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An Anglo-Norman Reader

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Jane Bliss

An Anglo-Norman Miscellany

Letters

Texte intégral

Maud Mortimer’s letters to the King1

  • 1 These letters are not in Dean.
  • 2 Nat. Archives, Sp. Coll. 1
  • 3 In Recueil, ed. Tanquerey (available online); number 70, pp. 69–70, dated 1297
  • 4 Cavell’s prefatory note says the page is very badly faded.

1The first letter is dated 1282, and was transcribed from the manuscript by Emma Cavell. She made a translation of part of the letter; the translation below is broadly my own. It is among a number of letters, from both men and women, that she has worked on. They are not from a letter-book or formulary, but exist as historical records of real correspondence rather than as patterns to copy.2 It is possible some were transcribed into letter-books, as with the collection in which we find Christine’s, below, but we have no record of whether these ones were so copied. I would have liked to publish a pair of Cavell’s letters, that is, a letter together with its reply; unfortunately those she has worked on are (to my knowledge) all singletons. Since then, one was published in translation only in her article ‘Intelligence and intrigue’ (available online). Another from her collection is offered here together with (for want of a pair) a later letter from the same woman, both to King Edward I.3 I have not added line numbers, not because they are prose but because they are so short. The first letter is Public Record Office SCI/19, no. 130. Maud Mortimer, widow of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, writes to Edward I: although she cannot come to him, she asks for her inheritance.4 The second letter, dated 1297, seems to follow the first in the source (see Tanquerey’s heading); PRO, vol XIX, number 131 The story is that Maud, née de Braose, asks to be allowed to hold the land when her husband dies, and then for the same lands to revert to her after the death of her son William (to whom she had donated them).

  • 5 In ODS he is called Thomas of Hereford.
  • 6 A string was stretched to measure the length of the body; then a candle was made, of that size, to (...)
  • 7 ‘Miranda, Miracula’; I am also grateful for his email on the subject (the MS is in Oxford’s Exeter (...)
  • 8 See the second extract from French Chronicle, above.

2One of Maud’s sisters married a brother of Thomas Cantilupe,5 and therefore her children were related to him. In 1290 another of her sons, Roger, benefited from a miracle in which his dead falcon, having been ‘measured’ for Thomas,6 revived to full health next day. I owe this story to Ian Bass, whose paper on Cantilupe’s miracles was presented at the Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference, 8th April 20167 It is likely the Roger in question was the uncle of the Mortimer who was involved with Isabel, Edward II’s queen.8

Text

  • 9 As in the letter below, the writer has abbreviated ‘Aquitaine’.
  • 10 Read ou, u (where).
  • 11 MS aurequer.

A sun tresnoble seygnur e treshonorable sire Edward, par la grace de Deu roys de Engleter, seygnur de Ireland e duc de Aquit’9la sue, si ly plest, Mahaud de Mortemer saluz ove quantke ele seist e peot de honur e de reverence humble e devoute cum a sun cher seygnur. Trescher sire asseez avez oy de autres, a ceo ke jeo antenk, ke mon seygnur est a Deu comande e jeo ne averoy pas mestre, si vus plust, sire, ke jeo feusse — tenue hors de mon heritage ke jeo claim tenire de vus pur chose ke jeo vus deyne fere cum a mon seygnur ky jeo su e tuz jure [so] y preste a fere quantke fere deveroy tut a vostre volunte; mes Deu le seist e vus sire savez une partie de ma feblesce e de mon estat ke jeo ne purroye audurer le cunsail de aler a vus la e10 vus estes saunt trogrant meschef ne peril de moy par quey jeo pri e requer humblement vostre tres noble seygnorie kest tute esperaunce apres Deu si cum jeo me ay tuz jurs fye de votre bien voilance ke il pleise a vostre hautesce mettre en souffraunce e en respyt ceo ke jeo vus su tenue a fere taunt vus aproechez plus pres de nos parties ke jeo peusse venir a vus cum a mon seygnur e afere vestre pleisir [quant] ke fere vus deverey e vos lettres pri a vostre escheytur de Hereforsire e a autres ke mon clerc portur des lettres vus nomera si vus plest ke il me lessent aver le entre en mon heritage saunt lunz desturber mon trescher seygnur de vostre estat ke Deu sauvez averoye jeo, si vus pleist, grant joye e grant desir de oyr bones novels et vus en requer11 ke mander le me deygnez ansamblement oud vostre pleisur de cestes choses e de tutes autres cum a la vostre lyge vaille e accresse vostre noble seygnorie tuz jurs en Deu. [Endorsed: A mon sire Edward roys de Engleter.]

