Rosamomd: A Mingling of History and Fiction

chris-the-sea christinemchristinem2

Above is a faint drawing done by Blake titled ‘The Downfall of Fair Rosamond’.

I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at Heavens gate,
Built in Jerusalems wall. (E 231)

“The myth of Ariadne may be the primary source for these lines, but, given the reference in Jerusalem to “Rosamonds Bower,” perhaps the unwound ball of thread in the Rosamond legend also lies behind Blake’s image of a string to be wound into a ball. Other string and thread images in the poem, including “the iron threads of love & jealousy & despair”  may also be related to the story of Rosamond.”

63. From ‘Jerusalem’
By William Blake  (1757–1827)

To the Christians

I GIVE you the end of a golden string;

  Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
  Built in Jerusalem’s wall.…
England! awake! awake! awake!         5
  Jerusalem thy sister calls!
Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death,
  And close her from thy ancient walls?
Thy hills and valleys felt her feet
  Gently upon their bosoms move:        10
Thy gates beheld sweet Zion’s ways;
  Then was a time of joy and love.
And now the time returns again:
  Our souls exult, and London’s towers
Receive the Lamb of God to dwell        15
  In England’s green and pleasant bowers.

Christine Rosamond Benton will never be considered a famous artist by any critic because she let herself be commercialized. This did not end when she died. The uncreative and destructive sea anchors that attached themselves to the ‘Rosamond Literary Theme’ made sure all creative hands went down wit the ship. I informed executor Sydney Morris, this theme existed. Several women did their damnedest to destroy my reputation and story that renders Christine a illustrator and a story teller. These parasites hid her autobiography and denied her her identity as an author. Her brother came to her rescue.

One person who wants to see where this ship and rosy ship, take humanity, is Belle’s mother, Catherine Vandertuin. Like many artists, writers, and playwrites, there is a quest for immortality that comes with one’s vision. In the fractured Rosamond Mirror, we behold Captured Beauties, captured in a rose. This is a literary piece. There exist three biographies about Christine Rosamond, not including my own. There exist a movie script. This is a real literary theme that was joined to the literary Grail themes in Virginia Hambley’s Family Tree that I associate with the Lone Cypress, in that the un-creative and destructive ones have captured this beautiful icon, and forbid artists and writers to render and promote Belle Mundi.

Two days ago, Daryl Bulkley bid me to take my proposal for the national park from her facebook.because it was family stuff. She did not know I knew she was having conversations with my daughter, who has done all she can to thwart my novels.

“Daryl, you sent me a private message that astounds me. Most people want to read a biography written by a family member verses the cleaning lady. Facebook is full of personal family stuff. Pierrot was allowed to write your cousin’s biography, and pursue a movie deal by the executor. But, book sales and movie money was not going to your kindred, Christine’s daughters. This is why they disappeared your cousin’s autobiography after I pointed out Christine gave interviews with the… third GHOST WRITER before she died, thus, those notes belong to the Heirs. This faux biographies are in the public domain.

Greg writing family personal stuff should always be separate from the FaceBook site. I don’t quite understand why you think someone would use your information about your sister for monetary reasons.”

When I posted directly to Daryl’s page, my daughter could read my posts. This is not what this witch wanted. She was after my child and grandchild, a literary theme that the Grimm’s Brothers exploited in their Fairytales.

In the space of one week, Virginia and I got down on one knee and proposed to each other. Here is the marriage of Family Literary Themes that are truly historic and need to be preserved with all the expertise western civilization can muster. The sneaky sea anchors are cut. Fair Rosamond graces the prow of this ship that part the frothy waves.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2015

Our whole community suffered the untimely death of Catherine Vandertuin, its founder and director. Catherine, we miss you. But you are still present to us in the work you elicited from us—you are still present in these words.

