The Legend of Garin the Lorrainer – Variants, Origins, and Influence


This version is closest to S, featuring S’s abridged opening. The two are not quite identical, but few of the details in which they differ need concern us here. The author trims much of the detail of fighting and shortens the speeches, but changes no incidents.

Fromont has thirty sons, mostly bastards. [This same trait is attributed to various Maganzans in some later Italian works].


Like all medievals, Philippe considers Garin and Gerbert to be a single work, which he divides into three books. Book I includes Paris’ Parts I and II. Book II covers the death of Begon and the ensuing war. Book III begins with the death of Garin and includes all of Gerbert de Metz. He follows the first redaction.

Philippe turns dialogue into indirect summaries, shortens the poem throughout, and adds a few details of his own. Whenever action takes place in Metz, he identifies the locations in the contemporary city.

Garin is buried in the Abbey of Saint Arnoul outside Metz.


David Aubert’s History of Charles Martel includes, among other stories, that of the Lorrainers, following that of Girart of Roussillon. The compilation was finished in 1463. He follows the chanson closely in incident, but abridges the fight scenes and other descriptions, and recasts dialogue. Nonetheless, the fight scenes are not updated, and faithfully reflect the customs of the 1100’s. Manuel Galopin retains his joie de vivre in the taverns, but is quietly stripped of his magical abilities.

Volume 2 of Aubert’s history opens with an account of how Charles Martel gave a feast at St. John’s Day, with his Queen Alexandrine (sister of Girart of Roussillon’s wife Bertha) and their son Pepin, who was handsome, gracious, pleasant and noble, well taught and having all virtues, notwithstanding his short stature. At the feast, a horrible lion escaped from the royal menagerie, terrifying the guests, who all fled, save for Pepin, who confronted the beast and slew it.

Sometime after this, Girart of Roussillon died, at which the heathen Saxons thought it safe to attack France again. The Holy Father came from Rome to speak with King Charles, and granted him permission to tax the clergy. The book thus transitions into the story of Garin le Loherain, as given in the First Redaction. Volume 2 ends with Guerin, as he spells it, making peace with King Pepin and the Bordelais for the last time before his death.


I am unable to find any full account, in any of the languages I read, of how closely the Dutch translation of Garin follows the original, or even of which events are told in the fragments that survive. All I have found is a vague assertion that it is close, which I presume means no incidents are altered.


The poem seems to have been written around 1160, though all our manuscripts are from much later. It is certainly earlier than Huon of Bordeaux, Ogier the Dane, and Bodel’s Saxons.

There is absolutely no historical basis for the feud of the Lorrainers and the Bordelais. Turpin lists “Garinus dux Lotharingie” among the dead at Roncesvalles, and claims he was buried in Belin, but no other source does so.

The poem’s historical value lies in its vivdly painted picture of daily life in twelth-century France. The author was evidently from the north; the geography of the Meuse and Moselle regions is extremely detailed and accurate.

Scholars have amused themselves by tracing parallels, most of them vague and unconvincing, between the chanson and contemporary events.

The invasion of the Vandals is a very hazy recollection of various Germanic and Viking invasions, not correspondng to any in particular.

Naisil is the modern Naix.


It is often said that Loherain Garin was the origin of the name Lohengrin, the son of Perceval. It may be so, but the two characters have absolutely nothing in common.

Jean d’Avesnes, writing in the late 1200’s, took the whole story as fact. Philippe Mouskes’ Chronique Rimee includes the death of Begon and a very brief summary of the events that follow it, up until the marriage of Gerbert with a daughter of Aymeri of Narbonne. The 14th century historian Jacques de Guise interpolated passages about Garin into a Latin chronicle (by Hugues de Toul) he copied (Bk XI. Ch. 86). Symphorien Champier, Meurisse, and de Wasseborg also mistook the chanson for authentic history.  All these authors, however, have no other source but the chanson de geste.[1]

A Middle English translation is mentioned in a document from the reign of Richard II, but it is utterly lost.

The “Petit Cartulaire de Saint-Arnould” claims that Hervis was buried in the abbey of Saint-Arnould in Metz. The preservation of Garin’s arm as a relic may be due to confusion with Saint Warinus [Garin] of Metz, martyred in 677, the brother of Saint Leodegarius [Léger]. Garin’s tomb was still to be seen in Metz Cathedral as late as the 1500’s. The princes of Burgundy claimed to have in their treasury, among other things, the tusk of the boar that Begon was hunting when he was slain.


The work was popular enough to inspire a sequel, now known as Gerbert of Metz. In the Middle Ages, however, Gerbert was always copied with Garin, and considered simply to be a part of it, with the result that modern scholars are unsure exactly where the division between the two poems is. Some place it at the beginning of our Part Three. Others where we have it. Still others aways into Gerbert, at the beginning of the Siege of Gironville. In favor of the early division is the fact that MS X begin at this point; that ending Garin there leaves all loose ends neatly tied up and all parties reconciled; that INT begin to differ greatly here; that CDJQR have illuminations here, BGNOSVW have large initials; that Philippe de Vigneulles makes a book division here. Against the early division: AEL1MNP have no indication of a division; FT do not even start a new laisse. In favor of the middle division: the aesthetic satisfaction of ending a poem with the death of the hero. Against the middle division: this aesthetic is more appealing to modern Romantic sensibilities than to medieval audiences, who would have felt cheated if they were not told how Garin was avenged. In favor of the late division: CJL1 have illuminations here, DEFMPSW have large initialas; a very awkward repetition of three laisses by many MSS; EFMP claim at this break that “Here ends the song of Jehan de Flagi.” The style changes after this point, both in vocabulary and laisse-structure; Auberi le Bourguignon’s character changes. Against the late division: It is a ridiculous place to end a story, unless Jehan died suddenly or his original ending has been suppressed; ABINOQRVX do not indicate a division here at all.

Let thus much suffice for Garin the Lorrainer, and let us now speak of his son, Gerbert of Metz.

[1] Taylor, Pauline. Gerbert de Mez.Namur 1953. xiv.

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