Robert the Devil’s legend

Robert the Devil is the character from a 12th century legend of unknown origin.

A long time ago, the wife of one of the Norman dukes who was unable to have children, asked the Devil for help. She gave birth to a boy named Robert, who grew up to be unbelievably violent and cruel.

In the hope that it would make him less hot headed, the boy’s father urged him to become a knight. He took instruction in the arts of combat but utterly rejected courtly virtues. As a young man, he led a band of brigands who terrorised the Norman countryside, earning him the nickname, Robert the Devil.

One day, troubled by the uncertainty of his origins, he threatened his mother with a sword and forced her to confess the devil’s role in his conception.

Shocked by this revelation, he left Normandy and went East to do penance and seek God’s forgiveness. In Rome, he confessed to the Pope who sent him to solicit advice from a holy hermit.  The hermit ordered him to behave like a madman, to take a vow of silence, and to accept humiliation by sharing his food with dogs.

He came to the attention of the emperor, who was entertained by the sight of a madman snatching food from the mouth of a dog.  The emperor took Robert under his protection and let him live under one of the palace staircases, near the chapel.

At this time, Rome came under attack by its enemies, the Saracens, three times.  On the point of surrender, the city was saved in extremis by a mysterious knight, dressed all in white.  The knight was none other than Robert the Devil.

When his secret was discovered, the emperor offered Robert his daughter’s hand in marriage and his kingdom as an inheritance. However, Robert would not accept this reward and the power he was offered.  Instead he withdrew from the palace and resumed the life of a hermit until he died, when and where no one knows.

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