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  • Pierre Perrier’s 1699 Vie de sainte Isabelle de France: Precious Evidence from an Unpublished Preface1
  • Sean L. Field (bio)

In her own lifetime Isabelle of France (1225–1270) was a crucial figure in the formation of female Franciscan identity and the crystallization of Capetian sanctity.2 Rejecting several proposed marriages and dedicating herself to a life of saintly virginity in the world, she was founder of the abbey of Longchamp (just west of Paris)3 and co-author of the rule for the Order of Sorores minores, adopted by communities throughout France, England and elsewhere.4 Her life and miracles were recorded in the Vie d’Isabelle written by Agnes of Harcourt, third abbess of Longchamp, around 1283.5 Although Isabelle’s memory was overshadowed by the [End Page 215] 1297 canonization of her brother Louis IX, her cult began a comeback of sorts in the later fifteenth century.6 This re-emergence culminated in Pope Leo X’s approval of a solemn office in 1521 to be celebrated at Longchamp each 31 August,7 and in the composition of at least two new French lives.8

Building on this limited but legitimizing ecclesiastical recognition, the seventeenth century saw a true flowering of interest in Isabelle of France, linked to the Bourbon monarchs’ renewed dedication to St. Louis.9 Sébastien Roulliard published the first printed biography of Isabelle in 1619, while Aubert le Mire offered a short study in 1622 and the Jesuit (and former royal confessor) Nicolas Caussin followed with a longer [End Page 216] one in 1644.10 In these years a high profile translation of Isabelle’s relics also took place, publicized in a pamphlet of 1637.11 Moreover, the great érudits of the age interested themselves in Isabelle, her rule, and Agnes of Harcourt’s Vie: Luke Wadding printed Isabelle’s 1263 rule for the first time in his Annales minorum in 1628; Charles (du Fresne) du Cange produced the editio princeps of the Vie in 1668 based on a manuscript provided to him by Vyon d’Herouval; Sébastien le Nain de Tillemont composed a short study of Isabelle’s life around 1680, relying in part on a copy of the Vie made at Longchamp by his mentor Antoine Le Maistre in 1653.12 In these decades further manuscript copies of the Vie came into the possession of André Duchesne (or his son François Duchesne)13 and Théodore Godefroy (or his son Denys II Godefroy),14 while in 1681 a new office was printed at the nuns’ instigation.15 In 1696 the entire Franciscan order was authorized to celebrate Isabelle’s feast day, which [End Page 217] was subsequently shifted to 1 September.16 The nuns themselves contributed to Isabelle’s renaissance—not only by engineering the highly-publicized translation of relics, making their unique manuscripts available to érudits, and commissioning new lives of their royal founder, but also by themselves authoring narratives about their abbey’s internal history.17

All in all, the eighty years following Roulliard’s first printed biography witnessed a true outpouring of hagiographic and learned writings on this figure from the Capetian past. Yet one further work presents a particular interest to modern scholarship, even while having remained unedited and practically unknown. Two extant manuscripts testify to this “anonymous” Vie de sainte Isabelle de France, which I have briefly identified elsewhere as having been written by Pierre Perrier in 1699.18 Both copies are fragmentary, but between them they preserve most of the original text’s preface and fifteen chapters.

Paris, Archives nationales [hereafter AN] L 1029, no. 37 appears to be an autograph working draft of the text. Heavily corrected throughout (in some places to such an extant as to be illegible), it preserves parts of two separate copies of a preface, with the second copy in a second hand; a single folio from chapter 1 (in a completely different third hand); and then (in the first, probably autograph, hand) all or part of chapters 8–15, covering material from Isabelle’s death and miracles through the later history of Longchamp. This manuscript must have remained at Longchamp until the abbey’s dissolution at...


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