The Story Behind the Play

The inspiration for these pieces came from working with the actors and director of Eugene Chamber Theater. They improvised the story of the Descent of Inanna, and then provided encouragement, insight, and feedback for the words that I wrote after being inspired by their work. I owe an immense debt to Catherine Vandertuin, Eugene Chamber Theater’s late producer and director (see “Slant” article that follows). She was the archetypal woman gatherer in her role in both this theater piece and this group as she undertook the daunting task of producing a theater piece out of the poetry that came to me in our collaboration.

Behold your queen now!
You who threw Ereshkigal away,
Do you hear her speaking to you
From that eternal city
That lives under your own?
City of thieves!
I have stolen something of my own.
The Queen of Night
Has the Queen of Light
In her bond.
And the ways
Of my underworld are perfect:
They may not be questioned.

Speak now for yourself, you
Who have crossed the bridge
Between life and death
To stand in the underworld with me:
Name some gift you wish
To take back home with you.
For the ways of the underworld
Are perfect in what they grant

Yesterday I discovered Virginia Hambley is related to Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force who authored the fairy tale Persinette that the Grimm brothers turned into the story, Repunzel. Add to this the Grail and Knight Romances of Geoffrey de La Tour-Landry, and his relation to Rene de Anjou, and we are looking at one of the most literary Family Trees, not only of France, but of human history!

Charlotte-Rose could be the inventor of what she titles “histoires secrètes”, that has spawned a genre that launched a thousand books and several television shows. Add to this the Legend of Sleeping Beauty whom the Grimm bothers named, Rosamond – along with the countless literary works surrounding Fair Rosamond – then alas we behold the Heart and Rose of Western Culture, safe and secure in the Ivory Tower…….

“Repunzel, let down your hair!”

Rosamunda: A Cervantine Mingling of History and Fiction in Persiles


KING Henry the Second of England took for his mistress Rosamond Clifford, a woman of extraordinary beauty and the daughter of Knight Henry Clifford. In order to keep her concealed from Queen Eleanor, the king placed Rosamond in a palace at Woodstock which was surrounded by a maze. During a time when Henry was away from England, the jealous and vengeful queen managed to make her way through the maze and forced Rosamond to choose between receiving the fatal blow of a dagger and drinking a bowl of poison. Rosamond died from the latter and was buried in the Godstow Nunnery. And as a punishment for her criminal act, Henry kept Eleanor imprisoned up until the end of his reign.
What I have recounted here is the general legend that has evolved over the illicit love affair of Fair Rosamond and King Henry. The extent to which this legend is true has never been completely determined. Yet some of the early chroniclers were able to find historical evidence to support at least the following: (1) Rosamond was indeed King Henry’s mistress and (2) her burial took place at Godstow.
Over the centuries the legendary tale of Rosamond Clifford has greatly appealed to the literary imagination. Numerous

     * This is a paper from a symposium on Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, as is explained in the Foreward of this issue of the journal.


88 KAREN LUCAS Cervantes

treatments of this popular story can be found in chronicles, narrative poems, works of romance prose fiction, chapbooks, novels, short stories, operas, and plays. Authors have continuously revitalized the legend by altering a particular feature or set of features. Some of the innovations have included, for example, adding more scenes, creating different versions of Rosamond’s tragic death, introducing new characters, such as the rival lover, and alluding more to the political and religious climate of the time.1
One of the most striking departures from the more traditional versions of the Rosamond story appears in Cervantes’ Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. How much Cervantes actually knew about this figure is a matter of speculation. In any event, he dramatically altered the legendary material within the context of his Christian romance. An examination of the transformations which Rosamond Clifford undergoes in Persiles will shed further light on the author’s exemplary vision of mankind, in which characters essentially appear as archetypal figures making their pilgrimage through the lower and upper worlds of romance.2
It is significant that Rosamunda appears in the sequence of adventures in the North, a region which Cervantes markedly associates with the motifs of darkness, separation, death, and barbarity.3 In Chapters XII and XIII of Book One, the protagonists and their companions meet up with a ship carrying a group of people which includes the enchained pair of Rosamunda and Clodio, the slanderous poet. The occupants of the ship join the wandering heroes, and at a later point during one of their group conversations in Chapter XIV, Clodio gives an account of the courtesan’s life. We learn that not only was Rosamunda the mistress of King Henry but that she was also an extremely powerful yet detrimental figure in the political sphere (“Esta mandó al rey y por añadidura a todo el reino; puso leyes, quitó leyes, levantó caídos viciosos y derribó levantados

