"THE legend," says Gomme, in a passage most memorable for students of folk-lore as containing his acute and precise definition of the several classes of tradition, "belongs to an historical personage, locality, or event," 1 and it is in this general sense that the term is employed in regard to the contents of this chapter, unless where mythic or folklore matter is introduced for the sake of analogy or illustration. There is, however, a broad, popular reading of the term as indicating the fanciful-historical. When we read of the King of Ys, or Arthur, for example, we are not aware whether they ever existed or not, but they are alluded to by tradition as ancient rulers of Brittany and Britain, just as Cymbeline and Cole are spoken of as British monarchs of the distant past. They linger as personal figures in the folk-memory, but they scarcely seem as the personages of folk-tale. Let us say, then, for the purposes of our classification of Breton tradition, that we include in the term 'legend' all tales of great personal figures who are historical or over whom folk-tale has cast an historical vraisemblance, remembering at the same time that in the case of personages whose existence is doubtful we may be dealing with a folk-tale disguised or even a distorted myth.
Of the dark and terrible legends to which Brittany has given birth, one of the most gloomy and romantic is the story of Gilles de Retz, alchemist, magician, and arch-criminal.
[paragraph continues] But the story is not altogether legendary, although it has undoubtedly been added to from the great stores of tradition. Gilles is none other than the Bluebeard of the nursery tale, for he appears to have actually worn a beard bluish-black in hue, and it is probable that his personality became mingled with that of the hero of the old Oriental story.
Gilles de Laval, Lord of Retz and Marshal of France, was connected with some of the noblest families in Brittany, those of Montmorency, Rocey, and Craon, and at his father's death, about 1424, he found himself lord of many princely domains, and what, for those times, was almost unlimited power and wealth. He was a handsome youth, lithe and of fascinating address, courageous, and learned as any clerk. A splendid career lay before him, but from the first that distorted idea of the romantic which is typical of certain minds had seized upon him, and despite his rank and position he much preferred the dark courses which finally ended in his disgrace and ruin to the dignities of his seigneury. Gilles took his principal title from the barony of Retz or Rais, south of the Loire, on the marches of Brittany. As a youth he did nothing to justify an evil augury of his future, for he served with zeal and gallantry in the wars of Charles VI against the English and fought under Jeanne Darc at the siege of Orléans. In virtue of these services, and because of his shrewdness and skill in affairs, the King created him Marshal of France. But from that time onward the man who had been the able lieutenant of Jeanne Darc and had fought by her side at Jargeau and Patay began to deteriorate. Some years before he had married Catherine de Thouars, and with her had received a large dowry; but he had
expended immense sums in the national cause, and his private life was as extravagant as that of a prince in a fairy tale. At his castle of Champtocé he dwelt in almost royal state; indeed, his train when he went hawking or hunting exceeded in magnificence that of the King himself. His retainers were tricked out in the most gorgeous liveries, and his table was spread with ruinous abundance. Oxen, sheep, and pigs were roasted whole, and viands were provided daily for five hundred persons. He had an insane love of pomp and display, and his private devotions were ministered to by a large body of ecclesiastics. His chapel was a marvel of splendour, and was furnished with gold and silver plate in the most lavish manner. His love of colour and movement made him fond of theatrical displays, and it is even said that the play or mystery of Orléans, dealing with the story of Jeanne Darc, was written with his own hand. He was munificent in his patronage of the arts, and was himself a skilled illuminator and bookbinder. In short, he was obviously one of those persons of abnormal character in whom genius is allied to madness and who can attempt and execute nothing except in a spirit of the wildest excess.
The reduction of his fortune merely served his peculiar and abnormal personality with a new excuse for extravagance. At this time the art of alchemy flourished exceedingly and the works of Nicolas Flamel, the Arabian Geber, and Pierre d'Estaing enjoyed a great vogue. On an evil day it occurred to Gilles to turn alchemist, and thus repair his broken fortunes. In the first quarter of the fifteenth century alchemy stood for scientific achievement, and many persons in our own enlightened age still study its maxims. A society
exists to-day the object of which is to further the knowledge of alchemical science. A common misapprehension is current to the effect that the object of the alchemists was the transmutation of the baser metals into gold, but in reality they were divided into two groups, those who sought eagerly the secret of manufacturing the precious metals, and those who dreamed of a higher aim, the transmutation of the gross, terrestrial nature of man into the pure gold of the spirit.
The latter of these aims was beyond the fevered imagination of such a wild and disorderly mind as that of Gilles de Retz. He sent emissaries into Italy, Spain, and Germany to invite adepts in the science to his castle at Champtocé. From among these he selected two men to assist him in his plan--Prelati, an alchemist of Padua, and a certain physician of Poitou, whose name is not recorded. At their instigation he built a magnificent laboratory, and when it was completed commenced to experiment. A year passed, during which the necessities of the 'science' gradually emptied many bags of gold, but none returned to the Marshal's coffers. The alchemists slept soft and fed sumptuously, and were quite content to pursue their labours so long as the Seigneur of Retz had occasion for their services. But as the time passed that august person became greatly impatient, and so irritable did he grow because of the lack of results that at length his assistants, in imminent fear of dismissal, communicated to him a dark and dreadful secret of their art, which, they assured him, would assist them at arriving speedily at the desired end. The nature of the experiment they proposed was so grotesque that its acceptance by Gilles proves that he was either insane or a victim of the superstition of his
time. His wretched accomplices told him that the Evil One alone was capable of revealing the secret of the transmutation of the baser metals into gold, and they offered to summon him to their master's aid. They assured Gilles that Satan would require a recompense for his services, and the Marshal retorted that so long as he saved his soul intact he was quite willing to conclude any bargain that the Father of Evil might propose.
It was arranged that the ceremony should take place within a gloomy wood in the neighbourhood. The nameless physician conducted the Lord of Retz to a small clearing in this plantation, where the magic circle was drawn and the usual conjurations made. For half an hour they waited in silence, and then a great trembling fell upon the physician. A deadly pallor overspread his countenance. His knees shook, he muttered wildly, and at last he sank to the ground. Gilles stood by unmoved. The insanity of egotism is of course productive of great if not lofty courage, and he feared neither man nor fiend. Suddenly the alchemist regained consciousness and told his master that the Devil had appeared to him in the shape of a leopard and had growled at him horribly. He ascribed Gilles' lack of supernatural vision to want of faith. He then declared that the Evil One had told him where certain herbs grew in Spain and Africa, the juices of which possessed the power to effect the transmutation, and these he obligingly offered to search for, provided the Lord of Retz furnished the means for his travels. This Gilles gladly did, and of course never beheld the Poitevin knave again.
