From Widukind the Saxon to Girard de Roussillon. Carolingian cycle... & maybe an early modern Queen

From Widukind the Saxon to Girard de Roussillon. Carolingian cycle... & maybe an early modern Queen


"Oh, my heart! Who invaded?! Charlemaine?! Oh, my heart!"

Something like this seems to be said by the man who stood up from his chess game in the above illustration. Don't know but it looked a little humorous! Anyway...


Widukind the Saxon

The head illustration can be found in Chroniques et conquestes de Charlemaine, a long text written by David Aubert, in 1460 ca for Philip the Good, and illustrated by Jean le Tavernier - a great artist I think. A history of Charlemagne with many elements taken from previous tradition, written in the really unique manuscripts KBR Mss 9066-68.

The illustration has originally the following caption: "Comment Guitelin de Sessoine estant a Tresmoigne our parler de la venue Charlemaine". Here from Cronicques et conquestes de Charlemaine: reproduction des 105 miniatures de Jean Le Tavernier, par J. Van den Gheyn, 1909, plan.91, check also Le Siècle d'or de la miniature flamande, 1959

The image depicts the moment when the Saxon lord-king Guitelin hears about the Charlemagne's arrival, while being in his palace in Tresmoigne [Dortmund]. A scene from the Saxon Wars of the late 8th century as taken from tradition. Guitelin [or Guiteclin] has been identified as the known pagan King Widukind [or Wittekind], main leader of the Saxons against the Charlemagne's invasion during 777-785 AD. I couldn't track the Aubert's text, but read that he followed the traditional story of La chanson des Saxons [or des Saisnes], a poem [chanson de geste] of 1200 ca, attributed, maybe with doubt, to Jean Bodel. The earliest manuscripts I've tracked are since late 13th century. The poem's describing that Guiteclin heard about the upcoming invasion while being at his palace and playing chess against an other Saxon King, Escorfaus de Lutise...

from BNF Fr 3142, f. 236v. [11th line] For clear transcription check La chanson des Saxons by Francisque Michel, 1839, LV-LVI, p. 91

According to the poem's story Guiteclin in the end was killed by Charlemagne while the war was continued by his sons, but with no success. Also a love affair is mentioned between Sebile, Guiteclin's wife, and Baudouin, Charlemagne’s nephew, that affected somehow the outcome of the war. Sebile in the end was baptized as a christian.

detail from KBR Ms 9068, f.128v

Coming to reality, the Royal Frankish Annals, a latin historic text of the 9th c., give a story where Saxon Witichindus was the main Charlemagne's rival during these wars. He was defeated in 785 AD, captured and then baptized. The rest of his life is a little obscure, while Saxons seem to resist even after 785 for a while but to a lesser degree. History texts give sometimes a color of uprisings rather than wars. As Charlemagne came to Saxony more than once. However clear battles did occur.

Savoir géographique et cartographie dans l'espace germanique protestant, 1520-1620, by Axelle Chassagnette, pp.262-63, The Conquest of Saxony AD 782–785 by David Nicolle, 2014, Annales Regni Francorum in latinlibrary, Croniques et conquestes de Charlemaine, tradition et originalité by Valérie Croquez, 2008


Renaud de Montauban or Les quatre fils d' Aymon

But there's one more chess scene illustrated by le Tavernier in the manuscript...

from KBR Ms 9067, 15th c., f. 103

This is from the story of Renaut de Montauban from a chanson de geste since late 12th c. And seeing the number of mss and of the versions, it really seems of the popular ones. According to the main early corpus of the story, Aymon de Dordone brought his four sons [Renaud was the one] in front of Charlemagne to be presented during a Pentecostal feast. Unfortunately Renaud quarrels with Bertolais, a Charlemagne's nephew, over a game of chess, and kills him. The four brothers fled [in many versions on the back of their magical horse Bayard who could carry all of them - noted by some authors as a Templar's story loan]. And a struggle between them and Charlemagne began. A peace was agreed afterwards with the condition that Renaud would join the Crusades... and some adventures followed.


