The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 39

Ulenspiegel being now at Bois-le-Duc in Brabant, the magnates of the town would fain have appointed him their fool, but he would none of this dignity. “Pilgrim on pilgrimage cannot play fool as a permanency, but only at inns and on the highways.”

At this same time Philip, who was King of England, came to visit the countries of his future inheritance, Flanders, Brabant, Hainault, Holland, and Zealand. He was then in his twenty-ninth year; in his grayish eyes dwelt sour melancholy, savage dissimulation, and cruel resolution. Cold was his countenance, and stiff his head covered with tawny hair; stiff, too, his meagre torso and spindle limbs. Slow was his speech and thick as though he had wool in his mouth.

Amid tourneys, jousts, and feastings, he visited the joyous duchy of Brabant, the rich county Flanders, and his other seignories. Everywhere he swore to observe and confirm the privileges; but when at Brussels he took oath upon the Testament to observe the Golden Bull of Brabant his hand clenched so tight that he must needs take it away from the sacred book.

He went to Antwerp, where they put up twenty-three triumphal arches to receive him. The city disbursed two hundred and eighty-seven thousand florins to pay for these arches and for the costumes of eighteen hundred and seventy-nine merchants all clad in crimson velvet and for the rich livery of four hundred and sixteen lackeys and the brilliant silk trappings of four thousand burgesses, all clad alike. Many feasts were given by the rhetoricians of all the cities in the Low Countries, or nearly all.

There were seen, with their fools male and female, the Prince of Love, of Tournai, mounted upon a sow that was called Astarte; the King of Fools, of Lille, who led a horse by the tail and walked behind; the Prince of Pleasure, of Valenciennes, who amused himself counting how many times his donkey broke wind; the Abbot of Mirth, of Arras, who drank Brussels wine from a flask shaped like a breviary, and that was gay reading; the Abbot of the Paux-Pourvus, of Ath, who was provided with linen full of holes and boots down at heel, but had a sausage with which he made good provision for his belly; the Provost of Madcaps, a young man mounted on a shy goat, and who trotting in the crowd got many a thwack because of her; the Abbot of the Silver Dish, from Quesnoy, who mounted on his horse pretended to be sitting in a dish, saying “there is no beast so big that fire cannot cook him.”

And they played all kinds of harmless foolery, but the King remained sad and severe.

That same evening, the Markgrave of Antwerp, the burgomasters, captains and deans, assembled together to find out some game or play that might win Philip the King to laughter.

Said the Markgrave:

“Have ye not heard tell of a certain Pierkin Jacobsen, the town-fool of Bois-le-Duc, and far renowned for his merry tricks?”

“Yes,” said the others.

“Well!” said the Markgrave, “let us summon him to come hither, and bid him do us some nimblewitted turn, since our own fool has his boots stuffed with lead.”

“Let us summon him hither,” said they.

When the messenger from Antwerp came to Bois-le-Duc, they told him that the fool Pierkin had snuffed out his candle with over-much laughing, but that there was in the town another fool, a bird of passage, called Ulenspiegel.

The messenger went to look for him in a tavern where he was eating a fricassee of mussels and making a petticoat for a girl with the shells.
Ulenspiegel was delighted when he knew that it was for him the courier of the commune had come all the way from Antwerp, mounted upon a fine horse of Vuern-Ambacht and leading another by the bridle.

Without setting foot to ground, the courier asked him if he knew where to find a new trick to make King Philip laugh.

“I have a mine of them under my hair,” answered Ulenspiegel.

They went away together. The two horses galloping loose-reined brought Ulenspiegel and the courier to Antwerp.

Ulenspiegel made his appearance before the Markgrave, the two burgomasters, and the officials of the commune.

“What do you intend to do?” asked the Markgrave.

“Fly in the air,” replied Ulenspiegel.

“How will you set about this?” asked the Markgrave.

“Do you know,” asked Ulenspiegel, “what is worth less than a burst bladder?”

“I do not know,” said the Markgrave.

“A secret that has been let out,” replied Ulenspiegel.

In the meanwhile, the heralds of the games, mounted upon their handsome steeds caparisoned with crimson velvet, rode through all the main streets, squares, and carfaxes of the city, sounding clarions and with beat of drum. In this fashion they announced to the signorkes and the signorkinnes that Ulenspiegel, the fool of Damme, would fly in the air at the quay, there being present upon a staging King Philip and his high illustrious and distinguished company.

Over against the staging there was a house built in the Italian fashion, with a gutter running along the whole length of the roof. A garret window opened upon the gutter.

Ulenspiegel on this day went through the city everywhere riding upon an ass. A footman ran alongside him. Ulenspiegel had donned the fine robe of crimson silk the magnates of the commune had given him. His headgear was a hood, crimson as well, on which were seen two asses’ ears with a bell on the tip of each. He wore a necklace of copper medallions embossed with the shield of Antwerp. On the sleeves of the robe there tinkled at each pointed elbow a gilt bell. He had shoes with gilt soles, and a bell at the tip of each.

His ass was caparisoned with crimson silk and on each thigh carried the shield of Antwerp broidered in fine gold.

The footman brandished a donkey’s head in one hand and in the other a branch at the end of which chimed a cowbell from a forest-bred cow.

Ulenspiegel, leaving his ass and his footman in the street, climbed up into the gutter.

There, shaking his bells, he opened out his arms as if he was on the point of flying. Then leaning down towards King Philip, he said:

“I thought there was no fool in Antwerp save only me, but I perceive the town is full of them. If you had told me you were going to fly, I should not have believed you; but let a fool come and tell you he will do it, and you believe him. How would you have me fly, since I have no wings?”

Some laughed, others swore, but all said:

“This fool says what is none the less quite true.”

But King Philip remained stiff as a king of stone.

And the magnates of the commune said softly one to the other:

“There was no need to make such great festival for such a sour-face.”

And they gave three florins to Ulenspiegel, who departed, first perforce restoring to them the robe of crimson silk.

“What are three florins in the pouch of a young man but a snowball before a fire, a full bottle in front of you, wide-throated drinkers? Three florins! The leaves fall from the trees and sprout again upon them, but florins leave pouches and return thither no more: the butterflies flitter away with the summer time, and the florins, too, although they weigh two estrelins and nine as.”

So saying, Ulenspiegel contemplated his three florins closely.

“What a haughty mien,” murmured he, “hath the Emperor Charles upon the obverse, cuirassed and helmeted, holding a sword in one hand and in the other the globe of this poor earthly world! He is by the grace of God Emperor of the Romans, King of Spain, and so forth, and he is most gracious towards these our countries, this emperor in the cuirass. And here on the reverse is a shield on which are graven and displayed the arms of a duke, count, etc., pertaining to his divers possessions, with this goodly device: Da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos: ‘Give me strength against thy enemies.’ He was valiant indeed against those of the reformed that have goods to confiscate, and he inheriteth them. Ah! were I the Emperor Charles, I would have florins minted for everybody, and each man being rich, no one should work more.”

But Ulenspiegel looked in vain at the lovely money; it was gone towards the land of ruin to the clinking of quart pots and the chiming of bottles.