Authorship, Patronage, and Literary Gifts: The Books Froissart Brought to England in 1395

Article excerpt

I BnF fr. MS 831: Evidence of Its Ownership

One of the best-known references to medieval book circulation is Froissart's description in his Chronicles of his presentation of a volume of his poems to Richard II in 1395:

   et voult veoir le roy le livre que je luy avoie apporte. Si le vey
   en sa chambre, car tout pourveu je l'avoie, et luy mis sur son lit.
   Il l'ouvry et regarda ens, et lui pleut tres-grandement et bien
   plaire luy devoit, car il estoit enlumine, escript et historie et
   couvert de vermeil velours a dix clous attachies d'argent dores et
   roses d'or ou milieu, a deux grans frumaus dores et richement
   ouvres ou milieu de roses d'or. Adont me demanda le roy de quoy il
   traittoit. Je luy dis "D'amours." De ceste reponse fut-il tous
   resjouys, et regarda dedens le livre en plusieurs lieux et y lisy,
   car moult bien parloit et lisoit le franchois, et puis le fist
   prendre par ung sien chevallier qui se nommoit messire Richard
   Credon et porter en sa chambre de retraite, et me fist de plus en
   plus bonne chiere et bon recueilotte a merveilles.

   and the king wished to see the book that I had brought him. So he
   saw it in his chamber, for I had prepared it for him and laid it on
   his bed. He opened it and looked inside and it pleased him greatly,
   and well it should, for it was illuminated, written, and historiated,
   and covered with crimson velvet, with ten buttons fastened on to it
   made of gilded silver and roses of gold in the middle, with two
   great gilded clasps, and richly decorated in the middle with roses
   of gold. Then the king asked me what the book was about and I
   replied "Love." The king was well pleased with this response and
   looked into the book in several places and read there, for he could
   read and speak French very well. Then he gave it to one of his
   cham- ber knights, named Sir Richard Credon, to bear it into his
   retiring chamber (inner chamber), and he received me ever more
   warmly and made me very welcome. (1)

The scene has often been used as evidence of medieval reading practice. Roger Chartier, for example, finds that:

   by showing the monarch dipping into the book he has received and
   indicating his intention to pursue his reading in the private space
   of his chambre de retraite [Froissart's] testimony confirms what
   pictorial representations show and forewords "to the reader" had to
   say about the gains that individual, silent, and purely visual
   reading had made among the princes and great personages after the
   mid fourteenth century. (2)

Chartier is only one of many who have seized on this episode. Others have drawn almost exactly the opposite conclusion, taking Froissart's reference to Richard's ability to speak French to imply that he read aloud. (3) Still others turn to the episode for evidence of the status of the court poet or of the condition of French in England by the late fourteenth century. (4)

Not everyone who knows the story, however, is aware that the actual book that Froissart presented--or at least a very similar one created at the same time--may survive. (5) There is a late-fourteenth-century collection of Froissart's poetry, BnF fr. MS 831, which in many ways seems to fit Froissart's description. As its initial rubric notes, it is a collection of love poems:

   Vous deves sgavoir que dedens ce livre sont contenu pluisour dittie
   et traitie amourous et de moralite, les quels sire Jehans
   Froissars, prestres, en ce temps tresoriers et canonnes de Cymai,
   et de la nation de la conte de Haynnau et de la ville de
   Valenchienes, a fais, dittes et ordonnes a l'ayde de Dieu et
   d'Amours, et a la contemplacion et plaisance de pluisours haus et
   nobles signours et de pluisours nobles et vaillans dames.

   You should know that within this volume are contained many amorous
   and moral poems and treatises, which Sir Jean Froissart, priest, at
   this time, treasurer and canon of Chimay, born in the county of
   Hainault, in the city of Valenciennes, made, put into verse, and
   ordered with the help of God and of Love, for the contemplation and
   pleasure of many high and noble lords and many noble and worthy
   ladies. …