Jean de Joinville Essay - Critical Essays

Jean de Joinville


Jean de Joinville 1225-1317

French crusader and chronicler.

Joinville was a crusader turned chronicler. After fighting in the Seventh Crusade (1248-54) with King Louis IX of France, Joinville composed an account of his adventures with King Louis, who was canonized in 1297. The historical account, entitled Vie de Saint Louis (1309), or the Life of Saint Louis, is written more as an autobiographical account of Joinville's shared experiences with the King, rather than as an objective biography of Saint Louis. In the Vie, Joinville's reverence for his King is obvious, yet it is not blind; in some instances Joinville's criticism or questioning of King Louis is apparent. Joinville has been praised by critics for his vivid description of the era in which he lived and the war in which he fought with Saint Louis.

Biographical Information

Born in Champagne to a noble, crusading family, Jean was the second son of Simon, Lord of Joinville. After the death of his father and older brother, Jean—still in his teens—became Lord of Joinville. As a youth he served as a vassal to his lord, the Comte de Champagne. In 1239, Joinville married Alix of Grandpré; the couple had two sons. Following the lead of King Louis IX, Joinville took the cross in 1244. Sailing with the fleet from southern France, Joinville joined the Seventh Crusade and followed King Louis to Cyprus. He fought in the battle of Mansourah in 1248 and along with King Louis was captured by the Bedouins. After the King paid a large ransom, he and Joinville were released from prison. From 1250 to 1254, Joinville lived near King Louis at Acre, Caesarea, and Jaffa, serving as the King's counselor. They returned to France in 1254 and Joinville retired to his estate. At some point, perhaps as early as 1272, it is believed that he began writing down an account of the events of 1248 through 1254. Around 1298, King Louis’s Grandniece, Jeanne (Countess of Champagne and Queen of Navarre), requested that Joinville write an account of King Louis's life. Great interest in King Louis had been generated by his being canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297. Joinville complied and began dictating the Vie de Saint Louis. Although there is some question of when different portions of the account were written, the work was completed by 1309. Joinville died in 1317.

Major Works

Before writing the Vie de Saint Louis, Joinville composed a religious pamphlet in which both texts and illustrations are used to expound upon the Christian Creed. Credo was written between 1250 and 1251, although the only extant version is dated 1287. There is some conjecture related to the nature of the revisions made in the later version. The Vie de Saint Louis covers the years 1248 through 1254, when Joinville accompanied King Louis on the Seventh Crusade. In general, Joinville speaks reverently of the king and emphasizes throughout the work the virtues of loyalty and preudome. (Preudome has been described as a religious interpretation of the concept of chivalry.) Filled with Joinville's anecdotes, descriptions of people, as well as moralizing, the Vie de Saint Louis is comprised of three sections: an introduction, which includes a dedicatory letter and the teachings of Saint Louis; the central section, which focuses on Saint Louis's early life, his reign as King, and his deeds during the crusade; and a closing section, which discusses the King's later years and also includes a postscript.

Textual History

There are three primary extant manuscripts of the Vie de Saint Louis. The earliest, known as the Brussels manuscript, may date from as early as 1320, according to some scholars. The two others are believed to date from the sixteenth century. Most scholars agree that the two sixteenth-century manuscripts have a common source, but one which does not predate the Brussels manuscript. Although the first printed edition appeared in 1547, edited by Antoine de Rieux, the manuscript on which he based the edition has not been found and is believed to be corrupt. The first edition, which scholars believe may closely resemble Joinville's original, was printed in 1761, following the discovery of the Brussels manuscript and one of the sixteenth-century manuscripts. What has become the standard edition of the text appeared in 1874, in French, edited by Natalis De Wailly.

