Who is Eustache Deschamps?

Eustache Deschamps – late medieval French poet. He presents an extremely rich collection of ballads and poems steeped in the sufferings of his age. It defines new codes of medieval poetry.

Educated as a lawyer and courtier, Eustache Deschamps went through all the upheavals of his time: the Hundred Years’ War and the bitter French defeats of Crécy and Poitiers, the confirmation of the power of Valois, a young branch of the Capetians. In power since 1328, the English cavalry and the Black Death of 1347.

Eustache Deschamps rubs shoulders with royal dignitaries and the four kings of France

The exact date of birth of Eustache Deschamps is not known. He appears to have been born around 1340, just three years after the start of the Hundred Years’ War. Italian nobleman Jean Galeas studied law at the University of Orleans before entering Visconti’s service. In 1366, he entered the house of Isabelle de France, daughter of King Jean Le Bon II of France. He then made his court debut and rubbed shoulders with the greats of the kingdom. Later a squire in the service of Philippe d’Orléans, brother of Jean II le Bon, he joined the entourage of Charles V, known as Charles the Wise: he became the young king’s bailiff in 1375. they are responsible for the internal security of the royal palace. Therefore, he is one of the trusted men of the French king. Eustache Deschamps also became close to the Dukes of Berry and Burgundy, who were powerful princes among the royals.

But the death of Charles V in 1380 and the destruction of the Maison Des Champs was experienced by Eustache as a trauma. Then he chose to devote himself to his personal affairs. He buys land, receives compensation from King Charles VI for the destruction of the house of Des Champs along with the castles of Fismes, and buys a house in Paris called rue du Temple. However, he remains in the political life of the country:

  • he receives Charles VI at his residence in the rue du Temple;
  • he undertakes to inspect the castles in the north of the kingdom;
  • he was appointed bailiff of Senlis in 1389, then counselor and butler to the Duke of Champagne and Brie;
  • In 1393, he was appointed master of waters and forests by the duke.

At the beginning of the 15th centurye century Eustache Deschamps prefers anchoring and political activity and therefore becomes more local. Again, he is part of the expedition that saw the first meeting between Richard of England and Isabel of France. It was not until 1400 that it definitively abandoned royal prerogatives to retain only local functions. He was disgraced and forced to relinquish the title of bailiff by Charles VI’s brother Louis d’Orléans, who was then seized with a fit of dementia.

He died alone in 1404-1405, away from the palace and people he had known for so long. It was King Charles VI’s relatives, called Marmosets, who would collate all of his writings and give them a chance to be passed down to posterity. Indeed, Eustache Deschamps was enough to meet his needs for his functions. He could therefore write without the restriction of livelihood or the risk of censorship by a patron or master. In addition, his privileged position at court allowed him a certain cynicism and critical pen.

The work of Eustache Deschamps

Even outside the subject of this poet’s writings, it occupies an important place in defining the form of poetry in the late Middle Ages. Indeed, poetry has always been inseparable from music. In prose creation The art of dictation, Eustache Deschamps distinguishes between the two: music is a science, while poetry is innate, so it cannot be learned. It ranks the two arts. For him, poetry is superior to music in everything: verses naturally form a harmonious melody, therefore, the poet is a born artist, able to make music with mastery of words. Rather, he criticizes the artificiality of music and the excessive effort it entails. Thus, Eustache Deschamps shows the place given to poetry by the humanists in the following century, the place of an art that dominates the others.

In order to give the poem the letters of nobility, Eustache in his work encodes the poem as it should be. He does not hesitate to abandon the theme of polite love for the dark one of the funeral dirge, as at the funeral of his friend and poet Guillaume Machaut. He writes about politics, money, travel, women. He criticizes the actors of his time, writes satires and jokes about the church, the newly formed state, royal officers, women, nobles and even the English whom he hates. He also wrote several stories such as:

  • The Fox and the Crow ;
  • The Lion and the Ants ;
  • The Frog and the Mouse.

His representations particularly inspired Jean de La Fontaine in the 17th centurye century

The writings of Eustache Deschamps are preserved today in the National Library of France with manuscript number 840. This manuscript has more than 600 leaves.

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