The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

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Tale xi. (A).

Madame de Roncex, while at the monastery of the Grey Friars at Thouars, 1 was constrained to go in great haste to a certain place, and, not looking to see whether the seats were clean, sat down in a filthy spot and befouled both her person and clothes; whereupon crying out for assistance, in the hope that some woman would come and cleanse her, she was waited on by men, who beheld her in the worst plight in which a woman could be found. 2

In the household of Madame de la Trémoille there was a lady named Roncex, who one day, when her mistress had gone to visit the monastery of the Grey Friars, found herself in great need to go to a certain place whither her maid could not go in her stead. She took with her a girl named La Mothe to keep her company, but being modest and unwilling to be seen, left her in the room, and went alone into a darksome privy, a place used in common by all the friars, who had given such a good account therein of all their victuals, that seat and floor, and in sooth the whole place, were thickly covered with the must of Bacchus and Ceres that had passed through the friars’ bellies.

The unhappy lady, who was so hard pressed that she had scarcely time to lift her dress, chanced to sit down in the foulest, dirtiest spot in the whole place, where she found herself stuck fast as though with glue, her poor hips, garments, and feet being so contaminated that she durst not take a step or turn on any side, for fear lest she should meet with something worse. Thereupon she began to call out as loudly as she could —

“La Mothe, my child, I am ruined and undone!”

The poor girl, who had formerly heard tell of the wickedness of the Grey Friars, and imagined that some of them were hidden there and were trying to take her mistress by force, thereupon ran off as hard as she could, saying to every one she met —

“Come and help Madame de Roncex; the Grey Friars are trying to ravish her in yonder privy.”

They thereupon hastened thither with all speed, and found the unhappy lady crying out for assistance, longing for some woman to come and cleanse her, and with her back parts all uncovered, for she feared to touch them with her garments lest these also should be defiled.

The gentlemen, coming in at her cries, beheld this fine sight, but could see nought of the Grey Friars, unless it were their ordure clinging to her hips; nor did this pass without laughter on their part and great shame on hers, for instead of having women to cleanse her, she was waited on by men, who saw her naked, and in the sorriest plight in which a woman could be found. For this reason, on perceiving them, she soiled what was still clean, by dropping her garments in order to cover herself, forgetting the filth that she was in for the shame she felt at sight of the men. And when she had come out of that foul place it was necessary to strip her naked and change all her garments before she could leave the monastery. She was minded to be angry with La Mothe for the aid that she had brought her, but finding that the poor girl had thought her in a yet more evil plight, she put aside her wrath and laughed like the rest. 3

“I think, ladies,” said Nomerfide, “that this story has proved neither long nor melancholy, and that I have given you what you expected.”

At this the company laughed heartily, and Oisille said — “The story is indeed nasty and unclean, yet, knowing the persons who fared in this manner, we cannot consider it unwelcome. Gladly would I have seen the faces of La Mothe and of the lady to whom she brought such timely aid. But now,” she added to Nomerfide, “since you have finished so soon, give your vote to some one whose thoughts are of a graver turn.”

“Since you desire me to atone for my fault,” answered Nomerfide, “I give my vote to Dagoucin, whose discretion is such that he would die rather than say anything foolish.”

Dagoucin then thanked her for the esteem in which she held his good sense, and thus began — “The story I am minded to relate is intended to show you how love blinds the greatest and most honourable hearts, and how hard it is to overcome wickedness by any kindness whatsoever.”


1 In the department of the Deux-Sèvres. — Ed.

2 This story, given in Boaistuau’s version of Margaret’s tales, and to be found in most of the MS. copies of the Heptameron at the ‘Paris Bibliothèque Nationale’, was not included in the edition issued by Gruget, who replaced it by a story called The jests made by a Grey Friar, for which see post, p. 95 et seq. — Ed.

3 It is impossible to identify the lady mentioned in this story, her name being spelt in so many ways in the various MSS. of the Heptameron. It is given as Roncex in the copy here followed, as Roubex in a copy that belonged to Louis XVIII., and as Roncci in the De Thou MS., whilst Boaistuau printed it as Roucey. The Madame de la Trémoille, alluded to at the outset, is believed by Lacroix and Dillaye to have been Anne de Laval (daughter of Guy XV., Count of Laval, and of Charlotte of Aragon, Princess of Tarento), who married Francis de la Trémoille, Viscount of Thouars, in 1521, and was by her mother a cousin of Queen Margaret. Possibly, however, the reference is to Gabrielle de Bourbon, wife of Louis II. de la Trémoille, a lady of exemplary piety, who erected the beautiful Renaissance chapel of the château of Thouars. — L. & Ed.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57