In the version of this specific ms, Renaud checkmated three times Bertolais. The spectators started to laugh, and Bertolais annoyed and under this pressure, attacked at Renaud verbally but also hitting him hard with the chessboard [or a chess piece]. Renaud complained for this to Charlemagne but with no actual result, and returning killed Bertolais with his sword Flamberge, that was given by his uncle sorcerer Maugis.

I've tracked three more illustrations of the scene in mss, all of the same version...

from BNF Fr 5073, 15th c., f.15r, Regnault de Montauban, en prose in 4 volumes. Text attributed with doubt also to David Aubert
from BNF Fr 764, 14th c., f. 3v en prose. This seems really beautiful. I wish I could find it in color
from Royal Ms 16 G II f. 1


However the original form of the story seems to be a little different. According to earlier versions in the Chansons de geste, it was Renaud hitting Bertolais with the chessboard and killing him with it.

from BNF Fr 24387, 13th c., f. 6r. 15th line: "[Renaud] eschekier a pris, durement l’en frapa". For text's clarity check Renaut de Montauban by Ferdinand Castets, 1909, p. 332 & summary on p. 20.

Scene that seems to be illustrated this way after Gutenberg's contributions...

left from Les quatre fils Aymon, 1485, right from Les quatre fils Aymon, 1497

But this version of the story was probably remembered since the years of Alexander Neckam in 1190 ca.

from Trinity Ms R.16.4, 12th c., f. 103v. Clear latin text in Alexander Neckam's De naturis rerum, 1863, p. 326
O quot millia animarum Orco transmissa sunt occasione illius ludi quo Reginaldus filius Eymundi in calculis ludens militem generosum cum illo ludentem in palatio Karoli magnicum uno scaccorum interemit. How many thousands of souls were sent to Underworld on the occasion of this game, where Reginaldus, son of Eymundus, has killed a noble knight with one of chess [=chessboard??], with whom was playing in calculis in the palace of Charlemagne.


On Renaud's historicity, some opinions have been expressed mostly around locations and places. Dordon[e], place of Renaud's origin, according to the poem's text is a [fictional] place at the forest of Ardennes [NE France, Belgium & Luxembourg]. But also has been compared with Dordogne of mid-west France [Gascony]. Montauban, the place where Renaud built afterwards his castle, is located around Dordogne, too [among others L'Ardenne by Jean-Pierre Lambot, p. 152].


Ogier le Danois

A similar scene of the same era is described in the Chevalerie Ogier le Danois. A poem of the early 13th c. attributed to Raimbert de Paris, that is describing the life and deeds of Ogier - a character first appearing in the Chanson de Roland of the 11th c. but also with some historical background and generally possible earlier roots.

According to the legend, Ogier, son of Dane Geoffroy, is sent as a hostage to Charlemagne. There, his son Baudouin was killed by Charlemagne's son Charlot with a chessboard, after a game of chess. Ogier asked for revenge and a seven year war started between him and Charlemagne, that in the end was lost and a reconciliation followed, with Ogier fighting in the end for Charlemagne against the Saracens...

from BNF Fr 24403, 13th c., f. 199v. For clear text check La chevalerie Ogier de Danemarche by J. Barrois, 1842 - p. 130, after vers 3155 the chess scene where some moves are described

On Ogier's historicity many have been suggested. Barrois [1842, pp. iiff] had written that Danois was a medieval paraphrase of Ardennois. J. Ludlow [Popular Epics II, 1865, pp. 248 & 274ff] identified him "with a certain Algisus, son of king Desiderius the Lombard..." [8th c.]. C. Voretzsch [Old French Literature, 1925, p. 208] wrote that he's "the historic Autcharius, a Frankish nobleman who in 771 escorted Carlomann's widow with her minor children to her father Desiderius, king of the Longobards. Together with Desiderius, he fought against Charlemagne in 773..." And some more have been suggested. Anyway...

