“THE FIRST TRUSTWORTHY AND FULLY INFORMED HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES”: RARE FIRST COLLECTED EDITION OF VILLEHARDOUIN’S HISTOIRE DE L’EMPIRE DE CONSTANTINOPLE, 1657
(CRUSADES) VILLEHARDOUIN, Geoffroy de. Histoire de l'Empire de Constantinople sous les Empereurs François. Paris: De l'Imprimerie Royale, 1657. Three parts in one volume. Tall folio (10-1/2 by 15 inches), contemporary full dark brown mottled calf sympathetically rebacked with original red morocco spine label laid down, raised bands; pp. (28), 370, (8), (12), 331, (1), 86. $5200.
First collected edition of this immensely influential first authoritative history of the Crusades, by a leader of the Fourth Crusade whose Histoire “initiated the great series of histories that so distinguishes medieval French literature." A splendid wide-margined folio volume, scarce in contemporary calf.
This impressive folio volume, the rare first collected edition of Villehardouin's Histoire, well deserves its longstanding esteem. As "the first trustworthy and fully informed history of the Crusades, Villehardouin's Histoire de l'Empire de Constantinople [aka Conquest of Constantinople] describes the era of the Fourth Crusade, the period between 1199 and 1207, during which a planned battle with Muslim forces ironically culminated in war against Eastern Christians that led to the sacking of Constantinople… A French nobleman, Villehardouin was well placed to observe and record the events of the Fourth Crusade. In the late-12th century, he served as Marshal of Champagne, in which capacity his main responsibility was to prevent the outbreak of fighting among French noblemen. While on Crusade, he seems to have played a key role in negotiating for his lord, the Count of Champagne. His narrative of the Fourth Crusade presents the perspective of the French aristocracy" (Marzials, Introduction, Conquest of Constantinople). Villehardouin "was the first serious writer of an original prose history in Old French. Although he was only one of the lesser nobility, Villehardouin was from the start accepted as one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. In 1205 his consummate generalship saved the Frankish army from destruction at the hands of the Bulgars outside Adrianople (modern Edirne, Turkey) and led them without loss through hostile country to safety in Constantinople. Villehardouin's work… initiated the great series of histories that so distinguishes medieval French literature. His achievement is remarkable because neither in style nor form did he have any models on which to base his work; his Latin predecessors were probably unknown to him firsthand. He probably started writing his chronicle about 1209" (Encycopaedia Britannica).
"The story, as we see it through his eyes, is of the progressive diversion of the expedition until it achieved what at the start had been in no way envisaged—the creation of a Latin Empire of Constantinople. When Villehardouin and his colleagues negotiated a treaty with Venice for the provision of a fleet in Spring 1201, it was secretly specified that the objective was to be Egypt. The failure of the Crusaders in the summer of 1202 to meet their obligations to Venice led to the capture of Zara in November of that year. During the following winter, a series of negotiations led to an agreement to go to Constantinople to restore the young Alexius to the throne from which his father had been deposed. Although this objective was achieved after the first siege of the city in the summer of 1203, it was followed by a rapid deterioration in relations between the Greeks and the Crusaders. In April 1204, the westerners succeeded, in a second siege, in breaking into the city. Its treasures were sacked; its provinces divided between the Franks and the Venetians; and a highly insecure Latin Empire was erected on the ruins" (Morris, "Geoffroy de Villehardouin," History 53:177, 24). Villehardouin's only known work, Histoire served as a defining model for later military historians. First collected edition, comprising the third edition of Villehardouin's chronicle, first issued in 1584-85, edited and translated into modern French by Charles du Fresne du Cange, and the first edition of Du Cange's history of the Latin empire in the Levant from 1198-1380. The original and modern French versions of Villehardouin's chronicle are printed in parallel columns. Following it is an extract from the Chronique rimée of Philippe Mouskes. Three parts, each separately paginated, in one volume. Volumes I and II (Histoire) complete with individual half titles and title pages; Recueil complete with colophon leaf at rear. With wood-engraved royal arms on title pages, historiated initials, engraved ornamental head- and tailpieces. Glossaire, Table pour l'Histoire at rear. Volume II with Tables Genealogiques, Corrections et Additions, Table des Familles at rear. Text in French. Brunet V:1238-1239. Ink annotations to half title and title page in a neat early hand.
Text generally clean; expert restoration to extremities of contemporary calf covers. An excellent copy of this impressive folio volume.