Charles de Coster.

The Legend of Ulenspiegel. Volume 1 of 2

The Emperor asked why he had been forced to wait so long: the man-at-arms having told him, His Majesty ordered him to shut the gate again, and to fetch him the reiters of Kornjuin, whom he commanded to march before him beating their tambourines and playing their fifes.

Soon one by one the bells awoke to sound full peal. Thus preceded, His Majesty came with an imperial din to the Great Marketplace. The burgomasters and sheriffs were all assembled there; the sheriff Ian Guigelaar came out at the noise. He went back into the council chamber saying:

Keyser Karel is alhier! The Emperor Charles is here!

Sorely affrighted to hear these tidings, the burgomasters, sheriffs, and councillors came out from the Townhall to go in a body to greet the Emperor, while their men ran throughout the whole town to have the fireworks got ready, to put the chickens to the fire, and to broach the casks.

Men, women, and children ran everywhere crying:

Keyser Karel is opt groot marckt! The Emperor is in the Great Market!

Ere long great was the crowd in the square.

The Emperor, in deep anger, asked the two burgomasters if they did not deserve to be hanged for thus failing in respect to their sovereign.

The burgomasters replied that they deserved hanging indeed, but that Ulenspiegel, the trumpeter of the tower, deserved it much more, seeing that upon the rumour of His Majestys coming he had been stationed there, equipped with a good pair of barnacles, with express instructions that he should sound his trumpet three times as soon as he should see the imperial convoy approaching. But he had done nothing of this.

The Emperor, still angry, asked them to send for Ulenspiegel.

Why, said he, having such clear spectacles, didst thou not blow a point on the trumpet at my coming?

So saying, he passed his hand over his eyes, because of the brightness of the sun, and looked at Ulenspiegel.

Ulenspiegel also passed his hand over his eyes, and replied that since he had seen His Sacred Majesty looking between his fingers, he had no longer desired to make use of the spectacles.

The Emperor told him he was to be hanged, the town porter said it was well done, and the burgomasters were so terrified at this sentence that they made no word of answer, neither to approve it nor to oppose it.

The executioner and his assistants were sent for. They came carrying a ladder and a new rope, seized Ulenspiegel by the collar, as he walked in front of Kornjuins hundred reiters, keeping very quiet and saying his prayers. But they mocked him bitterly.

The people who were following said:

It is a great cruelty to put to death a poor young man in this way for so small a fault.

And the weavers were there in great numbers and under arms, and they said:

We shall not leave Ulenspiegel to be hanged: it is contrary to the law of Audenaerde.

By now they were come to the gallows field, Ulenspiegel was hoisted up on the ladder, and the executioner put the rope on him.

The weavers flocked up around the gallows. The provost was there on horseback, resting the rod of justice on his horses shoulder, the wand wherewith at the Emperors word he should give the signal for the execution.

All the assembled people cried out:

Mercy! mercy for Ulenspiegel!

Ulenspiegel upon his ladder said:

Pity! gracious Emperor!

The Emperor lifted his hand and said:

If this rascal asks me for something I cannot do, he shall have his life!

Speak, Ulenspiegel, cried the people.

The women wept and said:

He can ask for nothing, poor fellow, for the Emperor can do all things.

And all said:

Speak, Ulenspiegel!

Sacred Majesty, said Ulenspiegel, I shall ask thee neither for money, nor for lands, nor for life, but only one thing, for which thou must not, if I dare to say it, have me whipped nor laid on the rack, before I depart to the land of spirits.

I promise thee this, said the Emperor.

Majesty, said Ulenspiegel, I ask that before I be hanged, you shall come and kiss the mouth with which I speak no Flemish.

The Emperor, laughing like all the people, replied:

I cannot do what thou dost ask, and thou shalt not hang, Ulenspiegel.

But he condemned the burgomasters and sheriffs to wear spectacles on the back of their heads for six months, in order, said he, that if the Audenaerde folk do not see in front, they may at least see behind.

And by imperial decree, these spectacles are still seen in the arms of the town.

And Ulenspiegel went away modestly, with a little bag of money the women had given him.


Ulenspiegel being at Li?ge, in the fish market, he followed after a big young man who with a net bag under one arm filled with every kind of poultry was filling another with haddocks, trout, eels, and pike.

Ulenspiegel knew Lamme Goedzak.

What are you doing here, Lamme? said he.

You know, said he, how many Flanders folk have come to this kind country of Li?ge; for me, I follow my love here. And you?

I seek a master to serve for my bread, replied Ulenspiegel.

That is very dry food, said Lamme. It would be better for you to pass from dish to mouth a rosary of ortolans with a thrush for Credo.

