Paris BnF fr. 1546 is a large volume of pious texts in French (including the ‘abridged’ Bible en françois). The bulk of it was produced towards the end of the 13th century, but someone must have thought there was scope to make the tome even more pious since a Life of St Julian the Hospitaller was added in the early 14th century.

Paris BnF fr. 1546 f. 221v (Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF)

At the back of the volume (on f. 221v) we find not one but two late medieval ownership marks. If my transcription is correct, the later one reads: ‘Ce liure (?) est a bertault de villebresme demourant abloys’ (This book belongs to Berthault de Villebresme, who lives in Blois).

Berthault belonged to an up-and-coming bourgeois family based in Blois in the Loire Valley. A lawyer by profession, he became an advisor and emissary to Charles, Duke of Orléans and, in 1461, provost of Blois. After Charles’ death Berthault remained in the service of the duke’s third wife, Maria of Cleves.

L’hôtel de Villebresme in Blois, built in the late 15th c.

Berthault seems to have participated enthusiastically in literary activities at the court of Blois. He took part in the so-called ‘concours de Blois’, and several of his poems have survived to this day. But he is also known as the author of the Geste du Chevalier au Cygne, a prose retelling of earlier chansons de geste about the Swan Knight, legendary ancestor of the crusader hero Godefroy de Bouillon. Berthault dedicated the Geste, which he composed in around 1470, to Maria of Cleves, who herself traced her ancestry back to the Swan Knight.

We don’t know how Paris BnF fr. 1546 came into Berthault’s hands (we’ll save the other ex libris for another time…), but on his frequent trips to Italy on ducal business perhaps it gave him some solace to recall his manuscript with the tale of St Julian, patron of hospitality.

 

Bibliography

Champion, Pierre, ed. (1911). La Vie de Charles d’Orléans (Paris: Champion)

Emplaincourt, Edmond A., ed. (1989). La Geste du Chevalier au Cygne (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P)