Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mandeville, John
MANDEVILLE, Sir JOHN, was the ostensible author of the book of travels bearing his name and composed soon after the middle of the fourteenth century. The earliest known manuscript (Paris, Bibl. Nat. nouv. acq. franç. 4515, late Ashburnham MS. Barrois xxiv.) is dated 1371, and is in French; and from internal evidence it is clear that the English, Latin, and other texts are all derived, directly or indirectly, from a French original, the translation in no case being the author's own. The English text has practically come down to us in only three forms, and in no manuscript older than the fifteenth century. The common English version, and the only one printed before 1725, has, besides other deficiencies, a large gap in the account of Egypt (ed. Halliwell, 1866, p. 36, l. 7, ‘And there are,’ to p. 62, l. 25, ‘abbeye often tyme’). The other two English versions are of superior value, and are preserved, each in a single manuscript, in the British Museum, dating in both cases from about 1410 to 1420: that in Cotton MS. Titus C. xvi. was first edited anonymously in 1725, and through Halliwell's reprints (1839, 1866, &c.) has become the standard English text; the other version, in a more northerly dialect, and in some respects superior, is in Egerton MS. 1982, and was printed for the Roxburghe Club in 1889. As the Cotton manuscript has lost three leaves, the latter is really the only complete English text.
In Latin, as Dr. Vogels has shown, there are five independent versions. Four of them, which apparently originated in England (one manuscript, now at Leyden, being dated in 1390), have no special interest; the fifth, or vulgate Latin text, was no doubt made at Liège, and, as will be seen, has an important bearing on the author's identity. It is found in twelve manuscripts, all of the fifteenth century, and is the only Latin version as yet printed.
In his prologue the author styles himself Jehan de Mandeville, or John Maundevylle, knight, born and bred in England, of the town of St. Aubin or St. Albans; and he declares that he crossed the sea on Michaelmas day 1322 (or 1332, in the Egerton and some other English manuscripts), and had passed in his travels by Turkey (i.e. Asia Minor), Great and Little Armenia, Tartary, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Upper and Lower Egypt, Libya, a great part of Ethiopia, Chaldæa, Amazonia, and Lesser, Greater, and Middle India. He adds that he wrote especially for those who wished to visit Jerusalem, whither he had himself often ridden in good company, and in the French prologue he ends by stating that, to be more concise, he should have (j'eusse) written in Latin, but had chosen Romance, i.e. French, as being more widely understood. In the Latin, and all the English versions except the Cotton manuscript, this last sentence is suppressed, so that each tacitly claims to be an original work; in the Cotton manuscript it is perverted and reads: ‘And ye shall understand that I have put this book out of Latin into French, and translated it again out of French into English that every man of my nation may understand it.’ These words not only contradict the French text, but make Mandeville himself responsible for the English version in which they occur, and on the strength of them he has even been styled the ‘father of English prose.’ But the Cotton version, equally with the others, is disfigured by blunders, such as an author translating his own work could never have made (see Roxburghe edit. p. xiii). In the epilogue Mandeville repeats that he left England in 1322, and goes on to say that he had since ‘searched’ many a land, been in many a good company, and witnessed many a noble feat, although he had himself performed none, and that, being now forced by arthritic gout to seek repose, he had written his reminiscences, as a solace for his ‘wretched ease,’ in 1357, the thirty-fifth year since he set out. This is the date in the Paris manuscript; others, French and English, have 1356 (or 1366 in the case of those which make him start in 1332), while the vulgate Latin has 1355. In the Latin, moreover, he says that he wrote at Liège, and it is in the Cotton manuscript alone that, by an inexact rendering, he speaks of having actually reached home. The passage common to all the English versions, that on his way back he submitted his book to the pope at Rome, is, no doubt, spurious. It is at variance with his own account of the circumstances under which the work was written, and between 1309 and 1377 the popes resided not at Rome but at Avignon. A short dedicatory letter in Latin to Edward III, which is appended to some inferior French manuscripts, is also probably a late addition. In some copies the author's name appears as J. de Montevilla.