Translation

  • 12 ‘respyt’; she would like him not to make a hasty decision, and to give her a respite until she can (...)
  • 13 ‘escheat’ is to do with property that lapses to the king on the death of the holder without heir.

3To my most noble lord and most honoured sir, Edward by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine. If you please, your [servant] Maud de Mortimer greets you with all she knows of honour and humble devout reverence as [is proper] to her dear lord. My dear sir, you must have heard it all from other people, I suppose, that my husband has been taken by God and I shall have no lord, if you please sir, and I may be kept out of my inheritance that I ought to hold from you, as I ought to do as my proper lord. And that I am and shall ever be ready to do what I ought to, according to your will. But God knows, and you know, my lord, something of my weakness and of my estate, and I could not bear to come to you where you are, as I have been advised to do, without harm and peril to myself. Therefore I beg and humbly pray your noble highness, in whom I have every hope after God, as I have always trusted in your goodwill, that it will please your highness to have tolerance and mercy12 with regard to what I have asked you to do until you come nearer to these lands so that I can come to you as to my lord and carry out your command as I ought to do. And your letters, I beg your escheator13 of Herefordshire and others whom my letter-clerk will name to you, if you please ask them to let me enter into possession of my inheritance without long troublesome business. My dear lord, of your good health, which God save, I shall have if you please great joy and great desire to hear good news, and I beg you will deign to send me [good news] together with your pleasure in these things and in all others as your worship deserves, and may your noble lordship increase daily in God. [To my lord Edward king of England.]

[The second letter]

  • 14 A hole in the parchment has caused these two words to disappear.

A son tres honorable seingnur mon sire Edward, par la grace de Dieu roi de Engleterre, seingnur de Hirlaunde e duke de Aquit [aine], la sowe [si lui]14 plest, lige Mahaut de Mortemer, totes honurs e reverences cum a sun tres cher seingnur. Pur ceo, sire, ke vos eschetours unt seisi en vostre main terres ke jeo donay a Willam de Mortemer, mon fiz, a tenir a ly e a ses heirs de sun cors engendre, e trove est par enqueste ke les tenemenz furent en ycele manere done e ke Willam est a Deu comaunde saunz heir de sun cors, vous pri, si il vous plest, ke vous voillez comaunder a vos eschetours ke la seisine des avant dites terres me seit rendue solum la forme del estatut.

Vaille, sire, e accresse vostre Hautesce, longement en Jesu Crist.

[The second letter]

4To her most honourable sovereign, my lord Edward, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, her liege lord — if it please you — Maud de Mortimer, all honour and reverence as is due to her dearest lord.

5Sir, since your escheators have taken into your hand the lands I gave to William de Mortimer, my son, to hold together with the heirs begotten of him, and it is found on examination that the holdings were in this manner donated and that William has gone to God without any heir of his body, I pray you, if you please, to command your escheators to return the possession of the said lands to me according to the form of the statute.

6May Your Highness long flourish and increase in Jesus Christ.

  • 15 My translation (as is the footnote in the letter).

7[Tanquerey appends the following:15 William de Mortimer, fifth son of Maud de Braose and Roger de Mortimer, died in 1297 The Close Rolls (1288–96, p. 73) contain the king’s response to this letter, under the date 14th Nov. 1297 In it, the king orders the escheator not to pursue further the matter of the castle and lands that William de Mortimer held from his mother.]

Christine de Pisan’s letter to Isabelle of Bavaria

  • 16 Dean 324, miscellaneous collections of letters; the manuscript is Oxford, All Souls College, 182 Th (...)
  • 17 A rondeau apparently addressed to Orléans ends the copy in Legge’s MS A.
  • 18 Yenal’s summary of Christine’s life and works, pp. 3–25
  • 19 This becoming modesty may have been a reason for regarding the letter as a model for others to emul (...)

