FORTUNATUS

II. Fortunatus in London

Now let us leave the Count and his servants and hear what happened to Fortunatus after he bought a new horse, having returned the old one to its owner. In constant fear of pursuit, he galloped ever faster until he arrived in Calais. Once there, he boarded a ship for England; his dread of castration was so great that he did not feel safe on this side of the sea. Arriving in England with a great sense of relief, he began to regain his spirits, and cheerfully journeyed to the capital, London, a centre for merchants from all over the world.

A richly-stocked galley had recently arrived from Cyprus, and among the many merchants on board there were two youths who had been sent over by their rich fathers and entrusted with much expensive merchandise. This was their first time abroad and they knew only so much about how to behave and handle themselves in foreign lands as they had heard from their fathers; yet their sires had given them wise instruction – had they but followed it! Once the galley had been unloaded and custom duties paid to the King, the youths began to sell their merchandise, receiving in this way great quantities of coin, to their delight; it was a new experience for them to walk around with ready cash. Fortunatus met these youths, and they accorded one another a convivial reception in a foreign land. They became good friends, and soon fell in with a gang of rascals who were past masters at supplying, for a price, comely women, gaming and revels. And so they lived joyfully enough; when one was given a beautiful lover, another wanted a prettier one – no matter what the cost. This went on for half a year, and then their money began to run out, one having incurred even greater losses than the other.

Getting to know London women

Fortunatus had the least to lose and so was the first to go broke. Everything he possessed, and then all the proceeds of the youths’ trade in London, was squandered on comely women, who shared it with their knaves. Although the three Cypriots had no money left, they thought that their lovers would still admit them, enjoy their company, and show the generosity that they would have shown. However, their hopes came to nought, for they found the door locked, and mocking female voices called down from a window:

“Come back when you’ve got some more money. If you don’t get any more, then clear off to your ships and sail back to wherever you came from.”

Their knaves, who had previously attended to the youths, addressing them as ‘Sir,’ began to mock as well.

“What sort of a Sir are you?” one asked the youth who had lost 2,000 crowns on his girl. “Is that all the money you had? Just what did you hope to achieve with that?”

“What sort of a Sir are you, if you think we should have you endlessly hanging around for the sake of 2,000 crowns?” another chipped in.

A third turned on Fortunatus. “What a thickhead you are! You had only 500 crowns – why didn't you invest them in other merchandise, instead of passing them on to foolish women? If you’d handled your affairs well, they’d have lain with you for next to nothing.”

Meanwhile, all the Cypriot merchants had finished trading and the patron had set a day for their return. The order went out to all these merchants to load their cargoes, so the two youths went back to their lodgings to check their accounts. They saw that they had received much money, and what they should have purchased with that money, according to their fathers’ instructions – but there was no money left. It had all been given for wet sugar. And if the original sum had been larger, there would still have been nothing left. They returned home with empty hands, and although I do not know what kind of reception they were given by their fathers, I am sure it was not warm, for they did not bring back a good account.

Alone and penniless, Fortunatus thought: ‘If I had two or three crowns, I would go to France. I might find a lord there.’ So he ran back to his girl and appealed to her for the loan of two or three crowns so he could go to a cousin in Flanders who had 400 crowns, and he could bring these back. Then they could have a good time.

She said: “If you know where to get money, you can do it without bothering me.”

Now that he realised that there was no money to be had here, he thought: ‘If I had my money once more, I wouldn’t give it to her to keep’. “Darling,” he began, “at least send for some wine! Let’s have a drink together.”

“Go, take him a pot of beer,” she told her maid, “and let the ass swill.”

Thus did she show him her gratitude.

Being thus abandoned, Fortunatus thought: ‘I must find someone to serve until I’ve gathered together a few crowns’. And the next morning, he walked to a square in Lombard Street where a multitude of people met to do business. He asked if anyone was in need of a servant, and he was hired by a rich Florentine merchant, one Geronimo Roberti. This merchant required a large retinue for purposes of trade, and so moved around in great state. He promised Fortunatus two crowns a month and took him home, where he straightaway began to serve at table. Observing him, the master of the house realised that his new servant was no stranger to honourable people, and so he sent him on an errand. Now, ships were unable to come within 20 miles of the city, congregating instead in the mouth of the Thames; and Fortunatus was sent there with wares to load, and orders to supervise the unloading of arrivals, which duties he carried out in exemplary fashion.

