What does the Geraardsbergen manuscript look like?

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, front cover (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, front cover (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Some facts and figures about the Geraardsbergen manuscript.

The binding:

The present-day binding contains a composite manuscript (?), (i.e. two manuscripts, or codicological units (?)). Both units in this binding have been copied by the same scribe (?): the first unit contains two chronicles, and the second unit is the actual Geraardsbergen manuscript. We do not know when the two units were brought together, but the codex probably existed as a single book by the late Middle Ages. (see Story 4)

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, side view (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, side view (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

The measurements:

The paper leaves/folia of the Geraardsbergen manuscript measure 28.7 x 21.2 cm (almost present-day A4 size). The remaining 81 leaves (or 162 pages) are numbered from 103 to 183, and are divided over six gatherings (?) of four bifolia (or eight leaves) (?). The manuscript is incomplete, because between folia 110 and 111 three leaves are missing; for unknown reasons they have been cut out. It is possible that one (or more) gathering(s) are missing from the end of the codex, as the final text ends unfinished at the bottom of the last leaf.

The layout and the script:

The text is written in one column of 28 lines per page in a stylized cursive script (?) in brown ink. The decoration in the manuscript is scarce: red ink has only been used to enter a paragraph mark in the margins to indicate the beginning of a new (part of the) text, or to highlight the first letter of a line. Some simple red decorative lines have been used to fill the blank space at the end of a prose text. The rubrics (?) are not in red, but written in the same brown ink as the texts. The lack of colour in the pages gives the manuscript a sober appearance. It was not meant to impress some important patron, but may have been intended for personal use.

The Contents of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

The Geraardsbergen Manuscript contains 89 texts.

  1. Gheraetsel – A riddle (f. 103r-103v)
  2. Gheraetsel – A riddle (f. 103v)
  3. ‘Fol est qui fol boute’ (f. 104r)
  4. Gheraetsel – A riddle (f. 104r)
  5. Gheraetsel – A riddle (f. 104r-104v)
  6. Gheraetsel – A riddle (f. 104v)
  7. Gheraetsel – A riddle (f. 104v-105r)
  8. Vele wijsheden – Many good things (f. 105r)
  9. Vele daesheden – Many bad things (f. 105r-105v)
  10. Virtuut van wine – The virtues of wine (f. 105v)
  11. De duecht vanden wine – The virtue of wine (f. 105v-106r)
  12. Van eener dosinen verkeertheden – About a dozen things you can do wrong (f. 106r)
  13. De properheden vanden steden van vlaendren – The characteristics of the Flemish towns (f. 106r- 107v)
  14. Van dinghen die selden gheschien – About things you do not see that often (107v-109r)
  15. Vanden ABC vele abuse der weerelt – The ABC of strange matters in the world (f. 109r-109v)
  16. Van den bonten houdevare – About the colourful stork (f. 109v-110r)
  17. Proverbien – Proverbs (f. 110r-110v)
  18. Regement rual – Regiment ??? (f. 110v)
  19. De properheden vanden perden – The characteristics of horse (f. 111r-111v)
  20. Pour plus sauoir willic my poghen – …. (f.111v)
  21. Van v ghenouchten – Of five delights (f. 111v)
  22. Den wech te roeme – The way to Rome (f. 111v-112v)
  23. Te scriuene vp der stadt huus – To write on the town hall (f. 112v-113r)
  24. Van goeden zeden  – Of good manners (f. 113r)
  25. Om te scrivene in een cleen huus of cleen camere – To write in a little house or a little room (f. 113r – 113v)
  26. In een stal te scrivene – To write in an stable (f. 113v)
  27. Vers vanden vier winden – Verse text about the four winds (f. 113v)
  28. Een vers jeghen gramscip – A verse text against wrath (f. 113v)
  29. A mettre aux aisemens An de heimelicheden – On characteristics (?) (f. 113v)
  30. An een drechoir te stellene – To place on a buffet (f. 113v)
  31. Saint augustijn escript a sa table (f. 114r)
  32. An eenen outhaer – On an altar  (f. 114r)
  33. An onser vrouwen beelde – Beside the sculpture of Our Lady (f.114r)
  34. An dlavoir – On the washbasin (f.114r)
  35. An eenen spieghel scrijft – Write on a mirror (f. 114r)
  36. An de IX beste – To the nine worthies(f.114r)
  37. An de XII ghenoete van vranckerike – To the twelve companions of France (f. 114r-114v)
  38. Neuen thelich sacrament vanden outhare – Next to the holy sacrament of the altar (f. 114v)
  39. Item (f.114v)
  40. Neuen sente cristofels beelde – Next to the sculpture of Saint Christopher (f.114v)
  41. An de beelde van sente gillisse ende den coninc karel te scriuene alsoet te ghent staet te sente veerelden – To write beside the sculpture of Saint Gillis and King Charlemagne as can be found in Ghent at Saint Pharaildis (f.114v)
  42. An dwiwater vat te stellene – To place near the holy-water font (f. 114v)
  43. An tpalais taken staet met guldinen lettren gescreven – At the palace of Aix-la-Chapelle is written in golden characters (f. 114v)
  44. Noch om neven sente cristofels beelde te scrivene –  Some more to write next to the statue of Saint Christopher (f. 115r)
  45. Neven sente joris beelde te londres staet ghescreven in de kercke ten augustinen – Next to the statue of Saint George in the augustinian church in London is written (f. 115r)
  46. Van sente annen gheslachte – Of the house of Saint Anne (f. 115r-116r)
  47. Vander messen – About the mass (f. 116r-116v)
  48.  Noch vander messen – Some more about the mass (f. 116v-117r)
  49. Sente gregoris seit dat elc wijs mensche schuldich te merckene de vier dinghen hier naer volghende – Saint Gregory said that every wise man is obliged to pay attention to the four following things  (f.117r)
  50. Vander messen – About the mass (f. 117v)
  51. Hier naer volghen V uterlike dinghen ende teekene der rechter minnen – Next you’ll find five exterior things and signs of true love (f.117v)
  52. “Och heere wat de ghene verliest” – O lord, what one loses (f. 117v)
  53. Vanden IIII principalen duechden gheheeten cardinale – Of the four principal (or cardinal) virtues (f. 118r)
  54. Van leenene – Of borrowing (f. 118r)
  55. Vanden XII wercken van ontfaermicheden – About the seven Works of Mercy (f. 118v-120or)
  56. Dit mach elc mensche segghen van hem selven –  What every man can say about himself (f. 120or)
  57. Hier naer volcht een exempel om twee parsoene deen jeghen dander te lessenen Deen redene ende dander de broesche mensche – Here follows an example about two people, the one against the other, that is: the one reasonable and the other weak (f. 120v-123v)
  58. Vanden hopper hoeys – Of the haystack (f. 123v-124v)
  59. Gheestelike operatien ende vertroeste vulmaect confort  – Spiritual operations and comforting accomplishes strengthening (f.124v-125r)
  60. “Ware wolf ratte mus duvel doet”  – ?? (f. 125r)
  61. “Sunt tria que vere factiunt me sepe dolore” – ?? (f. 125r)
  62. Lantloepers scrivers machmen gheloeven –  Tramps and writers can be trusted (f. 125r)
  63. “Die al wilt handen dat hem valt te hande” – He, who wants to rule all that he can lay his hands on (f.125v)
  64. Heden te levene ende morghen doot – Alive today, dead tomorrow (f. 125v)
  65. By drien jaien duert den thuun – ?? (f.125v)
  66. Vanden vergiere van zuverheden – About the orchard of purity (f.126r-128v)
  67. Hier naer volcht depistele die sente bernaerd sandt eenen rudder up dbeleet van eenen huuse – Here follows the letter sent by Saint Bernard to a knight about how to manage a house (f. 128v-131v)
  68. Hier naer volcht een exemple ghesonden bi eenen eerweerdeghen joncheere gheheeten jan van hulst an herpercheualen vanden noquerstocque priestre te gheeroudsberghe – Here follows an example sent by an honorable young man, called Jan van Hulst to lord Perceval vanden Noquerstocque, priest in Geraardsbergen (f.131v-132)
  69. Vanden pardoene dat taken es XV daghen lanc beghinnende up der VII ghebroederen dach Xste dach in hoymaent alle VII jaren – Of the absolution you can get in Aix-la-Chapelle for fifteen days, starting on the seven brothers day, tenth day in July, every seven years.(f. 133r-134r)
  70. Van scipioene affricanus – About Scipio Affricanus(f. 134v)
  71. De philosophe platoen – The philosopher Plato (f. 134v)
  72. Item de coninc cirus seide tot sinen kindren dat naer dat”  – King Cyrus told his children that after (f.134v)
  73. Hier naer volcht een verclaers van eener biechten uten walsche in dietsche ghetranslateert de welke biecht meester jan jarcoen compileerde ende dede in elke prochie een copie hanghen te parijs – Here follows an announcement of a French confession translated in Dutch, that was compiled by master Jan Jarcoen and nailed up in every parish in Paris (f. 134v-139v)
  74. Hier volghen eenighe notablen verclaerse om te bat te verstaene hoe de biechte es schuldich ghedaen te sine – Here follow some remarkable announcements to understand better how the confession should be done (f. 139v-141v)
  75. Forma absolutionis sufficiens et requisite pro peccatis (f. 142r)
  76. Vermaninghen ende ghebode die de priesters inden predic stoel te parijs pleghen te kennen te ghevene up den paeschdach – Exhortation and commands that are announced by priests on the pulpit in Paris at Easter Sunday (f. 142r-144v)
  77. Regement oorboorlic ter doot ghecomposeert ende ghemaect int jaer XIIIIc ende XII om wel ende salechlic te stervene bi meester janne jaersoen canseillier tonser vrouwen kercke te paris ghetranslateert in dietsche int jaer XIIIIc ende XXXI – “Instructions on how to die correctly” written and made in the year 1412, to die in a correct and blessed way, by master John Gerson, chancelor of Our Lady’s Church in Paris, translated into Dutch in 1431 (f.144v-148v)
  78. Sente ancelmus anonciert de vraghen ende andwoorden hier na volghende om de ghene die der doot nakende sijn – Saint Anselm proclaims the questions and answers following for the near dead(f.148v-149r)
  79. Van gherechter minnen ende de properheit daer of – Of true love and the appeal of it (f.149v-153r)
  80. Van V lettren dat wijf bediet– About the meaning of the 5 characters in woman (f. 155v-157v)
  81. Bedinghe van onser vrouwen – Prayer of Our Lady (f. 155v-157v)
  82. Stabat mater dolorosa etcetera (f. 157v-158v)
  83. Hier naer volghen de properheden vanden viere complexien ghedicht bi pieteren den brant int jaer XIIIIc ende XXXIII – Here follow the chracteristics of the four temperaments, written in verses by Pieteren den Brant in 1433 (f.159r-160v)
  84. Die verboden daghe vanden jare – The impermissable days of the year (f. 160v-161r)
  85. Vercoren goede daghe dat alle dinghen begonnen commen te goeden affecte – Beloved good days that all things had good effects (f. 161r)
  86. Vanden andren diverschen daghen vintmen gescreven – What one can find written about the other days (f.161v-162r)
  87. Dits deerste dach vanden jare – This is the first day of the year (f.162v-168r)
  88. Pratique om den kalendier up de hant te wetene – A way to operate the calendar (f. 168v-168r)
  89. Hier volghet een goet dicht vanden IX besten ,– Here follows a good verse text about the nine worthies (f. 170v-183v)


