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19.06.17 Gautier Dalché/Bonnet/Rigaud, Bertrand Boysset

19.06.17 Gautier Dalché/Bonnet/Rigaud, Bertrand Boysset

I do not know how many readers of TMR are familiar with Bertrand Boysset. My guess would be not many. It is a shame, and I hope I am wrong. Bertrand Boysset was a Provençal who lived in Arles (in today's southern France) at the end of the Middle Ages, close to Avignon and the excitements that the papal capital could offer the region: economic gains for sure but also wars, constant threats, and the Great Western Schism and its political maneuvering. Boysset was a man of many talents who rose into Arlesian society, and I would argue, wrote his chronicle to legitimate his social advancement. He wanted to be "seen" and respected, maybe like the notaries of his town whom he emulated but still outranked him. The chronicle has been known up to now through Franz Ehrle's 1900 edition. [1] The work discussed presently updates this older version.

This edition of only one of Boysset's multiple works includes a substantial introduction delineating its manuscript tradition and introducing its main protagonist; the edition of the chronicle per se, in Provençal with a facing page French translation; a first appendix that discusses in details Boysset's late medieval Provençal that will for sure interest language specialists and philologists; a second appendix in the form of a Provençal/French glossary; a bibliography; and indices of names and places. Several images reproduce the original manuscript and a map draws Arles' territory during the late Middle Ages.

As often is the case for medieval individuals, we are not sure of Boysset's dates. He was born circa 1345-1350 and died between February 1415 and March 1316. The first remarkable thing to state about him is his longevity during a period of endemic plague. But his obviously strong constitution is not what interests us the most. Here is the record left by a man who was thoroughly educated and not a clergyman, who knew Latin, and Provençal, but also vines, planting vineyard, and a lot about the art of surveying. Yes, surveying. His specialty makes him somewhat of a medieval oddity. He was a destrador (surveyor in Provençal) and atermenador (boundary-pillars emplacement marker). Please note that this edition does not edit Boysset's surveying practice works. For the latter, interested readers must refer to Pierre Portet's book and essays, and his 1995 thesis that edited Boysset's La siensa de destrar, and La siensa d'atermenar. [2]

Boysset was a man of the comfortable middle class, who lived in an urban environment closed enough to the countryside to appreciate its many facets. Like many urban dwellers, he knew well his rural and urban environment--thus he could discuss the planting of trees, and vineyards as well as meetings of the Provençal Three Estates. He was an educated layman interested in many things, and willing to note them in a diary, that could be described as a "chronicle" without really being one. His penning's intentions are ultimately not clear but for the purpose of this edition's review it is labelled, a chronicle.

Boysset initiates his work with a "On June 4, 1365, Lord Charles II, Emperor of Germany, arrived in Arles for his coronation. And he was crowned by the Archbishop of Arles, Guilhem de la Garde, behind the altar of St. Trophime" (49). This suffice to demonstrate that his work is "chronicling" enough.

Anyone working on the period and geography can rely on Boysset to check if dates and events match. Boysset records events that touched on Provence, France, Italy, and the rest of Europe to a minor degree. He wrote in drafts that he reworked so we can assume that he endeavored for accuracy--the editors discuss this point in their introduction (32-33). Still, most of all, he offers us an entry into not so much his mind as to the mind of his audience--and what he expected them to read from him (I would guess local knowledge and advices from a trained professional. The more he knew the more his audience esteemed him). This is an aspect that the editors/translators only mention in passing (44-45), and it is regretful that the analysis does not delve deeper into the "performative" character of his penning. There is enough material in this chronicle to reconstruct author's intentions, audience, and reception of the work.

Boysset's book is not one of these livres de raison that started appearing at the end of the Middle Ages, which for the most part were accounting registers with domestic and business transactions, and a few notes on family or exceptional events. [3] Nor is it one of these Italian ricordanze, or memoriale, at once biographical diaries, business records, and accounting ledgers that bloomed during the Trecento. Kind of "jot-it-all-down" ledgers that tracked everything that made a casa, or "house."

Boysset does not dwell on his familial ties. He had a wife Catherine (he does not record her last name), whom he married in his early twenties, and who died a few years after him, in 1429. He mentions her once--she took a trip to Tarascon with him. We must also admire her constitution since she bore him eight sons and three daughters. Husband and wife survived all of their children. Boysset mentions the birth date and names of his children, the names of their godparents--maybe he was "name-dropping" for his audience, but not the dates of their deaths. He describes his house (an hostal) in the Vieux Bourgneighbourhood of Arles, in the fishermen quarters, underscoring as such his humble origins. He does not detail his financial transactions. He discusses his vineyards, sluice gates, fishing and fish-farming most often in the fishpond of Meyranne, and his fish-selling that made a good chunk of his fortune.

Most of all, the chronicle is filed with details regarding political events of the time that Boysset most often witnessed (vi yeu Bertran Boysset). They touch local and international issues: The Schism that divided the papacy between an Avignonese and Roman obedience; the involvement of the house of Anjou in the history of Provence; natural events--droughts, rain and floods, snow, eclipses, etc.; ritual entries and funerals; and extraordinary happenings. He opens a window into what intrigued medieval people--the planting of a white poplar (75); a match between a lion and a ram--the ram won, and he was "rewarded" for fighting well with a trip to the palace to be fed in front of the entire king's household--Boysset does not state what happened afterward (125); and an anchoress who lasted only two years and asked to get out to "live in the world" (143). These are details that give texture to medieval lives.

The edition's introduction underscores Boysset's versatile capabilities. He copied several literary works (Roman de Sidrac, Livre de la fontaine de toutes les sciences) and showed his interest in natural philosophy, moral treatises, hagiography, and Carolingian mythology. Most of all for works aimed at emphasizing the city of Arles, and its imperial past. Boysset was also an excellent sketcher/drawer, as can be seen from some of his illustrations reproduced in the text.

While there is little to criticize in this fine edition, one can regret the lack of contextualization of Boysset's work. One has to wonder about these "chronicles" appearing in Provence at the end of the Middle Ages. Were they introduced by the many Italians residing in the Comtat Venaissin and Provence? Was there a cultural Italianization of southern French society? I have already mentioned Henri Bresc's edition of Le livre de raison de Paul de Sade, to which we can add Francesco Bentaccordi's Memoriale, recently edited by Simona Brambilla and Jérôme Hayez. [4] The latter in many aspects reflects Boysset's preoccupations. The memoriale itemizes commercial and technical knowledge, recipes for drugs and products, copies of literature, and drawings from the hand of a poor man who arrived in Avignon as servant of a cardinal, and died in an almshouse of Carpentras.

Still, one can praise the editors for publicizing and rehabilitating the work of "brave Boysset" from an historiography that has frequently minimized anything that did not originate from the French capital. Brave Boysset (Good Boysset) as he was often called in French, is derogative, condescending, and patronizing. Brave puts down Provençaux. No more. Patrick Gautier Dalché, Marie Rose Bonnet, and Philippe Rigaud, by publishing this edition that emphasizes Boysset's technical and literary knowledge, allow him to reach the audience that he hoped for and deserved.



1. Franz Ehrle, "Die Chronik des Garoscus de Ulmoisca Veteri und Bertrand Boysset," Archiv fur Literatur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters 7 (1900): 317-413.

2. See

3. See for example my review of Henri Bresc, Le livre de raison de Paul de Sade (Avignon, 1390-1394) (Paris: Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2013), in Speculum, 90/1 (2015): 213-214.

4. Simona Brambilla and Jérôme Hayez, eds., Il tesoro di un povero: Il Memoriale di Francesco Bentaccordi, fiorentino in Provenza (1400 ca) (Rome: Viella, 2016).