An 850-year old love poem ‘Floris and Blancheflour’
1. Eight hundred and fifty years old
2. French author
3. European bestseller
4. Thirteen West-European versions of the poem
5. ”Flanders (Belgium): 750 years of “Floris ende Blancefloer”
6. Diederic van Assenede
7. Commemoration “750 years Floris ende Blancefloer”
7.1. Anniversary publication of Professor Emeritus Dr Jozef Janssens et al (edition
7.2. A 100 meters long tapestry (90 cms high) : “Tapestry of Assenede: Floris and
7.2.1. First official embroidery stitch 23 October 2015 in Assenede (Belgium)
7.2.2. Belgian linen. English wool.
7.2.3. Mobile Educational Tool
7.2.4. The Embroiderers
7.2.6. International cooperation. International project.
1. Eight hundred and fiftyyears of age
In the middle of the twelfth century, a French clerk who lived in the Loire-valley
near Tours, thought to be Robert d’Orbigny, wrote a 3348 verse love poem.
This poem “Floire et Blancheflor” in French or “Floris and Blancheflour” spread all
over western Europe and was translated into thirteen languages. The poem tells the
story of a forbidden love between a Christian girl and a Muslim boy set in the eighth
The girl (Blancheflour – white Lily) is the daughter of a Christian countess kept
prisoner by the king of a Spanish Muslim country during the eighth century.
The boy (Floris – red rose) is the crown prince of this kingdom. Although their love
is opposed by the King and the Queen, after many trials and tribulations (3000 verses
long) they eventually marry. True love conquers all: the story and its themes are
However, the name of the 12th-century French author was not mentioned in the French
2. French author
Around the year 1220 the German poet Konrad Fleck transcribed this French love story
into German, using 8006 lines. He gave the name of the original French author as
Ruprecht von Orbent or Robert d’Orbigny.
Orbigny is a small rural village (in the French department d’Indre-et-Loire, arrondissement
of Loches), which was called Orbineum in the medieval charters. Orbigny is one of
the oldest villages in the TOURS region.
It is apparent through his use of Latin, Greek and oriental elements in his story
that, as a clerk, Robert d’Orbigny must have been a very literate man with extensive
knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics.
The French expert Prof Dr J.L. Leclanche writes:
“The author of Floris and Blanceflor has undoubtedly read the ancient novel ‘Historia
Appollonii Regis Tyri’ dating from the beginning of our era. This novel refers to
antique stories from the orient and the Mediterranean where lovers are separated
by fate. These stories may have inspired some of the medieval literature and poetry.”
3. European bestseller
This French love story became a bestseller in its time in all of Western Europe.
It was transformed into many medieval poems, songs and prose in Dutch ( Flemish),
German, English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Czech, Yiddish
Prof Dr JL Leclanche in the introduction of his 1977 work on the three most important
French manuscripts of this poem states:“ From the middle of the 12th century Floris
and Blancheflour, together with other ‘love-couples’ such as Paris and Helena, Tristan
and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevereplay important examples”
Leclanche dates this French love poem around the year 1150.
“The love poem of Floire et Blancheflor is in many ways a typical product of the
cultural boom of the years 1050-1250, a period characterised by a very dynamic flourishing
of the arts, literature and culture. This era is currently referred to as the ‘12th
century Renaissance’, as indicated by Professor em. Dr Jozef Janssens, literary historian
in his brand new publication “Floris ende Blancefloer van Diederic van Assenede.
Liefde in het Vlaanderen van de dertiende eeuw” edition DAVIDSFONDS, Belgium, October
2015: [“Floris and Blancheflour of Diederic van Assenede. Love in Flanders in the
D’Orbigny : “ …wrote a love poem contrary to the literature of his days. Where in
the “chansons de geste” and the early novels the heroic battle was predominant, the
military action in Floire et Blancheflor is marginalised ...for the most part the
story deals with “amors”(French signification), where reciprocal love conquers all”
(Janssens 2015). Or to view it more simply : The heroic knight stories are dripping
with blood of their heroes and counterparts in their battles for God, the Church
and their sovereign. However, Floris achieves his goals not by the sword but by intellect,
reason and emotions (empathy). Love conquers all obstacles. This is an important change
in storytelling of the time, which is the main reason why this love poem was translated
into each of the main West-European languages of its day.
4. Thirteen West-European versions of Floire et Blancheflor
French : Floire et Blancheflor, middle 12th century; three manuscripts and one fragment
by ROBERT D’ORBIGNY. Floire et Blancheflor (sc version populaire), ca. 1200; one manuscript
Paris, Bibl. Nat., ms. fr. 19152.
Maasland : Floyris en Blantsefluor, ca. 1170; fragment Trier, Stadtbibliothek, Mappe
(Dutch) X, nr. 13.
