The King of Tars
THE KING OF TARS: FOOTNOTES
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
THE KING OF TARS: EXPLANATORY NOTES
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.”
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.
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.
THE KING OF TARS: TEXTUAL NOTES
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: sarrains.
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.
Beloved; hear; (see note); (see note)
did; (see note)
Go To Appendix: Variant Readings from the Vernon Manuscript