You are rich? asked Ulenspiegel.

Lamme Goedzak answered:

I have lost my father, my mother, and my young sister that used to beat me so soundly; I shall inherit their goods, and I live with a one-eyed servant woman, a great doctor in fricassees.

Would you like me to carry your fish and your poultry? asked Ulenspiegel.

Aye, said Lamme.

And together they wandered about the market.

Suddenly Lamme said:

Do you know why you are mad?

No, replied Ulenspiegel.

Because you are carrying your fish and your poultry in your hand, instead of carrying them in your belly.

You have said well, Lamme, said Ulenspiegel; but since I have no longer even bread, the ortolans wont look at me now.

You shall eat them, Ulenspiegel, said Lamme, and you shall serve me if my cook will have you.

While they were wending their way, Lamme pointed out to Ulenspiegel a pretty, neat, and lovesome girl, in silk attire, who was hastening about the market here and there and looked at Lamme with her soft eyes.

An old man, her father, walked behind her, laden with two net bags, one of fish, the other of game.

That one, said Lamme, pointing to her, I am going to make her my wife.

Aye, said Ulenspiegel, I know her, she is Flemish from Zotteghem, she lives in the rue Vinave-dIsle, and the neighbours say that her mother sweeps the street, in front of the house, instead of her, and that her father irons her shifts.

But Lamme made no answer and said gleefully:

She looked at me.

They came together to Lammes house, near the Pont-des-Arches, and knocked at the door. A one-eyed serving woman came and opened to them. Ulenspiegel saw she was old, lean and long, flat and fierce.

La Sanginne, said Lamme to her, will you have this one to help you in your work?

I will take him on trial, said she.

Take him, then, said he, and make him know and test the delights of your cookery.

La Sanginne then put three black puddings on the table, a quart of cervoise ale, and a big hunch of bread.

While Ulenspiegel ate, Lamme also munched a black pudding.

Do you know, said he, where our soul hath its habitation?

No, Lamme, said Ulenspiegel.

In our stomach it dwelleth, said Lamme, to delve therein without ceasing and ever renew in our bodies the force of life. And what are its best companions? They are all good and choice eatables and wine of the Meuse over and above.

Aye, said Ulenspiegel, black puddings are agreeable company for the lonely soul.

He wants more of them, give him some, la Sanginne, said Lamme.

La Sanginne gave him more, this time white puddings.

While he was eating largely, Lamme, grown pensive, said:

When I die, my belly will die with me, and there below in purgatory, I shall be left fasting, carrying my paunch about with me all flabby and empty.

The black seem to me better, said Ulenspiegel.

You have eaten six, replied la Sanginne, and you shall have no more.

You know, said Lamme, that you will be well treated here and will eat like myself.

I will remember that word, said Ulenspiegel.

Ulenspiegel, seeing that he ate the same as Lamme, was happy and content. The black puddings had given him so high a spirit that on that day he made all the caldrons, pans, and cooking pots shine and glitter like so many suns.

Living well in this house, he delighted to haunt kitchen and cellar, leaving the garret to the cats. One day, la Sanginne had two fowls to roast and bade Ulenspiegel turn the spit while she went to the market to fetch herbs for the seasoning.

The two fowls being roasted, Ulenspiegel ate one. La Sanginne, returning, said:

There were two fowls, now I see only one.

Open your other eye, you will see both of them, replied Ulenspiegel.

She went all in a rage to tell the business to Lamme Goedzak, who came down into the kitchen and said to Ulenspiegel:

Why do you make game of my servant? There were two fowls.

There were of a truth two, Lamme, said Ulenspiegel, but when I came here you told me I should drink and eat as yourself. There were two fowls; I have eaten one, you will eat the other; my pleasure is past, yours is to come; are you not better off than I?

Yea, said Lamme, smiling, but do everything la Sanginne bids you, and you will have but half tasks.

I shall watch that, Lamme, replied Ulenspiegel.

And so, every time that la Sanginne bade him do anything, he only did the half of it; if she told him to draw two buckets of water from the well, he brought back only one; if she told him to go and fill a jug of cervoise from the cask, he poured half of it down his throat on the way and so on with the rest.

At length la Sanginne, grown tired of these ways, told Lamme that if this good-for-naught remained in the house, she would go away on the spot.

Lamme went down to Ulenspiegel and said to him:

You must depart, my son, although you have come to look well in this house. Listen to that cock crowing, it is two oclock of the afternoon, it is a presage of rain. I would fain not turn you out of doors in this ill weather that is about to come upon us; but consider, my son, that la Sanginne by her fricassees is the warden of my life; I cannot, without risking a speedy death, allow her to leave me. Go, then, my boy, with Gods grace, and to enliven your way take these three florins and this string of saveloys.