There was a young Florentine, named Andrea, a rich man’s son. His father had entrusted him with a great store of goods and sent him to Bruges in Flanders, but within a short space of time he had squandered the lot. Nor did he stop at this. He took up more money by bills of exchange, writing to his father that he would send him a great store of merchandise at a large profit. The good father believed this and paid for his son, so much and so long until he had nothing left; and still he was waiting for the wares his son was supposed to send him. He will no doubt have a long wait, for the rogue had totally ruined himself and his father – as do many sons in whom their fathers place too much faith and trust.

And when Andrea had not so much as a bean left, having totally lost all credit among the merchants, and also among the whores and knaves, so that no-one was willing to give or lend him even a penny, he thought he would return to Florence, where he would find and leech some old widow. And as he was travelling homewards, he arrived in a French town named Tours, in the Touraine. Having heard from his innkeeper that there was a rich nobleman from London in prison, he said: “My dear host, may I not see the prisoner?”

“I’ll certainly take you to him,” replied the innkeeper, “but he’s fettered so fast that he’s a pitiful sight to behold.”

The Prisoner in Tours

Andrea had a good command of English. When the prisoner asked him where he came from, he replied: “I’m a Florentine on my way back to my city.”

“Do you perhaps know Geronimo Roberti in London?” inquired the prisoner.

“Oh yes, I know him well,” said Andrea. “He’s a good friend of mine.”

“Dear Andrea, let your journey to Florence wait. Go to London, to Geronimo Roberti, and tell him to help to get me freed from here. He knows me and he knows what I am worth. I rode out in the King’s service, thinking that my friend the King would have me released from here; but he refuses to do this, for he says that he gave me large wages – four crowns a day to equip two horses – and he asks: ‘Why did he not ride around in a wider circuit to escape falling into the enemy’s hands?’ And then: ‘It is not fitting for a King to ransom a prisoner, for if such a prisoner is valued at a thousand crowns, then the King must pay ten thousand crowns to free him.’ Because of this they will not free me, and this cannot last much longer. I am losing my body; my thighs are falling away, as you can see. Now tell Geronimo Roberti to help to have me released. They had valued me at two thousand crowns, but because I have been so scorned and neglected, I think they would take less – especially if they saw that foreigners wanted to ransom me. I hope that I could be brought away from here for a thousand crowns at best – tell that to Geronimo, and tell him this, too, that he will be repaid threefold for what he spends on me. And so, dear Andrea, show energy and zeal in this affair, and I promise and swear to you that I shall give you 500 crowns and procure you a good position. Also, tell my friends that you have been here with me, and that they are to stand surety for me to Geronimo.”

Andrea told the prisoner that he would faithfully do his utmost in this concern, and he then sped to London, where he delivered his message to Geronimo Roberti, who lent a ready ear, and craved assurance that he would receive three crowns in return for every one. Now he knew fine well that Andrea was a rogue; nevertheless, he said to him: “Go to his friends and the King’s Court, and if you can find a guarantor then I’ll lend the money.”

Andrea sought out the prisoner’s friends and told them of the state he was in, and how he was held in biting chains. However, the matter did not seem to touch them deeply, and they directed him towards the King or his counsellors, to repeat his tale there. But when he arrived at Court, and failed to make any headway in his business, he heard that the King of England had given his sister in marriage to the Duke of Burgundy,1 to whom he was due to send gifts, which he had barely finished assembling, for they were presents of great value. He had entrusted these to an upright nobleman, who lived with his wife and child in London. But when Andrea heard at Court that the nobleman had such valuable items in his keeping, he soon found out his company, and he told him how he had heard that the King wished to send him with expensive gifts to the Duke of Burgundy. He would cordially request if it were possible to let him see them, for he was a jeweller, and he had heard in Florence that the King was enquiring after valuables; he had travelled all this distance in the hope that the King would buy some of his wares. The good nobleman said: “Wait until I have finished here. Then come with me and I shall show you them.”

