|Sullivan > Major Works > The Beauty Stone > Preface
by A. W. Pinero and J. Comyns Carr
The action of the story is laid in the year 1408, when John of Nevers, Duke of Burgundy, with a great following of the lords of Hainault and Flanders, lay encamped at Flourines, whither he had marched to the assistance of John of Bavaria, Bishop of Liege, who at that time was besieged by the Lord of Pieruels in the town of Maestricht. Upon the advance of the Duke the siege was raised, and the rebels retreated upon Liege, where they were totally routed, the Lord of Pieruels and his two sons being put to death.
Twelve years before these events, John of Nevers — who had not then succeeded to the dukedom and was but a young man of twenty- two — had been elected leader of the expedition despatched by the King of France in aid of Sigismund of Hungary against Bajazet, Sultan of the Turks, which enterprise culminated in the fateful battle of Necopolis. In this battle nearly the whole of the allied forces were put to the sword, but Bajazet spared the lives of John of Nevers and of certain lords in his retinue, holding them prisoner in Turkey till a fitting ransom had been provided by the French King. Froissart has left us a picturesque account of the sufferings endured by those nobles during the period of their captivity, and of the adventures that befell them on their homeward journey through the Greek islands. He notes especially their sojourn in Chifolignie (Cephalonia). There, Froissart states, "they were met by a large party of ladies and damsels who have the government of the island. They received the French lords with joy, and led them to the interior part of the island, which is very beautiful, to amuse and enjoy themselves." The chronicler adds that "the Count of Nevers and his friends were very happy with the dames of Cephalonia, who entertained them gaily, telling them their arrival had been a matter of joy, because of their being knights of honour and renown."
The authors have supposed that Philip of Mirlemont was, as a youth, one of the goodly company of lords and knights who took part with John of Nevers in the battle of Necopolis and subsequently shared exile with their leader; and that Philip found solace during his stay at Cephalonia in the society of the lady Saida. And since the world, it would seem, was no better in the beginning of the 15th century than it is at the end of the 19th, it has been further presumed that, upon ransom of the captives, Saida and the young lord of Mirlemont sailed northward together.
If an apology be necessary for the aspect given to the Evil One in the story of The Beauty Stone, the reader is reminded that throughout the middle ages the Devil was a constant figure in popular imagination, familiarity engendering a sentiment in which contempt fought strongly with awe for pre-eminence. Thus, in the old Mysteries and Miracle-plays the Devil was usually presented as a grotesque personage; and it is in this spirit, if with some modification, that the character is treated in the present instance.
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