The Legend of Renaud of Montauban 3: Variants of the Quatre Fils

The summary given in this post is printed after D, the earliest manuscript of the Quatre Fils. However, most parts of the poem have at least two redactions, and the MSS switch from one redaction to the other with no apparent rhyme or reason, and no two parallel each other’s jumps exactly. D usually gives the oldest form, but it is not free of inconsistencies.

Many manuscripts, in their recapitulations, make reference to events or details that are not actually recounted in that particular manuscript, but are found in others. It is not always clear whether the reference is to an existing but omitted episode, or whether the episode was invented to explain the reference.

Beuves episode


FIRST FAMILY: The enfances of Reynard are interspersed with the story of Beuve d’Aigremont, like so. First fragment: the dubbing of the Four Sons and their tilt at the quintaine. Second: Aymon and his sons flee Paris after the death of Lohier. Third: the quarrel at chess and its consequences, leading into the Ardennes War. DPAZMO

SECOND FAMILY: The second fragment is suppressed. The tilting at the quintaine is moved to just before the quarrel at chess. NC.

THIRD FAMILY: The first and third fragments are united and moved to the end of the Bueves episode. The second is still gone. LV. Hence in these, the entire war with Bueves is over before Renaud even appears on the scene.

For the Bueves d’Aigremont episode proper, OLNC (Italian) give the same redaction, in which Enguerrand is sent to Bueves and slain before Lohier. DPA (Caxton) give a different one. MZ formed their own version, still without Enguerrand. V is unique and lacks Enguerrand.


Aigremont is on the river Agremore [nonexistant] which flows into the Garonne, DPAMZ.

Aigremont is in Lombardy, and Bueves is killed in the plain of Souvigny [in Auvergne] on his way home, LNC.

The Italian Cantari claims that Agrismonte is reached from Paris by passing through Champagne and past Troyes, and that it stands on a mountain on the river Agremore, along which many merchant ships sail.

Origin of Baiard

In the early versions, Baiard and Froberge are given to Renaud by Charlemagne at his dubbing. In later versions, the two are given to Renaud by Maugis, who has won them from the isle of Boucan, as told in Maugis d’Aigremont.

D: Baiard and Froberge are given to Renaud by Charlemagne at his dubbing. Baiard is a fairy horse from Normandy.

Z: Baiard is from Normandy.

P: Baiard is from Mongibel [Mount Etna, home to Morgan le Fay and a sleeping King Arthur in Sicilian legend].

N: Renaud received Baiard from Oriande the fairy.

O: Baiard is from “Bretagne” [Brittany], and can carry three men for a week.

C: Baiard is was given to King Pepin by Morgan le Fay, before Charlemagne gave him to Renaud. Later on, Renaud says Baiard was given to him by the fairy Orguellouse.

V: Charlemagne gave Baiard, the fairy horse from Avalon, to Renaud at his dubbing. Later, Baiard is from “Bretaine” [Brittany] and can carry two men all day.

A: Baiard is from the Island of Boucan, where he was begotten by a dragon on a serpent.

It should also be noted that D never has more than three of the brothers on Baiard at once.  The rest say that Baiard can carry three or four if the need arises, though apparently it is a strain on him and only to be done as a last resort. By the late MS M, the illustrations (but not the text) of NOA, and the Rhymed Remainement, Baiard does so habitually.

Death of Lohier – Aftermath

DPA: When the news arrives of Lohier’s death, Aymon’s sons urge him to leave the court with them. The Duchess approves. The Sons are included in the peace treaty, and is is Bertholai’s fault that war breaks out again.

ZM: Just as Renaud has won the prize for tilting at the quintaine, news arrives that Bueves has killed Lohier. Aymon gathers his sons and leaves the court. At home, the Duchess rebukes them for not standing by their emperor. After the war is over, the Four Sons are left out of the peace treaty. They come back to court, half-looking for a fight, and Renaud confronts Charles, as see below.

 Death of Bertholai and Flight to Ardennes

Bertholai is killed in Orleans in N. In Paris in DZPOCLMVA.

ZMO (Burgundian) Renaud confronts Charles before the chess game. He kills Bertholai immediately after the game. DPNCLMVA he confronts Charles after being struck by Bertholai, and when Charles scorns him, he goes back and kills Bertholai.