And when he had finished, he took Andrea home with him. It being past midday, he said: “Let us dine first, to avoid my wife’s displeasure.” So they sat at table together, where the Florentine was treated with honour, for an extremely long time; for it is the English custom to spend at least two hours over a meal, especially when they have guests. Now when they had eaten and made merry, the nobleman led Andrea to his bedroom. Opening up a beautiful coffer, he placed the jewels into a wooden casket and let his guest look his fill. There were five in total, worth over 60,000 crowns, and the longer you looked at them, the more pleasing they seemed to the eye. Andrea lavished praise on them and said: “I have a number of jewels which, if set like these, would put many a gem to shame.” The nobleman heard this with pleasure, thinking: ‘If he has expensive jewels, that is more for our King to buy.’ As they returned to the Court, Andrea said: “At midday tomorrow you will dine with me at Geronimo Roberti’s house, and I’ll show you my jewels”; and the nobleman was pleased.

Then Andrea went to Geronimo Roberti and said: “I’ve found a man at the King’s Court who I hope will help us to achieve the captive’s release, and you will receive good and certain security on the King’s account.” Geronimo was delighted, and so Andrea continued: “Prepare tomorrow’s meal all the more sumptuously, and I’ll bring him to dine with us.” And this was done.

At meal-time on the following day Andrea brought the man. Before they sat down to table he told Geronimo to make little mention of the prisoner, for the matter must be kept secret. So they ate and made merry for a long while, and when the meal was over, Geronimo went to his counting-room. Then Andrea said to the nobleman: “Come up with me to my chamber and I’ll show you my jewels.” They went up to the chamber above the hall in which they had eaten, and as they entered, Andrea, making as if to open a large chest, drew a knife and stabbed him to the ground. He then slashed the nobleman’s throat, prised from his thumb a golden ring, in which his insignia were magnificently engraved, and took the keys from his belt. Racing to the nobleman’s house, Andrea told his wife: “Lady, your husband has sent me here to request you to send him the jewels he showed me yesterday. As proof, he sends you his ring and seal and the keys to the chest that contains them.” The woman believed his words and opened the coffer, but the jewels were not there. There were three keys; she opened all the compartments, but still found nothing. The woman gave the keys and ring back to Andrea and said: “Go and tell him that we couldn’t find them, and he must come himself and have a look.” Andrea was frightened out of his wits at having committed such an evil crime and yet not having acquired the jewels; he wanted to be away with them at once.

But while he had been making his way to the nobleman’s house, back at Geronimo Roberti’s, blood had begun to trickle through the floorboards into the dining-room. Seeing this, the master hastily called the servants and said: “Where is that blood coming from?” Running upstairs, they came across the good nobleman lying dead on the floor. They were shocked to the bone and, for sheer terror, at an utter loss for what to do.

And as they looked at one another in desperation, the scoundrel arrived, out of breath and looking dreadful. “Oh, you rogue!” they yelled at him, “what have you done, murdering this man?” He replied: “The villain was going to murder me, because he thought he would find costly jewels on my person; I preferred killing to being killed. So keep your mouths shut, and make no alarm; I’ll throw him down the privy and hurry away. And if anyone enquires after him, you say: ‘Once they had eaten, they left the house together, and since that time none of us has seen any sign of them.’” The rogue Andrea did as he said: he threw the corpse into the privy and then hasted night and day to escape the land, not daring to linger in any place for fear of being pursued and punished for his heinous crime. Speeding to Venice, he hired himself out as a rower on a galley destined for Alexandria, where he had no sooner arrived but he renounced the Christian faith. There the villain was treated well, and he was immune from punishment for his misdemeanour; and if he had murdered a hundred Christians, his safety would still have been assured.

