VII 38 A ROYAL FALL
L’aisné Royal sur coursier voltigeant,
Picquer viendra si rudement courir :
Gueulle, lepée, pied dans l’estrein pleignant,
Trainé, tire, horriblement mourir.
On tacking his courser, spurring it,
The senior regal sibling’s horse will come to run unsteadily:
A hole made by the sword, one foot in the horse’s reins/tackle/stirrup,
Protesting he is dragged behind relentlessly, a horrible death.
Michel’s First Couplet conveys a horseman’s explanation for the pre-causes of this accident. Line 3 describes the freakish pattern of events: the point of the rider’s sword penetrates the flank of the horse. Horses are sentient, they are not machines. A fine horse carries you only when it senses that you know what you are doing and all distressed horses may try to unsaddle their rider. What a pity it was not a tolerant hack but royals must be seen to master the best – therefore the most sensitive – steeds and in this case a courser. It does not respond to his cries to stop. It is determined to rid itself of him but his foot becomes trapped in the tackle. He is dragged by this speeding courser, a torture, and so dies horribly.
Line 1, OF ‘aisné’ means the oldest in a group of people or among siblings, here a country’s Royal siblings/successors. (By the custom of Normandy it meant the fief of a split domain who paid the Lord the whole rent and so needs must collect the rents of others.)
OF ‘coursier’ is a courser, a fast horse used over distances, for battles or in tournaments. (Otherwise a fast ship.) Spoken adjectivally it would befit a very rapid steed.
OF ‘voltigeant/voltiger’ is the verb to tack.
Line 2, OF ‘piquer’ implies a penetrating point such as the horse-rider’s spur or a drill tip. It is a verb and so means spurring or stitching a horse to accelerate its movement. OF ‘rudement’ means in the manner of a rough and unsociable man or even brutally, violently.
Line 3, OF ‘gueulle’ could be descriptive or a vulgarity. It means a gaping hole in a body, human or animal, an opening-and-closing or mouth-like orifice. More domestically the opening parts of an oven or range. It can also be used to mean a game-bird or the colour red in heraldic arms. It’s metonym is gluttony.
OF ‘lepée’ would look just like OF ‘l’epée’ but for the missing apostrophe. This is, of course, the sword.
OF ‘estrein/estrin’ used as a substantive means a gift so I will go to the Medieval Occitan adjective ‘estranh’ ( = étranger, hostile, étrange, extraordinary, farouche, wild) in the sense of an extraordinary hostile and wild place like a thorny thicket or an unknown territory beset with molehills. Well, maybe. I must say that I really don’t know this word at all so I’m going to guess that it means the same as the English word ‘reins’ in the widest sense of horse tackle, perhaps the leathers attaching to the stirrups.
OF ‘plaingeant/plaindre’ carries the idea of affliction and compassion. Grieving. Discontented lamenting, crying, groaning. To express dissatisfaction, to recriminate, to raise a protest, make complaint. Line 5, OF ‘träiner/traîner’ from ‘tragenare’ means drag, usually after a horse either by being tied to its tail as a torture or dragged in a horse-cart to a place of execution, the hallmark of infamy. It can be used to describe a person’s body being violently wrecked. Or pulling something behind that is in contact with the ground. Or a hanging object sweeping the ground untidily. Or to move forward with difficulty. Figuratively, it can mean one lagging behind or something trailing.
OF ‘tire’ is to be pulled relentlessy or a consecutive row of things one behind the other. It can also mean shredded or sliced squirrel skins in a bunch.
The sole clue to the identity of the rider is that he was senior among the Royal siblings (premier prince du sang) or at least the elder of two, majorus to minorus, or the oldest person in a community. Or perhaps the only child of a king. Of course this might be a princess dragged by her skirts (apron skirts that prevented this sad fate arrived quite late in equine history and so this was once a known hazard for any woman who fell whilst riding).
The Ninth-Eighth Century mythological young prince Troilus was the literary archetype of a much-mourned child of youthful beauty. Sir William Wallace was a vicious rebel Scot who was dragged by a horse as the preliminary to being hung, drawn and quartered in Smithfield. But not accidentally.
Enguerrand III de Boves was the eldest son and successor to the Lord of Coucy. He died in 1242 when he fell from a horse onto his sword. He was related to King Louis XIII through his mother and married an English royal. Some royalty have died because of a horse but not by being dragged behind the horse. although one story comes close:
In July 1491 beloved Alfonso Prince of Portugal, aged 16, died when he rode to catch up his father (or they raced) on the way to swim in the river at their summer retreat,
“ … in the forcefulness of the running, the horse of the prince fell, and took him underneath itself, where soon and unexpectedly he was like one dead, without speech and without senses.” Rodrigues Oliveira, 2010
Nostredame was not always seeing the future in his visions. Where he gives us something from his own past times he always adds to the store of knowledge on the subject.
Francaise II duc de Bretagne died in 1488 after falling from a horse. He was a member of the dynasty which ruled the country of Brittany and had tried to prevent Brittany from joining the Kingdom of France. Has Nostredame filled-in some hitherto unrecorded details of his fatal fall for us?
Or is this horse-riding accident still to come? People do fall off horses, it’s an everyday occurrence, and most live to tell the tale. Prince Harry did recently in England. Horseguards do. But riding can get dangerous – especially on a ‘spirited’ horse, the one expert riders call a ‘good’ horse – and head, neck and spine injuries may last a lifetime which disablement could prove to be a living death in itself.
NIGELRAYMONDOFFORD (C) 2017