In two histories of Brabant written in the first half of the fifteenth century, a knight called Olivier of Leefdaal quite prominently makes his entry in Middle Dutch literature as a companion of Geoffrey I, duke of Brabant (†1139). The two texts, the Cornicke van Brabant (Chronicle of Brabant) by Hennen van Merchtenen (1415) and the Historia Brabantiae diplomatica by Petrus de Thimo (c. 1425) have a parallel narrative development, but are not directly dependent on each other. They must go back separately to a common antecedent, a fourteenth-century Middle Dutch romance, of which only a few fragments have been preserved. These remnants do not give a definite clue as to whether the duke, the duke and Olivier or (most probably) Olivier himself were the main character(s) of the epic. After the first decades of the fifteenth century, Olivier’s role in duke Geoffrey’s life apparently had become irrelevant or perhaps even questionable: according to modern historiography at least, even the character of Olivier of Leefdaal itself does not have a real counterpart in twelfth century history. But after four centuries of absence, the fictional Brabant knight makes a surprising reappearance in 1835 as the hero of an autonomous prose narrative published anonymously in L’Émancipation, a patriotic newspaper of early independent Belgium. This Pélérinage d’Olivier Leefdaele concentrates on Olivier’s quest for his duke, who was held hostage by the king of Armenia, which episode was also the main focus in Merchtenen’s and De Thimo’s versions. At the very beginning of his ‘chronicle’ the author claims that, except for maybe some details, his text is a genuine translation from an ‘old manuscript’. The questions we address in this article are: the identity of the author, his purpose in regard to the contemporary political context and to his own career as a writer, and the (medieval or other) sources on which he based this ‘cultural appropriation’ of a medieval pseudo-historical ‘hero’.
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