The Faithful Wife

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 888

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2020


  1. Of Chastity (Gesta Romanorum).

  2. The Man Hitched to a Plow (France / Germany).

  3. Conrad von Tannenberg (Germany).

  4. The Tsaritsa Harpist (Russia).

  5. The Lute Player (Russia).

  6. A Story Told by a Hindu (India).

  7. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Of Chastity

Gesta Romanorum

The Emperor Gallus employed a singularly skilful carpenter in the erection of a magnificent palace. At that period, a certain knight lived who had a very beautiful daughter; and who, perceiving the extraordinary sagacity of the artificer, determined to give him the lady in marriage.

Calling him, therefore, he said, "My good friend, ask of me what you will; so that it be possible, I will do it, provided you marry my daughter."

The other assented, and the nuptial rites were celebrated accordingly.

Then the mother of the lady said to the carpenter, "My son, since you have become one of our family, I will bestow upon you a curious shirt. It possesses this singular property, that as long as you and your wife are faithful to each other, it will neither be rent, nor worn, nor stained. But if -- which Heaven forbid! -- either of you prove unfaithful, instantly it will lose its virtue."

The carpenter, very happy in what he heard, took the shirt, and returned great thanks for the gift. A short while afterward, the carpenter being sent for to superintend the building of the emperor's palace, took with him the valuable present which he had received. He continued, absent until the structure was complete; and numbers, observing how much he labored, admired the freshness and spotless purity of his shirt.

Even the emperor condescended to notice it, and said to him, "My master, how is it that in despite of your laborious occupation, and the constant use of your shirt, it still preserves its color and beauty?"

"You must know, my Lord," said he, "that as long as my wife and I continue faithful to each other, my shirt retains its original whiteness and beauty; but if either of us forget our matrimonial vows, it will sully like any other cloth."

A soldier, overhearing this, thought within himself, "If I can I will make you wash your shirt."

Wherefore, without giving any cause of suspicion to the carpenter, he secretly hastened to his house, and solicited his wife to dishonor. She received him with an appearance of pleasure, and seemed to be entirely influenced by the same feelings. "But," added she, "in this place we are exposed to observation; come with me, and I will conduct you into a private chamber."

He followed her, and closing the door, she said, "Wait here awhile; I will return presently."

Thus she did every day, all the time supplying him only with bread and water. Without regard to his urgency, she compelled him to endure this humiliating treatment; and before long, two other soldiers came to her from the emperor's court, with the same evil views. In like manner, she decoyed them into the chamber, and fed them with bread and water. The sudden disappearance, however, of the three soldiers gave rise to much inquiry; and the carpenter, on the completion of his labors, received the stipulated sum, and returned to his own home.

His virtuous wife met him with joy, and looking upon the spotless shirt, exclaimed, "Blessed be God! Our truth is made apparent -- there is not a single stain upon the shirt."

To which he replied, "My beloved, during the progress of the building, three soldiers, one after another, came to ask questions about the shirt. I related the fact, and since that time nothing has been heard of them."

The lady smiled, and said, "The soldiers respecting whom you feel anxious thought me a fit subject for their improper solicitation, and came hither with the vilest intent. I decoyed them into a remote chamber, and have fed them with bread and water."

The carpenter, delighted with this proof of his wife's fidelity, spared their lives, and liberated them; and he and his wife lived happily for the rest of their lives.


My beloved, the emperor is God ; the palace is the human heart. The knight who married his daughter to the carpenter is Christ; the carpenter is any good Christian, and the mother is the Church. The shirt is faith; the three soldiers are pride, lusts of the eyes, and lusts of the heart.

The Man Hitched to a Plow

France / Germany

At Metz in Lorraine there lived a noble knight by the name of Alexander with his beautiful and virtuous wife Florentina. This knight vowed to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Grave. Unable to dissuade him from this journey, his sorrowful wife made for him a white shirt with a red cross and asked him to wear it.

The knight then journeyed abroad and was captured by the infidels. He and his unfortunate companions were hitched to a plow and under the blows of a whip were forced to till the fields until blood ran from their bodies. Miraculously, only the shirt that Alexander had received from his wife and which he always wore remained clean and unstained. Rain, sweat, and blood did it no harm, nor did it tear.

The Sultan himself learned of this rare circumstance, and he asked the slave precisely about his name, where he was from, and who had given him the shirt. The knight told him everything, adding, "I have the shirt from my virtuous wife. That it remains so white proves to me her continuing faithfulness and chastity."

The pagan, his curiosity aroused by this news, resolved to secretly send one of his people to Metz who should spare neither money nor property in order to seduce the knight's wife, and thus determine if the shirt's color would change.

The foreigner journeyed to Lorraine, scouted out the wife, then reported to her how miserable her husband was in the pagan land. This greatly saddened her, but she remained steadfastly virtuous. The emissary spent all his money in his unsuccessful attempts to seduce her, then returned to Turkey.

Soon afterward Florentina dressed herself as a pilgrim, took up her harp, which she played very well, and set forth following foreign pagan. She caught up with him in Venice, then traveled with him to the land of the pagans, without his recognizing her in her disguise.

Arriving at the pagan king's court, the pilgrim so captured him with singing and playing that great presents were offered to her. Rejecting them all, the pilgrim requested one of the captured Christians who were plowing. The request was granted, and Florentina, unrecognized, went to the prisoners, coming finally to the plow where her husband was hitched. Then she requested and received this prisoner, and together they journeyed safely across the sea until they arrived home in Germany. While still a two days' journey from Metz, the pilgrim said to Alexander, "Brother, our paths part here. As a remembrance give me a little piece from your shirt, whose miracle I have heard so much about, so that I can tell and convince others about it."

The knight agreed to this, cut a piece from the shirt and gave it to the pilgrim. Then they parted. However, Florentina took a shorter way and arrived in Metz one whole day earlier than he did. She put on her accustomed women's clothes and awaited her husband's arrival. Alexander greeted his wife most tenderly, but soon afterward his friends and relatives began whispering to him that Florentina had traveled about the world for twelve months, leading an immoral life and letting no one hear from her.

Alexander, burning with anger, ordered a feast where he publicly accused his wife of unbecoming behavior. Saying nothing, she left the room, went to her chamber, put on the pilgrim's garb that she had worn at that time, took up her harp, and then reappeared. Holding the piece cut from his shirt in her hand, she proved that she had been the pilgrim who had redeemed him from the plow. Then all her accusers fell silently at her feet, and her husband tearfully begged her for forgiveness.

Conrad von Tannenberg


Ages ago there lived in Tannenberg Castle on the mountain road a knight whose name was Conrad. He had a wife named Ann-Els who was as beautiful as she was pious. One time she became seriously ill, and he vowed that if she should recover he would make a pilgrimage to the Holy Grave and there battle against the infidels. And lo, Ann-Els recovered soon thereafter, and when her health had fully returned, the knight made himself ready to depart on a pilgrimage. With many tears he took leave of his wife and journeyed to the sea, where together with companions he had met underway he boarded a ship.

At sea the ship was attacked by pirates. He and his companions were taken prisoner and sold as slaves to an eminent Turk.

Year upon year passed, and his wife received no news from him. Because she was wealthy, she received many marriage proposals from neighboring knights, but she was interested in none of them and rejected them all, which caused a great deal of hate and animosity toward her.

Then one day she heard from another pilgrim who was returning home from the promised land that her husband was languishing as a prisoner among the Turks, and she resolved to rescue him, cost it what it may. Dressing herself in men's clothes, she took her harp, which she could play very well, and journeyed across the sea to Turkey. Arriving there safely, she sought and inquired after her husband until finally she discovered where he was. Then one day she approached the Turk who was his master and played such beautiful melodies on her harp, and sang with such charm, that the Turk said she should name her own reward, that he would give her anything she requested.

Then she said, "I ask only for a slave to serve me," and from among the slaves she selected one -- her dear husband. However, she did not identify herself to him, but kept him away from her. After the sea voyage was successfully completed and they found themselves again on Christian soil, she left a sum of money for him, then secretly slipped away and hurried home as fast as possible.

Not long afterward Conrad too arrived at Tannenberg Castle and was joyfully and festively received by his wife. All the knights from the surrounding area came to the castle to wish him well. While they were eating Knight Conrad told them of his adventures, how he had been captured, mistreated, and so miraculously rescued.

Then several of the knights whose marriage proposals Ann-Els had rejected whispered into his ear that in the meantime his wife had been traveling about the land dressed in men's clothes and leading an indecent life.

Upon hearing this Conrad jumped up angrily, drew his sword, and attempted to kill Ann-Els, but she fled into her room and barred the door so that he could not harm her. Not long afterward she returned to the hall carrying her harp and wearing the clothes in which she had freed Conrad, and she played a melody. Then Knight Conrad jumped up and fell into the singer's arms. She threw off the clothes and stood there as the faithful Ann-Els.