Days and months passed and the physician did not
return. Gilles grew uneasy. It was imperative that gold should be forthcoming immediately, for not only was he being pressed on every side, but he was unable to support his usual magnificence. In this dilemma he turned to Prelati, his remaining alchemical assistant. This man appears to have believed in his art or he would not have made the terrible suggestion he did, which was that the Lord of Retz should sign with his own blood a compact with the Devil, and should offer up a young child in sacrifice to him. To this proposal the unhappy Gilles consented. On the following night Prelati quitted the castle, and returned shortly afterward with the story that the fiend had appeared to him in the likeness of a young, man who desired to be called Barron, and had pointed out to him the resting-place of a hoard of ingots of pure gold, buried under an oak in the neighbouring wood. Certain conditions, however, must be observed before the treasure was dug up, the chief of which was that it must not be searched for until a period of seven times seven weeks had elapsed, or it would turn into slates. With these conditions de Retz would not comply, and, alarmed at his annoyance, the obliging Prelati curtailed the time of waiting to seven times seven days. At the end of that period the alchemist and his dupe repaired to the wood to dig up the treasure. They worked hard for some time, and at length came upon a load of slates, inscribed with magical characters. Prelati pretended great wrath, and upbraided the Evil One for his deceit, in which denunciation he was heartily joined by de Retz. But O credulous was the Seigneur that he allowed himself to be persuaded to afford Satan another trial, which meant, of course, that Prelati led him on from day to day with
Click to enlarge
THE DEVIL IN THE FORM OF A LEOPARD APPEARS BEFORE THE ALCHEMIST
specious promises and ambiguous hints, until he had drained him of nearly all his remaining substance. He was then preparing to decamp with his plunder when a dramatic incident detained him.
For some time a rumour had been circulating in the country-side that numerous children were missing and that they had been spirited away. Popular clamour ran high, and suspicion was directed toward the castle of Champtocé. So circumstantial was the evidence against de Retz that at length the Duke of Brittany ordered both the Seigneur and his accomplice to be arrested. Their trial took place before a commission which de Retz denounced, declaring that he would rather be hanged like a dog, without trial, than plead before its members. But the evidence against him was overwhelming. It was told how the wretched madman, in his insane quest for gold, had sacrificed his innocent victims on the altar of Satan, and how he had gloated over their sufferings. Finally he confessed his enormities and told how nearly a hundred children had been cruelly murdered by him and his relentless accomplice. Both he and Prelati were doomed to be burned alive, but in consideration of his rank he was strangled before being cast into the flames. Before the execution he expressed to Prelati a hope that they would meet in Paradise, and, it is said, met his end very devoutly.
The castle of Champtocé still stands in its beautiful valley, and many romantic legends cluster about its grey old walls. "The hideous, half-burnt body of the monster himself," says Trollope, "circled with flames--pale, indeed, and faint in colour, but more lasting than those the hangman kindled around his mortal form in
the meadow under the walls of Nantes--is seen, on bright moonlight nights, standing now on one topmost point of craggy wall, and now on another, and is heard mingling his moan with the sough of the night-wind. Pale, bloodless forms, too, of youthful growth and mien, the restless, unsepulchred ghosts of the unfortunates who, perished in these dungeons unassoiled . . . may at similar times be seen flitting backward and forward, in numerous groups, across the space enclosed by the ruined wall, with more than mortal speed, or glancing hurriedly from window to window of the fabric, as still seeking to escape from its hateful confinement." 1
As has been said, the story of Gilles de Retz is connected by tradition with that of Bluebeard, but it is probable that this traditional connexion arises simply from the association of two famous tales. The other legend in question is that of Comorre the Cursed, whose story is told in the frescoes which cover the wall of the church of St Nicolas de Bieuzy, dedicated to St Triphyne, in which the tale of Bluebeard is depicted as the story of the saint, who in history was the wife of Comorre. Comorre was a chief who ruled at Carhaix, in Finistère, and his tale, which owes its modern dress to Émile Souvestre, himself a Breton, and author of Derniers Bretons and the brilliant sketch Un Philosophe sous les Toits. The tale, translated, runs as follows:
Guerech, Count of Vannes, 'the Country of White Corn,' had a daughter, Triphyna, whom he tenderly loved. One day ambassadors arrived from Comorre, a prince of Cornouaille, 'the Country of Black Corn,' demanding
her in marriage. Now this caused created distress, for Comorre was a giant, and one of the wickedest of men, held in awe by every one for his cruelty. As a boy, when he went out, his mother used to ring a bell to warn people of his approach; and when unsuccessful in the chase he would set his dogs on the peasants to tear them to pieces. But most horrible of all, he had had four wives, who had all died one after the other, it was suspected either by the knife, fire, water, or poison. The Count of Vannes, therefore, dismissed the ambassadors, and advanced to meet Comorre, who was approaching with a powerful army; but St Gildas went into Triphyna's oratory and begged her to save bloodshed and consent to the marriage. He gave her a silver ring, which would warn her of any intended evil by turning as black as a crow's wing at the approach of danger.
The marriage took place with great rejoicings. The first day six thousand guests were invited; on the next day as many poor were fed, the bride and the bridegroom themselves serving at the tables. For some time all went well. Comorre's nature seemed altered; his prisons were empty, his gibbets untenanted. But Triphyna felt no confidence, and every day went to pray at the tombs of his four wives. At this time there was an assembly of the Breton princes at Rennes, which Comorre was obliged to attend. Before his departure he gave Triphyna his keys, desiring her to amuse herself in his absence. After five months he unexpectedly returned, and found her occupied trimming an infant's cap with gold lace. On seeing the cap Comorre turned pale; and when Triphyna joyfully announced to him that soon he would be a
father he drew back in a rage and rushed out of the apartment. Triphyna saw that her ring had turned black, which betokened danger, she knew not why. She descended into the chapel to pray. When she rose to depart the hour of midnight struck, and suddenly a sound of movement in the silent chapel chilled her at the heart; shrinking into a recess, she saw the four tombs of Comorre's wives open slowly, and the worn n all issued forth in their winding-sheets.
