1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Joinville, Jean, Sire de
JOINVILLE, JEAN, Sire de (1224–1319), was the second great writer of history in Old French, and in a manner occupies the interval between Villehardouin and Froissart. Numerous minor chroniclers fill up the gaps, but no one of them has the idiosyncrasy which distinguishes these three writers, who illustrate the three periods of the middle ages—adolescence, complete manhood, and decadence. Joinville was the head of a noble family of the province of Champagne (see Joinville, above). The provincial court of the counts of Champagne had long been a distinguished one, and the action of Thibaut the poet, together with the proximity of the district to Paris, made the province less rebellious than most of the great feudal divisions of France to the royal authority. Joinville’s first appearance at the king’s court was in 1241, on the occasion of the knighting of Louis IX.’s younger brother Alphonse. Seven years afterwards he took the cross, thereby giving St Louis a valuable follower, and supplying himself with the occasion of an eternal memory. The crusade, in which he distinguished himself equally by wisdom and prowess, taught his practical spirit several lessons. He returned with the king in 1254. But, though his reverence for the personal character of his prince seems to have known no bounds, he had probably gauged the strategic faculties of the saintly king, and he certainly had imbibed the spirit of the dictum that a man’s first duties are those to his own house. He was in the intervals of residence on his own fief a constant attendant on the court, but he declined to accompany the king on his last and fatal expedition. In 1282 he was one of the witnesses whose testimony was formally given at St Denis in the matter of the canonization of Louis, and in 1298 he was present at the exhumation of the saint’s body. It was not till even later that he began his literary work, the occasion being a request from Jeanne of Navarre, the wife of Philippe le Bel and the mother of Louis le Hutin. The great interval between his experiences and the period of the composition of his history is important for the due comprehension of the latter. Some years passed before the task was completed, on its own showing, in October 1309. Jeanne was by this time dead, and Joinville presented his book to her son Louis the Quarreller. This original manuscript is now lost, whereby hangs a tale. Great as was his age, Joinville had not ceased to be actively loyal, and in 1315 he complied with the royal summons to bear arms against the Flemings. He was at Joinville again in 1317, and on the 11th of July 1319 he died at the age of ninety-five, leaving his possessions and his position as seneschal of Champagne to his second son Anselm. He was buried in the neighbouring church of St Laurent, where during the Revolution his bones underwent profanation. Besides his Histoire de Saint Louis and his Credo or “Confession of Faith” written much earlier, a considerable number, relatively speaking, of letters and business documents concerning the fief of Joinville and so forth are extant. These have an importance which we shall consider further on; but Joinville owes his place in general estimation only to his history of his crusading experiences and of the subsequent fate of St Louis.
Of the famous French history books of the middle ages Joinville’s bears the most vivid impress of the personal characteristics of its composer. It does not, like Villehardouin, give us a picture of the temper and habits of a whole order or cast of men during a heroic period of human history; it falls far short of Froissart in vivid portraying of the picturesque and external aspects of social life; but it is a more personal book than either. The age and circumstances of the writer must not be forgotten in reading it. He is a very old man telling of circumstances which occurred in his youth. He evidently thinks that the times have not changed for the better—what with the frequency with which the devil is invoked in modern France, and the sinful expenditure common in the matter of embroidered silk coats. But this laudation of times past concentrates itself almost wholly on the person of the sainted king whom, while with feudal independence he had declined to swear fealty to him, “because I was not his man,” he evidently regarded with an unlimited reverence. His age, too, while garrulous to a degree, seems to have been free from the slightest taint of boasting. No one perhaps ever took less trouble to make himself out a hero than Joinville. He is constantly admitting that on such and such an occasion he was terribly afraid; he confesses without the least shame that, when one of his followers suggested defiance of the Saracens and voluntary death, he (Joinville) paid not the least attention to him; nor does he attempt to gloss in any way his refusal to accompany St Louis on his unlucky second crusade, or his invincible conviction that it was better to be in mortal sin than to have the leprosy, or his decided preference for wine as little watered as might be, or any other weakness. Yet he was a sincerely religious man, as the curious Credo, written at Acre and forming a kind of anticipatory appendix to the history, sufficiently shows. He presents himself as an altogether human person, brave