It is not necessary to say how happy Conrad was, nor that the gossipers disappeared as soon as they possibly could, not letting themselves be seen again, and that the festival ended even more joyfully than it had begun.

The Tsaritsa Harpist


In a certain kingdom in a certain land once there lived a tsar and a tsaritsa. He lived with her for some time, then he thought he would go to that far distant country where the Jews crucified Christ. So he issued orders to his ministers, bade farewell to his wife, and set out on his road.

It may be far, it may be short, he at last reached that distant land where the Jews crucified Christ. And in that country then the accursed king was the ruler. This king saw the tsar, and he bade him be seized and lodged in the dungeon. There were many tortures in that dungeon for him. At night he must sit in chains, and in the morning the accursed king used to put a horse-collar on him and make him drive the plough until the evening. This was the torment in which the tsar lived for three whole years, and he had no idea how he should tear himself away or send any news of himself to his tsaritsa.

And he sought for some occasion. And he wrote her this little line: "Sell," he said, "all my possessions and come to redeem me from my misfortune."

When the tsaritsa received the letter she read it through and said to herself, "How can I redeem the tsar? If I go myself, the accursed king will receive me and will take me to himself as a wife. If I send one of the ministers, I can place no reliance on him."

So what did she advise? She cut off her red hair, went and disguised herself as a wandering musician, took her gusli, and never told anybody, and so set out on her road and way.

She arrived at the accursed king's courtyard and began to play the gusli so finely as had never been heard or listened to for ages. When the king heard such wonderful music he summoned the harpist into the palace.

"Hail, guslyar! From what land have you come? From what kingdom?" asked the king.

"I do not journey far in the wide white world: I rejoice men's hearts, and I feed myself."

"Stay with me one day and another day, and a third, and I will reward you generously."

So the guslyar stayed on, and played for an entire day in front of the king, and he could never hear enough of her.

"What wonderful music! Why, it drove away all weariness and grief as though at a breath."

So the guslyar stayed with the king three days, and, was going to say farewell.

"What reward can I offer you for your labour? " asked the king.

"Oh, your majesty, give me one prisoner who has sat long in the prison. I must have a companion on the road! I wish to go to foreign kingdoms, and I have no one with whom I can exchange a word."

"Certainly! Select whom you will," said the king, and he led the guslyar into the prison.

The guslyar looked at the prisoners, selected the tsar, and they went out to roam together.

As they were journeying on to their own kingdom the tsar said, "Let me go, good man, for I am no simple prisoner, I am the tsar himself. I will pay you ransom for as much as you will; I will grudge you neither money nor service."

"Go with God," said the guslyar. "I do not need you at all."

"Well, come to me as my guest."

"When the time shall come, I will be there."

So they parted, and each set out on his own way. The tsaritsa went by a circuitous route, reached home before her husband, took off her guslyar's dress and arrayed herself like an empress.

In about one hour cries rang out and the attendants came up to the palace, for the tsar had arrived. The tsaritsa ran out to meet him, and he greeted them all, but he did not look at her.

He greeted the ministers and said, "Look, gentlemen, what a wife mine is! Now she flings herself on my neck, but when I sat in prison and sent her a letter to sell all my goods and to redeem me she did nothing. Of what was she thinking if she so forgot her liege husband?"

And the ministers answered the tsar, "Your majesty, on the very day the tsaritsa received your letter she vanished no one knows where, and has been away all this time, and she has only just appeared in the palace."

Then the tsar was very angry and commanded, "My ministers, do ye judge my unfaithful wife according to justice and to truth. Where has she been roaming in the white world? Why did she not try to redeem me? You would never have seen your tsar again for ages of eternity, if a young guslyar had not arrived, for whom I am going to pray God, and I do not grudge giving him half my kingdom."

In the meantime the tsaritsa got off her throne and arrayed herself as the harpist, went into the courtyard and began to play the gusli.

The tsar heard, ran to meet her, seized the musician by the hand, led her into the palace and said to his court, "This is the guslyar who rescued me from my confinement."

The guslyar then flung off his outer garment, and they then all recognised the tsaritsa. Then the tsar was overjoyed and for his joy he celebrated a feast which lasted seven whole days.

The Lute Player


Once upon a time there was a king and queen who lived happily and comfortably together. They were very fond of each other and had nothing to worry them, but at last the king grew restless. He longed to go out into the world, to try his strength in battle against some enemy and to win all kinds of honor and glory.

So he called his army together and gave orders to start for a distant country where a heathen king ruled who ill treated or tormented everyone he could lay his hands on. The king then gave his parting orders and wise advice to his ministers, took a tender leave of his wife, and set off with his army across the seas.