8An Anglo-Norman version of this letter, critically edited in ‘Christine de Pizan’s Epistre à la reine (1405)’, ed. Kennedy, is included here because it found its way into an Insular letter-book.16 Legge’s introduction describes the MS: letter-books of this kind were ‘begun by clerks as note-books… and continued as commonplace books by the addition of material useful to them in their subsequent career.’ Such letters as these are ‘historical documents’, because they were sent (as far as we know) as well as being copied into note-books. However, their subsequent use as models indicates that their ‘audience’ was much wider than just the original recipients. The importance of the letter among Christine’s works may be gauged by reference to any bibliographical guide: Christine de Pisan: A bibliography, Yenal, and Christine de Pizan: a bibliographical guide, Kennedy. However, I have not so far found any modern translation of it, so this example of How to Write to a Queen is deemed to be of literary and historical interest for the present collection. The letter, which exists in a number of copies, is Yenal’s number 32 (p. 49), headed Une Epistre à Isabeau de Bavière. Kennedy describes it thus: ‘written in 1405 to persuade Isabeau de Bavière to mediate in the civil strife between the Dukes of Orléans and Burgundy, it marks Christine’ s emergence as a politically aware writer and represents the first of a number of prose epistles designed to comment on or influence contemporary affairs’(p. 253). The letter may have been meant for one or both of the adversaries as well as the queen: Louis d’Orléans was Isabelle’s brother-in-law,17 and Jean sans Peur of Burgundy was his cousin. A struggle for regency inevitably gave place to a mobilization of troops, upon which Christine drafted her compelling letter in the hope of sparing the nation from devastating civil strife. Not only does she evoke the horrors of war and fratricide, but also she correctly predicts foreign invasion of a weakened France; this indeed took place ten years later, at Agincourt. Orléans was killed in 1407, and Burgundy in 1419; the Dauphin was crowned finally in 1429 as Charles VII. One of the other MSS (Legge’s MS C) is headed by a rubric which describes the political situation. It is thought that Christine’s impassioned words probably did not influence her rulers, although she was in fact a noted figure in France, celebrated at court where all the players in the fateful game were among her supporters. She became an intellectual arbiter of her time, commanding esteem in aristocratic and learned circles alike.18 Christine positions herself among the poor and humble suppliants, modestly stressing her own unworthiness but insisting on her own right as well as theirs to petition a queen.19

9The Anglo-Norman letter-book is, according to Legge, haphazardly organized. She lists the chief sources for the French part of the collection as follows: Petitions to king and archbishop, Files or registers including correspondence about Richard II’s second marriage, Similar files compiled by the Treasurer, Letters dealing with the archdiocese of Canterbury, Archbishop Arundel’s correspondence, Letters concerning the diocese of Norwich, Henry Despenser’s correspondence. None of these headings seems a likely filing-place for a Frenchwoman’s letter to a French queen on the subject of averting war; one would like to know how it came to be included. I follow Legge’s text exactly, including a few of her notes (Kennedy’s critical edition may be consulted for variants). The letter appears in the collection with the following introduction:

  • 20 Headed ‘Une epistre a la royne de France’ (A).

10Christine de Pisan to Isabelle of Bavaria. Paris, Oct. 5th, 1405 [An appeal to her to compose the differences between the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy. Variants from B. N. F Fr: 580 (A), 604 (C), 605 (B).]20

Text

  • 21 The editor omitted the next folio-marker (231b), which is therefore missing, below.

A TRESEXCELLENTE, redoubtee et puissante princesse,
Madame Isabelle par la grace de Dieu Royne de France
etc.
[230d] Treshaulte, puissant et tresredoubtee dame, vostre
excellent dignitee ne vuille avoir en desdaign ou despris la [5]
voix plorable de moy, sa pouvre serve, ains daigne encliner
a noter les paroles dites par affeccioun desireuse de toute
bonne adresce, non obstant que sembler vous pourroit q’a si
pouvre, ignorante et indisgne personne n’apartient soy
charger de si grans choses; mais, come ce soit de commun [10]
ordre que toute personne souffrant ascun mal naturelment
affuye au remede, si come nous voions les malades pour-
chassier guerisoun et les familleux courrir a la viandeet
ainsi toute chose a son remede, tresredoubté dame, ne vous
soit donques merveille se a vous, qui au dit et opinion [15]
de tous pouéz estre la medicine et soverain remede de la
guerison de ce roialme a present playé et navré piteusement
et en peril de pis, on se traite et tourne, non mie vous
supplier pour terre estrange, mais pour vostre lieu et natural
heritage a voz tresnoblez enfens. Treshaulte et ma tres- [20]
redoubté dame, non obstant que vostre bon sens soittout
adverti et advisé de ce q’il apartient, toutesfoitz est il vroy
que vous, séant en vostre magesté roial, avironnee d’onneurs,
ne pouéz savoir fors par aultrui rappors le [s ] communes
besoignes, tant en paroles come en fais, qui courrent entre [25]
voz subgéz. Pour ce, haulte dame, ne vous soit grief [231a]21 de
oïr les ramentevences en piteux regraiz des adoulés suppliantz
françoys a present rampliz d’affliccioun et tristesse, qui a
humble voix plainne de pleures crient a vous leur sovereine
et redoubtee dame, priant pour Dieu mercie, que humble [30]
pitié veulle moustrer a vostre benigne cueur leur desolacion
et miserie, par si que proschainnement paix entre ces deux
haulx princes germains de sang et naturelment amys, mais
a present par estrange fortune meuz a aucune contencioun
ensemble, vueilléz procurer et empetrer. Et chose est asséz [35]
humainne et commune mesmement, souventesfoiz vient
entre pere et filz aucun descort, mais dyabolique est et
serroit la perseverance. En laquel vous pouéz noter deux
grans et horriblez maulx et dommages,