Critical Reception

Critical discussions of the Vie de Saint Louis are centered on two main areas: the dating of the work and Joinville's writing style. Alfred Foulet divides the work into five sections, and suggests dates of composition for each section. The five sections he identifies are: (1) the dedicatory letter; (2) the teachings of Saint Louis; (3) the life and reign of Louis IX including his later years; (4) the postscript; and (5) the final date of the book. After analyzing specific portions of the work, Foulet concludes that sections 1 and 5 were probably composed in 1309; sections 2 and 3 in 1305-06; and section 4 between 1306 and 1309. Foulet finds it highly unlikely that, as some scholars contend, approximately three-quarters of the book consist of personal recollections composed as early as 1272-73. Rene Hague, on the other hand, in his introduction to De Wailly's edition, suggests that Joinville had began writing his account in 1272. Maureen Slattery reviews the dating debate, summarizing the two schools of thought on the subject. Slattery notes that a large group of scholars maintain that the work was composed in two stages, with the main account of the Crusade having been written around 1272. In 1304-05, when Joinville was asked to compose a biography for the court, he officially dictated his original account and added sections to the beginning and end. Slattery explains that a smaller group of scholars, including Foulet, believe that the bulk of the work was composed around 1305-06, not earlier. Having outlined both views, Slattery emphasizes what both schools have in common: both use internal textual date references to date the work's final form (a method which Slattery finds to be inconclusive), and both agree that the work “emerged from stages of both oral and written development.” Slattery stresses that the visual and oral sources deserve more weight than the written sources which informed Joinville's text, as the work is “one of a witness who saw and heard about the king, then dictated his memories.” Other critics have focused their attention on the style of Joinville's Vie de Saint Louis. In the introduction to her translation, Ethel Wedgwood praises the “directness and simplicity” of Joinville's style, although she also comments that he is neither an accomplished chronicler, nor a storyteller. In describing the anecdotal and moralizing tone of the book, Frank Marzials observes that Joinville's account is colored by the fact that he wrote about his days as young soldier when he was an elderly man. Helmut Hatzfeld examines both the style and language of the Vie, observing that Joinville's method of description employs the linkage of a “few well-observed features by a ‘pale’ line of action.” In addition, Hatzfeld notes that Joinville avoids epithets, lengthy descriptions, and similes, but he does make use of exaggeration. Joinville prefers consecutive clauses, a habit characteristic of early French prose. Taking a different approach to Joinville's language, Newton S. Bement analyzes the way in which Latin remnants infused the French used at the time Joinville wrote the Vie. Bement explains that while such remnants are often viewed by modern critics as disorderly or confusing elements in the text, the remnants were common to thirteenth- and fourteenth-century speakers and writers of French.

Principal Works

Credo (pamphlet) 1250–51

Vie de Saint Louis (memoirs) 1309

The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville (translated by Ethel Wedgwood) 1906

Memoirs of the Crusades by Villehardouin and de Joinville (translated by Frank Marzials) 1908


Ethel Wedgwood (essay date 1906)

SOURCE: A preface to The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville: A New English Version, E. P. Dutton, 1906, pp. vi-ix.

[In the following essay, Wedgwood comments on Joinville's life and his style in Vie de Saint Louis.Wedgwood observes that while Joinville was not a skilled chronicler, his work is characterized by “directness and simplicity.”]

Six hundred years ago, when the histories of Europe still lay buried among the Latin Charter Rolls of great abbeys,—before Piers Plowman had yet voiced the English conscience in the English tongue,—and when Dante was just turning to look back on half his life's journey,—John, Lord of Joinville, full of days and...

(The entire section is 894 words.)

Frank Marzials (essay date 1908)

SOURCE: An introduction to Memoirs of the Crusaders by Villehardouin and de Joinville, translated by Frank Marzials, E. P. Dutton, 1908, pp. xxvii-xxxiii.

[In the following essay, Marzials provides a brief biographical discussion of Joinville, followed by an overview of the style of Vie de Saint Louis. Marzials also analyzes Joinville's characterization of King Louis.]

… Joinville was born, it is believed, in 1224. He embarked with St. Lewis for the Crusade on the 28th August 1248; he returned to France in the July of 1254. His Memoirs, as he himself tells us, were written, i.e. concluded, in the month of October, 1309, that is to say, when he was...

(The entire section is 2705 words.)

Alfred Foulet (essay date 1941)

SOURCE: “When Did Joinville Write His Vie de Saint Louis?,” The Romantic Review, Vol. XXXII, No. 3, October, 1941, pp. 233–43.

[In the following essay, Foulet dates the various sections of Joinville's Vie de Saint Louis, and argues against the theory that a majority of the work consists of personal reminiscences composed as early as 1272-73.]

While leading his second crusade against the Saracens, King Louis IX of France died of the plague near Carthage, August 25, 1270. Twenty-seven years later (August 1297), after three separate inquests into his saintly virtues and the miracles ascribed to him after his death, he was canonized by Pope Boniface...

(The entire section is 5191 words.)

Newton S. Bement (essay date 1947)

SOURCE: “Latin Remnants in Joinville's French,” Philological Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, October, 1947, pp. 289–301.

[In the following essay, Bement analyzes the extant text of Vie de Saint Louis in order to determine how the French language of the time incorporated various remnants of Latin. Bement concludes that the text includes many such remnants that have led modern scholars to maintain that the text exhibits a certain “disorder” or “confusion.” Such “orthographical variety,” Bement argues, caused no confusion among thirteenth- and fourteenth-century writers and readers.]

