Friday, 27 December 2013

2014 - Year of the Horse

Recently I have been enjoying looking at medieval art.  Amongst the manuscripts I have looked at is an interesting series of 40 illustrations set out in comic book style that tell the story of a horse that became a bishop. I later discovered that behind the origins of these illuminations was a deeply moving love story, one that makes an ideal beginning for 2014.  The love story started in 1324 between a 12 year old English prince and an 11 year old Belgium princess of Hainault and then lasted until their separation through death over 40 years later.

The illustrated story of the horse has a satyrical text of 258 lines in octosyllabic verse authored by Raoul le Petit and written in the old French dialect of Picard.  The Text is known as Dit de Foveyne or Histoire de Fauvain.  The main character is Fauvain, a dun-coloured she-ass or horse who is the metaphor of mean-spirited hypocrisy which has usurped the forces of Justice and Harmony.  During the course of the story Fauvain gathers on her back a group of sycophants and goes off to murder Truth or Loyalty.  There are many Medieval manuscripts with illustrated stories involving wicked animals, like the well known text of Le Roman de Renart which is about a duplicitous Fox, but others illustrate stories have been lost, for instance the stories behind the numerous marginal illustrations made by monks that show bunny rabbits hunting dogs or the pictures of knights at war with giant snails (I have gathered a collection on my Pinterest site).

 Bunny hunter on dog back with a snail as a hawk

This horse series is unusual in being so long and having a commentary. A Classic French medievalist has promised me an accurate translation of Dit de Foveyne and when it arrives I will use to update to this post.

The Dit de Foveyne is tacked to the last few pages of  an otherwise a long French translation of Le Pseudo-Aristote, Le Secret des secrets, Oraison du d├ępart and some Motets.  The folio is presently held in a French museum where it seems to be largely ignored and forgotten.  I have downloaded the full series of drawings and have published them all at the end of this article. A translator of medieval French is presently working on a full and accurate translation which I will add when it arrives.

A Wedding Gift of Horses to the Kindest of Princesses


Fauvain sticks his tongue out

The folio which includes the illustration above is part of wedding gift given between royal childhood sweethearts. The long marriage that followed in the wake of their first meeting took place when the age of chivalry was giving way to the new brutal age that started with the Hundred Years War between England and France. It is wonderful to think that the royal couple, who lived through such barbarity, never lost their love for each other and that the Queen generously shared this love with her people.  

The Little Princess who came to London
The little princess who was given the folio was brought up in the long forgotten Belgium kingdom of Hainault which was then renowned for its culture.  Her name was Philippa, which comes from the Greek word Philippos, lit. "horse-loving" or "fond of horses".  Perhaps this connection with horses is why Prince Edward, later to become Edward III, arranged that the boring Aristotelian text of his noble wedding gift should finish with a series of amusing illustrations.  It is not difficult to imagine how the young couple,both in their early teens, might have sometimes pulled out this folio to laugh together at the imaginative drawings of a foolish horse who broke all the rules and conventions of the world.

Phillipa was the second daughter of William the Good. A few years before she was married the English Court had sent Bishop Stepledon of Kent to make a report. This is his brutally frank description of the eight year old princess of Hainault

"The lady ..... has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is clean-shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than the forehead. Her eyes are blackish-brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that it is somewhat broad at the tip and flattened, yet it is no snub-nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full, and especially the lower lip. Her teeth which have fallen and grown again are white enough, but the rest are not so white. The lower teeth project a little beyond the upper; yet this is but little seen. Her ears and chin are comely enough. Her neck, shoulders, and all her body and lower limbs are reasonably well shapen; all her limbs are well set and unmaimed; and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is of brown skin all over like her father; and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us."

Just four years later, in 1326, Prince Edward visited Philippa for a few days.  They were there because his power hungry mother (Queen Isabella) and her ruthless lover (Roger Mortimer), were seeking an alliance with the court of Hainault to usurp the rule of her husband Edward II. 

