A Need for Books: Charles d'Orleans and His Traveling Libraries in England and France

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Books do not profit from travel. Even vellum manuscripts with stout wooden boards suffer. Though wooden chests or crates offer some protection, the wear and tear on books transported by ox cart or horse-drawn wagon would be significant. It is therefore the natural inclination of those who own libraries in any age to establish a location for a collection and to attempt to avoid subsequent shifts of place. Sometimes, however, it is imperative to move a library. Fire and flood are obvious motivations, but there are others. I want to consider some reasons for books to travel--real, physical books that were carted to this or that place--and why an owner who obviously loved and valued books would risk exposing them to the vagaries of transport on the roads of fifteenth-century England or France. What follows is a short study of a few books belonging to one exceptional man, Charles of Valois, duc d'Orleans. (1)

Charles d'Orleans lived in a great age of book-collecting in France. His grandfather, Charles V, built one of the great libraries of the late Middle Ages, while the dukes of the king's children's generation (Burgundy, Berry, Orleans) competed with one another in building the most astounding collection of books. (2) Charles himself had a very rich book life and enjoyed a rich complex of book activities. He inherited books; he bought and (rarely) sold, borrowed and lent books; he copied books or had them copied. He composed both religious and secular works in prose and in verse, in French and in English, and acted sometimes as his own scribe. He gave and received books, annotated and signed books, commissioned books, and transported large numbers of books both within France and England and from one to the other--and left many records of all of these activities. (3) One can scarcely imagine a fuller book life.

Gilbert Ouy has cautioned those who study Charles d'Orleans's library that it is only part of a "set," that is to say, his books are most fruitfully studied together with those of his brother and fellow hostage in England, Jean d'Angouleme, (4) and Ian Doyle is of the same opinion. (5) Although they are undoubtedly correct, I shall ignore their wise counsel and trace briefly the movement of some books from two separate collections belonging to the duke himself. (6)

From his father, Louis d'Orleans, and his mother, Valentina Visconti, Charles inherited a splendid library before his fourteenth birthday, but even before he inherited their books he already had some of his own. He received his first illuminated manuscript (the subject is unrecorded) when he was six. It was decorated in azure and vermilion and bound in red cordovan. The following year his parents had an illuminated psalter made for him. (7) So books had always been a part of his life. He was surrounded by documents, religious texts, written history, literature, and people who loved books. (8) He was also fortunate in having as his tutor Nicholas Garbet, a master of theology and an excellent Latinist, who gave him a love of reading and study as well as a second language. (9) Charles's love of books was early and deep.

By the time he turned twenty-one in the fateful autumn of 1415, he had been a duke for six years. He had been twice married and become a father (of one daughter, Jeanne, by his first wife, Isabelle de Valois). (10) He had placed himself at the head of an army; he had seen his father's name cleared of slander; he had treated with England's Henry V; and he was the owner of a very valuable library. Chroniclers record his presence in their accounts of the fiasco at Agincourt (one even places him in the vanguard) (11) and his capture when the battle was over. Important noblemen who were captured "belonged" to the king, so, along with the duke of Bourbon, he traveled with Henry V to England.

The battle took place on October 24, 1415, but Henry did not reach Dover until November 16 or 17. What was going on for those three and a half weeks? …