(High) German : Flore und Blanscheflur, ca. 1220; 2 illustrated manuscripts (Heidelberg,
Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Pal. Germ. 362) and 2 fragments – KONRAD FLECK.
English : Floris and Blancheflour, ca. 1250; 4 partial manuscripts.
Dutch : Floris ende Blancefloer, middle 13th century ; manuscript Leiden, UB, Ltk.
191, and a fragment – DIEDERIC VAN ASSENEDE.
Norwegian : Flores saga ok Blankiflur, ca. 1250; translation in prose; damaged manuscript,
Oslo, Riksarkivet, NRA 65.
Icelandic : Flores saga ok Blankiflur, end of the 13th century ; two manuscripts from
the Norwegian version, 3 manuscripts from the 17th century, 11 from the 18th century
and 10 from the 19th century.
Low-German : Flos unde Blankeflos, early 14th century; five manuscripts.
Swedish : Flores och Blanzeflor, ca. 1312, transmisson from Norwegian versions; kept
in 4 different transcripts and one remaining fragment.
Danish : Eventyret om Flores og Blantzeflores, 14th century, transmission from the
Swedish versions; Stockholm, KB, Cod. Holm. K 47.
Italian : Cantare di Fiorio e Biancifiore, middle of the 14th century, 4 manuscripts,
one fragment and several early prints; Il filocolo, ca. 1341, more than 40 manuscripts
and fragments; among others kept in the beautifully illustrated renaissancemanuscript
from ca. 1364 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Canon. Ital. 85 – GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO. L’amore
di Florio e Biancifiore, inspired on Il filocolo; Venetian print of 1532 – LUDOVICO
Czech : Floria z Hispanij, a geho milee panie Bianczeforze; Prague print from 1519.
These version is based on a German transmission of Il Filocolo: Ein gar schon newe
histori der hochen lieb des kuniglichen fursten Florio: vnnd seyner lieben Bianceflora,Kaspar Hochfeder, Metz 1499) – frequently reprinted; on which the theatre play of
Hans Sachs (1551) is based : Ein comedi mit fünfftzehen personen, Florio, des königs
son auß Hispania, mit der schön Bianceffora.
Greek: Diegesis exairetos erotike kai xene Phloriu tu paneutychu kai kores Platzia
Phlores (The extraordinary, erotic and strange story of the very happy Phlorios and
of the girl Platzia-Phlore), 15th century
Spanish : Cronica de Flores y Blancaflor; end of the 13th century, integrated in a
chronicle on the history of Spain; manuscript Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, 7583. La
historia de los dos enamorados Flores y Blancaflor (print in prose from1512).
5. In Flanders (Belgium): anniversary of «750 years of Floris ende Blancefloer»
“Diederic van Assenede”, was employed as a clerk around 1260 for the Count of Flanders,
and translated the French poem into a 3, 974 verse Flemish (Dutch) poem.
750 years ago Assenede was the capital of the medieval political entity “De Vier
Ambachten”, in the North-Eastern part of Flanders, and nowadays ASSENEDE is a rural
municipality in the Belgian province of East Flanders near the Dutch border. An
“ambacht” was a medieval institution of administrative and jurisdictional decentralisation
within the County of Flanders. It covered several towns, villages and neighbourhoods.
This earlier “De Vier Ambachten” is today a border crossing region situated between
the GHENT agglomeration (Belgium) to the south and the river Scheldt (Westerschelde)
in the Netherlands, in the north.
6. Diederic van Assenede
Diederic van Assenede was, among other things, a collector of an annual ducal property
tax known as the “Brieven van Assenede” (“Letters of Assenede”)
Diederic was a medieval clerk. A clerk in this period of illiteracy was a scholar.
His mother tongue was Flemish (Dutch): he studied classical languages, and he also
spoke and wrote Latin and French. The language of the Court of the Count of Flanders
in those days was French. One of his handwritten accounts of his tax revenues for
the year 1289, was written in Latin, has survived and is kept in BRUGES.
Diederic translated the French poem into his Flemish mother tongue. This is significant,
because Diederic’s Flemish version of that poem belongs to the earliest pieces in
Contemporary Flemish (Dutch) poets (also county clerks) of Diederic were : Willem
van Baudelo attributed as the author of the Flemish version of the ‘roman de Renart’
cq Reynaerd cycle; and the poet, Jacob van Maerlant from Bruges who produced more
than 220.000 verses of poetry during his lifetime.