from Royal MS 15 E VI, 14th c., f. 86r. From other later version in Alexandrines

The point that concerned me more was the dating of these two poems, Renaud's and Ogier's. So to track where this similar chess scene appeared for first time. Both stories seem to be written in 1200 ca with some earlier roots. Can't know for sure which was the first. Castets [1909, p. 118] possibly considers the Ogier's poem earlier. Probably based on the opinion that Ogier's was of the 12th c. An opinion of 19th c. that maybe is abandoned, but I'm not sure. Of all manuscipts I've tracked of both poems, via various sources, the earliest for both cases are since 13th c. However maybe Renaud has the lead as his story seems to be remembered since late 12th c. by Aleander Neckam.


Raoul de Cambrai

The two aforementioned cases are surely examples of a negative aspect of chess. Perhaps expected, as in France of 12th - 13th centuries chess was surely demonized, and for some years banned. This made me look and in others Chansons de geste - restricting my search only in the Carolingian cycle. Chess appears there many times as a noble activity, either just as a pastime, or even among the merits of a person when would be presented and described to others - something like "he knows to play chess and tables". However maybe even as a noble activity, chess could be presented again in some cases with a negative background, but maybe to a lesser degree.

Raoul de Cambrai seems to be a not so popular chanson de geste. It can be found only in one manuscript of the early 13th c.

According to this legend, Raoul, being nephew of king Louis [that has been identified by some authors as king Louis IV of France or d'Outremer], was born after his father died. The land that would inherit was given to another lord. Raoul coming to age, claimed this land from Louis, that king refused. But gave instead the promise that Raoul would take the land of any lord would die next. Few years passed and this way, Raoul took the land of Herbert de Vermandois. But his sons rebelled and a war followed. In the end Raoul was killed by Bernier, one of Herbert's sons, and then some Bernier's adventures are described...

Looking at the text, Raoul seems to be a chess player, and maybe a fanatic one. I've tracked two scenes where he can be found playing, unfortunately with no illustrations.

The first is while he was waiting for Louis' answer. His uncle Guerri asked from king Louis the land on behalf of Raoul. And when the king refused and Guerri looked for Raoul to talk, he found him playing chess - something that irritated him a lot [v657].

The 2nd is some lines later [v1583]. The war between the lords has started, and Raoul burnt the local church and monastery of Origny. There Bernier's mother was staying as a nun and was killed. Raoul returning from this war action and just before an intense dialogue with Bernier, who was his vassal till then, asks for chessmen and plays a game of chess...

from BNF Fr 2493, 13th c., f. 24v
clear text by Meyer & Longnon, 1882, p. 52 Translation by Jessie Crosland, 1999, p. 28
Esches demande, ne li furent veé / Par maltalant s'aisist emmi le pré./ As esches goue R. de Cambrisis/ Si com li om qi bien en est apris./ Il a son roc par force en roie mis,/ Et d'un poon a .j. chevalier pris./ Por poi q'il n'a et maté et conquis/ Son compaingnon qi ert au giu asis. So he called for chessmen; these were not refused him and he sat down gloomily in the midst of the meadow. Raoul of Cambrai plays chess like a man who knows the game well. He has put his castle in position and has taken a knight with his pawn, and soon he has mated and conquered his companion who was seated at play with him.


Isn't it a little negative the approach? Raoul plays chess while major events occur regarding his life in the 1st episode. Then plays chess after he had triggered somehow his death, killing the mother of his future killer!


Garin de Monglane

Garin de Monglane is a fictional character, said to be active in the years of Charlemagne. Though not of the first main heros of these chansons, has given his name to a sub-cycle as the ancestor of many other heros [the same sub-cycle is named also as of Guillaume d'Orange]. All seem to agree that the first version of the poem of Garin was written during the 2nd half of 13th c., while the earliest manuscripts I've tracked is specifically of the last quarter. Keep the date in mind.