Definition of title is here not only a primary consideration but...

(The entire section is 5504 words.)

Helmut Hatzfeld (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: “A Sketch of Joinville's Prose Style,” in Mediaeval Studies, edited by Urban T. Holmes, Jr., Harvard University Press, 1948, pp. 71–80.

[In the essay that follows, Hatzfeld provides a technical analysis of Joinville's style and descriptive methodology in Vie de Saint Louis.]

Histories of Old French Literature of the future will present a new schema; besides the customary type and amount of information, they will include style sketches of the individual authors. These sketches will be objective if they are based on correct analysis, not on impressions. They will be unequivocal if they place in relief the nuances in the single forms of expression,...

(The entire section is 2429 words.)

Lionel J. Friedman (essay date 1953)

SOURCE: “A Mode of Medieval Thought in Joinville's Credo,” Modern Language Notes, Vol. LXVIII, No. 7, November, 1953, pp. 446–53.

[In the following essay, Friedman discusses a particular mode of thought employed by Joinville in the Credo.This common medieval methodology was used to combine similar Biblical quotations into a new statement. Friedman maintains that critical ignorance of this mode of reasoning used by Joinville has caused some confusion regarding what constitutes a quotation in the Credo.]

In the opening paragraph of the Credo, Joinville carefully warns those who will see and hear the work that the illustration is according to...

(The entire section is 2147 words.)

Rene Hague (essay date 1955)

SOURCE: An introduction to “The Life of St. Louis,” by John of Joinville, translated by Rene Hague, Sheed and Ward, 1955, pp. 1–19.

[In the following essay, Hague reviews the debate surrounding the dating of Vie de Saint Louis, comments on the content of the work, and offers an overview of the textual history of the extant manuscripts.]

John of Joinville was a man whose generous spirit was easily moved to admiration; particularly was he moved when he saw a man of high rank sacrificing all that was dear and devoting even his life to what was to him the greatest of all causes: the armed fight against the enemies of the faith and the protection or rescue of...

(The entire section is 8162 words.)

Lionel J. Friedman (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: “Text and Iconography for Joinville's Credo,” in Text and Iconography for Joinville's “Credo,” The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1958, pp. 1–27.

[In the following essay, Friedman analyzes the relationship between the extant versions of the text of the Credoand the extant versions of the work's iconography.]

1. The account in the Vie de saint Louis of his life at Acre makes no mention of an activity which has assumed importance in Joinville's literary biography: the composition of the Credo between the months of August 1250 and April 1251. The lessons of Saint Louis reported in sections 43-45 of the Vie are generally...

(The entire section is 10111 words.)

Paul Archambault (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: “Joinville: History as Chivalric Code,” in Seven French Chroniclers: Witness to History, Syracuse University Press, 1974, pp. 44–57, 129–31.

[In the following essay, Archambault argues that critics have failed to recognize Joinville's criticism of King Louis in Vie de Saint Louis. The work is less about King Louis, Archambault maintains, than it is about the noble class and the nature of “preudome” as an institution in which Christian values, linked with the concept of nobility, are upheld to the best of one's ability.]

Villehardouin's chronicle was composed a short time after the events narrated in order to justify a series of decisions the...

(The entire section is 8602 words.)

Maureen Slattery (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: An Introduction to Myth, Man, and Sovereign Saint: King Louis IX in Jean de Joinville's Sources, Peter Lang, 1985, pp. 1–31.

[In the following essay, Slattery offers an overview of the dating controversy surrounding Joinville's Vie de Saint Louis and discusses the structure of the work, the sources from which Joinville may have drawn, the history of the early manuscripts, and the purpose of the work.]


Few would care to contest Bacon's observation that the invention of printing, gunpowder and the compass changed the form of civilization. But many of our medieval sources have been studied as if...

(The entire section is 10112 words.)

Further Reading


Bement, Newton S. “Linguistic Value of the Michel Edition of Joinville's Historie de Saint Louis.” The Romantic Review XXXVIII, No. 3 (October 1947): 193-202.

Examines the Michel edition of Joinville's Historie de Saint Louis and argues that Joinville's only contributions to the original dictated text were the vocabulary and construction or word order. Bement concludes that the Michel edition is valuable in that its language represents a synthesis between late Old French and early Middle French.

Foulet, Alfred. “The Archetype of Joinville's Vie de Saint Louis.” Modern Language Quarterly 6, No. 1 (March 1945):...

(The entire section is 160 words.)