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July 25, 2014

Yonec- The Lais of Marie de France- Summary

Yonec- The Lais of Marie de France- Summary

There once was an old man, who was the lord of Caerwent. Because he was so old and he had no heirs, he thought it best to seek a wife. He married a beautiful young woman. Once they were married he locked her away in a tower, because he was extremely jealous. The old man had a sister, whom he had keep an eye on his young bride.

This lasted for seven years, and the couple never had children. The lady was miserable, and quit taking care of herself. She was once considered to be extremely beautiful, but she was not any longer.

One April when the old man and his sister had gone to church, the lady sat in her room weeping. Through her sobs, the lady recalled tales of "knights discovered maidens to their liking, noble and fair, and ladies found handsome and courtly lovers, worthy and valiant men. There was no fear or reproach and they alone could see them" (87). Thus, she made her wish. Not long after, a large hawk flew into her room, and it turned into a knight, who was both noble and handsome. The knight told her that he had come there to love her, and that he had loved her for a long time. He told her that even though he had loved her for a long time, he could not come to her until she wished for him. The lady told him that he could only be her lover if he believed in God. The knight said he did believe, and if she wished to test his devotion, all she had to do was call for the chaplain and tell him she was very sick. She was to tell the chaplain that she wished to hear the last rights. The knight said that he would take on her form and receive the body of Christ.

The knight lay on the bed next to the lady until the old woman came back. The lady told the old woman that she was very sick and to call for a priest. At first the old woman refused, because her brother was not back yet, but she eventually gave in. The priest was called and the knight received the corpus domini. The old woman and the priest left the room, and the lovers started laughing. The knight told his beloved that he had to go, but whenever she wanted him, he would be there within the hour. He advised her not to call too much, because that would raise suspicions and lead to his death.

The lady became happy again, and her beauty was restored. Her husband noticed this change in her appearance and questioned his sister. They devised a plan to discover what it was that was making her so happy. Three days later, the old woman pretended to go outside and hid in the lady's chamber. The lady called her knight and he came to her. The old lady saw everything, and told the old man everything she had seen, including how the knight changed his form. The old man put up spikes outside of the lady's window, without her knowledge. Before sunrise the next morning, the old man said he was going hunting. The lady called for her knight, but when he arrived he was stabbed by one of the spikes on the window. The knight knew he was mortally wounded. He told his beloved that she was pregnant with a son. He told her to name him Yonec and he would one day kill the lady's husband.

The knight left his beloved, but the lady escaped through a window and followed his trail of blood. She followed him to a nearby city that was enclosed by a wall. The lady found an entrance into the city and went into the castle. The following the trail of blood through the castle,finally found her knight. The knight told her to leave, because his people would blame her for his death. The knight gave her a ring, and told her that as long as she kept it, her husband would not remember anything about what had happened. He also gave her a sword, and told her to give it to their son when he became a valiant knight. He told her to take her husband and son to a feast. While they were at the feast they would go to an abbey and visit a tomb; once they heard the story of the person buried in there, the lady was supposed to tell her son the truth about his father and give him the sword. The lady then left and the knight died.

When her son had grown into a man and dubbed a knight, the family decided to go to the feast of St. Aaron. The feast took place in various cities; so they had to have a guide take them to the feast. They were taken to a beautiful castle; within the castle there was a great abbey. The family went to the feast. The next morning they went to mass, intending to leave afterwards. The abbot invited them to stay, so they did. They were given a tour of the abbey and they came upon a tomb. They were told the story of the king, who was buried there. They said that he died for his beloved. They also said that they have been waiting for a long time for his son to return.

Once the lady had heard all of this, she told her son that the man buried in this tomb was his father, and she gave him the sword. The lady died right after she told her son everything. Her son took his sword and killed his step-father. Yonec became lord of that land.


The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. Glyn S. Burgess. New York: Penguin, 1999.