Translation

11To you, most excellent, revered, and mighty princess, Madame Isabelle Queen of France by the grace of God [etc],

12Your Highness, mighty and noble lady, your great dignity would not wish to disdain or contemn my tearful voice! I am your poor servant; please incline to take notice of my words, spoken affectionately and wishing to address you in all propriety, even if it may seem to you that such a poor unworthy and ignorant person should not meddle with such high matters. But, since it is common knowledge that anybody who suffers any misfortune must naturally hasten towards its remedy, as we see sick people in search of healing, and the starving in search of meat, so everything runs towards its cure. Do not be astonished if it is you, revered lady, who is said and well known to be the medicine and sovereign remedy for the healing of this kingdom, that is so wounded and pitifully injured and in danger of yet worse things, to whom one is drawn to turn. This is no supplication for a strange land, but for your own, that is the natural inheritance of your most noble children.

  • 22 Christine is referring to the well-known adage that to err is human but to persist in error is diab (...)

13Highest and most revered lady, even though I am sure your good wisdom is well aware and advised of how the matter stands, nevertheless it is true that you, seated in your royal majesty and surrounded with honours, cannot know about common needs except by reports from others, in words and actions, about what is happening among your subjects. For this reason, Your Highness, let it not be too much trouble to listen to the reminders and pitiful complaints of the suffering and suppliant French people who are at present so filled with affliction and misery. With humble voices full of tears they cry out to you, their revered and sovereign lady, begging that by the mercy of God humble pity will show their desolation and misery to your benevolent heart, so that you may be willing immediately to procure and bring about peace between these two high princes, closely related by blood and naturally close friends, who are just now by some unusual fortune moved to evil contention one with the other. This is a natural and even a very common thing: sometimes discord arises between father and son. But if persisted in, it is and will be from the Devil.22 And from this you can perceive two very great and dreadful harms, or evils, arising.

l’un que il couven-
droit en brief temps que le roiaume en fust destruit si come [40]
nostre seignur dit en l’esvengille, ‘le royaume en soi devisé
serra desolé,’l’autre que hainne perpetuelle serroit nee
et
nourrie d’ore en avant entre les heires et enfans du noble
sang de France, lesquelx souloient estre comme un propre
corps et pillier a la defance de cestuy royaume, pour laquelle [45]
cause d’ancien est apelee fort et puissant. Tresexcellent et
redoubtee dame, encore vous please noter et reduier a
memoire, troys tresgrans biens et proufiz qui par ceste
paix procurer vous ensuivront. Le primer apartient a l’alme,
a laquelle acquerréz tressouverain merite de ce que par vous [50]
serroit eschevee si grant et si honteuse effusion de sang ou
tresgrant grif du peuple cristien et de Dieu establi le royaume
de France et la confusion que ensuivroit, se tielle erreur
avoit duree. Item, le second bien que vous seriéz porteresse
de paix et cause de la restauracioun du bien de vostre noble [55]
porteure et de leurs loiaulx subgiéz. Le iije bien ne fait a
desprisier. C’est que en perpetuel memoire de los ramenteue,
recommendee et loé es croniques et nobles gestes de France
doublement couronné d’onneur seriéz avecques l’amour,
graces, presens et humbles grans mercis de voz loiaulx [60]
subgiéz. Et, ma tresredoubtee dame, a regarder aux raisons
de vostre droit, posons qu’il fust ou soit que la dignitee de
vostre hautesse se tenist de l’une des parties avoir esté
aucunnement bleciee, par quoy vostre hault cueur fust
moins enclin a ce que par vous ceste paix fust traitee. O [65]
tresnoble dame, quel grant sens c’est aucunnesfois mesmes
entre les plus grans laissier aler partie de soun droit pur
eschiver plus grant inconvenient ou pour attaindre a
tresgrant bien et utilité ! [231c] Hee, trespuissant dame, les histoirs
de nos devanters qui deument se gouvernoient ne nous [70]
doivent elles estre exemple de bien vivre, si comme il avint
jadix a Rome d’une trespuissante princesse, de laquelle le
filz par les barons de la citee avoit esté a grant tort et senz
cause bannys et chassiéz, dont aprés pour icelle injure
venger come il eust assemblé si grant ost que souffisant estoit [75]
pour toute destruire, la vaillant dame non obstant la
vilennie
faite, ne vint elle au devant de son filz et tant fist qu’
elle
apoisa son ire et le pacifia aux Romains? Helas, honneuree
dame, doncques il en avra que pitié, charité, clemence et
benignité ne serra trouvee en haulte princesse, ou serra elle [80]
donques quise ?