And Ulenspiegel went away grieving, regretting Lamme and his fleshpots.


November came to Damme and elsewhere, but the winter was tardy. No snow, no rain, nor cold weather; the sun shone from morning to evening without dimming: the children rolled about in the dust of the streets and the highways; at the hour of repose, after supper, the merchants, shopkeepers, goldsmiths, wheelwrights, and artisans came out upon their doorsteps to look on the sky that was always blue, the trees whose leaves were still not falling, the storks standing up on the ridges of the roofs, and the swallows that had not yet gone away. The roses had flowered thrice, and for the fourth time were in bud; the nights were warm, the nightingale had not ceased to sing.

The folk of Damme said:

Winter is dead, let us burn winter.

And they built a giant figure with a bears face, a long beard of shavings, a thick shock head of flax. They clothed him in white garments and burned him with great ceremony.

Claes was steeped in melancholy, he blessed not the sky that was ever blue, nor the swallows that would not depart. For now nobody in Damme was burning charcoal save for cooking, and each having enough did not go to buy from Claes, who had disbursed all his savings to pay for his stock.

So, if standing on his doorstep, the coalman felt the tip of his nose grow chilly in some puff of sharpish wind:

Ah! he would say, it is my bread coming to me!

But the sharp wind would not continue to blow, and the sky stayed always blue, and the leaves would not fall. And Claes refused to sell his stock at half price to the miser Grypstuiver, the dean of the fishmongers. And soon bread began to lack in the cottage.


But King Philip was not hungry, and ate pastries by the side of his wife, ugly Mary, of the royal house of the Tudors. He did not love her for love, but hoped by begetting a child on this miserable creature to give the English nation a Spanish monarch.

He loathed this union which was a union of a paving stone and of a burning coal. Still, they were sufficiently united to have poor Protestants burned and drowned by hundreds.

When Philip was not away from London, or slipped out in disguise to wallow in some evil haunt, the bedtime hour brought the wedded pair together.

Then Queen Mary, attired in fine linen of Tournai and Irish lace, would lie down supine upon the nuptial couch, while Philip would stand before her rigid as a post, and look if he could not see in his wife some sign or symptom of motherhood; but seeing none he was wroth, said no word, and stared at his nails.

Then the barren ghoul spoke tenderly and with her eyes, which she sought to make soft, begged the frosty Philip for love. Tears, cries, entreaties, she spared nothing to win a lukewarm caress from him who loved her not at all.

Vainly, joining her hands, she dragged herself at his feet; in vain, like a woman out of her wits, she wept and laughed together to soften him; nor the laugh nor the tears melted the stone of that hard heart.

In vain, like an amorous snake, she coiled her thin arms about him and clasped against her flat breast the narrow cage in which dwelt the stunted soul of the bloody king; he budged no more than if he had been stock or stone.

She tried, poor ugly thing, to make herself alluring; she called him by all the sweet names that women wild with love give the lover of their choice; Philip still stared at his nails.

Sometimes he answered:

Will you not have any children?

At that word, Marys head fell forward on her breast.

Is it my fault, said she, if I am barren? Take pity upon me, I live a widows life.

Why have you no children? said Philip.

Then the Queen fell on the carpet like one smitten with death. And in her eyes were only tears, and she would have wept blood, if she had been able, the poor ghoul.

And in this wise God avenged upon their murderers the victims with which they had strewn the soil of England.


The rumour ran among the people that the Emperor Charles was minded to take away from the monks the free heirship of all who died in their convents, which mightily displeased the Pope.

Ulenspiegel being then upon the banks of the Meuse thought that the Emperor thus reaped his profit on all sides, since he was the heir when the family did not inherit. He sate him down on the bank of the river and cast into it a well-baited line. Then munching an ancient piece of brown bread, he regretted that he had no wine of Romagna to wash it down withal, but he bethought him that a man cannot always have his comforts.

However, he tossed some of his bread into the water, saying that he who eats without sharing his meal with his neighbour is not worthy to have victual to eat.

Up came a gudgeon, that first came to nose at a crumb, licked it all about and opened up his innocent mouth, believing, doubtless, that the bread would fall into it of its own accord. While he was thus gazing into the air, he was all at once gulped down by a treacherous pike that darted out on him like an arrow.

