sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3

Jean-Michel Cauneau / Dominique Philippe (éds.): "Le Roman de Monsieur Sylvestre" (1378)

The Presses Universitaires de Rennes deserve commendation for producing this remarkable volume. The book boasts a large format, glossy paper, and numerous high-resolution illustrations, making it a visually appealing work. Part of a series on medieval sources of Bretagne, this publication received support from the Société d'histoire et d'archéologie de Bretagne and the Fédération des sociétés historiques de Bretagne. This collaboration highlights the fact, that in the digital age, quality and affordability can coexist in printed material, offering a notable example for publishers striving to achieve both visual appeal and cost-effectiveness (the book costs a mere 39 euros). Price and quality will encourage the book's wide distribution to academics, and the wider public interested in local history, or the intricacies of late medieval wars, religion, and politics.

Divided into various sections, the edition includes a lengthy preface, an even more extensive introduction addressing different aspects of the text, and discussions on topics such as Guillaume de la Penne, the author of the Roman de Monsieur Sylvestre [Budes]; the fourteenth-century papal wars in Italy; Sylvestre Budes as a European Breton; Sylvestre's wars according to Guillaume de la Penne; and a short analysis of the edition of Clement VII's electoral "remembrance". A detailed bibliography separating French and Italian manuscripts from secondary sources ends the edition, followed by the editorial rules of transcription, and the editions.

The edition provides a comprehensive exploration of the Roman de Monsieur Sylvestre, that is the gesta of the Bretons in Italy. It includes parallel translations of the original old French verses into modern prose, ensuring accessibility. I will be candid. The translation reads fine to me, and since I am interested in content rather than form, I will let literary specialists discuss otherwise. The translation is certainly accurate, and this is good enough for this historian.

Abundant notes, a lexicon, an index of names and places, and various annexes, such as a pictorial journey following Guillaume de la Penne's iteration throughout Italy, enhance the reader's understanding. The editors matched old photographs/postcards with Guillaume's verses, and various tables illustrate Guillaume's chronological markers, a genealogical tree, while various maps (the area of Sablé-sur-Sarthe, Italy according to Guillaume) close the volume. The meticulous attention to detail and the inclusion of historical context contribute to the overall richness of the edition.

Marc-Édouard Gautier's preface sets the tone by addressing the somewhat anticlimactic end of the gesta's protagonist, Monsieur Sylvestre. One of the greatest condotierri of the fourteenth century died, quite dishonorably, decapitated on order of the bailiff of Mâcon. It may be this juxtaposition of honor and shame, that convinced a sponsor to uphold Budes' name with the penning of a gesta. Gautier emphasizes the choice of a chanson de geste over a chronicle to honor knightly deeds and the memory of the protagonist.

The edition delves into the author, Guillaume de la Penne, a knight who accompanied Budes in Italy, and his manuscript's convoluted history. Guillaume de la Penne is somewhat unknown. According to Jean-Michel Cauneau and Dominique Philippe, Guillaume was a knight, he wrote the gesta in 1378, he certainly accompanied Budes in Italy, and was thrice captured/released. And, he is certainly the author of the "remembrance" of Clement VII's election. The editors detail the tortuous history of the manuscript. A copy of the gesta authored by Guillaume Corr was found in Anger. This manuscript was then edited by Martène, but the identification of the copy's patron is problematic. After examining several hypotheses, the editors conclude that Thibault d' Anger, a squire of Du Guesclin, related to the Malestroits, must have requested this copy. We can note the "warlord" connection. Thibault ended up lord of Plessix-Anger in 1396 and a counselor of Marie de Blois, duchess of Anjou.

A discussion of Guillaume de la Penne's identity follows. Like his captain Sylvestre, Guillaume was not a native of Bretagne, and the rest of the chapter is spent identifying his origins (often by paying close attention to his language), to finally home in on Sablé-sur-Sarthe, a corner of Maine near Anjou. However, if Guillaume's actions lead him to a Breton identity, he never backed Bretagne's independence, keeping in line with his French allegiance. Moving us along, the editors present the state of Italy slightly before and after Gregory XI's return to Rome; Florence war of the Otto Santi, and the preponderance of Breton soldiers in the ranks of mercenaries. The term of diaspora guerrière bretonne (52) is well chosen.

One of the members of this diaspora was Sylvestre Budes, whose biography and historiography the editors detail next. A Breton like his cousin Bertrand du Guesclin (Sylvestre's father was married to Bertrand's aunt), his youth is little known. The gesta mentions his dubbing c. 1376 by Jean II de Malestroit. He is attested in the 1360s in the wars of succession in Bretagne, then Castille, then Gascony, to eventually end up in Italy during the reconquest of the papal states in 1376. The latter campaigns cemented his reputation of bravery and cruelty and brought fodder to Guillaume de la Penne's gesta. The gesta traces the troops itinerary, paralleling Gregory XI's return to Rome, the infamous sack of Cesena (allowed by Robert de Genève, future pope Clement VII, but executed in retaliation by Budes' troops), and the final argument that separated Budes from other leaders, like Raymond de Turenne. The gesta ends in Italy.

The editors' narrative follows Budes' campaigns and the initiation of the Great Western Schism, ultimately leading to his capture, release, and dishonorable death.

During the Schism, Budes' eventually benefitted from Clement VII's employment and favors, but the dire situation of the "French" in Italy, who lost most battles and support, led to his capture at the Battle of Marino, excommunication by Urban VI, quick release, imprisonment in Avignon and beheading in 1379 Mâcon. All with no clearly apparent motives. For Froissart, after his Italian release, Budes went to Avignon where Cardinal Jean de la Grange had him arrested for financial malversation. The motif of accusation is difficult to apprehend but the world of routiers reacted strongly against the inglorious death of this captain.

The last introductory chapter focuses on the gesta's portrayal of medieval professional war as a just and legitimate cause. Framed as a just war, one of the last "foreign" interventions in Italy, led with the legitimacy of a papal legate, and in accordance with Christian observance, the re-conquest of the papal states takes on imperceptibly the connotation of a crusade, and our mercenaries the appearance of adventurous knights of God. The gesta projects a (doubtful) romantic reality hiding the fact that romance was with the coin and not with the (non-existent) ladies. As the editors conclude this great tale of violent adventure is an act of resistance heralding from a time when chivalrous ideology was disappearing. Sylvestre, our hero, "labored" for the Church, upholding the sacrality of just warfare du temps passé.

Clement VII's "remembrance" is also analyzed, rehashing the topos of Roman violence during Urban VI's election. The crowd was nefarious and its actions illegitimated Urban's election. Conversely, evidence of Clement's legitimacy is presented with his coronation on All Saint's Day, rather than All Saint's Eve.

All in all, this edition caters to specialists interested in warfare, the history of Bretagne and its famous routiers, and the late medieval papal history. However, it is also accessible to a broader audience fascinated by medieval narratives and good "stories".

Rezension über:

Jean-Michel Cauneau / Dominique Philippe (éds.): "Le Roman de Monsieur Sylvestre" (1378). La Geste des Bretons en Italie, par Guillaume de La Penne, suivi de la Membrance du pape Clément VII (= Sources médiévales de l'histoire de Bretagne), Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2023, 369 S., 76 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-2-7535-8780-9, EUR 39,00

Rezension von:
Joëlle Rollo-Koster
University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Joëlle Rollo-Koster: Rezension von: Jean-Michel Cauneau / Dominique Philippe (éds.): "Le Roman de Monsieur Sylvestre" (1378). La Geste des Bretons en Italie, par Guillaume de La Penne, suivi de la Membrance du pape Clément VII, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3 [15.03.2024], URL:

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