Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2


On the 15th of August, the great feast of Mary and of the blessing of herbs and roots, when filled with corn the hens are deaf to the bugle of the cock imploring love, a great stone crucifix was broken at one of the gates of Antwerp by an Italian in the pay of the Cardinal de Granvelle, and the procession of the Virgin, preceded by fools in green, in yellow, and in red, came forth out of the church of Notre Dame.

But the Virgins statue, having been insulted on the way by men whom no one knew, was hastily taken back into the choir of the church, the iron gates of which were shut.

Ulenspiegel and Lamme went into Notre Dame. Young beggars and ragamuffins, and some grown men among them, that nobody knew were in front of the choir, making certain signs and grimaces one to another. They were making a great din with feet and tongues. No one had seen them before in Antwerp, no one ever saw them again. One of them, with a face like a burned onion, asked if Mieke, that was Our Lady, had been afraid that she had gone back to the church in such a hurry.

It is not of thee that she is afeared, ugly blackamoor, replied Ulenspiegel.

The young man to whom he spoke went up to him, to beat him, but Ulenspiegel, gripping him by the collar:

If you strike me, said he, I will make you spew out your tongue.

Then turning towards certain men of Antwerp that were present:

Signorkes and pagaders, said he, pointing out the ragged young men, be cautious, these are spurious Flemings, traitors paid to bring us to ill, to misery, and to ruin.

Then speaking to the strangers:

Hey, said he, donkey faces, withered with want, whence have ye the money that chinks to-day in your pouches? Have ye perchance sold your skins beforehand for drumheads?

Look at the sermonizer! said the strangers.

Then they all began to shout together with one accord speaking of Our Lady:

Mieke has a fine robe. Mieke has a fine crown! I will give them to my doxy.

They went away, while one of them had got up into a pulpit to proclaim insulting and outrageous things from it, and they came back crying:

Come down, Mieke, come down before we go and fetch you. Perform a miracle, that we may see if you can walk as well as you can have Mieke carried about, the lazy thing!

But Ulenspiegel cried in vain: Workers of ruin, have done with your vile talk; all pillage is a crime! They ceased not at all from their talk; and some spoke even of breaking into the choir to force Mieke to come down.

Hearing this, an old woman, who sold candles in the church, flung in their faces the ashes of her foot warmer; but she was beaten and flung down on the floor, and then the riot began.

The markgrave came to the church with his sergeants. Seeing the populace assembled, he exhorted them to leave the church, but so feebly that only a few went away; the others said:

First we want to hear the canons singing vespers in honour of Mieke.

The markgrave replied:

There shall be no singing.

We will sing ourselves, answered the ragged strangers.

Which they did in the naves and near the porch of the church.

Some played at Krieke-steenen, at cherry-stones, and said: Mieke, you never game in paradise and you are bored there; play with us.

And insulting the statue without ceasing, they cried out, hooted and whistled.

The markgrave pretended to be afraid and departed. By his orders all the doors of the church were shut save one.

Without the populace having any hand in it, the ragtag and bobtail of the strangers became bolder and shouted more and more. And the roofs re?choed as though to the din of a hundred cannon.

One of them, he of the face like a burned onion, appearing to have some authority among them, got up into a pulpit, made a sign with his hand to them, and began to preach:

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, said he: the three making but one, and the one making three, God keep us in paradise from arithmetic; this day the twenty-ninth of August, Mieke went forth in great pomp of array to show her wooden face to the signorkes and pagaders of Antwerp. But Mieke, in the procession met the devil Satanas. And Satanas said to her, mocking her: There you are, high and mighty, prinked up like a queen, Mieke, and borne by four signorkes, and you will not look now at the poor pagader Satanas that makes his way on foot. And Mieke answered: Begone, Satanas, or I bruise thy head still more than ever, foul serpent! Mieke, said Satanas, that is the task in which you have been spending your time for fifteen hundred years, but the Spirit of the Lord, your master, hath delivered me. I am stronger than you are; you shall not walk over my head any more, and I am going to make you dance now. Satanas took a great whip, sharp and cutting, and started to flog Mieke, who dared not cry out for fear of showing her terror, and then she began to run as hard as she could, forcing the signorkes that were carrying her to run, too, so as not to let her fall with her gold crown and her jewels among the poor common folk. And now Mieke stays as stiff and as still as a frightened mouse in her niche, watching Satan, who is seated up at the top of the pillar under the little dome, and who says to her, still grasping his whip and grinning, I will make you pay for the blood and tears that flow in your name! Mieke, how goes your virgin birth? This is the time to flit. You shall be cut in twain, evil statue of wood, for all the statues of flesh and bone that were burned in your name, burned, hanged, buried alive without pity. So spake Satanas; and he spoke well. And thou must come down from thy niche, bloody Mieke, Mieke the cruel, that wast in no way like thy son Christus.

And all the band of the strangers, hooting and crying out, shouted: Mieke! Mieke! it is time to come out! Are you wetting your linen for fear in your niche? Up Brabant for the good Duke. Away with the wooden saints! Who will have a bath in the Scheldt! Wood swims better than fishes.

The populace listened to them without saying a word.

But Ulenspiegel, getting up into the pulpit, threw down the stair by main force the one that was haranguing.

Fools fit to tie, he said, speaking to the populace; lunatic fools, idiot fools, who see no further than the end of your dirty noses, do ye not see that all this is the work of traitors? They mean to make you commit sacrilege and pillage that they may declare you rebels, empty your coffers, cut off your heads, and burn you alive! And the king will inherit. Signorkes and pagaders, do not believe in the speeches of these artificers of woes: leave Notre Dame in her niche, live stoutly, working happily, spending your earnings and profits. The black devil of ruin has his eye upon you, and it is through sackings and destruction that he will call up the army of your foes to treat you as rebels and make Alba reign over you with dictatorship, inquisition, confiscation, and death.

And he will inherit!

Alas, said Lamme, do not pillage anything, signorkes and pagaders; the king is already very angry. The daughter of the embroideress told my friend Ulenspiegel so. Do not indulge in pillage, sirs!

But the populace would not give ear to them.

The unknown kept shouting:

Sack and turn out! Sack Brabant for the good Duke! To the river with wooden saints! They swim better than fishes!

Ulenspiegel, still in the pulpit, cried in vain:

Signorkes and pagaders do not suffer pillage! Do not call down ruin upon the town!

He was plucked away from there all torn, face, doublet, and breeches, though he avenged himself with both feet and hands. And all bleeding he never ceased to cry out:

Do not suffer pillage!

But it was in vain.

The unknown and the ragtag and bobtail of the city flung themselves on the iron grille of the choir, which they broke through, crying:

Long live the Beggar!

They all set to work to break, sack, destroy. Before midnight this great church, in which there were seventy altars, every kind of noble paintings and precious things, was empty as a nut. The altars were broken, the images flung down, and all the locks smashed.

This being done, the same unknown set off to treat like Notre Dame, the Minor Brothers, the Franciscans, Saint Peter, Saint Andrew, Saint Michael, Saint Pierre-au-Pot, the Bourg, the Fawkens, the White Sisters, the Gray Sisters, the Third Order, the Preachers, and all the churches and chapels in the city. They took candles and torches out of them and ran around everywhere in this manner.

Among them there was no quarrel nor dispute; not one of them was hurt in that great demolishing of wood and other materials.

They betook themselves to The Hague to proceed there to the overthrow of statues and altars, without the reformed lending them any aid either there or elsewhere.

At The Hague, the magistrate asked them where was their commission.

It is here, said one of them, striking upon his heart.

Their commission, hear you, signorkes and pagaders? said Ulenspiegel, having been informed of this. So then there is someone who deputes them to this work of sacrilege. Let some robber thief come into my cottage; I will do as did the magistrate of The Hague, I will say, taking off my bonnet: Gentle robber, gracious rogue, worshipful rascal, show me your commission. He will reply that it is in his heart that is greedy for my goods. And I shall give him the keys of everything. Seek, seek out who it is that profits by this pillage. Beware of the Red Dog. The great stone crucifix is flung down. Beware of the Red Dog!

The Great Sovereign Council of Malines having given orders through its president Viglius, not to put any obstacle in the way of image breaking: Alas! said Ulenspiegel, the harvest is ripe for the Spanish reapers. The Duke! the Duke is marching upon you. Flemings, the sea rises, the sea of vengeance. Poor women and girls, flee the living grave! Poor men, flee the gallows, the fire, and the sword! Philip means to finish the bloody work of Charles. The father sowed death and exile, the son hath sworn that he would rather rule over a cemetery than over a heretic folk. Flee; here be the executioner and the gravediggers.

The populace hearkened to Ulenspiegel, and families left the cities by hundreds, and the roads were encumbered with carts laden with the household stuff of those that were going into exile.

And Ulenspiegel went everywhere, followed by Lamme grieving and looking for his beloved.

And at Damme Nele wept by the side of Katheline the madwife.


Ulenspiegel being at Ghent in the barley month which is October, saw Egmont returning from revelling and feasting in the noble company of the Abbot of Saint Bavon. Being in a singing humour, he was absentmindedly allowing his horse to go at a foot pace. Suddenly he saw a man who, carrying a lighted lantern, was walking alongside him.

