sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3

Philippe de Vigneulles: Mémoires

Alain Cullière's edition of Philippe de Vigneulles' Mémoires is, at face value, a daunting read: over 500 pages, most of it being the original transcribed manuscript written by de Vigneulles on his life as an influential draper and merchant in late-medieval Metz. One might think that this would read as more of a diary detailing the daily events, troubles, and practices of an artisan and merchant. Instead, we are served with a rich, chronicle-like, detailing of not just de Vigneulles' life, but the politics and economy of late-medieval Metz, Lorraine, and France.

For historians, narrative sources are always interesting as they offer a glimpse into a contemporary mentality and mood, but they can also contain issues of embellishment and omission. Thankfully, Cullière's provides us with his own critical investigation of the source at hand. In it, he explains to the reader that de Vigneulles is an experienced writer, having written three major works central to understanding Metz in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: the Chronique, a universal history on Metz; the geste des Lorrains (the deeds of the Lorrainians), a mythology; and a collection covering various curiosities and stories about people in Metz. Cullière also reveals to us a fourth work however: the Mémoires.

This work, written in the 1520s, compiles what happened during his life in Metz, Lorraine, and France and rather than just giving us a summation of facts and dates constitutes a long essay. We also get some historical criticism: the work is quite patriotic, if not propagandist, glorifying feats worthy of memory. We get a window into a shaping of memory by de Vigneulles for his intended audience: contemporaries but most importantly, those of his lineage still to come. The result: a 'little project' (11) of over 500 pages.

Cullière then proceeds to summarise the most important takeaways from the Mémoires: the troubles merchant life entailed (debts, dangers on the road), the practise of banishment, Metz' enemies, as well as de Vigneulles' travels, both as a merchant and as a pilgrim. Cullière rightly notes that we should keep in mind that de Vigneulles might be embellishing his own memory to impress his descendants. These 20-or-so pages of introduction are finalised with a more literary approach, regarding the narration style of de Vigneulles, as well as various pitfalls in the source, such as the difficulty to historically trace various individuals mentioned and the vagueness of his early life.

What follows is a neatly constructed narrative for which Cullière deserves praise. It is written in an accessible modern French, which the non-native reader picks up easily. This is not an easy task, especially considering the density of the original material, written in a medieval French, if not local dialect, laden with abbreviations and lacking modern conventions of punctuation. The source itself is a goldmine for researchers: for economic historians what stands out the most is de Vigneulles' diligent record-keeping of wheat and grain prices, as well as the price of wine. This is something Cullière mentions in his introduction as well. It would, however, have been useful for the index to also include a thematic section giving an oversight of the pages containing relevant information on economic and political developments. As enjoyable a read as it was, de Vigneulles has 'blessed' the reader with over 500 pages worth of information. There is a comprehensive index for persons and places, but given the source's richness in economic information, it lacks a thematic index. Cullière's editing has worked this into a digestible and engaging read for the modern scholar, but it is doubtful that laboriously leafing through hundreds of pages in search of sparse grain prices is in ample supply. Consider for instance de Vigneulles' many trips to the Parisian market of Lendit. Putting together his itinerary may be interesting to have a look at the year-cycle of his business: when is most of the cash earned, when does most of the actual drapery labour take place, when does he stock up on his inventory?

The same applies to warfare: de Vigneulles account gives detailed descriptions of the various sieges Metz went through in his lifetime, the tactics of the city's enemies and the not infrequent terror wrought upon the countryside by roaming mercenary bands. Witchcraft, pilgrimages, and executions of murderers feature heavily in this book. It is a true treasure of information not just for those studying Metz, but any scholar interested in the social, political, and economic fabric of the late-medieval city. The writings of de Vigneulles are relevant to a broad array of scholars, and Cullière has done an admirable job at transcribing and editing it into an accessible tome. It is, however, a tome in need of a thematic index.

A similar critical note, not of the content, but in terms of editing, arises when confronted with the endnotes-style adopted by the book. Though unclear whether this was Cullière's decision or that of his publisher, it does strike the reader as an opaque system of providing both historical and crucially, historiographical context to passages in the text. The endnotes list provided at the end of the book is plentiful and exhaustive, but accessing it throughout the reading, cover-to-cover, in such a large body of text, only distracts and frustrates the reader.

The richness of de Vigneulles' Mémoires do not help either. Take for instance the case of his and his father's abduction in the context of Metz' conflict with the Duke of Lorraine in the late fifteenth century. About 70 pages are dedicated to this episode, an episode that, at times, reads like any best-selling thriller. For academics, the usage of footnotes would be optimal to not lose one's bearings in the density of information de Vigneulles offers when explaining this traumatic experience, whilst consuming important historical nuance and the context of the conflict between Metz and the Duke of Lorraine.

In short, the lack of a thematic index and the usage of endnotes rather than footnotes do complicate a scholarly reading of the book, especially if not approached cover-to-cover. However, overall, this is an excellent read written in an accessible and clean French for which Cullière deserves praise. It is certainly a must-read for those interested in late-medieval urban life: economic, cultural, political historians, as well as historical anthropologists and sociologists. All will find a rich vein of historical information worth prospecting.

Rezension über:

Philippe de Vigneulles: Mémoires. Traduction en français moderne, introduction et notes par Alain Cullière (= Traductions des Classiques du Moyen Âge; 109), Paris: Editions Honoré Champion 2023, 558 S., ISBN 978-2-7453-5834-9, EUR 48,00

Rezension von:
Adam Hall
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Adam Hall: Rezension von: Philippe de Vigneulles: Mémoires. Traduction en français moderne, introduction et notes par Alain Cullière, Paris: Editions Honoré Champion 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3 [15.03.2024], URL:

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