Jean de Saintré is the intriguing story of a young knight's training, his first love, and his disillusionment. It teems with details of armor, jousting and tournaments, heraldry and crusading—and also with a cheerful, and unexpected, eroticism.
2014 | 264 pages | Cloth $59.95
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Jean de Saintré
Antoine de La Sale's Le Petit Jehan de Saintré, or Jean de Saintré is one of the most important works of prose fiction of the later Middle Ages. It has been hailed as one of the first historical novels for its account of what purports to be the chivalric biography of a historical knight, the fourteenth-century Jean of Saintré (1320-68), who was seneschal of Anjou and Maine. But, as we shall see, La Sale's account of the glorious exploits of knight who lived a hundred years prior to the book's composition bears often only a tenuous relationship to historical events: the author's agenda extends well beyond providing an accurate account of the past. Written in the last days of the flowering of chivalry, poised on the threshold of the print revolution, Saintré can also be rightly considered one of the last great medieval compilations. Among the many materials incorporated within the fictional love story that will be described below, Saintré includes a treatise on the seven deadly sins; tracts on the Beatitudes and the seven virtues; advice about personal grooming; numerous detailed descriptions of clothing and armor; lengthy set pieces recounting ceremonial tournaments and other combats; as well as a conclusion strongly evoc ative of a fabliau. This fascinating brassage of sacred and profane, fictional and historical, serious and comic modes has long intrigued critics and has earned Saintré as place in the French canon as a precursor to Rabelais, Madame de La Fayette, and Laclos.
Written in 1456 for Jean, Duke of Calabria, son of King René of Anjou, Jean de Saintré has long been prized for its accounts of chivalric exploits, heraldic blazons, and lavish costumes and for its sharp observation of social relations in a pseudo-historical court, the romance has also delighted readers with its seeming upending of courtly conventions in the last part of the romance, when a lusty monk cavorts with the earnest young knight's lady love and makes a laughingstock of self-proclaimed chivalric heroes, before being painfully punished by the hero for his wicked tongue. The splendid scenes at court, the comic undercutting of the hero, and the ironic twists and turns of the plot recounting a youth's social ascension from lowly page to one of the finest knights in the realm have ensured Jean de Saintré a place in the pantheon of late medieval French romances.
Nonetheless, certain aspects of Saintré have given readers pause. The romance includes lengthy didactic passages and citations from church doctrine that would seem more appropriate for a devotional treatise than a romance. La Sale's ample descriptions of clothing and livery, weaponry, heraldry, and chivalric protocol sometimes overwhelm the narrative thread. Indeed, as one critic has calculated, the love story that frames and supports the romance—the tale of Jean, Madame, and Lord Abbot—occupies less than a quarter of the text. Readers interested primarily in the amorous intrigue may feel annoyed by what have been described as "ponderous moral, philosophical, or religious digressions that add nothing to the story being told" and as rather "laborious reports" of knightly processions and combats. Yet it is precisely Saintré's mosaic of discursive registers and its blended interlace of literary genres—courtly romance, didactic treatise, chivalric biography, heraldic handbook, fabliau—that make it such an intriguing example of a late medieval didactic romance. Furthermore, this same amalgam of diverse styles, multiple voices, and different registers has earned Saintré recognition as a harbinger of modernity from Julia Kristeva. Whatever one may think of this assessment (since the qualities that make Saintré the first modern novel for Kristeva are features of many late medieval narratives), Saintré's hybrid textuality enhances rather than diminishes its character as a transitional text, a late medieval didactic compilation in a fictional frame that foreshadows in different ways both the encyclopedic narratives of Rabelais and the dramatic frame story of Marguerite de Navarre's Heptaméron, a collection of nouvelles.
Lest we doubt that Antoine de La Sale and his medieval readers valued the material that modern readers might find tedious—which is to say, the extensive parts of the romance that are not directly related to the love triangle—we have only to consider the romance in its manuscript context. One of the ten extant Saintré manuscripts, Bibliothèque nationale de France, nouv. acq. fr. 10057, is considered an author's manuscript, a copy on which La Sale made editorial corrections and additions, perhaps in his own hand. The mise en page (layout) of folio after folio of this manuscript shows that the author had no intention of minimizing the didactic citations or condensing the passages devoted to heraldry and tournaments. These sections are heavily rubricated, punctuated with larger capital letters, and generously laid out, with ample spaces between items. Each of the Ten Commandments, for example, appears on its own line. The processions of knights take place over many pages; rubricated letters penned with flourishes often introduce each knight. The hand of the editor (the author himself?) frequently indicates which citations or passages should be underlined in red, which in black. Although fr. 10057 is not illustrated, it is far from drab. Its rubricated, pen-flourished initials, prominent pieds-de-mouche (paragraph markers), and elegant mise en page provide a decorative, vibrant frame that animates and enhances its contents. La Sale presents his patron with a handsome course pack of texts that would have been considered useful for a medieval courtly audience; moral lessons and practical advice are cleverly enfolded within an engaging love story whose racy denouement keeps one reading to the end.
