‘‘Robert the Devil’’
A popular thirteenth-century romance legend, known in
France in both prose and verse forms as Robert le Diable. The
story was printed in England ca. 1502 by Wynkyn de Worde
(Caxton’s assistant) as Lyfe of Robert the Devyll.
According to the story, Robert was the son of a duke and
duchess of Normandy. He was endowed with marvelous physical
strength, which he used only for evil. Explaining to him the
cause of his wicked impulses, his mother told him that he had
been born in answer to prayers addressed to the devil. He
sought religious advice and was directed by the Pope to a hermit,
who ordered him to maintain complete silence, to take his
food from the mouths of dogs, to feign madness, and to provoke
abuse from common people without attempting to retaliate.
He became court fool to the Roman emperor, and three
times delivered the city from Saracen invasions, having, in each
case, been prompted to fight by a heavenly message. The emperor’s
dumb daughter was given speech in order to identify
the savior of the city with the court fool, but he refused his due
reward, as well as her hand in marriage, and went back to the
hermit, his former confessor