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most memorable cases of judicial combat we find in the annals of Spain. It occurred at the brighi commencement of the reign, and in the youthful, and, as yet, glorious days, of Roderick the Goth; who subsequently tarnished his fame at home by his misdeeds, and, finally, lost his kingdom and his life on the banks of the Guadalete, in that disastrous battle, which gave up Spain a conquest to the Moors. The following is the story:
THERE was, once upon a time, a certain duke of Lorraine, who was acknowledged throughout his domains to be one of the wisest princes ibat ever lived. In fact, there was not any one measure that he adopted that did not astonish all his privy counsellors and gentlemen in attendance: and he said so many witty things, and made such sensible speeches, that liis high chamberlain had his jaws dislocated from laughing with delight at the one, and gaping with wonder at the other.
This very willy and exceedingly wise potentate lived for half a century in single blessedness, when his courtiers began to think it a great pity so wise and wealiny a prince should not have a child after his own likeness, to inherit his talents and domains; so they urged hiin most respectfully to marry, for the good of his estate, and the welfare of his subjects.
He turned their advice over in his mind some four or five years, and then sending emissaries to all parts, he summoned to his court all the beautiful maidens in the land, who were ambitious of sharing a ducal crown. The court was soon crowded with beauties of all styles and complexions, from among whom he chose one in the earliest budding of her charms, and acknowledged by all the gentlemen to be unparalleled for grace and loveliness. The courtiers extolled the duke to the skies for making such a choice, and considered it another proof of his great wisdom. "The duke,' said they, 'is waxing a little too old; the damsel, on the other hand, is a little too young; if one is lacking in years, the other has a superabundance; thus a want on one side is balanced by an excess on the other, and the result is a well-assorted marriage.'
The duke, as is often the case with wise men who marry rather late, and take damsels rather youthful to their bosoms, became doatingly fond of his wife, and indulged her in all things. He was, consequently, cried up by his subjects in general, and by the ladies in particular, as a pattern for husbands; and, in the end, from the wonderful docility with which he submitted to be reined and checked, acquired the amiable and enviable appellation of duke Phillibert the wife-ridden.
There was only one thing that disturbed the conjugal felicity of this paragon of husbands: thongh a considerable
time elapsed after his marriage, he still remained without any prospect of an heir. The good duke left no means untried to propitiate Heaven; he made vows and pilgrimages, he fasted and he prayed, but all to no purpose. The courtiers were all astonished at the circumstance. They could not account for it. While the meanest peasant in the country had sturdy brats by dozens, without putting up a prayer, the duke wore himself to skin and bone with penances and fastings, yet seemed farther off from his object than ever.
At length, the worthy prince fell dangerously ill, and felt bis end approaching. He looked with sorrowful eyes upon his young and tender spouse, who hung over him with tears and sobbings. “Alas! said he, tears are soon dried from youthful eyes, and sorrow lies lightly on a youthful heart. In a little while I shall be no more, and in the arms of another husband thou wilt forget him who has loved thee so tenderly.'
Never! never!' cried the duchess. Never will I cleave to another! Alas, that my lord should think me capable of such inconstancy!'
The worthy and wife-ridden duke was soothed by her assurances; for he could not endure the thoughts of giving her up even after he should be dead. Still he wished to have some pledge of her enduring constancy:
*Far be it from me, my dearest wife,' said he, 'to control thee through a long life. A year and a day of strici fidelity will appease my troubled spirit. Promise to remain faithful to my memory for a year and a day, and I will die in peace.'
The duchess made a solemn vow to that effect. The uxorious feelings of the duke were not yel satisfied. 'Safe bind, safe find,' thought he; so he made a will, in which he bequeathed to her all his domains, on condition of her remaining true to him for a year and a day after his decease; but, should it appear that, within that time, slie had in any wise lapsed from her fidelity, the inheritance should go to his nephew, the lord of a neighboring territory.
