Marie of France: Lanval

Here is the poem (the lays) of Marie de France concerning the myth Arthurian. Here is the storytelling version in modern French. The fifth lay is: Lanval.




I want to tell you about the adventures of another Lai; it was composed about a wealthy knight whom the Bretons call Lanval.

King Arthur, always valiant and courteous, had come to spend some time at Carduel, to chastise the Irish and the Picts who ravaged his possessions and particularly the land of Logres. At the feasts of Pentecost, Arthur held a large plenary court; he made magnificent presents, and showered his favors on the counts, the barons, and the knights of the round table. Finally, there was never one so beautiful, since he gave lands and conferred titles of nobility. A single man who faithfully served the monarch was forgotten in his distributions. It was the Chevalier Lanval, who, by his valor, his generosity, by his good looks and his brilliant actions, was loved by all his equals, who saw only with chagrin whatever unpleasant thing could happen to him.

Lanval was the son of a king whose states were very distant; Attached to Arthur's service, he spent his assets all the more easily as, receiving nothing and asking for nothing, he soon found himself deprived of resources. The knight is very sad to see himself in such a situation; do not be surprised, sire, he was a stranger, and no one came to his aid; after having thought about it carefully, he resolves to leave the court of his overlord. Lanval, who had served the king so well, climbs on his steed, and leaves the city without being followed by anyone; he arrives in a meadow watered by a river that he crosses. Seeing his horse trembling with cold, he dismounted, bloodied him, then let him graze at random. Having folded his cloak, the knight lay down on it, and see again sadly to his misfortune. Looking towards the river, he sees two young ladies of ravishing beauty, well made and very richly dressed in a bliaud of gray purple. The oldest carried a basin, enamelled gold, of exquisite taste, and the second held a napkin in her hands.

They come straight up to him, and Lanval, like a well-bred man, gets up immediately at their approach. After having greeted him, one of them said to him: Lord Lanval, my mistress, as beautiful as she is gracious, sends us to ask you to follow us, in order to lead you to her. Look, his tent is very near here; the knight hastens to follow the two young people, and no longer thinks of his horse which grazes in the meadow. He was taken to the pavilion, which was very beautiful and above all very well placed. Queen Semiramis at the time of her greatness, and the Emperor Octavian would never have had a more beautiful drapery than that which was placed on the right. Above the tent was a golden eagle, the value of which I could not estimate, any more than the ropes and spears which supported it. There is no king on earth who could have had such a thing, however much he offered. In the pavilion was the young lady who, by her beauty, surpassed the fleur-de-lis and the new rose when they appeared in summer time. She was lying on a magnificent bed, the most beautiful chateau of which would not have paid only the price of the draperies. Her tight dress reveals the elegance of a waistline. A superb coat, lined with ermine and dyed in Alexandrian purple, covered her shoulders. The heat had forced her to push it aside a little, and through this opening which exposed her side, the eye saw a skin whiter than the flower of thorns.

The knight came to the young lady! who, calling him, made him sit down by his side, and spoke to him in these terms: It is for you, my dear Lanval, that I came out of my land of Lains, and that I came to these places. I love you, and if you are always brave and courteous, I want there to be no prince of the earth who is as happy as you. This speech suddenly ignites the heart of the knight, who immediately replies: Amiable lady, if I had the happiness to please you and if you wanted to grant me your love, there is nothing that you do not order me except my value. 'dares to undertake. I will not examine the motives of your commandments. For you I abandon the country which saw me being born as well as my subjects. No, I never want to leave you, it's the thing I want most in the world to stay with you. The young lady having heard Lanval's wish, grants her her heart and her love. She gives him a precious gift that no one else can benefit from. He can give and spend a lot, and will always be very rich. Ah! that Lanval will therefore be happy, since the more generous and liberal he is, the more gold and silver he will have.

