Encyclopedia

Guillaume le Clerc

Biography

Nothing is known of the life of Guilluame, other than what he says or implies about himself in his writings. He calls himself a cleric (a religious office) of Normandy (northern France). He may have lived for a time in England, but he wrote in the Norman dialect of French, not in the Anglo-Norman dialect of England.

Guillaume composes his Bestiaire

The Bestiaire divin

His Bestiaire, or Bestiaire divin was written around 1210 or 1211; this date is derived from a comment in the text that it was written two years after England was put under interdict, which happened on March 23, 1208 by order of Pope Innocent III.

The Bestiaire is a verse bestiary of 3426 lines, making it the longest of the French bestiaries. Guillaume says that his reason for writing the poem is so that readers could benefit from the moral lessons in the animal stories. The text appears to be based on the early version of the Latin bestiary designated "B-Is", a combination of the "B" version of the Physiologus and material from Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae. Guillaume's moralizations closely follow the examples in this version of the bestiary, though he added to some of them. The manuscript Guillame used was possibly British Library, Royal 2 C. xii of the early thirteenth century, which is similar in chapter order and other details.

The typical animal chapter order of the Bestiaire is:

  1. Lion (Le lion)
  2. Antelope (L'aptalos)
  3. Fire Stones (Deux pierres)
  4. Sawfish (Les serres)
  5. Caladrius (La caladre)
  6. Pélican (Le pelican)
  7. Owl Le nycticorax)
  8. Eagle (L'aigle')
  9. Phoenix (Le phénix)
  10. Hoopoe (La huppe)
  11. Ant (La fourmi)
  12. Siren (Les syrènes)
  13. Hedgehog (Le hérisson)
  14. Ibis (L'ibis)
  15. Fox (Le reynard)
  16. Unicorn (L'unicorne)
  17. Beaver (Le castor)
  18. Hyena (L'hyène)
  19. Hydrus and Crocodile (L'hydrus et le crocodile)
  1. Goat (Les chèvres)
  2. Onager (L'ane sauvage)
  3. Ape (Le singe)
  4. Coot (La fouique)
  5. Panther (La pantère)
  6. Dragon (Le dragon)
  7. Whale (La cète ou baleine)
  8. Partridge (La perdrix)
  9. Weasel (La belette)
  10. Asp (L'aspic)
  11. Ostrich (L'autruche)
  12. Turtledove (La tourterelle)
  13. Stag (Le cerf)
  14. Salamander (La salamandre)
  15. Dove and Peridexion Tree (Columbe et peridixion)
  16. Elephant (L'éléphant)
  17. Mandrake (La mandragore)
  18. Diamond (Le diamant)

Manuscripts

Guillaume's Bestiaire was popular, and at least 23 complete manuscript copies (plus some fragments) dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries still exist; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France has 11 copies. Most of these are illustrated. Most of the copies have a letter designation, initially by Robert Reinsch, 1892. The manuscripts not listed here do not have an "official" letter designation.


Other French or Anglo-Norman bestiaries are those by Philippe de Thaon, Gervaise, and Pierre de Beauvais.