Returning the Obscenities (BNF fr. 837)


Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300)
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

Another reader did not care for the way the censorious reader had rubbed out key words of the title. He wrote them back in for some texts, but not for others. Why was he this selective? Maybe he cared about some texts more than others; maybe he read by dipping in and out and only corrected ‘mistakes’ as he saw them. Here, the censorious reader has removed the words ‘fut foutue’ from the text ending ‘Explicit de la dolente qui fut foutue (sur la fosse de son mari)’, and the other reader has written the words back in again.

Onwards to genre

Return to readers

Return to fr. 837

A Bowdlerising Reader (BNF fr. 837)

Another reader did not care for obscenities, and wished to protect other readers from them. When he found an obscene word in a text’s title or explicit, he would rub it out. Here, he has expunged the word ‘cons’ from the title ‘du chevalier qui fist les cons paller’.

Titulus with obscenity expunged
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), f. 148v
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

Here are the titles of texts he deemed obscene:
‘Du chevalier qui fist les cons paller’
‘De la dolente qui fu foutue (sur la fosse de son mari)’
‘Du con qui fu fez a la besche’
‘De la damoisele qui ne pooit oir parler de foutre’
‘Du cul et du con’
‘Du vit et de la couille’
‘Des vins doan’
‘De la couille noire’
‘Des cons’
‘De honte et de puterie’.