According to this legend Garin was advised by an angel to abandon his heritage of Aquitaine to his brothers and claim Monglane. So comes at Charlemagne's court where the emperor's wife really liked Garin. Charlemagne suggests a game of chess with Garin's head at stake... but if the emperor would lose, he would also lose realm and wife. Garin won but instead asked for the realm of Monglane, that Charlemagne gave. Garin's adventures are following around Monglane and a love affair with Mabile...

from Royal Ms 20 D XI, f.1

As no translations were found and some summaries I've tracked maybe were inaccurate on this, what really concerned me were the bet's terms. Only in Murray [p. 736] & in Adams [Power Play, p. 195, fn. 78], I've found them exactly as described above. So here's the text with a translation try by me of v.409-416, probably not so accurate [couldn't find all the words and forms from old French!?!], but I think with the main meaning correct, confirming Murray & Adams.

from BNF Fr 24403, ff.4r-4v

[//clear text from Die Chanson Garin de Monglene I, by Erich Schuppe, 1914, p. 54 // besides these the text gives many highlights of the game but my old French is really bad. I've only managed to catch phrases like "he took the rook" etc. For anyone interested in trying to reconstruct a possible game, look at vers 480 and for 200 verses. Murray writes that the game's description is fragmentary].

Sor sains te jurerai sans gile et sans fauser, // Se tu me pues au geu ne venquir ne mater // Que ja si rice don ne saras demander, // Puis que le puisse avoir, eslegier ne trover, // Le roialme de France ne ma feme au vis der, // Ja mar m'en laiseras fors mez armes porter. // Et se je te mas, sans nesun arester // Je te ferai la teste tot maintenant coper. I'll swear on my health, without trickery [?] and pretending // If you can beat me and mate me in the game [ne = here emphatic?], // that already [?] so rich gift you wouldn't ask // after you can have it, claim [?] and find // The realm of France and my wife with clear face // I'll let this evil, apart from carrying my weapons, // And if I mate you, without anything stopping, // I'll immediately cut your head


So let's resume. The text was written during the 2nd half of 13th century, and more possibly the last quarter, in France. Garin is from Aquitaine, a territory maybe under question but mostly of the Kingdom of France during these years. In 1270 king Louis IX of France died, the one that banned chess. Don't know but this text was somehow telling me why the king of France hated chess, and not just the dangers of gambling.

from BNF Fr 1460, f. 107r. An other illustration from a later different version of the poem, 15th c.


Huon de Bordeaux

However, the aforementioned story reminds the version of Huon de Bordeaux.

According to this legend Huon kills Charlot, Charlemagne's son, while being in defense. For this crime accepts to go for an impossible task in Babylon, involving some lord Gaudisse and his daughter. After killing him there's a scene at king Yvorin's palace [Gaudisse's brother], where Yvorin suggests a game of chess between Huon and his daugther. The bet is Huon's head and in case of win, one night with Yvorin's daughter. She let him win but Huon didn't accept the award [see further Chess, Love and the Rhetoric of Distraction by Kristin Juel, in Romance Philology, vol.64, n.1, pp.73-97].

Actually in this scene Huon asks Yvorin's daughter if she wants to play the game with or without dice. Young girl preferred the latter...

from BNF Fr 22555, f. 230, 15th c. "Li eskiec furent de fin or esmeré. // Dame, dist Hues, quel ju volés juer? // Volés as trais, u vous volés as dés? // Or soit as trais» dist la dame al vis cler." For clear text of the chess scene [around verses 7400-7500] check Huon by Guessard & Grandmaison, 1860, p. 222. Engish translation by Bourchier & Steele, 1895, p. 202

I haven't found illustrations in mss, but Murray [p. 738, fn. 4] writes: "The match of chess between Huon and Yvorin's daughter was a favourite subject for the decoration of ivory mirror cases. There are two examples in the South Kensington Museum." I've searched in South Kensington Museum online collections [now Victoria and Albert] and found some ivory mirror cases of the 14th c. presenting a chess game played by a couple. Though the name of Huon isn't mentioned.

from Victoria and Albert Museum, left & right

It's obvious that there's a connection between these two stories.

