The following love story has been passed down through the centuries, since the 11th century to be exact. It probably was embellished by bards until written down in the 13th century in French, "The Romance of Fouke le fitz Warine," otherwise known as Guarine or Warine de Metz or the English version, Guy le Strange.
In the days of William the Conqueror, at Castel Peverel in the Peak of Derbyshire, England, William Peverel*, arranged a huge gathering of knights for a jousting tournament. The victor would win the fair hand of his niece Mellette. Owen Prince of Wales was there and Eneas, Prince of Scotland as well along with two hundred knights. The Duke of Burgundy brought three hundred of his knights. Ydromor, Prince of Galloway merely brought one hundred and fifty knights while the Duke of Brittany's son only brought one hundred knights and his nine brothers. Here is my version of the story. (*Some say this William was the son of William the Conqueror from a secret wedding before he wed Matilda. He was a favorite of the King and given much land for fighting beside him.)
Mellette wept and begged her aunt to no avail. "Please, I am begging you, do not give me away as the prize to the tournament. If men's lives are lost in the jousting, as so many will be, I do not want to be the cause. It is rather their hearts I would judge to find a fitting suitor, not their prowess in armor."
"It is the amour of armor," she quipped. "Of course, it will go on. It has been heralded all over England and Scotland. I hear the son of Johan Count de la Petite-Bretagne is coming across the channel for the challenge. Call it off? I hardly think so. Isn't it so much better than war, giving our fighting men a chance to prove themselves off the battlefield?"
Mellette knew there was no hope in changing anyone's mind in the Castle Peverel. William the Conqueror had built castle after castle across the land in his conquests and had given her uncle's family this castle as well as a hundred other manors for fighting alongside him. This tournament was a ploy to keep the fighting factions united in the test of their skills. It just did not seem fair to barter her away as the victor's spoil. Perhaps they were more interested in the lovely white towers of Whittington Castle in Shopshire, her dowry, than in her as a maiden. She knew that William the Conqueror and Matilda had an uncommon marriage of love. Not many nobles were as noble. The young girl pondered her future.
When Uncle William entered, he smiled upon her young beauty, unspoiled by any introductions prior to this into society. She reminded him of a young filly with her nostrils flaring and her beautiful mane of hair flowing down her back. Mellette's dark intelligent eyes snapped with spirit, even a little of rebellion at being broken. He shook his head realizing she was addressing him.
"Uncle, I am aware that I cannot stop the tournament, nor may I back out as the prize, but I would ask that you hear me. Sire, no knight is there in all the world that I would take for the sake of riches and
Her uncle threw back his head and laughed heartily. Mellette wanted to stamp her foot in anger.
"Yes, he will be very rich who has his heart's desire in you, m'lady." He lifted her chin with his finger until her dark eyes looked up into his blue. "You must say your prayers that such a man survives the jousting. It is in God's hands who has the honor of taking your hand And be careful of what you say. The King William the Conqueror was not squeamish about taking riches and the honour of this land to lay at your grandmother's feet. I cannot instruct a victorious knight in his good looks, but perhaps I will instruct him to be courteous. Is that fair enough?"
"Yes, sire. Thank you for hearing me. You know if it was up to me, I would not leave Castle Peverel and your side."
"That is why your dowry includes the Whittington Castle so you will not be far away. Go, I'm sure your aunt has a dress all picked out for you to wear. A glimpse of you will make the weakest rise to the challenge, and the strongest, even more valiant. You may not understand this, little darling, but a man's heart can be moved by a woman even more than by wealth or fame."
"I see more otherwise than not, I'm afraid. Not many have family harmony as you and aunt do.
"Do not be afraid. You will take a brave spirit into your marriage and that is enough to make any man tremble. The right man will prove true. You will see. It is no small thing to win the hand of a knight who has triumphed over all the others. It is a privilege not given to any other maiden in the kingdom. I am determined you will only have the best."
