Boundaries in Medieval Romance 184384155X, 9781843841555

A wide-ranging collection on one of the most interesting features of medieval romance. Medieval romance frequently, and

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Boundaries in Medieval Romance
 184384155X, 9781843841555

Table of contents :
Preface vii
Notes on Contributors viii
Abbreviations x
Introduction / Neil Cartlidge 1
When Romance Comes True / Helen Cooper 13
The Curious History of the Matter of England / Rosalind Field 29
How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? / Phillipa Hardman and Marianne Ailes 43
The "Sege of Melayne"; or, How the French Screwed Up and "Oure Brettons" Rescued Them / Elizabeth Berlings 57
Romance Society and its Discontents: Romance Motifs and Romance Consequence's in "The Song of Dermot and the Normans in Ireland" / Simon Meecham-Jones 71
England, Ireland and Iberia in "Olyuer of Castylle": The View from Burgundy / Elizabeth Williams 93
The Alliterative "Siege of Jerusalem": The Poetics of Destruction / Arlyn Diamond 103
The Peace of the Roads: Authority and "auctoritas" in Medieval Romance / Robert Rouse 115
The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance / Laura Ashe 129
The Courteous Warrior: Epic, Romance and Comedy in "Boeve de Haumtone" / Judith Weiss 149
Rewriting Divine Favour / Ivana Djordjevic 161
Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance / Corinne Saunders 175
Index 191

Citation preview

Boundaries in Medieval Romance

Medieval romance frequently, and perhaps characteristically, capitalises on the dramatic and suggestive possibilities implicit in boundaries – not only the geographical, political and cultural frontiers that medieval romances imagine and imply, but also more metaphorical demarcations. It is these boundaries, as they appear in insular romances circulating in English and French, which the essays in this volume address. They include the boundary between reality and fictionality; boundaries between different literary traditions, modes and cultures; and boundaries between different kinds of experience or perception, especially the ‘altered states’ associated with sickness, magic, the supernatural, or the divine. Dr Neil Cartlidge teaches in the Department of English at the University of Durham.

Studies in Medieval Romance ISSN 1479–9308

Series Editors Corinne Saunders Roger Dalrymple This series aims to provide a forum for critical studies of the medieval romance, a genre which plays a crucial role in literary history, clearly reveals medieval secular concerns, and raises complex questions regarding social structures, human relationships, and the psyche. Its scope extends from the early middle ages into the Renaissance period, and although its main focus is on English literature, comparative studies are welcomed. Proposals or queries should be sent in the first instance to one of the addresses given below; all submissions will receive prompt and informed consideration. Dr Corinne Saunders, Department of English, University of Durham, Durham, DH1 3AY Boydell & Brewer Limited, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF Volumes already published I: The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance, Carol F. Heffernan, 2003 II: Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England, edited by Corinne Saunders, 2005 III: The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance, Robert Allen Rouse, 2005 IV: Guy of Warwick: Icon and Ancestor, edited by Alison Wiggins and Rosalind Field, 2007 V: The Sea and Medieval English Literature, Sebastian I. Sobecki, 2007

Boundaries in Medieval Romance

Edited by neil cartlidge


©  Contributors 2008 All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner First published 2008 D. S. Brewer, Cambridge ISBN  978–1–84384–155–5

D. S. Brewer is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mount Hope Ave, Rochester, NY 14604, USA website: A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library This publication is printed on acid-free paper Printed in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, King’s Lynn

Contents Preface


Notes on Contributors




Introduction Neil Cartlidge


1. When Romance Comes True Helen Cooper


2. The Curious History of the Matter of England Rosalind Field


3. How English Are the English Charlemagne Romances? Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman



The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance; or, How the French Screwed Up and ‘Oure Bretonns’ Rescued Them Elizabeth Berlings Romance Society and its Discontents: Romance Motifs and Romance Consequences in The Song of Dermot and the Normans in Ireland Simon Meecham-Jones



6. England, Ireland and Iberia in Olyuer of Castylle: The View from Burgundy Elizabeth Williams

71 93

7. The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction Arlyn Diamond


8. The Peace of the Roads: Authority and auctoritas in Medieval Romance Robert Rouse


9. The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance Laura Ashe


10. ‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone Judith Weiss


11. Rewriting Divine Favour Ivana Djordjević


12. Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance Corinne Saunders




in memoriam W.R.J. Barron

Preface In April 2004, the 9th Biennial Medieval Romance Conference took place at Newman House, the historic heart of University College Dublin. Conferences in this series are traditionally focused on insular (as opposed to continental) romance, especially texts outside the Arthurian tradition, but they otherwise accommodate a broad range of approaches to medieval romance; they tend to define insular romance without regard to the the language in which it was written (whether Middle English, Old French or Latin); and they also foster consideration of a diverse set of intellectual contexts. The 2004 conference in Dublin was the first time that any conference in the series had been held outside Britain; and the crossing of the particular boundary presented by the Irish Sea seemed to create a distinct intellectual stimulus that was clearly evident in the papers presented in Dublin. Not only did the depiction of Ireland in medieval romance feature in several of the papers given: but also boundaries, and the crossing of boundaries, seemed to feature remarkably often in the approaches taken to the texts that were considered. As a result, it was relatively easy to define a theme for this Proceedings volume, which (as is traditional with volumes in this series) represents a developed version of the presentations and discussions that took place during the conference itself. Numerous debts were incurred in the organization of the conference. I am grateful to the Royal Irish Academy for agreeing to host the plenary lecture given by Helen Cooper (printed here as Chapter 1), in concurrence with one of the Academy’s own sessions; and to the School of English at University College Dublin for providing some financial support. I should also thank Margaret Robson, Frances McCormack, Veronika Hinterdorfer and Michelle Piazza for so cheerfully volunteering their assistance both before and during the conference itself. For assistance with the editing of this volume, I am grateful to the staff at Boydell & Brewer, particularly Caroline Palmer and Pru Harrison. I also owe an extensive debt to Corinne Saunders, both for her work as one of the general editors of the Studies in Medieval Romance series, and for all her help and advice since my move to Durham. I must also thank Laura Ashe for moral support and helpful criticism supplied at very short notice. The tolerance, good humour and email-companionship of all the contributors has made my work on this book a real pleasure. Closer to home, my partner Kate helped me with some perceptive proof-reading and equally perceptive advice; while Ian and Sue Thomas and Mrs Muriel Twiggs generously created time for me to work by giving up a considerable amount of time of their own. Finally, I should like to mention my daughters, Carensa and Imogen Thomas – neither of whom has been any help whatsoever, but whose company I am very happy to have had.

Notes on Contributors Marianne Ailes is a lecturer at Bristol University, having recently moved from Wadham College, Oxford. She is the editor of the crusade chronicle, Ambroise’s Estoire de la guerre sainte and has published a book on the Chanson de Roland. She has also published on chronicle and chansons de geste in various books and journals including Medium Ævum, Romania, French Studies and Reading Medieval Studies. Laura Ashe was a Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, and is now Lecturer in English at Queen Mary, University of London. She has published various articles on secular and religious literatures, focusing on the interplay of texts with historical, cultural and legal contexts. Her book Fiction and History in England, 1066–1200 came out with Cambridge University Press in 2007. Elizabeth Berlings is an Associate Professor at St. John’s University, New York, with an M.Phil. from New York University. She has presented numerous papers on medieval romances, and also on Chaucer, Marlowe and Shakespeare. In 2006 she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a participant in a summer institute at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Neil Cartlidge is a lecturer at the University of Durham. He is the author of two books, Medieval Marriage: Literary Approaches 1100–1300 (1997) and The Owl and the Nightingale: Text and Translation (2001) and of articles in various academic journals including the Journal of Medieval Latin, the Yearbook of English Studies, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, Medium Ævum, Viator and Studies in the Age of Chaucer. Helen Cooper is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge. Her publications include The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (2004). Arlyn Diamond is Professor Emerita at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the co-editor of Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts (2000). Her work is centered on the social meanings of romance. Ivana Djordjević is an Assistant Professor in the Liberal Arts College at Concordia University, Montreal. She has published on Anglo-Norman and Middle English romance and on the poetics of rewriting, especially translation; she is the co-editor, with Jennifer Fellows, of a forthcoming volume of essays on medieval versions of the story of Bevis of Hampton.

Rosalind Field is Reader in Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her publications include ‘Romance in England, 1066-1400’ in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (1999) and ‘Romance’ in the forthcoming Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, Vol.1, ed. Roger Ellis (2007). She has recently co-edited Guy of Warwick: Icon and Ancestor (2007). Phillipa Hardman is a Reader in Middle English Literature at the University of Reading. She has published on medieval romance, manuscript studies, Chaucer, Lydgate and the Gawain-poet. Simon Meecham-Jones is an affiliated lecturer for the English Faculty at Cambridge, and a research fellow for the Medieval and Early Modern Research Centre at University of Wales, Swansea. He has published on Chaucer, Gower, twelfth-century Latin lyrics and co-edited (with Ruth Kennedy) Writers of the Reign of Henry II (2006). Robert Rouse has taught at the Universities of Bristol, Durham and Nottingham in the United Kingdom, and is currently a Faculty member in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia in Canada. A medievalist whose interests range across both Old and Middle English literary culture, his recent research has addressed issues of historiography, nationalism and geography within the romance narratives of medieval England, resulting in the publication of The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance (2005) and The Medieval Quest for Arthur (2005). Corinne Saunders is Professor of English at the University of Durham and English editor of the journal Medium Ævum. She is also the author of The Forest of Medieval Romance (1993) and Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (2001); and has edited Chaucer (Blackwell Guides to Criticism, 2001); A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary (2004); (with Françoise le Saux and Neil Thomas) Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses (2004); Cultural Encounters in Medieval Romance (2005); (with Jane Macnaughton) Madness and Creativity in Literature and Culture (2005); and A Concise Companion to Chaucer (2006). Judith Weiss is an Emeritus Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge. Her interests lie mainly in the field of Anglo-Norman romance and historiography. She has produced a parallel text and translation of Wace’s Roman de Brut, and her translation of Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warewic, for the French of England Translation Series, appeared in 2007. Elizabeth Williams lectured in Medieval English Language and Literature in the University of Leeds until she took early retirement. She has published articles on the Middle English romances and is particularly interested in the relation of medieval stories to their analogues in ballad and folktale.


Anglo-Norman Text Society British Library Bibliothèque nationale de France Classiques français du moyen âge Early English Text Society, Extra Series Early English Text Society, Original Series Exeter Medieval English Texts and Studies Feet of Clay Guards, Guards! Journal of English & Germanic Philology Loeb Classical Library Men at Arms Oxford English Dictionary Patrologia cursus completus: series latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 221 vols (Paris, 1844-64) Publications of the Modern Language Association The Rolls Series: Rerum Britannicarum Medii Ævi Scriptores (Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages), 99 works in 244 vols (London, 1858–1896) Studies in the Age of Chaucer Studies in Medieval Culture The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages

Introduction NEIL CARTLIDGE The boundaries addressed in this volume are of various kinds. They include not only the geographical, political and cultural frontiers that medieval romances imagine and imply, but also more metaphorical demarcations, such as the boundary between reality and fictionality; boundaries between different literary traditions, modes and cultures; and boundaries between different kinds of experience or perception, especially the ‘altered states’ associated with sickness, magic, the supernatural or the divine. All of the essays in this volume demonstrate in one way or another how medieval romances frequently, and perhaps characteristically, capitalize on the dramatic or suggestive possibilities implicit in all such boundaries. Indeed, one conclusion that might be drawn from this collection is that medieval romances both define and challenge boundaries more self-consciously and more provocatively than is usually acknowledged. Yet romance is, as a genre, notorious for its indifference to limits – its apparent readiness to breach the rules both of literary decorum and of literary realism. As a result it has often been interpreted simply as an instrument of – or an excuse for – a form of fantasy that is self-indulgently indisciplined, and therefore intellectually trivial. This has sometimes been seen, in turn, as a reflection of the relatively unsophisticated nature of medieval romance’s audiences (and authors). More recently, this has been translated into a more serious allegation, the suggestion that romance implicitly represents a profound form of intellectual failure, dishonesty or aggression. Such criticism perhaps says more about the preconceptions of medieval romance’s critics, the intellectual limits in which they choose to confine it as a genre, than about the specific effects or achievements of individual romancetexts – the way in which they themselves employ the various different kinds of boundaries mentioned above. By contrast, the premise that all the essays in this volume share is that romance is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, and considerably less amenable to generalization than it is often taken to be, so that understanding its boundaries is a process that both requires and repays detailed and sympathetic attention to individual texts. There is, though, some truth in the suggestion that the imagined worlds of medieval romance tend to be, by nature, rather unlocated and/or unlocalizable. One explanation for this is as a form of narrative efficiency, in the sense that it is the consequence of the subordination of setting to plot. So, for example, one of the more extraordinary boundaries in medieval romance is spanned by the famous Sword

Neil Cartlidge Bridge that Sir Lancelot encounters in Chrétien’s Chevalier de la Charrette, and which serves as a means of access to the mysterious Land of Gorre. This ‘bridge’ – a sharp blade suspended over a torrent – ultimately provides Lancelot with the opportunity to demonstrate both extreme bravery and absolute devotion to his lady (Arthur’s queen, Guinevere). It is clearly this opportunity, rather than any attempt to provide a coherent geographical setting for Lancelot’s adventures, that explains its presence in the poem. Yet the Sword Bridge is also described with considerable attention to the physical details of its construction and its particular placing in the landscape: Au pié del pont, qui molt est max, Sont descendu de lor chevax, Et voient l’eve felenesse, Noire et bruiant, roide et espesse, Tant leide et tant espoantable Con se fust li fluns au deable, Et tant perilleuse et parfonde Qu’il n’est riens nule an tot le monde, S’ele i cheoit, ne fust alee Ausi com an la mer salee. Et li ponz qui est an travers Estoit de toz autres divers, Qu’ainz tex ne fu ne ja mes n’iert. Einz ne fu, qui voir m’an requiert, Si max ponz ne si male planche. D’une espee forbie et blanche Estoit li ponz sor l’eve froide, Mes l’espee estoit forz et roide Et avoit .II. lances de lonc. De chasque part ot un grant tronc, Ou l’espee estoit closfichiee. Ja nus ne dot que il i chiee Por ce que ele brist ne ploit, Que tant i avoit il d’esploit Qu’ele pooit grant fes porter. [At the end of that very dangerous bridge they get off their horses to see the treacherous water thundering swiftly past, black and turbid, as horrid and terrifying as if it were the Devil’s river, and so perilous and deep that there is nothing in the whole world which, having fallen into it, would not vanish into the salt sea. The bridge across it was quite different from all others: there never was nor will be one like it. If anyone asks me the truth, never did so terrible a bridge or foot-crossing exist. This bridge over the cold water consisted of a polished, gleaming sword; but it was a strong, stout sword as long as two lances. At each end was a tree-trunk to which the sword was


Introduction nailed. No one needed to fear falling off on account of its breaking or bending, for it was so well made that it could bear a great weight.]1 At the same time, Chrétien’s insistence on the materiality of the Sword Bridge and of the landscape in which it is so firmly fixed (‘closfichiee’) is a peculiarly self-defeating strategy, in the sense that all his gestures towards realism are inevitably undermined by the sheer improbability of anyone ever bothering to erect such a structure. Despite Chrétien’s absurd reassurance that no one need fear for its stability, it is evidently not a convenient means of crossing the torrent; nor is it any more formidable as an obstacle than the torrent itself, despite the intimidating nature of its razor-sharp and slippery blade. The Sword Bridge thus hardly serves any purpose very effectively – not even as a symbolic disincentive to anyone trying to enter the Land of Gorre. Even when Chrétien draws attention to the solidity of the bridge’s engineering, the care (‘esploit’) implicit in its design and its capacity for heavy loads (‘grant fes porter’), the effect is only to emphasize, not the realistic qualities of the bridge, but rather its artificiality. This very artificiality, though, could be read as a pointer to the sheer meaningfulness of the bridge – its very ‘constructedness’ reflecting the constructedness of the narrative itself, the deliberate way in which Chrétien generates moral and psychological perspectives from the places through which the knight travels. One way of explaining the function of the Sword Bridge, and of the landscape implied by its presence, is as a means of enabling the ‘series of adventures’ that Chrétien’s romance tends to elevate ‘to the status of a fated and graduated test of election’, as Erich Auerbach puts it.2 As such, the topography of romance ‘becomes the basis of a doctrine of personal perfection’; and thus not just the setting for an assertion of the values of ‘courtly culture’, but the very means of making that assertion. In the light of this argument, Auerbach concluded that ‘courtly culture was decidedly unfavorable to the development of a literary art which should apprehend reality in its full breadth and depth’. This is a generalization that has been influential on criticism of medieval romance as a whole, including the insular romances that are specifically the subject of the essays in this book, and not just the continental tradition to which Chrétien himself belongs.3 Yet it is a fundamental premise of Auerbach’s study of the representation of reality in literature that no text can ever portray reality, to any extent, except by using particular techniques that can be subjected to literary-critical analysis. No more than any other form of fiction can medieval romance be read as an attempt at replicating reality. It can never be more than an imitation of reality (a ‘mimesis’); and from that point of view its tendency to endow landscape with psychological, moral and even allegorical dimensions is perhaps better seen as one aspect of the distinctive way in which it mimics reality, than as a proof of its indifference to, or unawareness of, reality itself. 1



Chrétien de Troyes, Le chevalier de la charrette: ou le roman de Lancelot, ed. Charles Méla (Paris, 1992), lines 3007–27; trans. D.D.R. Owen, Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances (London, 1987), p. 225. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur (1946; repr. Tübingen and Basel, 2001), p. 132: ‘in den Rang einer schicksalsbestimmten, stufenweisen Bewährung eines Auserwähltseins’: trans. Willard R. Trask, as Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, 1953; repr. 1991), p. 136. Auerbach, p. 138; trans. Trask, p. 142.


Neil Cartlidge Even if the Sword Bridge hardly serves in itself as a credible depiction of any kind of political or economic frontier, it certainly cannot be taken to illustrate Chrétien’s absolute lack of interest in the idea of boundaries. The Land of Gorre to which it provides access is itself a shadowy, undefined place, but this could be explained as a consequence, not so much of Gorre’s lack of borders, as of its apparent function as a kind of border. It is described, for example, as that land: …Don n’ist ne sers ne gentix hom Qui ne soit de la entor nez, N’ancor n’en est nus retornez. Les estranges prisons retienent Et cil del païs vont et vienent Et anz et fors a lor pleisir. (lines 1904–09) […which no serf or nobleman can leave unless he is a native of these parts: no one has as yet come back from there. Foreigners are held prisoner there, whilst the inhabitants come and go in and out as they please.]4 It is not impossible to imagine a country where such conditions could reign, but there is no suggestion here that the imposition of such conditions was motivated by any form of political pragmatism. Rather, they seem somehow implicit in the very nature of the land itself, and in this sense Gorre could be defined as an essentially liminal realm – a place fundamentally defined by the boundary that allows entry to non-citizens, but not egress. In that respect, it clearly resembles traditional conceptions of the underworld;5 and this is a reading suggestively supported by the immediate context of the description that I have just quoted. The words are those of a hermit who helpfully explains to Lancelot that the people trapped in the Land of Gorre will only be released by the one knight who is capable of lifting the lid of a particularly large and heavy tomb in the hermit’s cemetery. It might be argued that if the prisoners can be released at all, then they cannot be taken as dead in any literal sense, but the very fact that their release is presaged by the lifting of the lid of a tomb surely implies that Chrétien intended it to be read at least as a symbolic resurrection. That possibility is perhaps still further reinforced by the hermit’s subsequent prediction that the man capable of lifting the tomb’s lid will eventually be its occupant (lines 1932–36). In effect, then, Chrétien’s depiction of Gorre serves to dramatize the boundary between life and death, by suggesting that it is in some sense more permeable than we are accustomed to believe. Another text that apparently sets out to achieve much the same effect is the Middle English romance Sir Orfeo.6 In this case, it is the wilderness that serves as the liminal space between Orfeo’s kingdom and the strange otherworld into which his wife, Heurodis, is abducted. Driven distraught by his grief at her loss, he abandons his kingdom and disappears, barefoot ‘þurth wode & ouer heþ’ into the wilderness: 4

5 6

Cf. also Chevalier de la charrette, lines 640–43, where Gorre is described as ‘the kingdom from which no stranger returns, but is forced to stay in that land in servitude and exile’ (Owen, Arthurian Romances, p. 193). Cf. Jeff Rider, ‘The other worlds of romance’, in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance, ed. Roberta L. Krueger (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 115–31, at pp. 115–16. Sir Orfeo, ed. A.J. Bliss (Oxford, 1971).


Introduction Noþing he fint þat him is ays, Bot euer he liueþ in gret malais. He þat hadde y-werd þe fowe & griis, & on bed þe purper biis, – Now on hard heþe he liþ, Wiþ leues & gresse he him wriþ. He þat hadde had castels & tours, Riuer, forest, friþ wiþ flours – Now, þei it comenci to snewe & frese, Þis king mot make his bede in mese. (Sir Orfeo, lines 239–48) Again, the wilderness depicted here is more vividly apprehensible as a space in a psychological landscape – as the ‘objective correlative’ of Orfeo’s grief – than as a part of any kind of coherent geography; although it turns out that the gateway to the otherworld is actually very palpably located within this wilderness, for Orfeo eventually finds his way there by entering a cave in a cliff (‘in at a roche’, line 323). More clearly still, the wilderness serves as a contrast with the civilized world, the world of the living, to which Orfeo’s kingdom belongs, for the poet makes much of the pathos implicit in his protagonist’s loss of his high estate (‘He that hadde had castels and tours,/ River, forest, frith with flours…’). The otherworld to which Heurodis is abducted could even be seen as the mirror-image of Orfeo’s own kingdom – the only thing differentiating them being, in effect, the boundary between the two different kinds of reality that they represent. In describing the fairy-king’s realm, Heurodis uses much the same language as the poet subsequently uses to describe Orfeo’s own realm: [The fairy-king] made me wiþ him ride Opon a palfray by his side; & brou3t me to his palays, Wele atird in ich ways, & shewed me castels & tours, Riuers, forestes, friþ with flours… (Sir Orfeo, lines 155–60)7 It could thus be said that both Chrétien’s Lancelot and the Middle English Sir Orfeo define boundaries in spaces that are imagined geographically, but that the significance of such boundaries in these two texts is ultimately moral, or even spiritual, rather than political. However, there is one particular moment in Sir Orfeo where the cultural and geographical boundaries of the real world do suddenly emerge, in a fashion that seems strikingly at odds with the more figurative nature of the boundaries that it otherwise draws. This is the moment when the poet rather disarmingly identifies the ancient Greek province of Thrace, which he describes as ‘Traciens,/ Þat was a cité of noble defens’ (lines 47–48), with the English city of Winchester: ‘For Winchester was cleped þo/ Traciens wiþ-outen no’ (lines 49–50). This is often cited as a classic instance of medieval romance’s disregard for historical and geographical accuracy; there is no evidence that this idea could have been derived from any medieval 7

On the cultural contexts and implications of Sir Orfeo’s imagining of the otherworld, see Alan J. Fletcher, ‘Sir Orfeo and the Flight from the Enchanters’, SAC 22 (2000) 141–77; and Neil Cartlidge, ‘Sir Orfeo in the Otherworld: Courting Chaos?’ SAC 26 (2004), 195–226.


Neil Cartlidge ‘authority’; and indeed the cultural distance between the ancient Greek province and the medieval English city is clearly so great that these lines can hardly be anything other than startling. It might be read as conspicuous proof of the poet’s lack of learning or as an illustration of romance’s cultural aggression, a bare-faced attempt by a member of western Christendom to appropriate the pre-Christian, pre-medieval world for his own imaginative purposes. More charitably, it could be read as a means of asserting a kind of continuity with the distant past, by reminding the audience of the status of Winchester as the ancient capital of England. It may also have had a local or personal significance now lost to us – one might speculate, for example, that so specific a reference to a particular city was designed to gesture at the Orfeo-poet’s own origins or affiliations. Little remarked, though, is that, far from simply exemplifying the readiness of medieval romance to commit such geographical and cultural solecisms, this passage in Sir Orfeo also illustrates the self-consciousness with which medieval romance characteristically disposes, or pretends to dispose, its boundaries. It is the author of these lines himself who emphasizes that this identification between the two places is a conscious exercise in historicization (‘For Winchester was cleped tho’) and insists on its incontrovertibility as a fact (‘was cleped… withouten no’) – for all that the unhistorical, unfactual nature of what he says is precisely what strikes the modern reader. He also lays claim to a degree of judiciousness in his careful, and slightly pompous, description of Traciens/Winchester as ‘a cite of noble defens’ (line 24). The posture he adopts, then, could be described as that of an antiquarian – someone deeply interested in the past and its places; and indeed one of his primary intentions in these few lines may have been to be seen to strike that posture. That may not entirely absolve him of the charge of intellectual naivety, but it does underline that his was not an unconscious naivety. Whatever his purposes were – and we probably do not have sufficient evidence to say with any certainty what they were (or even to be sure that these lines are not a scribal insertion)8 – his identification of Traciens as Winchester certainly does not prove his indifference to historical and geographical accuracy: indeed, quite the opposite. Moreover, this attempt to map the contemporary geography of the medieval world onto the ancient geography of the classical world is by no means unprecedented in insular romance. Towards the end of the late-twelfth-century romance Ipomedon by Hue de Rotelande, we encounter a character called Leander who is introduced as the duke and ruler of Thessaly (‘De Tessaille fut dux e sire’, line 8928) and as the brother of Ipomedon’s principal opponent at this point, the giant Leonin, who is himself described as the son of a rich emir from greater India (‘de Inde major,/ Ffilz a un riche almazor’, lines 7697–98.9 Yet Hue also explains that: Si fist uns reis gualeis jadis, Jo quit ke il l’apelerent Ris, Il fut mut larges de Engleterre, A ses hirdmans parti la terre, Herefort e Glouecestre, Salopesbure e Wirecestre, 8 9

Bliss argues that lines 49–50 ‘are unlikely to be genuine’ (p. 52; cf. p. xv). Ipomedon, poème de Hue de Rotelande (fin du XIIe siècle), ed. A.J. Holden (Paris, 1979).


Introduction Mes il en lava ben ses mains; Il e li son ourent li meins Kar il fut vencuz e laidiz, Vilment chacez e descumfiz. (lines 8941–50) [He was once a Welsh king: I think they called him Rhys. He was very generous with England, dividing up the land – Hereford and Gloucester, Shropshire and Worcester – among his retainers. But he was pleased to wash his hands of it [in the end]: he and his men had the worst of it, for they were defeated and dishonoured, shamefully harried and routed.] For Hue, it seems, Leander exists simultaneously in two very different dimensions. He is, on the one hand, an exotic figure associated with both Hellenic and oriental culture; and, on the other, a Welsh war-leader operating in the Marches where Hue himself lived. Hue’s editor, A.J. Holden, tentatively identifies the Welsh prince alluded to here as Rhys ap Gruffudd, Prince of Deheubarth, but this is problematic for several reasons: Lord Rhys never campaigned in the English counties that Hue lists, nor was he ever defeated quite so comprehensively as Hue describes.10 Yet even if Leander cannot be identified with any particular Welsh prince – even if he might also be read as ‘une créature composite, même symbolique’ as Holden also suggests – the effect is to generate a topical resonance of local significance that is, in the context, really quite incongruous. As with Sir Orfeo, though, the incongruity is most plausibly explained as an index, not of any presumed ignorance or clumsiness on the part of the author, but of the deliberateness with which he chose to blur the boundaries between the fantastic and the familiar. The identification of Leander as a former Welsh war-leader could conceivably have been intended as a precise political allusion that is no longer readily explicable, but whether or not this is the case, the identification is clearly both self-conscious and highly provocative in the context. One might argue that its effect is to dignify the political turmoil in South Wales and the Marches in the last decades of the twelfth century by relocating it, at least imaginatively, onto a much grander and more glamorous stage. Alternatively it could be argued that, just as the romance of Ipomedon serves as an exposition and (intermittently ironic) analysis of the courtly ideology of the Anglo-Norman barons who fought the Welsh princes for control of South Wales, so Hue’s identification of Ipomedon’s opponents with the Welsh possibly serves to emphasize the extent of the cultural and political boundary between them. To quote Holden again: ‘Notre auteur, [u]n citoyen du royaume anglo-normand, regarde d’un œil méprisant et en même temps inquiet les régions à demi barbares qui s’étendent au-delà des frontières.’11 Yet this reading of the passage rests to some extent on Holden’s assumption that the word ‘hirdman’ is pejorative – on the basis that it denotes a herdsman, peasant or bumpkin (‘pâtre… paysan, individu fruste’);12 10

11 12

Holden, pp. 10–11. But see also Huw Pryce, ‘Rhys ap Gruffudd (1131/2–1197)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [ view/article/23464, accessed 12 April 2007]; R.R. Davies, The Age of Conquest: Wales 1063– 1415 (Oxford, 1991), pp. 217–24; J. Gillingham, ‘Henry II, Richard I, and the Lord Rhys’, Peritia 10 (1996), 225–36. Holden, p. 566. OED, s.v. ‘herdman’, sb.


Neil Cartlidge but the word in question is much more likely to mean simply ‘retainer’ – with no implicit suggestion of rusticity.13 What is striking, though, is that this Anglo-Norman writer should choose to adopt an English word when characterizing the warfollowing of a Welsh prince – which illustrates, if nothing else, that, for Hue, political and cultural boundaries were not necessarily concurrent with linguistic ones. Sir Thomas Malory’s attempt to identify the fictional castle of Joyous Garde with either Alnwick Castle or Bamburgh Castle is also difficult to dismiss as a merely incidental or accidental detail, if only because – as with the instances that I have cited from Sir Orfeo and Ipomedon – it is so conspicuously gratuitous to the development of the narrative in hand. Moreover, the moment when Malory chooses to make this identification is a highly dramatic and momentous one, with his charismatic protagonist, Sir Lancelot, already at the point of death: So when he was howselyd and enelyd and had al that a Crysten man ought to have, he prayed the Bysshop that his felowes myght bere his body to Joyous Garde. (Somme men say it was Anwyk, and somme men say it was Bamborow.)14 Yet, as in the case of Sir Orfeo and Ipomedon, it is easier to argue that Malory’s suggestion was self-conscious and deliberate, than to define precisely what he might have expected to achieve by it. Both Alnwick and Bamburgh served as capitals of Lancastrian resistance (and Alnwick, of course, was the principal seat of the Percy earls of Northumberland – two of whom, the 2nd and 3rd, died for the Lancastrian cause during the 1450s and 1460s, along with three of the 3rd earl’s brothers).15 In 1462–63, Malory seems to have taken part in the Yorkist campaign that led to the siege and fall of the two castles, so he may have come to know them well – at least from the outside.16 In some ways that only makes it all the more surprising that he should have chosen to identify the two Northumbrian castles with Joyous Garde, a castle existing only in fiction, as if in denial of the existence of any gap between the glories of the Arthurian world and the realities of siege-warfare in a northern winter. Perhaps that is precisely the point: the identification of Joyous Garde as either Alnwick or Bamburgh being a calculated attempt to close that gap, to endow the brutal realities of the Wars of the Roses with some of the sheen of romance. It might also seem a little puzzling that Malory should have chosen to associate the castle of his hero, Sir Lancelot, with two castles that he knew as fortresses occupied by his political opponents; a possible solution for this difficulty is readily provided by the fact that, by the time he was writing the Morte Darthur, Malory was in prison as a consequence of falling out with the Yorkists. From this point of view Malory’s apparent glamorization of Alnwick and Bamburgh (and the Lancastrian defiance with which he would have associated it) could be read as a gesture of his own defiance against his gaolers. Alternatively, it might be argued that Malory’s association of 13 14 15 16

OED, s.v. ‘hirdman, hiredman’, sb. Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur, ed. Eugène Vinaver as Malory: Works (Oxford, 1971), p. 724. Alexander Rose, Kings of the North: The House of Percy in British History (London, 2003), pp. 495– 530. P.J.C. Field, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 129–30, 142; Vinaver, p. 778.


Introduction Alnwick and Bamburgh with Joyous Garde was not intended to be partisan; and that, in this sense, his imagination was perhaps more generous and less factionalized than his own behaviour during the Wars of the Roses might suggest. What I want to emphasize, though, is that such problems are not at all unusual in medieval romance: that they are, to some extent, characteristic of medieval romance. In other words, for all the unspecificity of some of the landscapes found in romance and for all the disorientations created by magic or madness or the supernatural, medieval romances do have a tendency to depict topographies through which the contours of the real can sometimes be perceived. More often than not, however, the real emerges in ways that are rather fitful and surprising. The problem, in other words, is not that the boundaries of romance simply do not correspond with those of reality, but that, where identifiable points of contact do exist, they are so often so troublesome to explain that they demand a high degree of tact and insight – if, indeed, it is possible to explain them at all. Consequently, it could perhaps be argued that romance tends to draw boundaries in particularly provocative ways (relative to other genres of fiction) precisely because its correspondences with the real world are so very troubled, intermittent and complex. Nor is it always the case that such correspondences are explained by romance’s imitation of reality: there are certain respects in which the opposite is true, as Helen Cooper demonstrates in the first essay in this collection (which is based on the Conference’s plenary lecture, delivered at the Royal Irish Academy). She defines four different ways in which romance might be said to ‘come true’, including the possibility that certain historical events were modelled, to some extent, on narrative patterns typical of romance. In these cases, the process of ‘mimesis’, to use Auerbach’s term, is effectively reversed: it is reality that serves as the medium for an imitation of fiction, rather than the other way around. As Cooper shows, one of the mechanisms for this particular form of reverse-takeover was a shared preoccupation with the ideology of rightful inheritance. In the same way that the order of events in medieval romance is often subordinated to the vindication of the rights of the ‘true’ king, likewise kings in reality apparently sought to play the part of the hero in a kind of ‘true’ romance. So too did the ‘imposters’ who attempted to compete with them for their thrones, even if their own attempts to impose romance on history by adopting a starring role in it were to be, by definition, frustrated. Implicit in such appropriations of romance-motifs for political effect is a deliberate blurring of the boundary between the real and the ideal – or, to put it another way, a deliberate attempt to supply romance with a specific localization, a specific set of borders: the literally generic realm of romance was interpreted as if it were a paradigm for the dynastic future of a particular realm: in this case, England. The sheer readiness with which the topography of medieval romance lent itself to being ‘realized’ in this way suggests that its apparent insubstantiality or abstractedness should be seen as a function, not of the genre’s historical irrelevance, but of its political adaptability. The next two essays both question the way in which specific groups of medieval romances might be said to demonstrate a coherently ‘English’ self-consciousness. Rosalind Field draws attention to the peculiar history of the term ‘Matter of England’, a term that has become widely used in romance-scholarship as a means of establishing a distinct identity for texts set in England (such as Guy of Warwick and Havelok the Dane). As she shows, the origins of the term are much more obscure, and 9

Neil Cartlidge much less authentically medieval, than those of the other traditional ‘Matters’ of medieval romance (those of France, Britain and Rome). The boundaries implied by the term are thus highly artificial – and potentially misleading in that they suggest a much more rigid sense of national identity than romance-texts themselves support. Only Havelok the Dane, she suggests, comfortably inhabits the ‘Matter of England’ category; but even this romance has been more surprisingly and subversively influential than the traditional categorization would imply, as she shows in her provocative postscript, which observes the recent re-emergence of Havelokian motifs in some of the fantasy novels by Terry Pratchett. Meanwhile, Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman jointly consider the extent to which Middle English romances deriving from chansons de geste depicting the deeds of King Charlemagne and his knights might be said to have given them a distinctly English spin. In this particular case, they suggest, English adaptations of the ‘Matter of France’ tended to involve a distinct shift of emphasis, towards a more consciously pious and moralistic reading of Charlemagne’s knights as Christian heroes in an implicitly universal fight against ‘heathenism’. In the next essay, Elizabeth Berlings tries to assess both the extent of the national partisanship expressed by the Middle English Sege of Melayne and the extent to which the text is deliberately comical. The boundaries at issue in this essay, as in its two predecessors (by Field and Ailes/Hardman) might thus be said to be simultaneously political/cultural and generic; or, perhaps more accurately, all three essays might be said to address the question of how closely such boundaries might be said to be aligned. The same is true, to some extent, of Simon Meecham-Jones’s essay on the text traditionally known as the Song of Dermot and the Earl, but re-titled by its most recent editor as The Deeds of the Normans in Ireland. These competing denominations reflect considerable disagreement about the genre to which this text actually belongs; and this disagreement in turn affects any assessment of its value as a witness to the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland. Since this is a work that presents a notably partisan view of this event, according to Meecham-Jones, the debate about its generic identity bears directly on any evaluation of its sophistication or success. The essay by Elizabeth Williams also discusses the depiction of Irish history in medieval romance (and she briefly considers the same Dermot as the one celebrated by the Song of Dermot and the Earl ); but in this case Ireland appears in a considerably longer perspective. The romance that she discusses, The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle, originated in the ducal court of Burgundy during the fifteenth century. Leisurely and eclectic though this text is, it still alludes to historical events (in Ireland and elsewhere) in a fashion that is at times provocatively precise. The source of such allusions often seems to have been the chronicler Jean Froissart, as Williams demonstrates in this essay. Arlyn Diamond’s contribution to this collection addresses a text with a remarkable capacity to cause discomfort among modern critics: the alliterative Siege of Jerusalem. She takes a bold approach to the difficulties that it poses, suggesting that it gratified its medieval audiences not because it celebrated violence against Jews, but because it celebrated violence itself. What makes the poem memorable, she suggests, is the ‘imaginative force’ of its descriptions of war, as much as the ‘figural and historical exegesis’ that it might be taken to supply. Robert Rouse’s essay, by contrast, is much more concerned with peace – and specifically the motif of the 10

Introduction peace-creating king. As he demonstrates, this is a recurrent element in the idealization of England as an entity with a distinct national and legal identity to which insular romances tend to subscribe, but it is also a motif with parallels in a wide range of European texts. This he illustrates most strikingly with a brief excursus on its occurrence in the tradition of stories about the original Count Dracula – that is, the Prince of Transylvania, Vlad Dracul. ‘England’ also figures as a central idea in Laura Ashe’s study of the idea of the hero in medieval romance. She points out that neither Middle English nor Anglo-Norman possessed any word properly signifying the concept of the ‘hero’. Both languages lacked the term as it was elaborated in classical Latin, and as it was to be recoined in the sixteenth century, to designate ‘the man distinguished by supreme and superlative qualities of bravery’, ‘a person reverenced and idealised’. The absence of the word, however, evidently did not preclude the writers of romances from inventing such characters, and she discusses the different strategies by which romancers went about constructing their idealized ‘heroes’. In discussing the insular romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, she suggests that their rediscovery of the hero was concomitant with the emergence of a sense of the distinctness of England as a nation. Judith Weiss also touches on the question of what constituted heroism for the authors of insular romance in the course of her analysis of the generic affiliations of Boeve de Haumtone; and she discusses two other issues that are prominent elsewhere in this volume – the extent of comedy’s incursions into romance and the complexity of romance’s attitudes towards ‘Saracens’. She argues that ‘as a text that is part epic, part romance, Boeve de Haumtone could be said to exploit the tensions implicit in its occupation of the boundary between the two genres.’ Ivana Djordjević’s essay is concerned with a different generic boundary: that between romance and hagiography. She demonstrates a shift in the way that medieval romances tend to depict the possibility of divine intervention, according to which the heroes of later medieval romances define and justify their heroism in terms of a much more intimate and demanding relationship with God. Paradoxically, she suggests that as the protagonists of pious romances came to rely increasingly ‘on God’s active help, the hero becomes in a sense less heroic, but God also becomes less divine’. The final essay in the collection, by Corinne Saunders, addresses a similar ambivalence: the uncomfortable relationship in medieval culture between different conceptions of medicine – on the one hand, as a sober science of the human body; on the other, as a more or less fantastic field of magic, miracle or superstition. Illness and healing have the capability of bringing us to the very frontiers of our rationality, to the very edges of our experience as rational individuals. As such, the process of sickness and recovery also readily serves as metaphor for moral and intellectual transformations of all kinds, but especially those transformations that take place at the limits of what we take to be ‘natural’. As Saunders herself puts it, the depiction of illness and healing allows romance writers ‘to create flash-points where human, otherworldly and divine may intersect, and where romance and realism meet’.


1 When Romance Comes True* HELEN COOPER The romances that form the subject of this paper were not written by famous named authors, or by identifiable poetic masters. Almost all are anonymous, and so do not lend themselves to the kind of traditional criticism that one can apply to writers who have a known life and context; and since the dates of composition and the intended audiences for some are uncertain, and others are translations of works originally written within different political circumstances and a different social and linguistic culture, it is not at all easy to historicize them in the new or the old senses. They tend to be open about their meanings, avoiding subtexts and codes, so they are not amenable to the kind of hermeneutic of suspicion that fuels New Historicism. They are often talked about as ‘popular’ romances, though the term is somewhat misleading, since any text that was written down in the Middle Ages has by definition at least something elite about it. They are, however, written in English, not French or Anglo-Norman, and so mark themselves as linguistically accessible to all social classes. They do not generally carry the markers of high culture that characterize medieval French-language romance, though a number of them exist in continental or insular French versions as well as English; and several of the later ones were ‘popular’ almost by definition in the sense conveyed by the shift from individual manuscript copies to entire printed editions. It remains true, however, that all these romances overtly address the concerns of the gentry and the upper classes rather than peasants or townsmen; they emerge from an elite culture, first that of the Anglo-Norman romances written for aristocratic readers, later that of the ducal court of Burgundy, and throughout the Middle Ages their link with the aristocracy remains close – a fact that is of some importance for much of what follows. The title ‘When Romance Comes True’ probably sounds like a paradox. ‘Romance’ has become the accepted antonym of ‘realism’, and we accordingly tend to define romance in terms of what is not true: much killing of dragons and giants by knights in shining armour. Those elements are of course there, but it is tempting to emphasise them to a degree that makes us overlook just how closely much Middle English romance connects with real life. Perhaps the very obviousness of those connections has something to do with the ease with which they are overlooked: *

This paper was originally delivered as a lecture at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, in April 2004, in association with the concurrent Medieval Romances Conference.

Helen Cooper dragons and giants make their presence more strongly visible, and are indeed what the authors seem most proud of. They are interesting just because they are not part of real life. There are, none the less, four major ways in which romance can ‘come true’. Two of those processes are deliberate and self-fulfilling. First is the writing of romances as a retrospective explanation of what is happening in the present; and second, the deliberate re-creation of romance in actual practice. The other two processes are more complex, in that the impact of immediate contemporary (or to us, historical) concerns on the writer serves to place romance at least partly outside his control: he is responding to a given context of historical or cultural incident that limits his freedom to invent or adapt or explain. Of these next two processes, the first has to do with how cultural practices, cultural changes, helped to create romance; and the second, with what happens when specific historical events appear to model themselves on romance structures, and how those events can be given a conscious extra boost by romance authors or patrons to make the parallels even closer. Across all four of those phenomena, there is a turning of history into romance, or romance into history. The first two of those processes, the deliberate and self-fulfilling connections, are comparatively straightforward, and require only a brief outline to indicate how they work. The use of romance to offer a retrospective explanation, or indeed a justification, of the known facts of the present, is something with which any scholar of romance will be familiar. Texts of this variety often develop romance into a kind of myth of origin; and in a Christian culture, such a mythic element carries with it a strong implication of endorsement by God. This usage emerges most often in genealogical romances, which tell the stories of the origins of countries, or towns, or aristocratic families. Geoffrey of Monmouth is in this sense writing a gigantic myth of origin, which runs from the foundation of Britain by Brut forwards; and if he wrote it generically as history, many of his stories were given a later development as individual romances. Not all such stories are purely glorificatory, and romance can stretch itself to accommodate a degree of personal or political downfall alongside its celebratory function. Legends of origin can be invented or adapted to explain a present disaster, and therefore to shift the blame for that disaster back from the present onto the past. Melusine offers a particularly clear example. In its primary form, it tells of the foundation of the house of Lusignan by a woman who is half-fairy, and who is, in Donald Maddox’s term, the ‘mega-mother’ of the dynasty in all its numerous branches.1 In the late fourteenth century, however, a series of disasters that befell one particular branch of the family was given just such a retrospective explanation in the form of a curse imposed on one line of her descendants that was set to last for nine generations.2 The story does not obviously qualify as ‘true’ in any normal sense of the term; but to an age that lacked the techniques of historical 1


Donald Maddox, Fictions of Identity in Medieval France (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 172, 177–86. On the historical parallels for Melusine’s sons, see the introduction to the edition of the metrical version by Eleanor Roach, Le Roman de Mélusine ou Histoire de Lusignan par Coudrette, Bibliothèque française et romane B.18 (Paris, 1982), pp. 20–52. The prose version was composed in the 1390s in support of Jean de Berry’s claims to the lordship. Both versions were translated into Middle English around 1500. The history is set out in the introduction to Laurence Harf-Lancner’s modernized edition, Coudrette: Le Roman de Mélusine (Paris, 1993), pp. 26–35.


When Romance Comes True investigation that we take for granted, it was perhaps the best that could be done (and we need to remember how frequently we do exactly parallel things even though we know better: the American myth of the colonizing of an empty and unpeopled land, for instance, is a close replication of what is found in Geoffrey’s legend of Brut; and film habitually rewrites history in favour of the audience for whom the film is made, as with the U-571 version of the capture of the Enigma codes in the Second World War that turns it into an American rather than a British achievement). So far as the Middle Ages were concerned, the present state of affairs had to be reached somehow: how did the facts of the contemporary world come to be? Those facts, moreover, could themselves appear to ‘prove’ the romance version of the past invented to explain them. Such versions of history were not always or altogether received without some degree of scepticism, even at the time; but at least they provided a kind of just-so story that was impossible to better. To borrow a term from the early development of science, such legends ‘saved the appearances’, provided a working hypothesis that accounted for the observed phenomena, and so offered a functional stand-in for truth until such time as it was either proved to be true or replaced by a better hypothesis. Such a readiness to accord truth to a romance version of the past was confirmed by the deliberate recreation of romance in life, in a process of life imitating literature. The medieval social elites, particularly aristocratic and royal courts, had something of a genius for turning their lives into art, or ritual.3 This is what happened, for instance, with the creation of the Order of the Garter by Edward III in 1348. The Order was specifically and deliberately modelled on the fellowship of the Round Table; and indeed there was already a round table in existence that Edward could use if he so wished, which had probably been commissioned by his grandfather, and which is still preserved in Winchester Great Hall.4 The table seems to have been linked with Edward I’s revival of Arthurianism as courtly play,5 but it was play with a serious edge: the revival, and the ton-and-a-bit table as a physically massive endorsement of the point at issue, were above all a deliberate propaganda move, to show how the greatness of the imperial British past as embodied in King Arthur was recreated in himself, with particular reference to the dispute concerning the overlordship of Scotland. At some point, however, the origins of the table were forgotten, and it began to look as if it might be the real thing; and if it were, then, as Caxton noted in his Preface to Malory’s Morte Darthur, it constituted a proof of the historicity of 3

4 5

The adoption of chivalric values and the rituals of knighthood in both romance and aristocratic life is of course a dominant feature of medieval culture, and the processes of imitation and symbiosis appear to have been mutual. The numerous studies include Maurice Keen, Chivalry (New Haven and London, 1984); Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, rev. edn (Woodbridge, 1995); Michel Stanesco, Jeux d’Errance du chevalier mediéval: Aspects ludiques de la fonction guerriere dans la littérature du moyen âge flamboyant (Leiden and New York, 1988); and, for a series of case studies, the essays in Chivalric Literature: Essays on Relations between Literature and Life in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Larry D. Benson and John Leyerle (Kalamazoo, 1980). For more extensive modes of performance, see for instance Susan Crane, The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing, and Identity during the Hundred Years War (Philadelphia, 2002). Not all the evidence is conclusive, but this is the best hypothesis reached in Martin Biddle et al., King Arthur’s Round Table: An Archaeological Investigation (Woodbridge, 2000). The classic article is Roger Sherman Loomis, ‘Edward I: Arthurian Enthusiast’, Speculum 28 (1953), 114–27.


Helen Cooper Arthur, just as the whole cult of chivalry seemed to promise a way back to a golden age of the past. There are strong arguments for regarding romance as always retrospective, always nostalgic, from the moment of its inception; the romans antiques describe the lost chivalry of Troy, Chrétien locates the chivalric Golden Age in the reign of Arthur. To set against that, however, is the fact that romance as we know it is the product of identifiable and specific changes in social practices, and therefore much more closely modelled on the immediate conditions of contemporary life than our association of the form with dragons allows. Far from being always exotic and implausible, romance would be almost unimaginable without those changes, which were happening just ahead of, or contemporary with, the emergence of romance itself in the mid-twelfth century. The simplest example is a purely technological one: the introduction of the stirrup in the early Middle Ages. That in turn enabled the mounted charge, impact combat, of the knight with the heavy lance couched under his right arm.6 Chivalric romance appears within a couple of generations of the introduction of such horseback combat (and of course the French terms chevalier, chevalerie, literally ‘horseman’ and ‘horsemanship’, make the connection explicit, as the English ‘knight’ and ‘knighthood’ fail to do). Fighting of that kind in turn demanded heavier armour – plate armour. Knights in shining armour may look like fantasy figures to us, but shining armour developed out of the same practical considerations that enabled the emergence of chivalric romance; and its authors did not forget, as we tend to do, that armour needed to be kept shiny, to have the rust removed.7 Still more important to the emergence of romance, and indeed to the whole history of western Europe, were two more far-reaching social changes, both of them to do with those central concerns of the medieval secular world, inheritance and the family. One was the categorization of the principles of primogeniture in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It had long been normal practice for the eldest son to succeed to his father’s lands and title; but if there were no suitable or obvious heir, then the title had commonly passed to the most competent claimant – a system enshrined, for instance, in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. Alternatively, a king could name his own successor, as Edward the Confessor named William of Normandy. Primogeniture as it developed in these centuries, however, insisted that there was only one right heir to a title, or a throne. That was in the first instance the eldest son and his issue (so that if the eldest son predeceased his father, his own eldest son was given precedence over the next living brother); if there were no son, then the inheritance passed to the eldest daughter; or if a direct line failed altogether, an elaborate series of rules was devised for working back up the generations and down again to establish the correct inheritance. What was initially set up as a legal principle rapidly came to be interpreted as ordained by God, a divine as well as a human law. On the death of a prince, you have to identify not just the legally correct heir, but the true heir in sight of God. 6 7

Discussed in e.g. Keen, Chivalry, pp. 23–25. A rust-removal process is part of the service provided for Gawain at Bertilak’s castle (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, 2nd edn rev. Norman Davis (Oxford, 1967), lines 2017–18); and Launfal returns from time to time from Olyroun to joust in order to ‘kepe his armes fro the rustus’ (Middle English Verse Romances, ed. D.B. Sands, EMETS (1969; repr. Exeter, 1987), line 1028).


When Romance Comes True The rules of primogeniture were presumably designed to prevent disputes over inheritance. In practice, they made them much worse. Historically and politically, they made the problem of a weak or tyrannical or mad king, or of an infant heir, or of an heir whose paternity was in doubt, impossible to resolve, since the replacing of a king or an heir meant, by definition, unrightful rule. It was that kind of situation that enabled successive English kings to lay claim to the throne of France in the Hundred Years’ War, when all the lines of inheritance except that of Edward III lay in an impossible tangle. It was the need for divine endorsement too that made Joan of Arc’s advent at the end of the war so important, not so much for military strategy, but because her appearance seemed like direct divine intervention on behalf of the man who therefore must be the true king, whatever the English claims or the doubts over his paternity. The other social change occurred in the mid-twelfth century, with the papal decision that what made a marriage valid was not a public ceremony nor parental arrangement, but simply the consent of the spouses.8 In everyday practice, this probably made very little difference; arranged marriages (as distinct from forced marriages) continued to be the norm. Combined, however, with those new principles that bestowed a father’s lands and titles on his daughter if he had no son, it potentially gave extraordinary political, economic and erotic patronage to the heiress. Her erotic patronage, moreover, was interpreted in romance not just as consent, but as free and faithful sexual choice. So if the invention of stirrup and armour and lance enabled chivalric romance, these other changes enabled all those romances about the dispossession and return of the true heir, or about the fair unknown who turns out to be the missing claimant; and they enabled too those other twinned romance plots, of the young man who makes good by marrying the titled heiress, and of the young woman who makes her own choice of husband and pursues that choice through all kinds of adversity – plots that constitute a high proportion of Middle English romance. Given the basis of such stories in actual inheritance practices, it becomes less surprising that history and romance can sometimes chime very closely: closely enough for poets to rewrite history into romance, to mythologize history, even as it happened, or for people caught up in political events to see themselves as participating in those quasi-mythic romance structures, structures that insisted that what was happening was providential, willed by God. There was a particular incentive to cast events in these terms if what you were doing (deposing the king, for instance) was driven by political ambition or desire for power, or if you knew that your claim to the title you held or desired was not as indisputable as you might have hoped. In such cases, there was all the more reason to present your claims and actions – to spin them – in just such patterns of divinely sanctioned romance. Spin is most typically thought of as antagonistic to truth; but events could also be spun to resemble romance motifs in ways that endorsed genuinely held beliefs rather than setting out to fabricate belief where none might otherwise exist. The rest of this paper will consider some instances of historical spin of all these kinds: romance as


On the edict and its context, see Neil Cartlidge, Medieval Marriage: Literary Approaches, 1100– 1300 (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 12–19.


Helen Cooper propaganda, whether employed idealistically or cynically, or, as is normal with human motivation, something of both at once. An early story of a dispossessed heir, Havelok, furnishes a familiar and transparent point from which to start. It was in origin an English legend that first appears in a chronicle setting, Gaimar’s Anglo-Norman Estoire des Engleis of about 1137. Over the course of the next century or so, it was reworked as an independent romance, first in Anglo-Norman, then in English. It re-entered chronicle history in the Prose Brut at about the same time as it was given its English romance treatment; and the story then cut between chronicle and romance for the next few centuries, becoming increasingly unrecognizable in the process, until it dropped decisively away from history with its conversion into a sentimental ballad in the eighteenth century.9 It is in fact a story about two dispossessed heirs, children who are disposed of after the deaths of their fathers by wicked guardians who want to keep power for themselves. Havelok, son to the king of Denmark, is ordered by his guardian to be killed; but he is saved when the wife of the fisherman Grim, his designated murderer, sees a light coming from the child’s mouth, and they recognize a bright birthmark on his shoulder as a ‘kynemark’,10 a birthmark defining his kin as royal, a king-mark. Grim escapes with him to England, where his homestead becomes the origin of the future Grimsby: a major function of the legend, in fact, was to provide a foundation legend for the town, a legend recorded on its seal and still familiar in the early seventeenth century. Meantime Goldeburh, the orphan daughter of the king of England, is also being raised by a wicked guardian. (In the chronicle versions, he is her uncle, the male equivalent of the wicked mother-in-law, and for analogous reasons: both are cut off from potential or real power, one by the existence of the heir or heiress who prevents what would otherwise be his own inheritance, the other by the advent of the young wife who supplants her as the senior woman of the dynasty.11) In order to keep power for himself, he decides to interpret literally the promise he made to her dying father to marry her to the strongest and highest man in England, in the form of a heroically tall and athletic young scullion employed by the Bishop of Lincoln – a scullion who is, of course, Havelok. On their wedding night, Havelok, exhausted by his day’s labour, falls asleep; and she in her turn, grieving over her compelled fate, sees the light from his mouth, and a further sign of royalty, a king-mark on his shoulder in the form of a gold cross: 9

10 11

For its early history, see the edition by G.V. Smithers, Havelok (Oxford, 1987), pp. xvi–lvi. For its post-medieval history, see Helen Cooper, ‘The Elizabethan Havelok: William Warner’s First of the English’, in Medieval Insular Romance: Translation and Innovation, ed. Judith Weiss (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 169–83, and, for a text overlooked there, a reworking of Warner entitled ‘A Song of the Strange Lives of two Young Princes in England’, which relocates the story to Devonshire and entitles the lovers Raymond and Maudlin (in A Collection of Old Ballads, vol. 3, possibly ed. Ambrose Philips (London, 1725), pp. 1–10). Ed. Smithers, line 605. The uncle in question is thus most often the father’s brother, the second son whose inheritance is foiled by the existence of the child. In the Havelok stories, he is the dead mother’s brother: he therefore has no lineal claim to the throne, but his selection as guardian shows him to be the highest-ranking competent male, and therefore the kind of man who under the older more flexible inheritance patterns that were in the process of being displaced, or under a system of election or acclamation, could have expected to succeed as ruler.


When Romance Comes True On hise shuldre, of gold red, She saw a swiþe noble croiz. Of an angel she herde a uoyz: ‘Goldeborw, lat þi sorwe be! For Hauelok, þat haueþ spuset þe, He [is] kinges sone and kinges eyr – Þat bikenneth þat croiz so fayr.’ (lines 1263–69) The angel’s message not only interprets the physical symbol, but gives his royalty divine endorsement. Only at that point does Goldeburh make her own willed election of Havelok as her husband, with the implication that the consummation of their marriage, her full sexual choice, follows from that act of her will. In due course he wins back both his kingdom and hers, and rules them jointly; and the wicked guardians come to a nasty end. Whatever Gaimar or the compiler of the Prose Brut or the good folk of Grimsby or Lincoln thought about the story, there is no historical evidence that anything like this ever happened. What is likely is that the legend emerged in response to cultural pressures: in this instance, it has been argued, by the need retrospectively to legitimize Danish rule in England, especially in the eastern areas, not least Lincolnshire, that had embraced it so readily.12 The romance of Havelok addresses precisely that historical fact. It casts itself as predictive of the Danish rule of England that did indeed come about, even if it did not occur in anything like the way the romance represents it. If the Danes had been defeated, a romance might still have been produced at some point in the future, but it would not have been one that put a Dane on the throne of England, and that made his heirs legitimate linear English rulers through his marriage. To us, Havelok is a romance precisely in the sense that it is not true, and the element of miracle it contains, that divine symbol of true royalty, confirms that; but it is dangerous to make assumptions about its fantasy on that basis. Let me step aside into the historical record, to the year 1238, when the legend of Havelok was apparently already long established in oral tradition and familiar in written form in Anglo-Norman, though probably still before the Middle English romance had been composed. Here is another story, from the Greater Chronicle of Matthew Paris, about Henry III: In the same year, a great danger beset the king, such as astonished all those who heard it. On the morrow of the nativity of the blessed Virgin, a certain squire who was said to be educated came to the royal court at Woodstock, and pretending to be mad, he said to the king, ‘Resign to me the kingdom which you have usurped unrightfully and held for yourself too long.’ He also added that he bore a king-mark on his shoulder (signum regale in humero). The king’s servants seized him and wanted to beat him out of the royal presence, but the king stopped them as they ran on him, saying, ‘Leave the lunatic alone, as it’s natural for someone like that to play the fool; such men’s words carry no weight of truth.’ But in the middle of the night, that same man got in 12

See Thorlac Turville-Petre, ‘Havelok and the History of the Nation’, in Readings in Medieval English Romance, ed. Carol Meale (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 121–34.


Helen Cooper through the window of the king’s chamber, carrying an unsheathed dagger, and rushed in a frenzy on the king’s bed. He was baffled at not finding him there, and hurriedly searched for him in all the corners of the chamber. By the Lord’s providence, however, the king was lying with the queen. A certain maid of the queen’s was by chance awake, reading her psalter by candlelight; she led a holy life in devotion to God, and was called Margaret Biseth.13 So Margaret screams and raises the alarm, and the king is saved. The squire who had wanted to assassinate him (to kill him in the manner of the assassins, more Assessinorum) is tortured until he names his co-conspirators, whereupon he is condemned as a traitor and executed in appropriately nasty ways. It is a story about a claimant with a king-mark who did not succeed; and it remains as history, not romance. It is however worth pausing on the evidence that the madman, or the feigned madman, cites for his demands: to paraphrase just a little, ‘Resign the kingdom to me, for you have usurped it unrightfully, and I bear a kingmark upon my shoulder.’ How do you know who is the rightful king? The laws of primogeniture insisted that there was one, and one only. Henry’s father, King John, was not such a rightful heir, having overridden the claims of Prince Arthur, the young son of his elder brother Geoffrey: John was, in fact, the conventional wicked uncle. And even if a man plausibly claims to be the son of the rightful king, how can you be sure that he is what he asserts, in an era before DNA testing? Another unknown young squire, named Arthur, drew a sword from a stone to prove his right to the throne; the scullion Havelok had his king-mark, the gold cross inscribed on his body, and the light from his mouth that became visible in the dark, which marked him indelibly even in the most adverse of circumstances – providentially endowed and endorsed signs. So the squire of Woodstock who demanded Henry’s throne from him, claiming a similar king-mark, was much more dangerous than we might at first glance think. Henry’s dismissal of his words as the ravings of a madman may have been humane, but it was also politically astute, since it disarmed the force of his demands. The rest of the story, however, recasts the lunatic as only pretending to be mad, as his naming of a further group of conspirators confirmed. If the man were indeed sane, it none the less seems a crazy way to go about mounting a conspiracy; but the claim he makes about his king-mark was presumably thought by the other malcontents, if they indeed existed, to carry real weight – for if a king is faced with a man who makes such a claim, how can he prove his rival is not what he says he is? 13

Eodem anno accidit regi periculum, omnes audientes nimis reddens attonitos. In crastino enim nativitatis beatae Mariae, venit quidam armiger literatus, ut dicitur, ad curiam regis apud Wodestok, se fingens infatuatum, dicens regi: ‘Resigna mihi regnum, quod injuste tibi usurpasti, et diu detinuisti.’ Addidit quoque, quod signum regale gestabat in humero. Quem cum ministri regales arripuissent, volentes eum baculatum a praesentia regis propellere, rex irruentium in eum impetum compescuit, dicens: ‘Sinite infatuatum ut talem decet desipere; verba enim talium carent pondere veritatis.’ Media autem nocte, ecce ille idem per fenestram regii thalami introgressus, cultellum portans extractum, lectum regis adiit furibundus; quem cum non invenisset, confusus est; sed festinus quaesivit eum per plura thalami diverticula. Erat autem tunc temporis, Domino providente, rex quiescens cum regina. Quaedam autem puella reginae, cum forte vigilaret, psalterium psallebat ad candelam; erit enim sancta et Deo devota, nomine Margareta Biseth (Matthew Paris, Chronica Maiora, ed. H.R. Luard, Rolls Series 57 (London, 1872–83), 3.497; my translation).


When Romance Comes True At one level, Matthew Paris, like the king himself, seems to want to dismiss the affair as the actions of a madman; but he is also anxious to prove the claim untrue, and therefore treasonable not just in men’s sight but God’s. Havelok being a romance, the king-mark is a true, and therefore also divine, signifier, and the story records its hero’s restoration; there, the man who holds the throne unrightfully is the one who comes to a sticky end. In Matthew Paris’s story, Henry’s legitimacy as king is confirmed by enlisting God on his side. It is by God’s providence, Domino providente, that the king is not in own bed; and the devout Margaret Biseth, reciting the psalms and therefore with a hotline already open to God, serves as the divine agent in raising the alarm. That may indeed have been what happened; but if it was not, something of the kind would have had to be invented – something that demonstrated that the man who occupied the throne was indeed the true king in the sight of God. The contemporary stories of the scullion of Lincoln and the squire of Woodstock invite reading against each other. Jump forward two and a half centuries, and you find another set of contemporary romances that invite similar parallel readings between their own texts and the sequence of children, men and one woman who in the years following 1483 all claimed to be the true heir to the throne of England. Two of these are fifteenth-century prose works emanating originally from Burgundy that were translated into English on either side of 1500: Blanchardyn and Eglantine, translated by Caxton around 1489; and Olyuer of Castylle, printed in 1518. Probably dating from slightly later is a third text, a ballad-style romance entitled Lady Bessy, much more demotic in style and dissemination,14 that fictionalizes history more directly: most of its characters are historical, but their actions, as in a historical novel, are rewritten to produce a version of events that is close enough to fact to be credible but that reaches its final outcome (here, the Tudor takeover) by imaginative means. The background to the late fifteenth-century struggle for the English throne went back almost a century, and demonstrated all the problems consequent on the equation of the rightful monarch with the true heir as defined by the system of primogeniture. The trouble had started in 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke deposed Richard II; both were grandsons of Edward III, Richard through his eldest son, the Black Prince, Bolingbroke through the third son, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. Since Richard was so evidently the true king in linear terms, this necessitated the fiction that Richard had not been deposed, but rather had freely resigned the crown to Bolingbroke as his designated heir, somewhat as Edward the Confessor had designated William the Conqueror. Bolingbroke’s reign was, however, haunted by stories that Richard was still alive, that he was a king in waiting, like the dispossessed heir of romance, for the moment of his return.15 In addition, and less spectrally, Bolingbroke was beset by the descendants of Edward’s second son, whose claims he 14


It now survives in two manuscripts, one among the papers of John Stowe in London, British Library, Harley MS 367, and also in the collection of popular literature assembled in the Percy Folio Manuscript. It is printed as The Most Pleasant Song of Lady Bessy, ed. J.O. Halliwell, Percy Society 20 (1847), and in Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript: Ballads and Romances, ed. John W. Hales and Frederick J. Furnivall (London, 1868), 3.319–63. On these issues see in particular Paul Strohm, England’s Empty Throne: Usurpation and Textual Legitimation, 1399–1422 (New Haven and London, 1998).


Helen Cooper had simply overridden – and done so all the more easily since the grandchild initially in question was female. The importance of the equation of rightfulness with the rules of primogeniture necessitated the further fiction, accepted by Parliament as underlying his claim, that he was ‘desendit be right lyne of the Blode comyng fro the gude lorde Kyng Henry therde’, on the grounds that Edmund Crouchback, earl of Lancaster and younger brother of Edward I, was in fact the elder son of Henry III, and so carried a superior right to the throne. Bolingbroke accordingly claimed the crown not by virtue of his descent from Edward III, but through his mother, Blanche of Lancaster.16 Perhaps not surprisingly in view of its implausibility, this rewriting of history proved no deterrent to the displaced descendants of the senior line from Edward III. It was their claims that haunted the whole Lancastrian dynasty and finally overturned it, even though it took five generations of Yorkists before they succeeded; for a claim based on primogeniture never goes away so long as the line continues. The Yorkists could and did represent themselves as the equivalent of Haveloks, true heirs emerging from the shadows to claim the throne that was rightfully theirs. While a strong man held the crown, rival claimants stood little chance, as the Lancastrian Henry V disposed of the earl of Cambridge, and as the Yorkist Edward IV could keep the last Lancastrian claimants at bay; but Edward died when his sons were still children, and the linear system promptly broke down. There followed two successful usurpations by men who had no valid claims from primogeniture; and a third, unsuccessful, attempt by a pretender who did make such a claim, but who failed to impress it on history. The first usurpation was Richard duke of Gloucester’s seizure of the throne from the young heirs of Edward IV. He justified his action by claiming that they were illegitimate, on the grounds that an earlier contract of marriage entered into by Edward rendered his marriage to their mother bigamous or adulterous, or indeed both; but that still left the child of an intervening brother, the young earl of Warwick, surviving, just as Bolingbroke had ignored the line intervening between the Black Prince and John of Gaunt. In the late fifteenth-century case, the boy in question may well have been feeble-minded; but in genealogical terms, that made no difference to the linear strength of his claim. Richard might pragmatically be the man best equipped to rule, but in no way was he the rightful heir. The disappearance of the princes from the Tower, whatever in fact happened to them, did not help; for it was all too familiar as an act of a usurping tyrant or a wicked uncle, like the ones in the Havelok story, to try to kill the child heir. Whether or not Richard was actually guilty counted for nothing beside the fact that he was believed to be guilty. The next usurpation followed from the first both chronologically and logically: Richard’s failure to impress his legitimacy on his subjects made Henry Tudor’s takeover all too easy. Henry had an even less plausible claim than Richard: his accession indeed marked the biggest disruption to the linear descent of the crown since the Norman conquest. He too was descended from John of Gaunt, founder of the Lancastrian line, but illegitimately, and even though the duke had eventually married their mother, the Beauforts had been explicitly excluded by Act of 16

John Ashdown Hill, ‘The Lancastrian Claim to the Throne’, in Tant d’Emprises – So Many Undertakings: Essays in Honour of Anne Sutton, ed. Livia Visser-Fuchs, The Ricardian 13 (2003), 27–38; quotation from p. 30 (my italics), citing Rota Parliamentorum (1832), 3.422–23.


When Romance Comes True Parliament from any claim to the throne. Richard, however, was killed in battle against him at Bosworth, and Henry had Parliament declare him king by virtue of the indisputable fact that he occupied the throne; and he proceeded to liquidate every possible rival claimant over the next few years, the feeble-minded earl of Warwick among them. It was all the more necessary, therefore, for Henry to mythologize his seizure of throne on the romance model, to claim a status as the divinely identified true heir. How well he succeeded can be measured by the fact that we never describe him as a usurper: we still buy into the Tudor myth of rightful kingship. It was not, however, an easy myth to create. There were indeed Welsh prophecies ascribed to Merlin of the advent of a ‘son of prophecy’, which Henry could apply to himself; and prophecy, the foreseeing of the present in the past, was a way of guaranteeing that what was happening in the present was right, was divinely foreordained. Writing the Faerie Queene a century later, Edmund Spenser similarly found Merlin useful for prophesying just such a providential advent of the Tudors.17 Henry also claimed that God had made His own views clear, not by a king-mark, but through trial by battle on Bosworth Field. He made some claim to being in the line of descent from Arthur, though he did not press that too hard, as it lacked plausibility as grounds for asserting a contemporary right to the English throne even in the age of Sir Thomas Malory;18 he famously called his eldest son Arthur, but the ploy died with the child. In addition, Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort (who, if his linear claim had anything in it, should herself have been the one to be occupying the throne), commissioned a translation of a romance from Caxton that offered a story analogous to Henry’s. She was renowned for her piety, and this was the only secular work in which she ever showed any interest. Blanchardyn and Eglantine describes how a young prince leaves home to test himself in chivalry; in his absence, his father is overthrown by pagan enemies, and he himself in due course returns to claim his own title and to marry a neighbouring heiress. The story offers a series of parallels to the overthrow of Henry VI, Henry Tudor’s sojourning on the continent to keep himself safe from any Yorkist attempts to harm him, and his return from over the sea (a distinctly English motif, as Rosalind Field has pointed out) to recover his throne and to marry the heiress to the Yorkist line, Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s eldest daughter and, since the presumed death of her younger brothers, his linear heir.19 Blanchardyn and Eglantine thus provided the romance patterning that the Tudor takeover so singularly lacked. It suggests that what happened was not usurpation but the return of the rightful heir, and so offered a way to assimilate the deeply disturbing historical and genealogical upsets of the Tudor accession as right and proper. Blanchardyn was not the most obvious, nor at first glance the most appropriate, choice of romance for Lady Margaret to have selected for translation. She might 17



Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A.C. Hamilton, 2nd edn (Harlow, 2001), III.iii.48. In II.x.75, he invents an elfin genealogy for the Tudors, so bypassing the problematic nature of their lineal claim. See Sydney Anglo, ‘The British History in Early Tudor Propaganda’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 44 (1961), 17–48, and his revisions to those views in his Images of Early Tudor Kingship (London, 1992), pp. 40–60. Direct descent from Arthur was of course impossible, as he died without legitimate issue. Rosalind Field, ‘The King over the Water: Exile-and-Return Revisited’, in Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England, ed. Corinne Saunders (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 41–53.


Helen Cooper more logically have chosen the mid-fifteenth-century French Olyuer of Castylle (which is also discussed elsewhere in this volume by Elizabeth Williams), for this romance already fortuitously contained a wicked duke of Gloucester who usurped the throne of England. He is overcome in battle and killed by a stronger claimant named Arthur, whose claim derives from his wife’s status as the true heiress; and so the rightful line is restored. Olyuer does, however, have one decisive drawback, evident even in that short plot summary: it makes it very clear that the husband’s claim of kingship lies solely in his wife. That was a step too far for Henry Tudor. He claimed the throne in his own right, not in that of Elizabeth of York; and he was careful to establish his own hold on the crown before he married her, so that there could be no question that his kingship was in any way dependent on her. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that Olyuer of Castylle was translated into English only after his death, in the reign of his son Henry VIII, who inherited the claims of both his mother and his father to the English throne.20 At first glance, Olyuer of Castylle might seem like the perfect example of romance that comes true; but for all its coincidences with history, it was not a model that Henry VII himself could have tolerated. That did not mean, however, that there was no contemporary awareness of the possibility that both Henry and Lady Margaret rejected, that the crown rightly descended through the Yorkist line as embodied in Elizabeth. Her own historical story was given a romance treatment some time in the next few decades, to bring it into line with that social change mentioned earlier in this paper: the location of political and erotic patronage not just in the passive consent of heiress, but in her own active personal choice. Lady Bessy turns the story of Elizabeth of York, the Lady Bessy of the title, into a romance of the dispossessed heiress who herself instigates the wooing of the man she loves. It might sound as if the true heir and the true heiress should have analogous biographies, but in fact there are interesting differences between them. Typically, the true heir is lost from sight: he becomes a foundling, a fair unknown, who may himself not know his true identity, and others certainly do not. He is brought up away from the court, out in the world at large. A woman, by contrast, is oppressed or imprisoned rather than lost. She typically remains within the land that constitutes her inheritance, as if she were a metonym for the territories she owns. The process of restoring her to her rightful position and power is a matter of rescuing her from a tyrannical father who forbids her choice of marriage partner, or from rival suitors of a highly undesirable sort (such as pagans), or from a usurper. Thus Havelok’s wife, Goldeburh, the heiress to England, is never ‘lost’ in the same sense as he is. He is brought up as a fair unknown in an alien country; she remains under her guardian uncle’s control. She does not need to be found, but to be rescued and married to the right man. Goldeburh is an unusual romance heroine in that her active choice of husband comes after her forced marriage. Most heroines make their own choice much more positively, as do Lavine in the Eneas, Rimenhild in Horn, Josiane in Bevis of Hamtoune, or the eponymous Melusine. Willed choice of this kind is especially common in genealogical romances, with their concern with the founding of a family, as if the future of a dynasty must lie in the active choice of the founding mother 20

The nearest thing to a modern edition is by Gail Orgelfinger, The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle (New York and London, 1988).


When Romance Comes True (Maddox’s ‘mega-mother’) more than the founding father; and Lady Bessy accordingly rewrites history to fit. The poem opens when Richard III is already on the throne. Bessy, who is consistently presented as the true heiress to her father, herself decides to woo the exiled Henry Tudor, whom she loves despite never having met him; and she sends messengers and money to bring him back over the sea. She possesses a book of prophecy foretelling that she will be queen, and there is no mention of any Tudor claim to the throne at all; Henry is merely the means to her own declared end. Bessy is accordingly present at the battle of Bosworth, as a kind of spirit of rightful victory, and she marries Henry on the field of battle. This gives a decisively Yorkist spin to the Tudor takeover – indeed it turns the Tudor myth into a Yorkist myth. Here, the Plantagenet princess legitimizes the Tudor gentleman, as if he were a squire of low degree winning the hand of a superior lady; which is perhaps precisely why Henry in fact made so sure that he established himself on the throne before he did marry her. There is no evidence whatsoever as to what the historical Elizabeth thought about the marriage, whether she was enthusiastic or reluctant, though she certainly had no choice in the matter. She is unlikely to have objected to becoming queen, especially in view of what the alternatives would have been: all the evidence we have indicates that Henry was much more ruthless than Richard III. A romance should end at that point, with the ‘true’ heir restored to the throne; that was how Henry and his mother and the Yorkist author of Lady Bessy aimed to structure their propaganda. Another claimant, however, soon made his appearance on the field of history, and this one had a still more compelling claim to a biography modelled on romance. There is something of the Havelok about him, and also something of a more up-to-date romance hero, the Valentine of Valentine and Orson, for Valentine becomes a foundling in consequence of a charge of adultery brought against his mother, just as this new pretender has lost his status as a result of a comparable charge. Valentine has no idea who he is; he too, however, bears ‘a crosse upon [his] shoulder, the whiche is also yelowe as the fyne golde’, a mark that makes him suspect that there is more to his lineage than he knows and that impels him to seek his true parentage; and in due course he recovers his status as heir to the emperor of Greece.21 His real-life counterpart was the young man we know as Perkin Warbeck; but to most of the crowned heads of late fifteenth-century Europe, he was Richard of England, a name he was accorded by virtue of his claim to be Richard duke of York, the second son of Edward IV and the younger of the princes in Tower.22 He had, he said, been spared (like Havelok) by the man who had been 21


Valentine and Orson, ed. Arthur Dickson, EETS OS 204 (1937), quotation from p. 85; the English translation was made by Henry Watson. Its first edition dates from some time in the first decade of the sixteenth century – interestingly, after the threat represented by Warbeck had been eliminated (both he and the earl of Warwick were executed in 1499); but it may date from as late as 1510, by which time any coincidence between the stories would have ceased to resonate. For a double biography of Warbeck/Richard, see Ann Wroe, Perkin: A Story of Deception (London, 2003). Warbeck did declare himself to be an impostor on the scaffold, a moment when it would be very unlikely indeed that he would not tell the truth; but by that time he had an infant son, and therefore also a strong motive to try to protect the child from the consequences of royal birth. Nothing further is known about the child, or the circumstances of its death.


Helen Cooper ordered to murder him; he had then (like Havelok) escaped over the sea; and he now came back from the dead, returned to claim his throne. He further declared that he bore marks on his body that proved his identity – in effect, king-marks, like Havelok’s and Valentine’s, though the reference is presumably to distinctive birthmarks (also widespread in romance: Cymbeline’s lost eldest son and heir is identified by just such a birthmark).23 He furthermore carried himself with a natural grace and authority such as all those other fair unknowns had possessed who turned out to be indeed the heirs to great fathers. His supposed aunt, Margaret of Burgundy, seems to have believed he was genuine, as did Charles VIII of France. James IV of Scotland gave him a close kinswoman as his wife; and Margaret’s son, the emperor Maximilian I, recognized him as Richard IV. If he were indeed the son of Flemish parents, as Henry VII claimed, it was odd that he spoke English perfectly, with no accent; and it was odd too that after he had captured him, Henry absolutely refused to have him brought face to face with those supposed parents. Was he afraid that they might confess that they were not his true parents, just as Grim was not Havelok’s father, nor Sir Ector Arthur’s? Francis Bacon, writing his history of Henry VII a century later, confessed himself baffled as to just what the truth of the matter was.24 John Ford, in his play with the double-edged title The Chronicle Historie of Perkin Warbeck: A Strange Truth, has Henry (of course) insist that Perkin is no more than that, but neither Warbeck nor the play offers support for that insistence: it leaves the question of his real identity, the ‘truth’, unresolved and ‘strange’, though the play’s sympathies clearly lie with the pretender.25 That we speak of him now as Perkin Warbeck simply echoes the verdict of history. If he had succeeded – if, when he invaded England with a pitifully small force, the people had risen in his support – then we too would know him as Richard IV. Henry Tudor would be no more than a brief interlude in the royal line of the Plantagenets, an adventurer who had seized the throne and forced the heiress into marriage, only for the foundling prince who had escaped death to return and claim his crown, to assert his own right above his sister’s; for if Henry is cast as the wrongful king, then the shape of his life becomes not romance wish-fulfilment, but nightmare. The point at which we traditionally mark the end of the Middle Ages, when the dynasty of the Plantagenets was replaced by the Tudors, thus offered itself as four different romance plots: as a story of the fulfilment of supernatural prophecies; as a story of the dispossessed heir, Henry Tudor; as a story of the dispossessed heiress, Elizabeth of York; and very nearly, as a story of the true heir spared as an infant from murder by his wicked uncle, and who returns as a fair unknown to claim the throne that is rightfully his – though we hear of Richard of England now only as Warbeck, a mere impostor on the edge of more significant political events. The only 23

24 25

Cymbeline, 5.6.365–70, in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford, 1986). Warbeck is unlikely to have had Havelok itself in mind, as the romance is not known to have been copied after c. 1400 (Smithers, p. xv) and the chronicle versions omit the king-mark; he could well have known the French Valentin, but that itself witnesses to the continuing currency of the motif. The return of an exiled hero from over the sea was also widespread: e.g. in Blanchardyn, or in the prose reworking of the Horn romance entitled Ponthus and Sidoine. Francis Bacon, History of the Reign of King Henry VII, ed. Brian Vickers (Cambridge, 1998), p. 96. In John Ford: Three Plays, ed. Keith Sturgess (Harmondsworth, 1970).


When Romance Comes True figure of all these ambitious climbers whose story comprehensively resists any such romance shaping is Richard III, the one among them most demonized by history; for history, as we know it, is romance written by the victors.



The Curious History of the Matter of England ROSALIND FIELD The discussion of several of the texts central to our understanding of insular romance habitually employs the familiar term ‘Matter of England’. The familiarity has encouraged a comfortable sense of the meaning and value of the term; this paper aims to investigate whether such confidence is well-founded and to trace the development and use of the term, and its effect on the perception of the romances associated with it. The term ‘Matter’ is modelled on Bodel’s famous classification of the subjects of narrative into the three Matters of France, Rome and Britain, a genuine, and rare, glimpse into the medieval sense of narrative.1 However, Bodel’s twelfth-century classification is itself not as straightforward as it is often assumed. The recent study of the origins of romance by D.H. Green draws attention to Bodel’s assessment of the differing status of the three Matters: that of France is voir (true), that of Rome is sage (wise, knowledgable), while the Matter of Britain is vain et plaisant (frivolous or false entertainment).2 It is in Bodel’s interest thus to privilege the Matter of France, to which he is contributing, but this also provides a gesture of support for the political hegemony of France in competition with the Anglo-Norman exploitation of Arthurian material, and that of the Matter of Rome by the German Empire.3 In terms of modern romance criticism we can also see that Bodel’s perceptions have as much to do with modality as with matter – that in his hierarchy of truth Arthurian romance is more quintessentially faithful to the fictionality of the genre as it has developed, a finding with which most modern readers would concur. But how does this give rise to the ‘Matter of England’? This is not, of course, a medieval term used by Bodel or anyone else, and there was neither the literary material nor the contemporary political interest to support it. Nor does the term come from the nineteenth-century ‘inventors’ of Middle English. Although there was plenty of interest in the origins and nature of English romance amongst English and continental scholars in the nineteenth century, their concerns are more with the perceived Germanic origins of that romance. For early scholars such as Ritson and Ellis and the early editors, Madden, Furnivall and Skeat, as John Ganim has shown, 1 2 3

Jean Bodel, La Chanson des Saisnes, ed. A. Brasseur, 2 vols (Geneva, 1989), lines 6–7. D.H. Green, The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150–1220 (Cambridge, 2002), pp.138–9. For the interests of the German Empire, see Green, Beginnings, p. 235, n. 57, citing Heinz Thomas, ‘Matière de Rome – Matière de Bretagne. Zu den politischen Implikationen von Veldekes “Eneide” und Hartmanns “Erec”’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 108 (1989), 65–104.

Rosalind Field romance was a central genre, as important to understanding the development of Middle English literature as Chaucer and Langland.4 But they were not in the business of constructing the ‘Matter of England’.5 It was evidently the 1906 publication of Bodel’s Chanson des Saisnes, with its famous lines about the three matters of medieval literature6 that encouraged literary scholars to adopt the term ‘Matter of England’ – of whom the first seems to have been W.H. Schofield in the same year: ‘These different “matters” [Bodel’s of France, Britain and Rome] we shall discuss in the order given by Bodel, developing, however, two more by separating from the Matter of Britain stories of Germanic origin, and from that of Rome those that have their source in the Orient.’7 Schofield is here treating Bodel’s classification as simply one of matière, ignoring the issues of status and veracity and he is of his time in extending this to a theory of Germanic origin. It becomes obvious that his concept of ‘Matter of England’ is not only a means of describing content, but also of tracing a native narrative – a ‘saga’ – beneath the foreign veneer of Frenchness: It seemed almost necessary at first for a saga to assume the exterior semblance of French poetry in order to maintain its dignity […so that,] reading about their own heroes, Englishmen learned foreign ways.8 Having thus invented a new Matter he draws up an ambitiously comprehensive list of texts to represent it. His Matter of England includes Havelok, Waldef (assuming a lost translation into English), Bevis of Hamtoun, Guy of Warwick, all the versions of Horn (the Anglo-Norman Romance of Horn as well as King Horn and Horn Childe) Athelston, the Robin Hood ballads, Gamelyn and other outlaw tales. He wants to include Tristan but for the ‘superadded Celtic tone’ (p. 260). If Schofield’s influential grouping chimes with pro-Germanic cultural constructions of the early twentieth century, its terminology is adaptable enough to dodge the association when it becomes awkward as the century develops. The ‘Matter of England’ can shake off its assumed Germanic origins as necessary while still acting as a definer of Englishness. 9 The other purpose here is that of detaching medieval English literature, especially narrative literature, from any French associations. At this date there is little use of the concept of ‘insular’ with regard to English French-language literature, although the 4 5

6 7 8 9

John Ganim, ‘The Myth of Medieval Romance’, in Medievalism and the Modernist Temper, ed. R. Howard Bloch and Stephen G. Nichols (Baltimore, Md, 1996), pp. 148–66. Joanne Charbonneau attributes the first use of ‘Matter of England’ to George Ellis in 1805 following Bodel’s model. However, Ellis has his own idiosyncratic terms ‘Anglo-Saxon romances’ for Guy and Bevis and ‘Anglo-Norman romances’ for Richard Coeur de Lion. Moreover, Bodel’s work was not available to him. See George Ellis, Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, 3 vols (London, 1805), 2:3–174; and Joanne A. Charbonneau, ‘Romances, Middle English’, in Medieval England, Garland Encyclopedias of the Middle Ages (Vol 3), ed. Paul E. Szarmach et al. (New York, 1998), pp. 646–49, at p. 647. This is a telling instance of the widespread impression of the antiquity of the classification. Jean Bodel, Saxonlied [Les Saisnes], ed. F. Menzel and E. Stengel, 2 vols (Marburg, 1906, 1909). W.H. Schofield, English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer (London, 1906; repr. 1925), pp. 258–82. Schofield, English Literature, p. 259. For the situation in England after the First World War see, for example, David Matthews, The Making of Middle English, 1765–1910 (Minneapolis and London, 1999), pp. 188–89: he cites the 1921 Newbolt Report: ‘English studies is to be purged of its Germanisms.’


The Curious History of the Matter of England nineteenth century English scholars had been comfortable with the notion if not the term, Madden for example accepting that there must have been many native English writers writing in French.10 However, Schofield’s list, including as it does the extant French-language version of Horn, does raise the issue of whether Matter of England romance can be such if not written in English, and scholars since have differed on this. The next influential use of the term is another American scholar, H.L. Creek, writing on ‘Character in the Matter of England Romances’ in 1911,11 for whom Schofield’s new category is convenient. He does not acknowledge Schofield, nor define the term; his texts are King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis and Guy – ‘the four most important of the “matter of England” romances’ (his quotation-marks). This unexplained and unexamined use of the term ‘Matter of England’ may be the cause of its ubiquity; it seems, lacking explanation or definition, to have an established authority. So for U.S. editors French and Hale in their important 1930 anthology it requires no introduction, but is now represented by Havelok, King Horn, Athelston and Gamelyn.12 It is significant that it is an invention not of English literary historians, but of those from the United States. That the Matter of England might link medieval English literature to precisely that founding body of Anglo-Saxon texts that Frantzen has discussed as contributing to the nineteenth-century American sense of national, linguistic and legal identity is particularly attractive to those constructing Middle English as a subject for serious study in American universities.13 The Matter of England becomes necessary and visible not as evidence of a late medieval sense of national identity with which it has since been associated, but rather when ‘England’ becomes a multi-national, international, concept – a shared past, reaching across the Empire of the nineteenth century and North America. It is a concept of England and English literature that requires a substantial body of legendary material – its own Matter, to equal those of European romance. In this respect it is a development comparable to Bodel’s original three Matters, an ideological constuct, not simply a classifying label. It is not a neutral term. However, it must be recognised that for most scholars and readers of romance, the primary attraction of the Matter of England classification is as a means of bringing some order into the unwieldy taxonomy of Middle English romance, reducing the number consigned to the bin of ‘Miscellaneous’. But even as a classification there are problems, as has long been recognised. One problem is that of which texts to include. As we have seen, Schofield, followed by Creek, concentrates on Havelok, King Horn, Guy and Bevis, while Schofield further includes Athelston, the Anglo-Norman Horn and outlaw material. French and Hale select their own small group, presumably a selection from Schofield’s original list. Derek Pearsall in the 1974 Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, lists the Matters of Britain, France and 10 11 12 13

F.M. Madden, Havelok the Dane (Roxburghe Club, 1828), pp. xlv–xlvi, cited by Matthews, p. 123. See also Ellis, Specimens, vol. I, section II. H.L. Creek, ‘Character in the Matter of England Romances’, JEGP 10 (1911), 429–52, 585– 609. W.H. French and C.B. Hale, eds., Middle English Metrical Romances (New York, 1930). Allen J. Frantzen, The Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English and Teaching the Tradition (New Brunswick and London, 1990), pp. 201–25.


Rosalind Field Rome, and then has a section headed – in quotation-marks – ‘Matter of England’ which includes Horn, Havelok, Athelston, Gamelyn, Guy, Bevis, Richard Coeur de Lion and William of Palerne.14 W.R.J. Barron’s important study of 1987 has a Matter of England group predominantly made up of Havelok, King Horn, Guy and Greenwood romances, including Gamelyn, but his discussion also touches on Bevis and Athelston.15 Richard Coeur de Lion appears in a later section as a ‘derivative of the Matter of England’ (pp. 179–80). Diane Speed has perhaps the most generous collection, including the Auchinleck Arthour & Merlin, Sir Tristrem and Sir Orfeo by virtue of that manuscript’s setting of their action in England.16 As well as differing opinions as to which texts to include in the category, there is an increasing note of unease as the twentieth century progresses about the value of using the classification by Matter at all. By 1965, Derek Pearsall in his groundbreaking re-examination of the corpus, can write of the ‘traditional classification according to the Matters (of Britain, France, Greece and Rome, and England)’ and notes that ‘this classification is used in virtually all the standard textbooks and bibliographies’ – and there is an implication here that the Matter of England is as ‘traditional’ as the other three.17 He dismisses the classification by Matter as ‘misleading where it lumps together quite dissimilar romances because of some superficial coincidence of plot material’, in favour of an analysis through form and style.18 A similar impatience is voiced by John Finlayson in 1980: Nor is the classification by matières much more useful […for] to know that a poem is about Arthur, Charlemagne or antiquity is to know only the subject which is no more useful for critical purposes than to know that Hamlet is about a Danish prince of that name.19 But such impatience with the blunt classification by matière only serves to link the fortunes of the Matter of England with those of Bodel’s original three; they sink or swim together. However, the Matter of England continued to provide a rationale for editors of anthologies, the most blatant of which is probably that offered by Donald Sands: ‘An additional category which Bodel does not mention is of great importance to English literature – the “Matter of England”’.20 His representative texts – King Horn, Havelok, Athelston, Gamelyn – are described as ‘the four genuinely English romances’, by contrast with other associated texts, William of Palerne, Bevis, Guy. This seems a 14 15 16 17

18 19


Derek Pearsall, ‘Matter of England’, in The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Vol. 1: 600–1660, ed. George Watson (Cambridge, 1974), pp. 429–36. W.R.J. Barron, English Medieval Romance (Harlow, 1987). Diane Speed, ‘The Construction of the Nation in Medieval English Romance’, in Readings in Medieval English Romance, ed. Carol M. Meale (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 135–157, at pp. 145–46. Derek Pearsall, ‘The Development of Middle English Romance’, Mediæval Studies 27 (1965), 91–116; repr. in Studies in Medieval English Romances, ed. Derek Brewer (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 11–36, at p. 16. Dieter Mehl takes a similar line in The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1968), pp. 31–33. John Finlayson, ‘Definitions of Middle English Romances’, Chaucer Review 15 (1980–81), 44– 62, 168–181, at p. 45. There is a side glance here at the motif-based school of criticism which would see Havelok as an analogue of Hamlet. Donald B. Sands, ed., Middle Engish Verse Romances, EMETS (Exeter, 1986), p. 4; my emphasis.


The Curious History of the Matter of England complex and misleading occlusion of the practical motivation of the editor of a student anthology – to choose short texts that fit comfortably into teaching programmes. More recently W.R.J. Barron adopted classification by Matter as a fundamental structure for his survey of English romance, despite the misgivings of Pearsall and others. His Matter of England section makes it quite explicit that the basis for such a classification differs in important ways from the Bodel-derived Matters. The Matter of England is seen as ‘a body of national literature’ (p. 63), some of which leaves traces in oral tradition, represented by the romances of ‘those heroes who passed from history to folklore entered English literature only through the intermediary of French romance’. The suppositions underlying this are the familiar and long established ones of Germanic, saga and folk origins and the intervening activity of ‘French’ romance, a term which does not distinguish between insular and continental, although his discussion does consider the Anglo-Norman originals of the Middle English texts. The ‘body’ of literature that results is cohesive enough to be generalised about in a final section on ‘the character of the Matter of England romances’ (p. 85) in which the Middle English romances are distinguished from their continental counterparts by their wide appeal to a socially diverse audience. The TEAMS edition of Four Romances of England has a title that suggests a different terminology, but the introduction sounds a familiar note (my emphasis): Both Horn and Havelok the Dane belong to a group of poems known as the Matter of England, late medieval romances based in part on the oral folk culture that survived the Norman Conquest. This category also usually includes Athelston and Bevis of Hampton.21 As with Barron, the essential difference between this concept of Matter of England and Bodel’s Matters is that between a hypothetical oral folk culture giving rise to the Matter of England and a strong literary tradition, supporting named authors and creative inter-textuality represented by Bodel’s original three Matters. A timely note of caution is sounded by John Frankis who remarks that the term ‘Matter of England’ does not distinguish between origins and setting, the prime example being King Horn, always included in the Matter of England category on the grounds of its apparent origin, but which is not set in England.22 This difficulty tends to be avoided in the construction of the Matter of England by shifting attention to the more historicised and geographically authentic Horn Childe despite general agreement that it is of inferior literary quality. Another example from an authoritative reference-volume entry, by Sharon Stevenson, includes King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Guy of Warwick, Bevis and Richard Coeur du Lion.23 She attributes the Matter of England classification to the imitation of Bodel’s model by ‘modern bibliographers’ (unnamed). She provides a definition that 21 22


Introduction to King Horn, ed. Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury; originally published in Four Romances of England (Kalamazoo, MI, 1999), p. 1. John Frankis, ‘Views of Anglo-Saxon England in Post-Conquest Vernacular Writing’, in Orality and Literacy in Early Middle English, ed. Herbert Pilch (Tübingen, 1996), pp. 228–247, at pp. 238–39. ‘The Matter of England (1240–1400)’, Dictionary of Literary Biography: vol 146: Old and Middle English, ed. Jeffrey Helterman and Jerome Mitchell (Detroit, 1994), pp. 371–82.


Rosalind Field goes beyond that of material, one in which all the texts ‘are metrical, use rhyme rather than alliteration, use chivalric conventions to varying degrees, deal with a historical or legendary English personage, and, with the exception of Richard, utilize an exile and return motif’ (p. 372). In the same volume, Jane Dick Zatta writes about the ‘so-called Matter of England romances’ (p. 474) to group together the AngloNorman Romance of Horn, Boeve, Gui, Waldef, Fouke Fitzwarin.24 This is a more recent development, in which the taxonomy of Anglo-Norman romance uses a term usually seen as essentially English in both content and language.25 As is often the case with these encyclopaedic volumes, there is no attempt to reconcile the contradictions between entries, but these can stand for the deep differences that run through the usages of the term: one language or two, the use or not of ‘so-called’ and quotationmarks, the inclusion of texts in Anglo-Norman that do not have extant Middle English equivalents (Waldef and Fouke Fitzwarin), the exclusion of Anglo-Norman versions of the Havelok tale, the exclusion of the wider range of Middle English romance. At the same time, from the early twentieth century, important scholars such as Laura Hibbard Loomis were working with a classification of ‘Romances of English Heroes’ – a less portentous phrase retained by others including Renwick and Orton and a number of more recent studies including that of Susan Crane.26 Charles Dunn in the Manual also avoids the term Matter in favour of ‘Romances Derived from English Legends’;27 he is also avoiding the term used for the same group of romances in Wells’s 1916 Manual – ‘English and Germanic Legends’.28 But despite some variants on Laura Hibbard Loomis’s alternative category, the ubiquitous usefulness of the term continues: Helen Cooper gives a clear account of some of the complexities involved in the ‘matter of England’ group of romances (her quotationmarks), focussing on those romances that have sixteenth-century versions: King Horn and Havelok, Guy and Bevis.29 Robert Rouse discusses Middle English Matter of England romance, taking it to include ‘those romances that are explicitly set prior to

24 25



28 29

Jane Dick Zatta, ‘Anglo-Norman Literature in the Development of Middle English Literature’, pp. 472–79. Compare A.C. Gibbs, Middle English Romances (London, 1966) in discussing the AngloNorman romances: ‘the most distinctively Anglo-Norman romances are those which use for their subject-matter tales from “The Matter of England”, that is, English traditions and legends which the Normans had adopted’ (p. 19). W.L. Renwick and Harold Orton, The Beginnings of English Literature to Skelton (London, 1939; 2nd edn, 1952; 3rd edn (revised), 1966). Crane does describe the ‘Matter of England’ as ‘omitted from Jean Bodel’s list’ and continuing strongly into Middle English, but her own discussion consistently adopts the term ‘romances of English heroes’: see Susan Crane, Insular Romance (Berkeley, CA, 1986), p. 13. J. Burke Severs, ed., A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1400, Vol. 1: Romances (New Haven, CT, 1967), pp. 17–37. His list consists of the versions of the Horn story, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Gamelyn, Athelston and William of Palerne (‘included in the present section only for editorial convenience’, p. 17). John Edwin Wells, A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1400 (New Haven, 1916), pp. 763–64. Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford, 2004), pp. 29–31.


The Curious History of the Matter of England the Norman Conquest’, in effect, the Auchinleck Bevis, Guy and Horn Childe, and Havelok.30 We seem to have reached a situation in which whenever the term is used – as it is frequently – everyone confidently assumes that we know which works are referred to and what the term means in relation to literary and cultural history, while at the same time feeling free to re-define it to fit whatever argument is being developed and to apply it to a shifting range of texts. Frequently a sense of unease is marked by the use of quotation-marks or ‘so-called’, but there is no clear discussion of what causes this unease.31 Such unease is, I suggest, well-founded in respect of both elements in the term, ‘Matter’ and ‘England’. The problem with the use of the term ‘Matter’ to classify these Middle English romances concerns both reputation and reception. The three Matters have a pan-European dimension beyond their national boundaries and are an official and recognisable part of European culture. The term ‘Matter of England’ lacks international status – individual heroes, namely Guy and Bevis, will have their tales told in a number of languages, but there is no instantly recognisable body of material evident in heavy and exuberant tapestries or in the traditions of the Nine Worthies across Europe.32 To envisage Havelok or Bevis as finding their way into Dante’s Divine Comedy as do Ganelon, Ulysses and, indirectly, Lancelot – is to show how ludicrous this is. However, if Bodel’s Matters belong to official high-status literature, they operate under the restrictions that go with it, at times labouring under the weight of their tradition. The other problem with ‘Matter’ lies in its implication of a coherent corpus of related texts. Despite the inadequacy of the term to describe romances fully, it is the case that each of the matters of Rome, France and Britain has a recognisable setting and cast of characters, commonly available to all texts within the group. The romance writer needs only to sketch in a setting and drop a few well-known names and can rely on an audience to respond accordingly. This happens in texts as different as Sir Launfal, The Sege of Melayne and Troilus and Criseyde. Each writer of these romances of English heroes has to start afresh, introducing place, people and issues; because the material is fresh, there is no familiar setting, no continuum of inter-textual reference. A comparison of the openings of some minor branches of the cycles of the Matters proper with those of the Middle English romances in question shows how bereft these romances are of stock opening ingredients. For Sir Launfal two lines suffice to place the action historically and thematically: Be doughty Artours dawes That helde Engelond yn good lawes…33 30 31



Robert Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 52–69 (p. 52, n. 1). As used intermittently by the present author to signify undefined unease: in ‘Romance as history, history as romance’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills et al. (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 163–74. Admittedly later English tradition would make Guy a Worthy (replacing Godfrey): see Helen Cooper, ‘Guy as Early Modern English Hero’, in Guy of Warwick: Ancestor and Icon, ed. Alison Wiggins and Rosalind Field (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 185–99, at p. 193. Sir Launfal, ed. A.J. Bliss (London, 1960), lines 1–2. Marie de France’s Lanval introduces the Arthurian world equally briefly, but adds wars against the Picts and Scots (lines 5–10).


Rosalind Field The more courtly Ywain and Gawain, drawing on Chrétien, encompasses the chivalric, political and literary implications of its subject matter in a few introductory gestures: Ywayne and Gawayne; þai war knightes of the tabyl rownde, þarfore listens a lytel stownde. Arthure, þe Kyng of Yngland, þat wan al Wales with his hand And al Scotland, als sayes þe buke…34 The Sege of Melayne similarly sums up the essential themes of the Matter of France in its first stanza: All werthy men that luffes to here Off chevallry that byfore us were, That doughty weren of dede; Off Charlles of Fraunce, the heghe kinge of alle, That ofte sythes made hethyn men forto falle…35 And Kyng Alisaunder provides an authenticated synopsis: 3ee shullen heren noble geste, Of Alisaundre þe rich[e k]yng , þat dude by his mais[t]res teching, And ouercom, so J fynde, Darrye of Perce and Pore of Ynde, And many oþere, wi3th and hende, Jn to þe est werldes end…36 There is no such ease of reference for our romances, even when, as in the case of Athelston, England is established as the locus of action: Off foure weddyd breþeryn I wole 3ow tel, þat wolden yn Yngelond go dwel, That sybbe were nou3t of kyn.37 Most often, kingdoms are indeterminate and their rulers obscure, as in King Horn: A sang ihc schal 3ou singe Of Murry þe kinge. King he was biweste…38 There is a concern to establish family relationships, often the key to the action, at the expense of clear geographical or temporal contexts, as in Bevis where the place is more unspecific than often realised: 34 35 36 37 38

Ywain and Gawain, ed. A.B. Friedman and N.T. Harrington, EETS OS 254 (London, 1964), lines 4–9. Maldwyn Mills, ed., Six Middle English Romances (London, 1973), lines 1–5. Kyng Alisaunder, vol. 1, ed. G.V. Smithers, EETS OS 227 (London, 1952): Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 622, lines 30–36. Athelston, ed. A.McI. Trounce, EETS OS 224 (London, 1951), lines 10–12. King Horn ed. George H. McKnight, EETS OS 14 (London, 1901), Cambridge, University Library MS Gg. 4.27 (part 2), lines 3–5.


