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Fortunes Stabilnes: Introduction


1 Isabel was born to Charles VI and Isabeau in 1389. She married Richard II of England in 1396 at age seven (they probably never lived together). After Richard's death in 1399, she married her cousin Charles in 1406. (She is said to have wept throughout the wedding ceremony because of her reduced status from queen to duchess and because her new husband was only eleven.) She died in 1409. So Charles was both widowed and orphaned before his fifteenth birthday (Champion, 1911, pp. 32-38).

2 Agincourt was one of the great battles of the Hundred Years War that raged between France and England for much of the fourteenth century and the early fifteenth century. It was recounted in chronicles, both English and French, and has been discussed frequently in modern scholarship. For an English account in modern English, see Elizabeth M. Hallam, ed., The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses (London: Wiedenfield and Nicolson, 1988), pp. 128-36. See also Anne Curry, The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2000).

3 See Michael K. Jones, "'Gardez mon corps, sauvez ma terre' - Immunity from War and the Lands of a Captive Knight: The Siege of Orléans (1428-29) Revisited," in Arn, 2000, pp. 9-26.

4 Gloucester held to the implicit promise made to Henry V that the duke not be released until Henry VI came of age.

5 For a brief overview, see Fortunes Stabilnes, ed. Arn, pp. 15-26; for a more detailed discussion, see Askins, in Arn, 2000, pp. 27-45.

6 In 1426, the king issued a letter patent permitting the duke to receive six hundred pipes (large casks) of wine from the Loire valley, more than he could possibly have consumed (Rymer, Foedera 10.350; a medieval "pipe" or cask contained 126 gallons). See also Champion, 1911, p. 185, for other necessaries provided by his servants from France. He must have been on cordial terms with his first keeper, Robert Waterton (who, among many other things, was constable of Pontefract Castle, where the duke was housed), for in 1417 he ordered two silver colliers (necklaces) for Waterton's children and a golden goblet for Waterton's wife (Le Comte de Laborde, Les ducs de Bourgogne: Etudes sur les lettres, les arts et l'industrie pendant le XVe siècle [Paris: Plon Frères, 1852], vol. 3, part 2, items #6259 and 6260, p. 272). See also Champion, 1911, pp. 171-72, and John Fox, The Lyric Poetry of Charles d'Orléans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 10-12.

7 Charles had read and heard poetry all his life. In 1414 he paid the sum of 276 pounds 7 shillings 6 pence tournois (an enormous amount of money) for a robe on the sleeves of which he had had embroidered in pearls a lyric (and the music to which it was set) he had composed, beginning "Madame je suis plus joyeulx." It took 960 pearls, 568 of which formed the musical notes, four pearls per note (Laborde, #6241, p. 267). He had also exchanged poems with Jean de Garencières, who died at Agincourt. On the poets and writers he encountered in his parents' household, see Champion, 1911, pp. 236-37.

8 Cupid, the son of Venus, presides over a dream vision that opens the third collection of lyrics.

9 Both his English and his French poems contain a number of pseudo-documents: a challenge to a dual, a petition to a king, etc. A letter patent ("lying open") is a document from the king to a subject granting some kind of right or privilege, open to all to see; this is opposed to a letter "close," whose contents are intended for the eyes of the recipient alone.

10 See Petrarch's sonnet 88 in TC 1.400-20; the adaptation of Boethius' 28-line meter in Boece 3.m9 (with some borrowings from Boece 2.m8) in TC 3.1744-71; BD, lines 481-86 and 1175-80; PF, lines 680-92; the amusingly interrupted lyric from Boece 4.m1 in HF, lines 973-78; and Geoffrey's spontaneous balade "Hyd, Absolon" in the prologue to LGW. See also Anne Payne, Chaucer and Menippean Satire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), ch. 3: "The Consolation of Philosophy as Menippean Satire," pp. 55-85.

11 See especially A. E. B. Coldiron, 2000.

12 The duke read and wrote French, English, Latin, and Italian. His library was enormous by the standards of his day and included a large proportion of what we would call "serious" reading: theology, philosophy, history, and the classics.

13 For this completely unsupported notion see, among others, Robert Louis Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1896, and reprinted frequently), pp. 229-74; Champion, 1911; and Enid McLeod, Charles of Orleans, Prince and Poet (London: Chatto & Windus, 1969).

14 In British Library MS Royal 16 F.ii. This illumination, which depicts the Tower of London and behind it London Bridge, with its houses and shops, and the old Custom House to the right of it and the skyline of the city behind it, has been called the first English cityscape. In the foreground is the "watergate" that allowed prisoners to be brought by boat into the Tower. The manuscript contains, in addition to 116 of Charles' lyrics (those written during his captivity), fictitious letters of the Abbess Heloise on the theme of love, a work called "Les demandes damours," and a treatise for the instruction of a prince (see Janet Backhouse, "Charles of Orléans Illuminated," in Arn, 2000, p. 157).

