Renaud de Montauban, also called Les Quatre Filz Aymon, is the oldest (surviving) version of the adventures of Rinaldo and his family. It is an Old French chanson de geste in assonanced and rhymed alexandrines. There are at least two redactions of every part of the poem, but the eleven manuscripts switch from one redaction to the other with gay abandon, and no two MSS parallel each other’s switches exactly. They are listed here in roughly chronological order, followed by a summary of the story according to the oldest (surviving) MS.
D: Oxford Bodleian Douce 121. c. 1250. The oldest, though not in all respects a perfect representation of the original. Beginning missing down to the battle of Lohier’s and Bueves’ men. Contains only Renaud de Montauban. Printed by Jacques Thomas, under the title “Renaut de Montauban. Édition critique du manuscrit Douce”. Genève, Droz (Textes littéraires français, 371), 1989.
Z: Metz Municipale 192. 1250-1300. Contained only Renaud de Montauban. Ending lost, after Maugis’ departure from Montauban. Entire MS destroyed in the Second World War. Only portions were printed.
P: Cambridge, Peterhouse, 205. 1275-1300. Contains Maugis D’Aigremont and Renaud de Montauban.
N: Paris Bib. Nat. fr. 766. circa 1300. Formerly known as C. Contains Maugis D’Aigremont, Renaud de Montauban, and La Mort Maugis.
O: Oxford Bodleian Laud misc. 637. 1333. Contains Renaud de Montauban and miscellaneous texts on various Kings of England.
C: Paris Bib. Nat. fr. 775. 1325 to 1350. Formerly known as B. Contains only Renaud de Montauban.
L: Paris Bib. Nat. fr. 24.387. Around 1300. Also known as La Valliere. Older sources mistakenly considered this the earliest manucript. Contains Renaud de Montauban and Li Romans de Sapience, which is a French verse translation of some parts of the Bible. Printed by Castets under the title “La chanson des quatre fils Aymon d’après le manuscrit La Vallière”. 1909.
M: Montpellier Fac. Medicine H. 247. Believed to be an abridgement of Z. 1350-1400. Contains Doon de Mayence, Gaufrey, Ogier le Danois, Gui de Nanteuil, Maugis D’Aigremont (abridged) Vivien l’Amachour (probably abridged, but no other copies are known), and Renaud de Montauban (abridged, ending lost, stops in the middle of one of Renaud’s battles in the Holy Land.)
V: Venice St. Mark fr. XVI. 1390 to 1400. Contains only Renaud de Montauban, last few pages lost. Ends abruptly as Renaud and Maugis prepare to battle the Saracens in the Holy Land.
A: Paris, Arsenal 2990. Around 1400. Contains only Renaud de Montauban.
H: Oxford Hatton 59. Three fragments. The first and third are unprinted, I believe. The second begins with the counsel of Yon and his barons before Valcoleurs, and ends I know not where. It was printed by Waltur Erdmann under the title “Fragment II der Oxforder Renaut-Handschrift Hatton 59 : Die an den Verrat der Haimonskinder bei Valkulur sich anschliessenden Scenen”. The third begins I know not where and ends with the drowning of Baiard, claiming that the story ends there.
Arlima, at the time of writing, wrongly lists Paris Arsenal 3151 and 5071-5073 as verse, when they are really in prose.
There are also comparative editions, giving all the manuscripts of a certain passage.
Of the Ardennes episode: Jacques Thomas’ “L’épisode ardennais de Renaut de Montauban. Édition synoptique des versions rimées”. From the arrival of the Four Sons at court to their departure for Gascony.
Of the treason of Vaucoleurs: Antonella Negri: “L’episodio di Vaucouleurs nelle redazioni in versi del “Renaut de Montauban””. 1996. From Charles’ sending of a messenger to King Yon to the arrival of Maugis at the Rock and his healing of Richard.
Of the drowning of Baiard: Jaques Thomas’ “La Sortie de Bayard selon les Differents Manuscrits en Vers et en Prose” in Romanica Gandensia XVIII: Etudes sur “Renaut de Montauban”.
Comparative editions of the siege of Tremoigne, the Pilgrimage, and the Martyrdom exist as unpublished theses in the University of Ghent and will probably never see the light of day. Support copyright reform!
M is a vast collection of romances from the Geste de Doon de Mayence, and its copy of Les Quatre Fils Aymon stands apart from all the others by reason of its extreme abridgement. Since the other two Renaud romances in this manuscript, the Maugis d’Aigremont and the Vivien de Monbranc, are also highly abridged, it is generally assumed that the abridgement was the work of an impatient scribe and was not an independent tradition.
A SUMMARY OF THE STORY ACCORDING TO DOUCE – THE OLDEST SURVIVING VERSION
MANUSCRIPT D: DOUCE
Containing only Renaut de Montauban.
There were four brothers: Girard of Roussillon, Doon of Nanteuil, Aymon of Dordonne, and Beuve of Aigremont. At Pentecost, Charlemagne summons to his court certain knights who had failed to help him in his war against the Saxon King Guitequin, where Baudoin died. One of these is Beuve of Aigremont. To him, therefore, the emperor sends his son Lohier as a messenger. Bueve and Lohier treat each other so insolently that a general melee breaks out in the city, and Lohier is slain. Beuve sends his corpse to Charles.
