Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2

True indeed, our painter, replied the landgrave, and what should I have to pay thee for this great work?

One hundred florins, in advance or otherwise, answered Ulenspiegel.

Here they are in advance, said the landgrave.

Kind and good lord, replied Ulenspiegel, you put oil in my lamp, it shall burn in your honour.

The next day he asked the landgrave to cause to pass before him all those for whom he reserved the honour of figuring in the portraiture.

Came then the Duke of Lunebourg, the commander of the lansquenets in the landgraves service. This was a big heavy man, carrying with difficulty his paunch swollen with victuals. He drew near Ulenspiegel and whispered a word in his ear:

If you do not, in making my portrait, take away half my fat, I shall have you hanged by my troopers.

The duke passed on.

And then a noble lady, the which had a hump on her back and a bosom as flat as the blade of an executioners glaive:

Messire painter, said she, if you do not give me two humps for the one that you shall take away, and do not put them in front, I shall have you quartered as a poisoner.

The lady passed on.

Then came a young maid of honour, fair, fresh, and pretty, but who lacked three teeth under her upper lip.

Messire painter, she said, if you do not make me laugh and show thirty-two teeth, I shall have you cut to pieces by my lover, who is over there.

And pointing out the captain of musketeers who had before been playing dice on the palace stairway, she passed on.

The procession continued; Ulenspiegel remained alone with the landgrave.

If thou hast the ill-luck, said the landgrave, to err in one feature the pourtraying all these countenances, I shall have thy head cut off like a chickens.

Bereft of my head, thought Ulenspiegel, quartered, chopped in pieces, or hanged at least, it will be much more comfortable to pourtray nothing at all. I will bethink me for it.

Where, he asked the landgrave, is the hall that I am to decorate with all these paintings?

Follow me, said the landgrave.

And showing him a great room with spacious walls all bare and empty:

This, he said, is the hall.

I should greatly like, said Ulenspiegel, that they should set great curtains on these walls, so as to assure my paintings against the insults of flies and against dust.

That shall be done, said the landgrave.

The curtains being put in place, Ulenspiegel asked for three apprentices, as he said, to make them prepare his colours.

For thirty days, Ulenspiegel and the apprentices did nothing but hold feast and revel, sparing neither the choice viands nor the old wines. The landgrave watched over all.

However, on the thirty-first day he came and put in his nose at the door of the room which Ulenspiegel had enjoined on him not to enter.

Well, Thyl, where are thy portraits?

Far away, replied Ulenspiegel.

Could not one see them?

Not yet.

The thirty-sixth day, he put his nose in at the door again.

Well, Thyl? he asked.

Ah! sire Landgrave, they are travelling towards the end.

The sixtieth day, the landgrave became angry, and entering the room:

Thou art immediately to show me the pictures, said he.

Yea, great lord, replied Ulenspiegel, but deign not to draw aside this curtain until you have summoned hither the lords and captains and ladies of your court.

I consent to this, said the landgrave.

They all came at his command.

Ulenspiegel stood before the curtain closely drawn.

Monseigneur Landgrave, said he, Madame Landgravine, and you, Monseigneur de Lunebourg, and you other beauteous dames and valiant captains, I have pourtrayed as best I could your pretty or warlike faces behind this curtain.

It will be easy to recognize each one of you there. You are curious to see yourselves, it is natural, but pray have patience and permit me to say a word or two to you. Beauteous ladies and valiant captains, who are all of noble blood, you can see and admire my painting; but if among you there is one of low origin, he will see nothing save the blank wall. And now deign to open your noble eyes.

Ulenspiegel pulled the curtain back.

Noble men alone see aught, alone they see aught there, the noble ladies, so shall men say ere long: blind in painting as a base fellow, clear seeing as a noble gentleman!

All opened their eyes to the widest, pretending to see, mutually pointing themselves out to one another, showing and recognizing each other, but seeing nothing in reality but the white wall, which made them grieved.

All at once the fool who was there bounded three feet into the air and shaking his bells:

Let me be looked on as base, said he, a base fellow full of basest baseness, but I will say and cry and proclaim with trumpets and flourish of trumpets that I see there a bare wall, a blank wall, a naked wall. So help me God and all His saints!

Ulenspiegel replied:

When fools begin to talk it is time for wise men to be off.

He was making to leave the palace when the landgrave staying him:

Fool full of folly, said he, that goest about the world praising things fine and good and mocking at things stupid with wide mouth, thou that hast dared before so many noble dames and most high and mighty lords to make a vulgar mock of pride of blasonry and lordship, thou wilt be hanged one day for thy over-free speech.

