Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Galïor flees enslavement with the duchess of Aigremont’s infant, Maugis (Image #1) and The duchess gives birth in a carriage while the soldiers of Aigremont battle invading Saracens (Image #2)
  • Creator: Loyset Liedet, painter
  • Description:

    In the scene depicted in this illumination, there are numerous points of action including a battle scene between Saracen and French forces on the right, the duchess of Aigremont giving birth in the lower left, and a young Black woman hiding in the upper left holding a white infant. While both the duchess and the conflict could be interesting to examine, the main discussion of this image will focus on the woman in the upper left-hand corner who in only one manuscript (Cambridge, Peterhouse MS 201(2.0.1), end of the 13th century, laisse II, line 55) is given a name, Galïor. In the other manuscripts Galïor is referred to only as a slave. We learn she is an enslaved woman from Sicily who is actually the daughter of the emir of Palermo. The child whom she carries is the infant Maugis, having separated him from his mother during the chaos of the battle.

    This illumination comes from a 15th century manuscript of the prose version of Maugis d’Aigremont. This chanson de geste originated as a text in verse in the 13th century. Maugis d’Aigremont is one part of a larger series of chansons de geste known as Les Quatre fils d’Aymon or Renaut de Montauban. This epic account of the adventures of a group of brothers and cousins survives in multiple manuscripts including the deluxe illustrated prose version in five volumes discussed here. These particular manuscripts were commissioned by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. They were first copied in David Aubert’s workshop in Brussels, reaching completion in 1462. Afterward, Loyset Liédet created the accompanying illuminations with Volumes I and II illustrated in 1468, Volume III and Volume IV in 1469, and, finally, Volume V in 1470. Aubert and Liédet worked together numerous times in the service of the duke. Aubert was a scribe, calligrapher, compiler, and clerk for the duke’s household, having first been hired by Jean de Créquy, a prominent noble man at the Burgundian court, to create a copy of Renaut de Montauban that eventually developed into the set for Philip. In the 25 manuscripts created by Aubert’s workshop for the duke, Liédet was a clear favorite with commissions for 11. The other 14 manuscripts were assigned to 9 other artists.

    Although Philip died in 1467, Liédet completed the illuminated set of Renaut de Montauban for his son, Charles the Bold. Liédet’s work is characterized by bright, saturated colors with single illustrations often encompassing multiple narrative scenes. His interest was focused on the richness of clothing and the magnificence of courtly settings. The manuscripts remained with the dukes of Burgundy until Charles V when the fifth volume disappeared. Féry-Hue argues that the emperor gave the book to Philippe II de Montmorency-Nivelle, a young noble man who had lost his father at the age of six. The book is now in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

    The scene above comes near the start of the chanson, setting the scene of Maugis’ birth in Aigremont, France before moving to Italy and Sicily. Maugis and his twin brother, Vivien de Monbrant, are born on the feast of Pentecost to the duke and duchess of Aigremont, amid conflict between the troops of Christian Aigremont and Muslim Monbrant. Both sons are taken from their mother during the battle. Vivien is taken by Monbrant’s forces while Maugis is taken by Galïor who intends to return to Palermo.

    Galïor’s status as an enslaved woman is central to her role within the chanson. As an enslaved woman, Galïor had no personal agency in the household of the duchess and the duke. She was not born into slavery; the chanson notes that Galïor was the daughter of the emir of Palermo before she was kidnapped by pirates and sold to the duchess. The fears of kidnap were very real, particularly for children and women during this period. As Burge notes, "It was not just widows who were at risk: the capture of wards (both male and female) was an issue with the motivation for kidnap often being to secure the wealth of the ward’s estate" (Burge 141). Just as Galïor was kidnapped, she decides to take the chance during a battle between Monbrant and Aigremont to kidnap Maugis, "elle le vendrait là-bas à la gente impie, se disait-elle, car il était issu d’un lignage notoire et redouté" (she would sell him there to the ungodly, she said to herself, because he came from a well-known and feared lineage) (Fournier-Lanzoni 77). This practice of selling individuals into enslavement was not uncommon, particularly when many scholars claim that the medieval slave trade was at its height in the 12th and 13th centuries, around the time these chansons were first composed and written.

