Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book V Chapter XII
“That’s all great,” says Arthur. “Counterattack foiled, massive heroism, plenty of cattle seized. But Gawaine, who’s your well-dressed friend with the exotic complexion?”
“Ah, Uncle Sire —“
“I’ve asked you not to call me that.”
“Let me introduce Sir Priamus, who very nearly defeated me in a joust but didn’t, and whom also I have converted to Christianity! I’m a regular St. Stephen! Anyway, he’s great, you should let him get baptized, I promised I’d put in a good word for him.”
“Fair enough,” says Arthur, and sets up a quick baptismal font and christens Priamus with the new name “Priamus.” Then for good measure Arthur knights him, makes him a duke, and promotes him to the Round Table.
“I’ll try to live up to the trust you’ve placed in me, sire,” says Priamus.
“Terrific. Now, we’ve got plenty of cattle, let’s focus on breaking this siege!”
So now that they have cattle, Florence and the rest of Arthur’s men are able to really get to work. They build some ladders, they haul dirt into the moat, they tear down some of the outer walls and they’re putting up their ladders and getting ready to go over the top for a serious siege-breaking.
“Shit,” say the people trapped in the city. “This isn’t going to go well for us.”
“I’ve got an idea,” says the ruler of the city, who is both a duchess and a countess, and whose name is Clarisin. Clarisin gets together with a wad of ladies-in-waiting and they all slip out the front gates, which are opened for just a moment.
The women find Arthur right away, and kneel, and politely ask him not to sack the city.
“Oh, Duchess-Countess, how can I refuse the request of a noble lady? There was this whole big thing last time it came up, and now we’re all oathbound. I promise if the city surrenders, no one will suffer. Except.. Do you have a husband? Before you answer, let me tell you, you need to have a husband for this to work out.”
The Duchess-Countess nods, slowly. There is a Duke-Count, yes, it turns out. She’s sure she can supply a husband, if Arthur needs her to.
“Okay, here’s what we’ll do. You surrender the city to me, I’ll arrest your husband for not surrendering sooner and send him off to prison in Dover. You and your children will be fine, though, we’ll set up a dowager-rentage system to provide for you.”
“That sounds fair,” says Clarisin, and soon Clarisin’s eldest son is handing over the keys to the city and everyone’s cheering and some poor sap, Clarisin’s brand-new husband is, quietly goes off to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Afterwards Arthur rides south across Italy, taking cities as he goes. He sends Florence and Floridas with a small group of men over to San Marino, where they sneak in at dawn and take the city with minimal casualties. He went around Milan entirely, but when they hear about his invasion the Milanese government sends him word that they’re eager to surrender. Diito all the rest of northern and central Italy and Tuscany and all: Genoa, Padua, all those names. Every city gets a new British knight for a governor, and a promise of zero rapine and pillage.
Eventually Arthur starts to close in on Rome, and sends word ahead, asking whether Rome will surrender the same way so many other cities have, or is Arthur going to have to burn it all to ashes, or what. And the following Saturday afternoon (Malory is oddly specific at times you know?) “all the senators that were left alive” along with the college of cardinals and the pope, they converge on Arthur’s camp with all kinds of promises of surrender.
“Give us six weeks,” they say. “And we’ll throw an enormous party for you, and crown you Roman Emperor. Or Super-King, maybe? We could crown you Megapresident, Ultra-Caesar Omniking… whatever you like.”
“Roman Emperor is fine,” says Arthur. “But let’s slap a Holy on that, while we’re at it.”
Six weeks later, which is Christmas, Arthur arrives in Rome. So, that tells you how long it took Arthur to complete the operation. He left Britain on the fifth of February and arrives in Rome at Christmas. Not a very short campaign! Anyway. Big party, the pope crowns him Holy Roman Emperor, all the other subservient kings and senators cheer. Arthur spends a good long while revamping the Imperial government, setting up a cohesive and sensical system that stretches from England to Sicily, and distributes land and property and titles in such an overwhelmingly fair and awesome manner that no one, not even his enemies, can find fault with his wisdom. Sir Priamus ends up Duke of Lorraine, which I think means he and Benwick are neighbors. Arthur’s good at being king, you guys, that’s the moral here.
Afterwards, he makes a little speech about how dreadful war is and how great the peaceful home life is, and gets all his treasure packed up, and then he convoys all the way from Rome back to Camelot, traveling via the port of Sandwich again. Along the way he passes out more riches everywhere he goes. Arthur’s so dreamy!
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