I. With the Count of Flanders

The Kingdom of Cyprus1 is an island situated close to where the sun rises from the sea: a delightful, merry, fertile island, full of all kinds of fruits, and known to many who have landed and passed some time there on their journey to Jerusalem, in the Holy Land. It contains a splendid city, Famagusta, which was once the seat of a noble burgher of ancient lineage. His parents had left him much money and property, so that he was very rich and powerful; but he was also very young and of a careless disposition. He had taken but little notice of how his parents had saved and increased their money, and his mind was wholly preoccupied with the pursuit of honour and physical pleasures. So he maintained himself in great state, jousting, tourneying and travelling around with the King’s Court, and losing much money thereby. His friends, soon noticing that he was in danger of losing more than his means could bear, thought of giving him a wife, in the hope that she would curb his expenditure. When they suggested this to him, he was highly pleased, and he promised to follow their advice; and so they began to search for a suitable spouse.

Now there was a noble burgher in the city of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, where the King usually held court. This burgher had a beautiful daughter called Graciana, and she was married to the youth, Theodore, with no inquiries made as to what kind of a man he was – such was his reputation for wealth and power. The maiden was brought to him in great splendour, and a spectacular wedding took place – it being the custom for the rich to make especial display of their wealth and magnificence on such occasions. When the wedding festivities were over, and the guests had returned to their homes, Theodore took the maiden to wife and lived with her in great happiness and virtue, to the deep satisfaction of his friends, who believed that they had performed a virtuous deed by taming the wild Theodore with a wife – for they did not realise how difficult it is to change one’s nature. In time, Graciana became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son before a year had followed the wedding, to the delight of all around her. This son was baptised and christened Fortunatus.

But Theodore began to revert to his old habits: jousting, riding with a large retinue, buying expensive horses, and frequenting the King’s Court; and he left his wife and child on their own without so much as a by-your-leave. One day he would sell a tithe, the next day he would pawn a landed property; and he did this so often that in time he had nothing left to sell or hock. Having completely wasted the time of his youth, he became so poor that he could no longer retain a servant or a maid, and the good lady Graciana had to cook and wash herself, like a poor serving-woman.

And one day, they were sitting at table, about to eat, and willing enough to be merry if they had the means. The son sat before the father, and the father looked at the son in great earnest; and he began to sigh from the bottom of his heart, for his son was now nearly eighteen years old and could barely read or write a name. He was, however, skilled at hawking and all the other arts of hunting, and these served as his pastime.

“Dear father, what is wrong?” he asked. “Why are you so sad? I’ve noticed that you become sad when you look at me. So I beg you, father, to tell me if I’ve angered you in any way? Or don’t I live my life as you would wish? Please let me know, for I want to live as you would wish me to.”

“My dear son,” said the father, “my grief is no fault of yours. Nor can I blame anyone else; for the pain and troubles I must endure are all of my own making. When I think of the honour and possessions that were mine – and which I have so wastefully squandered! My parents had faithfully saved them for me, and I should have followed their example, for the dignity of our lineage. But I did not do that; so when I look at you, and reflect that I can neither help nor advise you, I am troubled with such a heavy burden that I can find neither rest nor relief by day or night. Also, there is my abandonment by those with whom I so generously shared my all; I am no longer a worthy guest in their eyes.” And so he complained of his lot with a heavy heart.

The son was disturbed by his father’s distress and said: “Oh, dear father, don’t feel so sad, and stop worrying about me. I’m young, strong and healthy, I’ll seek service in a foreign land. There’s a lot of happiness in the world, and I hope to God to find my share. You have a graceful master in our King, and if you serve him well, he won’t abandon you or my mother, not before the end of your days. And don’t be ashamed of what necessity compels you to do. Don’t worry about me, you and my mother have done enough for me by bringing me up. For that, I thank you greatly, and I’ll pray to God for you for the rest of my life.”

With these words he stood up, took his hawk, and walked out of the house. At the sea-shore he considered what he could do to stop himself being a burden to his father. And as he walked to and fro along the shore, he noticed a galley in port; this galley was from Venice, and it contained pilgrims who had travelled to Jerusalem, including the Count of Flanders, two of whose servants had died during the journey. The Count had no further business with the King, and the patron2 was ready to leave – the horn was being sounded to summon all passengers on board, for the galley was about to set sail –, so he and many other noblemen were heading towards the ship in time to embark. Seeing this, the dispirited Fortunatus thought: ‘If I could only find service with this lord, and travel so far with him that I shall never return to Cyprus – I’ll ask him if he needs a servant.’ Then he walked towards the group and, doffing his hat, bowed very gracefully, by which the Count could see that he was no peasant’s son.

Meeting the Count of Flanders

“Merciful lord, I have heard that Your Grace has lost servants – does Your Grace not require another one?”

“What are your skills?” replied the Count.

“I can hunt and hawk, and I know all the other skills of the wood. I can also ride a horse and handle arms.”

“You would certainly be suitable – but I come from a distant land, and I fear you would not wish to leave Cyprus.”

Fortunatus replied: “Gracious lord, you could not travel so far that I would not wish it were four times the distance.”

“What wages must I give you?”

“Gracious lord, you must give me nothing. As I serve, so reward me.”

The Count was very pleased with the youth’s words and said: “The galley will depart immediately. Are you ready?”

Fortunatus cried, “Yes, lord!,” then he threw the hawk perched on his hand into the air, and let it fly away. Thus did he step into the galley as the Count’s servant, without the blessing or leave of his mother and father, and with little money. He left the land behind and, with a following wind, arrived in a short time in Venice. The Count, having previously seen the sights, did not wish to remain there, for he desired to be back home among his friends. It had also been his intention, if God’s help enabled him to return from Jerusalem, to marry the daughter of the Duke of Cleves, a young and very beautiful girl; and all the arrangements had been made, pending his return. Therefore his desire to return home burnt all the more fiercely; so he equipped himself, and bought horses, beautiful gold jewels and velvet garments, and everything else required for a prestigious wedding. Although the Count had many servants, only Fortunatus could speak Italian; and he being highly skilled at bargaining with the merchants, the Count was greatly pleased and grew very fond of him. Noting his master’s favour, Fortunatus applied himself with ever-increasing industry to his service. He was always the last with his lord at night, and the first by his bed in the morning; the Count took note of this dedication, and when he discovered that some of the new horses he was dividing among his servants were ill and worthless (as is usually the case whenever a large number of horses are sold), he made sure that Fortunatus received one of the best. This greatly annoyed the other servants, who began to hate the youth. “Just look!” they would whisper to one another, “the Devil has shit this Italian on us.” For they all believed that, because he could speak Italian, he was a native of that country – although he was by birth a Greek. Nevertheless, they had no choice but to watch him as he rode with their lord, and no one dared to criticise or slander him before the Count.

Now the Count arrived home in great joy, to an honourable reception from his people, for he was very dear to them, being a God-fearing Count who loved his subjects. And as he stepped ashore, his good friends and liegemen came and received him handsomely, praising God that he had completed such a blessed journey; then they began to speak with him about the wedding. With a broad smile he requested them to lose no time in making the final arrangements; and several days later, he was married to the Duke of Cleves’ daughter. A great and sumptuous wedding festival was held, about which much could be written, for many princes and lords came to attend. There were fiercely competitive jousts, and other knightly exercises, all performed before the beautiful noble ladies whom the princes and lords had brought along. Now, however many pages or other servants these noblemen had brought in attendance to the wedding, not one of them gave greater pleasure to lords and ladies – in service and carriage – than Fortunatus. When they asked the Count where his courteous servant came from, he replied that he had met him when returning from Jerusalem, and he told them how Fortunatus was so skilled a hunter that the birds in the air and the beasts in the wood were all afraid of him; moreover, he knew how to serve, and how to respect each person’s rank. These commendations induced many princes and lords and ladies to present Fortunatus with gifts.


Once the princes and lords had finished jousting, the Duke of Cleves and his son-in-law the Count decided to award two prizes to the lords’ servants in attendance; these were to divide into four groups, two of which would joust for the first prize on one day, and the other two for the remaining prize on the following day, each prize being worth 100 crowns. The servants were pleased, and they harboured hopes of winning the money. There were 80 of them in all, so 40 fought on each day, among them Fortunatus, who carried with him his lord’s blessing. On the first day, one of the Duke of Brabant’s servants, Timothy, won the prize; and Fortunatus was the victor the day after. When his fellow-jousters and the far more numerous group of non-combatants saw this, they were deeply displeased, and to a man they asked Timothy to challenge Fortunatus to a joust and set his winnings against the “Italian’s”; they would all and severally be in his debt. Timothy simply could not refuse the request of so many good companions, and he duly challenged Fortunatus to a contest for the overall prize, who did not hesitate to agree. The lords heard of this contest with great pleasure.