 A 15th-century depiction of Isabella

Edward was just 12 and the little Princess Philippa, who was by then 11, were old enough to fall in love.  It is recorded that the young princess cried when it was time for them to say their goodbyes. 

 The return of Isabella of France with her son Edward in 1326

Princess Philippa had reason to worry since young Prince Edward was being used by his mother, sometimes known as the She-Wolf, as an object in her power games. 

The Defeat of Edward II at Bristol

After their return Queen Isabella and Mortimer, with a small mercenary army, easily defeated King Edward II at Bristol because his own army had already deserted him.

Isabella's crowned her 13 year old son Edward III. Less than a year later Princess Philippa arrived in London as the bride to be of the new King.  There is a picture of her arrival.

 Philippa of Hainault is shown seated under the canopy

Edward and Philippa were married at York Minster on January 24, 1328.  For the first three years of their marriage Edward was fighting Scotland with his young wife travelling by his side and her  coronation was delayed because her mother-in-law did not want to relinquish her title as Queen.  Queen Philippa's coronation finally occurred on March 4, 1330 by which time the 16 year old princess was heavily pregnant with her first child. The child was later to become known as The Black Prince.

As Edward III grew in stature he took power away from his mother and executed Mortimer for treason.  Isabella was safely banished from Court, but the kind Queen Philippa never stopped treating her estranged mother-in-law with dignity and respect.

During their marriage Philippa had fourteen children, three of whom were swept away by the black death. She is also remembered for her cultural interests which included a collection of manuscripts (amongst those manuscripts is the recently rediscovered "Unicorn Cookbook" at the British Library)

 Detail from the Unicorn Cookbook (British Library)

Queen Philippa gave herself to this country, and unlike most other foreign Queens of her era did not surround herself with a retinue of  servants from her own country.  This endeared her to her people. Philippa is also credited with the foundation Queen's College, Oxford and bringing the weaving trade to Norwich.  She was also brave, at one point leading an army on a white charger against the Scots  because her husband was away in France.

Queen Philippa on her white charger

But more than anything it was her kindness that set her apart and caused the people to love their Queen.

A Queen Celebrated for her Kindness

Joshua Barnes, a medieval writer, said "Queen Philippa was a very good and charming person who exceeded most ladies for sweetness of nature and virtuous disposition." Chronicler Jean Froissart described her as "The most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was Queen in her days." (Wikipedia). 

There are many stories about how Queen Philippa used her power to exercise mercy and fairness.  In 1328 she used the royal prerogative to secure a pardon for an eleven-year-old girl who had been convicted of a robbery and then again in 1333 she saved a pregnant woman who had stolen a surcoat and 3s. at York. This pattern of concern for the less fortunate continued throughout her life, for example; in March 1365 at Nottingham a pregnant woman condemned to be hanged for stealing was shown clemency at her entreaty. She displayed a similar care for those in her family and household circles by writing a stream of petitions to the pope requesting indulgences or promotion for members of her chapel and household, .

In 1331 Queen Philippa had narrowly escaped an accident when the viewing stand collapsed at a tournament at Cheapside, London.  Queen Philippa and her ladies, which included her mother who was visiting London, all escaped unhurt, but her husband was full of rage and wanted to punish the carpenters.  They were only forgiven by the King after the Queen had gone down on her knees to beg for clemency.  

Queen Philippa accompanied her King on his travels, even when he was at war.  She was there to steady her husband's temper and enhance his reputation. The most famous occasion was after the siege of Calaise in 1347, when the Queen, who was again far advanced in pregnancy and again on her knees, begged the reluctant Edward to spare the lives of six principal bourgeois who under the treaty of surrender were about to be executed.  Edward III's act of clemency is still celebrated and remembered outside the houses of parliament by Rodin's statue of the event. 

Edward visited his Queen at her deathbed and took her hand and asked her what her final wish was. She requested that when he died, he be buried next to her. She died on August 15, 1369 and was buried with all splendors in a fine tomb in Westminster Abbey. Immediately after her death a series of detailed instructions, designed to ensure the continuing welfare of her servants, was carried out by the King. When Edward died eight years later, he fulfilled her dying wish and was buried next to his beloved Queen.

