The Italian Angevins

French in Angevin Southern Italy

French texts were produced in the Angevin courts and among the French settlers in southern Italy from the late thirteenth century, with the arrival of Charles I of Anjou, until the last effort at Angevin power in Naples in the mid-fifteenth century. The Angevin presence in Naples brought two classes of French speakers initially: the French nobles who came to southern Italy to support Charles’ power and an administrative class to work in the courts they established there. These courts employed both French native speakers and Italians who were proficient in French, among them many members of the Franco-Fiorentini community. The continuation of Angevin power into the fourteenth century attracted students from French-speaking areas like Paris and Orléans to Naples, home to a well-established university which functioned under the dominion of a French-speaking power.

The corpus of French texts coming from southern Italy has been characterized as “limited but heteroge
neous” (cf. Formisano and Lee). The circumstances of both political involvement and literary activity differed greatly from those in the north, so that the types of French language texts produced in Southern Italy differed as well. This corpus includes:

French language production in the Angevin south can best be understood in the context of the wider cultural programs promoted by successive French rulers, encompassing works of art and architecture as well as literature. Some modern authors have viewed the tension between imported, French techniques, and local, southern Italian artistic styles as a reflection of the political opposition French rulers experienced over the course of their two-century dominion, while others maintain that the French participated willingly in indigenous artistic endeavors, inserting themselves into the local scene rather than imposing their own style.

Unfortunately, in the mid-fourteenth century the bulk of the Angevin library was broken up in 1348, when King Louis of Hungary invaded Naples to avenge the death of his brother.

King Louis offered the contents of the library to his doctor, Giovanni Conversino, who then divided it into three different parts: the first he carried back personally to Hungary for his own use; the second, sent off for his personal use as well, was lost on the journey; and the third he sent to his son, Tommaso del Frignano, whose son Giovanni received only some of the works from the third portion in 1375.


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