And so they armed themselves at once and went to the combat-ground. The joust began: each rode manfully at the other until, on the fourth joust, Fortunatus sent Timothy sprawling the length of a lance behind his horse, and so won the 200 crowns. Then, for the first time, real envy and hatred were aroused, especially among the Count of Flanders’ servants; but the Count was delighted that one of his servants had been victorious, and he thought that all of his retinue would share this delight and prefer their companion’s victory to that of a stranger. For he knew nothing of the hatred his servants bore Fortunatus, nor did anyone dare to tell him.

Now there was an old, cunning man among them, called Rupert. He told his fellows that, for 10 crowns in ready money, he would undertake to cause Fortunatus to ride hurriedly away of his own accord, without taking leave of his lord or anyone else; and he would do this in such a fashion that none of the servants would fall under suspicion. As one, they cried: “Oh Rupert, if you can do that, what are you waiting for?” He replied: “I cannot do it without money. Let everyone hand me half a crown, and if I do not get rid of him, I’ll give each of you a whole crown in return.” They all readily agreed, and those who did not have any money at hand borrowed from others. In this way 15 crowns were raised and handed over to Rupert, who said: “Now no one must say anything to him; and make sure you act in all things as you have done previously.” They all promised to do this.

And so Rupert began to befriend Fortunatus; he spoke to him very amicably, telling him the old histories of various countries, and how one lord had conquered another’s land. Although Fortunatus had a benevolent lord, with whom he could stay for the rest of his life, Rupert thought it necessary that he learn about past events. He also revealed many secrets to Fortunatus, and introduced him, to his great delight, to comely women; and wherever they went, he would send out for wine and such sweetmeats as he knew were fit for such occasions. Fortunatus was greatly praised for his wealth and noble nature, which he could well endure; and it seemed that everyone wished to stand in his favour. Whenever they returned from their courting, he would open his wallet to pay his share of the expenditure, but Rupert would not accept anything, saying that Fortunatus was dearer to him than any of his brothers, he would willingly bestow on him everything he had – and many more flattering words. He was well aware that Italians are reluctant to part with money, and he thought that he could not give a greater proof of loyalty to Fortunatus than by meeting his expenses. And they continued to live in this vein until Rupert’s money had almost run out.

Now the Count’s other servants saw these two living so lavishly, and they said to one another: “Is Rupert trying to rid us of the Italian? If he were over the sea in Cyprus and heard of such a lifestyle as he is now leading, he would waste no time in thinking a way over here. Rupert has not fulfilled his promise, and he must give us 30 crowns – even if he doesn’t have a penny to his name.” Hearing these words, Rupert mocked his comrades, saying: “If I didn’t have your money, how could I have a good time?” But when the money had all been spent, then late one evening, with the Count and his wife being at rest, and there being no cause to stand service, Rupert appeared in Fortunatus’ room and began:

“Our lord’s Chancellor, a good and favourite friend of mine, has told me something in confidence within this last hour; and although he expressly forbade me to reveal it, as I value his friendship, yet I cannot keep it from my good and generous friend – for it is a matter that may well concern you.

“As you know, our lord has taken a noble and beautiful wife, who has many beautiful ladies and maidens in her chamber. Now, he has somehow been struck by the notion that his wife, and these maidens, are in danger from the young chamber-boys who serve them. Although he hopes that the women have too much regard for their honour to even consider a disreputable act, he is only too aware of the blindness and madness of love, and how difficult it is to quench this flame once it has been lit; only death can separate two faithful lovers. To prevent this, he has resolved – acting on advice which concurs with his own opinion – to ride to Louvain tomorrow, where he will settle some affairs of the greatest importance with the Count of Luxembourg-Saint Poll. He will be taking all his servants along, to appear in the utmost splendour; for he knows that the Count will do likewise. And while he is there, he will have the women’s four servants castrated, whether they like it or lump it. He knows a stout fellow in Louvain who will do this secretly; and he will order this man to collect three or four stout lads and occupy four peasants’ huts in a secluded spot. Then our lord will send his servants in this man’s direction, one each day, with a horse to bring to his wife; and this fellow will be lying in wait for each servant in the morning so he can capture him and forcibly cut off both appendages – let there be no misunderstanding – both testicles. Every care will then be taken to heal them; they will want for nothing. And they shall tell no one, not even one another; then they will be taken home to the women’s apartments, where they will serve the ladies as previously.

“He will tell his wife this and pledge her to secrecy – for he knows that she will then tell her first maid, who will pass this on, and so on – until all the women know. In this way, our Lord hopes to close entry to love in the ladies’ quarters; he knows that no woman can look kindly on a castrated or sackless man, for this runs sharp counter to her nature.”

