Sacripant I, Pinabel II, Melissa and Merlin III, Brunello and Atlantes IV, Return to Melissa VII, Magical Villa XIII, Kills Pinabel XXII, Astolpho XXIII, Lovesick XXX, Tristram’s Tower XXXII, Rodomonte and Arles XXXV, Aristeia XXXVI, Marganor XXXVII, Return to Charlemagne XXXVIII, Broken Truce XXXIX, Awaiting Rogero XLII, Wedding Controversy XLIV, Marriage Contest XLV, Wedding XLVI (name drop X, XI, XIV, XX, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XL, XLI, )
Daughter of Aymon and Beatrice, Sister of Rinaldo, Twin Sister of Richardetto, Cousin of Orlando and Astolpho, Peer of Charlemagne, True Love of Rogero, Co-Founder of the d’Este Family Line
Coat of Arms: White
Classical Type: Athena
Overpowered Proto-feminist Establishes Mad Cred for the Family Paying Ariosto’s Dime
Warning: She is a main character. This will be long.
Bradamante’s entrance could not be grander, narratively or meta-narratively. While scouring the battlefield for Rogero, she crosses paths with Sacripant and remorselessly engages him in battle as all knights must do. She leaves him trapped under his dead horse and rides off without a word. Sacripant is reduced to shame when he learns that he has been bested by a woman, and many of the poem’s themes are set.
Near a forest fountain she finds Pinabel, son of Anselmo d’Altaripa, mortal enemy of her family. The two do not recognize each other, so she listens to his tale of woe: a necromancer riding a hippogryph and armed with a magical shield kidnapped his lady love. In the course of relating the backstory Pinabel mentions that Rogero is also captive of the necromancer, so Bradamante enthusiastically agrees to help him.
They set out together, but a courier arrives to summon Bradamante back to her duty in Marseilles. She makes her excuses so that she can free Rogero, but now Pinabel knows her to be a mortal enemy. While threading through the dangerous mountain terrain toward the necromancer’s castle, he tricks Bradamante and pushes her down a crevasse.
Surviving the fall, Bradamante discovers a door to a magical crypt: the tomb of Merlin, guarded by his sage-apprentice Melissa. Melissa reveals to Bradamante her destined marriage to Rogero, the future greatness of their family line (Ariosto’s patrons), and the secret to defeating the necromancer: a magical ring, currently in possession of the dwarf-thief Brunello, that will make her immune to magic.
She finds Brunello and has him escort her to the necromancer’s castle. Forewarned of his treachery and needing the ring, Bradamante steals it from him and ties him to a tree (terrific foreshadowing of his death by gallows!). Bradamante takes the field before the impregnable, magical fortress of Atlantes and draws him out to battle. She pretends to be overcome by his magic and the paralyzing shield, only to easily vanquish him when he steps in to take her captive.
She refuses to kill the old man, who tells her that he had merely been trying to save Rogero from his destined fate to die. Bradamante compels Atlantes to undo the magic of his fortress, freeing Rogero and all the other knights and ladies trapped inside, but also allowing Atlantes to escape to cause more mischief later. Bradamante is briefly reunited with her love Rogero, but the hippogryph carries him off to Alcina’s isle, leaving Bradamante desolate.
After searching for Rogero for weeks, she returns to the tomb of Merlin to seek Melissa’s help. Melissa takes the magical ring from her and promises to rescue Rogero from Alcina’s isle. Bradamante returns to Marseilles to repel the attacks by the traitors to Charlemagne’s rule.
She lets out her frustration on these traitors until Melissa returns from Alcina’s isle, this time with news that Rogero is trapped in another of Atlantes’ magical fortresses. Bradamante receives another consoling prophecy of their future family (Ariosto’s patrons), this time tracing the women of history, and then the secret to freeing Rogero: when she encounters an illusion of Rogero she must not believe it is him and must instead kill him.
Bradamante nears the magical villa and sees the illusion of Rogero calling for help against two giants, but she cannot bring herself to kill her true love. She is trapped in the magical villa like all the other knights until Astolpho arrives, drives everyone off with his magical horn, and breaks the charm of the place.
When Bradamante stops running in terror from the horn, she finds herself reunited at last with her true love Rogero. She escorts him to a monastery at Vallombrosa to be baptized so that he can marry her. At the entrance to the abbey they are greeted by an old woman who distracts them with a sidequest: save a young man sentenced to be burned to death for sleeping with the daughter of King Marsilius of Spain (this turns out to be her twin brother Richardetto, but she does not know this).
To reach the young man in time, Bradamante and Rogero must travel near Pinabel’s castle, presently defended by Guido, Gryphon, Aquilant, and Sansonetto, all recently returned from the east. While Rogero battles the four knights, Bradamante chases down and kills Pinabel, but gets lost in the chase and cannot find her way back to Rogero.
After sleeping the night in the forest, she wends her way back to the now-defunct magical villa where she finds Astolpho. She agrees to take care of his horse, Rabican, and return his arms and magical lance to Mount Alban for safekeeping while he embarks on his dangerous lunar mission with the hippogryph. Attempting to retrace her steps to the monastery at Vallombrosa, Bradamante is dismayed to realize she has instead found her parents’ home of Mount Alban. Trapped at home by familial obligations, she sends her messenger Hippalca to find Rogero and return him his horse Frontino.
Bradamante languishes, powerless, until Hippalca returns with a letter from Rogero explaining his long delay in coming to her. His continued service to Agramant, now known as the killer of his father, and especially the rumored bond with the lady knight Marphisa, arouse in Bradamante a powerful jealousy and lovesickness.
