Say you’re the king of England. Not just any run-of-the-mill potentate but the legendary King Arthur, livin’ the dream in ancient days. One day Roman ambassadors arrive in your court with a message from Emperor Lucius: the taxes are due. Pay up or you won’t be king of anything. Your country has been under the thumb of the Romans for, oh, a few centuries. But now you have a rockin’ round table of “marvelous knights,” both wise and brave, not to mention the loyalty of “dukes and regent kings and earls and barons.” Do you pay the tax bill?
Never. King Arthur claims Roman lineage and sends a message to Lucius: I’m coming for you. The good king sets off toward Rome, but not before poor Queen Guenivere swoons in sorrow at his parting. Meanwhile Emperor Lucius heads to France, pillaging and conquering along the way. Arthur kills a terrible, horrible, very bad giant of Genoa. Then Arthur does away with Lucius and rides to Rome, mowing down kings and nobles along the way and sending their corpses to the Pope. Surprise, the Pope crowns him emperor of Rome. The marvelous knights get homesick and miss their wives. (No word on whether Arthur misses Guenivere.) The splendid Arthur declares “enough is as good as a feast” and “there was trussing of harness” and they all return to England.
So goes one book of Le Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Mallory. As a modern woman, I’m glad, very glad, I did not live in Mallory’s time. Many of the women in his story did not fare well. Raped, murdered or abandoned for the sake of honor, they seem to exist simply to illustrate the men’s lives.