Robert of Cisyle

General Information

(N)IMEV: 2780
Form: Couplets
Date of Composition: Late fourteenth century
Place of Composition: Southeast Midlands
Keywords: Animal, Disguise, Exile, Mistaken Identity, Penance, Religious Figures, Religious Spaces, Rome, Secular Spaces, Supernatural

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

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.


Click a title below to search for all romances in that manuscript.

Cambridge University Library, MS Ff.2.38 (folio: 254r-257v)1420-50. 516 lines.
Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.4.9 (folio: 87v-93v)c. 1450, Norfolk. 374 lines.
Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 174 (folio: pp. 456-68)1475-1500. 470 lines.
Dublin, Trinity College, MS 432 (folio: 60r-61v)1458-61, Northampton area. 72 lines.
London, British Library, MS Additional 22283 (Simeon) (folio: 90v-91v)1380-1400, W. Midlands. 454 lines.
London, British Library, MS Additional 34801 (folio: 2)c. 1425. 46 lines, one leaf.
London, British Library, MS Harley 1701 (folio: 92r-95r)1425-50. 486 lines.
London, British Library, MS Harley 525 (folio: 35r-43v)1450-75. 472 lines.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Poet. A.1. (Vernon) (folio: 300r-301r)Late 14th or early 15th century, West Midlands. 444 lines.
Oxford, Trinity College, MS D. 57 (folio: 165r-67r)c. 1375, West Kent/East Sussex. 440 lines.

Modern Editions

Boris Ford, ed., The Age of Chaucer, The Pelican Guide to English Literature I (Baltimore: Penguin, 1955)Pp. 287-299. Base text not specified.
C. Horstmann, Archiv, 62 (1879)Edition of MS Ii.4.9
Carl Horstmann, ed., Sammlung Altenglischer Legenden (Heilbronn: Henninger, 1878)Pp. 209-19. Vernon MS and Oxford Trinity with variants in notes.
E.V. Utterson, Kyng Roberd of Cysylle (London, 1839)Edition of Harley 525 with variants from Harley 1701.
Edward E. Foster, ed., Amis and Amiloun, Robert of Cisyle, and Sir Amadace (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997)Pp. 89-110. Edited from the Vernon MS with variants from other versions.Available online at:
R. Brotanek, ed., Mittelenglische Dichtungen aus der Handschrift 432 des Trinity College in Dublin (Halle, 1940)Pp. 36-47. Based on Trinity MS.
Robert Nuck, ed., Roberd of Cisyle (Berlin: Bernstein, 1887)Based on Vernon MS and Horstmann's edition.
The Vernon Manuscript: A Facsimile of Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Eng. Poet. a.1, with Introduction by A. I. Doyle (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987)Facsimile of Vernon MS.
W. Carew Hazlitt, ed., Remains of the Early Popular Poetry of England, 4 vols (London: John Russell Smith, 1864-66; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1966)Vol. 1. Pp. 264-288. Based on MS Ff.2.38.
Walter Hoyt French and Charles Brockway Hale, eds., The Middle English Metrical Romances, 2 vols (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1930; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964)Vol. 2. Pp. 931-46. Edited from Vernon MS.