09.04.08, Froissart, Chroniques

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Cristian Bratu

The Medieval Review baj9928.0904.008


Froissart, Jean. Ainsworth, Peter F., ed.. Chroniques. Livre III: le manuscrit Saint-Vincent de Besançon.. Texts Littéraires Français. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 2007. Pp. 528. ISBN: 978-2-600-01100-6.

Reviewed by:
Cristian Bratu
Baylor University

This tome is the first part of what promises to be a comprehensive three-volume critical edition of Jean Froissart's Book III of the Chronicles. The current edition is based on ms. fr. 865 (also known as the Manuscrit Saint-Vincent de Besançon), and it is the result of the collaboration between two leading Froissart specialists, Peter F. Ainsworth and Godfried Croenen.

Admittedly, Peter F. Ainsworth had already edited with Alberto Varvaro the first 24 chapters of Book III for Michel Zink's Lettres Gothiques series in 2004: "Un texte légèrement modernisé de nos premiers 24 chapitres est paru pour la première fois en octobre 2004 dans la collection 'Lettres Gothiques' chez Le Livre de Poche: deuxième volume du Froissart LG, Livres III et IV, édités avec Alberto Varvaro)" (13). Strangely enough, the opening parenthesis in the last sentence seems to have disappeared. Furthermore, the Lettres Gothiques edition (Jean Froissart, Chroniques: Livres III et IV, Eds. Peter Ainsworth and Alberto Varvaro, 2004, henceforward mentioned as LG) was already anticipating the current volume (LG 8; 62-3). But while LG was considerably more affordable and intended for a broader reading public, the Droz edition targets a specialized audience and contains more chapters than its forerunner: 32 in the first tome alone, from Froissart's trip to the court of Gaston Fébus up to Lourenço Fogaça's narration of the battle of Aljubarrota.

Understandably, Ainsworth and Croenen's preface to the Droz volume is quite similar to the LG preface, though with some notable exceptions. The general introduction to Froissart's life and career from LG was left out, while the section "Froissart et son troisième livre," although essentially unchanged, remains a very useful introduction to Book III. As the two editors remind us here, Jean Froissart turned his attention to the southern front of the Hundred Years' War after having completed the second book of his Chronicles. Consequently, in 1388, the historian asked his protector Guy II of Châtillon to write him a "lettre de familiarité" which would allow him to spend some time at the court of Count Gaston Fébus of Foix-Béarn. This trip to southern France would have several advantages for Froissart. First, he would have the opportunity to meet and get acquainted with Fébus, one of the most educated and eccentric rulers at the end of the fourteenth century. Secondly, Fébus's court in Orthez was strategically located near the border with Spain, which would allow the chronicler to obtain information about the events in and around the Iberian Peninsula without having to physically cross the Pyreneans.

By comparison with the LG edition, the piece entitled "Témoins, 'redactions,' 'séries'..." has not undergone any fundamental alterations either. Ainsworth and Croenen argue here that they chose to work on ms. fr. 865 (ff. 201-451) of the Bibliothèque d'Etude et de Conservation from Besançon because this text is one of the best copies of the first draft of Book III (16). Furthermore, they rightly contend that only excerpts of this manuscript had been previously published by J.A.C. Buchon between 1824-1826, and by Armel Diverres (only ff. 205d-230a) in 1953. The first objective for Ainsworth and Croenen was therefore to publish the entire Book III from the Besançon manuscript (26). Naturally, the current volume is only the first tome of this project, but at any rate, Ainsworth and Croenen's attempt to bring this quasi-bicentennial project to completion is a highly laudable gesture. The editors' second--and equally commendable--objective was to open up a promising area of research focusing on the various manuscripts of Book III (27). True, Froissart's Chronicles have been recently revisited by various critics, from Michel Zink, George T. Diller and Emmanuèle Baumgartner, to Laurence Harf-Lancner and Kevin Brownlee, but Ainsworth and Croenen are justified to suggest that Book III still deserves researchers' attention. This book has thus the added merit of attempting to bridge a gap between past, present, and future research on Froissart.

