King René's Daughter

King René's Daughter

An 1876 Butter sculpture by Caroline S. Brooks of "The Dreaming Iolanthe", depicting the blind Iolanthe, as portrayed in King René's Daughter
Written by Henrik Hertz
Characters Iolanthe
Tristan, Count Vaudement
René of Anjou
Ebn Jahia
Date premiered 1845
Original language Danish
Subject Fictionalised account of the marriage of Iolanda, daughter of René of Anjou and Frederick II, Count of Vaudémont
Genre romance
Setting Medieval Provence

Kong Renés Datter (King René’s Daughter) is a Danish verse drama written in 1845 by Henrik Hertz. It is a fictional account of the early life of Yolande of Lorraine, daughter of René of Anjou, in which she is depicted as a beautiful blind sixteen-year-old princess who lives in a protected garden paradise. The play was highly popular in the 19th century. It was translated into many languages, copied, parodied and adapted. The Russian adaptation by Vladimir Zotov was used as the basis for the 1892 opera Iolanta, written by Tchaikovsky, with libretto by his brother Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky.[1]

The name of the central character is given as "Iolanthe" in the original and in early English versions.



At the entrance to a hidden garden in a beautiful Provençal valley Bertrand explains to Almerick that no one must be allowed to enter because the king's daughter Iolanthe is living there in seclusion. The fact that she is blind has been kept secret from all but a few confidants; it has been put out that she is living in a convent. Even Iolanthe herself does not understand that she is blind because no one is allowed to speak to her of light or colour. Nor does she know she is a princess. She was blinded in an accident in infancy and has been attended ever since by the Moorish physician Ebn Jahia, who every day places her in an enchanted sleep and attends to her eyes while she is unconscious. With a combination of medication, magic and astrology, he has predicted that she will be cured when she is 16. This is also when she is due to marry Tristan, Count of Vaudémont, who is unaware of her condition. Iolanthe has just passed her 16th birthday. Martha says that Iolanthe has grown up happy, spending her time in song and poetry, and that she will not be able to understand what sight is. Almerick says that he has been sent to inform Bertrand that the king and the physician will be arriving shortly and that Count Tristan is on his way to Provence to marry Iolanthe.

King René and Ebn Jahia arrive. They discuss Iolanthe's cure. Ebn Jaha says that Iolanthe should soon be able to see, but first she must be told that she is blind and made to understand what sight is. René does not want his daughter's happiness to be broken, so is unwilling to violate Iolanthe's innocence. Ebn Jahia explains that the body and the spirit are intertwined, insisting that Iolanthe must be psychologically prepared for sight. King René agonises over his decision, while Ebn Jahia places Iolanthe in a sleep using a magical amulet. They leave.

Geoffrey and Tristan arrive at the gate. They enter the garden. Tristan tells Geoffrey that he does not want to marry a woman he has never seen; indeed he hates the thought of it. He is only willing to do so from a sense of duty. They enter the garden marvelling at its beauty. Tristan sees the sleeping Iolanthe and immediately falls in love with her. Geoffrey thinks he has been enchanted. Tristan picks up the amulet. He prepares to leave, but Iolanthe wakes, calling for Bertrand and Martha. Geoffrey and Tristan introduce themselves and Iolanthe makes them a drink. The three young people sing troubadour songs to each other. Tristan asks Geoffrey to bring their troops to guard the pass giving entrance to the valley. Geoffrey leaves. Iolanthe and Tristan talk together. He discovers she is blind when she fails to distinguish a white from a red rose. He tries to explain light and colour to her, but she cannot understand him. He declares his love for her and says he will find her father and ask him for her hand in marriage. He leaves.

Iolanthe tells Bertrand and Martha that a mysterious stranger has been there and awakened in her confusing new ideas and feelings. René and Ebn Jahia arrive. René realises he must now explain to Iolanthe what blindness is. He tries to do so. Iolanthe is perplexed, but Ebn Jahia says that the cure can now be successfully completed. He leads Iolanthe away. Almerick arrives with a letter from Tristan stating that he can no longer marry Iolanthe as he has found his true love. René is astounded. Tristan and Geoffrey arrive wearing armour. They say their army has taken control of the valley. They demand to know who René is. He tells them he is the king. Tristan states that he loves the girl who lives in the garden. René explains that she is Iolanthe, his own daughter and Tristan's fiancée. Iolanthe and Ebn Jahia return. She is cured. Everyone rejoices.


