Retold by F. J. H. Darton
There is on the western side of Italy a large and fertile plain,
wherein lie a tower and town founded long ago by the men of the olden
days. The name of this noble country is Saluzzo. A worthy marquis
called Walter was once lord of it, as his fathers had been before
him. He was young, strong, and handsome, but he had several faults for
which he was to blame; he took no thought for the future, but in his
youth liked to do nothing but hawk and hunt all day, and let all other
cares go unheeded. And the thing which seemed to the people of Saluzzo
to be worst of all was that he would not marry.
At length his subjects came to him in a body to urge him to take a
wife. The wisest of them spoke on behalf of the rest.
"Noble marquis," he said, "you are ever kind to us, and so we now dare
to come to you and tell you our grief. Of your grace, my lord, listen
to our complaint. Bethink you how quickly our lives pass, and that no
man can stop the swift course of time. You are in your youth now, but
age will creep upon you in a day which you cannot foresee. We pray
you therefore to marry, that you may leave an heir to rule over us
when you are gone. If you will do this, lord marquis, we will choose
you a wife from among the noblest in the land. Grant our boon, and
deliver us from our fears, for we could not live under a lord of a
Their distress and grief filled the marquis with pity. "My own dear
people," he answered, "you are asking of me that which I thought never
to do. I rejoice to be free, and like not to have my freedom cut short
by marriage. But I see that your prayer is just and truly meant, and
that it is my duty to take a wife. Therefore I consent to marry as
soon as I may. But as for your offer to choose a wife for me, of that
task I acquit you. The will of God must ordain what sort of an heir I
shall have, and be your choice of a wife never so wise, the child may
yet be amiss, for goodness is of God's gift alone. To Him, therefore,
I trust to guide my choice. You must promise also to obey and
reverence my wife, and not to rebel against her so long as she lives,
whosoever she may be."
With hearty goodwill they promised to do as he bade them, and to obey
his wife, but before they went away they begged him to fix a day for
Walter appointed a day for his marriage, saying that this, too, he did
because they wished it; and they fell on their knees and thanked him,
and went away to their homes again, while he gave orders to his
knights and officers to prepare a great wedding-feast, with every kind
of splendour and magnificence. But he told no one who was to be his
Near the great palace of the marquis there stood a small village,
where a number of poor folk dwelt. Among them lived a man called
Janicola, the poorest of them all. Janicola had a daughter named
Griselda, the fairest maiden under the sun, and the best. She had been
brought up simply, knowing more of labour than of ease, and she worked
hard to keep her father's old age in comfort. All day long she sat
spinning and watching sheep in the fields; when she came home to their
poor cottage in the evening she would bring with her a few herbs,
which she would cut up and cook, to make herself a meal before she lay
down to rest on her hard bed; and she had not a moment idle till she
Walter had often seen this maiden as he rode out a-hunting, and he was
filled with pleasure at the sight of her loveliness and her gentle,
kindly life. In his heart he had vowed to marry none other than her,
if ever he did marry.
The day appointed for the wedding came, but still no one knew who
would be the bride. Men wondered and murmured and gossiped secretly,
But the marquis had ordered all kinds of costly gems, brooches, and
rings to be made ready, and rich dresses were prepared for the bride
(for there was a maid in his service about Griselda's stature, so that
they knew how to measure the cloth and silks and fine linen for the
wedding garments). Yet still, when the very hour for the marriage
arrived, no one but Walter knew who would be the bride.
All the palace was put in array, and the board set for the feast. The
bridal procession started as if to fetch the bride, the marquis at its
head, dressed in gay attire, and attended by all his lords and ladies.
They set out in all their pomp and magnificence, to the sound of
joyful music, and rode until they came to the little village where
Griselda, all ignorant of what was to happen, went that morning to the
well to draw water, according to her wont, for she had heard of the
procession which would take place in honour of the wedding.
"I will do my work as soon as I can, and go and stand at the door as
the other maidens do," she thought, "to watch the marquis and his
bride pass, if they come this way to the castle."
Just as she went to the door the procession reached the cottage, and
the marquis called her. She set down her waterpot by the threshold of
the ox's stall (for they were so poor that their one ox lived in the
hut with them), and fell on her knees to hear what the marquis wished
to say to her.
"Where is your father, Griselda?" he asked soberly and gravely.
"My lord, he is within," she answered humbly, and went in and brought
Janicola before him.
Walter took the old man by the hand, and led him aside. "Janicola," he
said, "I can no longer hide the desire of my heart. If you will grant
me your daughter, I will take her with me to be my wife to my life's
end. You are my faithful liege subject, and I know that you love and
obey me. Will you, then, consent to have me for your son-in-law?"
