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The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England

The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 604
  • Book Info
    The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Calin develops a synthesis of medieval French and English literature that will be especially useful for classroom study.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5984-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    French was for three centuries after 1066 the language of the upper classes in England. Or was it? In recent years a fascinating controversy has surfaced concerning who actually spoke French and for how long, a controversy little known outside specialized circles of philologists and historians of the language.

    According to the old view, argued most vigorously by Legge (1941–2, 1950, 1980), French was used not only in any number of areas – informal correspondence, semi-formal and formal official correspondence, wills, deeds, writs, petitions, bills, proclamations, epitaphs, Privy Seal and Signet documents, the baronial courts, diplomacy, mercantile and municipal...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 19-21)

      One finds quite often in scholarly writing, even today, the idea that the Anglo-Normans were a grave, sober, practical, brutal, pious, and unimaginative people, and that their literature correspondingly manifests traits of gravity, seriousness, didacticism, and religion; above all that it is not a literature of poetry and the imagination. This is a cultural stereotype, perhaps even a racial one, that originated in the nineteenth century when English philology and English literary history were struggling to find their place as academic disciplines; at this time jingoistic nationalism accompanied the rise of modern language studies.

      It is true that, quantitatively, the...

    • I. Romance
      (pp. 22-87)

      Among the vernacular writers associated with the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine – a circle that includes Wace, Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Beroul, Thomas, Bernart de Ventadorn, and Bertran de Born, to cite the most eminent – Marie stands out. We know practically nothing about her except that she came from France or the Ile de France, that she lived and wrote in England, and that she frequented royalty. She proves to be, without doubt, the most accomplished woman writer of the Middle Ages in the West.

      Marie’s opus comprises three sorts of texts: a collection of fables,...

    • II. Vitae
      (pp. 88-116)

      As stated earlier in this book, I do not agree with the characterization of the Anglo-Normans and their literature as grave, practical, and didactic vis-à-vis their brothers and cousins on the Continent and the native Anglo-Saxon population. Nonetheless, it is true that perhaps the most successful literary genre cultivated by the French in England, after romance, was the saint’s life. The two narrative forms developed concurrently with more than a little cross influence.

      Some two hundred and forty verse lives in Old French have survived, devoted to one hundred and one saints. Of the two hundred and fifty extant manuscripts,...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 117-120)

      Anglo-Norman romance had a powerful impact upon romance writing in Middle English. Vernacular English poets relied upon continental as well as insular French models, to be sure; nonetheless, the vast majority of Anglo-Norman texts were translated or freely adapted, a number of them in several versions. The English romancers may well have turned to insular French sources first, especially when they celebrated insular heroes. It has also been proposed that the English romancers adopted the ideological message and the spirit of their Anglo-Norman predecessors (Crane 1986).

      The texts I have discussed in this section are representative of the corpus as...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 123-125)

      Most histories of English literature do not pay special attention to the Anglo-Norman phenomenon. A number that do work around the fact that, after all, the central focus of literature in French was located on the Continent. However, aristocratic and royal patrons of literature in English, and authors practising the English vernacular, were as aware of what was being written in France as they were of French literary practice closer to home. French writers were invited to England; French manuscripts were collected on the Continent; continental books were read and translated. The very fact that Englishmen, whether of Norman or...

    • 1. Huon de Bordeaux
      (pp. 126-137)

      One of the most fascinating anomalies of both Anglo-Norman and Middle English literature is the absence of epic, epic in the tradition ofchanson de geste. It is true that a number of the oldest and greatest FrenchchansonsRoland(in its first version),Guillaume, Gormond et Isembard, andLe Pèlerinage de Charlemagne– survive only in single Anglo-Norman manuscripts. This proves that, in twelfth- and thirteenth-century England, a public existed forchansons de geste, a conservative public that esteemed texts gone out of fashion on the Continent. Still, of the seventy-five to one hundred extantchansons, none is...