Antoine de La Sale's Life and Works: An Overview
Antoine de La Sale was born around 1385, the illegitimate son of the Gascon mercenary swordsman Bernardon de La Sale, whose martial skills served first for the English on French soil during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453); then for popes based in Avignon during the Great Schism; and finally for Louis II of Anjou, putative heir to the throne of Sicily through his aunt Jeanne of Naples, descendant of Saint Louis's brother. At the age of fourteen, an orphaned Antoine became a page in Louis of Anjou's court. La Sale would remain in service to French noble families for the rest of his life, initially as page and squire to Louis II of Anjou (d. 1417), then as squire for Louis III (d. 1434) and preceptor for Jean of Anjou, son of King René (from around 1435 to 1448). His last assignment was as tutor for the three sons of Louis de Luxembourg, whom he served until his death in 1460. This varied experience included extensive travels: as we learn from autobiographical fragments within his writings, La Sale accompanied his benefactors and patrons throughout France, Italy, England, and the Mediterranean basin. He recounts several stories of journeys in Italy: into a mountain cave in the Apennines; on the Lipari Islands; and in the hills of Pozzuoli. He describes a military expedition to Ceuta in North Africa in 1415; he mentions tournaments and pas d'armes in Brussels, Ghent, Nancy, and Saumur (which we discuss further below). He accompanied René's daughter Marguerite to London to marry King Henry VI. It was perhaps these travels that gave him an international perspective from which to observe the rich textures of court life and perceive firsthand both the protocol and the physical realities of chivalry. His experience as a tutor also gave him, no doubt, a predilection for moralizing discourse, much of it culled from classical authors and Christian doctrine, and stemming from the many years in which he was charged with the moral education of noble youth.
La Sale's first pedagogic tome was written in 1442-44 for Jean de Calabre, who had married Marie de Bourgogne in 1437 at the age of eleven. Aptly named La Salade, an obvious play on the author's name, the book claims to be a textual mixed salad composed of "plusieurs bones herbes" (several good herbs) for Jean's instruction; it includes eight "grains of wisdom" from Cicero, along with numerous exempla from Frontinus and Valerius Maximus focusing on political tactics and military strategies. La Sale's principal source for the latter is not the Latin original but a fourteenth-century Middle French translation by Simon de Hesdin. La Salade also presents a genealogy of the kingdom of Sicily that supports King René's and his son Jean de Calabre's claim to the throne; a royal edict by Philip the Fair regulating judicial duels, parts of which recur in Saintré, as well as rules for the making of emperors in the Holy Roman Empire, and rules of chivalric engagement from Vegetius; La Sale concludes with several folios of a coronation ceremony in Latin, and a fragment from the epic poem Aliscans. La Salade offers a recommended reading list of classical authors on various subjects for La Sale's young charge that is borrowed from Simon de Hesdin and closely resembles one that Madame des Belles Cousines will offer the young hero in Saintré. La Sale's first didactic anthology seems tailored to the needs of an Angevin prince aspiring to the throne of Naples.
However, La Salade has a ludic element as well. In the midst of this rather ponderous tome of moral exempla and military strategies, La Sale offers two stories "pour rire et pour passer le temps" (to laugh and pass the time). One is an eyewitness account of an expedition he took up Mount Sibilla near Pilate's Lake in the Marche to what was said to be the mouth of the Sibyl's grotto—a story that he composed some three years earlier (c. 1437 or 1438) for Marie de Bourbon's mother, Agnès. He retells the local legend of a German knight and his squire who disappeared forever within the Sibyl's cave, an apparent courtly "paradise" that is in fact a demonic lure. Le Paradis de la Reine Sibylle, as the story is known, mixes "realistic" geographic details with fantastical folklore.
The second tale, the voyage to the Lipari islands, also recounts an adventure from La Sale's youthful travels—a failed attempt with his companions to ascend Mount Vulcano and a strange encounter with a rather diabolic messenger who offers dubious and potentially dangerous advice about their moorings. The story, which claims to be truthful, leaves the reader with questions about the boundary between reality and fiction in La Sale's narration. The fantastic tales of the Sibyl and the mysterious messenger both enliven the didactic compilation of La Salade and perhaps expressly complicate its moral lessons. One can see in La Salade's playful blend of moral wisdom and fictional detour the seeds of Saintré.
