Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2


The Emperor being returned from war, asked why his son Philip had not come to greet him.

The Infantes archbishop-governor replied that he had not desired to do so, for, so he said, he cared for nothing but books and solitude.

The Emperor enquired where he was at that moment.

The governor answered that they must seek him in every place where it was dark. They did so.

Having gone through a goodly number of chambers, they came at last to a kind of closet, unpaven, and lit by a skylight. There they saw stuck in the earth a post to which was fastened by the waist a pretty little tiny monkey, that had been sent to His Highness from the Indies to delight him with its youthful antics. At the foot of this stake faggots still red were smoking, and in the closet there was a foul stench of burnt hair.

The little beast had suffered so much dying in this fire that its little body seemed to be not an animal that ever had life, but a fragment of some wrinkled twisted root, and in its mouth, open as though to cry out on death, bloody foam was visible, and the water of its tears made its face wet.

Who did this? asked the Emperor.

The governor did not dare to reply, and both men remained silent, sad, and wrathful.

Suddenly in this silence there was heard a low little sound of a cough that came from a corner in the shadow behind them. His Majesty, turning about, received the Infante Philip, all clad in black and sucking a lemon.

Don Philip, said he, come and salute me.

The Infante, without budging, looked at him with his timid eyes in which there was no affection.

Is it thou, asked the Emperor, that hast burned this little beast in this fire?

The Infante hung his head.

But the Emperor:

If thou wert cruel enough to do it, be brave enough to confess it.

The Infante made no answer.

His Majesty plucked the lemon out of his hands and flung it on the ground, and he was about to beat his son melting away with fright, when the archbishop, stopping him, whispered in his ear:

His Highness will be a great burner of heretics one day.

The Emperor smiled, and the two men went away, leaving the Infante alone with his monkey.

But there were others that were no monkeys and died in the flames.


November had come, the month of hail in which coughing folk give themselves up wholehearted to the music of phlegm. In this month also the small boys descend in bands on the turnip fields, pilfering what they can from them, to the great rage of the peasants, who vainly run after them with sticks and forks.

Now one evening, as Ulenspiegel was coming back from a marauding foray, he heard close by, in a corner of the hedge, a sound of groaning. Stooping down, he saw a dog lying upon some stones.

Hey, said he, miserable beastie, what dost thou there so late?

Caressing the dog, he felt his back wet, thought that someone had tried to drown him, and took him up in his arms to warm him.

Coming home he said:

I bring a wounded patient, what shall I do to him?

Heal him, said Claes in reply.

Ulenspiegel set the dog down upon the table.

Claes, Soetkin, and himself then saw by the light of the lamp a little red Luxembourg spaniel hurt on the back. Soetkin sponged the wounds, covered them with ointment, and bound them up with linen. Ulenspiegel took the little beast into his bed, though Soetkin wanted to have him in her own, fearing, as she said, lest Ulenspiegel, who tumbled about in bed like a devil in a holy water pot, should hurt the dog as he slept.

But Ulenspiegel had his own way, and tended him so well that after six days the patient ran about like his fellows full of doggish tricks.

And the school-meester christened him Titus Bibulus Schnouffius: Titus in memory of a certain good Emperor of Rome, who took pains to gather in lost dogs; Bibulus because the dog loved bruinbier with the love of a true tosspot, and Schnouffius because sniff-sniffing everywhere he was always thrusting his nose into rat-holes and mole holes.


At the end of the Rue Notre Dame there were two willows planted face to face on the edge of a deep pond.

Ulenspiegel stretched a rope between the two willows and danced upon it one Sunday after vespers, so well that all the crowd of vagabonds applauded him with both hand and voice. Then he came down from his rope and held out to all the bystanders a bowl that was speedily filled with money, but he emptied it in Soetkins apron and kept only eleven liards for himself.

The next Sunday he would fain dance again on his rope, but certain good-for-nought lads, being jealous of his nimbleness, had made a nick in the rope, so that after a few bounds the rope broke in sunder and Ulenspiegel tumbled into the water.

Whilst he swam to reach the bank the little fellows that cut the rope shouted to him:

How is your limber health, Ulenspiegel? Are you going to the bottom of the pond to teach the carps to dance, dancer beyond price?

Ulenspiegel coming out from the water and shaking himself cried out to them, for they were making off from him for fear of his fists:

Be not afraid; come back next Sunday, I will show you tricks on the rope and you will have a share in the proceeds.

On Sunday, the lads had not sliced the cord, but were keeping watch round about it, for fear any one might touch it, for there was a great crowd of people.

Ulenspiegel said to them:

Each of you give me one of your shoes, and I wager that however big or little they may be I will dance with every one of them.