Faint with terror, Triphyna tried to escape; but the spectres cried: "Take care, poor lost one! Comorre seeks to kill you."
"Me," said the Countess. "What evil have I done?"
"You have told him that you will soon become a mother; and, through the Spirit of Evil, he knows that his child will slay him. He murdered us when we told him what he has just learned from you."
"What hope, then, of refuge remains for me?" cried Triphyna.
"Go back to your father," answered the phantoms.
"But how escape when Comorre's dog guards the court?"
"Give him this poison which killed me," said the first wife.
"But how can I descend yon high wall?"
"By means of this cord which strangled me," answered the second wife.
"But who will guide me through the dark?"
"The fire that burnt me," replied the third wife.
"And how can I make so long a journey?" returned Triphyna.
"Take this stick which broke my skull," rejoined the fourth spectre.
Armed with the poison, the rope, and the stick, Triphyna set out, silenced the dog, scaled the wall, and, miraculously
guided on her way through the darkness by a glowing light, proceeded on her road to Vannes. On awaking next morning Comorre found that his wife had fled, and pursued her on horseback. The poor fugitive, seeing her ring turn black, turned off the road and hid herself till night in the cabin of a shepherd, where there was only an old magpie in a cage at the door, and here her baby was born. Comorre, who had given up the pursuit, was returning home by that road, when he heard the magpie trying to imitate her complaints and calling out "Poor Triphyna!" Guessing that his wife had passed that way, he set his dog on the track. Meanwhile Triphyna felt she could proceed no farther, and lay down on the ground with her baby boy. As she clasped the: child in her arms she saw over her head a falcon with a golden collar, which she recognized as her father's. The bird came at her call, and giving it the warning ring of St Gildas she told it to fly with it to her father. The bird obeyed, and flew like lightning to Vannes; but almost at the same instant Comorre arrived. Having parted with her warning ring, Triphyna, who had no notice of his approach, had only time to conceal her babe in the cavity of a tree when Comorre threw himself upon her, and with one blow from his sword severed her head from her body.
When the falcon arrived at Vannes he found the Count at dinner with St Gildas. He let the ring fall into the silver cup of his master, who, recognizing it, exclaimed: "My daughter is in danger! Saddle the horses., and let Saint Gildas accompany us." Following the falcon, they soon reached the spot where Triphyna lay dead. After they had all knelt in prayer, St Gildas said to the corpse Arise, take thy head and thy child, and follow
us." The dead body obeyed, the bewildered troop followed; but, gallop as fast as they could, the headless body was always in front, carrying the babe in her left hand, and her pale head in the right. In this manner they reached the castle of Comorre.
"Count," called St Gildas before the gates, "I bring back thy wife such as thy wickedness has made her, and thy child such as heaven has given it thee. Wilt thou receive them under thy roof?"
Comorre was silent. The Saint three times repeated the question, but no voice returned an answer. Then St Gildas took the new-born infant from its mother and placed it on the ground. The child marched alone to the edge of the moat, picked up a handful of earth, and, throwing it against the castle, exclaimed: "Let the Trinity execute judgment." At the same instant the towers shook and fell with a crash, the walls yawned open, and the castle sunk, burying Comorre and all his partners in crime. St Gildas then replaced Triphyna's head upon her shoulders, laid his hands upon her, and restored her to life, to the great joy of her father. Such is the history of Triphyna and Comorre.
The Legend of the submerged city of Ys, or Is, is perhaps the most romantic and imaginative effort of Breton popular legend. Who has not heard of the submerged bells of Ys, and who has not heard them ring in the echoes of his own imagination?
This picturesque legend 1 tells us that in the early days
of the Christian epoch the city of Ys, or Ker-is, was ruled by a prince called Gradlon, surnamed Meur, which in Celtic means 'the Great.' Gradlon was a saintly and pious man, and acted as patron to Gwénnolé, founder and first abbé of the first monastery built in Armorica. But, besides being a religious man, Gradlon was a prudent prince, and defended his capital of Ys from the invasions of the sea by constructing an immense basin to receive the overflow of the water at high tide. This basin had a secret gate, of which the King alone possessed the key, and which he opened and closed at the necessary times.
Gradlon, as is so often the case with pious men, had a wayward child, the princess Dahut, who on one occasion while her father was sleeping gave a secret banquet to her lover, in which the pair, excited with wine, committed folly after folly, until at last it occurred to the frivolous girl to open the sluice-gate. Stealing noiselessly into her sleeping father's chamber she detached from his girdle the key he guarded so jealously and opened the gate. The water immediately rushed in and submerged the entire city.
But, as usual, there is more than one version of this interesting legend. The city of Ys, says another account, was a place rich in commerce and the arts, but so given over to luxury as to arouse the ire of St Gwénnolé, who, in the manner of Jeremiah, foretold its ruin. It was situated where now a piece of water, the Étang de Laval, washes the desolate shores of the Bay of Trépassés--though another version of the tale has it that it stood in the vast basin which now forms the Bay of Douarnenez. A strong dike protected it from the ocean, the sluices only admitting sufficient water for the
needs of the town. Gradlon constantly bore round his neck a silver key which opened at the same time the vast sluices and the city gates. He lived in great state in a palace of marble, cedar, and gold, and his only grief was the conduct of his daughter Dahut, who, it is said, "had made a crown of her vices and taken for her pages the seven capital sins." But retribution was at hand, and the wicked city met with sudden destruction, for one night Dahut stole the silver key for the purpose of opening the city gates to admit her lover, and in the darkness by mistake opened the sluices. King Gradlon was awakened by St Gwénnolé, who commanded him to flee, as the torrent was reaching the palace. He mounted his horse, and, taking his worthless daughter behind him, set off at a gallop, the incoming flood seething and boiling at his steed's fetlocks. The torrent was about to overtake and submerge him when a voice from behind called out: "Throw the demon thou carriest into the sea, if thou dost not desire to perish." Dahut at that moment fell from the horse's back into the water, and the torrent immediately stopped its course. Gradlon reached Quimper safe and sound, but nothing is said as to his subsequent career.
