January 9, 2021
Today’s story, to end the seventh day, is a retelling of a thirteenth-century poem, “La Chastelaine de Vergi.” Oisille tells of a duchess in Burgundy who, furious when a young nobleman in her husband’s service rejects her advances, falsely accuses him to her husband, forcing the nobleman to confess to the duke his long-running love affair with the duke’s niece, the Lady of Vergy. The man takes the duke with him when he visits her one night so that the duke can see how she lets her little dog into the courtyard outside her room and how its bark is a signal to her lover that he may enter. The duke promises never to reveal the lady’s name, but the jealous duchess pries it from him and confronts the lady at a banquet, telling her “there is no love so secret that it is not known, and no little dog so tamed, so trained that his yapping is not heard!” The lady retreats to a dressing-room, swoons in sorrow, and dies. Finding her, her lover draws his own dagger and runs it through his heart. When the duke comes upon the couple and learns what has happened, he seizes the dagger and kills his wife. In expiation for this murder, he founds an abbey and buries her there, also constructing a tomb for the lovers that bears an epitaph that relates their tragic tale. After distinguishing himself in war against the Turks, he returns home, turns his lands and affairs over to his son, and spends the rest of his own days in the abbey.
Oisille tells her listeners that this story should teach them that “however pure and virtuous your affection may be, it will always lead to some disastrous conclusion” and that it should remind them that “the more one fixes one’s affection on earthly things, the further one is from heavenly affection.” Our storytellers debate men’s motivation for becoming war heroes (rather than “mere merchants”), whether it is to win women’s love, out of natural courage, or to flee marriage.
Here is the start of “La Chastelaine de Vergi” in a manuscript completed before 1317 and conserved at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (Ms fr 375 331v). The poem begins, “Une maniere de gent sont / Qui d’estre loial samblant font.”