Although he found the word ‘vin’ to be obscene in this one instance, there are several other texts in the manuscript with the word ‘vin’ in the title that he left alone, whereas he did expunge the titles for the majority of what we would consider obscene titles.

Interestingly enough, he rarely expunged words within the text itself. This image shows the beginning of the text ‘des cons’, with the word ‘cons’ expunged from the title, but appearing twice immediately below it.

However, there was one text where he did attempt to make revisions within the text itself: ‘du vit et de la couille’. In these extracts, the obscenities ‘vit’, ‘couille’ and ‘con’ are circled. We can see that most of the instances of ‘vit’ are expunged; that the word ‘couille’ is sometimes expunged, sometimes not; that within this text, he rarely bothered to expunge the word ‘con’. This reader was not nearly as thorough in his censorship as the typical nineteenth-century bowdleriser.

Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), ff. 215r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

It is really fascinating having this insight into the relative degrees of obscenity one medieval reader believed different words had. As well as ‘vit’ being more obscene than ‘couille’ or ‘con’, we can also see that he thought that ‘con’ was more obscene than ‘cul’. For the explicit of ‘du cul et du con’, he expunged the word ‘con’, but not the word ‘cul’.

Next: a reader who put the obscenities back in

Making notes of missing texts (BNF fr. 837)

Another reader came across the manuscript at a time when it already had some pieces missing. We don’t know whether someone deliberately moved them, or whether they just fell out. For more on this question, follow this link.

A note of missing texts
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), ff. 149v-150r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

This reader had access to something that let him know what all the texts were, either a table of contents or another, very similar manuscript. He decided to write in the names of all the missing texts, with numbers. We don’t know why he did this. Was it a desire for a sense of completeness?

Next: a bowdlerising reader

A reader who added titles (BNF fr. 837)

Textual boundary with explicit and titulus
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), f. 27r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

The original scribe of BNF, fr. 837 did not give the texts titles appearing at the beginning. Instead, he chose to name the texts in the explicits, at the end of each text.

A later reader decided that there should be titles, and wrote them in for each text. You can see it is written in a different hand.


Most of the time the titles are the same, but sometimes they are different. One text (ff. 341v-342v) has an original scribal explicit reading ‘de la synagogue’, but an added titulus reading ‘de la desputoison de la sinagogue et de sainte Eglise’.

Next: a reader who made note of missing texts

Who was Rutebeuf?

We know very little about the poet named ‘Rutebeuf’ outside of his poetry. He is believed to be from the Champagne region in France and to have trained as cleric in Paris. He worked as a professional poet, often writing on commission, and the majority of his poetic output is dated between 1248 and 1272.

Rutebeuf was one of the earliest poets to write in the first-person voice and not on the subject of love. His strongly satirical and unique voice represents a personal and historical witness of his time. The abundant manuscript transmission of his texts is evidence of Rutebeuf’s contemporary popularity.  Like his contemporaries, Rutebeuf’s works were often transmitted in diverse text collections such as BNF fr. 837. Indeed, single-author manuscripts and autograph manuscripts (transcribed by the author) are not a common occurrence until the fourteenth century onwards.

The name Rutebeuf may not represent the poet’s real name, but could possibly represent a pseudonym for his poetic persona. Of the 56 texts attributed to him, he names himself in 15 of them. Whether the name ‘Rutebeuf’ is a creation or not, the author often exploited the pun embedded in the name and played with the false etymologies. You can see and hear an example of this here.

You can find out more about Rutebeuf’s author collection in BNF fr. 837 here.

Are you interested in other medieval authors?

Alternatively, click here to continue to the conclusion for the manuscript.

Click here to return to the contents list for the manuscript.

Ci commencent li dit Rustebuef…

In contrast to the other poets in BNF fr. 837, Rutebeuf’s texts are deliberately grouped together and presented as his complete corpus. In fr. 837, authorship is rarely referred to in the paratext. However, Rutebeuf’s collection of texts is introduced by the rubric: ‘Ci commencent li dit Rustebuef’ [‘Here begin the works of Rutebeuf’]. The series of thirty-one texts is then concluded by the closing statement ‘Expliciunt tuit li dit Rustebuef’ [Here end all the works of Rutebeuf’].