Mellette left her uncle deep in thought while his eyes followed her prayerfully.
She was escorted between her aunt and uncle out on the porch to wave to the visitors. There were tents and horses in make-shift corrals as far as she could see. The afternoon sun was shining off armor in every direction as their banners waved with colorful coats of arms. This evening a fine banquet was planned at which she would formally be introduced to the most noble of the gathering, princes, and barons. It was not peaceful inside the castle or out. However, she had never known such excitement. It was a tremendous gathering, the strength of many lands here at Castle Peverel all competing for her hand. Such overwhelming thoughts made her tremble. She could rejoice in the celebratory atmosphere if she didn't know that it would be a bloody scene upon the morrow, a fight to the death for many. She hoped that most would only fall from their horses without grave injury to give way to the winner without loss of life.
The dinner was the most sumptuous ever served. She knew not how many cattle, sheep, deer, and pigs were slaughtered for their entertainment, but it had to be more than ever before. After her uncle's speech, she would be required to stand in front of all of their eyes to be presented as the prize. She hoped none would be so presumptious as to laugh contemptuously at her, a girl barely at an age to even begin to think of marriage. Mellette was curious enough to want to see the faces of the men who might become her betrothed, but did not know if she would have the courage to meet their stares. She listened as her uncle welcomed them and made the introductions. Her eyes were on her untouched plate of food. Suddenly, he was propelling her to stand at his side.
"And this is the lovely lady Mellette."
A solemn silence descended upon the room. Not a fork scraped against a plate as all eyes looked at the fair maiden before them as a vision. With a deep breath, Mellette lifted her eyes to search the room. She was surprised to not feel leered at but was reverenced as a symbol of all that was good in womanhood as she stood before them. They truly were knights of honor. She smiled and a dimple sunk in the corner of her pink cheeks. The room erupted as all leaped to their feet to cheer her in a deafening charge of which she was at command. She curtsied and found her seat with shaking hands as the gentlemen seated themselves upon her example. She could not hear what her uncle was finishing saying as her head was swimming with the cacophony. She looked up briefly and was caught in the gaze of a man with dark hair and blue eyes, an unusual combination. He must be from Brittany she thought. He smiled broadly and nodded his head and flourished his hand as a slight show of gallantry. She found her own smile escaping to match his before her uncle called her attention away.
"Mellette, I would like to introduce you to Owan, Prince of Powys, and Eanos, Prince of Scotland. This is Yrdromor, Prince of Galloway, and may I present to you the Duke of Burgundy." The men were bowing low and kissing her hand. She looked at each one searchingly as if prying into their souls. Her uncle went on as the men kept presenting themselves before her. "And this, excuse me sir, I did not catch your name,"
"I am Garine de Metz, son of Johan, count de la Petite-Bretagne, and these are my brothers." He spoke in a voice heavy with accent but enchanting.
It was the knight who had caught her eye, the one with dark hair, blue eyes, and the broad smile which was still boldly capturing her own. He held her hand long after kissing it, and she did not take it away.
"It will be my pleasure to win the hand of such a fair maiden. I would not expect less from the realm of Queen Matilda of England as well as Normandy. I was expecting beauty, but you have taken my breath away." He spoke softly as if only to her.
Finally Mellette remembered to withdraw her hand from his but kept her eyes on the strange fellow as he stood aside to let his nine brothers also kiss her hand. His brazen smile never left his face as if confident of victory. Finally, she blushed and turned her head away to find another kissing her hand whose introduction she had totally missed.
When her hand was practically slick from so many kisses, she wiped it with the table cloth discreetly while asking her uncle, "Did you not know the stranger, the son of the count de la Bretagne?"
"No, we have never met before. I'm not sure how he found out about this, but he is not disqualified from jousting. Some are calling him Guy le Strange since no one else knows him either. They brought the fewest knights with them, so he will have to battle more than the others once his men under him are eliminated. I don't think he can outlast the Welsh or the others who like the Duke of Burgundy have brought three hundred knights."
