Although the translation was not faithful, Amadis of Gaul and its sequels were a smash hit in France in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.
[Lujanes Tower and House, Plaza de la Villa, Madrid. The tower was built in the early 1400s and the house in the late 1400s for the Luján family. Photo by Sue Burke.]
1525 - After his defeat by Emperor Charles V (King Carlos I of Spain) at the battle of Pavia, King Francis I of France is brought as a prisoner to Madrid. Legend says he is held for a while in Lujanes Tower, where, to help pass the time, his sister Margarita reads him Amadís de Gaula; when he returns to France, he asks Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts to translate it.
Herberay, besides being an artillery officer, is a man of letters with a large library that includes many Spanish works.
1540 - His translation of Book I is published and enjoys such great success that it is reprinted three times in that year alone.
1541, 1542, 1543 - His translations of Books II, III, and IV are printed and meet with equal success.
1544 - Herberay translates Las Sergas de Esplandían by Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, the story of Amadis's son.
1545 to 1548 - Herberay translates Lisuarte de Grecia, and Amadis de Grecia Book I and Book II by Feliciano de Silva. He either skips or does not know about Florisando by Ruy Páez de Ribera, an austere and moralizing book, and Lisuarte de Grecia by Juan Díaz, another moralizing book in which Amadis dies and which had failed commercially in Spain.
Herberay writes with a fluid and elegant style that wins him lasting acclaim, and his versions of the Amadis series are reprinted until the 17th century, some volumes as many as fifteen times. However, he and subsequent translators also adapt Amadis to French courtesan tastes by suppressing the moral and didactic elements and increasing the erotic content, even introducing new incidents.
1546 to 1626 - Six other Spanish novels of chivalry outside the Amadis series are published in France, as are works of the matter of Britain (King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and related stories).
1551 to 1574 - Six more books in the Spanish Amadis series are translated into French, three of them by Jacques Gohory, who adds allegorical and occult elements to the texts.
1559 - Thresor des douze livres d'Amadis de Gaule by Étienne Groulleau is published in Paris. It collects extracts from letters, discourses, and declarations and lamentations of love from the twelve Amadis books as models of urbanity and eloquence for those "who wish to learn the rules of good taste" in self-expression. It is reprinted twenty times by 1606.
1577 to 1581 - The first seven of the Italian continuations of Amadis are translated to French.
~1589 - Anthony Munday translates Amadis of Gaul Books I to IV into English from the French, and it enjoys success in Great Britain.
1594 to 1615 - Three more books are translated into French from the German continuation of Amadis. In all, twenty-four books are published in French about Amadis and his descendants, compared to thirteen in Spain.
1612 - Don Quixote de la Mancha is translated into French.
1684 - The opera Amadis by Jean-Baptiste Lully opens in the Paris Opéra, and is later performed at Versailles. King Louis XIV had asked poet Philippe Quinault to compose the libretto. It is a success, tours Europe, and remains in the repertory until the 18th century. Amadis's still-popular monologue "Bois épais" ("Deep woods") is here on YouTube.
1737 to 1781 - Amadis and other chivalric novels are re-edited. They inspire poets and painters in the 1800s, including Eugène Delacroix.