A Look at Sabatini's Sources for "The Night of Nuptials" and
The Romantic Prince
by Claudia Rex
In the preface to the first volume of The Historical
Nights Entertainment (1917), Rafael Sabatini introduces
his project as follows:
In approaching "The Historical Nights
Entertainment" I set myself the task of reconstructing
in the fullest possible detail and with all the color
available from surviving records, a group of more or less
famous events. I would select for my purposes those which
were in themselves bizarre and resulting from the
interplay of human passions, and whilst relating each of
these events in the form of a story, I would compel that
story scrupulously to follow the actual, recorded facts
without owing anything to fiction, and I would draw upon
my imagination, if at all, merely as one might employ
color to fill in the outlines which history leaves gray,
taking care that my color should be as true to nature as
How nearly I may have approached successjudged by
the standard I had set myselfhow far I may have
fallen short, my readers will discern. I am conscious,
however, of having in the main dutifully resisted the
temptation to take the easier road, to break away from
restricting fact for the sake of achieving a more
intriguing narrative. In one instance, however, I have
quite deliberately failed...
My deliberate failure is "The Night of Nuptials." I
discovered an allusion to the case of Charles the Bold and
Sapphira Danvelt in Macaulay's History of Englandquoted from an old
number of the Spectatorwhilst I was
working upon the case of Lady Alice Lisle. There a similar
episode is mentioned as being related of Colonel Kirke,
but discredited because known for a story that has a trick
of springing up to attach itself to unscrupulous captains.
I set out to track it to its source, and having found its
first appearance to be in connection with Charles the
Bold's German captain Rhynsault, I attempted to
reconstruct the event as it might have happened, setting
it at least in surroundings of solid fact.
"The Night of Nuptials," describes how justice is obtained by
Sapphira Danvelt following the wrongful death of her husband
Philip at the hands of Claud of Rhynsault, governor of the
province of Zeeland. The central character in this story is
not Sapphira, but rather Duke Charles of Burgundy, surnamed
the Bold. In this respect, the story follows the pattern of
its telling in the "Spectator", and it may be read as a
"trickster tale," a genre descriptive of many of Sabatini's
short stories, and one from which he obviously derived much
This story is of interest to readers, first in affording a
glimpse of how Sabatini built imaginatively on his historical
sources, for he identifies in his preface the precise
passages in Macaulay and the Spectator that sparked his
initial interest. Better yet, Sabatini returned to this tale
in 1929, making it the basis for the novel The Romantic
In 1917, Sabatini described Sapphira's meeting with Duke
Charles in this fashion:
Under the June sunshine the opulent city of Bruges hummed
with activity like the great human hive it was. For Bruges
at this date was the market of the world, the very centre
of the world's commerce, the cosmopolis of the age...
It was past noon, and the great belfry above the Gothic
Cloth Hall in the Grande Place was casting a lengthening
shadow athwart the crowded square. Above the babel of
voices sounded on a sudden the note of a horn, and there
was a cry of "The Duke! The Duke!" followed by a general
scuttle of the multitude to leave a clear way down the
middle of the great square.
A gorgeous cavalcade some two score strong came into
It was a splendid iridescent company, flaunting in its
apparel every color of the prism...
...And then at last came the young Duke himself, in black,
as if to detach himself from the surrounding splendour. He
was of middle stature, of a strong and supple build, with
a lean, swarthy face and lively eyes. Beside him, on a
white horse, rode a dazzling youth dressed from head to
foot in flame-coloured silk, a peaked bonnet of black
velvet set upon his lovely golden head, a hooded falcon
perched upon his left wrist, a tiny lute slung behind him
by a black ribbon. He laughed as he rode, looking the very
incarnation of youth and gaiety.
When Sapphira Danvelt, watching from the sidelines, cries out
"Justice, my Lord Duke of Burgundy! Justice, Lord Duke for a
woman's wrongs!" it is the golden-haired youth who picks her
out of the crowd and brings her to the Duke's attention with
a tug on his sleeve.
In the 1929 retelling, Sabatini's view of the world had grown
darker and more complex. Sapphirarenamed
Johannaseeks the Duke in Brussels, "at a time when the
snow lay thick upon the land, and the ice was everywhere..."
As one among a horde of petitioners, Johanna faces weeks of
waiting before finding a means of gaining the Duke's
attention. However, if you look closely, I believe that you
will find the golden-haired youth of 1917 reborn, not as the
Duke's companion Count Anthony of Egmont, with whom he shares
a few superficial traits, but in the person of a certain
young archer who is nephew to the cardinal of Ghent. Other
similarities and differences in plot and characterization
between the short story and the novel are well worth
No. 491. TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1712.
Digna satis fortuna revisit.
VIRG. Aen. iii. 318.
A just reverse of fortune on him waits.
IT is common with me to run from book to book to exercise my
mind with many objects, and qualify myself for my daily
labours. After an hour spent in this loitering way of
reading, something will remain to be food to the imagination.
The writings that please me most on su