Huon's poem is dated of mid 13th c., possibly after the oldest ms in Tours' Library. A widely acceptable dating of the poem is more specifically of the 1260s, suggested by Marguerite Rossi [in Huon de Bordeaux, 1975, p. 30]. However there's also some suspicion for a little later. In any case, it seems that the two poems, Garin and Huon, are of the same period, Huon having just a short lead.


Girart de Roussillon... and maybe an early modern chess Queen

A really interesting case!

Girart de Roussillon is one of the older chansons de geste, based probably on a historic personality of the 9th c. He seems to be a Burgundian count, on the side of Lothair I [king of middle Francia] and his heirs, against Charles the Bald [king of west Francia]. He probably ruled around 860s the kingdom of Provence [lower Burgundy], locations that later constituted the kingdom of Arles, part of the Holy Roman Empire and not the kingdom of France [for the historic Girart check Girart de Roussillon by Paul Meyer, 1884, p. iiiff, Girard de Roussillon dans l'histoire by Auguste Longnon, 1878 & some in Romania, 7, 1878, p. 161-235, Paul Meyer "La légende de Girart de Roussillon"].

In the legend Girart de Roussillon is related and opposed to some emperor-king Karles Martel. The main causes for the war between them are land and women - their wives, two sisters. In the end Girart, with his wife Bertha, put aside his ego and chose a holier life [a summary in The Medieval Charlemagne Legend by Susan E. Farrier, p. 390].

a battle scene from a later Girart's version of 15th c. ONB Cod. 2549, f. 115v

According to Paul Meyer [maybe the one who studied and wrote the most on this topic] the chanson de geste Girart de Roussillon and the legend seem to exist in an earlier form since 11th c., but for this he was based mainly on references of the name in other works. A renewed version of the poem's story, in decasyllabic verses, was stated to exist since the 2nd half of 12th c. This version is the earlier that survived in mss, the earliest of which though seems to be of the beginnings of the 13th c. According to Meyer the form of this version that survived, has elements of the provençal dialect [occitan], something that probably underlines this Burgundian origin [SE France - NW Italy] [on these check Jahrbuch für romanische und englische Literatur, 1870, p. 121-142, Paul Meyer "Etudes", Girart de Roussillon by Paul Meyer, 1884, p. xiiiff and generally introduction where bibliography].

Meyer in 1884 gave a translation of the poem in French, where I've found a really interesting scene. During a battle between Charles and Girard, Charles saw knight Fouque fighting, a Girard's ally, and said some words in praise of him, describing his merits.

Among many others said: "He's at the same time, the Queen, the Rook and the King" [=Il est à la fois la reine, le roc et le roi, ~ 1884, p. 162, § 321].

So describing the war skills of a knight, a chess Queen is chosen as a metaphor in 13th c.!?! A chess metaphor maybe should be considered expected, as chess is a war game. But wouldn't be selected just the strongest pieces for this? A great warrior is described here, and as far as we know in medieval chess of 13th c., Queen [fers] surely isn't the strongest piece. It's even lower than the Knight. Maybe obscure, as Rooks and King are also mentioned. However it made me look at the sources.

Meyer had written [1884, p. clxxiv] that he used four manuscripts for his translation, and these four are the only ones that are generally mentioned, recorded [& besides Meyer] and found for this earlier poem's version. Some are complete, some fragmentary, appearing differences in expressions but not in the meaning. One of them [Harley MS 4334] is out of this search, not containing the crucial part. Generally Meyer wrote for his preferences in his translation, underlining that combined the writings of the mss.

