflected in the lack of a physical change to reflect the spiritual change, unlike the later metamorphoses of the sultan and their child. See below, notes 769–77 on the child’s baptism and 922–24 on the sultan’s conversion. The princess’s “mild chere” (line 478) is also worth noting because it echoes her mother’s demeanor in line 343, where the queen resignedly offers her daughter to the sultan. Both women are in difficult positions, and hope for a more hallowed outcome. See also note 371 above.

480–89 The princess’s conversion here is socially correct. She asks that her husband teach her the names, manners, and rituals of her new home. However, she subtly indicates her actual belief in lines 485–86, where she still acknowledges Christ as the maker of mankind. She also says to herself that she is serving her husband the sultan, not the pagan gods he invokes in lines 474–75.

491–500 Mahoun . . . Jubiter. The pagan gods are named as the princess kisses each of the idols. Mahoun and Ternagant have been mentioned above (see notes 102 and 451). Jovin and Jubiter are both names for Jove or Jupiter, which, like Apolin (Apollo), is derived from Greco-Roman myth. Astirot has been identified with the Sidonian goddess “Astarthe” of 1 Kings 11:5 and 33 (Shores p. 206n497A; Perryman p. 110n500). Gower, Confessio Amantis, picks up on Solomon’s worship of Astrathen, “Sche of Sidoyne” (7.4499–4502), to define Solomon’s lechery, given his affiliation with sexuality and child bearing, which has some bearing on the sultan’s begetting capacity. In this regard, however, the sultan is notably unlecherous. Arthur Cotterell describes Astarthe as an aggressive warrior goddess of Mesopotamian myth (Dictionary of World Mythology, p. 20), and this is in keeping with the characterization of the Saracens in this poem. The final god in this heathen pantheon, Plotoun (Pluto, line 474), is omitted from this list, likely because of meter.

492 biknawe. The sultan thanks Mahoun for the princess’s conversion to Islam, ignorant of her duplicity. The word might also be glossed as “wise.” This reading would highlight the ambiguity of the princess’s false conversion, as she maintains the true faith, showing proper wisdom. The line could also be read as “that she so acknowledged [Islam].” See MED biknouen, sense 3, which means to “acknowledge . . . (a doctrine).”

497 As Perryman observes (p. 110n500), Jove and Jupiter (line 500) are treated as separate pagan gods, despite being the same figure in Roman mythology.

498 For drede of wordes awe. The phrase “wordes awe” has a multitude of meanings. Perryman explores the possibilities, concluding this line “could mean ‘on account of the fear of scorn’ or ‘for fear of the threatening of men’. Even though ‘world’ does not usually lack an l in Ak, the latter is probably the correct sense, a reading supported by the Vernon’s and the Simeon’s unambiguous worldes awe” (p. 110n501). It is clearly a reference to the sultan’s threat in lines 472–73 (“And certes, bot thou wilt [convert] anon, / Thi fader Y schal with wer slon”).

502–13 The princess here begins her deceit of her husband, the sultan, for religious reasons. Such a decision is at odds with the hagiographical themes in the tale, however. As Winstead observes, “Though the writer of The King of Tars emphasizes that his heroine only pretends to embrace paganism (507–16), in traditional saints’ lives such equivocation was never an option. The conclusion to The King of Tars, in fact, suggests that setting aside religious scruples can actually work to the greater glory of God, for the protagonist’s willingness to obey her husband, even to the point of ‘conversion,’ is richly rewarded: a specular miracle causes the sultan to repudiate his idols, and, aided by the King of Tars, the newly converted monarch compels his entire empire to adopt Christianity. In effect, the tale demonstrates that women can bring about momentous feats simply by submitting to their husbands, serving their parents, and trusting God” (“Saints, Wives, and Other ‘Hooly Thynges,’” p. 146).

506 minstral. Although the context makes it clear that the minstrel here is an entertainer (MED, sense 1), it is not clear why the minstrel would be responsible for changing the princess’s beliefs. Perhaps the poet is overestimating the entertainer’s ability to make the truth plain through literature, though it is more likely that the poet is indicating the princess’s fixation on Christianity, not forgetting Christ (line 504) even when potentially distracted by a variety of entertainments. She certainly did not forget her faith when participating in the presumably solemn Saracen rites, and this may be an attempt to juxtapose religious and secular events.
crouthe. The crwth is a fairly square Welsh stringed instrument, reminiscent of a lyre, played with a bow; Anthony Baines notes that it may have been plucked initially (Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments, p. 86). Henry Holland Carter identifies it “with light musical entertainment,” citing The King of Tars, “Sir Tristrem,” and “Lybeaus Desconus,” among others (Dictionary of Middle English Musical Terms, p. 105).

514–19 Celebratory tournaments are a common romance device; compare Perceval of Gales, Malory’s “Tale of Sir Gareth,” and The Tournament of Tottenham, where tournaments are staged for the bride’s sake (line 525). Dubbing new knights is a common feature of tournaments.

520 trumpes. Although the more common meaning is “a type of wind instrument,” the word was transferred to the player, or “trumpeter” in the Ak “Beves of Hamptoun” (line 3793; Perryman, p. 111n523). Both “trump” and “trumpeter” fit the context here.

529–37 Unlike the highly elaborate events that appear in later romances, the tournament here seems to be a violent melee intended to help train knights for battle. It was this early form that led the church to condemn tournaments in 1179. Shores too points out that the princess observes the tournament from the castle, thus emphasizing her “isolation from the Christian world” (p. 207n526–528A, 499–501V), though that has been the place for the observation of such contests since the beginning of literary history. See the Iliad, Book 3. In this instance, both the sultan and his queen observe from the rampart as if to judge the melee in their honor.

548 In the maner of his lay. The poet is again drawing parallels and distinctions between Saracens and Christians. Following the tournament, the sultan and princess are wed in a lawful ceremony, as is appropriate for either culture; however, the ceremony itself is a Saracen one, not a Christian wedding. It is another reminder that the princess is in a foreign land and further isolated from what she knows.

554 Of harp and fithel and of gest. Harps and fiddles were fairly common instruments resembling their modern counterparts. “Gest” has been emended from Ak “grest.” Krause read the three nouns as parallel in this construction, and suggested a lost instrument to explain the word “grest” (“Kleine publicationen,” p. 46n554). Bliss questioned this reading, suggesting instead emendation to “wrest,” meaning “plectrum” or “tuning-key” (“Notes on ‘The King of Tars,’” p. 461). Shores supports Bliss’s suggestion, noting his reading “seems best because his word . . . is a musical term in keeping with the other nouns in the line” (pp. 207–08n554A). Perryman emends to “gest,” supposing that the story would be “told or possibly chanted to musical accompaniment” (Perryman, p. 111n557). While I agree with Perryman’s emendation, I think the repetition of the preposition of suggests a parallel entertainment, a tale told with or without musical accompaniment; that is, the minstrels entertained the court with music and recitations. The melody (line 553) could be understood simply as the meter and cadence of the poetry.

565 When it was geten, sche chaunged ble. Each of the major characters in the poem undergoes some transformation, and the princess now changes with pregnancy. Unlike the sultan and their child, who undergo miraculous physical changes, the princess undergoes a reasonable, natural change. This is much more in keeping with her Christian parents, who changed “hide and huwe” (line 368) out of sorrow. The princess’s change may be simple biology (MED ble, sense 3a, “appearance”), though it may indicate a change in the princess’s expression as she realizes she is pregnant (MED ble, sense 2b, “facial expression; countenance”). All we are told is that the princess prayed for deliverance from shame (line 570).

572 deliverd o bende. “Bende” has a number of meanings, primarily relating to imprisonment, and there are three deliveries here, all contingent on the birth. MED initially lists the physical bindings for bende: “fetter,” “shackle,” “chain”; “a cord for tying or fastening.” Figurative meanings include “a legal or moral commitment.” The second definition primarily describes captivity, including “imprisonment of the soul within the body,” and mentions the phrase “bringen (out) of ~” as release from “confinement in childbearing.” Here, the princess is delivered of child and released from the limited mobility of her pregnancy. In addition, her delivery from Islam and her false conversion begins here, as the story will show.

574–82 The child is absolutely formless, having no limbs or face. It is also born without life. Scholars have commented on the child’s resemblance to bear cubs; here is an excerpt from an early eleventh-century Latin bestiary:




The bear gets its Latin name ‘ursus’ because it shapes its cubs with its
mouth, from the Latin word ‘orsus’. For they are said to give birth to
shapeless lumps of flesh, which the mother licks into shape. The bear’s
tongue forms the young which it brings forth.” (Bestiary, trans. Barber, p.

The legend of the bear’s formless birth appears in Aristotle, Ovid, Isidore, and others; see Lillian Herlands Hornstein, “Folklore Theme,” p. 83n14, for an overview. Lions are likewise said to give birth to dead offspring, who are animated after three days by the breath of their father (Bestiary, trans. Barber, pp. 24–25); this text does not draw that parallel, as the child’s father (the sultan) is utterly incapable of breathing life into the child, and it is animated after an unspecified amount of time, though it is probably a matter of hours rather than days.

587–91 Ogain mi godes thou art forsworn . . . Alle thurth thi fals bileve. The sultan correctly reads the monstrous birth as a sign of the religious gulf between himself and the princess. Although he is correct in reading the cause of the sign, the princess will prove to him that his premise is wrong: it is not the gods to which he prays that have created the lump-child, but her God that has arranged for these circumstances.

600–18 In response to the sultan’s rage at the lump-child, the princess calmly proposes a test of faith. If the sultan can prove his gods’ power by making the flesh have form and life, she will properly and truly convert. But if he fails, she will prove Christianity true by giving the flesh form, and he will have to convert. Her faith and the dream, along with the conventions within which the tale is working and the audience’s expectations, converge to give the princess courage and conviction that the sultan will fail.

602 For thi bileve it farth so. The princess claims it is not her fault the child is unformed, but the sultan’s; since the princess has accepted the truth of Christianity, it is the sultan’s heathen faith that has created the misshapen child. Although this specific misshapen birth was not foreseen, it certainly speaks to fears of miscegenation raised earlier in the poem and current in medieval thought. See the introduction, pp. 13-16, and note 400–10, above.

611 Make it fourmed after a man. This phrasing echoes the creation story of Genesis, where the Lord forms Adam in His own image (1:26–27). The ability to create or bestow form is very important to this poem, as the re-forming of the lump-child’s body and sultan’s spirit are at the core of this poem. The episode also echoes the Christian idea that humans need to be born again, that is, spiritually re-born through baptism. The image of Christ as creator is repeated in lines 512–13, 603, 674, and 689.

614–16 Y schal leve thee better than / That thai ar ful of might. / And bot thai it to live bring. The princess will not believe in the power of the heathen gods unless they bring life to the lump-child, as Christ did with Lazarus (John 11:1–44) or Himself, in the resurrection. This is a change from the implications of her earlier, deceitful actions, wherein she appeared to convert, but “Jhesu forgat sche nought” (line 504). The princess, much like the Jews of John 11:45, will believe in the power and truth of another religion only through a display of great power, bringing life to the lifeless.

624 While men might go five mile. The sultan makes an honest effort, praying for the time it would take a man to walk five miles, about an hour and a half. He is no dilettante, simply carrying on the religious traditions, but he truly believes in his gods and their power to affect the lump-child. This depth of character is in contrast to Queen Bramimonde and the pagans in The Song of Roland who, after losing to Charlemagne’s army, rage against their idols, including Apollo and Termagaunt. See The Song of Roland, trans. Brault, lines 2578–91, 2694–97, and especially 2711–18.

627 In you was never no gile. In anti-Muslim propaganda, Mohammed was said to be a convincing deceiver. One story claims “he trained a dove to pick seeds of corn from his ear so as to persuade the people that he was receiving communications from the Holy Ghost” (Saunders, History of Medieval Islam, p. 35). Such tales of deceit would have been popular with Christians, who believed in the fundamental falsity of Islam. Clearly, the sultan is faithful, and believes — but Christian audiences might recall this or a similar tale, and be amused by the claim of honesty.

629 Astirot. The invocation of Astarte (Ishtar/Venus) is especially apt here, as she is a goddess of fertility, sexuality, and birthing. See note to lines 491–500 above.

630 perile. Although the sultan is in no physical danger from the lump of flesh he placed on the altar, he is right to pray to his gods to save him from the spiritual and social danger the lump-child represents. The MED defines peril as “a perilous situation, condition, object, or place” (sense 1b), which certainly describes the sultan’s position: he has sired a monstrous child, a sign of celestial disapproval. Knowledge of the lump-child could threaten the sultan’s position. But it is perhaps another sense that best fits the tone of the poem: “spiritual peril, danger to the soul from sin” (MED, sense 2); the sin here is his marriage to an unbeliever.

