This text copyright ©1988, 1999 Professor Helen Nicholson




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From: Nouveau recueil complet des fabliaux, ed. Willem Noomen and Nicolas van den Boogaard, vol. 4 (Assen/Maastricht, 1988), pp. 247–77). Translated by Helen Nicholson, 1999.


French, preserved in three manuscripts. Date: the first half of the thirteenth century, or later. The story is based on the cultural conflict which could result when a man with 'new money' married into a traditional knightly family. According to this story, the ladies of knightly birth know instinctively how to fight as a knight; whereas men not of knightly birth cannot possibly learn the art.


The text

I have told so many tales and fables, old and new, which I have composed, that it's taken me more than a year to tell them all! By the faith which I owe God and St John, I don't think I know any more except for the one about Berengier with the big arse, which you haven't heard yet. But by my head, I will tell it now, fast and with hardly a pause for breath!


Now, listen to what I want to tell you which happened in Lombardy, where the people are not at all bold. I will tell you about a knight who had taken a wife: I believe that she was a noble woman, daughter of a rich castellan. But his father was not of noble birth: he was a usurer who had made a pile. He had plenty of wine and grain, sheep and cows and piles of cash. The castellan owed him so much that he couldn't afford to pay him, so he gave him his daughter instead to marry to his son. This is how good families are disparaged, brought down and put to shame, because castellans and counts marry beneath themselves in order to get money. So they deserve to get great dishonour and great damage, and so they do. Poor quality, ignoble and cowardly knights are born of such people, who love gold and silver more than deeds of knighthood. This is how largess perishes, and honour and renown are disparaged! But I had better get back to my story and get it finished.

This unfortunate knight married his daughter to the peasant, and by his own hand he made him a knight. The peasant knight led her away and they were together - oh, more than ten years, I think. The knight loved rest; he did not prize renown or praise, and he didn't give a toss for knighthood. He loved tarts and hot flans, and he despised the poor people. The lady realised that her lord was such a dreadful warrior that there had never been anyone worse at taking and using arms. He preferred to carry straw and hay rather than a shield and lance. She also was well aware, because he was very talkative, that he was not descended from a knightly family and was not of noble lineage.

She reminded him of her own family, where there were so many doughty knights, skilled at arms and in handling warhorses: 'I have no respect for those who sit around'. The peasant was well aware that she was referring to him.

'My lady,' he said, 'I have such great renown, that you have no relative so bold that I am not bolder still and have more valour and prowess. I am a knight who does not know fear; the best of all, by the strength of my own arm; as you will see tomorrow, if I may find my enemies! Tomorrow I want to prove myself, because they have defied me out of jealousy. None of them will escape with their lives. I will bring them to such distress that each will lose their head in the battle; they will all die, no matter what anyone may say to defend them!'

So they passed the night. The next day at dawn the knight got up first and had his arms brought and had his servants arm him richly. What lovely armour and weapons he had, all fresh and new! When the knight was armed and mounted on his horse, he planned what he would do, and how he would deceive his wife so that she would believe that he was a good knight.

There was a great, wide wood very close to the house; the knight went straight into the forest, spurring his horse, never stopping until he reached the middle. He dismounted under an oak tree, and attached his horse's reins to a dried up dead branch. Then he banged on his own shield as if he were a madman. I think he struck it more than a hundred times. He cut it completely to pieces and ruined it completely. Then he took his strong lance and broke it into four pieces. Then he climbed into the saddle of his horse, and charged at a gallop back straight back to his house. He took one piece of his lance and only one corner of his shield with him - although it had been complete when he set out.

He held his horse by the rein. His wife came to meet him, and held his stirrup as he dismounted. The knight struck her with his foot; he was very proud and arrogant. 'Get back!' he shouted. 'Don't you know that it isn't right for you to touch such a great and renowned knight as me? There is not so doughty and audacious in all your family; I am no miserable peasant, I am an honourable knight!'

The lady was quite amazed when she saw his shield full of holes and the shaft of his lance broken. She did not know what to say or believe - she had no idea what to do when the knight threatened her and told her not to go near him or touch him. She kept her mouth closed, and never replied a word.

What more shall I say? The knight used this trick, and held the lady in great disdain and despised her whole family - which did not impress her at all.