    What is interesting to note is that during this period, the form of enslavement commonly experienced by those who were kidnapped changed. There was a marked change from manual labor to sex trafficking for those captured. While the chanson goes into very little detail about her experiences as an enslaved woman, Galïor sees the pitched battle around her, not as life-threatening, but as an unexpected chance to escape enslavement. In kidnapping Maugis, Galïor is attempting to reassert a degree of control over her life, control that has not existed since she became enslaved. So long as she has possession of Maugis, Galïor has some social status because she is the caregiver of an important child of nobility, as described by Jarchow (449). Maugis, a newborn infant, is the only way that Galïor is able to regain some level of choice and agency over her life. Galïor’s death scene complicates the small window into her life to which the reader, or listeners, have access. Right before Galïor is viciously eaten by a lion and leopard on the beaches of the strait of Messina, she cries: "Ah! Mon enfant, que ne vous ai-je trahi à present. A grand tort, je vous ai pris dans le bois de la duchesse qui m’avait acheté et tendrement élevé…" (Fournier-Lanzoni 78) (Ah! My child, why have I not betrayed you now. Very wrongly, I took you in the wood of the duchess who bought and tenderly raised me…). This language of care and tenderness that Galïor references is again an oddly specific detail within the chanson that does not pay close attention to Galïor or her story. Perhaps her violent fate is meant to be a warning for other enslaved individuals to not repeat Galïor’s actions or risk meeting a violent fate of their own.

    These manuscripts are unique examples of Old French literature as they do not fall into simply one genre. Although the Renaut de Montauban is usually considered to be a chanson de geste by most, there are scholars who argue that the volume extends beyond that of typical epics and should, instead, be considered in their own genre as a chanson d’aventure. The chanson d’aventure includes more influences such as romances and Arthurian legends. At the same time, the overall category of chanson de geste is still important to defining the story. For example, an important theme of chansons de geste is religious conflict and defense of Christian belief, particularly against Saracen characters.

    The role of Saracens in Old French literature is a repeated theme throughout many chansons de geste and romances of the period. In such cases, Saracens often act as connections between the real world and a world of magic. Identifying Galïor as the daughter of the emir of Palermo emphasizes both the ethnic and religious othering that occurs within her brief story. As a Saracen, Galïor is seen to have a connection to the magical world that does not exist for Christian women. Old French literature emphasizes religious differences by ascribing pagan idolatry and other false beliefs to the religion of Islam. This phenomenon contributes to the depiction of the Muslim world as one of magic and exoticism. Galïor acts as the transition for Maugis from the "real world" to a magical place. Once she acts as this point of transition, Galïor is no longer needed in the story, and she meets her violent end from two religiously important symbols: the Christian lion and the Muslim leopard. Although this conflict between faiths only occurs symbolically, listeners would connect the idea with defending Christianity from outside influences.

    The emphasis on magic following Galïor’s violent death becomes the foundation of Maugis’ identity in the rest of his chanson as well as those of his cousins. Although Galïor plays a small role within the chanson, her decision to take the young Maugis is a pivotal moment shaping the entirety of Maugis’ tale. Galïor serves as the connection between Maugis and the magic for which he becomes famous. Thus, without Galïor’s decision to regain her freedom and take Maugis to Sicily, he would not have become the ward of the fairy, Oriande, and learned magic; thus, the story of Galïor’s decision to bring Maugis to Sicily is central to this chanson de geste and the larger works as a whole.