637–57 The sultan, incensed at the idols’ inability to show any power, rages against them, throwing them down in a spectacular display reminiscent of Moses destroying the golden calf (Genesis 32:19–20) and Jesus in the temple casting out the moneylenders (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, and John 2:13–14). Their arms and heads broken off, the pagan gods now become lumps, a further commentary on the sultan’s principle talent at this phase of his life. The characteristic nature of Saracens toward rash, violent action is often featured in medieval literature; see, e.g., Marsila in The Song of Roland, Laban in “The Sultan of Babylon,” and the sultan’s mother in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale.

663–68 Lo, have it here . . . help me nought. One must admire the honesty and integrity of the sultan. Though he flies into a rage when provoked by the idols’ inaction, he does not fool himself with false pretenses but faces the truth head on. This is an important step in his conversion.

672 Leve sir. “Beloved sir” or “Dear sir,” an expression of her courtesy, seems the most appropriate gloss here (compare line 679), but the phrase might also be “Leve, sir,” that is, “With your permission.” Though the MED does not cite the phrase as an idiom of address, either reading emphasizes the wife’s obedience and high respect for her husband and the moment that is about to ensue, not only giving life to her child but providing her with a true husband. A third resonance, as well, is affirmed in line 680, where “leve” means “believe.” In line 672, the sultan will begin to believe when he hears and witnesses her speech as she sets out to “teach” him (“ichil you teche,” line 675).

672–73 here mi speche. / The best rede that Y can. Like Custance, Dame Prudence, or Lady Philosophy, the sultaness modestly assumes the role of counselor, which is appropriate to her role as Sapientia, the wise woman.

676 Nou thou hast proved god thine. “Proved” can mean both “tested” or “proven.” Both seem to be suitable glosses here, though “proven” seems more appropriate, as the sultan has proven his gods’ inability to give the child form, and therefore their falsity.

685 Now, dame, ichil do bi thi lore. The “dame’s” patient instruction of her husband epitomizes the behavior of a virtuous wife. Winstead makes the point that “One possible attraction is that legends of virtuous wives, like romances of pious knights, provided paradigms of holiness that were more congenial to lay life than those in contemporary saints’ lives. Virgin martyr legends upheld traditional clerical values, such as celibacy and contempt for the world. Hagiographers presented their heroines as invulnerable champions of the faith and efficacious intercessors, whose actions were surely intended to be admired rather than imitated. With their contempt for secular life and their miraculous imperviousness to pain, the protagonists of Middle English hagiography had little in common with ordinary people. Pious romances, by contrast, offered heroines whose desires and cares lay readers could readily understand. These romances asserted the worth of family and society, and they assured readers that it was not necessary to forswear wealth and worldly happiness in the pursuit of heaven. Echoing a theme we encounter frequently in late medieval didactic literature, they also affirmed that a good woman does not forfeit her ‘hoolynesse’ through marriage and sexual activity. In effect, pious romances conveyed the comforting message that a prosperous wife could be as worthy of praise as a virgin martyr” (“Saints, Wives, and Other ‘Hooly Thynges,’” pp. 151–52).

693 As icham gentil knight. The sultan swears by his knighthood, not by his crown. This may be a means to identify him with the audience but is more likely a reference to the expectation in romance that knighthood is a sign of worthiness. That is, knights are expected to be good (i.e., chivalrous), whereas kings can be ruthless. See also note 338–39, where the queen of Tars refers to the sultan’s knighthood.

714 maumettes. This is the first time the pagan gods are described as idols. The word is derived (through Old French) from Mohammed, “resulting from the common medieval Christian belief that the prophet Muhammad was worshipped as a god” (OED). The fact that the princess calls them such may be a sign that she is gathering her will and is preparing to attack the sultan’s faith directly.

730 bi Seyn Jon. Cleophas’s invocation of Saint John is likely idiomatic. Although there is no shortage of saints named John for him to call upon, other appearances of the saint in the text suggest that Cleophas calls upon John the Baptist. He was “immensely popular” in medieval England (Farmer, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, p. 264), and his invocation here is particularly appropriate, given the conversion narrative that begins in earnest at this point. See also lines 767–68 and note.

738 And tow wilt held thee stille. The princess’s advice to be “stille” works on three levels. First, and most directly, the princess tells the priest to “be quiet.” Further, she implicitly advises the priest to “be patient” and listen to her. Finally, she asks the priest to “be humble,” trusting in her plan, which relies on restraint, patience, and humility to be successful — three things the sultan has not been, but that are important for Christians. She then presents the secret plan to the priest, who will help convert the sultan and, ultimately, the entirety of Damas.

739–40 For thurth thine help in this stounde, / We schul make Cristen men of houndes. The hound imagery again appears, here suggesting the subhuman status of non-Christians. These lines also suggest the transformative power of baptism, as it can change hounds into men, anticipating the miraculous changes of the lump-child (lines 769–77) and sultan (lines 922–24).

742 the soudan’s wiif. This is the fourth term used for the princess, and its significance is worth consideration. While she is in Tars, she is referred to as a maiden or daughter, depending on the context. This befits her status as an unmarried woman. When she goes to Damascus, she is the lady, as befits a wife and mother; she has entered the second stage of her life, and the term used to identify her shifts accordingly. In this line alone, she is identified as a wife. She has already wed the sultan and has given birth, but neither of these social milestones changed the poem’s means of identifying her. However, here, as she plots with the priest, her status as the sultan’s wife, as the falsely converted woman, is recalled. It is possible that the appellation is used for the sake of rhyme (soudan’s wiif–withouten striif), but the flexibility and resourcefulness of Middle English poets, including The King of Tars poet, should not be underestimated. Tail-rhyme poetry is not easy to write, and the poet has yet to include tortured or failed rhymes; this supports the belief that this is a pointed choice and not just a convenient rhyme.

760–68 The poem’s description of the baptism is minimal. Siobhan Bly Calkin notes that, “For late medieval theologians, what makes a Christian is the pronunciation of a specific verbal formula” that is absent in the poem (“Romance Baptisms,” p. 106). Calkin further suggests that the absence of any formulaic language creates an emphasis on baptism as a means of building community. This is certainly important for the princess, who has to build a new, Christian community in Damas, beginning with her family.

763 missomer tide. Midsummer is a liminal time, the longest day of the year, and a pagan time of fecundity and conception. It celebrates the nativity of John the Baptist and is thus most fitting for the baptism of the child that Christ will transform, along with the conversion and translation of the sultan.

767–68 And cleped it the name of Jon / In worthschip of the day. The most likely candidate is John the Baptist, whose feast day is 24 June. John appears in all of the Gospels, but most importantly in Matthew 14:1–12 and Luke 1:5–25. The date was chosen because Luke 1:26 and 1:36 imply that John the Baptist was born six months earlier than Jesus.

769–77 The power of Christianity is proven through the princess’s attempt to give her child form (see above, lines 600–18 and note for the deal she made with the sultan). The miracle is based on a fairly logical sequence of events: with baptism comes grace; with grace comes spiritual purity; and with spiritual purity comes physical purity and a single form, as the flesh imitates the soul. The child’s heritage is no longer at odds with itself, as the Christian portion gains dominance.

772 hide and flesche and fel. “Hide” and “fel” are both terms for the skin. Although “hide” may refer to those portions that are covered in hair and “fel” those that are bare, it seems that the poet is using synonyms to amplify the new formation of the lump-child.

779 teld . . . fore. To “tellen fore” is to tell something forth, to tell in the presence of someone. Here, Cleophas is telling the sultan about the miracle of the child gaining form when baptized, but there is a sense of spreading a miracle, an important feature of hagiographic narratives that broadcast the good news. Relating this miracle will, as in many saints’ lives, lead to the conversion of the listener (here, the sultan). See also note 1098.

783 gold and purpel. These two colors were associated with royalty. There is a further connotation of the East with purple, as the dye used for that color was found in Byzantium, whose emperors traditionally wore purple garments.

785 joies five. The importance of the five joys of the Virgin was as a means of guiding spiritual exercises. As Saupe notes, “Meditation on Mary’s ‘joys’ recalls the events of Mary’s life in terms of their spiritual significance,” though the joys themselves varied slightly in different contexts and traditions (Middle English Marian Lyrics, p. 27). Saupe lists the joys in the Franciscan tradition as “the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection of Christ, the Ascension of Christ into heaven, and the Assumption of Mary into heaven,” adding “sometimes the Epiphany (the visit of the Magi) is included and the Ascension omitted.” Another, later poet, John the Blind Audelay, lists the five joys as the Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, Assumption, and Coronation (Poems and Carols, ed. Fein, p. 282). Poems specifically celebrating the five joys were common; see, for example, Saupe, Middle English Marian Lyrics, poems 71–76 (pp. 137–46) and Audelay, “Prayer on the Joys of the Virgin” and Carol 18, “Joys of Mary” (Poems and Carols,  ed. Fein, pp. 151 and 198–99, respectively). The five joys are also mentioned in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. Winny, lines 646–47, where they strengthen Gawain’s fortitude on the battlefield, for which reason he has the image of the Virgin on the inside of his shield.

793 the soudan that was blac. Despite hearing of the princess’s white skin in the first stanza (“white as fether of swan,” line 12), this is the first mention of the sultan’s skin color, which suggests that it was not an important detail until now, in anticipation of his baptism and metamorphosis. Mentioning his skin color here also establishes a more clear dichotomy between the sultan and the princess, though he is not described as loathly, as are so many other foreign figures in medieval romance. See the note to lines 11–16 on the princess’s beauty.

795 With liif and limes and face. The princess shows the sultan the child, which is no longer a lifeless lump of flesh, but a living being with human form. That form was instilled with baptism.

797 nought worth the brostle of a swin. Proverbial; see Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases B552, which cites three texts present in Ak. Interestingly, the three citations all refer to the worthlessness of pagan gods. The first instance in Ak is this one, in The King of Tars; the next occurs in the couplet version of Guy of Warwick: “Thou sest Mahoun ne Apolin / Be nought worth the brestel of a swin” (Guy of Warwick [couplets], lines 3324–25); and the third appears in Roland and Vernagu:

Rouland lough for that cri,
And seyd “Mahoun sikerly
No may thee help nought,
No Jubiter, no Apolin,
No is worth the brust of a swin,
In hert no in thought.”
     (lines 857–62)

The Ak texts are far from unique in ascribing worthlessness in such a manner, and the manuscript is not the origin of any of these three texts, so the common use of this proverb is striking. I have slightly modernized these quotations.

802 bi Seyn Martin. “One of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages” (Farmer, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, p. 333), Martin of Tours was famed for his generosity. Born c. 316 to a wealthy Roman family, Martin abandoned military service when he converted. Outside of Amiens, he cut his cloak in half to clothe a naked beggar. That night, he had a dream vision of Christ wearing the cloak, and Martin was baptized the next day. The first monk in Gaul (France), he founded the first monastery there before becoming bishop of Tours in 372. As bishop, he fostered the foundation of monasteries as a means of bringing Christianity to rural areas. After his death in 397, his life by Sulpicius Severus became a model of hagiography and was copied throughout the Middle Ages. Despite Martin’s fame in Europe, Shores observes that he “appears to have been chosen for the sake of rhyme” (p. 210n802A). There is no clear connection between Martin’s life and the events of the tale here, though the princess could obliquely refer to the divided cloak by saying “Yif the halvendel wer thin” (line 803). For a version of Martin’s life, see Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, pp. 663–74. In one of the most interesting changes offered in the Vernon manuscript, the saint invoked at this point is not Martin, but Katherine of Alexandria. Katherine was a popular figure in Middle English literature, and her life appears in both the Golden Legend (pp. 708–16) and the South English Legendary, the latter of which is included in the Vernon but not in Ak. Such a substitution may indicate a different audience or simply the popularity of a different saint.

809–10 Thou no hast no part theron ywis, / Noither of the child ne of me. The princess severs her ties to the sultan here; as in lines 803–04, she disputes the sultan’s role in creating the child, and she relies on the substitute father, God the Father, as a replacement the child gained with form in baptism. For more on medieval medical discourse and the role of baptism in giving form, see the introduction, pp. 14–16.

827–28 Although the sultan has already broken his idols in his fit of rage at their impotence (lines 646–57), here he promises to utterly destroy them as a sign of his conversion.

