Manuscripts and periods of production

There are around 40 known extant manuscript witnesses of the cycle of Guiron le Courtois. Their provenance and date do not provide concrete evidence as to the precise time and place of composition of the various parts of the cycles, since none of the manuscripts date from before 1250. The manuscripts indicate, however, immediate and prolonged circulation between France and Italy, which references in other documents confirm (Cigni 2003 and 2006, Morato 2007). We have no evidence of circulation in the British Isles or eastern Mediterranean.

The two oldest witnesses, both incomplete, are Paris Arsenal 3325 and Marseille BM 1106, dated around 1250-1275, which come from northern Italy (Genoa?) and North-Eastern France (probably Picardy) respectively. These contain, albeit incompletely, the cycle’s three parts: the Arsenal MS conserves an initial chunk of the Méliadus followed by the Suite, while the Marseille MS presents the Roman de Guiron already incorporated into the first cyclical form (Morato 2010; see below Textual Tradition).

The cycle is particularly extensive and no manuscript known to us includes all the known material. It is intriguing that for both the Roman de Méliadus and the Roman de Guiron (possibly written in France), the oldest and arguably the most authoritative attestations are 14th-c. Italian copies, while for Les aventures des Bruns (written in Italy) the most authoritative manuscript, New York Morgan Library M916, is from the northeast of France and from the mid-14th century (Lagomarsini 2014).

Paris BnF 350 offers a unique insight into the European trajectory of the cycle. It transmits one of the later forms of the cycle (see Textual Tradition), followed by the Prophéties de Merlin. Part of the Méliadus section, the Guiron, and the Prophéties can be attributed to a workshop in Arras toward the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century (Trachsler 2004). This indicates, moreover, that the Prophéties, composed in Venice c. 1275, went into almost immediate circulation in northern Europe. The other sections of the manuscript, which make up for two material lacunae in the copy of the Méliadus, were produced between France and northern Italy before the second half of the 14th century (Morato 2007).

Two Italian copies demonstrate rare if not unique situations of linguistic contact for the Arthurian tradition: BnF 12599 and X (formerly Rothschild). BnF 12599 is from Pisa-Lucca, and dates from the end of 13th/beginning of 14th century (Limentani 1962 and Cigni 1999). X, from the Veneto and probably dating from the late 14th century, presents a ‘conclusion’ to the cycle in Franco-Italian – the only Arthurian text known thus far to use a Mischsprache of this type (Leonardi et al. 2014). As there are also manuscripts with a more southerly Italian provenance (e.g. BL Add. 12228 and Biblioteca Marciana Z XV, which are most likely from Naples, and BL Add. 36880), we can identify three main zones of Italian diffusion, which is to some extent paradigmatic of manuscripts in French in the Italian peninsula (Cigni 2003 and 2006).

The northern European manuscripts are less studied than the Italian ones. They are distributed between France and Flanders and date mainly from the second half of the 14th century through the 15th century. This production includes some of the most lavish manuscripts of the Arthurian tradition. By the 15th century, the Guiron tradition is often combined with other narratives, especially with both the Arthurian compilations by Rustichello da Pisa (for instance in Cologny Bodmer 96; BnF 340; BnF 355; Turin Bibl. Naz. 1622; and BL Add. 36673, the last particularly interesting because it may have been a draft). Such manuscripts were manufactured for and / or belonged to great aristocratic patrons as Jacques d'Armagnac, Louis de Gruuthuse and Prigent de Coëtivy.

To Textual tradition