Manuscripts and periods of production

The Roman d'Alexandre survives, in whole or in part, in some 30 identified MSS and fragments. Although the text was composed at the end of the 12th c., the extant MSS give little evidence of widespread popularity before c. 1250. One of the earliest extant witnesses may be Nottingham UL WLC/LM/6, an illustrated romance collection which includes the Fuerre de Gadres section of the RdA. In spite of older evaluations which situated this MS in the second half of the 13th c., it may be a few decades earlier. Alison Stones has recently suggested that it was manufactured between 1200 and 1225, potentially in the border area between Flanders and Artois (Stones 2010, 45). Although this new date appears to be corroborated by layout, script, and decoration, it is not unproblematic. The hand in the final quires, which include fabliaux by Gautier le Leu, closely resembles that of one of the main scribes. That le Leu's oeuvre is usually dated to the second or even third quarter of the 13th c. could warrant a later dating for the MS. Keith Busby (2002, 415-20), for instance, has connected the codex to the marriage of Béatrice de Gavre and Guy IX de Laval in 1286 (see also: Troie manuscripts).

A group of interpolations and sequels to the RdA, composed in Picardy between 1190 and 1260, suggest early circulation in Northern France (see: Textual tradition). This popularity is further underlined by the flourishing production of MSS in the region. Many of the copies dated to the second half of the 13th c. were probably manufactured in ateliers located in Arras, Tournai, and possibly also Saint Quentin (Paris BnF 24366). A fine example is Paris BnF 786, which combines an early cyclic avatar of the RdA with texts from the French Crusade cycle (Busby 2002, codices, 262). Produced c. 1250-75 in Tournai, it is one of the earliest extant copies of the Alexandre with a fully developed illustrative program, which it shares, at least in part, with a number of other MSS, e.g. Paris BnF f. fr. 789 (Amiens, c. 1280; Stones 2013, 61), Paris BnF 790, and Paris BnF, 791 (both Parisian 14th-c.). Given the specific MS context of BnF 786, the remarkable selection of some of the illustrated scenes in these copies may associate the reboot of the RdA in the mid-13th c. with the contemporary crises in the Holy Land. The earliest illustrations of the taking of Jerusalem and the siege of Tyre in these MSS may well resonate with crusader propaganda, as has been suggested by Mark Cruse for similar depictions in Oxford Bodleian 264, manufactured in Tournai in the 1330s and 1340s.

Although the production of some 13th-c. MSS has been situated near the Île-de-France, Parisian production appears to be marked by the inclusion of the Voeux du Paon. Earlier Parisian MSS, originally without the Voeux, are possibly Paris BnF 792, in which the RdA is preceded by Florimont, which tells the story of Alexander's great-grandfather and grandfather (Mandragore, a fragment of the Voeux was added later); and, more confidently, Paris BnF 25517, dated to c. 1275-90 (Stones 2013, 54). These MSS both include the Vengement sequel by Gui de Cambrai. Later 14th-c. copies illustrated by the Fauvel Master (Paris BnF 24365), and from the workshop of Thomas de Maubeuge (BnF 790 and Paris BnF 1590) continue with the distinct Venjance sequel by Jean le Nevelon, as is usual in MSS which have the Voeux interpolation. Another Parisian MS, BnF 791, dated to c. 1340, and the closely related 15th-c. Paris BnF 1375 have the same texts but add the Voeux at the end of the copy (see also: Textual tradition). That other Parisian artists, such as the Montbastons, illustrated MSS with only the Voeux and Restor, might suggest that the RdA owed its 14th-c. Parisian success to its modern, courtly offshoots, rather than to a renewal of interest in Alexandre de Paris' 12th-c. text.