  • 23 Matt. 12:25
  • 24 ‘gestes’, lit. deeds; chansons de geste are meant.
  • 25 This could be a reference to Coriolanus and the efforts of his mother and wife to make peace (see O (...)
  • 26 The French makes ‘it’ singular; Christine means ‘where shall we seek each of these?’

14One is, it must come to pass that the kingdom will shortly be destroyed, as Our Lord says in the Gospel: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.23 The other is that everlasting hate will be born and nourished from now on between heirs and children of the noble blood of France, those who ought to be as a true body and pillar in defence of this kingdom, for which reason it has from ancient times been called strong and powerful. Most excellent and revered lady, please also notice and remember three very great benefits or profits that will come to you as a result of procuring this peace. The first appertains to the soul, for which you will acquire the highest merit if, through you, there may be avoided a dreadful and shameful blood-letting and the terrible pain of Christian people in God’s established realm of France, and also the devastation that would follow if such an ill-judged state of affairs had any duration. Next, the second benefit is that you will be bringer of peace and cause of the revival of the fortunes of your noble offspring and their loyal subjects. The third benefit is not to be despised. That is, in the perpetual record of praise commemorated, approved, and celebrated in the chronicles and noble epics of France,24 you will be crowned with double honours, with love and thanks, with gifts and humble gratitude from your loyal subjects. And, my revered lady, with regard to reasons of your [personal] right, let us suppose it was or might be the case that the dignity of your highness attached to one of the parties being wounded in any way, by which your noble heart would be less inclined to allow that this peace could be arranged by you. O most noble lady, is it not wisest sometimes, even among the very greatest, to leave aside a little of one’s right in order to avoid some worse trouble or to bring about some greater good or usefulness! Ah, Highness, ought not the history of our forebears, who governed themselves well, to be an example of how to live well? Thus it happened long ago in Rome, to a mighty princess whose son had been exiled and driven out, very wrongly and without due cause, by the barons of the city. For this insult, he wished to avenge himself by assembling a great host that was sufficient to destroy everything. However, in spite of this wickedness, did she not come before her son, and do such as would calm his fury and make peace between him and the Romans?25 Alas, noble lady, when it comes about that pity, charity, mercy, and benevolence are not found in a noble princess, where then shall we seek them?26

Car comme en feminines condiciouns soient
les dites vertues par raison doivent estre et habonder en
noble dame de tant qu’elle reçoyt plus de dons de Dieu,
et encores a cest propos qu’il appartiegne a haulte princesse
et dame estre moyenneresse de tratié de paix, il appert par [85]
les vaillantz dames louees es sainctes escriptures; si come la
vaillant sage Royne Hester, que par son sens et benignitee
appaisa l’ire du Roy Assuaire, tant que revoquer fist la
sentence donné contre le peuple [231d] condampné a mort;
auxi Barsabee, n’apois elle maintesfoiz l’ire de David? Auxi [90]
une autre vaillant Royne que conseille a son mari que puis
q’il ne pouoit avoir par force ses ennemys, q’il fist si comme
font les bons medecins, lesquelx quant ils voient que medi-
cines ameres ne profitent a leurs paciens ils leur donnent des
doulces, et par celle voye le fist la sage Royne reconcilier a [95]
ses adversaires: semblablement se pourroient dire infinies
exemples, que je laisse pour briefté, des sages roynes louees,
et par le contraire de perverses, crueuses et ennemis de
nature humainne, si come la faulce Royne Gyesabel et
autres semblablez qui pour leurs demerites sont encores et [100]
perpetuelment serront diffamees, maudites et dampnees.
Mais des bonnes encor a nostre senz querir plus loign: la
tressage bonne Royne de France, Blanche, mere seint Louys,
quant ses barons estoient a descort pour cause de regenter,
la Royne ne prenoit elle son filz maindre d’ans entres ses [105]
bras et entre les barons elle le tenoit disant: ‘Ne vééz vous
vostre Roy? Ne faitez chose dont, quant Dieu l’avra conduit
en aege de discrecioun, il se doy tenir mal content d’aucun
de vous.’Et ainsi par son sens les appaisoit. Treshaulte
dame, mais que mon langage ne vous [232a] tourt a enuye, [110]
encores vous dige que tout aussi come la Royne du ciel
“mere de Dieu” est appellee de toute cristianté, doit estre dit
et appellee toute sage et bonne royne “mere conforteresse
de ses subgiéz et de son peuple.” Helas, doncques qui
serroit si dure mere qu[i] peust, se elle n’avoit le cueur de [115]
pierre, veoir ses enfans entreoccire et espandre le sang l’un a
l’autre et leurs povres membres destruire et disperser !