The Curious History of the Matter of England Ich wile yow tellen al togadre Of that knight and of is fadre, Sire Gii. Of Hamtoun he was sire And of al that ilche schire…39 These openings resemble the scene-setting of independent romances rather than the inter-textual referencing of cyclic ones – as in Amis and Amiloun: What sumtyme fel beyond the see Of two Barons of grete bounté And men of grete honoure…40 There is no need to labour the point: these romances are not drawing on a body of material familiar to author and audience. Place in these romances is often unspecific, at best local and only rarely national. Characters need to be introduced afresh, they come with no established reputation – there is no English equivalent of the figure of ‘Gawain’ whose identity carries over between several texts. The only figures who occur in more than one text are the historical kings, Athelston41 and Richard I, each of whom has his own romance as well as a walk-on role in Guy and Fouke Fitzwarin (and eventually the Robin Hood tradition) respectively. The city of Winchester has some status as a significant place, but this is limited by comparison with Troy or Camelot. It is not until the Robin Hood ballads that a corpus of texts set in England develop an introductory motif that links one text to another. The few examples given above are enough to indicate that there is a further problem with ‘England’. For recent romances scholarship the grouping of the Matter of England has provided a useful shortcut into considerations of nationalism and awareness of national identity. So there has been an expansion of meaning as the label ‘Matter of England’ shifts its emphasis from the grouping of narratives which can be seen to have similar material or origins, to a group of narratives concerned with the concept of ‘England’. Implicit in this is a perception of national qualities and virtues – and more recent criticism has kept implicit assumptions and bias that nineteenth-century critics were comfortable about voicing. ‘England’ in the ‘Matter of England’ is alleged to encode structures of political and cultural complexity that the texts themselves barely support. Even where ‘England’ may supply authentic and familiar topography, there is little agreement as to historical moment. It is usually, but not invariably, vaguely Anglo-Saxon, or at any lightly detailed time up to and including the audience’s present. This is not as reliable or recognisable as the Arthurian moment of the Matter of Britain, or the France of Charlemagne and his sons. 39

40 41

Bevis of Hamptoun, ed. Herman et al, in Four Romances of England, lines 7–11. In her paper ‘Light Entertainment and Upward Mobility: the Anglo-Norman Boeve and Its Patrons’ (given in Southampton, May 2004), Ivana Djordjević questioned the identification of the original ‘Hamtoun’ with Southampton. Amis and Amiloun, ed. MacEdward Leach, EETS OS 203 (London, 1937), lines 4–6. In fact, though, the Athelston in the romance of that name, a foreigner and something of an anti-hero, seems only nominally related to the Anglo-Saxon king. Frankis tentatively suggests the author may have wished to disassociate his Athelston from the historic Athelston, in ‘Views of Anglo-Saxon England’, p. 242.


Rosalind Field But the question remains – if the ‘Matter of England’ never existed, have events proved that it was necessary to invent it? There are alternatives; if we adopt Laura Hibbard’s formulation – Romances of English Heroes – we gain the recognition of pluralities at work in these texts as distinct from the authoritatively monolithic ‘Matter’. If we escape the heavy shadow of nationalism only to be caught by gender specificity that may not be too high a price. We are released from the requirement to find valid generalisations to group these texts together. There is no exile-and-return in Guy for example, but rather a pilgrimage. The majority of English heroes may be positive figures, but Athelston is not. Law may be a major theme, but it is skewed somewhat in Gamelyn and other outlaw texts. England may be saved by Guy, but it destroys Waldef and ejects Bevis. The constructed past may often be ‘Anglo-Saxon’, but in Havelok it is Anglo-Danish, and in Richard, Gamelyn and Fouke Fitzwarin it is the recent past, or even the present. This is not a literary grouping, there is no evidence, textual or extra-textual of a contemporary consciousness that any of these Middle English romances belong to an established body of material.42 If we were to generalise from this group of texts, it might be more along the lines of modality – if the canonical Matters are expected to function as true, wise or entertaining, then perhaps these texts display an exploratory freedom unavailable to them. There is little sense (outside the Havelok tradition) of a known destiny in the form of a historical outcome which haunts and encumbers those who write about Troy or Arthur, as Chaucer and Malory bear witness. The reader or audience has little warning of some unexpected turn in the narrative – such as Guy’s conversion, Ascopart’s treachery or Waldef’s death. There is, perhaps, opportunity for genuine inventiveness on the part of the authors in their selection and combination of traditional motifs. The concept ‘England’ is not present in all of them, and is not monolithic when it is – not surprising when we take into account that the AngloNorman originals pre-date, or even contribute to, a growing awareness of national identity. This is to say that the space offered by the English past – that is the insular past differentiated from the Arthurian tradition – is one of constructive fantasy, of exploring a world similar to but not under the same constraints as, the known present. It has not (yet) been colonised by literary auctores, nor adopted by international political factions. There is further recent evidence of the lack of fixity in the term ‘Matter of England’ to be found in an important inaugural lecture by the historian Rees Davies at Oxford in 1996.43 His title ‘The Matter of Britain and the Matter of England’ is in literary-historical terms, somewhat misleading. For Davies the ‘Matter of Britain’ is the historiographical movement initiated by Geoffrey of Monmouth and the ‘Matter of England’ is the counter-movement, led by William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon and Geffrei Gaimar. It is concerned to displace Britain by England in the perception of the past – a movement which proved successful and dominant until the recent challenge from historians of the other regions of Britain, including Davies himself. The value of Davies’s version of the Matter of England is that it 42 43

For a contrary view to this see Diane Speed, ‘Construction’, pp. 144–5. ‘The Matter of Britain and the Matter of England’: an inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 29 February 1996 by Rees Davies (Oxford, 1996).


The Curious History of the Matter of England gives an intellectual and cultural context to the earliest of the romances of English heroes, those of the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman writers from Gaimar onwards. But in seeing the Matters as conflicting histories, and the Matter of England as reshaping the identity of the British Isles with the emphasis on England, he both gives the term ‘Matter of England’ a precise and recognisable function and renders it less useful as a term to describe fiction. We now have competing uses of the term, one historical, one literary-historical. We can therefore sum up the problems with ‘The Matter of England’ thus: it is a hybrid term, both elements of which are problematic and ill-defined. It is a classification of texts, about which there is no clear agreement, which has no medieval justification although it sounds plausibly medieval and which has been appropriated very effectively to describe the historiographical debate of the twelfth century. It is a term used to yoke together romances that may have more significance in terms of differences rather than similarities, and it carries an ideological weight in its assumptions about national literature and language which render the texts themselves rigid, official and univocal. It is a cause of confusion rather than clarification. And as this paper has argued, it belongs to the discourse of history – not the history of literature, but rather the history of scholarship and the history of the perception of Englishness in literature, whether Rees Davies’s twelfth-century Matter of England, or the literary ancestry constructed by the early twentieth-century English-speaking world.

Postscript: Havelok, the returning king It seems clear that the central figure in any conceptualising of English romances is Havelok – the most apparently authentic figure, the one instantly recognisable across several versions, most rooted in local tradition44 and the figure that emphasises the key concerns of good rule, law and social order. Most readers would still agree with Creek that: in Havelok we seem to have a truly popular hero, not entirely created in the image of crude or chivalrous knighthood. But he is the exception that proves the rule.45 Where other romances may cause difficulties in classification, Havelok the Dane alone represents everything that has been claimed for the Matter of England. It contains exile-and-return, a popular hero (in both senses of the word), evidence of oral and local cultural connexions and probably origins, a positive, even good-humoured view of the past as a locus of creative fantasy for the present, a view of a cohesive society, of physical strength used in support of legal rule, of personal relationships contributing to social stability. It could be argued that the ‘Havelok-type’ even if it is only a group of one, has had a disproportionate effect on the modern awareness of English medieval narrative.46 Furthermore, in various rewritings, Havelok continues 44 45 46

See Nancy Mason Bradbury, ‘The Traditional Origins of Havelok the Dane’, Studies in Philology 90 (1993), 115–142. Creek, ‘Character’, p. 609. See David Matthews on the importance of Havelok in early scholarship on Middle English (Making of Middle English, pp. 118–27).


Rosalind Field as a presence beyond the medieval, into Elizabethan versions and nineteenth-century children’s literature.47 So it is pleasing and important that Havelok as a traditional figure is still alive and well in the work of a major popular writer. The Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett have attracted little academic attention, but provide one of the most potent routes by which the informed and innovatory handling and reception of traditional tale is kept alive in contemporary culture. With huge international sales and a continual presence at the top of all best-seller lists, Pratchett reaches an audience well beyond the range of the most ambitious re-packaging of medieval romance. His work is parodic of traditional tale types, but arguably moves beyond parody to expose and question the assumptions underlying the modern appetite for medieval fantasy. Of the – to date – twenty-six novels, one strand deals with the city of AnkhMorpork, combining the qualities of New York, Rome, Calcutta and all other archetypal cities, but increasingly across the 1990s used to explore the problems of a multi-cultural and ancient city, not unlike London.48 Ancient enough to have once had a king, Ankh-Morpork is now run as a reasonably benign dictatorship by the machiavellian Patrician and its law and order upheld by a motley company of guards, led by Vimes the fiercely republican descendant of the Cromwell figure who assassinated the last of the kings. Into this strolls the figure of Carrot, a six-and-a-half-foot tall dwarf (a dwarf by culture, that is, if not physique), who comes to the city to join the guards. Immediately, of course, nature and nurture clash – as an orphan raised by dwarf foster parents, he both is and is not, a member of that species (in the Discworld species stands for both race and class). As the lost descendant of the ancient line of kings he is shadowed by the association with Arthur, and Tolkien’s equivalent, Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. But Pratchett’s fiction has little patience with Arthurian romance or with Tolkien and it is the Havelok legend that supplies the alternative and the challenge to such figures.49 In the unlikely setting of the fantasy city of Ankh-Morpork the clash between the romantic Matter of Britain and the more pragmatic historical romance of English heroes is enacted with a new cast of characters. For readers of Havelok the Dane, Carrot has many familiar characteristics. He is physically larger and stronger than anyone else, on one occasion fighting with a roof beam: It was quite a large and heavy roof timber and it scythed quite slowly through the air, but when it hit people they rolled backwards and stayed hit… Carrot turned slowly, the roof beam held like a staff. His gaze was like a lighthouse 47

48 49

See Helen Cooper, ‘The Elizabethan Havelok: William Warner’s First of the English’, in Medieval Insular Romance, ed. Judith Weiss, Jennifer Fellows and Morgan Dickson (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 169–184, and Cooper, English Romance in Time, pp. 343–44. Velma Bourgois Richmond gives an account of Edwardian rewritings of heroic romances, including Havelok, in ‘Historical Novels to Teach Anglo-Saxonism’, in Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity, ed. Allen J. Frantzen and John D. Niles (Gainesville, 1997), pp. 173–201. The present discussion is confined to the Guards Trilogy: Guards, Guards! (London, 1989) [henceforth GG]; Men at Arms (London, 1993) [MA]; Feet of Clay (London, 1996) [FC]. The most explicit reference to Havelok is the revelation in MA that this is the Patrician’s first name.


The Curious History of the Matter of England beam. Where it fell, the crowd lowered their weapons and looked merely sullen and uncomfortable. (GG, p. 286) He has a kingmark, of which he takes little notice, is sexually naïve, but forms a politically significant partnership with the feisty Angua. He walks through the city as if he owns it and has a hypernatural ability to get on with all the varied sections of society. He also has a devotion to the law which overrides all other considerations: Vimes turned his head slightly. ‘He killed Angua. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?’ Carrot nodded. ‘Yes. But personal isn’t the same as important.’ […] Vimes looked down at Angua’s corpse and felt a train of thought derail itself… Personal isn’t the same as important. What sort of person could think like that? And it dawned on him that while Ankh in the past had had its share of evil rulers, and simply bad rulers, it had never yet come under the heel of a good ruler. That might be the most terrifying prospect of all. [MA, pp. 358– 65]50 He is an opaque character, always viewed from the outside and an object of some mystification – only seen by his effect on others, apparently lacking a strong sense of self-identity. Havelok seems throughout most of his career to think like a peasant, Carrot like a dwarf. As with the medieval Havelok it is unclear how or when he realises the truth of his identity.51 The Havelok figure draws attention to the gap – at one and the same time both comic and politically forensic – between the king, marked out by destiny and equipped with kingmark and ancient sword, and the man, simple, unambitious, yet charismatic. As a creative re-reading of Havelok, Pratchett’s development of Carrot engages with that text’s concern with the nature of charismatic leadership, a term Pratchett analyses, but which medieval narrative did not have a name for: ‘Everyone likes Captain Carrot, and, well… rumour’s got about that he’s the hair to the throne, sir.’ ‘There’s no proof of that, Sergeant.’ ‘Dunno what is proof’, said Colon… ‘But he’s got that sword of his, and the birthmark shaped like a crown, and… well, everyone knows he’s king. It’s his krisma.’

50 51

Compare Diane Speed’s reading of the ideology of Havelok: ‘If a protagonist places selfinterest before the common good, the nation suffers’ (‘Construction’, p. 147). The Middle English Havelok is informed by Grim’s daughter. However, although in this version he was eight years old when exiled from Denmark, there is no explanation as to his failure to remember who he is (a consequence of changing the infant’s age from the two years of the Anglo-Norman tradition). See the detailed analysis of the inconsistencies in the revelation of Havelok’s identity in the three main versions of Havelok the Dane, by G.V. Smithers, in the introduction to his edition of the poem (Oxford, 1987), pp. xxxvii–xlvii.


Rosalind Field Charisma, thought Vimes, Oh yes. Carrot has charisma, He makes something happen in people’s heads. He can talk a charging leopard into giving up and handing over its teeth and doing good work in the community… Vimes distrusted charisma. ‘No more kings, Fred.’ Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there underground, waiting to spring up again. [FC, pp. 95–96] Carrot is also used to challenge the power of narrative tradition in his refusal to accept his destiny, or even to explicitly notice it. But as a lost heir he attracts the attention of sinister aristocratic plotters for whom a king represents an opportunity to seize power, only to be thwarted by the nature of the genuine article: ‘And then young Carrot turns up with charisma writ all over him, and he’s got a sword and a birthmark and everyone gets a funny feeling and dozens of buggers start going through the records and say ‘Hey, looks like the king’s come back.’ And then they watch him for a while and say, “Shit, he really is decent and honest and fair and just, just like in all the stories. Whoops! If this lad gets on the throne we could be in serious trouble! He might turn out to be one of them inconvenient kings from long ago who wanders around talking to the common people…’ [FC, pp. 386] The tension between the good nature of the man and the suspicion with which Vimes – and it seems his creator – holds the office is still running through the series and seems irreconcilable. This, I would suggest, is not simply a feature of its contemporaneity, for the ambivalent attitude to kings is familiar from the romances. The Havelok figure thus provides a version of the lost king which is free of Messianic, Arthurian associations52 (and an alternative to Tolkien, as is much of Pratchett). Free of such baggage, he is more adaptable to an enquiry into types of rule, the nature of law, and an examination of how power operates in the changing, contingent and, above all, urban world. Finally, as far as these romances are concerned, the modern mutation of Havelok is a useful demonstration of how they have always operated, not as a labelled, official, predictable Matter, but as a series of one-offs, unpredictable, creative and exploratory forays into the narratives of romance, legend and fantasy.


There is a typically wry reversal of the sword-in-the-stone motif in MA.


3 How English Are the English Charlemagne Romances? MARIANNE AILES AND PHILLIPA HARDMAN

In 1879 the Early English Text Society published its edition of Sir Ferumbras, the first volume in a series collectively entitled ‘The English Charlemagne Romances’. Ten more texts appeared in the series, including both verse romances and prose translations.1 This collective treatment was not given to any other body of works related purely by subject matter – there was no series entitled ‘The English Romances of Antiquity’, or ‘The English King Arthur Romances’, for example, though plenty of texts were available in the Society’s publications for either grouping. Intrigued by this unique treatment, we propose to investigate the extent to which the Charlemagne romances may or may not be thought to have a specifically English character. Very few of the hundred-odd Old French chansons de geste were translated into Middle English. The few Middle English translations made were usually preceded by Anglo-Norman texts, and this pre-selection gives useful hints on what interested audiences in England.2 Boeve de Hamtoune is obviously insular in content and was indeed originally written in Anglo-Norman rather than continental French, while the didactic chansons Ami et Amile and Florence de Rome could be thought to have universal exemplary appeal, but the third type, chansons of Charlemagne, the French national 1


The series appeared between 1879 and 1887 in the Early English Text Society Extra Series, as follows: ES 34, The English Charlemagne Romances I: Sir Ferumbras, ed. Sidney J.H. Herrtage (1879); ES 35, II: The Sege off Melayne, The Romance of Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell of Spayne, with a fragment of The Song of Roland, ed. Herrtage (1880); ES 36 & 37, III & IV: The Lyf of the Noble and Crysten Prynce Charles the Grete translated by William Caxton, ed. Herrtage (1880–81); ES 38, V: The Romance of the Sowdone of Babylone, ed. Emil Hausknecht (1881); ES 39, VI: The Taill of Rauf Coilyear with the fragments of Roland and Vernagu and Otuel, ed. Herrtage (1882); ES 40, 41, 43 & 50, VII, VIII, IX & XII: The Boke of Duke Huon of Bordeux, ed. S.L. Lee (1882–87); ES 44 & 45, X & XI: The Foure Sons of Aymon, ed. O. Richardson (1884–85). Two further volumes of English Charlemagne texts were published separately: EETS OS 198, Firumbras and Otuel and Roland, ed. Mary I. O’Sullivan (1935); EETS OS 322, Turpine’s Story: A Middle English Translation of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, ed. Stephen H.A. Shepherd (2004). See Ruth J. Dean and Maureen B.M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, Anglo-Norman Text Society, Occasional Publications Series 3 (London, 1999).

Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman hero, has been considered a strange choice for Middle English adaptations since they glorify French victories and were mostly translated and copied during the Hundred Years War.3 However, any claim made by the French Capetian dynasty to be the legitimate successors of Charlemagne was of course available to the English royal house too, given Edward III’s claim to the French crown through his maternal grandfather, Philip IV.4 Therefore, translating the texts into English could be seen as a form of cultural appropriation, echoing the English kings’ claim to France. Furthermore, Charlemagne provides an imperial model for fifteenth-century English kings who were keen to present themselves as Christian Emperors.5 In this respect it is perhaps a significant observation that the Old French chansons of revolt against Charlemagne are not among the texts translated into Middle English.6 By contrast, both Fierabras7 and Otinel,8 each represented by three separate Middle English romances, are notable narratives of incorporation, focusing on the conversion and assimilation of the eponymous protagonists.

Formal Characteristics The terminology adopted in discussing the translation or adaptation of the Old French and Anglo-Norman texts into Middle English usually assumes that the change of language is accompanied by a change of genre, from chanson de geste to romance – indeed, W.R.J. Barron argues that the change had already all but happened in the case of ‘romanticized epics’ such as Fierabras and Otinel.9 It is interesting, therefore, to investigate how the exemplary formal characteristics of the French chansons de geste are treated in the Middle English adaptations. The English poems certainly show an awareness of the importance of prologues in the epic tradition – prologues are present in all three Otuel poems, the Sege of Melayne, and vestigially in Roland and Vernagu. Although two of the three Ferumbras poems begin imperfectly, the multiple prologue in the Sowdone of Babylone points to the importance of this feature. These elaborate prologues, like the French originals, set up the oral-delivery mode, appeal to heroic expectations (with much mention of victorious battles), and establish the historical context for the narrative. But all (by contrast with the French) stress the conflict between heathen and Christian as their central concern. In the 3

4 5 6

7 8 9

See, for example, Robert Warm, ‘Identity, Narrative and Participation: Defining a Context for the Middle English Charlemagne Romances’, in Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance, ed. Rosalind Field (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 87–100. Warm explains the apparent paradox by stressing the Christian status of the knights: ‘Christian heroes who happen to be French, rather than French heroes who happen to be Christian’ (p. 87). The crown used in the coronation ceremonies of medieval French kings was known as the Crown of Charlemagne. See further, Phillipa Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne: A Fifteenth-Century Reading’, in Tradition and Transformation, ed. Field, pp. 71–86, at pp. 75–76. The exceptions are Caxton’s translation of the French prose Renaud de Montauban, The Right Plesaunt and Goodly Historie of the Foure Sonnes of Aymon (1488/9), and Lord Berners’s translation from a French prose version of Huon de Bordeaux, The Boke of Duke Huon of Burdeux (1534). Fierabras, chanson de geste du XIIe siècle, ed. Marc Le Person, CFMA 142 (Paris, 2003). Otinel, ed. F. Guessard and H. Michelant (Paris, 1859). W.R.J. Barron, English Medieval Romance (London, 1987), pp. 98–99. For discussion of the terminology in relation to English Charlemagne romances, see John Finlayson, ‘Definitions of English Romance’, Chaucer Review 15 (1980), 44–62, 168–81.


How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? French Otinel, the prologue ends with the promise of a hitherto untold adventure of Charlemagne, ‘whom God loved so much that He did miracles for him in his lifetime’, while the English poems promise ‘batailles […] bitwene/ Cristine men & sarrazins kene’ (Otuel, lines 4–6), Roland’s defeat of infidel opponents (Otuel & Roland), and stories of the doughty douzepers ‘Þat wele couthe feghte with a Sara3ene’ (Rowland & Otuell, line 17). The texts tend to emphasize the aggression and genocidal intent of the Saracen Sultan towards all Christians, so providing an unequivocal rationale for Charlemagne’s wars as a defence of Christendom, and not specifically, as in Otinel, of ‘douce France’. In the Sowdone of Babylone we find a different take on this conflict: an introductory pre-prologue for the Destruction de Rome part, not present in the Anglo-Norman text, sets the story in the universal context of God’s good creation and man’s sinfulness, presenting the fall of Rome as a consequence of sin, with the heathen Sowdon cast in the role of the scourge of God. As the poet also leaves out any reference at this point to the Saracens’ seizure of the relics of the Passion and Charlemagne’s mission to recapture them, this moralizing narrative of sin and punishment provides an alternative argument for the English poem, briefly recapitulated at the end of the whole work. Epic discourse in French chansons de geste, following the prologue’s call for attention, is structured for the listener’s ear in laisses, strophes of variable length in which all lines are linked by monorhyme or assonance and normally cover a single narrative unit. The contrast between this manner of writing, with its range of subtle variations, and the confused variety of different verse forms adopted in the Middle English romances, especially tail-rhyme stanzas, has led some readers to deplore the degeneration from heroic chanson to doggerel verse;10 but it may be that the all-tooobvious contrast has masked some aspects of similarity in the French and English versification. While alliteration for occasional effect is used in several of the Charlemagne texts, it is on the face of it surprising that none of the poems is written in the alliterative long-line tradition, so well suited to heroic writing as seen in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, or (except for Rauf Coilyear) in the alliterative stanza of the Gawain romances, especially in view of Rosalind Field’s persuasive demonstration of the affinity between the two vernacular epic metres of medieval England, AngloNorman laisses and English alliterative long line.11 The lack of alliterative 10


The English romances of Charlemagne have not been much admired by critics. H.M. Smyser, in his authoritative account ‘Charlemagne Legends’, in A Manual of Writings in Middle English 1050–1500, I: Romances, ed. J.B. Severs (New Haven, CT, 1967), characterizes them in depressingly joyless terms: ‘Even as [translations or adaptations], the English Charlemagne romances are in the main undistinguished, to say the least’ (p. 80). He picks out the two Auchinleck romances, Otuel and Roland and Vernagu, for the ‘banality’ of the one and the ‘doggerel’ of the other. D.B. Sands describes the Charlemagne texts as ‘pedestrian translations into Middle English of better French romances’ in his Middle English Verse Romances (New York, 1966), p. 2. Even W.R.J. Barron, a far more sympathetic reader of this group of texts, uses that same word ‘pedestrian’ for both the Ashmole Sir Ferumbras and the Fillingham Firumbras as metrical versions of the Fierabras story, and he castigates the Fillingham romance of Otuel and Roland for ‘the minstrel ineptitudes of the tail-rhyme stanza’ (English Medieval Romance, pp. 102–103, 94). Field argues for ‘an awareness on the part of medieval poets of an equivalence between the long-line unrhymed forms of French and English verse which both retained their associations with heroic poetry’ (‘The Anglo-Norman Background to Alliterative Romance’, in Middle English Alliterative Poetry and its Literary Background, ed. D.A. Lawton (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 54–69, at p. 63).


Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman Charlemagne romances may be partly a matter of geography – most of the Charlemagne texts have an East Midland linguistic origin, while poems of the socalled alliterative revival typically originate in the North and West Midlands. However, the two most heavily alliterated Charlemagne poems come from both sides of this divide, The Sege of Melayne being a Northern composition, and the Song of Roland having East Midland origins, and it therefore seems worth considering the possibility that the rejection of the ‘natural’ choice of English alliterative long-line metre to translate chansons de geste could imply an interest in finding a closer alternative English verse form instead. The variant forms of the English Charlemagne romances may represent not versification chaos, but different attempts to produce appropriate English equivalents for French vers and laisses. For example, while Fierabras is composed of alexandrines, each of the three English Ferumbras texts is written wholly or partly in long lines of six or seven stresses with a medial caesura, and these lines mirror the twelve-syllable lines of the French chanson, divided by the medial caesura into two six-syllable halves. The Sowdone of Babylone has flexible rhyming quatrains of four or three stresses (apart from regular tetrameters in the prologue), frequently falling into apparent ballad measure – but the syntax regularly supports a reading in rhymed septenaries, and these roughly approximate to the long lines of Fierabras. The first part of the Ashmole Ferumbras presents the same pattern as the Sowdone and is printed in the EETS edition in septenaries. Particularly interesting, though, is the Fillingham Firumbras, which uses six-stress couplet lines with a medial caesura, an unusual form for Middle English romances, but the closest approximation to French alexandrines. The five Otuelrelated texts, on the other hand, in couplets or tail-rhyme stanzas, are all built of shorter lines of four or three stresses with no medial pause, reflecting the shorter decasyllabic lines of the French chanson Otinel. These marked differences between the two groups of texts might suggest that the English translators were actively trying to find appropriate English equivalents for French vers of different lengths. Twelve-line tail-rhyme, with its extended single rhyme, can produce something akin to the effect of monorhymed laisses. In the Fillingham Otuel and Roland, a stanza sometimes directly matches a short laisse (for example, Otuel and Roland, lines 75–86, match Otinel, lines 63–76) but usually a group of stanzas parallels a laisse (for example, Otuel and Roland, lines 87–113, parallel Otinel, lines 77–136). Additionally, this poem has a unique and very clear system of text divisions, six-line narratorial interpolations presenting the narrative as a sequence of battles, and the first few correspond exactly to the beginnings of laisses in Otinel. The style of these passages is modelled on the conventional call for attention in chansons de geste, and the formulaic repetition in all of them (‘Here beginneth a battle snelle/ strong/ fell…’) reproduces the effect so characteristic of Old French epic discourse of having many laisses throughout the chanson commencing with the same formula – for example, in Fierabras, numerous laisses begin: ‘Mout fu fort la bataille…’. As the English poem progresses, this structural pattern shows increasing independence from the French source, but it faithfully maintains the adapted form. A different solution is found in the Auchinleck Otuel; its ‘short couplets’ (the favourite narrative form in this manuscript) are organized into ‘paragraphs’ of between six and twenty-eight lines, which correspond


How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? in part to the laisses in Otinel,12 though with some independence, as in Otuel and Roland. In the third of the Otuel texts, the Thornton Rowland and Otuell, there is no attempt directly to reflect the laisse structure of the original, but the choice of a tail-rhyme stanza with a more restricted rhyme scheme may be thought to be an attempt to create an effect equivalent to the monorhymed laisse.13 In the Firumbras poems the conventional formulae of narrative subdivision – ‘Leave we now X, and speak we now of Y’ – provide structuring of the text roughly equivalent to laisses, by marking changes of time or place, alternation of speakers, or new departures in the action.14 Sometimes the formulaic phrasing produces effects exactly like the use of the reprise to link together adjacent laisses, as in this example from the Sowdone: ‘Lete we now be alle this, and of Gye nowe speke we… Now speke we of Sir Gye…’ (lines 692–6); or this from Sir Ferumbras, where one section ends ‘And ful pryuyly ladde hem þar, into hure chambre ri3te’ and the next begins ‘Florippe is into chambre gon, pryuiliche and stille’ (lines 1319–20). All in all, there seems to have been a degree of experimentation in how to ‘translate’ the form of French texts into English narrative verse; but one perceived effect of the choice of English rhymed couplets or stanzas, with their much more frequent changes of rhyme compared with the French laisses, is an increase in narrative pace. This accords with the well-documented English preference for short, fast-paced romance narratives – complete adventure stories focusing on the exploits of an individual hero.15

Narrative Logic and Momentum The marked preference, apparent in English (and indeed insular) romance, for fastpaced narrative would in fact be entirely in keeping with medieval teaching about translation. The thirteenth-century writer Geoffrey of Vinsauf, for example, advises the remanieur of texts ‘to treat briefly the fully developed digressions of the source’.16 12 13 14 15


We are grateful to Judith Weiss for pointing out that this is also true of the Auchinleck Bevis of Hampton. The Thornton stanza has only three rhymes in all, with rhyme scheme aabaabccbccb (in the manuscript, the tail-rhymes are set out to the right of each couplet). See further, Phillipa Hardman, ‘Fitt Divisions in Middle English Romances: A Consideration of the Evidence’, Yearbook of English Studies 22 (1992), 63–80. Tony Davenport, ‘Abbreviation and the Education of the Hero in the Chevalere Assigne’, in The Matter of Identity in Medieval Romance, ed. Phillipa Hardman (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 9–20; D. Mehl, Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1968), pp. 22– 23, 57. Geoffrey of Vinsauf: ‘non debemus ibidem immorari circa digressiones vel descriptiones, sed breviter locum illum materiae transilire’, from the Documentum de modo et arte dictandi et versificandi, quoted and paraphrased in K. Pratt, ‘Medieval Attitudes to Translation and Adaptation: The Rhetorical Theory and the Poetic Practice’, in The Medieval Translator II, ed. Roger Ellis (London, 1991), pp. 1–27 (also referred to by Davenport in ‘Abbreviation’); the EETS editor of the Song of Roland fragment describes brevity as its only quality. D. Kelly, ‘Topical Invention in Medieval French Literature’, in Medieval Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Medieval Rhetoric, ed. J.J. Murphy (Berkeley, 1978), pp. 231–51, gives as a main adaptation of classical rhetoric the ‘principle of amplification and abbreviation of a given source’. On translation theory and medieval texts see Ruth Morse, Truth and Conviction in the Middle Ages: Rhetoric, Representation and Reality (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 179–230. Under her schematic typology our texts would be ‘narrative paraphrase translation’. As Davenport points


Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman A crude indication of change can be seen in the relative length of the different texts. The Roland matter must be excluded from this measurement as the extant Roland fragment and Roland and Vernagu are not directly linked with any extant French verse text. Looking at the Fierabras and Otinel texts it is evident that some of the changes involve an abbreviation of the text – but it is how this is carried out that increases the narrative momentum.17 In some cases whole episodes are cut out (for example, the loss of the capture of the pagan Espaulard in the Egerton-Sowdone narrative), or two episodes conflated:18 in Otuel, for instance, the young knight taking a pagan captive is conflated with the defeat of Corsuble (Otinel, lines 1729–56 and 1863 ff.; Otuel, lines 1469–78). Such narrative changes abbreviate the narrative but do not necessarily increase the narrative momentum. It is by less drastic changes in the narrative and in the narration that the pace is changed – by keeping incidents but narrating them more economically. There is, for example, an almost universal abbreviation, and even elimination, of description.19 But while ‘courtly’ descriptions of Floripas and Belissant, or fearsome descriptions of monstrous Saracens, seem to be routinely reduced or omitted, other ‘set pieces’, such as arming routines, are actually developed – so while our observations generally support the assumption that insular romances have a fast pace and ‘often give the impression that the author wished to tell as much as possible within the shortest space’,20 not all the changes made to the text work in this direction. The rhetorical elaboratio of Clarel’s arming in Otuel and Roland actually slows down the narrative pace – a narrative element covered in a few lines in the French text is developed to cover several stanzas in English. The formal changes already outlined also have an effect on narrative momentum and, as a feature of chanson de geste discourse is repetition in various forms, the changes often mean an increase in narrative momentum; these changes are not, however, carried out systematically and elements of epic discourse remain, or are adapted to fit, the Middle English conventions. Thus in the Anglo-Norman Egerton text the narrative change whereby only two peers have been taken prisoner by Balan, rather than the five in the continental Vulgate text, leads to a developed scene of parallel laisses when the remaining peers are sent as messengers – as there are now ten rather than seven peers to be sent. The Sege of Melayne has a similar series of stanzas in which the peers are sent as messengers, a series that recalls the Old French laisses parallèles technique but may owe just as much to Middle English use of parallel narrative motifs (lines 1366–1416) – unfortunately there is a lacuna in the text at this





out, ‘abbreviation was… seen by classical and medieval rhetoricians as a stylistic merit… not merely a narrative convenience’ (p. 10). Compare Otinel (2133 lines) with Otuel (1738 lines), Otuel and Roland, Otinel section (1697 lines) and Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell (1596 lines). Compare Fierabras (6408 lines) with Sir Ferumbras (6106 lines), Firumbras (1842 lines), The Sowdone of Babylone (3274 lines), and Egerton Fierenbras (1775 lines). For example, in the Egerton-Sowdone narrative two sorties are conflated into one; see M.J. Ailes, ‘Fierenbras: Anglo-Norman development of the chanson de geste’, a paper given at the International Congress of the Société Rencesvals, Storrs, July 2006, forthcoming in a special issue of Olifant. See further, Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley, 1986); M. Mills (ed.), Six Middle English Romances (London, 1973), p. xii; Mehl, Middle English Romances, p. 22. Mehl, Middle English Romances, p. 22.


How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? point so it is difficult to be certain about the structuring of this episode. The effect on narrative momentum is paradoxical. While the Old French technique of laisses similaires, in which the same material is repeated over several laisses, clearly slows down the narrative momentum – and is a technique that is not reflected in the Middle English texts – the laisses parallèles, and similar use of parallel narration in Middle English, does not necessarily have the same effect. Rather, like the prologues and set pieces, these parallels set up parameters of audience expectation, act as a kind of shorthand, and actually speed things up; it is not necessary to give details as they are assumed to be similar in the parallel situations. Rhetorical embellishment is another factor in the narrative momentum – and here it is quite clear that the texts are transformed, not merely translated. The forms of rhetoric found in Old French epic are rather limited.21 They often affect the rhythm of the text rather than its meaning: forms such as accumulatio and binomials are common, while punning devices are rare. As one would expect in a genre destined for oral presentation, the use of formulaic expressions is frequent. Alliteration is found but is by no means as common as it is in the Middle English texts, where, on the other hand, the use of formulae is more limited. In all our texts there is of course an element of using formulae or rhetorical elaborations to create a rhyme or provide the correct number of syllables, but the formulaic descriptions and tags of the French texts inevitably slow down the narrative to a degree that the alliteration and anaphora of the Middle English texts do not. All this indicates a group of Middle English texts which, though very varied in the way they transform their models and the degree to which the narrative is changed, are distinct from the continental models and predecessors, altering the narrative and telling the tale in a way which conforms to a different aesthetic. The tendency found generally in translated works to explicate what is implicit in the source text and to ‘tidy up’ inconsistencies, to tie up loose ends, might be expected to work against the increased narrative momentum. There are a number of narrative changes in the Middle English texts which show this tendency to rationalise. In the Fierabras group of texts the biggest narrative changes are found in the Sowdone of Babylone and the closely related Anglo-Norman Egerton text. In all accounts of the freeing of the peers it is Floripas, Balan’s daughter, who kills Brustamon, the gaoler. In most versions she provokes him by pretending to try to break into the prison, kills him and throws his body into the pit; Balan makes no enquiry about him and no one seems to notice his absence. In the Egerton-Sowdone version her killing is directly motivated – in the Anglo-Norman text by the gaoler thwarting Floripas and in the Sowdone because he threatens to tell her father that she is seeking access to the prisoners. Having killed him, Floripas then goes off to her father with the trumped-up accusation that he had been feeding the prisoners and she had killed him in anger (Egerton, lines 592–608, Sowdone, lines 1589–1616). The narrative is tidied up and at the same time Floripas is turned into a more subtle schemer. The narrative is also simplified, thus increasing the narrative momentum. In the Ashmole Sir Ferumbras we find a tidying up of the inconsistency in the Old French text over whether the balm used by Fierabras during his combat with Oliver 21

S. Kay, ‘The Nature of Rhetoric in the chansons de geste’, Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie 94 (1978), 305–20.


Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman should be taken by mouth or applied externally, as an explanation is given which distinguishes between external application to a wound and consumption by a dying man (lines 514–18). With the Auchinleck Firumbras the possibly defective nature of the text makes conclusions about narrative logic difficult. In the Otinel tradition we would like to highlight two narrative changes which demonstrate the desire to make the narrative work better. The first of these concerns Ogier’s escape from the pagans when he had been held prisoner. In Otinel, the Old French text, he kills his guards and escapes to the stable where he finds a horse and armour. Otuel and Roland (lines 1614–31) and Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell (lines 1543– 57) remain fairly close to the Old French. In Otuel, however, the most innovative of the Middle English texts, the whole incident is developed (lines 1621–66): he kills his guards, finds armour and a horse with the help of an obliging squire, tricks his way out via a porter and finally escapes to rejoin the rest of the Christian army. This version makes more sense, is more realistic, but is also longer – in this instance the needs of the logic of the narrative and the desire for narrative momentum work against each other and narrative logic wins. At the end of the Old French text of Otinel the Saracen Emir is defeated and taken prisoner. We are later told that Charlemagne's prisoner (whom we assume to be Garcy) dies in prison. In the Anglo-Norman text he is simply taken prisoner and we do not know his fate. The normal pattern would be that he should be offered conversion, but he is not. This could mean, of course, that either (or both) of these texts is defective. When we examine this episode in the Middle English texts we find three different accounts. In Rowland and Otuell we find a text which remains relatively close to the Old French, though the whole end of the narrative is considerably abbreviated – Garcy is taken by the peers and then drops out of sight. However, in Otuel and Roland, which is generally quite similar to Rowland and Otuell in the treatment of the narrative, he is baptised by Turpin (lines 1677–85) and this is predicted earlier in the text (line 1562). Otuel, sadly, is contained in a damaged manuscript of which the last leaf appears to be missing – the text as it stands ends rather abruptly with Garcy coming before Charlemagne. This incident highlights a problem in dealing with the Otinel texts – namely the relative paucity of the witnesses to the French tradition as the French texts exist in only two manuscripts, one of which is the base manuscript for the edition; the other is Anglo-Norman and has only just become available to us. The version found in Otuel and Roland is not only tidier than the Old French text (and until we have done more work on the relationship between the texts we would be reluctant to commit ourselves as to whether this is a tidying up in the Middle English text or a lack in the Old French): it also fits the recurrent concern with Christian-pagan combat and conversion in the Middle English Charlemagne romances.

National and Religious Identity In the French texts on which our texts are based there is a strong and clear division between the Self, ‘us’ and the ‘Other’: between the side with which the reader/listener is expected to identify, and the enemy. The ‘Other’ is the pagan, the Saracen; the ‘us’ is the Christian, French army. ‘Our’ side is identified as being both ‘Christian’ and ‘French’. In Fierabras and Otinel (and to some extent the Chanson de 50

How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? Roland) the most common collective word for Charlemagne’s army, and indeed for the peers when they are isolated from that army, is the word ‘franceis’; above all, these are French heroes. The peers may be designated as ‘barons’, ‘contes’ and, very occasionally, ‘chevaliers’, but most frequently they are ‘franceis’. The heroes in all of these texts include Roland and Oliver, Gui de Bourgogne, Naimon de Baviere, Richard de Normendie. In what sense are these men ‘franceis’?22 The word itself has two distinct meanings. In Ambroise’s Estoire de la guerre sainte, contemporaneous with Fierabras, the word quite clearly means ‘from the Ile de France’, from the territories directly ruled over by the French king, as distinct from other territories in which dialects of French were spoken, but which had other rulers, such as England and Normandy. In Fierabras, Otinel, the Chanson de Roland and the majority of the chansons de geste, it has a wider meaning of ‘the inhabitants of Francia’.23 The peers are from Charlemagne’s empire: Normandy, Bavaria, Burgundy, the Ardennes, even Denmark. There is approximate identification of the Empire with Christendom, but Charlemagne is clearly the king, or even the emperor, of France and the peers are described in Fierabras as ‘de France né’ (line 2825). The English texts were written over the period of the Hundred Years War. We might expect some reservations about the French as ‘heroes’. What we get when we look at the treatment of these legendary French heroes in the Middle English texts does, of course, vary, depending on how literal or dynamic the translation is. The ‘Fierabras’ group of texts Sir Ferumbras Looking first at the oldest of the Fierabras texts, we find that Sir Ferumbras is also the closest in translation to its model and the only one of the group to keep a significant number of references to ‘frenshe’ or ‘frenschmen’, though even here we find a greater variety of designation than in the Old French, and Charlemagne’s men are also described as ‘barons’, ‘cristene’, ‘cristenmen’, ‘lords’ and ‘bachelers’; Oliver is described by the Saracens as a ‘cristene hond’ (line 2155). Some of the Middle English Charlemagne romances also use a peculiar word to designate the peers either as a group or individually (apparently not understanding that it is plural in Old French). This word derives from the Old French phrase ‘douze pers’, meaning twelve peers, and has a different form in each text:24 Sir Ferumbras doþþeper Sowdone: do33eper Firumbras: dusseper Otuel: du33eper Otuel and Roland: dussypers Rowland and Otuell: dusperes Roland and Vernagu: dusse pers 22 23 24

M.J. Ailes, ‘La réception de Fierabras en Angleterre’, in Le Rayonnement de Fierabras dans la littérature Européenne, ed. M. Le Person (Lyon, 2003), pp. 177–89, at pp. 184–85. Larousse Dictionnaire de l’ancien français, ed. A.J. Greimas (Paris, 1968), s.v. ‘franceis’. This word is found in other Middle English texts, normally in the plural; see The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. ‘douzepers’.


Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman Sowdone of Babylone: dosipers The expression the ‘xii pers’ is found in Otinel but not in the Old French Vulgate Fierabras. Sowdone of Babylone Turning to the second of the Fierabras group, we find in the Sowdone of Babylone that the word ‘French’ is very rare. The narrator uses the term ‘frenschemen’ only twice (lines 1437, 2981), though it is used as an insult by the pagans (‘French dogges’, line 1013; ‘traytours of France’, lines 2512, 2168). The narrator uses rather the term ‘cristene men’. The closely related Anglo-Norman version of the legend found in MS Egerton 3028,25 on the other hand, although an insular text, uses the term ‘franceis’ a dozen times, but, like the Middle English texts, it also uses a wider range of terms to designate the French and the peers in particular (barons, chevaliers, prisons). Firumbras It is only when we turn to Firumbras that we see the complete transfer of identity. This text is the latest in the Fierabras group, dating from the latter part of the fifteenth century; the Hundred Years War is over and has ended in a complete break between France and England. In this late text the concept of ‘French’ is completely absent. The heroes are ‘kny3tes’ (with various spellings), ‘cristen men’ or ‘cristen kny3tes’. ‘Our’ side is now to be identified as Christian rather than French. The ‘Otinel’ group Otuel and Roland The Fillingham manuscript which contains Firumbras also contains one of the Otinel texts, Otuel and Roland. This text can be divided by narrative content into two sections; the first deals with the Otinel material, the second with the narrative of the Chanson de Roland, that is, the defeat of Roland and the peers at the Battle of Roncevaux. In the first section the word ‘ffrenche’ is found only three times (lines 114, 545, 698) and elsewhere is replaced by ‘kni3tes’, ‘dussypers’ and ‘cristen’; the Roncevaux section uses the word ‘French’ only once. This, it should be remembered, is in comparison with an Old French text where ‘franceis’ is the single most common designation for the side with which we are to identify. Otuel The oldest of the Otinel ‘trinity’, Otuel dates from before the Hundred Years War with France and retains the occasional use of ‘freinche’ to designate the heroes (lines 132, 133, 152, 266, 190, 1099); even here, however, the poet prefers the word ‘kny3te’. Rowland and Otuell A century later, Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell, like Firumbras, does not use the designation ‘French’ at all. 25

‘La Destruction de Rome et Fierabras’, ed. L. Brandin, Romania 64 (1938), 18–100.


How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? Roland and Vernagu Otuel and Roland, we have noted, does occasionally use the designation ‘French’, as indeed does Otuel. Roland and Vernagu does not use this designation for the heroes at all. Roland does say he was born ‘in fraunce’ (line 668) and Charlemagne holds France (line 8), but then he also holds England (line 9). The army are ‘knytes’, Charlemagne’s ‘ost’ (lines 182, 367, 459), or ‘cristen’ (line 555). The Sege of Melayne The Sege of Melayne fits the same pattern. Men may be ‘of Fraunce’ (lines 280–81, 881– 82) but are never ‘French’; they are ‘cristyn kny3hte’ (lines 232, 239, 243, 244, 367, 428, 1276), ‘chevalrye’ (lines 266, 491, 556, 664, 817, 1241, 1259), ‘cristene’ (lines 1103, 1204, 1312), ‘barons’ (line 367), ‘men’ (lines 320, 501, 539 etc.), ‘oure men3ee’ (line 564), and just ‘kny3ttis’ (lines 219, 255, 271 etc.). Most of these words are preceded by the possessive ‘oure’, a fact which has been much commented upon.26 It has been used (unconvincingly) as evidence of a lost pre-existing French text,27 as a means of engaging the reader,28 and as part of the crusading propaganda of the text.29 It is also part of the process of appropriation of the French heroes – and this is linked to the theme of militant Christianity. What we have seen in the shift of designation from ‘franceis’, ‘French’ to ‘cristen’ is a process of ‘supranationalization’. The French forces can become ‘our’ forces when what they represent is Christendom rather than a French national identity. In the Old French texts they represent both – so it is simply a matter of moving the focus away from national identity. The fact that the main protagonists, the heroes of these texts, are also in the broadest sense of the word ‘French’ is set aside and is of less importance than the fact they are Christian. The ‘other’ remains unchanged as the pagan Saracens. All this is completely in keeping with the thematics of the Middle English texts. Shepherd stresses the crusading aspect of the militant Christianity in the Sege and as we have already noted there is a strong religious fervour in all the Middle English Charlemagne romances. Out of a hundred or so chansons de geste we have Middle English verse translations of only three, the Chanson de Roland, Fierabras and Otinel, all three concerned with the Christian versus Saracen opposition; the two which knew greatest success, Fierabras and Otinel, each with three translations, have the conversion of a Saracen as a focal point.30 Fierabras and Roland and Vernagu are also concerned with the translatio of relics and in Fierabras these relics must be reclaimed from the Saracens. Roland and Vernagu, the Sege and the Fierabras texts also show God


27 28 29 30

Mills, Six Middle English Romances, p. xii; Stephen Shepherd, ‘“This grete journee”: The Sege of Melayne’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. M. Mills, J. Fellows and C. Meale (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 113–31, at p. 114; Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne’, pp. 74–75; Smyser, ‘Charlemagne Legends’, p. 93. Smyser, ‘Charlemagne Legends’, p. 93. Mills, Six Middle English Romances, p. xii. Shepherd, pp. 116–31. M.J. Ailes, ‘Chivalry and Conversion: The Chivalrous Saracen in the Old French Epics Fierabras and Otinel ’, Al-Masaq: Studia Arabo-Islamica Mediterranea 9 (1996–97), 1–21.


Marianne Ailes and Phillipa Hardman working through miracles.31 There is no room here to detail the importance of religious elements in the texts. Suffice it to say that these are texts with a religious significance and that the transformation of ‘French’ heroes who are now ‘cristen kny3tes’ is part of the bigger picture. All this fits with lay theological interests in the later Middle Ages, which need to be considered when looking at aspects of the reception of the texts.

The Manuscript Evidence What evidence do the manuscripts provide for English attitudes to the Charlemagne texts? The Middle English verse romances were produced as independent, non-cyclic narratives (unlike Caxton’s apparent mission in translating the prose cycle du roi for non-French speakers), but the manuscripts do show some impulse to aggregate texts in various ways. It is important to include here Anglo-Norman manuscripts and a manuscript prepared for use in England, even if the texts are in French, in order to get the whole picture. Manuscripts containing a single text, such as the Ashmole Ferumbras, accord with Marc Le Person’s observation in his edition of Fierabras: ‘Fierabras est considéré comme une chanson de geste suffisament importante pour avoir son propre volume.’32 Manuscripts compiling Charlemagne texts with others offer some interesting contexts. The mid-fourteenth-century Anglo-Norman MS Egerton 3028 contains Wace’s Brut, Destruction de Rome and Fierabras; the whole volume is given a harmonized pictorial treatment, with emphasis on Arthur, Charlemagne, and Fierabras: the last two with matching frontispiece portraits – a set of Worthies, heroes of Christendom. Contemporary with this is the Auchinleck MS, where in a defective section of the manuscript, but in fairly close proximity, we find Arthur and Merlin, Roland and Vernagu linked with Otuel as a self-proclaimed tale of ‘Charls þe king’, and Kyng Alisaunder – another gallery of universal worthies. The midfifteenth-century French MS Royal 15.E.VI is a compilation of texts commissioned by John Talbot for presentation to Margaret of Anjou on her marriage in 1444 to Henry VI, crowned king of England and France. It contains a prose Life of Alexander, a composite verse text entitled ‘Le liuvre du roy Charlemaine’, consisting of two other chansons de geste plus Fierabras, with several prose romances and works of genealogy and chivalry. The arrangement of texts here suggests the topos of translatio imperii – the transfer of imperial power and culture from classical antiquity to medieval Europe, and specifically to these heirs of Charlemagne. In the contemporary London Thornton MS, two Charlemagne romances, the Sege of Melayne and Rowland and Otuell (which is insistently attributed to ‘Cherlls of fraunce’ at beginning and end), are placed after texts covering the Life and Passion of Christ and the Sege of Jerusalem; this seems to be a religious parallel to the translatio imperii, in which the prestigious task of defending the Christian faith is handed from age to age.33 The later-fifteenth-century Fillingham MS appropriately combines Firumbras 31

32 33

M.J. Ailes, ‘Faith in Fierabras’, in Charlemagne in the North: Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference of the Société Rencesvals, ed. P. Bennett, A. Cobby and G. Runnalls (Edinburgh, 1993), pp. 125–33. Le Person, Fierabras, p. 58. See Phillipa Hardman, ‘Reading the Spaces: Pictorial Intentions in the Thornton MSS, Lincoln Cathedral MS 91 and BL MS Add. 31042’, Medium Ævum 63 (1994), 250–74.


How English are the English Charlemagne Romances? and Otuel and Roland with three texts of religious interest, for Firumbras is the most explicitly hagiographic of the Middle English Charlemagne poems. The story is abbreviated so as to conclude with the recovery of the relics of the Passion and the attendant miracles, and Charles is described as ‘that gode holy kyng’ (line 1833), while the listener is famously promised a hundred days’ pardon for devoutly hearing this tale of the holy relics. The pious tone continues as the following Otuel poem invites the audience to listen to it as an act of devotion: ‘3euyth lyst/ In the worchype of iesu cryst’ (lines 1–2). English Charlemagne romances show a marked interest in the motif of converted Saracens beyond the mere fact of selecting the stories of Fierabras and Otinel. For example, there is extended and more explicit catechizing of Balan according to the articles of the Creed in Sir Ferumbras (lines 5723–42); and Ferumbras’s later holy life and miracles are elaborated in the Sowdone (lines 1487–90). This interest, as well as reflecting the ‘fashionable intellectual issue’34 of salvation for the righteous heathen, suggests possible uses of the texts within the context of pious lay literacy, for devotional and educational purposes.35 Similarly, the typical simplification in the Middle English romances that produces a pattern of conflict between Christians cast as ‘us’ and heathen enemies constructed as devils, devilish or devil-worshippers, invites readings of the texts in ‘moralized’ terms with personal application to the Christian reader’s own daily fight against the temptations of the devil; such readings fit well with the manuscript contexts in which the English Charlemagne romances are preserved. It seems that the medieval English translators saw the Charlemagne material as adaptable for multi-purpose texts, capable of reflecting a range of contemporary anxieties and national and ecclesiastical political concerns, but also of offering the reader or listener opportunities, through sharing in the narratives of religious instruction and conversion, to affirm and reinforce their own Christian faith.

34 35

P.J.C. Field, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory (Cambridge, 1993), p. 172. It seems that the texts are capitalizing on the opportunities provided in the narratives for reinforcing the programme of basic religious education of the laity that was a key element in the pastoral reforms widely promoted by Archbishops Pecham (Ignorantia sacerdotum, 1281) and Thoresby (Lay Folks’ Catechism, 1357) in the wake of the fourth Lateran Council of 1215. See Norman Tanner, ‘Pastoral Care: The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215’, in A History of Pastoral Care, ed. G.R. Evans (London, 2000), pp. 112–25; Mary Flowers Braswell, The Medieval Sinner: Characterization and Confession in the Literature of the English Middle Ages (Rutherford, NJ, 1983); Katherine C. Little, Confession and Resistance: Defining the Self in Late-Medieval England (Notre Dame, IN, 2006).


4 The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance; or, How the French Screwed Up and ‘Oure Bretonns’ Rescued Them ELIZABETH BERLINGS The deliberate mixture of the comic and the serious is perhaps characteristic of medieval culture; for it appears in marginalia, hagiography, the drama, the chansons de geste and romances. Yet the comic dimensions of the Sege of Melayne have gone unrecognized, and the poem continues to puzzle readers.1 While commentators have focused on Melayne’s ‘serious’ aspects and have sought to explain its oddities by relating them to other genres, the poem actually contains far more oddities than have been noted, and when all its unusual features are viewed together, the dominant pattern appears to be one of comedy. In addition to being in part a parody of the chansons de geste, in particular The Song of Roland, and the Charlemagne romances, Melayne contains a number of familiar comic devices, such as reversal, mistaken identity, farce, and exaggeration (not so easy to detect in a genre given to exaggeration); draws on comic motifs already in place in the chansons de geste, such as cowardly Lombards, a weak King Charles, and stock comic scenes of Saracens abusing their idols; and appears to borrow at least one comic touch, the paralyzed Saracens, from hagiography. The poem also adapts motifs from other genres, such as the ‘bestowal of a sword’ from crusading propaganda, and treats them in a comic manner. Years ago Ernst Robert Curtius observed that ‘the


The Sege of Melayne is preserved in the mid-fifteenth-century London, British Library MS Add. 31042, fols 66vb–79vb (the London Thornton MS). At least one leaf is missing after fol. 77 and at the end. See H.M. Smyser, ‘Charlemagne Legends’, in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050–1500, ed. J. Burke Severs and Albert E. Hartung (New Haven, 1967), Fasc. 1: Romances, pp. 80–100, 256–66; S.J. Herrtage, ed., The Sege off Melayne, The Romance of Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell of Spayne, with a fragment of The Song of Roland, EETS ES 35 (London, 1880); Alan Lupack, ed., Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances (Kalamazoo, MI, 1990); Maldwyn Mills, ed., Six Middle English Romances (London, 1981); Stephen H.A. Shepherd, ed., Middle English Romances (New York, 1995). Quotations from the Sege of Melayne are taken from Shepherd’s edition; references to Duke Rowlande and Sir Otuell are from Herrtage’s. For a discussion of the Middle English Charlemagne romances, see Janet M. Cowen, ‘The English Charlemagne romances’, in Roland and Charlemagne in Europe: Essays on the Reception and Transformation of a Legend, ed. Karen Pratt (London, 1996), pp. 149–68. For a discussion of the London Thornton MS, see John J. Thompson, Robert Thornton and the London Thornton Manuscript, British Library, MS Additional 31042 (Cambridge, 1987).

Elizabeth Berlings Middle Ages loved all kinds of crossings and mixtures of stylistic genres’.2 It is just this mixture of genres, and of the comic and the serious, that has made Melayne a puzzling poem for some of its readers. The poem survives in a fragment, composed about 1400 during the middle of the Hundred Years War.3 While it resembles the other Charlemagne romances and contains the familiar cast of characters, it alone has no known French source. Most likely there never was one, for the real heroes, except Archbishop Turpin, are not the French but the Bretons who come to their aid. It is interesting to note that Melayne, Sir Perceval of Gales, and Richard Coer de Lyon – another romance about a siege that also takes a swipe at the French – all appear in the Thornton MSS.4 A century ago, S.J. Herrtage suspected that Melayne and Perceval were by the same hand.5 Recently, Perceval has been viewed as ‘a creative response to Chrétien and the Perceval Continuations’ and ‘a rich comic work of artistic merit’.6 Melayne, I believe, is ‘a creative response’ to the chansons de geste and the Charlemagne romances. A number of explanations of Melayne have been offered and cross-generic categories have been suggested. Dieter Mehl views Melayne as a ‘homiletic romance’; Diana Childress suggests ‘secular hagiography’ or ‘secular legend’; Stephen Shepherd reads the poem in the context of crusading propaganda; Phillipa Hardman views the poem as ‘uniting themes of Christian instruction, religious revenge, miraculous power and affective devotion’; and Robert Warm considers the poem ‘as a means by which the reading public’ was ‘able to “participate” in a crusade’.7 Recently, Suzanne Conkin Akbari has suggested the label ‘devotional romance’.8 Shepherd, who argues that the heroic and the hagiographic are combined, believes the poem is ‘a kind of generic hybrid’.9 Similarly, Akbari observes that ‘whether understood as romance or 2 3





8 9

Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1973), p.424. For a brief recent summary of the dating of Melayne, see Suzanne Conklin Akbari, ‘Incorporation in the Siege of Melayne’, in Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance, ed. Nicola McDonald (Manchester, 2004), pp. 22–44, at p. 24 and n. 12, p. 40. Sir Perceval of Gales, ed. Walter Hoyt French and Charles Brockway Hale, in Middle English Romances (New York, 1964), pp. 531–603; Richard Coer de Lion, ed. K. Brunner (Vienna and Leipzig, 1913). Herrtage, The Sege off Melayne, p. xi: ‘The similarity between the Sege of Melayne and Sir Perceval, both in language and style […] is so great […] I am inclined to believe [they] are by the same hand.’ Both Melayne and Roland and Otuel remind Herrtage of Sir Thopas: ‘Although some of the episodes […] amply justify Chaucer’s ridicule, still neither can be set down as bad’ (p. xii). William Calin, The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England (Toronto, 1994), p. 431. See also Keith Busby, ‘Sir Perceval of Galles, Le Conte du Graal, and ‘La Continuation – Gavain: The Methods of an English Adapter’, Etudes Anglaises 31 (1978), 198–202; Keith Busby, ‘Chrétien de Troyes English’d’, Neophilologus 71 (1987), 596–613; David C. Fowler, ‘Le conte du Graal and Sir Perceval of Galles’, Comparative Literature Studies 12 (1975), 5–20. Dieter Mehl, The Middle English Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1969), p. 111; Diana Childress, ‘Between romance and legend: “secular hagiography” in Middle English literature’, Philological Quarterly 57 (1978), 311–22 at p. 316; Stephen H.A. Shepherd, ‘“This grete journee”: The Sege of Melayne’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol M. Meale (Cambridge 1991), pp. 113–31, at p. 119; Phillipa Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne: a fifteenth-century reading’, in Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance, ed. Rosalind Field (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 71–86, at p. 86; Robert Warm, ‘Identity, Narrative and Participation: defining a context for the Middle English Charlemagne romances’, in Tradition and Transformation, ed. Field, pp. 87–100, at p. 95. Akbari, ‘Incorporation’, p. 23. Shepherd, ‘“This grete journee”’, p. 118.


The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance siege, hagiography or secular legend, the Siege of Melayne partakes of all these categories’.10 The many genres and modes to which commentators relate Melayne illustrate the medieval fondness for mixing stylistic genres, a preference that causes modern commentators all kinds of problems. Indeed, the poet has cast a wide net, and in this the poem is not unlike the Pèlerinage de Charlemage and Aucassin et Nicolette, both of which have been considered parody.11 A discussion by Anne Elizabeth Cobby of these two works offers insight into Melayne. Of the Pèlerinage, which includes epic, Celtic themes, and burlesque, Cobby states: The poem tells of the acquisition of relics and shows Charles as God’s protégé, so that it could be seen as a pious, even hagiographic, tale. In fact it is the tensions which the poet establishes between these diverse backgrounds that gives the Pèlerinage its rich texture […] He takes familiar elements from elsewhere and uses them to set up contrasts […] He at once relates the poem to, and sets it apart from contemporary genres: and the divergences thus established both provide comic contrast and direct ridicule at some aspect of the poem.12 According to Cobby, the author of Aucassin et Nicolette, like the author of the Pèlerinage: uses the themes and language of contemporary literature as a prime source of amusement. Each of them relishes his audience’s familiarity with this literary background, and its appreciation of his manipulation of it; they each borrow, juxtapose, contrast, exaggerate, and distort.13 Both of these passages could be taken to describe the technique of the author of Melayne, who combines and manipulates familiar elements, and may well have assumed his audience would recognize this. Parody has been succinctly defined as ‘sly imitation’. Unlike modern parodies which tend to take a single eccentric text as a ‘target’ or hypotext, medieval parodies appear ‘under the guise of the most familiar literature of the day’.14 In taking The Song of Roland and the Charlemagne romances as hypotexts the author of Melayne is working within a tradition of parodying well-known works. Modern critics define parody as a relationship between two texts and ‘general parody’ as a work ‘taking as

10 11

12 13 14

Akbari, ‘Incorporation’, p. 39. ‘The Pilgrimage of Charlemagne’ and ‘Aucassin and Nicolette’, ed./trans. Glyn S. Burgess and Anne Elizabeth Cobby (New York, 1988): see especially Cobby’s introduction to the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne, pp. 1–27. Cobby, in Burgess and Cobby, pp. 4, 11. Cobby, in Burgess and Cobby, p. 12. Martha Bayless, Parody in the Middle Ages: The Latin Tradition (Ann Arbor, MI, 1996), pp. 5–6. See also Margaret Rose, Parody/Metafiction (London, 1979); Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (London, 1985); Kathryn Gravdal, Vilain and Courtois: Transgressive Parody in French Literature of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (London, 1989). Bayless (pp. 16–17) discusses serious flaws which she perceives in Paul Lehmann’s Die Parodie im Mittelater (Munich, 1963): the work fails to distinguish between parody and satire; there is almost no use of scholarship since 1929; and the references to modern scholarship are often incorrect.


Elizabeth Berlings its hypotext… a whole manner, style, or discourse’.15 By this definition Melayne is general parody ‘plus’, for it targets more than one genre or mode. I follow Martha Bayless’s definition of parody as: an intentionally humorous literary (written) text that achieves its effect by 1. imitating and distorting the distinguishing characteristics of literary genres, styles, authors or specific texts (textual parody); or 2. imitating, with or without distortion, literary genres, styles, authors, or texts while in addition satirizing or focusing on nonliterary customs, events, or persons (social parody).16 Like Roland and The Sowdane of Babylone, Melayne is structured around two main battles with the Saracens.17 Here the poet plays with the pattern, for were it not for the Bretons the second battle would also end in defeat. Some oddities in the poem are motifs drawn from more than one genre. Turpin’s railing at Mary can be explained as an exaggeration of similar incidents in both crusading literature and ‘Miracles of the Virgin’. Charles’s ‘nobill swerde’, which breakes the first time he uses it, relates to both the chansons de geste and crusading propaganda. The depiction of Charles resembles his characterization in some chansons de geste; his single combat parodies his single combat in Roland; and the refusal of the French knights to summon aid when ordered to recalls Roland’s refusal to blow his horn and also the peers’ refusal to serve as Charles’s messengers in The Sowdane (lines 1666–1738), an episode which, in turn, appears to parody the opening French council scene in Roland. An oddity frequently noted, and which occurs throughout the poem, is what seems to be an exaggerated use of such phrases as ‘oure knyghtis’ and ‘oure Cristyn knighte’. While Mills views this as ‘an attempt to naturalize a foreign mode’, and Shepherd relates it to crusading propaganda which ‘invites the reader to feel at one with the cause’, Hardman points out that ‘Firumbras has an elaborate system of narratorial comments punctuating the action with appeals to the audience on behalf of “oure cristyn knyghtys”’.18 There are several possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive, for this stylistic device. It may parody Firumbras and other epics, be employed ironically, and also be used as an attention-getting device. When the cowardly Lombard Alantyne is slain the phrase ‘Crysten knyghte’ is used ironically four times in the space of twelve lines (lines 232, 239, 243, 244). It also seems to be a technique designed to emphasize the contrast between the French and ‘oure Bretonns’. As Hardman has noted, ‘there are just four references to “men of Fraunce’’’ in Melayne (lines 281, 880, 1061, 1294).19 In contrast, there are three references to ‘the Bretons’ (lines 1466, 1481, 1483) and five to ‘oure Bretonns’ (lines 1495, 1518, 1527, 1533, 1547), all within eighty-one lines. The density of the repetition here suggests that the emphasis is on our ‘bolde Bretonns’ – with whom 15 16 17 18 19

Simon Dentith, Parody (London, 2002), p. 193. Bayless, Parody, pp. 5–6. Emil Hausknecht, ed., The Romaunce of the Sowdane of Babylone and of Ferumbras his Sone who conquered Rome, EETS ES 38 (London, 1881). Mills, Six Middle English Romances, p. xii; Shepherd, ‘“This grete journee”’, p. 131; Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne’, p. 75, n. 12. Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne’, p. 74, n. 11.


The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance an English audience during the Hundred Years War might have found it easier to identify with than the French. Melayne begins with a cowardly Lombard, Alantyne the Lord of Milan, and a parody of the opening angelic visitation in Roland and Vernagu (the Descriptio).20 The historical Charles never laid siege to Milan, but he did annex Lombardy, and the Lombards come to play a stock comic role as cowards in the chansons de geste.21 When the Saracens take Milan and issue an ultimatum to Alantyne to convert or be hanged and drawn and see his wife and children sawn in two, he asks to think this over until the morning. He prays to Jesus, asking if it is better to turn heathen or to lose his life? …Bot, Lorde, als thou swelte on the Rode And for mankynde schede thi blode, Some concelle sende thou me – Whethire that me es better to doo: The hethyn lawe to torne too, Or my lyfe in lande to tyne’. (lines 79–84) This is another oddity in the poem that has not been explained. It is hard to imagine a Christian in a medieval work, or in any work, seriously asking this question. Alantyne knows very well what to do but tries to wriggle out of it; the phrase ‘Bot, Lord’ appears twice (lines 76, 79). An angel nearby ‘on a wall’ directs him to go to Charles with the message that God bids him to help. Melayne here appears to parody a similar episode in Roland and Vernagu, in which the Patriarch of Jerusalem complains to Constantine that Saracens are persecuting Christians. When Constantine prays to Jesus, his request is very different from Alantyne’s, for he asks for grace to slay those who have slain God’s people. An angel responds bringing a message from Jesus to seek aid from Charles (41–64). The same night in Melayne Charles dreams that an angel tells him that Christ makes him his warrior and then shows him by demonstration with a sword how he should knock down the walls of Milan. That angele bytaughte him a brande, Gaffe hym the hiltis in his hande That even was hande-full mete And saide, ‘Christe sende the this swerde, Mase the his werryoure here in erthe […]’ 20


S.J. Herrtage, ed., The Taill of Rauf Coilyear with the fragments of Roland and Vernagu and Otuel, EETS ES 99 (London, 1882). The Descriptio is the title given to a popular legend, which is summarized at the beginning of Roland and Verngu. See Shepherd, Middle English Romances, p. 390; Smyser, Manual, pp. 90–91. André Bertin, The Burlesque Elements in Old French Epic Poetry, unpublished dissertation, Columbia University (New York, 1953), pp. 198–208: ‘The Lombards, as the Italians are called in the chansons de geste […] rarely play more than a brief and humorous role […] They are usually presented as men of high birth, kings or nobles […] and are depicted as cowardly merchants’ (p. 198). See also Joseph Bédier, Les Légendes épiques: recherches sur la formation des chansons de geste: vol 2 (Paris, 1926–29), p. 209; G. Baist, ‘Assaillir la limace’, Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 2 (1878), 303–306. Bertin suggests that ‘the best explanation [for this attitude to the Lombards] can be found in commercial rivalries [since] the Lombards early become active on French territory as merchants, money changers, bankers, and usurers’ (p. 199).


Elizabeth Berlings The walles abowte Melayne townne Hym thoghte the angele dange tham downn. (lines 115–19, 127–28) The repeated references to walls recalls that twice in Roland and Vernagu a city’s walls fall down at Charles’s prayer (lines 203, 285). The walls of Milan will not fall so easily. When Charles awakens, he finds a miraculous sword by his bed. Shepherd, who relates Melayne to crusading propaganda, observes that: one of the most obvious allusions […] to material traditionally used in such propaganda involves the gift of a sword to Charles […] our poem shares the same general attitude as the crusade sermon; the divine bestowal of a sword is seen as a transcendent sanctification for a materialistic defence of the Faith.22 This is the sword that Charles will break on a Saracen’s helmet (to be discussed below). At first the barons all agree it is God’s will that Charles conquer heathens; but despite the messages of two angels, a visual demonstration, and the materialization of the sword, Charles listens twice to Ganelon’s counsel and remains (or attempts to remain) at home. Ganelon, hoping to be rid of Roland, observes that Charles might be killed and suggests that he should therefore stay at home, sending Roland instead. This is a reversal of the council scene before the first battle in Roland, in which Roland nominates Ganelon, and Charles refuses to let any of the peers serve as messengers. It should be noted that in Melayne Ganelon is not conspiring with the Saracens. Charles and his council are easily swayed, and Roland sets forth. Unlike the first battle in Roland in which the rearguard was vastly outnumbered, the French and the Saracens are evenly matched in Melayne, with 40,000 men each; yet by the end of a very short battle the French have lost 39,996 men. The entire French army is destroyed in three separate stanzas, one for each division. There is no indication how long the battle lasts, but this structure seems designed, for comic effect, to suggest a very short time frame. Almost at once the cowardly Lombard Alantyne is struck ‘that dede he daschede to the grounde/ Mighte no worde after speke’ (lines 245–46). This is a type of ironic understatement we would expect to find applied to Saracens (compare, for example, line 962, where we are told that when Turpin strikes a Saracen, ‘dede he daschede to the grounde’); but here the narrator expresses apparent admiration for the Saracen’s prowess: ‘Loo, thusgates fares the freke!’ (line 252). Similarly, when Roland kills the Sultan’s nephew: …dede he daschede in the felde – Helme ne hawberke he myghte none welde Ne never after none bere! (lines 1563–65) The Saracens destroy the vanguard in one stanza: 5,000 at the first attack. In the next stanza the middle guard, led by Roland, is destroyed. There follows a speech by a dying but garrulous Duke of Normandy, who talks for three stanzas, sending greetings and advice to his son, until a Saracen ‘smate righte of his hede’ (lines 294– 329). We would expect a Saracen, not a Christian, to be silenced in such a way. One more stanza and the rearguard is destroyed, leaving only Roland and three others: 22

Shepherd, ‘“This grete journee”’, pp. 118–19.


The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance Thus fourty thowsande hafe thay slayne, Safe foure that were in handis tane – Rowlande ande other three… (lines 373–75) The scene between Roland and the Sultan is both a miracle and comedy. Melayne is not the only romance to combine both, for Sir Cleges combines a miracle of cherries blooming at Christmas with the fabliau plot of ‘the blows shared’.23 However, in Melayne the miracle, in part, creates the comedy. The episode of the miraculous crucifix in Melayne is especially interesting, for it combines a miracle with a humorous verbal exchange between Roland and the Sultan, comic elements from both hagiography and the heroic (the chansons de geste and some Middle English romances), irony, brutal farce, and a burlesque of the stock comic scenes of Saracens abusing their idols. ‘Welcome be thow, Kynge of Fraunce’, says the Sultan to Roland and announces that all of France shall believe in ‘Seynt Mahownn’ (lines 391, 395). The Saracens have mistaken Roland for Charles, who in Roland is two hundred years old, with a flowing white beard. Roland clears up his identity and replies ‘full gentilly’ to the Sultan that it is he (the Sultan) who ought to convert: ‘For soothe, Sowdane, trowe thou moste/ One the Fader, and the Sone and the Holy Goste’ (lines 409–10). Roland’s pronouncement is comical, for he has no power to enforce a conversion, so it would seem. He is not a messenger, nor is this a single combat; he is a prisoner. The Sultan is, as a result, not intimidated. He is under the false impression that each individual crucifix is a ‘god’, and he has burned a hundred, or so he says (lines 416– 18). To demonstrate the powerlessness of the Christian ‘goddis’ the Sultan attempts to burn a crucifix – which, on this occasion, will not burn, ironically demonstrating the opposite. Then suddenly a miraculous flame leaps out, blinding and paralyzing the Saracens. Miracles involving paralyzed Saracens appear in hagiographical texts, such as some versions of the life of St. Martin; in one a whole train of Saracens is paralyzed, an episode Curtius considers comedy, and he observes that ‘humoristic elements …are a part of the style of the medieval vita sancti’.24 In Melayne, just as the Saracens have been blind to the Christian faith, so they are literally blinded, immobilized like idols and thrown onto the fire in which they had attempted to burn the crucifix. Like the biblical idols, ‘which cannot either see or hear or walk’ (Revelation 9, 20), the Saracens ‘nother see nore here’ (line 481), nor can they walk. Theirs is the fate of idols in the chansons de geste and the Middle English romances: …thay stode still als any stone, Hanndis nore fete myghte thay stirre none […] “For alle the Sarazenes in this place May nother see nore here.” Sayde sir Gy of Burgoyne, “Yitt, or I goo, The sowdane sall have a stroke or twoo That glade sall hym no glee!” He ferkes owte with a fawchon And hittis the Sowdane on the crownn 23 24

Sir Cleges, ed. French and Hale, pp. 877–95. Curtius, European Literature, p.428. Curtius refers to Sulpicius Severus’s prose Life of St. Martin (c. 400) and to other works by him, to be found in C. Halm, ed. Rhetores latine minores (1863).


Elizabeth Berlings Unto the girdyll welle nee. Thay tuke the grete lordis with ire And brynte tham in that bale fire… (lines 473–89) The poet has combined the paralyzed Saracens to be found in hagiography with a burlesque of idol abuse. ‘The Saracens abused’ (‘the abusers abused’) is a version of ‘the robber robbed’, a familiar motif in medieval literature. Roland and his three companions flee and bring news of the defeat to Charles and Turpin. The aspect of Melayne that has seemed strangest to most commentators is the characterization of Turpin, but the behaviour of both Charles and Turpin calls for explanation: the one is cowardly at first, then discourteous in combat, and unable to command obedience; the other quite the opposite, courageous, reckless, and quick to anger. The one is, at least briefly, a heretic; the other saintly. The depiction of Charles may be explained by the declining figure of the monarch in the chansons de geste, which parallels the relationship between the monarch and his vassals; Charles, like other French monarchs in the epics, is not viewed as a historical personage, but rather fills a literary role.25 W.W. Comfort discusses the figure of the monarch in some depth: Whether he be called Charles, Pepin or Louis, the king undergoes a literary transformation, a degeneration […] The individual king may be weak and despicable; he may be unjust and cowardly. But there is no open hostility against the idea of royalty […] liberties taken with the once august figure of the king […] show how he was occasionally travestied.26 The second time Charles tries to stay at home in Melayne Turpin gives him a tonguelashing and excommunicates him. Their whole quarrel has something of the comic about it. Indeed, in his monumental work on comedy in the chansons de geste and the courtly romances, Philippe Ménard observes, ‘La violence verbale du héros a quelque chose comique’.27 At the news of the French defeat, Turpin rails at Mary, almost like a Saracen raging at his gods – behaviour that has troubled commentators. Moreover, he will not say good morning to Charles or even acknowledge him (lines 570–71), which seems to be a comic touch. Mills thinks the impression Turpin is ‘likely to make upon the modern reader is one more comic than serious’;28 but the impression is both comic and serious, and one imagines it might have been so for a medieval audience as well. Turpin’s conduct has been read in the context of Miracles of the Virgin by Hardman and crusading propaganda by Shepherd. Hardman compares the episode of Turpin’s railing to miracle stories in which Mary is rebuked for failing to prevent a catastrophe.29 Shepherd also defends Turpin and believes that behaviour 25 26 27

28 29

W.W. Comfort, ‘The Character Types in the Old French Chanson de geste’, PMLA 21 (1906), 279–434, at p. 284. Comfort, ‘Character Types’, pp. 300–301. See further Comfort, pp. 292–306 and Bertin, Burlesque Elements, pp. 28–32. Philippe Ménard, Le rire et le sourire dans le roman courtois en France au Moyen âge, 1150–1250 (Geneva, 1969), p. 65. As an example of anger as comedy, Ménard cites a quarrel between Turpin and an abbot in La chanson D’Aspremont: ‘Au début […] une vive querelle entre l’archevêque Turpin et l’abbé Fromer (286–309) montre la supériorité du prélate, qui reste un guerrier’ (p. 80). Mills, Six Middle English Romances, p. xii. Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne’, p. 81.


The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance that would ‘verge on blasphemy’ outside the chansons de geste, would be acceptable, if not admirable, in a ‘context of crusading propaganda’.30 Referring to D.H. Green, he argues that crusaders understood their relationship with God to be a contract and that they expected to be rewarded.31 Shepherd discusses Capystranus in ths context, but the tone is quite different from that of Melayne.32 Although Capystranus feels he would be justified in no longer believing in Jesus nor saying matins if Jesus and Mary do not help him and his men, his words also have a beseeching quality (lines 465– 512): Now! Mary, mayden, helpe me todaye, Or elles thy matyns shall I never saye Days of all my lyve. (lines 489–91) This is unlike Turpin’s angry outburst: Had thou noghte, Marye, yitt bene borne, Ne had noghte oure gud men thus bene lorne – The wyte is all in the! (lines 554–56) Hardman’s and Shepherd’s readings are not dissimilar, for both suggest a familiar contractual relationship with the divine. Akbari cautions that ‘it is important not to overemphasize the significance of Turpin’s action toward Mary, since, as Patrick Geary has shown, “abuse” of the saints […] was not an uncommon practice in the Middle Ages’.33 Add to this Ménard’s belief that in the epic ‘la colère d’un personnage sympathique a quelque chose d’amusant’.34 Nevertheless, Turpin still reminds us of an angry Saracen. His outburst comes less than fifty lines after the episode of the miraculous crucifix, which recalls all those episodes in the epics and romances of enraged Saracens and their idols. The proximity may be meaningful. After excommunicating Charles for refusing once again to fight, Turpin raises an army of 100,000 clergy – all the priests, monks, and friars in France – and threatens to lay siege to Paris. Turpin expresses surprise not that Charles becomes a coward, but that he does so ‘thus sone’ (line 681), implying that cowardice is expected from Charles. Usually it is the clerics in the epics who are accused of cowardice, even though many authors, it seems, were clerics; so perhaps the idea of 100,000 clergy laying siege to Paris at any time, but especially during the Hundred Years War, along with a weak Charles, might have amused an English audience. Charles repents and the French forces prepare to leave for Milan. Turpin announces he will take the vanguard for himself and his 100,000 clergy, who assemble under his banner (a touch of ego?). He encourages the clergy to fight fiercely to set a good example for the laity, here specifically mentioned as Charles, his knights, earls, barons, squires, and knaves (lines 926–28) – an idea that is surely humorous. The second battle contains several comic episodes involving Turpin and Charles. Turpin has been admired by commentators for preventing his squire from spoiling a 30 31 32 33 34

Shepherd, ‘“This grete journee”’, p. 125. Shepherd refers to D.H. Green, The Millstätt Exodus: A Crusading Epic (Cambridge, 1966). Capystranus, ed. Shepherd, Middle English Romances, pp. 391–408. Akbari, ‘Incorporation’, pp. 26–27; see also Patrick Geary, ‘Humilation of Saints’, in Saints and their Cults: Studies in Religions, Folklore and History (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 123–40. Ménard, Le rire et le sourire, pp. 64, 175.


Elizabeth Berlings dead Saracen king – an act that has been seen as courteous and proof the French fight for God, not booty, and for the self-sacrificing vows he makes; but comedy is lurking in both episodes. Turpin’s objection is not to spoiling in principle, but to doing it too soon: To wyn the golde thou arte a fole – Thou bygynnes sone for-to spoyle! (lines 983–84) Turpin then beats his squire with his sword, a comic and uncourtly use of a noble weapon. Turpin’s vows may be heroic, but is there a touch of vanity and eccentricity here? Commentators often paraphrase or quote his vows, but usually leave out the part about not changing his hose: Bot the Bischoppe saide, ‘A vow to God make I here: There sall no salve my wonde come nere, Ne no hose of my thee, Ne mete ne drynke my hede come in, The cité of Melayne or we it wyn – Or ells therfore to dye’. (lines 1187–92) According to Ménard, two faults of the clergy that were lampooned were cowardice and vanity, and he connects vanity and eccentricity with ‘baroque vows’; Turpin’s vow is very like one in Girart de Rousillon in which the hero vows not to shave or cut his hair before he reconquers his fief (line 7442).35 A wound in the ‘thigh’ is a medieval euphuism for a wound in the genitals.36 Is it any wonder that he will not let anyone see it? Yet the later wound in Turpin’s side relates him to Jesus. Turpin is both comic and saintly, a combination with which modern readers may not be comfortable. Turpin is also a spectator in Charles’s single combat (lines 1019–1090), which parodies Charles’s combat with the emir in Roland (lines 3560–3619).37 Instead of the angel Gabriel calling encouragement to Charles, there is Turpin on the sidelines urging Charles not to convert even for an offer that does not seem very tempting – two realms in Famagusta (lines 998, 1038). By comparison, in The Sowdone Ferumbras offers Oliver, whom he thinks is Generyse, a newly made knight, a dukedom and his sister Floripas (lines 1218–1225). In Roland Charles kills the emir with a blow that breaks his helmet: He strikes the emir with his sword from France; He breaks his helmet glittering with gems… (lines 3615–16) In Melayne the reverse occurs; Charles breaks his sword on the Saracen’s helmet: Appon his helme Sir Charles brake His nobill swerde in two… (lines 1059–60)

35 36


Ménard, Le rire et le sourire, pp. 381–85. For example, the ‘thigh wounds’ in ‘Guigemar’ and ‘Chaitivel’ are euphuisms. See The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante (Durham, NC, 1978), introduction to ‘Guigemar’, p. 56. References are to The Song of Roland, trans. Glyn S. Burgess (New York, 1990); for the text itself, see La Chanson de Roland, ed. F. Whitehead (Oxford 1946; repr. 1975).


The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance Is this not the miraculous sword he was given by the angel? We were reminded when Charles and the French forces left for Milan that ‘Charls tuke his brande’ (line 811). The Saracen who is unhurt by it courteously throws away his own sword so that they will be evenly armed, with only knives. Charles kills him and then, in an act of contemptuous victory, stabs him with the Saracen’s own sword. It is this sword with which, we are told, Charles conquered many lands: And thare he wane the Sarazene swerde – And, certis, that with one this erthe He conquered many a lande. (lines 1085–87) The narrator paraphrases Roland’s words about his sword Durendal in Roland: ‘with it I have conquered so many lands and countries’ (line 2335). Roland is unable to break his sword that he received from an angel, via Charles, in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of Saracens. It is hard to explain Charles’s easily broken sword without considering parody. Yet Charles received his sword from an angel. The only explanation I can offer is that it is supposed to be humorous: after all, Charles is not injured. The title of the poem is The Sege of Melayne, yet Charles realizes they are unable to take the city: Thay myghte noghte the cité wynn, The strenghe of the Sarazenes that were within… (lines 1163–64) The French are outnumbered ten to one after Saracen reinforcements arrive; they lack adequate provisions; and they seem not to have brought a siege-engine. Charles, accompanied by Turpin, repeatedly orders individual knights to summon aid and is repeatedly defied. At least one leaf of the manuscript is missing, so we do not know how many were ordered to go. Later we are told that they have implored everyone (line 1428). This episode appears to echo Roland’s refusal in Roland to blow his horn and the peers’ refusal in The Sowdane to serve as messengers. The issue in Melayne is reputation, as in Roland, and leaving the battlefield. It seems the knights’ zeal is more for their reputations than for martyrdom. The repeated defiance of Charles’s authority reveals him as a weak king. One knight says he will think about it when he has had enough fighting; another values his reputation above France: I walde noghte, for all thi kingdome, That ever that worde unto France come I solde so feyntly flee! Gett the a currour whare thou may. (lines 1374–77) Another, Sir Ingelere, presumes that Charles thinks him faint of heart, but curtly denies this: I hope thou wenys myn herte be feynte – I say thee schortly, naye! (lines 1387–88) They ask another knight to be a messenger, even though he seems too severely injured for the job, having been wounded with a sword through his shield and armour: The Duke Berarde was wondede sare: 67

Elizabeth Berlings Thurgh the shelde into the body bare He was borne with a brande. Of this message they gun hym frayne, Bot he hade no worde to speke agayne, Bot grimly stude lukande. (lines 1392–97) Turpin, in effect, tells Charles that it serves him right: ‘Here arte thou servede, bi my fay! Thou fayles of that thou fande…’ (lines 1399–1400) Finally, Charles and Turpin ask a standard bearer who requests knighthood first. When this is granted he suicidally rides straight to Milan, breaking his word to Charles, and is immediately killed.38 His parting words indicate not religious zeal but the pride and resentment of nobles who can become dependent on the monarchy: He saide than, ‘Have gud daye, Charls, in this stede, For thou sall never gyffe me brede, Ne in thy burdynge say, If I be pore of golde and fee, That I fro this great journee Fayntly fledde away!’ (lines 1416–21) This knight will never be dependent on Charles: even if he is not wealthy, Charles will not be able to take advantage of this and say in jest that he fled the battlefield. The narrator approves, for he states, ‘He dide full wele that day’ (line 1424). The French are in a quandary. To Malcolm Hebron the simple weapons of the French versus the Saracen’s springalds and engines show ‘the strength of the spirit overwhelming the machinations and material advantages of the heathen’.39 In fact, it is not the ‘spirit’ of the French that overwhelms the heathen, but the 30,000 Bretons who come to their aid. Faced with 100,000 Saracens and clearly unable to lay siege to the city, Turpin is ready to fight on and recklessly declares, ‘Yitt are we ten thowsande here’ (line 1434). What happened to the 100,000 clergy and Charles’s troops? The French siege-laying expertise, which here seems almost nonexistent, may be compared to their ineffective attempts to lay siege to Acre in Richard Coer de Lion, a work which has been described as a ‘nationalist romance’40 and one in which ‘a jingoistic anti-French tone is maintained throughout’.41 Richard appears as a master of siegecraft and accomplishes more in a morning than the French King Philip Augustus did in seven years: Ffor betere he spedde pay day or noon 38

39 40


On the censure of independent action in Duke Rowlande and Sir Otuell, see Diane Speed, ‘Chivalric Perspectives in the Middle English Otuel Romances’, in Medieval Cultural Studies in Honour of Stephen Knight, ed. Ruth Evans, Helen Fulton and David Matthews (Cardiff, 2006), pp. 213–24, at pp. 216–17. Malcolm Hebron, The Medieval Siege: Romance, Theme and Image in Middle English Romance (Oxford, 1997), p. 90. Geraldine Heng, ‘The Romance of England: Richard Coer de Lyon, Saracens, Jews, and the Politics of Race and Nation’, in The Postcolonial Middle Ages, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (London, 2002), pp. 135–71, at p. 139. Hebron, The Medieval Siege, p. 42.


The Sege of Melayne – A Comic Romance þene þe oþere in þe seuene 3er hadde don. (lines 2955–56) According to Hebron,‘the siege of Acre is depicted as a victory for Richard and the English rather than for the crusading army. Indeed the French method of siegecraft under Philip Augustus comes in for a great deal of criticism’.42 Hebron believes that in Melayne faith overcomes lack of equipment, and Phillipa Hardman expects there may be a miracle of the Virgin in the missing portion of the poem.43 Perhaps a type of miracle does occur, for, like the U.S. Cavalry, 30,000 Bretons appear over a hill. Turpin, mistaking the Bretons for Saracens, makes what would be a suicidal charge, were it not for a herald who realizes who he is. In his discussion of humorous mistaken identities, one form Ménard gives is ‘prendre X qui arrive tout armé pour Y qui est un ennemi’: if the consequences are not serious and the mistake is excusable, ‘la situation nous fait sourire’.44 There is a similar case of mistaken identity in Sir Perceval of Galles in which Perceval mistakes Arthur, Gawain, Yvain, and Kay for Saracens (lines 3560–619).45 In both cases, the mistakes are excusable for Perceval is naïve and Turpin exhausted. Mills wonders about the French in Melayne, but observes ‘there are no Englishmen in the story to serve as its real heroes: Turpin, Charles and Roland are the only champions of Christendom he has’.46 It is ‘oure Bretonns’ who perhaps serve as heroes instead, bringing men, supplies, food, wine and a siege-engine: The Duke of Bretayne, Sir Lyonelle, That Charles was thare he herde telle, And hade mystere of powere. He broughte hym thirty thowsande fyne, Vetaylls gude and nobill engyne, This bolde, with full blythe chere. (lines 1443–48) The deeds of the Bretons are emphasized with heavy alliteration, and repeated references to ‘oure Bretonns,’ and a repeated reference to their bringing provisions and a siege-engine (lines 1596–1601): So stronge strokes thay one tham sett With burneschede bladis bare That fourty thowsande Sarazenes kene With brandis lay brittenyde one the grene, So bolde oure Bretonns were. (lines 1543–47) Charles duly rewards the Duke of Brittany, making him Duke of Burgoyne and giving him his daughter in marriage. Melayne breaks off, with one or more leaves missing, as the siege begins: A nobill hurdas ther was graythede And baners to the walles displayede, And bendis up thaire engyne… (lines 1599–1601) 42 43 44 45 46

Hebron, The Medieval Siege, p. 38. Hardman, ‘The Sege of Melayne’, p. 83. Ménard, Le rire et le sourire, pp. 336–37. Sir Perceval of Galles, ed. French and Hale (see n. 4 above). Mills, Six Middle English Romances, p. xiii.


Elizabeth Berlings It seems that the poem will end with a clear victory for the Christians, thanks to the Bretons who now erect a palisade and ready their siege-engine. Without significant plot-changes from the familiar Charlemagne legends, the author has made the Bretons the heroes and poked fun at the French, their epics, and the Charlemagne romances.


5 Romance Society and its Discontents: Romance Motifs and Romance Consequences in The Song of Dermot and the Normans in Ireland SIMON MEECHAM-JONES One of the most important developments in the continuing rehabilitation of the often neglected and critically derided genre of romance over the past twenty years is the increasing acceptance of romance not as a literary ‘walled garden’, divorced from the expression of political struggles of medieval Europe, but as a witness for the cultural preoccupations and psychological tensions of their time of production. Indeed, the extensive production and wide circulation of romance in medieval Europe might encourage expectations that the romance form – reckoned by Pearsall to be ‘the principal secular literature of entertainment of the Middle Ages’1 – should offer a valuable source for the understanding of at least some elements of the psychology and ethical dilemmas of those generations which were rich in romance production. But any analysis of the relationship of the conventions of romance genre with the exercise of political action in medieval society has proved complex and elusive. Though romance traditions clearly possess, in Crane’s words, the potential to ‘respond forcefully to issues of their time and place’,2 they do so in a manner that is characteristically oblique in its formulation, maintaining a distance from engagement in real events. It is possible, if not inevitable, to read the insular romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as covert expressions of the cultural struggles produced by the overturning of political structures after the Norman Conquest, and the beginning of the Plantagenet monarchy’s colonial project, but the influence of such concerns is articulated indirectly through the choice of story or the patterning of narrative development.3 Romances of Charlemagne or of a remote Arthurian 1

2 3

Derek Pearsall, ‘Middle English Romance and its Audiences’, in Historical and Editorial Studies in Medieval and Early Modern English for Johan Geritsen, ed. Mary-Jo Arn and Hanneke Wirtjes (Gröningen, 1985), pp. 37–47, at p. 37. Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley, CA, 1986). The topic has been extensively considered in recent years, e.g., Crane, Insular Romance; Peter Damian-Grint, The New Historians of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance: Inventing Vernacular Authority (Woodbridge, 1999); D.H. Green, The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction 1150–1220

Simon Meecham-Jones Britain serve as the sites within which Angevin society exercised or exorcised its ambitions and fears. Romances may embody anxieties about displacement and the precariousness of political control in romance patterns of usurpation, narratives of lost sons whose lords are finally restored, and the return from exile of the true heir,4 but the relationship of these motifs to the real political turmoils of the day or to its psychological harvest is distant and tangential in its formulation. Much of the research on the political implications of romance texts where the author’s name is known have focused on issues of patronage and provenance that might shed light on the particular ideological demands the text was designed to promote.5 But since, for most surviving romances, information about authorship, place of first composition, and the extent of their debt to existing oral traditions has proved irrecoverable, there are limits as to how far this approach can elucidate the role of romance in political discourse. An alternative approach has been proposed by Helen Cooper, who directs her attention to the ‘romance motif: a unit within literature that proves so useful, so infectious, that it begins to take on a life of its own.’6 Developing ideas from Dawkins and Blackmore,7 Cooper draws out the analogy between the formulaic elements of romance development and the inheritance of physical characteristics, highlighting the ability of the romance motif to achieve new ‘lives’ far outside their original context: There is a word for such things now: a ‘meme’, an idea that behaves like a gene in its ability to replicate faithfully and abundantly, but also on occasion to adapt, mutate, and therefore survive in different forms and cultures. These motifs and conventions grew up with the genre of which they formed a part and which they helped to define.8 Although the genetic analogy is inexact, in so far as the development of ‘memes’ does not prevent (though it may render less likely) the expression of opposed ideas, it provides a useful model for explaining the selection and perpetuation of certain ideas as a means of interpreting and organising human experience. The genre of romance formulated a literary ‘language’ of motifs and responses which retained its imaginative potency as an ideological shorthand for writers, and readers, across the spectrum of medieval written culture, creating patterns of expectation through which



6 7 8

(Cambridge, 2002); Rosalind Field, ‘Romance in England, 1066–1400’, in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 152–176. These patterns in romance have been explored by Rosalind Field, ‘The King Over the Water: Exile and Return Revisited’, in Cultural Encounters in Medieval English Romance, ed. Corinne Saunders (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 41–53. E.g., Charles H. Haskins, ‘Henry II as a Patron of literature’, in Essays in Medieval History presented to Thomas Frederick Tout, ed. A.G. Little and F.M. Powicke (Manchester, 1925), pp. 71– 77; Peter Dronke, ‘Peter of Blois and Poetry at the court of Henry II’, Mediaeval Studies 28 (1976), 185–235; reprinted in Peter Dronke, The Medieval Poet and his World, Storia e letteratura 164 (Rome, 1984), pp. 281–339; Karen M. Broadhurst, ‘Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Patrons of Literature in French?’, Viator 26 (1996), 53–84; John Gillingham, ‘The Cultivation of History, Legend, and Courtesy at the Court of Henry II’, in Writers of the Reign of Henry II, ed. Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones (New York, 2006), pp. 25–52. Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford, 2004), p. 3. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford, 1976); Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine (Oxford, 1999). Helen Cooper, English Romance, p. 3.


Romance Society and its Discontents historical events might be understood. Cooper’s identification of romance motifs as memes also highlights the crucial role played by literary convention in determining which versions of history (or whose versions) become assimilated into the historical record. The ability of the romance motif to embody a particular meaning, and to carry that meaning into a context outside the genre of romance, is powerfully witnessed in the late-twelfth- or early-thirteenth-century poem that has been called The Song of Dermot and the Earl. The choice of The Song of Dermot and the Earl to demonstrate how stylistic elements of the genre of romance both reflect and foster a distinctive ideological experience may seem provocative. The poem survives in a single manuscript in the Carew papers at Lambeth Palace library, MS LPM 596; and, since no allusion to the poem has been found in medieval and early modern Ireland, it seems possible that no other manuscript existed. The text is untitled in the manuscript. Conlon, following Orpen,9 entitled his edition The Song of Dermot and Earl Richard,10 a title which Mullally rejects in favour of The Deeds of the Normans in Ireland.11 The generic classification of the text has also divided opinion. Orpen, Conlon and Martin have described the poem as a chanson de geste, while Rees Davies was happy to term the poem ‘the near-contemporary epic of the invasion’.12 In contrast, Bliss and Long, and more recently Mullally, are insistent that the poem should not be classified as such.13 The rejection of the term by Bliss and Long seems particularly motivated by a wish to repudiate O’Doherty’s questioning of the poem’s status as history,14 but in denying the poem’s debt to epic, Bliss and Long effectively identify it with romance: The verse form used is not the ten-syllable line in assonanced groupings or laisses characteristic of French epic, but appropriately the eight-syllable line in rhyming couplets as cultivated by the chroniclers and by the romance writers. Meanwhile, Mullally seeks to reclaim the poem as a chronicle, free from romance influence. She argues that its author ‘uses the word ‘estorie’ ([at lines] 2, 7, 2401, 3001), which is employed by both chroniclers and romancers, but he appears to be untouched by the new genre of romance’.15 But Maldwyn Mills has reminded us that 9 10


12 13 14 15

Goddard Henry Orpen, ed., The song of Dermot and the Earl: an old French poem from the Carew manuscript no. 596 in the Archiepiscopal library at Lambeth Palace (Oxford, 1892). Denis J. Conlon, ed., The Song of Dermot and Earl Richard FitzGilbert (Le chansun de Dermot e li Quens Ricard Fiz Gilbert), Studien und Dokumente zur Geschichte der romanischen Literaturen 24 (Frankfurt am Main, 1997). Evelyn Mullally, ed., The Deeds of the Normans in Ireland (Dublin, 2002). Mullally expresses concern that Orpen’s title encouraged expectations that the text was a chanson de geste rather than a historical chronicle, but it could be argued that her alternative title deflects attention from the crucial role of Diarmait Mac Murchada in initiating the Norman involvement in Ireland, as it is presented in the poem. Perhaps the most satisfactory title might be a composite of the two: The Song of Dermot and the Normans in Ireland. R.R. Davies, Domination and Conquest: the experience of Ireland, Scotland and Wales 1100–1300 (Cambridge, 1990), p. 13. Alan Bliss and Joseph Long, ‘Literature in Norman French and English to 1534’, 708–736, in A New History of Ireland, ed. Art Cosgrove (Oxford, 1987), p. 17. J.F. O’Doherty, ‘Historical Criticism of the Song of Dermot and the Earl’, Irish Historical Studies 1 (1938–39), 4–20. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 34.


Simon Meecham-Jones the generic distinction between the chronicle and the romance was always an unfenced frontier, insisting that ‘whether composed in Anglo-Norman or Middle English, the chronicle and the romance (in particular) will quite often overlap in style as well as content, and in some general as well as particular respects’.16 It is debatable how far the generic and ideological distinctions between romance and chansons de geste, which critics like Sarah Kay have done much to elucidate, would have been apparent without the benefit of critical hindsight, or how far the distinction might have seemed useful, to a writer in Ireland in the late twelfth century. Kay’s concept of genre, indeed, ‘is synchronic in so far as chansons de geste and romance are viewed as ideologically alternative aesthetic forms that were simultaneously available to the poets and audiences of twelfth-and thirteenth-century France’.17 The poet’s own description of his work mirrors this confusion of generic possibilities. As Conlon explains, ‘our poem is based on a verbatim account by Morris Regan which is variously described by the poet as jest (v. 6), estorie (vv. 27, 2403 and 3003), le chansun (vv. 456, 1912), l’escrit (v. 3134), geste (vv. 215, 327, 1309, 1779, 2598 and 3177) and la geste que lisum (v. 1065) as opposed to his own work described as la memorie (v. 3), la chançon (v. 1430) and nostre reisun (v. 145).’18 Indeed it might be asked why so much effort has been devoted to determining the poem’s genre. The question of the poem’s generic classification has become inextricably tangled in the argument as to how much weight should be allowed the poem as a historical witness to a key moment in Irish history, while the vexed question of the poem’s veracity crucially turns on the poet’s own account of his sources. Damage to the manuscript means that some introductory lines, which might have set the poem into a clearer historical perspective, have been lost. What we do have is an account of the poem’s origins as the record of an eye-witness account by Morris Regan, King Diarmait’s personal interpreter, of the events of the Plantagenet intervention in Ireland in 1167–1175: Par soen demeine latimer Que moi conta de lui l’estorie Dunt faz ici la memorie: Morice Regan iert celui, Buche a buche parla a lui Ki cest jest’ endita; L’estorie de lui me mostra. Icil Morice iert latimer Al rei Dermot ke mult l’out cher Ici lirrai del bacheler, Del rei Dermod vus voil conter. (lines 1–11)19 [By his personal interpreter who told me his [Diarmait’s] history which I here record. This man was Morris Regan. He who composed this chronicle conversed with him face to face. He made known to me his [Diarmait’s] 16 17 18 19

Maldwyn Mills, introduction to Romance in Medieval England, ed. Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol Meale (Cambridge, 1991), p. 2. Sarah Kay, Chansons de Geste in the Age of Romance (Oxford, 1995), p. 10. Conlon, The Song of Dermot, pp. ix–x. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 53.


Romance Society and its Discontents history. This Maurice [sic] was interpreter to King Diarmait, who held him very dear. Here I will leave off telling about this man; I wish to tell you about King Diarmait.]20 The interpretation of these eleven lines has caused great debate, with the phrase ‘Buche a buche parla a lui’ proving particularly susceptible to different theories as to the identity of the ‘lui’. In Conlon’s version of the same passage, the interpretation of the pronouns is more evidently problematic, and the identity of the ‘bacheler’ provides a distracting element in the account of the narrative’s transmission: By his personal interpreter who told me the story about him of which I make a record here. Morris Regan was that man, mouth to mouth he spoke to him who composed this narrative: he showed me the story about him. That Morice was interpreter to King Dermot, who loved him dearly. Here I shall leave aside the retainer, I want to tell you about King Dermot.21 Orpen and O’Doherty argued that Regan’s face-to-face narrative was given to an unknown author who used it as the basis of a ‘jeste’, which in turn served as the source of the surviving poem, a theory which seems unnecessarily complex, and which has been challenged by Liebermann and Long.22 The theory of a lost ‘intermediary’ text did offer a solution to difficulties which had arisen in dating the poem. The manuscript includes a reference to the canonisation of Archbishop Laurence O’Toole, which occurred in 1225. That led Orpen to argue that the manuscript probably dated from around 1226–30. But since Morris Regan was sent on official business to Wales by King Diarmait in (probably) 1168, it is unlikely that he would have born later than 1140–45, or that he would still be alive in 1226–30. If he had lived to such a great age, it would certainly have been worth the poet mentioning the fact. But Mullally has argued that the reference to Laurence O’Toole is one of two later emendations to the manuscript, which allow her to suggest that, ‘the author consulted Maurice Regan and composed his chronicle in the last decade of the twelfth century, but that at least two couplets were added in the thirteenth century, perhaps in the course of a revision made around 1230’.23 The interpretation of these details matters, because the idea of the poem preserving a ‘verbatim account’24 of a version of history narrated by a witness to some of the events, who was also a familiar or confidant of one of the key players, is what has allowed historians, in the absence of a wealth of alternative sources, to feel able, or obliged, to draw on The Song of Dermot and the Earl as a historical source. There is, of course, an alternative account of these events, in Giraldus Cambrensis’s Expugnatio Hibernica,25 a text of approximately contemporary composition, and one which also draws, at second hand, on personal testimony from major players in the 20 21 22

23 24 25

Translation from Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 53. Conlon, The Song of Dermot, p. 3. F. Liebermann, review of Orpen, The song of Dermot, in English Historical Review, 8 (1893), 129– 33; J. Long, ‘Dermot and the Earl: who wrote the song?’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 75 C (1975), 263–72. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 31. Conlon, The Song of Dermot, p. ix. Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, ed. James F. Dimock, in Giraldi Cambrensis: Opera, ed. J.S. Brewer, J.F. Dimock and G.F. Warner, 8 vols, RS 21 (London, 1861–91), 5:207–414.