The following section, "Les manuscrits du troisième Livre: inventaire et description," is nearly identical to the corresponding piece from LG. However, readers will certainly appreciate the new section "Philologues, historiens de l'art et codicologues: l'étude des manuscrits des Chroniques," which contains a brief but accurate analysis of past and present codicological research on the manuscripts of Froissart's Chronicles. In the subsequent piece, "Les manuscrits 864-865 de Besançon et la production parisienne," which is also new, Godfried Croenen and Peter F. Ainsworth shed new light on the creation of several manuscripts of Froissart's Chronicles. Earlier manuscript specialists such as Jean Porcher and Millard Meiss assumed that certain Froissart manuscripts had been produced in the "workshops" of the Maître de Rohan, so called for having illuminated the Grandes Heures de Rohan. Croenen and Ainsworth argue that the proponents of this theory ignored the actual process of book production in late medieval France. In fact, several Chronicle manuscripts were produced under the direction of a fifteenth-century Parisian libraire, Pierre de Liffol. We now know that there is even a receipt of a payment made to Pierre de Liffol for the production of ms. fr. 2663-2664, which contains the first and second books of Froissart's Chronicles. Croenen and Ainsworth's research further reveals that there are obvious similarities between ms. 2663-2664 and ms. 864-865, which leads to the conclusion that these are actually "twin manuscripts." Thus, it is very probable that Liffol's scribes and illuminators worked in parallel on these two texts in order to save time and money. Of course, further supporting evidence would be welcome, but I believe that Ainsworth and Croenen's hypothesis is quite solid as such. This section is then followed by a codicological analysis of the Besançon manuscript (47-61), which is essentially the same as in the LG edition.

Before proceeding to the text of Book III, readers can also peruse a section on the literary, historical, and political aspects of Book III (to which we will return shortly), a thorough philological analysis of the language of the manuscript (69-73), a description of the editing principles used in this book (73-79), and finally, a general bibliography (81-102). The latter is particularly useful for both medievalists and Froissart specialists, and I would like to add here that we should be grateful to Godfried Croenen for maintaining and constantly updating an exhaustive online Froissart bibliography (see http://www.liv.ac.uk/~gcroenen/etudes1.htm).

Finally, the text of Book III proper is well edited and accompanied by a wealth of historical, geographical, codicological, philological, and bibliographical data in the annotations and addenda.

I have relatively few criticisms to make about this edition. Of course, there are a few typos here and there, such as the previously mentioned missing parenthesis on page 13, or the "sans soute" (sic!) instead of "sans doute" in footnote 68 on page 46. However, these minor cavils do not affect the overall quality of Ainsworth and Croenen's work. On to the more important issues now. Ainsworth and Croenen are absolutely right to point out in the section "Aspects littéraires, historiques, politiques et militaires du Troisième Livre" that Book III is a fundamental part of Froissart's Chroniques for several reasons. First of all, Froissart's authorial persona becomes much more visible here than in the first two books: "Le début du troisième Livre des Chroniques de Froissart inaugure une nouvelle phase dans la carrière de l'écrivain, qui parle abondamment dans son texte, et comme à loisir, de lui-même et de ses pratiques d'historien..." (61). Secondly, the beginning of Book III focuses on the fascinating character that is Gaston Fébus (63-65). The pervading feeling that Gaston Fébus may have murdered several of his family members, including his own son, plays indeed an essential part in this book. This alleged murder temporarily transforms the Chronicles into a detective story, and it allows Froissart to subtly convey his growing doubts about contemporary princes who seem to have lost their once-vaunted prouesse. All of this is absolutely true, but this section would have been best placed at the beginning of the introduction in order to substantiate the need for a second edition of Book III.

Moreover, the section on Froissart's increasing autobiographical tendencies and authorial self-assertiveness probably deserved a few more comments. We have many reasons to believe that Froissart's much more elaborate authorial persona in Book III is part of what Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet and other medievalists (myself included) consider to be the growing self-confidence of vernacular writers in late medieval France. [1] Let us briefly consider the issues at stake here. Early French vernacular historians such as Geoffroy de Villehardouin, Robert de Clari or Philippe de Novare tended to be rather self-effaced narrators of the historical events they witnessed. However, several late medieval historians break away from this tradition of quasi-anonymity and become much more self-assertive in their chronicles. For instance, high-ranking aristocrats like Jean de Joinville and Philippe de Commynes tend to transform chronicles into personal memoirs, while clerks and poets such as Froissart, Christine de Pizan, and Chastellain insist much more on their authorial persona. Froissart's Book III is symptomatic of this major shift in the tone of late medieval chronicles, and even a short paragraph on this matter would have sufficed to complete an already excellent book.

However, despite these observations, this volume was unquestionably executed with all the philological and codicological care and skills that one has come to expect from these eminent Froissart specialists. Peter F. Ainsworth and Godfried Croenen have performed a valuable service for Froissart enthusiasts and scholars in general, and we certainly look forward to reading the two remaining volumes of this edition.

----------- Notes.

1. See Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet, "A la recherche des pères: la liste des auteurs illustres à la fin du Moyen Age," Modern Language Notes 116.4 (2001): 630-643 and "Fama et les preux: nom et renom à la fin du Moyen Age," Médiévales 24 (1993): 35-44.

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Cristian Bratu

Baylor University