Dropping the Nobleman in the privy

While these events were taking place, Fortunatus was not in London, but had travelled in Geronimo Roberti’s service to the town of Sandwich, where he supervised the loading of his master’s wares onto a ship. Now when he made his way back to London, having executed his duties as commanded, and he walked into his master’s house, he was not greeted or welcomed as warmly as on past occasions when returning from an errand. It also seemed to him that his master, the servants and the maids were in much lower spirits than when he had left. Deeply concerned, he asked the housekeeper what had happened in the house in his absence to make everyone there so sad. The good old housekeeper (who the master was very fond of) said to him: “Fortunatus, don’t let it worry you. Our master has received a letter from Florence with news of a close friend’s death, and that’s why he’s grieving so. He isn’t closely enough related to him to have to wear black, but he would rather have lost a brother than this good friend.” Fortunatus left it at that, refrained from further questioning, and joined his master in mourning.

Now when the nobleman had not returned home by nightfall, nor sent his wife a message, she was surprised, but said nothing. When there was still no sign of him the next morning, she sent a kinsman to the King’s court to enquire after her husband: had he been sent away in the King’s service? If not, where was he? When the news spread that the nobleman was missing, the King’s Counsellors were amazed that he had not turned up at Court. The tale soon reached the King’s ears, and he commanded: “Go to his house at once and see if he has the jewels away.” For the King was strongly of the opinion that he had absconded with them; although he knew this nobleman to be an upstanding character, he thought that the precious wares had made him a villain. And then the matter came out, so that everyone asked one another if they perhaps knew of the nobleman’s whereabouts? But no-one had any news of him to give. So the King sent post-haste to the wife to inquire after and seek the jewels; although he held the man dear, most of his queries were concerned with the gems. From this we can see that, when money arrives, love leaves.

The wife answered: “Today is the third day since I last saw my husband.”

“What did he say when he left you?” they asked.

“He was going to eat with the Florentines, and he sent one of them here with his seal and keys to take the jewels over to him. He was in Geronimo Roberti’s house, where they have many splendid jewels that they wanted to value against these. So I took him to my room and opened up the coffer, to which he had the key, but we didn’t find what we were seeking. The man had to leave without the gems, which he was reluctant to do, and he urged me to search closely; but we couldn’t find them.”

They asked if her husband had a secret coffer; she replied that he had no other, “for he laid all his wealth, his letters and his seal in this one. The jewels were there as well, but they aren’t there any longer; if they had been, I would have sent them to him.”

When the messengers heard this, they broke all the chests, coffers and boxes open, but all to no avail. The lady suffered a sharp fright at having this violence done to her in her own home; the King’s messengers were also frightened at not being able to find the man or the valuables. When they made their report to the King, he missed the jewels more than the money they had cost, for such treasures are not to be found for sale; it does not matter how much wealth you possess. Neither the King nor his counsellors knew how to proceed in the concern; but they concluded that Geronimo Roberti and his household should be apprehended and made to account for the nobleman.

This happened on the fifth day after the murder. The bailiffs waited until dinner was being eaten, then they burst into the house and found all the household together: two masters, two scribes, a cook, a stable-lad, two maids and Fortunatus – nine people in all. They were taken to prison, placed in separate cells, and severally asked what had become of the two men. Every one of them immediately replied that both men had left after finishing their meal, and since that time they had neither sight nor sound of them. Not satisfied with this answer, the bailiffs took the keys from the masters and servants and went to the house, where they searched the stables, the cellars, and the vaults, in which the merchandise was stored. They looked everywhere, thinking to find the man’s buried body, but their search was fruitless.

Now just as the bailiffs were about to leave, there was one of them who carried a large, burning lantern, which he had used to examine the dark corners, without having yet found anything of relevance. This man yanked a handful of dry straw from a bed, set it alight, threw it down the privy, and bent forward. And he saw the nobleman’s feet and ankles sticking up. “Murder, foul murder!” he roared, “the man’s lying here in the privy!” So they broke the privy open and dragged the man out, all grimy, and with his throat slashed. Then they laid him in the open street before Geronimo Roberti’s house, filthy and stinking as he was; and when the English caught wind of the vile murder, such a hue and cry was raised against the Florentines and the Lombards that they had to make themselves scarce, and hide behind lock and key, for if any of them had been seen in the streets he would have been battered to death by the common man. The foully-reeking corpse was left in the open street until the third day, to put the Lombards to grief and shame.

