Page images
PDF
EPUB

dresseil in white, came in to thank the assembly, presenting twelve maidens, wearing emblematical dresses to represent Faith, Charity, Justice, Reason, Prudence, Temperance, Strength, Generosity, Mercy, Diligence, Hope and Courage. These damsels trooped round the hall amid the cheers of the company, and so the repast concluded.

“When they had dined, as I you say,
Lords and ladies went to play;
Some to tables, and some to chess,

With other games more and less." · The passion for chess was universal at that period, when the favorite forms of recreation were a pantomime of war. The songs of the minstrels, or trou. badours, were another source of delightful amusement; and deeds of valor, with maxims how to win a lady's favor, were the perpetual theme. To plav upon the harp, and be able to sing his love in verse, were considered as necessary qualifications to the knight of chivalry, as the knowledge of wielding his sword, or managing his good steed. Kings, princes, and knights, renowned for their military exploits, became professors of the “gaye science,” as it was called, and sung to the harp their own verses in praise of the beauty they adored. William, count of Poitou, the count de Foix, the dauphin of Auvergne, a prince of Orange, Thibault, count of Provence and king of Navarre, a king of Sicily, two kings of Arragon, and Richard the First of England, prided themselves upon their skill in minstrelsy. The younger sons and brothers of noble families

very generally devoted themselves to this honorable profession, from which they derived both pleasure and profit. They wandered about from court to court, and from castle to castle, singing the praises of knights and ladies, who rewarded them with smiles, and thanks, rich dresses, horses, armor, and gold.

Bertrand de Born, a celebrated troubadour in the time of Henry the Second, says: “The first laws of honor are to make war; to tilt at Advent and

conquered.” Such sentiments were not remarkable at a period when he was considered the most honorable man, who had burned the greatest number of castles, and pillaged his neighbor's estates most successfully. Bertrand being out of favor with his beautiful mistress, the wife of Talleyrand de Perigord, in consequence of slanderous stories she had heard of him, defends himself in a song very characteristic of the state of society. He wishes “ that he may lose his favorite hawk in her first flight; that a falcon may bear her off as she sits upon his wrist, and tear her in his sight, if the sound of his lady's voice be not dearer to him than all the gifts of love from another. That he may stumble with his shield about his neck; that his helmet may gall his brow; that bis bridle may be too long, his stirrups too short; that he may be forced to ride a hard trotting horse, and find his groom drunk when he arrives at the gate; that the dice may never more be favorable to him at the gaming table ; and that he may look on like a coward and see his lady wooed and won by

another, if there be a word of truth in the accusa. tions of his enemies.”

Some idea of the general ignorance of the times may be inferred from the remark of the minstrel, Bernard de Ventadour, who, when he sang the praises of the princess Eleanor, afterward mother of Richard the First, adds. “She approves my writings, and she can read them too."

The story of Geoffroi Rudel is a remarkable illustration of the fervid and imaginative tone of sentiment that prevailed in those romantic days. He was the favorite minstrel of prince Geoffroi Plantagenet, the elder brother of Cæur de Lion. While he lived at the court of England, admired and beloved by noble knights and lovely ladies, he listened with delight to descriptions of a certain countess of Tripoli, whose beauty, kindness, and virtue, were perpetually praised by the crusaders that returned from Holy Land. Rudel fell deeply and passionately in love with her fame. In one of his songs he says: “I adore an object I have never scen. Yet I am convinced that among all the Saracen, Jewish, and Christian beauties, none can be compared with her. Every night she appears before me in enchanting dreams. The beauty I adore shall behold me, for her sake. clad in a woollen garment, and with a pilgrim's staff.” The ardent troubadour actually sailed for T'alestine. · But he became grievously ill during the voyage, and was nearly senseless when the vessel rached the shores of Tripoli. The countess, being informed of the circumstances of his arrival, hastened

to meet him, and offer all the consolation in her power. He fixed his eyes upon her with a joyfu! expression, and expired. The countess caused him to be magnificently buried among the Knights Templars, and erected a monument of porphyry, with an Arabic inscription, commemorating his genius and bis love. She then retired to a cloister, and took the monastic vow. The last song Rudel had addressed to her was transcribed in letters of gold, and she wore it continually near her heart.

Richard de Barbesieu, having broken his vow of fidelity to a certain princess, built a cabin of boughs in the depth of the forest, and swore never to leave his solitude till the offended lady again took bim into favor. Being a favorite minstrel in hall and bowe er, the knights and ladies sent him many entreaties to return; and finding their solicitations were all in vain, they tried their utmost to appease the anger of his lady-love. She at length relented so far as to promise him pardon, whenever a hundred brave knights, and a hundred beautiful dames, who had sworn eternal love to each other, should kneel before her, and with clasped hands supplicate mercy for their minstrel. A hundred brace of lovers performed the required ceremony, and the troubadour was pardoned.

Still more extravagant was the conduct of Pierre Vidal, a half-crazed poet, who followed Cæur de Lion to the crusade. Having been banished from the presence of one lady for his presumptuous boldness, he chose for the next object of his amorous effusions a

lady by the name of Louve de Penautier. In her honor he assumed the name of Loup, and actually disguised himself as a wolf, in order to be hunted by a pack of hounds. He was brought back shockingly mangled; and the lady and her husband took care of his wounds, though they laughed at his folly.

The entire absence of jealousy in the husbands of that period is by no means the least remarkable feature of the times. They seem to have been proud of the protestations of love offered to their wives and liberally rewarded the favored troubadour with jewels and gold. Agnes, countess of Foix, was beloved by a French minstrel, who became jealous of her. She sent her own confessor to him to complain of the injustice of his suspicions, and to swear that she was still faithful to him. She required him to write and publish the history of their loves in verse. Yet this princess was considered virtuous, both by her husband and the world. One of the troubadours beseeches a priest to grant him dispensation from vows of love to a lady whom he loved no longer ; but he does not seem to have considered absolution ne. cessary during the continuance of his attachment, although the object of it was the wife of another. Those who know human nature will probably think it requires a good deal of faith to believe that im. maculate purity was universal.

The curious mixture of religion with love is another singular characteristic of the middle ages. The knight wrote poems in honor of the virgin Mary, which cannot easily be distinguished from those ad

VOL. II.

« PreviousContinue »