The sudden question so amazed the old man that he turned red and
confused, and stood trembling before the marquis. All he could say
was: "My lord, my will is as your will, and you are my sovereign. Let
it be as you wish."
"Let us talk privately a little," said the marquis, "and afterwards I
will ask Griselda herself to be my wife, and we three will speak of
the matter together." So they went apart to confer privately about
it. Meanwhile the courtiers were in the yard of the mean little
cottage, marvelling at the care and kindness which Griselda showed in
tending her old father. But their wonder was not so great as hers, for
she had never before seen so splendid a sight as these richly-dressed
lords and ladies, nor received such noble guests; and she stood in
their presence pale with astonishment.
But her father and the marquis called her. "Griselda," said Walter,
"your father and I desire that you shall become my wife. I wish to ask
you whether you give your consent now, or whether you would like to
think further of it. If you marry me, will you be ready to love and
obey me, and never to act against my will, even so much as by a word
or a frown?"
"My lord," Griselda answered, fearing and wondering at his words, "I
am all unworthy of so great an honour; but as you wish, so will I do.
Here and now I promise that I will never willingly disobey you in deed
or thought—no, not if I die for it."
"That is enough, my Griselda," said the marquis; and with that he went
gravely to the door, with Griselda following him.
"This is my bride," he cried to all the people. "Honour and love her,
I pray you, if you love me."
Then, that she might not enter his palace poorly dressed in her old
clothes, he bade the women robe her fitly and honourably; and though
these ladies did not like even to touch the old rags which Griselda
wore, still, at his orders, they took them off her, and clad her
afresh from head to foot. They combed her hair, and set a crown on her
head, and decked her with precious stones and jewelled clasps, so that
they hardly knew her again; and in this rich array she seemed more
lovely than ever. The marquis put a ring on her finger, she was set on
a snow-white horse, and they all rode to the palace, where they
feasted and revelled till the sun set.
Thus Griselda was married to Walter. By her marriage her gentleness
and beauty seemed only to increase, so that folk who had known her
many a year would not believe that she was the same Griselda, the
daughter of Janicola, who had lived in a mean hut in a poor
village. Every one who looked on her loved her, and her fame spread
all over Walter's realm, so that young and old used to come to Saluzzo
merely to see her.
Thus for a time Walter and Griselda lived together in great
happiness. At length Griselda had a daughter, and though they would
have liked a son better, Walter and Griselda were very glad and joyful
at the event, and so were all their subjects.
But when the child was still quite young a strange desire came upon
the marquis to try his wife's goodness and obedience, though he had
tested it in many ways times enough already, and had discovered no
faults in her. It was cruel to put her to such pains for no need, but
he could not rid himself of the wish, and he set about carrying it
One night, as she lay alone, he came to her with a stern, grave
face. "Griselda," he said, "I think you have not forgotten the day
when I took you from your poor home and set you high in rank and
nobility. This present dignity which you now enjoy must not make you
unmindful of your former low estate. Take heed to my words, therefore,
now that we are alone, with none to hear what I am going to say. You
must know that you are very dear to me, but not to my people. They say
that it is shameful to be subjects of one of such mean birth; and
since your daughter was born their grumbling has not grown less. Now,
I wish to live my life with them in peace, as I have always done, and
I cannot but give ear to their words. I must deal with your child as
seems best, not for my own sake, but for my people's. Yet I am very
loth to do what must be done, and I will not do it unless you
consent. Show me, therefore, the obedience and patience which you
promised at our marriage."
Griselda never moved when she heard of all this false tale. She did
not reveal her grief in look or word, but simply answered: "My lord,
it is in your power to do as you please; my child and I are yours. Do
with us as you wish. Whatever you do cannot displease me, for all my
desire is to obey you, and no length of time can change it—no, not
even death itself—nor move my heart from you."
Walter was filled with gladness at this gentle answer, but he hid his
joy, and went mournfully out of her room. A little while after this he
told his plan to a faithful servant, a harsh and fierce-looking
officer, whom he had often before trusted greatly; and when this man
understood what was to be done he went to Griselda, and stalked into
her chamber, silent and grim.
"My lady," he said bluntly, "I must obey my lord, and you must forgive
me for doing that which I am ordered to do. I am commanded to take
away your daughter."
Not a word more did he say, but seized the child and made as if to
slay it there and then. Griselda sat obedient to the commands which
she thought to be those of her lord, and uttered no sound. At last she
spoke, and gently prayed him to let her kiss her child before it was
slain; and he granted her prayer. She clasped her little daughter to
her bosom, kissing it and lulling it to rest, and saying softly,
"Farewell, my child; never again shall I see you. May the kind Father
above receive your soul!"
