Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2


Being weaned, Ulenspiegel grew like a young poplar.

Claes now did not kiss him often, but loved him with a surly air so as not to spoil him.

When Ulenspiegel would come home, complaining of being beaten in some fray, Claes would beat him because he had not beaten the others, and thus educated Ulenspiegel became valiant as a young lion.

If Claes was from home, Ulenspiegel would ask Soetkin for a liard, to go play. Soetkin, angry, would say, What need have you to go play? It would fit you better to stay at home to tie faggots.

Seeing that she would give him nothing, Ulenspiegel would cry like an eagle, but Soetkin would make a great clatter of pots and pans, which she was washing in a wooden tub, to pretend she did not hear him. Then would Ulenspiegel weep, and the gentle mother, dropping her feigned harshness, would come to him, petting him, and say, Will a denier be enough for you? Now take notice that a denier is worth six liards.

So she loved him overmuch, and when Claes was not there, Ulenspiegel was king in the house.


One morning Soetkin beheld Claes with head down wandering about the kitchen like a man lost in his own thought.

What grieves thee, husband? said she. Thou art pale, wroth, and distraught.

Claes answered in a low tone, like a growling dog:

They are going to renew the Emperors cruel edicts. Death will hover once more over the soil of Flanders. Informers are to have the half of the victims goods, if the goods exceed not a hundred florins carolus.

We are poor folk, said she.

Poor, said he, but not poor enough. There are some of that vile crew, ravens and vultures living on corpses, who would denounce us to divide a basket of charcoal with His Majesty as well as a bag of carolus. What had poor Tanneken, the widow of Sis the tailor, who perished at Heyst, buried alive? A Latin Bible, three gold florins, and some pewter pans that her neighbour coveted. Johannah Martens was burned for a witch, being first flung into water, for her body had floated and they took it as a judgment of heaven. She had some poor bits of furniture, seven gold carolus in a purse, and the informer wanted half. Alas! I could tell thee the like until to-morrow, but come, goodwife, life is no longer worth the living in Flanders by reason of these edicts. Soon every night will the chariot of death pass through the town, and we shall hear the skeleton shaking in it with a dry clatter of bones.

You must not frighten me, husband. The Emperor is the father of Flanders and Brabant, and like a father is endued with long-suffering gentleness, patience, and compassion.

He would lose too much by that, said Claes, for he inherits the goods that are confiscate.

Of a sudden sounded the trumpet and gnashed the cymbals of the town herald. Claes and Soetkin, carrying Ulenspiegel in their arms turn about, ran to the sound with the crowd.

They came to the Townhall, before which were the heralds upon horseback, blowing their trumpets and clashing their cymbals, the provost holding the wand of justice and the procurator of the commune on horseback, holding in both hands an edict of the Emperor and making ready to read it to the assembled throng.

Claes heard that it was thenceforward straightly forbidden, to all men in general and in particular, to print, read, have, or maintain the writings, books, or doctrine of Martin Luther, Johannes Wycliff, Johannes Huss, Marcilius de Padua, ?colampadius, Ulricus Zwinglius, Philippus Melancthon, Franciscus Lambertus, Joannes Pomeranus, Otto Brunselsius, Justus Jonas, Johannes Puperis et Gorcianus, the New Testaments printed by Adrien de Berghes, Christopher de Remonda, and Joannes Zel, full of Lutheran and other heresies, banned and condemned by the Theological Faculty of the University of Louvain.

In like manner neither to paint or pourtray, nor cause to be painted or pourtrayed either opprobrious figures of God and the Blessed Virgin or of their saints; nor to break, rend, or efface the images or pourtraitures made in honour, memory, or remembrance of God and of the Virgin Mary or of saints approved by the Church.

Furthermore, said the proclamation, no man, of whatever station, shall put himself forward to discuss or dispute upon Holy Writ, even upon matters that are held in doubt, if he is not a theologian renowned and approved by a great university.

His Sacred Majesty enacted among other penalties that suspected persons should ever after be incapable of holding honourable estate.

As for persons fallen a second time into their error, or persons who were stubborn therein, they should be condemned to burn by a slow fire or quick, in an envelope of straw, or fastened to a stake, at the discretion of the judge. Other men should be executed by the sword if they were noble or reputable burgesses, churls by the gallows, and women by burying alive. Their heads, for a warning, should be planted on spikes. And there would be confiscation to the Emperor of the goods and chattels of all that lay within the limits of confiscation.

His Sacred Majesty granted to informers the half of all possessed by the condemned, provided their goods did not amount in all to one hundred pounds in Flanders money. As for the Emperors portion, he reserved to himself the right to employ it in works of piety and alms, as he did at the sack of Rome.

And Claes went sadly away, with Soetkin and Ulenspiegel.


The year had been a good one, and Claes bought a donkey and nine measures of peas for seven florins and one morning he mounted on the beast, and Ulenspiegel clung to the crupper behind him. They were going in this fashion to salute their uncle and elder brother, Josse Claes, who lived not far from Meyborg in Germany.

Josse, who had been simple and kind in his youth, having suffered various wrongs, became crotchety and malicious, his blood turned to bile in his veins, he became misanthropic and lived solitary and alone.

His delight then was to make two so-called faithful friends fight each other, and he would give three patards to the one that gave the other the hardest drubbing.

He loved also to bring together in a well-heated room a great many old gossips, the oldest and crabbedest that could be found, and he would give them toasted bread to eat and hypocras to drink.

Those who were more than sixty years old he gave wool to knit in a corner, recommending them to let their nails always grow long. And it was a marvel to hear all the gurgling, the tongue clacking, the ill-natured tattle, the thin coughings and spittings of these old hags, who, with their knitting needles under their armpits, sat all together nibbling at their neighbours good name.

Now when he saw them all animated and lively, Josse would throw a hank of hair into the fire, and as it flared up the air would all at once be poisoned.

The gossips then, all talking together, would accuse each other of making the stench; all denying it, they would very soon have each other by the hair, and Josse would go on throwing more hair on the fire, and chopped up horsehair on the floor. When he could see no longer, by reason of the fury of the m?l?e, the thick smoke and the flying dust, he would fetch two of his men disguised as constables, who would drive the old women out of the hall, beating them soundly with long switches, like a troop of angry geese.

And Josse would examine the battlefield, finding strips of clothes, fragments of shoes, pieces of chemises, and old teeth.

And filled with melancholy he would say to himself:

My day is wasted, never a one of them has left her tongue behind in the m?l?e.


Claes, being in the bailiwick of Meyborg, was going through a little wood: the donkey as he travelled was browsing on the thistles; Ulenspiegel was throwing his bonnet after the butterflies and picking it up without leaving the beasts back. Claes was eating a hunch of bread, meaning to wash it down at the next tavern. Far off he heard a bell clinking and the noise of a great crowd of men all speaking together.

Tis some pilgrimage, said he, and the pilgrims will doubtless be numerous. Hold on well, my son, to the donkey, so that they may not knock you over. Come and let us see. Now, then, ass, stick to my heels.

And the ass began to run.

Leaving the fringe of the wood, he descended towards a wide plateau bordered by a stream at the foot of its western slope. On the eastern slope was a little chapel with a gable surmounted by the image of Our Lady and at her feet two little figures each representing a bull. Upon the chapel steps, grinning with glee, were a hermit shaking his bell, fifty flunkeys holding lighted candles, players, blowers, bangers of drums, clarions, fifes, shawms, and bagpipes, and a knot of jolly companions holding with both hands iron boxes full of old metal, but all silent at the moment.

Five thousand pilgrims and more went along seven by seven in close ranks, casques on their heads, cudgels of green wood in their hands. If there came fresh arrivals helmeted and armed in like fashion, they ranged themselves tumultuously behind the others. Then passing seven by seven before the chapel they had their cudgels blessed, received each man a candle from the hands of the flunkeys, and in exchange paid a demi-florin to the hermit.

And so long was the procession that the candles of the first were burnt down to the end of the wick while those of the latest were all but choking with too much tallow.

Claes, Ulenspiegel, and the donkey, astonished, saw thus passing before them an immense variety of bellies, broad, long, high, pointed, proud, firm, or falling ignobly upon their natural props. And all the pilgrims had casques on their heads.

Some of these casques had come from Troy, and were like Phrygian caps, or surmounted by aigrettes of red horsehair; some of the pilgrims, though they were fat-faced and paunchy, wore helms with outspread wings, but had no notion of flying; then came those who had on their heads salades that snails would have disdained for their lack of greenery.

But the greater part had casques so old and rusty that they seemed to date from the days of Gambrinus, the King of Flanders and of beer, the which monarch lived nine hundred years before Our Lord and wore a quart pot for a hat, so that he need never have to refrain from drinking for lack of a cup.

All at once rang, droned, thundered, thumped, squealed, brayed, clattered bells, bagpipes, shawms, drums, and ironmongery.