ZMO: When Aymon, his Four Sons, and Maugis return to court, around Pentecost, after peace has been made between Charlemagne and Doon and Girart, Charles offers to make the four sons great officers of his court, but Renaud and his brethren refuse the offer until Charles makes reparation for Bueves’ death. Charles thinks that Lohier’s death is reparation enough, and (ZM) calls them whoresons. That afternoon, as the courtiers are playing at jousts and board games, Renaud is brooding. He play chess with Bertholai, who calls him a whoreson and strikes him. Renaud kills him with the chessboard immediately, (in O, Richard also stabs Charles’ son Loris), and the five cousins flee.

Who died, anyway?

Charles’ murdered son is Lohier, killed by Beuve d’Aigremont, as related in the beginning of all versions. Bertholai, a nephew of Charles’ is killed with the chessboard by Renaud in all MSS. In O, besides this murder, Richard kills Charles’ son Loris [Loeis] with the sword. O also claims Bertholai is the son of Charles’ sister Beatrix. V, in the corresponding passage, does not. But in later references:

Charlemagne swears not to stop the war until he has avenged himself.

D: Richard killed Loeys with the sword; Renaud killed Bertelai with chessboard. (l. 2416, Thomas p. 172)

L: Richard killed Loois with the sword; Renaud killed Bertelai with chessboard. (l. 2135).

O: Richard killed Loeis with the sword; Renaud killed Berthelai with the chessboard. (l. 716, p. II/244)

N: Guichard killed Lohier, who was so dear; Renaud killed Bertholai with the chessboard.

C: Richard killed Renier, who was so dear; Renaud killed Bertholai with chessboard.[4]

Not found in PAMV[5]. Z is lost.

As Naymes tells it in the same council, however:

D: Richard will be executed. Naymes asks Renaud for Richard. Renaud refuses to hand over Richard l. 2467, Thomas p. 173.

P: Guichart will be executed. Naymes asks for Richard and Guichard [evidently the scribe’s attempt to correct his mistake]. Renaud refuses to hand over Richard (II/42)

A: Richard will be exeuted. Naymes asks for Richard. Renaud refuses to hand over Richard

M: Richard will be executed. Naymes asks for Richard. Renaud refuses to hand over Richard. (II/192)

Z: lost.

O: Guichart will be executed. Naymes asks for Guichard. Renaud refuses to hand over Guichard. (II/245-6)

V: Richard will be executed. Naymes asks for Richard. Renaud refuses to hand over Richard (III/54)

L: Guichard, who killed Charles’ son with a sword, will be executed. Naymes asks for Guichard. Renaud refuses to hand over Guichard (l. 2191).

N: Aymon recommends Guichard be executed. Aymon and Ogier carry this message. Renaud refuses to hand over Guichard. (III/230)

C: Aymon recommends Guichard be executed. Aymon and Ogier carry this message. Renaud refuses to hand over Guichard.

Renaud remarks to his brethren that one Girart, whom they are fighting, hates them because “we killed Loois.” L, l. 3111, p. 372. D, l. 3346, p. 205, O, p. I/277. N, III/308.

C: “I killed Bertolai with the chessboard”. (III/309)

P: “Of what we did in Paris”.

V: “Of what we did against Charles”

Not in AM. Z is lost.

The Aftermath of the Murder

After fleeing Paris, the Four Sons flee through Senlis to the Ardennes (D, l. 2218, p. 165). Nothing stated in L.

From the death of Bertholai to the flight of the brothers to Arden, there are some six redactions. DPA agree, as we have given. ZM follow DPA until the departure of Aymon and his sons from court, where they branch off on their own. O and V give different redactions again, but agree in parts of the captivity of the three brethren. L is unique. NC give one last redaction, also featuring the captivity of the brothers, but not agreeing with OV.

NC: Renaud escapes, but the three brothers are captured. Renaud and Maugis go to Orleans to save them, and meet by coincidence. Maugis pretends to be a poor beggar to speak with the guards, then he puts them to sleep and frees his cousins.

O: Maugis was at the court before the chess incident. He is captured with the brothers, and thrown in jail, despite Aymon’s pleas. At midnight, Maugis enchants the guards and escapes with his cousins. They meet Renaud and ride for Dordonne. They learn that Aymon is coming and has forsworn them, so they flee.

V: Similar to O, only Charlemagne does not realize that his fourth prisoner is Maugis. Maugis reveals himself to the guards, who tell Charles, who comes down to tell Maugis he will hang him at dawn. Midnight comes, however, and Maugis puts Charles and the guards to sleep. The cousins lock Charles up, and then flee, and the text rejoins O.


