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Introduction to Otuel and Roland


1 For Otuel and Roland, see DIMEV 1787; NIMEV 1106; and Smyser 1967, pp. 91–92, 264. On its stanza form, see the General Introduction, p. 23.

2 For the other contents of Fillingham, see DIMEV 1554, 440, 6376, 2084; NIMEV 944.5, 260, 3992, 1259.

3 Firumbras and Otuel and Roland, ed. O’Sullivan, p. xiii. For Ellis’ letter, see Firumbras and Otuel and Roland, ed. O’Sullivan, pp. xi–xii.

4 Ellis, Specimens, pp 357–79.

5 Firumbras and Otuel and Roland, ed. O’Sullivan, p. xv.

6 These scenes, which feature women or Otuel’s insults, are named in the introduction to Otuel a Knight, pp. 65–66.

7 Otuel and Roland is unique in including a brief scene in which Emperor Garcy is christened: “The Erchebyschop Syre Turpyn, / A swythe good clerk of dyvyn, / Crystened hym that day; / The soule of that Sarsin / Forto save fro helle pyn, / He lered hym Goddys lawe” (lines 1682–87).


Otuel and Roland is a Middle English tail-rhyme romance found in the Fillingham manuscript (London, British Library MS Additional 37492), fols. 30v–76r.1 Otuel and Roland has two halves: the first, which tells the story of the Saracen Otuel’s conversion and deeds of valor (lines 1–1978); and the second, which covers the plot of the Song of Roland, in which Charlemagne’s ill-fated attempt to conquer Zaragoza leads to Roland’s death (lines 1979–2790). Otuel and Roland is notable not only for its inclusion of Roland’s death, but also for its mention of Vernagu, the slain giant of Roland and Vernagu (line 16).

Copied in the second half of the fifteenth century, Fillingham contains four other English texts: Firumbras, The Hermit and the Outlaw, The Devil’s Parliament, and The Mirror of Mankind.2 Three of these — Otuel and Roland, Firumbras, and The Hermit and the Outlaw — are unique to the manuscript. Fillingham was lost for many years after George Ellis borrowed it in 1801 from its owner William Fillingham so that he could add a description of Otuel and Roland to his Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances. A surviving letter from Ellis to Fillingham, now stored with the manuscript in the British Library, details Ellis’ early observations about differences between Otuel and Roland and the Auchinleck romance Otuel a Knight, as well as an assurance that he is caring for the manuscript. According to Mary O’Sullivan, editor of Otuel and Roland and Firumbras, the manuscript was unavailable from the time that Ellis borrowed it until 1907, when the British Museum acquired it.3 Several folios are missing from the Fillingham copy of Otuel and Roland, and a portion of text is gone due to a tear. Despite these losses, the plot can be filled in by means of Otinel and Ellis’ summary in Specimens, which appears to have been made before the damage occurred.4

Three scribal hands are present in the Fillingham manuscript, and there is notable variation in dialect among them. In particular, O’Sullivan finds that the scribe who copied Otuel and Roland tends to use forms belonging to a Southern dialect, while Northern forms are more common in Firumbras.5 Despite Fillingham’s fifteenth-century date, Otuel and Roland is usually assigned to the mid-fourteenth century, setting its composition soon after Roland and Vernagu. Textual links between the romances are strong: they share a passage that describes Charlemagne, and they employ the same stanza form. These connections form the basis of the now mostly discarded “Charlemagne and Roland” theory discussed in the General Introduction, pp. 7–8. The similarities may, however, be taken as evidence in favor of a composition date for Otuel and Roland that is close to those of the Auchinleck Roland and Vernagu and Otuel a Knight.

In judging this romance against the other Middle English Otuel romances, in terms of the four touchstone scenes,6 one finds that Otuel and Roland retains the French Otinel’s amorous attraction between Otuel and Belesent as well as Otuel’s characteristic sarcasm and derision. While the virtually woman-less Otuel a Knight removes Belesent’s arming of Otuel, Otuel and Roland keeps the scene and gives Belesent a front-row seat for Otuel’s duel with Roland. During her cousin’s fight with the Saracen, Belesent prays for Otuel’s safety and adds commentary on the duel for her father (lines 442–44, 499–504). Belesent is also present for Otuel’s miraculous conversion and baptism, during which Charlemagne offers her as wife to Otuel (lines 598–606). In Otuel and Roland, Belesent is not allowed to choose whether she will marry Otuel, but she does speak up and express love for her betrothed (lines 611–15). Equally delighted, Otuel promises to protect Belesent and asks that she be able to accompany the army at the siege of Ataly (lines 616–27).