The news swiftly reached the King and the judge, whereupon the order was given that master and servants should be tortured, wracked and excruciated to discover the true details of the man’s death; each prisoner was to be tortured alone, and his confession was to be taken down exactly; and it was of prime importance to enquire after the jewels. So the executioner came, seized the master first, and tied him to the torture-bench; and he began to wrack him severely, so that he reveal who had murdered the man and why they had killed him, and where the King’s jewels were. The good Geronimo could mark only too clearly, from the executioner’s impetuousness and the fierce torments being laid on him, that the murder which had taken place in his house, without his connivance, had been discovered; and he was saddened to the heart. But seeing that it could not be helped, he began to recount all that had come to pass: how Andrea had requested him to prepare a good meal, for he wished to bring a nobleman as guest, who would help him to effect the release of a nobleman lying prisoner in Tours. “I did this with good intent, for the love of my gracious lord the King and of the whole land; and I did not know otherwise. After dinner, I sat in my counting-room, writing, and I took no further heed of them. When I had finished, I left the room, and it was then that I saw blood running down from the guest-room into the dining-room. I was deeply shocked, and I sent my servants upstairs to take a look. They told me what was there, but I had no idea how this had happened. At that moment the scoundrel Andrea came running in, and I took him to task about the murder. He said that the man was going to kill him, but God gave him the luck to strike the first blow; he then lifted the man up, cast him in the privy, and fled that very instant. And I have no knowledge of where he has come.”

And as Geronimo said, so said all the others under torture, except Fortunatus; however brutally he was wracked, he confessed nothing, for he was totally ignorant of the affair, not having been in the house when these events had taken place. When it proved impossible to learn the location of the jewels, the King became angry; and he ordered that they all be hung, and bound in iron chains so that no one could take them down, nor would they soon fall down. He had a new gallows erected between the city and Westminster, which is the site of a beautiful palace with the King’s council chamber and of a large, splendid cathedral; more human traffic passes between the city and the palace than in the rest of the capital. And to this spot Geronimo Roberti and all his household were taken. The executioner began with the two maids, burying them alive beneath the gallows, and then turned to the master; next came the servants, beginning with the most senior. Fortunatus saw all this unfolding, and as far as he knew, he was about to be hung as well; and he thought: ‘Oh God, had I stayed with my pious lord the Count, and let myself be made capon, I wouldn’t have come to this terrible plight’.

The Hanging of the Roberti Household

And when the cook was being led up the ladder – he was the last, apart from Fortunatus – he was an Englishman, and he cried out in a loud voice, so that many spectators heard, that Fortunatus knew nothing about the affair. Although the judge knew that he was innocent, he wanted to have him hung; and he was of the opinion that, if Fortunatus were released, he would have the life beaten out of his body anyway. But the judge was eventually persuaded not to have him executed, for this man was not a Florentine, and he was innocent; so he told Fortunatus: “Now get out of this land at once, or the alley-women will batter you to death.” He provided two lads to lead him to the water; and Fortunatus travelled over field and flood, and made his way out of the land.

After Geronimo and his servants had been gibbeted, the King let the populace plunder the merchant’s house (his counsellors having already removed the best items). A great amount was taken, and it was finders’ keepers; no one was to be taken to account. When the other Florentines and Lombards heard about this sacking, they were sorely afraid for their belongings and their lives, and they sent the King sacks of money so he would grant them safe-conduct; after all, they were not guilty. So the King was moved to graciousness, and he gave them a safe-conduct, which enabled them to circulate and buy and sell as previously.

Now you may be wondering why the honest Geronimo Roberti and all his servants were hung so shamefully, when they were all innocent and deeply saddened at what had happened. Yet this is no cause for wonder, the reason being that Imperial Law states that no one may keep silence about a murder; anyone who conceals, or helps to suppress it, and does not reveal it as soon as possible, is effectively in league with the man whose hand did the deed. And from this cause the good Geronimo and his servants came out of their lives and temporal possessions.

