* Michel de Harnes, the Knight-Trouvère *



Michel V of Harnes, the so-called knight-trouvère, is certainly the most celebrated medieval member of the de Harne family. He was at various times the Count of Harnes, Castellan of Cassel and one of the standard bearers for for the King of France, as well as a crusading knight, and the hero of a war between the kings of France and England. He took up the cross to become a crusader at the church of St. Donat in Bruges, Belgium on Ash Wednesday (February 23rd) in the year of our Lord 1200, when he made a pledge with Count Baldwin IX of Flanders and others to travel to the Holy Land on the Fourth Crusade. They spent the next two years preparing, finally leaving on April 14, 1202 by sailing from Venice, Italy. However, few of these Flemish knights ever made it to the Holy Land, as most were diverted to Constantinople, which they sacked and looted. Baldwin remained in the city, where he was elected Emperor Constantinople, whereas Michel returned home to take up the cause of the King Philip Augustus of France in trying to displace King John of England from the French provinces of Artois, Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou. Michel's story follows, as told by three authorities - first it is by 19th century French genealogist and historian E. Pascallet, and then we give the narratives of two medieval contemporaries of Michel de Harnes.

Narrative by E. Pascallet, 1857 (translated by Mike Clark)

"[Let us] pause a moment at Michel [V of Harnes], the crusader, the knight-trouvère, a noble and poetical figure who casts such brilliant light on the House of Harne. [The "trouvère", or troubadour" for whom Michel is named, were medieval balladeers who composed epic poems in "langue d’oui", the dialect of northern France.]"

"He took up the cross in the Church of St. Donat, in Bruges, on Ash Wednesday, 1200, and left on a crusade with Baldwin (Baudouin) IX, the Count of Flanders, who became the Emperor of Constantinople (Fourth Crusade). In 1203, we see him, at the head of the banner of Harne-Cassel, numbering fourth among the knight-bannerets of Artois who aided Philippe-Auguste, the King of France, in chasing the English from Normandy, from Maine, from Anjou, and from Poitou, and in restoring these five prized provinces to the crown of France."

"Michel distinguished himself in the memorable Battle of Bouvines, that gigantic fight in which succumbed the united forces of the Emperor of Germany, the King of England, the Count of Flanders, and the other powers of this epoch, allied against France (July 12, 1214). On the same day as the battle, King Philippe-Auguste and the knights of his retinue, among them Michel de Harne, gave their devotions in the church of Bouvines. Before marching into combat, the king presented a toast with a gold cup filled with wine; then placing the crown of France in front of him, he invited the knights of his retinue to designate the one among them who was the most worthy of wearing it. All proclaimed that he alone was worthy; and the king, compassionate, drank the cup and toasted then his noble companions of arms, who drank after him. Then, before giving the royal accolade to Michel de Harne, he commended him expressly for fighting on the side of France."

"The king and his following mounted horse and engaged in the battle. On both sides were done deeds of valor. It was three o'clock in the afternoon; the heat of the day was overwhelming. Philippe-Auguste ran the greatest dangers; his loyal Michel, the valiant knight, did not spare his blows. In the heat of the battle, perceiving Eustache of Marquillies, skilled knight, true giant of stature, who fought on the side of the Emperor of Germany, he pushed towards him using the full strength of his horse. The collision was impetuous. Michel was wounded from a thrust of the lance which pierced his shield and his hauberk, [i.e., his coat of mail], drove through his thigh, and embedded in the saddle of his horse. Michel succeeded in breaking loose, and, lashing out against his adversary, he killed him with a blow of the sword to the throat, which caused the destruction of the hausse-col [i.e., his armored throat protector]."

"It appears that this wound hindered Michel from mounting a horse. We see him in effect, in 1225, at the time of some troubles that arisen in Flanders by the appearance of the false Baldwin of Constantinople. (Returning recently from the Middle East, Michel was one of the more competent judges able to recognize the true Baldwin.) [He presented] himself without mount (without war horse said a cantilena quoted by Arthur Dinaux) to the castle of Quesnoy, close to the countess of Flanders, Jeanne of Constantinople, in order to take part in the deliberations of the special counsel (parliament) that the King of France had adjourned for his young vassal in order to [counsel] her that she needed to stand firm in these difficult circumstances."