Among the few witnesses of insular dissemination is the one MS which, at the time of its copying, presented a complete Alexander cycle, and thus could be compared to a modern, and very luxurious, DVD boxset, Bodley 264. Various colophons testify to a troubled process leading to the completion of the MS. Notwithstanding that the text was completed on 18 December 1338, the illustrations were not finished until six years later, in 1344. We are well-informed about the illustrators (Jehan le Grise, pointing towards Tournai), and later scribes or rubricators (Thomas plenus amoris), but when it comes to its (intended) owners, we remain in the dark. We do know that the codex was taken to England, possibly before the end of the 14th c. but definitely before c. 1450, when insular scribes and illustrators had already significantly changed its appearance and fitted it with a new frontispiece. In order to make up for the (supposed) lack in the continental MS, an English scribe added an English alliterative poem supplying the exchange between Alexander and the Gymnosophists; and the 14th-c. RdA cycle was finally bound together with a newly manufactured copy of Marco Polo's Li livres du graunt Caam.

In a 15th-c. note, one of the owners of the aforementioned Nottingham romance collection, which includes the Fuerre de Gadres, identified himself as John Bertram of Kilton Thorpe, a Northumberland parliamentary. It is thus plausible that the MS crossed the English Channel in or before 1449, the year in which he died. Prior to its journey overseas, the codex may have been kept at the castle of Laval, which in 1428 was sacked by John Talbot. Circa 1445, the latter presented a collection of French epic, romance and didactic texts (known as the Shrewsbury book) to Margaret of Anjou. It may be telling that the copy of the Chanson d'Aspremont in this MS is closely related to that of the Nottingham collection (Hanna 2010, 95-98; Mandach 1974). Oxford Bodleian Hatton 67, a fragment of the Fuerre de Gadres of about 20 folios, is dated to c. 1300-50 and may be the only extant witness of the RdA copied by an English scribe. Excerpts of the RdA have also been interpolated into insular MSS of Thomas of Kent's Roman de toute Chevalerie, notably Cambridge Trinity College 0.9.34 (fragmentary), and Durham CIV 27b. These are also in the continental Paris BnF 24364. The availability of a locally anchored alternative could offer a potential explanation for the limited success of the RdA in the British Isles. A similar situation may have occurred in the Dutch-speaking part of the Low Countries. There, two standard biographies by the prolific writer Jacob van Maerlant may have alleviated the need for yet another account of Alexander's life, despite the popularity of the French version among francophone or bilingual readers. Maerlant's Dutch histories of Alexander were based on the Latin Alexandreis by Gautier (Walter) de Châtillon and on Vincent de Beauvais's Speculum historiale. In his Spieghel historiael (I.V.1, vv. 16-20; De Vries and Verwijs 1863, 180), the Flemish poet cursorily admits to knowing the French vengeance sequels, but also expresses disapproval: no matter who should ask him, he tells us, never would he consider translating such blatant nonsense. Some dispersed fragments copied c. 1325 by the same Antwerp scribe suggest that Maerlant's Alexanders geesten ('Famous Deeds of Alexander') may well have been copied together with the Dutch Roman van Cassamus (Klein 1995, 11). If so, it suggests that Maerlant's Dutch text filled in for the French vulgate version as the literary backdrop for the events in the Voeux du paon.

Similarly, the scarce evidence of circulation of the Alexander material in southern regions is in stark contrast with the abundant proof of success in Northern France and Paris. This notwithstanding, Paris Bibl. de l'Arsenal 3472 points towards an early transmission in the South. All parts of this composite MS are usually dated to before 1250. Linguistic characteristics situate the Arsenal copy in the Poitevin region (Armstrong 1937), though its decoration may have been executed in Northern Italy (possibly Bologna, Careri 2001). Additionally, an Italian scribe introduced leaves into the second section of the copy during the 14th c. (Armstrong 1937). Two 14th-c. copies have been confidently identified as Italian: the first, Venice Museo Civico Correr VI 665, like the Arsenal manuscript, combines excerpts from the RdA with earlier versions; while the second, Parma Bibl. Palatina 1206, provides its own particular version of the Northern vengeance sequels. Paris BnF 12567, which contains the Fuerre de Gadres, also includes two of the Peacock amplifications (see: Textual tradition), the Voeux and Restor du Paon, and may have been manufactured in Southern France or Italy. Finally, an ex-libris in Paris BnF 15095 suggests that this MS, which was produced in northern or western regions of France c. 1250-75, may have been in Poitiers at the beginning of the 15th c.

To: Textual tradition.