Works about the matter of antiquity written in French circulated in the Iberian Peninsula’s Christian kingdoms since the late twelfth century, if not earlier. This circulation—including the production of new copies—was particularly intense in Catalonia, longtime part of the French cultural and political orbit, and eventually involved in the Aragonese crown’s Mediterranean expansion. But there are also abundant traces attesting to the circulation of works such as the Roman de Troie, the Roman d’Alexandre, and the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César within the neighboring kingdom of Castile, where they became key material for a series of romances and historiographical projects that sought to refashion ancient matter in environments closely related to the Castilian monarchy. Critical interest in these works’ circulation has, for the most part, been limited to their use as sources for rewritings or translations into the vernacular languages of Castile.
In this paper, I bring together the information that scholars have excavated in relation to individual cases that, considered as a whole, may provide us with a picture of the provenance, trajectory, and uses of books in French about classical antiquity circulating in Castile between the turn of the thirteenth century and 1369, the date of a momentous dynastic change. My intention is to identify the changing but enduring networks that linked the main node in this circulation pattern, the royal court, with people and institutions in places in which French remained the dominant language to write and hear about the classical past. With this information in hand, and factoring in the Castilian monarchy’s active linguistic policies during this period, it becomes possible to describe the socio-cultural and political place of French in Castilian courtly milieus with more accuracy, in ways that go beyond—and at the very least nuance and expand—traditional considerations about prestige as the main driver behind these books’ circulation and uses in Castile.