Mélusine - La Fée

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Anne’s books mention the legend of the fairy Mélusine which was prevalent in Poitou, and how this legend was part ofAngélique’s childhood lore.

This is not to be confused with the old lady who lived in the forest and who was also called Mélusine, although she was named after the fairy. It seems this very old legend of the oral tradition was based on a couple of ancient stories as well as actual historical figures such as Queen Sybille and Aliénor of Aquitaine.

Melusines Family TreeThe noble Lusignan family ruled Poitou for a long time and exploited this myth by making Mélusine (or Mère Lusigne, mère des Lusignan, mother of the Lusignan family) the founder of their lineage. It was not unusual in the Middle Ages for aristocratic families to claim having fairies in their family line.

In Poitou, these mostly nocturnal fairy creatures went under different names, such as lutins, farfadets, dames blanches (elves, goblins, white ladies). They were said to appear in several places and to various people. (You will recall the Lady of Monteloup who haunted Angélique’s family home.) Several explanations were provided and the christian religion gave its own: if those fantastic apparitions transformed themselves into serpents one or more times a week, it was because they were guilty of secret sins that had displeased God.

At the end of the 14th century, Jean d’Arras was commissioned by Jean Duke of Berry and Count of Poitou to write the legend down. He called it La Noble Histoire de Mélusine.

Here is the legend: Mélusine was of royal origin as her mother, the fairy Présine, had charmed her father, Elinas, who was the king of Scotland. Before their marriage Présine had made Elinas promise that he would never try to see her during child-birth. But Elinas forgot his promise and transgressed the interdiction.  Présine then had to find refuge on the lost Island of Avalon with her three daughters: Mélusine, Mélior and Palestine.

Once grown up the three girls used their magic powers to lock up their father on the magic mountain of Northumberland. Présine accused them of being bad and heartless daughters and she cast each of them a different spell. She told Mélusine that, as the oldest and the most knowledgeable, as well as being the first cause of Elinas’ transgression, she would be condemned every Saturday to take the form of a serpent from the waist down. She added that if Mélusine ever found a husband who never tried to find out her secret on the day of Sabbath, then she could return to her natural state. But if her husband uncovered the secret, she would be condemned to this torment and would never find the release of death.

Mélusine soon met Raymondin de Lusignan as he was returning from hunting wild boars in the forest of Coulombier. During the hunt he had not been successful with the boars but he had accidentally killed his uncle Aimeri, Count of Poitiers. Raymondin stopped to drink at the Font de Sé (Fontaine de la Soif, Fountain of Thirst) and Mélusine appeared to him in all her splendour, dancing amongst other fairies. Thanks to her extraordinary powers, she was able to clear Raymondin of the murder charge and she agreed to marry him. She made him promise beforehand never to doubt her, never to question her origins, and never to attempt to see her on Saturdays or ask why. In exchange, she offered him a fortune as well as a numerous and long lineage. Mélusine built a beautiful château for them and ten sons were born of their union. During the first year of their marriage, Mélusine undertook the construction of Vouvant, Mervent and the Saint-Maixent Tower, all strongholds that contributed to the immense power of the Lusignan family. In one single night, with just a few stones and the help of workmen who disappeared come daylight, she could erect the most imposing fortresses (Tiffauge, Talmont, Partenay), churches such as Saint-Paul-en-Gâtine, which sprang in the middle of a field, the towers of La Garde in La Rochelle and those of Niort, and even the city of Lusignan.

However, Mélusine seemed more apt at building than having children. Her sons all looked a little strange but were also unusually talented in a particular craft. The oldest, Urian, became king of Cyprus. He had one green eye and the other red and he had the largest ears ever seen on a child. Her son Guion had one eye higher than the other; Antoine bore on one cheek a lion’s claw; Geoffroy was born with a tooth over one inch long.  Fromont, who became a monk at Maillezais, had on his nose a small hairy patch. In spite of their peculiar appearance, their father loved them and overlooked their deformities in favour of their creative talents.

However, Raymondin’s jealous brother, the Count of Forez, succeeded in making him suspicious of this mysterious wife who never seemed to age and who bore him such strange gifts. One fateful Saturday, thinking he would find Mélusine in the company of a lover, Raymondin, with the tip of his sword, made a hole in the solid iron door of his wife’s bed chamber. He saw Mélusine alone, bathing in a very large marble tub. From the waist up she had the form of a woman and she was combing her hair. But from the waist down, she had the form of a serpent’s tail and was hitting the water so strongly with this tail that the water splashed to the ceiling of her room.

Raymondin, both relieved of his suspicions and troubled by his discovery, said nothing to Mélusine as he feared the consequence of breaking his promise. But his children now frightened him and he began blaming their strange nature on Mélusine’s particularity. He became beside himself with despair and accused Mélusine of tricking him. Realizing that Raymondin had broken his vow and betrayed her, Mélusine fled without a word and her husband never saw her again in human form.

However, according to the legend, she came back for three days each time one of the fortresses she had built changed masters, and she appeared each time one of her descendants was threatened by death or disaster, giving them warning by shrieking three times.

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