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Rewriting and (Re-)Framing Memory in Late Medieval Historiography. The Case of Brabant (14th-15th c.)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ReFraMed Histories (Rewriting and (Re-)Framing Memory in Late Medieval Historiography. The Case of Brabant (14th-15th c.))

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

In the past, as today, the canons of historiography were dynamic. Chroniclers frequently took a ‘target culture oriented’ approach and reframed the narratives recorded in their sources to suit the needs and preferences of the new contexts in which their work would be received. In this project, I explored the effects of changing socio-political circumstances on the shaping of collective memories and aimed to reach a understanding sense of the role of historiographical narratives in the construction of (collective) identities. Who were the people involved in the creation, dissemination and reception of history books and dynastic mythologies? How did the social background of these actors influence the content and rewriting of historiographical narratavies? I was curious to find out what happened when chronicles were translated from one language into another. What strategies were used to reshape the narratives for a new audience whose preferred language was not that of the original texts? Which parts needed rewriting? How did translation impact foundation myths and stories about insurrection, legitimacy or just rule? My central case study was Jean d’Enghien’s 15th-c. Livre des cronicques de Brabant. In this compilation French versions of Latin and Dutch chronicles were forged together to form a semi-coherent, continuous narrative. Even though Enghien's project is remarkable, it has received hardly any scholarly attention. Most recent references to Enghien’s chronicle have repeated the observations published by J. Borgnet in 1856. Further research was hampered by the fact that soon after this publication, the copy Borgnet used for his description (the olim Aspremont-Lynden manuscript) disappeared.
In Autumn 2018, a few months before the confirmation of the award, the Aspremont-Lynden manuscript resurfaced at Sotheby’s in London. On 4 December, the book was sold to a private owner, who allowed me to study the manuscript in the context of my MSC-Fellowship. This unforeseendevelopment opened up new avenues for research into Jean d’Enghien’s compilation. Most of the research performed in my project was connected to the Livre des cronicques, its sources and its relation to contemporary chronicles of Brabant. When archives and libraries closed in March 2020 and travel became difficult, it was no longer possible to consult primary sources in situ. As archivists and librariansreturned to their daily routines and reproduction services reopened, I ordered digital surrogates of manuscripts of the Livre and associated chronicles of Brabant from libraries in Belgium, France, The Netherlands, and Austria. Much of this manuscript material is now freely available online.
I further dug into Enghien’s biography and the historical, cultural and historiographical context, based on a review of secondary literature, archival inventories, edited and digitized primary sources. Doing so, I reached a better understanding of Enghien’s professional life and network. Additionally, the digital images I made during the first months of the project allowed me to initiate a comparative analysis of several manuscripts of the Livre, chart the macro-structure of the compilation, investigate the use of historiographical sources, and explore the relation of Enghien’s compilation to contemporary Latin and Dutch chronicles, and (translated) literature. In a next phase, these preliminary findings could be further refined.
I presented my findings at local workshops and international conferences, where I talked about the framing of local and regional events in the broader framework of universal chronicles, the interaction between Latin and vernacular historiography, and the role of sequels, multi-text manuscripts and compilations in the dissemination of historiographical narratives. In another presentation, I focused on medieval translation from French into Dutch and discussed the Livre de cronicques in its historical and cultural context. I built further on this work at the Medieval Chronicle conference (July 2021), where I explored the compilation’s focus on virtue, the dukes’ Lotharingian heritage, and their presumed status as the sole surviving representatives of the illustrious bloodline of Charlemagne. At workshops with colleagues at the Leiden Institute for History, I talked about the events that prompted the making of Les croniques des pays de Hollande and considered the Livre des cronicques within the framework of descriptive translation studies.
The research presented in these talks informed important sections about the translation of historiography and cultural transfer in the Low Countries in the translation history of which I was one of the authors ( 'Vertalen in de Nederlanden', 2021). The results of the abovementioned research were also incorporated in the introduction to Francophone Literature in the Low Countries (1200-1600), a volume edited by Alisa van de Haar and myself about the dissemination and reframing of Francophone texts in this multilingual region.
The transfer of knowledge to students and cross-disciplinary collaboration was achieved through the research seminar for MA students that I developed together with Bram Caers. During our weekly meetings, we delved into the material aspects of manuscript transmission, narrative theory and historical discourse analysis, rewriting and the urban context of history writing in the Low Countries. The Wikisource platform in which students brought together links to digitized manuscripts and editions of chronicles of Brabant, Flanders and Holland, together with some of our students' blogposts can be accessed through the project website.
This project has significantly furthered our understanding of the Livre de Chroniques. It became clear that the extant manuscripts represent at least two successive stages in the project. Most manuscripts contain full translations of two principal source texts which were later integrated into the final compilation surviving in two copies. One of these was possibly used for a final round of copy-editing. This observation provides further insight into the compositional processes underlying historiographical compilations.
One of the most remarkable conclusions is that material from a 13th-c. universal chronicle written in French for a Hainault patron was included in the compilations to merge parts of Jean d’Enghien’s ‘narrative of the self’ with the dynastic mythology of Brabant. These excerpts presented events from a Hainault perspective and needed more rewriting than the material translated from Dutch sources.
Even though Enghien acknowledged that the Dukes of Burgundy had illustrious forebears in other lands, Charles the Bold is explicitly cast in his role of Duke of Brabant. The compilation combined themes that occupied Dutch chroniclers as well as authors at the Burgundian court such as virtue and the importance of ‘justice’.
The deliberate application of narrative strategies, subtle changes, and occasional commentaries show that one of the compilation's principal purposes was to underline the ties between the Empire and the dukes of Brabant, and the dynasty’s troubled relationship with the Kings of France. This becomes particularly significant in the light of Charles’s royal ambitions and his feud with Louis XI. While the Livre closely followed the dynastic mythology of its 14th-c. Dutch sources, it also spoke to the concerns and aspirations of the Dukes of Burgundy.
Dirk Schoenaers with the olim Aspremont-Lynden manuscript at Sotheby's in London (November 2018)
Dirk Schoenaers with the olim Aspremont-Lynden manuscript at Sotheby's in London (November 2018)
17th-c. excerpts from the Edingen chronicle (Averbode Abbey, Fonds Gillis die Voecht, MS 5)