  • 27 See the Book of Esther, and further chapters of Esther in the Apocrypha.
  • 28 Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, whom David caused to be killed and then afterwards took her as his (...)
  • 29 Jezebel is a byword to this day for wickedness and treachery. Her story is found in the two Books o (...)
  • 30 Louis IX of France, canonized for his crusading activites, is in ODS: Blanche was regent during his (...)

15These virtues are supposed to be found among the female of our kind, and should rightly exist and abound in a noble lady because she receives more of God’s gifts, and more so because it behoves a noble princess and great lady to be the mediator in any peace treaty. This is proved by those gallant ladies who are praised in Holy Scripture, for example the brave and wise Queen Esther, who by her cleverness and good nature was able to appease the wrath of King Ahasuerus so that he revoked the sentence that condemned the people to death.27 And Bathsheba, did she not often appease the wrath of David?28 And there was another courageous queen, who advised her husband that since he could not take his enemies by force he must do as the best doctors do: when they see their patients are not benefiting from bitter medicines then they give them sweet ones. By this means the wise queen made him be reconciled with his adversaries. There are any number of similar examples to be told, which I shall leave aside for the sake of brevity, of wise and highly-praised queens; but on the other hand there are wicked and cruel ones, enemies of human nature, such as the false Queen Jezebel and another hundred like her who are still, and for ever shall be, defamed, cursed, and damned for their evil ways.29 But we still have some good ones, no need to look far: there is the very wise Queen of France, Blanche, mother of Saint Louis. When the barons were squabbling about the regency, did not the queen take her youngest son in her arms and bring him among the barons? Holding him up, she said ‘Do you not see your king? Do nothing that will make him discontented with any one of you, when God has led him to the age of discretion.’ Thus by her wisdom she pacified them.30

16Your Highness, without wishing to weary you with my words, I must speak to you about the Queen of Heaven. Just as she is called ‘Mother of God’ by all Christendom, so ought every good and wise queen to be called and spoken of as ‘Mother comforter of her subjects and her people’. Alas, how can there be any such mother, unless her heart were of stone, who could see her children killing one another, spilling one another’s blood, destroying and scattering their poor limbs!

Et
puis qu’il venist par de costé estranges ennemys qui dutout
les persecutassent et laissassent leurs heritages ! Et ainsi,
treshaulte dame, pouéz estre toute certaine couvendroit [120]
qu’avenist en fin de ceste persecucion se la chose aloit plus
avant, que Dieu ne vueille, car n’est mye doubte que les
ennemys du roialme, resjouyz de cest aventure, vendroient
par de costé o grant armee pour tout parhonnir. Ha Dieu,
quel doulour a si noble royaume perdre et perir telle chiva¬ [125]
lerie ! Helas, qu’il couvenist que le pouvre peuple comparast
le peché dont il est innocent, et que les pouveres petiz
alleictans et enfans criassent aprés les lasses meres vefves
et adoulees, mourans de faim, et elles, desnués de leurs
biens, n’eussent de quoy les appaisier, lesquelles voix quant [130]
a Dee avint, comme racontent les escriptures en plusours
lieux, percient les cielx par pitié [232b] davant Dieu juste et
attraient vengeance sur celx qui en sont cause. Et encores
avec ce, quel honte a ce royaume qu’il couvenist que les
povres, desers de leurs biens, alassent mendier par famine [135]
en estranges contrees en racontent come celx qui garder les
deveoient les eussent destruiz. Dieu, comment seroit
jamais ce lait diffame non acoustumé en ce noble royaume
reparé ne remis! Et certes, tresnoble dame, nous véons a
present les aprestes de ces mortelx jugemens, qui ja sont si [140]
avanciéz que tresmaintenent en y a de destruiz et desers de
leurs biens, et en destruit on tous les jours de pis en pis, et
tant qui est cristien doit avoir pitié. Et oultre et encores
serroit a noter a celui prince ou princesse qui le cueur avroit
tant obstiné qu’il n’acompeteroit nulle chose a Dieu ne a [145]
toutes si saintes doulours, s’il n’estoit du tout fol ou folle,
les tresvariables tours de fortune qui en un seul moment se
peuent changer et muer. Diex, quants cops eust pensé la
Royne Olimpias, mere du grant Alixandre, ou temps qu’elle
veoit tout le monde soubz ses pieds et a elle subgit et obeis¬ [150]
sant, que fortune eust puissance de la conduire au point ou
quelle piteusement fina ses jours a grant honte!