A long while after, the King was still eager to know where the jewels were, and he would willingly have given piles of money to discover the truth. So he had it proclaimed that anyone who could provide information on their whereabouts would receive 1,000 nobles; and letters were sent to many Royal courts, princes and lords, and rich and mighty towns, enquiring whether anyone had offered such jewels for sale. Yet the search still remained fruitless, which aroused much curiosity, for everyone would only too readily have laid hands on the reward.

This impasse remained until the nobleman’s wife, having observed the Trental, began to lay aside more and more of her sorrow with each passing day. She invited her friends and neighbours over; among them was a woman who had been widowed shortly before, and she said: “If you follow me, I’ll teach you to get over your husband’s death in no time. Make your bed in another room – if you don’t want to do that, at least move it to a new position. And when you lie down at night, then think of a handsome young friend you’d like to have to husband, and speak your displeasure: ‘The dead to the dead, and the living together’. That’s what I did when my husband died.” The noble lady replied: “Oh, my good friend, my husband was so dear to my heart, I can’t forget him so soon.”

But she had taken close note of her friend’s words; and the moment the ladies left the house she began to tidy up her bedroom, having her husband’s chests and boxes removed and replaced with her own, and his bedstead moved to a new place. When the bestead was shifted, there, underneath the bed, and against a post, was the coffer with the jewels. The woman recognised it, and lifted it up; then she ordered the rearrangement of the rooms to continue as it had begun, and sent for one of her kinsmen. She told him how she had found the jewels without difficulty; but if she had not decided to move the bed, they would have lain undisturbed for a long time yet, for no one had thought to seek them there. And she desired his advice on how to handle the matter. He was pleased to hear that the jewels had been found, and he said to her: “You wish my advice, and so I shall recommend what seems best to me: namely, that you take the jewels this instant to the King. I shall accompany you, and we shall make means to be brought before the King himself, where we can personally deliver the jewels into his hands, and tell him the truth about how you found them; and you will submit yourself to his bounty for the finder’s reward. For if the jewels were withheld from the King, with a purpose to extort a large reward; or if they were sent abroad to be sold, the news having travelled through every land that the King has lost these particular items: when they were located, all those involved would lose their lives and goods, and the jewels would be returned to him anyway.”

The woman was well content with this advice, and attiring herself splendidly – but also as befits a woman in mourning –, she went with her kinsman to the Palace and desired admittance to the King. Being informed of this, he granted her an audience in his chamber. When she came before the King, she fell down on her knees, showing due reverence through a gesture that became her well, and in which she was well-versed, and she said: “My gracious Lord King, I, your poor servant, come before your mighty Majesty to inform you that the jewels you had in keeping in my house, which my late husband was entrusted to deliver to my Lady the Duchess of Burgundy – that I have found these jewels today, in my bedroom. They were behind a bed-post; when I was moving the bed I came upon the coffer, and the moment I found it I made haste to deliver it into your hands.” And with these words she handed him the coffer. The King opened it and found, to his delight, every jewel in its rightful place; and he ordered that they should find their appointed end. He was greatly pleased with the diligence the woman had shown in entrusting the jewels to none but him alone, and he thought it only meet and proper that he reward her and compensate her sorrow; her good husband had, after all, lost his life on account of these gems. So he summoned to court a young nobleman, who was very handsome and well-formed, and he said: “I have a request to make you, which you should not refuse.” The youth replied: “Gracious lord, you should not entreat me, but command me; and I shall be obedient to your behest.” Then the King called for a priest, and then and there, in his presence, he gave the youth in marriage to the woman and loaded her with gifts; and the couple lived in great joy with one another. The woman went to her friend and thanked her profusely for the counsel she had given to move the bed, for: “If I hadn’t heeded your words, our lord the King wouldn’t have his jewels, nor would I have a handsome young husband. So it is good to follow the advice of the wise.”

Returning the Jewels to the King


CHAPTER 3, The Choice in the Wood

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