The story is based on the life of Yolande, daughter of King René of Anjou, who married her cousin Frederick II, Count of Vaudémont in 1445. The marriage was a dynastic alliance, arranged to end the dispute which existed between René of Anjou and Frederick's father, Antoine of Vaudémont, regarding the succession to the Duchy of Lorraine. Beyond these facts, the play is fictional. The Count of Vaudémont's given name is altered to "Tristan". The central conceit of Iolanthe's blindness is entirely invented.

Subjects related to the court of René were familiar in the Romantic and Victorian period. René had been idealised in the Romantic era as a poet-king, whose court in Provence was a genteel haven of literature, architecture and art in a violent era. This image was first popularised in Walter Scott's 1829 novel Anne of Geierstein.[2]

Influence and adaptations

poster for the 1913 film

The portrayal of Yolande in Hertz's play as a saintly dreaming beauty (regularly placed in an entranced sleep by the physician) was immensely popular. The play was translated into other languages.

There were several English translations, including by Jane Frances Chapman (1845) and Theodore Martin (1850).[3] The heroine's name was retained from the original as "Iolanthe". The piece was produced in London several times, including at the Strand Theatre in 1849; later by Charles Kean at the Haymarket Theatre; and in 1876 at the Lyceum Theatre by Henry Irving's company in Martin's version, starring Helena Faucit Martin in the title role and Irving as Count Tristan.[4] A version of the play adapted by W.G. Wills was performed by Irving's company at the Lyceum in 1880 under the title "Iolanthe", starring Ellen Terry in the title role and Irving as Count Tristan.[5] An unrelated 1882 Gilbert and Sullivan operetta was titled Iolanthe, and Gilbert asked his producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, to request Irving's permission for use of the name.[6] A musical version of the play itself had already been created in 1871 as a cantata by Henry Smart, setting a verse adaptation by Frederick Enoch.[7]

The front page of the score for Edwards' 1893 musical.

The Russian translation was by Fyodor Miller. An adaptation by Vladimir Zotov expanded the plot. This version was used as the basis for the opera Iolanta, written by Tchaikovsky to a libretto by his brother, Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It received its premiere on 18 December 1892 in St. Petersburg. In this version much of the magical material in the original is eliminated, making Ebn Jahia more of a scientist than sorcerer. A new character, Robert, Duke of Burgundy, is introduced to replace Geoffrey. Robert becomes Iolanthe's original unwilling fiancé, who happily relinquishes Iolanthe to his friend Vaudémont.

In 1893 a new musical version of the drama, by the light opera composer Julian Edwards, was published in America and performed with limited success on Broadway.[8][9]

In 1913 a silent film of Hertz's play was made by the Thanhouser Company, starring Maude Fealy as Iolanthe.[10] It was also adapted in 1990 as the German film Das Licht der Liebe.[11]


  1. Wheeler, Victor (2011). "Dicapo Opera – Tchaikovsky's Iolanta". Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  2. Sabine Baring-Gould, In Troubadour-land: A Ramble in Provence and Languedoc, 1891, p.180.
  3. Martin, Theodore. King René's daughter: a Danish lyrical drama, W. Crosby and H.P. Nichols, 1850; Review of Chapman's translation, Christian Examiner, Volume 8; Volume 43, 1847, p. 460.
  4. "Miss Ellen Terry's Benefit", The Era, 23 May 1880, p. 6; and Correspondence of Henry Irving, 6 June 1876, Henry Irving Foundation Centenary Project website, accessed 12 January 2012
  5. "Miss Ellen Terry's Benefit", The Era, 23 May 1880, p. 6
  6. Ainger, Michael. Gilbert and Sullivan A Dual Biography, Oxford University Press (2002), p. 212; and Bradley, Ian. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, Oxford University Press (1996), p. 364. Neither source records whether Irving ever responded.
  7. Upton, George P. The Standard Cantatas, Echo, 2010 (reprint of 1888 edition), p. 193.
  8. Julian Edwards, King René's Daughter, a lyric drama, John Church, 1893.
  9. "Julian Edwards, A Composer of Light Opera who has recently become famous", Lewiston Evening Journal, 30 October 1896, p. 23.
  10. King's Rene's Daughter, Thanhouser films .
  11. Das Licht der Liebe (1990)
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