837–70 Jhesu Cristes lay. The princess briefly summarizes the Christian faith through these thirty-four lines, which mention both formal doctrine and popular belief. Although the miraculous transformation is a sign of God’s power, this description of the tenets of Christianity completes the sultan’s conversion. Convinced of the real power of Christianity, he learns the tenets of his new faith and abandons his old law in favor of the New Law.

844–46 Although the harrowing of Hell has no biblical testimony, it was a very popular story, as it logically explained the three days between the death and resurrection of Christ, and offered satisfaction (and hope) for the virtuous pagans and Jews (such as the patriarchs) who were barred from Heaven solely because they were born before the Incarnation. J. K. Elliott suggests the tale may have its origin in 1 Peter 3:19 (“in quo et his qui in carcere erant spiritibus veniens praedicavit” [Douay-Rheims: In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison]), which “whetted the appetite of Christians for further information about this aspect of their early history” (Apocryphal New Testament, p. 165). This text is in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, written in Greek and translated into Latin and, from there, into many vernacular languages, including both Old and Middle English. The harrowing was elaborated quickly and circulated independently of the apocryphal gospel. Four manuscripts contain the Middle English text of the harrowing, including Ak (ff. ?35rb-?37rb or 37va stub). Knowledge of the story must have been widespread; David Bevington notes that it “forms an essential part of all the Corpus Christi cycles” (Medieval Drama, p. 594), a popular retelling of biblical tales presented in dramatic form throughout England. For an edition of the Ak Harrowing, see Hulme, Middle-English Harrowing of Hell and Gospel of Nicodemus, pp. 3–21. For a translation of the Greek and Latin texts of the Gospel of Nicodemus, see Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 164–204.

856 the crede. Shores points out that it is unclear “to precisely which Creed the princess refers, for all of them speak of Christ’s judgment of the living and the dead” (p. 211n856A). The two most likely are the Nicene Creed, used in the mass and therefore familiar to the princess and the audience, or the Apostles’ Creed, used at baptism, and equally appropriate here.

860 And man arise fram ded to live. A reference to the Final Judgment, when the dead shall rise from their graves and be judged. It also recalls the miraculous transformation of the child from a dead lump of flesh to a beautiful, well-formed, living boy.

867 Erl, baroun, and bond. A bond is a pledge, especially one which creates a feudal obligation; here, it refers specifically to the bondsman, contrasting the lowest rank in feudal society with two of the highest, earl and baron. The sense of this line is that all men should be judged according to their station.

876 teche me Cristen lay. Although lines 836–67 outline the basic theology of Christianity, there is little on living a Christian life. Here, the sultan asks for a fuller education, in keeping with his nascent conversion. His request for a priest should not be read as misogynist; the princess’s description summarized Christ’s life but discussed little else, while a priest would know the particulars of not only the Bible but also the other church doctrines a converted person would need to learn.

878 bot we thre. As before (line 260), the princess is part of a small group that has secret information that will transform the narrative: before, she and her parents were privy to her decision to wed the sultan, while here, only she, the sultan, and the priest are aware of the sultan’s conversion.

906 christendom. The primary meanings in MED focus on faith and doctrine; that is, Cleophas asks Christ to give the sultan strength to pursue his new faith.

919 Cleophas. Hornstein (“Study of Historical and Folk-lore Sources,” chapter 2, esp. pp. 42–47) found some instances of a “Cleophas” in chronicles, though the distance between this poem and the historical record makes such a connection unlikely. Perryman suggests “perhaps a chronicle which associated a Cleophas with Tars had been seen by the author of the romance. More probably the historical associations are fortuitous since the name is likely to have been chosen for its symbolic allusion to St. Cleophas” (p. 113n925). The name “Cleophas” appears in two places in the Bible. First, Luke 24:18 identifies one of the travelers to Emmaus as “Cleophas”; he is the first of the travelers to speak to the risen Christ, and the name thus is appropriate for a priest who celebrates conversions in exile. The second instance is in John 19:25, where one of the three Marys present at the Crucifixion is named “Maria Cleopae”; she was thought to be either the wife or daughter of the traveler Cleophas. St. Cleophas was included in many fourteenth-century martyrologies, and the poet could have encountered the name in a religious context more readily than in a chronicle.

922–24 In one of the most commented-on passages of the poem, upon conversion to Christianity, the sultan’s skin color changes from black to white. This is a visible sign of faith and the power of Christianity, the point being that the sultan now sees himself without blemish. There are parallel changes in Cursor Mundi (lines 8071–8122) and the History of the Holy Rood-Tree (ed. Napier, pp. 16, 17). Both relate the story of explicitly black Ethiopians who meet King David. When they pay proper respect to the rods that will become the cross, their skin color is changed from black to white, and the miracle converts them. It is worth recalling that there was no such change with the princess, as she did not truly convert, but simply appeared to follow her husband’s faith. See the introduction, pp.1–13, for more on the presentation of race in this poem.

935 eyghen gray. Grey eyes were a sign of rare beauty.

936–39 She now sees his spotless new self also.

942 Hir joie gan wax al newe. The princess was joyful at the child’s transformation, and she specifically excluded the sultan from the family unit. When she sees the newly-baptized sultan, her joy increases because he has truly converted, and their family is complete. The phrase “al newe” also resonates with the theme of rebirth in the poem.

959 thurth His sond. “Message,” as I have glossed sond, has a couple of possible meanings. The most obvious, of course, is the sultan’s new metamorphosis from black to white, a visible message relaying the truth of Christianity through the purification of baptism. The Bible is also a strong possibility, as the sultan is newly aware of the message therein. In this poem, there are two other messages sent by Christ: first, the dream-vision, about which the sultan may know, and second, the lump-child’s metamorphosis. Any of these (or all of them) could be the message he wants to relay to the king of Tars, each having played a part in the sultan’s conversion.

979 It may be that Cleophas read the letter he brought aloud, especially if the letter is an open one, intended as a political document for the court as a whole rather than as a personal document from the sultan to his father-in-law. “Ywrought,” line 980, is glossed “written,” but could also mean “composed” or “prepared,” and need not refer specifically to a written document. It is another instance of the tension between literacy and orality.

989 honged opon a tre. Christ, of course, was hung upon the tree, the cross, so it is interesting that the Saracens who will not convert will share a similar fate, just like many other saints and martyrs. It may be that those who will not convert are hanged by the neck, which is an ignominious ending generally reserved for traitors.

1002 He schal hong and drawe. Not quite the execution mentioned in line 989 (“honged opon a tre”), but in English law, hanging and drawing was an appropriate punishment for traitors, which the sultan clearly considers his men if they do not follow his orders and convert. However, given the centrality of faith to the poem, his order is a difficult proposition to accept simply. The princess’s deceptive embrace of Islam shows that a religion must be entered willingly and with true belief, or the conversion is meaningless. The sultan needs a miracle to prove the veracity of Christianity, and the miracle is twofold: the shaping of his son and his own transformation from black to white skin. So why should the other lords covert, if they do not believe? They did not witness the transformation of either child or father. Rather than creating a mass conversion, this demand leads to a climactic battle between the forces of Christianity and Islam, characteristic of romance.

1004 Erl, baroun, douk, and knight. This set of four titles essentially covers the entirety of the English feudal hierarchy, excepting the king. The sultan is clearly asking the king of Tars to assemble an army consisting of his entire kingdom, as underscored in the next line: “Do alle your folk bide.” The sultan recognizes the superior number of Saracens in his own kingdom, and wants to raise as large a force as he can to convert his people.

1006 brini. A brini is a coat of mail or hauberk. See also note 141, above.

1022 knen. This is an archaic plural of “knee,” similar to the construction of “oxen” and “children,” that has fallen out of use.

1027–38 After living in relative seclusion, the sultan finally presents himself to his people and announces his conversion. His skin color has changed, and it is possible that he has allowed the story of his son to circulate. Although he calls on his people to convert, rather than simply forcing them to do so, anyone who continues to follow the false law will be beheaded. He does seem to anticipate armed resistance, though, and waits for the king of Tars to arrive with his army. His expectation of violent resistance will be met and a war will follow, as the sultan and king of Tars fight five rebellious Saracen kings.

1032 Ye mot ycristned be. The sultan sincerely wishes to convert his people, with the might of the king of Tars supporting him. Although the sultan’s army would surely be severely diminished, as some of his soldiers would not willingly convert, his forces will be augmented by the imprisoned Christian knights, like Sir Cleophas.

1036–37 This is the sultan’s final attempt to convert his people peacefully. Those who do not renounce their faith and follow the sultan will be beheaded. This threat will be followed through in lines 1225–29.

1054–59 The sultan finally shows proper Christian charity, even though it is a little self-serving. He is generous with all his (Christian) prisoners, asking those who are able to fight to do so and giving food and medical aid to those who cannot.

1062 In gest as so we rede. Compare line 309. This is an oral formula that posits a “source” text, frequently appearing with small variations in romance literature. See Amis and Amiloun, lines 144, 1546, and 1729, 2448, Stanzaic Guy of Warwick, line 216. The most common formula is “in romance as we rede” (see Emaré line 216; Sir Launfal line 741; Sir Isumbras line 759; Octavian line 15, 282, and 1806; Athelston lines 383, 569, 623, and 779. Other variants include "in romans as men rede," (Sir Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle line 51), “in chronicle for to rede” (Siege of Milan, line 9), and “in story as we rede” (Tournament of Tottenham, line 5).

1081–83 The five named heathen kings have long intrigued those scholars who wish to find historical connections and context for The King of Tars. Perryman believes they are just fictional names, carrying “no symbolic meaning” (p. 63), though she does draw some connections between these names and others in the texts that compose Ak (pp. 113n1087–114n1089). Shores, however, refers to her dissertation director’s own dissertation, stating “The historicity of the five kings is discussed by Lillian Herlands Hornstein, ‘A Study of the Historical and Folk-Lore Sources of the King of Tars,’ unpubl. diss. (New York University, 1940), pp. 72f” (Shores, p. 212n1081–1083A, 997–999V). Though Hornstein’s dissertation is interesting, the distance between historical figures and events and the texts in Ak may be too great to support specific connections or intentional resonances in this poem. Further, given the reality of variation in names, especially those that would be as unfamiliar to English scribes as Oriental names and titles, the original names of these figures, if they do have historical sources, are probably lost. These names are now used to emphasize their exotic nature.

1093 Now herkneth to me bothe old and ying. The poem here changes its expectations of the audience. It is no longer strictly a written text, but one that includes a call for the audience to pay attention. This evocation of oral performance recalls the poem’s opening line. See the notes to line 554 and line 1062.

1098 lithe. MED defines lithe as synonymous with “listen,” noting that “to lithen” is a “more or less empty metrical tag” (lithen, v.3, sense f). Here, it seems to be used for not only meter, but also amplification and as a refinement of the audience’s participation. They are not only to listen, but to hear the story. See also the note 1093. The emphasis adds to the importance of hearing as a means of participating in miracles. See also note 779.

1099 Cristen soudan. Although modern, secular readers will not see anything amiss here, the original audience would perceive this as a contradiction. Today, we read “sultan” as a social and political title and “Christian” as a religious and spiritual one, but medieval romance was less comfortable with such a strict division. Drawing on a number of works, especially romances, MED defines “soudan” primarily as a Moslem or Saracen leader; with such a strong connotation, a Christian sultan would appear to be an oxymoron.

1111 Tabarie. The identity of this name has a number of possibilities. Perryman observes “Tabarie may refer to a famous battlefield near the sea of Galilea . . . but it is common in romances as a Middle Eastern kingdom” (p. 114n1117). Like the names of the kings, it is likely just an exotic flourish, though there may be some connection to the brief romance “Hugh of Tabarie.”

1121 top seyl in the feld. This phrase has been the subject of great speculation. Krause emends to “þat top ouer teyl in þe feld” (“Kleine Publicationen,” line 1121). Bliss questions the emendation from Ak’s “top seyl,” suggesting a Middle English idiom “to overturn topsail to the earth,” meaning “to fall head over heels” (“Notes on ‘The King of Tars,’” p. 461). Shores and Perryman, following Bliss, both read “Þat, topseyl in þe feld” (Shores line 1121A, Perryman line 1127). However, the action may be described without reliance on a new idiom: the king of Tars takes Lessias’s blow and “hit him (i.e., Lessias) so on the shield that the top [of it] flew into the field; he (the king of Tars) cast him (Lessias) down.” Thus, Lessias needs to leap on a horse at the beginning of the next stanza.

