The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 887

King Charlemagne, grown old and wishing to relinquish the burden of government, summons his court and consults with his nobles to determine the succession to his throne. His plan is to abdicate in favor of his two sons, but the nobles of France are not willing to accept his favorite, Charlot, partly because of the young prince’s association with Earl Amaury, kinsman of the infamous Ganelon, who betrayed Roland to his death. The earl, Charlot’s partisan, takes the occasion to revenge himself on the noble house of Guienne. His suggestion is that Charlot be given a province to govern before he takes over the responsibilities of a state. When it comes to Charlemagne’s attention that the two sons of the dead duke have not yet come to Paris to pay their respects and render homage, Earl Amaury hopes that the king—who is violent and unreasonable in his judgments and punishments—will dispossess them and give their lands to Charlot.

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Sent to conduct the heirs of the dead duke to Charlemagne’s court, messengers discover that what the king’s wise adviser, Duke Naymes, states is indeed the case: The brothers, Huon and Gerard, were too young to come to court before. The messengers, pleased with their reception by the duchess, the boys’ mother, and with the manly bearing of young Huon of Bordeaux, the older son, return with word that the young noblemen will soon follow them to swear fealty to the king. Huon and Gerard set out on their journey to Paris, stopping on the way at the monastery of Cluny, where their uncle is abbot. The noble churchman decides to accompany his nephews to Charlemagne’s court.

Earl Amaury, in the meantime, persuades Charlot to ambush the boys and kill them, a plan to which the prince agrees because the boys’ lands are extensive. In the fray, Charlot is killed when Huon strikes him with his sword and severs his helmet. In spite of the abbot’s testimony, however, Charlemagne refuses to believe that Huon acted in self-defense and without knowledge of his assailant’s identity. In a trial by combat with Earl Amaury, Huon kills that knight, who dies before he can give a true account of his villainy. Still unenlightened, the angry king sends Huon on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and orders him to kiss three times the beautiful Claramond, the daughter of Gawdis, amir of Babylon, and to return with white hairs from the amir’s beard and teeth from his mouth.

Obedient to Charlemagne’s command, Huon parts company with his brother Gerard, in whose care he leaves his lands. Although there was love between the brothers in the past, Gerard eventually becomes false to his trust and plots great evil against his brother, for Huon’s return is greatly delayed. Though fortune often favors him and provides him with kinsmen in odd corners of the world, the wicked paynims abuse him, imprison him, and on many occasions carry him far from his destination. Gerames, a hermit, becomes his loyal follower after chance throws them together, and he is close at Huon’s heels when the Christian knight kisses Claramond and gets the teeth and the hair from the severed head of the amir after that ruler receives the bowstring from the dread caliph of Arabia. Huon gives the teeth and hair to the hermit for safekeeping.

Huon is aided in his adventures by two gifts from Oberon, the dwarf king of the Otherworld, born of an ancient union between Julius Caesar and Morgan le Fay. Gerames, the wise hermit, warns Huon not to speak to Oberon, but Huon, ignoring his advice, speaks to the dwarf and so wins the protection of the white magic of that strange little creature. Huon is able to carry with him the gifts from Oberon. One is a cup that fills up at the sign of the cross and empties when it is held in the hand of a wicked person. The other is a horn that Huon is to blow to summon Oberon’s help when grave danger threatens. Like the boy who cries wolf in Aesop’s fable, Huon blows the horn too frequently, and Oberon is sometimes tempted not to respond. Moreover, Huon’s dignity and prudence sometimes leave him. Despite warnings, he embraces the lovely Claramond before they are married and so brings about an interminable separation; and he once imprudently allows a giant to arm himself before a contest. At last, however, with the combined help of the hermit and the fairy king, Huon and Claramond reach Rome, where their marriage is blessed by the pope himself, who is Huon’s uncle.

On his return to France with his bride, Huon finds that his brother is now his foe and that well-wishers such as Duke Naymes cannot protect him from the anger and dotage of Charlemagne. Oberon, however, can. The fairy king makes his appearance, humbles Charlemagne, and sees to it that Huon and Claramond are secure in all of their rights. Though Huon intercedes for his brother’s life and makes the court weep by his display of generosity, Oberon is obdurate, and Gerard and his fellow conspirators are hanged. As a final favor, Huon is promised that he will someday inherit Oberon’s kingdom.

Bibliography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 196

Busby, Keith. “Narrative Genres.” In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature, edited by Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Busby’s essay includes information about Huon of Bordeaux.

Calin, William. “Huon de Bordeaux.” In The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1994. Explores the French influences on English literature and culture in the years from 1100 to 1420. Calin discusses several French medieval texts, including Huon of Bordeaux, to describe how they helped shape English literature.

Guerber, H. A. “Huon of Bordeaux.” In Myths and Legends of the Middle Ages: Their Origin and Influence on Literature and Art. 1896. Reprint. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Guerber’s book examines many of the European legends that were created in the years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, including Huon of Bordeaux.

Steele, Robert. Huon of Bordeaux, Done into English by Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners: And Now Retold by Robert Steele. London: Allen, 1895. A modernized version of the sixteenth century translation by John Bourchier. The language of Steele’s version, though updated, manages to retain much of the charm of Bourchier’s original translation.

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