"[Because he could no longer mount] to horse the valiant knight [Michel] devoted himself entirely to the cultivation of [love letters]. He composed poetry, which merited him the surname of Michel the Trouvère; he occupied himself with history, chronology and genealogy. He did a history of the Crusade and of the Saracens (Arab Muslims); drafted a genealogical chronology of the kings of France, from Pharamond up to St. Louis, which he finished in 1248, and translated into romance language (Old French) the chronicles of Charlemagne rendered in Latin by Turpin, the Archbishop of Rheims."

"There are some authors who think, and in our opinion with (good) reason, that Michel de Harne was not the author of this translation. However that may be, it follows from the text of the preface that this translation was done more or less by order of Michel, under his direction, and after research that he had done in the library of Renaud, the count of Boulogne. This preface contains some noble thoughts. One reads between the lines: Vivre sans honour est mourir {to live without honor is to die}. Worthy thought of a crusader, worthy of the glorious banneret of Philippe-Auguste; worthy lastly of the gallant knight of Bouvines."

"There exist still some manuscript copies of some of the works of Michel de Harne, [most notably there is] the translation in romance language of the “Chronicles of Turpin”, which rests in the royal library of Copenhagen."


End of Pascallet Narrative


Narrative by William the Breton, early 13th century (translated by Georges Duby and Catherine Tihanyi)

William the Breton (d. c.1225), who was the personal chaplain and advisor to King Philip Augustus of France, supposedly was present at the Battle of Bouvines. He wrote a detailed account of the conflict in Latin, two paragraphs of which follow. His medieval account gives a different perspective to the events related by Pascallet. The version below was published in French as "The Legend of Bouvines" by French historian Georges Duby (1990), and translated into English by Catherine Tihanyi.

"And now we would like to write as best we can of King Philip's glorious victory . . ."

"Gautier of Ghistelle and John of Buridan, who were knights of noble prowess, were exhorting the knights of their echelon to battle and were reminding them of the exploits of their friends and ancestors with, it seemed, no more fear than if they had been jousting in a tournament. After unhorsing and striking down some of the above mentioned sergeants, they left them and turned toward the middle of the field to fight the knights. They were then met by the battalion of the Champenois, and they attacked and fought each other valorously. When their lances broke, they pulled out their swords and exchanged wondrous blows.

Into this fray appeared Peter of Remy and the men of his company; by force they captured and brought away this Gauthier of Ghistelle and John of Buridan. But a knight of their group called Eustache of Malenghin began to yell out loud with great arrogance "Death, death to the French!" and the French began to surround him. One stopped him and took hold of his head between his arm and his chest, and then ripped his helmet off his head, while another struck him to his heart with a knife between the chin and the ventaille and made him feel through great pain the death with which he had threatened the French through great arrogance. After this Eustache of Malenghin had thus been slain, and Gautier of Ghistelle and John of Buridan had been taken prisoners, the daring of the French doubled; they put aside all their fears and made use of all their strength as if they were assured of victory."

"The Viscount of Melun, who had in his troop knights of renown, practised in the use of arms, was fighting at the same time [as the Walter of Ghistelle, the Count of Saint-Pol and others]. He attacked his enemies from another side in the same manner that the Count of Saint-Pol had done; he went all the way through them and came back into this battle from another point. In this fray, Michael of Harnes was hit with a lance between the hauberk and the thigh. He was pinned to his saddlebow and horse, and both he and the horse were thrown to the ground. Hugh of Maleveine and many others were thrown as their horses were slain, but out of great virtue they jumped up and fought with no less prowess on their feet than on their horses."


End of William of Breton Narrative


Félix Dehau, an early 20th-century mayor of Bouvines, rebuilt the parish church there some seven hundred years the Battle of Bouvines, to house a series of stained-glass windows commemorating the French victory. One of these windows, shown above, depicts King Philip on the eve of battle drinking a toast at the church church with his most trusted knights - Pierre Mauvoisin, Guillaume des Barres, Galon de Montigny, Hugh and Jean de Mareuil, Matthieu de Montmorency, Jean de Beaumont, and Michel de Harnes, who is the knight kissing King Philip's hand.


Narrative by Jean Renart, early 13th-century (summarized by John Baldwin)

Michel de Harne is also a secondary character in a lengthy chivalric romance (an epic medieval poem of love and courtship) known as 'Roman de la Rose', or 'Guillaume de Dole', which was written in Old French by the early 13th-century Norman trouvère Jean Renart. Much of Renart's story takes place between French and German knights at the fictional tournament at Saint-Trond. Baldwin (2000) in 'Aristocratic Life in Medieval France' summarizes some passages of Renart's Rose that feature Michel.

"The French knights on the tourney field are the flower of chilvalry, and their champion is Michel de Harnes. [However, the hero of the romance is the German champion Guillaume de Dole.] As the French and German lines converge, heralds call out, "Let him pass in front. It's Guillaume de Dole". Guillaume singles out a Fleming ready for battle and charges. His is met with a blow that, but for God's help, would have felled him, but he responds with a well-aimed lance at the Fleming's chest, thus unhorsing his first adversary."

"In the following action, Guillaume jousts with eight knights from Artois, discomfiting seven. The tournament's high point, however, is a duel between the leaders of the two sides, Guillaume for the Germans and Michel de Harnes for the French. Their combat follows the preceding pattern. Michel delivers the first blow and would have succeeded if his lance had not broken, but Guillaume responds with two strikes that break the straps of Michel's saddle and cause him to slide to the rear of the horse. This permits Guillaume to seize the reins and lead him off as prisoner."

"With debts settled, Guillaume can finally afford the luxury of largesse. In an exemplary gesture, he releases the French champion Michel de Harnes, on the field. [Then] the participants return to their hostels to eat, drink, bathe, and circulate through the town looking for companions, paying ransoms, or offering pledges."


End of Jean Renart Narrative


Some Related Links
The Counts of Harnes
      Michel of Harnes, the Knight-Trouvere
      The Last Count of Harnes
Descendants of the Counts of Harnes
      The Three Deaths of Uncle Antoine
Harnes Through the Ages





    Jean Renart (about 1200), Roman de la Rose, or Guillaume de Dole - Jean Renart is a Norman troubadour of the 13th century who is credited as the author of a narrative romantic poem written in the old French. This poem tells the story of one Guillaume de Dole, who is a member of the court of the Emperor Conrad. One of the events in the poem is a fictional tournament at Saint Trond, in which Michel of Harnes appears as the champion of a French contingent of knights. Michel in the story is defeated in the tournment in one-on-one combat with the champion of a German contingent from the court of the Emperor and led away as the prisoner of the victor (Baldwin, 2000).

    Master Johannes (before 1206), La Chronique Du Faux Turpin - Bishop Tilpinus, better known as Turpin, was bishop of Reims from about 748 until his death at the end of the 8th century. He was at one time considered to be the author of the legendary Historia Caroli Magni, a Latin history of the life of Charlemagne that is better known as the "Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle" or "La Chronique Du Faux Turpin (Chronicle of the False Turpin)". This chronicle first appeared in the late 12th-century, but claims to come from the pen of Bishop Turpin. It was quite popular in its time and was translated from the original Latin into French for several patrons. Michel of Harnes was one of these patrons, and for many years he was considered to be the actual translator of one of the better known Faux Turpin manuscripts. However, Michel's version is actually a copy of one commissioned by one of Michel's contemporaries, Renaud of Dammartin, Count of Boulogne, who probably engaged the services of his chaplain "Master Johannes" to make a French translation of the Faux Turpin chronicle from the original Latin text (Spiegal, 1993).

    William the Breton (after 1214) Philippide - William (Guillaume) of Breton was a member of the court of King Philip Augustus of France. He is said to have been present at the July 27, 1214 Battle of Bouvines where Philip decisively defeated a superior force sent by Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV (d. 1218). William prepared an account of the battle, in which he mentions Michel of Harnes role in the battle.