If the rope be a golden rope, replied Ulenspiegel, it will break with terror to see me coming.

There, said the landgrave, giving him fifteen florins, there is the first piece of it.

All thanks, Monseigneur, answered Ulenspiegel, every inn by the way shall have a strand of it, a strand all of gold that maketh Cr?suses of all these thieving innkeepers.

And away he went on his ass, his bonnet high, his plume streaming in the wind, merry and jolly.


The leaves were yellowing on the trees and the autumn wind was beginning to blow. Katheline sometimes had her reason for an hour or two or three. And Claes then said that the spirit of God had visited her in His great compassion. At these moments she had power by passes and by words to cast a spell upon Nele, who saw more than a hundred leagues away all that happened in city places, in the streets, or within the houses.

On this day then, Katheline, being in her wits, was eating olie koekjes well washed down with dobbel-cuyt in company with Claes, Soetkin, and Nele.

Said Claes:

To-day is the day of the abdication of His Sacred Majesty the Emperor Charles the Fifth. Nele, my dear, could you see as far as Brussels in Brabant?

I could, if Katheline is willing, answered Nele.

Then Katheline made the girl sit upon a bench, and by her words and passes, acting like a spell, Nele sank down all deep in slumber.

Katheline said to her:

Go into the little house in the Park, which is the favourite abode of the Emperor Charles the Fifth.

I am, said Nele, speaking low and as though she was being stifled, I am in a little chamber painted green with oil colours. There there is a man bordering upon four and fifty years, bald and gray, with a fair beard on a jutting chin, with an evil look in his gray eyes, full of cunning, of cruelty, and feigned good nature. And this man he is called Sacred Majesty. He is in catarrh and coughs sorely. Beside him is another, young, with an ugly mask like an ape hydrocephalous; that one I saw at Antwerp, it is King Philip. His Sacred Majesty at this moment is reproaching him for having slept abroad last night; doubtless, he saith, to go and find some vile creature in a filthy den in the low quarters of the city. He says his hair stinks of the tavern, which is no pleasure for a king that hath only to choose sweet bodies, skins of satin refreshed in baths of perfumes, and hands of great ladies amorous, which is far better, saith he, than a wild sow, come hardly washed from the arms of a drunken trooper. There is, saith he, never a maiden, wife, or widow who would resist him, among the most noble and beauteous, that illumine their loves with perfumed tapers, not by the greasy glimmer of stinking tallow-dips.

The king replied that he will obey His Sacred Majesty in all things.

Then His Sacred Majesty coughs and drinks some mouthfuls of hypocras.

You will presently, says he, addressing Philip, see the States General, prelates, nobles, and burgesses: Orange the Silent, Egmont the Vain, de Hornes the Unpopular, Brederode the Lion; and also all those of the Fleece of Gold of whom I make you sovereign. You will see there a hundred wearers of baubles, who would all cut their noses off to have the privilege of hanging them from a gold chain on their breasts, in token of higher nobility.

Then, changing his tone and full of sadness, His Sacred Majesty saith to King Philip:

Thou knowest, my son, that I am about to abdicate in thy favour, to give the world a great spectacle and to speak in front of a huge crowd, though hiccupping and coughing for all my life I have eaten over much, my son and thy heart must be hard indeed, if having heard me, thou dost not shed a few tears.

I shall weep, father, answers King Philip.

Then His Sacred Majesty speaks to a valet called Dubois:

Dubois, says he, give me a piece of Madeira sugar, I have a hiccup. If only it will not seize me when I shall be speaking to all these people. Will that goose I had yesterday never be done with! Should I drink a tankard of Orleans wine? No, it is too harsh! Should I eat a few anchovies? They are very oily. Dubois, give me some Romagna wine.

Dubois gives His Majesty what he asketh, then puts upon him a gown of crimson velvet, wraps him in a gold cloak, girds on his sword, puts into his hands the sceptre and the globe, and the crown upon his head.

Then His Sacred Majesty leaves the house in the Park, riding on a low mule and followed by King Philip and many high personages. In this fashion they go into a great building that they call a palace, and there they find in a chamber a tall slender man, richly clad, whom they call Orange.

His Sacred Majesty speaks to this man and says to him: Do I look well, cousin William?

But the man makes no answer, not a word.

His Sacred Majesty then says to him, half laughing, half angry:

You will be dumb always, then, cousin, even to tell the truth to old broken-down things? Ought I to reign still or to abdicate, Silent One?