Mellette scowled at the thought of the Duke of Burgundy. "The Duke is too old for jousting. I don't believe he can last as long as the younger men."
Her uncle laughed. "I am sure he is thinking the same thing. That is why her brought so many knights along with him.What of the Prince of Wales or the Prince of Scotland?"
"They have been fighting since they were knee high to a knight. I'm not sure if they could ever be weaned off war long enough to make a home happy."
Her uncle's laugh made a low rumble. "I see you are checking them quickly off your list. What of the Prince of Galloway."
Mellette blushed. I did not like the way he looked at me. He did not seem to see me, but a piece of flesh to be devoured." She inadvertently shivered.
Her uncle huffed. "Better say your prayers then, dear Mellette. that the best knight will win your fair hand."
After the dinner, the troubadours entertained the crowd while her aunt and uncle mingled. The ladies in waiting kept themselves busily surrounded by a mass of admirers, but Mellette slipped away. One especially saw her go and smiled saying under his breath, "Tres jolie, la petite mademoiselle!" He also turned in early. At least he could have an edge over the others who wasted their strength in wine and late hours.
The next morning the fog was burning off early as the trumpets sounded the first competition. Mellette sat between her aunt and uncle on the platform with the best view of the tournament. The tender heart knew she would be wounded over and over again seeing men killed, maimed and injured. She concentrated on the beauty of the horses, magnificent mounts covered in flowing, showy robes trimmed to impress. She could not help but plug her ears and look away as men fell under terrible blows. Tears fell unchecked down her cheeks, but her aunt and uncle did not notice so enraptured by the sport.
She looked for the stranger, but did not see him all morning.. After a lunch at a table groaning with food, they took their seats again. Her aunt dozed in her chair next to her while the ladies in waiting chatted and flirted with every knight who rode by hoping to gain attention. It was a surreal party in which blood ran and the groans of the injured jarred her mind. Another feast awaited them that evening, but some of the shameless banter had fled and left a weary pall on the scene. Mellette's eyes roved the room and settled on a pair of blue eyes. He bowed slightly and smiled only with his mouth while his eyes were intensely searching hers. She finally had to break away and speak with the guests at her elbow.
The next morning, Mellette sat on the edge of her seat. She saw the black steeds and caught her breath. The stranger would be next. He rode up to the platform and smiled confidently as if he was going to church instead of a fight to the death. Mettlette wrung her gloves in her hands and suddenly threw one to him. He caught it, kissed it, and tucked it into his tunic by his heart. His eyes took on a determined metal as he entered the arena.
Mellette's fingernails dug into her own palms as she made nervous fists with her hands. She could not avert her face. She did not know she had held he breath until it was over. Guy le Strange was the victor. He would live to fight again. She saw he was merciful to his conquest. She waved her other glove as he rode before the platform to the applause.
Her uncle looked over at her and said, "Me thinks you think he is quite the handsome and most courteous one of all, my dear. If so, I wish him well in his next contests. "
Finally, days later, it was late afternoon with the sun glaring on the field when the last two faced each other. The signal flag fell and Mellette was on her feet with her heart in her throat. Her stomach was so sick, she did not know if she could quell its queasiness. The horses hooves pounded and men in armour matched weapon to weapon at a full ride. The sun blinded her for a moment and she couldn't be sure, but yes, it was Guy le Strange who was victorious. He was her knight in shining armor. She had placed her prayers on the dark horse and won. This time he pulled his helmet off and held it under his arm as he slid off his horse in front of the platform surrounded by the cheering crowd. His black hair was damp with sweat and plastered in long waves against his face, but he only had eyes for her, and she, him. Her uncle did not have to lead her down the steps. She ran. He knelt before her with his head bowed and his sword across his chest. Then Sir le Strange captured his prize and kissed the fair maiden.
Way to go great x28 great granparents ago!