Bradamante comes to believe, because of further rumor and delay, that Rogero has betrayed her for a new lover. She contemplates suicide, but discards it for a better plan–attack Agramant’s camp head-on and either kill Marphisa or die by Rogero’s blade (preferably both).
Along the way she meets an embassy to Charlemagne from Iceland, sent to have the Emperor settle a marriage dispute. At Tristram’s Tower she defeats all the suitors in that dispute and wins the right to lodging. She learns the tale of Tristram’s Tower and how it came to its strange, competitive rules of lodging. When those terms are invoked to expel Queen Ulania of Iceland from the tower, Bradamante shows her wit by successfully arguing through a loophole. Before the night is out she beholds Merlin’s magical art gallery, which depicts heroic battles not yet fought. There she sees the future victories of her family (Ariosto’s patrons).
After the interlude at Tristram’s tower (defeating the suitors a second time on her way out), Bradamante is accosted by Flordelis to save Brandimart from Rodomonte at the bridge. This she easily accomplishes with Rabican and Astolpho’s magical lance, rescuing Frontino and sending Rodomonte into anonymity until the end of the poem. Bradamante escorts Flordelis to Arles; the former to confront Rogero, the latter to depart for Africa to find Brandimart.
After sending Frontino back to Rogero, Bradamante waits on the field for Agramant to send out champions against her. Serpentine tries his hand but is demolished and sent back with an insulting message: send a real knight next time. Grandonio, proudest knight of Spain, is likewise vanquished after some great trash talk. Finally she defeats mighty Ferrau and reveals to him that she is here for Rogero.
Before Rogero can take the field, Marphisa rides out to face a real challenge for the first time. Bradamante, now meaning to kill, unhorses Marphisa twice and an epic death match begins. The Christian and Muslim armies clash around them and Rogero rides in to break up the duel. Bradamante sees his coat in the fray and rides to kill him, but at the last minute they both put up their lances. In a rage she defeats 300 men in the melee and then rides off to a private valley.
Marphisa makes the mistake of trying to finish her duel with Bradamante in the valley and the two set about trying to kill each other again. When Rogero interrupts them, trying to make peace, Marphisa turns on him and nearly kills him. After the shade of Atlantes interrupts the siblings’ duel and the love triangle is resolved, Bradamante and Marphisa become fast friends and battle sisters. The three agree that Rogero must find a way to honorably leave Agramant’s service rather than betray him.
The three knights leave the wooded valley to find Ulania of Iceland and her retinue stranded and humiliated by the cruel custom of the tyrant Marganor. After learning of Marganor’s wicked ways, Bradamante takes back seat to Marphisa, who leads them on a lightning raid to overthrow the tyrant and enact a new law of the land: swear to defend all women always, or else.
Leaving Ulania in charge of the town, the three depart. While Rogero heads back to the service of Agramant, Bradamante leads Marphisa to Charlemagne’s camp to receive baptism. The two armies agree to settle the war with a trial by combat between Rinaldo and Rogero; Bradamante is torn between two loves and suffers while the preparations are made.
When it seems clear that Rinaldo will win–Rogero not fully exerting himself for fear of killing Bradamante’s brother–Agramant’s army breaks the truce and the war resumes. With Marphisa at her side, Bradamante lays waste to Agramant’s army and leads the charge that drives them off the continent.
During the Battle at Lampedusa, Bradamante waits fearfully for the return of Rogero, not knowing that he has been stranded on a hermit’s isle in the sea. He returns home to her, now a baptized Christian, with the triumphant Orlando.
Marriage preparations begin, with Rinaldo promising his sister to Rogero. Conflict immediately arises when Duke Aymon refuses to honor his son’s initiative: he has already promised Bradamante to Leo of Constantinople. Marphisa and Rinaldo try to force the issue with Aymon but Bradamante takes matters into her own hands. She cashes in all her favors with Charlemagne to save her from her father’s will: Charlemagne agrees that any man who would wed her must defeat her in battle.
Leo, heir to the imperial throne of Constantinople, eventually shows up to claim his bride. Bradamante, desperate to win before sunset so that she does not lose by default, takes the field against Leo’s anonymous champion and battles him to a standstill. Charlemagne calls a halt at the setting of the sun and declares Leo the winner. The anonymous champion who departs in secret turns out to be Rogero, honor-bound to serve Leo after being rescued by him in the east.
While Bradamante withdraws to mourn the loss of Rogero once again, Marphisa intercedes on her brother and would-be-sister’s behalf. She tells a whopper of a lie, that Rogero and Bradamante have already plighted their troth and been together as man and wife, and that Leo will have to face Rogero in single combat for the right to Bradamante now. All parties are enraged.
Leo knows that he cannot defeat Rogero in battle and so searches for his champion again. At last all the secret identities are made known and Leo cedes the suit to Rogero. Preparations begin for the happily-ever-after of Rogero and Bradamante. At the feast, Rodomonte makes an unwelcome return to fight Rogero to the death. Bradamante arms her husband and watches him kill Rodomonte with the final lines of the poem, knowing that her future with him will be short if prophecies are true.
Judgment: Like Marphisa, a remarkably liberated woman for a 16th century poem. There’s an easy case to be made that she is the true protagonist of the poem, despite its title and the many other notable characters. Her role in the opening canto is fantastic, as is her aristeia in Canto XXXVI. No surprise at all that the operatic adaptations focused on her and Rogero.