     1 See Virgil B. Heltzel, Fair Rosamond: A Study of the Development of a Literary Theme (Evanston: Northwestern U Studies, 1947). Heltzel discusses in detail the creation of the Rosamond legend and its abundant treatment in English literature.
2 For more on the exemplary aspects of Persiles, see Alban K. Forcione, Cervantes’ Christian Romance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972). And for a more general study of the conventions and themes of romance fiction, see Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard UP 1976).
3 Forcione 121.

10.1 (1990) Rosamunda 89

virtuosos”).4 Clodio furthermore goes on to describe how Rosamunda’s corrupt acts along with his own slanderous talk eventually led them to their downfalls, as the king had them enchained together and banished for life from England. We should also add that in subsequent chapters in Book One, Cervantes will introduce another innovative set of incidents to Rosamond’s story: a temptation scene which results in the suicidal death of the rejected, lustful schemer —quite a change from the conventional portrayal of her death as a fatal stabbing or poisoning.
Cervantes’ anachronistic placement of Rosamunda in the sixteenth century may appear to some extent as a disturbing element, in that it violates the romance convention of maintaining plausibility. Yet interestingly enough, Renaissance literary theorists did actually suggest that authors take the liberty to use material from medieval history in their works because their reading audiences generally knew very little about it. One might, however, best explain this inconsistency by arguing that in Persiles, Rosamunda is in essence a character of a timeless, universal dimension, as she serves a fundamental allegorical purpose.5
With the exception of Clodio, perhaps no other character in Persiles is more manifestly emblematic than Rosamunda, a telling embodiment of lust and its powers of exploitation.6 Such a portrayal of Rosamunda clearly represents a deviation from the mode in which she has most often been depicted in literature —as a beautiful yet much less domineering figure who becomes a tragic victim.7
Cervantes allows us the opportunity to observe the lustful courtesan in action in the climactic scene where she attempts to seduce Antonio when they are alone together in the wilderness. The entire scene may be read as an allegorical contest between

     4 Miguel de Cervantes, Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, ed. J. B. Avalle-Arce (Madrid: Castalia, 1969) 118. All subsequent page references to the Persiles are to this edition.
5 Forcione 121.
6 See Forcione’ s Cervantes and the Mystery of Lawlessness: A Study of “El casamiento engañoso y El coloquio de los perros” (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984) 202, note 24.
7 As Heltzel states: “One is inclined to surmise that her beauty and her position as the unfortunate victim of a royal lover have somehow given her a sort of sanctity and inviolability in the eyes of all writers who have told her story” (127).

90 KAREN LUCAS Cervantes

lust and chastity, in which the latter is forcefully triumphant.8 It should be noted that Rosamunda is presented here not only in a state of moral decadence but also in one of physical decay (like a withering rose). As she states to Antonio: “No mires que ya a mi belleza la marchita el rigor de la edad, ligera siempre, sino considera en mí a la que fue Rosamunda, domadora de las cervices de los reyes y de la libertad de los más esentos hombres” (141-42). Rosamunda’s fading beauty and failed attempt to seduce Antonio may be seen as a powerful foreshadowing of her imminent death.
At this point it would be worthwhile to draw a comparison between Rosamunda and Transila, her marked female counterpart in the Persiles. Transila has fled her native land because she boldly opposes its savage custom which permits the relatives of the groom to deflower the bride on the wedding day. Rosamunda, on the other hand, firmly upholds this barbarous practice. In a speech to Transila, the courtesan speaks of the importance of experience, as she employs the images of a well-trained horse and an experienced sailor to illustrate her point:

Haste quejado . . . señora doncella, de la bárbara costumbre de los de tu ciudad, como si lo fuera aliviar el trabajo a los menesterosos y quitar la carga a los flacos; sí que no es error, por bueno que sea un caballo, pasearle la carrera primero que se ponga en él, ni va contra la honestidad el uso y costumbre si en él no se pierde la honra, y se tiene por acertado lo que no lo parece; sí que mejor gobernará el timón de una nave el que hubiese sido marinero, que no el que sale de las escuelas de la tierra para ser piloto: la esperiencia en todas las cosas es la mejor maestra de las artes, y así, mejor te fuera entrar esperimentada en la compañía de tu esposo, que rústica e inculta (117).

