Illumination from a manuscript of the Roman de Renart, end of the 13th century
This article is about the anthropomorphic red fox. For the car manufacturer, see Reynard Motorsport. For the ships of the Royal Navy, see HMS Reynard.

Reynard (French: Roman de Renart; German: Reineke-Zyklus; Dutch: Reinaertcyclus) is the subject of a literary cycle of allegorical French, Dutch, English, and German fables largely concerned with Reynard, an anthropomorphic red fox and trickster figure.


Etymology of the name

Theories about the origin of the name Reynard are:

  • From the Germanic man's name Reginhard, which came from 'regin' = "the divine powers of the old Germanic religion" and "hard": "made hard by the gods", but with the disuse of the old Germanic religion was later likely interpreted as "rain-hard" meaning "staying steady under a rain of blows from weapons in battle" or similar.
  • From the Germanic man's name Reginhard (later condensed to Reinhard), which comes from 'regin' = "counsel" and 'harti' = "strong", denoting someone who is wise, clever, or resourceful.

The traditional French word for "fox" was goupil from Latin vulpecula. However, mentioning the fox was considered bad luck among farmers. Because of the popularity of the Reynard stories, renard was often used as a euphemism, so that today renard is the standard French word for "fox" and goupil is now dialectal or archaic.

In medieval European folklore and literature

A studious fox in a monk's cowl, in the margins of a Book of Hours, Utrecht, c 1460

The figure of Reynard is thought to have originated in Alsace-Lorraine folklore from where it spread to France, the Low Countries, and Germany.[1] An extensive treatment of the character is the Old French Le Roman de Renart written by Pierre de Saint-Cloud around 1170, which sets the typical setting. Reynard has been summoned to the court of king Noble, or Leo, the Lion, to answer charges brought against him by Isengrim the Wolf. Other anthropomorphic animals, including Bruin the Bear, Baldwin the Ass, Tibert (Tybalt) the Cat, all attempt one stratagem or another. The stories typically involve satire whose usual butts are the aristocracy and the clergy, making Reynard a peasant-hero character.[1] The story of the preaching fox found in the Reynard literature was used in church art by the Catholic Church as propaganda against the Lollards.[2] Reynard's principal castle, Maupertuis, is available to him whenever he needs to hide away from his enemies. Some of the tales feature Reynard's funeral, where his enemies gather to deliver maudlin elegies full of insincere piety, and which feature Reynard's posthumous revenge. Reynard's wife Hermeline appears in the stories, but plays little active role, although in some versions she remarries when Reynard is thought dead, thereby becoming one of the people he plans revenge upon. Isengrim (Alternate French spelling : Ysengrin) is Reynard's most frequent antagonist and foil, and generally ends up outwitted, though he occasionally gets revenge.

Reynard appears first in the medieval Latin poem Ysengrimus, a long Latin mock-epic written ca. 1148-1153 by the poet Nivardus in Ghent, that collects a great store of Reynard's adventures. He also puts in an early appearance in a number of Latin sequences by the preacher Odo of Cheriton. Both of these early sources seem to draw on a pre-existing store of popular culture featuring the character. In 1174, the first branch or chapter of the Roman de Renart appears, written by Pierre de St. Cloud (though in all French editions it is designated as Branch II). Pierre wrote a sequel in 1179 (called Branch I) but between that date and after many French authors composed their own adventures for Renart li goupil (the fox). There is also the text Reinhard Fuchs by Heinrich der Glïchezäre.

Pierre de St. Cloud opens his work on the fox by situating it within the larger tradition of epic poetry, the fabliaux and Arthurian romance:

This would roughly translate as:

Seigneurs, oï avez maint conte
Que maint conterre vous raconte
Conment Paris ravi Elaine,
Le mal qu'il en ot et la paine,
De Tristan que la Chievre fist
Qui assez bellement en dist
Et fabliaus et chançons de geste
Romanz d'Yvain et de sa beste
Maint autre conte par la terre.
Mais onques n'oïstes la guerre
Qui tant fu dure de gran fin,
Entre Renart et Ysengrin.

