Of Faëries, nobility and vanity press

I’m here to tell you about this faërie who spawned an entire generation of French kings and dukes and counts.

Do you remember when Genevere cheated on King Arthur? With Lancelot nonetheless. And how it led to the downfall of the whole court? Most of you probably don’t, since this doesn’t happen in the English canon of the knights of the round table. Am talking about the on Thomas mallory compiled when imprisoned for rape in Le Morte d’Arthur. In France, the canon of the Round table was written first by Chretien de Troyes and then by Robert de Boron.

Thanks to Mallory’s odious crimes, you guys have an at least understandable canon, whereas the French one is full of different versions and accounts whom all differ on plot points. In France, those waters are murky.

In my home country, Genevere cheated on Arthur and thus started the downfall of the whole Kingdom. I see you side-eyeing that certainly Arthur’s downfall could have only come from a woman, but despite the tired trope, this was actually a request. From a noble woman who wanted to have a little bit more drama, a little bit of cuckolding, of ménage-à-trois if you will.

I’m here to talk to you about a time when the nobility were the ones paying writers and how this influence panned out.

Nowadays, if you were to stumble on the writer’s side of Twitter, you’d be amazed how often people remind others that one shall not have to pay in order to get published. Companies that promise such a service are called vanity press, because a genuine publisher would be paying YOU in order to publish your work.

Vanity press. Vanity project. Terms coined to describe a creation that’s aiming to do one thing, fulfill its creator’s ego.

Did you know that, through the Middle-Ages, noble families would hire writers to put in prose or verse the legacy of their kin? Even more interesting are those stories where the family claimed they all came from either a divine being or a creature, a fantastic feature. Imagine a tall tale being your family legacy.

Mélusine is the most famous example, with the counts of Poitou having asked two separate writers to put their ancestry both in prose AND verses.

Story goes like this: There existed an ancestor of theirs who, after having killed his superior, wandered in a forest until he stumbled upon a beautiful young girl. Said girl promised him if he were to marry her, he would become richer than any man and even more famous. Same would go for their progeny.

But wait there’s a catch.

On every Saturday, the girl would disappear and the husband would promise he would never, ever try and find what she was doing in this timeslot. Otherwise, misfortune would befall on him, on his children, on their whole legacy.

Faërie gives him a castle, a bunch of sons. Most of them would go on to become kings (in either Chypre or Romania and it’s funny really because the count of Poitou really were linked to those royal families). That’s until Raymond’s brother tells him he’s a cuckold and everyone’s talking about it. That every true man shall know what his wife is doing on every given day and whatnot.

So Raymond spies on his wife, discovers she is a serpent and loses it all. The gyal, the castle, his son. Every. Fucking. Things.

Those tales about a noble man marrying a faërie in exchange of riches and later betraying the creature are pretty common. From England to Italy, with slight variation. The most Christian one would tell you the husband discovers his wife’s a demon and she escapes flying. Others are more akin to Mélusine, with the wife, although of fantastic nature, being a faithful Christian.

What’s interesting in the Mélusine book that I read is that, Mélusine explains to her husband that since she’s a fantastic beast, and he has betrayed her, he has also condemned her to have to await the final judgment as a monster, whereas she could have died a regular women by his side if he had kept his words.

In the introduction, a researcher says that the book came to be for a variety of reasons. First was the One Hundred Years war which saw France and the UK fight for a bit of territory. This oreald saw a lot of small nobles lose their territories and a testament of filliation such as book certainly helped in maintaining order.

The Crusades also played a part in this, because while Europeans were busy fighting one another, the Pope wanted to draw them towards a common goal. Stealing land to the Muslim down south, under the pretense of conquering Jerusalem, for sure.

Still, in the book, it’s said the King of Armenia was chased by invasive forces and sought refuge in France; The researcher thinks such an event might have left an imprint in the writer’s mind. But whether Coudrette (the writer) knew of this, it is evident to me that, in a system where the birth is what gets you anything, the existence of a fallen King might have made a lot of nobles really uneasy. Just know that the King of Armenia would die in exile without anyone having tried to get him back his throne.

I find it really interesting that no one seems to point out the obvious origin of the tale. While the women of Medieval times, contrary to popular beliefs, could work and do quite a lot of things. They weren’t real citizens. They couldn’t be part of a guild and all their lives had to be lived through their husband. (If I ever try to write something about witches i’ll come back to that.)

For our generation, such a concept might be weird but I’ll never forget that women in France didn’t have the right to bank accounts before 1965. And in some countries, people are preventing women from having a right over their own body (am looking at you Texas.)

This said, cannot we see in those stories a sort of cautionary tale, stating that even if a woman was to be treated as dependent on her husband she had to have her own secret garden. A place in her life where her husband should have no place and from which he should stay out.

For like ever?

Join me next week for a French Fright about Bustillo and Maury’s (newly released on Shudder) Livid!



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Basile Lebret

Basile Lebret


I write about the history of artmaking, I don’t do reviews.