The Legend of Girart of Roussillon – Origins and Influence

ORIGINS OF THE LEGEND

Girart of Roussillon, Girart of Vienne, and Girart of Euphrate are all inspired by the same historical figure: Girart II, Count of Paris, born 810, ascended 837, died c. 878.

Now Girart I of Paris had married Rotrude (who may have been the daughter of Carloman, son of Charles Martel), and founded the Girardid dynasty of Counts of Paris. His three sons, Stephen, Begon, and Leuthard I, succeeded him in turn as Counts. Leuthard I had two sons: Girart and Adalard. Adalard served as King Louis the Pious’ seneschal, and Girart became Count of Paris. Meanwhile, Count Hugh of Tours had two daughters: Bertha and Ermengarde. Girart II married Bertha sometime before 819, and Ermengarde married Lothair I, son of Louis the Pious and king of Middle Francia, Bavaria, and Italy, and Emperor of the West. In 836, Girart was sent on official business to Italy. In 837, he was made Count of Paris. He lost the title in 841, when he took the side of Lothair I against King Charles the Bald and broke down the bridges across the Seine to inconvenience the latter. Girart was among Lothair’s soldiers at the Battle of Fontenoy in 841, when that king and his nephew Pepin II of Aquitaine were decisively defeated by Louis the German and Charles the Bald. Lothair nonetheless made Girart his count of the palace in 842. When Lothair I died in 855, his son Charles, still a child, inherited Provence as his kingdom, and Girart became his regent. In 860, Girart repelled a band of Vikings who had sailed up the Rhone. The following year, Charles the Bald attempted to disinherit his nephew, but he was repelled, possibly by Girart, and returned to France. Around this time, Girart and Bertha founded the monasteries of Vézelay and Pothièrs. In 863, Charles of Provence died young and childless, and his lands passed to his brother Lothair II, King of Lotharingia, for whom Girart continued to administer them until that king’s death in 869, whereupon his territories were divided by his uncles Louis the German and Charles the Bald. Charles went to occupy Provence, but met with resistance from Girart and Bertha. Charles laid siege to Vienne, which was ably defended by Bertha while Girart was holding another castle nearby. Charles, however, first burnt all the lands around Vienne and then promised the people mercy if they surrendered. The people told Bertha they wished to surrender, Bertha send word to Girart, and Girart formally surrendered to Charles on Christmas Eve, 870. The couple went into retirement in their fiefs near Avignon, where Girart died between 877 and 879. He was buried in the abbey of Pothièrs, in Langres, where once could be seen Girart’s tomb on the Gospel side of the chapel, Bertha’s on the Epistle, and, in front of the altar, an epitaph for their infant son Thierry.

Bedier would have it, as usual, that the legend was created in the 11th or 12th century by some minstrel who had heard or read the monks’ chronicles of their founder, Girart. He argues that the only similarities between Girart of Paris and Girart of Roussillon are that they fought a king named Charles, had a wife named Bertha, had a son who died young, and founded certain monasteries, all facts that a minstrel could have learned at the abbey. The minstrels did not, however, know about such striking facts as Girart of Paris’ defeat of the Vikings, his protection of the young prince Charles of Provence against his cruel uncle, Bertha’s protection of Vienne on her own, etc., all things we would expect them to know if the story of Girart had been passed down orally.

Although Saint Badilon is real, the cult of St. Mary Magdalene at Vézelay seems to have been an invention of the eleventh century. Although Girart and Bertha did obtain for their monasteries the relics of Ss. Pontien, Eusebius, Andéol and Ostien, there is no record of the relics of the Magdalen there prior to 1050. Unfortunately for Vézelay, in the mid 1200’s a tomb was discovered in Provence. This tomb was, in reality, a Gallo-Roman tomb of the 500’s with a carving of Pontius Pilate washing his hands and a servant holding the washbasin. The discoverer, however, thought the servant was Mary Magdalene preparing to wash the feet of Christ, and the word went out that St. Mary Magdalene’s tomb had been found. The monks of Vézelay now claimed that they had received their relics from the south, but their popularity declined, and the cult in Provence flourished. Had it not been for this discovery, there would have been no association of the Magdalen with Provence, no tradition of St. Lazarus as bishop, no legend of St. Martha taming the Tarrasque, no Holy Blood, Holy Grail, no Da Vinci Code, and Dan Brown would be an obscure third-rate hack writer, instead of a rich and famous third-rate hack writer.

The relics at Vézelay were destroyed the Protestants during the Wars of Religion, and the church turned into a stable. The relics currently venerated there are replacements sent from elsewhere. The shrine in Provence was destroyed during the Revolution, but the skull was saved and is now in a rebuilt shrine. The most likely candidate for the real relics are those brought to Constantinople in the ninth century, but I can find no information on what became of them afterwards, or if they are still preserved today.

