History hasn’t been especially kind to Isabeau, the daughter of a Bavarian duke who became Queen of France in 1385 when she married Charles VI. As Tracy Adams notes, modern scholars’ descriptions of Isabeau have all too often been along the lines of ‘scheming, promiscuous, greedy, neglectful of her children, hungry for power, lacking in intelligence’, all on the basis of little or no evidence (2010, 222).
At the very least, Isabeau’s reputation sits a little uncomfortably with what we know about her literary tastes. Thirty-three books are mentioned in her surviving accounts, the majority of them containing devotional works in French or Latin (Bell 1982). Her library was evidently important to her: she appointed one of her court ladies, Catherine de Villiers, to look after it, and even had special trunks made so her collection could accompany her on her travels (ibid.).
One of the books owned by Isabeau was a copy of the ‘Legiloque’, a compendium of 19 devotional works that included a revised version of the Dyalogue du pere et du filz. Isabeau inherited her copy from Blanche d’Évreux (1330-1398), who was dowager queen of France for several decades after the death in 1350 of her husband, king Philip VI (Rouse & Rouse 2010, 128).
There are three surviving copies of the ‘Legiloque’ (Chantilly BdC 137, Paris BnF fr. 1136, Paris BnF NAF 4338), all sumptuously illustrated by the artist Mahiet, who worked in Paris between the mid-1320s and the 1340s. As Mary and Richard Rouse have shown (2010), the ‘Legiloque’ was compiled for Marie of Brittany, Countess of Saint-Pol (1268-1339). But it is not known which of the extant copies (if any) Marie herself owned. Nor do we know which one was owned by Isabeau, or indeed if hers was a completely different copy that has since been lost.
As the Rouses note (2010), eight of the works that make up the ‘Legiloque’ also survive in a 15th-century volume (Chantilly BdC 138). What hasn’t yet been noted in scholarship, however, is that the particular recension of the Dyalogue that we find in the ‘Legiloque’ is also preserved in four other manuscripts of the late 14th or 15th centuries, three of which (Avignon BM 344, Munich BSB gall. 60 and Vatican Reg. Lat. 1668) belonged to Celestine monasteries at one time or another.
Which of the surviving ‘Legiloque’ manuscripts (if any) was the source for the later copies? Well, this might not actually be the right question, because there’s some reason to believe that the later copies of the Dyalogue actually preserve a text that is closer to the first recension. Consider, for example, the beginning of Q.1: ‘Anciennement n’estoit nuls baptizés devant qu’il eüst aage’ in Paris Arsenal 2059; ‘Et pour ce, biaus filz, tu dois savoir qu’au commencement de la foy crestienne nul n’estoit baptiziez devant qu’il eüst aage’ in Avignon BM 344, Munich BSB gall. 60 and Vatican Reg. Lat. 1668; and ‘Biaus fiex, anchienement nus n’estoit baptisiés devant qu’il eüst aage’ in the later copies of the ‘Legiloque’ version. It seems likely that the major restructuring of the Dyalogue on the basis of the seven sacraments took place before it was included in the ‘Legiloque’…
Adams, Tracy (2010). The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP).
Bell, Susan Groag (1982). ‘Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture’, Signs 7, 742-68.
Gibbons, Rachel (1996). ‘The Piety of Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France, 1385-1422’, in Courts, Counties and the Capital in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Diana Dunn (Stroud: Sutton), pp. 205-24.
Rouse, Mary & Rouse, Richard (2010). ‘French Literature and the Counts of Saint-Pol ca. 1178-1377’, Viator 41, 101-40.