Thursday, April 14, 2016

Saluzzo and England and Griselda

Saluzzo, a town and principality in northern Italy, had some interesting connections to England. It was a simple tribal city-state in Roman times, but during the time of the Carolingians it became the hereditary property of the Marquesses of Saluzzo, who extended their control over a wider region in the north. It was frequently in conflict with its powerful neighbor, the Duchy of Savoy, which eventually assumed much of Saluzzo's territory. The Savoys were so powerful that the kings of England and France treated them very well.

Griselda's daughter is carried away [source]
One of the first strategic marriages between English and Italian noble families, however, was with Saluzzo. Alice of Saluzzo (d.1292) married Richard Fitzalan, the 8th Earl of Arundel. The marriage had been arranged by Eleanor of Provence, Queen to Henry III. Alice's father, Thomas I of Saluzzo, was an exemplary ruler under whom Saluzzo flourished like never before. This probably had a lot to do with choosing to form an alliance with Saluzzo by marriage.

Not all Marquesses of Saluzzo came off so well in history—or literature.

In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Clerk's Tale tells of Griselda, whose hand in marriage is sought by Marquess Walter of Saluzzo. He marries her on the condition that she will always obey him, no matter what. She agrees. When she gives birth to a daughter, Walter decides to test her obedience: he has a soldier remove her daughter. Although Griselda has every reason to believe her daughter is being killed (actually, the girl is sent to be raised by Walter's sister), she remains obedient and kind to her husband.

Four years later, she gives birth to a son. Walter chooses a further test: he tells her son has to go as well, that he has permission from the pope to divorce her, and that she is to return to her father taking nothing but the smock she wears under her fine dress. She returns home, showing no signs of distress.

Years later, Walter summons Griselda to him. He tells her he is marrying again, a young wife this time, and wants Griselda to help prepare the house for a new young bride. Unbeknownst to Griselda, the new young bride is actually her now-grown daughter. Griselda patiently asks Walter to be kind to his new bride, who might not be able to endure his tests the way a woman raised in poverty could. Walter, much moved by her patience and faithfulness, confesses that they are still married, that her children are alive, and promises never to test her again. They live happily ever after.

Chaucer did not invent this story. He probably got it from Boccaccio's Decameron, and the folktale of patient Griselda was around for a long time. Why the "villain" is a Marquess of Saluzzo is the mystery. But then, not all Marquesses were as beloved as Thomas I.  In Boccaccio's lifetime, Saluzzo experienced some civil strife. Manfred V of Saluzzo was forced to give up a claim to the throne in 1334 after being caught in a sex scandal with his own mother, then usurped the throne in 1341, but was forced to give it up a year later. 

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