November 13, 2020
Parlamente speaks again, this time relating the tale of a good woman who receives an unwanted confession of love—a poem and a diamond ring—from a captain who has promised to take her and her husband on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as soon as he returns from waging war for the king. Astonished and appalled, the woman writes to his wife, posing as a nun and telling her that her husband confessed prior to his departure his regret at having failed to love her as she deserved and asked the nun to send her the ring as a sign of his devotion. His wife weeps in joy at this news, and the good woman, receiving her grateful reply, takes delight in the reconciliation she has brought about. In the end, the captain dies heroically in battle, survived only by a Turk in his service who returns to tell the tale in France, where he is mourned by the court and by his wife, who is at peace believing he loved her.
This story is set “In the household of the Regent,” Louise de Savoie (1476-1531), Marguerite de Navarre’s mother, who served as regent twice for her son François I. Louise de Savoie is also named explicitly among the mourners at the tale’s end.
Here is portrait of a young Louise de Savoie (from the École de Jean Clouet), at the Fondation Bemberg in Toulouse.
3 thoughts on “Story 13”
I’ve always liked the Turk in this story, one of only two Muslims depicted in the book — the other is the Moor in story 10 who is kind to Amadour. Ottoman or Moor, Marguerite calls them Turks. Both are sympathetic characters. The traitor who abandons the Captain is French. The story the Turk tells echoes a couple of real incidents during the French military experience in the Levant where the French Christians are betrayed by one of their own.
When reading tales 12 and 13 together one aspect that stands out is the shocking abuse of power in both stories. In story 12, the duke “blazed with unbearable rage” and threatened the life of the gentleman “he held almost as dear as he held himself” solely because he would not hand over his virtuous sister for the duke’s sexual satisfaction. In tale 13, we see a valiant captain and his men betrayed and left to die because the man in charge of the ships “on whom the captain was relying absolutely, could see perfectly well that if the captain was killed, he stood to take over command…with all the benefits that such a command would bring”.
In contrast to the appalling behavior of those with authority, these stories emphasize the important contributions of the more humbly born characters. In tale 12, when the gentleman becomes “uncertain…of his advantage”, he is forced to enlist the help of his manservant to kill the tyrant. Moreover, when the gentleman considers murdering five or six men who had been close to the duke, his servant, being “a man of caution” persuades him to abandon such a foolhardy plan. As Mary astutely notes, the reader is struck in tale 13 by the portrayal of the “captain’s Turk”, the sole survivor of the skirmish. After suffering fifteen arrow wounds, he drags himself to the French ships, but “his pleas to be taken aboard were rebuffed by the traitor who was now in command”. But ultimately, it was “through this man, this poor foreigner” that the truth became known.
These two tales encourage readers to reflect on power and position…two topics that are more pleasant to think about than the misogynistic comments of Saffredent and Hircan!
What I find fascinating in tale 13 is the gender-role reversal the captain and the lady undergo as the obsession of the captain for the lady leads him to deceive and then beg her for what he calls a “parfaite amitié”, but is only a foolish and selfish attempt at seducing her. As Joshua Blaylock showed in his article (Intertextual Echoes: Emblems, Rabelais, and Heptameron 13, L’Esprit Créateur, Fall 2017), the lady has a great deal of agency in bringing a solution that satisfies the captain’s wife while enabling the lady to remain true to herself. So, of course, Saffredent and Hircan can’t help spitting out their usual misogynistic comments in total bad faith, but Parlemente knows to state the difference between trickery for one’s own selfish interest and common sense that enables a potential harm to be turned into a good. The discriminate reader can see the contrast between the lady’s ironic stance toward the turn of events in her favor and Hircan and Saffredent’s stubborn and useless insistence on courtly love. So, when the last word goes to Oisille who declares the lady’s clever way out extremely honorable and virtuous, that is a definite blow to the impact of our two misogynistic storytellers’ words.