Read more on St. Mary Magdalene here.

Val Pergunde is perhaps Valprionda, a suburb of Cahors.

INFLUENCE

Girart of Roussillon appears already in the Oxford Song of Roland as one of the Twelve Peers, and he dies at Roncesvalles. Later works incorporated him into the elaborate genealogies of the Paladins, and made him the brother of Aymon of Dordone, Doon de Nanteuil, and Bueve d’Aigremont. He plays hardly any role, however, in the poems of the Nanteuil cycle or those of the Aymonids. On occasion he fights alongside his kinsmen, but they seldom if ever, if I recall correctly, allude to the events of his life story as given in his own chansons. Later still, Girart was made into one of the twelve sons of Doon de Mayence. Besides the three mentioned above, the other eight were: Gaufrei (father of Ogier the Dane), Grifon d’Hautefeuile (of Altafoglia, one of the Maganzans), Othon, Ripeus, Seguin of Bordeaux (father of Huon), Pierre (father of the Swan Knight), Morant de Riveirs, and Hernaut de Girone.

Some MSS of Hervis de Metz insert an episode, between Hervis proper and the beginning of Garin le Loherain, wherein Girart is at war with Charles Martel. Charles asks the Pope for permission to tax the Church, reminding him that he has always given generously to her and now needs her help. The Pope agrees, but Girart is on the warpath and nearly at Paris. Charles has enough money now, but not yet enough men, and so, reluctantly, sends to Hervis for aid. Hervis makes ready to go to France, but before he gets there, Girart conveniently dies of illness. He is buried in an abbey he founded at Bar-sur-Aube.

There are other minor references to Girart. Auberi le Bourguignon conflates Girart of Roussillon and Girart of Eufrate in a prologue. Adenet le Roi alludes to the story in Bertha Broadfoot, as does the anonymous Italian who wrote the Entrée en Espagne. Girart is mentioned in some of the chronicles, more usually as the founder of abbeys than as the adversarial brother-in-law of Charles the Bald or Charles the Hammer, or as the real Girart II of Paris.

Let thus much suffice for the Legend of Girart of Roussillon, and let us now speak of Auberi of Bourguignon, to him his fiefs were given when he died without inheritors.

Advertisements

Notes to the Fourth Canto, Part 2

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto III, Stanzas 21-40, Notes.

22. Morgante. Not the giant from Pulci.
The Argalif and the Amirant. The Caliph and the Emir. These titles were distorted into proper names as early as the Song of Roland.
23. Ceylon. Also called Taprobana in the romances. Now called Sri Lanka.
30-36. All these kings are Boiardo’s inventions. Faraldo would seem to be the father of Gisarte from Canto III, but this is nowhere brought up.
34. Macrobia is the old name for a probably legendary country in Western Africa.
39. A targe is a shield.

Back to Part Two

Onward to Part Three

Notes to the Third Canto, Part 1

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation. Book I, Canto III, Stanzas 1-20 notes

NOTES TO CANTO III
7. According to Pulci, Astolfo is killed at the battle of Roncesvalles by one King Balsamin (XXVII: 17). According to the same author, Grandonio kills Sansonetto, and is then killed by Orlando. In the Oxford manuscript of The Song of Roland, Grandoine kills, among others, Duke Austorje of Valence on the Rhone. This name is given as Austoine in the Venice 4 manuscript, and may be the same as our Astolfo, though Duke Austorje has no personality and is introduced in the same line he is slain. In the Chateroux/Venice 7 version, Estolz de Langres is the son of Odon [Boiardo’s King Ottone of Great Britain], and is given a bragging speech before the battle, though no more so than anyone else’s. He kills the Almanzor [a role Samson takes in Oxford and Venice 4] and is slain by Grandonie, who also slays Antoine d’Avignon, who holds Valence and La Roche. Otho does not appear. In the Paris manuscript, Estoult replaces Otho for the slaying of the Almanzor and in some lists of the Peers, but Otho is also present and slays some Saracens. Estoult dies offstage. In Cambridge, Grandonie slays Antoine, of whom nothing is stated. Estoult is not otherwise present. In Lyon, Estouz again slays the Almanzor. Grandonie slays Anselme d’Avignon, who holds Valence and the rock thereby.
8. Gisarte and Pilïasi. Boiardo’s inventions.
16. Smirigilio. Minor character, whether or not invented by Boiardo I cannot say.
20. Anselmo della Ripa. Anselmo of the Clifftop. A minor Maganzan. I do not know whether he is traditional.
Rainieri. Another minor Maganzan. Again, his origin is unknown to me.