Lords, you have heard many tales,
That many tellers have told to you.
How Paris took Helen,
The evil and the pain he felt
Of Tristan that la Chevre
Wrote rather beautifully about;
And fabliaux and epics;
Of the Romance of Yvain and his beast
And many others told in this land
But never have you heard about the war
That was difficult and lengthy
Between Renart and Ysengrin

A 13th-century Middle Dutch version of the story (Van den vos Reynaerde, About Reynard the Fox), is also made up of rhymed verses (the same AA BB scheme). Like Pierre, very little is known of the author, Willem, other than the description by the copyist in the first sentences:

This would roughly translate as:

Willem, die Madoc maecte,
Daer hi dicken omme waecte,
Hem vernoyde so haerde
Dat die avonture van Reynaerde
In dietsche onghemaket bleven
(Die Arnout niet hevet vulscreven)
Dat hi die vijte van Reynaerde dede soucken
Ende hise na den walschen boucken
In dietsche dus hevet begonnen.

Willem who has made Madoc,
and suffered many a sleepless night in doing so,
that the adventures of Reynaert
had not been translated in Dutch
(because Arnout had not completed his work).
So he has researched the facts of Reynard's deeds
and in the same way as the French books
has he written it in Dutch.

"Madoc" is probably another one of Willem's works, but is lost.

Illustration from Ghetelen in Reinke de Vos (1498)

Geoffrey Chaucer used Reynard material in the Canterbury Tales; in "The Nun's Priest's Tale", Reynard appears as "Rossel" and an ass as "Brunel". In 1481 William Caxton printed The Historie of Reynart the Foxe, which was translated from a Middle Dutch version of the fables.[1] Also in the 1480s, the Scottish poet Robert Henryson devised a highly sophisticated development of Reynardian material as part of his Morall Fabillis in the sections known as The Talking of the Tod. Hans van Ghetelen, a printer of Incunabula in Lübeck printed an early German version called Reinke de Vos in 1498. It was translated to Latin and other languages, which made the tale popular across Europe. Reynard is also referenced in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the third hunt.

Modern treatment

Rénert the Fox

Rénert the Fox was published in 1872 by Michel Rodange, a Luxembourgish author. An epic satirical work, an adaptation of the traditional Dutch fox epic to a setting in Luxembourg, it is known for its insightful analysis of the unique characteristics of the people of Luxembourg, using regional and sub-regional dialects to depict the fox and his companions.

Reynard the Fox in an 1869 children's book.

Antisemitic version

Van den vos Reynaerde, (About Reynard the Fox) was an anti-semitic children's story, written by the Dutch-Belgian Robert van Genechten, and named after the mediaeval Dutch poem. It was first published in 1937 in Nieuw-Nederland, a monthly of the Dutch national socialist movement NSB. In 1941 it was published as a book.

The story features rhinoceroses, neushoorn in Dutch (literally : "nose horn"), referring to the perceived typical Jewish nose. One of them is called Jodocus, which refers to the Dutch word for Jew: jood, pronounced somewhat like the "Iod-" in Iodocus. The story also features a donkey, Boudewijn, occupying the throne. "Boudewijn" happened to be the Dutch name of the contemporary Belgian crown prince. This is a reference to the Belgian Nazi leader Léon Degrelle, leader of the Rex-movement ("Rex" is Latin for "King"). In the story, Reynard rounds up and kills most of the rhinoceroses, including Jodocus.[3]

Van den vos Reynaerde was also released as a cartoon film by Nederlandfilm in 1943.[4] The film was mostly paid with German money. While lavishly-budgeted, it was never presented publicly, possibly because most Dutch Jews had already been transported to the concentration camps and the film came too late to be useful as a propaganda piece, possibly also because the Dutch collaborationist Department of People's Information, Service and Arts objected to the fact that the fox, an animal traditionally seen as "villainous", should be used as a hero.[5] In 1991, parts of the film were found again in the German Bundesarchiv. In 2005, more pieces were found, and the film has been restored. The reconstructed film was shown during the 2006 Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht and during the KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival in 2008, in the Netherlands.[6]

