The story goes like this:
Présine was a beautiful witch who charmed the
King of Scotland, Elinas, into marrying her: he fell hopelessly in love, but
she made him promise he would never attempt to see her in labour, or the spell
would be broken. For years they lived happily, and Présine gave birth to two
daughters even more lovely than herself: but in the excitement of the birth of
the third, Elinas forgot his promise, and Présine was forced to flee with her
three daughters to the Lost Isle of Avalon.
The daughters - Mélusine, Mélior and Palestine - grew up resentful of the
father who had condemned them to exile. When they grew old enough to cast the
spells, they imprisoned their father in a magic mountain in Northumberland.
Présine was furious, and called them ungrateful. As Mélusine was the oldest,
Présine decided that she was the ringleader, and cursed her, saying that from
now on, on every Saturday, she would be changed into a snake from the waist
down. Only if she could find a man to marry her who would agree never to look on
her on that day would she lift the curse: if she married and he broke his vow,
she would be condemned to immortality, wandering forever with the curse always
Meanwhile, Aymeri, the Duke of Lusignan and Poitou, was on a hunting trip
with his adopted son Raimondin when they were attacked by a wild boar.
Raimondin thrust his sword at the boar to save Aymeri, but accidentally killed
him. For hours he wandered in despair, not knowing how he would tell the family,
until he came upon a fountain in the middle of the forest: La Fontaine de
Soif, the Fountain of Thirst. Sitting by the fountain were three women of
unearthly beauty, dressed in radiant white. Raimondin stood staring in awe, and
one of them came to him, bearing him water. She asked him why he looked so sad,
heard his tale, and gave him comfort and advice. Her name, she said, was
Mélusine. Whilst listening to her kind words, Raimondin became enchanted by
her beauty and wisdom, fell in love with her and asked for her hand in marriage.
Mélusine, of course, agreed, and stated her condition: she would marry him,
but he was not allowed to see her on Saturdays, under any
circumstances. Raimondin, who would have agreed to almost anything at that
point, accepted her terms, and they were married.
To celebrate their wedding Raimondin begged a small piece of land from the
new Duke of Poitou, and, in the course of a single night, with three apronfuls
of stone and a draught of water, Mélusine constructed the magnificent château
of the Lusignans by magical powers. And so that her husband might become the
most powerful lord in the land, it pleased her on certain nights to sprinkle the
surrounding hills with fortresses. Raimondin was happy. But the court were
disturbed by the magic, and by the strange children of the marriage. Each son
Mélusine bore had some deformity. Urian, their first child, had hare's ears,
one red eye and one green eye; Gedes had a scarlet face; Gyot had one eye above
the other; Antoine had only one eye. Geoffroy, one of the younger sons, had
boar's tusks instead of teeth: he was known as Geoffroy le Grand Dent, or
Geoffroy l'Horrible, due to his violent disposition.
And why did she hide herself away every Saturday? One Saturday night, the
teasing of his family gone beyoind bearing, Raimondin decided he had to find
out. He flew up to Mélusine's chamber to find her, and heard the bath
running. He quietly opened the door to the bath just enough to see an
unbelievable sight: Mélusine, from the waist up, was her beautiful self, and yet
from the waist down her body had been transformed into a giant serpent's tail
of glistening cold scales. Raimondin was shocked to the core: but he still loved
his wife, and vowed not to mention it.
However one day Mélusine and Raimondin received news that
their sons Geoffroy l'Horrible and Fromont had fought. Fromont, to seek refuge,
had escaped to a nearby monastery. Then Geoffroy, in a typical fit of rage,
had burned down the monastery, killing not only his brother, but a hundred monks
as well. Raimondin exploded with fury at the news and blamed Mélusine for his
son's uncontrollable behaviour: when she attempted to comfort him, he pushed her
away and said, "Away odious serpent, contaminator of an honourable race!"
Immediately after the words were uttered, he regretted them and begged for
forgiveness, but it was too late: Mélusine reminded him that he had broken the
vow, and said she must leave forever. Then she transformed and flew away,
howling horrible vengeance and cursing the Lusignan fortresses she had built.
Her cry is meant to signify the death of one of the heirs of Lusignan.
There are many versions of this myth, which dates back to the beginnings of
French mythology, and became highly popular in the Middle Ages, especially
in the Poitou area of Normandy. The Lusignan family reigned for a long time over Poitou.
They exploited the name of the mythical fairy by declaring Mélusine a
corruption of "Mère Lusignan" (mother of the Lusignans) and claiming her as the
founder of their line. Such appropriation of fairies by aristocratic
families was not unusual in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the late 1300s Jean
d'Arras, a French historian, received orders from the Duc de Berry to record all
the information he could gather on Mélusine, and to write an epic glorifying the
house of Lusignan. In around 1387 D'Arras produced his major work, Chronique
de Mélusine, of which the above is a rough synopsis. Much of his research was indebted to William de
Portenach's previous chronicles on the history of Mélusine. Portenach's
manuscripts no longer exist: therefore, Chronique de Mélusine is
the oldest surviving written text on the myth. In 1478, Arras's other work,
Le Liure de Mélusine en Fracoys, was published posthumously. Arras's work added to
the popularisation of the myth and after his death numerous versions of the
Mélusine story were published in different languages, including German,
Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, and Italian. There are still families
in France who claim descendancy from Mélusine, and many of the castles she is
supposed to have built remain today.