enough in the field, and, at least when young, capable of extravagant devotion to an ideal, provided the ideal was fashionable, but having at bottom a sufficient respect for his own skin and a full consciousness of the side on which his bread is buttered. Nor can he be said to be in all respects an intelligent traveller. There were in him what may be called glimmerings of deliberate literature, but they were hardly more than glimmerings. His famous description of Greek fire has a most provoking mixture of circumstantial detail with absence of verifying particulars. It is as matter-of-fact and comparative as Dante, without a touch of Dante’s genius. “The fashion of Greek fire was such that it came to us as great as a tun of verjuice, and the fiery tail of it was as big as a mighty lance; it made such noise in the coming that it seemed like the thunder from heaven, and looked like a dragon flying through the air; so great a light did it throw that throughout the host men saw as though it were day for the light it threw.” Certainly the excellent seneschal has not stinted himself of comparisons here, yet they can hardly be said to be luminous. That the thing made a great flame, a great noise, and struck terror into the beholder is about the sum of it all. Every now and then indeed a striking circumstance, strikingly told, occurs in Joinville, such as the famous incident of the woman who carried in one hand a chafing dish of fire, in the other a phial of water, that she might burn heaven and quench hell, lest in future any man should serve God merely for hope of the one or fear of the other. But in these cases the author only repeats what he has heard from others. On his own account he is much more interested in small personal details than in greater things. How the Saracens, when they took him prisoner, he being half dead with a complication of diseases, kindly left him “un mien couverture d’écarlate” which his mother had given him, and which he put over him, having made a hole therein and bound it round him with a cord; how when he came to Acre in a pitiable condition an old servant of his house presented himself, and “brought me clean white hoods and combed my hair most comfortably”, how he bought a hundred tuns of wine and served it—the best first, according to high authority—well-watered to his private soldiers, somewhat less watered to the squires, and to the knights neat, but with a suggestive phial of the weaker liquid to mix “si comme ils vouloient”—these are the details in which he seems to take greatest pleasure, and for readers six hundred years after date perhaps they are not the least interesting details.
It would, however, be a mistake to imagine that Joinville’s book is exclusively or even mainly a chronicle of small beer. If he is not a Villehardouin or a Carlyle, his battlepieces are vivid and truthful, and he has occasional passages of no small episodic importance, such as that dealing with the Old Man of the Mountain. But, above all, the central figure of his book redeems it from the possibility of the charge of being commonplace or ignoble. To St Louis Joinville is a nobler Boswell; and hero-worshipper, hero, and heroic ideal all have something of the sublime about them. The very pettiness of the details in which the good seneschal indulges as to his own weakness only serves to enhance the sublime unworldliness of the king. Joinville is a better warrior than Louis, but, while the former frankly prays for his own safety, the latter only thinks of his army’s when they have escaped from the hands of the aliens. One of the king’s knights boasts that ten thousand pieces have been “forcontés” (counted short) to the Saracens; and it is with the utmost trouble that Joinville and the rest can persuade the king that this is a joke, and that the Saracens are much more likely to have got the advantage. He warns Joinville against wine-bibbing, against bad language, against all manner of foibles small and great; and the pupil acknowledges that this physician at any rate had healed himself in these respects. It is true that he is severe towards infidels; and his approval of the knight who, finding a Jew likely to get the better of a theological argument, resorted to the baculine variety of logic, does not meet the views of the 20th century. But Louis was not of the 20th century but of the 13th, and after his kind he certainly deserved Joinville’s admiration. Side by side with his indignation at the idea of cheating his Saracen enemies may be mentioned his answer to those who after Taillebourg complained that he had let off Henry III. too easily. “He is my man now, and he was not before,” said the king, a most unpractical person certainly, and in some ways a sore saint for France. But it is easy to understand the half-despairing adoration with which a shrewd and somewhat prosaic person like Joinville must have regarded this flower of chivalry born out of due time. He has had his reward, for assuredly the portrait of St Louis, from the early collection of anecdotes to the last hearsay sketch of the woeful end at Tunis, with the famous enseignement which is still the best summary of the theoretical duties of a Christian king in medieval times, is such as to take away all charge of vulgarity or mere commérage from Joinville, a charge to which otherwise he might perhaps have been exposed.