What wouldst thou of me? asked Egmont.

Good, replied Ulenspiegel, the good of a lantern when it is lit.

Begone and leave me, replied the Count.

I will not begone, rejoined Ulenspiegel.

Wouldst thou have a stroke of the whip then?

I would willingly have ten, if I can put in your head such a lantern that you might see clear from here to the Escurial.

I take no stock in thy lantern nor in the Escurial, replied the Count.

Well, for my part, answered Ulenspiegel, it burns in me to give you a good advice.

Then taking by the bridle the Counts horse, rearing and kicking:

Monseigneur, said he, think that now you dance well on your horse and that your head dances also very well upon your shoulders; but the king, they say, means to interrupt this fine dance, to leave you your body, but to take your head and make it dance in a land so far away that you will never be able to overtake it. Give me a florin, I have earned it.

The whip, if thou wilt not be off, evil newsmonger.

Monseigneur, I am Ulenspiegel, the son of Claes, that was burned alive for his belief and of Soetkin that died of sorrow. The ashes beating upon my breast tell me that Egmont, the gallant soldier, might with the gendarmerie in his command oppose the thrice-victorious troops of the Duke of Alba.

Begone, replied Egmont, I am no traitor.

Save the countries; you alone can save them, said Ulenspiegel.

The Count would have beaten Ulenspiegel; but he had not waited for this and fled away, crying:

Eat lanterns, eat lanterns, Messire Count. Save the countries.

Another day, Egmont being athirst had stopped in front of the inn In t bondt verken, the Piebald Pig kept by a woman of Courtrai, a pretty piece, called Musekin, the Little Mouse.

The Count, rising up in his stirrups, cried out:

Bring me to drink!

Ulenspiegel, who was in Musekins service, came up to the Count holding a pewter tankard in one hand and in the other a flask of red wine.

The Count, seeing him:

Are you there, said he, ill-omened raven?

Monseigneur, answered Ulenspiegel, if my omens are black, tis because they are ill washen; but will you tell me which is the redder, the wine that goes down the throat or the blood that leaps out of the neck? That is what my lantern asked.

The Count made no answer, but paid and departed.


Ulenspiegel and Lamme, each mounted on an ass, which Simon Simonsen had given them, one of the faithfuls of the Prince of Orange, went everywhere, warning the burgesses of the black designs of the king of blood, and ever on the watch to discover news coming from Spain.

They sold vegetables, being clad like country folk, and haunted all the markets.

Coming back from the Brussels market, they saw in a stone house, on the Brick Quay, in a low chamber, a handsome dame clad in satin, high coloured, well bosomed, and with a lively eye.

She was saying to a fresh young cookmaid:

Scour me this pan, I do not like rust sauce.

Ulenspiegel put his nose in at the window.

I, said he, I like every sauce, for a hungry belly is no great picker and chooser among fricassees.

The dame turning round:

Who, said she, is this fellow that interferes with my soup?

Alas! fair dame, answered Ulenspiegel, if you would only make it in my company, I would teach you travellers stews unknown to fair dames that sit at home.

Then clacking with his tongue, he said:

I am thirsty.

For what? said she.

For thee, said he.

He is a pretty fellow, said the cookmaid to the dame. Let us bring him in and let him tell us his adventures.

But there are two of them, said the dame.

I will look after one, replied the maid.

Madame, said Ulenspiegel, we are two, it is true, myself and my poor Lamme, who cannot carry five pounds on his back, but carries five hundred on his stomach in meats and drinks with the best will in the world.

My son, said Lamme, do not mock at an unhappy man to whom it costs so much to fill his paunch.

It will not cost thee a liard to-day, said the dame. Come within, both of you.

But, said Lamme, there are also two asses upon which we are.

Pecks of corn, replied the dame, are nowise lacking in the stable of the Count of Meghem.

The cookmaid left her pan and drew into the yard Ulenspiegel and Lamme bestriding their asses, which began to bray incontinent.

That, said Ulenspiegel, is the flourish for food near at hand. They are trumpeting their joy, the poor asses!

And having both dismounted, Ulenspiegel said to the cookmaid:

If you were a she-ass, would you like an ass like me?

If I was a woman, she replied, I should like a young man with a jolly face.

What are you, then, being neither woman nor ass? asked Lamme.

A virgin, quoth she, a virgin is neither woman nor ass either: do you understand, big belly?

Ulenspiegel said to Lamme:

Do not believe her, tis half a wild girl and quarter of two she-devils. Her carnal tricks have already bespoken for her in hell a place on a mattress to fondle Beelzebub.

