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les Enluminures

JACQUES MILET, Istoire de la destruction de Troye la Grant

In French, manuscript on paper
Northern France, c. 1475-1500

TM 712


10 folios on paper (with watermark close to Briquet no. 1686, “Armoiries: Trois fleurs de lis”: Châteaudun, 1474, Senlis, 1474, Paris, 1476-78, Beauvais, 1478, Lyon, 1485, Notre-Dame du Parc, 1488), modern foliation in pencil, top outer recto, no ruling visible, text written in a gothic cursiva script in dark brown ink in a single column of thirty-one to thirty-six lines, some damage to the outer lower corners of ff. 1, 3-6 and corresponding losses of text on ff. 5-6, some wormholes, puncture marks visible in upper margins, some damp-staining, faint transfer of text (ff. 4-5, 8-9) and blue painted initials (ff. 1-2) from former binding surroundings. Unbound. Dimensions 270-280 x 198-207 mm.

These leaves are the sole known survivals from a lost copy of a popular and groundbreaking medieval drama, the first French mystery play to adopt a classical, non-religious subject.  Given the text’s early reception, interest, and innovation, it seems relatively understudied and marginalized from scholarship on medieval drama. These previously unknown fragments warrant closer study alongside the work’s other manuscript witnesses. Manuscript copies of this play are rare on the market (only two copies in the last century recorded as sold in the Schoenberg Database).


1. Evidence of script and watermarks indicate an origin in France in the late fifteenth century, quite possibly Northern France, judging from the watermark.

2. These leaves were used as waste paper within an old binding. It is possible that they were situated in their present order when they were cut up as waste paper. Within the order in which they are now sleeved, the first eight leaves comprise four pairs of leaves that were once bifolia. This is particularly evident in the corresponding inner edges of ff. 6-7, which must have been the central bifolium of a quire in the original manuscript, and similar alignments of edges indicate that ff. 3 and 10, 4 and 9, and 5 and 8 were bifolia as well. The patterns of transfer of both text and initials also suggest that these pairs might have been adjacent within this binding.

3. Private Continental Collection.


Though foliated according to their original order, the leaves are presently arranged in a different order within numbered sleeves. With reference to their sleeve numbers, this is the original order: 9, 10 (with leaf reversed), 2, 6, 3, 7-8, 4 (with leaf reversed), 5, 1 (with leaf reversed).

ff. 1-10v, beginning imperfectly, “[Priam:] //Et le ferai a ton deuis / Or te pars dycy [crossed out by scribe: “mon b”] il est temps … De vous bien [g]arde[r] enuers eulx / Car se ma[l] vous y aduenoit//”; f. 2, beginning imperfectly, “[Cloantus:] //Nous auons fait totalement / Ce que vous auez commande … Vng homme si treffort auoir / Si le fault par fraude conquerre. Dyomedes//”; f. 3, beginning imperfectly, “[Achilles:] //Mais lon congnoistra le plus fort / Car ains vne annee et demye …; Priam. … A vous le ne veul contredire / Quant vous este voulu pener//”

These leaves contain three textual fragments of Jacques Milet’s Istoire de la destruction de Troye la Grant. F. 1r-v corresponds to ll. 9794-9842, f. 2r-v to lines 10582-10640, and ff. 3-10v to lines 11731-12215 within Stengel’s 1883 edition (Stengel, pp. 157-8, 171-2, 189-96). Stengel’s edition reproduces the 1484 print edition of Istoire, now lost, and there is still no critical edition (the edition mentioned by Jung, 1996, p. 602, has not yet appeared). Jung lists thirteen manuscripts containing Milet’s Istoire, eleven in European libraries, and two in American libraries, all but one dating from the fifteenth century. First printed in Paris in 1484 by Jehan Bonhomme (Hain, 11160), the Istoire was reprinted twelve times within a century of its composition (see Runnalls, 1999, for the complete list). Two manuscript copies of the Istoire have been on the market in the last century; both are now housed in university libraries.

The French poet and playwright Jacques Milet (c. 1425-1466) studied first in Paris, where he became a bachelor (1447) and master of the arts (1448), and then studied law in Orléans from 1450 to 1452. During his time in Orléans, Milet wrote his Istoire de la destruction de Troye la Grant, completing it in June of 1452 and dedicating it to Charles VII, Charles, duke of Orléans, and Charles, count of Maine. He subsequently entered into royal service, in which he was engaged between 1452 and 1455. Milet’s literary achievements brought him to the attention of Italian humanists, and he corresponded and exchanged Latin verses with Leonardo di Piero Dati and others. Upon Milet’s early death in Paris in 1466, his friend and fellow poet and playwright Simon Gréban mourned his passing and memorialized his literary career in his Complainte faite pour la mort de Jacques Milet. He subsequently received commemoration from fellow poets Octovien de Saint-Gelais, Guillaume Crétin, Jean Lemaire, and Jean Bouchet. Milet’s best known work, then and now, is his Istoire, but Gréban’s Complainte attributes other works to him as well, including a Latin epitaph for Agnès Sorel, mistress of Charles VII, in 1450 and a long allegorical French poem, La Forêt de Tristesse in 1459.

