How King Lisuarte held court in the city of London.
[Illustration from the Manesse Codex, a book created between 1305 and 1340 in Zurich for the Manesse family. It contains love songs in Middle High German by important poets.]
God in His mercy made King Lisuarte the king of Great Britain at the death of his brother, King Falangris, when Lisuarte was a prince without inheritance. In addition, since all things are made possible and guided by Him, He caused a great many knights and princesses from other kingdoms, as well as many other people of great means and high nobility, to come to Lisuarte eager to serve him, for they could not feel satisfied unless they were called the King's own.
Yet, due to our weakness, such grandeur attracts great pride and with it surpassing ingratitude and disregard for that which the Lord gives us. Thus He permitted Lisuarte such fortune that he would soon face difficulties that could dim his otherwise bright glory unless he rendered his heart gentle and soft, serving the Giver of rewards rather than the harmful appetites engendered by pride. Thus he would be able to maintain his grandeur and even increase it. Were he to do the contrary, he would be tormented with a terrible fall from grace.
With the assent of Amadis and Galaor and Agrajes and other esteemed knights, the King had planned to have the whole world to take note of the excellence of his royal estate. He ordered all the nobles of his reign to go to his court in London, a city that soared like an eagle above all Christendom. At that court, he meant to conduct the affairs of knighthood so that his house could continue to sustain and improve its excellence above that of any other emperor or king.
And while he thought that the whole world would kneel before him, there the first reversals of fortune overtook him and put him in danger of losing his reign, as now shall be told to you.
King Lisuarte left Windsor with all his knights, and the Queen with her ladies and damsels, to go to the court that would be held in the city of London: in all so many people that it would be a wonder to relate. Among them were many young knights richly armed and dressed, and many princesses and other damsels of great estate, who were much loved by those knights; thus many great jousts and feasts were held along the way. The King had ordered that tents and all necessities be brought because they would not all fit in any town, so they camped on the meadows near the many rivers and springs that those lands had.
Thus, in every way it seemed to be the happiest and most enjoyable life that they had ever known, but such pleasure would provide an even more hard and cruel contrast with the anguish and sorrow that they would soon feel.
When they finally arrived at the great city of London, so many people were there that it seemed the entire world had been brought together. The King and Queen and all their retinue dismounted in their palaces, where they ordered Amadis and Galaor and Agrajes and Sir Galvanes and the rest of the most highly esteemed knights to be lodged. Other good men and women were sent to stay in fine households that had previously offered themselves in royal service.
They relaxed that night and the next two days, and many dances and games were held in the palace and in the city, at which Amadis and Galaor were watched by all. So many people wanted to seem them and came to where they were that all the streets were so crowded that they often chose not to leave their lodgings.
To this court that ye are hearing of, a great lord came, greater in his estate and domain than in his dignity and virtue, named Barsinan, lord of Saxony. He came not because he was a vassal of Lisuarte nor his friend nor even acquainted with him, but for the reason that ye shall now hear. Know that while Barsinan was in his lands, Arcalaus the Sorcerer arrived there and told him:
"Barsinan, my lord, if thou wishest, I shall arrange it so that thou shalt be king without thee having to make any great effort or trouble for it."
"Truly," Barsinan said, "I would gladly accept anything ye could do to make me be king."
"Thou hast responded wisely," Arcalaus said, "and I shall make thee one if thou wouldst trust me and promise to make me thy chief steward for the rest of my life."
"I shall do so gladly," Barsinan said. "Tell me how it will be done."
"I shall tell you," Arcalaus said. "Go to the first court that King Lisuarte holds, and take with you a great company of knights. I shall seize the King in such a way that none of his men can help him. On that day I shall take his daughter Oriana and give her to you for a wife, and within five days I shall behead the King and send his head to the court. Then fight to take the crown, which will be yours to inherit since the King will be dead and his daughter, who is the rightful heir, will be under your lordship, and no one will be able to oppose you."
"Truly," Barsinan said, "if ye do this, I shall make you the richest and most powerful man of all those that I have."
"I shall do what I say," Arcalaus told him.
Because of this, as ye have heard, the great lord of Saxony, Barsinan, came to the court. The King came with many of his men to receive him, believing that he came for good and wholesome reasons. He ordered lodging for him and his company, and provided everything that they needed.
But I tell you that when Barsinan saw the King's many knights, knowing their loyalty to Lisuarte, he regretted having begun this effort and realized that no harm could befall such a great man. However, since it was underway, he decided to wait to see how it ended, because often when something seems impossible, an unexpected opportunity makes it happen much faster than it could have been imagined.
"King, I heard tell that you had called a great court, and I come here to do you honor, though I have no lands of yours, only those that God gave freely to my ancestors and to me."
"My friend," the King said, "I deeply thank you, and I shall give you what ye merit as I have it, for truly I am very happy to see such a great man as yourself. And although I have many noblemen of great means, I would prefer to hear your opinions rather than theirs. I know the goodwill with which ye left your lands to visit me, so I shall take your advice for my betterment and honor."
"Ye can be sure of that to the extent that I can do so," Barsinan said, "and ye shall have my counsel in accordance with the purpose and intent by which I came."
What he said was true, but the King, who heard it another way, thanked him very much for it.
Then the King ordered tents to be set up for himself and for the Queen outside of the town in a great field, leaving his apartments for Barsinan to stay in, and spoke with him of the many things that he intended to do at that court, especially in regard to the art of chivalry. He praised all his knights and their great skills, and above all he spoke of Amadis and his brother Sir Galaor as the two best knights that could then be found in all the world.
He left Barsinan in the palace and went to his tents, where the Queen already was. He sent word to his nobles that the next day he would meet with all of them to tell them why he had called them together.
Barsinan and all his men were well supplied with everything that they might need, but I tell you that he did not sleep peacefully that night, thinking of the madness he had committed to believe that such a good man as the King with all the power that he had could be harmed by the astuteness of Arcalaus or by anything else in the world.