15 See Janet Backhouse, "Founders of the Royal Library: Edward IV and Henry VII as Collectors of Illuminated Manuscripts," in England in the Fifteenth Century: Proceedings of the 1986 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. Daniel Williams (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1987), pp. 36-39. The manuscript was unfinished at Edward's death. It was Henry VII who had it completed, adding four more illuminations. The duke is pictured in an ermine-trimmed robe, not because we are to imagine that he dressed like this every day, but because the clothing identifies the poet as a prince. It is only a hypothesis that we are to imagine him writing poetry and (when looking out the window) composing lyrics mentally; he might just as well have been writing a legal document and "wishing" that he could administer his lands and run his household in person. See also Backhouse, in Arn, 2000, pp. 157-63.

16 Some of the roundels are clearly "gift poems" (the "gift" often being a kiss), for example Roundel 20, which begins "As for the gift ye have unto me given, / I thank you . . . ," or Roundel 35, which begins "Take, take this cosse [kiss] atonys, atonys [at once], my hert, / That thee presented is of [by] thy maystres." See also roundels 41and 47.

17 Several were owners of manuscripts containing works of Chaucer, Gower, or Lydgate (see Askins).

18 Charles had three wives: his cousin Isabel, daughter of Charles VI, who died in childbirth (see note 1, above); Bonne of Armagnac, whom he married before his capture at Agincourt (the marriage was a confirmation of the political alliance of the Orléanist party with the Gascons to help counter the forces of the duke of Burgundy, whatever the tenor of the couple's relationship might have been), by whom he had no children; and Marie of Clèves, niece of the duchess of Burgundy (another marriage with strong political overtones, cementing the alliance of the houses of Orléans and Burgundy), whom he married immediately upon his release from captivity and by whom he had two daughters and a son, who was crowned King Louis XII in 1498.

19 Both suppositions that have been made repeatedly by both French and English scholars.

20 For instance, one of his French lyrics includes baby talk, another employs a forest of grammatical terms, others include ripostes directed at other poets.

21 See the General Bibliography for translations and editions.

22 See Burrow, 1983.

23 London, British Library MS Harley 4431, fol. 95r.

24 Elizabeth Gonzalez, Un prince en son Hôtel: Les serviteurs des ducs d'Orléans au XVe siècle, Histoire Ancienne et Médiévale 74 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2004), pp. 109, 170-71.

25 Son of Louis' chamberlain (of the same name). He was killed in 1415 in the battle of Agincourt.

26 For an account of the books owned by Charles' father Louis and his mother Valentina, see Pierre Champion, La Librairie de Charles d'Orléans (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1910).

27 For an excellent analysis of Machaut's creation of a dream-vision voice, see Margaret Jean Ehrhart, "Chaucer's Contemporary, Guillaume de Machaut: A Critical Study of Four Dits Amoureux," Ph.D. Dissertation: University of Illinois, 1974 (DAI 35 [1975], p. 7299A). The reader will not find much of Chaucer's influence evidenced in the poems chosen here. The most transparent borrowings are to be found in the poet's dream of Venus and Fortune (lines 4638-5351), for which there is no French counterpart.

28 One of Lady Philosophy's goals in The Consolation of Philosophy (see General Introduction, pp. 4-6) is to make Boethius (the speaker) realize that he, too, inhabits a "prison without walls," a prison more significant than the physical walls of his incarceration.

29 See A. C. Spearing, pp. 123-44. The speaker "Charlis" claims that he writes the lyric not to express his own complaints (since his lady has died and he is therefore hypothetically not a lover at all) but because a friend who is a less-talented poet and an unsuccessful lover has asked him to compose a ballade for him.

30 This relaxation of the demands of rules of rhyme in the French ballade is due to what Chaucer called the "skarsete" of "rym in Englissh" ("The Complaint of Venus," line 80). Romance languages like French, Italian, or Spanish retain a large number of inflectional endings that rhyme with one another, making rhymed poetry a great deal easier to construct. English is a Germanic language with a large body of loanwords from French, and through the ages it has replaced inflectional endings with prepositions or indicated the function of words in a sentence by word order, rather than by grammatically marked suffixes. As a result, the game of rhyming on as few different sounds as possible is much more difficult to play in English than it would be in, say, French (hence the jokes about attempts to find words to rhyme with "orange" or "purple").
Charles was the son of Louis d'Orléans and the grandson of Charles V of France. His uncle was Charles VI. He was thus a member of the royal family - a prince as well as a poet - and the father of Louis XII. By his twenty-first birthday, his parents were dead - his father murdered by the Burgundian faction - and his first wife, Isabel,1 had died in childbirth. In that same year he was captured by the English at the battle of Agincourt2 and spent the next quarter of a century as a captive, moved from one nobleman's castle to another and traveling regularly in the company of one or other of his "hosts" to London to conduct business or attempt to further peace negotiations between France and England.