Having made his will, the good duke died and was buried. Scarcely was he in his tomb, when his nephew came to take possession, thinking, as his uncle had died without issue, that the domains would be devised to him of course. He was in a furious passion, however, when the will was produced, and the young widow was declared inheritor of the dukedom. As he was a violent, high-handed man, and one of the sturdiest knights in the land, fears were entertained thai he might attempt to seize on the territories by force. He had, however, two bachelor uncles for bosom counsellors. These were two swaggering rakehelly old cavaliers, who, having led loose and riotous lives, prided themselves upon knowing the world, and being deeply experienced in human
nature. They took their nephew aside. 'Prithee, man,' said they, 'be of good cheer. The duchess is a young and buxom widow.. She has just buried our brother, who, God rest his soul! was somewhat too much given to praying and fasting, and kept his pretty wife always tied to his girdle. She is now like a bird from a cage. Think you she will keep her vow? Impossible! Take our words for it — we know mankind, and, above all, womankind. She cannot hold out for such a length of time; it is not in womanhood - it is not in widowhood - we know it, and that's enough. Keep a sharp. look-out upon the widow, therefore, and within the iwelvemonth you will catch her tripping and then the dukedom is your own.'.
The nephew was pleased with this counsel, and immediately placed spies round the duchess, and bribed several of her servants to keep a watch upon her, so that she could not take a single step, even from one apartment of her palace to another, without being observed. Never was young and beautiful widow exposed to so terrible an ordeal.
The duchess was aware of the watch thus kept upon her. Though confident of her own rectitude, she knew that it is not enough for a woman to he virtuous she must be above the reach of slander. For the whole term of her probation, therefore, she proclaimed a strict nonintercourse with the other sex. She had females for cabinet-minig. ters and chamberlains, through whom she transacted all her public and private concerns; and it is said, that never were the affairs of the dukedom so adroitly administered.
All males were rigorously excluded from the palace; she never went out of its precincts, and whenever she moved about its courts and gardens, she surrounded herself with a body-guard of young maids of honor, commanded by dames renowned for discretion. She
slept in a bed without curtains, placed in the centre of a room illuminated by innumerable wax tapers. Four ancient spinsters, virtuous as Virginia, perfect dragons of watchfulness, who only slept during the day-time, kept vigils throughout the night, seated in the four corners of the room on stools without backs or arms, and with seats cut in checquers of the hardest wood, to keep them from dozing:
Thus wisely and warily did the young duchess conduct herself for twelve long months, and Slander almost bit her tongue off in despair at finding no room even for a surmise. Never was ordeal more burdensome, or more enduringly snstained.
The year passed away. The last, odd day arrived, and a long, long day it was. It was the twenty-first of June, the longest day in the year. It seemed as if it would never come to an end. A thousand times did the duchess and her ladies watch the sun from the windows of the palace, as he slowly climbed the vault of heaven, and seemed still more slowly to roll down. They could not help expressing their wonder, now and then, why the duke should have tagged this supernumerary day to the end of the year, as if three hundred and sixty-five days were not sufficient to try and task the fidelity of any woman. It is the last grain that turns the scale – the last drop that overtlows the goblet -- and the last moment of delay that exhausts the patience. By the time the sun sank below the horizon the duchess was in a fidget that passed all bounds, and, though several hours were yet to pass before the day regularly expired, she could not have remained those hours in durance to gain a royal crown, much less a ducal coronet. So she gave her orders, and her palfrey, magnificently caparisoned, was brought into the court-yard of the castle, with palfreys for all her ladies in attendance. In this way she sallied forth just as the sun had gone down. It was a mission of piety – a pilgrim cavalcade to a convent at the foot of a neighboring mountain — to return thanks to the blessed Virgin for having sustained her through this fearful ordeal.
The prisons performed, the duchess and her ladies returned, ambling gently along the border of a forest. Ii was about that mellow hour of twilight when night and day are mingled, and all objects indistinct. Suddenly some monstrous animal sprang from out a thicket, with fearful howlings. The whole female body-guard was thrown into confusion, and Aed different ways. It was some time before they recovered from their panic, and gathered once more together ; but the duchess was not to be found. The greatest anxiety was felt for her safety. The hazy mist of twilight had prevented their distinguishing perfecily the animal which had affrighted them. Some thought it a wolf, others a bear, others a wild man of the woods. For upward of an hour did they beleaguer the foresi, without daring to venture in, and were on the point of giving up the duchess as torn to pieces and devoured, when, to their great joy, they beheld her advancing in the gloom, supported by a stately cavalier.
