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Replete with shady merchants, scoundrels, hungry mercenaries, scheming nobles, and maneuvering cardinals, The Man Who Believed He Was King of France proves the adage that truth is often stranger than fiction—or at least as entertaining. The setting of this improbable but beguiling tale is 1354 and the Hundred Years’ War being waged for control of France. Seeing an opportunity for political and material gain, the demagogic dictator of Rome tells Giannino di Guccio that he is in fact the lost heir to Louis X, allegedly switched at birth with the son of a Tuscan merchant. Once convinced of his birthright, Giannino claims for himself the name Jean I, king of France, and sets out on a brave—if ultimately ruinous—quest that leads him across Europe to prove his identity.
With the skill of a crime scene detective, Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri digs up evidence in the historical record to follow the story of a life so incredible that it was long considered a literary invention of the Italian Renaissance. From Italy to Hungry, then through Germany and France, the would-be king’s unique combination of guile and earnestness seems to command the aid of lords and soldiers, the indulgence of inn-keepers and merchants, and the collusion of priests and rogues along the way. The apparent absurdity of the tale allows Carpegna Falconieri to analyze late-medieval society, exploring questions of essence and appearance, being and belief, at a time when the divine right of kings confronted the rise of mercantile culture. Giannino’s life represents a moment in which truth, lies, history, and memory combine to make us wonder where reality leaves off and fiction begins.
"A fascinating and fun historical read, a book that enlightens as much on medieval politics and ideas of kingship as it does on the perhaps naive, perhaps opportunistic merchant at the middle of one of the more unusual—and certainly audacious—scams in recorded history."
— Michael G. Cornelius
— Michael G. Cornelius
In 1354, the Roman governor Cola di Rienzo revealed to Giannino di Guccio, a wealthy merchant in Siena, a document revealing that Giannino had been switched at birth and that he was no merchant but Prince Jean I, heir to the French throne. Setting out to convince the world that he was the rightful king, he was thrown in prison, lost his fortune and died destitute. In this mostly elegant, sometimes workmanlike, study-part detective story and part history-University of Urbino medievalist Falconieri raises significant questions about the tale. Was Giannino a historical figure or a literary invention? Was he really the royal child switched at birth by a wet nurse intent on saving her marriage? Through an examination of other similar medieval tales and contemporary works that discuss such stories (e.g., Dante's Commedia), Falconieri answers these questions while offering fascinating glimpses into the intrigues of the medieval French and Italian courts and the weaving of classical Greek and biblical tales into medieval stories about the revelation of royal identity. 2 line drawings, 1 map. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Giannino di Guccio was a successful, wealthy merchant trusted with high office in Siena's government. But was he also the uncrowned king of France? In this compelling book, di Carpegna Falconieri (medieval history, Univ. of Urbino) recounts how in 1354 C.E. Giannino came to believe that he was in fact the lost royal heir, King Jean I, switched as an infant and raised as a commoner. He then sought to reclaim the throne of France. This unlikely story, drawn from the Istoria del Re Giannino, possibly authored by Giannino himself, was long thought to be a literary invention. It does contain all the attributes of a Dumas novel: greedy monks, mercenaries, and conmen attached themselves to Giannino, as did true believers. He was mocked and cheated and was possibly the unwitting pawn of the court of Navarre. He was also a forger of letters patent from various rulers. In the final chapter, di Carpegna Falconieri unleashes his critical skills as a historian to situate Giannino, debate the authorship of the Istoria, and examine the role of fabricated identity in Giannino's campaign to be recognized as king. Written in an accessible and captivating style-McCuaig also ably translated Chiara Frugoni's A Day in a Medieval City-this well-researched work is recommended for academic and large public libraries.
Preface to the American Edition (2008)
Map of Europe in 1360
Chapter 1. AT ROME
Chapter 2. AT SIENA
Chapter 3. IN THE EAST
Chapter 4. IN THE WEST
Chapter 5. IN PRISON
Chapter 6. GIANNINO IN HISTORY, LEGEND, AND LITERATURE
Appendix 1: THE DIRECT CAPETIAN LINE
Appendix 2: THE ANGEVINS OF NAPLES AND HUNGARY