4to (208 x 179 mm). 56 pp. 3 parts, separately titled. Black letter, double column. Each title with the same three woodcuts of the trio of heroines, 13 woodcuts in text, including two of the title cut; 5 small cuts in part 1 within ornamental borders (2 cuts printed as a pair within a single border). Dampstaining to first and last leaves. Contemporary woodblock-printed ornamental paper wrappers (papier dominoté); backstrip perished, front cover detached.***
An early 19th-century Flemish chapbook, using archaic types, punctuation, and woodblocks to reproduce a tried and true recipe for sales. For three centuries these three tales, the “women-pearls,” were churned out by Netherlandish presses, appearing first separately in the North, and later in combined editions, as here, in the Southern Low Countries. All derive from medieval romances.
Helena the Patient is Helen of Constantinople, wife of King Henry of England and mother of Saint Martin of Tours, who loses first her arm to her evil mother-in-law, and then her two sons to a wolf and lion (from whom a hermit rescues them), before being reunited with both at an advanced age and retiring with her husband to Naples. The tale is attributed to the 12th-century Norman poet Alexander of Bernay.
Patient Griseldis (or Griselda), a Piemontese shepherdess remarkable for her beauty and virtue, is tormented by her husband the Marquis of Saluzzo to test her mettle. Without a murmur she obeys the order to give up her children for execution, and years later politely serves at the wedding feast of her husband’s supposed new bride. The sadistic Marquis finally admits that he was just kidding, the kids are fine, and his supposed second wife is their own daughter. They live happily ever after(!) Originally French and supposedly based on a true story, Griseldis’ tale was adapted by Boccaccio, Petrarch, Chaucer, and later by Perrault. These stories were authorized for use in Flemish schools after being “corrected” in the 1620s. The passage of the Griseldis tale that hints at incest was expurgated for the school editions. It appears in this colportage edition, which follows closely the text of the Deventer incunable edition of Petrarch’s version, printed by Jacobus de Breda.
Florentina the Faithful’s crusader husband Alexander of Metz has a magic shirt which stays white as long as his wife remains faithful. In the blood and dirt of his imprisonment by the Sultan the shirt stays unsullied. Incredulous, the Sultan sends an envoy to Lorraine to seduce Florentina, promising her husband’s release. She refuses but quickly packs up for Constantinople, disguised as a harpist, and rescues him. Originally a Low German medieval romance, the tale appeared often under the title Alexander van Metz.
Printed on rough but sturdy grayish paper, using slashes instead of commas and an old black letter type, illustrated with delightfully crude woodcuts handed down through generations of printers’ stocks, the only detail betraying the early 19th-century date of this colportage edition is the roman type used in the headings, title, and page numbers.
OCLC lists no copies of this edition in US libraries. E. H. van Heurck, Les livres populaires flamands (Antwerp 1931), pp. 41-45 (different edition). Item #2658