King Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urban and of Valemounde the Emperor of Germany, is a noble knight, but very proud and more interested in worldly honour than in Christ. One night at evensong he asks what the Magnificat means. When a clerk explains that God has the power to bring the mighty low, Robert boasts that he is invulnerable. While he sleeps through the service, an angel takes on Robert’s appearance and replaces him in the court. Awakening, Robert is furious, but neither the sexton of the church, nor the porters at his palace recognise him, and they will not believe that he is their king. He scuffles with the porters and is brought before the angel, who asks ‘what art thou?’ When Robert insists that he is the king, the angel responds by making him his fool. For three years he lives among the court’s dogs, while the kingdom becomes harmonious and joyful under the angel’s rule.
The angel goes to Rome to meet Urban and Valemounde, taking his fool with him. Men marvel at his beauty, and he is welcomed as a king. Robert cries out to his brothers, but they do not recognise him. He recalls the story of Nebuchadnezzar, another king brought low, and repents of his pride, calling himself ‘God’s fool’. When they return to the court, the angel summons Robert and asks him again, ‘what art thou?’. This time Robert answers that he is a fool. The angel explains that he was sent by God to teach Robert humility, then restores him to his previous form and disappears. Robert reigns well and devoutly for two years. On his deathbed, he has his story written down and sent to his brothers, and the poet tells us that his story is taken from the version kept in St Peter’s in Rome.
From: Edward E. Foster, Amis and Amiloun, Robert of Cisyle, and Sir Amadace. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997; Second Edition, 2007
Manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodleian 3938, English Poetry A.1.
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