This article is about the fox character in Northwest European literature. For other uses, see Reynard (disambiguation).
Illumination from a manuscript of the Roman de Renart, end of the 13th century

Reynard (Dutch: Reinaert; French: Renart; German: Reineke; Latin: Renartus) is the main character in a literary cycle of allegorical Dutch, English, French and German fables. Those stories are largely concerned with Reynard, an anthropomorphic red fox and trickster figure. His adventures usually involve him deceiving other anthropomorphic animals for his own advantage or trying to avoid retaliations from them. His main enemy and victim across the cycle is his uncle, the wolf Isengrim (or Ysengrim). While the character of Reynard appears in later works, the core stories were written during the Middle Ages by multiple authors and are often seen as parodies of medieval literature such as courtly love stories and chansons de geste, as well as a satire of political and religious institutions.[1]

Etymology of the name

Theories about the origin of the name Reynard are:

Because of the popularity of the Reynard stories, renard became the standard French word for "fox", replacing the old French word for "fox", which was goupil from Latin vulpecula. Goupil is now dialectal or archaic.

In medieval European folklore and literature

A studious fox in a monk's cowl, in the margins of a Book of Hours, Utrecht, c 1460

The figure of Reynard is thought to have originated in Lorraine folklore from where it spread to France, the Low Countries, and Germany.[2] An extensive treatment of the character is the Old French Le Roman de Renart written by Pierre de Saint-Cloud around 1170, which sets the typical setting. Reynard has been summoned to the court of king Noble, or Leo, the lion, to answer charges brought against him by Isengrim the wolf. Other anthropomorphic animals, including Bruin the bear, Baldwin the ass, and Tibert (Tybalt) the cat, all attempt one stratagem or another. The stories typically involve satire whose usual butts are the aristocracy and the clergy, making Reynard a peasant-hero character.[2] The story of the preaching fox found in the Reynard literature was used in church art by the Catholic Church as propaganda against the Lollards.[3] Reynard's principal castle, Maupertuis, is available to him whenever he needs to hide away from his enemies. Some of the tales feature Reynard's funeral, where his enemies gather to deliver maudlin elegies full of insincere piety, and which feature Reynard's posthumous revenge. Reynard's wife Hermeline appears in the stories, but plays little active role, although in some versions she remarries when Reynard is thought dead, thereby becoming one of the people he plans revenge upon. Isengrim (alternate French spelling: Ysengrin) is Reynard's most frequent antagonist and foil, and generally ends up outwitted, though he occasionally gets revenge.


Reynard appears first in the medieval Latin poem Ysengrimus, a long Latin mock-epic written c. 1148-1153 by the poet Nivardus in Ghent, that collects a great store of Reynard's adventures. He also puts in an early appearance in a number of Latin sequences by the preacher Odo of Cheriton. Both of these early sources seem to draw on a pre-existing store of popular culture featuring the character.

Roman de Renart

The first "branch" (or chapter) of the Roman de Renart appears in 1174, written by Pierre de St. Cloud, although in all French editions it is designated as "Branch II". The same author wrote a sequel in 1179called "Branch I"but from that date onwards, many other French authors composed their own adventures for Renart li goupil ("the fox"). There is also the text Reinhard Fuchs by Heinrich der Glïchezäre, dated to c.1180.

Pierre de St. Cloud opens his work on the fox by situating it within the larger tradition of epic poetry, the fabliaux and Arthurian romance:

This would roughly translate as:

Seigneurs, oï avez maint conte
Que maint conterre vous raconte
Conment Paris ravi Elaine,
Le mal qu'il en ot et la paine,
De Tristan que la Chievre fist
Qui assez bellement en dist
Et fabliaus et chançons de geste
Romanz d'Yvain et de sa beste
Maint autre conte par la terre.
Mais onques n'oïstes la guerre
Qui tant fu dure de gran fin,
Entre Renart et Ysengrin.

Lords, you have heard many tales,
That many tellers have told to you.
How Paris took Helen,
The evil and the pain he felt
Of Tristan that la Chevre
Spoke rather beautifully about;
And fabliaux and epics;
Of the Romance of Yvain and his beast
And many others told in this land
But never have you heard about the war
That was difficult and lengthy
Between Reynard and Isengrim

Van den vos Reynaerde

A mid 13th-century Middle Dutch version of the story by Willem die Madoc maecte (Van den vos Reynaerde, Of Reynaert the Fox), is also made up of rhymed verses (the same AA BB scheme). Like Pierre, very little is known of the author, other than the description by the copyist in the first sentences:[4]

Middle Dutch English

Willem, die Madocke maecte,
daer hi dicken omme waecte,
hem vernoyde so haerde
dat die avonture van Reynaerde
in Dietsche onghemaket bleven
– die Arnout niet hevet vulscreven –
dat hi die vijte dede soucken
ende hise na den Walschen boucken
in Dietsche dus hevet begonnen.

Willem who made Madocke,
which often kept him awake,
was so extremely annoyed
that the tales of Reynaert
– which Arnout has not finished –
remained unwritten in Dutch
that he had the life looked for
and, following the French books,
he began it in Dutch as follows.

