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Harry F. Williams papers

Identifier: MSS 0367

Scope and Content Note

The Harry F. Williams Papers concern the works, awards, and personal notes of the prominent professor of Romance Languages, Harry F. Williams (1911–1998). The collection itself consists of four linear feet of material comprising photocopies of medieval French manuscripts, microfilm, personal notes, diplomas, and reviews and articles written by Williams. The collection is divided into seven main series: I. versions of Les Champions des Dames, II. versions of Les Lais Anonymes, III. versions of Simon de Pouille, IV. miscellaneous manuscripts, V. microfilm, VI. reviews and articles, and VII. diplomas and certificates. Only the last two series and several of the works by Martin le Franc are readily datable, the dates of the remaining manuscripts being consigned to guesswork.

The first series covers, generally, the period of the mid-fifteenth century, and consists of eight different versions of the text of Le Champion des Dames by Martin le Franc.

The second series covers the period of the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, with bulk dates in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries. This consists of four different versions of Les Lais Anonymes, as well as an eighteenth-century transcript of the work.

The third series covers the period of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and consists of three versions of Simon de Pouille.

The fourth series covers the fifteenth century and the period 1955–1977, though much of the material is undated. It includes miscellaneous manuscripts, receipts, note cards, personal notes (both hand-written and photocopies), envelopes, and bibliographies.

The fifth series likely covers the thirteenth to fifteenth century, though almost all material is undated. It consists of microfilm copies of a large number of manuscripts.

The sixth series covers the period 1945–1985, and consists of six bound volumes collecting offprints of Williams’ articles and book reviews.

The final series covers the period 1930–1987, with bulk dates from 1930–1942. Included are certificates and diplomas awarded to Williams by various universities, as well as the Departments of Public Instruction in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The bulk of the material in this collection consists of photocopies or microfilm of medieval manuscripts. The manuscripts are identified by an MS number as well as their location. These are generally from France (Bibliotheque Nationale or “BN,” Arsenal, Grenoble, Lyon); England (Bodleian Library, British Museum or “Brit. Mus.”); Belgium (Bibliotheque Royale or “BR”); Germany (Stadtsbibliothek Bern); and the Vatican (“Palat. Lat.”). Each microfilm reel has been assigned an arbitrary identification number.

The collection provides a wide range of manuscripts that would certainly be of interest to students of medieval French literature and language, as well as those who wish to study the styles and scripts that were common in late-medieval French scriptoria. Indeed, one can see with the manuscript L’Estrif de Fortune et de Foi (folder 36) the process of manuscript production quite clearly, as text was written first and space provided for the later addition of illumination. Though these are only photocopies, most of them are quite clear to read, and provide convenient access to scholars who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see them. Unfortunately, there are a few that are in poor shape (either because the manuscript itself had deteriorated or because there were problems in copying), and some are incomplete. In addition, there are a few (primarily in the microfilm) that were not identified by Williams, and most are dated only very broadly. Many of the folders include personal notes by Williams regarding the manuscripts, though they are often difficult to follow and written primarily in French.

Martin le Franc is the only individual known for certain to have authored some of the manuscripts in the collection. Aside from these, there are several versions of the Lais Anonymes, songs of itinerant Breton jongleurs that were first composed in the twelfth century, and the manuscripts in this collection are versions of these poems that were written over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Many are similar in style to the works of Marie de France (late 12th century), and possess various motifs, such as Latin poetry, romance epics, and both German and Scandinavian legends. There are also several versions of the anonymous Simon de Pouille, a tale of a fictional noble from southern Italy that dates from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This is just one of three largely contemporaneous French epics concerned with Charlemagne’s apocryphal crusade to Jerusalem, epics which were inspired by the very popular Song of Roland (11th century). There are other crusading epics as well, such as the anonymous thirteenth-century Le Pas Saladin, which is based on the pseudo-historic defense of the Holy Land by a small handful of Christians against the Muslim forces of Saladin during the Third Crusade.

The collection also contains several bound volumes of some of his collected work, generally that which had been published in scholarly journals. These were written in English, French, Spanish, and German, and provide a nice reference for researchers interested in medieval French and Spanish literature, as well as providing a cross-reference for some of the manuscripts in the collection. In addition, most of the articles and reviews are short, generally only one to three pages in length.


