Guillaume de Deguileville

Guillaume de Deguileville dreaming of celestial Jerusalem (France, 15th century).

Guillaume de Deguileville (1295 - before 1358) was a French Cistercian and writer. His authorship is shown by one acrostic in Le Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine, two in Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme, and one in Le Pèlerinage de Jhesucrist. These acrostics take the form of a series of stanzas, each beginning with a letter of Deguileville's name. According to indications in the Vie his father was called Thomas, he was named after his godfather, and his patron saint was William of Chaalis. There is no evidence that his name is connected with a village of Guileville.

Life and writings

Guillaume entered the Cistercian abbey of Chaalis in 1316, at the age of twenty-one. This is in agreement with his assertion in the second redaction of the Vie, where he states that he has been in the abbey for thirty-nine years. The abbey of Chaalis—or what is left of it, for it is no more than a ruin nowadays—is in the diocese of Senlis, north of Paris, and was founded in the twelfth century. A manuscript of a French prose rendering of the Âme states that Guillaume eventually became prior of Chaalis, but it is not known whether this is true or, if so, when this happened.

According to the second redaction of the Vie, Guillaume was thirty-six years old when he wrote his first redaction in 1330, so he must have been born ca. 1294. The Âme was written immediately after the second redaction of the Vie (1355), and in it he states that he was over 60 years old when writing the Âme. He also refers to a passage in the Vie which only occurs in the second redaction of the poem, which is another indication that he wrote the Âme after 1355. Guillaume wrote this second redaction of the Vie, he states in its prologue, because the first redaction had been stolen. This does not mean that this first redaction was lost to posterity, for, according to Clubb in the introduction of his edition of Egerton 615, J. J. Stürzinger based his edition of Vie on it.

We can date Deguileville’s poems as follows: The first version of the Vie was written between 1330 and 1332; the second version of it around 1355; the Âme between 1355 and 1358; and Jhesucrist about 1358. Some seventy-three manuscripts of Guillaume’s works, including forty-six of the Âme, are extant in various libraries in Europe. The only edition of Guillaume’s three poems is that of Stürzinger, who based his edition of the Vie on the first redaction. The second redaction has never been edited.


Further Reading

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