The work itself is virtually made up of two parts. The first treats mainly of the Holy Land and the routes thither, and in the Paris manuscript it gives the title to the whole, viz. ‘Le livre Jehan de Mandeville, chevalier, lequel parle de l'estat de la terre sainte et des merveilles que il y a veues.’ Although it is more a guide-book for pilgrims than strictly a record of the author's own travel, he plainly implies throughout that he wrote from actual experience. Incidentally he tells us he had been at Paris and at Constantinople, had long served the sultan of Egypt against the Bedouins, and had refused his offer of a prince's daughter in marriage, with a great estate, at the price of apostasy. He reports, too, a curious colloquy he had with the sultan on the vices of Christendom, and casually mentions that he left Egypt in the reign of Melechmadabron, by whom he possibly means Melik-el-Mudhaffar (1346–7). Finally, he speaks of being at the monastery of St. Catharine on Mount Sinai, and of having obtained access to the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem by special grace of the sultan, who gave him letters under the great seal. But in spite of these personal references almost the whole of his matter is undeniably taken from earlier writers. The framework, as Sir Henry Yule pointed out, is from William of Boldensele, a German knight and ex-Dominican who visited the holy places in 1332–3, and wrote in 1336 a sober account of his journey (Grotefend, Die Edelherren von Boldensele, 1852, 1855). From first to last Mandeville copies him closely, though not always with intelligence; but at the same time he borrows abundantly from other sources, interweaving his various materials with some skill. Apart from his use of church legends and romantic tales, the description he gives of the route through Hungary to Constantinople, and, later on, across Asia Minor, is a blundering plagiarism from the ‘History of the First Crusade’ by Albert of Aix, and his topography of Palestine, when not based on Boldensele, is a patchwork from twelfth- and thirteenth-century itineraries. His authority, therefore, for the condition of the holy places in his own time, though often quoted, is utterly worthless. Other passages can be traced to Pliny and Solinus, Peter Comestor, Vincent de Beauvais, Brunetto Latini, and Jacques de Vitry. From the last, for example, he ekes out Boldensele's account of the Bedouins, and it is from a careless reading of De Vitry that he turns the hunting leopards of Cyprus into ‘papions’ or baboons. The alphabets which he gives have won him some credit as a linguist, but only the Greek and the Hebrew (which were readily accessible) are what they pretend to be, and that which he calls Saracen actually comes from the ‘Cosmographia’ of Æthicus! His knowledge of Mohammedanism and its Arabic formulæ impressed even Yule. He was, however, wholly indebted for that information to the ‘Liber de Statu Saracenorum’ of William of Tripoli (circa 1270), as he was to the ‘Historiæ Orientis’ of Hetoum the Armenian (1307) for much of what he wrote about Egypt. In the last case, indeed, he shows a rare sign of independence, for he does not, with Hetoum, end his history of the sultanate about 1300, but carries it on to the death of En-Násir (1341) and names two of his successors. Although his statements about them are not historically accurate, this fact and a few other details suggest that he may really have been in Egypt, if not at Jerusalem, but the proportion of original matter is so very far short of what might be expected that even this is extremely doubtful.
In the second part of the work, which describes nearly all Asia, there is, apart from his own assertions, no trace of personal experience whatever. The place of Boldensele is here taken by Friar Odoric of Pordenone, whose intensely interesting narrative of eastern travel was written in 1330, shortly after his return home (Yule, Cathay and the Way thither, 1866; H. Cordier, O. de Pordenone, 1891). Odoric left Europe about 1316–18, and travelled slowly overland from Trebizond to the Persian Gulf, where he took ship at Hormuz for Tana, a little north of Bombay. Thence he sailed along the coast to Malabar, Ceylon, and Mailapur, now Madras. After visiting Sumatra, Java, and other islands, Champa or S. Cochin-China, and Canton, he ultimately made his way northward through China to Cambalec or Pekin. There he remained three years, and then started homeward by land, but his route after Tibet is not recorded. Mandeville practically steals the whole of these extensive travels and makes them his own, adding, as before, a mass of heterogeneous matter acquired by the same means. Next to Odoric he makes most use of Hetoum, from whom he took, besides other details, his summary description of the countries of Asia and his history of the Mongols. For Mongol manners and customs he had recourse to John de Plano Carpini and Simon de St. Quentin, papal envoys to the Tartars about 1250. These two thirteenth-century writers he probably knew only through lengthy extracts in the ‘Speculum’ of Vincent de Beauvais (d. 1264?). This vast storehouse of mediæval knowledge he ransacked thoroughly, as he did also to some extent the kindred ‘Tresor’ of Brunetto Latini (d. 1294). He admits in one place (contradicting his prologue) that he was never in Tartary itself, though he had been in Russia (Galicia), Livonia, Cracow, and other countries bordering on it, but, without once naming his authorities, he writes throughout in the tone of an eye-witness. He even transfers to his own days, ‘when I was there,’ the names of Tartar princes of a century before (Roxb. ed. p. 209). Much in the same way he adopts Pliny's language about the ships of his time, so that it serves for those of the fourteenth century (ib. p. 219), and gives as his own a mode of computing the size of the earth which he found recorded of Eratosthenes (ib. p. 200). But it may be that from Vincent de Beauvais's ‘Speculum,’ and not directly from Pliny, Solinus, or the early Bestiaries, he obtained particulars of the fabulous monsters, human and brute, the existence of which he records as sober fact in the extreme East. Without doubt in the ‘Speculum’ he read Cæsar's account of the customs of the Britons, which he applies almost word for word to the inhabitants of one of his imaginary islands (Roxb. ed. p. 218). But, whether repeating fact or fable, he associates himself with it. A good example of his method is his story of the mythical Fount of Youth. He takes this from Prester John's letter, and foists it upon Odoric's account of Malabar, but he adds that he himself had drunk of the fount, and still felt the good effects. Similarly at various stages he makes out that he had taken observations with the astrolabe, not only in Brabant and Germany towards Bohemia, but in the Indian Ocean, had seen with his own eyes the gigantic reeds of the island of ‘Panten,’ had sailed within sight of the rocks of adamant, and had been in the country of the Vegetable Lamb. He even represents that his travels extended from 62° 10߱ north to 33° 16߱ south. Further, in following Odoric through Cathay he adds conversations of his own at Cansay and at Cambalec, and asserts that he and his comrades served the Great Khan for fifteen months against the king of Manzi. The way he deals with Odoric's story of the devil-haunted Valley Perilous is curious; for in working it up with augmented horrors he tells how, with some of his fellows, he succeeded in passing through, after being shriven by two Friars Minor of Lombardy, who were with them. Evidently he here alludes to Odoric himself, so as to forestall a charge of plagiarism by covertly suggesting that they travelled together. This theory was in fact put forward as early as the fifteenth century, to account for the agreement between the two works, and it was even asserted that Mandeville wrote first. Such, however, was certainly not the case, and all the evidence goes to prove that his book is not only a mere compilation, but a deliberate imposture.
There are strong grounds, too, for the belief that his name is as fictitious as his travels. Mandeville is mentioned, indeed, as a famous traveller in Burton's ‘Chronicle of Meaux Abbey,’ written between 1388 and 1396 (Rolls ed., 1868, iii. 158), and again, about 1400, in a list of local celebrities appended to Amundesham's ‘Annals of St. Albans’ (Rolls ed., 1871, ii. 306). These notices, however, and others later, are plainly based on his own statements; and the fact that a sapphire ring at St. Albans (ib. p. 331) and a crystal orb at Canterbury (Leland, Comment., 1709, p. 368) were exhibited among relics as his gifts only attests the fame of his book. No other kind of trace of him can be found in England, for the legend of his burial at St. Albans was of late growth. Although in the fourteenth century the Mandevilles were no longer earls of Essex, the name was not uncommon. One family bearing it was seated at Black Notley in Essex, and another was of Marshwood in Dorset, holding lands also in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Devonshire, and elsewhere. At least two members of the latter were called John between 1300 and 1360, and other contemporary Mandevilles of the same name are also known (Roxb. ed. p. xxx). Two more have recently been found by Mr. Edward Scott as witnesses to a charter, now at Westminster Abbey, relating to Edmonton, Middlesex, and dated in 1312–13. Nothing, however, is recorded of any one of them that makes his identity with the traveller at all probable.
