Servant of the Greek knight Cliges and a notably skilled craftsman.
John built the special tomb in which Cliges’ love, Empress Fenice, was buried after she faked her own death. The tomb was designed to keep Fenice alive until Cliges could excavate her. John then gave Cliges and Fenice asylum in his tower. John did this on his master’s promise to set him, his wife, and their children free forever more; later, apparently while still waiting for Cligés to keep his promise, the serf showed the courage of a knight and the arguing power of a lawyer when facing Emperor Alis, who threatened him with death and torture if he did not reveal where Cligés and Fenice had fled after being discovered. John protested his innocense, saying that he had only been doing the bidding of his master. Alis agreed and pardoned him.
Following Alis’ death, the trustworthy John was in the party that came from Greece to Britain to hail Cligés as the new emperor of Greece and Constantinople. Presumably Cligés rewarded his former serf richly.
Either Chrétien de Troyes intentionally painted John as a most remarkable serf, or else John’s case might make us re-examine the supposedly servile role and potential of “underlings” in Arthurian romance.
Cligés | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century