165 THE FAMILY TREE
Once upon a time there was a Count of Brittany who had a daughter, Louise, whom he wished to marry off to the scion of the House of Burgundy, Henri. The negotiations between the two houses had dragged on for months, the bride price and the size of the dowry fluctuating with the price of Burgundy wine and Breton lace, as also with disclosures of the physical endowments, or their lack, in Henri and Louise, his acne, her bad teeth, etc.
"Mon Dieu," said the princess one day, "Do zey look at my teeth as eef I am a 'orse?"
But it was when the Duke's minister began looking into the Count's family tree that matters really became hot and heavy. His inquiries revealed that the Count's great grandfather was the illegitimate son of the illegitimate daughter of a commoner. He opined that the dowry should be sweetened by, at least, a chateau. However, the Count, for his part, discovered that the Duke of Burgundy's grandmother, before her marriage, while a lady in waiting by day had been a lady of the night by night. Each new revelation was set to music, the unsavory details carried back and forth from court to court, and everywhere in between, by the troubadours, who sang it all to the doleful accompaniment of the lute. It was a sort of early version of the National Inquirer, set to music.
By this time, Henri and Louise had met each other. It was love at first sight. Henri had grown a handsome beard, hiding most of the pimples. And Louise had learned to smile without opening her mouth; which had the added benefit that she talked less. They were both deeply ashamed of the spectacle going on between their two families, their family trees being dragged through the mud. So, donning ordinary clothes, they ran away together one night, found a rural parish priest as ignorant of who they were as he was innocent of the niceties of Canon Law; and they were married.
Now for sons and daughters of the nobility to run off and get married, the nuptials not being arranged and blessed by the parents, was in those days simply unheard of. It caught the two families entirely by surprise. It caught the troubadours with their lutes down. Negotiations between the two houses were at a standstill; which was not all that far from where they had started. However, the troubadours recovered quickly, and had something new to sing about, and a new word: eloping. The Duke and the Count agreed to break off looking into the rotten roots of their respective family trees; the negotiations for dowry and bride price concluded pretty much where they had started; and the newly-weds generally lived happily ever after.
MORAL: There are some things even inquiring minds should not inquire into.
© 1998 George J. Seidel