If La Salade is an expressly haphazard "mix" of nutritious ingredients, a second pedagogic tome, La Sale, written in 1451, places its 167 exempla, or short moral tales,, largely copied from Simon de Hesdin's translation of Valerius Maximus, in a much more orderly frame. The compendium is organized as an allegorical "salle," or great room, in which the chapters stand as architectural elements that represent the moral virtues. If La Salade lacks a coherent theme, La Sale has been criticized as being "indigestible" and excessively pedantic at best and, at worst, a work of plagiarism, sloppy scholarship, a "caricature" of his sources It is true that as many as two-thirds of the exempla are drawn from Simon de Hesdin. But to dismiss the work as mere plagiarism fails to take account of the pedagogical nature of the project; the book was written for the edification of Louis de Luxembourg's three sons. La Sale certainly makes no claim to originality—he says that he draws his work from "several holy authorities and other historians," making a selection because no one but God can know all that has been written. Yet La Sale marks the collection as his own, not only through the title, but also at the beginning of each chapter, which he begins with his device, "Il convient . . ." (It occurs / it is appropriate), thus consciously framing the collection from first chapter to last; as Sylvie Lefèvre has shown, La Sale conspicuously signs his works as his own. Among the sometimes tedious succession of salutary exempla and derivative stories are a few pieces reflect La Sale's own travels. He includes both historical exempla—about Roman military heroes, for example—and stories that are explicitly fabulous—such as marvels from Ovid's Metamorphoses or from Ulysses's voyages. He incorporates a story that will be retold almost verbatim in Saintré—that of the widow who had survived twenty-two husbands but was survived by the man who had taken twenty wives—the exemplum and commentary both culled from Simon de Hesdin.
Finally, and most extraordinarily, La Sale situates the work as the outcome of a personal crisis, a state of "très deplaisant merencolie" (very unpleasant melancholy) that overcame him as he left the house of Anjou, at the age of sixty-three, in his forty-ninth year of service. We know nothing about the circumstances that led to his separation from King René's entourage; his former pupil, Jean de Calabre, was certainly no longer a child. As the editor of the manuscript has noted, however, in the ensuing pages La Sale intones a half-dozen times against ingratitude; perhaps the author has experienced rejection and lack of rewards firsthand. By the time he pens Saintré, at the age of seventy, not only has La Sale acquired vast experience as a teacher and observer, he has also had occasion to reflect on human foibles and on the social tensions and pressures involved in maintaining a high standing at court
Jean de Saintré
Viewed against La Sale's earlier didactic tomes, Jean de Saintré can be seen as a summa of his career as writer and teacher. Saintré , like La Salade and La Sale, is among other things an anthology of instructional materials largely derived from other sources. As we've seen, Saintré includes an exemplum and a reading list already incorporated into earlier work; numerous lessons from Christian doctrine; and lengthy descriptions of coats of arms and battle cries, as well as detailed accounts of chivalric protocol and ritualized feats of arms. Quotations from classical authors, from the Old and New Testament, and from the church fathers abound.
Although the biblical citations and some of the classical dicta can be matched to an original source, in most cases it is impossible to know what particular medieval texts might have served as Antoine de La Sale's direct inspiration, since many of passages he cites appear in similar forms in many other works. Tracts warning against the deadly sins, written originally for monastic use, became common features of medieval literature, appearing in penitential manuals for priests but also in conduct books for laypeople, often changing the ordering of the sins and the description of their effects according to the audience. Ramon Llull's Livre de l'enseignement des enfants, ostensibly written for youths, lists gluttony as the first sin; the fourteenth-century Ménagier de Paris, addressed to a Parisian bourgeois housewife, warns first against pride and envy; for Saintré, the first sin is pride, followed by anger and envy. Biblical and classical quotations and proverbs may have come from a variety of sources, including florilegia, books of collected sayings, organized by theme or problem.
Among the many didactic works that La Sale may have known are chivalric manuals such as Raoul de Houdenc's Roman des eles, Ramon Llull's Book of the Order of Chivalry, Geoffroi de Charny's Book of Chivalry, and Christine de Pizan's Book of Deeds of Arms and Chivalry (which draws heavily on Vegetius), and didactic works such as the above-mentioned Livre de l'enseignement des enfants, the Distichs of Cato, and Le Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry pour l'enseignement de ses filles. La Sale may also have been inspired by one of numerous treatises on table manners that circulated in the later Middle Ages. He and his audience might have known any number of other medieval conduct books, which instructed young men and women in proper comportment and imparted moral and religious values. Conduct manuals were transmitted in a great variety of forms and formats during the Middle Ages; the broadest definition of the genre would include all the works mentioned in this paragraph. Often, as in Saintré, these books included a mix of didactic discourse and fiction.