Simon Meecham-Jones Norman incursion. For the most part, the two accounts correspond reasonably closely, but there are several significant episodes, as well as many crucial points of detail, where Giraldus and the Dermot-poet diverge. Clearly the Song has offered historians a valuable corrective to the perceived shortcomings of Giraldus as an impartial witness, but the credibility of the Dermot-poet as a historical source has always been rendered suspect by his choice of literary form. Though it is hard to imagine a critic expressing the idea so transparently now, valuations of the poem are still haunted by the implications of O’Doherty’s confident dismissal of the poem’s fictionality: ‘even a contemporary geste or chanson is not the place where the historian will expect to find the prosaic truth which is the material of his science’.26 O’Doherty sees no need to justify his scepticism about the reliability of poetic sources, regarding it as a truism, and it still seems that much interpretation of the romance corpus, and of texts influenced by romance motifs, is hobbled by the implicit assumption of an absolute opposition between the misleading fictions of poetry and the more reliable ‘truths’ offered by ‘prosaic’ sources. Both in bolstering the claims of the Dermot-poet to be considered a more reliable witness, where his version differs from that offered by Giraldus, and as an implicit answer to O’Doherty’s rejection of the poem’s value as a historical source, Conlon, and more particularly Mullally, have sought to emphasise the artlessness of the Dermot-poet, at times as if the historical accuracy of the piece is guaranteed by its lack of skill. This artlessness, it has been argued, derives from the poem’s method of composition (‘Buche a buche parla’), and is evidenced in the text’s lack of technical finish. Such a valuation of the poet is scarcely new – Dimock, the first editor of the Expugnatio, drew attention to the difference he perceived between the sophistication of the text he was editing and The Song, which he characterised as ‘the simple truth put into simple rhyme’.27 Mullally fuses the two elements of this prescription of artlessness, concluding that ‘the most remarkable feature of our author is his cultural isolation’,28 a failing which, in part explains his lamentable style: He appears to be unaware of the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis […] He has no resources of rhetoric, indeed he lacks even the most well-worn literary commonplaces. To call him a poet certainly misrepresents his intentions: he forces his material into rhyming couplets because verse is still the dominant vernacular medium in his period […] His vocabulary is meagre and his style is bald.29 Her criticism of the failings of his style falls within a longstanding tradition, illustrated, for example, by Frame’s dismissal of the poem as ‘the Anglo-Norman doggerel history of the conquest’.30 Bliss and Long attempt to excuse the poet’s failings by raising the possibility of textual corruption: to them ‘the work appears to be that of a mediocre rhymester, in whose defence it can be said, perhaps, that the 26 27 28 29 30

O’Doherty, ‘Historical Criticism’, p. 8. Dimock, Giraldi Cambrensis: Opera, vol. 5, p. lxxxiv. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 33. Evelyn Mullally, ‘Hiberno-Norman Literature and its public’, in Settlement and Society in Medieval Ireland, ed. John Bradley (Kilkenny, 1988), pp. 327–343, at p. 329. Robin Frame, Ireland and Britain 1170–1450 (London, 1998), p. 3.


Romance Society and its Discontents text preserved in the MS may be a much corrupted copy of the original, which had been written some three generations earlier’.31 Ian Short’s judgment, though, is comprehensively scathing, dubbing the poet ‘an outstandingly mediocre poet’.32 When the diction and imagery of The Song is compared with the flower of French and Anglo-Norman poetic achievement in the twelfth century, the justice of Short’s judgment seems inescapable. Nonetheless it might be worth considering whether the poem demonstrates other skills of construction and execution that qualify its perceived verbal clumsiness. Differences of audience, as well as differences of ideological purpose, may go some way towards explaining the gulf between the resources of verbal dexterity, elegance and sophistication deployed in ‘popular’ romance forms when compared to ‘court’ literature. Some valuations of The Song combine traces of this idea with a more ideological reading of the poet’s apparent lack of sophistication. Mullally suggests that the poet ‘betrays no evidence of any formal book-learning’.33 She further argues that he had ‘only the slightest acquaintance with contemporary vernacular literature’.34 If she is right in her verdict, then paradoxically the Dermot-poet’s achievement might seem more, rather than less, remarkable. To sustain a poem of this length in couplets is certainly a major challenge, however bald the style, particularly since written French seems to have been little used in Irish circles, as Mullally argues: French would appear to have dropped out of literary use without ever having had any influence on Irish literature. The native Irish were never influenced by French language or literature, and the Anglo-Irish had by now gone over to the other vernacular, English.35 For the Dermot-poet to have attempted to compose a substantial text without the possibility of recourse to a library of precedents and sources would suggest at least a degree of ambition. Though we do not know where or when the poem was written, we do know that the romance genre was available in at least some circles in Ireland in the twelfth century. Indeed both Dominica Legge and Judith Weiss have argued for the likelihood that the romance King Horn was first read in Dublin, in the presence of King Henry II in 1171.36 For a literate person to have avoided all influence from romance and chansons de geste norms would seem somewhat surprising. Curiously, Mullally notes that the poet does use linguistic formulae which might cause the audience to expect chanson de geste material: He is aware that a narrative may be called a song (143) and that reciting it may be called singing (2062). He twice uses the tag ‘Cum nus reconte le chansun’ (456, 1910), merely to mean ‘as the story goes’. Similarly he uses the word jest (6) or geste (327, 1065, 1309, 1777, 2596, 3175) in the general 31 32 33 34 35 36

Bliss and Long, ‘Literature’, p. 718. Ian Short, ‘Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England’, AngloNorman Studies 14 (1991), pp. 229–49, at p. 240. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 33. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 37. Mullally, ‘Hiberno-Norman Literature’, p. 339. M. Dominica Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background (Oxford, 1963), p. 99; Judith Weiss, ‘Thomas and the Earl: Literary and Historical Contexts for the Romance of Horn’, in Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance, ed. Rosalind Field (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 1– 14, at pp. 1–6.


Simon Meecham-Jones narrative sense of ‘narrative’ or ‘chronicle’. He does not, as we have seen, propose to write a chanson de geste, but he does sometimes attempt to capture the benevolence of his public in terms reminiscent of the opening lines of chansons de geste: ‘Oiez, seignurs, baruns vaillant, Que Deus del cel vus seit guarant!’ (2982–83); ‘Seignurs, que Deu vus seit amis’ (3352) and ‘Entendez, seignurs, bone gent, Si orrez ja apertement, De un chevaler vus voil cunter’ (3368–70).37 In the face of such apparently contradictory evidence, it is worth asking why Mullally is so insistent that the Dermot-poet had ‘only the slightest acquaintance with contemporary vernacular literature’. It is hard not to read her statement as a response to O’Doherty’s rejection of poetry as a suitable medium for historical accuracy. Mullally draws out the contrast between ‘Gerald the prose-writer who is the selfconscious literary artist and our anonymous versifier who remains almost painfully prosaic and factual’.38 Where Gerald’s ‘very skill with language has rendered him suspect’, the Dermot-poet ‘has almost no rhetorical resources and is, therefore, in a sense, less likely to be untrustworthy as a witness as he never distorts his narrative effect’.39 The idea of the simplicity of the poem, and its author, dies hard, but there are real dangers in assuming that, because the Song’s ‘poetry is humdrum in its narrative style’,40 it can be considered more reliable or less distorted for political purposes than the highly-wrought rhetoric of the Expugnatio. An interesting case in point occurs at the start of the text, when Diarmait Mac Murchada seizes the wife of Tiernan Ua Ruairc. The Dermot-poet recounts this event at some length, but without apparent condemnation. Mullally notes that: Like Gerald, he describes the dramatic downfall of a king brought about through an intrigue with another man’s wife. Gerald makes the inevitable clerical allusions to the Wheel of Fortune and the catastrophes brought about by women throughout the ages. Our author is unaware of even these commonplaces.41 Certainly, these allusions, and others more immediately telling, are prominent in Gerald’s account: Accessit et aliud incommodum. Ororicio namque, Medensium rege, remotas in partes expeditionis cujusdam causa profecto, uxor ipsius, Omachlachelini filia, quam in insula quadam Mediæ reliquerat, a prædicto Dermitio, ejusdem igne dudum accenso, captata viri absentia, rapta nimirum fuit, quia et rapi voluit, et quoniam ‘Varium et mutabile semper femina,’ ut prædoni præda fieret ipsa procuravit. Sed quoniam mala fere cuncta majora, tam Marco Antonio quam Troja testante, mundo per mulierem constat exorta, rex Ororicius, graviter utroque permotus, longe tamen gravius dedecoris quam damni dolore percussus, 37 38 39 40 41

Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, pp. 33–34. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 32. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 32. T.P. Dolan, ‘Writing in Ireland’, in The Cambridge History Of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 208–228, at p. 215. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 33.


Romance Society and its Discontents totum in vindictam virus evomuit. Convocans igitur et conflans tam proprias, quam vicinarum gentium vires, Connactensium quoque principem, et totius Hiberniæ tunc monarcham ad idem animavit et Rothericum.42 [There was another unfortunate factor. On an occasion when Ua Ruairc king of Meath had gone off on an expedition to far distant parts, his wife Ua Máelechlainn’s daughter, whom he had left on an island in Meath, was abducted by the aforesaid Dermot, who had long been burning with love for her and took advantage of her husband’s absence. No doubt she was abducted because she wanted to be and, since ‘woman is always a fickle and inconstant creature’, she herself arranged that she should become the kidnapper’s prize. Almost all the world’s most notable catastrophes have been caused by women, witness Mark Antony and Troy. King Ua Ruairc was stirred to extreme anger on two counts, of which however the disgrace, rather than the loss of his wife, grieved him the more deeply, and he vented all the venom of his fury with a view to revenge. And so he called together and mustered his own forces and those of neighbouring peoples, and roused to the same purpose Ruaidrí, prince of Connacht and at that time Supreme Ruler of all Ireland.] Yet, however deep his cultural isolation, it is almost inconceivable that the Dermotpoet could have been unaware of the story of the abduction of Helen of Troy, or the obvious parallels between these two causes of war. If he chose not to make the parallel, it must be because the comparison was not helpful to the version of history he sought to foster. Though both The Song and the Expugnatio construct positive visions of the English incursion into Ireland, they do so from distinct ideological positions. Giraldus draws on sources from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Papal Bull Laudibiliter to prove the legality of English involvement, so he has no paramount interest in protecting the reputation of Diarmait. In the Dermot-poet’s account, the English are there at the request of Diarmait, so it is important that Diarmait’s conduct does not seem the result of sensual weakness, like that of Mark Antony and Paris. Indeed, The Song explicitly counters this suggestion, in its presentation of the abduction as an act of political revenge: De Leynester reis Dermod, Ki cel dame tant amout, De amer li fist bel semblant, Mes ne l’ama tant ne quant, Ne mes qu’il vout a sun poër La grant hunte, s’il pout, venger Que cil de Leth Coin firent jadis A ces de Leth Muthe en son païs. (lines 40–47)43 [King Diarmait of Leinster, whom this lady loved so greatly, made a fair show of loving her, but he did not really love her at all, and only wanted, as far as 42


Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica, Book I, cap. I (ed. Dimock, pp. 225–26); trans. from Expugnatio Hibernica: The Conquest of Ireland, ed./trans. A.B. Scott and F.X. Martin (Dublin, 1978), pp. 24–25. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 54.


Simon Meecham-Jones possible, to avenge, if he could, the great shame which the men of Leth Cuinn had previously inflicted on the men of Leth Moga in his teritory.] Though the account in the Song lacks the accumulation of rhetorical fioriture found in the Expugnatio, the verbal or cultural impoverishment of the poet may not be the only plausible explanation. We have become accustomed in modern political communication to the potentially misleading presentation of information which still falls within the boundaries of ‘the truth’ or the ‘not demonstrably false’, and what is offered in The Song is a similar process of narrative elision which ‘spins’ the reader’s experience towards the most favourable judgment of the protagonist possible without deceit – it is not for nothing that the oath for witnesses in court makes a distinction between ‘the truth’ and ‘the whole truth’. This tendency to present a version of the truth which is designedly less than the whole truth is also detectable in Giraldus’s account. Since both wish to encourage the impression that the Normans are in Ireland to aid King Diarmait, each neglects to mention the gap of more than a decade that separates the abduction of Derbforgaill and Diarmait’s expulsion and appeal to the Normans. The evidence provided by John of Salisbury44 and Robert of Torigni45 that Henry II had considered an expedition to Ireland earlier in his reign is also absent from the Song, removing the shadow of premeditation from the actions of ‘les Engleis’. The evidence of how successful the promotion of this view of events proved to be can still be observed in F.X. Martin’s assertion that ‘in fact, the AngloNormans came not as invaders but by invitation’.46 Both the Expugnatio and The Song clearly belong within the genre of ‘literature of justification’, which includes such a great part of the insular literature of the twelfth century.47 There are, though, considerable differences between the literary techniques each writer uses to further his purpose. The aims of the Dermot-poet – in Dolan’s words ‘ostentatiously loyal to Diarmait’48 – are achieved not by the overt assertion offered by Giraldus but through a much more concealed practice of organisation and selection. The narrative elision practised here, and at other points in the text, emphasises the risk of relying on the myth of the Dermot-poet’s ‘simplicity’. It is a danger not avoided in Laura Ashe’s development of Mullally’s reading, in which the Dermot-poet’s lack of cultural cross-reference becomes a key element of the poem’s potential value: This text […] is of questionable quality in artistic terms. But that lack of aesthetic shaping affords a unique opportunity to approach more nearly the cultural experience of this group of people; as such, the Song is of inestimable value.49

44 45 46 47 48 49

John of Salisbury, Metalogicon, ed. C.I. Webb (Oxford, 1929), Book IV, cap. 42. The Chronicle of Robert of Torigni, in Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I, ed. Richard Howlett, 4 vols, RS 82 (London, 1889), vol. 4. F.X. Martin, ‘Diarmait Mac Murchada and the Coming of the Anglo Normans’, in A New History of Ireland, ed. Cosgrove, pp. 43–66. This genre, and The Song of Dermot’s place within it, is considered in my introduction to Writers of the reign of Henry II, ed. Kennedy and Meecham-Jones, pp. 1–24, at pp. 13–20. Dolan, ‘Writing in Ireland’, p. 216. Laura Ashe, Fiction and History in England, 1066–1200 (Cambridge, 2007). I am grateful to Dr Ashe for permission to quote from her work in advance of its publication.


Romance Society and its Discontents This seems close to being a variation on the idea of the re-inscription of the historical value of the text through a declaration of the incompetence of the poet. This leads her to privilege the ‘reality’ encountered in the Song over the ‘ideology’ developed in the Expugnatio: What the Song details is the reality and plurality of political and military life in Ireland, not the racial ideology of the partisan cleric. But the ‘reality’ she ascribes has only a textual existence, since what The Song details is not ‘the reality and plurality of political and military life’, but merely an impression of that reality, mediated through the forms and expectations of a literary tradition, as they have been experienced both by the poet and his audience. It would not be possible to create any text that is ‘innocent’ of ideological import,50 however consciously or unconsciously expressed, because, as Raymond Williams reminds us, in literary expression ‘meaning is always produced; it is never simply expressed’,51 and that production is, in large part, determined by the qualities of the cultural matrix within which the work is fashioned. Ashe comes close to characterising the Song as a text which exists outside ideology when she suggests that ‘this is the text’s most surprising and […] valuable quality: its isolation from cultural ideologies, and apparent ignorance of literary patterns’. But in the case of The Song of Dermot, both the form employed and the language chosen mark out the text as having a discernible and deliberate ideological purpose. To write a poem of this length and ambition is always to make an ideological statement; to write a poem on this subject is to make an ideological statement; to write a poem of this form in Anglo-Norman is to make a very pointed ideological statement, however imperfectly realised. No small part of the ideological statement of the poem is inscribed in its having been written in Ireland in a variety of the French language.52 We cannot know what the poet’s mother tongue might have been – perhaps English, or Irish, or, if Mullally’s supposition is correct, even Welsh,53 but it is certainly possible that the poet’s knowledge of Anglo-Norman was as a second, or acquired, language. It is likely that Anglo-Norman formed a necessary element of Morris Regan’s linguistic repertoire as a latimer,54 but it strains credibility that a poet could have composed a poem of 3459 verses in rhyming octosyllabic couplets (as it survives) by memorizing an oral version by Regan, without himself acquiring some competence in the language. It is hard to imagine a clearer demonstration of


51 52

53 54

The topic is discussed by Schieffelin and Silverstein, amongst others, in Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory, ed. Bambi B. Schieffelin, Kathryn A. Woolard and Paul V. Kroskrity (Oxford, 1998). Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford, 1977), p. 167. There is some debate as to whether the linguistic idiosyncrasies of the poem provide evidence of a distinct dialect of Hiberno-French, or whether they can be explained within the high degree of variability (particularly orthographical) found within Anglo-Norman sources, perhaps aided in this case by scribal error. Bliss and Long draw attention to the difficulties of drawing conclusions from the very small corpus of manuscripts in varieties of Anglo Norman which can be shown to have been written in Ireland; the problem is also addressed by Mullally. See Bliss and Long, ‘Literature’, p. 708; Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 9. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 37; Mullally, ‘Hiberno-Norman Literature’, p. 329. The fullest account of the role of the latimer is provided by Constance Bullock-Davies, Professional Interpreters and the Matter of Britain (Cardiff, 1966).


Simon Meecham-Jones Raymond William’s dictum that ‘language, then, is not a medium; it is a constitutive element of social practice’.55 The choice of language, with its attendant expectations, is one means by which the Dermot-poet inflects meaning into a text which is verbally spare and unadorned – but it is not the only means. Whatever its true generic designation, The Song of Dermot and the Earl appears to have absorbed structural influence from the vernacular epic, romance and chronicle, which its readership could have inferred back into the text. Further, the pattern of parallels between its depiction of events and analogous scenes in romance texts raise important questions about the generic boundaries of romance and the extent to which chronicle was inescapably being created and interpreted through the generic conventions of romance. In The Song of Dermot, the flesh of the poet’s historical record is supported by a skeleton of romance motifs, or romance memes, which guided the expectations of its original readers, but which also cast light on why the development of such motifs played such a crucial role in medieval society. The extent to which the writer uses romance conventions to establish the nature, and evade the consequences, of the events which have been transacted could be demonstrated from a number of key scenes from the poem. Certainly, any analysis of the Dermot-poet’s account of the conduct of Meilyr at the battle outside Limerick, for example, would need to consider the echo of romance memes embedded in the text to colour our understanding of what is being presented. But less showy scenes offer the same refutation of the presumption that, whereas Gerald’s account is clearly shaped by a consistently imagined purpose, the Song shows no sign of a pre-conceived form or purpose. The Dermot-poet’s accumulation of incident and selection of detail is far from careless, revealing a conscious art that has so far been overlooked. In the meeting between Henry II and Diarmait, the poem displays, with notable clarity, the value of romance norms of behaviour in filling an ethical void at a time when the discourses of legality, nationality and the rule of law are under-developed. For medieval rulers like Diarmait, romance models provide an invaluable and highly practical supplement to the often inconvenient idealism of Christian ethics – independent of (though presumed not be incompatible with) Christian norms, but, crucially, recognisable to both foes and allies as forms of a chivalric ‘common currency’ of usage. The biblical injunction to ‘Take no thought of the morrow’ might have been considered an admirable sentiment in twelfth-century Europe, but it set a rigorous standard for the governing of turbulent cultures, accustomed to periodic bouts of internecine blood-letting. There were, of course, classical models of honour and bravery available in the epic tradition represented by the Aeneid,56 as well as by some philosophical texts, such as the Somnium Scipionis. But classical values were often at odds with Christian ideas of humility and the importance of personal salvation, so that attempts at re-creating the epic within Christian expectations were

55 56

Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 166. The influence of The Aeneid on medieval literature is considered, for example, by Christopher Baswell in his Virgil in Medieval England: Figuring the Aeneid from the twelfth century to Chaucer (Cambridge, 1995).


Romance Society and its Discontents inevitably fraught with tension, creating the characteristically medieval form of ‘failed epic’ – the epitome of which is Walter of Châtillon’s Alexandreis.57 The formulation of romance patterns of behaviour show an alternative attempt to assimilate elements of classical concepts of heroism into a form which is not incompatible with Christianity, and in which codes of behaviour are both formulated and transmitted through the medium of textual culture. As such, they functioned as a stage in the discourse (from Vegetius and Saint Augustine to Aquinas and Grotius)58 of imposing order and the imprimatur of justice on the random savagery of human conflict. In circumstances where it might be impractical or unhelpful for a medieval ruler or knight to speculate how Christ and his disciples would have acted, protagonists could model their behaviour on that of Charlemagne or King Arthur or King Horn. In a society that invested exemplary respect in the value of precedent, romance motifs offered a persuasive, if not binding, pattern-book of behavioural precedents which could be read unambiguously both by the actor and by the ‘audience’. The Dermot-poet’s account of the meeting of Diarmait with Henry II provides an excellent example of the manipulation of expectation created by the employment of romance convention in operation. Underlying the scene is the reminiscence of similar scenes where Charlemagne or Arthur accept the pledge of loyalty from a subject king. But the familiarity of this pattern enables the Dermot-poet, whether we judge it to be achieved skilfully or inadvertently, to distract the reader’s attention from the true shift in power that is presented. What the scene recounts is not the straightforward avowal of an existing feudal relationship, but the creation of an obligation where, probably, none had previously existed.59 With the benefits of 800 years of hindsight, readers can appreciate the full gravity of the willed Faustian bargain that is being enacted – but the conventions of the romance form shield the readers, as witnesses of the covenant, from that awareness. A close consideration of the scene shows how carefully and how deftly Diarmait’s position is presented in as positive a light as circumstances allow. Though the scene shows Diarmait accepting the Norman yoke, the meeting is presented as a meeting of ostensible equals, and the point is driven home by the immediate reference to God – who rules them both: Quant Dermod, li reis vaillant, 57



Walter’s conscious development of a style of ‘failed epic’ is considered in Simon MeechamJones, ‘The Invisible Siege: the depiction of warfare in the poetry of Chaucer’, in Writing War: Medieval Literary Responses to War, ed. Françoise Le Saux, Corinne Saunders and Neil Thomas (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 147–67, at pp. 155–58. Vegetius, P. Flavii Vegeti Renati Epitoma rei militaris, ed. Alf Önnerfors (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1995); St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, ed. Brian Leftow and Brian Davies (Cambridge, 2006); Hugo Grotius, De iure belli ac pacis libri tres in quibis ius naturae et gentium item iuris publici praecipua explicantur, ed. B.J.A. De Kanter-van Hettinga Tromp, revised by R. Feenstra and C.E. Persenaire (Aalen, 1993). In the Expugnatio, Gerald reproduced the text of a Papal Bull, which was to become known as Laudabiliter, issued by Pope Adrian IV to King Henry II in 1155–56. The Bull encouraged Henry’s involvement in Ireland, and was used by Gerald as a justification for the English incursion. No copy of the Bull survives in the Vatican Library (though a number of early records were lost to fire) and it has been suggested that Gerald falsified this evidence of Papal authorisation.


Simon Meecham-Jones Al rei Henri par devant Esteit venuz a cele feis, Par devant li rei engleis Mult le salue curteisement Bien e bel devant la gent : ‘Icil Deu ke meint en haut, Reis Henri, vus ward e saut, E vus donge ensement Quer e curage e talent Ma hunte venger e ma peine Que fet me unt ma gent demeine!’ (lines 266–277) [When Diarmait, the valiant king, came at this time before King Henry, he greets him in a very courtly manner before those who were there: ‘May God who dwells on high save and protect you, King Henry, and grant you also the courage and the desire and the will to avenge my shame and my sorrow which my own people have brought on me!’] Diarmait signals himself as the King’s equal in status, though not in fortune: De Yrlande su sire né En Yrlande rei clamé… (lines 280–92) [I was born a lord of Ireland, in Ireland I was acknowledged king…] It is from an assertion of an apparent position of strength that Diarmait’s claiming of Henry’s aid is offered: Mes a tort me unt degeté Ma gent demeine, del regné. A vus me venc clamer, bel sire Vëans les baruns de tun empire. Ti liges home devendrai Tut jors me[s] que viverai, Par si que mai sëez aidant, Que ne sei de[l] tut perdant. Tei clamerai sire e seignur, Vëant baruns e cuntur. (lines 282–29) [But my own people have wrongfully cast me out from the kingdom. I come to appeal to you, fair sire, before the barons of your empire. I will become your liege man for as long as I live, provided that you will help me, so that I do not lose everything. I will call you lord in the presence of your barons and earls.]60 Faced with evidence of such disloyalty to feudal obligation, it might seem that Henry’s assent is motivated by a desire for justice, rather than an ambition to extend his personal sway: Dunc li ad le rei pramis 60

Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 60.


Romance Society and its Discontents De Engletere, le poëstifs, Que volunters lui aidereit Al plus tost qu’il porreit. (lines 292–95) [Then the powerful king of England promised him that he would help him willingly as soon as he could.] The true reasons for Henry’s intervention in Ireland are recognised by historians as being multiple and complex. We might see it as an expression of an ‘Imperial’ destiny,61 frustrated by his periodic military reversals elsewhere.62 The evidence of John of Salisbury also indicates the interest of the Church in extending the claims of Canterbury to exercise its authority more comprehensively across the British Isles – unfinished business from the synod of Whitby – which justified English military intervention as the means of effecting reform in Irish church affairs.63 Brendan Smith raises the idea that Henry’s intervention must be seen as part of the uneasy relationship of the English crown to the papacy – so perhaps Henry in this matter acts as the pope’s surrogate, as a means of re-establishing a concordat after the murder of Becket.64 Whatever the truth of these competing theories, it is clear that compassion for the ousted Diarmait was not a major consideration for Henry, even if it provided a handy pretext for English involvement. The Dermot-poet uses the structural familiarity of what appears to be a narrative of purely human interaction to obscure the implications of this complex balance of competing interests. The conventions of the romance form, which underlie the scene, privilege certain patterns of understanding the historical situation, while they preclude, or at very least occlude, other readings of what has transpired. This operates at two levels in that it both creates an interpretative model through which the reader can comprehend what is happening, but also it creates a shared discourse, albeit a language of obliqueness and concealment, through which the two kings can address each other – imposing a discipline of protocol which masks the calculation of self-interest inevitably at play. In the Dermot-poet’s account of the meeting of the two kings, the most crucial question – why Diarmait felt obliged to pledge to become Henry’s liegeman (that is, to accept Henry’s right to sovereignty over his kingdom) – is displaced from its 61 62



The idea is explored in John Gillingham, The Angevin Empire (London, 2001). Gillingham draws out a connection between Henry’s relatively unsuccessful policy in Wales and his involvement in Ireland; see John Gillingham, The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values (Cambridge, 2000). This theory was extensively developed by O’ Doherty in ‘Rome and the Anglo-Norman Invasion of Ireland’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 42 (1933), 131–45, and ‘St Laurence O’Toole and the Anglo-Norman Invasion’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 50 (1937), 449–77, 600–25 and 51 (1938), 131–46. This theory remains popular as an explanation for the swift swearing of fealty to Henry II by the senior figures of the Irish Church; see Martin, ‘Diarmait Mac Murchada’, p. 56; Sean Duffy, Ireland in the Middle Ages (London, 1997), p. 72; Denis Bethell, ‘English Monks and Irish Reform in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries’, Historical Studies: Papers read before the Irish Conference of Historians 8 (1971), 111–35. Flanagan highlights the power struggle between the sees of Canterbury and York as a significant cause of the Church’s growing interest in the religious and civil governance of Ireland: Marie Therese Flanagan, Irish Society, Anglo-Norman Settlers, Angevin Kingship (Oxford, 1989), pp. 7–55. Brendan Smith, ‘The frontiers of church reform in the British Isles, 1170–1230’, in Medieval Frontiers: Concepts and Practices, ed. D. Abulafia and N. Berend (Aldershot, 2002), pp. 239–253.


Simon Meecham-Jones central role in what is described. There are many subtle touches of phrasing and narrative elision which appear to colour our understanding of what is happening, while at the same time masking what is really at stake. Lest our sense of Diarmait’s kingship be diminished, Henry’s possessions are described as an empire (‘Veans les baruns de tun empire’), though Clanchy has assured us that the now popular critical term ‘the Angevin Empire’ would have been inconceivable in the twelfth century: Historians since the nineteenth century have for convenience described these lands as the Angevin Empire. Contemporaries, on the other hand, although they acknowledged that Henry II’s dominions stretched from the Northern Ocean (that is, from Scotland) to the Pyrenees, never used the term ‘Angevin Empire’ because they looked on Henry’s lands as the lucky acquisition of a quarrelsome family and not as an institution.65 The poet’s lengthy recital of Diarmait’s account of his relationship with his own rebellious people similarly distracts us from the full nature of the obligation Diarmait enters into with Henry. There is a crucial distinction between the accounts of Giraldus and the Dermot-poet on this issue. As Duffy puts it: [In The Song] Diarmait has become the liege-man of Henry II. He has done fealty to him. Henry is to be his sire and lord, with the duty of protecting him from his enemies. Gerald goes one step further. According to him, Diarmait did not merely swear an oath of fealty, he performed homage for his kingdom.66 Maybe the Dermot-poet had elided this detail, or maybe Giraldus had invented or assumed too much. The Dermot-poet gives us no certain answer as to the justice of the contemporary judgment on Diarmait’s conduct. Orpen explains that: From this act he came to be known as Diarmait na nGall, or Dermot of the foreigners, while his brother, who was set up as King of Okinselagh in his room, was called Murchadh na nGaedhal, or Murrough of the Irish.67 It is in its depiction of the relationship of Diarmait to his subjects that the ideological elisions necessarily become most twisted. Diarmait complains of the shame and ill fortune that his people have done to him, making no mention of the war he started by his unknightly and reckless pursuit of another man’s wife. There is an important distinction to be noted, but which the Dermot-poet obscures, between the relationship depicted between Diarmait and Henry, which appears to have been entered into voluntarily and which might therefore be considered contractual, and that which binds the loyalty of Diarmait’s people. ‘Contractual’ implies consent, and consent is not an issue here in the relationship of Diarmait’s subjects to the English king. Diarmait appears to pledge fealty freely, and Duffy is insistent in challenging the view that the consequences were unforeseen: Therefore the invasion was no accident. If these accounts are to be believed, Diarmait Mac Murchada foresaw the consequences of his action in appealing 65 66 67

M.T. Clanchy, England and its Rulers 1066–1272 (Oxford, 1983), pp. 75–76. Duffy, Ireland in the Middle Ages, p. 60. G.H. Orpen, Ireland Under the Normans, 1169–1333, 4 vols (Oxford, 1911–20), 1: 72.


Romance Society and its Discontents to Henry II for help, and equally he planned to win that help by becoming Henry’s liegeman, thus establishing a feudal bond between Leinster and the kingdom of England.68 Where Diarmait can choose to make a decision, in doing so, he binds his subjects to the same claims. These people have no consent to grant, they are his people because he is ‘De yrlande susire ne’ – born to be a lord in Ireland – and their duty is obedience, since the claims of inheritance are assumed to preclude challenge. Certain elements of the transaction are highlighted, and others obscured, with a care which marks out how deftly The Song practises the ‘politics of evasion’ Kay has identified as being central to a romance aesthetic characterised by repression and disguise: Like other texts, the chansons de geste ‘repress’ (to maintain Jameson’s psychoanalytic terminology … aspects of their historical context as a textual precipitate, discernible through … their ‘strategies of containment’. Where these aspects are taken up and problematized by romance, romance texts may be said to draw attention to the ‘political unconscious’ of the chansons de geste. Correspondingly, epic poems provide a clue to the political unconscious of romance: many of the political conflicts and contradictions exposed by the chansons de geste are repressed, disguised, or otherwise ‘mystified’ by romance texts. Romances, on this reading, are not ‘better’ or more ‘literary’ than the chansons de geste; rather they practise a politics of evasion, which seeks to sanitize or disguise the rifts in the social and symbolic order which the chansons de geste exhibit.69 That politics of evasion is achievable through the deployment of romance motifs, which render the world only through the figurations of emblematic individuals, creating an interpretation of ethics which we might classify as a ‘privatised’ morality – that is, an ethics which is conducted at a personal level not a social level, even though its consequences are inevitably expressed at a social level. In the romance genre we might say that all political action is personal, and that is how Diarmait’s conduct is presented, precluding any recognition of the contingency of historical chance, or wider issues of justice and legality, construed at a social level, rather than as an expression of the contact of prominent individuals. Of course, such actions appear different when viewed with the distorting hindsight of nationalism, but it should not be denied that in the politics of twelfth century Ireland, as of Wales, interest was defined in personal rather than social terms. This is offered by Martin as an explanation for the willingness of the Irish kings and magnates to visit Henry II in Dublin and swear fealty: It is easy to account for Henry’s bloodless victory. Each ruler or group in the country, contending for power, saw him as a solution to immediate problems.70

68 69 70

Duffy, Ireland in the Middle Ages, p. 62. Kay, Chansons de Geste, p. 6. Martin, ‘Diarmait Mac Murchada’, pp. 90–91.


Simon Meecham-Jones If, to modern eyes, the preoccupations of the romance form can appear as a species of false consciousness, it seems to represent a false consciousness pervasive in medieval culture. Thus, Davies has emphasized the ad hoc nature of the Norman intervention, that is, for the failure to contemplate their actions in any wider perspective than that of the immediate concerns of personal interest and renown: The Anglo-Normans did not set out self-consciously on a conquest of “Wales” or “Ireland” as such, or plot the take-over of the kingdom of Scotland; they were not informed by national ambitions or national animus; few of them could have guessed at, or cared about, what they might – or might not – achieve […] In short their enterprises were not national conquests in intention, scale or character.71 If we accept this view, the incursion into Ireland is best understood not as an ‘expugnatio’ but as a sequence of unplanned and contingent events with (presumably) unforeseen consequences. For Ashe, this understanding of the invasion is mirrored in the design of The Song: This chaotic and undesigned progression of the English conquest is its real nature, and it is mirrored in the confusing account provided by the Song. But the progress of any military campaign will encounter unforeseen setbacks, delays and defeats, before reaching a conclusion which may be some distance from that anticipated; and it strains belief to say that the contingent nature of any particular military action proves that, at the commencement of that action, there was no underlying idea of the planned ‘best outcome’ (however qualified this idea becomes in practice). As so often, Giraldus provides a more imaginative, and perhaps shrewder, vision, which qualifies, in part, Davies’s conclusion. Giraldus places into the mouth of Robert fitz Stephen a speech in justification of the Norman presence, in which the conduct and prowess of the invading individuals ‘deserves’ a permanent political reward, which will transform the political status of Ireland, as well as that of the invaders: Gentem hic nostram diligit, gentem hic nostram attrahit, gentem hic nostram in insula plantare et immobiliter radicare proposuit. Hujus forsitan occasionis eventu, et quinque portiones in unum redigentur, et ad nostrates in posterum totius regni dominium devolvetur. [This man loves our race; he is encouraging our race to come here, and has decided to settle them in this island and give them permanent roots here. Perhaps the outcome of this action will be that the five divisions of the kingdom will be reduced to one, and sovereignty over the whole island will devolve upon our race for the future.]72 Giraldus writes with hindsight, yet is anticipating a situation which, in practical terms (if not in juristic terms) was not to be achieved at this time. It might be dangerous to dismiss the possibility that Giraldus is preserving some recollection of the 71 72

Davies, Domination and Conquest, p. 3. Giraldus, Expugnatio Hibernica, Book I, cap. IX (Dimock, pp. 242–43); Scott and Martin, trans., p. 48.


Romance Society and its Discontents (optimistic) motivation of the invaders, but the literary familiarity of what is being imagined mean that it is not essential to read the scene as an accurate record. The scene also functions emblematically, as Giraldus articulates a vision of what should have been intended, regardless of whether it was or not. He depicts fitz Stephen striking a noble pose, enacting a role which readers could identify with archetypes from epic and romance literature, and which would render fitz Stephen’s conduct familiar and understandable. Giraldus’ deployment of these instrumental motifs of ‘romance conduct’ is matched in The Song, most notably in the depiction of the siege of Limerick. The Dermot-poet’s account of the speech and conduct of the knight Meilyr (an illegitimate son of King Henry I) in encouraging his troops falls within a familiar trope which Burnley describes as ‘comforting the troops’.73 There are many complex ideological transactions attempted in this scene, but it is the underlying structural motif from romance traditions which sustains the episode and qualifies, to some degree, the ‘heroically inappropriate, to the point of absurdity’ quality of what is depicted.74 Le fiz Henri, le ber Meiller, En haut se prist a hucher. Devant ala escrïant: ‘Passez, chevalers! Que alez targant?’ En l’ewe se mist icil errant; Ultre l’aport le cheval blanc. Quant passé esteit le chevaler. ‘Sein Davi!’ escrïad haut e cler, Kar il esteit [sun] seignur, Suz Dampnedeu le Crëatur, E li chevaler par grant duçor Sein Davi reclama nuit e jur, Que [il] lui fust en aïe De conquere chevalerie.75 (lines 3434–47) […brave Meilyr fitz Henry shouted aloud. He rode out in front, shouting: ‘Cross over, knights! Why are you hanging back?’ He plunged straight into the water, [And his white horse carried him across.] When the knight had reached the other side, ‘Saint David’ he shouted, loud and clear for he was his lord after the lord God the Creator. Now the knight very devoutly called on St David by night and day to help him to achieve chivalrous deeds.]76 The scene displays the ambitious and ideologically complex use of romance motifs in a way which must raise some doubts about Ashe’s conclusion regarding the ‘likely partial invisibility’ of the ideology of the Song of Dermot to the poet. If she is right in her judgment that ‘The Song […] elides the potential difficulty and illegality of the 73

74 75 76

David Burnley, ‘Comforting the Troops: an epic moment in popular romance’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol Meale (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 175–86. Simon Meecham-Jones, Writers of the Reign of Henry II, ed. Kennedy and Meecham-Jones, p. 19. A contrasting view is offered by Ashe in Fiction and History. Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 141. In Mullally’s version, the translation of line 3439 is omitted.


Simon Meecham-Jones international conflict, of English seizure of Irish land, by tacitly encoding a difference between England and Ireland which renders Irish land as abstractly a frontier, unowned, available’, then that seems a remarkably sophisticated ideological manoeuvre to have been achieved without forethought and intention, by a poet whom Mullally characterises as betraying ‘no evidence of any formal book-learning’ and having ‘only the slightest acquaintance with contemporary vernacular literature’. It seems that two, perhaps not mutually exclusive, explanations are possible. The most convincing is that the Song of Dermot displays a genuine accomplishment in its use of romance motifs to organise the reader’s expectations of an account of this kind. The only plausible alternative would be to postulate that this poem provides compelling evidence of the cultural penetration of romance mores into a wider popular consciousness beyond the centres of courtly and clerical literacy. It seems reasonable to ask how far The Song could be characterised as an example of art representing life imitating art, demonstrating the influence of literate modes in shaping the consciousness of the protagonists of these historical encounters, as well as those who sought to record their actions. To what extent is the behaviour of Diarmait, Henry II, Meilyr and Richard Strongbow determined by their eagerness, however consciously, to embody internalised romance models of how warriors and rulers behave, or their wish to be remembered within the expectations of such valorized behaviour? Whether, like O’Doherty, we blame the Dermot-poet for recasting the historical ‘truth’ of these events within the organising structures of motifs influenced by romance form, or whether we speculate that The Song accurately (and perceptively) represents the efforts of men like Diarmait and Strongbow to live within these conventions, this ‘bald’ narrative by a ‘mediocre’ poet displays, with a clarity that Giraldus’s rhetorical ornament conceals, the mutually supportive closeness between the development of discourses of romance conduct, and the ways in which those discourses were fulfilled in military action. The Song of Dermot adapts romance expectations to justify the actions of Diarmait and ‘Les baruns engleis alosés’ [the renowned English barons] (line 2994),77 apparently without moral comment, for or against, in a way which lays open the availability of romance norms to further the interests of the strong. It is the particular achievement of The Song of Dermot to demonstrate the crucial role played by romance motifs in promulgating and perpetuating the acceptance of a state of consciousness that justifies aristocratic privilege, and in which the exercise of force, in pursuit of whatever personal and familial interest, is not questioned. In its complicity with the construction of a discourse of justification, the Song of Dermot seems, to an extent inconceivable for the more troubled and concealing Giraldus, to embody Freud’s observation on the fabrication of ‘false’ standards: The impression forces itself upon one that men measure by false standards, that everyone seeks power, success, riches for himself and admires others who attain them, while undervaluing the truly precious things in life. […] There are certain men from whom their contemporaries do not withhold


Mullally, Deeds of the Normans, p. 124.


Romance Society and its Discontents veneration, although their greatness rests on attributes and achievements which are completely foreign to the aims and ideals of the multitude.78


Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents, trans. Joan Riviere (London, 1930), p. 7.


6 England, Ireland and Iberia in Olyuer of Castylle: The View from Burgundy ELIZABETH WILLIAMS The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle is a late prose romance known only from a single copy now in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.1 The title is editorial, and it is derived from the colophon of that copy, since the title-page is missing.2 The romance was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1518; and it is a close translation by Henry Watson of a French original written by Philippe Camus in the court of Philip the Good of Burgundy some time in the 1450s.3 Nothing else seems to be known about Camus, and not much about Watson, except that he was one of de Worde’s regular translators and was also responsible for the English text of Valentine and Orson.4 The court of Philip the Good, however, was right at the cultural heart of northern Europe in the fifteenth century;5 and at his death his library probably comprised the best part of a thousand volumes.6 Two of those volumes were manuscripts of the French Olivier de Castille, of which four other manuscripts are known from the fifteenth century; and by 1521 it had also been printed in French, Spanish, Flemish and German, as well as English.7 It would seem to have been popular. The French text is generally referred to in full as L’Histoire d’Olivier de Castille et Artus d’Algarbe, reflecting the fact that it actually has two heroes.8 The plot is an intricate combination of traditional motifs and a kind of pseudo-history, moving between Spain, England and Ireland in a double-stranded narrative that is generally well controlled, although the historical and local allusions do little more than provide 1 2

3 4 5 6 7 8

New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 21137. A facsimile reprint of this copy was prepared for the Roxburghe Club by R.E. Graves in 1898. The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle, ed. Gail Orgelfinger, Garland Medieval Texts 14 (New York and London, 1988). All quotations and references are to this edition, with punctuation modernised. Orgelfinger, Hystorye, pp. xi–xii. Orgelfinger, Hystorye, pp. xiii–xv. Richard Vaughan, Philip the Good (London, 1970), pp. 150–63. Georges Doutrepont, La littérature française à la cour des ducs de Bourgogne, Philippe le Hardi, Jean Sans Peur, Philippe le Bon, Charles le Téméraire (Paris, 1909), p. xlvi. Orgelfinger, Hystorye, p. ix. An edition of the French original is still awaited. A modernised text, entitled ‘Histoire d’Olivier de Castille et Artus d’Algarbe’, is available in Récits d’amour et de chevalerie: XIIe–XVe Siècle, ed. Danielle Régnier-Bohler (Paris, 2000), pp. 985–1087.

Elizabeth Williams a familiar setting for events that belong to the more universal world of traditional tale and romance. The realistic colouring would, however, have been appreciated by Burgundian readers – for whom verisimilitude was of great importance, with Froissart often being taken as a model even for works that are a long way from true history in the modern sense.9 The identification of the narrative as a ‘history’ acknowledges this preference from the start. As this text is not well known, the first part of this essay comprises a selective plot-analysis which aims to draw out the way in which the author deploys his heroes’ fictional adventures on an apparently factual European map. The remainder will enlarge on this movement to and fro over several boundaries – literary, historical and geographical. The use of two established and unalterable folktale plots makes one set of demands; the conventions of chivalric romance make another; while pulling in a third direction are the apparent realities of the dangerous waters of the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel, as well as some of the not-so-distant history of England’s relations with Ireland – a history which Froissart himself had told. The story starts with the marriage of the widowed king of Castille to the widowed queen of Algarve, which is here presented as an independent realm. The marriage brings together as stepbrothers their two sons, Oliver of Castille and Arthur of Algarve, who grow up indistinguishable in appearance, and inseparable. The main plot-structure then develops around the traditional tale-type of ‘The Twins or BloodBrothers’, which is perhaps most familiarly exemplified in medieval literature by Amis et Amile.10 The action starts to develop when the queen attempts to seduce her stepson, Oliver, who flees in fright and takes ship for Constantinople (cap. 12).11 On board he befriends an English knight, Sir John Talbot. They are shipwrecked off the coast of Kent. Only Oliver and Talbot survive, but Talbot, who lives near Canterbury, dies soon afterwards. Since he is a debtor, he is refused burial, so Oliver spends almost the last of his own money on settling the debts and giving his friend a proper funeral (cap. 18). With this act, the plot switches from ‘The Blood-Brothers’ to a different story-type, that of ‘The Grateful Dead’, for shortly afterwards a mysterious knight appears and provides all that the destitute Oliver needs in order to win the hand of the king of England’s daughter, Helayne, in a tournament – with the usual agreement that he must at some future date share all his winnings with his benefactor (cap. 20).12 This combination of the two traditional tale-types seems to be unique to The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle. 9




See, e.g., Ruth Morse, ‘Historical Fiction in Fifteenth-Century Burgundy’, Modern Language Review 75 (1980), 48–64; Gail Orgelfinger, ‘Literary Composition in Fifteenth-Century Burgundy: the Case of L’Hystoire d’Olivier de Castille et d’Artus d’Algarbe’, Fifteenth Century Studies 11 (1985), 51–70. Antti Aarne, The Types of the Folktale, translated and enlarged by Stith Thompson (Helsinki, 1961), Type 303; the episode of the blood of the slaughtered child to cure one of the brothers may rather be traced to Type 516, ‘Faithful John’. This and later references to crusading reflect Philip the Good’s passionate ambition to launch a crusade, which reached a climax when Constantinople fell to the Turks in May 1453. The following year at the ceremonial Feast of the Pheasant he made a public vow to go crusading himself against the Grand Turk, which he never fulfilled: see Vaughan, Philip the Good, pp. 296–302. Aarne/Thompson, Types 505–508. See G.H. Gerould, The Grateful Dead: the History of a Folk Story, Publications of the Folk-Lore Society 60 (London, 1908; repr. Nendeln, Liechtenstein,


England, Ireland and Iberia in Olyuer of Castylle The Castillian prince has thus arrived, willy-nilly, in England, and it is in this tournament that the Irish connection begins. The contests last for three days and among those opposing Oliver are three kings of Ireland. In the first day’s fighting he unhorses one of these, whose name is given as Maquemor (cap. 24); on the third day he kills one of them, but not Maquemor. After much bloodshed, Oliver is judged man of the match and duly wins Helayne (cap. 32), but Maquemor and the other surviving Irish king leave the court swearing vengeance on the king of England for the death of their companion (cap. 35). This leads into the first major Irish episode, with the two folktale plots temporarily suspended in favour of what I have called ‘pseudo-history’. England is now invaded by ‘the seuen kynges of Irlande’, who are not named (cap. 39). Oliver is sent to repulse an Irish force that outnumbers his by four to one, but the invaders are not of such high calibre as the English, since ‘the moost parte were comune men and euyll armed at all poyntes’ (cap. 40). Oliver kills one of the Irish kings, captures two more and then pursues them back across the sea to Ireland, where again he meets with little resistance because their fortresses ‘be not so stronge as these of this regyon’ (cap. 43). One of the remaining kings then makes a stand. He is the son of the king whom Oliver killed in the tournament, and his cousin Maquemor comes to his aid. The Irish fight valiantly but Oliver ends up with three more captive kings, including Maquemor, and soon adds the last two to bring the tally up to the full seven. He sends them to the king of England, who receives and feasts them magnificently, before restoring them to their kingdoms, on the condition ‘that eche of them sholde do hym homage and holde of hym theyr landes’ (cap. 48). The first Irish episode ends on this somewhat political note. The second follows on quite quickly in the text, although a number of years pass in the time-frame of the story. Oliver marries Helayne in a triumphalist ceremony at which the Irish kings are permitted to assist before returning to Ireland. In due course two children are born to Oliver and Helayne: a promising boy, Henry – who is however destined to die young – and a daughter, Clarysse. One day Oliver sets out to hunt a wild boar (cap. 51). This sets the tone for the very different character of the second Irish episode. Whereas Oliver had before conducted a regular military campaign, his action is now solitary and casual, and the result accidental, a typical aventure of a knight-errant. His wife even has a premonitory dream in which she sees him carried off by a tiger and begs him not to go hunting – but he does, and (in conventional fashion) gets separated from his companions. Alone in the forest he is discovered quite fortuitously by the Irish king whose father he had killed in the tournament, who now seizes his chance to capture Oliver, carry him off to Ireland and imprison him in a verminous cell on bread and water. The action now returns to Spain, and the two folktale plots, which have been left hanging for some twenty chapters, are reactivated in this context of the Irish kidnap. In accordance with the traditional tale of the Blood-Brothers, Oliver has left with Arthur a magic glass that will change colour if he is in danger. It now turns black and Arthur sets off in search of him. In the ever-treacherous English Channel he gets 1967); Elizabeth Williams, ‘The White Knight, the Ungrateful Dead and a Pair of Jacks: Further Adventures of a Folktale Motif’, in Essays in Honour of Peter Meredith, ed. Catherine Batt, Leeds Studies in English NS 29 (1998), 411–26.


Elizabeth Williams blown off course, like Oliver before him, and ends up in Ireland. But it is a very different Ireland from the place of forts and skirmishes that Oliver had subdued. Instead, Arthur is alone and on foot, unable to communicate with the natives except by signs, and astray in a perilous forest full of wild beasts without even the knighterrant’s usual companion: his horse. His first encounter is with ‘a grete and an horryble lyon strongly oppressyd with hongre’ (cap. 54), which he kills after a fierce fight. His second is far worse, for in the night: he herde a thynge come a ferre that made soo grete a noyse that it was a hydeous thynge to here; for in his waye he smote downe all that he mette to the erth and whysteled soo hye that it thrughe perced Arthurs eres. It also has ‘so harde a skynne that in no wyse he myght dommage it’ and ‘the stynke of her alonely greued Arthur as moche as all the remenaunt’ (cap. 55). After a fierce fight he manages to strike it, in classic fashion, ‘vnder the nauyll, the whiche was not so harde as the backe, and thrysted hym to the herte’ (cap. 56). At which point, lying wounded and exhausted, he sees a man coming towards him, dressed in white, who addresses him as king of Algarve and proceeds to tend his hurts. It is, of course, Oliver’s old companion, the Grateful Dead, who has not only acquired a name, but, uniquely in the history of this tale, also transferred his beneficence from one bloodbrother to the other. With his help, Arthur rescues Oliver and defeats his captor. They return to London together, and again there is a political touch to the outcome, for after the death of the Irish king ‘all his realme yelded them and were contente for to haue suche a lorde as the kyng of Englande wolde assygne them’ (cap. 64). With the seven kings of Ireland thus brought to heel the two folktale plots now move to their usual conclusions, resulting in an inevitable duplication of incident, since Oliver is called upon twice to sacrifice his children – once to save his bloodbrother’s life when he is afflicted by a disgusting illness and once to fulfil his vow to the Grateful Dead that he would divide his winnings with him. Between these two harrowing episodes, however, there is another pseudo-historical/political interlude, this time involving the affairs of England and Spain, not Ireland. After Arthur has been cured and the two children miraculously restored to life, the whole party returns to Castille. The king is dead, so Oliver takes up his rightful throne while Arthur goes back to his in Algarve. The second folktale plot then reaches a climax with the arrival of the White Knight to demand his half-share of all that Oliver has gained since winning the tournament with the knight’s help. This share, of course, includes one of the children and half of Helayne, but the knight – seeing him prepared to keep his word to the letter – reveals himself as Sir John Talbot, whose funeral expenses Oliver had paid, and acquits him of his debt (cap. 74). Politics take over again at the conclusion when Arthur marries Oliver’s daughter Clarysse, and, following the death of her brother and both parents soon afterwards, is left as sole ruler of Algarve and Castille. On the death of the king of England, he inherits this kingdom as well, by right of his wife, together with ‘one of the realmes of Irlande’ (cap. 77) – but only after he has fought off an attempt at usurpation by the duke of Gloucester. Conveniently, he and Clarysse then have three children, which allows the realms to re-separate in the next generation.


