Ros Beiaard and the vier heemskinderen

Dendermonde Travel Blog

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Every ten years the city of Dendermonde holds an Ommegang for "Ros Beiaard and the vier heemskinderen" (The Horse Bayard and the four sons of Aymon). It is something in which the city is obviously proud - when buying tickets to Dendermonde at the train station in Brussels the lady behind the counter said "Is it time for that parade again? Those Dendermonders never shut up about their parade". Amusingly enough, it was not the first or last time we heard that sentiment.

The story of Bayard and the four sons of Aymon is common across western Europe, and varies from region to region. The Ommegang tells the story through a series of acts in the parade.
The story starts with Duke Aymon, the Lord of Dendermonde, who fought for years for Charlemagne during the unification of Charlemagne's kingdom. Given land and a castle in return, he is unsatisfied and threatens to rebel. Charlemagne grants Duke Aymon his weight in gold and also Charlemagne's sister's hand in marriage. Duke Aymon take the gold and Aye in marriage, but is still unhappy and swears that he will kill his own children rather than fully accept a reward he feels is inferior. This, of course, does not stop the Duke from indulging in the traditional holy matrimony of legalised rape, and Aye subsequently bears four sons in secret and hides them (that is one unobservant husband).

Years go by, and the Duke has obviously mellowed and tells Aye that he regrets that they never had children.
She responds "surprise!" and pulls out her four sons, Ritsaert, Writsaert, Adel and Renaud. Duke Aymon is impressed by all his sons, especially the strong Renaud. The Duke gives each of his sons a horse, but Renaud is so strong that he is able to kill his horse with a single blow. The Duke proceeds to give Renaud more horses, and Renaud continues to kill them, until Duke Aymon comes up with an alternative - the mystical horse Bayard. The four brothers journey together and overcome Bayard, who is thereafter forced to obey Renaud.

Bayard is so strong that he can carry all four brothers, and is so intelligent he can understand human speech. Together Bayard and the four brothers have many adventures. Louis, cousin to the brothers and son of Charlemagne, becomes jealous and claims Bayard as his own.
There is a challenge over a game of chess, which results in Reynout beheading Louis and the four brothers fleeing. There is war between Charlemagne and the four brothers across France and Spain, until finally Charlemagne takes the old Duke captive. The brothers return to Dendermonde via Dinant, where Bayard cleaves a rock with his might hooves as he jumped the river, and the brothers decide to negotiate a truce. The price for the return of the Duke is the death of Bayard. Heavy millstones are tied around the neck of Bayard and he is thrown into the Dender. Bayard is so strong he shatters the stones and rises to the surface, only to be pushed down again and again. Finally, Bayard is too weak to arise and drowns in the Dender. Some versions of the story have Bayard making it to the surface and running off into the forest, to live free at last.
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photo by: Adrian_Liston