An ancient ballad on the subject, which, however, bears marks of having been tampered with, states, on the other hand, that Gradlon led his people into extravagances of every kind, and that Dahut received the key from him, the misuse of which precipitated the catastrophe. Dahut, the ballad continues, became a mermaid and haunted the waters which roll over the site of the city where she loved and feasted. "Fisherman," ends the ballad, "have you seen the daughter of the sea combing her golden hair in the midday sun
Click to enlarge
THE ESCAPE OF KING GRADLON FROM THE FLOODED CITY OF YS
at the fringes of the beach?" "Yes," replies the fisherman, "I have seen the white daughter of the sea, and I have heard her sing, and her songs were plaintive as the sound of the waves."
The legend of Ys, of the town swallowed up by the sea, is common to the several branches of the Celtic race. In Wales the site of the submerged city is in Cardigan Bay, and in Ireland it is Lough Neagh, as Tom Moore says:
This legend had its rise in an extraordinary story which was given currency to by Giraldus Cambrensis in his Topography of Ireland, to the effect that a certain extremely wicked tribe were punished for their sins by the inundation of their territory.
"Now there was a common proverb," says Gerald, "in the mouths of the tribe, that whenever the well-spring of that country was left uncovered (for out of reverence shown to it, from a barbarous superstition, the spring was kept covered and sealed), it would immediately overflow and inundate the whole province, drowning and destroying the whole population. It happened, however, on some occasion that a young woman, who had come to the spring to draw water, after filling her pitcher, but before she had closed the well, ran in great haste to her little boy, whom she had heard crying at a spot not far from the spring where she had left him. But the voice of the people is the voice of God; and on her way back she met such a flood of water from the spring that it swept off her and the boy, and the inundation was so violent that they both, and the whole tribe, with
their cattle, were drowned in an hour in this partial and local deluge. The waters, having covered the whole surface of that fertile district, were converted into a permanent lake. A not improbable confirmation of this occurrence is found in the fact that the fishermen in that lake see distinctly under the water, in calm weather, ecclesiastical towers, which, according to the custom of the country, are slender and lofty, and moreover round; and they frequently point them out to strangers travelling through these parts, who wonder what could have caused such a catastrophe."
In the Welsh version of this fascinating legend it is the bard Gwyddno, of the twelfth century, who tells of the downfall of the submerged city, and two of the strophes which occur in his poem are also found in the Breton poem. The Welsh bard may have received the story from Breton sources, or the converse may be the case.
The legend that Cardigan Bay contains a submerged territory is widely known, and strangely enough seems to be corroborated by the shape of the coast-line, the contour of which suggests the subsidence of a large body of land. Like their brothers of Ireland, the fishermen of Wales assert that at low tide they can see the ruins of ancient edifices far down beneath the clear waters of the bay.'
Before the days of the French Revolution there was still to be seen at Quimper, between the two towers of the cathedral, a figure of King Gradlon mounted on is faithful courser, but in the stormy year of 1793 the name of king was in bad odour and the ignorant populace deprived the statue of its head. However, in 1859 it
was restored. Legend attributes the introduction of the vine into Brittany to King Gradlon, and on St Cecilia's Day a regular ritual was gone through in Quimper in connexion with his counterfeit presentment. A company of singers mounted on a platform. While they sang a hymn in praise of King Gradlon, one of the choristers, provided with a flagon of wine, a napkin, and a golden hanap (or cup), mounted on the crupper of the King's horse, poured out a cup of wine, which he offered ceremoniously to the lips of the statue and then drank himself, carefully wiped with his napkin the moustache of the King, placed a. branch of laurel in his hand, and then threw down the hanap in the midst of the crowd below, in honour of the first planter of the grape in Brittany. To whoever caught the cup before it fell, and presented it uninjured to the Chapter, was adjudged a prize of two hundred crowns.
There is a distinct savour of myth about all this. Can it be that Gradlon was a Breton Bacchus? There are notices of Celtic goddesses in whose honour Bacchic rites were held, and the place of these was sometimes taken by a corn god. Later the festival in its memorial aspect appears to have been associated with different kings 1 in the various parts of the Celtic world, and it seems likely that Gradlon was such a monarch who had taken the place of a vanished deity. It must be left to Celtic scholars to determine whether the name Gradlon possesses any deific significance hidden in its etymology.
Jeanne de Rohan, daughter of Alain, fifth of the name, Viscount of Rohan, married in the year 1236 Matthew,
[paragraph continues] Seigneur of Beauvau, son of René, Constable of Naples. Breton popular poetry has in many ballads recounted the adventures of Jeanne and her husband, one of which is as follows 1:
At the age of thirteen Jeanne consented to be married, but she desired that she herself should be allowed to choose her husband. Accordingly the cavaliers and barons of the district were invited to pay their court to her, and she fixed her affections upon the Seigneur of Beauvau, a valiant noble with large possessions in Italy. He was loyal and courteous, and when the pair were wedded their happiness seemed perfect.
At this period the war in Palestine against the infidels was agitating the whole of Europe. The Seigneur of Beauvau desired to join the Crusaders, but his wife was by no means anxious that he should leave his home. But his principle was noblesse oblige. "I am of the most noble blood," he said; "therefore it behoves me to be the first to lead the way."
He confided the care of his estates and his affairs in general to his wife's cousin, who was known as the Clerk of Rohan, and begged him to look well after Jeanne and his little son. Then, having bid farewell to them all, he mounted his horse and rode away to the wars.
Jeanne was inconsolable. For days she wandered about the château carrying her baby boy in her arms and sobbing. All the domestic circle seemed disturbed at the Seigneur's departure except the Clerk of Rohan,
to whom Count Matthew had so trustingly confided the charge of his affairs.
The Seigneur had declared that he would return within a year's time. A year passed, however, and no news of him had been received. Now the Clerk was a perfidious and wicked schemer, and one morning as he and Jeanne were in conversation he hinted that the year within which the Seigneur had promised to return was now gone by and that the war in which he had been engaged had come to an end. He made no secret of his passion for the lady, but she on her part turned upon him angrily, saying: "Is it the fashion nowadays for women to consider themselves widows, knowing well that their husbands are alive? Go to, miserable Clerk, thy heart is full of wickedness. If my husband were here he would break thee in little pieces!"
When the Clerk heard this he went secretly to the kennels, and there he slew the Seigneur's favourite greyhound. Taking some of its blood, he wrote with it a letter to Count Matthew telling him that his wife was most unhappy because of an accident which had occurred; that she had been hunting the deer, and that in the chase his favourite greyhound had died from over-exertion. The Seigneur duly received the letter, and in his reply told the Clerk to comfort the lady, as he was quite able to replace the hound. At the same time he desired that hunting should cease for the present,. as the huntsmen seemed unskilful in their conduct of the chase.