England, Ireland and Iberia in Olyuer of Castylle Clearly, all of this is a long way from historical fact, but throughout the story various details, including a scatter of proper names, offer loose but suggestive parallels with actual events of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – particularly the shifting loyalties and complex marriage-alliances of the Hundred Years’ War. Camus’s cavalier attitude to historicity is indicated by his ostensible setting of the story some time after Charlemagne had re-conquered Spain from the Moors (cap. 1). The names of his heroes also evoke the flavour of a chanson de geste, although the chivalric aspects of his plot suggest his own time and place. Furthermore, he ends his story with the marriage of Arthur’s daughter to the king of Portugal, thus uniting the realms of Portugal and Algarve, something which actually happened in the mid thirteenth century.13 Most of the historical parallels now to be discussed have already been pointed out by Gail Orgelfinger, who comments that Camus ‘seems to have historicized romance rather than romanticizing history’.14 This gives the process the right emphasis, but the more outlandish features of the plot are so far from the preferred realistic norms of Burgundian romance that a closer look seems justified. The naming of people and places provides some insight into Camus’s strategy of verisimilitude. Names are, in fact, no more than casual struts onto which the interlinked plot can occasionally be tacked. They are also singularly sparse. The three central characters are named (Oliver, Arthur and Helayne), but the monarchs of England, Castille and Algarve remain nameless.15 Distinguished participants in tournaments or ceremonials tend likewise to be identified by provenance or title only, so that the names that do occur stand out. The naming of Maquemor is particularly strange as he actually plays very little part in the narrative, most of the animus coming from the anonymous son of the anonymous king killed by Oliver at the tournament. It would seem to be a French rendering of McMurrough, the family name of the kings of Leinster who featured more than once in the Anglo-Irish encounters of the Middle Ages. Comparatively notorious in the local context, the name nonetheless rather draws attention to itself in the work of a Burgundian writer of the fifteenth century who on the whole eschews names. The first McMurrough to make his mark on the pages of English history was Dermot who, in 1166, was forced out of his lands after years of local strife. He crossed the Irish Sea and appealed for help to King Henry II who, in exchange for homage and fealty, authorized him to recruit assistance to regain his kingdom. This he did, with the result that the Normans gained their first foothold in Ireland.16 What is more, his story was known in the French-speaking world as it was written up as an Anglo-Norman verse chronicle, probably towards the end of the twelfth century.17 It 13 14 15

16 17

David Birmingham, A Concise History of Portugal (Cambridge, 2003), p. 19. Orgelfinger, ‘Literary Composition’, p. 51. At least one of the woodcuts in the English print actually labels the queen Beatryce, a name also found in the royal family tree of Portugal. These cuts seem to have been used in more than one book, but figures identified in other cuts, such as Oliver, Arthur and Talbot, bear names proper to the story: see Orgelfinger, Hystorye, pp. xv–xvi; p. 225, note to p. 28, line 18. See A.J. Otway-Ruthven, A History of Medieval Ireland (London, 1968), pp. 41–46. Originally edited with a translation by G.H. Orpen under the title of The Song of Dermot and the Earl (Oxford, 1892; repr. Llanerch, 1994); re-edited and trans. Evelyn Mullally as The Deeds of the Normans in Ireland (Dublin, 2002); for the date of this text, see Mullally, p. 31.


Elizabeth Williams is unlikely, however, that this is how the name of Maquemor got into French literary consciousness. The chronicle does not seem to have been influential;18 and Dermot’s surname is not rendered as Maquemor either here or in the Expugnatio Hibernica of Giraldus Cambrensis, who tells the same story.19 He does, however, provide the first example of an Irish king swearing fealty to an English one in the pages of written history. The full tale of Oliver’s campaigns is obviously fictional, but there is in fact a more recent conflict than Dermot’s which could have provided a better template for his Irish victories and which was certainly known in France and, more specifically, in Burgundy. The first Irish expedition of Richard II in 1395–1396 was represented very much as a triumph. It was sparked off not by an Irish invasion of the English mainland, but by increasing encroachment by the Irish on the lands of absentee English landlords; and an important leader of the Irish advance was Art, or Arthur, McMurrough, a successor of Dermot.20 The story was told by the Burgundian chronicler Jean de Wavrin, though unfortunately in a part of his Recueil des Croniques that does not seem to be available in print.21 Wavrin, however, who wrote at the court of Philip the Good and was therefore a contemporary of Phillipe Camus, seems to have been closely following Froissart, who had spoken to people who actually went to Ireland with Richard and whose influence on Burgundian writing has already been mentioned.22 The ‘seven kings of Ireland’ may presumably be taken as a round and symbolic number, rather than an accurate one, but Froissart tells of the submission and knighting of four, by the king’s own hand, at a grand ceremony in Dublin Cathedral: ‘The first was the great O’Neill, king of Meath; the second O’Brien of Thomond; the third Arthur McMurrough,23 king of Leinster; the fourth O’Conor, king of Connaught and Erp.’24 Something that I think has not previously been suggested is that Froissart may also have provided a hint for the second and far more fanciful Irish episode. His chief informant, an esquire named Henry Crystède, was himself the victim of an Irish 18 19

20 21


23 24

Mullally, Deeds, p. 9. Ed. A.B. Scott and F.X. Martin (Dublin, 1978). The form in the Deeds is Murierdath (lines 1741, 1758) or Murtherdath (lines 2181, 3208); Giraldus gives Dermitius itaque Murchadi filius (cap. 1, p. 24, l. 3). For Richard II’s Irish expedition, see May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century (Oxford, 1976), pp. 470–73; and Otway-Ruthven, History, cap. 10. The earliest part of Wavrin’s chronicle and the volumes covering the fifteenth century are to be found in Recueil des croniques et anchiennes istories de la grant Bretaigne a present nommé engleterre, ed. W. and E.L.C.P. Hardy, 5 vols, RS 39 (London, 1864–91); a translation of some of the same material is found in A collection of the chronicles and ancient histories of Great Britain, now called England, ed. W. and E.L.C.P. Hardy, 3 vols, RS 40 (London, 1864–91). These volumes seem not to cover the main part of the Middle Ages. The selections from Wavrin edited by L.M.E. Dupont in Anchiennes cronicques d’Engleterre, Societé de l’histoire de France, Publications 94, 102, 115 (1858–63) unfortunately only summarise the material for these events. Camus seems to cite Wavrin as the authority for an (actually fictional) event at the end of cap. 49, omitted in the English text. Les Chroniques de Sire Jean Froissart, ed. J.A.C. Buchon, III (Paris, n.d.); my quotations are from Froissart, Chronicles, selected, trans. and ed. by Geoffrey Brereton (Harmondsworth, 1968). On Wavrin’s use of Froissart, see Hardy’s introduction to the French text in RS 39, vol. 1 (1864) pp. cxxv–cxxxiii. Froissart spells the name Maquemaire, which is much closer to Maquemor than the forms used in the Deeds of the Normans or by Giraldus; see e.g. Buchon, Chroniques, cap. XLII (p. 210). Brereton, Chronicles, p. 416.


England, Ireland and Iberia in Olyuer of Castylle kidnap even more dramatic than Oliver’s, but not nearly as uncomfortable. In the course of a skirmish he got separated, like Oliver, from the rest of the army when his horse bolted, and was dramatically captured by an Irishman who leaped up behind him and carried him off, horse and all, into the wild woods. Crystède was then kept prisoner for seven years, not on bread and water, but as one of the family, with one of his captor’s daughters for his wife. His adventure had an interesting result after he was freed, when, because of his special experience, and particularly his knowledge of the language, he was given the job of civilising the four Irish kings who came to pay homage to King Richard, and teaching them how to behave in polite society.25 This picture of extreme uncouthness is not, of course, in Camus. His Irish are not well armed, it is true, and their fortresses are poorly defended. They are also vengeful and sometimes treacherous, but there is nothing to suggest that they are anything other than valiant and worthy chivalric foes, as befits an ostensible chanson de geste. Froissart also speaks of the wild woods and bogs of Ireland, into which the inhabitants vanished so effectively when pursued, which gives a kind of reality to the perilous forest in which Arthur finds himself. Yet Camus is a purely armchairtopographer and his lions and monsters show that we have here crossed the boundary from any kind of realistic picture of Ireland into the literary world of Broceliande and the Questing Beast. That a character named Arthur should be involved with these seems peculiarly appropriate. Thus it appears that Froissart may have supplied Camus with the name of a notorious Irish rebel king, as well as with an account of the grand submission of McMurrough and his fellows (though with the scene removed from Dublin to London), and perhaps also with the idea for Oliver’s Irish kidnap. The Burgundian, however, used this material with extreme restraint. The ultra-civilised court of Philip the Good, with all its elaborate ceremonials, presumably had no interest in Henry Crystède’s grosser details about these kings who spoke a barbarous language, shared plates with their minstrels and had to be taught how to wear breeches. This softening recalls Ruth Morse’s comment on the style of the genre as a whole: The action of these historical romances takes place in an anachronistic past in which the mœurs of the Burgundian court (as it idealized itself) are the norm, and in which everyone speaks French.26 The other names and titles used by Camus have little to do with Ireland, but again suggest knowledge of recent events in England as seen from a Burgundian perspective of the 1450s. For instance, the attempt by the duke of Gloucester to wrest the English throne from Arthur’s daughter at the very end throws up a name even more suggestively appropriate than Maquemor’s. The duke who became Richard III cannot be intended at this date, although by the time of Watson’s translation the title would have gained hugely in significance. Two earlier dukes of Gloucester are better candidates for treachery. Thomas of Woodstock, later duke of Gloucester, youngest son of Edward III, was one of the Lords Appellant who pushed Richard II to the brink of abdication in 1388.27 Then there is ‘Good Duke 25 26 27

Froissart, Book IV, caps 41–42. Morse, ‘Historical Fiction’, p. 56. McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, p. 454.


Elizabeth Williams Humphrey’, youngest brother of Henry V and a somewhat contentious uncle to Henry VI. More to the point, this duke of Gloucester severely annoyed Philip the Good when he married (rather bigamously) Jacqueline of Hainault, and caused much trouble in Burgundy. He died in 1447, well within the lifetime of Philippe Camus.28 The name of Sir John Talbot, first earl of Shrewsbury, is another that had resonance in Burgundy, but of a much more favourable kind. An important commander of the English troops in the days of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance against France, he was killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, perhaps at the very time Camus was writing. He would have been known personally to the chronicler Wavrin, who actually fought in the Hundred Years’ War, and attaching his name to the traditional figure of the Grateful Dead gives it a kind of iconic resonance. For what it is worth, Talbot also served more than once as Lieutenant of Ireland where he suffered severe financial difficulties and captured one of the McMurroughs.29 There was another person at the court of Philip the Good with whom Camus must have come into contact, though perhaps not intimately, and who may well explain the Burgundian interest in the various realms of Iberia. Marriage alliances between England, Castille, Portugal and Burgundy were many and complex at this period, but in 1429 Philip took as his third wife Isabel, daughter of King John I of Portugal and his English queen, Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. Making Arthur’s morally dubious mother queen of Algarve, rather than Portugal, was thus a tactful choice, as well as preserving a historical allusion to the former independence of Algarve. The Duchess Isabel is also of interest in relation to the whole subject of the Burgundian preference for verisimilitude. The frequency with which the story of Oliver and Arthur crosses the boundary between the historical and the fanciful may explain the detailed ‘epylogacyon’ that was added to the French text printed in 1492– 1494 and duly translated by Watson. So far as I am aware, this is not found in the surviving manuscript copies of the French original, but Watson presumably worked from a print. What it amounts to is a detailed apology, made some forty years after the original composition, for some of the more outlandish features of the narrative. Of the items selected for comment, one concerns the unlikelihood of so many seadisasters befalling the heroes of the story in the waters between Iberia, England and Ireland. No such apology would have been needed for anyone who recalled the perilous marriage journey of Isabel from Lisbon to Sluys, which lasted from 8 October to Christmas Day 1428.30 A convoy of fourteen ships set out but bad weather reduced these to five, and on 29 November the Portuguese bride made an unplanned landfall in Plymouth. Her eventual arrival in Flanders must have been greeted with immense relief. Getting blown off course and even shipwrecked in the




G.L. Harriss, ‘Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390–1447)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [, accessed 2 Dec. 2006]. A.J. Pollard, ‘Talbot, John, first earl of Shrewsbury and first earl of Waterford (c.1387–1453)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [, accessed 2 Dec. 2006]. For a translation of the account of this journey, with references to the original sources, see Vaughan, Philip the Good, pp. 178–84.


England, Ireland and Iberia in Olyuer of Castylle treacherous Bay of Biscay would hardly have raised an eyebrow in Philip’s court, as the printer’s apology admits: Asmoche as it toucheth of the fortunes happened vnto Olyuer and Arthur as well on the see as on the lande, it is but a thynge naturall, and of semblable happeneth often by the dysposycyon of the weder, but that whan that they were preserued from deth that was the wyll of god.31 The ‘wyll of god’ is not the apologist’s only fallback for explaining unlikelihood. He attributes the remarkable likeness of Oliver and Arthur, which is so close that they can be mistaken for each other although they are unrelated, to the fact of their having been raised together in the same environment – which is not very convincing, but is at least an attempt at rationality. More conventionally, the queen of Algarve’s passion for her stepson is ascribed to the natural sensuality of women. He has more of a struggle with the unalterable ‘givens’ of the traditional plots to which Camus was bound once he had chosen to use them. Thus the magic glass becomes something more like a miracle, drawing its power from the singular virtue of Oliver, and sanctioned by God to provide an example. God’s will and justice prop up his explanations of the role of the White Knight and the punishment of the Irish king who had acted treacherously, but he makes no attempt to confront the contradiction intrinsic to the Grateful Dead story, in which the knight’s so-called gratitude is fulfilled only after a harrowing demand for blood. At the climax of the Two Brothers plot, when, faced by a similar demand, Oliver shows himself ready to sacrifice his children for the sake of his friend, the example of Abraham and Isaac is invoked in a rather desperate attempt to sanctify the act. Oliver, however, is obedient not to the will of God but to the code of chivalry, which is clearly more important here than familial love and duty. Nor does the apologist confront the problem that Camus himself caused when he removed from this plot any indication that Arthur’s disease was a divine punishment for an earlier dishonourable act: his Arthur, like his Oliver, is utterly virtuous, so that the affliction is undeserved. God’s will is present, but only to provide another image of loyalty between friends. The ‘epilogacyon’ may be an ostensible attempt to excuse the non-realistic elements of the story of Oliver and Arthur, but all it really does is draw attention to them. Even the will of God becomes hard to see in some of the more extreme actions, and the code of chivalry provides the ultimate sanction. But Camus was not responsible for this defensive epilogue. He chose to combine the marvels of traditional tale with a pseudo-historical setting, and the subsequent spread of the romance into most of the languages of Europe suggests that few of its readers thought an apology was necessary. What the story does seem to show is the considerable skill with which a Burgundian writer of the fifteenth century was able to interweave two unrelated folktale plots in a chivalric setting with allusions to the 31

‘Epylogacyon’, pp. 209–10. My repunctuation of Orgelfinger’s text is an attempt to clarify Watson’s tortuous syntax, taking semblable as a noun, ‘something that is like or similar’ (The Oxford English Dictionary, B. sb. 1). Isabel’s was not the only such royal journey to be troubled by storms in the Channel. Although too late to be an influence on this text, the even more dramatic shipwreck of Philip of Burgundy and his wife, Joanna of Castille, in 1506 actually led to their enforced residence in London while Henry VII used them as a bargaining tool: see J.D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors (Oxford, 1985), p. 184. I owe this parallel to Dr Lynette Muir.


Elizabeth Williams Hundred Years’ War, and in particular to Richard II’s military success of 1395–1396 against the wild Irish, although the norms of chivalry led him to tone down some of their wilder features. The primary sin of the Irish kings is treachery, not barbarism. The emphasis on homage and submission to the English king is also strong in both Froissart and the romance, with the name of Maquemor acting as a focus for the clannish alliances of the Irish kings, and their irritating habit of reappearing to avenge an old wrong when they seemed to have accepted defeat. To append my own ‘epilogacyon’ to this paper, it seems to me that the name of Maquemor may eventually have taken on a life of its own as the type-name of the wild Irish leader. Mac[k]mur is the form used for McMurrough in Holinshed’s chronicle, which was in turn used by Shakespeare in the writing of Henry V.32 Do we have in his Captain Macmorris, a last, late, barbarically spoken memory of the refusal of the Leinster McMurroughs to give up a fight? It is no time to discourse, the town is besieched, and the trumpet call us to the breach, and we talk, and, be Chrish, do nothing. ’Tis shame for us all, so god sa’ me, ’tis shame to stand still, it is shame, by my hand; and there is throats to be cut, and works to be done, and there ish nothing done ...33

32 33

Raphaell Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles (1587), pp. 481–82. King Henry V, III.2.109–14, ed. Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson and David Scott Kastan in The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, revised edition (London, 2001).


7 The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction ARLYN DIAMOND Unlike many of the romances medievalists work on, the alliterative Siege of Jerusalem has been the object of a number of thought-provoking articles in recent years, after a long period of the kind of neglect still common to most of the other alliterative romances. An entire book has been devoted to a careful summary of scholarship on the poem and after seventy years there is a new edition.1 And yet, the critics who have worked on it, while acknowledging its poet’s literary skills, have not been led to see in it hitherto unnoticed virtues, as usually happens to those of us drawn to critically ignored texts. Instead they make a remarkable effort to distance themselves from it, even while acknowledging the poem’s literary effectiveness. David Lawton, for example, who co-edited the new EETS edition, calls it ‘a poem that even its editors cannot love’.2 Mary Hamel refers to ‘its cruelty and bigotry’;3 and, most dramatically, Ralph Hanna, Lawton’s co-editor, refers to it as the ‘chocolate-covered tarantula of the alliterative movement’.4 Why then the considered and complex analyses of the poem which follow these harsh judgments? The most obvious motivation for taking it seriously, although I do not think in any of the recent criticism it is the most compelling, is the popularity of the work itself in the later Middle Ages. It is found in nine manuscripts or manuscript fragments, an extraordinary number for any medieval romance, and especially for alliterative romances, which are almost all extant in unique manuscripts. Only Piers Plowman, of all alliterative works, was more widely copied, according to the remaining evidence. Not just the number but also the variety of the manuscripts in



3 4

Bonnie Millar, The Siege of Jerusalem in its Physical, Literary and Historical Contexts (Dublin, 2000). Ralph Hanna and David Lawton, eds., EETS OS 320 (2003). All quotations from the poem are from this edition, although I use a modern alphabet for all Middle English quotations. David Lawton, ‘Titus Goes Hunting and Hawking: The Poetics of Recreation and Revenge in The Siege of Jerusalem’, Individuality and Achievement in Middle English Poetry, ed. O.S. Pickering (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 105–17. Mary Hamel, ‘The Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem’, in Journeys Toward God, ed. Barbara N. Sargent-Baur, SMC 30, Medieval Institute Publications (Kalamazoo, 1992), pp. 177–94. Ralph Hanna, ‘Contextualizing The Siege of Jerusalem’, Yearbook of Langland Studies 6 (1992), 109– 21, at p. 109.

Arlyn Diamond which it is found suggest its wide appeal.5 Nonetheless, for modern critics a more significant reason for study than its medieval circulation seems to be an interest in alliterative poetry in general, as witnessed by a number of fairly recent works, culminating possibly most powerfully for the Siege in Christine Chism’s Alliterative Revivals.6 For her, what makes the Siege, like other alliterative romances, worth examining is ‘their embodied and spectacular performance of history’ (p. 2). This historicizing impulse, strongly influenced by post-modern criticism, is also I think central to the work of Hanna, Lawton and Elisa Narin van Court.7 Renewed interest in the poem is also fuelled by work on medieval anti-Semitism, since the Siege recounts in grisly detail the annihilation of Jerusalem by Titus and Vespasian, as vengeance for the death of Christ. What is the meaning for Middle English poetry of Jewish presence, particularly in the historical context of Jewish absence?8 This is not, by and large, a disengaged criticism, but one which believes, as Colin Richmond says, ‘it has become essential to recycle the [medieval] past if the shoah is not to slip entirely into… historical limbo’ (p. 214).9 Our problem as readers of distant texts is to understand the multiple and overlapping ways we have of interrogating the past. There is a certain ironical mirroring of original intent and resistant reading – both past and present audiences are invested in what lessons can be learned from this distant reinscription of an even more distant conflict, but we come to it with radically different teleologies. If Sarah Kay is right, and ‘medieval romances are read as embodying what we love to deconstruct’, then perhaps the poem’s particularly vindictive piety is precisely what draws us to it.10 In mastering the text through a deeply informed and sophisticated unmaking, we rewrite its teaching; by revulsion we confirm our alienation from it, finding its relevance painful, and a matter for reflection but not congratulation. In a time when religious absolutism justifies claims to possession of a ‘holy land’, when jihads and crusades and holy wars produce more dead bodies, it is worth trying to understand the appeal of its vindictive triumphalism, my project in the rest of this essay. History is fixed for the poem’s narrator: Now is Bethleem thy bost ybroght to an ende, Ierusalem and Ierico foriuggyd wrecchys: Schal neuer kyng of your kynde with croune by ynoyntid Ne Iewe for Ihesus sake iouke in you more. (Siege, lines 301–304)

5 6 7


9 10

In the introduction to their edition Lawton and Hanna indicate the various networks – monastic, scribal, aristocratic – which were utilized in its dispersal (pp. lii–lxix). Christine Chism, Alliterative Revivals (Philadelphia, 2002). Elisa Narin van Court, ‘The Siege of Jerusalem and Augustinian Historians: Writing About Jews in Fourteenth-Century England’, in Chaucer and the Jews: Sources, Contexts, Meanings, ed. Sheila Delany (New York, 2002), pp. 165–84. In addition to the essays in Chaucer and the Jews, cited above, see for example Christine Chism, ‘The Siege of Jerusalem: Liquidating Assets’, Journal of Medieval & Early Modern Studies 28 (1998), 309–15; Henry Ansgar Kelly, ‘Jews and Saracens in Chaucer’s England: A Review of the Evidence’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer 27 (2005), 129–69, and Catherine Cox, The Judaic Other (Gainesville, 2005). Colin Richmond, ‘Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry’, Chaucer and the Jews, pp. 213–27, at p. 214. Sarah Kay, The Chansons de Geste in the Age of Romance (Oxford, 1995), p. 11.


The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction He could never have imagined the terrible irony of history: that now it is Jews who control Jerusalem, like others using irresistible weapons against their enemies, attempting to annihilate a complex history in the forms of buildings and lives in the name of biblical prophecy and the memorialization of suffering. When Sidra deKoven Ezrahi refers to ‘the consequences of inviolate, vengeful memory’, her words could apply to the motivation of this medieval Christian poem – but she is in fact referring to Hebrew literature’s poetic imagining of Jerusalem and the Israeli right of return.11 There is a larger, more painful issue here concerning the tragic correspondences between poetic force and literal wars, which goes beyond the Middle Ages and European literature, but I want to focus on how placing this particular poem in its literary context helps us understand the past. Unwilling to take as ‘natural’ the poem’s anti-Semitism, in one way or another the critics I have named have seen it as representative of ‘the wide-ranging and peculiar tensions and oppositional desires that perplex their [the medieval audience’s] particular social experience’.12 This language of tension, of ambivalence, of fissure, of displacement, produces impressive readings, which I think are necessary and with which I do not wish to disagree. To seek the way the text works as ‘textual agent’ in the world, its ‘social logic’ in the words of the historian Gabrielle Spiegel is, I think, an enormously productive challenge for romance criticism.13 We need to remove works from the detemporalized and deterritorialized category labelled romance in order to enable the kinds of complex readings Chaucerians take for granted. The existence of ‘social’ readings allows me to offer as a supplement, rather than an alternative, a kind of ‘literalist’ reading, which attempts to understand not so much what the poem covers up, but why it was so apparently successful in satisfying the desires of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century readers, a hermeneutics of recognition rather than suspicion. That is, what were the ends that made these means – the ditches filled with rotting corpses – acceptable, even natural? In this essay then, I want to look at the poem for those enabling structures which allow an audience to respond with heightened emotions to knights and their victims, especially the particular structures and conventions of romance. Where we see ‘an ambivalent instability’,14 I think the medieval audience saw something familiar, a compelling narrative of greatness, where they were on the side of the victors, the true believers, the recipients of miracles, the winners. If medieval history is ‘piety toward the past’,15 a narrative of legitimation, then a pseudo-history like the Siege need not be idealizing to be exemplary, and what we find disturbing is not necessarily so for an audience not guilty about anti-Semitism, or about violence. As Lawton says, ‘the poem recognizes itself, and its audience, as less than pacific, as crusading, as redolent with the desire for historic violence’.16 His 11 12 13 14 15 16

Sidra deKoven Ezrahi, ‘“To What Shall I Compare You”: Jerusalem as Ground Zero of the Hebrew Imagination’, PMLA 122 (2007), pp. 220–34, at p. 223. Chism, Alliterative Revivals, p. 38. I am citing the historian Gabrielle Spiegel, The Past As Text (Baltimore, 1997). She provides a useful and elegant overview of the relationship between texts and contexts. van Court, ‘The Siege of Jerusalem and Augustinian Historians’, p. 170. Spiegel, The Past As Text, p. 85. Lawton, ‘Hunting’, p. 109.


Arlyn Diamond words imply an almost pathological psychic need. Geraldine Heng begins her chapter on the alliterative Morte Arthure with a wistful quote from Karl Heinz Goller: ‘It is one of the unsolved problems of this puzzling work, that the criticism leveled against unjust wars does not diminish the poet’s enthusiasm for the description of war’.17 Goller is not unique. Albrecht Classen, in his introduction to the essays in Violence in Medieval Courtly Literature, notes with regret that ‘medieval courtly poets often succumbed to the temptation and incorporated incredible forms of violence in their text without reflecting on their devastating consequences for the well-being of courtly society at large’.18 Such responses are pervasive in criticism, but as Richard Kaeuper reminds us in his influential examination of the complex relationship between the acts and ideals of medieval knighthood, ‘Anyone who has read thousands of pages of chivalric literature knows that [the medieval audience] simply could not get enough of combat and war, of the detailed effects of sword strokes on armor and the human body beneath’.19 War in such literature is not just a regrettable necessity, a last resort the consequences of which are carefully hidden on our evening news, but the inescapable source of nobility. The fourteenth-century knight, Geoffroi Charny, knew by experience how terrible a siege could be, but he lists it in his Book of Chivalry as a particularly challenging and worthy form of combat: [The best kind of men at arms] take great pleasure in seeing how a siege is set up to surround the town or castle, how the battefol are made to block the way out for the besieged, and to exert more pressure on them, how mining is carried out under the cover of devices such as saws, bruyeres, cats and belfries, and other matters, such as how to mount an attack on the walls, to climb up ladders, and to pierce the walls and to enter and take by force. They are then glad when God by his grace has granted that they should have been there.20 It is impossible to miss the enjoyment he finds in recounting these details, an enjoyment which makes comprehensible all those interminable sword thrusts and blows with lances and unhorsings of medieval romance. Medieval vernacular culture as we know it is profoundly shaped by the genres – epic, chanson de geste, crusade history and memoir, romance – which celebrate the violence we deplore. Genres tell us how to read (or listen): what is to be admired (heroic warriors), what can be thought (people, even Jews, suffer terribly in wars), what is unthinkable (war is not the answer). In choosing romance, and particularly alliterative romances, as my interpretive lens for this poem, I am aware of how porous the boundaries are between a work like this, and the religious histories on which the story is based. Manuscripts, which like genre, delineate a horizon of expectations, suggest that it could be understood as religious poetry, history, or romance, as Ralph Hanna and David Lawton note in their edition.21 Cambridge, University Library MS Mm.V.14, a 17 18 19 20 21

Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic (New York, 2003), p. 114. Albrecht Classen, ed., Violence in Medieval Courtly Literature (New York, 2004), p. 2. Richard W. Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford, 1999), p. 32. The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context and Translation, ed. Richard W. Kaeuper, trans. Elspeth Kennedy (Philadelphia, 1996), p. 103. The manuscripts and their contents are described in the introduction to Hanna and Lawton’s edition, pp. xiii-xxvi. The editors refer to the manuscript contexts as ‘polyvocal recuperations’


The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction fifteenth-century manuscript, contains two Latin texts – Guido delle Colonne’s Historia destructionis Troie (the source of the alliterative Geste Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy) and a prose Historia de preliis Alexandri Magni (the source of three alliterative Alexander romances) – together with the Siege. London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 491, part 1, is a fifteenth-century manuscript containing the prose Brut, as well as the Siege and The Awntrys of Arthure. For these scribes and readers, the work is associated with history. On the other hand, London, British Library MS Additional 31042, the famous London Thornton manuscript, has several romances, albeit of what GuddatFigge refers to as the militant Christian type.22 Another manuscript containing romances, London, British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.2, shows a more extensive and broader interest in the genre, including Eglamour, Octavian, the Chester Launfal, Lybeaus Disconus and other romances along with the Siege. The romance identity I wish to pursue was then obvious to at least some of its original readers, apparently inherent in its formal elements rather than the story itself, since the couplet version, Titus and Vespasian, is never found ‘in the neighborhood of romance’.23 As a group, alliterative romances normalize, even valorize, the violence we find excessive. Self-consciously aiming at memorialization, almost all of them take the form of retelling the pseudo-histories of great men or nations. The prologues often speak self-consciously about this aim, as in the opening to the Destruction of Troy: Off auntors ben olde of aunsetris nobill, And slydyn vppon shlepe by slomerying of Age; Of stithe men in stoure strongest in armes, And wisest in wer to wale in hor tyme, That ben drepit with deth & there day paste, And most out of mynd for there mecull age, Sothe stories ben stoken vp, & straight out of mind, And swolowet into swym by swiftenes of yeres, Ffor new that ben now, next at our hond, Breuyt into bokes for boldyng of hertes. (lines 5–14)24 The Wars of Alexander recycles the same themes: When folk ere festid & fed, fayn wald thai here Sum farand thing efter fode to fayn thare hert, Or thai ware fourmed on fold or thaire fadirs other, Sum is leue to lythe the lesing of Sayntis, That lete ther lifis be lorne for oure lordis sake; And sum has langing of lufe lays to herken, How ledis for thaire lemmans has langor endured,

22 23


(p. xxvii). For more details of the contents, see Gisela Guddat-Figge, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Middle English Romances (Munich, 1976), passim. Guddat-Figge, Catalogue, p. 161. Guddat-Figge, Catalogue, p. 41. The first 260 lines of the poem begin with a familiarly gory depiction of the crucifixion, and then move rapidly through an account of Christ’s miracles and the curing of Titus and Vespasian. The romance can be said to begin with the decision to go to war against the Jews. The Geste Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy, ed. George A. Panton and David Donaldson, EETS OS 39, 56 (1869–74).


Arlyn Diamond Sum couettis & has comforth to carpe & to lestyn Of curtaissy of knyghthode of craftis of armys, Of kyngis at has conquirid & ouer-comyn landis. (lines 1–10)25 Although it lacks a formal prologue, in Alexander B the Brahmins, who eschew any form of frivolity, tell Alexander: We ne louen in our land no laik nor no mirthe But whanne we meuen our mynde mirthe to here We raiken to oure romaunces and redden the stories (Th)at oure eldrene on erthe or this time wroute. (lines 465–68)26 So too at the beginning of the alliterative Morte Arthure the audience is told: Ye that lust has to lithe or loves for to here Of elders of olde time and of their awke deedes, How they were lele in their law and loved God almighty Herkenes me hendely and holdes you stille, And I shall tell you a tale that trew is and noble. (lines 12–16)27 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in its deliberate playing with audience expectations, begins with the siege of Troy, although what follows has little to say about historic warfare.28 Criticism takes seriously the moral and cultural significance of Troy and Rome; it is easy to overlook the ways in which these prologues take for granted the sheer entertainment value of these narratives. Even the Brahmins find ‘mirth’ in noble stories of noble ancestors. In her ‘Polemical Introduction’, to the essays on popular romance collected in Pulp Fictions of Medieval England, Nicola McDonald claims: Because the narrative necessarily achieves satisfaction (the knight wins the lady, the Christian wins victory) and because satisfaction is always, for an audience who knows how romance works, a foregone conclusion, there are few limits to what can take place en route to satisfaction: nuns are raped, virgins stripped naked and whipped, mothers are mutilated by their sons, apes abduct small boys and knights feed with dogs, infants are slaughtered by their parents, Christians eat Saracens, the list goes on.29 That is, the very excesses which critics deplore, McDonald argues, are part of what make the genre worth reading. Heng, whose interest lies in the cultural imaginary of romance, notes that its ‘preferred method is to […] transact its negotiations with history, addressing what surfaces with difficulty, and exists under anxious pressure, through a loop of the familiar and the enjoyable’.30 What is familiar in this culture includes much that we find disturbing – from Fulcher’s account of cannibalism by 25 26 27 28

29 30

The Wars of Alexander, ed. Hoyt Duggan and Thorlac Turville-Petre, EETS SS 10 (1989). Alexander and Dindimus, ed. W.W. Skeat, EETS ES 31 (1878). King Arthur’s Death, ed. Larry D. Benson, EMETS (Exeter, 1986). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, 2nd edn, revised by Norman Davis (Oxford, 1967). For the relationships among the alliterative romances, see Arlyn Diamond, ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as an Alliterative Romance’, Philological Quarterly 55 (1976), 10–29. Nicola McDonald, Pulp Fictions of Medieval England (Manchester, 2004), p. 15. Heng, Empire of Magic, p. 3.


The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction desperate crusaders to Froissart’s descriptions of the miseries of siege warfare to the grotesque details of suffering sainthood.31 We associate the pleasures of romance almost exclusively with passionate love. The romance narrators cited above insist that we find pleasure too in noble histories and in the martial as well as the erotic. Apparently those of us who like romance also want transgression, even violence and ‘awke deedes’. And, because we encounter them in poem after poem, we can also add that the audience that liked alliterative romance appreciated rich descriptions of the material world and long, detailed descriptions of battles and ships at sea and scenes of noble activities like feasting and hunting and conferring with one’s peers and defying one’s enemies and killing them in horrifying ways – all elements found in this text. Despite its especially lurid depictions of torture and suffering, the Siege is a very conventional alliterative romance. Based on the literary evidence, it is not surprising then that it rewarded its original readers with recognizable gratifications; it would be more surprising if they shared the resistant readings of modern criticism. Alliterative romances are shaped by variations on conventions, and here I want to single out one formulation that shapes narratives of historic violence, the representation of the ‘Nine Worthies’. Over half of the alliterative romances are narratives associated with these famous heroes: three pagan (Hector, Alexander, Caesar); three Jewish (Joshua, Judas Maccabeus, David); three Christian (Charlemagne, Godfrey of Bouillon, Arthur). Of course, this grouping can be seen as just a literary trope, destined to degenerate into the moth-eaten pageant that bores the court in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Still, its popularity in the Middle Ages testifies that it successfully codifies an idea about ‘translatio’, as well as about the history of chivalry, which appealed to the imagination and values of later fourteenth-century England. The pleasingly symmetrical list, introduced by Jean de Longuyon in the Voeux du Paon in the early fourteenth century, makes history the product of conquering kings and the battles they fight.32 These figures organize the past and provide models for successive empires and rulers, showing up in any number of texts and images in the later Middle Ages. Where Christian ideology demands rupture with the Jewish past, the conventions of alliterative romance, with their focus on conquering heroes, suggest recognition and connection between past and present, Jews, pagans and Christians. In the alliterative Morte Arthure, Arthur dreams that he is on Fortune’s wheel, in the company of the other Worthies, conquerors all. Almost 100 lines are devoted to the magnificently adorned wheel, and the eight ‘kings on row’ who cling to its sides. The six pagan and Jewish kings have already fallen out of their seats at the top of the wheel, but the poet’s description of them, collectively and individually, emphasizes their glory and fame, as much as their fall. The Jewish Worthies, Joshua, Judas Maccabeus and David, form the second cluster: The fourt was a fair man and forcy in armes, 31


Hamel points out that many of the horrible incidents in the poem can be found in the sources, or in crusade narratives (‘The Siege of Jerusalem as a Crusading Poem’, pp. 180–87). Daniel Baraz argues that ‘from the fourteenth century onward […] cruelty increasingly becomes an important critical issue. It is represented in numerous sources, and the representations become lengthier and more affective’ (Medieval Cruelty (Ithaca, 2003), p. 123). For an extended discussion of the role of these figures in chivalric discourse, see Maurice Keen, Chivalry (New Haven, 1984), pp. 120–24.


Arlyn Diamond The fairest of figure that formed was ever. ‘I was frek in my faith,’ he said, ‘whiles I on folde regned, Famous in fer landes and flowr of all kinges; Now is my face defaded and foul is me happened, For I am fallen fro fer and frendles beleved,’ The fift was a fairer man, than fele of those other, A forcy man and a fers, with fomand lippes; He fanged fast on the feleighes and folded his armes But yet he failed and fell a fifty foot large; But yet he sprang and sprent and spradden his armes, And on the spere-lenghe spekes he spekes these wordes: ‘I was in Surry a Sire and set by mine one As sovereign and seinyour of sere kinges landes; Now of my solace I am full sodenly fallen And for sake of my sin yon sete is me rewed.’ The sixt had a sawter seemlich boundedn With a surepel of silk sewed ful fair, A harp and a hand-sling with hard flint-stones; What harmes he has hent he hallowes full soon; ‘I was deemed in my dayes,’ he said, ‘of deedes of armes One of the doughtiest that dweeled in erthe; But I was marred on molde in my most strenghes With this maiden so mild that moves us all.’ (lines 3300–23) The two Christian kings who precede Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey, are depicted ‘climband and claverand on high’, because, like their heroic peers, ‘the crest of the compass they covet full yerne’ (line 3325). Despite the moralizing about Fortune and sin which frames the vision, the philosopher who interprets it ends by assuring Arthur: For-thy Fortune thee fetches to fulfill the number, Alls ninde of the noblest named in erthe. This shall in romaunce be redde with real knightes, Reckoned and renownd with riotous kynges, And deemed on Doomesdaye for deedes of armes For the doughtiest that ever was duelland in erthe – So many clerkes and kinges shall karpe of youre dedis And kepe youre conquestes in cronicle for ever! (lines 3438–45) These figures offer models for thinking and writing about knighthood. Geoffroi de Charny, describing for aspirant warriors the character of a truly noble knight, has an extensive passage praising the qualities of Judas Maccabeus, in terms that make one wonder whether Geoffroi understood that he was not actually a Christian.33 It is not surprising then that when he writes the life of the Black Prince, the Chandos 33

The Book of Chivalry, p. 163.


The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction Herald, another chivalric author, turns to these heroes as natural models for his biography: Now I have told the whole story of the prince’s life, forgive me if I have passed over matters lightly, but a book as big as the romances of king Arthur, Alexander or Charlemagne could have been written about it, simply to record his deeds, prowess, largesse and wisdom.34 (line 138) Although the Chandos Herald refers to ‘romances’ as the source of his knowledge of these figures, ‘romance’ seems also to refer to the great exemplary histories which circulated widely throughout the Middle Ages – Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Historia de Preliis, Guido delle Colonne, all texts with significant connections to alliterative romance. The Siege of Jerusalem itself very specifically alludes to this tradition when it describes the first battle between the Romans and Jews. Mounted on elephants, armed like knights, the Jews are fierce and implicitly worthy opponents: Many doughty that day that was adradde neuere Were fond fey in the feld be that the fight ended. (lines 463–64) The magnificence and exoticism of the portrayal of the Jews culminates in almost twenty lines describing Caiphas’s elephant, on the back of which rests a ‘tabernacle’, ornamented with jewels and precious metals: Lered men of the lawe that loude couthe synge With sawters seten hym by and the psalmys tolde Of doughty David the kyng and other dere stories Of Josue the noble Iewe and Iudas the kyght. (lines 477–81) They are reciting the stories of the three Jewish Worthies, in a form which animates a whole tradition of late-medieval heroic narrative. Structure and allusion at this moment make the Jews familiar, and admirable. It is only when the ‘lered men’ remind their soldiers of ‘Moses law’ that the poet reminds himself and us that they are a ‘feithles peple’. This reference to the Worthies is an expansion of the source the poet is using at this point, making it a noteworthy addition.35 Ralph Hanna briefly and generally notes this association when he says that ‘the poet’s largest self-stated claim for a place in the alliterative canon […] is that he describes the moment when the acts of the pagan Worthies, classical and Jewish, were superseded and room left for the Christian heroic poetry he writes’.36 But previously, I would argue, the Worthies were the ‘noble ancestors’ whose stories were foundational for Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey. This act of supersession, or rather violent rupture, is in fact a reinterpretation of the alliterative canon’s attachment to them. Perhaps we might argue that it is the Christian Worthies who are being displaced by this act of heroic patricide, in order to make way for Titus and Vespasian themselves. The poet gives them the attributes of the Worthies, as he gives them chivalric traits, in order to celebrate them and their razing of the city in 34 35 36

The Chandos Herald, The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince, ed./trans. Richard Barber (Woodbridge, 1986), p. 138. Hanna and Lawton, p. lxxxi. Hanna, ‘Contextualizing’, p. 113.


Arlyn Diamond ways his audience would recognize and appreciate. Over twenty lines are devoted to the arming of Vespasian – more than are allotted to the description of the crucifixion, which opens the poem and justifies all the vengeance that follows: A bright burnesched swerd he belteth alofte, Of pure polisched gold the pomel and the hulte; A brod schynande scheld on scholdire he hongith Bocklyd myd bright gold, aboue at the necke […] A croune of clene gold was closed vpon lofte Rybaunde vmbe the rounde helm, ful of riche stones, Pyght prudely with perles into the pure corners And so with saphyres sett the sides aboute. He strideth on a stif stede and striketh ouer the bente Light as a lyoun were loused out of cheyne, His segges sewen hym alle and echon sayth to other, ‘This is a comlich kyng knyghtes to lede.’ (lines 753–56, 761–68) This portrait, which is not found in the sources, is an unambiguous compendium of familiar images, a gorgeous representation of heroic kingship which works to make inevitable the conquests of Rome and Jerusalem that follow.37 Romance shapes the way we understand the Jews as well as the newly converted Titus and Vespasian. Their ‘worthiness’ as representatives of the triumph of Christianity depends on the ‘worthiness’ of their enemies. In romance, unlike history, you gain no credit for defeating the weak and vulnerable. There are a number of moments in the text where the Jews are defined in martial rather than religious terms. The poet luxuriates in the details of their army – their camels and elephants and dromedaries, the ‘hundred thousand on hors with hamberkes atired’ (lines 445–88). The more impressive they are as enemies, in the logic of romance rather than theology, the greater the triumph. Instead of being cowed by the Christian troops, they return Vespasian’s stripped and bloodied messengers with cheeses tied to them and a defiant response: ‘Sayth vnbuxum we beth his biddyng to gete Ne noght dreden his dom; his deth haue we atled.’ He schal vs fynde in the felde ne no ferre seke. (lines 369–71) In battle they are ‘fele of defence, ferce men and noble’ (line 871). Vespasian laments: The cite had ben seised myd saut at that tyme Nad the folke be so fers that the fende serued, That kilden on the Cristen and kepten the walles With arwes and arblastes, and archeres manye. (lines 837–40) The poetic energy of the poem, as well as the bulk of its lines, lies in richly detailed and highly conventional passages, in accounts of battles and the setting sail 37

Lawton sees the passage as having ‘a decorative, formulaic quality which is an investment of positive value’ (‘Titus’, p. 108), but regards its effects as limited, rather than part of a larger pattern of heroic narrative.


The Alliterative Siege of Jerusalem: The Poetics of Destruction of the army and heroic or defiant speeches and multiple combats. Although it is possible and necessary to read the poem exegetically, what is memorable in it lies, I believe, in the imaginative force of the descriptions of men at war as much as in its figural and historical exegesis.38 Its representations of the consequences of battle are not unique, although their particular intensity may be fed by the fascination with tortured bodies of late-medieval affective piety. The theology of vengeance, what can be called the poem’s ideological motivation, is expressed formally here in heroic romance, the genre which teaches us to delight in the violence our more enlightened selves would prefer to ignore.39



For example, Chism’s powerful analysis in ‘The Siege of Jerusalem: Liquidating Assets’ of the religious and historical tensions to be read in the grotesque sequence where the Romans split open the bodies of the Jews to take the gold they have swallowed, shows an alternative way of reading the poet’s depiction of the aftermath of a successful siege. I would like to thank Vincent DiMarco and Ann Higgins for their help with this article.


8 The Peace of the Roads: Authority and auctoritas in Medieval Romance ROBERT ROUSE The fourteenth-century romance Havelok the Dane begins with a depiction of the ideal state of royal rule that was enforced within England under King Athelwold.1 It was a king bi are-dawes That in his time were gode lawes He dede maken an ful wel holden. Hym louede yung, him louede holde – Erl and barun, dreng and þayn, Knict, bondeman, and swain, Wydues, maydnes, prestes, and clerkes, And al for hise gode werkes. He louede God with al his micth, And Holi Kirke, and soth and ricth. Ricthwise men he louede alle, And oueral made hem for to calle. Wreieres and wrobberes made he falle, And hated hem so man doth galle; Vtlawes and theues made he bynde, Alle that he micthe fynde, And heye hengen on galwe-tre – For hem ne yede gold ne fe. Jn þat time a man þat bore . . . . . . Of red gold upon hijs bac, Jn a male with or blac, Ne funde he non þat him misseyde N[e] with iuele on hond leyde. 1

The importance of this passage in establishing the peace associated with rightful rule, and its role in the construction of a distinctive image of English legal identity, is discussed at length in my ‘English Identity and the Law in Havelok the Dane, Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild and Beues of Hamtoun’, in Corinne Saunders, ed., Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 69–84.

Robert Rouse Þanne micthe chapmen fare Þuruth Englond wit here ware, And baldelike beye and sellen Oueral þer he wilen dwellen […] Þanne was Engelond at hayse – Michel was svich a king to preyse Þat held so Englond in grith! (Havelok the Dane, lines 27–54, 59–61)2 The peace maintained by Athelwold is illustrated through a series of dynamic acts which demonstrate his royal authority: his making and holding of laws; his equanimous extension of these laws to his subjects; his incorruptible pursuit and punishment of law-breakers; and his protection of merchants and travellers. This last motif, the motif of the safety of travel and the peace of the roads, is central to the construction of the legal Golden Age that exists in England under Athelwold. This motif of the safety of the King’s roads has long been recognised as having held a popular place within medieval English literature.3 The motif also occurs in another romance setting in the Auchinleck MS version of Guy of Warwick, in this case as part of a demonstration of the peace enforced within the county of Warwick by the Earl’s steward, Sywarde: Þei a man bar an hundred pounde, Opon him, of gold y-grounde, Þe[r] nas man in al þis londe Þat durst him do schame no schonde, Þat bereft him worþ of a slo, So gode pais þer was þo. (lines 137–42)4 That these two romances should make use of a motif that equates the strength of a lord’s rule with the degree of safety afforded to those who travel the roads is not surprising. Travel was, as we are often reminded by medieval texts, an arduous and at times dangerous undertaking.5 It is not for nothing that medieval outlaw tales made much of the practice of robbing travellers on the roads, nor for that matter is it solely due to literary convenience that Chaucer’s pilgrims travel in such a large company. For a king or an earl (or an earl’s steward) to keep the roads safe, then, was a pressing and difficult task: to actually succeed in doing so was especially praiseworthy.

2 3

Havelok the Dane, ed. G. V. Smithers (Oxford, 1987). J.A.W. Bennett comments that the motif is ‘a traditional formula for describing a peaceful kingdom’, and cites the Peterborough Chronicle (ca. 1087), Guy of Warwick (lines 137–42), Havelok (lines 45–50), and La3amon’s Brut: ‘He sette suiþe god griþ þat ech man mihte faran wiþ fram londe to londe þeh he bere golde an honde’ (Caligula MS, lines 18486–89) (Early Middle English Verse and Prose, ed. J.A.W. Bennett and G.V. Smithers (Oxford, 1968), p. 381). 4 It is interesting to note that while this motif is not found in any of the extant earlier versions of the Havelok narrative, it does occur in the Anglo-Norman Gui de Warewic, suggesting that this motif was absorbed at an early date into Anglo-Norman literary culture: ‘E faite i aveit tele peis,/ Si hom portast d’argent sun feis,/ Ne trovereit robeur ne larrun/ Qui li tolsist vaillant un botun’ (Gui de Warewic, ed. Alfred Ewert, 2 vols (Paris, 1932–33), lines 107–110). 5 Jean Verdon, Travel in the Middle Ages, trans. George Holoch (Notre Dame, 2003), pp. 51–54; J.J. Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages, trans. Lucy Toulmin Smith (1889; London, 1961), pp. 72–74.


The Peace of the Roads In this article I will attempt to map the literary archaeology of this motif, and in doing so seek to answer a number of questions: where does the motif originate? In what other textual and cultural contexts does it occur? What meaning might a medieval reader or listener have inferred from the presence of such a motif within a romance? In what fashion would the motif have operated as a familiar signifier within the audience’s ‘horizon of expectation’ regarding the romance genre and literature more generally?6 The importance of understanding the provenance and development of such long-lived romance motifs has been highlighted by Helen Cooper through her cooption of the notion of the meme – analogous in a cultural and literary sense to the biological gene. Cooper characterises a meme as ‘an idea that behaves like a gene in its ability to replicate faithfully and abundantly, but also on occasion to adapt, mutate, and therefore survive in different forms and cultures.’7 One of the chief aspects of the usefulness of the meme as a critical tool is its resilient yet ever-changing nature, changing shape and form, yet remaining essentially true to its original conception and function. In the case of the ‘peace of the roads’ meme, we shall see that it splits at an early stage in its history into two related forms, and that these meme-siblings continue to entwine productively at various points within their literary existence. A search for the origins of the ‘peace of the roads’ motif could begin in any one of a number of textual sites, but for reasons that shall become clear, I want to turn first to a figure that stands as one of the clearest exempla of just kingship in the postconquest period: William of Malmesbury’s depiction of King Alfred in his Gesta Regum Anglorum. In William’s chronicle of the English Kings, he constructs an image of King Alfred as a great lawmaker, detailing his efforts to establish peace throughout England.8 Simon Keynes, commenting upon the significance of Alfred’s reforms in constructing English law, observes that ‘it was William who cast Alfred as the one who had divided the country into hundreds and tithings, as part of an arrangement for the enforcement of the law…’.9 Patrick Wormald identifies Alfred as a key figure in early post-Conquest views of the English legal past: ‘The role of Alfred himself surely reflects his emerging reputation as the “founder of English laws (Anglicarum legum conditor)” in the Ramsey Chronicle’s words, a development upon which William of Malmesbury may have been a major influence.’10 Alfred’s reputation as a founder of English law continued to develop, eventually leading to his emergence as the reputed founder of English Common Law.11 To the Anglo-Latin chroniclers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Alfred and Anglo-Saxon England 6

The term ‘horizon of expectation’ is drawn from the writings of Hans Robert Jauss (Towards an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Brighton, 1982), p. 79). 7 Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford, 2004), p. 3. 8 William of Malmesbury, William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum/ The History of the English Kings, ed. R.A.B. Mynors, R.M. Thompson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols (Oxford, 1998), I: 188–91. 9 Simon Keynes, ‘The Cult of King Alfred the Great,’ Anglo-Saxon England 28 (1999), 225–356, at p. 230. 10 Patrick Wormald, The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, 2 vols (Oxford, 1999), I: 141. Wormald cites Chronicon Abbatiae Ramesiensis, ed. W.D. Macray, RS 83 (London, 1886), p. 13. 11 Keynes, p. 234.