At the sound of this din, the signal for the pilgrims, they turned about, placing themselves face to face by bands of seven, and by way of provocation every man thrust his flaming candle into the face of his opposite. Therefrom arose great sternutation. And it began to rain green wood. And they fought with foot, with head, with heel, with everything. Some hurled upon their adversaries like rams, casque foremost, smashing it down on to their shoulders, and ran blinded to fall on a seven-fold rank of furious pilgrims, the which received them ungently.

Others, whimperers and cowards, bemoaned themselves because of the blows, but while they were mumbling their dolorous paternosters, there whirled upon them, swift as a thunderbolt, two sevens of struggling pilgrims, flinging the poor blubberers to earth and trampling them without compassion.

And the hermit laughed.

Other sevens, keeping in clusters like grapes, rolled from the top of the plateau into the very stream where they still exchanged shrewd strokes without quenching their fury.

And the hermit laughed.

Those that remained upon the plateau were blacking each others eyes, breaking each others teeth, tearing out each others hair, rending each others doublet and breeches.

And the hermit would laugh and call out:

Courage, friends, he that smiteth sore but loves the more. To the hardest hitters the love of their fair ones! Our Lady of Rindisbels, tis here may be seen the true males!

And the pilgrims fell to it with joyous heart.

Claes, meanwhile, had drawn near the hermit, while Ulenspiegel, laughing and shouting, applauded the blows.

Father, said Claes, what crime, then, have these poor fellows committed to be forced so cruelly to strike one another?

But the hermit, not giving ear to him, shouted:

Lazybones! ye lose courage. If the fists are weary are the feet? Gods life! some of you have legs to run like hares! What makes fire leap from the flint? Tis the iron that beateth it. What blows up virility in old folk if not a goodly dish of blows well seasoned with male fury?

At these words, the pilgrims continued to belabour one another with casque, with hands, with feet. Twas a wild m?l?e where not Argus with his hundred eyes had seen aught but the flying dust or the peak of some casque.

Sudden the hermit clanked his bell. Fifes, drums, trumpets, bagpipes, shawms, and old iron ceased their din. And this was the signal for peace.

The pilgrims picked up their wounded. Among them were seen many tongues swollen with anger, protruding from the mouths of the combatants. But they returned of themselves to their accustomed palates. Most difficult of all it was to take off the casques of those who had thrust them down as far as their necks, and now were shaking their heads, but without making them fall, no more than green plums.

None the less the hermit said to them:

Recite each one an Ave and go back to your good wives. Nine months hence there will be as many children more in the bailiwick as there were valiant champions in the battle to-day.

And the hermit sang the Ave and all sang it with him. And the bell tinkled above.

Then the hermit blessed them in the name of Our Lady of Rindisbels and said:

Go in peace!

They departed shouting, jostling, and singing all the way to Meyborg. All the goodwives, old and young, were waiting for them on the threshold of their houses which they entered like men at arms in a town taken by storm.

The bells of Meyborg were pealing their loudest: the little lads whistled, shouted, played the rommel-pot.

Quart stoups, tankards, goblets, glasses, flagons, and pint-pots rang and jingled marvellously. And the good wine rolled in waves down thirsty throats.

During this ringing, and while the wind brought to the ears of Claes from the town, in gusts, songs of men and women and children, he spake once again to the hermit, asking him what heavenly boon these good folk looked to win by these rough devotions.

The hermit answered, laughing:

Thou seest upon this chapel two carven images, representing two bulls. They are placed there in memory of the miracle whereby Saint Martin transformed two bullocks into bulls, by making them fight with their horns. Then he rubbed their muzzles with a candle and green wood for an hour and longer.

Wotting of the miracle, and fortified with a brief from His Holiness, for which I paid roundly, I came hither and established myself.

Thenceforward all the ancient coughers and big-bellies in Meyborg and the country roundabout, persuaded by my arguments, were certain that having once beaten one another soundly with the candle, the which is unction, and with the cudgel, that is power, they would win favour of Our Lady. The women send their ancient husbands hither. The children born by virtue of this pilgrimage are violent, bold, fierce, nimble, and make perfect soldiers.

Suddenly the hermit said to Claes:

Dost thou know me?

Yea, said Claes, thou art Josse my brother.

I am, replied the hermit; but what is this little man that makes faces at me?

It is thy nephew, said Claes.

What difference dost thou make between me and the Emperor Charles?

It is great, replied Claes.

It is but small, rejoined Josse, for we do both alike, we two: he makes men to slay one another, I to beat one another for our gain and pleasure.

Then he brought them to his hermitage, where they held feast and revel for eleven days without pause or truce.


