"Jehan de Mandeville", translated as "Sir John Mandeville", is the name claimed by the compiler of a singular book of supposed travels, written in Anglo-Norman French, and published between 1357 and 1371.
By aid of translations into many other languages it acquired extraordinary popularity. Despite the extremely unreliable and often fantastical nature of the travels it describes, it was used as a work of reference — Christopher Columbus, for example, was heavily influenced by both this work and Marco Polo's earlier Il Milione (Adams 53).
He crossed the sea on Michaelmas Day 1322; had traversed by way of Turkey (Asia Minor), Armenia the little (Cilicia) and the great, Tartary, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Egypt upper and lower, Libya, great part of Ethiopia, Chaldea, Amazonia, India the less, the greater and the middle, and many countries about India; had often been to Jerusalem, and had written in Romance as more generally understood than Latin.
In the body of the work, we hear that he had been at Paris and Constantinople; had served the Sultan of Egypt a long time in his wars against the Bedouin, had been vainly offered by him a princely marriage and a great estate on condition of renouncing Christianity, and had left Egypt under Sultan Melech Madabron (al-Muzaffar Sayf-ad-Din Hajji I who reigned in 1346-1347); had been at Mount Sinai, and had visited the Holy Land with letters under the great seal of the sultan, which gave him extraordinary facilities; had been in Russia, Livonia, Kraków, Lithuania, "en roialme daresten" (? de Daresten or Silistra), and many other parts near Tartary, but not in Tartary itself; had drunk of the Well of Youth at Polombe (Quilon on the Malabar coast), and still seemed to feel the better; had taken astronomical observations on the way to Lamory (Sumatra), as well as in Brabant, Germany, Bohemia and still farther north; had been at an isle called Pathen in the Indian Ocean; had been at Cansay (Hangchow-fu) in China, and had served the emperor of China fifteen months against the king of Mann; had been among rocks of adamant in the Indian Ocean; had been through a haunted valley, which he places near "Milstorak" (i.e. Malasgird in Armenia); had been driven home against his will in 1357 by arthritic gout; and had written his book as a consolation for his "wretched rest". The paragraph which states that he had had his book confirmed at Rome by the Pope is an interpolation of the English version.
The evidence of this is in a modernized extract quoted by the Liège herald, Louis Abry (1643-1720), from the lost fourth book of the Myreur des Hystors of Johans des Preis, styled d'Oultremouse. In this "Jean de Bourgogne, dit a la Barbe", is said to have revealed himself on his deathbed to d'Oultremouse, whom he made his executor, and to have described himself in his will as "messire Jean de Mandeville, chevalier, comte de Montfort en Angleterre et seigneur de l'isle de Campdi et du château Pérouse". It is added that, having had the misfortune to kill an unnamed count in his own country, he engaged himself to travel through the three parts of the world, arrived at Liège in 1343, was a great naturalist, profound philosopher and astrologer, and had a remarkable knowledge of physics. And the identification is confirmed by the fact that in the now destroyed church of the Guillemins was a tombstone of Mandeville, with a Latin inscription stating that he was otherwise named "ad Barbam", was a professor of medicine, and died at Liège on November 17, 1372: this inscription is quoted as far back as 1462.
Even before his death the Liège physician seems to have confessed to a share in the composition of the work. In the common Latin abridged version of it, at the end of c. vii., the author says that when stopping in the sultan's court at Cairo he met a venerable and expert physician of "our" parts, that they rarely came into conversation because their duties were of a different kind, but that long afterwards at Liège he composed this treatise at the exhortation and with the help (Jiortatu et adiutorio) of the same venerable man, as he will narrate at the end of it. And in the last chapter he says that in 1355, in returning home, he came to Liège, and being laid up with old age and arthritic gout in the street called Bassesauenyr, i.e. Basse Savenir, consulted the physicians. That one came in who was more venerable than the others by reason of his age and white hairs, was evidently expert in his art, and was commonly called Magister Iohannes ad Barbam. That a chance remark of the latter caused the renewal of their old Cairo acquaintance, and that Ad Barbam, after showing his medical skill on Mandeville, urgently begged him to write his travels; "and so at length, by his advice and help, monitu et adiutorio, was composed this treatise, of which I had certainly proposed to write nothing until at least I had reached my own parts in England". He goes on to speak of himself as being now lodged in Liège, "which is only two days distant from the sea of England"; and it is stated in the colophon (and in the manuscripts) that the book was first published in French by Mandeville, its author, in 1355, at Liège, and soon after in the same city translated into "said" Latin form. Moreover, a manuscript of the French text extant at Liège about 1860 contained a similar statement, and added that the author lodged at a hostel called "al hoste Henkin Levo": this manuscript gave the physician's name as "Johains de Bourgogne dit ale barbe", which doubtless conveys its local form.