On the other hand, there is abundant proof that the tomb of the author of the ‘Travels’ was to be seen in the church of the Guillemins or Guillelmites at Liège down to the demolition of the building in 1798. The fact of his burial there, with the date of his death, 17 Nov. 1372, was published by Bale in 1548 (Summarium, f. 149 b), and was confirmed independently by Jacob Meyer (Annales rerum Flandric., 1561, p. 165) and Lud. Guicciardini (Paesi Bassi, 1567, p. 281). Ortelius (Itinerarium, 1584, p. 16) is more explicit, and gives the epitaph in full. As corrected by other copies, notably one sent by Edmund Lewknor, an English priest at Liège, to John Pits (De Ill. Angl. Scriptt. 1619, p. 511), it ran: ‘Hic jacet vir nobilis Dom. Joannes de Mandeville, alias dictus ad Barbam, Miles, Dominus de Campdi, natus de Anglia, medicinæ professor, devotissimus orator, et bonorum suorum largissimus pauperibus erogator, qui, toto quasi orbe lustrato, Leodii diem vitæ suæ clausit extremum, A.D. mccclxxii., mensis Nov. die xvii.’ Ortelius adds that it was on a stone whereon was also carved an armed man with forked beard trampling on a lion, with a hand blessing him from above, together with the words: ‘Vos ki paseis sor mi por lamour deix (de Dieu) proies por mi.’ The shield when he saw it was bare, but he was told it once contained, on a brass plate, the arms azure, a lion argent with a crescent on his breast gules, within a bordure engrailed or. These were not the arms of any branch of Mandeville, but, except the crescent (which may have marked a difference for a second son), they appear to have been borne by Tyrrell and Lamont (Papworth, Ordinary, 1874, p. 118). Another description of them in German verse, with a somewhat faulty copy of the epitaph, was given by Jacob Püterich in his ‘Ehrenbrief,’ written in 1462, the poet stating that he went twelve miles out of his way to visit the tomb (Haupt, Zeitschrift, 1848, vi. 56). It is not very intelligible, but it mentions the lion, and adds that the helm was surmounted by an ape (Mörkhacz). Of about the same date is a notice of Mandeville, based on the epitaph, in the ‘Chronicle’ (1230–1461) of Cornelis Zantfliet, who was a monk of St. Jacques at Liège; and earlier still Radulphus de Rivo (d. 1403), dean of Tongres, some ten miles from Liège, has an interesting passage on him in his ‘Gesta Pontificum Leodiensium.’ He says not only that he was buried among the Guillemins, but that he wrote his ‘Travels’ in three languages. By an obvious misreading of the date on the tomb (v for x) he places his death in 1367.