Other adaptations, versions and references

In movies and television series

  • Ladislas Starevich's 1937 puppet-animated feature film, Le Roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) featured the Reynard character as the protagonist.
  • The documentary film "The Black Fox" (1962) parallels Hitler's rise to power with the Reynard fable.
  • In 1985, a French animated series, "Moi Renart" (I Reynard) was created which was loosely based on Reynard's tales. In it, the original animals are anthropomorphic humanoid animals and the action occurs in modern Paris with other anthropomorphic animals in human roles. Reynard is a young mischievous fox with a little monkey pet called Marmouset (an original creation). He sets off into Paris in order to discover the city, get a job and visit his grumpy and stingy uncle, Isengrim, who is a deluxe car salesman, and his reasonable yet dreamy she-wolf aunt, Hersent. Reynard meets Hermeline, a young and charming motorbike-riding vixen journalist. He immediately falls in love with her and tries to win her heart during several of the episodes. As Reynard establishes himself in Paris, he creates a small company that shares his name which offers to do any job for anyone, from impersonating female maids to opera singers. To help with this, he is a master of disguise and is a bit of a kleptomaniac, which gets him into trouble from police chief Chantecler (a rooster) who often sends cat police inspector Tybalt after him to thwart his plans.
  • In 2005, a Luxembourg-based animation studio released an all CGI film titled "Le Roman de Renart", based on the same fable.

In literature

The surrender of Reynard the Fox, by Leonard van Munster.
  • Goethe dealt with Reynard in his fable Reineke Fuchs.[7]
  • In Friedrich Nietzsche's The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche uses Reynard the Fox as an example of a dialectician.[8]
  • Tybalt in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is named after the cat in Reynard the Fox
  • Reynard the Fox makes a short appearance at the end of The Magician King.

In art

  • Dutch modern artist Leonard van Munster made an installation titled "The surrender of Reynard the Fox".

In music

A one-act chamber opera-ballet by Igor Stravinsky, written in 1916, with text by the composer based on Russian folk tales from the collection by Alexander Afanasyev.

In advertising

Bevo, a popular U.S. brand of near beer, advertised with Reynard the Fox in the 1910s and 1920s.

In comics

Reynard is portrayed as a character in Gunnerkrigg Court as Reynardine, a fox demon who can possess "anything with eyes", including living beings and, in his current form, a plush wolf toy. Gunnerkrigg Court also has Ysengrin, an Ysengrim analog. Reynard is portrayed as a character in Fables, as a smart and cunning fox that is loyal to Snow White and Fabletown.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal


  1. ^ a b c Briggs, Asa (ed.) (1989) The Longman Encyclopedia, Longman, ISBN 0-582-91620-8
  2. ^ Benton, Janetta Rebold (1 April 1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings. Abbeville Press. pp. 83. ISBN 978-0789201829. 
  3. ^ Reynard the Fox and the Jew Animal by Egbert Barten and Gerard Groeneveld
  4. ^ Reynard the Fox and the Jew Animal
  5. ^ Reynard the Fox and the Jew Animal, page 6
  6. ^ (Dutch) "Animaties over oorlog op filmfestival". ANP. 
  7. ^ Reineke Fuchs (Goethe) in German wikipedia
  8. ^ Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche, p. 13

External links

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  • Reynard — m English: of Norman origin, derived from a Germanic personal name composed of the elements ragin advice, decision + hard hardy, brave, strong. In French, renard (derived from this name) has become the generic name for a fox, as a result of the… …   First names dictionary

  • Reynard — [ren′ərd, rā′nərd, rā′närd΄] n. [OFr Renard, Renart < OHG Reginhart < Gmc * ragina, counsel, judgment (< IE base * reĝ , to put in order > RIGHT) + hard, bold, brave: see HARD] 1. the fox in the medieval cycle of fables Reynard the… …   English World dictionary

  • Reynard — Rey nard, n. An appelation applied after the manner of a proper name to the fox. Same as {Renard}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • reynard — quasi proper name for a fox, c.1300, from O.Fr. Renart, name of the fox in Roman de Renart, from O.H.G. personal name Reginhart, lit. counsel brave. The first element is related to RECKON (Cf. reckon), the second to HARD (Cf. hard) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Reynard — Recorded in over forty several spelling forms including Reynard, Renard, Reynault, Renardin, Regenhardin, and Reintjes, this interesting surname is of Germanic origins, but is now widely recorded in England, Germany and France in its different… …   Surnames reference

  • reynard — Renard Ren ard (r?n ?rd), n. [F. renard the fox, the name of the fox in a celebrated epic poem, and of German origin, G. Reinhard, OHG. Reginhard, properly, strong in counsel; regin counsel (akin to Goth. ragin) + hart hard. See {Hard}.] A fox;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Reynard — /ray nahrd, neuhrd, ren euhrd/, n. a name given to the fox, originally in the medieval beast epic Reynard the Fox. Also, Renard. * * * …   Universalium

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