About the Manuscripts, the Editions, and this Translation

Seven medieval copies of the tournament book, and four copies made in the 17th and 18th centuries, now survive. The original manuscript of the tournament book, Bibliotheque Nationale MS français 2695, was beautifully illustrated with water-color paintings by Bartholomey d'Eyck, who also painted the illustrations for the Coeur d'Amour Epris. Five copies of this manuscript were made in the fifteenth century; their owners included Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours; Louis de la Gruthuyse; and Charles VIII. Many of the illustrations have been reproduced in books on the medieval tournament, and all the illustrations from MS 2695 have been reproduced in a recent facscimile with an introduction by François Avril. The illustrations are remarkable for their beauty and clarity: every detail is carefully recorded, and in addition to the illustrations of the pageantry, the manuscripts include detailed drawings of the necessary armor and of the construction of the lists.

While Edmond Pognon has published an abridged and adapted text which is the basis for the modern French translation that accompanies Francois Avril's facsimile (E. Pognon, éd., "Le livre des tournois du roi René," in Verve no. 16, 1946), there is no modern scholarly edition of the text. This translation is based on the text published by F.H. Cripps-Day as Appendix VII in The History of the Tournament, London: Bernard Quaritch, 1918 (reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1982). Cripps-Day does not give the source of his text, but clearly it was taken from T. de Quatrebarbes' edition of all of René's works (T. de Quatrebarbes, éd., Oeuvres completes du roi René, Angers: 1844-1846; the edition of the tourney book appears in volume 2). This is one of two editions that were published in the nineteenth century, and is the basis for the French text presented here. Quatrebarbes knew of five of the manuscripts. Although he does not give the source of his edition, I believe it is based on MS 2692 (formerly 8351.1), the copy made by Louis de Gruthuyse for presentation to Charles VIII. (The other nineteenth-century edition is that of Champollion-Figeac, whose edition comprises a facsimile of the illustrations and the text of BN MS français 2695 in a gothic typeface: Champollion-Figeac, ed., Le livre des tournois du roi René, Paris: Dubois et Motte, 1826). So far as I know, mine is the first complete translation into modern English.

In making this translation, I have inevitably had to make some compromises between a literal translation and a readable translation. René's style is verbose and his syntax suggests that the text was dictated. Throughout the text, I have regularly suppressed the word "said," as in "the said Duke will send the said herald to the said court." I have also broken many of René's long sentences, with their subordinate clauses, into shorter sentences. I have consciously tried to avoid English archaisms except in the speeches, where I have tried to preserve something of the language and rhythm of formal medieval courtly speech. In translating technical terms, I have sometimes chosen to use Middle English words that you will not find in your pocket dictionary. Naturally, readers who are interested in the development of armor and armor terminology will want to consult the original French.


The facsimile is François Avril, ed. and intro., Le Livre des Tournois du Roi René, Paris: Editions Herscher, 1986. Many of the manuscript illustrations are reproduced in Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989, including the entry of the judges into the town and the melee (BN MS Fr 2692, circa 1488-9); and the armor and weapons, the inspection of the helmets, the two dukes fighting on horseback, the squire of honor in the lists, the heralds proclaiming the tourney and presenting the sword to the Duke of Bourbon, the tourneyers' inn, and ladies giving the prize, and the construction of the lists (BN MS Fr 2693, circa 1488-9). Regrettably, the manuscript numbers for the illustrations that are reproduced in Bryan Holme, Medieval Pageant, London: Thames and Hudson, 1987, are not given: the illustrations include the entry of the crests to the cloister, the heralds presenting the sword to the Duke of Bourbon, and entry of the judges into the town, the inspection of the helmets, the two dukes fighting on horseback, the squire of honor in the lists, the ladies giving the prize, and a herald holding four banners. Quatrebarbes' edition is illustrated with a complete set of 19th century engravings based on the illuminations, probably those of MS 2692.

For detailed descriptions of the manuscripts and their history, see pp. 80-84 in Avril's facsimile and Paulin Paris, "Description des cinq manuscripts du livre des tournois de la bibliothèque du roi," in volume 2 of Quatrebarbe's edition.

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Elizabeth Bennett
Last revised: September 4, 1998
Copyright Elizabeth Bennett 1997
Illustrations copyright Will McLean 1997