But the most important piece of evidence for the author's identity was made known in 1866 (S. Bormans, in Bibliophile Belge, p. 236), though it was not appreciated until 1884 (E. B. Nicholson, in Academy, xxv. 261). This is an extract made by the Liège herald, Louis Abry (1643–1720), from the fourth book, now lost, of the ‘Myreur des Histors,’ or ‘General Chronicle,’ of Jean des Preis or d'Outremeuse (1338–1399). It is to this effect: ‘In 1372 died at Liège, 12 [sic] Nov., a man of very distinguished birth, but content to pass there under the name of “Jean de Bourgogne dit à la Barbe.” He revealed himself, however, on his deathbed to Jean d'Outremeuse, his friend and executor. In fact, in his will he styled himself “Messire Jean de Mandeville, chevalier, comte de Montfort en Angleterre et seigneur de l'isle de Campdi et du Chateau Perouse.” Having, however, had the misfortune to kill in his own country a count (or earl), whom he does not name, he bound himself to traverse three parts of the world. He came to Liège in 1343, and, although of very exalted rank, he preferred to keep himself there concealed. He was, besides, a great naturalist, and a profound philosopher and astrologer, and he had above all an extraordinary knowledge of medicine, rarely deceiving himself when he gave his opinion as to a patient's chances of recovery. On his death he was interred among the Guillelmins in the suburb of Avroy’ (cf. S. Bormans, Chronique et Geste de J. des Preis, 1887, p. cxxxiii). D'Outremeuse again mentions Mandeville in his ‘Tresorier de Philosophie Naturelle’ (Bibl. Nat., fonds franç., 12326). Without connecting him with De Bourgogne he there styles him ‘Seigneur de Monfort,’ &c., and quotes several passages in Latin from a ‘Lapidaire des Indois,’ of which he says he was the author; a French version of the ‘Lapidaire’ was printed under Mandeville's name at Lyons about 1530. D'Outremeuse also asserts that Mandeville lived seven years at Alexandria, and that a Saracen friend gave him some fine jewels, which he (D'Outremeuse) afterwards acquired. As to Jean de Bourgogne à la Barbe, the name is otherwise known as that of the author of a treatise on the plague. Manuscripts of this are extant in Latin, French, and English, the author sometimes being called De Burdegalia, De Burdeus, &c.; and it is significant that a French copy originally formed part of the same manuscript as the Paris Mandeville ‘Travels’ of 1371 (L. Delisle, Cat. des MSS. Libri et Barrois, 1888, p. 252). The colophon of the treatise states that it was composed by Jean de Bourgogne à la Barbe in 1365 at Liège, where he had before written other noble scientific works; and in the text he claims to have had forty years of medical experience, and to have written two previous tracts on kindred subjects. He appears again, as ‘John with the Beard,’ in the Latin vulgate version of Mandeville's ‘Travels.’ Mandeville is there made to say that, when in Egypt, he met about the Sultan's court a venerable and clever physician ‘sprung from our own parts;’ that long afterwards at Liège, on his way home in 1355, he recognised the same physician in Master John ‘ad Barbam,’ whom he consulted when laid up with arthritic gout in the street Basse Sauvenière; and that he wrote the account of his wanderings at Master John's instigation and with his aid. The same story has even been quoted from a French manuscript, with the name Jean de Bourgogne in full, and the added detail that Mandeville lodged at Liège in the hostel of one Henkin Levoz (Roxb. ed. p. xxviii). As the whole incident is absent from the French manuscripts generally, it could hardly have formed part of the original work; but it marks a stage towards the actual identification of De Bourgogne with Mandeville, as asserted by D'Outremeuse's chronicle and implied in the epitaph, which D'Outremeuse probably composed. But, admitting this identity, there is the question, Which of the two names, Mandeville or De Bourgogne, was authentic?
If D'Outremeuse reported truly, De Bourgogne in his will claimed not only to be Sir John Mandeville, but count, or earl, of Montfort in England. Such a title was certainly never borne by the Mandeville family, and the probability is that it, like the other appellation (‘seigneur de l'isle de Campdi et du Chateau Perouse’) given by D'Outremeuse to his mysterious friend, was a fiction. D'Outremeuse's account of the cause of his friend's departure from England may be possibly based on historical fact, although the investigation is full of difficulty.