Another day the knight came back again from the wood, and his shield was full of holes and broken up, but he was not hurt or injured himself, and his mailshirt had not been damaged. She also noticed that his horse was in good shape, and was not tired or at the end of its strength. The lady did not believe the knight that time! He said that he had killed the other warriors and confounded his enemies, and taken them by force and hanged them. But the lady perceived and knew that he was making it all up; and thought that if he went into the wood again she would go after him and see what he did and how he acted.

The following morning the knight had himself armed and said that he would go to kill three knights who were threatening him and who were giving him grief. He complained that they had been lying in wait for him. The lady advised him to take three or four armed serjeants [servants] with him, so that he could fight more safely.

'My lady, I will not take anyone! I myself will give them so much trouble that none of them will escape alive!'

At this, he set off on his way, and headed furiously into the wood.

The lady went to find some armour, armed herself like a knight, and then got on a horse. She, who did not care for rest, went quickly after her lord. He had already gone into the wood; his shield was hanging from an oak tree, and he was hitting it and cutting into it with his sword. He was making so much noise and banging that anyone who heard it would have said that it was eleven thousand devils. Don't think that I'm making this up: he was making an enormous racket!

The lady stopped for a little when she saw this, amazed and baffled. When she had heard enough, she drove her horse forwards towards her husband and cried: 'Hey you, lad, it is very foolish of you to chop my wood up like that! I'd be a poor knight if I let you escape without putting you in a tether! Why are you chopping up your own shield, which has never done you any harm? You have begun a foolish quarrel by declaring war on your own shield. God's curse on anyone who has a good word for you, for you are a proven coward!'

The knight looked round when he heard these words; he was dismayed and bewildered. He did not recognise the lady. His naked sword fell out of his hand and he blanched with fear. 'Sir,' he said, 'mercy, for God's sake! If I have done you any wrong, I will give you compensation without argument; I will willingly give you as much property and money as you wish.'

The lady replied, 'God guard me, you won't talk your way around me! I will offer you a choice: before you leave this place you will joust with me. And I promise and grant to you that if you fall, you will lose your head and I will have no pity on you! Or, I will dismount and you will bow before me and kiss my arse, in the middle or on the side. Choose whichever you prefer of these two: that's your choice!

The knight was in a terror of fear, and full of cowardice, and said that he would not joust. 'Sir,' he said, I have vowed never to joust with man born; but dismount, if you don't mind, and I will do whatever you like.'

The lady wished for no delay: she dismounted at once, lifted her clothes, and bent over before him. 'Turn your face this way!' she said.

He looked at the crevice of her arse and her cunt. It seemed to him that they were joined together, and he said to himself that he had never seen such a big arse.Then he kissed her in the stinking spot like a useless coward, very close to the hole. She had certainly put him into a tight spot! Then the lady mounted again.

'Good sir,' the knight said, 'tell me your name, and then I will let you go!'

'My name will never be concealed, lad! Never was such a knight named, there is no one like me anywhere: my name is Berengier with the big arse, who shames all cowards.'

At this she departed and returned to the house. She disarmed herself as best as she could. Then she sent for a knight whom she loved and held dear. She led him leisurely into her chamber and hugged and kissed him.

Then her lord returned from the wood! She, who feared him little, did not deign to stir herself for his sake. She made her boyfriend sit next to her. The knight returned from the wood, overwhelmed with grief and entered her chamber. When he saw the lady and her boyfriend, you may be sure that he was not happy!

'My lady,' he said at once, 'you are treating me ignobly, bringing a man in here; you will pay for it, by my teeth!'

'Shut up,' she said, 'useless! Be careful not to say anything more! I could complain about you - the desdain in which I hold you, and you would be a cuckold and a jealous husband!

'To whom will you complain of me, by your father's soul?'

'To whom? To your dear colleague, who recently held you in his power: that is, Sir Berengier with the big arse, who would do you dishonour!'

When he heard what she said, he was full of grief and fury, but dared not say any more, for he knew he had been defeated and beaten. She, who was no fool or peasant, did what she liked; we get what we deserve!


Explicit de Berengier au lonc cul.

This text copyright ©1999 Prof. Helen Nicholson

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