Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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DAY 3 STORY 25: The Prince and the Advocate's Wife

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

Dagoucin has just finished his story for the third day, and the next storyteller will be Longarine, who tells a story about a prince who resorts to trickery and deception in order to carry out his affair with the wife of a lawyer.

"I give it to Longarine," said Dagoucin, "being assured that she will tell us something novel, and speak the very truth without sparing either men or women."

"Since you have such a good opinion of my sincerity," said Longarine, "I will relate an anecdote of a great prince who surpassed in endowments all the princes of his time. Permit me also to remark, that falsehood and dissimulation are things which should be least of all used, unless in a case of extreme necessity. They are a very ugly and disgraceful vice, especially in princes and great lords, whom truth becomes still more than other men. But there is no prince in the world, however glorious or rich he may be, who does not acknowledge the empire of love, and submit to its tyranny. Indeed, that arrogant god disdains all that is common, and delights only in working miracles every day, such as weakening the strong, strengthening the weak, making fools of the wise, and knowing persons of the ignorant, favoring the passions, destroying reason, and, in a word, turning everything topsy-turvy. As princes are not exempt from it, no more so are they from the necessity in which they are put by the desire of amorous servitude. Thence it comes that they are forced to use falsehood, hypocrisy, and feigning, which, according to MaƮtre Jean de Meun, are means for vanquishing enemies. Though conduct of this nature is laudable in a prince, though it be censurable in all other men, I will recount to you the device employed by a young prince who tricked those who are used to trick all the world."

THERE was in Paris an advocate more esteemed than any nine others in his profession; and as his knowledge and ability made him sought by all clients, he became the richest of all the men of the gown. Now, seeing that he had no children by his first wife, he thought he should have some by a second; for though he was old, he had, nevertheless, the heart and the hope of a young man. He made choice of a Parisian of eighteen or nineteen, very handsome in face and complexion, and handsomer still in figure and plumpness. He loved her and treated her as well as possible; but he had no children by her any more than by his first wife; which the fair one at last took sorely to heart.

As youth cannot carry the burden of care very far, the advocate's young wife resolved to seek elsewhere the pleasure she did not find at home, and used to go to balls and feasts, but this she did, nevertheless, with such outward propriety and so much caution, that her husband could not take offence, for she was always with those ladies in whom he had most confidence.

One day, when she was at a wedding entertainment, there happened to be present a young prince, who told me the story, and forbade me to name him. All I can tell you is, that there never was, and never will be, I think, a prince in France of finer person and demeanor. The eyes and the countenance of the advocate's lady inspired the prince with love. He spoke to her so well and with such grace, that she took pleasure in his discourse, and ingenuously owned to him that she had long had in her heart the love for which he craved, and begged he would spare himself the pains of trying to persuade her to a thing to which love had already made her consent at mere sight. The frankness of love having bestowed on the prince what was well worth the pains of being won by time, he failed not to thank the god who favored him; and he plied his opportunity so well, that they agreed there and then upon the means of seeing each other in less crowded company.

The time and the place being assigned, the prince appeared punctually, but in disguise, that he might not compromise the honor of the fair one. As he did not wish to be known by the rogues and thieves who roam by night, he had himself escorted by some trusty gentlemen, from whom he separated on entering the street where the lady resided, saying to them, "If you hear no noise within a quarter of an hour, go away, and return about three or four o'clock." The quarter of an hour having expired, and no noise having been heard, the gentlemen withdrew.

The prince went straight to the advocate's house, and found the door open as he had been promised, but on going up the staircase he met the advocate with a candle in his hand, who saw him first. Love, however, which gives wit and boldness in proportion to the crossings and thwartings it occasions, prompted the prince to go up at once to the advocate and say to him, "You know, master advocate, the confidence which I and all my house repose in you, and that I regard you as one of my best and most faithful servants. I am come to see you privately, as well to recommend my affairs to you as to beg you will give me something to drink, for I am very thirsty, and not let anybody know that I have been here. When I quit you I shall have to go to another place where I should not like to be known."

The poor man, delighted with the honor the prince did him by this familiar visit, begged him to enter his room, and told his wife to prepare a collation of the best fruits and the most exquisite confections she could find; which she did right gladly, with all possible daintiness. Though she was in kerchief and mantle, and appeared to more than usual advantage in that négligé, the prince affected not to look at her, but talked continually about his business to her husband, who had always had the management of it. Whilst the wife knelt before the prince to present him some confections, and the husband was going to the buffet to fetch him something to drink, she found time to tell him not to fail, on departing, to enter a garderobe on the right, where she would soon join him.

When he had drunk, he thanked the advocate, who wished by all means to accompany him; but this the prince would not allow, assuring him he was going to a place where he had no need of company. Then turning to the wife he said, "I will not deprive you of your good husband, who is one of my old servants. You are so happy in having him that you have reason to thank God. You must serve and obey him well; and if you did otherwise you would be very ungrateful."

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the prince and the lawyer's wife meet?
  • how did the prince react when the lawyer caught him going up the stairs?
  • where did the lawyer's wife say she would meet the lawyer?

Source: The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. Translated by Walter K. Kelly. Website: A Celebration of Women Writers. (Kelly's translated is not dated; it is based on a French edition published in 1853.)

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM