The Book of the Duke of True Lovers Part 1

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The Book of the Duke of True Lovers is a Webnovel created by Christine de Pisan.
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The Book of the Duke of True Lovers.

by Christine de Pisan.


The only two known MSS., both early fifteenth century French, of the love-story here rendered into English prose, are the one in the Bibliotheque Nationale (836), and that in the British Museum (Harley, 4431).

The MS. in the Bibliotheque Nationale forms one of the treasures of the famous collection of MSS. made by Jean, Duc de Berry, the Mecaenas of illuminated MSS. At his death it pa.s.sed into the possession of his daughter Marie, who, by marriage, had become d.u.c.h.esse de Bourbon. When, in the reign of Francois I., the Connetable de Bourbon, to whom it had descended, was disgraced, the king seized his books and MSS., and carried them off to Fontainebleau, well pleased to add by any means, righteous or unrighteous, to the treasures of the royal library. Here this MS. and others remained until the reign of Charles IX., when they were removed to Paris, and placed in the Bibliotheque du Roi, now the world-famous Bibliotheque Nationale.

The MS. in the British Museum has also had an interesting and chequered career. It was originally presented by Christine de Pisan to Isabelle of Bavaria, the queen of Charles VI. of France, whose books and MSS. were, in 1425, acquired by John, Duke of Bedford, Regent of France. It is more than probable that this MS. was amongst these and was brought to England, for the various signatures on the enclosing parchment would certainly seem to indicate that this was the case. Late in the fifteenth century the MS. was sold to one of the most celebrated bibliophiles of the day, Louis of Bruges. After this, there is a blank in its history, until, in the seventeenth century, we find it once more in England, in the possession of Henry, Duke of Newcastle, whose grand-daughter married Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, the founder of the splendid collection of MSS. and books purchased in 1754 for the British Museum, and now known as the Harleian Collection.

The writer of the story, Christine de Pisan, was one of the world’s many famous women, and one who, by her life and work, created an ideal for womankind-that of sweetness and strength. Born in Venice in 1363, she was, when five years of age, taken by her mother to Paris, to join her father, Thomas de Pisan, who had been summoned thither by the king, Charles V., to serve as his astrologer, in which service he remained until the king’s death. The Court of Charles V. was, in spite of the constant warfare that troubled his kingdom, at once most cultured and refined, and it was in such surroundings that Christine was brought up.

At the age of fifteen she was married to the king’s notary and secretary, Etienne de Castel, a gentleman of Picardy, who, however, died some ten years later, leaving her with three children to provide for.

Like many another, she turned to letters as both a material and a mental support. She wrote not only purely lyrical poetry, of extraordinary variety and abundance considering that the subject is almost invariably the joys and sorrows of love, sometimes, as she tells us, expressing her own sentiments, sometimes those of others at whose request she wrote, but she also wrote sacred and scientific poems, and moral and political prose works, and a kind of romantic fiction, of which the story of The Duke of True Lovers is an example, although it is quite possible, and indeed probable, that it has some historic basis.

Christine begins her story by saying that it had been confided to her by a young prince who did not wish his name to be divulged, and who desired only to be known as The Duke of True Lovers. It has been suggested, with much likelihood, that this is the love story of Jean, Duc de Bourbon, and Marie, d.u.c.h.esse de Berry, who has already been alluded to as the daughter of the famous Jean, Duc de Berry, and the inheritor of his MSS.

This Marie had been married, when quite a child, to Louis III. de Chatillon, Comte de Dunois, and afterwards to Philippe d’Artois, Comte d’Eu, Constable of France, whose wife she was at the time when the incidents which have been woven into this story are supposed to have taken place. Philippe d’Artois only survived the marriage three or four years, and after three years of widowhood, the already much-married Marie wedded (1400) our hero, Jean, Duc de Bourbon.