My friend, said the beauty, I beg you, enjoin you, even command you never to reveal our affair to anyone; let it suffice for me to tell you that you would lose me forever, and that you would no longer see me if our love were discovered. Lanval swears to him to fully follow his orders. They lay down together and stayed in bed until the end of the day; Lanval, who had never been so well, would have stayed much longer, but his friend invited him to get up, for she did not want him to stay any longer. Before leaving us, I must tell you something, she said to him; when you want to talk to me and see me, and I dare to hope that she will only be in places where your friend can appear without blushing, you will only have to call me, and immediately I will be near from you. No one except my lover will see me or hear me speak. Lanval, delighted with what he learns, to express his gratitude, hugs his friend and gets out of bed. The young ladies who had taken him to the pavilion entered bringing magnificent clothes, and as soon as he was dressed in them he looked a thousand times more handsome. After we had washed (t) supper was served. Although the meal was seasoned with appetite and good food, Lanval had a dish of his own which he liked very much. It was to kiss her friend and to hug her.

When he left the table, his horse was brought to him, which was all dressed up, and after having said his farewells, he left to return to the city, but so astonished by his adventure that he could not yet believe it, and that he was watching. time to time back, as if to convince himself that he was not deceived by a flattering illusion.

He returns to his hotel and finds all his people perfectly well dressed. He spends a lot without knowing where the money comes from. Any knight who needed to stay at Carduel could come and live with Lanval, who made a point of treating him perfectly. Besides the rich presents that he made, Lanval redeemed the prisoners, dressed the minstrels, he did not have a single inhabitant of the city, even a foreigner, who did not share in his gifts. Also he was the happiest of men, since he had a fortune, was considered and could see his friend at all times of the day and night.

In the same year, around the feast of Saint John, several knights went to recreate themselves in the orchard below the tower inhabited by the queen. With them were the brave Gauvain who made himself loved by all, and his cousin the handsome Yvain. Lords, he said, it would be wrong to entertain us without our friend Lanval, a man as brave as he was generous, and the son of a rich king. You have to go get it and bring it here. As soon as they leave, they go to the Hôtel de Lanval, which they find, and by dint of prayers, they manage to take her with them. On their return the queen leaned on one of its windows, behind her stood the ladies of her suite. Having seen Lanval whom she had loved for a long time, Genèvre calls her maids, chooses the prettiest and most amiable, there were at least thirty, and goes down to the orchard to share the games of the knights. As soon as they see the ladies coming, they hasten to meet them on the steps to offer them a hand. To be alone, Lanval moves away from his companions; he can't wait to join his friend, to see her, to talk to her, to put her in his arms. He cannot find pleasure where the object of his love is not.

Genèvre, who was looking for the opportunity to find him alone, follows his steps, calls him, sits down next to him, and speaks to him in these terms: Lanval, for a long time I have esteemed you, I have loved you dearly, and he does not care only to you to have my heart. Answer me, because, without doubt, you must consider yourself happy since I offer to become my friend. Madam, deign to allow me not to listen to you, I have no need of your love. I have served the King faithfully for a long time, and I do not want to fail in the honor and the faith that I have promised him. Never by you or by the love of any other woman will I betray my overlord lord. The queen, angry at this answer, burst into invectives. It appears, Lanval, and I am convinced of it, that you do not like the pleasures of love: so I have often been told that to amiable women, whom, moreover, you know how to do without, you preferred well-dressed young people who you had fun with. Come on, wretch, come on, the king made great foolishness when he retained you in his service.

Stung by Genevre's reproaches, Lanval confided in him angrily, from which he had good reason to repent. Madam, he said to her, I have never committed the crime of which you accuse me. But I love and I am loved by the most beautiful woman there is in the world. I will even confess to you, madam, and be convinced of it, that the last of her following is superior to you in beauty, wit, graces and character. Genèvre in fury at this humiliating response retires to her room to cry, she says she is ill, goes to bed from which she will not get out, she says, until the king her husband has promised to avenge her. Arthur had spent the day hunting, and on his return, still happy with the pleasures he had tasted, he went to the ladies' apartment. As soon as Genèvre sees him, she comes and throws herself at her husband's feet, and asks him for revenge for the outrage she says she has received from Lanval. He dared to ask me for love, “and according to my refusal, he insulted and degraded me. He dared to boast of having a friend of incomparable beauty, whose last of the following was better than me. The king, inflamed with anger, made an oath that if the culprit did not justify himself at the assembly of the barons, he would have him hanged or burned.