What do you pay if you lose? they asked.

Forty quarts of bruinbier, replied Ulenspiegel, and ye shall pay me three patards if I win the wager.

Aye, said they.

And they each gave him a shoe. Ulenspiegel put them all in the apron he was wearing, and thus laden he danced upon the rope, though not without trouble.

The cord slicers called out from below:

Thou saidst thou wouldst dance with every one of our shoes; put them on then and hold thy wager!

Ulenspiegel, all the while dancing, made reply:

I never said I would put on your shoes, but that I would dance with them. Now I am dancing and everything in my apron is dancing with me. Do ye not see it with your frogs eyes all staring out of your heads? Pay me my three patards.

But they hooted at him, shouting that he must give them their shoes back.

Ulenspiegel threw them at them one after the other into a heap. Therefrom arose a furious affray, for none of them could clearly distinguish his own shoe in the heap, or lay hold of it without a fight.

Ulenspiegel then came down from the tree and watered the combatants, but not with fair water.


The Infante, being fifteen years of age, went wandering, as his way was, through corridors, staircases, and chambers about the castle. But most of all he was seen prowling about the ladies apartments, in order to brawl with the pages who like himself were like cats in ambush in the corridors. Others planting themselves in the court, would be singing some tender ditty with their noses turned aloft.

The Infante, hearing them, would show himself at a window, and so terrify the poor pages that beheld this pallid muzzle instead of the soft eyes of their fair ones.

Among the court ladies there was a charming Flemish woman from Dudzeele hard by Damme, plump, a handsome ripe fruit and marvellously lovely, for she had green eyes and red crimped hair, shining like gold. Of a gay humour and ardent temperament, she never hid from any one her inclination for the lucky lord to whom she accorded the divine right of way of love over her goodly pleasaunce. There was one at this moment, handsome and high spirited, whom she loved. Every day at a certain hour she went to meet him, and this Philip discovered.

Taking his seat upon a bench set close up against a window, he watched for her and when she was passing in front of him, her eye alight, her lips parted, amiable, fresh from the bath, and rustling about her all her array of yellow brocade, she caught sight of the Infante who said to her, without getting up from his seat:

Madame, could you not stay a moment?

Impatient as a filly held back in her career, at the moment when she is hurrying to the splendid stallion neighing in the meadow, she answered:

Highness, everyone here must obey your princely will.

Sit down beside me, said he.

Then looking at her luxuriously, stonily, and warily, he said:

Repeat the Pater to me in Flemish; they have taught it to me, but I have forgotten it.

The poor lady then must begin to say a Pater and he must needs bid her say it slower.

And in this way he forced the poor thing to say as many as ten Paters, she that thought the hour had come to go through other orisons.

Then covering her with praises and flatteries, he spoke of her lovely hair, her bright colour, her shining eyes, but did not venture to say a word to her either of her plump shoulders or her smooth round breast or any other thing.

When she thought she could get away and was already looking out into the court where her lord was waiting for her, he asked her if she knew truly what are the womanly virtues.

As she made no answer for fear of saying the wrong thing, he spoke for her and preaching at her, he said:

The womanly virtues, these be chastity, watchfulness over honour, and sober living.

He counselled her also to array herself decently and to hide closely all that pertained to her.

She made sign of assent with her head saying:

That for His Hyperborean Highness she would much sooner cover herself with ten bearskins than with an ell of muslin.

Having put him in ill humour with this retort, she fled away rejoicing.

However, the fire of youth was lit up in the Infantes bosom, but it was not that hot burning flame that incites strong souls to high deeds, but a dark, sinister flame come out of hell where Satan had without doubt kindled it. And it shone in his gray eyes like the wintry moon upon a charnel-house, and it burned him cruelly.


The beautiful and sweet lady on a day left Valladolid to go to her Ch?teau of Dudzeele in Flanders.

Passing through Damme attended by her fat seneschal, she saw sitting against the wall of a cottage a boy of fifteen blowing into a bagpipe. In front of him was a red dog that, not liking this music, howled in a melancholy fashion. The sun shone bright. Standing beside the lad there was a pretty girl laughing loudly at each fresh pitiful burst of howling from the dog.

The beautiful dame and the fat seneschal, as they passed by the cottage, looked at Ulenspiegel blowing, Nele laughing, and Titus Bibulus Schnouffius howling.

Bad boy, said the dame, addressing Ulenspiegel, could you not cease from making that poor red beast howl in that way?

But Ulenspiegel, with his eyes on her, blew up his bagpipe more stoutly still. And Bibulus Schnouffius howled still more melancholily, and Nele laughed the more.

The seneschal, growing angry, said to the dame, pointing to Ulenspiegel:

If I were to give this beggars spawn a dressing with my scabbard, he would stop making this impudent hubbub.

Ulenspiegel looked at the seneschal, called him Jan Papzak, because of his belly, and continued to blow his bagpipe. The seneschal went up to him with a threatening fist, but Bibulus Schnouffius threw himself on the man and bit him in the leg, and the seneschal tumbled down in affright crying out:


The dame said to Ulenspiegel, smiling:

Could you not tell me, bagpiper, if the road that runs from Damme to Dudzeele has not been changed?

Ulenspiegel, without stopping his playing, nodded his head and looked still at the dame.

Why do you look so steadily at me? she asked.

But he, still playing, stretched his eyes wide as though rapt in an ecstasy of admiration.

She said to him:

Are you not ashamed, young as you are, to stare at ladies so?

Ulenspiegel reddened slightly, went on blowing, and stared harder.

I asked you, she went on, if the road that runs from Damme to Dudzeele has not altered?

It is not green now since you deprived it of the joy of carrying you, replied Ulenspiegel.

Wilt thou guide me? said the dame.

But Ulenspiegel remained seated, still never taking his eyes from her. And she, seeing him so roguish, and knowing that it was a mere trick of youth, forgave him easily. He got up, and turned to go into his home.

Where are you going? she asked.

To put on my best clothes, he replied.

Go then, said the dame.

She sat down then on the bench beside the doorstep; the seneschal did the same. She would have talked to Nele, but Nele did not answer her, for she was jealous.

Ulenspiegel came back carefully washed and clad in fustian. He looked well in his Sunday garb, the little man.

Art thou verily going with this beautiful lady? Nele asked him.

I shall be back soon, replied Ulenspiegel.

If I were to go instead of you? said Nele.

Nay, he said, the roads are full of mire.

Why, said the dame, angry and jealous together, why, little girl, do you want to keep him from coming with me?

Nele made her no answer, but big tears welled up from her eyes and she gazed on the dame in sadness and in anger.

They started on their way, four all told, the dame sitting like a queen on her white hackney caparisoned with black velvet; the seneschal whose belly shook to his walking; Ulenspiegel holding the dames hackney by the bridle, and Bibulus Schnouffius walking alongside him, tail in air proudly.

They rode and strode thus for some time, but Ulenspiegel was not at his ease; dumb as a fish he breathed in the fine odour of benjamin wafted from the dame, and looked out of the corners of his eyes at all her fine tags and rare jewels and furbelows, and also at her soft mien, her bright eyes, her bared bosom, and her hair that the sun made to shine like a golden cap.

Why, said she, why do you say so little, my little man?

He made no reply.

Your tongue is not so deep down in your shoes that you could not manage a message for me?

Right, said Ulenspiegel.

You must, said the dame, leave me here and go to Koolkercke, on the other way of the wind, and tell a gentleman clad particoloured in black and red, that he must not look for me to-day, but to come on Sunday at ten at night, into my castle by the postern.

I will not go, said Ulenspiegel.

Why not? asked the dame.

I will not go, no! said Ulenspiegel again.

The dame said to him:

What is it then, little ruffled cock, that inspires thee with this fierce mind?

I will not go! said Ulenspiegel.

But if I gave thee a florin?

No! said he.

A ducat?


A carolus?

No, said Ulenspiegel again. And yet, he added, sighing, I should like it in my mothers purse better than a mussel-shell.

The dame smiled, then cried out suddenly:

I have lost my fine rare purse, made of silken cloth and broidered with rich pearls! At Damme it was still hanging at my girdle.

Ulenspiegel budged not, but the seneschal came forward to the dame.

Madame, he said, send not this young thief to look for it, for you would never see it again.

And who will go then? asked the dame.

Myself, he answered, despite my great age.

And he went off.

Noon struck, the heat was great, the solitude profound; Ulenspiegel said no word, but he doffed his new doublet that the dame might sit down in the shade beneath a lime, without fearing the cool of the grass. He remained standing close by her, sighing.

She looked at him and felt pity rising up in her for this timid little fellow, and asked him if he was not weary with standing so on his tender young legs. He answered not a word, and as he let himself drop down beside her, she tried to catch him, and pulled him on to her bared bosom, where he remained with such good will that she would have thought herself guilty of the sin of cruelty if she had bidden him seek another pillow.

However, the seneschal came back and said he had not found the purse.

I found it myself, replied the dame, when I dismounted from my horse, for it had unfastened its broochpin and got caught up on the stirrup. Now, she said to Ulenspiegel, take us the direct way to Dudzeele and tell me how thou art called.