Why was he held for so long? Even the English admitted near the end of his captivity that his "sentence" was excessive, but these were dangerous times. In the first place, as a member of the royal house of France, he "owed" an enormous ransom to his captors.3 Then there was the matter of the English occupation of northern France at a time that the English were claiming sovereignty over France. The return of the duke of Orléans might well mean a reconciliation of the warring factions in France, the king on one side, the duke of Burgundy on the other. In the face of the periodic bouts of insanity in the royal blood, Charles sat too uncomfortably close to the French throne to please the English - nor were the English the only people to see this possibility. One of the prime reasons for Joan of Arc's mission to "sweet France" was to free the duke from captivity. And finally there was the child-king Henry VI, who inherited the throne of England at the age of nine months in 1422. The period of regency turned frequently into a tug-of-war between two of his uncles, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester,4 and John, duke of Bedford, and his great-uncle, Cardinal Beaufort. All were trying to do what was best for England, but their ideas of "best" were profoundly different. The last thing they needed was a "loose cannon" in the form of the duke of Orléans making the political picture of northern Europe even more complicated than it already was.

During those long years the duke was never kept in a prison; we must imagine him, rather, as a "guest under house arrest" (he moved, on average, every four years) in castles owned by a sequence of important noblemen: Sir John Cornwall, Lord Fanhope, William de la Pole (earl of Suffolk, later duke, who was married to Alice Chaucer, granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey), Sir Reginald Cobham, and Sir John Stourton, among others.5 He certainly interacted with members of all classes in the households where he lived, from grooms for his horses and household servants to the families and friends of his captors.6 He learned English and at some point began translating poems he had written in French into English (probably as much for fun or as a test of his own language abilities as anything else).7 Finding that he enjoyed the challenge of writing in the language of his captors, he continued to write not only versions of French lyrics already composed (many are not close enough to the French to be called translations), but also new lyrics and eventually new narratives as well. As his ideas developed and as he read the work of English poets like Chaucer and Gower, he conceived the idea of incorporating this early work in English into a more or less coherent story, more elaborate than anything he had composed in French.
1. The opening narrative of falling in love, followed by the first ballade sequence
(seventy-four ballades plus lyrics in various forms)
The story, which begins the same way the French does, recounts the speaker's falling in love: on Valentine's Day, a figure named Youth announces to the speaker, "Charles, duc d'Orlians," that he must go to meet Cupid, the God of Love.8 Though he begs to be allowed to put off his service to Love, Youth insists. They make their way to Love's castle, where he is brought before Love (the "Roy souverain"). Cupid calls Beauty and asks her to assail the speaker, and she proceeds (as in the Roman de la Rose) to send an arrow through his eyes to his heart. He suffers so much he almost dies of the wound, but Beauty, taking his head in her lap, advises him to surrender, which he does, asking for pity. She teaches him the ten commandments of love (serve Love loyally, put your heart in only one place, never boast of Love's favors, be courteous and gracious, etc.). He accedes to her every wish, upon which the chief secretary of the court draws up a letter patent9 that sets out the feudal arrangement between the lord (Love) and retainer (the lover). We learn about the course of his love affair as if we were eavesdropping, for this is followed by a long series of epistolary ballades, most addressed to the lady. We simply "overhear" his recounting of his joys and woes. However, in Ballade 55 we hear of the lady's illness and then death. This is followed by a series of mourning poems which are among the finest of the collection.
2. The dream of Age and the return of the lover's heart, followed by the roundel sequence
(ninety-six roundels plus lyrics in various forms)
The speaker falls asleep and dreams that he is approached by a figure called Age, who counsels him to leave Love's service, for nothing is more foolish than an old man in love. He also counsels the lover not to trust Fortune (for she will flatter him to bring him once again the pains of love), but to withdraw into the castle of No Care - and with that he awakes. Resolving to leave love, he journeys to Love's court and, in a assembly in the great hall filled with Love's subjects, petitions the God of Love for the return of his heart. Love tries to convince him that he should take a new lady, but he refuses and retires to the Castle of No Care, where he announces that he will hold a banquet for all his friends (who are other lovers). The food served will be the short lyrics called roundels (in French, chansons). He indulges in composing nearly one hundred of them, most of them on the theme of love - a sure sign that he is not entirely "cured" of love.
3. The dream of Venus and Fortune and the new lady, followed by the second ballade sequence
(forty-seven ballades)
Up to this point, the French poetry runs largely parallel, but then the poet elaborates this construction in English for which there is no French version. In a long narrative which contains a dream vision of Venus and Fortune and clearly owes a debt to Chaucer, Venus tries to convince the speaker to fall in love again. He resists until he is shown a vision of Fortune, descending from the sky; on her wheel he sees a lady so beautiful that he falls immediately in love. Venus offers to take him up to the wheel in the sky, but in doing so he awakes. Wandering away, musing on the vision, he encounters a group of young noble men and women playing a chasing game in a woodland clearing, among whom he spies the lady he has just seen on Fortune's wheel. He joins the game (another metaphor for stepping onto Fortune's wheel) and declares his love for the lady. As before, we learn about the course of the love affair through a series of ballades he addresses to her. But his new lady is much less kind than his first had been, and he spends much of his time complaining about her coldness. The final ballade begins, "As for farewel! farewel! farewel! farewel!" and seems to signal not the decisive end of a relationship as much as the exhaustion of a perpetually unsuccessful lover.

One of the interesting things about the English œuvre is its balance between lyric and narrative. Fortunes Stabilnes tells a story in a shadowy sort of way, with the narrative sections providing a clear framework for the lyrics, which can be puzzling, suggestive, indirect, moving, funny, or baffling. What is unique is the sheer number of lyrics, grouped in series, connected with relatively brief sections of narrative. The lyrics take up well more than half of the whole. Instead of lyrics sprinkled through a narrative poem, it is the narrative that works hard to pull together a story around three substantial lyric sequences. The work can thus be looked at in two quite different ways: as a single work that tells a story or as a collection (actually three collections) of lyrics written at various times on various occasions for various reasons and brought together in a single manuscript and provided with a narrative rationale.

The presence of lyric and narrative poetry in a single work is not unusual in the Middle Ages. Such mixed-form works were in fact popular all over Europe. That most widely read of moral/philosophical works, The Consolation of Philosophy, from the sixth century, is written in alternating sections of prose (narrative, or at least discursive) and poetry (lyric). In the late thirteenth century, Dante embedded lyrics in La Vita Nuova, the story of his love for Beatrice, and in the early fourteenth, Guillaume de Machaut embedded lyrics in a number of his dits (stories), as did his followers in France (and many other poets in other lands). Chaucer did the same in his poem Troilus and Criseyde and elsewhere, though he was a poet much more interested in narrative than in lyric.10

The relation of these poems to the author's life has been a matter of dispute for over a century. An early French critic, Pierre Champion, thought of the whole of Fortunes Stabilnes as a roman sentimental (sentimental story/romance/novel) that revealed the inner emotions and the personal relationships of the author. More recently it has been treated as a poetic fiction written by a highly self-aware poet, with a rhetoric calculated to create a particular impression on readers or listeners.11 Clear evidence of this is found, for instance, in the foolishness of the speaker, who has a poor memory and lacks courtly skills, neither of which can be attributed to Charles, duke of Orléans, who was known to his English enemies as an intelligent and clever (even dangerous) noble adversary.12

Early critics of his poetry imagined an idle, rather effete, and dim-witted prince whiling away the hours of every day writing love lyrics for twenty-five long years.13 The narrative image of the duke in the White Tower14 in a manuscript made after his death (see Figure 3, p. 112) has been used to support this view. Read from right to left, this narrative image shows the duke writing at a table in a well-appointed room in the White Tower within the precincts of the Tower of London (guarded by men-at-arms accompanied by a group of other people looking on); then leaning out a high window of the Tower, gazing on the scene below; and finally greeting someone in the forecourt below, while horsemen ride out of the Tower. This manuscript was made for Edward IV near the end of his reign (he died in 1483), long after the duke's return to France. It was never intended to represent historical reality (Charles spent very little time in the Tower during his long captivity). It was an emblematic image of the royal prisoner which, as Janet Backhouse observes, "would not have been without appeal to the eyes of the English king during the final years of his reign!"15

It was to the duke's advantage to appear harmless to his captors while he both worked incessantly to raise money for his own ransom and for that of his brother Jean d'Angoulême (who was also a prisoner of the English) and attempted to negotiate some sort of peace between France and England. One tool in this charade was his self-representation in his poetry as a man consumed with love longing or grief (i.e., without a political bone in his body), a man ruled by his emotions rather than his reason. The poems were almost certainly circulated or read aloud in the households of his "keepers,"16 English noblemen who were themselves cultured and in some cases even bookish.17 What better way to reinforce his image as an innocent than by creating a voice (named in the work itself as Charles, duke of Orléans) which is that of a helpless and inept lover?

What can we learn about the duke's years in England from reading his poetry? We may not be able to identify poems written to one of Charles' wives18 or establish that he did or did not engage in love affairs with any English ladies,19 but we can discover that Charles was a clever and insightful man and that he had a playful mind and a good sense of humor.20 Much has been made of Charles d'Orléans' life as a prisoner, but in fact he uses the concept of prison in his poetry much less explicitly than do other poets whose work is included in this volume. It has been left to scholars to infer his ideas about and attitude toward his imprisonment from his repeated mention of such things as melancholy, fortune, care, absence, and love longing. The best among them have resisted the attempt to read a detailed biography out of his poetry.

Sources and Influences

It is easy to identify Charles as a Chaucerian and leave it at that, but in fact French influences were much more deeply ingrained in his poetic psyche than were the works of Chaucer. It thus makes more sense to see him as parallel to Chaucer than to call him a "Chaucerian," i.e., a poet whose work is derivative. Charles is not a "Chaucerian" poet; that is to say, Chaucer did not provide the historical, literary context and primary source material for his poetry. This is not to say that he did not read Chaucer's poetry with great interest and make some obvious borrowings in some of his narrative links (less often in his lyrics). He evidently read with care Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, and Troilus and Criseyde. One thing that makes it difficult to put your finger on Chaucer's influence is that Chaucer himself borrowed extensively from the French poets whose work Charles knew well. Both English and French poets of the courtly style of literature look back ultimately to the Roman de la Rose, written in two parts, the first by Guillaume de Lorris, the second (many years later) by Jean de Meun. It was these two thirteenth-century poets who made so wildly popular the dream vision on the theme of love, the allegorical treatment of elements of the experience of love (such as Disdain, Idleness, Wealth, Fear, Beauty, the tumultuous lover's heart, etc.), the association of love with gardens, the opposition of erotic/courtly/unmarried love and Reason, a world governed by Cupid, the God of Love and the son of Venus, and so on. Chaucer is thought to have translated the work early in his career (referred to here as the Romaunt), but the work was so popular and so available in a variety of languages that it is impossible to say when a later writer is borrowing directly from Chaucer, from some other poet who borrowed from the Rose, or directly from the Rose itself.21

Charles also probably read John Gower's long poem Confessio Amantis ("Confession of a Lover") and his Cinkante Ballades ("Fifty Ballades" - actually containing fifty-one). He seems to have been thinking of the Confessio as he wrote about the lover's withdrawal from love because of age, and his petition before the God of Love for the return of his heart.22 From the Cinkante Ballades he may have conceived the idea (not very clearly expressed by Gower) of the very odd concept of Fortune's stableness (see note to lines 4680-4735).

To see the duke only through the prism of English poetry, however, is to limit his literary context unnecessarily. Charles' father was a patron of poets as well as of artists in other media. The French poet Christine de Pizan (whose father had brought her from Italy when he entered the service of the French king, Charles V, as physician-astrologer) wrote Charles' mother Valentina into her work The City of Ladies, and a miniature survives of the poet presenting her work, The Letter of Othea, to his father Louis.23 Louis employed the poet Eustache Deschamps, who was "conseiller et maître de son Hôtel."24 The duke was exchanging lyrics with a poet named Jean de Garencières25 before Agincourt, when he was in his late teens. So poetry (French poetry) was a household event for Charles, and when he had exhausted his father's contacts, he had before him the wonderful books of poetry collected by both his parents.26 The Rose also came to him filtered through the work of the finest French poet of the fourteenth century, Guillaume de Machaut (who was also a primary inspiration for Chaucer, especially in his early works). Machaut is thought of today primarily as a musician and as a narrative poet, though he also wrote lyrics, many of them set to music. Charles' debt to Machaut lies not just in his use of the courtly machinery but in the very construction of the speaking voice of the lover. Readers who find Chaucer's a remarkably early example of a self-reflexive, sometimes ironic, sometimes obtuse voice should look back to Chaucer and Gower's use of Machaut's lover as speaker.27

Despite all these strands of influence, however, none runs deeper (especially for the purposes of this volume) than Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. The duke was thoroughly steeped in the work, and his poetry is shot through with explicit and implicit references to it. From the figures of Lady Philosophy and Fortune, to the idea of the injustice of imprisonment to the speaking voice of the poet, to the alternating forms of verse, Charles d'Orléans' work is saturated with its serious philosophy and its literary sparkle.

Ballade 27, the first selection included here, presents the heart of the lover/speaker as a nobleman presiding over a ducal court. He calls his retainers and allies together to ask for their good counsel. His enemies, Thought (a state of anxiety or distress) and Woo (the woeful response to such anxiety), are allied, and they have seized some of the retainers of "Duke Heart," exiling one named Pleasure to the wilderness and imprisoning another, Joy, to whom the heart is only allowed limited access. We find out in the following stanza that it is Despair who is keeping Joy from the heart. Comfort, however, arrives at the court and promises the heart to banish these two lawless types. The heart then calls on the God of Love, envisaged here as the king, to issue safe conducts for his retainers, Pleasure and Joy. The envoy begins in a way that seems to make no sense (why does Absence keep the speaker from the God of Love?), but we see with a bit of a jolt that the context has changed entirely. Suddenly it is the lover speaking to his lady and explaining that his heart has written a complaint (a formal petition), to which the speaker hopes the lady will listen. In other words, on another level, she becomes the head of the ducal court, replacing the lover's heart, and she also becomes the source of his unhappiness (Thought and Woo), which she could banish with a wave of her hand.

Charles is a subtle poet, and his lyrics profit from repeated readings. In particular, the logic of his poetry often seems to work against itself, which leads the speaker into an impasse. The feeling of stasis that results is a perfect reflection of imprisonment, where a man full of longing is by some power or other kept from that which he longs for and unable to effect changes that would ameliorate his suffering. To animate the lyric situation, the poet divides the lover into parts, so that he can argue with his heart or rebuke his eyes for leading him into temptation. The heart is perhaps the most important character in this work, sometimes seemingly more important than the lady (who, after all, never speaks in the lyrics, since most of them are addressed to her or about her). The eyes, too, are difficult to govern and get the lover into trouble frequently, but the heart (which is a real, physical part of the lover) is on some occasions treated as his worst enemy. The bickering of the lover and his heart sometimes gives rise to comedy, but at other times reflects the deep inner division that threatens the very life of the speaker.

Ballade 43 is a good example of this divided consciousness. The speaker's heart has become not a duke but a hermit, not, apparently, through his own volition, but because Fortune (allied with Anguish and Woe) has forced him into the religious life. In his hermitage (located in a Woeful Forest) the heart is content to live out his life, but the speaker is clearly without contentment, calling the heart's willingness to settle for a life of isolation and absence from that for which he longs "foly." Like many people, the heart seems always to have a reason why he cannot act freely, an approach to problem-solving of which the speaker staunchly disapproves. But the heart rarely listens to the good advice of the speaker (bearing in mind that the poet controls and animates both voices). The relationship between the two is interesting because it mirrors that between Boethius and Lady Philosophy (or the lover and Reason in the Roman de la Rose) but, in doing so, switches the roles. Philosophy/Reason is not something outside the speaking voice that advises him (to no avail); rather, the speaker is Philosophy/Reason, attempting to deal with a deluded, rash, and overly emotional heart. In the third stanza, we see the speaker acting as a go-between from the heart to the lady, a thinly veiled pretense to plead for a letter from the lady. The envoy summarizes the problem. The lover is stuck because the heart is stubborn. The lover is unwilling to renounce love and unable to win the lady. This is indeed a kind of prison, real to the lover despite its lack of physical walls.

The lover (or ex-lover, when his first lady dies) is frequently in a prison of his own making.28 This is perhaps clearest in the double ballade, written by the ex-lover/poet, who is in mourning for the death of his lady. The duke of Orléans was intimately aware of all the ramifications of Boethius' ideas in his Consolation (at one point in his life, the duke owned seven copies of the work) and no idea could be more outrageous in this context than a complaint about the stability of fortune. In fact this concept is unique in all of medieval literature (and later literature, too, as far as we know). As Boethius puts it, "Why, you are the biggest fool alive - if it once stop, it ceases to be the wheel of fortune" (De cons., p. 179); later, with almost exactly the same wording, Chaucer applies this to the lover's situation in Troilus and Criseyde 1.848-49: "For if hire whiel stynte [stopped] any thyng to torne, / Than cessed she Fortune anon to be." This illusion of helplessness in the face of trials is precisely what the Consolation was intended to relieve, and the speaker's inability to grasp this set of ideas is intended to reveal him as unreflective and perhaps even slightly ridiculous. In spite of his denunciation of Fortune throughout the poem, the speaker claims in the envoy that she ought not to hold it against him, for he has only told the truth, and he asks once again for her pity on him - though he gives us no reason to think that his piteous appeal will have any effect on her.

The speaker's attitude of defiance of Fortune in Ballade 118 is one Lady Philosophy would approve of. If he follows through, the speaker will escape from both Fortune and love longing. Yet there are suggestions here that he will not ultimately be successful. In the second stanza he claims that he knows Fortune well - too well to be fooled, but he admits that she has often deceived him ("full yvil ware [poor-quality goods] of thee oft have y bought"). Now, he says to her, you'll have to work hard to deceive me with the deceitful turns of your trouble/tricks (implicitly, your wheel), yet he follows this by telling us that he has often told Fortune that she will not be able to deceive him - a statement that cannot be true, since he has clearly been deceived before. The only question is whether this defiant attitude marks a real shift in the speaker's outlook, a realization of the illusory nature of Fortune, or whether it is merely a passing fit of petulance, a display of brave words that will evaporate when he next encounters the object (or even the thought of the object) of his desire.


We have chosen here only lyrics in ballade form because they happen to relate to the theme of this volume. Ballades 27 and 43 come from the first sequence and show us a lover perpetually unhappy (and perhaps unsuccessful). The double ballade is from the narrative of the speaker's encounter with Venus and Fortune in a dream. The speaker's composition of this complaint against Fortune is the act that triggers the dream.29 Ballade 118 is taken from the second sequence of ballades and shows the lover still defying Fortune - an activity we (and the poet) know to be futile.

The ballade is a form borrowed from medieval French writers that was largely superseded in the early modern period by the sonnet (borrowed from Italian poetry). Three stanzas of equal length (which may vary from poem to poem) are often, but not always, followed by a short envoy, in which the poet may address the poem itself, appeal to an important person (often the lady), or simply comment on the issues raised in the poem. Ballades 27 and 43 are examples of the French form of the lyric, which allows only three rhymes in the entire poem. The double ballade (with six stanzas and an envoy) and Ballade 118 employ the easier English form, which allows three new rhymes in each stanza.30

Manuscript context

The collection (or work) exists in one manuscript (London, British Library MS Harley 682) and two fragments of a copy made from it (Cambridge University Library MS Additional 2585 [1], and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hearne's Diaries 38, fols. 261-64). The numbering of the poems edited here corresponds to that of Fortunes Stabilnes (see Arn, under Editions, below).

Go To Charles of Orleans, Fortunes Stabilnes
Select Bibliography


Arn, Mary-Jo. Fortunes Stabilnes: Charles of Orleans's English Book of Love: A Critical Edition. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 138. Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1995.

Champion, Pierre. Poésies. 2 vols. Les Classiques français du moyen âge 34, 56. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1923-27. [Includes nine English lyrics.]

Steele, Robert, and Mabel Day. The English Poems of Charles of Orleans. 2 vols. EETS o.s. 215, 220. London: Oxford University Press, 1941, 1946; rpt. as one vol., 1970.

Watson-Taylor, George. Poems Written in English by Charles Duke of Orleans, During His Captivity in England After the Battle of Azincourt. Ed. George Watson-Taylor. Roxburghe Club. London: Shakspeare Press, 1827.

General Bibliographies

Arn, Mary-Jo. "Bibliographical Supplement." In Arn, 2000. Pp. 215-25.

Galderisi, Claudio. Charles d'Orléans: "Plus dire que penser. . ." Biblioteca di Filologia Romanza 37. Bari: Adriatica Editrice, [1994].

Nelson, Deborah Hubbard. Charles d'Orléans: An Analytical Bibliography. Research Bibliographies and Checklists 49. London: Grant and Cutler, 1990.

For a bibliography of the most up-to-date work on the life and poetry of Charles d'Orléans, both French and English, visit:

Literary Influences

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Ed. and trans. H. F. Stewart, E. K. Rand, and S. J. Tester.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Gen. ed. Larry Benson.

Gower, John. Confessio Amantis. Ed. Russell A. Peck, with Latin translations by Andrew Galloway. 3 vols. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000-04.

---. The Complete Works of John Gower. Ed. G. C. Macaulay. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899-1902. [See especially Vol. 1: The French Works.]

Guillaume de Machaut. "Le jugement du roy de Behaigne" and "Remède de Fortune." Ed. and trans. James I. Wimsatt and William W. Kibler. The Chaucer Library. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Le Roman de la Rose. Ed. Félix Lecoy.

Critical Studies

Arn, Mary-Jo, ed. Charles d'Orléans in England, 1415-1440. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2000. [Contains articles on the duke's writings, his library, his life in England, and the afterlife of his poetry.]

---. "Poetic Form as a Mirror of Meaning in the English Poems of Charles of Orleans." Philological Quarterly 69 (1990), 13-29.

Askins, William. "The Brothers Orléans and Their Keepers." In Arn, 2000. Pp. 27-45.

Backhouse, Janet. "Charles of Orléans Illuminated." In Arn, 2000. Pp. 157-63.

Boffey, Julia. "Charles of Orleans Reading Chaucer's Dream Visions." In Mediaevalitas: Reading the Middle Ages. Ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti. The J. A. W. Bennett Memorial Lectures, Ninth Series, Perugia, 1995. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1996. Pp. 43-62.

Burrow, John A. "The Poet and the Book." In Genres, Themes, and Images in English Literature from the Fourteenth to the Fifteenth Century. Ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti. The J. A. W. Bennett Memorial Lectures, Fifth Series, Perugia, 1986. Tübinger Beiträge zur Anglistik 11. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1988. Pp. 230-45. [See especially pp. 234-35.]

---. "The Portrayal of Amans in Confessio Amantis." In Gower's "Confessio Amantis": Responses and Reassessments. Ed. A. J. Minnis. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1983. Pp. 6-24.

Camargo, Martin. The Middle English Verse Love Epistle. Studien zur Englischen Philologie n.s. 28. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 1991.

Coldiron, A. E. B. Canon, Period, and the Poetry of Charles of Orleans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

---. "Toward a Comparative New Historicism: Land Tenures and Some Fifteenth-Century Poems." Comparative Literature 53 (2001), 97-116.

Epstein, Robert. "Prisoners of Reflection: The Fifteenth-Century Poetry of Exile and Imprisonment." Exemplaria 15 (2003), 157-98.

Göller, Karl Heinz. "Das metaphorische Gefängnis: Zum Verhältnis von Literatur und Weltbild im Mittelalter." In Motive und Themen in englischsprachiger Literatur als Indikatoren literaturgeschichtlicher Prozesse: Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Theodor Wolpers. Ed. Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock and Alfons Klein. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 1990. Pp. 25-53.

---. "The Metaphorical Prison as an Exegetical Image of May." In The Medieval Text: Methods and Hermeneutics: A Volume of Essays in Honor of Edelgard Else Renate Conradt DuBruck. Ed. William C. McDonald and Guy R. Mermie. Fifteenth-Century Studies 17 [special issue] (1990), 121-45.

Jansen, J. P. M. "Charles d'Orléans and the Fairfax Poems." English Studies 70 (1989), 206-24.

Lucken, Christopher. "Les muses de Fortune: Boèce, le Roman de la Rose et Charles d'Orléans." In La Fortune: Thèmes, reprèsentations, discours. Ed. Yasmina Foehr-Janssens and Emmanuelle Métry. Recherches et Rencontres 19. Geneva: Droz, 2003. Pp. 145-75.

Marks, Diane R. "Poems from Prison: James I of Scotland and Charles of Orleans." Fifteenth-Century Studies 15 (1989), 245-58.

---. "Food for Thought: The Banquet of Poetry in Dante and Charles of Orleans." In Medieval Food and Drink. Ed. Mary-Jo Arn. ACTA 21. Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1995 (for 1994). Pp. 85-97.

Mühlethaler, Jean-Claude. "Récrire Le Roman de la Rose au XVe siècle: Les commandements d'Amour chez Charles d'Orléans et ses lecteurs." In "Riens ne m'est seur que la chose incertainité": Etudes sur l'art d'écrire au Moyen Âge offertes à Eric Hicks par ses élèves, collègues, amies et amis. Ed. Jean-Claude Mühlethaler and Denis Billotte. Geneva: Slatkine, 2001. Pp. 105-19.

Ouy, Gilbert. "Charles d'Orléans and His Brother Jean d'Angoulême in England: What Their Manuscripts Have to Tell." In Arn, 2000. Pp. 47-60.

Spearing, A. C. "Dreams in The Kingis Quair and the Duke's Book." In Arn, 2000. Pp. 123-44.

---. "Prison, Writing, Absence: Representing the Subject in the English Poems of Charles d'Orléans." Modern Language Quarterly 53 (1992), 83-99. Rpt. in Chaucer to Spenser: A Critical Reader. Ed. Derek Pearsall. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. Pp. 297-311.

Authorship and Biography

Arn, Mary-Jo. "Charles of Orleans and the Poems of BL MS. Harley 682." English Studies 74 (1993), 222-35.

---. "Two Manuscripts, One Mind: Charles d'Orléans and the Production of Manuscripts in Two Languages (Paris, BN MS fr. 25458 and London, BL MS Harley 682)." In Arn, 2000. Pp. 61-78.

Calin, William. "Will the Real Charles of Orleans Please Stand! or, Who Wrote the English Poems in Harley 682?" In Conjunctures: Medieval Studies in Honor of Douglas Kelly. Ed. Keith Busby and Norris J. Lacy. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. Pp. 69-86.

Champion, Pierre. Vie de Charles d'Orléans (1394-1465). Paris: Honoré Champion, 1911.

Fox, John. "Charles d'Orléans, poète anglais?" Romania 86 (1965), 433-62.