The wicked Clerk once more sought the lady.
"Alas!" said he, "you are losing your beauty by weeping night and day."
"I will know how to recover my beauty when my husband returns," she replied coldly.
"Do not cheat yourself," he said. "Surely you can see by this time that he is either dead or has taken another wife. In the East there are many beautiful girls who are far wealthier than you."
"If he has taken another wife," said the lady, "I shall die; and if he be dead I ask for naught but death. Leave me, miserable wretch. Thy tongue is poisoned with deceit."
When the Clerk had sufficiently recovered from this second rebuff, he betook himself to the stables, where the Seigneur's horse, the most beautiful in the country, stood champing in its stall. The wretch, drawing his poignard, thrust it into the noble steed's entrails, and, as he had done in the case of the greyhound, took some of the blood and wrote once more to the Count.
"Another accident has occurred at the château," he said, "but, my dear Seigneur, pray do not trouble yourself on account of it. When your wife was returning from a feast in the night your favourite horse fell and broke two of his legs, and had to be destroyed."
The Seigneur replied that he was grieved to hear of the circumstance, and that in order to avoid further mischances of the sort it would be better that his wife should frequent no more feasts.
A third time the perfidious Clerk sought the lady. On this occasion he threatened her with death if she would not be his, but she replied in the most spirited manner that she loved death a thousand times better than him. At these words he could not contain his rage, and, drawing his dagger, thrust fiercely at her head. But the lady's guardian angel turned the stroke
and the weapon struck harmlessly against the wall. She fled from the room, closing the door behind her as she went; whereupon the Clerk rushed downstairs to the nursery where her child was quietly sleeping in its cradle, and, seeing no one beside it, stabbed the slumbering infant to the heart.
Then he wrote to the Seigneur: "Hasten your return, I beg of you, for it is necessary that you should be here to establish order. Your dog and your white courser have perished, but that is not the worst. Your little son, alas! is also dead. The great sow devoured him when your wife was at a ball with the miller for a gallant.
When the Seigneur received this letter he returned at once from the wars, his anger rising higher and higher with every homeward league. When he arrived at the château he struck three times upon the door with his hand, and his summons was answered by the Clerk.
"How now evil Clerk," shouted the infuriated Count, "did I not leave my wife in your care?" and with these words he thrust his lance into the Clerk's open mouth, so that the point stood out at the nape of his neck. Then, mounting the stairs, he entered his wife's chamber, and without speaking a word stabbed her with his sword.
The ballad then goes on to speak of the burial of the victims of the wicked Clerk. The lady, dressed all in white, was laid in her tomb by the light of the moon and the stars. On her breast lay her little son, on her right the favourite greyhound, and on her left the white courser, and it is said that in her grave she first caresses one and then the other, and the infant, as if jealous, nestles closer to his mother's heart.
The château of La Garaye, near Dinan, is rendered famous by the virtues and boundless charity of its Count Claude Toussaint Marot de La Garaye, and his wife. Their interesting story is told in the charming poem of Mrs Norton, The Lady of La Garaye:
Count Claude de La Garaye and his wife were young, beautiful, and endowed with friends, riches, and all that could make life bright and happy. They entertained generously and enjoyed the pleasures and amusements of the world. But one day misfortune overtook them, for the Countess was thrown from her horse, and she was left a cripple for life, while all expectations of an heir vanished. Both were inconsolable at their disappointment. One day a monk came to visit them, and tried to comfort them, seeking by his conversation to turn their thoughts from earthly, afflictions to heavenly consolation.
"Ah, my father," said the lady, "how happy are you, to love nothing on earth!"
"You are mistaken," answered the monk; "I love all those who are in sorrow or suffering. But I submit myself to the will of the Almighty, and bend myself with resignation to every blow He strikes."
He proceeded to show them that there was still a great deal of happiness in store for them in ministering to the needs of others. Following his counsel, they went to
[paragraph continues] Paris, where for three years the Count studied medicine and surgery, and his wife became a skilful oculist. On their return to La Garaye they gave up all the amusements of society and devoted themselves to relieving the sufferings of their fellow-creatures. Their house was converted into a hospital for the sick and afflicted, under the ministering care of the Count and his benevolent wife:
Nor was their philanthropy confined to their own province. In 1729 they offered themselves to M. de Belsunce--"Marseilles' good bishop"--to assist him during the visitation of the plague. The fame of their virtues reached even the French Court, and Louis XV sent Count de La Garaye the Order of St Lazarus, with a donation of 50,000 livres and a promise of 25,000 more. They both died at an advanced age, within two years of each other, and were buried among their poor at Taden. Their marble mausoleum in the church was destroyed during the French Revolution. The Count left a large sum to be distributed among the prisoners, principally English, pent up in the crowded gaols of Rennes and Dinan. He had attended the English prisoners at Dinan during a contagious fever called the
[paragraph continues] 'peste blanche,' and in acknowledgment of his humanity, Queen Caroline sent him two dogs with silver collars, round their necks, and an English nobleman made him a present of six more.
The ruined château is approached by an ivy-covered, gateway, through an avenue of beeches. As Mrs Norton renders it:
The ruin is fast falling to pieces. The principal part remaining is an octagonal turret of three stories, with elegant Renaissance decoration round the windows.
An interesting and picturesque ballad sung in the Black Mountains is that of The Falcon. Geoffrey, first Duke of Brittany, was departing for Rome in the year 1008, leaving the government of the country in the hands of his wife Ethwije, sister of Richard of Normandy. As he was about to set out on his pilgrimage the falcon which he carried on his wrist after the manner of the nobles of the period, swooped down on and killed the hen of a poor peasant woman. The woman in a rage seized a large stone and cast it at the bird with such violence that it slew not only the falcon but the Duke himself. The death of the Duke was followed by a most desperate insurrection among the people. History does not enlighten us as to the cause of this rising, but tradition attributes it to the invasion of Brittany by the Normans (whom the widow of Geoffrey at once brought into the country on the demise of her husband) and the
Click to enlarge
A PEASANT INSURRECTION
exactions which were wrung from the peasants by these haughty aliens.