Madocke or Madoc is thought to be another one of Willem's works that at one point existed but was lost. The Arnout mentioned was an earlier Reynard poet whose work Willem (the writer) alleges to have finished. However, there are serious objections to this notion of joint authorship, and the only thing deemed likely is that Arnout was French-speaking ("Walschen" in Middle Dutch referred to northern French-speaking people, specifically the Walloons).[5] Willem's work became one of the standard versions of the legend, and was the foundation for most later adaptations in Dutch, German, and English, including those of William Caxton, Goethe, and F. S. Ellis.[4]

Illustration from Ghetelen in Reinke de Vos (1498)


Geoffrey Chaucer used Reynard material in the Canterbury Tales; in "The Nun's Priest's Tale", Reynard appears as "Rossel" and an ass as "Brunel". In 1481 William Caxton printed The Historie of Reynart the Foxe, which was translated from a Middle Dutch version of the fables.[2] Also in the 1480s, the Scottish poet Robert Henryson devised a highly sophisticated development of Reynardian material as part of his Morall Fabillis in the sections known as The Talking of the Tod. Hans van Ghetelen, a printer of Incunabula in Lübeck printed an early German version called Reinke de Vos in 1498. It was translated to Latin and other languages, which made the tale popular across Europe. Reynard is also referenced in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the third hunt.

Modern treatment

The trickster figure Reynard the Fox as depicted in an 1869 children's book by Michel Rodange.


Renert [full original title: Renert oder de Fuuß am Frack an a Ma’nsgrëßt],[6][7] was published in 1872 by Michel Rodange, a Luxembourgeois author.

An epic satirical workadapted from the 1858 Cotta Edition of Goethe's fox epic Reineke Fuchs to a setting in Luxembourg[6] it is known for its insightful analysis of the unique characteristics of the people of Luxembourg, using regional and sub-regional dialects to depict the fox and his companions.

Antisemitic version

Van den vos Reynaerde (Of Reynaert the Fox) was an anti-Semitic children's story, written by the Dutch-Belgian Robert van Genechten, and named after the medieval Dutch poem. It was first published in 1937 in Nieuw-Nederland, a monthly publication of the Dutch Nazi Party's front, the NSB. In 1941 it was published as a book.

The story features a rhinoceros called Jodocus, somewhat akin to the Dutch word jood; and a donkey, Boudewijn, who occupies the throne. Boudewijn, as King of "Belgium", was the Dutch name for the contemporary real-world Belgian crown prince. In the story, Jodocus is an outsider who comes to the Empire and subsequently introduces new ideas that drastically alter the natural order. The land is then declared a "Republic", where "liberty, equality and fraternity" are to be exercised. This dystopian view of socialist republics fits the Nazi ideology on equality and liberty as something degenerate: "There was no one who kept to the rules of the race. Rabbits crept into foxholes, the chickens wanted to build an eyrie." Eventually, Reynard and the others trick and kill Jodocus and his colleagues.[8]

Van den vos Reynaerde was also produced as a cartoon film by Nederlandfilm in 1943.[9] The film was mostly financed with German money. While lavishly budgeted, it was never presented publicly, possibly because most Dutch Jews had already been transported to the concentration camps and the film came too late to be useful as a propaganda piece, possibly also because the Dutch collaborationist Department of People's Information, Service and Arts objected to the fact that the fox, an animal traditionally seen as "villainous", should be used as a hero.[10] In 1991, parts of the film were found again in the German Bundesarchiv. In 2005, more pieces were found, and the film has been restored. The reconstructed film was shown during the 2006 Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht and during the KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival in 2008, in the Netherlands.[11]

Other adaptations, versions, and references

In movies and television series

In literature

Title page from Flinzer's Reineke Fuchs (Glogau 1881)

In art

In music

Reynard the Fox is the name of a number of traditional folk songs (Roud 190, 358 and 1868).

In advertising

In comics

See also


  1. Bianciotto, G. (2005). Introduction. In Le Roman de Renart. Paris: Librairie Générale Française (Livre de poche) ISBN 978-2-253-08698-7
  2. 1 2 3 Briggs, Asa (ed.) (1989) The Longman Encyclopedia, Longman, ISBN 0-582-91620-8
  3. Benton, Janetta Rebold (1 April 1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings. Abbeville Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-7892-0182-9.
  4. 1 2 Bouwman, André; Besamusca, Bart (2009). Of Reynaert the Fox: Text and Facing Translation of the Middle Dutch Beast Epic Van Den Vos Reynaerde. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. pp. 42–43. ISBN 908964024X.
  5. Lemma = Waal, INL
  6. 1 2 Renert at the European Literary Characters website. Retrieved on 22 April 2015.
  7. Rodange, Michel (2010). "Renert, oder de Fuuss Am Frack an a Mansgresst". Kessinger Publishing. Retrieved on 22 April 2015.
  8. Reynard the Fox and the Jew Animal by Egbert Barten and Gerard Groeneveld Archived June 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. Animation World Network. "Reynard the Fox and the Jew Animal". Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  10. Animation World Network (1996-10-01). "Reynard the Fox and the Jew Animal, page 6". Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  11. "Animaties over oorlog op filmfestival" (in Dutch). ANP.
  12. Jonson, B. (1999) Brian Parker and David Bevington (eds.), Volpone, Manchester, Manchester University Press pp. 3-6 ISBN 978-0-7190-5182-1
  13. Reineke Fuchs (Goethe) in German wikipedia
  14. Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche, p. 13
  15. Witanowski, David R. (13 August 2012). "Reynard the Fox". Calliope Press via Amazon.
  16. "Reineke Fuchs. In 30 Blattern gezeichnet und radirt von Johann Heinrich Ramberg." Hannover 1826. New edition with colored prints 2016 ISBN 978-3-89739-854-2
  17. "Reynard the Fox" at Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music website. Retrieved on 22 April 2015.


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