The King of Tars
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The King of Tars

The King of Tars is a medieval English chivalric romance, an amplified version of the oldest variant found in the Reimchronik, which is found in three manuscripts including the Auchinleck manuscript.[1] It dates from c. 1330, or perhaps earlier.[2] It contains many specific religious phrases, and is consistently religious in intent.[1] In addition, The King of Tars exhibits attributes of other genres typical of the medieval period, including hagiography, political drama, and miracle tale.[2]


The king of Tars refuses the proposal from the pagan king of Damas to marry the princess of Tars, but after the king of Damas wages war on the land of Tars, slaughtering numerous Christian knights, the princess agrees to marry him to prevent further conflict. She is forced to convert to her husband's religion, during which time she pays lip service to the king's gods and secretly continues to practice her own religion. Soon they conceive, and the princess gives birth to a formless child, and each blames the other's false religion. The king and the princess agree to pray to their respective deities to restore their child to beauty and health. The king's prayers are fruitless, so the princess demands that a Christian priest be freed from the king's prison. With the priest's baptism, the child is transformed, and the king converts to Christianity and is himself physically transformed from black-skinned to white-skinned. He sends for the king of Tars to help him convert his kingdom to Christianity, and a violent conversion battle ensues. The final stanzas of the poem depict the king of Tars and the converted king of Damas fighting pagan kings side by side.[3]


This romance appears to have influenced Le Bone Florence of Rome, where the heroine's kingdom is also attacked by a rebuffed suitor.[4] In that case, the reluctance springs from his age, and the work is less consistently religious.[5]

The deformed child is also in common with the romance Theseus of Cologne, where rivals use the child to accuse the queen of adultery, but the child is also restored by miracle.[6]


Discussion on race in The King of Tars tends to focus on the Sultan's transformation from black to white as a result of his conversion from Islam to Christianity (lines 922-924)[7]. More recently, scholars have begun to discuss how race operates in the poem in less visible ways. For example, at the beginning of The King of Tars (lines 10-16),[8] the description of the Princess seems to connect her to white European beauty standards; however, it is likely that the princess is actually of Mongol descent.[9]


Baptism in The King of Tars has transformative powers.[2] For instance, the baptism of the blob-child instantaneously transforms her into a functional human being (lines 770-773).[3] Later, the baptism of the Sultan of Damascus also transforms him from a "blac and lothely" figure into a "white" figure (lines 922-927).[3] Modern scholarly works interpret the role of baptism in the text as a device through which to understand 14th century attitudes towards religious integration and coexistence.[10]


The King of Tars exists in three manuscripts[11]:

Auchinleck: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates' 19.2.1, fols. 7ra-13vb.

Vernon: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng.poet.a.1, fols. 304vb-307ra.

Simeon: London, British Library, Additional 22283, fols. 126rc-128va.



  1. ^ a b Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England p45 New York Burt Franklin,1963
  2. ^ a b c "The King of Tars: Introduction | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved .
  3. ^ a b c "The King of Tars | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved .
  4. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England p15 New York Burt Franklin,1963
  5. ^ Carol Falvo Heffernan, Le Bone Florence of Rome, p 31-2 ISBN 0-7190-0647-3 OCLC 422642874
  6. ^ Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 125
  7. ^ "The King of Tars | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved .
  8. ^ "The King of Tars | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved .
  9. ^ Lomuto, Sierra (2019-07-03). "The Mongol Princess of Tars: Global Relations and Racial Formation in The King of Tars (c. 1330)". Exemplaria. 31 (3): 171-192. doi:10.1080/10412573.2019.1642608. ISSN 1041-2573.
  10. ^ Calkin, Siobhain Bly (2005). "Marking Religion on the Body: Saracens, Categorization, and "The King of Tars"". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 104 (2): 219-238. ISSN 0363-6941.
  11. ^ "The King of Tars: Introduction | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved .

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