The ballad, which was used as a war-song by the Bretons at a later day, begins in true ballad style: "The falcon has strangled the fowl, the peasant woman has slain the Count who oppressed the people, the poor people, like a brute-beast."
The hate of the stranger so characteristic of the old Bretons then flashes forth. "The country has been polluted by the foreigner, by the men of the Gallic land, and because of the death of a hen and a falcon Brittany is on fire, blood flows, and there is great dole among the people."
On the summit of the Black Mountain thirty stout peasants had gathered to celebrate the ancient feast of the good St John. Among them was Kado the Striver, who stood there gravely leaning on his iron pitchfork. For a while he looked upon his comrades; then he opened his lips:
"What say you, fellow-peasants? Do you intend to pay this tax? As for me, I shall certainly not pay it. I had much rather be hanged. Nevermore shall I pay this unjust tax. My sons go naked because of it, my flocks grow less and less. No more shall I pay. I swear it by the red brands of this fire, by Saint Kado my patron, and by Saint John."
"My fortunes are broken, I am completely ruined," growled one of his companions. "Before the year is out I shall be compelled to beg my bread."
Then all rose at once as if by a common impulse.
"None of us will pay this tax! We swear it by the Sun and by the Moon, and by the great sea which encircles this land of Brittany!"
Kado, stepping out from the circle, seized a firebrand, and holding it aloft cried: "Let us march, comrades, and strike a blow for freedom!"
The enthusiasm of his companions burst out afresh. Falling into loose ranks they followed him. His wife marched by his side in the first rank, carrying a reaping-hook on her shoulder and singing as she marched.
"Quickly, quickly, my children! We go to strike a blow for liberty! Have I brought thirty sons into the world to beg their bread, to carry firewood or to break stones, or bear burdens like beasts? Are they to till the green land and the grey land with bare feet while the rich feed their horses, their hunting-dogs, and their falcons better than they are fed? No! It is to slay the oppressors that I have borne so many sons!"
Quickly they descended the mountains, gathering numbers as they went. Now they were three thousand strong, five thousand strong, and when they arrived at Langoad nine thousand strong. When they came to Guérande they were thirty thousand strong. The houses of those who had ground them down were wrapped in flames, fiercely ends the old ballad, "and the bones of those who had oppressed them cracked, like those of the damned in Tartarus."
History tells us nothing concerning Kado the Striver, but it is most unlikely that he is a mere figment of popular imagination. What history does record, however, is that the wicked Duchess and her host of mercenary Normans were forced to flee, and that her place was taken by a more just and righteous ruler.
Breton tradition speaks of a wild young nobleman, Louis-François de Guérande, Seigneur of Locmaria, who flourished in the early part of the seventeenth century. He was wealthy, and lived a life of reckless abandon; indeed, he was the terror of the parish and the despair of his pious mother, who, whenever he sallied forth upon adventure bent, rang the bell of the château, to give the alarm to the surrounding peasantry. The ballad which tells of the infamous deeds of this titled ruffian, and which was composed by one Tugdual Salaün, a peasant of Plouber, 1 opens upon a scene of touching domestic happiness. The Clerk of Garlon was on a visit to the family of his betrothed.
"Tell me, good mother," he asked, "where is Annaïk? I am anxious that she should come with me to dance on the green."
"She is upstairs asleep, my son. Take care," added the old woman roguishly, "that you do not waken her."
The Clerk of Garlon ran lightly up the staircase and knocked at Annaïk's door.
"Come, Annaïk," he cried; "why are you sleep when all the others go to dance upon the village green?"
"I do not wish to go to the dance, for I fear the Marquis of Guérande," replied the girl.
The Clerk of Garlon laughed. "The Marquis of Guérande cannot harm you so long as I am with you," he said lightly. "Come, Annaïk; were there a hundred such as he I should protect you from them."
Reassured by her lover's brave words, the girl rose and put on her dress of white delaine. They were a joyous and beautiful pair. The Clerk was gaily dressed, with a peacock's feather in his hat and a chain on his breast, while his betrothed wore a velvet corsage embroidered with silver.
On that evening the Marquis of Guérande leaped n his great red steed and sallied forth from his château. Galloping along the road, he overtook the Clerk of Garlon and his betrothed on their way to the dance.
"Ha!" he cried, "you go to the dance, I see. It is customary to wrestle there, is it not?"
"It is, Seigneur," replied the Clerk, doffing his hat.
"Then throw off your doublet and let us try a fall or two," said Guérande, with a wicked look at Annaïk which was not lost upon her lover.
"Saving your grace, I may not wrestle with you," said the Clerk, "for you are a gentleman and I am nobody. You are the son of a lord and I am the son of a peasant."
"Ha! what! The son of a peasant, say you, and you take your choice of the pretty girls of the village?"
"Seigneur, pardon me. I did not choose this maiden; God gave her to me."
During this parley Annaïk stood by, trembling violently. She had heard of the Marquis of Guérande, and was only too well aware of the evil and reckless character he bore. The Clerk tried to calm her fears by whispered words and pressures of the hand, but the wicked Marquis, observing the state of terror she was in, exulted in the alarm he was causing her.
"Well, fellow," said he, "since you cannot wrestle with me perhaps you will try a bout of sword-play."
At these words Annaïk's rosy cheeks became deathly white; but the Clerk of Garlon spoke up like a man.
"My lord," he said, "I do not wear a sword. The club is my only weapon. Should you use your sword against me it would but stain it."
The wicked Marquis uttered a fiendish laugh. "If I stain my sword, by the Saints, I shall wash it in your blood," he cried, and as he spoke he passed his rapier through the defenceless Clerk's body.
At the sight of her slain lover the gentle heart of Annaïk broke, and a great madness came upon her. Like a tigress she leapt upon the Marquis and tore his sword from his hand. Without his rapier he was as a child in the grasp of the powerful Breton peasant woman. Exerting all her strength, in a frenzy of grief she dragged the wretch to the green where the dance was in progress, haling him round and round it until exhausted. At last she dropped his senseless body on the green turf and hastened homeward.
And once again we encounter the haunting refrain: "My good mother, if you love me make my bed, for I am sick unto death."
"Why, daughter, you have danced too much; it is that which has made you sick."
"I have not danced at all, mother; but the wicked Marquis has slain my poor Clerk. Say to the sexton who buries him: 'Do not throw in much earth, for in a little while you will have to place my daughter beside him in this grave.' Since we may not share the same marriage-bed we shall at least sleep in the same tomb, and if we have not been married in this world we shall at least be joined in heaven."
The reader will be relieved to learn that the hero of
this ballad, the Clerk of Garlon, was not killed after all, .and that for once fact is enabled to step in to correct the sadness of fiction; for, when one comes to think of it, there are few sadder things in the world than the genuine folk-ballad, which, although at the time it may arouse æsthetic emotions, may yet afterward give rise to haunting pain. We are glad to be able to chronicle, then, that the worthy Clerk did not die of his wound as stated by Tugdual Salaün of the parish of Plouber, author of the ballad, and that the wicked Marquis escaped the halter, which, according to Breton custom, he would not otherwise have done had the Clerk died. His good mother took upon herself the burden of an annual pension to the Clerk's aged parents, and adopted the second child of Annaïk, who had duly married her sweetheart, and this little one she educated, furthering its interests in every possible manner. As for the Marquis, he actually settled down, and one cannot help feeling chagrined that such a promising rogue should have turned talents so eminently suitable for the manufacture of legendary material into more humdrum courses. Conscious of the gravity of his early misdemeanours, he founded a hospital for the poor of the parish, and each evening in one of the windows of this place the peasants could see a light which burned steadily far into the night. If any asked the reason for this illumination he was told: "It is the Marquis of Guérande, who lies awake praying God to pardon his youth."
The châteaux of Brittany may truly be called the historical and legendary shrines of the province, for within their halls, keeps, and donjons Breton tradition
and history were made. It is doubtful, indeed, if the castellated mansions of any other country, save, perhaps, those of the Rhine, harbour so many legends, arising either from the actual historical happenings connected with them or from those more picturesque yet terrible associations which they are popularly supposed to have with the powers of evil. The general appearance of such a building as the Breton château admirably lends itself to sombre tradition. The massy walls seem thick enough to retain all secrets, and the cry for vengeance for blood spilt within them cannot pass to the outer world through the narrow meurtrières or arrow-slits of the avant-corps. The broad yet lofty towers which flank the front rise into a toiture or coiffe like an enchanter's conical cap. The lucarnes, or attic casements, are guarded on either side by gargoyles grim of aspect, or perhaps by griffins holding the shield-borne arms of dead and gone seigneurs. Seek where you will, among the wizard-houses of old Prague, the witch-dens of ancient Edinburgh, the bat-haunted castles of Drachenfels or Rheinstein, you will come at nothing built of man more informed with the soul of the Middle Ages, more drenched with their peculiar savour of mystery, than these stark keeps whose crests and girouettes rise above encircling woods or frown upon mirroring rivers over the length and breadth of the Breton land.
One of the most typical of the châteaux of Brittany is that of La Roche-Jagu, at one time the guardian of the mouth of the river Trieux. It is built on the top of a hill which overhangs the Trieux, and from one of its battlemented galleries a splendid view of the windings
of the river can be obtained. The wall on this side of the fortress is so thick as to allow of a chapel being hewn out of its solidity. A most distinctive architectural note is struck by the fourteen wonderful chimney-shafts of cut stone ornamented with iron spikes.
Some miles farther down the river, but on its opposite side, is the imposing castle of Tonquédec, perhaps the finest remnant of the medieval military architecture of Brittany. It has always remained in the family of the Viscounts of Coêtman, who ranked among the foremost of the Breton nobility, though one of them espoused the cause of the Constable Clisson against Duke John IV, and had the anguish of seeing his ancestral fortress razed to the ground. Under Henry IV, however, the castle was restored, only to be again demolished by order of Cardinal Richelieu, who strongly and forcibly disapproved of such powerful fortalices.
It had an outer enclosure, and had to be entered by a drawbridge, and it was strengthened in every way conceivable to the military art of the times. It was surrounded by dwellings for the convenience of the seigneur's retainers, a fine salle d'armes still remaining. To the keep, four stories high, a flying bridge led, in order to facilitate the withdrawal of the garrison in case of siege. Behind walls ten feet thick, so long as food and ammunition lasted, the inmates could hold the enemy in scorn.
The château of Clisson, once the property of the great Constable Oliver de Clisson, whom the Viscount of
[paragraph continues] Coêtman and the Bretons of Penthièvre had championed, is now only a grand old ruin, a touching monument of the architectural splendours of former days. By moonlight it makes a scene not easily forgotten, gaunt and still and ruggedly imposing, the silent reminder of events and people tales of whom will not readily die, the treasurer of secrets it will probably never yield. Its antithesis is the castle of Nantes, with the stamp of the Renaissance upon its delicately sculptured balconies and window-frames. It is now an arsenal, a fact which robs it of some of the romantic interest of Clisson, or, indeed, of ruins in general, yet within its walls are the prison chambers in which Gilles de Laval, the ambitious Finance Minister Fouquet, the Cardinal de Retz, and the Duchess of Berry once languished. For many years it served as one of the political prisons of France, though it is also associated with brighter and happier times; for here, on pleasure bent, lingered many of the Kings of France from Louis XI onward, and here in 1675 Madame de Sévigné sojourned, a circumstance which casts about it a literary as well as a romantic glamour. The great well in the courtyard, with its ornamental railing of wrought iron, is quite equal to the famous well of Quentin Matsys at Antwerp.
The castle of Josselin, also associated with the history of the great Constable Clisson and his allies, as well as with the notorious League whose followers wrought such intolerable misery in Brittany, is built on a rocky foundation near the river Oust. With its imposing front and conically roofed towers it is one of the best examples of a twelfth-century fortress-château. Very
different in tone is the architecture of the interior court, being that of the period when the lighter traceries and more imaginative lines of, the Renaissance were in favour. The window-openings of the two first stories are beautiful enough to rival those of Chambord and equal those of Blois. Above the windows an open,, gallery runs, and in the space between each the device of the Rohans is carved, with their motto, A Plus, this celebrated family having built this part of the château. About the year 1400 Clisson added a keep, walls, and parapets, but in 1629, when the fortress was no longer a stronghold of the League, these were permitted to fall into ruin. Through the courtesy of the family now in residence this wonderfully preserved castle may be visited, a circumstance for which the tourist in Brittany should indeed be grateful. Interest within these massy walls clings around the well, with its ornamental railings, the noble and lofty hall, the library, with its magnificent chimney-piece, repeating again, in stone, the Rohan motto, A Plus, and the equestrian statue of Clisson, by Frémiet, in the dining-room.