On leaving the queen's house, Arthur ordered three barons to go to Lanval, who was very sad and very sorry. On returning home he saw that he had lost his friend for having discovered his love. Alone and shut up in his apartment, he thought of his misfortune. For a moment he called his friend who did not come, then he began to sigh and cry; often he even lost the use of his senses. It was in vain that he asked for forgiveness and shouted thank you, his beauty still refused to show herself. He cursed his head and his mouth; his grief was so violent that one must regard it as a wonder that he did not take his life. He only moans, cries, wrings his hands, and gives the marks of the greatest despair. Alas, what will become of this loyal knight whom the king wants to lose! The barons came to order him to go immediately to court, where the king summoned him to respond to the accusation made by the queen. Lanval follows them, despair in his heart, and desiring only death; he arrives in this state before the monarch.

As soon as he appeared, Arthur said to him with passion: Vassal (i), are you really to blame towards me, and your conduct is reprehensible? What was your design in insulting the queen and making inappropriate speeches to her? You were doubtless not of very sound reason when, to praise the charms of your mistress, you suggested that the last of her maids was more beautiful and more amiable than the queen. Lanval defended himself on the first accusation of attacking the honor of his prince, he recounted word for word the conversation he had had with the queen, and the proposition she had made to him; but he recognized the truth of what he had said with regard to his lady, whose good graces he had lost. Moreover, he will rely entirely on the judgment of the court.

The king still angry, gathers his barons, to appoint judges chosen among the peers of Lanval. The barons obey, fix the day of the judgment, then they demand that while waiting for the day indicated, Lan »val constitutes himself prisoner, or else that he give a guarantor. Lanval, a foreigner, had no relatives in England; being in misfortune, he did not dare to rely on friends, he did not know who to name as a respondent, when the king had announced to him that he had the right to do so; but Gauvain immediately went to register with several other knights. Sire, he said, we answer for Lanval, and we offer our lands and our fiefs as security. The guarantee having been accepted, Lanval returned to his hotel, followed by his friends who blamed him and reproached him for his extreme pain. Every day they came to visit him to find out if he was taking food, and far from reproaching him, they urged him to take some food, for they feared that he would lose his reason entirely.

The barons assembled on the appointed day; the meeting was presided over by the king, who had his wife at his side. Traps came to place the accused in the hands of his judges; all were sorry to see him in this state, and made wishes that he would be acquitted. The king sets out the grounds for the accusation, and proceeds to question the accused. The barons are then sent out to go to opinions; they are generally sorry for the unfortunate position of a foreign gentleman who had such a disagreeable affair. Others, on the contrary, to pay their court to the monarch, wanted to see him punished. The Due de Cournouailles took up his defense. Lords, he said, the king accuses one of his vassals of felony, and because he boasted of the possession of a charming mistress, the queen became angry. Please note that no one here, except the king, accuses Lanval; but, in order to know the truth well, to judge with full knowledge of the facts, while preserving all the respect due to the sovereign, and the king himself will grant it, I propose that Lanval obliges himself by oath to bring his mistress here, to judge. if the comparison with which the queen is so greatly offended, agrees with her saying. It is likely that Lanval did not put forward such a thing without being convinced of the truth. In the event that he cannot show his lady, I think the king should dismiss him from his service, and dismiss him.

The assembly approved the proposal, and the pleges went to Lanval to inform him of the deliberation which had just been taken, and urged him to invite his mistress to go to court, in order to justify it and to have him absolved. He replied that the thing requested was not in his power. The traps returned to bring Lanval's answer, and the king, animated by his wife, urged the judges to pronounce. The barons were about to vote when they saw the arrival of two young ladies mounted on white horses, and dressed in ruddy silk dresses. Their presence fixes the eyes of the assembly. So Gauvain, followed by three knights, sets off happily to find Lanval; he shows him the two young people, and asks him to tell him which one is his mistress, Neither one nor the other, he replies. They descend to the bottom of the throne, and one expresses itself in these terms: Sire, have a room prepared and adorned where my lady can descend, for she wishes to lodge in your palace.

