Guillaume de Machaut, royal almoner (contains links to full text of article)

Detail from a fourteenth-century alms purse. Source:

A paper outlining Machaut’s early career in royal service suggests that his function as an almoner had a distinct influence on his conception of generosity.

Full paper (HTML version) published by the Oxford University Press Journal Early Music (or access the pdf version here).

For some time I had wanted to write about these two Machaut balades: they seem to postdate his earliest manuscript collection (c.1350-55) and present a more sententious, objective kind of first person voice, rather different from the suffering or rejoicing lovers who dominate much of Machaut’s lyric poems. This paper argues that despite being rather contrasting songs, these balades form a two-fold meditation on the theme of largesse. The different audiences to which the two songs are directed show, however, that the honour that accrues to generous giving is rather differently constructed for men and women. The article will be of interest to those working on medieval court administration, gender relations, alms purses, gift-giving, and patronage.


From Early Music:

An outline of the role of a court almoner in this period and its connections with courtly cultural activity is the point of departure for this article, which argues that Guillaume de Machaut’s earliest known job as court almoner not only placed him centrally within the sphere of courtly cultural activity, but also had a distinct and lasting influence on his courtly love doctrine with regard to the importance of giving and the centrality of largesse. Two songs in Machaut’s output arguably functioned as epitomized meditations on the issue of largesse, expounded at greater length in Machaut’s narrative dits. One of these songs, Donnez, signeurs (B26), while not mentioning largesse by name, shares the central ideas and verbal expressions attached to descriptions of Largesse in Machaut’s longer narrative poems Le jugement dou roi de Navarre and John of Luxembourg in Confort d’ami. Together with its ‘ sister balade’, Honte, paour (B25), it forms a paired mediation on giving and honour that expresses a credo rather fitting for an almoner-courtier, while also presenting the differentially gendered ramifications of these virtues for courtly men and women.

Websites cited

This article cites the following web pages, all of which have further information about, and pictures of, alms purses

Bibliography (some links require a subscription)

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