    Michel de Harnes (about 1215), l'Histoire de Philippe-Auguste, Roi de France - This Medieval document is a history of the years 1214 to 1216 in the life of King Philip Auguste of France, and though the author is not mentioned, this chronicle has been attributed by some to Philip's loyal ally and supporter Michel of Harnes (Petit-Dutaillis, 1927; and Spiegal, 1993, p. 270). Only a fragment of the original history remains in the form of a transcription found among the papers of French author and historian Andre Du Chesne (1584-1640). Although neither the author nor the transcriber are known with any certainty, it is generally thought to have been transcribed by Du Chesne from a version he came across during his reserches.



    Baldwin, John W. (2000), Aristocratic Life in Medieval France - The Romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil, 1190-1230: John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, p. 40, 76-77, 82-83. Discusses a medieval depiction of Michel de Harnes by French troubadour Jean Renart at the fictional tournament of Saint Trond.

    DeMarquette, Albert (1856), Précis Historique Sur La Maison de Harnes, 963 à 1230, Suivi d'Une Version Romane, Attribué à Michel de Harnes, de La Chronique Du Faux Turpin: Adam d’Aubers, Imprimeur, Douai, p. 78-83, 107-218. A brief biography of Michel de Harnes, and a discussion and transcription of Michel's version of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    DeMarquette, Albert (1867), Histoire Generale du Comte de Harnes en Artois, Jusu’a 1789 et de la Connetablie de Flandre: Imprimerie de Lefebvre-Ducrocq, Lille (reprinted 2006 by Livres d’Histoire, Paris), v. 1.

    Dinaux, M. Arthur (1843), "Michel de Harnes" in Les Trouveres Artisiens: Chez Techener, Librairie, Paris, p. 353-355. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Duval, Amaury (1832), "Michel de Harnes, vers 1226" in Histoire Litteraire de la France: Chex Firmin Didot, freres Librairies, Paris, v. 17, p. 370-374. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Lelong, Jacques (1869), Bibliotheque Historique de la France, Imprimerie de Jean Thomas Herrisant, Paris, v. 2, p. 100. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Oldenbourg, Zoe (1961), Massacre at Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade: Sterling Publishing Company (2006 edition), p. p. 197. Mentions Michel of Harnes role at the siege of Montesegur.

    Pascallet, E. (1857), “Historique et Genealogique sur la Maison de Harne ou Harnes” in Revue General – Memorial Municipal de France Histoire des Communes, Villes, Provinces, Monument: Au Bureau de la Revue, Chez Ledoyen, Paris, Seconde Annee de la Deuxieme Serie, p. 13-15. A brief biography on Michel de Harnes.

    Paulin, A. (1848), "II. Chronique de Turpin, Traduction Anonyme" in Les Maunuscrits Francois de la Bibliotheque du Roi, etc.: Chez Techener, Librairie, Paris, v. V, p. 22-28. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Petit-Dutaillis, Charles (1926), Fragment de l'Histoire de Philippe-Auguste, roi de France. Chronique en français des années 1214-1216: Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes, v. 87, p. 98-141. Attribution to Michel of Harnes of the authorship of a fragment of "l'Histoire de Philippe-Auguste, roi de France".

    Speigal, Gabrielle M. (1993), Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth-century France: University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, p. 270-272. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Speigal, Gabrielle M. (1994), "Old French Prose Historiography" in A New History of French Literature: Harvard University, p. 61-66. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Verbruggen, J.F. (1997), The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages: Boydell and Brewer, p. 178 & 250. Michel of Harnes at the Battle of Bouvines.

    Ward, Harry Leigh Douglas (1883), Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum: British Museum Dept. of Manuscripts, London, p. 583-587. Discusses Michel of Harnes as the purported author of the Chronicle of Faux Turpin.

    Warlop, Ernest (1975), The Flemish Nobility before 1300: G. Desmet-Huysman, Kortrijk, Belgium, Part 2, vol. 2, p. 863-869. Discusses the genealogy of Michel of Harnes.