One John de Burgoyne, who was in Edward II's reign chamberlain to John, baron de Mowbray, took part with his master in the rising against the two Despensers, the king's favourites, in 1321. The Despensers were then banished, and De Burgoyne was, for his share in the attack on them, pardoned by parliament on 20 Aug. 1321 (Parl. Writs, ii. div. ii. App. p. 167, div. iii. p. 619). Next year the Despensers were recalled by the king, and they defeated their enemies at Boroughbridge on 16 March, when Mowbray, De Burgoyne's master, was executed. John de Burgoyne thus lost his patron, and in May his own position was seriously endangered by the formal revocation of his earlier pardon, so that he had cogent reasons for quitting England. Mandeville, in his ‘Travels,’ professes to have left his native country at Michaelmas 1322. This coincidence of date is far from proving that the Burgoyne in Mowbray's service is identical with the Jean de Bourgogne who died at Liège in 1372, and who is credited by D'Outremeuse with assuming the alias of Mandeville; but their identity is not impossible. It would account for such knowledge of England as is shown now and then in the ‘Travels’ (in the remarks, for example, on the letters þ and ȝ), and even perhaps for the choice of the pseudonym of Mandeville. For Burgoyne, as the foe of the Despensers, was a partisan of a real John de Mandeville, probably of Marshwood, who, implicated in 1312 in the death of Piers Gaveston [q. v.], was pardoned in 1313 (ib. ii. div. iii. p. 1138). This Mandeville was not apparently involved in the events of 1322, and would himself be too old in 1312 to make it reasonable to identify him in any way with the friend of D'Outremeuse, who died sixty years later, in 1372. But his name might easily have been adopted by Burgoyne, the exile of 1322. In any case, the presumption is that the Liège physician's true name was De Bourgogne, and that he wrote the ‘Travels’ under the pseudonym of Mandeville. Whether D'Outremeuse was his dupe or accomplice is open to doubt. D'Outremeuse was not over-scrupulous, for the travels which Mandeville took from Odoric he in turn took from Mandeville, inserting them in the ‘Myreur’ as those of his favourite hero Ogier le Danois (ed. Borgnet, 1873, iii. 57). There are signs, too, that he may at least have been responsible for the Latin version of Mandeville's ‘Travels,’ in which Ogier's name also occurs; but if he had no hand in the original, he had ample means of detecting its character; his own authorities for the extant books of the ‘Myreur’ (Chronique, p. xcv) include nearly all those which Mandeville used.
The success of the ‘Travels’ was remarkable. Avowedly written for the unlearned, and combining interest of matter and a quaint simplicity of style, the book hit the popular taste, and in a marvel-loving age its most extravagant features probably had the greatest charm. No mediæval work was more widely diffused in the vernacular, and in English especially it lost nothing, errors apart, by translation, the philological value of the several versions being also considerable. Besides the French, English, and Latin texts, there are others in Italian and Spanish, Dutch and Walloon, German, Bohemian, Danish, and Irish, and some three hundred manuscripts are said to have survived. In English Dr. Vogels enumerates thirty-four. In the British Museum are ten French, nine English, six Latin, three German, and two Irish manuscripts. The work was plagiarised not only by D'Outremeuse, but by the Bavarian traveller Schiltberger, who returned home in 1427. More curiously still, as Mr. Paget Toynbee has lately proved (Romania, 1892, xxi. 228), Christine de Pisan, in 1402, borrowed from it largely in her ‘Chemin de Long Estude’ (vv. 1191–1568); the sibyl who conducted Christine in a vision through the other world first showed her what was worth seeing here in terms almost identical with Mandeville's.
According to M. Cordier the first edition in type was the German version of Otto von Diemeringen, printed probably at Bâle about 1475, but an edition in Dutch is thought to have appeared at least as early as 1470 (Campbell, Typogr. Néerlandaise, 1874, p. 338). Another German version by Michel Velser was printed at Augsburg, 1481. The earliest edition of the French text is dated Lyons, 4 April 1480, and was speedily followed by a second, Lyons, 8 Feb. 1480–1. The year 1480 also saw an edition in Italian, printed at Milan. The earliest Latin editions are undated, but one has been assigned, on good grounds, to Gerard Leeu of Antwerp, 1485. In English the earliest dated edition is that of Wynkyn de Worde, 1499, reprinted in 1503. It was perhaps preceded by Pynson's, a unique copy of which is in the Grenville Library, No. 6713. An edition by T. Este, 1568, contains virtually the same woodcuts which have been repeated down to our own days. Fifteen editions in English before 1725 are known, all, as before stated, of the defective text. The edition of Cotton MS. Titus C. xvi. in 1725 and its reprints have already been mentioned. Modernised forms of it have been edited by T. Wright, ‘Early Travels in Palestine,’ 1848, and by H. Morley, 1886.