Reynard the Fox

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Reynard the Fox is a collection of European fables following Reynard, a trickster and anthropomorphic fox. Reynard is, above all else, a cunning character who survives through his cleverness; despite his somewhat amoral qualities, he represents the power of wit over strength. Reynard’s opposite is the uncouth Isengrim the Wolf, often utilized to demonstrate ecclesiastical hypocrisy and corruption.

As with all mythic cycles, there are variant versions and collections of the tales concerning Reynard. The earliest tradition dates back to Flanders and Germany between in the tenth and eleventh centuries, while the primary cycle comes from the French Roman de Renart, whose influence continues through the centuries and is even found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

The stories about Reynard are an anthology of various tales from various traditions following various characters. For this reason, it can be difficult to provide a singular summary, as there is not one single story and version. The summary I’ll be providing is based on the English version linked below, which includes the full text.

On Whitsuntide, King Lion summons all of the animals to list their complaints against Reynard. Almost every animal complains, with the exceptions of the cat and the Grimbert the Badger, who is also Reynard’s nephew. King Lion chooses Bruin the Bear to bring Reynard to answer for his crimes.

When Bruin reached Reynard’s home, Reynard came out holding a book, saying he was in the middle of his prayers. Reynard tells Bruin that he has given up meat and is only eating honey now, which has soured his stomach. Bruin is shocked to hear this, as honey is his favorite meal. Reynard promises to show Bruin the source of the honey, but in fact traps him in in a tree near a woodcutter’s home, where the woodcutter and his neighbors beat him. After this, Bruin crawls back to court, wounded and embarrassed.

Next, King Lion sends the cat. Initially, Reynard offers the cat honey, but the cat is not fooled after seeing what happened to Bruin. Instead, he is tricked by the offer of mice. Reynard lures the cat into a priest’s barn, supposedly full of mice. Unbeknownst to the cat, the priest’s son has set a trap intended for Reynard, and the cat is caught in it. Similarly to Bruin, the cat was then beaten by the humans, but he broke free and scratched up the priest before escaping back to court.

King Lion then sends Grimbert to retrieve Reynard, and Reynard is convinced by his nephew to make the journey to court, where he is sentenced to death. Reynard confesses his sins, but says it is simply his nature to behave as he has. He laments his miserable life, declaring that his only fortune was to discover a cave full of silver and gold. King Lion asks where the treasure is, and Reynard agrees to tell him in exchange for his freedom.

Unfortunately, Reynard tells the king, he cannot lead him to the treasure as he is condemned by the church. He asks permission to go to the pope and ask for a pardon, and he suggests that Cuwaert the Hare and Bellyn the Ram come along to ensure that he does not escape. They stop at Reynard’s home so that he can say goodbye to his wife, and he kills Cuwaert in the house while Bellyn waits outside. He takes Cuwaert’s head and places it in a bag before giving it to Bellyn, telling him that he has a parcel for the king. Bellyn leaves to deliver the parcel back to court. King Lion is...

(This entire section contains 767 words.)

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grieved to discover what Reynard has done.

Other animals come to King Lion to complain against Reynard, and the king demands that Reynard be killed for his crimes. Grimbert asks for a fair trial for his uncle, but everybody wants him dead, so he runs away to warn Reynard. Instead of fleeing, Reynard decides to again go to court, much to Grimbert’s surprise. Reynard attempts to defend himself by providing justification for his alleged crimes against the other animals. His aunt, Dame Rukenaw the Ape, comes to his defense.

Isengrim the Wolf challenges Reynard to a duel. Reynard was afraid of Isengrim’s strength, so his aunt shaved him and covered him in oil. Isengrim came close to killing Reynard, While distracting the wolf with conversation, Reynard bit his throat, and the wolf collapsed. Bruin and the cat took Isengrim away and dressed his wounds, and King Lion knighted Reynard and made him a peer of his court.


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