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Friday, September 23, 2022

Renaissance Times and Two Tales from Il Novellino

This Sunday I will become a Renaissance wine wench.  It's the Michigan Renaissance Festival and an annual fundraiser for two theatre groups where I'm a  member.  If you can go this weekend you can find me in the wine-tasting tent for Michigan wines.  It's also the weekend Sign Language interpreting is provided so I look forward to using my signing skills!

The Royals...I'm a mere commoner and aid to a vendor

The Theme is Harvest Huzzah! and I enjoy helping people find the right wine from our Michigan grapes.  But even if you can't make it, here's a bit of Renaissance storytelling from Italy.  In this weekend when England is transitioning from Queen Elizabeth to her son being King Charles, these stories seem appropriate.  But first I'll open with the Introduction by the interpreter, Edward Storer.

Il Novellino

The Hundred Old Tales

Translated from the Italian by


To this day the author of this famous collection of tales remains unknown. But he probably was a minstrel of the Middle Ages who went from castle to castle entertaining his listeners with his stories—Bible stories, stories from French, Provençal, and Arthurian sources, stories from the Classics, and stories of Oriental origin. Some were moralistic, some humorous, some witty, some spicy.

As a collection they have never ceased to interest because of their humanness. Written in a quaint simple style, they are full of action, wit, and wisdom, and represent practically the oldest prose work in the Italian language. 


Of the great generosity and courtesy of the Young King

We read of the valour1 of the Young King2 in rivalry with his father through the offices of Beltram.3 

This Beltram boasted that he had more sense than anyone else. Whence many judgments came into being, some of which are written here.

Beltram plotted with the Young King that he should persuade his father to give him his share of inheritance. And so insistent was the son that he gained his request. And he gave all away to gentlefolk and to poor knights, so that nothing remained to him and he had no more to give away.

A court player asked him for a gift. He replied that he had given all away, but this only is left me,4 a bad tooth, and my father has promised two thousand marks to whomsoever shall prevail on me to have it taken out. Go to my father and make him give you the marks, and I will draw the tooth from my mouth at your request.

The minstrel went to the father and had the marks, and the son drew out his tooth.

On another occasion it happened that he gave two hundred marks to a gentleman. The seneschal or treasurer took the marks, and laid a carpet in a room and placed the marks beneath it, together with a bundle of cloth so that the whole should seem larger.

And the Young King going through the room, the treasurer showed him the pile saying: Sire, see how you dispense your gifts. You see what a large sum is two hundred marks, which seem nothing to you.

And the Young King looked and said: that seems little enough to me to give to so valiant a man. Give him four hundred, for I thought two hundred marks much more than they seem now I see them.5

1 bontà in original—goodness. 

2 The young King was Henry, eldest son of Henry II of England. He was often known under this title. 

3 Beltram, or Bertrand di Born. 

4 This change from indirect to direct narrative occurs frequently in the Novellino

5 The story of the tooth appears also in Conti di antichi cavalieri


Of the great liberality and courtesy of the King of England

The young King of England squandered and gave away all his possessions.

Once a poor knight beheld the cover of a silver dish, and said to himself: if I could but hide that upon me, my household could thrive thereon for many a day. He hid the cover on his person. The seneschal, when the dinner was ended, examined the silver, and found that the dish was missing. So they began to spread the news and to search the knights at the door.

The young King had observed him who had taken it, and came to him silently, and said to him very softly: give it to me, for I shall not be searched. And the knight all shamefaced, obeyed his behest.

Outside the door, the young King gave it back to him and hid it on him, and then he sent for him, and gave him the other half of the dish.

And his courtesy even went further; for one night some impoverished gentlemen entered his room in the belief that he was asleep. They collected his arms and clothes in order to steal them. One of them was reluctant to leave behind a rich counterpane which was covering the King, and he seized it and began to pull. The King, for fear he should remain uncovered, took hold of the end of it and held it fast, while the other tugged, and the knights present, in order to save time, lent him a hand. 

And then the king spoke: this is not theft but robbery—to wit, taking by force. The knights fled when they heard him speak, for they had believed him to be sleeping.

One day, the old King, the father of this young King, took him harshly to task, saying, where is your treasure?

And he answered: Sire, I have more than you have. There was much discussion. Both sides bound themselves to a wager.

The day was fixed when each was to show his treasure.

The young King invited all the barons of the country who were in the neighbourhood. His father set up that day a sumptuous pavilion and sent for gold and silver in dishes and plates and much armour and a great quantity of precious stones, and laid all on his carpets and said to his son: where is your treasure? Thereupon the son drew his sword from its scabbard.

The assembled knights crowded in from the streets and the squares. The entire city seemed to be full of knights.

The King was unable to defend himself against them. The gold remained in the power of the young King, who said to his knights: take your treasure. Some took gold, some plate, some one thing and some another, so that in a little while everything was distributed. The father gathered all his forces to take the treasure.

The son shut himself up in a castle, and Bertrand de Born was with him. The father came to besiege him.

One day through being oversure, he was struck in the head by an arrow (for he was pursued by misfortune) and killed.

But before his death he was visited by all his creditors, and they asked him for the treasure which they had lent him. Whereat the young King answered: sirs, you come at a bad season, for my treasure has been distributed. My possessions are all given away. My body is infirm, and it would be a poor pledge for you.

But he sent for a notary, and when the notary had come, that courteous king said to him: write that I bind my soul to perpetual bondage until such time as my creditors are paid. Then he died. After his death they went to his father and asked for the money. The father answered them roughly, saying: you are the men who lent to my son wherefore he waged war upon me, and therefore under the penalty of your life and goods take yourselves out of my dominions.

Then one of them spoke and said: Sire, we shall not be the losers, for we have his soul in our keeping.

And the king asked in what way, and they showed him the document.

Then the king humbled himself and said: God forfend that the soul of so valiant a man should be in bondage for money, and he ordered them to be paid, and so it befell.

Then Bertran de Born came into his hands, and he asked for him and said: you declared you had more sense than any man in the world; now where is your sense? Bertran replied: Sire, I have lost it. And when did you lose it? I lost it when your son died.

Then the King knew that he had lost his wit for love of his son1, so he pardoned him and loaded him with rich gifts. 

1 The passage is not clear and is probably corrupt. I have added the word “lost”. For Bertran see Dante, Inf. XXVIII, 134, 22. 


If you are wondering about the father, Henry II, he's the first Plantaganet and the king who had Archbishop Thomas Becket appointed Chancellor and later had him killed in Canterbury Cathedral.  T.S.Eliot's play and movies, Murder in the Cathedral, were about him.  Similarly the play and movie Lion in Winter were about him, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons (none of whom were named Henry since by that time young Henry had died).  Bertran de Born also was a real person, involved in Henry, the Young King's revolt against his younger brother, Richard.  Bertran also had a play about himself, called Bertran de Born, but it's probably only remembered for its incidental music by Darius Milhaud that was later worked into his Suite provençale.

The anonymous Italian creator or creators of Il Novellino never let a good story go to waste, but also didn't let facts stand in the way of a good story.


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.

Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-

  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.

  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"

The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:        

         - David K. Brown -

         - Richard Martin -

         - Spirit of Trees -

         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.

       - World of Tales - 

           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.

You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!

    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.

You can see why I recommend these to you. 

Have fun discovering even more stories

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