He was a stranger knight, whom nobody knew. It was impossible to distinguish his countenance in the dark; but all the ladies agreed that he was of a noble presence and captivating address. He had rescued the duchess from the very fangs of the monster, which, he assured the ladies, was neither a wolf, nor a bear, nor yet a wild man of the woods, but a veritable fiëry dragon, a species of monster peculiarly hostile to beautiful females in the days of chivalry, and which all the efforts of knight errantry had not been able to extirpate.
The ladies crossed themselves when they heard of the danger from which they had escaped, and could not enough admire the gallantry of the cavalier. The duchess would fain have prevailed on her deliverer to accompany her to her court; but he had no time to spare, being a knight errant, who had many adventures on hand, and many distressed damsels and afflicted widows to rescue and relieve in various parts of the country. Taking a respectful leave, therefore, he pursued his wayfaring, and the duchess and her train returned to the palace. Throughout the whole way, the ladies were unwearied in chanting the praises of the stranger knight; nay, many of them would willingly have incurred the danger of the dragon to have enjoyed the happy deliverance of the duchess. As 10 ihe latter, she rode pensively along, but said nothing.
No sooner was the adventure of the wood made public, than a whirlwind was raised about the ears of the beautiful dutchess. The blustering nephew of the deceased duke went about, armed to the teeth, with a swaggering uncle at each shoulder, ready to back him, and swore the duchess had forteited her domain. It was in vain that she called all the saints, and angels, and her ladies in attendance into the bargain, to witness that she had passed a year and a day of immaculate fidelity. One fatal hour remained to be accounted for; and in the space of one little hour sins enough may be conjured up by evil tongues, to blust the fame of a whole life of virtue.
The two graceless uncles, who had seen the world, were ever ready to bolster the matter through, and, as they were brawny, broad-shouldered warriors, and velerans in brawl as well as debanch, they had great sway with the multitude. If any one pretended to assert the innocence of the duchess, they interrupted him with a loud ha! ha! of derision. A pretty story truly,' would they cry, about a wolf and a dragon, and a young widow rescued in the dark by a sturdy varlet, who dares not show his face in the daylight. You may tell that to those who do not know human nature; for our parts, we know the sex, and that 's enough.?
If, however, the other repeated his assertion, they would suddenly knit their brows, swell, look big, and put their hands upon their swords. As few people like to fight in a cause that does not touch their own interests, the nephew and the uncles were suffered to have their way, and swagger uncontradicted.
The matter was at length referred to a tribunal composed of all the dignitaries of the dukedom, and many and repeated consultations were held. The character of the duchess, throughout the year, was as bright and spotless as the moon in a cloudless night; one fatal hour of darkness alone intervened to eclipse its brightness. Finding human sagacity incapable of dispellin the mystery, it was determined to leave the question to heaven; or, in other words, to decide it by the ordeal of the sword - a sage tribunal in the age of chivalry. The nephew and two bully uncles were to maintain their accusation in listed combat, and six months were allowed to the duchess to provide herself with three champions, to meet them in the field. Should she fail in this, or should her champions be vanquished, her honor would be considered as attainted, her fidelity as forfeit, and her dukedom would go to the nephew, as a matter of right.
With this determination the duchess was fain to comply. Proclamations were accordingly made, and heralds sent to various parts; but day after day, week after week, and month after month elapsed, without any champion appearing to assert her loyalty throughout that darksome hour. The fair widow was reduced to despair, when tidings reached her of grand tournaments to be held at Toledo, in celebration of the nuptials of Don Roderick, the last of the Gothic kings, with the Morisco princess Exilona. As a last resort, the duchess repaired to the Spanish court, to implore the gallantry of its assembled chivalry.
The ancient city of Toledo was a scene of gorgeous revelry on the event of the royal nuptials, The youthful king, brave, ardent, and magnificent, and his lovely bride, beaming with all the radiant beauty of the East, were hailed with shouts and acclamations whenever they appeared. Their nobles vied with each other in the luxury of their attire, their splendid retinues, and prancing steeds; and the haughty dames of the court appeared in a blaze of jewels.