Meanwhile, Charles is fuming at court. Aymon offers his services to the king if war should break out, and Charles dubs Aymon’s sons Alard, Renaud, Guichard, and Richard knights. He gives Renaud the fairy horse Baiard (from Normandy), and the sword Froberge [Fusberta]. As they are tilting at the quintaine in the ensuing celebrations, the corpse of Lohier arrives. Charlemagne weeps, and Aymon and his sons quietly slip away to Dordonne.
Charlemagne sends Ogier as messenger to Bueve offering peace, but then sends Grifon de Hauteville and Foulques de Morrillon to ambush him on the road and kill him. It is done, and a few survivors escape to Aigremont, where Bueve’s son Maugis swears vengeance. Maugis goes to his uncles Girard and Doon, who lead their army into France, and are stopped at Troyes, where, after a battle with Charlemagne’s army, led by Richard of Normandy, they make peace. Charlemagne returns to Paris to celebrate, and among those assembled are Aymon, his children, and Maugis. Amidst the festivities, Renaud quarrels with the king’s nephew Bertholet over a game of chess. Bertholet strikes Renaud, who appeals to Charlemagne, who refuses to grant him justice, and so Renaut kills Bertholet with the chessboard. The Four Sons flee, Aymon disowns them, swears allegiance to Charles, and bars Dordonne against his sons, who flee to the forest of Ardennes, where they build a castle by the Meuse and name it Montessor.
Charlemagne lays siege to Montessor. At Naimes’ advice, he offers to raise the siege if the brothers will hand over Richard to be executed. They refuse, and begin to wait out the siege. At last, Renaud decides to sortie. Renaud fights Aymon, Charlemagne’s army retreats, and Renaud’s men return to Montessor with plunder. As winter draws nigh, Charles sends a traitor to Montessor to pretend to be a disaffected vassal of his. The traitor is warmly received, but opens the gates that night. The Four Sons must flee. They hide in the Forest of Arden. Charles returns home, as does Aymon. On his way to Dordonne, his sons approach him, but he is accompanied by one of Charles’ men, and so defies them. In the ensuing battle, all Renaud’s men save the brothers are slain. Aymon rides to Charles for reinforcements, is rebuffed, and returns to Dordonne. The brothers live in poverty in Arden, robbing passers-by. They barely survive the winter.
In spring they go as beggars to Dordonne, where they reveal themselves to their mother. Aymon, due to his oath, cannot give them supplies, but allows them to take as much as they need. Maugis arrives with treasure stolen from Charlemagne in Orleans, and the five head south.
In Gascony, the brethren take service with King Yon, and defeat for him an invading Saracen king named Begue. King Yon, in gratitude, gives them permission to build a castle not far from Dordogne, which they name Montauban. He also gives his sister Clarice to Renaud in marriage, and the happy couple have two sons, Aymonet and Yonnet.
But no happiness can last. Charlemagne, returning from a pilgrimage to Saint James, passes by Montauban, and is furious to learn that the Four Sons are alive and well. Charlemagne orders Yon to hand them over, and when he refuses, swears to return with all his army. First, however, he must defeat the Saxons, who are besieging Cologne. He sends his nephew Roland, who has just come to court for the first time and is looking to prove himself. Roland returns with glory, and Charles announces he will offer his crown as the prize of a horse race, with the intent to buy the winning horse for Roland. He sets Ogier, Naimes, and Fouques of Morillon to guard the south road, lest Renaud come. Maugis disguises Renaud and Baiard by magic, and Renaud pretends to be a Breton who speaks no French. The Peers do not recognize them, but their host does, and starts to run for Charlemagne, but Renaud kills him. He then wins the race, reveals himself, mocks Charles, and flees with his crown.