Milet’s Histoire was an innovative literary undertaking that appears to have met with early acclaim. The first mystery play in French seriously treating a non-religious, antique subject, it comprises nearly 30,000 lines in a variety of verse forms that Milet apportioned for a performance spanning four days. Milet’s chief source for his play was Guido delle Colonne’s Historia destructionis Troiae (1287), itself a Latin prose translation and adaptation of Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Roman de Troie (c. 1180), composed in French octosyllabic verse. Though no record of the play’s performance survives, its manuscript circulation – which greatly exceeds that of most surviving medieval play texts – and its early success in print – it was the first mystery play printed and was frequently reprinted thereafter – suggest that it was quite popular in the century following its composition. Milet frames the play with an assertion of the Trojan legend’s significance to his French audience and particularly his dedicatees; the play’s prologue explicitly furnishes a Trojan genealogy for the French royal line. In keeping with this framing of the material, the Istoire displays Trojan sympathies, furnishing touching laments of the deaths of Priam and Hector and portraying Achilles as a villainous coward.

The three textual fragments contained within these leaves belong to the second day’s performance, which centers on the figures of Hector and Achilles. It begins with the commencement of the Trojan War and concludes with the death and burial of Hector, and it is structured around four battles and the councils convening between them. The material covered here offers fragmentary coverage of the Trojan and Greek councils leading up to the second battle, a Greek council dedicated to plotting the death of Hector that precedes the third battle, and the events of the truce between the third and fourth battles, which include a conversation between Hector and Achilles in which Hector challenges Achilles to single combat and a proposal issued by Agamemnon for an exchange of prisoners. The final fragment concludes with a Trojan council debating the return of Briseida (beloved of the Trojan Troilus) to the Greeks as part of this prisoner exchange.


Durham, Lofton L., III.  “Jacques Milet’s Destruction de la Troie la Grant: Reassessing French Theatre in the Late Medieval Period”, Unpublished Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 2009.

Frank, Grace. The Medieval French Drama, Oxford, 1954.

Häpke, Gustav. “Kritische Beiträge von Jacques Milet’s Drama La destruction de Troye la grant”, Unpublished Dissertation, Universität Greifswald, 1897.

Jung, Marc-René. “Jacques Milet et son Epître épilogative”, Mélanges d’études romanes du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance offerts à Monsieur Jean Rychner, ed. Andre Gendre, Charles-Theodore Gossen, Georges Straka, Travaux de linguistique et de litterature 16.1, Strasbourg, 1978, 241-8.

Jung, Marc-René. “Jacques Milet, Istoire de la destruction de Troie la Grant par personnages”, La légende de Troie en France au moyen âge: Analyse des versions françaises et bibliographie raisonée des manuscrits, Basel and Tübingen, 1996, pp. 602-5.

Milet, Jacques. L’istoire de la destruction de Troye la Grant translatee de Latin en Francoys mise par parsonnages et composee par Maistre Jacques Milet, ed. Edmond Stengel, Marburg and Leipzig, 1883. [transcription of 1484 print edition, now lost]

Oliver, Thomas Edward. “Jacques Milet’s Drama, La Destruction de Troye la Grant; Its Principle Source; Its Dramatic Structure”, PhD thesis, Universität Heidelberg, 1899.

Piaget, Arthur. “Simon Gréban et Jacques Milet”, Romania 22 (1893), pp. 230-43.

Runnalls, Graham A. Les mystères français imprimés: Une étude sur les rapports entre le théâtre religieux et l’imprimerie à la fin du Moyen Âge français suivi d’un répertoire complet des mystères français imprimés (ouvrages, éditions, exemplaires) 1484-1630, Bibliothèque du XVe siècle 61, Paris, 1999.

Schaefer, Claude. “A propos d’une épitaphe inédite de Jacques Milet, préhumaniste à la cour de Charles VII”, Seconda Miscellanea di Studi e Ricerche sul Quattrocento Francese, ed. Franco Simone, Chambéry-Torino, 1981, 171-85.

Thomas, Antoine. “Jaques Milet et les humanistes italiens”, Studi Medievali 1, 1904-1905, pp. 263-70.

Online resources

Milet, Jacques. L’istoire de la destruction de Troye la Grant translatee de Latin en Francoys mise par parsonnages et composee par Maistre Jacques Milet, ed. E. Stengel, Marburg and Leipzig, 1883

Runnalls, Graham A. Bibliographie des miracles et mystères français (2004)

Bibliography for Jacques Milet (Arlima, 2013)

“Histoire de la destruction de Troye la Grant, Jacques Milet”, Jonas Database, IHRT (2014)