  • 31 Another copy (‘Christine de Pizan’ s Epistre à la reine (1405)’, ed. Kennedy, line 103) has ‘saissi (...)
  • 32 The reference may be to the first part of Matt. chapter 18, in which Jesus commands the disciples n (...)

17And then, that from the coast enemy strangers come, who will persecute and lay waste31 their mother country! And so, Your Highness, you may be quite certain and agree what will come of this persecution, should it develop any further — which God forbid — for there is no doubt the enemies of the kingdom, rejoicing in their good luck, will come from the coast with a great army so as to put everything to shame. Dear God! What disgrace, that the chivalry of so noble a realm should perish and be lost! Alas, how could it be right that the wretched people must pay for a sin of which they are innocent, and that children and poor little babes at the breast should cry for their weary mothers who are widowed and suffering, dying of hunger, and those women who are stripped bare of their possessions have nothing with which to comfort them; when their voices reach up to God, as it says in several places in the Scriptures, they pierce the heaven for pity, before a just God, and bring vengeance upon those whose fault it is.32

  • 33 See the entry for Olympias in OCL.

18And added to that, what shame on a kingdom where it is allowed for the poor people, denuded of everything, to go begging for very hunger into strange lands, telling how those who ought to have looked after them had destroyed them. Oh God, how should this hideous and unaccustomed infamy of our noble kingdom ever be repaired and put right! My noble lady, we can now see the preparations for these deadly judgements, which are now so far advanced that at present we see people destroyed and despoiled of their goods; every day more are afflicted from bad to worse, such that all Christianity must have pity. Even more, moreover, to any prince or princess whose heart is so obstinate they take no account of God or all his holy sufferings, unless he or she were completely mad, those swiftly changing turns of Fortune, that may at any moment alter and shift, should be pointed out. Dear God, could Queen Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, have imagined such an overthrow in the days when she saw the whole world at her feet, obedient subjects to her: that Fortune had the power to lead her to the point at which she ended her days, pitifully, by such a shameful death!33

Et sembla-
blement d’assés d’autres pourroit on dire, mais qu’enavient
quant [232c] fortune a ainsi acuilli aucun puissant seigneur ou
dame se si sagement n’a tant fait le temps passé par le [155]
moyen d’amour, pitié ou charité qu’il eit acquis Dieu prime-
rement et bien vellans amys au monde toute sa vie, etses
faiz sont conptés en publique et tous en reprouche, et tout
ainsi comme a un chien qui est chassiéz, touz lui queurent
seure, et est celui de toutz defoulés en criant sur lui qu’il est [160]
bien employé. Tresexcellent et ma tresredoubtee dame,
infinies raisons vous pourroient estre recordees des causes
qui vous doivent mouvoir a pitié et a traitié de paix, les-
quelles vostre bon sen n’ignore mie. Si fineray atantmon
epistre, suppliant a vostre digne magesté qu’elle l’ait aggré¬ [165]
able at soit favorable a la plourable requeste par moyescripte
de voz pouvres subgiéz loiaulx françoys. Et tout aussi
comme est plus grant charité de donner au pouvre un piece
de pain en temps de cherté et de famine que un tout entier
en temps de fertilitee et d’abondance, a vostre pouvre [170]
peuple veulléz donner en ce temps de tribulacioun un piece
de la parole et du labour de vostre haultesse et puissance,
laquelle come ils tiennent serra asséz souffisante pour les
ressasier et guerier du desir familleux qu’ils ont de paix.
Et ils prieront Dieu pour vous, pour lequel bien accomplir [175]
et maints autres Dieu par sa grace [232d] vous vueille conceder
et ottroier bonne vie et longe et a la fin gloire pardurable.
Escript le v jour d’octobre l’an mil cccc et cinque.
Vostre treshumble et tresobeissante créature, Christine
de Puzan.