[Around here the poem changes from rhyme to assonance]
Charles comes into Gascony, and makes his headquarters at Monbendel, whence he sends messengers to Yon to plot treason. Yon is at first angry enough to try to hang the messenger, but his barons calm him and persuade him to hold a counsel. They overrule him and oblige him to agree to the treason. Yon tells the brethren that he has achieved peace with Charlemagne. The brethren are to wear red robes send by Charles and meet him unarmed in the field of Vaucoleurs. They do so, and Charles’ men fall on them. In the fight, they kill Foulques of Morillon, and then flee to the top of a rock, which is so constituted that the four of them can hold it against thousands. Ogier the Dane, however, the commander of Charles’ men, is cousin to the Sons and does not particularly wish to fight them. He sends a detachment to Montauban, ostensibly to capture Maugis, but really to alert him. Maugis arrives on Baiard, cures the wounds of his cousins, and they all escape. Yon, terrified, flees to a monastery, but Roland, who detests traitors, drags him therefrom, intending to hang him outside Montauban, which Charles is now besieging. Renaud’s brothers persuade him to rescue the King, and they do so. Renaud fights Roland in single combat, but the melee soon becomes general, and the Gascons retreat to the castle, not realizing Richard has been captured. When they do realize it, Maugis disguises himself as a pilgrim and sets out for Charlemagne’s camp, pretending to have been robbed by Maugis. He fools Charles and begins spying, and sees Roland arrive with his prisoner Richard. Maugis returns to Montauban with the news
Charlemagne wishes to hang Richard, but none of his barons are willing to carry out the execution, except Ripeus of Ripemont. Richard’s brothers lead their army and rescue him at the very foot of the gallows, slaying Ripeus despite his pleas for mercy. Richard dons Ripeus’ armor and goes to Charles’ camp, where he reveals himself to Ogier and Charles. Charles starts a fight, but Renaud comes to his brothers aid. He offers to hand over Montalban and Baiard to Charles, and go to the Holy Land with Maugis, but Charlemagne refuses. In the ensuing battle, Renaud trashes Charlemagne’s pavilion and steals the golden eagle that was on top of it. They return to Montalban, failing to realize that Maugis has been captured by Oliver. Charles wishes to hang Maugis at once, but Maugis persuades the Peers to stand as his securities until dawn. Maugis eats dinner at Charles’ table with a hearty appetite. Charles is too nervous to eat. At midnight, Maugis puts a spell on his guards, Charles, and the Paladins, breaks his chains, steals the royal crown and the swords of the Peers, awakens Charles to mock him, and flees to Montauban. An attempt at negotiation breaks down, even though Charles’ Peers are thoroughly sick of the war, and Roland, Ogier and Naimes actually go to Montauban and are received hospitably by Renaud. Charles continues the siege, and one night Maugis slips into Charles’ camp, puts him to sleep, and carries him off to Montauban, whence he (Maugis) departs in pilgrim’s clothes. He finds an abandoned hermitage near the Dordogne, where hs takes up residence.
[The poem changes from assonance to rhyme as Maugis is leaving]
In the morning, Richard wishes to hang Charles, but Renaud wishes to make peace, and lets Charles go. Charles, however, will not make peace until Maugis is dead and does not believe that Renaud has no idea where he is. Nonetheless, Renaud lets him go, and he resumes the siege, which lasts until the Four Sons are on the verge of starvation. They eat all the horses except Baiard. Aymon obtains permission to oversee Charles’ catapults and begins throwing his sons food. Charles finds out, puts a stop to it, and the Four Sons, Baiard, Yon, Clarice, Yonnet and Aymonet are soon the only ones left alive. Renaud cannot bring himself to kill Baiard, but he is obliged to bleed him. At last they flee by a secret passage and make their way to Dortmund, across the Rhine. The bells ring by themselves at Renaud’s arrival.
Charlemagne has taken Montauban, meanwhile, and is furious to find he has been tricked. He is implacable, and follows them to Dortmund to begin a third siege. Renaud offers to surrender, but Charles demands Maugis, who is not there. Maugis is at his hermitage, but worries about his cousins and goes to succor them at Montauban. Learning his error, he comes to Tremoigne. He passes through Charlemagne’s camp disguised as a pilgrim, and enters the city. The next day, Alard captures Charlemagne’s baron Richard of Normandy in battle. That night, Maugis goes to Charlemagne’s camp and captures his son Charlot by magic. He leaves him in Tremoigne and then departs for the Holy Land. Renaud prepares to hang the captives, whereupon Charlemagne is forced by his barons to agree to peace. Baiard will be surrendered to him, Renaud and Maugis will go on pilgrimage, and the other three brothers will be honored at court. Yon retires to a monastery, where he dies. Charlemagne throws Baiard into the Rhine, but the horse breaks its bonds, swims to safety, and flees. He will eventually find Maugis in Valfondee. Renaud leaves his sons in the care of Ogier, Tremoigne in the hands of Clarisse, and Montauban to his brethren, and departs.
He meets up with Maugis in Acre [Baiard is specifically stated to be absent.]. Maugis and Renaud help Geoffrey of Nazareth repel the Sultan of Persia, who is invading Jerusalem. They turn down the offer of the throne and return home. Maugis retires to a hermitage in the wilderness, and Renaud goes to court, where he learns that Clarisse is dead. Aymonet and Yonnet fight a duel against the sons of Foulques of Morillon, and win. Renaud’s brothers return to Montauban, and Renaud wanders for a time in the forest, occasionally staying at a monastery, until he comes to Cologne, where he offers his services to the masons who are building the Church of Saint Peter. Renaud lifts a stone which four other men cannot carry, does more work than ten other men can do, and only accepts enough wages as will buy him bread to eat and straw to sleep on. This goes on for some time, until the other masons, growing jealous, kill him and throw his body into the Rhine. But all the fish of the river hold the body up, and at nightfall torches appear around it and angels begin to sing. The murderers confess and are pardoned, and the archbishop goes to fetch the body, brings it into Saint Peter’s, and sings Mass over it. After the Mass, Renaud’s body is miraculously carried out of the church and into a cart, which travels of its own accord from Cologne to Tremoigne, where the bells sound on their own. His brothers arrive and weep over his body. God works many miracles at his tomb [they are not specified].