The facts which seem to afford strong evidence in favour of connecting this love story with the two princely houses of Bourbon and Berry are (1) that the MS. originally formed part of the library of the Duc de Berry, and subsequently pa.s.sed on marriage to that of the Duc de Bourbon; (2) that although Christine’s MSS. generally were so copied and multiplied during her lifetime that they number even now at least two hundred, there is only one other copy-the one already referred to as being in the British Museum-known of this particular MS., this alone seeming to indicate that its contents were regarded as of a private family nature; and (3) that to add to the mystery, and to ensure secrecy, there is no definite ending to the romance. The story merely tells us that the ducal lover, hara.s.sed by mischief-makers, and unable to bear the pain of a separation in his own country which her position and his own gallantry alike demanded, departs with the army for an expedition in Spain. For ten years the lovers meet from time to time during the intervals between journeying and war, and further solace each other with short love-poems, expressive of pensive longing, and with these the story ends vaguely. But if we accept the story as being founded on real life, history supplies a more definite ending. As already stated, soon after the death of Marie’s second husband, Philippe, the lovers are married, and spend a few happy years in their castle at Moulins, the chief town of the Duke’s domains, surrounded by and enjoying rare works of art and literature, their happiness only marred by the unsettled state of France, and by consequent calls on the Duke to fight for his country. It was on one of such occasions-the memorable and decisive battle of Agincourt (1415)-that the Duke was made prisoner, and taken to London, where he died in captivity, and Marie, his d.u.c.h.ess, was left to mourn, and this time in real sorrow.

Thus ends the story, which Christine has told with her wonderful gift as painter-poet. Besides making the lovers, and that noxious growth of civilisation, the inevitable scandal-monger, intensely living through her womanly sympathy and psychological insight, and introducing, in the form of a letter, a most comprehensive and remarkable treatise on feminine morality, the dangers of illicit love, and the satisfaction of simple wifely duty, she takes us in imagination to a royal castle of the fifteenth century. There we seem to live the daily life of its courtly circle, and, through the vivid description of the sumptuous pageant, to take part in the three days’ tournament, and in the merry revels which bring each day to a close. As we read, we realise the extraordinary power of this woman, who seems in description to use the exact and detailed brush of a Meissonier, whilst in her outlook on life she possesses the broader and freer touch of a Puvis de Chavannes. Truly is it a master-mind indeed which can see life largely, and see it well!

Much might be written about the interesting and talented Christine, but we must bid her farewell now and here. Still she must ever be held in remembrance for her untiring championship of two things very near to her heart-a patriotic love for the land of her adoption, and an ardent devotion to the cause of womankind. She had the happiness before her death, which occurred about 1430 in the Convent of Poissy, near Paris, to which she had retired, of seeing France aroused to patriotism, and that, too, by a woman-Joan of Arc.


Here begins the Book of The Duke of True Lovers

Although I might have no desire or intent at the present time to discourse of love, since all my mind is occupied with other matter the which is more pleasing to me, I am willing, for the sake of others, now to commence a wondrous story, for to this I am besought by one who, instead of making request, has the right to give command to one even more worthy than I. And this is a lord whom it behoves one duly to obey, and who of his grace has desired me to make known the trouble which, whether he has been wise, or whether he has been foolish, he has, during many winters and summers, long been in by reason of love to the which his heart is still in bondage. But he would not that I should make known his name. It contents him who tells this story for their sake, to be called the Duke of True Lovers. And it is his pleasure that I recount, even as he has told them unto me, the grievous distresses, the joys, and the strange adventures, through the which, during many bygone years, he has pa.s.sed. And he would that to this rehearsal I should at the same time add other matter, the which I grant him, for I know him to be of such disposition, and of such good sense, that his humility will take in good part the imperfection of my little poem, and, with his consent, I will relate on his behalf the facts even as he has set them forth.


I was a mere lad when I first experienced a great desire to become a lover. And for that I heard it maintained that a lover is courteous above other folk, and better esteemed amongst men, I desired to be one.

To this end I resorted thither where I might choose a lady whom I might serve, but ne’ertheless I was longwhile without one, for, on my soul, I had not the understanding to make choice, and although I had enough of leisure, I ne’ertheless understood not how to discover the way to this.

And because of my desire, I frequented much fair company of dames and maidens, and saw many very fair damsels, but youth still kept possession of me, so that in nowise did I know how to determine whom to choose.

Thus I was longwhile happy, content with this gay and pleasing life. But when the time dured too long for me, in this manner did I make sore plaint to love:-

Very G.o.d of Love, who art of lovers Lord, And Venus, thou, Love’s Lady and G.o.ddess, Since in love only is set my happiness, Vouchsafe to turn my heart soon thitherward.

Vouchsafe, that I be with right courage stored, Soon to bring unto me my heart’s mistress, Very G.o.d of Love, who art of lovers Lord.

And may I choose, if thou the grace accord, One that shall pardon me the simpleness Of youth, and honour on my days impress; Out of a great desire have I implored, Very G.o.d of Love, who art of lovers Lord.

And because of the desire which I had in view, oft did I discourse thus until that true love heard me, and gratified my longing. And I will rehea.r.s.e unto you in what manner love first took possession of my heart and made it captive, and never after set it free.

[Ill.u.s.tration: _”On a day for my diversion … we mounted on to our horses”_]

On a day, for my diversion, with one of my kinsfolk and four others of my gentlemen, we mounted on to our horses. A longing for the chase took possession of me, and, to ensure success, I caused the huntsmen to take greyhounds and ferrets. Then, without ado, we entered on a path the which I had ofttimes followed, but not far had we gone when a wide beaten track led us whither I knew there were many rabbits. And near by, I a.s.sure you, there was a strong and very goodly castle, but its name I will not make known.

At that time there was come to this place a Princess who was held of every one as so good and beautiful, and of so great worth, that she was had in honour of all. In nowise did we know that she was there, since we came thither by chance. Here and there, without the castle, her attendants amused themselves, some singing, some casting the weight, and others, afoot, exercising with the bar. And as they remained there, we turned our steps toward them. Then they all turned them toward us, and when they perceived us, and recognised who we were, the chief amongst them at once rose up. And when they had saluted us, they tarried not, but, as it seemed to me, by twos and by threes repaired them to their mistress. And methinks they did not hide from her that we were come there, for as soon as we were come quite nigh unto the castle, we saw a goodly company of ladies coming forth to meet us. And these gave us welcome with gracious bearing.

And we straightway turned toward them, and saluted them on bended knee.

And there was amongst them both a lady and a maiden who were kinsfolk of her who was mistress of them all. And without giving affront, and without rebuke, I kissed the maiden with fair tresses, as well as the lady. And my cousin and I escorted the maiden, who was high-born, and the n.o.ble lady, and in suchwise entered the castle.

And the Lady, of whom every one spake well, had already come forth from out her chamber, and stood there with n.o.ble mien, neither proudly, nor haughtily, but in such manner as befitted her n.o.ble estate and royal person. And as soon as we saw her, we duly saluted her, and, in a little s.p.a.ce, she came forward, and took me with ungloved hand, and kissed me, and said, “I knew not of your coming, fair cousin. You are right welcome, but what brings you here now?”

Then said my cousin, “Certes, my Lady, we set out for amus.e.m.e.nt, and knew not that you were here. Chance brought us. .h.i.ther, but praised be G.o.d who has so favoured us that we have found at your hands so warm a welcome.”

And the good and gracious lady laughed at this, and made answer, “Then let us go amuse ourselves.”

So we descended down into a green meadow, and then, accompanying us, she went to a very fair place, and drew me to her right side to sit down beside her. And without more ado, large cushions of gold and of silk were brought to her, under the shade of a willow, where, beneath the trees, the waters of a spring ran fair and clear along a straight channel fashioned and cut with skill through the green and tender herbage.

And no longer did she remain standing, but she seated herself with me beside her, and then the others withdrew them to a distance from us, and sat them down, here and there, beside the stream. Then she began to question me, for I confess that I knew not at that time how to converse with her or with others, for I was still somewhat young.

And she began her discourse by making enquiry of me concerning a journey from the which I was newly come, and, in especial, of the demeanour and the appearance of the ladies, and, further, in what manner the Court, the which the King and Queen held, was ordered. And I made her answer according to my knowledge. And I remember me that we discoursed together there of many things.

[Ill.u.s.tration: _”And now it is time that I tell how the grievous malady began … for love’s sake.”_]

And now it is time that I tell of how the grievous malady began the which has made me to suffer right cruelly for love’s sake. Truly it is a marvel to understand how it came to pa.s.s that love of her whom I had ofttimes seen, but whom I had never before thought on, took possession of my heart. It is like unto one who over the sea, exploring many lands to discover that which he might find close at hand, but the which he perceives not until another makes it known unto him. Thus in truth did it befall me, for, by reason of my want of understanding, in nowise did I perceive the grace of my precious lady until love put me in the way, and I had but desired to see such an one in order to yield my heart to her. For long had I seen her oft, but, until that day, no thought had I given to her. Thus I had ready to my hand that which I went elsewhere to seek. But, in order to allay my pa.s.sion, love at length willed to release my heart from this strife. And now, when this perfect one, who has caused me sore trouble, spake to me, her speech and her gentle and gracious bearing pleased me more than ever aforetime, and made me wholly dumb. Intently did I observe her, and right well did I contemplate her beauty, since she seemed to me to be more distinguished, and to have much more of grace and sweetness, than I had ever before observed.