Back to Part 1

On to Part 2

Notes to the Second Canto, Part 3

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto II, Part 1, Stanzas 41-60, Notes

43. Chevron. A broad, inverted, V-shape on a shield.
Argent. Literally silver. The heraldic term for white.
Azure. The heraldic term for blue.
Plain. Properly called the field, changed here for sake of rhyme.
Basilisk. A mythical snake, about a foot long, with a white crown-shaped spot on its head, whence its name (Greek for “Little king”). Allegedly so poisonous that the mere look of it eye could kill a man, and that stabbing it with a lance would be fatal to the knight, as the venom traveled through the wood. However, it could be killed by weasels, or by the crowing of a rooster, or by seeing itself in a mirror. Frequently confused with the cockatrice, which is a monster with similar powers and weaknesses, but looks like a rooster with dragons’ wings and a snake’s tail. The creatures were allegedly spawned from chicken’s eggs either laid by roosters, or hatched by toads.
46. Isolieri. Traditional minor character.
47. Gualtiero of Monleon. Or Walter of Montleon. A Christian, and traditional minor character. May or may not be the same as the Walter Hum of the Song of Roland.
48. Spinella of Altamone.
Matalista. No more is known of him than what is given here.
Fiordespina. Will feature much later in the poem.
49. Grandonio. Traditional minor character. Appears in the Song of Roland as Grandonie, where he is killed by Orlando at Roncesvalles.
50. Images of Mahomet are, of course, forbidden by the Koran. Though the prohibition was not always as strictly enforced as it is today, it is doubtful any Saracen ever bore a picture of the camel-driver on his shield.
51. Macario and Grifone. These names are given to Maganzans and other Carolingian villains so frequently that it is impossible to tell which are meant to be the same characters. One Grifone is father of Ganelon. Another Grifone is son of Olivier, and twin brother of Aquilante.
According to two romances, the French La Reine Sibille and the Italian Macaire, Macaire kills a man by treason, and is later killed by the dead man’s faithful dog in a trial by combat. The legend was later transferred to the reign of Charles V. The later version goes by the name of “The Dog of Montargis”, and can be found in Andrew Lang’s The Animal Story Book.
Ranier and Falcone. Very minor traditional characters.
Pinabello. This is the Pinabel who is killed in trial by combat at the end of the Song of Roland. Ariosto, who did not know the Song, kills Pinabello off in the Furioso, well before Roncesvalles.
56. Guido of Borgogna. Traditional minor character.
57. Avin, Avolio, Ottone, and Berlengier. The four sons of Duke Naimo of Bavaria. They are mere names, and always mentioned together. They seem to be derived from the Song of Roland’s Yvon, Yvor, Otho, and Berengier, who are not related to each other, but are merely four of the Twelve Peers, and who all die at Roncesvalles.
58. Ugo of Marseilles. Boiardo’s invention.
Ricciardetto and Alardo. Two brothers of Rinaldo, and with him and Guicciardo, the Four Sons of Aymon. Their sister is Bradamante. Ricciardetto is also known as Richard [Ricardo]. Since he is the youngest brother, he was known as “Little Richard” or “Richardet”. Some commentators on the Carolingian legend wrongly call Ricardo and Ricciardetto two separate characters.
Olivier. Oliver of Vienne [a town in France, not Vienna, Austria], boon companion of Orlando, and brother of Alda, Orlando’s betrothed. His kinship varies from romance to romance, but he is usually a distant cousin of Orlando. The story of how he and Orlando became friends can be found in Girart of Vienne, in Heroes of the French Epic, translated by Michael Newth.
62. My son. Figuratively speaking.
63. Muslims are, of course, forbidden to drink wine. Cards are an anachronism; they were invented in China in the ninth century, but did not reach Europe until the fourteenth.
68. Galleys. The galleys of Greece and Rome were manned by freemen. The practice of condemning criminals to row ships was begun in Christian countries (mostly France) in the mid 1500’s, and somewhat sooner in Islam. The practice began to die out in the late 1700’s, in Christendom first, and in Islam only with the conquest of the Barbary Corsairs by France.
Giant. Grandonio. He is only seven feet or so. It should be noted that a giant’s intelligence usually bears an inverse relation to his height. Charlemagne, Ferragu, and Grandonio are almost ordinary (as knights go). The eighteen foot Margutte is a clever rogue, the twenty-four foot Morgante is honest and loyal, but rather simple, and the thirty foot giants who form Angelica’s retinue are never clearly shown to be sentient.

On to Canto III

Back to Part 3