An indisputable source for a few of Saintré's didactic passages is Saintré itself. Most remarkably, at the dramatic moment that the aggrieved Saintré restrains himself from killing the abbot, he recalls almost verbatim the biblical passages that Madame had recited to him earlier. By incorporating citations from the lady that had themselves been taken from another source, La Sale reveals his mastery of the art of strategic citation. Here and again, he recasts well-known words of wisdom to illuminate a particular moral action, here with the added irony that it is Madame's treachery that has provoked Saintré's need for spiritual guidance to curb his wrath.
Yet even as La Sale draws from the wellspring of numerous literary traditions, he goes much further than in his earlier work to present his borrowed materials in a clever, personalized frame. Moral teachings and Christian doctrine are voiced by Madame des Belles Cousines, a widow whose name suggests that she was one of the royal cousins. Madame's enseignements (teachings) are central to her campaign to groom a handsome, charming youth to become a valiant knight in her service. La Sale not only recasts the convention of numerous chastoiements (instructions) where older relatives or authorities teach young boys or girls, from the Enseignements of the historical Saint Louis for his son and daughter, to the fictional advice giving of mothers to would-be knights in Chrétien's Perceval or Robert de Blois's Beaudous. He also draws explicitly and more broadly on a long, rich tradition of courtly romances in which a knight tests his mettle and proves his valor for love for a lady. When the lady chides Saintré that he can never hope to be a knight as fine as Lancelot, Tristan, or Pontus and a host of others if he does not have a ladylove, she evokes the legacy of Arthurian romances and their avatars in verse and prose, hundreds of tales that circulated from the twelfth to the fifteenth-century, in a diversity of manuscripts—from plain, serviceable copies for well-to-do households to lavishly illustrated books for royal courts. Madame's unfavorable comparison of Saintré to a well-known type of literary hero highlights an ironic gap between La Sale's representation of the pseudo-historical Saintré and his fictional sources. When Saintré succeeds, he does so, as Michelle Szkilnik has argued, less in the mold of an Arthurian hero than as the embodiment of a new kind of knight, one who fights more for personal advancement at court than to uphold a chivalric ideal.
La Sale and his audience were also familiar with chivalric biographies, such as the fifteenth-century biography of the historical Jean le Meingre, called Boucicaut, who figures in a cameo in Saintré, and the life stories of fictional knights such as Jehan d'Avennes and Ponthus, whom La Sale cites explicitly. It has been suggested that La Sale's inspiration for the figure of Saintré was less the historical Saintré himself (who lived a hundred years before the book's creation) than the contemporary Jacques de Lalaing, who died in 1453, and whose life eventually inspired a biography that postdates Saintré and seems in part to have drawn directly from it.
Yet Saintré cannot be neatly summed up simply as either a conduct book, a courtly romance, or a straightforward chivalric biography. The last third of Saintré takes a new turn, into the realm of the recently minted nouvelle, a short narrative, often humorous, based on purported "true" contemporary events. The nouvelle sometimes replays elements of the fabliau, a genre dating from the thirteenth century in which the principal players hail from a decidedly profane world and are ruled by base self-interest and carnal passions rather than lofty ideals of chivalry and courtly love. When, at the end of the romance, the lady who has preached scrupulous avoidance of the seven deadly sins has an affair with a hairy abbot during a series of copious Lenten meals in order to avenge herself on Saintré for his alleged betrayal of their love, she allows herself to be swayed by pride, anger, gluttony, and lust. Do we read this conclusion as an exemplum in malo, warning against the wiles of women, as the narrator at one point advises? If so, are the previous teachings of Madame invalidated, since she has proved to be such a notoriously untrustworthy character?
La Sale gives didactic, courtly, and chivalric conventions a unique twist by intertwining them so cleverly together in his narrative thread that the book is impossible to classify generically. Is the text a courtly romance with a sometimes ponderous didactic bent; a didactic compendium within an amusing courtly framework; a chivalric biography that announces a new kind of knight, more courtier than warrior; a handbook of chivalric practices and lavish ceremonies that have fallen sadly out of use; or a bit of all of the above? Perhaps, with its ironic conclusion, Saintré sends up all these literary traditions and social practices. Perhaps the book functions above all as a celebration of the writer's skill in manipulating didactic, heraldic, and chivalric discourse at the same time that he critiques courtly values. One of La Sale's aims in writing such a complex story, with so many possible moral valences, may have been to encourage mature readers to engage with the material and draw their own conclusions. We invite our readers to do likewise.
To judge from his final works, La Sale continued to be deeply engaged in courtly culture. Le Réconfort de Madame de Fresnes, completed in 1457, offers two moving, short narratives about noble women who lost their sons in acts of war. In Le Traité des anciens et des nouveaux tournois (1459), written for Jacques de Luxembourg, La Sale revives chivalric and heraldic traditions, which he claims are on the wane, by offering a digest of chivalric protocol.
Expert in Chivalry
In the summer of 1446, King René of Anjou, La Sale's patron and employer, organized a sumptuous pas d'armes at his castle of Saumur, in the Loire Valley. The conceit was highly theatrical: in a pavilion pitched on a dais in the tournament field was a damsel guarded by two lions. At her side was a dwarf, in charge of a shield; in the pavilion was a knight; any combatant who wished to—king, duke, count, baron, says the account—could strike the shield with his sword and demand combat with the damsel's knight-guardian. It was, however, important to supervise the combats, and seven noblemen of the highest rank, with the wisdom brought by long experience (sens amassé), were ushered into a stand to act as judges (juger en raison). Among the seven judges was . . . Antoine de La Sale.
His position of authority at such a prestigious royal event is significant, and speaks to the esteem in which he was held by René. La Sale had been attached for more than forty years to a court universally acknowledged, in the fifteenth century and at a time when such events were magnificent as never before, as the epicenter of the tournament and the pas d'armes; he had made a point of frequenting the kings of arms and heralds who were the repositories of chivalric knowledge; he seems to have taken part personally, in his youth, in at least two tournaments, in Brussels in 1409 and in Ghent 1416. By 1456, as the author of La Salade and La Sale, he must have been recognized as knowledgeable and discerning—and indeed, only three years later, in 1459, he was to write an authoritative Traité des anciens et des nouveaux tournois, dedicated to a new patron, Jacques de Luxembourg, which René himself drew on, in the 1460s, for his own magnificently illustrated Livre des tournois. Once again, it is a tribute to La Sale's reputation that he should be asked to set out both a history of tournaments and the regulations that should govern them: he is, he says, a repository of knowledge drawn not only from his own experience but from extensive consultation and reading: he has a unique understanding of the finer points of tournament organization, heraldry, nobility. And it is difficult not to believe that his fictional Jean de Saintré, with its careful fictional portrayals of every variety of chivalric experience—tournament, mêlée, joust, pas d'armes, pitched battle, combats with lances, swords, daggers, poleaxes—and its meticulous blazoning, is not, similarly, designed as a compendium of chivalry for his then patron, Jean de Calabre.
What emerges from Saintré, as well as from La Sale's Traité, is the ubiquity and seriousness of the tournament and the pas d'armes in the fifteenth century: chroniclers of the late Middle Ages—Froissart, Olivier de La Marche—stud their histories with such occasions celebrating betrothals, marriages, peace negotiations. They are, largely, royal occasions, meticulously planned, choreographed, and executed, a showcase for the knight's skills, and, of course, a training ground for war. Geoffroi de Charny's manual of knighthood (c. 1350) reminds readers that a tournament may carry peril de mort. Jousting, and the tournament, demanded sheer brute force, even brutality, and it is important to see that violence is a necessary component, as in the case of Loisselench's damaged hand. La Sale's Saintré, like his Traité, is written for an expert readership: entry to the lists is heavily regulated (both as to birth and as to record, hence, as Saintré has it, participants must be noble and sans reproche [the Traité devotes several clauses to issues of rank and potential disqualification]); weapons are prescribed and carefully calibrated; the phases of each encounter are drawn up in detail, as are the permitted moves, and the criteria for judging success: how many courses must be run, how many lances must be splintered, and how. This latter point brings out how important the tournament and the joust are in terms of aesthetic experience: just as a modern sports devotee will appreciate, in the United States, the cunning of a forward pass, or in the United Kingdom the elegance of a cover drive, so the enthusiast reading La Sale's tournaments will understand, for instance, that to strike the opponent's lames, or his gardbrace, is less meritorious than a direct strike on his breastplate. Appreciation of these niceties is, of course, difficult in the sort of mêlée, or mock battle, that is Saintré's first venture into chivalry—hence, perhaps, the preference for the sort of ritualized single combats that he was more generally to undertake: the jousts, the pas d'armes, or the emprises, of the sort that René had organized at Saumur.
Jean de Saintré includes a number of such exercises: did La Sale think that they best expressed chivalric mentalities in a princely court? They involved a theatricality that even contemporary chroniclers and historians recognized: Olivier de La Marche, for instance, calls the famous "Pas de la Fontaine des Pleurs," held in 1449-50 under the auspices of the court of Burgundy, a mistere. The hero of this latter notorious event was Jacques de Lalaing, whose life story may in part have inspired La Sale's Jean de Saintré; the account of Lalaing's career, written later, in c. 1468, draws, in part, on Saintré, as we have seen. Lalaing—Alice Planche calls him "un homme-orchestre"—had a magnificent pavilion erected at a fountain; beside it sat a weeping lady with a unicorn. A herald in attendance would carry notice of any challengers to Lalaing, who would emerge from his lodgings in nearby Châlon-sur-Saône and offer combat, as prescribed in the chapitres, the articles, of the event, with different weapons: lance, sword, poleaxe, dagger. Opponents might present themselves anonymously, or in costume ("mesconnu")—the analogies with romance are powerful, and often, as with another Burgundian extravaganza, the "Pas de l'Arbre d'Or" (1468), perfectly explicit. Saintré's emprises and pas d'armes, orchestrated by Madame des Belles Cousines, run very much the gamut of fifteenth-century chivalric display—and it is worth noticing how far these are pan-European: a challenge issued to the Iberian courts eventually taken up in Barcelona by Messire Enguerrand; a challenge from a visiting Polish champion, the Seigneur de Loisselench; another from touring champions from Lombardy freshly arrived in Paris from Germany; a challenge issued, by Saintré, to all comers, for a joint enterprise against English knights from Calais. In all cases, and as with the historically attested pas d'armes we mentioned, the regulations governing the event are stipulated with a precision that shows how elaborate the forms of combat had become by the 1450s: the ranks and reputations that the combatants are to possess; the weapons to be used and in which sequence; the duration and rhythm of the event; the successes that will constitute victory; the prizes to be awarded. These latter are largely tokens: the exchange of magnificent jewels, as with Enguerrand, for instance, has analogies with the award of gold medals. But an adept jouster—like Boucicaut, who figures in the romance, like Jacques de Lalaing, or like Saintré himself—might expect to make a respectable living from the rich gifts donated by the courts at which the combats took place: money, jewels, sumptuous armor, magnificent fabrics, thoroughbred horses, even pottery or silverware. Lalaing, for instance, built an outstandingly successful career, and a fortune, largely out of his expertise in such exercises.
That said, participation in tournaments, emprises, and pas d'armes demanded major financial outlay—which is, of course, where Madame's generosity to Saintré means that she has, to a large degree, "made" him. It is she who prescribes, in minute detail, Saintré's equipment and dress, his retinues, his horses, and his weapons: they are models of conspicuous consumption. Luxury cloths and ornaments, heraldic achievements, a whole apparatus of courtly display, is deployed at the service, with Saintré, of personal and chivalric reputation: self-adornment brings notice from the court and a coveted position as the King's carving squire; gift giving is prescribed by Madame as a way to buy influence; chivalric ceremony—magnificently, ritually staged—confers prestige on Saintré himself, but also, of course, on the court where such glorious extravagances were practiced. Which explains the outlays that provided the material infrastructure for the tournament: La Sale describes, with some complacency, the construction of the lists, the building of viewing stands for noble spectators and even houses for the competitors, the provision of liveries, the employment of kings of arms, heralds, minstrels, trumpeters. Nor should we see these events as merely decorative—although La Sale might lead us to do so: on the contrary, tournaments and emprises are representations of the nature of power, and the hierarchies of court society were enacted and reinforced by such spectacles. Jacques de Luxembourg, presumably anxious to provide authentic ceremonial, was later to commission La Sale to lay out for him "comment les tournoiz en armes et en tymbres se font"; by fictionalizing such occasions, in Jean de Saintré, La Sale mitigates the transience of events and manufactures something like an official account—as his contemporaries did with careful, detailed verse accounts of René's authentic pas d'armes.
But a tournament or a pas d'armes, as the last paragraph suggests, is of course also a visual spectacle: it is one of the important ways in which a court articulates an iconography for itself, in part, and most important, by means of the heraldry on which La Sale insists so meticulously. As a tournament judge, and no doubt also by inclination, he had a vested interest in the art of blazon: on the tournament field, the armorial device served not only to mark out the individual, and to identify him as a member of an exclusive military elite, but also to provide a visual record of pedigree, and of familial and social ties. A coat of arms painted on a shield or on a banner, or embroidered on a surcoat, gave the wearer a chance to secure honor and prestige through deeds of arms, and heralds, and judges like La Sale, would be expected to identify, even in the confusion of the mêlée, those whose deeds had been most honorable—although realistically, in the mêlée, different means might be employed to make sure that the wearer was identifiable—hence the use of devices and helmet crests (Saintré's intertwined initials, Loisselench's silver bull), simple designs or badges intended to be easily recognizable, above the throng and at a distance. La Sale manipulates these complexities with practiced ease: although he may well have exploited existing sources, he is visibly familiar with the formal, highly disciplined, language of heraldry, which has its own vocabulary and syntax (whose intricacies we have tried to match in our translations of his blazons). And his luxuriant panoramas of the tournament field and the joust—translated into luscious color and detail by the British Library manuscript—demonstrate, perhaps, how expert is the readership that he intended: what might seem to us an interminable list of champions and blazons, which in all probability he will have transcribed from an existing roll of arms, were presumably pored over by an audience delighted to decipher identities and meanings from what to a present-day reader seems sadly hermetic.
Tournaments and pas d'armes may seem to take the lion's share of La Sale's attention—but there is an event which, clearly, overrides them: Saintré, we are told, in spite of his prowess and his growing reputation, has refused flattering offers, from the King and others, to dub him knight because he prefers to achieve that honor on the battlefield—where, says Charny, deeds of arms are most honorable—and ideally, says Madame, in a battle "contre les Sarrazins." The opportunity is provided by a military expedition to Prussia—which readers may be surprised to see described as pagan, "Saracen," territory and ripe for a crusade. Briefly, one of the great orders of crusading knighthood, the so-called Teutonic Knights, established their headquarters in the thirteenth century in Marienburg (now in Poland), from where they pitted themselves, from about 1263 to 1386, largely against the powerful state of Lithuania until it accepted Christianity at the latter date. In the fourteenth century, every winter, "crusaders" from all over Europe, in greater or lesser numbers, ventured north on what was seen as a prestigious expedition, success in which allowed the victors to display their coats of arms in Marienburg Castle; the expeditions, in reality, involved relatively small raiding parties that usually confined their efforts to destroying an enemy castle or, more reprehensibly, to plunder. Saintré's holy expedition to Prussia is imagined on a far greater scale than any authentic Prussian crusade, and involves adversaries—Turkey, Persia, Mesopotamia—quite beyond the imaginings of history: is La Sale compensating for what, by the mid-fifteenth century, amounted to the failure of the crusading movement, by amalgamating the Prussian crusades with the Nicopolis crusade, the disastrous expedition of 1396 where a huge crusading army was routed by Sultan Bayazid? It is surely significant that the standard-bearer for the fictional Christian army is a "Gadiffer de La Sale" (c. 1350-c. 1422), a figure highly regarded in chivalric circles who did indeed take part in expeditions to Prussia in 1378 and 1390; La Sale, it seems, is basking in the reflected glory of a namesake (and family member). But more important is the mere fact that it is here that Saintré has himself dubbed knight, and at the hand, specifically, of the near-blind John of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia, who had indeed crusaded in Prussia, who in 1346 died with spectacular gallantry at the Battle of Crécy, and who was regarded by contemporaries as a paragon of perfect chivalry. Saintré's expedition is described in hyperbolic and idealized terms: the exhaustive list of participants, from France but also from the Empire, the impressiveness of the "Saracens," the precision of Saintré's tactics, the ringing—and by 1456 deeply implausible—victory, Saintré's own unlikely triumph over the Grand Turk himself: these successes especially must have had particular resonance given that in 1453, only three years earlier, Mehmed II, with a huge besieging army, had taken Constantinople (Istanbul), and must have seemed a very present threat to Europe more generally. La Sale's portrait of a victorious Christian West, with Europe united in a common cause, is self-glorifying, and misleading: by 1456, a crusade to Jerusalem was largely a pious hope, although in July 1456 in Hungary—was La Sale conscious of it?—a small Christian army had repulsed a large Turkish one. The romance seems nevertheless to assume that a knight wishing, like Gadiffer de La Salle, like our fictional Saintré, to make his own reputation, needed to enlist in a crusade.
La Sale's glorious aestheticization of chivalry is essentially nostalgic—even though the details of armor and deeds of arms, purportedly fourteenth-century, belong irreducibly to his own time, the romance plays out in the distance between the author's present and an imagined past of chivalrous encounters and gallant warriors. It is also, of course, distinctly literary: just as later medieval tournaments, like René's at Saumur, made their events theatrical, so La Sale makes the "real" Saintré of the Hundred Years' War a performer, essentially the creator of his own romance. This nostalgia, this literariness, must have made Madame's treachery and the Abbé's sneers all the more disruptive. Raymond Kilgour and Johann Huizinga make Saintré prime evidence for the "decline of chivalry"; on the contrary, perhaps for La Sale the romance is a glorification of a true chivalry that can, with the help of an enthusiast like La Sale, an authority like René d'Anjou, be reborn.
Saintré Editions and Translations
Jean de Saintré is by far La Sale's most celebrated work. There are ten medieval manuscripts, including one known as the "author's manuscript," containing editorial corrections that may have been penned by La Sale himself; two of these manuscripts were illustrated, in very different fashions: the more ornate one in London, British Library MS. Cotton Nero D IX, in glorious jewel colors, by one of the most outstanding fifteenth-century illuminators, known as the Chief Associate of Maître François, who had worked extensively for royal patrons; and the second in Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale MS. 9457, in a series of rapid cartoons in black and white, done by an artist from what is known as the School of the Wavrin Master, whose figures are angular sketches against rudimentary backgrounds, and who specialized in densely illustrated manuscripts.