In short, both Rosamunda and Transila are portrayed as highly audacious and self-assertive female figures, yet in very diverse, opposing manners.9
At the same time, Cervantes greatly draws attention to Rosamunda’s emblematic pose through her connection with Clodio. His presentation of these symbolic characters sharply recalls Erasmus’ figurative treatment of the association of lust and slander

     8 Forcione, Christian Romance 121-22.
9 For more on the comparison of Rosamunda and Transila, see Forcione, Christian Romance 120-22.

10.1 (1990) Rosamunda 91

and its disastrous effects in Lingua. The similarity between the two texts is particularly evident in such details as the chain bonding of characters and the arrow piercing the slanderer.10
It can also be said that the physical enchainment of Rosamunda and Clodio is parallel to another type of bondage, that is, the way in which each character closely resembles the other by sharing his or her sinful trait. Rosamunda is just as quick with the tongue as Clodio. When the pair are first brought over to the protagonists’ ship, they are constantly making slanderous remarks about each other. We might also recall that in the seduction scene Antonio condemns Rosamunda for her offensive speech: “¡Tarázate la lengua, sierpe maldita, no pronuncies con deshonestas palabras lo que tienes escondido en tus deshonestos deseos!” (142). And in Book Two, Clodio likewise reveals his lustful nature in an attempt to snare Auristela. The combination of lust and slander is also present in the dramatic scene of Clodio’s death.11 The slanderous poet is accidentally shot in the tongue by Antonio’s arrow when he enters the room in which the witch Cenotia is trying to seduce Antonio.
The pairing of Rosamunda and Clodio may furthermore be viewed in terms of a grotesque travesty of Auristela and Periandro, the exemplary Christian couple. Through creating such a negative example of the union between man and woman, Cervantes all the more underscores the importance of love, charity, and marriage for the salvation of the soul and the well-being of the state.
As a final point, I would like to consider briefly Rosamunda in her relation to another major Cervantine spokesperson for the corporeal realm of experience: Sancho Panza. Cervantes’ squire is a striking representation of the medieval and Renaissance carnival spirit, a spirit which conveys a sense of ambivalence toward the body. While Sancho’s feasting, mock-role playing, frequently depicted bodily functions, and engagement in earthy, bodily material discourse can be seen in terms of a mockery of the values, institutions, and constraints of official society, they at the same time constitute a celebration of the body and bodily life. Moreover, Cervantes’ presentation of the squire in certain carnivalesque scenes is intimately linked to his development of

     10 Forcione, Mystery of Lawlessness 224, note 63.
11 Ruth El Saffar, Beyond Fiction: The Recovery of the Feminine in the Novels of Cervantes (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, England: U of California P, 1984) 144.

92 KAREN LUCAS Cervantes

the Christian humanist themes of friendship, simplicity, and goodwill.12 In the romance setting of the Persiles, on the other hand, we witness an entirely different view of the body in the author’s conception of Rosamond Clifford. This figure projects a powerful image of the destructive powers of the flesh, as her excessive lustful behavior leads to catastrophic circumstances. Such a dark vision of the corporeal sphere was of course very much in vogue during the period of the Counter-Reformation.
In conclusion, Persiles presented Cervantes with an ideal context for rendering a highly innovative and imaginative approach to the legend of Rosamond Clifford. In adapting the story within the exemplary framework of his Christian romance, he created a tellingly negative version of King Henry’s mistress, as he sharply focused the reader’s attention on the courtesan’s perverse character, punishment, and suicide.

1. The Fall of Fair Rosamund.   Pencil, 31.0 × 44.0 cm. Butlin #607, where the drawing is dated to c. 1815-20. Essick collection. Jealous Queen Eleanor stands on the left and offers the kneeling Rosamond (the customary spelling), the mistress of King Henry II, a goblet of poison with which to commit penitential suicide. To enforce her demands, the Queen holds a dagger in her raised right hand. The figures far right are probably Rosamond’s attendants; they respond to the confrontation with gestures of horror and grief. Blake engraved Thomas Stothard’s “The Fall of Rosamond” in 1783. Stothard’s design, an illustration to Thomas Hull’s popular play, Henry the Second; or the Fall of Rosamond: A Tragedy, differs in many respects from Blake’s drawing, but it probably influenced Blake’s composition in the placement of the two main figures, the kneeling figures lower right, and the arches in the background (Rosamond’s “apartment” in Hull’s play, pictured as a building with an arched doorway in Stothard’s design).

As Butlin suggests, the squiggles dangling from the Queen’s right hand and cascading behind Rosamond’s head to touch the ground probably represent the thread which, legend has it, the Queen followed to find Rosamond in her hiding place. Hull’s play makes no mention of the thread and thus it is not pictured in Stothard’s design. The unwinding of a “silken clue” (i.e., a ball of silk thread) is first mentioned in the story of Rosamond as related in Robert Fabyan’s New Chronicles of England and of France (1516). In Blake’s design, the twisted object on the ground just right of the Queen’s left foot is probably the remnants of the clue. A thread rises from it and crosses Rosamond’s upper left arm. In his Chronicles of 1577-87, Raphael Holinshed states that the silk thread was accidentally drawn out by the King’s foot when leaving Rosamond. Samuel Daniel, in his poem “The Complaint of Rosamond” (1592), claims to the contrary that the thread was purposely unraveled by Henry as a way of finding Rosamond in her labyrinth-like bower. A possible source for Blake’s knowledge of the motif is the ballad “Fair Rosamond,” now generally attributed to Thomas Deloney, as printed in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, ed. Thomas Percy (London: Dodsley, 1765) 2:133-45. Blake owned a copy of Percy’s work—see Bentley #736. In this poem, the Queen follows a “clue of twined thread” (2:143). The “clew of silk” is briefly noted (p. 61) in Charles Allen’s New and Improved History of England (1798), a book for which Blake executed engravings (see illus. 11). For a detailed study of the legend, see Virgil B. Heltzel, Fair Rosamond: A Study of the Development of a Literary Theme (Evanston: Northwestern U. Studies, 1947).

On Jerusalem pl. 57, Blake refers to “Rosamonds Bower” and asks “What is a Wife & what is a Harlot? What is a Church? & What / Is a Theatre?” (E 207). The following quatrain appears at the top of pl. 77:

I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at Heavens gate,
Built in Jerusalems wall. (E 231)

The myth of Ariadne may be the primary source for these lines, but, given the reference in Jerusalem to “Rosamonds Bower,” perhaps the unwound ball of thread in the Rosamond legend also lies behind Blake’s image of a string to be wound into a ball. Other string and thread images in the poem, including “the iron threads of love & jealousy & despair” (E 195), may also be related to the story of Rosamond.

Vala is summoned to “come . . . with knife & cup” in Jerusalem (E 167); later, she bears “the Druid Knife of Revenge & the Poison Cup / Of Jealousy” (E 214-15). Queen Eleanor is motivated by the same two passions. Vala’s confrontations with Jerusalem, the former generally aggressive and the latter passive, would also seem to participate in the same dynamic portrayed in The Fall of Fair Rosamund. Blake pictures another female with a knife in her right hand and a goblet in her left on Jerusalem pl. 69, lower right. One of Blake’s early commercial copy engravings, the drawing reproduced here, and his concluding epic are intertwined in multiple ways.



About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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