Which texts were included?

The original rubricator of the manuscript highlights the beginning of the texts by Rutebeuf.
Paris, BNF,  fr. 837, f. 283vb
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: gallica.bnf.fr/?lang=EN

The scribe marks the end of ‘all’ Rutebeuf’s texts.
Paris, BNF, fr. 837, f.332va
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France : gallica.bnf.fr/?lang=EN

The (almost) complete corpus…

Rutebeuf’s work is multifarious; his poems range from accounts of his horse, his wife, his friends and debts, to contemporary politics and satire on the mendicant orders. His texts reflect a variety of genres as diverse as the contents of BNF, fr. 837, including fabliaux, saints’ lives and even an Ave Maria. Waguih Azzam suggests that the organisation of the Rutebeuf section in BNF, fr. 837 corresponds to the way in which the texts are organised in the manuscript as a whole, and could be a key to understanding the logic of this highly disparate and diverse codex.

Here is the list of his works in BNF, fr. 837:

La Vie sainte Elysabel (ff. 283vb-294vb)
Du Soucretain et de la fame au chevalier (ff. 294vb-298va)
Le Miracle de Theophile  (ff. 298va-302va)
La Complainte d’outremer   (ff.302vb-303va)
De Monseignor Gieffroi de Surgines (ff. 303va-304va)
La Griesche d’esté (ff. 304va-305ra)
La Griesche d’yver (f. 305ra-va)
De la damoisele qui fist les III tors entor le moustier (ff. 305va-306va)
De Monseignor Anseau de l’Isle (ff. 306va-vb)
Des Jacobins (ff. 306vb-307ra)
La Descorde de l’Université et des Jacobins (f. 307va-vb)
Le Mariage Rustebuef (ff. 307vb-308va)
La Complainte Rustebuef (ff. 308va-309va)
La Voie de Paradis (ff. 309va-314ra)
Du pharisien ou D’ypocrisie (f. 314ra-va)
Les Ordres (ff. 314va-315ra)
Le Pet au vilain (f. 315ra-rb)
De Brichemer (f. 315va)
De Mestre Guillaume de Saint Amor [=Complainte de Maistre Guilliaume de Saint Amour] (ff. 315va-316va)
La Vie Marie l’Egypciene (ff. 316va-323ra)
La Desputison de Charlot et du barbier (f. 323ra-va)
Les Plaies du monde (ff. 323vb-324rb)
De mestre Guillaume de Saint Amor [=Diz de Maistre Guilliaume de Saint Amor] (ff. 324rb-325ra)
Les Regles (f. 325ra-vb)
La Complainte de Constantinoble (ff. 325vb-326vb)
La Bataille des vices contre les vertuz (ff. 326vb-327vb)
L’Ave Maria Rustebuef (f. 328ra-vb)
Renart le bestorné (ff. 328vb-329va)
De Frere Denise (ff. 329va-331rb)
L‘Estat du monde (ff. 331rb-332rb)
La Mort Rustebuef (f. 332rb-va)

Interestingly in BNF, fr. 837, there is one text by Rutebeuf that escapes the frame of his authorship. Les Ordres de Paris (f. 181ra-vb) appears earlier in the codex and the author is referred to neither in the text or paratext. Why did the compiler not include this text in the specially designated Rutebeuf section on folios 283vb to 332va?

Continue to find out more about Rutebuef.


A riddle

Geraardsbergen manuscript, Text 1 (fols. 103r-103v)

Brussels - KBR - 837-845, fol. 103r: A riddle (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-845, fol. 103r: A riddle (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

The first text in the Geraardsbergen manuscript is a riddle with an interesting lay out. An unknown word, represented by the roman numeral XVII, has to be repeated at the beginning of every sentence, and therefore it has been connected with a line to each one of them. The scribe of this codex seems to like texts (often: lists) with lines connecting words or parts of sentences, because they occur regularly (see also Text 3).

The question in this riddle is: With which word should this roman numeral be replaced?

Would you like to try to solve a medieval riddle? Try this one!

See also: the complete table of contents.

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, fol. 103v: End of the riddle (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, fol. 103v: End of the riddle (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)