The Lyfe of Robert the Deuyll: A Romance

The Lyfe of Robert the Deuyll: A Romance

I came across this tale when looking for literature that would have been available to gentleman's library in the sixteenth century.

It is a medieval French story, translated into English and printed by Wynkyn de Worde in the early part of that century.

The spelling of the period can look a little daunting if you are not used to it (see the quotations, below), but if you replace "y" with "i", and remember that "u" may represent a "v", you quickly get the hang of it. The Kindle book gives some more assistance, and footnotes explain the more obscure words.

The Duke of Normandy and his wife had been married for eighteen years without issue when the duke said to her that those who made the match between them must have greatly sinned

"for I beleue and ye had been geuen to an other man, ye sholde haue had chyldren, and I also yf I had an other ladye"

The couple do eventually conceive, but the duchess curses the child at its conception.  The baby, born after a month of labour,  was as large as a one year old child, and soon had such long teeth that he bit the nipples off the nurses and had to be fed with a horn. As Robert grew he terrorised those around him until he became known as Robert the Devil.

Robert goes from bad to worse, indulging in a career of theft, rape and murder, and gathering others of like mind around him. The turning point comes after he slaughters a group of hermits:

There dyde Robert a cursed dede and blode shedynge, in despyte of God and holy chyrche; and after that he hadde done this myscheuous dede he rode out of the wode lyke a deuyll out of helle

He begins to notice how people run and hide as soon as they see him coming, and to feel the stirrings of repentance. Confronting his mother, Robert says:

"Dere lady moder, I praye and requyre you tell me how and by what maner or wherby cometh it that I am soo vycyous and curste, for I knowe wel I haue it other by you or of my fader; wherefore incontynent I hertly desyre and praye you that ye shewe me the trouth hereof."

After Robert's mother confesses that it is all her fault for giving him to the devil at his conception, he decides to go to Rome and seek absolution. He is given a severe penance which he must observe until God shows him that he is forgiven. (The nature of the penance and its humorous episodes  are quite an eye-opener for the modern reader).

At last an angel intervenes to give Robert an opportunity to perform some heroic deeds which lead in turn to a fine reward and a triumphant restoration.

It is an entertaining morality tale.

The Lyfe of Robert the Deuyll: Amazon US / Amazon UK