Once the brethren have fled, all manuscripts give mostly the same redaction down to the departure for Gascony, although NC have many variants unique to them.

First discourse of Renaut and Aymon, DPNOCA (Italian) agree against LMV.

The end of the episode of Hervis is different between DPOLA (Italian) and NCMV.

When the brothers are starving in Arden, NC the three propose to eat Baiard. DPOLMVA (Italian) this is only implied.

The reception by Aymon is again DPOLVA against NCM, though no significant differences.

MSS D and Sl have Aye tell her sons to flee to “Gascogne.” All the other manuscripts have “Espagne.”

Introductory to Gascony

I can find little information on the war of Yon against Begues, or Charlemagne’s discovery of Montalban.

In C only, as far as I know, the cousins pass through Orleans on their way to Gascony, where the citizens recognize Maugis (for stealing Charles’ treasure) and raise a hue and cry. Maugis disguises himself and his cousins with a magic ointment made in “Cubie”, and they escape.

Saxon Wars

N telescopes the Saxon wars to half a dozen lines.

Horse Race

The shortest form of the horse race is in LM(Z?), which do not feature Renaud’s disguise as a Breton or Naimes, Ogier, and Fouques keeping guard outside Paris. DCVA Caxton give the same text of the “Breton” episode. P expands the race episode somewhat, and N expands it still further, introducing a competing Saracen whom Renaud unhorses during the race. [Unknown to me: O]

Monbendel and the hunt

For the entry of Charles into Gascony, D(Z?)LM follow the account we have given above. PNCVA give a different version, however. Monbendel is taken by force instead of surrendering. Charles lays siege to Montauban. Roland and some knights go out hunting by the ford of Balençon. A spy tells Renaud, who ambushes them. In the ensuing battle, Maugis carries off a carved dragon which was on top of Roland’s tent and mounts it on the highest tower of Montauban. [Unknown to me: O] This may be a duplication of the theft of Charlemagne’s carbuncle, but I am told that the episode of Monbendel is better written in the versions with the hunt.

Yon’s Council and Vaucoleurs

There are two major redactions of Yon’s Council and Treason. In the first, given in DL [PN?], he is furious with Charlemagne’s messenger and wishes to hang him. In the second, given in C [ZPOMVA?], he receives him with courtesy.

DPNL: Yon summons his barons and explains the situation. A baron (DN), the lord of Toulouse (P), Hunaus of Tailleborc (L) recommends that Yon hand them over. The bishop (DN Sl) or the count or vicount (PL) of Avignon recapitulates how the war started. According to him, Charles held court at Laon [it was actually at Paris in all MSS. Renaud was dubbed at Laon in OV, though.] and summoned Girart, Doon, and Bueves. Bueves killed Lohier, Charles killed Bueves, and Girart and Doon warred against Charles for seven years (DN) fifteen years (P) a long time (L). Renaud then killed Bertholai, a baron. Hence Yon should hand Renaud over. The Duke of Monbendel insists that, even though his fief is lost, he will never counsel treason. Hunaus of Tailleborc says that he knew Aymon, and that he was a stubborn man like his son. Hand him over. Raimond (DL), Count Raimond (L), Duke Renaud (P) of Toulouse (all) says that he knew Aymon too, that Charles was wrong to kill Bueves, and Renaud was right to avenge him by killing Bertholai. At Antoine’s suggestion, Yon, Monbendel, and Raimond withdraw and let the others take counsel. The four who remain swear to abandon Yon if he does not hand over the Sons. Monbendel is the first to reenter the room, and they threaten to kill him then and there if he does not join them. They persuade Raimond, too, and then Yon returns, to hear their ultimatum. He protests that Renaud will destroy all Gascony if they betray him. The bishop of Avignon tells him to tell Charles that the Sons will be in the plain of Vaucoleurs, wearing scarlet mantles over grey tunics, riding on mules, unarmed. The council chamber miraculously turns from white to black, but the barons conclude their council unmoved. Yon has his chaplain Gontart (his chamberlain Girart, P) write a letter to Charles planning the treason, and sends it to that king via his (Yon’s) cousin Salatrez. Charles, at Monbendel, weeps for the necessity of killing his kinsmen, but has his clerk take a favorable reply back to Yon, along with the scarlet mantles. He then summons Foulques of Morrillon and Ogier the Dane to give them command of the ambush. He makes Ogier swear on relics not to help his cousins the Sons. Ogier swears with no intention of keeping his oath. He and Foulques head to the ambush. [Here L leaves this redaction].

