Mark Twain: Awful, Terrible Medieval Romance

It’s hard to imagine anyone not being aware of Mark Twain, although whether they read him when it isn’t for an assignment is a fair question. Oh, his influence is staggering and much of it is so woven into the public mind that it can be plundered freely — I realized once that while I’ve seen enough versions of The Prince and the Pauper to be sick of the idea I’ve never read the original — but it could be that his status as a great and important figure gets in the way of reading him for fun. So, I’d like to summon from Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) Autobiography, published in 1871, the closing half of this (his third book).

It’s as the title describes, a Medieval Romance, and if it doesn’t show Twain’s prankishness enough, first in existing, second in padding out a mock autobiography, then please consider LibriVox’s note that “the illustrations form an interesting aspect of this book. They have no relationship to the text of the book. Rather, they use cartoons illustrating the children’s poem The House That Jack Built to lampoon the Erie Railroad Ring (the house) and its participants, Jay Gould, John T Hoffman, and Jim Fisk”. And isn’t that wonderful? (I’m sorry that I didn’t find a copy of the illustrations to go with this.)




It was night. Stillness reigned in the grand old feudal castle of Klugenstein. The year 1222 was drawing to a close. Far away up in the tallest of the castle’s towers a single light glimmered. A secret council was being held there. The stern old lord of Klugenstein sat in a chair of state meditating. Presently he, said, with a tender accent:

“My daughter!”

A young man of noble presence, clad from head to heel in knightly mail,

“Speak, father!”

“My daughter, the time is come for the revealing of the mystery that hath puzzled all your young life. Know, then, that it had its birth in the matters which I shall now unfold. My brother Ulrich is the great Duke of Brandenburgh. Our father, on his deathbed, decreed that if no son were born to Ulrich, the succession should pass to my house, provided a son were born to me. And further, in case no son, were born to either, but only daughters, then the succession should pass to Ulrich’s daughter, if she proved stainless; if she did not, my daughter should succeed, if she retained a blameless name. And so I, and my old wife here, prayed fervently for the good boon of a son, but the prayer was vain. You were born to us. I was in despair. I saw the mighty prize slipping from my grasp, the splendid dream vanishing away. And I had been so hopeful! Five years had Ulrich lived in wedlock, and yet his wife had borne no heir of either sex.

“‘But hold,’ I said, ‘all is not lost.’ A saving scheme had shot athwart my brain. You were born at midnight. Only the leech, the nurse, and six waiting-women knew your sex. I hanged them every one before an hour had sped. Next morning all the barony went mad with rejoicing over the proclamation that a son was born to Klugenstein, an heir to mighty Brandenburgh! And well the secret has been kept. Your mother’s own sister nursed your infancy, and from that time forward we feared nothing.

“When you were ten years old, a daughter was born to Ulrich. We grieved, but hoped for good results from measles, or physicians, or other natural enemies of infancy, but were always disappointed. She lived, she throve–Heaven’s malison upon her! But it is nothing. We are safe. For, Ha-ha! have we not a son? And is not our son the future Duke? Our well-beloved Conrad, is it not so?–for, woman of eight-and-twenty years–as you are, my child, none other name than that hath ever fallen to you!

“Now it hath come to pass that age hath laid its hand upon my brother, and he waxes feeble. The cares of state do tax him sore. Therefore he wills that you shall come to him and be already Duke–in act, though not yet in name. Your servitors are ready–you journey forth to-night.

“Now listen well. Remember every word I say. There is a law as old as Germany that if any woman sit for a single instant in the great ducal chair before she hath been absolutely crowned in presence of the people, SHE SHALL DIE! So heed my words. Pretend humility. Pronounce your judgments from the Premier’s chair, which stands at the foot of the throne. Do this until you are crowned and safe. It is not likely that your sex will ever be discovered; but still it is the part of wisdom to make all things as safe as may be in this treacherous earthly life.”

“Oh; my father, is it for this my life hath been a lie! Was it that I might cheat my unoffending cousin of her rights? Spare me, father, spare your child!”

“What, huzzy! Is this my reward for the august fortune my brain has wrought for thee? By the bones of my father, this puling sentiment of thine but ill accords with my humor.

“Betake thee to the Duke, instantly! And beware how thou meddlest with my purpose!”

Let this suffice, of the conversation. It is enough for us to know that the prayers, the entreaties and the tears of the gentle-natured girl availed nothing. They nor anything could move the stout old lord of Klugenstein. And so, at last, with a heavy heart, the daughter saw the castle gates close behind her, and found herself riding away in the darkness surrounded by a knightly array of armed, vassals and a brave following of servants.