1149 with mayn. This phrase means “with retainers” and “with strength,” as in line 1187, the idiom “with might and mayn.”

1166 glaive. MED describes a glaive as “a weapon with a long shaft ending in a point or an attached blade; lance, spear.” The glaive suggested by the text here is more of a lance or spear, with which Clamadas strikes the sultan above the shield, that is, on his chest or head, nearly unhorsing him. See note to line 431 for more on the glaive.

1170 houndes. Although the Saracens have been metaphorically described as hounds throughout the text, by this point the word is almost devoid of any value, a commonplace descriptor to dehumanize the Saracens.
fele. “Many,” but it is tempting to read this as a scribal error for “fel” or “felle,” which MED defines as “treacherous, deceitful, false; guileful, crafty; villainous, base; wicked, evil.” However, it may be that the scribe or the original poet was interested in both senses, relying on the homonym.

1183–88 Memarok plays the role of the cowardly pagan here. A Christian hero or king would have been spurred on to greater deeds at the deaths of their allies, as are Arthur and Charlemagne. See, e.g., the Alliterative Morte Arthure, lines 2197–2217, and The Song of Roland, trans. Brault, lines 2987 and 3610–30. This further, if subtly, supports the correctness of Christianity — not only are the Christians infused with the power of God, but their enemies flee to live in dishonor rather than finishing the battle.

1200 Wicke is thi servise. Perryman describes two potential meanings for servise based on the OED. The line could mean “wicked is the reward for serving you” originating from OED service, sense 7 or “wicked is the condition of being your servant” coming from OED service, sense 1 (p. 114n1206). The passage as a whole remains the same either way: the Saracens recognize the impotency of their gods in the battle.

1202 dreynt hem. “Hem” is a reflexive pronoun: “they drowned themselves,” describing the Saracens as a cowardly lot who would rather flee the battle than see their death in its conclusion; in the process, they drown as a result of the weight of their armor and equipment. Compare The Song of Roland, where Charlemagne traps the Moors between his army and the River Ebro:

The pagans cry out to Tervagant, one of their gods,
Then jump in, but they receive no protection.
The men in full armor weigh the heaviest,
Some go swirling down to the bottom;
The others go floating downstream.
The survivors, however, swallowed so much water;
That they all drowned in fearful pain.
     (lines 2468–74)

1218 The bal up in the hode. Perryman (p. 114n1224) notes this is an “unusual idiom” for the head, but that it is “particularly connected with the Auchinleck manuscript.” She notes its appearance in Arthour and Merlin, line 394, and follows Bliss (“Notes on ‘The King of Tars,’” p. 462), who observes its presence in sections of King Alisaunder and Richard Coer de Lion that are missing in Ak.

1225–29 The poem’s casualness about the religious cleansing of Damas is disturbing. When the king and sultan claim victory for Christianity, they proceed to slay all those who did not convert, as the princess asked (lines 952–54) and the sultan threatened (lines 1036–38). Such religious cleansing echoes the desire of some crusaders to reclaim the Holy Land solely for Christians as well as the expulsion of the Jews from England by Edward I in 1290.

1230–41 Ak text ends abruptly on fol. 13vb. The opening of the next item in the gathering, "The Life of Adam and Eve," is also missing, which suggests that the lost section of The King of Tars is fairly short. “A precise estimate of what is lost is impossible, but it is probably no more than 40–60 lines” (Pearsall and Cunningham, introduction to Auchinleck Manuscript, p. xix). The final stanza is taken from the Vernon manuscript.





Abbreviations: MS: the Auchinleck Manuscript (base text); P: The King of Tars, ed. Perryman; S: “The King of Tars: A New Edition,” ed. Shores; V: the Vernon Manuscript.

4 Bituene. So MS. S, P: Bitvene.

10 hem bituen. MS: hem bitben. S, P: hem bitven.

18 proud and play. So MS. V: pert in play. S, P: proud [in] play, but S notes MS reads proud & play.

35 dou. So MS. S, P: don.

38 wrethe. MS: wretþe.

51 bilive. So MS. S, P: bileve.

79 tak. So MS, P. S: take.

94 tille. MS, S, P: t[i]lle.

95 spille. MS, S, P: sp[i]lle.

117 mast. So MS, S. P: mest.

121 Lordings. So MS. S, P: Lordinges.

131 been. So MS. S, P: born.

141 helme, hauberk. So MS. S: helme [and] hauberk. P: helme [&] hauberk.

147 to. So S, P. MS: to to.

148 herd that. MS: herd sey þat; sey is subpuncted for deletion. S: herd sey þat. P: [it] herd þat, with a note that sey is present and marked for deletion.

185 stroke o. So MS, S. P: stroke of, but the note in her apparatus reads stroke o.

205 The. MS: Initial Þ is two lines high; no paraph mark begins this stanza.

247 Fader. S, P: F[a]der. MS: Fder.

269 me were slawe knightes thro. So S, P. MS: me slawe knightes thro were, with were marked for insertion between me and slawe.

286 letters. So S, P. MS: lettera.

313 The. MS: þ is two lines high, with no paraph mark indicating the new stanza. S, P begin new stanza here.

335 fro. So MS, S. P: from.

353 Her. So MS, P. S: Þer.

354 P inserts three lines in brackets after line 354 to expand the short stanza to the standard twelve lines. The lines are based on V, but Perryman edited them to reflect the language present in MS:

Þai seye it mi3t non oþer go;
Bitau3ten hir god for euermo
     & kist her douhter þare. (p. 82)

362 sounde. So P, S. MS: isounde, with an interlinear correction to sounde.

370 MS: N is two lines high; no paraph.

381 hethen. MS, S: heþþen. P: [heþen].

402 frende. So S, P. MS: frede.

406 war. So MS, P. S: was.

430 ywrought. The r is an interlinear insertion.

440 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

446 Thurth. So MS. S, P: Þurch.

451 Ternagaunt. So MS. S, P: Teruagaunt.

475 Ternagant. So MS. S, P: Teruagant.

477 Empour. So MS. S: Emperour, but she suggests MS is unclear. P: Emperour.

492 sche was. So S, P. MS: sche was sche; second “sche” marked for deletion.

499 S and P, following V, add “þer” at the end of the line to complete the rhyme.

500 Ternagant. So MS. S, P: Teruagant.

552 Doukes, kinges. So MS. S: [Of] doukes [and] kinges. P: Doukes [&] kinges.

554 gest. So P. MS: grest. S: [wrest].

573 Thurth. So MS. S, P: Þurch.

591 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

595 Ternagant. So MS. S, P: Teruagant.

601 bitwen. MS: bitben. S, P: bitven.

625 seyn. So S, P. MS: seyin, with i marked for deletion.

626 Ternagaunt. So MS. S, P: Teruagaunt.

646 MS: H on three lines; no paraph.

655 And. So MS, S. P: On, but notes MS reads And.
Ternagaunt. So MS. S, P: Teruagaunt.

724 levedi seyd, “Artw a prest. So P. S: [seyd]. MS: levedi artw a prest seyd with insertion mark.
Artw. So MS, S. P: Art[o]w.

734 thi. S: þi. MS: þi, marked for deletion. P omits.

739 help in this stounde. So MS, S. P: help [& min], þis stounde[s].

744 P includes three new lines to fill out the stanza, based on V:

Her is a child selcouþe discriif.
It haþ noiþer lim, no liif,
     No ey3en for to se. (p. 93).

764 Thurth. So MS. S, P: Þurch.

766 toke the flesche anon. So S, P. MS: toke flesche anon þe with insertion mark.

784 take. So MS. S, P: toke.

785 levedi with joies. So S, P. MS: levedi joies.

794 And sche schewed. MS: And schewed. S, P: [Sche] schewed.

814 Anon. So MS, S. P: [&] anon.

818 weren. So MS. S, P: were.

830 has to. So MS. S, P: has[t] to. Geist suggests a scribal error conflated the final t of hast and the initial t of to (“Notes on ‘The King of Tars,’” p. 178).

841 blod. S, P: bl[o]d. MS: bld.

874 were. So S, P. MS: werer.

905 Thurth. So MS. S, P: Þurch.

918 baptize. So MS, P. S: bapti3e.

923 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

953 the. So S, P. MS: þen.

959 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

966 Tars. So S. P: T[ar]s. MS: Tras.

968 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

970 that. So S, P. MS: þat þat.

973 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

978 Thurth. So MS. S, P: Þurch.

1005 folk bide. MS: bede folk, with marks indicating transposition. S: [folk] bede. P: folk bede.

1013 sexti. So S, P. MS: serti.

1037 erverichon. So MS. S: euerichon. P: [euerichon].

1072 Ternagaunt. So MS. S, P: Teruagaunt.

1089 Ogein. MS, S, P: O3ain.

1093 old. So MS, S. P: eld.

1095 drive. So S. MS: drrive. P: [driue].

1106 bothe. MS, S: boþe. P: boþ.

1118 Lesias'. MS, S, P: Lessias.

1130 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

1134 stounde. So MS, S. P: stound.

1136 To fight anon he was ful thro. Supplied by P, based on V. MS omits. V, S read To fihten anon he was ful þro.

1139 of. S, P: [so]. MS omits.

1142 Thurth. So MS. S, P: Þurch.

1163 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.
thurth the. MS has an erasure between these words, noted by S and P, who agree that two letters were erased.

1180 thurth. So MS. S, P: þurch.

1193 fleyghe. So MS, where it is marked for deletion. S: fley3e. P omits.

1210 him. So S, P. MS: hin.

1211 he. So P. MS: hit, possibly corrected to he. S: he, but notes “e unclear.” P: h[e].

1219 MS: No paraph.

1220 Sarrains. So MS, S. P: sarra[3]ins.

1223 men. So MS, S. P: man (but notes manuscript reads men).
he. MS: this pronoun is an interlinear insertion.

1226 weren. So MS, P. S: werren, but queries “The second r corrected from e?” (p. 198) P: weren, but notes “an e, possibly corrected to an r, occurs between r and e.”

1230–41 Copied from V, as the Auchinleck manuscript has no ending.



























































































































































































































































Herkneth to me bothe eld and ying,
For Marie’s love, that swete thing,
     Al hou a wer bigan
Bituene a trewe Cristen king
And an hethen heye lording,
     Of Dames the soudan.
The king of Tars hadde a wive,
Feirer might non ben olive —
     That ani wight telle can.
A douhter thai hadde hem bituen,
Non feirer woman might ben —
     As white as fether of swan.

The meiden was schast and blithe of chere
With rode red so blosme on brere
     And eyghen stepe and gray.
With lowe scholders and white swere
Hir for to sen was gret preier
     Of princes proud and play.
The los of hir gan spring wide
In other londes bi ich a side,
     So the soudan herd it say.
Him thought his hert it brast ofive
Bot yif he might have hir to wive
     That was so feir a may.

His messangers he gan calle
And bad hem wightly wenden alle them
     To hir fader the king,
And seyd he wald hou so it bifalle
His douhter clothe in riche palle
     And spouse hir with his ring;
And yif he nold, withouten feyl,
He wald hir win in batayl
     With mani an heye lording.
The messangers forth thai went
To dou the soudan’s comandment
     Withouten ani duelling.

Than the king of Tars this understode
Almest for wrethe he wex ner wode
     And seyd thus in sawe:
“Bi Him that dyed on the rode,
Ich wald arst spille min hert blode
     In bateyl to ben yslawe.
Y nold hir give a Sarazin
For alle the lond that is mine.
     The devel him arst to drawe,
Bot sche wil with hir gode wille
Be wedded to him, hirselve to spille.
     Hir thoughtes nought Y no knawe,

“Ac Y schal wite ar than ye pas.”
His douhter anon was brought in plas
     And he axed hir bilive.
“Douhter, the soudan of Damas
Yernes for to se thi fas
     And wald thee have to wive.
Waldestow, douhter, for tresour
Forsake Jhesus our Saveour
     That suffred woundes five?”
The maiden answerd with mild mod
Biforn hir fader ther sche stode
     “Nay, lord, so mot Y thrive!

“Jhesu mi Lord in Trinité
Lat me never that day yse
     A tirant for to take.
O God and Persones Thre One
For Marie love, Thi moder fre,
     Gif him arst tene and wrake.”
The king seyd, “Douhter, be stille.
Thou schalt never be wedded him tille
     For no bost he can make.
Y schal him sende word ogein
That alle his thoughtes ben in vein,
     For thou hast him forsake.”