King Yon receives Charles’ letter in his city of Toulouse, has his clerk read it, and then heads to Montauban, where Clarice and her sons come out to meet him. Yon refuses to embrace Clarice, claiming his head aches. [Here C joins this redaction] The Four Sons return from hunting and sit down to supper, which Yon claims he is too ill to eat. He rebukes the Sons for not coming to his court at Pentecost, and then tells them that he has met with Charles, who is willing to make peace. Renaud rejoices, for the war has lasted twenty years. Yon tells him to meet Ogier the Dane in the field of Vaucoleurs, and gives him the mantels with which to be recognized. Alard is suspicious, and wants an escort of Yon’s barons. These barons, who counseled him to betray the Sons, gladly agree.

That night, Clarice and Renaud discuss the situation. She warns him not to go unarmed, and relates her dream. She was in bed with Renaud (DNC), when a gryphon (DN) or eagle (C) burst into the chamber and carried the two of them away. Montauban collapsed and crushed Alard, Guichard was struck by lightning, Richard was in peril and called for aid. Renaud rode to him on Baiard, but Baiard stumbled and broke his neck. Renaud tells Clarice not to put stock in dreams (DN), that believing in dreams is a sin against God (CLOAV), but asks Yon for permission to ride Baiard to the meeting. Yon angrily refuses, asking if Renaud mistrusts him. Renaud apologizes, and the Four Sons ride to the meeting, leaving Baiard behind. [The dream scene is not in P or H.]

AOMHCV: Yon summons his barons and explains the situation. In M only, he makes it clear that he expects them to reject the treason and help him fight Charlemagne. First to speak is Godefroy, Yon’s nephew, who counsels him to stand by the sons. The viscount of Avignon relates how Bueves killed Charles’ son Lohier, how Charles made peace with Vivien d’Aigremont and all his family, how Renaud, son of Hermenjart (AO) Aie (C), Bueves’ sister, refused to accept the peace and killed Bertholai in Paris. Hand the felon over. The count of Monbendel urges Yon to protect the Sons. Antoine urges him to hand them over. Duke Guimars of Bayonne urges him to protect them. Hunald the old urges him to hand them over. Hertaus (V), or Bertrans (C), or Ernald (H), or Bernart (M), or Antor (O), or Hertaus (A) urges him to hand them over In CHV, he alludes to a quarrel between Aymon and Oliver over a swan that led to a long war in which Charles wasted all the land beyond the Loire. Yon weeps, but consents. He leaves the chamber and summons his chaplain Gontart to write the letter to Charles. In CMV, the chamber turns from white to black. No MS of this redaction has the lord of Avignon plot the details of the treason; Yon does so himself. His seneschal Salatrez takes the letter to Charles, who is at Montbendel (with his Peers in AOCV, but he sends them away for privacy). Charles gloats, and sends the messenger back. He sends Ogier and Foulques to Vaucoleurs, but is not worried about Ogier. [Here L joins this redaction]. Foulques gives his men a speech.

King Yon receives the letter, has Gontart read it, and heads to Montauban. He feigns sickness so as not to embrace Clarice, laments in secret, [Here C joins this redaction], won’t eat when the Sons return from hunting, and the rest is mostly the same as the first redaction. Clarice dreams she was in the forest under an apple tree (LVM), in the castle of Montauban (AO), and was attacked by a boar (MV), a bear (AO), an eagle (CL).

All versions (except H, which goes off on its own) reunite for the actual fight at Vaucoloeurs, and stay together through the misadventures of Richard and Ripeus down to the theft of the eagle/carbuncle from Charlemagne’s tent.

H: Unlike all other traditional versions, Ogier has no internal conflict whatever regarding his duty to Charles and to his cousins. He is firmly on Charlemagne’s side. Foulques urges his men not to take the Four Sons alive. Maugis does not put Yon’s barons to sleep, and Richard’s wounds are healed by a doctor. Clarisse offers to submit to an ordeal by fire to prove her innocence of complicity in her brother’s treason.

CNV interpolate an episode as Maugis is returning to Montauban after the capture of Richard. He meets two squires at the ford of Balençon, kills one and steals his horse. The survivor tells Charles what happened.