The tomb of Edward III in Westminster Abbey

Drawings of the effigies and Edward and Philippa

The Gift of Horses

These are the illustrations.  Please let me know if you have any special insights into the meaning of the story they tell. (See updates added in red, most of the information came from this website which is Google translated from Dutch to English - the updates should be taken with a pinch of salt until I have receive an accurate translation from the original text)

 Obviously the tree means something, and the horse is anointed?


Pic 1
The Author (Roule le Petit) introduces the series of drawings with a  hand gesture towards an oak tree which is the symbol of a good king which being cut down and replaced by another tree - a beech (Fous in medieval French) - takes the place of the oak tree. Fau has a double meaning of vain (or faux - a in fake?)  So the good king is being replaced by a vain fake.

Pic 2

Fauvain (The name of the Horse), who had reached the pinnacle of secular and ecclesiastical power and is now sticking his tongue out at at the author (Roule le Petit).

Pic 3: 
 Fauvain embraces a fake devout, disguised as a saint.

Pic 4:  
Fauvain and his two acolytes accomplice, Ghille et Barat

(A thief's name from the fabliaux), drinking from the chalice of hypocrisy.

 Pic 5
Fauvain is appointed executor testamentary of a rich man who is dying
Pic 6. 
He collects the inheritance his minions put their hood full of them. (Bags do not exist ...)

Pic 7
 Fauvain refuses to give alms to the poor;
He turns back on them and said to them, "Go!" 

Pic 8
 Fauvain bends reeds saying:
"Many people bow themselves (to me?) like reeds in the wind..."

 Pic 9
Fauvain shows a list of his privileges 
Pic 10
Pic 11
 A creditor of Fauvain comes to claim his money in court.

Pic 12
Fauvain come to trial?

Pic 13 - 15
The trial of Fauvain?

Pic 16
Fauvain is found guilty and ordered to return the money

Pic 17
 Shaven headed Fauvain refuses to pay, instead he fains contrition through a pilgrimage of Saint-Jean-de-Jerusalem to generate compassion from others.
Pic 18
 A servant comes with a list of his privileges which aquits Fauvain of wrongdoing and condemns the prosecutor  for his wrong verdict
Pic 19
 Bishops, abbots and clerks flatter Fauvin by braiding his tail.  (This is where the English phrase to curry favour comes from...originally it was to Curry Fauval (or Fauvain) or flatter a horse.  Later, as the meaning of Fauval fell into disuse, the term was changed to favour which made more sense) 
Pic 20
The Clergy mount Fauvain

Pic 21 
Fauvain kills Truth (or is it Loyalty?)

Pic 22 and 23
Rather than Mour Truth they get drunk 

Pic 24
 Two lawyers regret that they have not known Truth find comfort in Falsehood and hypocrisy

Pic 25
Fauvain tempts a hardworking carpenter into idleness
"Let's rest, please, lets enjoy the sunshine..."

Pic 26
 he encourages his children to hypocrisy

Pic 27

Pic 28 
 Fauvain lying on a bed and dying refuses to confess his sins;
his successor is already there ready to drink from the bowl of hypocrisy.

Pic 29  30
The ill Fauvain gives his successor his recipe to succeed in the world: betrayal, cheating, wickedness, deceit.

Pic 31
Fauvain's departed soul leaves his body from his mouth and received by a demon from Hell

Pic 32

Pic 33 - 36
Fauvain's soul is taken and cast into the jaws of Hel


Pic 37 - 40

Truth is restored, a new Oak tree is growing

Remember the context: This is a wedding gift by the 13 year old Edward III to his new 12 year old Queen Philippa after the reign of Edward the II had been brought to an abrupt and sudden end by the invasion of an army led by Queen Isabella (Wife of Edward II and mother of Edward III)




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