    • 2. The Prose Lancelot
      (pp. 138-160)

      Marie de France, Beroul, Thomas, and Chrétien de Troyes had some influence on medieval literature in English. Two of Marie’slais(LanvalandFresne) were adapted into Middle English, as were Thomas’sTristanand Chrétien’sYvain, and probably also theConte du Graal. Nonetheless, the impact of the great early classics in Old French verse proved to be no greater than that of their successors. The unknown poets ofFloire et Blancheflor, Partonopeus de Blois, andGuillaume de Palerne, for example, were as well and as assiduously translated as Marie and Chrétien. The Anglo-Norman verse romance and works in the...

    • 3. Le Roman de la Rose
      (pp. 161-183)

      Le Roman de la Roseby Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun has survived to our century in some three hundred extant manuscripts. It also enjoyed twenty-one printed editions from 1481 to 1538. TheRosewas translated partially or in toto once in Dutch, twice in Italian, and three times in English. One of the English versions is attributed to Chaucer. The original text was also revised a number of times in French; one of these is arifacimentoin prose by Jean Molinet, and another is an edition and modernization by Clément Marot. Jean de Meun and Guillaume...

    • 4. Guillaume de Digulleville
      (pp. 184-197)

      Guillaume de Digulleville16represents an extraordinary anomaly. He was perceived to be a major figure in his own lifetime and for a good century at least after his death, and his impact on late medieval letters, in both France and England, was immense. Yet in modern times and in modern scholarly circles, he has never been taken seriously nor received the scrutiny or the rehabilitation that Machaut and even the grands rhétoriqueurs have come to enjoy. The critical attention paid to him is due almost uniquely to Anglicists, who sought him out because of Lydgate and, more recently, to art...

    • 5. Machaut
      (pp. 198-228)

      Of those who came after the authors ofLe Roman de la Rose, only Guillaume de Machaut (1300–77) succeeded in renewing the love-allegory genre and illustrating it in a major way. Machaut is best known as one of the greatest composers in the Middle Ages; he was a master ofars novawho set to musicballades, rondeaux, virelais, lais, and a variety of sacred compositions, including theMesse de Nostre Dame. He was also a major lyric poet, who practiced theforme fixegenres cited above; and, in the period of his full maturity, extending from 1330 to...

    • 6. Froissart
      (pp. 229-249)

      Of the continental authors who visited Great Britain and actually dwelt there for a time, none is more important than Jean Froissart. A native of Hainault, he served Philippa, Edward III’s beloved queen, from 1361 to 1366 and again in 1367 and 1368. Being Philippa’s ‘secretary’ may simply have meant a sinecure for the recognized, rising court poet. During this period Jean made friends and did extensive travelling, including a six-month’s voyage to Scotland, where he spent fifteen weeks in the entourage of the French-speaking King David II.

      That he knew Chaucer is probable but by no means a certainty....

    • 7. Chartier
      (pp. 250-261)

      Charles d’Orléans and François Villon are generally recognized to have been France’s greatest poets of the fifteenth century. Few would challenge the modern consensus. However, the fifteenth-century public envisaged matters quite differently. Leaving out of account the grands rhétoriqueurs, the late medieval and Renaissance public would no doubt have claimed that the premier writer of the century was Alain Chartier (c. 1385–1430). Chartier, who served as secretary, notary, and ambassador to the exiled Dauphin who became Charles VII, cultivated two modes of expression. One is moral and political, embodied in prose treatises in Latin and French pleading for reform...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 262-266)

      The seven works or groups of works examined in this section –Huon de Bordeaux, theProse Lancelot, Le Roman de la Rose, Guillaume de Digulleville’s sacred allegories, Guillaume de Machaut’s secular tales of love, Foissart’sChroniques, and Chartier’sLa Belle Dame sans mercy– were all highly esteemed in the Middle Ages. They were copied, imitated, revised, rewritten, provided with sequels, and translated into foreign tongues. They had a major impact on French literature and on English literature. They form part of the French cultural legacy so important to the development of a renewed native English culture in the...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 269-272)

      Much attention has been lavished on the social context of Chaucer and his circle. That Chaucer belonged to and epitomized a current of cultural and literary activity is certain. Associated with him are John Gower and also Clanvowe, Stury, Clifford, Strode, Scogan, Bukton, La Vache, and Usk. Later, following in the Chaucerian tradition, as disciples of the master, are to be ranged Hoccleve, Lydgate, Roos, and the authors of theFlower and the Leaf, theAssembly of Ladies, and theCourt of Sapience, among others. These are the English Chaucerians; the Scottish Makars form another more vital and original offshoot....