Likewise, another scene involving women’s agency — the Otinel scene with Saracen women in which Alfamie heals Ogier the Dane — is replayed in Otuel and Roland, where the intimacy of Enfamy’s care for Ogier is emphasized:

Bothe by day and eke by nyght,
Hereself hys woundys gan dyght
       And gaf hym drynkes der.
Sche made hym salves soft,
And as Oger lay in loft
       He feld hym bothe hole and fer.
(lines 1018–23)

tended to
precious potions

felt himself grow; strong


Enfamy, who has already expressed curiosity about Ogier’s identity, tends to his wounds herself. Bits of the chanson de geste describing Ogier’s escape are missing, but a farewell to Enfamy is added. Having just broken his chains, stolen a horse, and thus made ready to flee Ataly, Ogier takes an improbable moment to shout to Enfamy that he is leaving, promising to speak with her tomorrow (lines 1628–33). Ogier’s plan to return to Enfamy is not mentioned again, but his parting words suggest desire, and perhaps love. In general, the author of Otuel and Roland seems happy to include the Otinel scenes that feature strong women, and is even prone to increase their influential roles.

Similarly, Otuel’s penchant for derisive jokes is presented every bit as humorously as in the French Otinel. The Otuel and Roland poet retains Otuel’s comic chiding of Roland and Oliver when they flee the battle, and his mockery of Clarel’s exposed teeth during their duel is mordantly witty. As Roland and Oliver gallop away from the Saracens, Otuel reprimands them but also encourages their return to battle, demonstrating an eagerness to help the knights regain honor:

       “Lese thou schalt thy swete!”
Syr Otuel gan to chyde,
And sayde, “Roulond, for thy pryde
       Thy lyfe thou wylt forlete!
What wenes tou and Olyver alone
To sle the Sarysyns everchon,
       And thus to grounde hem bete?

Nay, though thou and Y and Olyver
Hadde ben ther al in fer
       Ageyns the hedyn lawe —
And ek Charles the conquerour,
Though he brought alle hys power —
       Yet schuld they be nought alle slawe.
Ac turne ageyn with me anone,
And venge we ous of Godys fone,
       And gynne we a new plawe.
Ther schulle a thousand, for thys thyng,
Thys day of hem have here enthyng
       Withinne a lytel thrawe.”
(lines 1056–74)

give up


let us begin a new battle

short time


Although judging that the two knights’ pursuit of the Saracens is foolhardy and rash, Otuel seems not to want to wholly discredit their valor. While he cannot resist giving them a scolding, he reserves the brunt of his derision for Saracens, his former fellows.

Otuel and Clarel’s duel in Otuel and Roland contains the longest and most cutting jokes about Clarel’s exposed teeth found in any version, including even the French Otinel. In Otuel and Roland, Otuel makes a joke about the close shave he has given Clarel with his sword, and he then enumerates the ways the injury will damage Clarel’s reputation and love life:

Tho lowe Otuel, and sayd,
“Y sawe never, so God me rede,
       Sythe that Y was bore,
Never man in knyghtys wede,
Al so fer as Y have rede,
       A berd so clene yschore!
So God me save and sent savour,
Now ys Cursins a good rasour!
       Hyt were harm that it were lore,
Hyt ys scharp, and that ys sene!
Hyt had yschave thy berd ful clene
       That ther nys laft no more!

Now be thou syker in alle thyng:
Nyl never Garcy the Kyng
       Byleve on thee after thys,
Neyther Enfamé, that fayrer thyng,
Sche nyl namore of thy playyng,
       Ne ffor no love thee kysse.
Now thy behoveth to grenne,
And to make thee to mowe on menne,
       For thy mouth syttyth alle onmys.
Now ne helpth ne nought thy god Mahound,
Jubiter, ne that breythen Platoun,
       That thou ne art syker of thys.”
(lines 1465–88)

send salvation
It would be a shame if it were lost


be protected from this


Along with the jokes about how Clarel’s appearance will repulse his lover, the poet adds more insult to Otuel’s speech: Clarel has now lost his emperor’s trust, and his gods will no longer aid him.

Overall, Otuel and Roland provides the closest translation of Otinel among the three Middle English Otuel romances, adding some details but generally staying true to the action and tone of the French text.7 Where Otuel and Roland differs most from both Otinel and the other Middle English versions is in its addition of an 812-line retelling of the events in the Song of Roland (lines 1979–2790). Composed in the same stanza form as Otuel and Roland’s first 1978 lines, this long addendum is in effect a summary of the Roland story, designed to place the Otuel episode in the broader context of Roland’s and Charlemagne’s lives.

London, British Library MS Additional 37492 (Fillingham MS), fols. 30v–76r.

Otuel and Roland. In Firumbras and Otuel and Roland. Ed. Mary I. O’Sullivan. EETS o.s. 198. London: Oxford University Press, 1935. Rpt. 2007. Pp. 59–146.

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