Of the old château of Hennebont, Where John of Montfort breathed his last after escaping from the Louvre of his day, only a heap of stones remains. The old fortress of Largoet is in much the same condition, nothing of the ancient structure having been conserved-, save the famous Tour d'Elven, considered to be the most beautiful castle keep in all Brittany, which has also a literary distinction as being the scene of some of, the most touching episodes in Octave Feuillets Roman d'un jeune Homme pauvre.
At Châteaubriant, which owes its name to the compounding of the word 'château' with that of 'Briant,' the family style of its original lord, the old feudal fortress is now a ruin, but the castle, built by Jean de Laval, Governor of Brittany under Francis I, is in good repair. An inscription giving the date of the completion of the new château as 15338 is above the portal of the colonnade. There is a gruesome legend associated with the old château, in which for some time dwelt the unfortunate Françoise de Foix, Countess of Châteaubriant and beloved of Francis I. Tiring or becoming suspicious of her royal lover, she decided to return to her husband, the old Count of Laval. The reunion, however, was not productive of happiness, owing to the fever of jealousy in which her elderly husband lived because of the love affair with the King. This jealousy eventually flared into mania when he heard that she had actually visited her former lover in prison after he had been captured at Pavia. Instantly he "shut his young wife up in a darkened and padded cell, and finally had her cut into pieces by two surgeons," so the story goes. Terrified at what he had done and of the consequences which were sure to follow when the King heard of his savagery, the Count fled the country immediately afterward.
The château of Brodineuf (dating from the twelfth century) and that of Caradeuc are in good repair, but the latter is ancient only in parts. It shelters two Murillos within its walls. The picturesque château of Combourg was in early times a feudal fortress, and in it René Châteaubriand's infancy was passed. This place
may be visited by interested sightseers, and there they may view the writing-table of the author of Le Génie du Christianisme, and, in the bedroom he occupied at Combourg, the bed on which he died in Paris. The château of Vitré is also in a state of preservation, and is considered one of the best specimens of military architecture in the province. Comparatively near is the château of Rochers, once the home of Mme de Sévigné, and in consequence one of the famous sights of the country. The many letters she dated from this castle paint a vivid and detailed picture of social life in the seventeenth century, and fortunately the atmosphere of the time has been happily retained in the building itself.
Another twelfth-century structure is that of the château of Rustefan, near Quimperlé. It was built by Stephen, Count of Penthièvre, and belonged in the next century to Blanche of Castile, the mother of St Louis. The ruins now in existence are those of the château built in the fifteenth century, and its cylindrical tower, pinnacled doorway, and the stone mullions of the windows still remain fairly intact. The château of Kerjolet, in Concarneau, is one which has been saved from decay, restored as it was by Countess Chaveau-Narishkine and presented by her to the department. It contains a museum in which are specimens of all the costumes and coiffes of Lower Brittany, and antiquities of prehistoric and medieval times, which all students of Breton and Celtic lore should see.
The château of Tourlaville is situated among very beautiful surroundings, and is built in the classic style
of the Renaissance, with an angular tower. On chimney-piece and fireplace throughout the castle there are numerous sentimental devices in which Cupids and flaming hearts and torches figure largely, with the occasional accompaniment of verses and mottoes of an equally amatory nature. These are all seventeenth-century examples and may be taken as expressions of the time. In a boudoir called the Blue Chamber, because of the colour of its draperies and decorations, many coats-of-arms are emblazoned; but all the greatness to which these testify has become a thing of the past, for the château has now been turned into a farmhouse.
The château of Dinan may also be classed among the palaces of the past, for now, despite the fact that it was built by the Dukes of Brittany, it has become a prison. From the tourist as well as the romantic point of view this is somewhat of a tragedy. The Tower of Coëtquen, one of the ancient towers of the city wall, is practically part of the castle, and the keep, or Queen Anne's Tower, is the most distinctive feature remaining. This keep is of four stories, and is over a hundred feet high, the last story being reached by a spiral staircase. What was once the oratory of the Duchess Anne is now the guard-room. There are still several dungeons whose original gruesomeness has been left untouched, and whose use in bygone days can well be imagined.
The château of Suscino is one of the chief sights of the neighbourhood of Vannes, because it is the ruin of what was once a marvellous structure of the thirteenth century, and follows the finest Gothic traditions of the time. All
the roofing of the building has quite disappeared, but its battlemented towers and walls remain to give a good idea of the architectural perfection that must have belonged to it. At one time it fell into the hands of Charles of Blois, only to be retaken by his rival, Montfort, in 1364, and in 1373 it was occupied by an English garrison. Eventually it was bestowed upon John of Châlons, Prince of Orange, by Anne of Brittany, but in time Francis I relieved him of it in order to present it to Françoise de Foix, the celebrated Lady of Châteaubriant. The irregular pentagon formed by the château is possibly some what modified from the original plan of 1320, and of the seven towers which flanked its gates and walls in the beginning six have weathered the storms of the times through which they have passed. Its orchid-shaped machicolations have also survived, and even to-day they are noticeably beautiful. The new tower is a fine cylindrical keep, dating from the fourteenth century, and over the entrance this legend still remains
Ici Est Né
Le Duc Arthur III
le 24 Août, 1393.
We have already dealt with many of the stories connected with the ancient castles of Brittany, and these will be found in nearly every chapter of this book, so varied are they. But no tale, however vivid, can hope to capture and retain all the wonder and mystery of these grand old strongholds, which must be seen in order to leave upon the imagination and memory the full impress of their weird and extraordinary fascination.
173:1 Folk-lore as an Historical Science, p. 129.
180:1 Western: France, vol. ii.
184:1 See Le Braz, La Légende de la Mort, t. i, p. 39, t. ii, pp. 37 ff.; Albert Le Grand, Vies des Saints de la Bretagne, p. 63; Villemarqué, Chants populaires, pp. 38 ff.
189:1 MacCulloch, op. cit., p. 274.
190:1 Villemarqué avouches that this version was taken down by his mother from the lips of an old peasant woman of the parish of Névez. It bears the stamp of ballad poetry, and as it has parallels in the folk-verse of other countries I see no reason to question its genuineness.
199:1 See "Maro Markiz Gwerrand," in the Bulletin de la Société Académique de Brest, 1865.