Right be the self messangers
That com fro the soudan fers
     This wordes he him sent:
That sche leved nought on his maners,
Sche nold nought leten hir preiers
     To God omnipotent.
He bad him tak another thought,
For of his douhter no tit him nought
     For tresore no for rent.
The messangers herd him thus seyn;
With that word thai turned ogain
     And to the soudan thai went.

As the soudan sat at his des,
Yserved of the first mes,
     Thai com into the halle.
Bifor tho princes prout in pres
Her tale to telle withouten les
     On knes thai gun doun falle.
Thai seyd, “Sir, the king of Tars
Of wicked wordes is nought scars.
     ‘Hethen hounde’ he gan thee calle;
And ar he give his douhter thee tille,
Thine hert blod he will spille,
     And thine barouns alle.”

When the soudan this wordes herd
Also a wilde bore he ferd.
     His robe he rent adoun;
His here he rent of heved and berd;
He schuld venge him with his swerd,
     He swore bi Seyn Mahoun.
The table so hetelich he smot
It fel in to the flore fot-hot
     And loked as a lyoun.
Al that he raught he smot doun right —
Serjaunt, squier, clerk, and knight,
     Bothe erl and baroun.

Al thus the soudan ferd, yplight;
Al that day and alle that night
     No man might him schast.
Amorwe when it was light,
His messangers he sent ful right
     For his barouns wel fast
That thai com to his parlement
Forto heren his jugement,
     Bothe lest and mast.
When the parlement was pleyner,
Tho bispac the soudan fer
     And seyd to hem in hast:

“Lordings,” he seyd, “what to red.
Me hath ben don a gret misdede
     Of Tars the Cristen king!
Y bede him bothe lond and lede
For his douhter worthliche in wede
     To han wed hir with ring,
And he me sent word ogain
In bateyl Y schuld arst be sleyn
     And mani an heye lording!
And certes he schal be forsworn.
Wrotherhele than was he been
     Bot Y therto it bring.

“And therfore ich have after you sent
And asembled herer this parlement
     To wite your conseyle.”
And alle thai seyd with gode entent
Thai were at his comandment,
     Certeyn withouten feile.
Right bi that day a fourtennight
Thai schul ben alle redi dight
     With helme, hauberk of meile.
And whan thai were so at his hest
The soudan made a riche fest
     For love of his bateyle.

The soudan gaderd a rout unride
Of Sarrazins of michel pride
     Opon the king to wende.
The king of Tars herd that tide;
He gadred his ost bi ich a side,
     Al that he might ofsende.
Than bigan wretthe to wake
For that mariage might nought take
     Of that maiden hende.
Of bateyl thai gun sett a day,
Of Seynt Eline the thridde in May,
     No lenger no wald thai lende.

The soudan com with his pouwer
With bright armour and brod baner,
     Into the feld to fight
With sexti thousend Sarrazins fer,
That alle the feldes fer and ner
     With helmes lemed light.
The king of Tars com with his ost,
With gret pride and michel bost,
     With mani an hardi knight,
And aither ost gan other aseyle.
Ther might men se a strong bateyle
     That grimli was of sight.

Ther hewe houndes on Cristen men1
And feld hem doun bi nighen and ten;
     So wilde thai were and wode
That men might sen alle the fen
Of Cristen both fremd and ken,
     The valays ren on blod.
The soudan and his folk that stounde
Hewe adoun with grimli wounde
     Mani a frely rode.
Allas, to wele sped Mahoun!
The Cristen men yede al adoun
     Was nought that hem withstode.

The king of Tars seye that sight;
For wretthe he was neye wode, aplight.
     He hent in hond a spere
And to the soudan he rode ful right.
With a stroke o michel might,
     To grounde he gan him bere.2
Ther he hadde the soudan slawe
Ac ten thousend of hethen lawe
     Saved him in that were —
Thai sett him on a ful gode stede
That was so gode at everi nede
     That no man might him dere.

And when he was opon his stede,
Him thought he brend so spark on glede3
     For ire and for envie.
He faught so he wald wede:
Alle that he hit he maked blede.
     “Help, Mahoun!” he gan crie.
Mani helme ther was ofweved
And mani bacinet tocleved
     And sadles fel emtye;
Mani swerd and mani scheld
And mani knight lay in the feld
     Of Cristen compeynie.

The king of Tars seye him so ride
He fleye and durst nought abide
     Homward to his cité
The Sarrazins folwed in that tide
And slough adoun bi ich aside
     That Cristen folk so fre.
Thritti thousend ther were yslawe
Of knightes of Cristen lawe
     And that was gret pité.
Amorwe for her bother sake
Trewes thai gun bituen hem take
     A moneth and dayes thre.

On a day, the king sat in his halle
And made grete diol with alle,
     For his folk were forlore.
His douhter com clad in palle
Adoun on knes sche gan to falle
     And seyd with sikeing sore,
“Sir, lete me be the soudan’s wiif
And rere na more cuntek no striif
     As hath ben here bifore.
For me hath mani man ben schent,
Cités nomen and tounes brent;
     Allas that ich was bore!

“Fader, Y wil serve at wille
The soudan, bothe loude and stille,
     And leve on God almight,
Bot it so be, he schal thee spille
And alle thi lond take him tille
     With bateyle and with fight.
Certes Y nil no lenger dreye
That Cristen folk for me dye —
     It were a diolful sight!”
The king of Tars answerd tho,
As man that was in sorwe and wo,
     Unto that bird bright:

“Now douhter, blisced mot thou be
Of Jhesu Crist in Trinité
     The time that thou were bore.
For thou wilt save thi moder and me,
Al thi preier graunt Y thee,
     Astow hast seyd bifore.”
“Fader,” sche seyd withouten duelling,
“For Jhesu’s love, Heven king,
     Yif it thi wille wore,
Do now swithe that Y war there4
Ar ani more sorwe arere
     That ye be nought forlore.”

The king of Tars with gode entent
Hastilich after his wiif he sent,
     That levedi that was so hende.
When sche was comen in present
He seyd, “Dame, our douhter hath ment
     To the soudan to wende.
Do loke what rede is now at thee,
For now er here bot we thre
     To save Cristen kende.”
The quene answerd withouten feile
“Y no schal never therto conseyle
     Our douhter forto schende.”

The maiden was ful of sorwe and wo.
“Merci,” sche crid hir moder tho
     With a wel reweful steven.
“Moder, it is nought long ago
For me were slawe knightes thro,
     Thritti thousende and seven.
Forthi Y wil suffre no lenger thrawe
That Cristen folk be for me slawe,
     With the grace of God in Heven.”
Thus, the maiden with wordes stille
Brought hem bothe in better wille
     With resoun right and even.

And when thai were thus at on,
Messangers thai sent anon
     Unto that riche soudan,
To make his frende that were his fon;
And for he schuld his men nought slou,
     His douhter he graunt him than.
The messangers nold no leng abide;
To the soudan thai went that tide
     And thus thai tel him gan.
When tho letters weren yradde,
The soudan was bothe blithe and glad,
     And so was mani a man.

So glad he was in al maners
He cleped to him of his pers
     Doukes, princes, and kinges.
Into a chaumber thai went yfers
To dight unto the messangers
     Gode stones and riche ringes.
Bi conseyl of the lordinges alle,
The soudan dede bring into the halle
     Giftes and riche thinges,
And gaf to hem grete plenté,
To the messangers, with hert fre
     And thonked hem her tidinges.

And seyd he was alle at his wille,5
Arliche and late, loude and stille,
     To helpe him at his nede;
No more folk nold he spille.
The messangers went the king tille
     And told him of that dede.
The king and the quene also
Bothen hem was wele and wo,
     In rime also we rede.
Gret joie thai hadde withouten les
For that the soudan wald have pes
     On Cristen felawerede.

The first day of Julii tide,
The soudan nold no leng abide;
     To the king of Tars he sent
Knightes fele and michel pride
And riche jewels is nought to hide
     To gif to his present.
The messangers, withouten duelling,
Com to Tars bifor the king
     To have his douhter gent.
Thai welcomed hem with glad chere —
Of gret pité now may ye here —
     To chaumber when thai went.

Thai maden cri and michel wo
For thai schuld her douhter forgo
     And to the soudan hir sende.
The maiden preyd hem bothe tho
That thai schuld bi her conseyl do,
     To saven Cristen kende.
“For Y wil suffre no lenger thrawe
That Cristen folk be for me slawe.”
     To halle thai gun wende
And welcomed tho messangers
That com fro the soudan fers
     With wordes fre and hende.

Than seyd the quen to hem than,
“Hou fareth your lord, the soudan,
     That is so noble a knight?”
The messangers answere gan
“He farth as wele as ani man,
     And is your frende aplight.”
The quen seyd with milde chere,
“Wele better thei mi douhter were,
     Bi Jhesu ful of might.
Mi douhter is noght to him to gode;
Y vouchesave on him mi blode,
     Thei sche were ten so bright.”6

The messangers dight hem swithe
With knightes fele and stedes stithe
     And brought hir into chare.
The king and the quen were unblithe,
Her sorwe couthe thai no man kithe
     When thai seye hir forth fare.
Into chaumber thai went tho
When thai were togider bothe to
     Than wakened alle her care.

The king was in sorwe bounde;
The quen swoned mani a stounde
     For her douhter dere.
Knightes and levedis ther hem founde
And tok hem up hole and sounde,
     And comfort hem in fere.
Thus the quen and the king
Lived in sorwe and care, morning;
     Great diol it was to here.
Her care was ever aliche newe,
Hem chaunged bothe hide and hewe7
     For sorwe and reweli chere.

Nou late we ben alle her morning,
And telle we of that maiden ying
     That to the soudan is fare.
He com with mani gret lording
Forto welcome that swete thing
     When sche was brought in chare.
He kist hir wel mani a sithe;
His joie couthe he no man kithe —
     Oway was alle his care.
Into chaumber sche was ladde,
And richeliche sche was cladde
     As hethen wiman ware.

Whan sche was cladde in riche palle,
The soudan dede his knightes calle
     And badde that maiden forth fett.
And when sche com into the halle,
Bifor the heyghe lordinges alle,
     Toforn the soudan thai hir sett.
Gret diol it was forto se,
The bird that was so bright on ble
     To have so foule a mett.
Thei that sche made gret solas
The sorwe that at hir hert was
     No might it noman lett.

And whan it was comen to night,
The levedi that was so feir and bright,
     To chaumber sche gan wende.
And therin anon Y you plight,
A riche bed ther was ydight
     Unto that levedi hende.
The levedi was to bed ybrought;
The soudan wild com therin nought
     Noither for fo no frende —
For nothing wold he neyghe that may
Til that sche leved opon his lay,
     That was of Cristen kende.

Wel lothe war a Cristen man
To wedde an hethen woman
     That leved on fals lawe;
Als loth was that soudan
To wed a Cristen woman,
     As Y finde in mi sawe.
The soudan yede to bed al prest,
Knightes and levedis yede to rest;
     The pople hem gan withdrawe.
That miri maiden litel slepe,
Bot al night wel sore sche wepe
     Til the day gan dawe.

And als sche fel on slepe thore
Her thought ther stode hir bifore
     An hundred houndes blake,
And bark on hir lasse and more.
And on ther was that greved hir sore,
     Oway that wald hir take.
And sche no durst him nought smite
For drede that he wald hir bite,
     Swiche maistri he gan to make.
And as sche wald fram hem fle,
Sche seye ther stond develen thre
     And ich brent as a drake.

So lothliche thai were al ywrought,
And ich in hond a gleive brought,
     Sche was aferd ful sore.
On Jhesu Crist was alle hir thought;
Therfore the fendes derd hir nought;
     Noither lesse no more.
Fro the fendes sche passed sounde,
And afterward ther com an hounde
     With browes brod and hore.
Almost he hadde hir drawen adoun
Ac thurth Jhesus Cristes passioun
     Sche was ysaved thore.

Yete hir thought withouten lesing
Als sche lay in hir swevening
     (That selcouthe was to rede)
That blac hounde hir was folweing.
Thurth might of Jhesu, Heven king,
     Spac to hir in manhede
In white clothes als a knight,
And seyd to hir, “Mi swete wight,
     No tharf thee nothing drede
Of Ternagaunt no of Mahoun.
Thi Lord that suffred passioun
     Schal help thee at thi nede.”

And when the maiden was awaked,
For drede of that, wel sore sche quaked,
     For love of her swevening.
On hir bed sche sat al naked;
To Jhesu hir preier sche maked,
     Almightful Heven king.
As wis as He hir dere bought
Of that swevening in slepe sche thought
     Schuld turn to gode ending.
And when the maiden risen was
The riche soudan of Damas
     To his temple he gan hir bring.