Four printed editions were produced in the sixteenth century (Michel Le Noir, 1517; Philippe Le Noir, 1523; Trepperel, n.d.; Bonfons, 1553). A full-text version edited by Thomas Gueulette, printed in 1724, inspired a whimsical adaptation, sharply condensed, without didactic tracts or heraldry, by Le Comte de Tressan in 1780. Tressan's Saintré—a sentimental romance with chivalric highlights, bearing little resemblance to the original medieval compilation, was reprinted numerous times, in a variety of formats, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This popular but distinctly inauthentic version of Saintré gave rise to a vaudeville production (by Dumersan et Brazier, performed in 1817) and even a comic opera (by Jules Barbier et al., 1893).
Le Petit Jehan de Saintré was restored to its integrity as a medieval romance in a succession of nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions that returned to manuscript sources. Recent editions and translations into modern French, as well as a spate of books and articles, have brought Saintré into the critical limelight in French studies. Saintré's generic complexity, La Sale's authorial self-consciousness, his clever framing devices, and his narrator's evident relish for telling a good tale in a splendid setting all ensure that the romance continues to fascinate students and scholars of European literature. With this translation, we hope to bring the pleasures and challenges of reading Saintré to a broader audience.
Saintré has been twice translated in full into English. Both editions are out of print and stylistically dated. Our translation is based on the 1978 edition by Jean Misrahi and Charles A. Knudson; bracketed numbers refer to pages in the Misrahi and Knudson edition. This one-volume text transcribes the Vatican manuscript, Bibl. Vaticana, Reg. Lat. 896, which Misrahi and Knudson feel best preserves the corrections that the author began in the "author's manuscript," Bibliothèque nationale de France, n. a. fr. 10057, and then carried through to the end in three other manuscripts. Among the author's additions are the didascalies, or stage directions, that indicate who should be speaking—the Author, The Lady, or, more rarely, Saintré. This feature, which Misrahi and Knudson maintain, reinforces the sense that the narrator presents a dynamic amalgam of different discourses and narrative registers. Although we cannot of course reproduce the distinctive rubrics, flourishes, and mise en page of the manuscripts in which Saintré circulated during the Middle Ages, our retention of the designation of the Author, Madame, and Saintré encourages readers to remember that Saintré was conceived as a multiplicity of voices and registers.
Our translation provides students and nonspecialized readers an entrée into the romance; medieval scholars should of course work directly with the original Middle French editions, not only Misrahi and Knudson but also Otaka, Eusebi, and Blanchard (which offers a translation into modern French by Quereuil). Scholars seeking more detailed information about La Sale's sources should consult the detailed notes in Otaka, as well as in Dubuis's translation, which provides perceptive, useful annotations. In preparing our translation, primarily from Misrahi and Knudson, we have benefited at various points from other editions and translations, to confirm a doubtful passage or to provide insights into a term. When our reading of a particular passage has been influenced by another translator, or when readers may find the notes of another edition particularly illuminating, we have indicated this in our notes.
Our aim here is above all an engaging narrative that moves the reader along through the different registers of the text—and so we have attempted to reproduce La Sale's different tones: didactic moralizing, heraldic pomp, chivalric heroism, ironic innuendo, comic reversal, while revising, as appropriate, the author's occasional repetitions, errors, and lapses. We have occasionally broken up more convoluted sentences and attempted to clarify awkward passages—and ironed out some syntactic awkwardnesses (like tenses, for instance, where La Sale often shifts from present to past and back again). La Sale's Latin "translations" are usually rough paraphrases or renderings of similar aphorisms in colloquial French; there are frequent errors of transcription or grammar. We have remained faithful to the French as it stands, and do not usually attempt to correct either the original Latin or the translation, unless the language is truly opaque. We have replicated for English, as accurately as possible and with the help particularly of the specialists we thank in the Acknowledgements, the particular terms that La Sale uses for foods, fabrics, dress, furnishings, weaponry, heraldry, courtly ceremony; many are obscure, and hence are explained in the Glossary, with an asterisk in each case at the first occurrence. Proper names can be tricky: a romance like this, purporting to be historical, has a very large historical cast list—and since many of the players come from all over Europe but La Sale's knowledge of other languages and geographies is dubious, he gives them French spellings. Only when the "correct" form is unmistakable do we translate (so the conte de Bouquincan, from England, becomes the Duke of Buckingham, whereas the seigneur d'Engorde, also, but unidentifiably, from England, remains Lord Engorde). The result will not always be an easy ride, but we hope to have found a mode of translation that will be intriguing and will convey La Sale's pleasure in the variety of his story, the richness of his exempla, and the sheer opulence of the court culture in which he moves with such assurance.