Gascony – post Vaucoleurs

From the theft of the eagle/carbuncle, L gives one long laisse all the way to Maguis’ kidnapping of Charles and his departure. D tells the story in a different redaction in shorter laisses. CNP are a third redaction, with longer laisses than D. [Unknown to me: ZOMVA]

Gascony to Tremoigne

From the departure of Maugis from Montauban to the end of the poem there are two great redactions, a long and a short. The incidents do not greatly differ until the actual siege of Tremoigne. DPNCVA follow the short redaction, LM the long one. (Z broke off at the departure of Maugis, but presumably followed the long). P switches over to the long redaction as the brothers are fighting Roland and Oliver, just before Charlemagne’s council, (D l. 11727, p. 507, Laisse 280). A switches just before the beginning of the famine (D l. 11793, p. 510, Laisse 286). [Unknown to me: O]


At the siege of Tremoigne, the long redaction, followed now by PLOMAH Caxton, features only Richard of Normandy being captured by the Aymonids. DNCV features Richard and Charlot as prisoners, as given in our summary.

NCV: In C, Maugis spends eight years in the hermitage. NV, seven. D does not specify. In C, Maugis steals Charles’ scepter [baton] on his way to Tremoigne. NV have “bacon,” which is evidently a mistake. In CNV, Maugis enters Tremoigne by enchanting the guard. When he returns with Charlot, the porter is terrified of him, even in D. (Has something dropped out of D, or did the fear inspire the earlier passage?)

PLOMAH: When the Peers discover that Montauban is empty and that there is a secret passage out of it, they assume Maugis must have made it. Only Naimes realizes it was made by the Saracens who used to rule the city (Not in P). [Many Roman buildings in Europe really were attributed to giants or Saracens in the Middle Ages]. Maugis learns of his cousin’s danger in Tremoigne in a dream (not in PO). As he heads for the city in pilgrim’s garb, he falls in with two merchants who have just been robbed by seven thieves. Maugis recovers their goods, and then they tell him about his cousins. He enters the city without any shenanigans with the porter. He receives Renaud’s charity with the other poor, and Renaud takes a while to recognize him. The other three brothers come to welcome him, but he insists on departing for the Holy Land immediately.

The “Death” of Baiard

DNCV: As we have given. Charlemagne throws Baiard into the Rhine at Tremoigne [Dortmund] with a millstone around his neck. (It’s Naimes’ idea.) Baiard breaks the millstone, swims to shore, and escapes to Valfondee [nonexistant], where he meets Maugis, who learns thereby that peace has been made. Charlemagne fumes. Renaud weeps. Some MSS write Meuse by mistake, but in other places they write Rhine.

PLOMAH: Charlemagne throws Baiard, with millstone, off a bridge in Liege into the Meuse, gloating all the while, much to his barons’ disgust. Baiard breaks the millstone, swims to shore, and is alive to this day in the Forest of Ardennes, where, if anyone sees him, he whinnies and runs away.

The Holy Land

For the adventures in the Holy Land, DNCV follow the account we have given, though V breaks off in the middle of a battle.

PLOA (Caxton): Rather longer. Renaud, passing through Constantinople, happens to stop at a lady’s castle where Maugis is lying ill. The cousins restore King Thomas to the throne of Jerusalem, instead of helping Geoffrey of Nazaret win it. They stop in Sicily on their way home to succor Simon of Puille against the Saracens. They return home to find Clarice is dying. They then go to Montauban, where Maugis, after three days, departs for the hermitage, where he will live for seven more years and then die at Easter.

M: For the pilgrimage until the battle, the same as CN, except they depart from Marseille and land at Acre. After the siege, however, King Naburdagant leads a host of Saracen admirals and kings against the Christians. He chooses three champions to fight three of the Christians: King Safadin [sic] of Egypt, King Marados of India, and the King of Damietta. King David of Jerusalem cannot find a champion, not the Lord of Damascus, nor the Count of Acre, the Master of the Templars, the Master of the Hospitallers, nor any other. Renaud at last volunteers, and the manuscript stops in the middle of his duel against Safadin.

Anent this triple combat, note that the Dutch poem and verse Vita claim that Renaud slew three Sultans in the Holy Land with nothing but his staff.

Trial by Combat     

C abandons DN at the end of the trial by combat, to join PLOA for the martyrdom of Renaud.


DN: Renaud is killed by the masons who drop a stone on his head.

PLCOA: Renaud is killed by the masons with their hammers while he sleeps.


DN and Dutch: The corpse went straight from Cologne to Tremoigne.

LC: It stopped in Ceoigne for the night before proceeding to Tremoigne.

POA French prose Caxton: It stopped at Ceoigne and went no farther.


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