Excerpt of Le Fresne
Lais are short, poetic romances written during the Middle Ages in Western Europe. These stories were written and shared orally among nobility. Click on the image of writing to read an excerpt from the lai entitled Le Fresne. You also see an image of the author, Marie de France. Marie de France (Marie of France) was literate, not uncommon among women of her class, but she was exceptional in part because she claimed authorship of her work.
Excerpt from Le Fresne
“After she, Le Fresne, had been with Gurun for some time, the landed knights reproached him for it severely, and they often spoke to him saying that he should take a noble wife and free himself of Le Fresne. They would be happier if he had an heir to inherit his land and it would be a grievous loss if he did not have a child by a wife on account of his concubine. They would never more consider him their lord, nor serve him willingly, if he did not do their bidding.
The knight agreed to take a wife on their advice and so they looked to see where one might be found. “Lord,” they said, “close to us here is a worthy man quite your equal who has a daughter as his heir: much land will come with her. The damsel is called La Codre and in all the land there is none so fair. In exchange for Le Fresne, whom you will give up, you will have La Codre. On the hazel there are nuts to be enjoyed, but the ash never bears fruit. We shall seek to obtain the damsel, and if it please God, we shall give her to you.”
Thus they sought this marriage and assent was given by all parties. Alas! What a misfortune that the worthy men did not know the story of these damsels who were in fact twin sisters! Le Fresne was kept hidden from the other girl, who was then married to Le Fresne’s beloved. When she learned of the marriage, Le Fresne showed no displeasure but served her lord properly and honoured all his people. The knights of his household, the squires and the serving-boys, grieved much because they were going to lose her.”
Image of Marie de France, c. 1200s, National Library of France.