Then love, the playful archer, who saw my silent demeanour, and that I was inclined unto love, took the arrow with the which it is his wont to surprise lovers, and bent his bow, and drew it silently. But I heeded it not. The arrow of a tender glance, the which is so pleasing and so powerful, pierced me to the heart. Then was I sore bewildered. Verily did I think myself to be lost when I felt the loving blow, but my heart yielded itself to the amorous wound. In nowise was the wound mortal, for it came to pa.s.s that the sting pierced me again and again.

Then her gentle, laughing eyes, all fraught with loving fetters, so stirred my heart, that I knew not how to make answer unto her. Truly must she have thought my look and my manner to be foolish, since I moved neither hand nor foot, and I so ofttimes changed colour at her glance, that it might have been thought that my heart trembled with fear. How shall I set the matter forth briefly? If I longed to be made captive, then in this I failed not.

Thus ended the life of my early youth. How to live otherwise, true love now taught me. In this manner was I made captive from that hour.

Longwhiles did I remain there, and I discoursed in a simple manner, like unto a child, and, without ceasing, I kindled the burning fire-brand in my heart. When I gazed on her beauty, I was caught as is the moth in the candle, or the bird in the lime, and no heed did I take of it.

And when I had tarried in this place nigh unto the third of a summer’s day, my cousin no longer remained in meditation, but said to me, “Take your leave now, for, on my soul, methinks you have detained my Lady too long here, and it is the time to sup.”

Then the n.o.ble and courteous one, who is called fair and good, besought me much to sup with her, but I excused me. For but a short while longer did I linger there, and then I arose, and would have taken my leave, but it behoved us first to take wine, and so we drank. And when we had drunken and eaten, I besought her that of her grace it might please her that I should escort her to her dwelling, but the fair one consented not. So, without tarrying, I took leave of her and of them all.

Then love, the more to pierce my tender heart, caused me of a sudden to receive a loving glance from her, the which came to me like a tender greeting as I left the place, for, whiles I was departing, I turned towards her, and, as I turned me away, the tender, fervent look from her fair, loving eyes, fell upon me in such wise that never, since love lodged there, has it faded away. And thus I departed with love’s arrow.

And when we were without the walls, we straightway mounted on to our horses, and made all haste to set forth because of the night, the which was already come. And by the way, my cousin made great endeavour to be merry, but as for me, certes I spake not a word, but kept silence, and bowed my head in a very pensive way, for the burning and living flame with the which the tender glance had pierced and wholly taken possession of my heart, left me not, and I so thought without ceasing on the beauty of the gentle countenance where I had left my heart in pledge, and on her fair and faultless body and her winning eyes, that all came up before me. Thus I rode forward in pensive mood. And my cousin conversed much with me by the way, and spake with much good sense, but since I was wrapped in thought, I listened not to him until he said to me, “Fair Sir, what do you thus think on in silence, and what is the cause of this? Have you not had great joy there from whence you come, that you bear yourself so pensively? Certes, it seems to me, so help me G.o.d, that whoso desires a lady, could not have one fairer and more perfect than, without doubt, is the one from whom you but now come. What say you to this? Do I not speak truly? Is she not courteous and kind? Have you ever in your life seen a lady in every way more perfect? To my thinking, she is beautiful to look on, and excels all others in discretion, in honour, in grace, and in n.o.bility, and, in fine, never on my soul have I seen her like, save only the lady who is mistress of mine own heart, for her pure heart displays such surpa.s.sing virtue that there is none other to be compared to her, save only her of whom I have spoken, and this G.o.d would allow.”

And when I heard another praised more than her whom I thought on, although before I had held my peace, no longer for all the gold in the world could I remain silent, and therefore, pondering deeply, I sighed and said, “Certes, I will say what I think, if it be only that I believe it certain that, if G.o.d would choose an earthly mistress and friend, none other could he desire if he would possess the one in the world the most beyond compare, and in pledge of this I offer my body in combat. If you take not up this gage, then you love not this same lady of yours who is without equal in the world, and once again do I avouch that all other ladies are, to this one, only as are the small sparks from a candle to the brightness of the stars.”

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