  • Creation: 13th century–18th century, 1930–1985
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 15th century


Language of Materials

Materials in English, French, Spanish, and German.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Harry F. Williams was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1911. He became interested in the Romance languages at an early age, and spent several years as a student in Europe. There he received a degree in French Studies from the University of Nancy in 1931, and a degree in French Civilization from the University of Paris in 1933. In that same year he also received a B.A. from the University of Delaware. Williams continued his studies at Middlebury College, where he received his Masters degree in 1938, and finally was awarded his doctorate at the University of Michigan in 1942. The mobility he demonstrated as a student continued throughout his professional career. After receiving his doctorate, Williams accepted a position as head of the Department of Languages at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. In 1944 he became an instructor of Spanish at the University of Wisconsin, and two years later he went to UCLA as an instructor of French. From 1963 to 1966 Williams was a professor of Romance Languages at the University of Minnesota, and in 1966 he accepted a position at Florida State University, where he remained until the late 1980s.

During Williams’ long academic career he published several scholarly books, such as Les Lais de Marie de France and Flore et Blanchefleur, contributed articles and reviews to numerous professional journals, and presented papers before national and international organizations. He also traveled to France many times over the course of his career, studying and photocopying manuscripts from archives in Paris, Grenoble, Lyon, Brussels, Arsenal, and numerous other towns. His contribution to the study of medieval Literature has been widely recognized, and in 1987 he was honored with the designation of Professor Emeritus by Florida State University. Williams retired from teaching and moved to Oxford, Pennsylvania, where he remained until his death on March 4, 1998.

Some figures of medieval French literature who were prominent in his work, such as Marie de France (late 12th century), had also been well-known to scholars in the field. Many others, however, were more obscure individuals whose lives and works Williams helped bring to light. One of these, Martin le Franc, was the subject of several studies by Williams, who collected numerous copies of his work. Martin le Franc (c. 1410–1461) was born in Normandy, and studied in Paris, taking clerical orders and eventually becoming Prevôt of Luzanne and a canon in Geneva. He traveled widely and made many connections, serving as secretary for Pope Nicholas V (1447–1455), and the anti-pope Felix V (1439–1449). In addition, he was in the service of the dukes of Savoy, and frequently sought the patronage of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy (1419–1467).

Martin is known for two works in particular, Le Champion des Dames (c. 1440–1442) and L’Estrif de Fortune et Vertu (c. 1447–1448), both of which were dedicated to Duke Philip, and both of which were moralistic and didactic in nature. Le Champion, a work of over 24,000 lines, recounted the deeds and virtues of numerous historical and mythological women (including Joan of Arc), while frequently digressing into invective against the contemporary nobility, corruption in government, and excessive luxury at the royal court. His defense of women was inspired in response to the satirical view of women taken in the Roman de la Rose, and his arguments addressed the currents of the “Querrelle des Femmes,” that so interested fifteenth- century society. Les Champions was copied several times throughout the fifteenth century, and was first set to print in 1503 by Galliot du Pr‚ in Paris. L’Estrif presents an allegorical debate between Fortune and Virtue before the arbitrator Reason (all personified as women), over which of these two ought to guide the spirit of the world. In its form, this work too addresses the troubles and disorders of mid-fifteenth century France, raises questions of determinism in man, and relies heavily upon Petrarch and writers of classical antiquity. Martin’s writings were not extremely popular in his own day; indeed, the court of Philip of Burgundy received Les Champions with some indifference. However, his work experienced a small revival during the sixteenth century.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of French Literature. Joyce M.H. Reid, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. Peter France, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Tobin, Prudence Mary O’Hara. Les Lais Anonymes des XIIe et XIIIe Siècles. Genève: Libraire Droz, 1976. Williams, Harry F. “Old French Lives of Saint Barbara” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 119 (1975) 156-85.


4 linear foot (4 boxes and oversize)


The Harry F. Williams Papers concern the works, awards, and personal notes of the prominent professor of Romance Languages, Harry F. Williams (1911–1998).


Gift of Harry F. Williams, 1990, 1998.

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-4: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)


Processed by Arthur Siegel, May 1998. Encoded by Natalie Baur, March 2010. Further encoding by Lauren Connolly, February 2016, and Tiffany Saulter, May 2016.

Finding aid for Harry F. Williams papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 March 23
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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