The name Mangevilain occurs in Yorkshire as early as 16 Hen. I. (Pipe Roll Society, xv. 40), but is very rare, and (failing evidence of any place named Mangeville) seems to be merely a variant spelling of Magnevillain. The meaning may be simply "of Magneville", de Magneville; but the family of a 14th century bishop of Nevers were called both "Mandevilain" and "de Mandevilain", where Mandevilain seems a derivative place-name, meaning the Magneville or Mandeville district. The name "de Mandeville "might be suggested to de Bourgogne by that of his fellow-culprit Mangevilayn, and it is even possible that the two fled to England together, were in Egypt together, met again at Liège, and shared in the compilation of the Travels.
Whether after the appearance of the Travels either de Bourgogne or "Mangevilayn" visited England is very doubtful. St Albans Abbey had a sapphire ring, and Canterbury a crystal orb, said to have been given by Mandeville; but these might have been sent from Liège, and it will appear later that the Liège physician possessed and wrote about precious stones. St Albans also had a legend, recorded in John Norden's Speculum Britanniae (1596) that a ruined marble tomb of Mandeville (represented cross-legged and in armour, with sword and shield) once stood in the abbey; this may be true of "Mangevilayn" or it may be a mere myth. There is also an inscription near the entrance of St Albans Abbey, which reads as follows:
However, it can be argued that this inscription was set up long after the fourteenth century and assumed the reality of Sir John Mandeville; it certainly does not of itself prove it.
It is a little curious that the name preceding Mangevilayn in the list of persons pardoned is "Johan le Barber". Did this suggest to de Bourgogne the alias "a le Barbe", or was that only a Liège nickname? Note also that the arms on Mandeville's tomb were borne by the Tyrrells of Hertfordshire (the county in which St Albans lies); for of course the crescent on the lion's breast is only the "difference" indicating a second son.
Leaving this question, there remains the equally complex one whether the book contains any facts and knowledge acquired by actual travels and residence in the East. Possibly it may, but only as a small portion of the section which treats of the Holy Land and the ways of getting thither, of Egypt, and in general of the Levant. The prologue, indeed, points almost exclusively to the Holy Land as the subject of the work. The mention of more distant regions comes in only towards the end of this prologue, and (in a manner) as an afterthought.Trebizond to Hormuz, India, the Malay Archipelago, and China, and back again to western Asia; has been appropriated from the narrative of Friar Odoric (1330). These passages, as served up by Mandeville, are almost always, indeed, swollen with interpolated particulars, usually of an extravagant kind, whilst in no few cases the writer has failed to understand those passages which he adopts from Odoric and professes to give as his own experiences. Thus, where Odoric has given a most curious and veracious account of the Chinese custom of employing tame cormorants to catch fish, the cormorants are converted by Mandeville into "little beasts called loyres (layre, B), which are taught to go into the water" (the word loyre being apparently used here for "otter", lutra, for which the Provençal is luria or loiria).
At a very early date the coincidence of Mandeville's stories with those of Odoric was recognized, insomuch that a manuscript of Odoric which is or was in the chapter library at Mainz begins with the words: Incipit Itinerarius fidelis fratris Odorici socii Militis Mendavil per Indian; licet hic ille prius et alter posterius peregrinationem suam descripsit. At a later day Sir Thomas Herbert calls Odoric "travelling companion of our Sir John"; and Samuel Purchas, most unfairly, whilst calling Mandeville, next to Polo, "if next ... the greatest Asian traveller that ever the world had", insinuates that Odoric's story was stolen from Mandeville's. Mandeville himself is crafty enough, at least in one passage, to anticipate criticism by suggesting the probability of his having travelled with Odoric.
It is curious that no passage in Mandeville can be plausibly traced to Marco Polo, with one exception. This is where he states that at Hormuz the people during the great heat lie in water – a circumstance mentioned by Polo, though not by Odoric. We should suppose it most likely that this fact had been interpolated in the copy of Odoric used by Mandeville, for if he had borrowed it direct from Polo he would have borrowed more.
