Home  »  The Marvellous Adventures of Sir John Maundevile Kt  »  Wherefore he is clept the great Chan. Of the Style of his Letters; and of the Superscription about his great Seal and his Privy Seal

Sir John Mandeville. Marvellous Adventures. 1895.

Chapter XXI

Wherefore he is clept the great Chan. Of the Style of his Letters; and of the Superscription about his great Seal and his Privy Seal

FIRST I shall say to you why he was clept the great Chan.

Ye shall understand, that all the World was destroyed by Noah’s Flood, save only Noah and his Wife and his Children. Noah had 3 Sons, Shem, Cham (Ham) and Japhet. This Cham was he that saw his Father’s Nakedness when he slept, and scorned him, and shewed him with his Finger to his Brethren in scorning Wise. And therefore he was cursed of God. And Japhet turned his Face away and covered him.

These 3 Brethren seized all the Land. And this Cham, for his Cruelty, took the greater and the best Part, toward the East, that is clept Asia, and Shem took Africa, and Japhet took Europe. And therefore is all the Earth parted in these 3 Parts by these 3 Brethren. Cham was the greatest and the most mighty, and of him came more Generations than of the others. And of his Son Cush was engendered Nimrod the Giant, that was the first King that ever was in the World; and he began the Foundation of the Tower of Babylon. And that Time, the Fiends of Hell came many Times and lay with the Women of his Generation and engendered on them divers Folk, as Monsters and Folk disfigured, some without Heads, some with great Ears, some with one Eye, some Giants, some with Horses’ Feet, and many other diverse Shapes against Nature. And of that Generation of Cham come the Paynims and divers Folk that be in Isles of the Sea by all Ind. And forasmuch as he was the most mighty, and no Man might withstand him, he called himself the Son of God and Sovereign of all the World. And from this Cham, this Emperor calleth himself “Cham,” and Sovereign of all the World.

And of the Generation of Shem be come the Saracens. And of the Generation of Japhet is come the People of Israel, and we that dwell in Europe. This is the Opinion, that the Syrians and the Samaritans have amongst them. And that they told me, before that I went toward Ind, but I found it otherwise. Nevertheless, the Truth is this; that the Tartars and they that dwell in the great Asia, they came of Cham; but the Emperor of Cathay calleth himself not “Cham,” but “Chan,” and I shall tell you how.

It is but little more than 8 Score Year that all Tartary was in Subjection and in Servage to other Nations about. For they were but Beast-herding Folk and did nothing but kept Beasts and led them to Pastures. But among them they had 7 principal Nations that were Sovereigns of them all. Of the which, the first Nation or Lineage was clept Tartar, and that is the most noble and the most prized. The 2nd Lineage is clept Tanghot, the 3rd Eurache, the 4th Valair, the 5th Semoche, the 6th Megly, the 7th Coboghe.

Now befell it so that of the first Lineage succeeded an old worthy Man that was not rich, that had to Name Ghengis. This Man lay upon a Night in his Bed. And he saw in a Vision, that there came before him a Knight armed all in White. And he sat upon a White Horse, and said to him, “Chan, sleepest thou? The Immortal God hath sent me to thee, and it is His Will, that thou go to the 7 Lineages and say to them that thou shalt be their Emperor. For thou shalt conquer the Lands and the Countries that be about, and they that march upon you shall be under your Subjection, as ye have been under theirs, for that is God’s Will immortal!”

And when it became Morning, Ghengis rose, and went to the 7 Lineages, and told them how the Knight had said. And they scorned him, and said that he was a Fool. And so he departed from them all ashamed. And on the Night ensuing, this White Knight came to the 7 Lineages, and commanded them on Immortal God’s Behalf, that they should make this Ghengis their Emperor, and they should be out of Subjection, and they should hold all other Regions about them in their Servage as they had been to them before. And on the Morrow, they chose him to be their Emperor. And they set him upon a black Litter, and after that they lifted him up with great Solemnity. And they set him in a Chair of Gold and did him all manner of Reverence, and they called him “Chan,” as the White Knight called him.