Sacred Majesty, replied the slender man, when winter cometh the most vigorous oaks let their leaves fall.

Three of the clock strikes.

Silent One, says he, lend me thy shoulder, that I may lean on it.

And he enters with him and with his retinue into a great hall, takes his seat under a canopy and on a dais covered with silk or crimson carpets. There are three seats on it: His Sacred Majesty takes the middle one, more ornate than the others, and surmounted with an imperial crown; King Philip sits on the second, and the third is for a woman, who is doubtless a queen. To the right and to the left, seated upon tapestried benches and cushioned, are men clad in red and wearing a little gold sheep on their necks. Behind them are placed many persons who are doubtless princes and lords. Over against them and at the foot of the dais are seated, upon benches that have no cushions, men clad in cloth. I hear them say that they are thus modestly seated and clad only because they are themselves paying all their proper charges. All rose up when His Sacred Majesty came in, but he soon sate him down and signed to all to sit down likewise.

An old man next speaks long about the gout, then the woman, who seemeth to be a queen, hands His Sacred Majesty a roll of parchment in which are written things which His Sacred Majesty reads out, coughing, and in a voice low and indistinct, and speaking of himself says:

I have made many voyages in Spain, in Italy, in the Low Countries, in England and in Africa, all for the glory of God, the lustre of my arms, and the welfare of my peoples.

Then having spoken long, he says that he is broken and weary, and fain to deliver the crown of Spain, the counties, duchies, marquisates of these lands into his sons hands.

Then he weeps, and all weep with him.

King Philip now rises, and falling upon his knees:

Sacred Majesty, he says, is it for me to accept this crown at your hands when you are so capable of wearing it still!

Then His Sacred Majesty whispered in his ear to speak comfortably to the men seated upon the cushioned benches.

King Philip, turning towards them, says to them in a harsh tone and without rising:

I understand French passing well, but not sufficiently to speak to you in that tongue. Ye will hear what the Bishop of Arras, Master Grandvelle, shall say to you on my behalf.

Thou sayest ill, my son, says His Sacred Majesty.

And indeed the assembly murmurs, seeing the young king so arrogant and so haughty. The woman, who is the queen, speaks also to make her eulogy, then comes the turn of an aged man of learning who, when he has made an end, receives a sign from the hand of His Sacred Majesty by way of thanks. These ceremonies and harangues being over, His Sacred Majesty declares his subjects released from their oath of fidelity, signs the acts drawn up to that end, and rising up from his throne, sets his son therein. And everyone in the hall weeps. Then they go back to the house in the Park.

There, being once more in the green chamber, alone and all doors fast shut, His Sacred Majesty laughs loud and long, and speaking to King Philip who laughs not:

Did you see, he says, speaking, hiccuping, and laughing all together, how little is needed to move these good souls? What a deluge of tears! And that fat Maes who, when he finished his long discourse, wept like a calf. You yourself seemed touched, but not enough. These are the true spectacles the common folk must have. My son, we men love our mistresses the more the more they cost us. It is the same with peoples. The more we make them pay, the more they love us. In Germany I tolerated the reformed faith that I punished severely in the Low Countries. If the princes of Germany had been catholic, I would have been Lutheran and confiscated their goods. They believe in the reality of my zeal for the Roman faith and regret to see me leave them. There have perished at my hands, in the Low Countries and for heresy, fifty thousand of their most hardy men and prettiest maids. I am departing, they lament. Without counting confiscations, I have made them pay more than the Indies and Peru: they are heartbroken at losing me. I have torn up the peace of Cadzand, broken Ghent, suppressed everything that could come in my way; liberties, franchises, privileges, everything is at the discretion of the princes officers: these good souls think they are still free because I allow them to shoot with the cross bow and carry the banners of their guilds in procession. They felt my hand as master: put in a cage, they find themselves comfortable there, they sing in it and weep for me. My son, be to them as I have been: benign in words, harsh in deeds; lick as long as there is no need to bite. Swear, swear always to their liberties, franchises, and privileges, but if there be any peril to yourself, destroy them all. They are iron if one touch them with a faltering hand, glass if you brush them with a strong arm. Smite heresy not because of its divergence from the Roman religion, but because in these Low Countries it would destroy our authority; those that attack the Pope, who weareth a triple crown, have speedily done with princes that have but one. Make it treason, as I did liberty of conscience, entailing the confiscation of goods, and you will inherit them as I did all my life, and when you depart, to abdicate or to die, they will say: Oh! the good prince! and they will weep.