Than seyd the soudan to that may,
“Thou most bileve opon mi lay
     And knele now here adoun
And forsake thi fals lay
That thou hast leved on mani a day,
     And anour Seyn Mahoun!
And certes, bot thou wilt anon,
Thi fader Y schal with wer slon
     Bi Jovin and Plotoun!
And bi Mahoun and Ternagant
Ther schal no man ben his waraunt —
     Empour no king with croun.”

The maiden answerd with mild chere
To the soudan as ye may here:
     “Sir, Y nil thee nought greve.
Teche me now and lat me here
Hou Y schal make mi preiere
     When ich on hem bileve.
To Mahoun ichil me take
And Jhesu Crist mi Lord forsake,
     That made Adam and Eve,
And seththen serve thee at wille
Arliche and lat, loude and stille,
     A morwe and an eve.”

Than was the soudan glad and blithe,
And thanked Mahoun mani sithe
     That sche was so biknawe.
His joie couthe he no man kithe;
He bad hir gon and kis swithe
     Alle thine godes on rawe.
Sche kist Mahoun and Apolin,
Astirot and Sir Jovin.
     For drede of wordes awe,
And while sche was in the temple
Of Ternagant and Jubiter,
     Sche lerd the hethen lawe.

And thei sche al the lawes couthe
And seyd hem openliche with hir mouthe,
     Jhesu forgat sche nought.
Wher that sche was, bi northe or southe,
No minstral with harp no crouthe
     No might chaunge hir thought.
The soudan wende night and day
That sche hadde leved opon his lay
     Bot al he was bicought,
For when sche was bi herselveon,
To Jhesu sche made hir mon,
     That alle this world hath wrought.

The soudan dede cri that tide
Overal bi ich a side
     A turnament to take
And duhti men on hors to ride,
And dubbed hem in that tide
     And knightes gan he make.
The trumpes gun forto blowe;
Knightes priked out o rouwe
     On stedes white and blake.
Ther might men se sone and swithe,
Strong men her strengthe kithe
     For that maiden sake.

The Cristen maiden and the soudan
In the castel leyen than
     The turnament to bihold.
And tho the turnament bigan,
Ther was samned mani a man
     Of Sarrazins stout and bold.
To sen ther was a semly sight
Of thritti thousend of helmes bright
     (In gest as it is told).
Thai leyden on as thai were wrothe
With swerdes and with maces bothe
     Knightes bothe yong and old.

Wel mani helme ther was ofweved
And mani bacinet tocleved
     And knightes driven to grounde.
Sum ther fel doun on her heved
And sum in the diche lay todreved
     And siked sore unsounde.
The turnament last tho yplight
Fram the morwe to the night
     Of men of michel mounde;
Amorwe the soudan wedded that may
In the maner of his lay,
     In gest as it is founde.

Atte his bridale was noble fest,
Riche, real, and onest —
     Doukes, kinges with croun.
For ther was melodi with the mest
Of harp and fithel and of gest
     To lordinges of renoun.
Ther was geven to the menstrels
Robes riche and mani juweles
     Of erl and of baroun.
The fest lasted fourtenight
With mete and drink anough, aplight
     Plenté and gret fousoun.

That levedi, so feir and so fre,
Was with hir lord bot monethes thre
     Than he gat hir with childe.
When it was geten, sche chaunged ble;
The soudan himself that gan se —
     Jolif he was and wilde.
Ther while sche was with child, aplight,
Sche bad to Jhesu ful of might
     Fram schame He schulde hir schilde.
Atte fourti woukes ende
The levedi was deliverd o bende8
     Thurth help of Mari milde.

And when the child was ybore,
Wel sori wimen were therfore,
     For lim no hadde it non,
Bot as a rond of flesche yschore
In chaumber it lay hem bifore
     Withouten blod and bon.
For sorwe the levedi wald dye,
For it hadde noither nose no eye
     Bot lay ded as the ston.
The soudan com to chaumber that tide
And with his wiif he gan to chide
     That wo was hir bigon.

“O dame,” he seyd biforn,
“Ogain mi godes thou art forsworn!
     With right resoun Y preve
The childe that is here of thee born
Bothe lim and lith it is forlorn
     Alle thurth thi fals bileve!
Thou levest nought wele afine
On Jubiter no on Apoline,
     A morwe na an eve,
No in Mahoun no in Ternagant.
Therfore is lorn this litel faunt.
     No wonder thei me greve!”

The levedi answerd and seyd tho,
Ther sche lay in care and wo,
     “Leve sir, lat be that thought;
The child was geten bitwen ous to.
For thi bileve it farth so,
     Bi Him that ous hath wrought!
Take now this flesche and bere it anon
Bifor thine godes everichon
     That thou no lete it nought,
And pray thine godes al yfere,
Astow art hem leve and dere,
     To live that it be brought.

“And yif Mahoun and Jovin can
Make it fourmed after a man
     With liif and limes aright,
Bi Jhesu Crist that this warld wan
Y schal leve thee better than
     That thai ar ful of might.
And bot thai it to live bring
Y nil leven on hem nothing
     Noither bi day no night.”
The soudan toke that flesche anon
Into his temple he gan to gon
     Ther his godes were dight.

Biforn his goddes he gan it leyn
And held up his honden tuein,
     While men might go five mile.9
“A, mightful Mahoun,” he gan to seyn,
“And Ternagaunt, of michel meyn,
     In you was never no gile.
Seyn Jubiter and Apolin,
Astirot and Seyn Jovin,
     Help now in this perile.”
Oft he kneled and oft he ros
And crid so long til he was hos
     And al he tint his while.

And when he hadde al ypreyd,
And alle that ever he couthe he seyd,
     The flesche lay stille as ston.
Anon he stert up at a breyd,
And in his hert he was atreyd,
     For lim no hadde it non.
He biheld on his godes alle
And seye ther might no bot bifalle;
     Wel wo was him bigon.
“O Sir Mahoun,” he gan to grede,
“Wil ye nought helpe me at this nede?
     The devel you brenne ichon!”

He hent a staf with grete hete
And stirt anon his godes to bete
     And drough hem alle adoun,
And leyd on til he gan to swete
And gaf hem strokes gode and gret,
     Both Jovine and Plotoun.
And alder best he bete afin
Jubiter and Apolin,
     And brac hem arm and croun,
And Ternagaunt that was her brother —
He no lete never a lime with other
     No of his god Mahoun.

And when he hadde beten hem gode won
Yete lay the flesche stille so ston,
     An heye on his auter.
He tok it in his hond anon
And into chaumber he gan gon,
     And seyd, “Lo, have it here.
Ich have don al that Y can
To make it fourmed after a man
     With kneleing and preier,
And for alle that ichave hem bisought
Mine godes no may help me nought.
     The devel hem sett afere!”

And than answerd that gode wiman
Wel hendeliche to that soudan:
     “Leve sir, here mi speche.
The best rede that Y can,
Bi Jhesu Crist that made man,
     Now ichil you teche.
Now thou hast proved god thine,
Yif me leve to asay mine
     Whether is better leche.
And, leve sir, prey thee this:
Leve on Him that stronger is
     For doute of more wreche.”

The soudan answerd hir thore.
In hert he was agreved sore,
     To sen that selcouthe sight.
“Now, dame, ichil do bi thi lore.
Yif that Y may se bifore
     Thi God is of swiche might
With ani vertu that He can
Make it fourmed after a man,
     With liif and limes aright,
Alle mi godes ichil forsake
And to Jhesu thi Lord me take,
     As icham gentil knight.”

Wel blithe was the levedi than
For that hir lord the riche soudan
     Hadde graunted hir preier.
For hope he schuld be Cristen man,
Sche thonked Him that this world wan
     And Mari His moder dere.
Now ginneth here a miri pas
Hou that child ycristned was
     With limes al hole and fere,
And hou the soudan of Damas
Was cristned for that ich cas —
     Now herken and ye may here.

Than seyd the levedi in that stounde,
“Thou hast in thi prisoun bounde
     Mani a Cristen man.
Do seche overalle bi loft and grounde;
Yif ani Cristen prest be founde,
     Bring him bifor me than
And Y schal ar tomorwe at none
Wite what Jhesu Crist can done
     More than thine maumettes can.”
Anon the prisouns weren ysought;
Thai founden a prest and forth him brought
     Bi hest of that soudan.

He com bifore that levedi fre,
And gret hir feir opon his kne,
     And seyd with sikeing sore,
“Madame, yblisced mot thou be
Of Jhesu Crist in Trinité
     That of Mari was bore.”
The levedi seyd, “Artw a prest?
Tel me sothe yif that tow best.
     Canstow of Cristen lore?”
“Madame,” seyd the prest anon,
“In verbo Dei ich was on,
     Tuenti winter gon and more.

“Ac dame,” he seyd, “bi Seyn Jon,
Ten winter song Y masse non
     And that me liketh ille.
For so long it is now gon
Ichave ben in thi prisoun of ston
     With wrong and gret unskille.”
The levedi seyd, “Lat be thi fare.
Thou schalt be brought out of thi care
     And tow wilt held thee stille.
For thurth thine help in this stounde,
We schul make Cristen men of houndes —
     God graunt it yif it be His wille.”

Than seyd the soudan’s wiif,
“Thou most do stille withouten striif
     A wel gret priveté.
Hali water thou most make,
And this ich flesche thou take,
     Al for the love of me,
And cristen it withouten blame
In the worthschipe of the Fader’s name
     That sitt in Trinité.

“For in Him is mine hope aplight,
The Fader that is ful of might
     Mi sorwe schal me slake.
Yif it were cristned aright,
It schuld have fourme to se bi sight
     With lim and liif to wake.”
That levedi comand anon
Hir maidens out of chaumber gon
     For dred of wraying sake.
The prest no leng nold abide;
A feir vessel he tok that tide
     And hali water he gan make.

At missomer tide that ded was don
Thurth help of God that sitt in trone,
     As Y you tel may.
The prest toke the flesche anon
And cleped it the name of Jon
     In worthschip of the day.
And when that it cristned was
It hadde liif and lim and fas
     And crid with gret deray,
And hadde hide and flesche and fel
And alle that ever therto bifel,
     In gest as Y you say.

Feirer child might non be bore —
It no hadde never a lime forlore,
     Wele schapen it was, withalle;
The prest no lenge duelled thore
And yede and teld the soudan fore
     Ther he was in the halle.
That levedi ther sche lay in bed
That richeliche was bischred
     With gold and purpel palle.
The child sche take to hir blive
And thonked our levedi with joies five
     The feir grace ther was bifalle.

And seyd, “Lord, ich pray Thee,
Almighti God in Trinité,
     So give me might and space
That Y may that day yse
Mi lord wald ycristned be,
     The soudan of Damas.”
Than cam the soudan that was blac,
And sche schewed him the child and spac
     With liif and limes and face.
Sche seyd, “Mahoun no Apolin
Is nought worth the brostle of a swin
     Ogain mi Lordes grace!”

The soudan seyd, “Leman min,
Ywis icham glad afin
     Of this child that Y se.”
“Ya, sir, bi Seyn Martin
Yif the halvendel wer thin
     Wel glad might thou be.”
“O dame,” he seyd, “how is that?
Is it nought min that Y bigat?”
     “No, sir,” than seyd sche,
“Bot thou were cristned so it is —
Thou no hast no part theron ywis,
     Noither of the child ne of me.

“And bot thou wilt Mahoun forsake
And to Jhesu mi Lord thee take,
     That tholed woundes five —
Anon thou do thee Cristen make —
Thou might be ferd for sorwe and wrake
     While that thou art olive.
And yif thou were a Cristen man
Bothe weren thine,” sche seyd than,
     “Thi childe and eke thi wive.
When thou art dede, thou schalt wende
Into blis withouten ende,
     Thi joie may no man kithe.”

The soudan seye wele bi sight
That Jhesu was of more might
     Than was his fals lawe.
He seyd, “Dame, anon right
Ichil forsake mi god aplight —
     Thai schal be brent and drawe.
Ac telle me now par charité,
And for the love thou has to me,
     What schal Y seyn in sawe?
Now ichave forsaken mi lay.
Tel me now what is your fay,
     And ichil lere wel fawe.”