The account of Prester John is taken from the famous Epistle of that imaginary potentate, which was so widely diffused in the 13th century, and created that renown which made it incumbent on every traveller in Asia to find some new tale to tell of him. Many fabulous stories, again, of monsters, such as cyclopes, sciapodes, hippopodes, monoscelides, anthropophagi, and men whose heads did grow beneath their shoulders, of the phoenix and the weeping crocodile, such as Pliny has collected, are introduced here and there, derived no doubt from him, Solinus, the bestiaries, or the Speculum naturale of Vincent de Beauvais. And interspersed, especially in the chapters about the Levant, are the stories and legends that were retailed to every pilgrim, such as the legend of Seth and the grains of paradise from which grew the wood of the cross, that of the shooting of old Cain by Lamech, that of the castle of the sparrow-hawk (which appears in the tale of Melusine), those of the origin of the balsam plants at Masariya, of the dragon of Cos, of the river Sambation, etc.
But all these passages have also been verified as substantially occurring in Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Barrois (Barrois collection) manuscript Nouv. Acq. Franc. 1515 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, mentioned below (from 1371), and in that numbered xxxix. of the Grenville collection (British Museum), which dates probably from the early part of the 15th century.
There is, indeed, only a small residuum of the book to which genuine character, as containing the experiences of the author, can possibly be attributed. Yet, as has been intimated, the borrowed stories are frequently claimed as such experiences. In addition to those already mentioned, he alleges that he had witnessed the curious exhibition of the garden of transmigrated souls (described by Odoric) at Cansay, i.e. Hangchow. He and his fellows with their valets had remained fifteen months in service with the emperor of Cathay in his wars against the king of Manzi – Manzi, or Southern China, having ceased to be a separate kingdom some seventy years before the time referred to. But the most notable of these false statements occurs in his adoption from Odoric of the story of the Valley Perilous. This is, in its original form, apparently founded on real experiences of Odoric viewed through a haze of excitement and superstition. Mandeville, whilst swelling the wonders of the tale with a variety of extravagant touches, appears to safeguard himself from the reader's possible discovery that it was stolen by the interpolation: "And some of our fellows accorded to enter, and some not. So there were with us two worthy men, Friars Minor, that were of Lombardy, who said that if any man would enter they would go in with us. And when they had said so, upon the gracious trust of God and of them, we caused mass to be sung, and made every man to be shriven and houselled; and then we entered fourteen persons; but at our going out we were but nine", etc.
In referring to this passage it is only fair to recognize that the description (though the suggestion of the greatest part exists in Odoric) displays a good deal of imaginative power; and there is much in the account of Christian's passage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, in John Bunyan's famous allegory, which indicates a possibility that Bunyan may have read and remembered this episode either in Mandeville or in Hakluyt's Odoric.
Nor does it follow that the whole work is borrowed or fictitious. Even the great Moorish traveller Ibn Battuta, accurate and veracious in the main, seems – in one part at least of his narrative – to invent experiences; and in such works as those of Jan van Hees and Arnold von Harif we have examples of pilgrims to the Holy Land whose narratives begin apparently in sober truth, and gradually pass into flourishes of fiction and extravagance. So in Mandeville also we find particulars not yet traced to other writers, and which may therefore be provisionally assigned either to the writer's own experience or to knowledge acquired by colloquial intercourse in the East.
Mandeville, however, then goes on to say that his eldest son, Melechemader, was chosen to succeed; but this prince was caused privily to be slain by his brother, who took the kingdom under the name of Meleclimadabron. "And he was Soldan when I departed from those countries". Now Al-Nasir Muhammad was followed in succession by no less than eight of his sons in thirteen years, the first three of whom reigned in aggregate only a few months. The names mentioned by Mandeville appear to represent those of the fourth and sixth of the eight, viz. al-Salih Ismail, and al-Muzzafar Hajji); and these the statements of Mandeville do not fit.
The oldest known manuscript of the original – once Barrois's, afterwards Bertram Ashburnham, 4th Earl of Ashburnham's, now Nouv. Acq. Franc. 1515 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France – is dated 1371, but is nevertheless very inaccurate in proper names. An early printed Latin translation made from the French has been already quoted, but four others, unprinted, have been discovered by Dr. Johann Vogels. They exist in eight manuscripts, of which seven are in Great Britain, while the eighth was copied by a monk of Abingdon; probably, therefore, all these unprinted translations were executed in Great Britain. From one of them, according to Dr. Vogels, an English version was made which has never been printed and is now extant only in free abbreviations, contained in two 15th century manuscripts in the Bodleian Library - manuscript e Museo 116, and manuscript Rawlinson D.99 : the former, which is the better, is in East Midlands English, and may possibly have belonged to the Augustinian priory of St Osyth in Essex, while the latter is in Southern dialect.
