Otuel and Roland

General Information

(N)IMEV: 1106
Form: 12-line tail-rhyme stanzas, rhyming aabaabccbddb (first part) and aabccbddbeeb (second part)
Date of Composition: c. 1330
Place of Composition: East Midlands
Keywords: Conquest, Conversion, Crusade, Familial Discord, Friendship, Marriage, Military Combat, Religious Figures, Religious Spaces, Sacrament, Saracen, Secular Spaces, Siege, Supernatural, The Orient, Travel, Treachery

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

While Charlemagne is celebrating Childermas at Saint-Denis, a Saracen knight called Otuel arrives and demands, on behalf of Garcy, king of Spain, that Charlemagne renounce Christianity. He refuses and Otuel replies rudely, informing him that Garcy has assembled an army in Lombardy and insulting the French king’s age. Roland challenges Otuel and the pair agrees to fight a duel the following morning. Roland is armed by the Peers, while Charlemagne’s daughter Belisant provides Otuel with borrowed armour. As Charlemagne looks on, the two fight fiercely, evenly matched. Otuel refuses Roland’s pleas to adopt Christianity, but when the Holy Spirit appears in answer to Charlemagne’s prayers, he surrenders and agrees to convert. Otuel is christened by Bishop Turpin, but declines Charlemagne’s offer of Belisant until Garcy is defeated.

That spring, the French travel to Lombardy. Roland, Oliver and Ogier leave the camp in search of adventure and quickly encounter four Saracen kings. They slay three, taking the fourth, Clarel, prisoner. As they return to Charlemagne, however, they meet a huge troop of Saracens. On Ogier’s advice they release their prisoner before attacking and slaying many men: when Ogier is wounded, Clarel saves him and sends him to his lover to be healed. Garcy’s reinforcements arrive, but as Roland and Oliver retreat they meet Otuel, who is bringing an army to their rescue. They rejoin the battle, which rages until Clarel challenges Otuel: he reveals his conversion and, cursing each other’s gods, the pair agrees to fight a duel. This takes place the following day, and after a gruelling fight Otuel kills his opponent, causing a furious Garcy to smash his idols. The two armies gather again and [the French gain the advantage]. As Garcy attempts to flee, Otuel and Oliver take him prisoner. He submits and is led to Paris to be christened by Turpin.

Charlemagne fights two more campaigns against Saracen forces, his skill, bravery and faith defeating King Ebrahim at Cordova and the King of Navarre. He consolidates his hold over Spain but as he resides at Pamplona, the Sultan of Babylon sends two Saracens, Mansure and Beligans, to deceive him. They bribe the French knight Ganelon, who persuades his king to return to France. As Charlemagne’s men pass through Roncevalles the Saracens stage an ambush, allowing the king to pass but attacking the rearguard led by Roland. Outnumbered, Roland’s men fight bravely but many are slain. Oliver is blinded but continues to fight, eventually wounding his own friend Roland. Mortally injured, Roland slays Mansure but collapses, sounding his horn so loudly that it bursts. The treacherous Ganelon persuades Charlemagne not to turn back and Roland dies, tended by Baldwin.

As Bishop Turpin performs mass in Charlemagne’s chapel, he miraculously learns that Roland’s soul is in heaven. He informs his king just as Baldwin arrives with Roland’s sword, Durendale, and his horn. Distraught, Charlemagne mourns bitterly. He returns to Roncevalles to collect the bodies of the slain, where an angel promises him that the sun will shine until they are avenged. The French army meets the massed Saracen forces a final time, and the sun does not set until, after three days, all the Saracens are dead. Ganelon is found guilty of treason and is hung, drawn and quartered. The bodies of Roland and the other dead Peers are embalmed, and Charlemagne erects a church at Roncevalles in their honour.

From: Firumbras and Otuel and Roland. Edited from MS Brit. Mus. Addit. 37492, ed. M.I. O’Sullivan. London: Oxford University Press, 1935.
Manuscript: London, British Library, MS Additional 37492 (Fillingham)


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London, British Library, MS Additional 37492 (Fillingham) (folio: 30v-76r)Second half of the fifteenth century. Unique copy. 2786 lines, with several leaves missing.

Modern Editions

M. I. O Sullivan, ed., Firumbras and Otuel and Roland, EETS o.s. 198 (London: Oxford University Press, 1935; rpt. 1971)Pp. 59-146. Edited from Fillingham MS.


Anglo Norman version of the Chanson de Otinel *
Old French prose Estoire de Charlemagne (or Redacted Johannis Turpin), 1206.