In the midst of all this pageantry, the beautiful but afflicted Duchess of Lorraine made her approach to the throne. She was dressed in black, and closely veiled; four duennas of the most staid and severe aspect, and six beautiful demoiselles, formed her female atttendants. She was guarded by several very ancient, withered, and gray-headed cavaliers; and her train was borne by one of the most deformed and diminutive dwarfs in existence.
Advancing to the foot of the throne, she knelt down, and throwing up her veil, revealed a countenance so beautiful that half the courtiers present were ready to renounce their wives and mistresses, and devote themselves to her service; but when she made known that she came in quest of champions to defend her fame, every cavalier pressed forward to offer his arm and sword, without inquiring into the merits of the case; for it seemed clear that so beauteous a lady could have done nothing but what was right; and that, at any rate, she ought to be championed in following the bent of her humors, whether right or wrong:
Encouraged by such gallant zeal, the duchess suffered herself to be raised from the ground, and related the whole story of her distress. When she concluded, the king remained for some time silent, charmed by the music of her voice. At length: 'As I hope for salvation, most beautiful duchess,' said he, 'were I not a sovereign king, and bound in duty to my kingdom, 1 myself would put lance in rest to vindicate your cause; as it is, I here give full permission to my knights, and promise lists and à fair field, and that the contest shall take place before the walls of Toledo, in presence of my assembled court.'
As soon as the pleasure of the king was known, there was a strife among the cavaliers present, for the honor of the contest. It was decided by lot, and the successful candidates were objects of great envy, for every one was ambitious of finding favor in the eyes of the beautiful widow.
Missives were sent, summoning the nephew and his two uncles to Toledo, to maintain their accusation, and a day was appointed for the combat. When the day arrived, all Toledo was in commotion at an early hour. The lists had been prepared in the usual place, just without the walls, at the foot of the rugged rocks on which the city is built, and on that beautiful meadow along the Tagus, known by the name of the king's garden. The populace had already assembled, each one eager to secure a favorable place; the balconies were soon filled with the ladies of the court, clad in their richest attire, and bands of youthful knights, splendidly arnied, and decorated with their ladies' devices, were managing their superbly-caparisoned steeds about the field. The king at length came forth in state, accompanied by the queen Exilona. They took their seats in a raised balcony, under a canopy of rich damask; and, at sight of them, the people rent the air with acclamations.
The nephew and his uncles now rode into the field, armed cap-a-pie, and followed by a train of eavaliers of their own roystering cast, great swearers and carousers, arrant swashbucklers, that went about with clanking armor and jingling spurs. When the people of Toledo beheld the vaunting and discourteous appearance of these knights, they were more anxious than ever for the success of the gentle duchess; but at the same time, the sturdy and stalwart frames of these warriors, showed that whoever won the victory from them, must do it at the cost of many a bitter blow.
As the nephew and his riotous crew rode in at one side of the field, the fair widow appeared at the other, with her suite of grave gray-headed courtiers, her ancient duennas and dainty demoiselles, and the little dwarf toiling along under the weight of her train. Every one made way for her as she passed, and blessed her beautiful face, and prayed for success to her cause. She took her seat in a lower balcony, not far from the sovereigns; and her pale face, set off by her mourning weeds, was as the moon, shining forth from among the clouds of night.
The trumpets sounded for the combat. The warriors were just entering the lists, when a stranger knight, armed in panoply, and followed by two pages and an esquire, came galloping into the field, and, riding up to the royal balcony, claimed the combat as a matter of right.
In me,' cried he, “behold the cavalier who had the happiness to rescue the beautiful duchess from the peril of the forest, and the misfortune to bring on her this grievous calumny. It was but recently, in the course of my errantry, that tidings of her wrongs have reached my ears, and I have urged hither at all speed, to stand forth in her vindication.'
No sooner did the duchess hear the accents of the knight, than she recognised his voice, and joined her prayers with his that he might enter the lists. The difficulty was, to determine which of the three champions already appointed should yield his place, each insisting on the honor of the combat. The stranger knight would have settled the point, by taking the whole contest upon himself; but this the other knights would not permit. It was at length determined, as before, by lot, and the cavalier who lost the chance retired murmuring and disconsolate.
