‘Selon que ma lingue que flamengue pour justement rimer en roumans’. History writing in multilingual political and social contexts: the case of the Chronique rimée des troubles de Flandre

Lisa Demets
Ghent University

The medieval county of Flanders was multilingual in its speaking and writing culture. The main spoken and written languages were Dutch, French and Latin, but in the densely populated commercial towns such as Bruges, Ypres and Ghent where Italian, Spanish, English and German merchants operated, a remarkable breeding ground for a multilingual literary culture emerged. The question of multilingualism has been pertinent in studies on the Burgundian rule over Flanders (1380-1482). Recent research revealed the political motives behind language use in administrative and juridical contexts. However, politics clearly influenced literary culture as well, and in particular the language use in historiographical texts. In this paper, I will address the remarkable case of the Chronique rimée des troubles de Flandre. The chronicle was written in the aftermath of the Ghent revolt, a civil war in Flanders (1379-1385), marking the beginning of the Burgundian rule. The French chronicle was written by a Flemish native speaker, probably a Bruges partisan of count Louis of Male and duke Philip the Bold. First, I will address how various codicological features of the autographical manuscript reflect the writing context. Second, I will relate the language use to the textual content of the chronicle. And lastly, I will compare the discourse of the Chronique to other contemporary texts dealing with the Ghent war, but written in Middle Dutch and Latin such as the Rijmkroniek van Vlaenderen (written in Ghent), and the Catalogus et chronica principum Flandriae (also known as the Flandria Generosa C, written in the Eeckhout abbey in Bruges). This case illustrates how multilingual medieval writers switched between languages not merely to address different social groups, but also to make a political statement. Language could give meaning to the content: the chosen language to write or read a chronicle was not innocent and could reflect different positions in conflicts.