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Jean de Mandeville

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The author of a book of travels much read in the Middle Ages, died probably in 1372. The writer describes himself as an English knight born at St. Albans. In 1322, on the feast of St. Michael, he set out on a journey that took him first to Egypt where he participated as mercenary in the sultan's wars against the Bedouins. He next visited Palestine, then, by way of India, also the interior of Asia and China, and served for fifteen months in the army of the Great Khan of Mongolia. After an absence of thirty-four years he returned in 1356, and at the instance and with the help of a physician, whose acquaintance he had made in Egypt at the court of the sultan, he wrote in Lüttich an account of his experiences and observations. In the manuscripts 1372 is given as the year of his death. Later investigation, however, made it clear that the real author was Jean de Bourgoigne, or à la Barbe, a physician from Lüttich, to whom several medical works are also attributed. He really lived for some time in Egypt, and during his sojourn may have conceived the idea of describing a journey to the Orient. Having visited no foreign country except Egypt, he was compelled to make use of the descriptions of others and to publish his compilation under a pseudonym. He discloses, in the situations borrowed often word for word from various authors, an extraordinarily wide range of reading, and he understood how to present his matter so attractively that the work in manuscript and print had a wonderful popularity.

His chief sources are the accounts of the travels of the first missionaries of the Dominican and Franciscan orders (see GEOGRAPHY AND THE CHURCH), who were the first to venture into the interior of Asia. He describes Constantinople and Palestine almost entirely according to the "Itinerarius" of the Dominican William of Boldensele written in 1336; he made use moreover of the "Tractatus de distantiis locorum terræ sanctæ" of Eugesippus, the "Descriptio terræ sanctæ" of John of Würzburg (c. 1165), and the "Libellus de locis sanctis" of Theodoricus (c. 1172). He was able out of his own experiences to give particulars about Egypt. What he has to say about the Mohammedan is taken from the work "De statu Saracenarum" (1273) of the Dominican William of Tripolis. His account of the Armenians, Persians, Turks, etc., is borrowed from the "Historia orientalis" of Hayton, the former Prince of Armenia and later Abbot of Poitiers. For the country of the Tatars and China he made use almost word for word of the "Deseriptio orientalium" of the Franciscan Odoric of Pordenone, and in parts of the "Historia Mongolorum" of the Franciscan John of Plano Carpini. Apart from books of travels he plagiarised from works of a general nature, the old authors Pliny, Solinus, Josephus Flavius, and the comprehensive "Speculum Historiale" of Vincent of Beauvais. The numerous manuscripts and printed editions are enumerated by Röhricht ("Bibliotheca Geographica Palestinæ", Berlin, 1890, pp. 79-85). The oldest impressions are: in French (Lyons, 1480); German (Augsburg, 1481, 1482); English (Westminster, 1499). Modern editions: "The voinge and travaile of Sir Mandeville", with introd. by J. O. Halliwell (London, 1839); "The Buke of John Maundeuill", ed. by G. F. Warner (Westminster, 1889), in Roxburghe Club, Publications, No. 30; "Travels of Mandeville. The Version of the Cotton Manuscript in Modern Spelling" (London, 1900).


Consult SCHÖNBORN, Bibliogr. Untersuchungen über die Reisebeschreibung des Sir John Mandeville (Breslau, 1840); NICHOLSON in The Academy, 11 Nov., 1876, and 12 February, 1881; NICHOLSON AND YULE in Encycl. Brit., s.v. MANDEVILLE, JEHAN DE; NICHOLSON in The Academy, 12 April, 1884; BOVENSCHEN, Untersuchungen über Johann v. Mandeville und die Quellen seiner Reisebeschreibung in Zeitschr. der Ges. E. Erdkunde zu Berlin, XXIII (Berlin. 1888), pp. 177-306; MURRAY, John de Burdeus or John de Burgundia otherwise Sir John de Mandeville and the pestilence (London, 1891).

About this page

APA citation. Hartig, O. (1910). Jean de Mandeville. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Hartig, Otto. "Jean de Mandeville." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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