The Legend of the Glorious Adventures of Tyl Ulenspiegel in the Land of Flanders and Elsewhere Summary

Charles de Coster


(Essentials of European Literature)

Tyl Ulenspiegel was born with two marks, one the sign of a lucky star, the other the print of the devil’s finger. Katheline, the midwife, had a vision in which she saw Ulenspiegel as the incarnated spirit of his native Flanders. At the same time Philip of Spain was born. In her vision Katheline saw Philip as the butcher of Flanders. She was afraid.

As a boy Ulenspiegel roamed the fields of Flanders. His playmate was Nele, the illegitimate daughter of Katheline the midwife. As the children played, gloom gathered over the lowlands. The father of Philip fished in the pockets of the people, and each day new edicts announced torture and death for heretics. The Inquisition was beginning, and neighbor turned against neighbor in order to inherit half his possessions. Katheline was tortured as a witch on the complaint of a neighbor. As a result of this experience, the poor woman went mad.

Ulenspiegel, as a young man living by his wits, traveled into many lands. Sometimes he was hard-pressed to escape with his life, but his high spirit and great strength served him well. When he returned at last to his homeland, he had to put his youthful follies behind him, for trouble had come to his family. Claes, Tyl’s father, had been convicted of heresy on the testimony of a fishmonger who wanted to inherit part of his wealth. The good man was tortured and burned to slow death. Soetkin and Ulenspiegel wept, helpless to save him. Ulenspiegel took ashes from Claes’s heart and wore them in a bag around his neck after swearing eternal vengeance upon the murderers. Because Soetkin and Nele had hidden Claes’s money, the searchers looked for it in vain. Then Soetkin and Ulenspiegel were put to torture, but although they were broken on the wheel and burned, they would not reveal their secret. Meanwhile Claes’s ashes beat against Ulenspiegel’s heart.

In spite of their courage the money was lost. Mad Katheline told Hans, her evil lover, and Nele’s father, where the money was hidden. Hans and a friend robbed the widow and son of their inheritance. Then Hans, not knowing that mad Katheline watched him, killed his accomplice. Ulenspiegel, meeting the lying fishmonger, threw his enemy into the water. Philip, now King of Spain, robbed and murdered his people and the people of Flanders.

After Soetkin died of her grief and her torture, Ulenspiegel vowed to avenge her and Claes and all of his loved homeland. Mad Katheline conjured up a vision from which Ulenspiegel learned that he could be avenged if he sought and found the Seven. Not knowing who the seven were he left Nele to seek them. With him went Lamme Goedzak, a fat buffoon seeking his wife, who had left him because she had been told by a monk to give up lusts of the flesh and enter a nunnery. Lamme drowned his grief in food and wine, but the ashes of Claes burned against Ulenspiegel’s heart. Knowing no peace, he looked only for the Seven.

He and Lamme joined the army of...

(The entire section is 1212 words.)