Arthur accepts their request, and charges two knights to lead the young people to the apartment they were to occupy. As soon as they had left the assembly, the king ordered that judgment be resumed immediately, and blamed the barons for the delay they caused. Sire, we have interrupted the meeting because of the arrival of these two ladies; we will take it up and hurry. Already, and it is with regret, we heard the opinions which were very divided, when two other young people even more beautiful than the first, appeared. They were dressed in dresses embroidered in gold, and mounted Spanish mules. Lanval's friends think when they see them that the good knight will be saved and rejoice. Gauvain followed by his companions comes to Lanval, and says to him: Sire, take courage, and for the love of God, deign to listen to us. At this moment two superbly dressed young ladies of rare beauty arrive, one of them must be your friend; Lanval replies simply: I have never seen them, nor known them, nor loved them.

Scarcely had they arrived when the two young ladies hastened to descend and come before the king. All the barons hasten to praise their attractions, the freshness of their complexion. Those who were on the Queen's side feared the comparison. The eldest of the two young people, who was as amiable as she was beautiful, begged the king to be good enough to have an apartment prepared for them and for their lady, who wished to speak to him. The monarch had them lead to their companions, and as if he feared that Lanval might escape his vengeance, he urges judgment, and orders that it be rendered on the spot. The queen was angry that he was not yet so.

We were therefore going to pronounce when loud acclamations indicated the arrival of the lady who had just been announced. She was supernatural and almost divine beauty. She rode a white horse so admirable, so blessed, so well trained, that under the skies one never saw such a beautiful animal. The crew and the harness were so richly adorned that no sovereign of the earth could procure such one without pledging his land and even selling it. A superb garment reveals the elegance of her waist, which was high and noble. Who could describe the beauty of her skin, the whiteness of her complexion that surpassed that of the snow on the trees, her blue eyes, her ruddy lips, her brown eyebrows, and her curly blond hair. Clad in a gray purple cloak which floated behind her shoulders, she held a hawk in her hand, and was followed by a greyhound. There was neither small nor great, neither young nor old, in the city, who did not come running to see it pass; and all who looked at her were ablaze with love. Lanval's friends immediately come to warn him of the lady's arrival. For once, it is she, it is your mistress, you will be delivered at last; because this is the most beautiful woman in the world.

Listening to this speech Lanval sighed, he lifts his head and recognizes the object with which his heart is enamored. The red rises to his face. Yes, it is she, he cried, seeing her; I forget all my ills; but if she does not pity me, I do not care about life, which she has just returned to me. The beautiful lady entered the palace, and came down before the king. She drops her coat to better admire the beauty of her waist. The king, who knew the laws of gallantry, arose when the lady arrived; the whole assembly did likewise, and each hastened to offer him his services. When the barons had examined her sufficiently, and detailed all her perfections, she stepped forward and spoke in these terms: King, I loved one of your vassals, it is Lanval you see over there. He was unhappy at your court, you did not reward him; and today he is unjustly accused. I don't want any harm to happen to him. The queen was wrong; Lanval never committed the crime of which he is accused. As for the praise he gave to my beauty, they demanded my presence, here I am: I hope your barons will absolve him. Arthur hastened to comply with the lady's wishes, and the barons agreed that Lanval had fully proved his right. As soon as he was acquitted, the lady bids farewell and gets ready to leave despite the pressing requests of the monarch and his court, who wanted to retain her. Outside the hall was a large porch of gray marble, it was used for mounting or descending horses by the lords who went to the court. Lanval climbed on it, and when the lady left the palace, he jumped on his horse and went out with her.

The Bretons report that the fairy took her lover to File d'Avalon where they lived very happy for a long time. We haven't heard of it since, and I haven't learned more.