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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature

§ 10. Rauf Coil[char]ear

One Scottish romance on the rival story survives. The Charlemagne cycle is represented by the quaint and amusing tale of Rauf Coil[char]ear. The plot turns upon Charles finding a night’s lodging incognito in the house of Ralph, the charcoal-burner. The king has lost his way and his suite in a storm. The scene is laid in the neighbourhood of Paris; but the whole story savours far more of Scotland than of France. The “wickit wedderis amang thay myrk Montanis” ill agree with the surroundings of Paris. Rauf is a plain-spoken man and has his own views on many things, including good manners. He finds the king in the snow and gives him a hearty invitation to spend the night, but tells him that thanks are as yet unnecessary (stanza VII):

  • “Na, thank me not ouir airlie, for dreid that we threip,
  • For I haue seruit the [char]it of lytill thing to ruse
  • For nouther hes thow had of me fyre, drink, nor meit,
  • Nor nane vther eismentis for trauellouris behuse
  • Bot, micht we bring this harberie this nicht weill to heip
  • That we micht with ressoun baith thus excuse;
  • To-morne on the morning, quhen thow sall on leip,
  • Pryse at the parting, how that thow dois;
  • For first to lofe and syne to lak, Peter! it is schame.”
  • The king said: “In gude fay,
  • Schir, it is suith that [char]e say.”
  • Into sic talk fell thay
  • Quhill thay war neir hame.
  • When they arrive at the hut, Rauf would have his guest enter before him. The guest wishes to give Rauf precedence, but Rauf
  • said: “Thow art vncourtes, that sall I warrand.”
  • He tyt the King be the nek, twa part in tene;
  • “Gif thow at bidding suld be boun or obeysand,
  • And gif thow of Courtasie, couth, thow hes for[char]et it clene.”122 ff.
  • Rauf asks the king to take his wife Gyliane in to supper, and the king would again yield him precedence, but Rauf regards his ill manners as requiring stronger measures and hits him a blow under the ear that brings him to the ground. With true politeness, Rauf waits till his guest has finished his meal before he asks who he is. “One of the queen’s attendants, Wymond of the wardrobe,” says Charles, and offers to help to dispose of Rauf’s charcoal at court. Rauf does not know where the court lies and does not like going where he is unknown, but is told that the king and queen are keeping Yule at Paris and Rauf need only ask for Wymond. The king spends a comfortable night, and, next day, offers to pay for his good cheer, but is told that even were he of “Charlis cumpany, Chief king of Cheualry” payment would be refused. The following day, Rauf, taking Wymond at his word, carries his charcoal in panniers to the court. The king had remembered his promise and had sent Roland out to fetch to the king whoever came that way. Roland orders Rauf to “cast the creillis fra the Capill, and gang to the king”; but Rauf is not to break his promise to bring charcoal and offers to fight the knight in all his panoply, though he has but “ane auld buklair and ane roustie brand,” and, as they are both busy to-day, challenges him to combat on the morrow. The king asks Roland whether he has done his command, and, finding that he has not brought Rauf, is annoyed. Rauf leaves his horse with the porter and passes into the court to look for Wymond, and, when he sees the king, recognises him as Wymond, though his clothes are different. Rauf is much disconcerted to think how he had treated the king; but Charles dubs him a knight, and appoints him marshal of France.

    The sole authority for the tale is a unique copy, printed by Lekpreuik at St. Andrews in 1572 and now in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh. But, as Gavin Douglas and Dunbar both refer to the story, it must have been well known by the end of the fifteenth century. Amours points out that its vocabulary is closely similar to that of Golagros and Gawane. It is almost a parody on the old romances; but the tale has plenty of movement and, what is lacking in the other romances, plenty of humour.