Rutebeuf, or Rustebuef (ca. 1245 - 1285), a trouvère, was born in the first half of the 13th century, possibly in Champagne (he describes conflicts in Troyes in 1249); he was evidently of humble birth, and he was a Parisian by education and residence. His name is nowhere mentioned by his contemporaries. He frequently plays in his verse on the word Rutebeuf, which was probably a nom de guerre(pseudonym used by soldiers), and is variously explained by him as derived from rude boeuf and rude oeuvre ("coarse ox" or "rustic piece of work"). Paulin Paris thought that he began life in the lowest rank of the minstrel profession as a jongleur (juggler and musician). Some of his poems have autobiographical value. In Le Mariage de Rutebeuf ("The Marriage of Rutebeuf") he says that on the 2 January 1261 he married a woman old and ugly, with neither dowry nor amiability. In the Complainte de Rutebeuf he details a series of misfortunes which have reduced him to abject destitution. In these circumstances he addresses himself to Alphonse, comte de Poitiers, brother of Louis IX, for relief. Other poems in the same vein reveal that his own miserable circumstances were chiefly due to a love of play, particularly a game played with dice; which was known as griesche. It would seem that his distress could not be due to lack of patrons; for his metrical Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was written by request of Erard de Valery, who wished to present it to Isabel, queen of Navarre; and he wrote elegies on the deaths of Anceau de l'Isle Adam, the third of the name, who died about 1251, Eudes, comte de Nevers (d. 1267), Theobald II of Navarre (d. 1270), and Alphonse, comte de Poitiers (d. 1271), which were probably paid for by the families of the personages celebrated. In the Pauvreté de Rutebeuf ("The Poverty of Rutebeuf"), he addresses Louis IX himself.
The piece which is most obviously intended for popular recitation is the Dû de L'Herberie ("Debt of the Herb Garden"), a dramatic monologue in prose and verse supposed to be delivered by a quack doctor. Rutebeuf was also a master in the verse conte (narrative verse), and the five of his fabliaux (fables) that have come down to us are gay and amusing. The matter, it may be added, is sufficiently coarse. The adventures of Frere Denyse le cordelier (Brother Dennis of the Order of the Cordeliers-- Franciscans, who wore a rope belt, were nicknamed Cordeliers in France), and of "la dame qui alla trois fois autour du moutier" ("the lady who went around the monastery three times") find a place in the Cent Nouvelles nouvelles ("One Hundred Short Stories").
Rutebeuf's serious work as a satirist probably dates from about 1260. His chief topics are the iniquities of the friars, and the defence of the secular clergy of the University of Paris against their encroachments; and he delivered a series of eloquent and insistent poems (1262, 1263, 1268, 1274) exhorting princes and people to take part in the Crusades. He was a redoubtable champion of the University of Paris in its quarrel with the religious orders who were supported by Pope Alexander IV, and he boldly defended Guillaume de Saint-Amour when he was driven into exile. The libels, indecent songs and rhymes condemned by the pope to be burnt together with the Perils des derniers temps attributed to Saint-Amour, were probably the work of Rutebeuf. The satire of Renart le Bestourné, which borrows from the Reynard cycle little but the names under which the characters are disguised, was directed, according to Paulin Paris, against Philip the Bold. To his later years belong his religious poems, and also the Voie de Paradis ("The Way to Heaven"), the description of a dream, in the manner of the Roman de la Rose.
The best work of Rutebeuf is to be found in his satires and verse contes. A miracle play of his, Le Miracle de Théophile, is one of the earliest dramatic pieces extant in French. The subject of Theophilus of Adana, the Cilician monk who made a pact with the devil, which was afterwards returned to him by the intervention of the Virgin, was a familiar one with the storytellers of the Middle Ages. Rutebeuf can claim no priority in the choice of the subject, which had been treated dramatically in the Latin piece ascribed to the nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim, but his piece has considerable importance in dramatic history.
The Oeuvres of Rutebeuf were edited by Achille Jubinal in 1839 (new edition, 1874); a more critical edition is by Dr. Adolf Kressner (Rustebuefs Gedichte; Wolfenbüttel, 1885). See also the article by Paulin Paris in Hist. lit. de la France (1842), vol. xx. pp. 71-83, and Rutebeuf (1891), by M. Leon Cledat, in the Grands Ecrivains francais Series.