Then she spoke again to the officer, so meekly and humbly that it
would have stirred any mother's heart to see her. "Take the little
child and go and do whatever my lord has bidden you. Only one thing
more I ask you—that, unless my lord forbid it, you bury the babe so
that no birds of prey can reach her little body." But he would promise
nothing. He took the child, and went his way again to Walter, and
told him all that Griselda had said and done.
The marquis was touched a little by remorse when he heard of his
wife's gentle obedience, but none the less he held to his cruel
purpose like a man who is resolved to have his own way. He bade the
officer take the babe with all care and secrecy to his sister, who was
Countess of Bologna, and tell her the whole story, asking her to bring
the child up honourably, without saying whose it was.
But Walter's mind was not yet softened from his wicked intent. He
looked eagerly to see if what he had done would make his wife show in
her face any signs of grief or anger. But Griselda did not seem to be
changed in the least. She was always gentle and kind, and still as
glad, as humble, as ready to obey him as she had ever been; and not a
word either in jest or in earnest did she say of her little daughter.
Thus there passed four years or so more, until Griselda had a little
son, at which Walter and all his subjects were overjoyed, giving
thanks to God because now there was an heir to the kingdom.
But when the boy was some two years old Walter's heart again became
cruel and perverse, and he made up his mind to test his wife's
patience once more. Her gentle obedience seemed only to make him wish
to torment her still further.
"Wife," he said to her. "I have told you that my subjects did not like
our marriage, but now, since our son was born, their murmuring has
been worse than ever before, so that I am greatly afraid of what they
may do. They speak openly of the matter. 'When Walter dies,' they say,
'we shall be ruled by Janicola's grandson.' I cannot but hear their
words, and I fear them. So, in order to live in peace, I am resolved
to serve our son as I did his sister before; and I warn you now, so
that you may have patience to bear his loss when the time comes."
"I have always said, and always will say," answered Griselda, "that I
will do nothing but what you wish. I am not grieved that both my son
and my daughter are slain, if it is you who order it. You are my
lord, and can do with me as you will. When I left my home and my poor
rags I left there my freedom also, and took your clothing, and became
obedient to your commands. Therefore do as you will; if I knew
beforehand what you wished I would do it, and if my death would please
you I would gladly die."
When Walter heard these words he cast down his eyes, wondering at the
patience of his wife. Yet he went away from her with a stern and
cruel face, though his heart was full of joy at her goodness.
The fierce officer came to her again in a little while, and seized her
son. Again she prayed him to give the babe proper burial, and kissed
its little face, and blessed it, without a word of complaint or
bitterness. Again the child was taken to Bologna, to be brought up
there. The marquis watched for signs of grief in his wife, but found
none, and the more he regarded her the more he wondered.
Meanwhile rumours crept about among the people that Walter had
murdered his two children secretly because their mother was nothing
but a poor village maiden of low birth. The report spread far and
wide, so that the marquis began to be hated by the subjects who had
formerly loved him so well. Nevertheless, he did not change his
purpose. He sent a secret message to Rome, asking that a decree from
the Pope should be forged which would allow him, for the good of his
subjects to put away his wife Griselda and wed another.
In due time the false decree arrived. It said that, since great strife
had arisen between the Marquis of Saluzzo and his people because he
had married a poor wife of humble birth, he was to put away this wife,
and be free to marry another if he pleased. The common people believed
these lying orders, but when the news came to Griselda her heart was
full of woe. Yet she resolved to endure patiently whatever was done by
the husband whom she loved so dearly.
Walter now sent a letter secretly to Bologna to the count who had
married his sister asking him to bring to Saluzzo Griselda's son and
daughter, openly and in state, but without saying to any man whose
children they really were, and to proclaim that the young maiden was
soon to be married to the Marquis of Saluzzo.
The count did as he was asked. He set out with a great train of lords
and ladies in rich array, bringing the girl with her brother riding
She was decked in bright jewelled robes, as if for marriage, and the
boy, too, was nobly and fittingly dressed.
When all this plan was being carried out, the marquis, according to
his wicked design, put yet another trial upon Griselda's patience by
saying to her boisterously, before all his court: "Griselda, I was
once glad to marry you for your goodness and obedience—not for your
birth or your wealth. But now I know that great rulers have duties
and hardships of many kinds; I am not free to do as every ploughman
may, and marry whom I please. Every day my people urge me to take
another wife, and now I have got leave to do so to stop the strife
between me and them. I must tell you that even now my new wife is on
her way hither. Be brave then, and give place to her, and I will
restore to you again the dowry you brought me when I married
you. Return again to your father's house; remember that no one is
always happy, and bear steadfastly the buffeting of misfortune."