Evil mocker, said the cook, if your hairs were horsehair I would not have them even to walk on them.

For my part, said Ulenspiegel, I would like to eat all your hair.

Golden tongue, said the dame, must you have them all?

No, replied Ulenspiegel, a thousand would suffice me melted down into one like you.

The dame said to him:

Drink first a quart of bruinbier, eat a piece of ham, cut deep into this leg of mutton, disembowel me this pie, swallow me this salad.

Ulenspiegel joined his hands.

Ham, said he, is a good meat; bruinbier, heavenly beer; leg of mutton, divine flesh; a pie that one disembowels makes ones tongue tremble with pleasure in the mouth; a fat salad is princely swallowing. But blessed will he be to whom you will give to sup on your beauty.

See how he rattles on, said she. Eat first of all, vagabond!

Ulenspiegel replied:

Shall we not say the benedicite before the graces?

No, said she.

Then Lamme, whining, said:

I am hungry.

You shall eat, said the fair dame, since you have no other care than for cooked meat.

And fresh, too, as my wife was, said Lamme. The cookmaid became sullen at this word. All the same they ate copiously and drank in floods. And the dame that night gave Ulenspiegel his supper, and next day and the days that followed.

The asses had double measure of corn and Lamme a double portion. For a whole week he never left the kitchen, and he played with the dishes, but not with the cook, for he thought of his wife.

That angered the girl, who said it was hardly worth while to cumber the world only to think of ones belly.

Meanwhile, Ulenspiegel and the dame lived in good amity. And one day she said to him:

Thyl, thou hast no manners: who art thou?

I am, said he, a son that Happy Chance had one day on Good Adventure.

Thou dost not missay thyself, said she.

Tis for fear others may not praise me, replied Ulenspiegel.

Wouldst thou undertake the defence of thy brothers that are persecuted?

The ashes of Claes beat upon my breast, replied Ulenspiegel.

How goodly thou art there! said she. Who is this Claes?

Ulenspiegel replied:

My father, burned for his belief.

The Count of Meghem is not like thee, she said. He would bleed the country I love, for I was born at Antwerp the glorious city. Know then that he has accorded with the Councillor Scheyf of Brabant to admit him into Antwerp with his ten companies of infantry.

I will denounce him to the citizens, said Ulenspiegel, and I go immediately, light as a ghost.

He went, and on the morrow the townsfolk were in arms.

However, Ulenspiegel and Lamme, having left their asses with a farmer of Simon Simonsens, were forced to hide for fear of the Count de Meghem who had them searched for everywhere to have them hanged; for he had been told that two heretics had drunk of his wine and eaten of his meat.

He was jealous, and said so to the fair dame, who gnashed her teeth with anger, wept, and fainted seventeen times. The cookmaid did the same, but not so often, and declared upon her share of Paradise and eternal salvation that she nor her lady had done nothing, except to give the remains of a dinner to two poor pilgrims who, mounted on wretched donkeys, had stopped at the kitchen window.

And that day there were shed so many tears that the floor was all damp with them. Seeing which, Messire de Meghem was assured that they were not lying.

Lamme dared not show himself again at M. de Meghems house, for the cook always called him My wife!

And he was exceedingly grieved, thinking of the food; but Ulenspiegel always brought him some good dish, for he used to go into the house by the rue Sainte Catherine and hide in the garret.

The next day, at vespers, the Count de Meghem confessed to the handsome goodwife how that he had determined to fetch the gendarmerie he commanded into Bois-le-Duc before daybreak. The goodwife went to the garret to recount this to Ulenspiegel.


Ulenspiegel in pilgrims robes set out incontinent with neither provisions nor money for Bois-le-Duc, in order to warn the citizens. He counted on taking a horse by the way at Jeroen Praets, Simons brother, for whom he had letters from the Prince, and from thence he would go full speed by cross-country ways to Bois-le-Duc.

Going along the highway, he saw a band of troopers coming. He was sore afraid because of the letters.

But, resolved to set a good face against misadventure, he waited the troopers stoutly, and stopped in the way muttering his paternosters; when they passed he marched with them, and learned that they were going to Bois-le-Duc.

A company of Walloons opened the march, and at the head was Captain Lamotte with his guard of six halberdiers; then according to their rank, the ensign with a smaller guard, the provost, his halberdiers and his two myrmidons, the chief of the watch, the baggage wardens, the executioner and his assistant, and fifes and tambourines making loud uproar.

Then came a Flemish company of two hundred men, with its captain and its standard bearer, and divided into two centuries commanded by the troop sergeants, and in decuries commanded by the rot-meesters. The provost and the stocks-knechten were likewise preceded by fifes and tambourines beating and squealing.

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