    • I. Chaucer
      (pp. 273-370)

      Edward III and Richard II were French-speaking monarchs, presiding over partially francophone courts, French in taste and ambition. Their courts, especially Richard’s, were a focus for ceremony, pageantry, leisure, luxury, and extravagance, rivalling Paris yet always based on the Paris example and with Paris in mind. These Plantagenet kings of London (and Bordeaux) were also perfectly licit claimants to the throne of France against the Valois kings of Paris. Froissart and Granson were, for a period, honoured guests. Chandos Herald, the old Duke of Lancaster, and Gower wrote in French, and a French of distinction.

      Chaucer himself married the French-speaking...

    • II. Gower
      (pp. 371-398)

      John Gower is the second most important court poet of the Ricardian Age. In some ways he epitomizes the age more than Chaucer does; he certainly epitomizes the theme of this book. Gower is notable, over all other authors of the century, for trilingual achievement in the world of letters. In French he wroteMirour de l’Omme, Cinkante Balades, andTraitié pour essampler les Amantz marietz; in LatinVox ClamantisandCronica tripertita; in EnglishConfessio AmantisandTo Henry IV, in Praise of Peace. In addition to the Latin opus – a significant accomplishment even though not in the...

    • III. Hoccleve
      (pp. 399-418)

      Thomas Hoccleve and John Lydgate were the self-proclaimed disciples of Chaucer and Gower, especially Chaucer; they belonged to the same courtly school. Active writers from 1411 to 1422 (and Lydgate for long after that), they had similar noble patrons and similar literary concerns, and may have been rivals. For a brief period Hoccleve propagated in verse the court position on a number of issues; he was a sort of unofficial poet laureate and hisRegement of Princes, extant in forty-four manuscripts, proved to be one of the six most popular poems of the fifteenth century. However, he never came close...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 419-424)

      Chaucer, his friends, and his disciples form a distinct current in the literature of the English Middle Ages. For quality and lasting achievement, their current is rightly considered to be the dominant one. To a greater or lesser extent, Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, and a number of others are Chaucerians, influenced by the precept and example of Geoffrey Chaucer and writing in conjunction with him or in his wake. It is the claim of this book that the shape of English poetry in this line is determined also by literature from France, more particularly by a tradition of lyrical, narrative, and...


    • I. Verse Romance
      (pp. 427-497)

      The question of Middle English romance is one of the most discussed and most controversial in all of medieval studies. Widely divergent, highly challenging theses have been offered concerning the nature of the genre, its origins, its constituent traits, and its public. Therefore, prior to literary analysis of seven romances –Ywain and Gawain, Sir Degaré, The Earl of Toulouse, Floris and Blauncheflur, William of Palerne, Amis and Amiloun, andAthelston– I shall reconsider the romance genre as a whole, focusing on the comparison with Old French romance, the generic and textual model for the English writers of chivalric...

    • II. Prose Romance
      (pp. 498-512)

      Since English prose romance exceeds the chronological parameters of my book – from the twelfth century toc. 1420 – this chapter shall be brief. Caxton and Malory are, however, of great importance to my theme: Malory’sMorte Darthuris a supreme aesthetic accomplishment; and the French connection of both men represents one more, and by no means the least significant, literary current from the Continent transmitted to England. The mode of transmission shows remarkable affinities with the phenomenon of courtly adaptation in verse romance and with the adaptation of the French court poem by Chaucer and his school. The...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 513-520)

    The record of vernacular literature in England extends through the entire Middle Ages; it forms a continuum, from the Anglo-Saxon period to the time of Humanism and the Reform. During the first three centuries after the Conquest most of the vernacular literature is composed in French, not English. Two languages were spoken. In addition to the native English, Anglo-Norman French served the upper classes, clerks, merchants, and the civil service. It enjoyed class prestige, embodying the discourse of the masters; with a European vogue, permitting England to benefit from and participate in European culture as a whole, it came to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 521-526)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 527-570)
  13. Index
    (pp. 571-587)