The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, by John Mandeville

Chapter XXIV

Wherefore he is Clept the Great Chan. Of the Style of His Letters, and of the Superscription About HIS GREAT SEAL AND His Privy Seal

FIRST I shall say you why he was clept the great Chan.

Ye shall understand, that all the world was destroyed by Noah’s flood, save only Noah and his wife and his children. Noah had three sons, Shem, Cham, and Japhet. This Cham was he that saw his father’s privy members naked when he slept, and scorned them, and shewed them with his finger to his brethren in scorning wise. And therefore he was cursed of God. And Japhet turned his face away and covered them.

These three brethren had seisin in all the land. And this Cham, for his cruelty, took the greater and the best part, toward the east, that is clept Asia, and Shem took Africa, and Japhet took Europe. And therefore is all the earth parted in these three parts by these three brethren. Cham was the greatest and the most mighty, and of him came more generations than of the other. And of his son Chuse was engendered Nimrod the giant, that was the first king that ever was in the world; and he began the foundation of the tower of Babylon. And that time, the fiends of hell came many times and lay with the women of his generation and engendered on them diverse folk, as monsters and folk disfigured, some without heads, some with great ears, some with one eye, some giants, some with horses’ feet, and many other diverse shape against kind. And of that generation of Cham be come the Paynims and divers folk that be in isles of the sea by all Ind. And forasmuch as he was the most mighty, and no man might withstand him, he cleped himself the Son of God and sovereign of all the world. And for this Cham, this emperor clepeth him Cham, and sovereign of all the world.

And of the generation of Shem be come the Saracens. And of the generation of Japhet is come the people of Israel. And though that we dwell in Europe, this is the opinion, that the Syrians and the Samaritans have amongst them. And that they told me, before that I went toward Ind, but I found it otherwise. Natheles, the sooth is this; that Tartars and they that dwell in the great Asia, they came of Cham; but the Emperor of Cathay clepeth him not Cham, but Can, and I shall tell you how.

It is but little more but eight score year that all Tartary was in subjection and in servage to other nations about. For they were but bestial folk and did nothing but kept beasts and led them to pastures. But among them they had seven principal nations that were sovereigns of them all. Of the which, the first nation or lineage was clept Tartar, and that is the most noble and the most prized. The second lineage is clept Tanghot, the third Eurache, the fourth Valair, the fifth Semoche, the sixth Megly, the seventh Coboghe.

Now befell it so that of the first lineage succeeded an old worthy man that was not rich, that had to name Changuys. This man lay upon a night in his bed. And he saw in avision, that there came before him a knight armed all in white. And he sat upon a white horse, and said to him, Can, sleepest thou? The Immortal God hath sent me to thee, and it is his will, that thou go to the seven lineages and say to them that thou shalt be their emperor. For thou shalt conquer the lands and the countries that be about, and they that march upon you shall be under your subjection, as ye have been under theirs, for that is God’s will immortal.

And when he came at morrow, Changuys rose, and went to seven lineages, and told them how the white knight had said. And they scorned him, and said that he was a fool. And so he departed from them all ashamed. And the night ensuing, this white knight came to the seven lineages, and commanded them on God’s behalf immortal, that they should make this Changuys their emperor, and they should be out of subjection, and they should hold all other regions about them in their servage as they had been to them before. And on the morrow, they chose him to be their emperor. And they set him upon a black fertre, and after that they lift him up with great solemnity. And they set him in a chair of gold and did him all manner of reverence, and they cleped him Chan, as the white knight called him.

And when he was thus chosen, he would assay if he might trust in them or no, and whether they would be obeissant to him or no. And then he made many statutes and ordinances that they clepe YSYA CHAN. The first statute was, that they should believe and obey in God Immortal, that is Almighty, that would cast them out of servage, and at all times clepe to him for help in time of need. The tother statute was, that all manner of men that might bare arms should be numbered, and to every ten should be a master, and to every hundred a master, and to every thousand a master, and to every ten thousand a master. After he commanded to the principals of the seven lineages, that they should leave and forsake all that they had in goods and heritage, and from thenceforth to hold them paid of that that he would give them of his grace. And they did so anon. After he commanded to the principals of the seven lineages, that every of them should bring his eldest son before him, and with their own hands smite off their heads without tarrying. And anon his commandment was performed.

And when the Chan saw that they made none obstacle to perform his commandment, then he thought well that he might trust in them, and commanded them anon to make them ready and to sue his banner. And after this, Chan put in subjection all the lands about him.

Afterward it befell upon a day, that the Can rode with a few meinie for to behold the strength of the country that he had won. And so befell, that a great multitude of enemies met with him. And for to give good example hardiness to his people, he was the first that fought, and in the midst of his enemies encountered, and there he was cast from his horse, and his horse slain. And when his folk saw him at the earth, they were all abashed, and weened he had been dead, and flew every one, and their enemies after and chased them, but they wist not that the emperor was there. And when the enemies were far pursuing the chase, the emperor hid him in a thick wood. And whet, they were come again from the chase, they went and sought the woods if any of them had been hid in the thick of the woods; and many they found and slew them anon. So it happened that as they went searching toward the place that the emperor was, they saw an owl sitting upon a tree above him; and then they said amongst them, that there was no man because that they saw that bird there, and so they went their way; and thus escaped the emperor from death. And then he went privily all by night, till he came to his folk that were full glad of his coming, and made great thankings to God Immortal, and to that bird by whom their lord was saved. And therefore principally above all fowls of world they worship the owl; and when they have any of their feathers, they keep them full preciously instead of relics, and bear them upon their heads with great reverence; and they hold themselves blessed and safe from all perils while that they have them upon them, and therefore they bear their feathers upon their heads.

