Here is a rough guide to seducing a paragon of chivalry, bringing him to your feet – and to your bed – resulting in displays of chivalry by day and nights of exhausting pleasure. Caution: only a truly mighty night can endure this routine for long. But then, nothing prevents a damsel from abandoning the exhausted hero in favour of the next prey.
The formula is time-proven and recorded in at least two medieval romances, that of Sir Lanval (originally a lay by Mary de France; translated into Middle English and variously known as Sir Launfal and Sir Landevale), which contains a formula of successful seduction, and of Sir Perceval (the Lancelot-Graal cycle version entitled La Queste del saint graal), which offers a cautionary tale of failed seduction.
Here is a brief outline:
- Find a knight in distress (yes, there are nights in distress, not only damsels in distress!)
- Invite the knight to one’s tent/meet him ‘accidentally’ in the forest.
- Offer the knight something he’s missing sorely: e.g., Lanval is poor, Perceval needs a horse. So, offer a great big horse to both, and to Lanval, money and a servant in addition. NB: Choose a white destrier; a coal-black destrier would be mighty suspicious.
- Ask the knight to join you for a dinner/supper/late breakfast. Serve lots of wine, spiced wine, wine with honey (claré and pyment work best). NB: the knight should be hungry. NBB: choose a hot day, so there is a pretext to unlace the kirtle suggestively or even undo it entirely up to the waist, as Lanval’s fairy does.
- After the meal, when the knight is slightly – or considerably – inebriated, suggest a bed to him, meaning a bed together. Even if the damsel is less beautiful than Lanval’s absolutely stunning fairy, even if she has horns, hoofs and a long, tasseled tail, the knight is sure to find his host absolutely irresistible. NB: make sure there are no crosses, cross-shaped sword hills and other objects likely to remind the knight of his Christian duty.
Now, you already see the outlines of failure and success. Lanval’s fairy obviously did the right things, and Perceval’s ‘damsels’ in disguise didn’t. In the next two posts, I will give the main lines of both stories and explain why horses, rather than other valuables, are crucial in this transaction.
Saints Florus and Laurus
There is something going on between saints and horses: a surprising number of saints, from the early years of Christianity, throughout the Middle Ages, and well into the early modern period, from all geographic regions, from Byzantium to Rus (for instance, Saints Florus and Laurus), in the British Isles, France, and other European countries, perform miracles related to horses. Most commonly, they heal horses. There are also some cases of saints helping to find runaway horses and even of a saint resurrecting a horse.
the Centaur … is a man combined with a horse. Some say that they were horsemen of Thessaly, but because, as they rushed into battle, the horses and men seemed to have one body, they maintained the fiction of the Centaurs.
In his Etymologies (Book 11, 3:37), Isidore of Seville rationalizes the hybrid creature of the centaur – they are not part-humans, part-horses, they are just men who by virtue of their exceptional riding skills, their unity with the horse, seemed to make one with their mounts.
If you have read my previous post on how Bishop Aidan gave a royally turned-out horse to a beggar, you are probably wondering where did Aidan get the beast in the first place. Without further ado, I reproduce here the relevant passage from Bede – it turns out the Bishop’s horse was a gift to him, and the gift-giver was far from pleased at Aidan generosity, at least at first:
King Oswin … had given a beautiful horse to Bishop Aidan, to use either in crossing rivers, or in performing a journey upon any urgent necessity, though the Bishop was wont to travel ordinarily on foot. Some short time after, a poor man meeting the Bishop, and asking alms, he immediately dismounted, and ordered the horse, with all his royal trappings, to be given to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and, in a manner, the father of the wretched. This being
told to the king, when they were going in to dinner, he said to the Bishop, “What did you mean, my lord Bishop, by giving the poor man that royal horse, which it was fitting that you should have for your own use? Had not we many other horses of less value, or things of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, instead of giving that horse, which I had chosen and set apart for your own use?” Thereupon the Bishop answered, “What do you say, O king? Is that son of a mare more dear to you than that son of God?”
Horses of the three kings, part of the Nativity story, from the church of saint Trophimus in Arles (12 c.)
What would you do if, going along on your business, you met with a beggar, and you were short of cash? Christian duty notwithstanding, you probably wouldn’t give the beggar your good new Jaguar with keys and all-cover insurance into the deal?
However, it is exactly this – with a small correction in view of medieval realities – that the Bishop Aidan did, according to the venerable Bede:
“It was a little time later when he was sitting on his horse that a certain poor man came and asked him for alms. Then he alighted immediately and commanded that the poor man be given the horse with the kingly bridle which was on him, because he was so merciful and generous to the needy, and like a father to the poor.” (Old English Bede)
Mercifulness and generosity notwithstanding, the Bishop’s actions seem to be beyond what the occasion demanded. One may wonder whether he was indeed short of cash that moment – but then, couldn’t he have asked one of his followers to give something to the poor man? What would the beggar do with a royal horse? And why is the bridle singled out of all equipment that might have been on the horse?