The pike did the same to a carp that was catching flies in their flight, heedless of any danger. Being thus nobly replete, he remained motionless and still, dilly-dallying, scorning the small fry that in any case made haste to flee from his presence with all their fins. While he was basking in this fashion, upon him came swift, voracious jaws agape, a fasting pike that with one bound hurled himself upon him. A fierce battle was joined between them: undying jaw strokes were given and taken; the water ran red with their blood. The pike that had dined could ill defend himself against the pike that was fasting; and the latter having hauled off, returned with a rush and flung himself like a bullet on his adversary, who, awaiting him with wide-open jaws, swallowed his head half way, and would fain have got rid of it again, but could not because of his backward slanting teeth. And both thrashed about miserably.

Thus interlocked together, they saw not a stout hook that, fastened to a silk twine, rose up from the bottom of the water, sank deep in under the fin of the pike that had dined, drew him out of the water with his adversary, and cast them both rudely on the grass together.

Ulenspiegel, as he killed them, said:

Pikes, my dears, would you two be the Pope and the Emperor devouring each the other, and would not I be the people who in Gods hour seize you on the hook, both of you amid your battles?


Meanwhile Katheline, who had not left Borgerhout, never ceased from wandering through the outskirts of the place, still saying: Hanske, my man, they have made a fire upon my head: make a hole in it that my soul may win out. Alas! it beats ever against it and with every blow it is a cruel pang.

And Nele tended her in her madness, and by her side thought sadly of her friend Ulenspiegel.

And at Damme Claes tied his faggots, sold his charcoal, and many times fell into melancholy, thinking that the banished Ulenspiegel could not for long and long come back to their cottage.

Soetkin stayed all day long at the window, looking if she would not see her son Ulenspiegel coming.

The latter, being arrived in the neighbourhood of Cologne, thought that for the moment he had a fancy for gardening.

He went and offered himself as servant to Jan of Zuursmoel, who being a captain of landsknechts, had narrowly escaped hanging in default of ransom and had an utter horror of hemp, which in the Fleming tongue was then called kennip.

One day, Jan of Zuursmoel, wishing to show Ulenspiegel his tasks, brought him to the end of his garden and there they saw a cantle of land, next to the garden, all planted over with green kennip.

Jan of Zuursmoel said to Ulenspiegel:

Every time you see this ugly plant, you must entreat it shamefully, for this it is that serveth for rack and gallows.

I will shamefully entreat it, replied Ulenspiegel.

Jan of Zuursmoel being one day at table with certain gourmand friends of his, the cook said to Ulenspiegel:

Go to the cellar and get some zennip, which is mustard.

Ulenspiegel, cunningly taking it kennip instead of zennip, foully and shamefully entreated the pot of zennip in the cellar and came back to put it on the table, not without laughing.

Why are you laughing? asked Jan of Zuursmoel. Do you think that our nostrils are made of brass? Eat of this zennip, since it is you that dressed it yourself.

I like better things grilled with cinnamon, answered Ulenspiegel.

Jan of Zuursmoel got up to beat him.

There is, said he, foulness in this pot of mustard.

Baes, said Ulenspiegel, have you no mind of the day when I went at your heels to the far end of your garden? There, you bade me, showing the zennip: Everywhere you see that plant, entreat it foully, for this it is that serveth for rack and gallows. I did entreat it so, baes, I did entreat it shamefully with great affronting; do not now go to murder me for my obedience.

I said kennip and not zennip, shouted Jan of Zuursmoel in a fury.

Baes, you said zennip and not kennip, retorted Ulenspiegel.

Thus they argued loud and long, Ulenspiegel speaking humbly, Jan of Zuursmoel screaming like an eagle and mixing up zennip, kennip, kemp, zemp, zemp, kemp, zemp, like a skein of ravelled silk.

And the guests laughed like devils eating cutlets of Dominican friars and inquisitors kidneys.

But Ulenspiegel must needs leave Jan of Zuursmoel.


Nele was still always miserable for the sake of herself and her witless mother.

Ulenspiegel hired himself to a tailor who said to him:

When you sew, sew close, so that I can see nothing.

Ulenspiegel went and sat under a cask and there began to sew.

That is not what I mean, cried the tailor.

I am close in a cask; how do you think any one can see in it? answered Ulenspiegel.

Come, said the tailor, take your seat there on the table and make your stitches close one to the other and make the coat like this wolf wolf was the name of a peasants jerkin.

Ulenspiegel took the jerkin, cut it in pieces and sewed it so as to give it the semblance and shape of a wolf.

The tailor, seeing this, cried out:

What have you made, in the devils name?

A wolf, replied Ulenspiegel.

Evil mocker, said the tailor, I had told you a wolf, it is true, but you know that wolf is said of a peasants jerkin.

Sometime after he said:

Boy, cast these sleeves on to this doublet before you go to your bed.

Ulenspiegel hung up the doublet on a nail and spent the whole night throwing the sleeves at it.

The tailor came down to the noise.

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