Fortunatus was one of the best-known and most widely-circulated stories in medieval and early modern Europe. It would certainly have been widely known and enjoyed, by both adults and children, in England, where it was published in a variety of formats. Thomas Dekker, for instance, turned it into a play. Gradually the tale was altered and abridged until it became accepted as a children’s story. In his poem The Prelude (1805), William Wordsworth names Fortunatus as one of the folk tales that children used to enjoy (before the invention of more earnest and didactic children’s books).
Perhaps the most memorable parts of the story involve Fortunatus acquiring a magic purse and magic hat. Famished and sleeping in a forest he wakes to find himself in the presence of a beautiful lady. She tells him that she is Lady Fortune and gives him a purse which continually refills itself. This enables Fortunatus to return home, where he gets married and has two sons. Many years later he goes on his travels again and tricks his way into owning a wishing-hat which will transport him instantly ‘to any Place which he desired to be’. Magical objects which grant wishes to the owner are common in fairy tales and have engaged children for centuries.
- Full title:
- The right pleasant and diverting history of Fortunatus, and his two Sons: in two parts: ... first penned in the Dutch Tongue, thence abstracted, and now published in English, by T. C[hurchyard]. The eleventh edition.
- 1740, London
- Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
- unknown author , Thomas Churchyard [translator]
- Held by:
- British Library
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Reading and print culture, Childhood and children's literature
Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.