The King of Sicily, by Adam de la Halle

This translation was prepared by Richard Epstein, Rutgers University.

The translator would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the translation, as well as Russell Spera, for extremely useful discussion of some difficult verses.



We should protest – such a shame for any fine troubadour –
When a good tale is told in reverse,
Since the more skilled one is, the more one must strive
To put in order that which is best kept on course;
It is not he who makes verses better that does wrong    5
But rather he who undertakes them without knowing the rules.
It would be a great loss, foolish and silly,
If such a beautiful tale, which I never tire of,
Remained as it is, poorly rhymed forever.
This tale is about God and arms and loves     10
And of the prince noblest in bravery and virtues
Who ever donned knightly armor
And who earned the greatest honor ever on earth
That God and courage and his royal vigor
Let him achieve through his prowess in battle:    15
Good king Charles, the lord of lords,
Through whom the legitimate state of the Faith was recovered,
Who was king of Sicily and Apulia and elsewhere
And who follows in the footsteps of his ancestors
And is the god and the flower of knighthood.    20



Even more, Valor was within him well-placed,
Because he was of the rarest nature
In beauty and in strength, in figure fine and noble.
He was the last of four brothers, whom I ought to describe.
The first was Louis, king of Saint-Denis,     25
Who so glorified and loved the holy Church,
By whom Damietta was conquered from the Saracens;
And the good count of Artois, who also took part in that battle,
And the count of Poitiers; but, on examining them all,
He surpasses them in name, in deed, and in glorious exploits.  30
His courage was a scourge for the infidels!
With his enemies he never let them get the upper hand,
Neither would he take any ransom, but would bring them to justice,
As you will hear me say before I read much further.
His bravery moves and excites his men     35
So much that there cannot remain any cowardice in them.
In each exploit that he has undertaken, he has been the victor.
No one has ever had a more beautiful coat of arms than his,
Because he has put all the power of his body into his weapons
And his heart to Generosity, to God, and to Nobility.   40



And not only did he have the heart and the body of a worthy man,
No one ever saw a prince more loyal than he
Nor a companion more generous
Nor anyone who would honor the ladies with a more heartfelt love.
And he was seen around in many lands:     45
For the ladies he used horses, Tyrian purple, and silk.
Since his time, young nobles have clearly changed for the worst,
They do no more than pillage, people can’t rely on them.
But if Charles still lived in the kingdom of France,
We would still find Roland and Perceval,     50
Such men he had with him to stand firm,
Our good king of Sicily in many mortal combats,
Because through his natural and certain courage
Each one became an Oliver and a perfect horseman.
Such a man should govern lands and an imperial realm.   55
He feared blows no more than if he were made of metal.
The sword in his fists was as mighty as Durendal.
He alone was a god on earth, he had no superior,
But thanks to his humility all were his peers.



Now you have heard about his prowess in general,    60
Hereafter it will be clearly set out in detail
And pursued in order, from the time he was born.
His praise is so beautiful and so authoritative
That it must purge a vile heart of its vileness
And rouse all knights to arms        65
And carry away with joy the hearts of a lover and his beloved.
I do not know which minstrels had shattered it,
But I, Adam of Arras, have restored it to good condition;
And so no one is mistaken about me,
They call me Hunchback, but I’m not that at all!    70
It would have been a shame if this story had perished,
Because I have expended so much energy and made such efforts,
And my faith is so sure and certain that I completely trust it,
That for love of the king God will help me,
Because he loved him and did so much for him during his life  75
That I believe it would please God that I have begun.
And besides, I have taken the work to heart so much
That I believe whoever would break my heart in half,
Would see the good prince’s image carved there.



The youngest son of their father was the noble Charles,   80
But, as rightly as May and April
Are, among the other months, beautiful and sweet and holy,
Charles was the noblest and most royal.
All were sons of a king, but Charles most of all,
Because the day he was born his father was already in power  85
At the head of the kingdom, consecrated and elected:
He was not yet when he had his first three sons.
Now I will tell of his childhood, this is certainly the place.
As a child, he was welcoming, gracious and subtle,
Intelligent in learning, fearful of doing wrong,    90
Obliging, laughing, happy to serve,
Naturally gifted for hunting with dogs and birds;
For all that, he was not in the least shy with the ladies,
On the contrary, Love let him choose among the prettiest.
Before he was fully brought up and adult     95
He possessed courage in his bright, loving eyes.
And before he was born, God sanctified him,
Because at birth he wore the royal cross like a man
Who would be king of the world after the king of the heavens.