The trumpets again sounded — the lists were opened. The arrogant nephew and his two drawcansir uncles appeared so completely cased in steel, that they and their steeds were like moving masses of iron. When they understood the stranger knight to be the same that had rescued the duchess from her peril, they greeted him with the most boisterous derision :
O ho! sir Knight of the Dragon,' said they; 'you who pretend to champion fair widows in the dark, come on, and vindicate your deeds of darkness in the open day.'
The only reply of the cavalier was, to put lance in rest, and brace himself for the encounter.' Needless is it to relate the particulars of a battle, which was like so many hundred combats that have been said and sung in prose and verse. Who is there but
must have foreseen the event of a contest, where Heaven had to decide on the guilt or innocence of the most beautiful and immaculate of widows?
The sagacious reader, deeply read in this kind of judicial combats, can imagine the encounter of the graceless nephew and the stranger knight. He sees their concussion, man to man, and horse to horse, in mid career, and in that Sir Graceless hurled to the ground, and slain. He will not wonder that the assailants of the brawny uncles were less successful in their rude encounter; but he will picture to himself the stout stranger spurring to their rescue, in the very critical moment; he will see him transfixing one with his lance, and cleaving the other to the chime with a back stroke of his sword, thus leaving the trio of accusers dead upon the field, and establishing the immaculate fidelity of the duchess, and her title to the dukedom, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The air rang with acclamations; nothing was heard but praises of the beauty and virtue of the duchess, and of the prowess of the stranger knight ; but the public joy was still more increased when the champion raised his visor, and revealed the countenance of one of the bravest cavaliers in Spain, renowned for his gallantry in the service of the sex, who had long been absent, in quest of similar adventures.
That worthy knight, however, was severely wounded in the battle, and remained for a long time ill of his wounds. The lovely duchess, grateful for having twice owed her protection to his arm, attended him daily during his illness. A tender passion grew up between them, and she finally rewarded his gallantry by giving him her hand.
The king would fain have had the knight establish his title to such high advancement by farther deeds of arms; but his courtiers declared that he had already merited the lady, by thus vindicating her fame and fortune in a deadly combat to outrance; and the lady herself hinted that she was perfectly satisfied of his prowess in arms, from the proofs she received in his achievement in the forest.
Their nuptials were celebrated with great magnificence. The present husband of the duchess did not pray and fast like his predecessor, Phillibert the wife-ridden; yet he found greater favor in the eyes of Heaven, for their union was blessed with a numerous progeny — the daughters chaste and beauteous as their mother; the sons all stout and valiant as their sire, and all renowned, like him, for relieving disconso late damsels and desolate widows.
The 'Magnolia' will be published in the course of the ensuing month, and we shall embrace another occasion to allude more specifically to its separate merits.
"Sebago.' – Many of our readers will remember a tale under this title which appeared in the number of this Magazine for July, 1835. We allude to it now, for the purpose of calling public attention to a large and spirited painting from it, which has been executed by Mr. H. THIELCKE, and may be seen at 157 Broadway. The artist — who first saw the tale in a Quebec journal, (into which it had been copied from the Knickerbocker,) and was struck with its susceptibilities — has sketched the scene, as described by the writer, with signal fidelity.
We subjoin the paragraph which embraces the points contained in the picture :
"The savage, though now unarmed, was of such Herculean proportions, that he seemed an overmatch for the young white, notwithstanding the advantage possessed by the latter in his hunting knife. Trained to ride, to box, to fence - schooled in every manly exercise – there was a skill and quickness in the use of his limbs possessed by Pepperell, which made him no contemptible antagonist for the most powerful foe. With his eye fixed on the savage, and every muscle summoned to its guard, he advanced boldly toward the Indian. Sebago,' said he, 'you have slain your daughter. There lies your child, murdered by your hand.' The only reply of the Indian was a bound at the throat of the young Briton, with the quickness and spite of the mountain cat. he threw out his long arms and grasped at the neck of the white, it seemed that he must succeed in throttling his prey: Suddenly, however, he stepped back — the blood sponted from his side. Again he rallied. In this onset, receiving in his body the knife of his antagonist, he succeeded in breaking through his guard, clasped his arms around his body, and bore him to the earth. Yet here the combat continued. The Briton disentangled his knife from the body of the savage, and plunged it to the handle repeatedly