Robert Rouse seem to have occupied important roles as points of origin for English law.12 This identification of Alfred as a lawmaker was central to his typological construction as a rex pacificus. Modelled upon the figure of King Solomon, the rex pacificus was one of two commonly-used typological biblical kingship types – the other being the warrior Davidic figure.13 Key to this typological identification is William’s use of a defining symbolic motif: that of the peace that Alfred enforces across his kingdom. The following passage lies at the heart of William’s description of Alfred’s instituting of new laws and regulations through which he rules England in a state of rightful and just rule: Hoc commento pacem infudit prouintiae, ut etiam per publicos aggeres, ubi semitae in quadruuium finduntur, armillas aureas iuberet suspendi, quae uiantum auiditatem rederent, dum non essent qui eas abriperent. [By this new system he spread peace throughout the province, so that even on public highways he would order bracelets of gold to be hung up at crossroads, to mock the greed of passers-by, for no one dared steal them.]14 Alfred’s royal peace is such that no one dares to steal the aureate symbols of his power. In a similar fashion to the motif of the ‘peace of the roads’ in Havelok the Dane and Guy of Warwick, a lord’s power is demonstrated though his ability to make safe the highways of the land. While this motif of the ‘hanging royal gold’ is not, in its details, the same as the ‘peace of the roads’ motif, the two motifs are closely related and, as I shall demonstrate, are aspects of the same literary and cultural meme. Dorothy Whitelock describes William’s use of the motif as ‘a variant of popular ways of describing the peace created by a famous king.’15 She highlights the analogue of Bede’s depiction of the peace that held sway in the land during King Edwin’s reign. Rodney Thompson agrees, writing that ‘[t]here is an obvious parallel with Bede’s picture of peace in Northumbria in the days of Edwin.’16 Bede’s account emphasises the concern of Edwin for his people, and their love and fear of him: Tanta autem eo tempore pax in Brittania, quaquauersum imperium Regis Eduini peruenerat, fuisse perhibetur ut, sicut usque hodie in prouerbio dicitur, etiam se mulier una cum recens nato paruulo totam perambulare insulam a mari ad mare, nullo se ledente ualeret. Tantum rex idem utilitati suae gentis consuluit, ut plerisque in locis, ubi fontes lucidos iuxta publicos uiarum transitus conspexit, ibi ob refrigerium uiantium erectis stipitibus aereos caucus suspendi iuberet, neque hos quisquam, nisi ad usum necessarium, contigere prae magnitudine uel timoris eius auderet uel amoris uellet.


13 14 15 16

Thorlac Turville-Petre discusses the desire to restore ‘Þe gode olde lawes’ of the Anglo-Saxon period that is expressed in Robert of Gloucester’s Chronicle (England the Nation: Language, Literature, and National Identity, 1290–1340 (Oxford, 1996), pp. 98–103). The Davidic typological model is the primary model used in William’s description of the first half of Alfred’s rule, including his victories over the Danes. William of Malmesbury, Gesta, ed./trans. Mynors et al., I: 188–91. Dorothy Whitelock, ‘William of Malmesbury on the Works of King Alfred’, in her From Bede to Alfred (London, 1980), pp. 78–93, at p. 84. William of Malmesbury, Gesta, ed. Mynors et al., II: 98.


The Peace of the Roads [It is related that there was so great a peace in Britain, wherever the dominion of King Edwin reached, that, as the proverbs still runs, a woman with a newborn child could walk throughout the island from sea to sea and take no harm. The king cared so much for the good of the people that, in various places where he had noticed clear springs near the highway, he caused stakes to be set up and bronze drinking cups to be hung on them for the refreshment of travellers. No one dared to lay hands on them except for their proper purpose because they feared the king greatly nor did they wish to, because they loved him dearly.]17 While Bede’s motif is indeed parallel to the one found in William of Malmesbury, it differs in the nature of the objects, their metallic composition, and the practical purpose of the bronze cups. Furthermore, the understood purposes of the two public acts are interpreted differently by the two chroniclers: Edwin hangs his cups for the succour or thirsty travellers, while Alfred sets up his golden rings as a test of his subjects’ ‘greed’. However, despite these differences, the two variants are, in terms of their typological character, both essentially indicating the same thing: that the King in question is a renowned maintainer of peace in his realm. These differences provide enough of a basis for Whitelock to suggest that ‘if [William’s motif] owes anything to Bede’s account […] it is an inferior imitation.’18 Later in this article I will address Whitelock’s assertion that the motif of the golden rings is somehow an ‘inferior imitation’ through an examination of the place of the motif within wider medieval literary culture. However, firstly I wish to return, taking my cue from Bede, to the combination of rex pacificus motifs that the description of Edwin’s reign presents us with. The motif of exposure of precious goods (in Bede’s case the bronze cups) for the express purposes of demonstrating the strength of the king’s peace, is in Bede paired with the ‘peace of the roads’ motif, here represented by the safety of the travelling mother, which is considered by Bede to be proverbial. Bede’s mutually supporting use of these two motifs alerts us to their nature as two closely related examples of the same cultural and literary meme: one that correlates just royal rule with the enforcement of peace on the king’s roads – both for travellers and for the symbols of the king’s authority alike. These two motifs, the ‘peace of the roads’ and the ‘hanging royal gold’, are, I would argue, parallel in their function and symbolic importance within such representations of just medieval kingship. For the remainder of this article I wish to investigate the textual provenance of these two motifs, in order to chart the development and deployment of the wider cultural meme.

The Peace of the Roads While Bede’s proverbial woman carrying a baby is often cited as the earliest example of this motif of the peace of the roads, it is in fact predated by an account of the rule of Theodoric found in the sixth-century Anonymous Valesianus:

17 18

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed./trans. Bertram Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), pp. 192–193. Whitelock, ‘William of Malmesbury’, pp. 84–85.


Robert Rouse Sed et per alias civitates multa beneficia praestitit. Sic enim oblectavit vicinas gentes, ut se illi sub foedus darent aliae gentes, sibi eum regem sperantes. Negotiantes vero de diversis provinciis ad ipsum concurrebant. Tantae enim disciplinae fuit, ut, si quis voluit in agro suo argentum vel aurum dimittere, ac si intra muros civitatis esset ita existimaretur.19 [He also showed many favours to the other cities. And he won the good-will of the neighbouring nations, so that they offered to make treaties with him, in the hope that he would be their king. Indeed, merchants flocked to him from the various provinces, for his organization was such that if anyone wished to send consignments of gold or silver in his domain, it was deemed as secure as if he were within the walls of a city.] Here we find the earliest-known example of the motif, suggesting that its origins lie far back in the prehistory of European literary culture. As in Bede, we here find the motif in a historiographical context, used to highlight a period of just and peaceful rule, and it is within such a context that the motif most commonly occurs in the centuries following Bede. As one might expect, considering Bede’s profound influence on medieval English historiography, it occurs most frequently within medieval chronicles: notably, the motif is used to eulogise two historical kings in the Peterborough Chronicle (MS E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). Under the entry for 1087 we find a description of the peace enforced by William I.20 After criticising the Conqueror for his harsh rule, the chronicler allows the following passage of praise: Betwyx oðrum þingum nis na to forgytane þet gode frið þe he macode on þisan lande, swa þet an man þe himsylf aht wære mihte faran ofer his rice mid his bosum full goldes, ungederad.21 [Amongst the other things that are not to be forgotten is the good peace that he made in this land, so that a respectable man could travel through his kingdom unmolested with his chest full of gold.] Although William I was hated by many of his English subjects due to his abuses, it is interesting that the Peterborough chronicler still confers praise upon the peace which his reign brought to England.22 The importance of the king’s enforcement of peace is

19 20

21 22

Cited in Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes, ed./trans. Hilda Ellis Davidson and Peter Fisher, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1979–80), 2:92. The Peterborough Chronicle’s account of William’s reign seems to have been the source for Henry of Huntingdon’s account in his Historia Anglorum. Henry writes: ‘Pacis autem tantus auctor fuerat, quod puella auro honusta regnum Anglie pertransire posset impune’ [‘He had created such complete peace that a young girl, laden with gold, could travel unharmed through the kingdom of England’] (Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum, ed./trans. Diana Greenway (Oxford, 1996), pp. 406–407). Henry here seems to be following the Peterborough Chronicle’s account, but, perhaps influenced by Bede’s account of the reign of King Edwin, replaces the Anglo-Saxon man with puella. Henry, like many post-Conquest chroniclers, uses Bede as a source and includes Bede’s description of Edwin’s reign in the Historia, pp. 114–15. The Peterborough Chronicle: 1070–1154, ed. Cecily Clark (Oxford, 1970), p. 12. The chronicler’s praise of the peace of William’s reign is in stark contrast to the prevailing tone of condemnation and distaste for William’s actions. The entire entry for 1087 is homiletic in tone, castigating the English and depicting William’s deeds, for all their ferocity, as a deserved punishment. Cf. The Peterborough Chronicle: 1070–1154, pp. lxxv–lxxviii.


The Peace of the Roads highlighted by the contrast with William’s wider reputation as a poor king within English sources. Later in the Peterborough Chronicle we find a second use of this motif to signify a king’s peaceful rule. As part of an 1135 eulogy for Henry I, a king treated with markedly more favour by the text than William I, the chronicler records that: Wua sua bare his byrthen golde 7 sylure, durste nan man sei to him naht bute god.23 [Whosoever carried his burden of gold and silver, no man dared say anything but good to him.] Here we again find a form of the motif of safe travel ensured by a strong king. While the form of the motif differs from that used to describe William I, the sentiment is the same: a man can travel the kingdom freely without fearing robbery. These two passages, despite describing the rule of a Norman and an Angevin king, occur in an explicitly English context. The Peterborough Chronicle is part of a tradition of AngloSaxon historiography that survives the Conquest, and although there are changes in the style of the post-Conquest continuations, the text remains firmly within the mode and tradition of the pre-Conquest chroniclers, representing an English voice and making use of insular literary traditions.24 As we have seen above, the source of the popularity of the ‘peace of the roads’ motif within insular texts most probably lies in Bede’s account of Edwin’s reign.25 However, where might Bede have taken the motif from? The motif, in the Historia Ecclesiastica represented by the safety of the travelling mother, is claimed by Bede to have been proverbial, suggesting that it was a feature of both literary and oral culture in Bede’s time.26 Judith McClure suggests that Bede seems to have been using a biblical model for this passage: Like the Hebrew editors of the Acts of Solomon, he added to his description of the peace and prosperity which were the result of Edwin’s victories what he claimed was a current proverb: in his reign a mother could cross the island unharmed with her baby. Similar conditions obtained under the powerful king Solomon, heir to the conquests of David.27 23 24




The Peterborough Chronicle: 1070–1154, p. 54. While the post-Conquest continuations of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle demonstrate an understandable degree of linguistic and stylistic change, the mode of historiography remains much the same as before the Conquest. Cf. Clark’s introduction to The Peterborough Chronicle: 1070–1154, pp. xv–lxxxvii. Dorothy Whitelock notes a further borrowing of Bede’s motif in ‘Wulfstan Cantor and the Anglo-Saxon Law’, in Nordica et Anglica: Studies in Honour of Stefán Einarsson, ed. Allan H. Orrick (The Hauge, 1968), pp. 83–92, at p. 84. Corinne Saunders, in her discussion of rape in medieval literature, has commented that ‘although Bede does not explicitly mention rape, his description of the woman’s safety seems to suggest the impossibility of sexual assault during Edwin’s reign. This safety becomes an emblem of the saintliness of the king and the spiritual well-being of his realm’ (Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (Cambridge, 2001), p. 42). Judith McClure, ‘Bede’s Old Testament Kings’, in Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society: Studies Presented to J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, ed. Patrick Wormald, Donald Bullough and Roger Collins (Oxford, 1983), pp. 76–98, at p. 88. McClure suggests that I Kings 4, 21 and 24–25 are potential influences on Bede: ‘[21:] And Solomon had under him all the kingdoms


Robert Rouse However, while McClure is no doubt correct in her conclusion that Bede was influenced by the biblical passages describing the peace of Solomon’s rule, the ‘safety of the roads’ motif differs in its use of travel as the primary signifier of such peace. In the absence of a direct biblical parallel, the source of motif must lie in the wider Anglo-Saxon culture. If Bede is to be believed when he writes that the motif is a current proverb, the motif may also be of venerable antiquity, as suggested by the passage in the Anonymous Valesianus. The biblical model of the rex pacificus seems to have been a popular one amongst Anglo-Saxon writers, and became an established kingship typological model. The popularity of the motif of the ‘peace of the roads’ suggests a strong connection within Anglo-Saxon and post-Conquest English culture between peace and the safety of the king’s roads. As an important component of the poetic lexicon used to construct images of the rex pacificus, the motif seems to reflect an important social concern within English and wider Germanic culture. To place this motif within a wider cultural context, it is useful to consider its sentiments alongside those found in other sources, such as the chronicles and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ legal codes that were produced in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. One well-known example of the insular concern with the security of the roads is found in Henry of Huntingdon. Wormald, writing of the ‘peace of the four roads’ observes that Henry ‘picks up the strand in early-twelfth-century legal treatises that dwelt upon the variety of English customs; roads and their peace were another of their obsessions.’28 Although Wormald notes that ‘the contrast with genuine AngloSaxon material is marked’, Henry seems to be articulating the tradition that viewed the Anglo-Saxon period as the origin of laws that made explicit the concern with the peace of the roads.29 Wormald notes that the ‘peace of the four roads’ is a popular motif in the twelfth-century legal codes.30 Having begun as a statement of the inviolability of the king’s person and palace under the early Anglo-Saxon kings, the concept had developed by the eleventh century to cover a number of different royal protections.31 This peace, as a tangible extension of the king’s royal person, provided protection for his subjects in specific geographical and temporal situations. The tradition of the ‘peace of the roads’ that we find in the romances seems to stem from

28 29

30 31

from the river to the land of the Phillistines, even to the border of Egypt: and they brought him presents, and served him, all the days of his life. […24:] For he had all the country which was beyond the river, from Thaphsa to Gazan, and all the kings of those countries: and he had peace on every side all about. [25:] And Juda and Israel dwelt without any fear, every one under his vine, and under his fig tree, from Dan to Bersabee, all the days of Solomon’ (The Holy Bible: Douay Version (London, 1956)). Wormald, Making of English Law, I: 140. Henry writes that ‘Britain was so dear to its inhabitants that they constructed four highways in it, from one end to the other, built by royal authority, so that no one would dare attack an enemy on them.’ He then goes on to list these roads: Icknield Way, Ermine Street, Watling Street and the Fosse Way (Henry of Huntingdon, ed./trans. Greenway, pp. 22–25). For a full discussion of the legal context of the ‘peace of the four roads’, see my The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 105–112. Bruce O’Brien, God’s Peace and King’s Peace: The Laws of Edward the Confessor (Philadelphia, 1999), p. 73.


The Peace of the Roads the ‘peace of the four roads’ that we find in the chronicles and law codes, a peace that seems to have existed both within pre- and post-Conquest English law.32 Havelok and Guy of Warwick make use of a motif that seems to operate as a twofold indicator of authority. Firstly, the motif is a vital component in the depiction of the royal authority of the figures to which it is attached, signifying this authority through the practical implications of the act of maintaining such a peace. Secondly, the motif acts to impart a sense of textual auctoritas to the texts which make use of it: the depictions of historical kings in the chronicles make use of what seems to have been a well-known and well-understood typological signifier, one that allowed the construction of a king’s reign to be understood through implicit comparison with previous depictions of just rulers. It is this second aspect of textual auctoritas imparted by the motif that is of most interest with regard to its appearance in the romances of Havelok and Guy of Warwick, and raises question of how one might read the occurrence of such a historiographical motif within medieval romance. Might we read such a deployment of a characteristic chronicle motif within romance as an attempt to legitimize the claims of such texts to being a form of history in their own right? After all, romances such as Havelok and Guy of Warwick purport to narrate the historical events of their protagonists, making use of such Anglo-Saxon names as Athelwold and Athelstan in order to place themselves firmly within the pre-conquest history of England. Recent critical opinion by scholars such as Rosalind Field and Thorlac Turville-Petre supports just such a reading of these ‘historical’ romances as being a form of popular narrative history, and in the light of this context we can perhaps understand the appearance of the motif of the ‘peace of the roads’ in these texts as being part of a rhetorical strategy of appropriating the language and motifs of chronicle in an attempt to provide the romances with a veneer of historical authenticity.33

Hanging Royal Gold Having attempted to delineate the provenance and context of the ‘peace of the roads’ motif, I want to return to its sibling motif: the motif exemplified by King Alfred’s hanging of golden rings at crossroads in William of Malmesbury’s account of his reign. Whitelock, we recall, asserted that the motif of the golden rings is somehow an ‘inferior imitation’ of Bede’s account of Edgar’s bronze cups. Through an examination of the wider literary context of the motif, I want to challenge Whitelock’s assertion and argue that the motif is not in fact ‘an inferior imitation’, but rather is an example of a vibrant and widespread motif that is closely related in function to that of the ‘peace of the roads’. Let us begin with the question of where William may have derived the motif of Alfred hanging golden rings at crossroads from. The motif of Edwin hanging bronze cups at drinking places is indeed similar in a number of ways: both variations of the 32 33

Alan Cooper, ‘The King’s Four Highways: Legal Fiction meets Fictional Law’, Journal of Medieval History 26 (2000), 351–70. Rosalind Field, ‘Romance as History and History as Romance’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills et al. (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 163–73; Turville-Petre, England the Nation, pp. 143–55. For an extended discussion of the debate over reading romance as ‘narrative history’, see my The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance, pp. 54–60.


Robert Rouse motif involve the display of valuable items on the highway and manifest the strength of the peace imposed by the king. However, these similarities are not close enough to constitute evidence of a direct influence upon the form of the motif used by William: rather, it is the differences between the forms found in Bede and William which are instructive. Where then might William have acquired the motif of the ‘hanging royal gold’ if not from Bede? A much closer analogue to William’s motif is found in Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum. In Book V of the history of the Danish kings we find an account of the life of King Frothi III. This account of the legendary rex pacificus of the Danish people includes two episodes which are strikingly similar to the motif that William utilises in his construction of Alfred’s reign. Frothi III is depicted by Saxo as a king who rules contemporary with Christ. Aided by his good friend Erik the Eloquent, he conquers all of Northern Europe and brings about order, justice and prosperity through the establishment and enforcement of two legal codes. The first of these two episodes occurs after Frothi has defeated the Norwegians: Victor Frotho pacem per omnes gentes reficere cupiens, ut uniuscuiusque rem familiarem a forum incursu tutam praestaret otiumque regnis post arma assereret, armillam unam in rupe, quam Frothonis petram nominant, alteram apud Wik provinciam, habita cum Norvagiensibus contione, defixit, edictae a se innocentiae experimentum daturas, subductis iisdem in omnes regionis praesides animadvertendum minatus. Itaque summo cum praefectorum periculo aurum absque custodia mediis affixum triviis magnum avaritiae irritamentum exstabat, opportuna rapinae praeda plena cupiditatis ingenia provocante.34 [After the victory Frothi desired to re-establish peace through his peoples. To maintain quiet in his realm now the war was over, and to ensure that personal property would be safe from thievish marauders, he fixed one bracelet to the rock they call Frothi’s stone and another in the province of Vik; he had a meeting with the Norwegians, at which he warned them that it would be necessary to punish all the chieftains of the area if these treasures were filched, for they were intended to serve as a test of the honest conduct he had imposed. It was to the utmost peril of their leaders that this unguarded gold was set up at the very places where the roads met, an easily-snatched prize to stimulate greedy minds and therefore a fine temptation to the avaricious.]35 Later in Saxo’s account, Frothi again uses the strategy of displaying a golden armlet ring at a crossroads to demonstrate the strength of his peace, this time in Jutland, after he has returned from subjugating the British and the Irish.36 These two passages resemble closely the motif as found in William’s account of King Alfred: the golden rings; the crossroads; the tempting and testing of character of the king’s subjects. The similarities between the motif as found in William’s text and that found in Saxo are compelling, and demand further investigation into the 34 35 36

Saxo Grammaticus, Saxonis Gesta Danorum, eds. Jørgen Olrik and H. Ræder (Copenhagen, 1931), p. 137. Ellis Davidson and Fisher, I: 152. Olrik and Ræder, p. 141; Ellis Davidson and Fisher, 1:156.


The Peace of the Roads possible grounds for their shared usage of the motif. Given the striking similarities, we are faced with either having to construct some form of textual connection between William and Saxo’s texts, or – less problematically – to postulate that the motif was widespread in European literary culture during the twelfth century. The only historians to whom Saxo refers are Bede, Dudo of St. Quentin, and Paulus Diaconus, although it also appears likely that Saxo was influenced by classical texts such as Virgil’s Aeneid.37 While Saxo was certainly writing at a time that makes it hypothetically possible for him to have been influenced by William’s Gesta Regum – assuming that he had access to it – the absence of any confirmatory evidence encourages a search for a less problematic explanation for their mutual use of the motif. As evidence for a widespread circulation of the motif within European literary culture I would like to highlight three similar examples of the motif’s use. Firstly we find the motif used in Arngrímur Jónsson’s Latin abstract of the Skjöldunga Saga.38 This saga, whose plot we know only through the Rerum Danicarum Fragmenta, appends the motif to the Danish King Frothi I, an earlier personification of the rex pacificus type. Secondly, Robert of Torigni includes the motif in his account of the life of Duke Rollo of Normandy. After his baptism, Robert tells us, Duke Rollo settled Normandy with his followers and established a peace throughout the land by granting iura et leges sempiternas (rights and everlasting laws) – a peace that is illustrated through the following story: Many stories about the duke which are worth relating still circulate among the common people. When, after a hunt in the wood high above the River Seine near Rouen, the duke, accompanied by his followers, sat down for a meal beside a lake commonly called La Mare, he hung some golden bracelets on an oak-tree and they remained there for three years because the duke was so feared. Because this memorable event occurred near La Mare, the forest is called Roumare to the present day.39 A third example of the currency of the motif, describing the reign of King Athelstan, is found in the Annales de Wintonia: Iste tantem pacem teneri fecit in Anglia, quod torques aureus si exponeretur in compito, citius ibi putresceret quam furto tolleretur.40 He maintained such peace in England that if a gold ring had been left at a crossroads, it would sooner have rotted there than have been carried away by any thief. These three disparate examples of the ‘hanging royal gold’ motif place William’s use of the motif within a context suggestive of a widespread currency within the chronicle literature of medieval Europe. Far from being, as Whitelock suggests, ‘an inferior imitation’ of Bede’s motif of the bronze cups, William’s motif of Alfred 37 38 39 40

Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, ed. Phillip Pulsiano (New York, 1993), p. 567. Arngrímur Jónsson, Arngrimi Jonae Opera Latine Conscripta, ed. Jacob Benediktsson, 4 vols (Copenhagen, 1950–57). The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis, and Robert of Torigni, ed./trans. Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts, 2 vols (Oxford, 1992), 1:70–71. H.R. Luard, Annales Monastici, IV (Annales de Wintonia et Waverleia) (London, 1864), p. 10.


Robert Rouse hanging golden rings at the crossroads of his highways can be seen to be firmly situated within the broader use of the motif, suggesting that this would have been readily recognised by his readers for what it clearly was – a common and effective signifier of royal peace and just rule. Whitelock’s interpretation of William’s motif illustrates the inherent limitations of attempting to understand such motifs on an individual basis, highlighting the essential role that comparative studies of such episodes fulfils. The motifs of the ‘peace of the roads’ and the ‘hanging royal gold’ are, as I suggested earlier, closely related manifestations of the same meme: that of the just ruler. These motifs form part of the rhetoric used to construct the rex pacificus in these texts, and it is important for a modern reader to appreciate that they would have been recognised as such by the educated medieval reader. As such they act to confirm the ‘horizons of expectation’ of the reader of such texts: in the depiction of a just historical king, these motifs are not only commonly used, they would also have been expected by the reader of such a text. This aspect of their use reinforces the significance that we might ascribe to their appearance in medieval romance, suggesting as it does to the astute reader that such romances were to be read as historically accurate. This manipulation of the genre-expectations of the audience suggests that this was an intentional strategy on behalf of the authors of these texts – intended to elevate them to the status of historiography – and thus points towards an unexpected degree of genre awareness in their composition.

What’s at Stake with Motif Studies? As something of a postscript to this article I wish to examine one last example of the use of this motif – this time a late-medieval one of non-insular provenance – which I hope will demonstrate the importance of reading such motifs within their wider literary context. It is to be found in the early legends of Prince Vlad of Transylvania, the basis of the literary figure of Dracula. Dracula so hated evil in his land that if someone committed a misdeed such as theft, robbery, lying, or some injustice, he had no chance of staying alive. Whether he was a nobleman or a priest or a monk or a common man, or even if he had great wealth, he could not escape death. And he was so feared that in a certain place he had a source of water and a fountain where many travellers came from many lands, and many of these people came to drink at the fountain and the source, because the water was so cool and sweet. Dracula had put near this fountain in a deserted place a great cup wonderfully wrought in gold; and whoever wished to drink the water could use this cup and put it back in its place. And as long as the cup was there, no one dared steal it.41 This by-now familiar episode is found in the oldest Russian manuscript containing legends surrounding the historical Vlad Dracul: MS 11/1088 in the KirillovBelozersky Monastery Collection at the Saltykov-Schredin Public Library, Leningrad. This late-fifteenth-century account of Dracula’s rule, penned by the monk Efrosin in 41

Cited in Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu, In Search of Dracula: The Enthralling History of Dracula and Vampires (London, 1994), p. 201.


The Peace of the Roads the year 1490, was copied, the writer tells us, from another manuscript written in 1486. The author of the earlier manuscript is unknown, but most scholarly speculation has focused on the Russian envoy Fedor Kurytsin, who was at the Hungarian court in the 1480s. It seems possible that Kurystin may have picked up the story while there as Prince Vlad had been a captive at the Hungarian court from 1462 until 1474.42 The stories of Vlad Dracul contained in the manuscript support the notion of his reign as being in the mode of a ‘cruel but just’ ruler. This late-medieval occurrence of the ‘hanging royal gold’ motif, while intriguing in its own right, highlights the value of motif studies in general. In his discussion of the passage, McNally seems to consider this anecdote to be based in historical truth: The authenticity of such anecdotes can be substantiated because they occur in all three variants, Germanic, Slavonic, and Romanian [so therefore] they could not have derived from a common literary model. In terms of content, moral and political philosophy, and even specific methods of punishment, they coincide fairly closely with those anecdotes that do have historical validity […] They describe events and policies which can be verified.43 This commentary on the anecdote of the Golden Cup demonstrates the dangers of interpreting such motifs in isolation. An appreciation of the venerable provenance and widespread circulation of the motif of the ‘hanging royal gold’ allows the reader to place the anecdote firmly within an established literary tradition, identifying it as a conventional signifier of royal authority and power.44 The study of the development and transmission of literary motifs, or memes, acts as a corrective to naïve conclusions such as those drawn by McNally and Florescu in their assessment of the narratives of Vlad Dracul’s symbolic use of the Golden Cup. Rather than seeing the occurrence of the motif in multiple accounts, and in multiple languages, as forcing us to assume any degree of historical veracity, its occurrence instead points towards an even more geographically widespread currency of this motif.

42 43 44

McNally and Florescu, p. 198. McNally and Florescu, p. 199. A further question naturally arises, of course: how might a motif of royal authority that seems to have been common-place in the literature and culture of Germanic Northern Europe have become attached to an Eastern European prince such as Vlad Dracul? One possible answer – or at least the beginnings of one – can be found in the large-scale migrations of the Saxons from Germany to Eastern Europe during the later Middle Ages. McNally points to the importance of these Germanic-speaking migrants: ‘the Prince’s reputation as a mass murderer was already largely established in the Germanic world because of the tales told by the Saxons of Transylvania’ (p. 31). It seems plausible that, given the motif’s demonstrated currency within numerous examples of Germanic literature, that it may have been a natural narrative motif for Saxon storytellers to attach to the ‘zero tolerance’ rule of Prince Dracul.


9 The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance LAURA ASHE The point of departure for this paper is the fact that, for the authors of AngloNorman and Middle English romance, there was no available word unambiguously denoting the concept of the ‘hero’. Both the classical heros and the Germanic Held/hæleð had always implied a range of different meanings, but the vernacular writers of post-Conquest England worked with languages in which no direct descendant of either of them continued to be in common usage. The diagram below is a simplified illustration of this development.

Etymological tree: Hero1 Old High German helid, Old Saxon heliđ, Old English hæle, hæleð = ‘warrior, man, hero’

Early Middle English hæleð, heleth = ‘warrior, man, retainer’ Middle English

Latin (from Greek) heros = ‘man of superhuman strength, hero, demigod’

Old French herus = ‘lord, baron, man’ (rare)


Modern German Held = ‘hero’ 1

c. 16th English hero(e) = ‘man of superhuman strength or bravery, illustrious warrior, demigod’

Medieval Latin heros = (1) ‘ancient hero’ (2) lord. Translated in Latin-tovernacular glosses as ‘lord, baron, master’

See Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller, eds, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Oxford, 1898– 1921), s.v. ‘hæle’, ‘hæleð’; Sherman M. Kuhn and John Reidy, eds, Middle English Dictionary (Ann Arbor MI, 1954–2001), s.v. ‘heleth’; OED, s.v. ‘hero’; P.G.W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford, 1982), s.v. ‘heros’; R.E. Latham, Revised Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources (London, 1980), s.v. ‘hero/s’; Tony Hunt, Teaching and Learning Latin in Thirteenth-Century England, 3 vols (Cambridge, 1991), 1:91, 1:158. See also Middle English Dictionary, s.v. ‘baroun’ (3), which refers to the glosses of the Medulla Grammatice and the Catholicon Anglicum; and W. Rothwell, L.W. Stone and T.B.W. Reid, eds, Anglo-Norman Dictionary (London, 1992), s.v. ‘baron’ (3).

Laura Ashe The classical Latin heros had its own ambivalences. Associated with ancient demigods on the one hand, it was also open to sophisticated scepticism and the charge of fictionality on the other, as for example in Cicero’s assertion that ‘non heroum ueteres casus fictosque luctus uelim imitari’ [‘I have no wish to rehearse the ancient fortunes and imaginary tragedies of heroes’].2 The Old English word hæleð, meanwhile, had a range of meanings which could be translated with greater or lesser intensity, from ‘hero’ to simply ‘man’, by way of ‘warrior’. This range is in itself illustrative of the demands of the culture which produced Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon, a culture which sought heroic deeds from all its fighting men;3 but it left the word with an ambivalence which later writers expose – the poet La3amon provides evidence that by the thirteenth century the word had a much diluted sense: ‘þær þu findest seouen houndred þa hæleðes beoð kene’ [‘there you will find seven hundred brave warriors’]; ‘forcuðest hæleðe’ [‘basest of men’].4 This Germanic word vanished altogether from later Middle English. In medieval Latin, heros retained its meaning in reference to the heroes of old – Orderic Vitalis had a Saracen princess urge the Franks to think of the ‘miros heroum euentus’5 [‘marvellous deeds of the heroes’] of the Trojan War – but it also had the new, diluted meaning of ‘lord, master’. This is the translation offered by various Latin-to-vernacular glosses; and it establishes the most important point of all: that the intense meanings of heros, the superhuman warrior, the man of ‘extraordinary bravery or greatness of soul’, did not enter the vernaculars of medieval England. The Old French herus appears to have been rare, and it was a synonym for barun. The word was not used in Middle English. It was not until the sixteenth century that hero appeared, with sudden frequency, as an antique recoinage. According to the OED, the very first use of the word in English was by John Trevisa, translating Ranulph Higden’s Latin world history Polychronicon in 1387. He uses the word not as a noun, but in the context of the phrase ‘vers of heroes’, to describe the hexameter, the ‘heroic meter’. And it is Trevisa who, elsewhere in this work, makes most apparent the occlusion in the word’s medieval meanings, with an inventive etymology of the name Hercules: And Frigius Dares, in his book of bataille of Troye, seiþ þat Iason þat gat þe weþer wiþ the goldene flees at Colchos had a surname, and was i-cleped Hercules. Þerfore Ouid, Metha|morphoses 13o, seiþ: Menia vnder furt and þe Troians vnder Hercules. And Ouidius, 8o Methamorphoses, acounteþ the sleynge of þe boor of Arcadia to Meleandrus; and also 7o Methamorphoses acounteþ þe chasynge of þe arpies to Boreas his sones, þat heet Zoas and 2 3



Cicero, De Oratore, II. 47, ed. A.S. Wilkins, Cicero Rhetorica, vol. I (Oxford, 1963). Cf. Bernard F. Huppé, ‘The Concept of the Hero in the Early Middle Ages’, in Concepts of the Hero in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Norman T. Burns and Christopher Reagan (London, 1976), pp. 1–26: ‘Implicit in [The Battle of Maldon] is the recognition that men who must do battle are likely to be “heroic”, that is, self-reliant, proud’ (p. 13). La3amon, Brut, London, BL MS Cotton Caligula A.ix, ed. G.L. Brook and R.F. Leslie, EETS OS 250, 277 (London, 1963, 1978), lines 360, 14192. The Otho redaction of the Brut contains no instances of the word’s use. Orderic Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica, ed. Marjorie Chibnall, 6 vols (Oxford, 1969–80), 6:120. Chibnall translates the word as ‘heroic lords’, thereby neatly indicating the slippage in medieval meanings.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance Calaius. Þerfore meny wise men telleþ þat Hercules is þe surname of noble men and stalworþe, þat passed oþer men hugely in boldenesse and in strengþe. And so hit semeþ al by kyndeliche menynge of þat name; for Hercules is i-seide of heros [sic Caxton: MS reads eros], þat is a man, and of cleos [Greek kleos: good report, fame], þat is blisse; as þey Hercules were to menynge a blisful man and glorious.6 Thus, in an explicit discussion of classical heroes, the fourteenth-century translator regards the name Hercules as containing the lexical field of the superlative ‘hero’; but the word hero itself is thought to be just a component of that name, meaning only ‘man’. In effect, then, readers and writers of the vernaculars in England from the High Middle Ages until the sixteenth century possessed no reliable word for the concept of the hero as ‘a man of distinguished bravery’ or ‘a person reverenced and idealised’.7 The OED’s earliest citation of hero in anything like either of these senses dates from 1555, and the specificity of its use here goes some way towards providing an explanation for its invisibility previous to that. The reference is to the ancient association between heroes and divinity: ‘Goddes made of men whom the antiquitie cauled Heroes’.8 If the hero was interpreted as a classical demigod, then he was vulnerable to more than scepticism on the grounds of credibility, since this was a being with little place in the epistemology of the Middle Ages. Augustine succinctly, but also notably regretfully, sweeps such heroes away in his discussion of demons in the City of God: Hos multo elegantius, si ecclesiastica loquendi consuetudo pateretur, nostros Heroas vocaremus. Hoc enim nomen a Junone dicitur tractum, quod graece Juno ‘Hρα appellatur; et ideo nescio quis filius ejus secundum Graecorum fabulas, Heros fuerit nuncupatus: hoc videlicet veluti mysticum significante fabula, quod aer Junoni deputetur, ubi volunt cum daemonibus heroas habitare, quo nomine appellant alicujus meriti animas defunctorum. Sed a contrario martyres nostri heroes nuncuparentur, si, ut dixi, usus ecclesiastici sermonis admitteret; non quod eis esset cum daemonibus in aere societas, sed quod eosdem daemones, id est, aerias vincerent potestates…9 [If it were not contrary to the usage of the Church, we might call those [martyrs] our ‘heroes’, a much more fitting name. ‘Hero’ is said to be derived from the name of Juno. The Greek name for Juno is Hera, and that is why one or other of her sons was called Heros, according to Greek legend. This myth evidently signifies, though in cryptic fashion, that Juno is assigned power over the air; and the meaning is that heroes dwell with the demons, the name ‘heroes’ denoting the souls of the departed who have rendered some exceptional service. Our martyrs, in contrast, would be called ‘heroes’ 6

7 8 9

Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden monachi Cestrensis; together with the English translations of John Trevisa and of an unknown writer of the fifteenth century, ed. C. Babington and J.R. Lumby, 9 vols., RS 41 (London, 1865–66), 2:363. E.M. Kirkpatrick et al., Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (Edinburgh, 1983), s.v. ‘hero’ Richard Eden, The decades of the newe worlde or west India (London, 1555), in Edward Arber, ed., The First Three English Books on America (Birmingham, 1885), p. 49. Augustine, Civitate Dei, Book X, cap. 21, PL 41, col. 299.


Laura Ashe if, as I said, the usage of the Church allowed it, not because of any association with the demons in the air, but as the conquerors of those demons, that is, of the ‘powers of the air’…]10 Thus for this most influential of Christian theologians, shaping doctrine out of his classical heritage, martyrs could – even should, speaking elegantius – be called ‘heroes’ in recognition of their achievements, but the word is too pagan, too rooted in its origins to be permissible. As such, rejected by the Church, it all but vanishes as an active signifier during the Middle Ages, and that lexical lacuna is the most concrete symptom of a severe pressure upon the idea of the medieval hero. The difficulty of the concept of the hero for medieval writers, their concern nevertheless to engender and elaborate characters capable of occupying that space, and the differing methods by which they went about this task, are the subject of the rest of this paper. None of this is to suggest that the lack of the word itself is the source of the pressure, although linguistic difficulty must have exerted a serious limitation upon both expression and understanding of the idea. But the prior, real cause of both the language gap and the weakness of the concept of the hero in the Middle Ages is, as Augustine’s discussion reveals, Christian theology. Augustine explains that the martyrs have triumphed over demons, are superior to any earthly hero, because they have triumphed over the world. This ‘heroism’, then, is the sacrifice of the self in emulation of Christ; not just the act of going willingly to one’s death, but that of dying for the faith, as Augustine’s often-repeated dictum made clear: ‘martyrem non facit poena, sed causa’11 [‘it is the cause, not the blow, which makes the martyr’]. It is this alignment of the martyr with the hero that allows the process of logic to reach an otherwise self-evident fact: that the one true ‘hero’ of the medieval period is, of course, Christ, whose own heroic act of martyrdom saved humanity. It could be argued that this model necessarily had a powerful, and largely negative, effect upon the representation of idealized human activity. The transcendant comparison with Christ could only serve to devalue mortal actions, leaving no sphere for ‘heroic’ activity but emulation of God.12 Consequently, it is of profound significance that Christ’s heroism should be characterized by passive and unresisting suffering, by meek self sacrifice – ‘how pore he heng upon þe roode, / And how he stryued not ageyn, / but euere was meeke & mylde of mood’.13 It is evident that this was a difficult ideal for secular cultures to sustain. Christianity had taken root in western Europe in part by accommodating itself to the ideals of the warrior aristocracy, and the impulses of these secular cultures never lost their effect.14 Christ could be envisaged as a warrior in the eighth century: Ongyrede hine þa geong hæleð 10 11 12 13


– þæt wæs God ælmihtig –

Henry Bettenson, trans., St Augustine: City of God (Harmondsworth, 1984), p. 401. See, for example, Augustine, Sermons, nos 285 and 331, in PL 38, cols 1293, 1459, 1460. See also Huppé, ‘Concept of the Hero’, p. 23. ‘Se what oure Lord Suffride for oure Sake’, in Hymns to the Virgin & Christ, the Parliament of devils, and other religious poems, EETS OS 24, ed. F.J. Furnivall (London, 1867), pp. 32–34, lines 36–38. See, for example, the persuasive argument of Patrick Wormald, ‘Bede, Beowulf, and the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxon Aristocracy’, in Wormald, The Times of Bede: Studies in Early English Christian Society and its Historian, ed. Stephen Baxter (Oxford, 2006), pp. 30–105.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance strang ond stiðmod; gestah he on gealgan heanne, modig on manigra gesyhðe, þa he wolde mancyn lysan.15 [He stripped himself then, young hero/warrior16 – that was God almighty – strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows, brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.] But by the thirteenth century, he could also be imagined as the warrior’s new incarnation, the knight:17 Þes king is Iesu, Godes sune, þet al o þisse wise wohede ure sawle, þe deoflen hefden biset. Ant he, as noble wohere, efter monie messagers ant feole goddeden com to pruuien his luue, ant schawde þurh cnihtschipe þet he wes luue-wurðe, as weren sumhwile cnihtes iwunet to donne. Dude him i turneiment, ant hefde for his leoues luue his scheld i feht, as kene cniht, on euche half i-þurlet. […] efter kene cnihtes deað, me hongeð hehe i chirche his scheld on his mungunge. Alswa is þis scheld – þet is, þe crucifix – i chirche iset i swuch stude þer me hit sonest seo, forte þenchen þer-bi o Iesu Cristes cnihtschipe þet he dude o rode.18 [This king is Jesus, God’s son, who all in this way wooed our soul, that devils had besieged. And like a noble wooer after many messengers and many good deeds he came to prove his love and showed through chivalry that he was worthy of her love, as knights used to do – put himself in the tournament and for the love of his beloved as a bold knight in the fight had his shield pierced on every side. […] After a brave knight’s death, the people hang his shield high in the church in his memory. So is this shield – that is, the crucifix – placed in the church such that people can see it most easily, thereby to think on Jesus Christ’s knighthood, that he performed on the cross.] And by the fourteenth century, Christ’s knightliness was an established motif: Oon semblable to the Samaritan, and somdeel to Piers the Plowman, Barefoot on an asse bak bootles cam prikye, Withouten spores other spere; sprakliche he loked, As is the kynde of a knyght that cometh to be dubbed, To geten hym gilte spores on galoches ycouped.19 These secular treatments of Christ’s heroism function as part of a complex and reciprocal engagement, an ongoing negotiation between this difficult ideal of passive 15 16

17 18


The Dream of the Rood, ed./trans. Elaine Treharne, in Old and Middle English c.890–c.1400: An Anthology (Oxford, 2004), pp. 108–15, lines 39–41. The usual translation here is ‘hero’. Later in the poem, however, the same word hæleð is used to refer to the Dreamer, where it is appropriately translated more neutrally as ‘man’ or ‘warrior’ (lines 78, 95). See Rosemary Woolf, ‘The Theme of Christ the Lover-Knight in Medieval English Literature’, Review of English Studies 49 (1962), 1–16. Ancrene Wisse: A Corrected Edition of the Text in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402 with variants from other manuscripts: vol. 1, ed. Bella Millett, EETS OS 325 (Oxford, 2005), pp. 147– 48. William Langland, Piers Plowman, B-text, ed. A.V.C. Schmidt (London, 1995), passus XVIII, lines 10–14.


Laura Ashe self-sacrifice and the secular aristocracy’s celebration of martial activity and prowess. The two co-existed and competed throughout the Middle Ages, with constantly evolving results; the effects of each can be seen in representations of the other. Nevertheless, they had approached a perfect and explosive confluence in the preaching and reception of the First Crusade, at the close of the eleventh century, which gave shape and force to the notion of Christian knighthood. This offered a solution to the contradictions inherent in a world in which ‘mere survival […] was dependent upon acts condemned by the church as sinful’.20 The warrior aristocracy had long laboured under the certainty of its own damnation;21 this is the darkness which many critics have found in Beowulf, as a Christian poet writes of the melancholy glory of his heroic, pagan forbears.22 But in the vision of the crusader, this pressure was suddenly released.23 The crusading knight fought, and gave his life, for God and Christendom – and thus the knight could be Christlike in his death, just as Christ could be seen to be warrior-like, or knightly, in his Passion. When Roland’s death at Roncesvalles was recounted around the turn of the twelfth century, in the Oxford version of the great Chanson, his heroic self-sacrifice in the unending war of Christendom with the pagans was explicitly compared with the death of Christ: En France en ad mult merveillus turment: Orez i ad de tuneire e de vent, Pluies e gresilz desmesureement; Chiedent i fuildres e menut e suvent, E terremoete ço i ad veirement. […] Cuntre midi tenebres i ad granz, N’i ad clartet, se li ciels nen i fent. Hume nel veit ki mult ne s’espoënt. Dient plusor: “Ço est li definement, La fin del secle ki nus est en present!” Il nel sevent, ne dient veir nïent: Ço est li granz dulors por la mort de Rollant.24 [In France there is a very terrifying disturbance: thunder and windstorms, rain and hail to excess; lightning strikes in rapid succession over and over again, and indeed there is an earthquake. […] At high noon the heavens cloud over completely, there is no light except when the sky is rent by lightning. No one sees this without becoming very terrified. Many say: “This is the end of all things, the end of the world that we are witnessing!” They do not know, they do not talk sense: this is the great mourning for the death of Roland.] 20 21 22



Christopher Harper-Bill, ‘The Piety of the Anglo-Norman Knightly Class’, Anglo-Norman Studies 2 (1979), 63–77, at p. 64. Harper-Bill, ‘Piety’, pp. 63–64. See for example the summary by Fred C. Robinson, ‘Beowulf’, in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 142– 59, esp. pp. 151–52. E.O. Blake, ‘The Formation of the “Crusade Idea”’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 21 (1970), 11–31, at p. 14; Jean-Charles Payen, ‘Une poétique du génocide joyeux’, Olifant 6 (1979), 226– 36, at p. 228. See also Ralph of Caen on the enthusiastic reaction of Tancred, trans. Jonathan Riley-Smith in The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (London, 1986), p. 36. La chanson de Roland, ed./trans. Gerard J. Brault (University Park PA, 1984), lines 1423–37.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance However, there is a noticeable flaw in this construction of the earthly hero, aside from the specificity of its application to the prosecution of (preferably successful) military campaigns in Spain and in the Holy Land. This confluence with Christ, the superlative ideal which we might hold up as the missing medieval hero, is fully achieved only with the putative hero’s death: ‘Sun destre guant en ad vers Deu tendut,/ Angles del ciel i descendent a lui’25 [‘He offered his right gauntlet to God; angels from heaven descend toward him’]. This left the medieval narrative with an unresolved difficulty: how might it represent a living ideal of human activity, in order to celebrate earthly success? How, in short, might it create and sustain the figure of the worldly, living hero? This was supremely the question of the twelfth century, for it was during this period that fictional narrative seems to have enjoyed a renaissance, in the form of the vernacular verse romance. At the simplest level, the romance emerged as the narrative of the individual’s movement through society, structured around the progress of its chief protagonist. More importantly, the romance protagonist is not sacrificed in the service of a higher cause, as Roland was, demonstrating his merveillus vasselage; the chief character of the romance could not die in medias res. The whole purpose of the narrative is the recording of his progress – the achievements and eventual apotheosis of the main character – for its own sake. If the twelfth century ‘discovered the individual’, as the famous formulation has it,26 then a consequence of that discovery was a renewed desire to elevate him: in other words, to recreate the hero. It is now well accepted that the French language romances of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries may be divided into two distinct traditions: the insular, written in these islands, characterized by a historical and geographical specificity, mainly drawing their material from the history and pseudo-history of pre-Conquest England; and the continental, including most importantly the Arthurian romance, written in continental Francophone territory, and characterized by a free fictionality, and extensive development of courtly psychology.27 These contrasting textual traditions, which remained surprisingly distinct despite circumstances of shared audience reception, developed different strategies by which to represent their protagonists’ superlative qualities – in effect, they constructed the hero, or sought to fashion him, in contrasting ways: and, I will argue, with differing success. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s pseudo-history had endowed the Arthurian myth with an ambivalent, but always available, historical authority,28 but this potential was 25 26



La chanson de Roland, lines 2373–74. See, e.g., Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual, 1050–1200 (London, 1972); Caroline Walker Bynum, ‘Did the twelfth century discover the individual?’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 31 (1980), 1–17. Amongst others see: Rosalind Field, ‘Romance as History, History as Romance’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol M. Meale (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 163–73; Field, ‘Romance in England, 1066–1400’, in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 152–76; Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley CA, 1986); D.H. Green, The Beginnings of Medieval Romance (Cambridge, 2002); Laura Ashe, Fiction and History in England, 1066–1200 (Cambridge, 2007), esp. cap. 3. See for example the too-lengthy protestations of his most enthusiastic twelfth-century detractor, William of Newburgh in his Preface to the Historia Rerum Anglicarum, ed. Richard Howlett in Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, 4 vols. (London, 1884–89),


Laura Ashe received in different ways by different authors. As the legend became a vernacular, and continental, literary phenomenon during the twelfth century, the historical emphasis began to give way to an ideology of cultural behaviour, a self-reflexive celebration of the aspirations of the aristocratic élites. This transition is apparent from the small touches Wace adds to his translation of Geoffrey’s chronicle, into which he lodges the seeds of the later Arthurian romance. In the Latin chronicle, when a messenger comes from Rome to Arthur’s court in order to declare war on the king, Geoffrey has the knight Cador stand up to express his pleasure: ‘Idleness makes cowards (ignavos) of us’, he says; ‘God has stirred up the Romans in order to free us from our sloth’.29 War is welcomed as a necessity and their due. But when Wace translated this speech, he added a reply from Gawain: ‘Sire cuens,’ dist Walwein, ‘par fei, De neient estes en effrei. Bone est la pais emprés la guerre, Plus bele e mieldre en est la terre; Mult sunt bones les gaberies E bones sunt les drueries. Pur amistié e pur amies Funt chevaliers chevaleries.’30 [‘Indeed, my lord count,’ said Gawain, ‘you are upset about nothing. Peace is good after war and the land is the better and lovelier for it. Jokes are excellent and so are love affairs. It’s for love and their beloved that knights do knightly deeds.’] Looking back at this mid-twelfth century moment, it is difficult to acknowledge adequately the revolutionary quality of the statement that ‘pur amistié e pur amies/ Funt chevaliers chevaleries’.31 As an ethical theory it left much unsaid, encompassing a transformation on every level, from a world in which the noble warrior retainer, vassal or barun or þegn or eorl, fought for dulce France or Chrestïentet or Godes lage or Englalond, for his king or lord – ‘Pur nostre rei duvum nus ben murir:/ Chrestïentet aidez a sustenir!’, showing the compulsion ‘lif forlætan oððe leofne gewrecan’32 – to one in which the newly-formulated chivalric knight performs deeds to the greater

29 30 31


1:1–408, 2:409–500. Gerald of Wales is famous for mocking Geoffrey’s book, associating it with the attentions of demons, but he also frequently referred to Merlin’s prophecies, and used Geoffrey’s Arthur’s empire as a justification for Henry II’s rule over Ireland: see Itinerarium Kambriae, ed. James F. Dimock, in Giraldi Cambrensis: Opera, ed. J.S. Brewer, J.F. Dimock and G.F. Warner, 8 vols, RS 21 (London, 1861–91), 6:1–152, i. 5, at p. 58; trans. Lewis Thorpe, The Journey Through Wales (Harmondsworth, 1978), pp. 117–18; Expugnatio Hibernica, ed./trans. A.B. Scott and F.X. Martin (Dublin, 1978), pp. 148–49 and n. 161 on p. 313. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae, IX. 15. See The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth, 1966), pp. 231–32. Wace, Roman de Brut, ed./trans. Judith Weiss, EMETS (Exeter, 2002), lines 10765–72. This association was to become ‘a true “constitutive model” for most medieval romances’ according to Cesare Segre in ‘What Bakhtin Left Unsaid: The Case of the Medieval Romance’, trans. Elise Morse, in Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrétien de Troyes to Cervantes, ed. Kevin Brownlee and Marina Scordilis Brownlee (Hanover NH, 1985), pp. 23–46, at p. 36. La chanson de Roland, lines 1128–29: ‘We must die well for our king: help to sustain Christianity!’; The Battle of Maldon, ed./trans. Treharne, Old and Middle English, pp. 141–55, line 208: ‘to give up their life or to avenge their beloved lord’.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance glory of his self and his beloved. A limited, inviolable, ancient set of motivations, which had long drawn flawed men into heroic deeds, was exchanged for a circularity of purpose, which dictated that a man might be regarded as a hero by means of actions performed for the very purpose of drawing that regard. This construction of the hero was highly artificial, in every sense of the term. One corollary of its creation was the complementary effect on the hero’s setting, and the narrative framing, as much as on the representation of his character: Li boins roys Artus de Bretaigne, La qui proeche nous ensengne Que nous soions preus et courtois, Tint court si riche comme rois A chele feste qui tant couste, C’on doit nommer le Penthecouste. Li rois fu a Cardoeil en Gales. Aprés mengier, par mi les sales, Li chevalier s’atropelerent La ou dames les apelerent Ou damoiseles ou pucheles. Li un recontoient nouveles, Li autres parloient d’Amours, Des angousses et des dolours Et des grant biens qu’en ont souvant Li desiple de son couvant, Qui lors estoit riches et boens; Mais or y a molt poi des siens, Qui a bien pres l’ont tuit laissie, S’en est Amours mout abaissie […] Mais pour parler de chix qui furent Laissons chix qui en vie durent, Qu’encor vaut mix, che m’est a vis, Un courtois mors c’uns vilains vis. Pour che me plaist a reconter Chose qui faiche a escouter Du roy qui fu de tel tesmoing C’on en parole pres et loing; Si m’acort de tant ad Bretons Que tous jours mais dura ses nons; Et par lui sont ramenteü Li boin chevalier esleü Qui en amor se traveillierent.33 [Arthur, the good king of Britain whose valour teaches us to be brave and courteous, held a court of truly royal splendour at that most costly feast known as Pentecost. The king was at Carlisle in Wales. After dining, the knights gathered in the halls at the invitation of ladies, damsels, or 33

Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, ed. David F. Hult, in Chrétien de Troyes: Romans (Paris, 1994), pp. 705–936, lines 1–41.