Claes, when he parted from his brother, mounted his donkey once more, taking Ulenspiegel on the crupper behind him. He passed by the great square of Meyborg, and there beheld, assembled in groups, a great number of pilgrims, who seeing them became enraged and flourishing their cudgels they all suddenly cried out, Scamp! because of Ulenspiegel, who, opening his breeches, plucked up his shirt and showed them his nether visage.

Claes, seeing that it was his son they were threatening, said to him:

What did you do for them to be so angry against you?

Dear father, replied Ulenspiegel, I am sitting on the donkey, saying no word to any man, and nevertheless they say I am a scamp.

Then Claes set him in front.

In this position Ulenspiegel thrust out his tongue at the pilgrims, who, roaring, shook their fists at him, and lifting up their cudgels, would fain have beaten Claes and the donkey.

But Claes smote the beast with his heels to flee from their wrath, and while they pursued, losing their breath, he said to his son:

Thou wert then born on a luckless day, for thou art sitting in front of me, doing no harm to any, and yet they would fain destroy thee.

Ulenspiegel laughed.

Passing by Li?ge, Claes learned that the poor Rivageois were starving and that they had been placed under the jurisdiction of the Official, a tribunal composed of ecclesiastical judges. They made a riot demanding bread and lay judges. Some were beheaded or hanged, and the rest banished out of the country, such at that time was the clemency of Monseigneur de la Marck, the gentle archbishop.

Claes saw by the way the banished folk, fleeing from the pleasant vale of Li?ge, and on the trees near to the town the bodies of men hanged for being hungry. And he wept over them.


When he came home, riding upon his donkey, and provided with a bag full of patards his brother Josse had given him and a goodly tankard of pewter, there were in the cottage Sunday good cheer and daily feasts, for every day they had meat and beans to eat.

Claes filled often the great pewter tankard with dobbel-cuyt and emptied it as often.

Ulenspiegel ate for three and paddled in the dishes like a sparrow in a heap of corn.

Look, said Claes, hes eating the saltcellar, too!

Ulenspiegel answered:

When the saltcellar, as in our house, is made of a hollow piece of bread, it must be eaten now and then, lest the worms might come in it as it gets old.

Why, said Soetkin, do you wipe your greasy hands on your breeches?

So that I may never have my thighs wet, replied Ulenspiegel.

At this moment Claes drank a deep draught from his tankard. Ulenspiegel said to him:

Why have you so big a cup, I have only a poor little mug?

Claes answered:

Because I am your father and the baes of this house.

Ulenspiegel retorted:

You have been drinking for forty years, I for nine only; your time to drink is passed, mine is come; it is therefore for me to have the tankard and for you to take the mug.

Son, said Claes, he that would pour a hogshead into a keg would throw his beer into the gutter.

You will then be wise to pour your keg into my hogshead, for I am bigger than your tankard, replied Ulenspiegel.

And Claes, delighted, gave him his tankard to drain. In this wise Ulenspiegel learned how to talk for his drink.


Soetkin carried beneath her girdle the signs of renewed maternity; Katheline, too, was with child, but for fear dared not stir out of her house.

When Soetkin went to see her:

Ah! said she, lamenting, what shall I do with the poor fruit of my womb? Must I strangle it? I would rather die. But if the constables take me, for having a child without being married, they will make me pay twenty florins, like a girl of loose life, and I shall be whipped on the marketplace.

Soetkin then said some soothing word to console her, and having left her, went home pondering. Then one day she said to Claes:

If instead of one child I had two, would you beat me, husband?

I dont know that, replied Claes.

But, said she, if this second were not born of me, and like Kathelines were the offspring of an unknown, of the devil, mayhap?

Devils, replied Claes, engender fire, death, and foul smoke, but not children. I will hold as mine the child of Katheline.

You would do this? she said.

I have said, replied Claes.

Soetkin went to tell Katheline.

Hearing it, the latter cried out, overjoyed.

He has spoken, good man, spoken for the sake of my poor body. He will be blessed by God, and blessed of the devil, if it is a devil, she said, shuddering, that hath made thee, poor babe that movest in my bosom.

Soetkin and Katheline brought into the world one a lad, the other a girl. Both were borne to baptism, as son and daughter of Claes. Soetkins son was named Hans, and did not live, Kathelines daughter was named Nele and throve well.

She drank the wine of life from four flagons, two of Katheline and two of Soetkin. And the two women quarrelled softly which should give the babe to drink. But against her desire Katheline must needs allow her milk to dry up, so that none might ask whence it came without her having been a mother.

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