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Geoffroi de Villehardouin

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Maréchal de Champagne, warrior, and first historian in the French language, b. about 1150; d. at Messinople, 1213. As early as 1191 he was Ambrose Maréchal of Champagne. His life is known only by the occurrence of his name in some charters and by very meagre details in his history. In 1199, with other knights of Champagne, he took the cross at the tourney of Ecry-sur-Aisne. Thibaud III, Count of Champagne, named him as one of the embassy sent by the crusading barons to Venice. After the death of Thibaud III he assisted in electing Boniface de Montferrat as leader of the Crusade (1201). He returned to Venice in 1202 and was engaged in preventing the Crusaders from embarking from other ports. He is silent concerning his share in the intrigues which resulted in changing the direction of this Crusade, but this share must have been very important, for he always participated in the deliberations of the principal leaders and was associated in all their undertakings. At Zara he laboured to restrain the dissidents who wanted to fulfil their vow and set sail for Palestine. At the fist siege of Constantinople he was in the fifth battle with Matthieu de Montmorency. He was one of the agents sent to replace Isaac Angelus on the throne. He was also in the embassy commissioned to request Alexis IV to observe the treaty concluded by him. In 1204, after the foundation of the Latin Empire, he became Ambrose Maréchal of "Romanie", and undertook to settle the quarrel between the Emperor Baldwin and Boniface de Montferrat. He took part in the expedition against the Bulgars (1205) and, after the defeat of the Crusaders at Adrianople (April, 1205) and the disappearance of the emperor, he rallied the army and valiantly directed its retreat. Under Henry II he took part in a naval battle against Theodore Lascaris and received from the emperor the fief of Messinople (Mosynopolis, near the ancient Abdera ). After the death of Boniface de Montferrat (1207) Villehardouin seems to have played no further part.

His account of the Conquest of Constantinople, "dictated" to him after 1207, is a narration of all the events in which the author took part and of which he was a witness. He begins with the preaching of the Crusade by Foulque de Neuilly, and ends suddenly with the death of Boniface de Montferrat. A continuation, under the name of Henri de Valenciennes, which relates portions of the reign of Emperor Henry, was added by copyists. Villehardouin's book is of inestimable value because it is one of the oldest books composed in French prose. Besides, the author is one of the earliest representatives of the class of historical memoirs which characterize all the literatures of Europe. Owing to its literary qualities of sobriety, exactness, and clearness, it furthermore gives most reliable information regarding the sentiments of the Western knights who were drawn to the Orient and the impressions produced on them by the magnificence of Byzantine civilization. The description of the arrival of the Crusaders before Constantinople (ed. Natalis de Willy, p. 73) is justly celebrated for the depth of the impression which it reveals. Unhappily, its testimony is not sufficient to afford an exact idea of the Crusade of Constantinople. He tells posterity only what he wishes, and refrains from making known the secret details of the negotiations in which he took part, and which are necessary to understand the reason for diverting the Crusade towards Constantinople. His sincerity is not therefore coplete; moreover, his point of view is that of the great barons, for whose conduct he makes an incessant apology. Hence it is necessary to supplement his testimony by that of Robert de Clari, who represents the knights. His book has had many editions, including those of: Ducange, "Hist. de l'empire de Constantinople sous les empereurs francois" (Paris, 1657), the text of which is defective; in the edition of the Société de l'hist. de France (Paris, 1838); de Wailly, "Le conquête de Constantinople avec la continuation de Henri de Valenciennes (Paris, 1872); Bouchet (Paris, 1891, with notes), English translation by Sir F.T. Marzial (Everyman's Library, 1908).

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