"My lord," answered Griselda patiently, "I knew always how great was
the distance between your high rank and my poverty. I never deemed
myself worthy to be your wife, nor even to be your servant. May Heaven
be my witness that in this house whither you led me as your wife I
have always tried to serve you faithfully, and ever will while my life
lasts. I thank God and you that of your kindness you have so long held
me in honour and dignity when I was so unworthy. I will go to my
father gladly, and dwell with him to my life's end. May God of His
grace grant you and your new wife happiness and prosperity! As for the
dowry which you say I brought with me, I remember well what it was; it
was my poor clothes that I wore in my father's house. Let me, then, go
in my old smock back to him. Though I have lost your love, I will
never in word or deed repent that I gave you my heart."
"You may take the old smock and go," said Walter. Scarcely another
word could he speak, but went away with great pity in his heart.
Before them all Griselda stripped off her fine clothes, and went forth
clad only in her smock, barefoot and bareheaded. The people followed
her weeping and railing at her hard lot, but she made no complaint,
and spoke never a word. Her father met her at his door, lamenting the
day that he saw her cast off thus. So Griselda went home and lived for
a while with Janicola as though she had never left him.
At length the count drew near from Bologna with Griselda's son and
daughter. The news spread among the people, and every one talked of
the grand wife who was coming to be married to the marquis with such
splendour as had never been seen in all West Lombardy.
When Walter heard of their approach he sent for Griselda. She came
humbly and reverently, and knelt before him.
"Griselda," said he, "I desire that the lady whom I am to wed shall be
received to-morrow as royally as may be. I have no woman who can make
all the preparations for this, and arrange that every one shall be
placed according to his proper rank, and I have sent for you to do it,
since you know my ways of old. Your garments are poor and mean, but
you will do your duty as well as you can."
"I am glad always to do your will, my lord," she answered. With that
she turned to her task of setting the house in order for the guests of
The next morning the Count of Bologna arrived with Griselda's son and
daughter. All the people ran out to see the fine sight. She was
younger and even fairer than Griselda, and the fickle people, ever
changeable, as a weathercock, were full of praises for the choice of
Griselda had made everything ready, and went into the courtyard of the
palace with the other folk to greet the marquis and his bride. When
the procession reached the banquet-hall, she took no shame in her torn
old clothes, but went busily about her work with a cheerful face,
showing the guests each to his appointed place.
At length, when they were all sitting down to the feast, Walter called
out to her as she busied herself in the great hall. "Griselda," he
cried, as if in jest, "what think you of my wife?"
"Never have I looked upon a fairer maiden, my lord," she answered. "I
pray that you may have all prosperity to your lives' end. One thing
only I ask of you—that you do not torment her as you did me; for she
is tenderly brought up, and could not bear hardship as well as I, who
was poorly bred."
When Walter heard her gentle answer, and saw that even now she had no
discontent or malice for all the wrong he had done her, he relented at
last, and blamed himself sorely for his cruelty.
"Enough, Griselda," he said; "be not ill at ease any longer. I have
tried and tested your faithfulness and goodness, and I know your true
heart, dear wife."
He took her in his arms and kissed her, but she was so filled with
wonder that she hardly heard what he said till he spoke again.
"Griselda, you are my wife, and I will have no other. This is your
daughter, who you thought was my new bride, and this your son, who
shall be my heir; they have been kept and brought up secretly at
Bologna. Take them again, and see for yourself that your children are
safe. Let no one think evil of me for my cruelty; I did it but to make
trial of my wife's goodness and show it the more brightly."
Griselda swooned for joy at his words. When she came to her senses
again she thanked Heaven for restoring her children to her. "And I
thank you, too, my lord. Now I fear nothing, not even death itself,
since I have truly won your love. Dear children, God of His mercy has
brought you back to me."
[Illustration: "This is my bride" he cried to all the people. From
the drawing by Hugh Thomson.]
Suddenly she swooned again. Walter raised her up and comforted her
till every one wept at the sight. Then the ladies of the court took
her into a chamber apart, and dressed her in splendid robes again, and
set a golden crown on her head, and brought her back into the
banquet-hall, where she was honoured as she deserved with feasting and
rejoicing that lasted all that day.
Full many a year Walter and Griselda lived together in happiness and
peace. Janicola, too, was brought to the court, and dwelt there with
them. Their daughter was married to one of the greatest lords in all
Italy, and their son succeeded Walter at his death, and ruled well and