I cannot say whether the voyage was short or long; but at last he reached the country of the heathen king and marched on, defeating all who came in his way. But this did not last long, for in time he came to a mountain pass, where a large army was waiting for him, who put his soldiers to flight, and took the king himself prisoner.

He was carried off to the prison where the heathen king kept his captives, and now our poor friend had a very bad time indeed. All night long the prisoners were chained up, and in the morning they were yoked together like oxen and had to plow the land till it grew dark.

This state of things went on for three years before the king found any means of sending news of himself to his dear queen, but at last he contrived to send this letter: "Sell all our castles and palaces, and put all our treasures in pawn and come and deliver me out of this horrible prison."

The queen received the letter, read it, and wept bitterly as she said to herself, "How can I deliver my dearest husband? If I go myself and the heathen king sees me he will just take me to be one of his wives. If I were to send one of the ministers! -- but I hardly know if I can depend on them."

She thought, and thought, and at last an idea came into her head. She cut off all her beautiful long brown hair and dressed herself in boy's clothes. Then she took her lute and, without saying anything to anyone, she went forth into the wide world.

She traveled through many lands and saw many cities, and went through many hardships before she got to the town where the heathen king lived. When she got there she walked all round the palace and at the back she saw the prison. Then she went into the great court in front of the palace, and taking her lute in her hand, she began to play so beautifully that one felt as though one could never hear enough.

After she had played for some time she began to sing, and her voice was sweeter than the lark's:

I come from my own country far
Into this foreign land,
Of all I own I take alone
My sweet lute in my hand.

Oh! who will thank me for my song.
Reward my simple lay?
Like lover's sighs it still shall rise
To greet thee day by day.

I sing of blooming flowers
Made sweet by sun and rain;
Of all the bliss of love's first kiss,
And parting's cruel pain,

Of the sad captive's longing
Within his prison wall,
Of hearts that sigh when none are nigh
To answer to their call.

My song begs for your pity,
And gifts from out your store,
And as I play my gentle lay
I linger near your door.

And if you hear my singing
Within your palace, sire,
Oh! give, I pray, this happy day
To me my heart's desire.

No sooner had the heathen king heard this touching song sung by such a lovely voice, than he had the singer brought before him. "Welcome, O lute player," said he. "Where do you come from?"

"My country, sire, is far away across many seas. For years I have been wandering about the world and gaining my living by my music."

"Stay here then a few days, and when you wish to leave I will give you what you ask for in your song -- your heart's desire."

So the lute player stayed on in the palace and sang and played almost all day long to the king, who could never tire of listening and almost forgot to eat or drink or to torment people. He cared for nothing but the music, and nodded his head as he declared, "There's nothing like your playing and singing. It makes me feel as if some gentle hand had lifted every care and sorrow from me."

After three days the lute player came to take leave of the king.

"Well," said the king, "what do you desire as your reward?"

"Sire, give me one of your prisoners. You have so many in your prison, and I should be glad of a companion on my journeys. When I hear his happy voice as I travel along I shall think of you and thank you."

"Come along then," said the king, "choose whom you will." And he took the lute player through the prison himself.

The queen walked about amongst the prisoners, and at length she picked out her husband and took him with her on her journey. They were long on their way, but he never found out who she was, and she led him nearer and nearer to his own country.

When they reached the frontier the prisoner said, "Let me go now, kind lad; I am no common prisoner, but the king of this country. Let me go free and ask what you will as your reward."

"Do not speak of reward," answered the lute player. "Go in peace."

"Then come with me, dear boy, and be my guest."

"When the proper time comes I shall be at your palace," was the reply, and so they parted.

The queen took a short way home, got there before the king and changed her dress.

An hour later all the people in the palace were running to and fro and crying out, "Our king has come back! Our king has returned to us."

The king greeted every one very kindly, but he would not so much as look at the queen.

Then he called all his council and ministers together and said to them, "See what sort of a wife I have. Here she is falling on my neck, but when I was pining in prison and sent her word of it she did nothing to help me."

And his council answered with one voice, "Sire, when news was brought from you, the queen disappeared and no one knew where she went. She only returned today."

Then the king was very angry and cried, "Judge my faithless wife! Never would you have seen your king again, if a young lute player had not delivered him. I shall remember him with love and gratitude as long as I live."

Whilst the king was sitting with his council, the queen found time to disguise herself. She took her lute, and slipping into the court in front of the palace she sang, clear and sweet:

I sing the captive's longing
Within his prison wall,
Of hearts that sigh when none are nigh
To answer to their call.

