The Castle of Grandson, home of the Grandson family (photo: Denis Renevey)
Denis Renevey
(University of Lausanne)


Savoy reached its territorial and political apogee in the second part of the fourteenth century, under the leaderships of Amédée VI (1343-83), Amédé VII (1383-91), and Amédée VIII (1391-34). After the conclusion of a peace treaty that ended a two hundred year conflict with the Dauphinois, Amédée VI took possession of the Faucigny and the Pays de Gex. In 1359 he bought the pays de Vaud from his cousin. Further expansion took place south of Savoy with the acquisition of Fossano in 1362, Biella in 1379 and Cueno in 1382, following a twenty-year war against the Marquisate of Saluzzo, Montferrat and Milano. These acquisitions marked a desire for expansion towards the Mediterranean, which culminated with the appropriation of the counties of Nice and Vintimille by his successor Amédée VII in 1388-91.  These new possessions gave Savoy access to sea routes towards the South, as alternatives to the difficult land routes passing through the alps via the Mont-Cenis and St-Bernard passes. Amédée VII, the Red Count, whose nickname was possibly due to the English blood that tainted his coat-of-arms upon his return from wars against them, shared with his father, the Green Count, a taste for chivalric ideals. Amédée VI created in 1362 the Order of the Collar of Savoy, less than two decades after the creation of the Order of the Garter by Edward III in 1347, and the Order of the Star by John the Good in 1352. 

Savoy’s growing sense of its importance on the European scene is attested by the desire to narrate its history from its origins. It is significant to note that the first chronicle of Savoy was written in the vernacular by Jean d’Orville between 1417-19 at the time when the county of Savoy was elevated to the rank of a duchy by the emperor Sigismond of Luxembourg in 1416. Amédée VIII pushed extension further with the appropriation of the county of the Genevois in 1401 (excluding the city of Geneva) and the acquisition of the seigniory of Domodossola in 1406. Amédée founded the University of Torino in 1405. Apart from definite homage paid by the marquis of Saluzzo in 1418, Amédée VIII’s Italian politics brought little success. The fact that the Council of Basel appointed him pope as Felix V in 1439, after his abdication in 1434 and following a five-year period of semi-religious retreat at his residence of La Ripaille, demonstrated the influential role of the house of Savoy during the Avignon papacy, from 1309 to 1378, and during the Great Schism of 1378 to 1409. 

If religious culture points towards the South, nonetheless, it should not blind us to the fact that  Savoy had a long-standing relationship further away from its moving borders. The Francophone aristocracy of thirteenth-century England entertained privileged relationships with the house of Savoy, most notably via the marriage of Henry III with Eléonore, daughter of Béatrice of Savoy. In addition, Peter of Savoy was given responsibility for the political education of Edward I, and was later thanked by the construction of the Hotel of Savoy on the River Thames (later occupied by John of Gaunt, and sacked in 1381). Savoyards filled important functions in the royal English administration, so it comes as no surprise to find Oton de Grandson, Savoyard knight from the pays de Vaud, spending almost twenty years at the English court, fulfilling his duties as lover-knight with an equal degree of success and influence, both on the European battlefields and in the composition of love-poetry. 

The literary production that originated in or near the County of Savoy between 1348 and 1418 reflects the cultural emancipation of Savoy, with contributions in the arts from Savoyard artists and foreigners from Italy, Burgundy, and other areas attracted by its vitality. This chapter attempts to assess the literary impact and place of this independent area (it was annexed to France only in 1860) upon the European literary scene. Oton de Grandson  is the major fourteenth-century Savoyard poet of his time. His influence upon Chaucer’s various compositions is well known. The chapter situates Oton de Grandson’s oeuvre as part of a contribution to the European discussion on the international language of love, with the celebration of St Valentine’s Day as a distinct and communal creation that emerged at the English court. The second part of this paper looks at Thomas of Saluzzo’s Le Livre du Chevalier Errant (1394-6). This literary piece by Thomas III of Saluzzo (despite several attempts by Savoy throughout the medieval period, the Marquisate of Saluzzo remained independent till 1548) is an early contribution to the European tradition of the knightly quest that continued to flourish into the sixteenth century. Jean d’Orville’s Chronique de Cabaret (1419), despite its desire for historical truth, shares a courtly ideal with the previous works that permeates late-medieval European culture and accounts for the chivalric revival that marks the fifteenth century.

As stated by Ardis Butterfield, ‘French’ is a misleading term if understood as referring to a single linguistic group. This linguistic fallacy often leads one to consider the nation as the socio-geographical space this linguistic group occupies, when in fact such unity and uniformity is far from being the norm in the medieval period. The chapter aims to show that an appreciation of the literary and cultural productions generated from distinct regions – namely, the French writings of a Savoyard poet from the pays de Vaud who spent much of his life at the English court, the first Savoyard chronicle by a chronicler from Artois, and the French chivalric quest-narrative of a bilingual marquis in Salluzzo – provides an altogether different picture of the European medieval literary landscape in Francophone areas. 


Primary Sources

- Jean d’Orville dit Cabaret. La Chonique de Savoie: Traduction-adaptation en français moderne, trans. Daniel Chaubet (Les Marches: La Fontaine de Siloé, 1995).

- Oton de Grandson: Sa vie et ses poésies, ed. Arthur Piaget (Lausanne: Librairie Payot, 1941).

- Tommao III di Saluzzo, Il Libro del Cavaliere Errante (BnF ms. fr. 12559), ed. Marco Piccat (Boves: Araba Fenice, 2008). 

Secondary Sources

- Baud, Henri, ‘Apogée et Décadence , le duché de Savoie’, in Nouvelle histoire de la Savoie, ed. Paul Guichonnet (Toulouse: Editions Privat, 1996), pp. 157-76.

- Butterfield, Ardis. The Familir Enemy: Chaucer, Language and Nation in the Hundred Years War (Oxford: OUP, 2009).

- Colonna d’Istria, Robert. Histoire de la Savoie (Paris: Editions France-Empire, 2002) 

- Galland, Bruno. Les papes d’Avignon et la maison de Savoie (1309-1409), Collection de l’Ecole française de Rome 247 (Ecole française de Rome: Palais Farnèse, 1998).

- Histoire, patrimoine, archives des Pays de Savoie: