The Tale of Jaufre is a medieval Occitan story of King Arthur’s court, written for a king of Aragon. Jaufre arrives at Arthur’s court just in time to witness an insult to the king by Taulat de Rogimon, and asks the king if he can take on the quest to avenge this insult. His subsequent adventures include encounters with giants, dwarves, a giant witch and, of course, a beautiful heiress with whom he falls in love. It’s a long story, full of incident and vitality, and a large dose of humour. More Monty Python than The Mists of Avalon!
There are a number of questions surrounding this quirky tale, mostly concerning the date of its composition and which king it was written for. My own theory is that it was written in the summer of 1225, for James I of Aragon, and until I have had the chance to consolidate this theory in written form you’ll simply have to ask me for my reasons when you invite me to your house concert or storytelling club!
The subsequent history of the story is fascinating. It remained popular on the Iberian peninsula, surviving as chapbooks produced in every century up to and including the early 20th century. These chapbooks reduced the hero, Jaufre, to second billing after the villain, whose name became Tablante de Ricamonte, and it is under this name that Cervantes refers to the story as one of the inspirations for Don Quixote to set out on his own adventures. The story also turns up as a metrical romance in the Philippines, told in Tagalog, presumably having been taken there by the Spanish. These facts indicate the level of popularity of the story, but it was less known by the French and still less by the English. In France it was combined with the story of Le Bel Inconnu to form the story of Guinglain, in the 15th century, and later shortened considerably and adapted by 19th century writers as Les Aventures du Chevalier Jaufre et la Belle Brunissen. In English it appeared in the 19th century as Jaufry the Knight and the Fair Brunissende by Alfred Elwes, who based his version on a French adaptation, and an American, Vernon Ives, produced his own very flowery version under the same title in 1933. Apart from an academic translation in the 1990s, there have been no other English re-tellings.
I’ve told parts of this story to a wide variety of audiences and it’s been very well received – you don’t need to be an academic, a medievalist or an Arthurian specialist to appreciate it. I can also talk to audiences about the background to its composition, and medieval storytelling. Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions about where the story might be welcome.
In the meantime I’m working on my own adaptation of the story for publication, and considering different ways of re-telling the story (possibly as an animation). More details of this as plans consolidate.