When and why were festive performances first written down in medieval France? The earliest French festival books were free-standing narrative accounts of two tournaments: Le Roman du Hem (1278) and Le Tournoi de Chauvency (1285). Three questions are central. What descriptive models did the writers follow? How did these narrative records serve the interests of those who commissioned and read them? How were they received first by courtly audiences and then in an urban milieu? Their models were the extensive passages in earlier romances depicting courtly festivities. In an important passage of the Roman du Hem (reprinted in the essay’s ), the poet Sarasin lays out the literary genealogy of his Roman du Hem that depicts an actual tournament in Picardy (1278), naming Chrétien de Troyes and stories of the Round Table. Sarrasin also describes his unique book contract with his patrons (reprinted in ). The only known copy is in Paris, BnF fr.1588. Display of noble identities is the raison d’être of both festival books.In Le Tournoi de Chauvency, describing a tournament in Lorraine. (1285), the poet Jacques Bretel chose the literary model of the romance with lyric insertions. The earliest copy of the Tounoi in Mons, Bibliothèque publique MS 330-215 was undoubtedly commissioned by a participant. However, written descriptions escape the time and place of a single event. Thus, jousting scenes from the Tournoi were copied by a Picard poet Jakemes into his late thirteenth-century Roman du castelain de Coucy. Book ownership was important to urban patricians living in the Republic of Metz who sought to emulate the social practices of the higher nobility. This is why they commissioned in 1312 a revised and lavishly illustrated copy of the 1285 Tournoi (Oxford, Bodleian MS Douce 308). Read and copied, festival books became a model for the aspirations and festive practices of new generations.


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