Roman de la rose - Romance of the rose

Reference: MS NLW 5016D

This manuscript contains one of the most popular romantic French poems of its time. It is amongst the most beautiful of European literary manuscripts from the middle ages, dating from the 14th century.

Description of the manuscript

The present binding of this manuscript, with its pasteboard covers, dates from 16th century, and although not the original binding, it is in a very good condition. It contains 150 folios of high quality vellum and the text, written in brown ink, is displayed in two columns. In addition, there are numerous miniatures and fine gilded capital letters throughout the text. Most of the miniatures are found in the first part of Roman de la rose (ff. 3-26v); only five images are included in the continuation of the poem by Jean de Meun (between ff. 28-130). A further miniature is present in Le Testament, an additional work by de Meun bound at the back (ff. 138-149) of this manuscript. At the beginning of this work, there is a miniature depicting The Trinity on a blue background with gold, red and white decoration.

Content

The first part of this poem by Guillaume de Lorris is an allegorical dream vision. Little is known of this author who composed 4,085 lines between the years 1225 and 1230. Lorris died before completing the poem, however a lengthy conclusion (17,700 lines) was written by Jean de Meun c.1280.

The subject of the poem is courtly love and it follows the Lover’s quest for his maiden and true love. The maiden is depicted as a rosebud in a walled garden. The walled or enclosed garden was an important concept of the time and it represents courtly society. The Lover happens upon the garden, owned by Déduit (Old French for pleasure) as he strolls alongside a brook one Spring day. In his efforts to approach the maiden he meets a number of allegorical characters including Venus, the Godess of Love who tutors him in the art of courtship, Sadness, Pleasure, Jealousy and Meanness. Collectively, they discuss the psychology of romantic love.

An image of the new author, de Meun, seated at a desk writing, is included at the end of de Lorris’s work. A marked change in style occurs in de Meun’s writing and his attitude towards the nature of love outside the sheltered walls of the garden of pleasure. His treatment of love is more practical and cynical and reflects the new attitude of rationalism that emerged in the latter half of the 13th century. The Lover encounters numerous obstacles before finally reaching his maiden and embracing her, and the poem draws to an end with the dreamer awakening at sunrise.

Francis William Bourdillon

This manuscript is part of a larger collection by Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921). A scholar and avid book collector from Buddington, Sussex, Bourdillon’s main interest was in French romantic literature although some English literary works are included in his collection. After his death, the majority of his personal library was bought in 1922 by the National Library. It contained over six thousand items, including 40 medieval manuscripts, manuscripts relating to Sussex, personal notebooks and more than one copy of the early French text, Roman de la rose. Bourdillon showed great interest in this particular text and he devoted himself to the task of collecting a number of copies. His library includes 7 copies of the manuscript dating from the 14th and 15th centuries (NLW MSS 5011-5017).

Although Bourdillon, the manuscripts’s collector had no apparent connection with Wales, evidence suggests that Llywelyn Bren, from Glamorgan, possessed a copy of Roman de la rose in 1317. This French romance may be seen to have influenced Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poetry and even the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, who translated part of the text into Middle English.

Digitising the manuscript

This manuscript has been digitised as an early example of what Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan deems ‘the most influential of all romances produced in medieval France’. (Friend of the Library, Winter 2002).

The manuscript is also worthy of attention for its highly detailed miniatures and ornate capital lettering throughout the work. It is a fine representative of Bourdillon’s extensive and extraordinarily valuable collection.

Further reading

  • Blamires, A. and Holian, G., The Romance of the Rose Illuminated. Manuscripts at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002).
  • Horgan, Frances, The Romance of the Rose: A new translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Reviews

  • Johnston, Dafydd, ‘The Romance of the Rose Illuminated’, Studia Celtica, 37 (2003), 278.
  • Lloyd-Morgan, Ceridwen, ‘The Romance of the Rose Illuminated: Manuscripts at the National Library of Wales’, Friend of the Library, (Winter 2002), 13-15.

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