The old baron sat silent for many minutes after his daughter’s departure, and then he turned to his sad wife and said:

“Dame, our matters seem speeding fairly. It is full three months since I sent the shrewd and handsome Count Detzin on his devilish mission to my brother’s daughter Constance. If he fail, we are not wholly safe; but if he do succeed, no power can bar our girl from being Duchess e’en though ill-fortune should decree she never should be Duke!”

“My heart is full of bodings, yet all may still be well.”

“Tush, woman! Leave the owls to croak. To bed with ye, and dream of Brandenburgh and grandeur!”



Six days after the occurrences related in the above chapter, the brilliant capital of the Duchy of Brandenburgh was resplendent with military pageantry, and noisy with the rejoicings of loyal multitudes; for Conrad, the young heir to the crown, was come. The old Duke’s, heart was full of happiness, for Conrad’s handsome person and graceful bearing had won his love at once. The great halls of tie palace were thronged with nobles, who welcomed Conrad bravely; and so bright and happy did all things seem, that he felt his fears and sorrows passing away and giving place to a comforting contentment.

But in a remote apartment of the palace a scene of a different nature was, transpiring. By a window stood the Duke’s only child, the Lady Constance. Her eyes were red and swollen, and full of tears. She was alone. Presently she fell to weeping anew, and said aloud:

“The villain Detzin is gone–has fled the dukedom! I could not believe it at first, but alas! it is too true. And I loved him so. I dared to love him though I knew the Duke my father would never let me wed him. I loved him–but now I hate him! With all, my soul I hate him! Oh, what is to become of me! I am lost, lost, lost! I shall go mad!”



Few months drifted by. All men published the praises of the young Conrad’s government and extolled the wisdom of his judgments, the mercifulness of his sentences, and the modesty with which he bore himself in his great office. The old Duke soon gave everything into his hands, and sat apart and listened with proud satisfaction while his heir delivered the decrees of the crown from the seat of the premier. It seemed plain that one so loved and praised and honored of all men as Conrad was, could not be otherwise than happy. But strange enough, he was not. For he saw with dismay that the Princess Constance had begun to love him! The love of, the rest of the world was happy fortune for him, but this was freighted with danger! And he saw, moreover, that the delighted Duke had discovered his daughter’s passion likewise, and was already dreaming of a marriage. Every day somewhat of the deep sadness that had been in the princess’ face faded away; every day hope and animation beamed brighter from her eye; and by and by even vagrant smiles visited the face that had been so troubled.

Conrad was appalled. He bitterly cursed himself for having yielded to the instinct that had made him seek the companionship of one of his own sex when he was new and a stranger in the palace–when he was sorrowful and yearned for a sympathy such as only women can give or feel. He now began to avoid, his cousin. But this only made matters worse, for, naturally enough, the more he avoided her, the more she cast herself in his way. He marveled at this at first; and next it startled him. The girl haunted him; she hunted him; she happened upon him at all times and in all places, in the night as well as in the day. She seemed singularly anxious. There was surely a mystery somewhere.

This could not go on forever. All the world was talking about it. The Duke was beginning to look perplexed. Poor Conrad was becoming a very ghost through dread and dire distress. One day as he was emerging from a private ante-room attached to the picture gallery, Constance confronted him, and seizing both his hands, in hers, exclaimed:

“Oh, why, do you avoid me? What have I done–what have I said, to lose your kind opinion of me–for, surely I had it once? Conrad, do not despise me, but pity a tortured heart? I cannot–cannot hold the words unspoken longer, lest they kill me–I LOVE you, CONRAD! There, despise me if you must, but they would be uttered!”

Conrad was speechless. Constance hesitated a moment, and then, misinterpreting his silence, a wild gladness flamed in her eyes, and she flung her arms about his neck and said:

“You relent! you relent! You can love me–you will love me! Oh, say you will, my own, my worshipped Conrad!'”

Conrad groaned aloud. A sickly pallor overspread his countenance, and he trembled like an aspen. Presently, in desperation, he thrust the poor girl from him, and cried:

“You know not what you ask! It is forever and ever impossible!” And then he fled like a criminal and left the princess stupefied with amazement. A minute afterward she was crying and sobbing there, and Conrad was crying and sobbing in his chamber. Both were in despair. Both save ruin staring them in the face.

By and by Constance rose slowly to her feet and moved away, saying:

“To think that he was despising my love at the very moment that I thought it was melting his cruel heart! I hate him! He spurned me–did this man–he spurned me from him like a dog!”



Time passed on. A settled sadness rested once more upon the countenance of the good Duke’s daughter. She and Conrad were seen together no more now. The Duke grieved at this. But as the weeks wore away, Conrad’s color came back to his cheeks and his old-time vivacity to his eye, and he administered the government with a clear and steadily ripening wisdom.