7. Commemoration 750 year « Floris ende Blancefloer »
The heritage foundation vzwHallekin, active in Assenede, plans to commemorate the
750th anniversary of the Flemish translation in 2 ways :
7.1. An anniversary publication written by Professor em. PhD Jozef Janssens
A book (256 pages, 140 illustrations) for publication by the Flemish Cultural Society
DAVIDSFONDS (www.davidsfonds.be). The book was presented on Friday 23 October 2015
in the church of Assenede. On this occasion the author presented some new analyses
around 13th century literature, and positioned this medieval poem, both the French
original and the Flemish version, within their cultural historical context. This is
the first publication of its kind to be written for a large audience and provides
a base for both primary education teachers as well as secondary and higher education
7.2. A tapestry 100 m long and 900 mm high : “Tapestry of Assenede. Tapestry of
Floris and Blanceflour”
Hallekin started a visual arts project to illustrate this ancient love story in embroidery
of coloured (English) wool on (Belgian) linen. The medieval story is to be recounted
in 85 scenes. A drawing of 950 x 900mm is made for the majority of the scenes, although
some of the descriptive scenes are a little longer. The drawings are then traced
onto the linen via a light box which gives the pattern for the embroiderers. This
tapestry will take 3 years and will tell the visitor the love story. Prof Dr Janssens,
in 2015 thought: “In creating this visual work people who got out of the habit of
reading can still enjoy this historical heritage”. Hallekin has been inspired in this
project by the 940 years old “Bayeux Tapestry” : www.tapisserie-bayeux.fr and by
recent Scottish tapestry projects : www.prestonpanstapestry.org; www.scottishdiasporatapestry.org;
7.2.1. First official stitch on Friday 23 October 2015 in Assenede
The first “official” stitch of this tapestry was made by the representative of the
Flemish Minister Joke Schauvliege (patroness of the project), and representatives
of the Belgian province Oost-Vlaanderen (Governor Jan Briers), the Dutch Province
Zeeland (Deputy for Culture ‘Ben De Reu’ also for the Commissioner of the King) and
the Mayors and aldermen of the modern towns situated in the medieval ‘Vier Ambachten’-circumscription
: the Dutch towns of TERNEUZEN (Mayor Jan Lonink) and HULST (alderman Frank Van Driessche)
and the Flemish (Belgian) Mayors and aldermen of ASSENEDE (Mayor Dr Ph. de Coninck),
EVERGEM (Mayor De Maertelaere Yourie), ZELZATE ( first alderman Martin Acke) and
WACHTEBEKE (alderman Jacques De Smet). Did also participate at “the first official
stich” : Professor Dr Jozef Janssens; Katrien De Vreese (Director of DAVIDSFONDS-editions);
CEO Raymond LIBEERT of LIBECO, Belgian linenweaver; Prof Dr Adri de Kraker; the artist
Peter Audenaert; Dr Dirk De Smet (President of vzw HALLEKIN) and in presence of many
embroiderers and interested people and the press.
7.2.2. Belgian linen : LIBECO
The 170 m2 linen, made from Flemish flax, for the tapestry was donated by the Flemish
(Belgian) linen-weaver LIBECO, one of the top-3 linen weavers in Europe; www.libeco.com.
The trademark “Belgian linen” is world famous.
From medieval times on, Flanders was famous for its linen and tapestry. GHENT, BRUGES,
OUDENAERDE in particular. The English wool producer ‘Appletons’ will provide the coloured
7.2.3. Mobile Educational tool
The tapestry will be exhibited in Assenede initially; thereafter the tapestry may
be lent out to schools, cultural centres, museums or any other institutions who are
interested, in Belgium and elsewhere.
Flemish and Dutch embroiderers started mid 2015 the embroidery; it is planned to
finish the embroidery project mid-2018. Embroiderers can work individually at home,
or can choose to work in local groups. Mrs Annie De Smet, chairman of ‘the tapestry
team’, furnishes the embroiderers : the linen with the drawings on, the needed wool,
the drawings-in-colour on paper and digital, and of some advice and information.
7.2.5. Artist and draftsmen
In 2013 localartist Peter Audenaert (Assenede) made a full scale bronze statue of
Diederic van Assenede, which can be seen in the Assenede town Hall garden. Peter
is the designer of the tapestry drawing story-board and works together with other
artists to realise the individual scenes. Professor PhD Jozef Janssens supervises
the designs on their historic relevance.
7.2.6. International cooperation-International project
HALLEKIN’s intension is to create a minimum of two panels in each of the 13 countries
where the story was translated to enhance the international relevance of this historic
work. Volunteer embroiderers from France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Norway,
Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Greece, Czech Republic, Belgium and The Netherlands are
welcome to cooperate on this international project.
Mrs Annie De Smet, memberof the board of vzw HALLEKIN, is chairman and Prof Dr Jozef
Janssens is vice-chairman of the steering team of the Tapestry-project; other members
of the team are: stitch-coordinator Mrs Renée Gerits and embroidery-specialist Mrs
Lieve De Zutter; formerly embroidery teacher at the Antwerp Fashion Academy.