The older he became, the more his reputation grew    100
And the word soon spread to many places.
It happened that the news went to Provence
Where the one he would later marry heard it,
Who was a lady and heir to the region,
Because according to custom there, the inheritance goes to the last born. 105
The oldest sister was the wife of the good king Louis,  [1]
The good brother of Charles, whose life I have recounted,
Another was given to the king of England,
Another to the king of Germany; such special people!
I will not dwell any longer on these three.     110
The fourth, who was not yet married,
Never had enough of Charles’ good reputation,
Rather, she so delighted in listening to it
That she also feels as if completely spellbound,
Her heart joyous, her eye laughing, her thoughts light.   115
And Love, who found the door open,
Jumped in; then she was set ablaze by her love.



Therefore she was not at peace until she had seen Charles,
Because Love and Desire pushed her to ascertain
If the person was equal to the reputation.     120
And when she had seen his appearance and his bearing,
Then she had even worse shivers from Love.
Never from her appearance or her words
Could anyone know it, even if he were part of her household,
Rather, she kept hidden her true feelings for him.    125
Alas! and that’s why women’s hearts are thieves,
One cannot know anything about their intentions;
And we tell them everything: what unequal sharing!
Thus she remained for a long time; however, in her region
There was a powerful count named Raymond,    130
To whom they wanted to give her; but her heart said no,
Although to preserve her honor, she put on a happy face.
Then she cannot conceal it, so she takes a servant boy,
Sends him to her beloved, at full gallop,
In a brief note she let him know      135
How she had fallen in love with him and that she made him a gift
Of her body, if he wanted to rescue her from Raymond.



The news had already spread everywhere,
About what heart, what force, and what worth
The king’s brother had, just from his appearance.    140
Nature made everybody fear his personage
Before they even knew about his bravery.
When he had had the opportunity to examine the letter,
He saw that the lady wanted to be his beloved.
Love enters into his heart and his blood flows through him,   145
He trembled with desire and filled with hope,
He took some men and came to Provence; and she was already on the way
To marry Raymond despite her sadness and her worry.
And when the child heard the news
And recognized the [bridal] procession in the countryside   150
And saw in their midst the maiden in her saddle
And the one who believed he would hold her naked at night,
The horses are restrained and the child shouts out first;
From afar, spear pushed forward and without waiting for help,
He challenges them; and they have recognized his voice,   155
They flee like the lark who takes flight from the hawk.
The maiden remained and he took her,
He against whom she would have resisted only reluctantly!



Then whoever would have seen Charles return to joy
And both of them gently touched by Love,     160
Speaking kind words and casting sweet glances
And finally embrace and kiss
And promise and agree to the rest
Through marriage vows and pledges of faith,
Could have even revived from a fatal illness!    165
As soon as they arrived in Aix, in a hidden church,
She took him as husband and he took her as wife,
Because each one hoped to join with the other.
Then Charles had the news announced to his brother.
If you had seen Louis rejoice!       170
The queen herself much preferred
That he, rather than any other knight, take her sister;
She therefore did her best to celebrate even more fervently.
Thus Charles began to prove himself,
Since he was so young that he had yet, in warfare,    175
To display noble qualities, when he performed this first act.
Though Love attacked him young, he knew well how to take care of himself:
In this way must one begin from childhood to prove one’s worth.