And when he was thus chosen, he would assay if he might trust in them or not, and whether they would be obeissant to him or not. And then he made many Statutes and Ordinances that they called “Ysya Chan.” The first Statute was, that they should believe in and obey Immortal God, that is Almighty, that would cast them out of Servage, and at all Times call to Him for Help in Time of Need. The tother Statute was, that all manner of Men that might bear Arms should be numbered, and to every 10 should be a Master, and to every 100 a Master, and to every 1000 a Master, and to every 10,000 a Master. After he commanded to the Principals of the 7 Lineages, that they should leave and forsake all that they had in Goods and Heritage, and from thenceforth hold them paid of what he would give them of his Grace. And they did so anon. After he commanded to the Principals of the 7 Lineages, that every one of them should bring his eldest Son before him, and with their own Hands smite off their Heads without tarrying. And anon his Commandment was performed.

And when the Chan saw that they made no Obstacle to perform his Commandment, then he thought well that he might trust in them, and commanded them anon to make them ready and to follow his Banner. And after this, Chan put in Subjection all the Lands about him.

Afterward it befell upon a Day, that the Chan rode with a few Companies to behold the Strength of the Country that he had won. And so it befell, that a great Multitude of his Enemies met with him. And to give good Example of Hardiness to his People, he was the first that fought, and encountered his Enemies in the Midst, and there he was cast from his Horse, and his Horse slain. And when his Folk saw him on the Earth, they were all abashed, and thought he had been dead, and fled every one. And their Enemies followed after and chased them, but they wist not that the Emperor was there. And when they were come again from the Chase, they went and sought the Woods if any of them had been hid in the Thick of the Woods; and many they found and slew them anon. So it happened as they went searching toward the Place where that the Emperor was, they saw an Owl sitting upon a Tree above him; and then they said amongst them, that no Man was there because that they saw that Bird there, and so they went their Way; and thus escaped the Emperor from Death. And then he went privily all by Night, till he came to his Folk that were full glad of his coming, and made great Thankings to Immortal God, and to that Bird by whom their Lord was saved. And therefore principally above all Fowls of the World they worship the Owl; and when they have any of their Feathers, they keep them full preciously instead of Relics, and bear them upon their Heads with great Reverence; and they hold themselves blessed and safe from all Perils while that they have them upon them, and therefore they bear their Feathers upon their Heads.

After all this the Chan put his Affairs in Order and assembled his People, and went against them that had assailed him before, and destroyed them, and put them in Subjection and Servage.

And when he had won and put all the Lands and Countries on this Side the Mount Belian in Subjection, the White Knight came to him again in his Sleep, and said to him, “Chan! the Will of Immortal God is that thou pass the Mount Belian. And thou shalt win the Land and thou shalt put many Nations in Subjection. And as thou shalt find no good Passage to go toward that Country, go to the Mount Belian that is upon the Sea, and kneel there 9 Times toward the East in the Worship of Immortal God. And He shall shew the Way to pass by.” And the Chan did so. And anon the Sea that touched and was fast by the Mount began to withdraw himself, and shewed a fair Way of 9 Foot broad large; and so he passed with his Folk, and won the Land of Cathay that is the greatest Kingdom of the World.

And for the 9 Kneelings and for the 9 Foot of Way the Chan and all the Men of Tartary have the Number of 9 in great Reverence. And therefore who that will make the Chan any Present, be it of Horses, or of Birds, or of Arrows, or of Fruit, or of any other Thing, always he must make it of the Number 9. And so then be the Presents of greater Pleasure to him; and more benignly he will receive them than though he were presented with an 100 or 200. For to him seemeth the Number of 9 so holy, because the Messenger of Immortal God so devised it.