Fortunatus gave a violent start on hearing this and asked if Rupert knew an exit out of the city? If so, could he please show him it so that he could flee this instant, rather than await his lord’s resolve. “Even if he gave me all he possessed, and made me King of England, I wouldn’t serve him for another day. So help me, dear Rupert, to escape.”

Rupert replied: “Fortunatus, my friend, the city is totally secure, and no one can enter or leave until early morning, when matins are sounded: then the Porta de Vacha – that is, the Cow Gate3 – is the first gate to be opened. But, my dear Fortunatus, if I was in your position, I wouldn’t swim against the tide; you would be a made man for life. So I’d consent without giving it a second thought.”

“If anyone desires that, then may God grant him his wish!” cried Fortunatus. “But I won’t hear of it, and if I were given the choice between being castrated and made the King of France, or being an ungelded beggar until my dying day, I wouldn’t need anyone’s advice: I’d become a beggar, and never lie in the same spot for two nights.”

“I’m sorry that I disclosed this affair to you, as we’re going to lose you,” sighed Rupert. “I had rather set my hopes on our living as brothers and passing our time together. But as you’re determined to leave, write to me to let me know where you’ll be; that way, I can write back when our lord has found his quota of eunuchs, and you can return. I don’t doubt for a second that you’ll find you have a merciful lord.”

“Don’t write to me. Don’t wait for me,” Fortunatus said hastily. “I’m never returning to the court as long as I live. And I must ask you not to tell anyone I’ve left until I have three days’ riding behind me.”

“I promise you security,” replied Rupert. Preparing to take a sorrowful leave of his friend, he lamented: “May the Grace of God, the pure heart of the blessed Virgin Mary and the blessing of all the saints lead you, accompany you in all that you do, and protect you from all sorrow.” Thus they parted.

What good words come from false hearts! Oh Judas, how many descendants you have!

It was around midnight. All were asleep – save Fortunatus. There was no sleep in his head; an hour seemed the length of a day to him; he was in constant dread of the Count hearing of his intention to escape and having him imprisoned. So he waited with sweat and fear until the break of day, whereupon he sprang out of bed, put on his boots and spurs, took his hawk and hound, as if he were going hunting, and rode hurriedly away. Such was his haste that if one of his eyes had fallen out he would not have stopped to pick it up. When he had ridden ten miles he bought another horse, sending back to the Count horse, hound and hawk, so that he had no cause to pursue him; and then he continued on his way.

Flight from Flanders

The Count was greatly surprised at Fortunatus’ sudden departure without leave, for he had neither shown him any ill-will nor given him a reward for his service. So he asked his servants all and severally if they knew the reason for his departure; they all replied that they did not, swearing that they had done him no harm. The Count then went to the Ladies’ Chamber and questioned his wife and her maids. They replied that they knew of no insult or actual harm offered to him; on the contrary, he had been happy when he left them the night before, and had been telling them about his land, the clothes the women there wore, and other habits and customs. “And he said this in such bad German that we couldn’t suppress our laughter! And when he saw us laughing, he joined in; and laughing he left us.”

“I do not know the truth as of yet,” said the Count, “but I shall know it. And if I discover that one of my retainers is responsible, he will account to me for it. Fortunatus would not have left without cause. He earned around five hundred crowns during his time here; and I did not think that he would ever leave. However, I understand that he is not of a mind to return, for he has taken all his belongings with him.”

When Rupert heard of his lord’s great grief, he was afflicted with fear, and anxious in case one of his companions might reveal the truth; so he went to each and every one, beseeching them to keep their counsel. They earnestly assured him of their silence, but were curious to know what trick he had used to make Fortunatus depart so suddenly and as if he were guilty of some reprehensible deed. One of them was especially insistent with his questions; and as he would not desist, Rupert finally replied:

“As Fortunatus had told me about his father – how he served at the King of Cyprus’s court and fell to poverty – I told him that an express messenger was on his way to the King of England to inform him of the King of Cyprus’s death, the two being close friends. This messenger had told me that the King, while in good health, had knighted his father Theodore and conferred on him the estate belonging to Count Anselm of Terazino, who had died without heirs, thus leaving his estate to the King. Theodore was the first to supplicate the King for this, and it was immediately granted to him and his heirs, then confirmed with letter and seal.

“He didn’t seem to believe me, saying merely, ‘I hope things are going well for my father.’ But then he rode away.”

The other servants said to one another: “How could he have been so unwise! If he had told our lord that such fortune had come his way, he would have had him fitted out with style and dignity, and sent three or four of us with him, and he’d have departed with great honour and enjoyed our lord’s favour all his lifelong days.”

CHAPTER 2, Fortunatus in London

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