Medieval Romance

The Story of William and the Werewolf

12th century, Old French | 14th century Middle English alliterative translation, Library of King's College Cambridge.

The cry went out for everybody to hunt for two white bears.

and he ketly for al kas · after cunceyl wrougte · and goþ to þemperour of grece · vnglad at his herte · So, weary and upset, the Emperor of Rome made all haste to speak with the Emperor of Greece. Everyone was sorry that the wedding had to be cancelled, and the Emperor of Greece was particularly aggrieved. 'Let the cry go out,' he demanded of Emelior's father, 'throughout your empire, that every able-bodied man and woman should search widely, through wood and forest, heath and wasteland, and all secluded paths, and find that knight who has betrayed you.'

Nobody knew where William and Emelior were except for Alexandra, who had helped to sew them into two white bear skins that she had found hanging in the palace kitchen.

Up spoke one of the Greeks, so God give him grief!

'Sirs,' he said. 'I saw a curious thing yesterday evening as it was getting dark...' and he went on to tell them about the two bears he had seen running from the secluded garden.

So the cry went out for everybody to hunt for two white bears. Everyone joined in the search, on horseback and on foot, scouring the forests with bloodhounds until a group came to within a bowshot of where William and Emelior lay together. The werewolf placed himself in danger by running near to the hounds and trying to draw them away. When the hounds caught his scent, they abandoned their searching and ran in pursuit, over hills and through marshland, for many miles. Through God's grace, the werewolf led them a merry chase, leaving the white bears asleep, oblivious to all that had been going on around them. And at last the people who were following the dogs realised that the trail had gone cold.

Story fragment recounted from: Skeat, Walter W, 1867. The Romance of William of Palerne (The Romance of William and the Werewolf). Early English Text Society; reprinted 1996 for the EETS by Boydell and Brewer Limited, Woodbridge, Suffolk. Translation and retelling of lines 2105–2201.

See for yourself

Anglo-Norman literature – Wikipedia

Chivalric romance – Wikipedia

Guillaume de Palerme – Wikipedia

14th century Middle English alliterative translation of The Romance of William of Palerne, edited by Walter Skeat, 1867, reprinted 1996, available through the Early English Text Society (EETS)

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