So let's start from the one that contains possibly the earliest tradition according to Meyer and others, as written with more Occitan elements. A manuscript that Meyer wrote it was his last choice of the four to be based on.

from BNF Fr 2180, 2nd half of 13th c., f.57r, 18th line // for clear text check Die Werke der Troubadours, Girartz de Rossilho, by C. Hofmann, 1855, p. 92, v. 4302

Lo reis e la fersa e[s], leos chassatz

I think that is translated into "He's the King and the Queen, chasing lions". No rooks. The term chasing lions I think that goes to King and Queen, and isn't an other way to call the rooks. Maybe here the choice of King and Queen is based on the fact that King is the most important piece on the chessboard and Queen was really attached to the King, regarding the game play of medieval chess, as a satellite-protector of King.

But continuing, Meyer used Oxford Bodl. Ms Canon. Misc. 63 of the 2nd quarter of 13th c. Unfortunately I couldn't find an online copy of it but I was lucky enough to find a clear transcription of the 19th c. mentioned by Meyer.

clear text for Bodl. Canon. Misc. 63, by Wendelin Foerster, 1880, p. 98, v.5034

L fersa es el rocs com adescaz

I think that it's translated: "He's the Queen on rooks as at chess". The term adescaz I think it's constituted by ad + escas, rhyming with the next and previous verses. Couldn't find anything more close or relevant. The term el is constituted by en + le = on the.

So no King here, but Queen on rooks. Not Queen and rooks. The strongest pieces in modern chess! Describing a mighty warrior, why to use the chess Queen as the main metaphorical attribute without the King, if the Queen isn't the strongest piece?!? If the poet wanted to use just the rooks for the one who knew medieval chess, why he didn't just write King on rooks?! Don't know but this version gave to me the impression that the writer had in mind a strong chess Queen that could attack.

For this passage Meyer gives an interesting footnote [1884, p. 158 fn 7]:

"These and the following verses were missing originally in the Oxford Ms, meaning that the transcriber of this manuscript omitted them, that is that he hasn't found them in the lesson that he copied. They were added later on two leaves, that were inserted after page 86... The writing of these two pages is Italian, as this of the entire ms., but of a much more recent time, of the end of the fourteenth century, it seems." [=Cette laisse et la suivante manquaient originairement dans Oxf., soit que le copiste de ce ms. les ait omises, soit qu’il ne les ait pas trouvées dans la leçon qu’il transcrivait. Plus tard elles ont été ajoutées sur deux feuillets qu’on a insérés après le feuillet 86... L’écriture de ces deux feuillets est italienne, comme celle de tout le ms., mais d’une époque beaucoup plus récente, de la fin du XIVe siècle, ce semble.]

So till here, in the earlier Occitan version of the 13th c. the metaphor is King and Queen. And in the possibly a little later tradition of the Oxford ms of the 13th c. is omitted. It was added in the end of the 14th c. as Queen on rooks. This Oxford ms has also a South French - North Italian origin.

And we come to the last ms, then in Meyer's private collection called as Passy, that now is Nancy Ms 10 of 13th c. Unfortunately I couldn't find a copy of any kind - only descriptions. This ms is really fragmentary and small but seems to contain the crucial part. According to Meyer and regarding this part: "It is the tradition of this fragment that I prefer for these verses. This tradition is closely related to that of Oxford, but more correct". These verses are about 115 lines and can't know what exactly Meyer used in his translation. But it should be either same as in Oxford [=Queen on rooks, as "closely related"], or it should contain all three pieces, Queen, Rooks and King [as "more correct" that Meyer used for his translation]. But certainly can't be sure for anything.

According to these more probable seems to me that the mighty warrior fights like Queen on Rooks towards the end of 14th century in Southern France and Northern Italy, but I really wish I could find exact copies of these mss...


.... thanx for reading