  • Source: Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8426778v/f22.item
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Chansons de Geste Enslaved Persons in Literature Infants in Literature Kidnapping in Literature Magic in Literature Maugis d’Aigremont, Chanson de Geste Muslims in Literature Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy Race and Racism in Literature Saracens in Literature
  • Geographic Area: France; Italy
  • Century: 13- 14- 15
  • Date: 1468 (Illuminations completed)
  • Related Work: Digitized copy of MS 5072, vol. 1 of Regnault de Montauban in prose from the Bibliothèque nationale de France
    Manuscript presentation to Philip the Good, MS 5072, fol. 4r
    Courtiers at the Muslim court, MS 5072, fol. 17v
    Maugis as an adult using Magic to overcome demons and capture the supernatural horse, Bayard, MS 5072, fol. 37v
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, MS 5072, fol. 6v
  • Original Location: Brussels in the scribal workshop of David Aubert, Bruges in the artistic workshop of Loyset Liedet and Brussels in the collection of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images ; Manuscript Illumination
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paints; Inks
  • Donor: Layman ; Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The illuminations were added to the manuscript in 1468 when the ownership of the five-volume set had passed to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and son of Philip the Good
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 37.5/26.5/
  • Inscription: Rubric: Comment la Duchesse daigremont sacoucha de deux filz quelle perdi en celle meisme heure en ung bois (How the Duchess of Aigremont gave birth to two sons whom she lost at the same time in the woods)
  • Related Resources:

    Baudelle-Michels, Sarah. "Les insertions arthuriennes dans la geste rinaldienne." Arthur après Arthur: La matière arthurienne tardive en dehors du roman arthurien, de l’intertextualité au phénomène de mode (1270-1530). Edited by Christine Ferlampin-Acher. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017. Pages 121-135.

    Berthelot, Anne. "Les ge´ne´alogies magique dans les chansons de geste de seconde ge´ne´ration: le cas d'Auberon et celui de Maugis d'Aigremont." Oltre la mer salee: Proceedings of the 21st International Congress of the Société Rencesvals pour l'étude des épopées romanes, Toronto, 13-17 August 2018. Edited by Dorothea Kullmann and Anthony Fredette. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2022. Pages 85-95.

    Brown-Grant, Rosalind. "Visualizing Justice in Burgundian Prose Romance: The Roman de Gérard de Nevers Illuminated by the Wavrin Master and Loyset Liédet." Gesta 57, 1 (2018): 69-93.

    Burge, Amy. Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    Charron, Pascale and Marc Gil. "Les enlumineurs des manuscrits de David Aubert." Les manuscrits de David Aubert "escripvain" à la cour de Bourgogne. Edited by Danielle Quéruel. Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2000. Pages 81-100.

    Féry-Hue, Françoise. "Le 'Renaut de Montauban' en prose: possesseurs illustres et voyages forcés de cinq volumes de grand luxe." Reinold. Ein Ritter für Europa, Beschützer der Stadt Dortmund. Edited by Beate Weifenbach. Logos, 2004. Pages 77-94.

    Hahn, Thomas. "Race and Ethnicity." A Cultural History of Race in the Middle Ages. Edited by Thomas Hahn. Bloomsbury, 2021. Pages 113-136.

    Jarchow, Kathleen. "Magic at the Margins: The Mystification of Maugis d'Aigremont." Magic and Magicians in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Time: The Occult in Pre-Modern Sciences, Medicine, Literature, Religion, and Astrology. Edited by Albrecht Classen. De Gruyter, 2017. Pages 439-474. Available in Academia.edu

    Kaplan, M. Lindsay. Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity. Oxford University Press, 2018.

    Loyset Liédet. "Lexicon van Boekverluchters" (Lexicon of Book Illuminators). Available open access: link. Copyright Roel Wiechers.

    Maugis d'Aigremont: chanson de geste. Edited by Philippe Vernay. Francke, 1980.

    Maugis d'Aigremont: chanson de geste. Suivie de, La mort de Maugis. Translated by Re´mi Fournier-Lanzoni and Je´ro^me Devard. L'Harmattan, 2014.

    Paolella, Christopher. Human Trafficking in Medieval Europe: Slavery, Sexual Exploitation, and Prostitution. Amsterdam University Press, 2020.

    La Vie en Proses - Renaut de Montauban - prose "bourguignonne". Sarah Baudelle-Michels, Danielle Quéruel (Maugis), Sandrine Hériché-Pradeau (Mabrien / Mabrian). Available open access on the University of Milan website: Link

    La Vie en Proses - Renaut de Montauban - prose "vulgate". Sarah Baudelle-Michels. Available open access on the University of Milan website: Link