Firumbras (Ashmole)

General Information

(N)IMEV: *593.8
Form: Couplets (1-3410) and 6-line stanzas (3411-7130)
Date of Composition: c. 1380
Place of Composition: Exeter
Keywords: Bedchamber, Conversion, Crusade, Disguise, Friendship, Hunting, Marriage, Merchants, Military Combat, Monster, Rape, Religious Figures, Religious Spaces, Rome, Sacrament, Saracen, Secular Spaces, Siege, Supernatural, The Orient, Travel, Treachery, Urban Spaces

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

[Begins incomplete] Ferumbras, son of the Emir Balam, who has sacked Rome and captured relics of Christ’s Passion, challenges Charlemagne’s knights. When Roland refuses, Oliver undertakes the fight, wounding Ferumbras so badly that he yields and agrees to become a Christian. As they return to Charlemagne, however, Oliver and four other Peers are captured by Saracens. The remaining troops return to their camp, where Ferumbras is baptised.

The five knights are led to Balam’s court in Agremare, Spain, and thrown into his dungeon. They are liberated by his daughter Floripas, who kills the jailor and takes them to her chamber, declaring her love for Guy of Burgundy and her willingness to be christened. Meanwhile, Charlemagne dispatches the remaining Peers to Balam’s court, where they are also taken prisoner. Balam entrusts them to Floripas, who takes them to their companions and repeats her offer of help in return for Guy’s love. After the couple are betrothed, Floripas shows the knights the relics and, after a suspicious knight breaks into the chamber, advises them to storm her father’s castle.

Balam, who escapes through a window, rallies his Saracens and lays siege to the castle. Floripas’ magic girdle wards off their hunger, but this is lost when Guy throws a thief sent to steal it into the sea. The Peers’ hunger worsens but when Floripas suggests they pray to her idols, they smash them and make a sortie. Though they seize some food, Guy is captured, and so, at Floripas’ insistence, they set out again to rescue him from the Saracen’s gallows. They return successful and with more provisions, but the Saracens renew their attack. However, as the walls begin to crumble, Floripas has the knights throw her father’s treasure from the ramparts: their attackers squabble amongst themselves and the furious Balam withdraws, cursing his daughter and his gods.

Eventually, the Peers decide to create a diversion while Richard of Normandy rides to Charlemagne for help. Guided away from his pursuers by a white hart, Richard reaches Charlemagne just as the French army, on Ganelon’s advice, is setting out for France. A delighted Charlemagne changes their course towards Mantrible, where their attempt to cross the bridge as merchants results in a fierce battle with the Saracens and giants guarding the city. Charlemagne acquits himself bravely, while Ganelon’s loyalty to his king saves his life. [Eventually, led by Ferumbras, the French take the city] and Charlemagne continues towards Agremont.

Enraged by the fall of Mantrible, Balam breaks his idols and renews his assault on the castle. As Saracens scale the walls, Floripas suggests praying to the relics, which miraculously repel their enemies; when the walls are breached, she instructs the Peers to use idols as missiles, causing Balam to weep and curse his gods. Spurred on by a visit from the devil, however, he redoubles his attacks, employing siege engines and mines. Just as the Peers have resolved to fight to the death, Charlemagne’s army arrives.

Charlemagne sends Ganelon to Balam, but the Emir refuses his peace terms and the battle begins. The Peers hear Richard’s horn and leave the castle to join the French, sending Saracens fleeing. Enraged, Balam slays four French knights and nearly overpowers Charlemagne, but is finally captured by Roland. As the Emir is led into Agremont on a mule, his men try to flee but are slaughtered.

The French celebrate, and prepare to baptise Balam in a makeshift font. When he resists, Floripas advocates his death while Ferumbras pleads with him to relent. Balam punches the archbishop and spits in the font, until Ferumbras withdraws and Oliver strikes off the Emir’s head. Floripas is baptised, and the knights marvel at her beauty as she disrobes. [Charlemagne divides Spain between Guy and Ferumbras, and Floripas presents the French king with the relics. Their authenticity proven by miracles, Charlemagne returns to Paris, placing them in Saint-Denis and several other churches.]


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Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 33 (folio: 1r-77v)c. 1380, Exeter. Unique copy. 7130 lines. Lacks beginning, ending and one leaf after line 4775.

Modern Editions

S. J. H. Herrtage, ed., The English Charlemagne Romances. Part 1: Sir Ferumbras, EETS e.s. 34 (1879, rpt. 1966)Edited from Ashmole 33.


Another English version of the Firumbras Story ?
Fierabras, a Chanson de Geste c. 1170 (Vulgate Tradition) *