19And the same may be said of many others. What happens when Fortune greets in this way any powerful lord or lady unless in the past, because of love, or pity or charity, he or she had wisely reached out first to God and then to well-disposed friends in the world, all their life. And their deeds are counted in public to their shame: just as with a dog that has been kicked out and everybody attacks it, and it is trampled down by everybody, who shout at it that it is rightly used thus. My most excellent and highly respected lady, please be reminded of the endless reasons that ought to move you to pity and to peace-making, which your good sense cannot ignore. Now I shall end my letter, praying your worthy majesty will find it pleasing and will favour the tearful request written by me on behalf of your poor loyal French subjects. Just as it is greater charity to give some of your bread to a pauper at times of dearth and famine, than it is to give a whole [loaf] in times of fertility and abundance, please give to your poor people in these troubled times some of your words and the labour of your eminence and power, so that when they have this it will be enough and sufficient to support and heal them in their ravenous hunger for peace. And they will pray to God for you, to accomplish this and many other things; may God vouchsafe and grant you a long and good life with an end in everlasting glory.

20Written the fifth day of October, in the year one thousand four hundred and five.

21Your most humble and obedient servant, Christine de Pisan.

Notes

1 These letters are not in Dean.

2 Nat. Archives, Sp. Coll. 1

3 In Recueil, ed. Tanquerey (available online); number 70, pp. 69–70, dated 1297

4 Cavell’s prefatory note says the page is very badly faded.

5 In ODS he is called Thomas of Hereford.

6 A string was stretched to measure the length of the body; then a candle was made, of that size, to offer to the saint.

7 ‘Miranda, Miracula’; I am also grateful for his email on the subject (the MS is in Oxford’s Exeter College).

8 See the second extract from French Chronicle, above.

9 As in the letter below, the writer has abbreviated ‘Aquitaine’.

10 Read ou, u (where).

11 MS aurequer.

12 ‘respyt’; she would like him not to make a hasty decision, and to give her a respite until she can come to him.

13 ‘escheat’ is to do with property that lapses to the king on the death of the holder without heir.

14 A hole in the parchment has caused these two words to disappear.

15 My translation (as is the footnote in the letter).

16 Dean 324, miscellaneous collections of letters; the manuscript is Oxford, All Souls College, 182 This one is in Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions, ed. Legge (ANTS 3), number 99 (pp. 144–50).

17 A rondeau apparently addressed to Orléans ends the copy in Legge’s MS A.

18 Yenal’s summary of Christine’s life and works, pp. 3–25

19 This becoming modesty may have been a reason for regarding the letter as a model for others to emulate.

20 Headed ‘Une epistre a la royne de France’ (A).

21 The editor omitted the next folio-marker (231b), which is therefore missing, below.

22 Christine is referring to the well-known adage that to err is human but to persist in error is diabolical. Ultimately from Augustine, the idea was used by Seneca and Cicero and in more modern times by Pope (An Essay on Criticism) with the alternative ending ‘to forgive, divine’.

23 Matt. 12:25

24 ‘gestes’, lit. deeds; chansons de geste are meant.

25 This could be a reference to Coriolanus and the efforts of his mother and wife to make peace (see OCL). It might also refer to Cornelia, the Mother of the Gracchi, although the incident is not described in OCL.

26 The French makes ‘it’ singular; Christine means ‘where shall we seek each of these?’

27 See the Book of Esther, and further chapters of Esther in the Apocrypha.

28 Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, whom David caused to be killed and then afterwards took her as his wife (II Sam. chapters 11 & 12, and I Kings chapters 1 & 2). Bathsheba is sometimes cited as an evil woman because she tempted David.

29 Jezebel is a byword to this day for wickedness and treachery. Her story is found in the two Books of Kings: she was the wife of Ahab, and promoted the worship of Baal while also opposing and killing prophets of God; she was finally killed by Jehu. I have not succeeded in identifying the ‘courageous queen’ in the previous example.

30 Louis IX of France, canonized for his crusading activites, is in ODS: Blanche was regent during his minority. She, as well as many of the good women cited above, is held up as a mirror by the Knight in ed. Offord, and ed. Wright (chapters 19 & 20, respectively). Some comparable ‘advisory’ material is found in The Goodman of Paris, tr. Power (and notes, in which the Knight’s book is cited).

31 Another copy (‘Christine de Pizan’ s Epistre à la reine (1405)’, ed. Kennedy, line 103) has ‘saississent’ instead of ‘laissassent’.

32 The reference may be to the first part of Matt. chapter 18, in which Jesus commands the disciples not to sin against children.

33 See the entry for Olympias in OCL.

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