Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday is for Fairy-Tales: Lady Yolanda's Thimble

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: Lady Yolanda's Thimble (Breton fairy-tale/folk tale)

All the warriors of Brittany went to the Crusades. But when the knights rode away to the Holy Land, they left sadness behind, for now there would be no more tournaments, hunting and dancing.

Time passed and the knights did not return. At last messengers arrived. The Christian army had a heavy task, they said, in its struggle with the infidels and doubtless the war would last for many years to come. All the country folk at home now fell to work to forget their worries. The ladies in the castles were the most dilligent ones. They made banners andscarves, and proud mottoes decorated the walls of the castles. They decorated the Mass books with splendid colors. While the knights were doing wonders in Jerusalem, the ladies in the castles were achieving marvels at home.

Now Old Nick saw this from his dark abode. This change in women's habits did not suit his wicked plans because their goodness diminished the evil. He had imps as his followers and went to them for help. One ugly creature offered to help Old Nick by taking the ladies' needles at night and dipping them in the poison of vipers. That should calm their eagerness. The next day, the needles kept pricking the ladies, causing them much pain, so they laid aside their work.

Old Nick was pleased and the women soon began to return to their former habits of indolence. The young ones spent their time on their clothes or admiring themselves in the mirror, when they were not idling on the castle lawns. The older ones gossiped and said unkind things about one another. They all had ceased to think about their men folk fighting in the Holy Land.

But there was one worker who was faithful to her task. That alone was enough to put a drop of bitterness in Old Nick's cup of pleasure.

Yolanda de Tregout lived in a great castle and there she worked with her needle for the church and for the poor. She was betrothed to a famous knight, Jehan de Kergoff. She neither stopped nor rested, not even when the needles, by the imp's trick, tortured her and gave her cruel pain. She only laughed at his cunning, while he gnashed his teeth in rage.

One day Old Nick devised a new plan. He dressed himself like a pilgrim and went to ask for charity at Yolanda's castle gate. Yolanda's kind heart was moved. She ran down quickly to the gate and bade Nick to come inside. So Old Nick entered the castle and ate and drank with a hearty appetite. When he left, he pretended to pay his debt of gratitude to the lady Yolanda. He gave her a shell he had picked up on the seashore, which, he said, had touched the Holy Sepulcher and was, in consequence, blessed. In reality he had poisoned the shell.

Yolanda took the shell and kissed it and Old Nick thought that it would cause her destruction. But the shell did not hurt her, as her innocence was her protection. As soon as Nick left the castle, Yolanda began to sew, but the needle pricked her finger so painfully that she wept in agony. As she wiped the blood away, an idea suddenly came to her that she would slip her finger into the shell while she was sewing so as to guard herself from the poisoned needle. The old wounds were healed, for by a miracle the poison on the shell was turned into a health-giving balm. Yolanda's friends followed her actions. All the women began to pick up shells and to put them on their fingers, and then they set to work again. They sewed and sewed without so much as shedding a single drop of blood.

As a sign of gratitude, Yolanda, who on the return of her lover from the Holy Land became Lady Kergoff, put a thimble among her daughter's wedding gifts, and had a thimble engraved on her armorial bearings.

The story concludes thus: "But in the Breton countryside old grannies may be found who bear a grudge against the thimble. It came, they remember, from Old Nick, and in consequence they remain to this day faithful to the distaff and the spinning-wheel."


I love the medieval setting of the story and the tale has a very good moral. Goodness and good work are always rewarded.



The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Never heard of this; it sounds like a beautiful story as innocence and goodness keep overcoming wickedness and evil. Go Yolanda!

Blodeuedd said...

I like this one cos it feels..well "true". They give an era and place.

Unknown said...

I love tales of Knights and Ladies. There is something so endearing about the stories of chivarly and holy virtues. Great post Irena.

I did actually have a fairytale scheduled to post but Blogger decided to do its own thing. Then I had my family over for dinner and I completely forgot to check that it had posted.

Next week, blogger willing!

Enbrethiliel said...


How interesting! I hadn't known this origin story of the thimble. (I agree with Blodeudd that it feels real, too--thanks to the line about the Breton ladies.) Thanks for sharing it, Irena. =)

My contribution this week has another character who seems protected by his innocence. I hope you like it!

Jo K said...

What a nice s story to explain the origin of the thimble. I liked that no evil could harm Yolanda for her innocence.