My patron, he answered, is Master Saint Thylbert, a name which signifies light of foot to run after good matters; my name is Claes and my to-name Ulenspiegel. If you would look at yourself in my mirror, you will see that there is not upon all this land of Flanders a flower of beauty so dazzling as your fragrant loveliness.

The dame blushed with pleasure and was in no wise wroth with Ulenspiegel.

And Soetkin and Nele wept during this long absence.


When Ulenspiegel came back from Dudzeele, he saw Nele at the entrance to the town, leaning up against a barrier. She was eating a bunch of grapes, crunching them one by one, and was doubtless refreshed and rejoiced by the fruit, but allowed none of her pleasure to be seen. She appeared, on the contrary, to be angry, and plucked the grapes from off the bunch with a choleric air. She was so dolorous and showed a face so marred, so sad and so sweet, that Ulenspiegel was overcome with loving pity, and going up behind her, gave her a kiss on the nape of her neck.

But she returned it with a great box on the ear.

I cant fathom that! exclaimed Ulenspiegel.

She wept with heavy sobs.

Nele, said he, are you going to set up fountains at the entrance to the villages?

Begone! she said.

But I cannot be gone, if you weep like this, my dear.

I am not your dear, said Nele, and I do not weep!

No, you do not weep, but none the less water comes from your eyes.

Will you go away? said she.

No, said he.

She was holding her apron the while with her little trembling hands, and she was pulling the stuff jerkily and tears fell on it, wetting it.

Nele, asked Ulenspiegel, will it be fine presently? And he looked on her, smiling lovingly.

Why do you ask me that? said she.

Because, when it is fine, it does not weep, replied Ulenspiegel.

Go, said she, go to your beautiful lady in the brocade dress; you made her laugh well enough, said she.

Then sang Ulenspiegel:

When my darlings tears I see
My heart is torn atwain,
Tis honey when she laughs for me,
When she weeps, a pearl.
Always I love my dearest girl,
And Ill buy good wine for us,
Good wine of Louvain,
Ill buy good wine for us to drink,
When Nele smiles again.

Low man! said she, you are still flouting me.

Nele, said Ulenspiegel, a man I am, but not low, for our noble family, an aldermanish family, bears three silver quarts on a ground of bruinbier. Nele, is it so that in Flanders when a man sows kisses he reaps boxes on the ear?

I do not wish to speak to you, said she.

Then why do you open your mouth to tell me so?

I am angry, said she.

Ulenspiegel very lightly gave her a blow with his fist in the back, and said:

Kiss a mean thing, shell punch you; punch a mean thing and shell anoint you. Anoint me then, darling, since I have punched you.

Nele turned about. He opened his arms, she cast herself in them still weeping, and said:

You wont go there again, Thyl, will you?

But he made her no answer, for he was too busy clasping her poor trembling fingers and wiping away with his lips the hot tears falling from Neles eyes like the big drops of a thunder shower.


In these days, the noble town of Ghent refused to pay her quota of the subsidy her son Charles the Emperor had asked of her. She could not, being void of money through the very doings of Charles. This was a great crime; he determined to go in his own person to chastise her.

For more than any other is a sons cudgel grievous to the back of a mother.

Fran?ois of the long nose, his foe, offered him free passage through the land of France. Charles accepted, and instead of being held a prisoner he was feasted and cherished imperially. Tis a sovereign concord between princes to help one another against the peoples.

Charles stayed long at Valenciennes without making any show of anger. Ghent, his mother, lived free from fear, in the certain belief that the Emperor, her son, would pardon her for having acted as was her lawful right.

Charles arrived beneath the city walls with four thousand horse. DAlba was with him, so was the Prince of Orange. The common folk and the men of petty trades had wanted to prevent this filial entry, and to call out the eighty thousand men of the town and the flat country; the men of substance, the so-called hoogh-poorters, opposed this, fearing the predominance of the lower orders. Ghent could in this way have made mincemeat of her son and his four thousand horse. But she loved him too well, and even the petty traders had resumed their trust in him.

Charles also loved his mother, but for the money he held in his coffers from her, and the further moneys he meant to have from her.

Having made himself master of the town, he set up military posts everywhere, and had Ghent patrolled by rounds night and day. Then he pronounced, with all pomp and ceremony, his sentence upon the town.

The most eminent citizens must come before his throne, with ropes about their necks, and make full public confession of their misdeeds: Ghent was declared guilty of the most expensive crimes, which are: disloyalty, treaty-breaking, disobedience, sedition, rebellion, and treason. The Emperor declared all and sundry privileges, rights, franchises, customs, and usages void and abolished; stipulating and engaging the future, as though he were God, that thenceforward his successors on their entering into their seigniory would swear to observe nothing save only the Caroline Concession of slavery granted by him to the town.

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