Presently a strange whisper began to be heard about the palace. It grew louder; it spread farther. The gossips of the city got hold-of it. It swept the dukedom. And this is what the whisper said:

“The Lady Constance hath given birth to a child!”

When the lord of Klugenstein heard it, he swung his plumed helmet thrice around his head and shouted:

“Long live. Duke Conrad!–for lo, his crown is sure, from this day forward! Detzin has done his errand well, and the good scoundrel shall be rewarded!”

And he spread, the tidings far and wide, and for eight-and-forty hours no soul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, to celebrate the great event, and all at proud and happy old Klugenstein’s expense.



The trial was at hand. All the great lords and barons of Brandenburgh were assembled in the Hall of Justice in the ducal palace. No space was left unoccupied where there was room for a spectator to stand or sit. Conrad, clad in purple and ermine, sat in the premier’s chair, and on either side sat the great judges of the realm. The old Duke had sternly commanded that the trial of his daughter should proceed, without favor, and then had taken to his bed broken-hearted. His days were numbered. Poor Conrad had begged, as for his very life, that he might be spared the misery of sitting in judgment upon his cousin’s crime, but it did not avail.

The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad’s breast.

The gladdest was in his father’s. For, unknown to his daughter “Conrad,” the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles, triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.

After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminaries had followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:

“Prisoner, stand forth!”

The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude. The Lord Chief Justice continued:

“Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath been charged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birth unto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting in one sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good Lord Conrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, give heed.”

Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same moment the womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomed prisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak, but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:

“Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronounce judgment upon any of the ducal line SAVE FROM THE DUCAL THRONE!”

A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the iron frame of his old father likewise. CONRAD HAD NOT BEEN CROWNED–dared he profane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it must be done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspicious eyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently he stretched forth the sceptre again, and said:

“Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke of Brandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me. Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except you produce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner, you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity–save yourself while yet you may. Name the father of your child!”

A solemn hush fell upon the great court–a silence so profound that men could hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, with eyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad,

“Thou art the man!”

An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill to Conrad’s heart like the chill of death itself. What power on earth could save him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman; and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At one and the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, the ground.

[The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will NOT be found in this or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]

The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her) out of it again–and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers–or else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.

[If Harper’s Weekly or the New York Tribune desire to copy these initial chapters into the, reading columns of their valuable journals, just as they do the opening chapters of Ledger and New York Weekly novels, they
are at liberty to do so at the usual rates, provided they “trust.”]


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

6 thoughts on “Mark Twain: Awful, Terrible Medieval Romance”

  1. Stephen Boyd Cates

    To Whomever:
    I recently discovered this communiqué of a long-lost distant relative, L. R. Eaton, from the last century, and I thought that it might be of some interest to students of Mark Twain. —SBC

                            The Scoundrel Speaks…and finishes the infamous story
    Shortly after the uproar of 1870 caused by that scoundrel, Samuel Clemens, who sometimes hides behind the alias, Mark Twain, the irascible rapscallion began a speaking tour of the United States.  I, L. R. Eaton,  attended his first lecture in the metropolis of Cincinnati, and there arose there such a commotion in the hall that the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported feeling it in Cleveland.  Of course, it was about that story he published, called “A Medieval Romance” (Go ahead, look it up.) without an ending, claiming that he just couldn’t come up with one.  It was a dastardly deed, indeed, to my way of thinking, foisting such torture on the reading public!  And offering no explanation but a lame excuse for people to swallow, like a dose of asafetida!  Well, I was there…and the mob was there…and HE was there!  And before too very much longer a facsimile of a semblance of order was restored, and the scoundrel spoke, though markedly timid, like a little white mouse, trembling like it was facing an inflamed and enraged bobcat.
    His words: 
    “Eh, ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you, accused of a grievous sin, a transgression of the utmost lowliness, a crime against you, the readers of …that story.”  A smattering of boos rumbled through the house.  “Yes, I understand your anger.  Imagine, if you can, how I felt when I discovered that cliff I had run up against, with no other possible passage over, through, or around in view.  I was flabbergasted!  I had never in my life been unable to fabricate any yarn no matter how brazen or outlandish, and to mold it into a tale of some estimable veracity.  Well, the publication date had come and gone, and my publisher was fit to be tied: he was in a pickle.  At first we thought we would leave it out, which seemed like a good idea, except the cover had already been printed, saying Twenty-five Tales of Twain.  So we couldn’t just leave one out and hope nobody would notice!  Someone would have noticed. Many of you, no doubt, would have noticed.  And we couldn’t just scrap the whole shebang, for the financial hardship on my publisher would have been too great; so I acquiesced and allowed it to escape with the ‘scarce half made up’ story….”  A few nodded sympathetically, mostly men who remembered their own experiences when they, themselves, had boxed themselves in or painted themselves into a corner.  The women, not having ever done such, continued to frown reproachfully at the miscreant.
    He continued:
    “…but I continued to ruminate and rack my brain about it.  Finally, I think, I have successfully completed the telling; and, if you good people will allow me, I will give it one more go.”
    There was a collective, surprised gasp from the attendees and anticipatory smiles throughout.  Before sallying forth into the fray, he took a sizable draught of water, cleared his throat, then, as everyone sat attentively forward so as not to let one decibel of a syllable get by them, he resumed his speech.     
    “In the final catastrophe section of the story, the father of the hero-heroine, Conrad, was so overcome by the tragic turn that he upped and fainted, as did Conrad!  The uproar that followed was pure, unexpurgated pandemonium.  Conrad finally revived, but his-her father was out for good!  It seems his ticker chose at that moment to weigh anchor and set sail for the great, or not so great, beyond.  The possibility of being discovered to be the perpetrator of a colossal hoax and debauching was just too much for him.”  

    Here, some mumbled that the Baron had gotten off easy and deserved eternal flames for his chicanery. “As for Conrad,” the author continued, “he-she found him-herself seized and bound by several of the lords in attendance. Though he-she had been falsely accused as being Lady Constance’s lover and father of her baby, they did not know this and quickly had him hogtied.”
    A collective “no” murmured forth from the audience, as they realized the hapless Conrad’s fate was none too rosy.
    “His-her choices were to accept the charge or to disprove it; either choice meant an extremely close hair cut by a hooded barber.”
    The great author paused, momentarily, eyeballing the rapt faces.
    “Well, since this is a Romance, it is incumbent on me as the storyteller to slay the dragon, defeat the army, or kick the hell out of a multitude of murderous savages with mayhem on their minds. This I shall do; but, first, I should like to say that in this time of realistic stories, we know all too well that poor Conrad is most likely doomed. But, it is a Romance. We know that surely he will be saved. And here is how it happened.”
    “Conrad sat in his-her cell in the dungeon awaiting his-her death for being the father of Lady Constance’s child and refused, as he-she was very shy, to even consider revealing his-her true sex in order to disprove the false accusation. It would have garnered him-her the same outcome, anyway. So, he-she sat and waited. Meanwhile, the dying Duke of Brandenburgh, having been apprised of the previous day’s goings on, lay sorely vexed and fading fast. He knew this was his last day on earth. As he thought of the dire consequences that ensnared the duchy and Conrad, whom he had grown to love, he prayed for a solution to the dire dilemma. Then, in a flash, he hit on it; because of his-her imprisonment, Conrad had relinquished the reins of state that he, the duke, had entrusted to him-her. Slowly he smiled and said to the Lord Chief Justice, ‘Cometh hither. We would speak to thee.’ ‘Yes, my Lord?’ he answered. ‘Set this down, sirrah, that We, the Duke of Brandenburg, hereby decree as Our dying proclamation that, insofar as it is Our right, We hereby pardon Lord Conrad for all indiscretions and dalliances with the Lady Constance. Furthermore, We declare him Our rightful heir and bequeath to him Our Dukedom and all holdings. It is further declared that We give to him the hand of Lady Constance, who it is hoped will rekindle former affection for his Lordship.’ With this dying statement…well, he died.”
    The audience collectively sighed, and tears of joy began to flow from the eyes of the ladies. Directly, they all applauded and cheered, haling the narrator as a supreme wordsmith and magician; and afterwards, in the nearby saloon where merriment ensued and the author’s back was slapped and his hand shaken, a motion was put forward that a committee be formed to bank role him as a candidate for governor.
    Some time after his death, I came into possession of this paragraph, which had been secreted away in some of his letters by a dishonest housekeeper, that contained the explanation, “They didn’t let me finish!”
    The Story Continued
    “And so they ruled in apparent felicity, though, really they lived as most married people do…apart; he-she on one end of the castle and she on the other. In three years time, she died in childbirth, in a quandary till the last as to whom the father was (there were numerous candidates). After the elaborate state funeral, the obligatory three month mourning period was observed. Duke Conrad, who never remarried, ruled judiciously for forty-two more years and was hailed for the following century as a great man. Duchess Constance’s son, who followed in Conrad’s footsteps as heir to the throne, was a wastrel of the highest…strike that…the lowest order, losing the dukedom to a card sharp in a game of high stakes, stud poker. The gambler was a despicable despot who scourged the surrounding countryside of all of its wealth… and, from there, things got worse. Finally…The End.”
    —L. R. Eaton (1923)


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