Than seyd that levedi hende and fre,
“Understond, sir, par charité,
     On Jhesu Cristes lay:
Hou He was and ever schal be
O God and Persones Thre,
     And light in Mari that may,
And in hir bodi nam flesche and blod,
And hou He bought ous on the rode,
     Opon the Gode Friday;
And hou His gost went to Helle
Satanas pousté for to felle
     And brought mankin oway.

“The thridde day in the morning
To live He ros withouten lesing
     As He com of the rode,
And gaf His frendes comforting
And steye to Heven as mightful king
     Bothe with flesche and blod.
As it is founden in holy writ,
On His Fader right hond He sitt,
     And is wel mild of mode;
As it is writen in the crede,
He demeth bothe the quic and ded
     The feble and eke the gode.

“And al this warld schal todrive,
And man arise fram ded to live,
     Right dome to understond.
And than schal Jhesu, withouten strive,
Schewe His blodi woundes five
     That He for ous gan fond.
And than schal He withouten mis
Deme ich man after he is,
     Erl, baroun, and bond.
Leve heron,” sche seyd than,
“And do thee make a Cristen man
     For no thing thou no wond.”

Than seyd the soudan, “Dame, be stille.
Y schal be cristned thurth Godes wille
     Ar than the thridde day.
Loth me were mi soule to spille.
Preye now the prest, he com ous tille
     And teche me Cristen lay
As priveliche as it may be.
That no man wite bot we thre
     Als forth as ye may.
And ani it wist heye or lowe,
Thou schalt be brent and Y todrawe
     And we forsoke our fay.”

Anon the prest answerd than
Hendeliche to that soudan
     “Sir, icham redi here
With alle the pouwer that Y can
For to make thee Cristen man
     And Godes lay to lere.”
His hond opon his brest he leyd,
In verbo Dei,” he swore and seyd,
     “Unto you bothe yfere,
Wel trewe and trusti schal Y be
With alle that ever falleth to me
     To help with mi pouwere.”

Amorwe, when the prest gan wake,
A wel feir fessel he gan take
     With water clere and cold,
And halwed it for the soudan sake
And his preier he gan make
     To Jhesu that Judas sold
And to Marie, His moder dere,
Tho that the soudan cristned were,
     That was so stout and bold,
He schuld gif him might and space
Thurth his vertu and his grace
     His cristendom wele to hold.

And when it was light of day
The riche soudan ther he lay
     Up bigan to arise.
To the prest he went his way
And halp him alle that he may
     That fel to his servise.
And when the prest hadde tho
Dight redi that fel therto
     In al maner wise,
The soudan with gode wille anon
Dede off his clothes everichon
     To reseyve his baptize.

The Cristen prest hight Cleophas;
He cleped the soudan of Damas
     After his owhen name.
His hide that blac and lothely was
Al white bicom thurth Godes gras
     And clere withouten blame.
And when the soudan seye that sight,
Than leved he wele on God almight;
     His care went to game.
And when the prest hadde alle yseyd
And haly water on him leyd,
     To chaumber thai went ysame.

When he com ther the levedi lay,
“Lo, dame,” he gan to say,
     “Certeyne, thi God is trewe.”
The levedi thonked God that day;
For joie sche wepe with eyghen gray,
     Unnethe hir lord sche knewe.
Than wist sche wele in hir thought
That on Mahoun leved he nought
     For chaunged was his hewe.
For that hir lord was cristned so,
Oway was went al hir wo —
     Hir joie gan wax al newe.

“Mi lord,” sche seyd with hert fre,
“Sende now this prest in priveté
     To mi fader the king,
And pray him for the love of me
That he com swithe hider to thee
     With alle that he may bring.
And when mi fader is to thee come,
Do cristen thi lond alle and some,
     Bothe eld and ying.
And he that wil be cristned nought,
Loke to the deth that he be brought,
     Withouten ani duelleing.”

The soudan tok the prest bi hond
And bad him wende and nought no wond
     To the king of Tars ful gare,
And do him al to understond
Hou Jhesu Crist thurth His sond
     Hath brought hem out of care,
And bid him bring with him his ost
Priveliche withouten bost —
     For nothing he no spare.
And Cleophas, with gode entent,
To do the soudan’s comandment
     To Tars he gan fare.

And when the prest, Sir Cleophas,
Com to the court thurth Godes grace
     Withouten ani duelling,
He teld the king alle that cas:
Hou the child ded born was,
     A misforschapen thing,
And thurth the preier of his wiif
Hou God hadde sent it leme and liif
     In water ate cristening,
And hou that hethen soudan
Was bicome a Cristen man
     Thurth the might of Heven king.

He radde the letter that he brought,10
And in the letter he fond ywrought —
     In gest as Y you say —
Hou that the soudan him bisought
To com to him and lat it nought
     Opon a certeyne day,
And bring with him alle his ost
To take his lond bi everich cost,
     And serche in his cuntray;
Who that wold nought cristned be,
He schuld be honged opon a tre
     Withouten ani delay.

Blither might no man ben.
He cleped his barouns and the quen
     And told hem thus in sawe
Hou the soudan stout and kene
Was cristned withouten wene
     And leved on Cristes lawe,
“And therfore he hath don sent me bi sond
He wil do cristen alle his lond
     Yif that he might wel fawe,
And he that wil nought take cristening,
No be he never so heye lording,
     He schal hong and drawe.

“And therfore Y pray you now right,
Erl, baroun, douk, and knight,
     Do alle your folk bide
With helme on heved and brini bright
That ye ben alle redi dight
     To help me at this nede.”
Thai sent over al bi ich a side
For mani Cristen men that tide
     That duhti were of dede.
The king him dight for to wende
With sexti thousende knightes hende
     That was a feir ferred.

The king com withouten lett
The selve day that him was sett
     To the soudan wel gare.
And when thai were togider mett,
A miri greteing ther was gret
     With lordinges lasse and mare.
Ther was rewthe forto sen
Hou the levedi fel on knen
     Biforn hir fader thare;
Ther was joie and mirthe also
To here hem speken of wele and wo
     Her aventours als thai were.

The soudan dede his barouns calle
And seththen anon his knightes alle
     And after alle his meyné,
And when thai come into the halle,
He seyd, “Hou so it bifalle,
     Ye mot ycristned be.
Miselven, ich have Mahoun forsake
And Cristendom ich have ytake,
     And certes so mot ye.
And hye that wil nought so anon
Thai schul be heveded erverichon
     Bi Him that dyed on tre.”

When he hadde thus ytold
Mani Sarrazin stout and bold
     That in his court were,
Mani seyd that thai wold,
And mani seyd that thai nold
     Be cristned in non maner.
Tho that Mahoun wald forsake,
Cristen men he lete hem make
     And were him lef and dere;
And he that dede nought bi his rede
Anon he dede strike off his hed
     Right fast bi the swere.

The soudan had in prisoun dight
Ten thousend Cristen men, yplight,
     Of mani uncouthe thede.
He dede hem liver anon right
And tho that were strong and wight,
     He gaf hem armour and stede;
And tho he seye that might nought so,
He gaf hem mete and drink therto
     And alle that hem was nede.
Ther might men se with that soudan
Mani blithe Cristen man,
     In gest as so we rede.

When he hadde don thus that tide,
Over al his lond bi ich aside
     The word wel wide sprong.
Five hethen kinges that tide
And mani hethen douke unride
     With pople gret and strong
Thai sent aboute ner and fer
Opon that soudan for to wer,
     And seyd for that wrong,
Bi Mahoun and Ternagaunt,
Ther schuld nought ben his warant11
     Bot ben drawe and hong.

Tho fif kinges of prout parayle
Dight hem redi to that bateyle;
     Wel stout and strong thai were.
Hou the soudan gan hem aseyle
And what thai hete withouten feile,
     Now herken and ye may here.
King Canadok and King Lesias,
King Carmel and King Clamadas,
     And King Memarok her fere.
Opon the soudan with wer thai went,
His men thai slough, his tounes brent
     With strengthe and gret pouwer.

The king of Tars and the soudan,
Day of bateyle thai gun tan
     Ogein tho kinges five.
Ac ever ogein a Cristen man,
Ten hethen houndes wer than
     Of Sarrazins stout and stithe.
Now herkneth to me bothe old and ying
Hou the soudan and the king
     Amonges hem gun drive,
And hou the Sarrazins that day
Opped hevedles for her pay —
     Now listen and ye may lithe.

The Cristen soudan that tide
Toke a spere and gan to ride
     To Canadok that was kene.
And Canadok with gret pride,
With a spere gan him abide
     To wite and nought atwene.
So hard thai driven togider there
That her launces bothe yfere
     Brosten hem bituene.
The soudan drough his fauchoun gode
The kinges heved with alle the hode
     He strok off quite and clene.

King Lesias of Tabarie
To the soudan he gan heye,
     For Canadok his felawe.
With a spere that was trusti
He rode to the soudan wel an hey
     And thought him have yslawe.
The king of Tars bituen hem rod
And Lesias strok he abod
     (As Y finde in mi sawe)
And smot him so on the scheld
That top seyl in the feld;
     He made him overthrawe.

He lepe on hors and gan to ride
And slough adoun bi ich aside
     That he bifor him founde.
Wham that Lesias hit in that tide,
Were he douk or prince o pride,
     He gaf him dedly wounde.
The king of Tars com with a spere
And thurth his sides he gan it bere
     That ded he fel to grounde.
Than sett the Sarrazins up a cri
“A, Mahoun, ful of meistri,
     Help ous in this stounde!”

When King Carmel herd that, him was wo;
To fight anon he was ful thro.
     A spere an hond he hent.
He priked his stede and dede him go.
He thought the king of Tars to slo
     Er he thennes went.
He smot the king of Tars that tide
Thurth his hauberk a wounde wide
     That neighe he hadde him schent.
The king out of his sadel fel;
The blod out of his wounde gan wel
     That mani man hem biment.

For sorwe the soudan wald wede;
When he seighe his woundes blede,12
     He rode to him with mayn.
He and the Cristen ferred
Brought the king of Tars his stede
     And sett him up ogayn.
And when he was on hors braught
Alle that ever he araught
     He clef him to the brayn.
King Carmel tho to him went
And gaf him swiche another dent
     That ner he hadde him sleyn.

And when the soudan that yseighe
Al wode he wex for wrethe neye —
     He rode to King Carmele.
He smot him on the helme an heighe
That thurth the breyn it fleighe
     That no leche might him hele.
King Clamadas com rideing than
With a glaive to the soudan,
     And thought with him to dele,
And smot him oboven the scheld
That neighe he feld him in the feld
     Among tho houndes fele.

The king of Tars in that stounde
Hadde spite of that hethen hounde
     That was so stout and beld.
He swore, “Bi Him that tholed wounde
The dogge schal adoun to grounde
     That fightes thus in feld.”
He rode to him anon right
And smot to him a strok of might —
     Atuo he clef his scheld
And thurth his hert the swerd gan glide;
The blod ran out bi ich a side
     And so he him aqueld.

Than was King Memaroc in gret peyn,
For his four felawes were sleyn
     And in the feld todreved.
He priked his stede opon the pleyn
And fleye oway with might and mayn
     For dred to hide his heved.
The soudan seyghe him oway ride;
He priked after him in that tide,
     For no thing he it bileved,
And smot him so above the scheld
That helme and heved fleyghe in the feld
     Ful wightlike off it weved.

When the Sarrazins seyghen alle
That Memarok was to grounde yfalle
     And namore up arise,
“Allas, Mahoun!” thai gan to calle,
“Whi latestow Cristen hewe ous smale?13
     Wicke is thi servise!”
Thai fleyghe for dred alle yfere
And dreynt hem in o river
     So sore hem gan agrise.
The bateyle last swithe long
Til it were time of evensong
     Er thai might win the prise.

The Sarrazins flowe bi ich aside;
The Cristen folk after gan ride,
     And schadde hem breyn and blod.
Ther was non that might him hide
That he nas sleyn in that tide
     With fight ogeyn hem stode.
And tho that yold hem to the pes,
The soudan swore withouten les
     Bi Him that dyed on rode,
He that nold nought forsake his lay,
He schuld forlesse that ich day
     The bal up in the hode.

Thritti thousende ther were take
Of Sarrains bothe blo and blac
     And don in his prisoun.
And he that wald his lay forsake,
Cristen men he lete him make
     With gret devocioun.
And thai that wald be cristned nought,
Into a stede thai weren ybrought
     A mile withouten the toun
And Cristen men withouten wene
Striken off her hevedes al bidene.

