Partonope, the young Earl of Blois, goes hunting in the forest of Ardennes with his uncle King Clovis, who is descended from the Trojans. He becomes lost and wanders to the shore, where he boards a mysteriously empty ship. It carries him to a beautiful deserted city where he enters the palace and is served a meal by invisible hands. Afterwards, he is led to a bedchamber, but is unable to sleep until an unseen lady joins him. Although she asks him to leave, he has sex with her. [She then informs him that she is Melior, Empress of Byzantium] and has loved him from afar. She will fulfil all his desires, provided that he does not attempt to see her for two-and-a-half years. He reluctantly agrees and, after being reassured of her Christian faith, falls asleep.
A year passes: Partonope spends his days alone and his nights with the invisible Melior. Eventually, however, he asks leave to visit his family. Melior agrees, but reminds him of his promise and warns him that Clovis has died. Partonope sails to France, where he leads the new king’s troops against the invading Danes. As his renown spreads, the Danes resolve to trick France rather than fighting. But their King, Sornegour, condemns his cowardly steward, Mares, and offers to resolve the war by single combat. Partonope accepts his challenge and the two fight for a whole day until Partonope finally gains the upper hand. The scheming Mares orders his men to attack him, sparking a violent battle between the Danish factions. The French retreat, believing Partonope to be dead: Sornegour follows them and surrenders himself to the King. When his loyal Danes triumph, they execute Mares and join their leader, returning Partonope to the French. The two sides part amicably.
Partonope returns to Blois, where he tells his mother about his lover. Fearing for his soul, she tricks him into marrying the King’s niece. Furious, Partonope returns to Melior and confesses his infidelity. She forgives him and reluctantly allows him to travel back to France, reminding him again of his promise. Despite her warnings, however, Partonope is persuaded to use a magic lantern to spy on her. Although he immediately repents, Melior explains that her enchantments are broken, their illicit relationship revealed to her subjects, and her honour compromised.
In the morning, Melior’s sister Urake tries to persuade her to forgive Partonope and marry him. When she refuses, Partonope returns to France and spends a year grieving in his chamber. Eventually, he resolves to return to Ardennes, hoping to be slain by a wild beast. He wanders half-mad until he is discovered by Urake who, fearing for his life, tells him that Melior has forgiven him. She takes him to the Isle of Salence and heals him, forging love letters from her sister. Meanwhile, she visits Melior and rebukes her for her unkindness, informing her that Partonope is mad and dying, without revealing his location. Melior weeps: her lords are holding a tournament to find her a husband, but she will never love another as much as Partonope. The inscrutable Urake returns to Salence, where she tells Partonope that Melior wants him to attend the tournament. When he protests that none but his lady can knight him, she arranges for him to attend a ceremony in disguise.
Shortly before the tournament, Partonope is captured by the tyrannical Armaunt, but his wife releases him in time to attend and provides him with a new suit of armour. He and his companion, an elderly knight called Gaudyn, distinguish themselves in the tournament: they defeat many knights, rescue the King of France and take on the Sultan of Persia. On the second day, Partonope presents a flag to Melior: Urake recognises him and reveals his identity to her delighted sister. To her consternation, the judges do not agree on an outright winner, but select three Christian and three pagan champions. When they argue about whether she should chose Partonope or the Sultan, the two knights are instructed to remove their armour. Despite the Sultan’s rich robes, Partonope is unanimously declared the handsomest. The furious Sultan departs, and Partonope and Melior joyfully embrace. They are finally married in a lavish ceremony, and Partonope is crowned before they retire to bed.
From: A.T. Bödtker, ed. The Middle English Versions of Partonope of Blois. London, Oxford University Press, 1912. EETS es. 109.
Manuscript: London, British Library, MS Additional 35288.
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