My song begs for your pity,
And gifts from out your store
And as I play my gentle lay
I linger near your door.

And if you hear my singing
Within your palace, sire,
Oh! give, I pray, this happy day
To me my heart's desire.

As soon as the king heard this song he ran out to meet the lute player, took him by the hand and led him into the palace.

"Here," he cried, "is the boy who released me from my prison. And now, my true friend, I will indeed give you your heart's desire."

"I am sure you will not be less generous than the heathen king was, sire. I ask of you what I asked and obtained from him. But this time I don't mean to give up what I get. I want you -- yourself!"

And as she spoke she threw off her long cloak and everyone saw it was the queen.

Who can tell how happy the king was? In the joy of his heart he gave a great feast to the whole world, and the whole world came and rejoiced with him for a whole week.

I was there too, and ate and drank many good things. I shan't forget that feast as long as I live.

A Story Told by a Hindu


Once upon a time there was a Raja who had two sons, and after their father's death they divided the kingdom between them. The two brothers were inveterate gamblers and spent their time playing cards with each other. For a long time fortune was equal, but one day it turned against the elder brother, and he lost and lost until his money and his jewelry, his horses and his elephants and everything that he had, had been won by his younger brother. Then in desperation he staked his share in the kingdom, and that too he lost.

Then the younger brother sent drummers through the city to proclaim that the whole kingdom was his. The shame of this was more than the elder prince could bear, so he resolved to quit the country, and he told his wife of his intention and bade her stay behind. But his faithful wife refused to be parted from him. She vowed that he had married her not for one day nor for two, but for good and all, and that where he went, there she would go, and whatever troubles he met, she would share. So he allowed her to come with him, and the two set off to foreign parts. After some time their path led them through an extensive jungle, and after traveling through it for two days they at last lost their way completely. Their food gave out; they were faint with starvation and torn with briars.

The prince urged his wife to return, but she would not hear of it, so they pushed on, supporting life on jungle fruits. Sometimes the prince would go far ahead, for his faithful wife could only travel slowly, and then he would return and wait for her.

At last he got tired of leading her on and made up his mind to abandon her. At night they lay down at the foot of a tree, and the prince thought, "If wild animals would come and eat us, it would be the best that could happen. I cannot bear to see my wife suffer any more. Although her flesh is torn with thorns, she will not leave me. I will leave her here; may wild beasts kill both her and me, but I cannot see her die before my eyes." So thinking he got up quietly and went off as quickly as he could.

When the princess woke and found that she had been abandoned, she began to weep, and wept from dawn to noon without ceasing. At noon a being in the guise of an old woman appeared and asked her why she wept, and comforted her and promised to lead her out of the wood and told her that Chando [a sun god] had had compassion on her and would allow her to find her husband again if they both lived. So saying, the old woman led the princess from the forest and showed her the way to a great city where a Raja lived. The princess went begging her way through the city to the Raja's palace, and there they engaged her as a servant.

Now her husband had also escaped from the jungle and sought employment as a laborer, but no one would give him work for more than a day or two, and at last his search for work brought him to the city in which the princess was; and there he was engaged as a groom in the palace stables. The prince had changed his name, and he had no chance of knowing that his wife was in the palace, because she was confined to the women's apartments. So some years passed without their having news of each other.

At last one day the princess happened to go onto the roof and looking down at the stables saw and thought she recognized her husband. Then she leaned over and listened till she heard his voice, and at that she was sure that it was he, so she hastened to the Raja and begged to be allowed to meet her husband, and the Raja sent to call the syce [a servant who attends to horses] with the name which the princess had given, but no one came, for the prince would not reveal himself.

Then the princess told their story, and how her husband had gambled away his half of the kingdom. The Raja ordered anyone with such a history to come forward, as his wife was in the palace; but the prince did not reveal himself.

Then the princess said, "Let all the syces cook rice and bring me a bit of each man's cooking to taste."

They did so, and when she tasted the rice cooked by her husband, she at once said that it was his. Her husband was unable to deny it and admitted everything. Then they took him away from his work in the stables and let him live with his wife.

After a time the Raja wrote to the younger brother asking whether he would restore the half of the kingdom which he had won; and the younger brother answered that he would gladly do so, if his brother would sign an agreement never to gamble anymore. It was with this object in view and to teach him the folly of his ways that he had dispossessed him.

The elder brother gladly gave the required promise and returned to his kingdom with his faithful wife, and lived happily ever afterwards.

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Revised February 1, 2020.