At the time when Charles performed this first feat,
He was not a knight nor did he have any inheritance;   180
But his brother, the king, advanced his fortune
Soon after and gave him the county of Anjou
As a parcel of land to own in homage
And made him a knight whose heart and habits
Were then entirely dedicated to military affairs in order to perform great deeds. 185
And beyond that, his heart was so generous
And character so good and so beautiful and so wise
That no one knew anyone of his age as good.
He did not grow cold because he was married
Nor because of rebukes from his family members;    190
But day and night, in wind and in storms,
He went from place to place to increase his valor.
And everyone followed him like you follow the wild panther,
And to follow him, no one needed to put their land in pledge,
But whoever lacked the means was part of his household   195
Where he at least had dining rights and forage.
All brave men could count on him
And in lodgings he paid the expenses so well
That no one complained or suffered any harm.



Standing in his armor he appeared so fine and so beautiful,   200
More skillful and more vigorous than a bird in its feathers
And more secure on a horse than a castle tower.
If he were going to a joust or if he participated in tournaments,
With his body straight and sturdy, his legs quick,
He charged flying faster than a swallow,     205
From so close that he scraped off harnesses and saddles.
You should know that the brave man did not play hide and seek,
But instead made the loudest clanking of swords on skulls.
Wherever he saw the greatest number of clubs and knives,
And crushed helmets and heads cut off,     210
That’s where the count always was with his royal banner,
Giving and receiving blows, always fresh and new.
He made his body into a stake and his two arms a scourge
And his helmet became an anvil and his swords hammers.
He did not bring back home the ornaments on his armor.   215
Most often he engaged in hunting polecats.
Eh! John of Balliol, noble and loyal knight,
God have mercy on you! You have already been in that group,
The marks from his blows are still visible on you.



He would only unwillingly have forbidden or canceled   220
Tournaments, holidays or games; rather, he organized them,
Made minstrels rejoice, heralds shout and yell out.
But working people did not like his festival,
And now they want, each one, to prohibit and take the holidays away!
Thanks to him, Love, who now does not know how to proceed, reigned: 225
If we all loved with a love as noble as his,
The world would be good and people happier;
But two opposites will never be good together:
Since Hate rules, Love has no business here.
No one loves with love, we only pretend;     230
Whoever would love truly could not be pleased with
Anything that could offend him or his lover;
A man must be judged by the work that he does.
But now we can conclude from many examples
With what love one loves and that one plays tricks;    235
Because when people are joyous, they cannot stop talking about it.
Ah! Charles, brave king! We could say so much good
About your loves and the fine example you set!
A noble bird should be trained and governed following his model.



It would be foolish of me to speak any more     240
About his youthful exploits, since I have too much to relate.
Of his brave deeds by land and by sea
And of Marseilles, too, that thought it possible to rebel
Against him two times – he subdued them
By exiling some and by killing others – ,     245
I would be able to tell you enough and to praise him properly.
But I have so much to describe about this noblest of subjects
That I must pass quickly over the least important.
You have surelyheard about the emperor
Frederick, who long ago was condemned for transgressing   250
Against Rome and the faith that he ought to have protected.
It was fitting that he and his successors be compared.
Manfred, one of his descendants, believed he could be king,
As he had been before, and could resist the Pope
And impose taxes on the Church.      255
The pope, who has power to change and modify everything,
Bind and unbind, absolve and condemn,
Wondered how he could correct this disgrace;
He summoned the cardinals and the monks.



When they were assembled, the pope sighs     260
Recalling how Manfred has been doing them wrong
And that despite their admonitions and prohibitions
He does not stop despising God, the faith, and the Church
Nor does he deign to make amends or excuse himself towards them,
And so was condemned by the emperor, his master,    265
Therefore he must not possess the realm nor the empire.
Thus, he recommends that they write immediately
To the good count of Anjou, impossible to choose anyone better,
That he come to their aid before the situation gets worse,
And that he would have the land if he can defeat [Manfred],   270
To explain fully and clearly the situation with this letter,
And one does not say or set down on parchment or sealed letter
Anything whatsoever that will not inevitably be whispered about.
And when Manfred found out, he began to smile with pride
And did not condescend to pretend that he was angry.   275
Because he did not believe at all – what got him killed –
That the whole world could stand up to him.
They all agree to this without opposition
And they choose messengers who should be satisfactory.