After all this the Chan ordained him, and assembled his people, and went upon them that had assailed him before, and destroyed them, and put them in subjection and servage. And when he had won and put all the lands and countries on this half the Mount Belian in subjection, the white knight came to him again in his sleep, and said to him, Chan! the will of God Immortal is that thou pass the Mount Belian. And thou shalt win the land and thou shalt put many nations in subjection. And for thou shalt find no good passage for to go toward that country, go [to] the Mount Belian that is upon the sea, and kneel there nine times toward the east in the worship of God Immortal, and he shall shew the way to pass by. And the Chan did so. And anon the sea that touched and was fast to the mount began to withdraw him, and shewed fair way of nine foot breadth large; and so he passed with his folk, and won the land of Cathay that is the greatest kingdom of the world.

And for the nine kneelings and for the nine foot of way the Chan and all the men of Tartary have the number of nine in great reverence. And therefore who that will make the Chan any present, be it of horses, be it of birds, or of arrows or bows, or of fruit, or of any other thing, always he must make it of the number of nine. And so then be the presents of greater pleasure to him; and more benignly he will receive them than though he were presented with an hundred or two hundred. For him seemeth the number of nine so holy, because the messenger of God Immortal devised it.

Also, when the Chan of Cathay had won the country of Cathay, and put in subjection and under foot many countries about, he fell sick. And when he felt well that he should die, he said to his twelve sons, that everych of them should bring him one of his arrows. And so they did anon. And then he commanded that men should bind them together in three places. And then he took them to his eldest son, and bade him break them all together. And he enforced him with all his might to break them, but he ne might not. And then the Chan bade his second son to break them; and so, shortly, to all, each after other; but none of them might break them. And then he bade the youngest son dissever every one from other, and break everych by himself. And so he did. And then said the Chan to his eldest son and to all the others, Wherefore might ye not break them? And they answered that they might not, because that they were bound together. And wherefore, quoth he, hath your little youngest brother broken them? Because, quoth they, that they were parted each from other. And then said the Chan, My sons, quoth he, truly thus will it fare by you. For as long as ye be bound together in three places, that is to say, in love, in truth and in good accord, no man shall be of power to grieve you. But and ye be dissevered from these three places, that your one help not your other, ye shall be destroyed and brought to nought. And if each of you love other and help other, ye shall be lords and sovereigns of all others. And when he had made his ordinances, he died.

And then after him reigned Ecchecha Cane, his eldest son. And his other brethren went to win them many countries and kingdoms, unto the land of Prussia and of Russia, and made themselves to be clept Chane; but they were all obeissant to their elder brother, and therefore was he clept the great Chan.

After Ecchecha reigned Guyo Chan.

And after him Mango Chan that was a good Christian man and baptized, and gave letters of perpetual peace to all Christian men, and sent his brother Halaon with great multitude of folk for to win the Holy Land and for to put it into Christian men’s hands, and for to destroy Mahomet’s law, and for to take the Caliph of Bagdad that was emperor and lord of all the Saracens. And when this caliph was taken, men found him of so high worship, that in all the remnant of the world, ne might a man find a more reverend man, ne higher in worship. And then Halaon made him come before him, and said to him, Why, quoth he, haddest thou not taken with thee more soldiers and men enough, for a little quantity of treasure, for to defend thee and thy country, that art so abundant of treasure and so high in all worship? And the caliph answered him, For he well trowed that he had enough of his own proper men. And then said Halaon, Thou wert as a god of the Saracens. And it is convenient to a god to eat no meat that is mortal. And therefore, thou shall not eat but precious stones, rich pearls and treasure, that thou lovest so much. And then he commanded him to prison, and all his treasure about him. And so he died for hunger and thirst. And then after this, Halaon won all the Land of Promission, and put it into Christian men’s hands. But the great Chan, his brother, died; and that was great sorrow and loss to all Christian men.

After Mango Chan reigned Cobyla Chan that was also a Christian man. And he reigned forty-two year. He founded the great city Izonge in Cathay, that is a great deal more than Rome.

The tother great Chan that came after him became a Paynim, and all the others after him.

The kingdom of Cathay is the greatest realm of the world. And also the great Chan is the most mighty emperor of the world and the greatest lord under the firmament. And so he clepeth him in his letters, right thus: CHAN! FILIUS DEI EXCELSI, OMNIUM UNIVERSAM TERRAM COLENTIUM SUMMUS IMPERATOR, & DOMINUS OMNIUM DOMINANTIUM! And the letter of his great seal, written about, is this; DEUS IN COELO, CHAN SUPER TERRAM, EJUS FORTITUDO. OMNIUM HOMINUM IMPERATORIS SIGILLUM. And the superscription about his little seal is this; DEI FORTITUDO, OMNIUM HOMINUM IMPERATORIS SIGILLUM.

And albeit that they be not christened, yet nevertheless the emperor and all the Tartars believe in God Immortal. And when they will menace any man, then they say, God knoweth well that I shall do thee such a thing, and telleth his menace.

And thus have ye heard, why he is clept the great Chan.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:10