And I hear nothing more, went on Nele, for His Sacred Majesty has lain down on a bed and is asleep, and King Philip, arrogant and proud, looks upon him with no love.

Having said so much, Nele was awakened by Katheline. And Claes, pensive, looked at the flame on the hearth lightening up the chimney place.


Ulenspiegel, leaving the landgrave of Hesse, mounted his ass and crossing the town square, met certain wrathful countenances of lords and ladies, but he took no heed of them.

Soon he arrived on the lands of the Duke of Lunebourg, and there fell in with a band of Smaedelyke broeders, jolly Flemings from Sluys who laid aside some money every Saturday so that once a year they could go for a tour in Germany.

They were going on their way singing, in an open cart drawn by a stout horse of Vuerne-Ambacht, that brought them gambolling by the highways and marshy lands of the duchy of Lunebourg. Among them were some that played the fife, the rebeck, the viol, and the bagpipe with a mighty din. Beside the cart there walked at frequent intervals a dikzak playing on the rommel-pot and going afoot in the hope of melting off some of his great belly.

As they were down to their last florin they saw Ulenspiegel come up to them, laden with chiming coin, and went into an inn and paid for his draught. Ulenspiegel gladly accepted. Seeing the while the Smaedelyke broeders were winking as they looked at him and smiling while they poured out his wine for him, he had wind of some trick, went outside, and posted himself at the door to hear their talk. He heard the dikzak saying of him:

This is the painter of the landgrave who gave him more than a thousand florins for a picture. Let us feast him full with beer and wine, he will pay us back twofold.

Amen, said the others.

Ulenspiegel went to fasten his ass all saddled a thousand paces away at a farmers, gave two patards to a girl to take charge of it, came back into the chamber of the inn and sat down at the Smaedelyke broeders table, without uttering a word. They poured out wine for him and paid. Ulenspiegel rattled the landgraves florins in his satchel, saying that he had just sold his ass to a countryman for seventeen silver daelders.

They travelled on, eating and drinking, playing the fife, the bagpipe, and rommel-pot, and picking up by the way the goodwives they thought comely. In this way they begot foundling children, and beyond all, Ulenspiegel, whose gossip later bore a son which she named Eulenspiegelken, which signifies, in high German, little mirror and owl, and that because she did not understand clearly the meaning of her casual mans name, and also perhaps in memory of the hour when the child was made. And this is the Eulenspiegelken wrongly said to have been born at Krittingen, in the land of Saxony.

Drawn by their stout horse they went along a highway at the side of which was a village and an inn with the sign In den ketele: In the Kettle. Thence issued a goodly savour of fricassee.

The dikzak who played the rommel-pot went to the baes and said to him, speaking of Ulenspiegel:

That is the landgraves painter; he will pay for all.

The baes, perusing Ulenspiegels appearance, which was excellent, and hearing the chink of florins and daelders, set upon the table wherewith to eat and drink; Ulenspiegel did not shrink from it. And ever and always jingled the crowns in his wallet. Many a time, too, he had stuck his hand on his hat saying it covered his chief treasure. The revels having lasted two days and one night, the Smaedelyke broeders said to Ulenspiegel:

Let us be off from here and pay the bill.

Ulenspiegel answered:

When the rat is in the cheese, doth he ask to leave it?

Nay, said they.

And when a man eats well and drinks well, does he seek out the dust of the roads and the water from springs full of leeches?

Nay, indeed, said they.

Well, then, said Ulenspiegel, let us stay here as long as my florins and daelders serve us as funnels to pour into our throats the drinks that bring us to laughter.

And he bade the host bring still more wine and more sausage.

While they drank and ate, Ulenspiegel said:

Tis I who pay, I am landgrave for the nonce. If my wallet were empty, what would you do, comrades? You might take my soft felt headgear and you might find it full of carolus, in the crown as well as round the brim.

Let us feel, cried they all with one accord. And sighing they felt in it between their fingers large coins of the size and dimensions of gold carolus. But one among them handled it so lovingly that Ulenspiegel took it back, saying:

Impetuous dairy man, you must learn to await the milking hour.

Give me the half of your hat, said the Smaedelyke broeders.

Nay, answered Ulenspiegel, I dont want you to have a madmans brain, one half in the shade and the other in the sun.

Then giving his headgear over to the baes:

You, said he, do you keep it in any case, for it is hot. For my part, I am going out to ease me.

He went, and the host took charge of the hat.

Presently he left the inn, went to the peasants cottage, got up upon his ass, and went off full speed along the road that leads to Embden.

The Smaedelyke broeders, not seeing him come back, said one to another:

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