William of Palerne

General Information

(N)IMEV: *3281.5
Form: Alliterative long lines
Date of Composition: c. 1350-61
Place of Composition: Southwest Midlands
Keywords: Animal, Bedchamber, Disguise, Dreams, Familial Discord, Forest, Foundlings, Garden, Marriage, Military Combat, Religious Figures, Religious Spaces, Secular Spaces, Supernatural, The Third Estate, Travel, Treachery

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

[King Embrons of Apulia and his wife have a child, William. When his guardians decide to poison him, he is snatched away by a werewolf]. For seven years he is raised in the forest by a cowherd and watched over by the wolf, who is, in fact, the prince of Spain, transformed by his jealous step-mother so that her own son will become king. The Emperor of Rome encounters William while hunting, and takes the boy to his court. Here he is placed in the care of Melior, the Emperor’s daughter, [whom he serves well and who eventually falls in love with him]. She conceals her love but becomes ill and confides in her maiden, Alexandrine. Through her knowledge of magic, Alexandrine makes William dream about and fall in love with her mistress. When he takes to hiding in a garden below Melior’s window, Alexandrine arranges for them to meet and confess their love.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Saxony wages an unjust war on the Emperor. William is knighted and captures the Duke, for which, to the delight of Melior, he is highly praised. But soon the Emperor of Greece requests that Melior marry his son, Partenedon, and her father agrees. On hearing of this, William falls ill and only recovers when Melior affirms her love. When the Greeks arrive she suggests that they escape, and, with the help of Alexandrine, they disguise themselves in two white bear skins and elope. They set off through the forest, followed by the werewolf, who steals food for them.

When he finds Melior missing, her father questions Alexandrine, who tells him about William. The whole kingdom is enlisted in the search, and the couple is nearly discovered, but is repeatedly saved by the werewolf. Learning that their disguise is known, they replace their bear skins with those of a hart and a hind. Meanwhile, King Ebrouns has died, and his queen is being besieged in Palermo by the King of Spain because she has rejected his son, Braundinis, as a suitor for her daughter, Florence. She is awaiting help from her father, the Emperor of Greece, but her defeat seems imminent. William and Melior, led by the werewolf, steal aboard a ship at Reggio and sail to Palermo, where they hide in the palace gardens. That night the queen has a prophetic dream and is comforted by her priest. She spies William and Melior from her window and requests their help. They agree and remove their disguises.

William, riding his father’s old horse and leading the men of Palermo, excels in battle and the Spaniards flee. The King of Spain vows revenge and attacks again, but William captures Braundinis and retreats. The two armies meet for a third time, and William finally forces the King to yield. He is treated honourably by the Queen, to whom he apologises and offers to pay tribute. When the werewolf bows down before him, he recalls his lost son, Alphonse, and recounts the story to William. William demands that the Spanish Queen be brought to Palermo and made to undo the enchantment. When she arrives, the furious werewolf attempts to kill her, but she begs forgiveness. She returns him to his human form, and he requests that he be clothed and knighted by William. In front of the whole court, Alphonse finally reveals that William is the queen’s son, and re-tells the events of the romance. William sends to Rome for the Emperor and Alexandrine, and the Greek army finally arrives, led by Partenedon. When they are all assembled, William marries Melior, Alphonse marries Florence and Alexandrine marries Braundinis. After much rejoicing, the Romans, Greeks and Spaniards return home and Alphonse is crowned king of Spain. William reigns in Palermo until the Emperor of Rome dies, leaving William and Melior as his heirs. They summon the Spaniards and process to Rome, where the couple is crowned. William gives the cowherd an earldom and they depart on a tour of the Empire. They rule well and have two noble sons.

From: Walter W. Skeat, ed., William of Palerne, EETS ES 1. London, 1867.
Manuscript: Cambridge, King's College, MS 13


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Cambridge, King's College, MS 13 (folio: 4r-9v; 11r-86r)c. 1360-75, West Midlands. Unique copy. 5540 lines, lacks up to three folios at beginning and f. 10.

Modern Editions

Frederic Madden, ed., The Ancient English Romance of William and the Werewolf (London: Roxburghe Club, 1832)Edited from King's College, MS 13.
G.H.V. Bunt, ed., William of Palerne (Groningen: Boumas Boekhuis, 1985)Edited from King's College, MS 13.
G.H.V. Bunt, ed., William of Palerne: An Electronic Edition (University of Michigan Press, 2002)Edited from King's College, MS 13. Includes facsimile, transcription and various editions.
Walter W. Skeat, ed., William of Palerne, EETS ES 1 (London, 1867)Edited from King's College, MS 13.


Old French Guillaume de Palerne, c.1194-97