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In the mid-14th century, a Champenois author familiar with, but on the periphery of the social circle of the extended French royal family wrote Le Livre royal. The unique manuscript of the text appears to have been a presentation volume; its multiple dedications are to members of the royal family. The author was a certain Jean de Chavenges. Details about his status and education are sketchy at best, but the careful work of the editor and translator of the text, Nathalie Leinekugel Le Cocq, makes a very good case that Jean was a cleric, perhaps a canon, somewhat familiar with legal matters and reasonably well educated but not a genuine scholar. It would appear that Leinekugel Le Cocq has total command of the scholarship published since the first notice of the text in 1836. Despite a style that most commentators have found unappealing, Le Livre royal is an interesting and important text that she believes deserves closer study. Her Présentation, itself a long and learned commentary on the text (11-215), supports this assertion.
The Présentation deals with an enormous range of subjects. It treats the codicology and the history of the manuscript, followed by an analysis of the structure of the text, which Leinekugel Le Cocq places squarely, though it is in French, in the tradition of the Latin Ordines Prophetarum. To establish her point, she compares Le Livre royal to other texts that employ this 'scaffolding'. The Présentation also includes highly technical analyses of the language, style and rhetorical devices that Jean mobilized in his work, including his introduction of exempla into his argument. The employment of exempla is one reason that Leinekugel Le Cocq also regards Le Livre royal as a kind of mirror of good behavior, much as medieval mirrors of princes offered models of good governance for rulers.
A great deal of effort has gone into excavating the sources available to Jean de Chavenges. It is often impossible to determine precisely what he drew on, but as with her discussion of the author's background, Leinekugel Le Cocq makes educated guesses, guesses that seem entirely persuasive to me. Among Jean's sources, besides the Bible and the Apocrypha, are biblical glosses (or apparent glosses), longer scriptural commentaries, the liturgy, saints' lives, and a large number of classical texts, many of whose quotations the author must have drawn from anthologies circulating in northern France in the 14th century. Other sources he consulted were histories, annals and chronicles, although Leinekugel Le Cocq acknowledges that she frequently cannot identify precisely which ones or, rather, cannot do so with full confidence. Nonetheless, what is unambiguous is that the material Jean de Chavenges extracted from his sources made it possible for him to construct a coherent narrative of salvational time and historical events, a narrative in which he insisted France and the French played significant roles.
Leinekugel Le Cocq has provided three valuable Annexes following her translation of Jean de Chavenges's text. These include a one-page abbreviated guide to the relevant members of the French royal lineage to whom the author proffered his book and two other much longer ones, a list of proverbs in Old French identified in Le Livre royal and a catalogue of the exempla included in it as well.
The entire enterprise - Présentation, Traduction and Annexes - makes for a major substantive contribution to the literary and intellectual history of France in the mid-14th century.
William Chester Jordan