Sleepy King Ecgfrith

As Prof Cohen over at In the Middle is teaching Marie de France this week, I thought I would revisit one of Marie’s innovations in her Life of Saint Audrey. I mentioned earlier that Marie had come up with an interesting answer to how Audrey preserved her virginity through 12 years of marriage, so here is her solution:

“Once she had married him, he surrounded her with sweetness and love, but he could not conquer her heart. The king was truly amazed that he could not direct her heart’s affection toward him. Her religious fervor was so intense that she was in prayer night and day. Whenever the king lay in his royal bed awaiting his pleasure, it pleased God to have him fall asleep. The queen would in turn get up to pray and make supplication; she did not want to get back into bed. The Holy Spirit living in her heart governed her. By His holy inspiration she was kept from corruption. She was strong against all vices and disdained pleasures of this world. Never would her body be penetrated not her heart violated. Never for her lord Egfrid’s beseeching nor for his love did she leave the service of Jesus Christ to which she had committed herself. … Unable to have his way with her, the king became irritated and twice tried to force her, but he could never subdue her that way. When he saw that he could not do with her what he wanted, he became extremely angry and even more ardently wanted her to do his bidding. But the more he tormented her, the more resistant he found her. The virgin and her will vanquished all his cruel intention. Finally King Egfrid realized that he could not overcome her in anyway when they were alone in his bedchamber. (lines 924-948, 955-969, McCash and Barban, eds. The Life of Saint Audrey, McFarland, 2006, p. 69, 71, 73)

You would think being so well rested would just make Ecgfrith that much more frustrated. Anyway, Marie managed to make Audrey the strong one, she is the one who can’t be vanquished or overcome. Audrey is the one who is in control of her future. In the next few lines she describes Ecgfrith’s complaints to clergy as a cruel trick, although of course she prevails. As far as I know, Marie’s sleepy Ecgfrith is unique in hagiography on Audrey.

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