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“The King’s Library: Construction, Representation and Reception of the Ideal Kingship in the Late French Middle Ages”

“The King’s Library: Construction, Representation and Reception of the Ideal Kingship in the Late French Middle Ages”



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Freiburg-Toronto Graduate Workshop: Integrating Bodies of Knowledge

“The King’s Library: Construction, Representation and Reception of the Ideal Kingship in the Late French Middle Ages”

Vanina Kopp (Freiburg)

“Et pour ce est il ailleurs enscript que un Roy sans lattreure est conme une nef sanz avyrons et come oysel sanz elles” – Tremaugon: Le Songe de Vergier,Vol. 1, (p.223)

The Louvre was built in the 14th century and featured fine books and manuscripts from predecessors. In the 16th century, there emerged a new royal library. The importance of knowledge for a ruler was described by Christine de Pizan. It was good for a King to have a multitude of books. The 12th century demonstrated a shift in the expectations of a king.

Christine de Pizan spoke well of Charles V , “Le Sage” (21 January 1338 – 16 September 1380). She depicted him as wise, a philosopher, an astrologer and intimate with the university academic community. For Christine, Charles fulfilled his role as king. Wisdom was considered a good attribute to have and medieval kings were extolled to look at former rulers from antiquity, like King Solomon, as a reference for kingship. In past times, the ability to read the Bible and Old Testament was sufficient for good kingship, after the shift of the 12th century, this was no longer the case; intellect was highly prized. In her biography of Charles V, Christine lists his courage and moral abilities. She adds chapters about his military prowess and expresses his role as a wise king but we are cautioned to keep in mind that we are facing constructed characters. The representation of older kings was posthumously enhanced and altered to align with this new concept of kingly wisdom. Only a wise ruler could be a good ruler from the 14th century onward. Kopp pointed out an example of this with Saint Louis IX (25 April 1214 – 25 August 1270).

Kopp examined the prorogued of works dedicated to Charles V. There were many references to antique rulers; Biblical rulers, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Theodosius, Julius Caesar. Many writers used this ploy to illustrate a point about well educated kings and then parallel it to Charles V. Some writers allege their works were overseen by the king himself. Christine de Pizan claimed that Charles V could read and write Latin.

We were shown several pictures that displayed Charles reading or with books to symbolise his education and wisdom. After Charles V, the bar was set very high. A king had to be educated in morals, theology, science and the standard increased to the point of near unattainability. Kingship followed the literary conventions of the era; the promotion of books and book collections and the use of antique kings reinforced this ideal. Books and book collecting became the core of the king’s education. Reading canons were devised for instructing kings and this construction in still in affect today.

Respondent: Dorthea Kullman
In the 13th century it became fashionable for kings to style themselves as “writers”. What did Charles V actually do? Christine de Pizan remains silent on the propagandistic style of literature at that time. Were writers trying to make kings more revolutionary to be in alignment with the ideals of the time? Charles V’s reign coincides with Chansons de Geste, heroic literature and the popularity of vernacular writing, with texts written for a more general audience. 14th century texts may have been coordinated with a specific political intent.

Vanina Response: During the second half of 14th century, a flourishing literature market evolved and we see that in re-writings and Chanson de Geste. The nobility and patricians were very fond of this type of literature. The relationship created between Charles V and Saint Louis IX was for literary and political reasons. Valois kings were eager to close the gap to the Capetian dynasty by making close connections to those rulers. There was an insistence on familial relations to diminish English claims. Surprisingly, in Christine de Pizan’s work, Saint Louis is not a prominent figure; he was too close, too modern, so she relied on antique kings for examples. While Saint Louis IX wasn’t important in literary conventions at the time, historiographically, he was important. Was gender a significant element for the the construction of the wise king? Not for the construction of Charles V. We do know he was in poor health and the last battle he took part in was the battle of Poitiers in 1356. To make Charles V appear strong he was raised up as a knight and specific imagery was created to negate any image of weakness. Charles V was the prototype of the wise king – for whom? He was a symbol of the “Golden Age”, a long solid age. He is always singled out by his successors as “The Wise King” (“Le Sage”), and looked upon as the medieval ideal. You can find examples of this image in Versailles in representations in 18th and 19th century historiographical texts. Regarding Charles V and legal treatises – yes, it was important for him to be educated in legal matters in order to be able to maintain peace. During the reign of Charles V, we find compilations of juristic treatises copied specifically for the king.


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