Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of Tribulation and Anguish
OF TRIBULATION AND ANGUISH.
In the reign of the Emperor Conrad, there lived a certain Count called Leopold, who for some cause, fearing the indignation of his master, fled with his wife into the woods, and concealed himself in a miserable hovel. By chance the Emperor hunted there; and being carried away by the heat of the chace, lost himself in the woods, and was benighted. Wandering about in various directions, he came at length to the cottage where the Count dwelt, and requested shelter. Now his hostess being at that time pregnant, and near the moment of her travail, prepared, though with some difficulty, a meal, and brought whatever he required. The same night she was delivered of a son. While the Emperor slept, a voice broke upon his ear, which seemed to say, "Take, Take, Take." He arose immediately, and with considerable alarm, said to himself, "What can that voice mean? 'Take! Take! Take!' What am I to take?" He reflected upon the singularity of this for a short space, and then fell asleep. But a second time, the voice addressed him, crying out, "Restore, Restore, Restore." He awoke in very great sorrow. "What is all this?" thought he. "First, I was to 'Take, Take, Take,' and there is nothing for me to take. Just now the same voice exclaimed, 'Restore, Restore, Restore.' and what can I restore when I have taken nothing?" Unable to explain the mystery, he again slept; and the third time, the voice spoke. "Fly, Fly, Fly," it said, "for a child is now born, who shall become thy son-in-law." These words created great perplexity in the emperor; and getting up very early in the morning, he sought out two of his squires, and said, "Go and force away that child from its mother; cleave it in twain, and bring its heart to me." The squires obeyed, and snatched away the boy, as it hung at its mother's breast. But observing its very great beauty, they were moved to compassion, and placed it upon the branch of a tree, to secure it from the wild beasts; and then killing a hare, they conveyed its heart to the emperor. Soon after this, a duke travelling in the forest, passed by, and hearing the cry of an infant, searched about; and discovering it, placed it, unknown to any one, in the folds of his garment. Having no child himself, he conveyed it to his wife, and bade her nourish it as their own. The lady, pleased to execute so charitable an office, became much attached to the little foundling, whom she called Henry. The boy grew up, handsome in person and extremely eloquent; so that he became a general favourite. Now the emperor remarking the extraordinary quickness of the youth, desired his foster-father to send him to court; where he resided a length of time. But the great estimation in which he was held by all ranks of people, caused the emperor to repent what he had done; and to fear lest he should aspire to the throne, or probably be the same, whom, as a child, he had commanded his squires to destroy. Wishing to secure himself from every possible turn of fortune, he wrote a letter with his own hand to the Queen to the following purport, "I command you, on pain of death, as soon as this letter reaches you, to put the young man to death." When it was completed, he went, by some accident into the chapel-royal, and seating himself upon a bench, fell asleep. The letter had been inclosed in a purse, which hung loosely from his girdle; and a certain priest of the place, impelled by an ungovernable curiosity, opened the purse and read the purposed wickedness. Filled with horror and indignation, he cunningly erased the passage commanding the youth's death, and wrote instead, "Give him our daughter in marriage." The writing was conveyed to the queen, who, finding the emperor's signature, and the impression of the royal signet, called together the princes of the empire, and celebrated their nuptials with great pomp. When this was communicated to the emperor, who had quitted the palace, as well to give better opportunity for effecting his atrocious design, as to remove the stigma of its execution from himself, he was greatly afflicted: but when he heard the whole chain of miraculous interposition from the two squires, the duke, and the priest, he saw that he must resign himself to the dispensations of God. And, therefore, sending for the young man, he confirmed his marriage, and appointed him heir to his kingdom. (20)
My beloved, the emperor is God the Father; who, angry with our first parents, drove them from Paradise into the woods, and desolate places of life. The child who was born is Jesus Christ, whom many persecute; but who will finally triumph over all his enemies. The squires, are the divine power and grace operating upon the heart. The child is placed in a tree—that is, in the church; and the duke, who preserved it, is any good prelate. The slain hare, is our carnal affections, which ought to be destroyed. The letter which the emperor wrote with his own hand, is every evil imagination which possesses the heart. For then Christ is in danger of being destroyed. The priest who preserved the youth, is any discreet minister, who by means of the Sacred Writings mollifies the asperities of the human soul, and betroths it to Heaven.
Note 20.Page 104.
"This story is told by Caxton in the Golden Legende, under the life of Pelagian the Pope, entitled, Here foloweth the lyf of Saynt Pelagyen the pope, with many other hystoryes and gestys of the Lombardes, and of Machomete, with other cronycles. The Gesta Longobardorum are fertile in legendary matter, and furnished Jacobus de Voragine, Caxton's original, with many marvellous histories. Caxton, from the gestis of the Lombardis, gives a wonderful account of a pestilence in Italy, under the reign of king Gilbert."—Warton. The Golden Legende enters somewhat into the life of the emperor Henry after he came to the throne. Amongst other matters, he "put out of his countree all the juglers and gave to poor people all yt was wont to be giuen to mynstrelles."—Fol. ccclxii. Whence it would appear that jugglers and minstrels were the same.