The arrangement of the book is, considering its circumstances and the date of its composition, sufficiently methodical. According to its own account it is divided into three parts—the first dealing generally with the character and conduct of the hero; the second with his acts and deeds in Egypt, Palestine, &c., as Joinville knew them; the third with his subsequent life and death. Of these the last is very brief, the first not long; the middle constitutes the bulk of the work. The contents of the first part are, as might be expected, miscellaneous enough, and consist chiefly of stories chosen to show the valour of Louis, his piety, his justice, his personal temperance, and so forth. The second part enters upon the history of the crusade itself, and tells how Joinville pledged all his land save so much as would bring in a thousand livres a year, and started with a brave retinue of nine knights (two of whom besides himself wore bannerets), and shared a ship with the sire d’Aspremont, leaving Joinville without raising his eyes, “pour ce que le cuer ne me attendrisist du biau chastel que je lessoie et de mes deux enfans”; how they could not get out of sight of a high mountainous island (Lampedusa or Pantellaria) till they had made a procession round the masts in honour of the Virgin; how they reached first Cyprus and then Egypt; how they took Damietta, and then entangled themselves in the Delta. Bad generalship, which is sufficiently obvious, unwholesome food—it was Lent, and they ate the Nile fish which had been feasting on the carcases of the slain—and Greek fire did the rest, and personal valour was of little avail, not merely against superior numbers and better generals, but against dysentery and a certain “mal de l’ost” which attacked the mouth and the legs, a curious human version of a well-known bestial malady. After ransom Acre was the chief scene of Louis’s stay in the East, and here Joinville lived in some state, and saw not a few interesting things, hearing besides much gossip as to the inferior affairs of Asia from ambassadors, merchants and others. At last they journeyed back again to France, not without considerable experiences of the perils of the deep, which Joinville tells with a good deal of spirit. The remainder of the book is very brief. Some anecdotes of the king’s “justice,” his favourite and distinguishing attribute during the sixteen years which intervened between the two crusades, are given; then comes the story of Joinville’s own refusal to join the second expedition, a refusal which bluntly alleged the harm done by the king’s men who stayed at home to the vassals of those who went abroad as the reason of Joinville’s resolution to remain behind. The death of the king at Tunis, his enseignement to his son, and the story of his canonization complete the work.
The book in which this interesting story is told has had a literary history which less affects its matter than the vicissitudes to which Froissart has been subjected, but which is hardly less curious in its way. There is no reason for supposing that Joinville indulged in various editions, such as those which have given Kervyn de Lettenhove and Siméon Luce so much trouble, and which make so vast a difference between the first and the last redaction of the chronicler of the Hundred Years’ War. Indeed the great age of the seneschal of Champagne, and his intimate first-hand acquaintance with his subject, made such variations extremely improbable. But, whereas there is no great difficulty (though much labour) in ascertaining the original and all subsequent texts of Froissart, the original text of Joinville was until recently unknown, and even now may be said to be in the state of a conjectural restoration. It has been said that the book was presented to Louis le Hutin. Now we have a catalogue of Louis le Hutin’s library, and, strange to say, Joinville does not figure in it. His book seems to have undergone very much the same fate as that which befell the originals of the first two volumes of the Paston Letters which Sir John Fenn presented to George the Third. Several royal library catalogues of the 14th century are known, but in none of these does the Histoire de St Louis appear. It does appear in that of Charles V. (1411), but apparently no copy even of this survives. As everybody knows, however, books could be and were multiplied by the process of copying tolerably freely, and a copy at first or second hand which belonged to the fiddler king René of Provence in the 15th century was used for the first printed edition in 1547. Other editions were printed from other versions, all evidently posterior to the original. But in 1741 the well-known medievalist La Curne de St Palaye found at Lucca a manuscript of the 16th century, evidently representing an older text than any yet printed. Three years later a 14th-century copy was found at Brussels, and this is the standard manuscript authority for the text of Joinville. Those who prefer to rest on MS. authority will probably hold to this text, which appears in the well-known collection of Michaud and Poujoulat as well as that of Buchon, and in a careful and useful separate edition by Francisque Michel. The modern science of critical editing, however, which applies to medieval texts the principles long recognized in editing the classics, has discovered in the 16th-century manuscript, and still more in the original miscellaneous works of Joinville, the letters, deeds, &c., already alluded to, the materials for what we have already called a conjectural restoration, which is not without its interest, though perhaps it is possible for that interest to be exaggerated.
For merely general readers Buchon’s or Michaud’s editions of Joinville will amply suffice. Both include translations into modern French, which, however, are hardly necessary, for the language is very easy. Natalis de Wailly’s editions of 1868 and particularly 1874 are critical editions, embodying the modern research connected with the text, the value of which is considerable, but contestable. They are accompanied by ample annotations and appendices, with illustrations of great merit and value. Much valuable information appeared for the first time in the edition of F. Michel (1859). To these may be added A. F. Didot’s Études sur Joinville (1870) and H. F. Delaborde’s Jean de Joinville (1894). A good sketch of the whole subject will be found in Aubertin’s Histoire de la langue et de la littérature françaises au moyen âge, ii. 196–211; see also Gaston Paris, Litt. française au moyen âge (1893), and A. Debidour, Les Chroniqueurs (1888). There are English translations by T. Johnes (1807), J. Hutton (1868), Ethel Wedgwood (1906), and (more literally) Sir F. T. Marzials (“Everyman’s Library,” 1908). (G. Sa.)