Also, when the Chan of Cathay had won the Country of Cathay, and put in Subjection and under Foot many Countries about, he fell sick. And when he felt that he should well die, he said to his 12 Sons, that every one of them should bring him one of his Arrows. And so they did anon. And then he commanded that Men should bind them together in 3 Places. And then he took them to his eldest Son, and bade him break them all together. And he strove with all his Might to break them, but he might not. And then the Chan bade his 2nd Son to break them; and so, shortly, to all, each after the other; but none of them might break them. And then he bade the youngest Son dissever every one from the other, and break every one by itself. And so he did. And then said the Chan to his eldest Son and to all the others, “Wherefore might ye not break them?” And they answered, that they might not, because they were bound together. “And wherefore,” quoth he, “hath your little youngest Brother broken them?” “Because,” quoth they, “that they were parted each from the other.” And then said the Chan, “My Sons,” quoth he, “truly thus will it fare by you. For as long as ye be bound together in 3 Places, that is to say, in Love, in Truth and in good Accord, no Man shall be of Power to grieve you. But and ye be dissevered from these 3 Places, that the one help not the other, ye shall be destroyed and brought to Nought. And if each of you love the other and help the other, ye shall be Lords and Sovereigns of all others.” And when he had made his Ordinances, he died.

And then after him reigned Oktai Chan, his eldest Son. And his other Brethren went to win them many Countries and Kingdoms, unto the Land of Prussia and of Russia, and made themselves to be clept Chans; but they were all obeissant to their elder Brother, and therefore was he clept the great Chan.

After Oktai reigned Gaiouk Chan.

And after him Mango Chan that was a good Christian Man and baptized, and gave Letters of perpetual Peace to all Christian Men, and sent his Brother Halaon with great Multitude of Folk to win the Holy Land and to put it into Christian Mens’ Hands, and to destroy Mohammet’s Law, and to take the Caliph of Bagdad that was Emperor and Lord of all the Saracens. And when this Caliph was taken, Men found him of so high Worship, that in all the Rest of the World, a Man might not find a more reverend Man, nor a higher in Worship. And then Halaon made him come before him, and said to him, “Why,” quoth he, “haddest thou not taken with thee more Soldiers and Men enough, hired for a little Quantity of Treasure, to defend thee and thy Country, that art so abundant of Treasure and so high in all Worship?” And the Caliph answered him, that he well trowed that he had enough of his own proper Men. And then said Halaon, “Thou wert as a God of the Saracens. And it is convenient to a God to eat no Meat that is mortal. And therefore, thou shall not eat but precious Stones, rich Pearls and Treasure, that thou lovest so much.” And then he commanded him to Prison, and all his Treasure about him. And so he died for Hunger and Thirst. And then after this, Halaon won all the Land of Promise, and put it into Christian Men’s Hands. But the great Chan, his Brother, died; and that was great Sorrow and Loss to all Christian Men.

After Mango Chan reigned Houlagou Chan that was also a Christian Man. And he reigned 42 Year. He founded the great City Izonge in Cathay, that is a great deal larger than Rome.

The tother great Chan that came after him became a Paynim, and all the others after him.

The Kingdom of Cathay is the greatest Realm of the World. And also the great Chan is the most mighty Emperor of the World and the greatest Lord under the Firmament. And so he calleth himself in his Letters, right thus: “Chan! Filius Dei Excelsi, Omnium universam Terram colentium summus Imperator, et Dominus omnium Dominantium!” (“Chan! Son of Almighty God, High Emperor of all that till the whole Earth, and Lord of all Lordships!”) And the Letter of his Great Seal, written about, is this; “Deus in Cœlo, Chan super Terram, ejus Fortitudo! Omnium Hominum Imperatoris Sigillum!” (“God in Heaven, Chan upon Earth, his Strength! The Seal of the Emperor of all Men!”) And the Superscription about his Little Seal is this; “Dei Fortitudo! omnium Hominum Imperatoris Sigillum!” (“God of Strength! the Seal of the Emperor of all Men!”)

And albeit that they be not christened, yet nevertheless the Emperor and all the Tartars believe in Immortal God. And when they will menace any Man, then they say, “God knoweth well that I shall do thee such a Thing,” and telleth his Menace.

And thus have ye heard, why he is clept the great Chan.