Manfred was a handsome knight, wise and virtuous,    280
Gallant and endowed with the highest moral qualities:
He lacked nothing, except for faith,
But this flaw is vile in counts and in kings.
Under his jurisdiction, he possessed as lord – not rightfully –
The kingdom of Sicily and Apulia, against the will    285
Of the entire Holy Church; he mocked
The arrival of the count and of all the Frenchmen;
He ordered the narrow passages guarded
To make sure that no horses or palfrey were found in there
That were not seized and retained against their will.    290
By this means he hoped to hold Charles in check
And he did not provide himself with men or harnesses,
But rather waited for the peril without keeping a close watch.
And one misfortune attracts two or three others.
Warfare is another kind of science than the law;    295
Through cunning one often triumphs over a stronger enemy,
Which is what Charles did, who so loved war and tournaments
That he was then up to his neck in all of that.



That is why he was called and elected
Above all men for such a noble cause.     300
A good deed exalts more, when it is long and solid,
Than possessions, whose honor does not endure for their owner.
Shame to the wealth that disfigures its master,
Because that is like the parasitic cuckoo.
And so avarice and usury have increased their reign,    305
Who are vices in the world, as Scripture testifies,
By which all virtue first becomes obscure.
Thus the world is going downhill,
Because when the head is faulty, it stands to reason
The limbs underneath are headed for ruin.     310
The princes lack moderation towards their subjects,
And the prelates towards the faith; now then all Christianity
Would be unsafe and would suffer great harm
If Charles had not taken good care of it long ago!
Against the heathens, he carefully protected the pasturage;   315
He alone was for us the key, the protector, the barricade.
Now I would like to return to my point of departure,
The pope’s messengers and what happened to them.



When they had completed their mission and taken their leave,
They returned to Rome where everyone was waiting for them,  320
And came back before anyone expected them to.
Without stopping they went directly to the pope,
They kissed his foot, as was proper,
And then they reported how the situation was going,
And while doing so, each one commended Charles    325
For the welcome he had given them.
After they delivered to him the letter containing
The reply, which bore the clearest and strongest confidence
Because the honorable count’s own seal was on it.
Before the cardinals, the pope received them     330
And read, and while reading he cried with joy
And humbly thanked God for what had happened,
As did each cardinal who heard him read.
And because he wanted to fortify the people
By such noble aid that must come to them,     335
He let them all know and exhorted them
To persevere in supporting his enterprise.
During this time, the count, for his part, was preparing himself.



And he selected men that he knew and loved,
My Lord Jacques Antelme, in whom he had confidence,   340
And other worthy people, wise and of great courage;
He sends them ahead to Rome with great hope
For his own arrival and so they can administer
The country while he gets everything ready;
He let them [the Romans] know, not because of any worry,   345
The day when he would arrive there, without any excuse,
To reassure them they would not be deceived.
Then they left the count, with great fear
Of Manfred, who had the passages guarded everywhere
With all possible means; in order to avoid being seen   350
They departed bysea, and with a favorable wind
They arrived in Rome, without incident.
They were received with great honors.
They do everything that the count instructed them.
Henceforth, the Romans are no longer uncertain    355
About the count’s arrival, but respect the alliance
In the country with their people, and this means
That they have as their lord the son of the king of France.



Moreover, whoever wishes to marry is crazy not to pay attention
At the very start to the person he consents to;    360
Because it is better to choose someone beautiful and noble
Who has wisdom, courage, and intelligence,
No matter if she has riches, rather than an ugly carcass and money.
Because wisdom likewise attracts riches and friends;
But bravery and wisdom cannot be bought or sold,    365
As shown by Charles, who was at first
A simple count, then a king.  He hopes for even more,
Because above all, he possesses valor and wisdom and bravery
And God is his support, to whom nothing can compare,
Because everything that happens under heaven    370
Comes from the power and the consent of God.
They say, if something good or bad happens to someone,
That it is his fortune; but he who says that is lying,
The vengeances of God are so very subtle
That good or bad happens to us according to our behavior.   375
Since Charles’ actions followed the teachings
Of God and the Church, he achieved what he sought.
And may God wish to help him in whatever he undertakes!

End of The King of Sicily




[1]     As noted in Badel: 1995, p. 380, this verse is not in the original text but was added later in the margins of the manuscript.