Thus the ladi with hire lore
Broughte hire frendes out of sore
     Thorw Jhesu Cristes grace.
Al the while that thei weore thare
The joye that was among hem yare
     No mon may telle the space.
Whon thei weore out of world iwent
Bifore God Omnipotent
     Hem was diht a place.
Now Jhesu that is ful of miht
Graunt us alle in Hevene liht
     To seo Thi swete face. AMEN.
Listen; old and young; (see note); (t-note)
person; (see note)
     how; war
Between; (t-note)

     Damascus (see note); sultan
wife; (see note)
Fairer; alive; (t-note)
daughter; (t-note)
No fairer; (see note)
     as [the] feather

chaste; happy in appearance
complexion as red as; briar
     eyes shining
lovely shoulders (see note); neck
see; entreaty
     playful; (t-note)
fame; began [to]; (see note)
on every side
[would] burst into five [pieces]; (see note)
But if (Unless); marry

all go swiftly
said howsoever it came about
fine cloth
     spouse (wed)
if he would not; fail
would; battle

wrath he waxed (grew); mad; (see note); (t-note)
rood (cross)
I would rather; my
I would not; Saracen; (see note)
     sooner; get; (see note)
Unless; through; (see note)
     [Of] her; nothing; know

But; know before
[that] place
     asked her right away; (t-note)
Yearns; see; face
Would you

     (see note)


     Give; first suffering; injury

to him
     Regardless of any boast
     refused; (see note)

by the same
     These words (This message)
believed; in his religious practices
he is not obliged; (see note)
     rent; (see note)


on his dais
course (mess, meal)
valiant in battle; (see note)
Their; falsehood
     they fell down

sparing; (see note)
     (see note)
before; to you; (t-note)

these; (see note)
As; behaved; (see note)
     tore apart
hair; from head and beard
avenge himself
     (see note)
violently he struck
     [he] appeared to be
Servant; (see note)

behaved, indeed

The next day (On the morrow)


     Both the least and the most (greatest)
Then announced; fierce

advise; (t-note)
[To] me has; offense
offered; people
esteemed; (see note)

certainly; proven wrong
[To] misfortune; born; (see note); (t-note)
     [will] bring it (calamity) to him (see note)


fortnight; (t-note)
   chain mail; (see note); (t-note)

gathered a gigantic company; (see note)
Saracens; great
     Against; go; (t-note)
news; (t-note)
host (army) on every side
wrath; (t-note)
take [place]
     pleasant (gentle; well bred); (see note)

Helen; (see note)
     desire; delay

power (i.e., military force)
(see note)
sixty; fierce
[So] that; fields far and near
great (many)
either army; assail
     grim; to behold

felled (cut); nine
bloody mess (see note)
stranger and kin
     ran with

     noble foray; (see note); (t-note)
victory hastened
suffered defeat
     [There] were none who them (the heathen)

wrath; nearly mad, assuredly

of great might; (t-note)
would have; slain
But; faith


as if he would go mad
struck off
helmets cut in half
     saddles fell empty


saw; (see note); (t-note)
[That] he fled; dared; linger
followed; time
cut down on each side

both their sakes
[A] truce; between

One day
royal cloth; (see note)
     sighing piteous
(see note)
raise; violence nor strife
taken; towns
     I was born

willingly; (see note)
under all circumstances; (see note)
     [still] believe in
Since otherwise; kill
take for himself
Certainly I will no longer endure

     doleful (sad)
     beautiful woman

blessed must

Because; (see note)
prayers (entreaties) grant
     As you
without delay; (t-note)

     lost (forlorn)

     lady who; gracious

Look; advice
are; (see note)
     people (see note)

I shall never thus advise
     put to shame

(see note)
     piteous voice

slain; excellent; (t-note)
Therefore; no more; (see note)

calm; (see note)
    true and impartial; (see note)

in agreement; (t-note)

would no longer delay
those; read; (t-note)

in every respect
called to himself; peers; (see note)
prepare for

gave; great plenty
generous heart
     [for] their news

Early; (see note)
would not

Both of them were glad and sad; (see note)
     poem (rhyme) as; (see note)

arrived; (t-note)
would no longer wait
Many knights; great

     as his gift

your; (t-note)
     noble (gentle)
appearance (cheer)
(see note)

They made; much
their daughter lose
act according to her advice (counsel)
a space of time

     began to wind (go)
fierce; (t-note)
     noble and courteous

How fares; (see note)
did answer; (t-note)

     in truth
humble countenance

promise (vouchsafe)

prepared themselves quickly; (see note)
strong (powerful) horses
     [a] chariot
Their; could; reveal; (see note); (t-note)
     saw her come forth; (t-note)
     awoke; their concern

in sorrow bound
swooned; time
took; (t-note)

     sadness (dole); hear
Their; perpetually
(see note)
     pitiful mood

Now let us leave all their mourning; (t-note)
young; (see note)
     has gone

could; describe
richly; dressed; (see note)
     women were; (t-note)

     bade; fetch

     Before; placed her
sadness; to see
woman; radiant of complexion; (see note)
Although; [appeared to] enjoy herself; (see note)


(see note)
     foe nor; (t-note)
approach; maid
believed; law
     [She] that

loath were; (t-note)

     believed in

     source (story)
went; immediately
     began [to] dawn

as; there; (see note)
It seemed to her
at her all together
dared not; strike

     So threateningly; began to behave
saw; three devils
     each burned like a dragon

loathly (ugly); shaped; (t-note)
spear; (see note)
     very afraid

fiends harmed
     Not at all


But through; (t-note)

it seemed to her; lying
     strange; tell

Through; (see note); (t-note)
     manly demeanor
(see note)
lady (person)
     You need not dread anything; (see note)
(see note); (t-note)


(see note)
very forcefully; shook

certainly; dearly redeemed; (see note)


     (see note)

law (religion); (see note)

believed in
     worship Saint
war slay
     Jove; Pluto (see note)
be his defender

demeanor; (see note)

     offend; (see note)

I will commit myself

     By morning and on evening

times; (see note)
     converted; (see note); (t-note)
could he to no man convey
go; quickly

(see note)
     (see note)

though; knew; (see note)

musical instrument (see note)
believed; law


proclaim at that time; (see note)
(i.e., everywhere)

(see note)
pricked (spurred) in a row
immediately and quickly
their; demonstrate

when; (see note)
see; pleasant


struck off
helmets split apart
their heads
     sighed sorely wounded
then indeed
On the next day; maiden
(see note)

Rich, regal, and seemly
     crown; (t-note)
to the highest degree
songs (tales); (see note); (t-note)

fortnight (two weeks)
food; in truth


appearance; (see note)

     Joyful; beside himself

At forty weeks’
(see note)
     Through; (t-note)

(see note)

round (lump); cut with a sharp instrument

wished to die


     had begun [with] her

Against; (see note)

limb; joint
     through; (t-note)
     [Neither] in the morning nor in the evening
Neither; nor; (t-note)
     they (i.e., the gods) make me sorry

     Honorable; (see note)
begotten; us; (t-note)
fares; (see note)

gods every one
     So that you spare nothing
As you are to them beloved and dear

(see note)

(see note)
unless; life



     (see note)
Oh; (t-note)
might; (t-note)
     (see note)
Astarte (Venus); (see note)
     disaster; (see note)
     wasted his time

suddenly (in a moment); (see note)
looked upon
saw; no help come
     very deeply grieved was he
cry out

     burn each one [of] you

lifted; vehemence; (t-note)
     pulled them

gave them
best of all; thoroughly

their; (t-note)
left; limb

very well

     On high; altar

began to go
     (see note)

I have

     them; afire

Beloved; hear; (see note); (see note)

advice; know

     I shall teach you
your gods; (see note)
Give; test
     fear; affliction

there (then)

     see; strange
act according to your teaching; (see note)


     As I am [a]; (see note)

pleased; lady then


merry interlude
     capable (healthy)

 very reason
     listen (hearken)


seek (i.e., high and low)

before; noon
Know for a fact that
     idols; (see note)


blessed must

Are you; (t-note)
truly if you are
     Do you know

By the word of God; one
     Twenty winters ago

But; Saint; (see note)
     I didn’t like
it has now been
I have been; (t-note)
     very unjustly
Cease your excuses

     If you will be quiet; (see note)
moment; (see note); (t-note)

(see note)
     mystery; (t-note)
honor (worship)



     to stir [into life]
     the sin of betrayal
no longer would; (see note)


midsummer; deed; (see note)
took; (t-note)
hailed it [by]; (see note)
     worship (honor)
(see note)
life; limb; face
     cried; great commotion
skin (see note)
to this happened

had never; lost
longer stayed there
But went forth (see note)

covered over
     (see note)
took; quickly; (t-note)
(see note); (t-note)

     So [to]

(see note)
spoke; (t-note)
     (see note)
[Neither] Mohammed nor Apollo
bristle; pig; (see note)
     Against (Compared to)

Indeed; thoroughly
Saint; (see note)

Unless; as it (the child) is
have no; (see note)


afraid; injury

were; (t-note)
dead; go




gods; (see note)
for the love of God
     What shall I say
law (religion)
faith (religion)

     law; (see note)

     alit; maiden
became; (t-note)
redeemed; rood (cross)
spirit; (see note)
To vanquish Satan’s power
     mankind away

     off the cross


     mild of disposition
(see note)
judges; living
     [morally] weak; also

world; scatter
(see note)
     judgment; receive
Judge each man according to his deeds
     bondsman; (see note)
Believe in this

I would be loath; destroy; (t-note)
to us
     (see note)
secretly (privately)
knows (witness); (see note)
     So far as
If; knew


     law to learn
his (i.e., the sultan’s) breast
By the word of God


The next day
sanctified; sultan’s


(i.e., Christ should give the sultan)
Through; (t-note)
     Christian faith; (see note)

mighty; [from] where


Prepared [everything] that appertained to this

baptism; (t-note)

was called; (see note)
loathly; (see note)
through; grace; (t-note)

turned into mirth
pronounced (said)



eyes; (see note)
(see note)


began [to] increase anew; (see note)


swiftly here

christen (baptize)


by [the] hand
go without hesitation

through; message; (see note), (t-note)


began to travel; (t-note)

through; (t-note)
told; case; (t-note)


Through; (t-note)

(see note)


host (army)

(see note)


without a doubt

sent; messenger

Be he never so high (important) a lord
shall [be] hung and drawn; (see note)

duke; (see note)
bid; (t-note)
head; coat of mail; (see note)
completely ready

on every side

sixty; skillful; (t-note)
fair company

very same
were together
merry; greeted
lesser and greater
lady; knees; (see note)

Their adventures as

did; (see note)


must be baptized; (see note)
Myself, I
I have taken Christianity
they; not [do] so; (see note)
beheaded; (t-note)
(i.e., the cross)


would not
no way
caused them to be made
not; advice

unknown people
did deliver them; (see note)
gave; steeds
those; saw

that they needed
(see note)


many a savage heathen commander
army great
near; far
make war


Those five; of valiant appearance
Prepared themselves; battle

began to assail them
are named; fail
listen; hear
(see note)

their companions
slew; towns [they] burned

began to set
those; (t-note)
But; against

proud and powerful
(see note); (t-note)

began [to] drive; (t-note)

Hopped headless; their reward
hear; (see note)

time; (see note)

Against; bold

did await him
punish without delay

together; (t-note)
Burst between them
drew; falchion (curved sword)
struck; completely

(see note)
began to hurry
On behalf of (i.e., to avenge)


withstood; (t-note)

sailed into the field (see note)
fall down

each side

duke or prince in pride

through; (t-note)
moment; (t-note)

he was sorrowful
eager; (t-note)
spurred; made
slay; (t-note)
Before he went from there
Through; hauberk armor; (t-note)
almost; slain


sorrow; would go mad

retainers; (see note)


mad; grew; anger nearly

on high
(i.e., his sword) flew; (t-note)
physician; heal

(see note)

those many hounds; (see note)

strong hatred for

at once

In two; clove
through; (t-note)


(see note)

rode; time

head flew; (t-note)
vigorously; severed


Wicked; (see note)
flew; all together
drowned themselves in a river; (see note)
So greatly afraid of them were they
evening song
Before; victory

fled from each side

shed their
hide himself; (t-note)
he was not; (t-note)
[Who] with arms against them
yielded themselves

rood (cross)
religion (law)
forfeit; very
head (see note)

Thirty; (t-note)
dark and black; (t-note)
done (placed)
them be made; (t-note)

(see note)
place; (t-note)
outside of
heads all completely

wisdom; (see note); (t-note)

prepared (provided)


[For] them; prepared



Go To Appendix: Variant Readings from the Vernon Manuscript