The first English translation direct from the French was made (at least as early as the beginning of the 15th century) from a manuscript of which many pages were lost. Writing of the name Califfes Dr. Vogels controverts these positions, arguing that the first English version from the French was the complete Cotton text, and that the defective English copies were made from a defective English manuscript. His supposed evidences of the priority of the Cotton text equally consist with its being a later revision, and for Roys Its (Khalif), the author says (Roxburghe Club ed., p. 18) that it is taut a dire come rol (s). II y soleit auoir V. soudans "as much as to say king. There used to be 5 sultans". In the defective French manuscript a page ended with fly so; then came a gap, and the next page went on with part of the description of Mount Sinai, Et est celle vallee mult froide (ibid. p. 32'). Consequently the corresponding English version has "That ys to say amonge hem Roys Its and this vale ys ful colde"! All English printed texts before 1725, and Ashton's 1887 edition, follow these defective copies, and in only two known manuscripts has the lacuna been detected and filled up.
One of them is the British Museum manuscript Egerton 1982 (Northern dialect, about 1410–1420 ?), in which, according to Dr. Vogels, the corresponding portion has been borrowed from that English version which had already been made from the Latin. The other is in the, British Museum manuscript Cotton Titus C. xvi. (Midland dialect, about 1410–1420?), representing a text completed, and revised throughout, from the French, though not by a competent hand. The Egerton text, edited by Dr. George Warner, has been printed by the Roxburghe Club, while the Cotton text, first printed in 1725 and 1727, is in modern reprints the current English version.
That none of the forms of the English version can be from the same hand which wrote the original is made patent by their glaring errors of translation, but the Cotton text asserts in the preface that it was made by Mandeville himself, and this assertion was till lately taken on trust by almost all modern historians of English literature. The words of the original "je eusse cest livret mis en Latin ... mais je lay mis,en römant" were mistranslated as if "je eusse" meant "I had" instead of "I should have", and then (whether of fraudulent intent or by the error of a copyist thinking to supply an accidental omission) the words were added "and translated it aȝen out of Frensche into Englyssche". Mätzner (Altenglische Sprachproben, I., ii., 154–155) seems to have been the first to show that the current English text cannot possibly have been made by Mandeville himself. Of the original French there is no satisfactory edition, but Dr. Vogels has undertaken a critical text, and Dr. Warner has added to his Egerton English text the French of a British Museum manuscript with variants from three others.
To Mandeville (by whom de Bourgogne is clearly meant) Jean d'Outremeuse ascribes a Latin "lappidaire salon l'opinion des Indois", from which he quotes twelve passages, stating that the author (whom he calls knight, lord of Montfort, of Castelperouse, and of the isle of Campdi) had been "baillez en Alexandrie" seven years, and had been presented by a Saracen friend with some fine jewels which had passed into d'Outremeuse's own possession: of this Lapidaire, a French version, which seems to have been completed after 1479, has been several times printed. A manuscript of Mandeville's travels offered for sale in 1862 is said to have been divided into five books:
Finally, de Bourgogne wrote under his own name a treatise on the plague, extant in Latin, French and English texts, and in Latin and English abridgments. Herein he describes himself as Johannes de Burgundia, otherwise called cum Barba, citizen of Liège and professor of the art of medicine; says that he had practised forty years and had been in Liège in the plague of 1365; and adds that he had previously written a treatise on the cause of the plague, according to the indications of astrology (beginning Deus deorum), and another on distinguishing pestilential diseases (beginning Cum nimium propter instans tempus epidimiate). "Burgundia" is sometimes corrupted into "Burdegalia", and in English translations of the abridgment almost always appears as "Burdews" (Bordeaux, France) or the like manuscript Rawlinson D. 251 (15th century) in the Bodleian Library also contains a large number of English medical receipts, headed "Practica phisicalia Magistri Johannis de Burgundia".
Mandeville's travels constituted a wide variety of venues, and it was therefore inevitable that his book would become one of the myriad sources used in Alan Moore's two graphic novels The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The venues are mostly visited in the early twentieth century by Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain prior to the latter's death.