Laura Ashe maidens. Some told of past adventures, others spoke of love: of the anguish and sorrows, but also of the great blessings often enjoyed by the disciples of its order, which in those days was sweet and flourishing. But today very few serve love: nearly everyone has abandoned it, and love is greatly abased […] But let us look beyond those who are present among us and speak now of those who were, for to my mind a courteous man, though dead, is worth more than a living knave. Therefore it is my pleasure to tell something worthy to be heard about the king whose fame was such that men still speak of him both near and far; and I agree wholly with the Bretons that this fame will last forever, and through him we can recall those good chosen knights who dedicated themselves to love.]34 The historical foundation of the legend is purposely diluted and occluded, and with that comes a change in the moral justification of the text. The value arrogated to the Arthurian romance is subtly but vitally different from that which lay behind historical writing, whether explicit or implicit: that it would both inform and instruct.35 Here the value of the long-past court of King Arthur is offered without reference to its supposed place in history; it is worthy of remembrance because it reminds us how to behave. No longer history, a text written by God, but rather a display of the skill of the poet in composing his mult bele conjointure, moral interpretation of the Arthurian romance now rests in the person and conduct of the protagonist.36 The setting is drastically attenuated. Geographically and chronologically obscure to the point of abstraction, the past, the court and the forest alike serve only as a landscape through which the hero may move, as he is challenged, tested, and proves his valour, in a series of trials designed solely, and precisely, for that purpose.37 Love and reputation are figured as the external demonstration of the knight’s inner worth, effectively taking the functional place of the heroic death. The chivalric knight’s heroism, his reputation, or as Malory called it, his worship, subsists in a series of inter-referential and mutually confirmatory layers: the mind and heart of the imagined beloved, the estimation of his fellow knights, his intertextual existence, and, perhaps most importantly, his fame with the extratextual aristocratic audience. The effect is to cut the hero loose from his traditional service, his self-sacrifice to a larger principle. No longer engaged in the defence of Christendom, or of his nation or king, the Arthurian knight is instead involved in the creation of heroism itself, in what we 34


36 37

Trans. W.W. Kibler, in Chretien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances (London, 1991), p. 295, with one key change: Kibler translates line 41 as those ‘who strove for honour’. This decision is itself illustrative of the strangeness of the poet’s statement. Cf. Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum, ed./trans. Diana Greenway (Oxford, 1996), ‘Prologue’, pp. 2–9, at pp. 4–5: ‘Sic etiam in rebus gestis omniun gentium et nationum, que utique Dei iudicia sunt, benignitas, munificentia, probitas, cautela et his similia, et contraria, non solum spirituales ad bonum accendunt et a malo repellunt, sed etiam seculares ad bona sollicitant et in malis minuunt.’ [‘So, indeed, in the recorded deeds of all peoples and nations, which are the very judgements of God, clemency, generosity, honesty, caution and the like, and their opposites, not only provoke men of the spirit to what is good and deter them from evil, but even encourage worldly men to good deeds and reduce their wickedness.’] Cf. Lee Patterson, Negotiating the Past (Madison WI, 1987), pp. 208–209. The classic statement of this perspective is by Erich Auerbach in ‘The Knight sets forth’, in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1953; repr. 1991), pp. 123–42.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance might call a pure form: a hero admired by an audience, created by the audience’s willingness to admire. But it remains unclear, and certainly unproven, that heroism is a thing which can be created sui generis, as it were; heroic stature had always been the by-product of the warrior’s actions, not their purpose. And most dangerously of all, this structure goes no way toward addressing the challenge posed to the secular hero by Christianity, and the sufferings of Christ. The logic of this ideological challenge was indisputable. If the knight’s goal is not defence of an ideal, but rather his own perfectibility and glory, then that can only, sensibly, mean the perfectibility of the soul in search of God. Thus within decades of the invention of the chivalric knight, as Gabrielle Spiegel has observed, the Christian cause made its reappearance as the justification of the hero, in the form of the Grail Quest: ‘Already by the end of the twelfth century, chivalric ideology within the romans underwent a process of spiritualization by which the ethical codes and mores of the knightly classes were reinscribed according to the values of a pervasive Christian ethos’.38 The Grail Quest, for all its immense popularity, wrought irreparable damage upon the secular, chivalric hero and the Arthurian court.39 The holy quest restored the structure of the knight’s meeting his apotheosis with his death, because the successful Grail knight – Perceval, Galahad – is welcomed into heaven. His departure leaves the court denuded and embattled, its purpose ostensibly fulfilled, its remaining inhabitants marked by their failure. The return of the partially-successful knight, Bors, only serves to illuminate the severe contrast with the triumphal return characteristic of the romance’s formulaic, secular quest: Quant Boorz fu venuz a cort en la cité meïsmes de Kamaalot de si lointeingnes terres comme sont les parties de Jerusalem, assez trouva a court qui grant joie li fist; que moult le desirroient tuit et totes a veoir. Et quant il ot aconté le trespassement de Galaad et la mort Perceval, si en furent tuit moult dolent a court […li rois] dist: “Seigneur, gardez entre vos quanz de voz compaignons nos avons perduz en ceste queste.” Et il i gardent meintenant, si trouverent qu’il leur en failloit trente et deus par conte […] Li rois avoit oï consonner que messires Gauvains en avoit ocis pluseurs, si le fist venir par devant lui […] “Sire,” fet messires Gauvains, “vos voulez estre certeins de ma grant mescheance; […] sachiez bien que ce n’a pas esté par ma chevalerie, mes par mon pechié; si m’avez fet dire ma honte.” […] Et li rois, por ce qu’il veoit que les aventures del roiaume de Logres estoient si menees a fin qu’il n’en avenoit mes nule se petit non, fist crier un tornoiement en la praerie de Wincestre, por ce qu’il ne vouloit pas toutevoies que si compaignon lessassent a porter armes. Mes comment que Lancelos se fust tenuz chastement […] si tost comme il fu venuz a cort, il ne demora pas un mois

38 39

Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in ThirteenthCentury France (Berkeley CA, 1993), p. 153. For a description and discussion of the numerous and lengthy thirteenth-century French versions and continuations of the Grail cycle, see chapters 6, 7 and 9 of The Arthur of the French, ed. Glyn S. Burgess and Karen Pratt (Cardiff, 2006), pp. 215–324, 342–92.


Laura Ashe aprés que il fu autresi espris et alumez come il avoit onques esté plus nul jor, si qu’il rencheï el pechié de la reïne autresi comme il avoit fet autrefoiz.40 [When Bors arrived at court in the city of Camelot from the faraway lands of Jerusalem, he found much there that brought him great joy, because everyone was very anxious to see him. When he told them about the passing of Galahad and the death of Perceval, they were all very saddened at court […] The king said: “My lords, look among you and count how many of your companions we have lost on this quest.” They looked and found there were as many as thirty-two missing […] The king had heard the rumour that Gawain had killed several of them, and he summoned him before him […] “My lord,” said Sir Gawain, “you obviously wish to be certain of my great misfortune […] it did not come about through my chivalry, but through my sin. You have made me reveal my shame.” […] And since the king saw that adventures had so declined in the kingdom of Logres that hardly any more took place anywhere, he ordered a tournament to be announced at Winchester, because he nevertheless did not want his companions to cease wearing arms. But although Lancelot had begun to live chastely […] when he returned to court it took him less than a month to become just as deeply and ardently in love as he had ever been, and he fell back into sin with the queen just as before.] Here the atmosphere of aftermath overwhelms all else; adventures are over, many companions have been lost, and the two most important knights of the Round Table are in a state of sin – explicitly, not chevalerie, but pechié. The Arthurian legend never shook off this disturbing paradigm, though it could be said that it learned to live with it. These difficulties were still in play three hundred years later, when Malory sought to celebrate the achievements of the most famous Arthurian knight of the French tradition. He gave Lancelot supreme status, and yet nevertheless found it oddly difficult to describe the qualities of his near-hero: ‘A, Launcelot!’ he [Hector] sayd, ‘thou were hede of al Crysten knyghtes! And now I dare say,’ sayd syr Ector, ‘thou sir Launcelot, there thou lyest, that thou were neuer matched of erthely knyghtes hande. And thou were the curtest knyght that ever bare shelde! And thou were the truest frende to thy lovar that ever bestrade hors, thou were the trewest lover, of a synful man, that ever loued woman, and thou were the kyndest man that euer strake wyth swerde. And thou were the godelyest persone that ever cam emonge prees of knyghtes, and thou was the mekest man and the jentyllest that ever ete in halle emonge ladyes, and thou were the sternest knyght to thy mortal foo that euer put spere in the reeste.’41 The mourning fellow-knight is left attempting to define Lancelot’s qualities in a curiously weak and culturally specific formulation of politesse; he has no working terminology with which to assert that the man was simply, or in any way transcendently, a hero. We might note the glaring omission, that Hector does not, 40 41

La mort le roi Artu, ed. Jean Frappier (Geneva, 1996), pp. 1–3. Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur, ed. Eugène Vinaver as Malory: Works (Oxford, 1971), p. 725.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance cannot say that Lancelot ever made the world a better place. He fought for no cause other than his own perfectibility, and the emptiness of that structure is readily exposed. He is an ‘erthely knyght’, ‘a synful man’ and he has failed in the Christian quest, the Grail Quest; but the difficulty is not simply that no other success is sufficient to balance that failure. More profoundly, it is difficult to identify any achievement at all. Lancelot was the most knightly of knights: but should knighthood not have some purpose beyond the promotion of its own existence? Thus the continental French tradition of the Arthurian knight, brought to fruition in England with Malory’s wholehearted adoption of Lancelot, functions as a neat illustration of the Middle Ages’ problems with heroes. But in England, the romance could work very differently, and the romance protagonist likewise. The first appearance of the Arthurian story in English, from the early thirteenth century, offers a striking illustration of the tonal contrast. La3amon’s Brut is not itself a romance, but it was written in the context of an established romance tradition – a tradition characterized by that historical and geographical specificity, a concern with lineage and inheritance, which allied the insular romance with contemporary vernacular chronicles, rather than with the romances of the continent.42 It is this tradition which goes some way to explain La3amon’s decision – surely consciously made – not to translate the romances of Chrétien de Troyes, but rather Wace’s rendition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s pseudo-history: to site his version firmly in the tradition of historical chronicle. Furthermore, La3amon made some meticulously instructive alterations to his source, which moved the English text even further away from the concerns characteristic of continental writing. When he came to translate the argument between Cador and Gawain, he significantly altered Gawain’s reply: Þat iherde Walwain; þe wes Arðures mæi. and wraððede hine wið Cador swiðe; þa þas word kende. and þus andswærede; Walwain þe sele. Cador þu ært a riche mon; þine rædes ne beoð noht idon. for god is grið; and god is frið; þe freoliche þer haldeð wið. and Godd sulf hit makede; þurh his Godd-cunde. for grið makeð godne mon; gode workes wurchen. for alle monnen bið þa bet; þat lond bið þa murgre.43 [Gawain, who was Arthur’s kinsman, heard that and was greatly enraged with Cador who had uttered these words; and the noble Gawain replied thus: “Peace and quiet are good if one maintains them willingly – and God himself in his divinity created them – for peace allows a good man to do good deeds whereby all men are better and the land the happier.”]44 This is a different view of peace, and it is symptomatic of the development, in the romance literature of England, of a different type of hero: not the lone knight seeking glory, but the hero-king, the war leader and peace-bringer. This was a powerful, living, fully-functioning model, which might justifiably be regarded as that 42 43 44

See Field, ‘Romance as History’; Ashe, Fiction and History, cap 3. La3amon Brut, ed. G.L. Brook and R.F. Leslie, EETS OS 250, 277 (London, 1963, 1978), lines 12426–58. Translated by W.R.J. Barron and S.C. Weinberg, in Layamon’s Arthur (Exeter, 2001), p. 163.


Laura Ashe of the ‘hero’. It was in this cultural context that the Norman and Angevin kings were judged by contemporary chroniclers: the first requirement of the king of England was summarized, in entirely conventional terms, by Gerald of Wales’ praise of Henry II: ‘He not only brought strong peace with the aid of God’s grace to his hereditary dominions, but also triumphed victoriously in remote and foreign lands.’45 As Robert Rouse demonstrates in the present volume, the association of peace-keeping with good kingship was widespread in medieval culture. But I will suggest that there is something distinctive and important about the sudden appearance of such figures as heroes in twelfth-century insular romance, in direct contemporary contrast with Chrétien’s Arthurian knight. These romances, drawn from the history and pseudohistory of pre-Conquest England, most importantly persisted with their claim to be historical, to be true. And they were shaped around this unproblematic hero, a figure of perfection who regains his usurped throne, conquers his enemies, and establishes peace and justice throughout the land. Two good and early examples are the stories of Horn and Haveloc. The Lai d’Haveloc (c. 1200) was taken from an episode in Geffrei Gaimar’s vernacular adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Estoire des Engleis (c. 1136–37);46 it appeared in an English version, Havelok, before 1300.47 The Roman de Horn (c. 1172) is one of the most accomplished of the Anglo-Norman romances.48 The earliest English version, King Horn, probably derived from another source, dates from the late thirteenth century.49 The narrative force of these romances is given by the hero’s unjust disinheritance as a child; over the romance he grows up, fights, and reclaims his kingdom. The pattern of exile-and-return, which is characteristic of the insular romance,50 allows for a species of narrative momentum which is ‘evenemential’, rather than developmental: which is to say that the character need not exhibit flaws or failures which the progress of the narrative corrects, as is the case in the romance of the individual Arthurian knight. Here, by contrast, it is the world around the protagonist that must be corrected, and the potential exists for the hero himself to be represented in a state of unchanging perfection. Such potential is fully exploited in the figures of Horn and Haveloc. These hero-kings are God’s instruments, defending his law in the recovery and defence of their kingdoms, bringing peace and justice, ruling wisely and with unfailing strength. 45 46

47 48



Giraldi Cambrensis, Opera, 8:156. Ed. Alexander Bell in Le Lai d’Haveloc and Gaimar’s Haveloc Episode (Manchester, 1925); English translation by Judith Weiss, in The Birth of Romance (London, 1992), pp. 141–58. See also Ruth J. Dean and Maureen B.M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (London, 1999), no. 152, p. 89 (Haveloc) and no. 1, p. 1 (Gaimar). Havelok the Dane, ed. G.V. Smithers (Oxford, 1987). Ed. Mildred K. Pope and T.B.W. Reid, 2 vols, ANTS 9–10 (Oxford, 1955, 1964); English translation by Weiss, in Birth of Romance, pp. 1–120; Dean and Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature, no. 151, p. 88. King Horn, ed. Rosamund Allen (New York, 1984). Although traditionally dated to c. 1225, recent work has placed the poem later in the century: see Rosamund Allen, ‘Date and Provenance of King Horn: Some Interim Reassessments’, in Medieval English Studies Presented to George Kane, ed. Edward Donald Kennedy, Ronald Waldron and Joseph S. Wittig (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 99–126. See Rosalind Field, ‘The King Over the Water: Exile-and-Return Revisited’, in Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England, ed. Corinne Saunders (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 41– 53, and Laura Ashe, ‘“Exile-and-return” and English Law: The Anglo-Saxon inheritance of insular romance’, Literature Compass 3 (2006), 300–17.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance In order to shore up the perfection of the fighting hero, the English poets pitted him against enemies of historically real and long-established alterity. Horn fights against waves of pagan invaders, and defeats them explicitly by means of the combination of God’s word and his sword: En sun poing tint le brant, ki fud clers e letrez; Escrit i est li granz nuns de Deu de maiestez. (Horn, lines 3181–82) [In his hand he held his sword, shining and inscribed, the great name of God written upon it.] Horn se fet baud e led; sa bataille ad vencue: N’i ad paen ateint la teste n’ait perdue, Si cum ainz fud de Deu la chose purveüe, Ki sa lei ad par Horn tenséé e defendue. (lines 1709–12) [Horn rejoiced and was glad; he had won his battle. Not a pagan he reached had not lost his head, as God had ordained matters in advance, who, through Horn, had protected and defended His law.] Importantly, the force of the narrative lies with Horn’s success, and not with his sacrifice. He is a Christian warrior like his predecessor Roland, but the romance requires that he survive every battle, and live to avenge his father and rule his kingdom: Qu’en dirreie or avant? la terre ad seisie E de lunc e de lé l’at trestute en baillie; N’i remeint un tout sul de la gent paenie, U les met tuz a mort u lur lei unt guerpie. Entre ses chevaler l’a pus ben departie Sulunc ço ke il sunt, ke nul ne grusce mie, N’entre bons n’entre mals n’i ad point d’envie. (lines 4848–54) [What more should I say? He seized the land and completely took possession of it; not a single one of the pagan folk remained. Either he put them all to death or they gave up their creed. Then he divided it fittingly amongst his knights, according to their rank, so no-one grumbled, no-one felt any envy.] Horn rules his lands in peace until his death in old age – and his son, we are told, goes on to conquer all of Africa from the pagans (lines 5220–48). In a similar manner, Haveloc’s victories over another kind of ancient enemy, the treacherous usurper and tyrant, are crowned by the peaceful redistribution of land and wealth, and he too rules, as it were, happily ever after: Par le conseil de ses privez Al rei Daneis s’est acordez, Par fiance l’aseura E salfs ostages li bailla, Tote la terre li rendi K’Achebrit tint quant li vesqui. De Hoilant tresk’en Colecestre Furent Daneis seignur e mestre. 143

Laura Ashe Mes Aveloc sa feste tint A la cité quant il i vint; Des baruns recut les homages Si lur rendi lur heritages. […] Li barun les unt receuz E citez e chastels renduz; Aveloc tint en sa baillie Nichole e tote Lindesie. (Lai d’Haveloc, lines 1087–106) [By his privy councillors’ advice he was reconciled with the Danish king [Haveloc], made him firm pledges and handed over reliable hostages. He restored to him all the land which Achebrit held in his lifetime. From Holland [south-east Lincolnshire] to Colchester the Danes were lords and masters. But Haveloc, when he came to the city, held a feast there; he received the barons’ homage and reconfirmed their hereditary rights. […] The barons accepted them [Haveloc and Argentille] and surrendered cities and castles; Haveloc had Lincoln and all Lindsey in his control.] The English Havelok makes the most of the ideological possibilities of the story, rendering it a nationalistic and triumphant tale of good governance, and of the peaceful rule of all England:51 It was a king bi are-dawes That in his time were gode lawes He dede maken an ful wel holden. […] Þanne was Engelond at hayse – Michel was svich a king to preyse Þat held so Englond in grith! (Havelok, lines 27–61) Thus a striking comparison emerges, which illustrates the strength and coherence of this newly constructed hero. He fights with the justice of a Roland, but is not sacrificed to the higher cause; instead, he is the earthly embodiment of that cause. Unlike the Arthurian knight, there is an exterior purpose to his success, a destiny that he fulfils; and unlike the Arthurian forest, the world in which he moves is as ‘real’ as he is, a place of historical and geographical specificity, a country populated (albeit dimly) by a people who must be governed. The idea of the king thus effectively takes the place of the hero. Even in the Old English period it could be argued ‘king’ could – with a positive modifier – represent ‘hero’. The formula ‘þat wæs god cyning’ [‘He was a good king’] and its variants in Beowulf perhaps amount to an assertion of the heroism implicit in good kingship.52 But the potential of this idea subsequently received a new force unavailable to Beowulf, by means of an alignment of English history with God’s providence.53 Beowulf’s long, just rule of the Geats is, in effect, marginalized by the poet’s rapid 51

52 53

See Thorlac Turville-Petre, ‘Havelok and the History of the Nation’, in Readings in Medieval English Romance, ed. Carol M. Meale (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 121–34; Robert Allen Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 93–133; Ashe, ‘“Exile-and-return” and English law’. Beowulf, ed. F. Klaeber (Lexington MA, 1950), lines 11, 2390. See Ashe, Fiction and History, cap. 2.


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance and doom-laden movement through ‘fiftig wintra’ to the day of his death. Beowulf’s heroism lay in his near-superhuman ability to keep out the dark, in a constant struggle; but in the absence of Christian purpose, this effort is defined by its transience, the inevitable passing of his ‘lændagas’, his ‘borrowed days’. By contrast, it is the death of the twelfth-century hero-king Horn or Haveloc that is, in effect, marginalized; the emphasis is upon his life’s fulfilment of divine purpose. And in contrast with the earlier Christian hero, Roland, this collocation works because in the king’s fighting for the wellbeing of the kingdom, he fights for a cause which is both greater than himself and yet irrevocably dependent upon him – and so he is both eternally justified and entirely indispensible; there is no need, and indeed it is impossible without tragedy, to sacrifice him. The king of the English romance, then, is an audacious response to the problem of the medieval hero because he is God’s instrument of rule on earth: in other words, he is the representative of God the father, rather than an emulator of God the son. Instead of being Christlike in his death, this hero-king is Godlike in his life. Peace and justice, those gifts of God, are now delivered by the powerful English king. I am arguing, then, that the romances of post-Conquest England found some ideological means by which they could plausibly address the problem of the medieval hero. Further, I suggest that in doing so they display a collocation of ideas whose grouping was distinctive to the culture of Angevin England. I believe that this has something to do with the effect of the idea of England, and what it is to be English: an idea which gained its particular force from the vast and imposing inheritance of Anglo-Saxon law and government, applying fruitful pressure upon an immigrant aristocracy.54 The early English kingdom possessed a unique strength and unity as a regnal community, shored up by a strong sense of collective identity;55 for hundreds of years before the Conquest, the English people, the Angelcynn, had felt themselves to be a single nation distinguished by their loyalty to the country and its king.56 The victory at Hastings, then, gave William control over all England precisely because the country had been ruled so successfully by the machinery of Anglo-Saxon royal government. When the Conqueror demanded the writing of Domesday Book, its organisation was dictated by the Anglo-Saxon shire system. When Norman and Angevin kings and officials came to write down the laws of the land, it was Anglo54



On pre-Conquest English state and government, see James Campbell, ‘The late Anglo-Saxon state: a maximum view’, Proceedings of the British Academy 87 (1994), 39–65; Campbell, ‘Some agents and agencies of the late Anglo-Saxon state’, in Anglo-Saxon History: Basic Readings, ed. David A.E. Pelteret (New York, 2000), pp. 225–49; and his The Anglo-Saxon State (London, 2000); but, for a more cautious line, see Sarah Foot, ‘The historiography of the Anglo-Saxon “nation-state”’, in Power and the Nation in European History, ed. Len Scales and Oliver Zimmer (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 125–42. On the precocity of Anglo-Norman literature, culture and law, see Ian Short, ‘Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England’, Anglo-Norman Studies 14 (1991), 229–49; John Gillingham, The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values (Woodbridge, 2000); Paul Brand, The Making of the Common Law (London, 1992), pp. 77–102; and Ashe, Fiction and History. See Patrick Wormald, ‘Engla Lond: The Making of an Allegiance’, Journal of Historical Sociology 7 (1994), 1–24; Sarah Foot, ‘The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity before the Norman Conquest’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th ser., 6 (1996), 25–49; Alfred P. Smyth, ‘The emergence of English identity, 700–1000’, in Medieval Europeans: Studies in Ethnic Identity and National Perspectives in Medieval Europe, ed. Smyth (Basingstoke, 1998), pp. 24–52. Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900–1300 (Oxford, 1997), pp. 262–67.


Laura Ashe Saxon precedent which prevailed. And the Norman revolution in landholding only made their ties to this tradition stronger: the immigrant aristocracy could not ascribe its nobility to long precedent – most of them came to the country as opportunists with only obscure origins – but they were ennobled by their holding of English land from the king.57 And when Anglo-Norman historians came to write the history of their country, they spoke of its continuity, its beauty, its spiritual and material wealth throughout history, and their love of and loyalty to it.58 The effect of all this conscious and unconscious shaping, of literature, culture and law, was to bind the Normans ever more tightly to the land, and to make that land a mythical creation, a sacred space, which was the subject of continual ideological re-imaginings. This in turn supplied an unusually vigorous force to the idea of the hero-king, as the royal embodiment of that land. Post-Conquest English kingship was necessarily constructed as a property of geographical definition and historical providence, in the absence of genealogical inheritance from the Old English line.59 Continuity was fashioned instead from the writing of the history of England, and in the ascription of God’s intervention to that history. I suggest that these properties in turn bequeathed their ideological force to the romance, and that the romance thus mirrors – and reinforces – this cultural imperative, of reconstructing the integrity of England and its king. In the absence of unambiguous terminology by which to designate the hero, medieval vernacular writers thus faced a particular challenge. As they sought to justify their insistence upon the importance and virtue of their central, secular, male protagonists, the poets of different literary traditions evolved different strategies by which to address the difficulty. In contrast with the ambivalence of the Arthurian knight, the insular romance formulated an idealized hero-king, fighting on God’s behalf for the cause of justice and for the people of his land. In this sense, then, the Anglo-Norman and Middle English romances of England, in the absence of a clear terminology of heroism, instead developed a self-consciously localized ethos of lordship and kingship. There was, perhaps, a brief literary period during which insular romance fully exploited this potential. The bonds of romance to the country’s history, which had endowed it with moral significance, equally threatened its ideological success, by binding it to the ambivalent fortunes of historical events. These romances, notably, do not invariably end happily; the insular hero is not always perfect. But in response to the extreme cultural and political trauma of the Conquest, English writers seem to 57 58


J.C. Holt, ‘Feudal Society and the Family in Early Medieval England, I: The Revolution of 1066’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser., 32 (1982), 193–212. See, e.g., William of Malmesbury’s Preface to his Gesta Regum Anglorum, ed./trans. R.A.B. Mynors, rev. and completed by R.M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols (Oxford, 1998– 99); Henry of Huntingdon’s description of England at the opening of Book I of the Historia Anglorum, ed. Diana Greenway (Oxford, 1996), pp. 12–14. See also R.R. Darlington, AngloNorman Historians: An Inaugural Lecture (London, 1947), p. 18; Ian Short, ‘Tam Angli quam Franci: Self-definition in Anglo-Norman England’, Anglo-Norman Studies 18 (1995), 153–75. Nevertheless, matter was certainly made in some quarters of Henry II’s English inheritance, via his grandmother Mathilda/Maud, the great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, halfbrother of Edward the Confessor: see David C. Douglas and George W. Greenaway, eds., English Historical Documents 1042–1189 (1953; London, 1981) genealogical table 1; Ailred of Rievaulx, Genealogia regum Anglorum, in PL 195, cols 711–38, and Vita S. Edwardi regis, in PL 195, cols 737–90, at col. 774 (relevant passage translated in Ashe, Fiction and History, cap. 1).


The Hero and his Realm in Medieval English Romance have constructed a sort of insular hero, just as its historians, legislators and rulers reconstructed the kingdom, and the idea, of England.


10 ‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone JUDITH WEISS In Boeve de Haumtone, the earliest version of the Bevis story,1 there is a line that praises the hero as: ‘li pruz e li sené, li curteis guerer’ (the valiant and wise, the courteous warrior, line 2791). These terms, especially curteis and guerer, provoke questions about generic boundaries and, in particular, about the extent to which early insular romance might be said to escape the generic boundaries of ‘romance’ more generally. We might relate this issue to Horace’s concept of decorum: characters should speak and behave appropriately according to their rank and the genre to which they are allotted, and genres such as tragedy and comedy should be firmly separated. To what extent, then, is the protagonist of Boeve either curteis or guerer? And for that matter, how courtly or warlike is the whole poem? Are the two kinds of behaviour not incompatible in either epic or romance? To what genre does it belong?2 In fact, Boeve is one of those interesting Anglo-Norman hybrids which first appear with Le Roman de Horn (c. 1170) and include a poem about Alexander, Le Roman de Toute Chevalerie by Thomas of Kent (1175–85), and Otinel (twelfth century). They are all ‘epic’ in that they are in the laisse form of French epic narrative, the chanson de geste. which travelled to Britain with William the Conqueror and which appears to have been popular here.3 Their content, too, fits ideas of epic: they contain plenty of fighting, mostly against ‘Saracens’. They are, however, usually labelled ‘romances’ by modern editors, presumably because of the prominent presence in them of women and love.4 But several continental chansons de geste contain a mixture of these same 1


3 4

Boeve de Haumtone can probably be dated to the 1190s. See Judith Weiss, ‘The Date of the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone’, Medium Aevum 55 (1986), 238–41. The text is edited by Albert Stimming as Der Anglonormannische Boeve de Haumtone (Halle, 1899). For Horace’s views, see his Ars Poetica, ed./trans. H.R. Fairclough, in Horace: Satires, Epistles, Ars Poetica (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1970), pp. 450–89, at pp. 457–59; for genres creating ‘horizons of expectation’ see Tzvetan Todorov, Genres in Discourse, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, 1990), p. 18. See Rosalind Field, ‘Romance in England, 1066–1400’, in The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, ed. David Wallace (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 152–76 at p. 154. Divergent medieval labelling does not help. The Oxford MS of Horn entitles it De Horn bono milite, presumably thinking of its contents as predominantly martial; the two MSS of Alexander call it both romaunz and geste. See Thomas of Kent, The Anglo-Norman Alexander, ed. Brian Foster, 2 vols, Anglo-Norman Text Society 29–33 (London, 1977), vol. 2, pp. 2–3. The poet

Judith Weiss elements. The distinction between ‘epic’ and ‘romance’ may often be useful, but it raises problems of definition; and it also tends to imply a neat chronological distinction between them that is not easy to justify. As has recently been pointed out, romance doesn’t supersede chanson de geste but runs in tandem with it for a long time, the two genres existing contemporaneously in a dialogical relationship.5 The question of whether Boeve de Haumtone should be allocated to either chanson de geste or romance has recently been broached by Jean-Pierre Martin. He calls it ‘a paradoxical chanson de geste, but a chanson de geste all the same… on the margin of the two genres’.6 My focus is slightly different from his: I also want to look at the coexisting elements of epic and romance in Boeve, but I want to place it in the context of developments in twelfth-century chansons de geste and in insular romance (the latter is never considered by Martin), and I especially want to examine its comic passages. In particular I wish to consider what I believe were important textual influences: from the chansons de geste in the Guillaume cycle, from Fierabras, and from an insular contemporary poet, Hue de Rotelande. Unlike Martin, who attempts to define Boeve as a romance by appealing to its use of folkloric motifs and the motif of aventure (through which the hero ‘discovers and constructs himself’),7 I have tried to avoid the thorny problem of defining romance by taking my cue from the poetic line with which I began, and confining myself to dealing with one important, though by no means universal, aspect of romance: the courtly. As well as adopting the laisse form for his poem, it is clear the author of Boeve was much indebted to the content and style of chansons de geste. The first half of the line quoted earlier – li pruz e li sené – at once reminds us of the classic differentiation between Roland and Oliver. The poem’s combats are modelled on the pattern Rychner first pointed out as characteristic of French epic.8 The taunts over dead or defeated enemies are as black in their humour as in any chanson glorifying the crusading French. Boeve is a vigorous, brave, crude and arrogant hero unsurpassed for slaying Saracens, and Josiane, the heroine, is as enterprising and gifted as many of the beles sarrasines of continental French epic. Much of the action takes place in a vague Middle Eastern or North African setting, typical of many chansons de geste (such as Egypt, Damascus, Carthage); and although the outline of Boeve’s life corresponds to some extent with the exiled heroes of insular romance, there is remarkably little detailed interest in the English lands from which he is exiled. Indeed, in the second part of the romance, he seems to have become more French than English and ends


6 7 8

of Fierabras, usually labelled a chanson de geste, calls his work a romanz in the Didot MS, which also contained Boeve. See Boeve, ed. Stimming, p. vi. Sarah Kay, The Chansons de Geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions (Oxford, 1995), pp. 10, 240. Her introduction to this book considers the generic boundaries of chansons de geste; she classes Boeve as one although it does not meet her criterion of content (p. 8). Other critics refuse to make any sharp distinction between epic and romance: see David Burnley, ‘Comforting the troops: an epic moment in popular romance’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Maldwyn Mills, Jennifer Fellows and Carol Meale (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 175–86, at p. 175. For a concise account of different views on this subject, see Laura Ashe, National Identity, History and Romance: Vernacular Literature in Norman and Angevin England (Cambridge, 2007). Jean-Pierre Martin, ‘Beuve de Hantone entre roman et chanson de geste’, Littérales 31 (2003), 97– 112, at pp. 101, 111 (my translation). Martin, ‘Beuve’, pp. 102, 105, 107. Jean Rychner, La Chanson de Geste: Essai sur l’Art Epique des Jongleurs (Geneva, 1955).


‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone up dying in his North African kingdom of Monbrant. Boeve, then, seems very like a guerer from chanson de geste.9 Despite being labelled curteis – an attribute we tend to associate with romance, although it is not unknown in later chanson de geste – it is far from clear how courteous or courtly Boeve actually is. By comparison with the hero of the earlier Horn – a work of perhaps exceptional courtliness, and probably known to this poet10 – Boeve is not notable for good manners, education, skills, talents, wisdom (sen), temperance or self-control, all qualities we tend to associate with curteisie. The twelfth century does not of course bother to define what is curteis, but contexts for the early use of the word show it as a fluid and developing concept.11 Among insular writers, Gaimar (late 1130s) joins curteis to adjectives praising a man’s military tactics, so that it seems an adjunct to ‘brave’, as with his description of the fisherman who helps Hereward (lines 5498–500), or with his depiction of the clever way in which William Rufus’s generosity is used to attract and keep his followers (lines 5843–44). On the other hand, it is associated with the lineage, accomplishments, and especially beauty of women, even if they are not idealized (as in the story of Edgar).12 Wace introduces it in disconcerting contexts of violence and cruelty as well as military skill (Brenne) and royal strategy (Arthur), and, more familiarly, in connection with education and eloquence (Guinevere).13 Largesse, a quality praised in epic, continues to be praised and associated in romance with curteisie, and here Boeve scores: a messenger calls him curteis for his generosity to him (27). His future wife Josiane, the wooing woman so characteristic of chanson de geste, seen in so positive a light there but disapproved of by later romance, has the talents approved by both genres: she sings and plays the viele (104) as well as knowing enough magic to construct a belt which repels sexual advances.14 To call Boeve a curteis guerer is, then, not as paradoxical as it might first sound. His inclinations may be more to the battlefield, where his curteisie has more to do with military efficiency15 than to the bedroom or the chamber, but he and Josiane have some limited understanding of the concept as to do with acquired virtue linked to


10 11



14 15

See Martin, ‘Beuve’, p. 100, who sees the references to François merely as distinguishing Christian warriors from pagan ones, as in Crusader narratives. His sense of the ‘paradoxicality’ of the chanson de geste nature of Boeve is mostly because it has an English hero and an English king. See Judith Weiss, ‘Insular Beginnings: Anglo-Norman Romance’, in A Companion to Romance: from Classical to Contemporary, ed. Corinne Saunders (Oxford, 2004), pp. 26–44, at p. 33. For two excellent discussions of the vocabulary and early connotations of curteisie, see W.R.J. Barron and Françoise Le Saux, ‘Two Aspects of La3amon’s Narrative Art’, Arthurian Literature 9 (1989), 25–56, and Glyn Burgess, ‘Etude sur le terme cortois dans le français du XIIe siècle’, Travaux de Linguistique et de Philologie 31 (1993), 195–209. The story of King Edgar’s infatuation with Elftroed (3561–904) is given a courtly gloss; her beauty and talents are noticed with approval by the curteis (courtiers/courtly people, 3613). See Geffrei Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis, ed. Alexander Bell, Anglo-Norman Text Society 14–16 (Oxford, 1960). Judith Weiss, Wace’s Roman de Brut: A History of the British: Text and Translation, EMETS (Exeter, 2002), lines 2659, 3157–58 (Brenne), 9027, 9761, 9775 (Arthur) and 9647 (Guinevere). See Judith Weiss, ‘The Wooing Woman in Anglo-Norman Romance’, in Romance in Medieval England, ed. Mills et al., pp. 149–61; Martin, ‘Beuve’, p. 108. Burgess, ‘Etude’, p. 198.


Judith Weiss concern for others.16 But the humour permeating the poem undermines both curteisie and soldiering, and some of this could be deliberately parodic. I would like to draw attention to the background against which Boeve is written, to developments in both chanson de geste and insular romance that might have influenced it here. To take chanson de geste first. Just as Arthurian narrative is characterised almost from its beginnings by reactions against an idealised portrait of king and court, so twelfth-century French epic develops rapidly from the noble and dignified world of Roland helping Charlemagne fight Saracens in Spain to the perhaps more realistic and certainly more complex one where many of the conflicts are between emperor and vassals, as in the Guillaume cycle, or the cycles of Girart de Roussillon or Doon de Mayence, which can cast Carolingian power in a comic light.17 There are two figures in particular who can be counted on to inject humour and undercut dignity in such chansons de geste: the pagan giant and the bele Sarrasine. The giant can be played either way, for horror as much as humour, but he is often an amalgamation of both, terrifyingly huge and hideous, but ludicrously clumsy, naive and greedy. The bele Sarrasine removes dignity from the narratives by a mixture of lechery, strong-mindedness, and even force. She bewitches the French by her beauty and alternately delights and amazes them by her violence, her abusiveness or, at the very least, her skills and enterprise. Sexually far from shy, she woos her chosen man, who is often initially unreceptive, in a forthright manner which may make him blush and certainly puts him in an unheroic light by her assumption of a ‘male’ role.18 She can be found in many early chansons de geste, where she often throws traditional groupings into disarray by siding with her family’s enemy, the Christians. The insular romances of the last quarter of the twelfth century meanwhile balance a growing interest in courtliness with a pronounced misogyny, as we can see in the Alexander narrative and, most strikingly of all, in the two poems by Hue de Rotelande, a sophisticated poet contemporary with Boeve’s author, and writing in the Welsh Marches. Here courtly attitudes themselves are subversively handled. Hue burlesques them, just as he constantly alerts us to implausibilities in his plots. We are encouraged to smile at and be distanced from, rather than sympathise with, his protagonists as they are set in undignified and embarrassing situations and disguises. Some of the comic elements in Boeve can now be examined with these insular and continental developments in mind. The hero may be a brave fighter but he lacks elementary sense, as we see in his lengthy conversation with his squire Bonefey (lines 1573–86, 1609–28): he is all pig-headed valour and no judgment.19 The epithet li sené, so frequently used about him, thus hardly fits, is perhaps even ironic. The context of the phrase with which I began – ‘li pruz e li sene, li curteis guerer’ – actually subverts its praise. Boeve and his friend Terri, banished from the scene of Josiane’s childbirth in the forest, return to find her abducted by Saracens, who have left the babies behind. Boeve and Terri are literally left ‘holding the baby’, while it is Sabaoth, 16 17 18 19

Burgess, ‘Etude’, pp. 196, 205. See Dominique Boutet’s introduction to Le Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange (Paris, 1996), pp. 6, 33– 4. Sarah Kay maintains this figure is ‘subversive of male control’: Chansons de Geste, p. 47. In the entire episode of Boeve and Josiane’s escape from Yvori, it is always Bonefey who gives sensible advice: see lines 1499–1511, 1541–59. For wisdom, understanding and good judgment as important parts of curteisie, see Burgess, ‘Etude’, pp. 196, 198, 202–3, 205.


‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone Boeve’s mestre or tutor, who actually rescues Josiane (lines 2752–75). Laisse CLXXVI begins with the ill Sabaoth being cured and supported by Josiane’s skills while Boeve and Terri merely succeed in getting out of the forest: Dunc se prist Sabaoth forement a malader. Un jur se comence Josian purpenser e de Boun comence a chanter. E venent li barons par ample contrez, chivals e robes donent assez pur achater. Mult garda bien Sabaoth li guerrer jeskes a set ans e trois mois pleners. Hui mes devum a Boun repeyrer, li pruz e li sené, li curteis guerer. Il e Terri unt tant espleité, ke hors de boys sunt il passé. (Boeve de Haumtone, lines 2782–93) [Then Sabaoth fell very ill. One day Josiane began to reflect, and to sing about Boeve. And lords came from distant lands, giving her horses and clothing, with which to buy enough. She took good care of Sabaoth the warrior for a full seven years and three months. Now we must return to Boeve, the valiant and wise, the courteous warrior. He and Terri rode on until they emerged from the wood.] Sabaoth – his name means ‘armies, hosts’20 – deserves his epithet of li guerrer, while Boeve does not. Boeve’s masculinity seems much diminished here: Josiane refused to let him attend the birth, since this was not appropriate for men; he miserably complied; and his progress or advance – signified by the word espleité – is now ironically confined to leaving a wood. If Josiane’s energetic and enterprising figure dwarfs Boeve’s efforts here, they might be enhanced by a fight with a giant. But this giant is distinctly comic: Boeve comes up against a nine-foot-high monster with a mace, the pagan Escopart, who with his black skin, horny nose, saucer-eyes, boar’s teeth and dog’s bark is a figure of both fear and fun.21 His mighty swipe at Boeve misses him and demolishes a tree. The hero does not defeat him; instead, Josiane’s horse Arundel knocks him over, sits on his belly and nearly kills him (lines 1812–19), whereupon he is grudgingly converted to Christianity. The Boeve poet perfectly understood that the absurdity of a giant springs from such an extraordinary creature being involved with everyday and ordinary actions, and categories too small to encompass him. Hence he calls him a bacheler and a bon garson (lines 1762, 1892) though nobody could be less like a youth in 20


See The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone (Oxford, 1997), p. 1432. Sabaoth is MS D’s form of the name; the later MS, B, calls him Sabot and (on eight occasions) Saboc. Valérie Galent-Fasseur, ‘Un médiateur de la Providence: le personnage de Sabaoth dans la version anglo-normande et la version en prose de Beuve de Hantone’, Littérales 22 (1998), 25–38, sees Sabaoth as representing God (p. 28) but does not mention the meaning of his name. The Boeve-poet may have drawn the name and colour of his giant from the Ethiopians – the Azopart – in Albert of Aix’s account of the First Crusade. But the name also occurs in Fierabras, though admittedly in the fourteenth-century Egerton MS where the Ascoparz are in league with the Turks (1028).


Judith Weiss training to be a knight, or an ordinary page. Above all, he invents the comic episode of the Escopart’s baptism: CXL …L’eveske ly vyt si se est amerveilez e de pour ke il out si se est trey fez seynez. ‘Hai, neveu!’ dist il, ‘ke est ceo malfé?’ ‘Sire,’ ceo dist Boves, ‘ne vus ert celé, se est mon garson, mult est preysé.’ ‘Garsun?’ dist l’eveske, ‘ne place a damedé ke il entre ma meson jur de mon ayé.’ […] CXLI A dunc fu l’Escopart si longe e si lee, Ke dedens le fons ne put entrer. Un grant couve funt aparailer tut plein de ewe pur li baptiser; vint homes i furent pur li sus lever, mes entre els ne li point remuer. CXLII ‘Seynurs,’ dist ‘l’Escopart, ‘pur neent traveilez. Lessez moi entrer; vus me en sakerez.’ Diunt les altres: ‘Vus dite veritez.’ L’Escopart salt dedens joyns pez, si ke a le funde est avalez, si fu en la funte Guy nomez; e l’ewe fu freyde si li ad refreydez. CXLIII L’Escopart comence a crier e l’eveske forement a ledenger: ‘Ke est ceo?’ fet il, ‘malveis velen berger, mey volez vus en cest ewe neyer? Trop su jeo crestien, lessez moi aler.’ Sailli est ha present hors, ne voit demorer. Ke dunc le veit nu les granz saus aler, il li sereyt a vis, ne vus quer celer, ke il fust un deble ke vousist manger. (Boeve, lines 1919–77) [The bishop saw him (the Escopart) and marvelled, crossing himself three times out of fear. ‘Oh nephew!’ he said, ‘who is this demon?’ ‘My lord,’ said Boeve, ‘I won’t keep you in the dark: he is my page and very valuable.’ ‘Page?’ said the bishop, ‘God forbid he enters my house as long as I’m alive’ […] Then the Escopart was so long and broad that he could not enter the font. They prepared a great tub full of water in order to baptise him; twenty men were there to lift him, but between them they could not move him. ‘Lords,’ said the Escopart, ‘your efforts are useless. Let me get in; you can pull me.’ 154

‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone ‘True,’ said the others. The Escopart jumped in, feet together, so that he fell to the bottom, and in the font he was named Guy. And the water was so cold it chilled him. The Escopart began to bawl and to upbraid the bishop vigorously. ‘Who is this?’ he said. ‘Base, wicked shepherd – do you want to drown me in this water? Let me go; I’ve had enough of being a Christian.’ Then he jumped out, not wanting to stay. Whoever could see him jumping about naked would think – I won’t deny it – he was a hungry devil.] The second part of the poem kills off the Escopart, much to the detriment of the narrative. The bele Sarrasine, the wooing woman, is another source of humour, especially in the first part of the poem. Josiane falls for Boeve, presents him with his horse, disarms him after battle, feeds him and then declares her love. There are reminiscences of Horn here: Boeve asks her to abandon her ‘fol amur’, calls himself a ‘povere chevaler de un autre regioun’ (‘a poor knight of another land’), unworthy of her love, while she is worthy of kings and princes (lines 678, 686, 682–85). But what follows is much ruder and cruder than would ever be described in Horn. There is an angry and abusive exchange between the two, after which Josiane repents and sends a messenger to Boeve as he lies in bed, asking him to see her. Again rejected, she approaches him in person: LXXXVII ‘Pus ke il ne veut vener a moi parler, jeo irrai a li, ki ke en deit peiser.’ Tote defublé comece a aler. Boefs le vist vener si comença a ruffler, semblaunt fet de dormer, ne vout a li parler. Josiane si vint devaunt son lit ester. ‘Enveilez vus,’ fet ele, ‘beau duz amy cher, un petitet vodrai a vus ore parler.’ ‘Damoisele,’ dist Boefs, ‘lessez moi reposer, fortment ai hui combatu od le espeie de ascer, e vus avez malement rendu moun louer, quant vus me apellez ribaud e pautoner.’ La pucele le entent si comence a plorer, de cler lerm ke plurt fet sa face muiler; Boefs la regard, pité en prent a quer. (Boeve, lines 750–64) [‘Since he won’t come and talk to me, I shall go to him, no matter whom it offends.’ Quite without her cloak, she went on her way. Boeve saw her coming and began to snore, pretending to sleep; he had no wish to speak to her. Josiane came and stood before his bed. ‘Wake up, my fair, sweet and dear friend,’ she said, ‘I want just one word with you.’ ‘Lady,’ said Boeve, ‘let me rest. I’ve fought fiercely today with my steel sword, and you’ve poorly rewarded me by calling me base hireling.’ The girl heard him and began to weep, her face wet with bright tears. Boeve watched her, and pitied her in his heart.]


Judith Weiss Any potential for courtliness in this episode has been removed by Boeve’s snoring and the low register of Josiane’s insults (see lines 699 and 704). This leads to humour too, as does the hero’s position: though nominally superior because of his sexual selfcontrol – as is certainly the case with Horn – here Boeve is fending off feminine advances while in bed, which tends, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, to place him in an undignified and absurd light. Which particular texts might have influenced the poet of Boeve in occasionally burlesquing his hero and his plot? The first candidate is multiple rather than single: I think that chansons de geste in the Guillaume cycle, which flourished from the second half of the twelfth century, made a strong impact.22 Many of them predate the 1190s – the period when the two parts of Boeve were probably put together – and the survival of one of them, La Chanson de Guillaume, now extant only in a thirteenthcentury Anglo-Norman manuscript, may testify to continuing English interest in the stories.23 One entirely serious theme features in the Guillaume tales, though it is often susceptible to comic treatment: the confrontation of the brave hero with the cowardly, weak and ungrateful King Louis.24 Such a theme is introduced in the second part of Boeve and it too is treated seriously; I have suggested elsewhere that it contains an historical reference to the delayed succession of William III d’Albini to his father’s lands and titles.25 However, the Guillaume chansons also contain those figures with comic potential, the giant and the bele Sarrasine. Several giants, in fact, such as the hideous Corsolt in the Couronnement Louis (1131–50), who makes fun of the pope’s stature and his tonsure,26 the boar-toothed cannibal combating the hero in the second redaction of the Moniage Guillaume,27 and the naive, drunk, greedy, lazy Rainouart in both Aliscans and La Chanson de Guillaume (1180–1200; c. 1150). Always in some scrape or other, with his beloved tinel, a tree-trunk club, defiantly unchivalric, clumsy but undoubtedly effective as a fighter, Rainouart (who hails from the kitchens like Havelok and Gareth) finally turns out to have a good heart – to be, in fact, Guillaume’s Saracen brother-in-law.28 His sister Guibourc, Guillaume’s strongminded and doughty wife, is a bele Sarrasine and, like all such, she possesses immense initiative and resource. She is accused by the French queen of suspicious pagan skills with herbes and mescines. She has a robust relationship with her husband: she supports him but she is no pushover and inclined to nag him to do his duty. There is, however, a more impressive bele Sarrasine in the second text I am proposing as an even stronger influence upon the Boeve-poet. Boeve used to be extant in two manuscripts. One of these, Didot-Louvain, thirteenth-century and Anglo22 23

24 25 26 27


This view is shared by Romaine Wolf-Bonvin, ‘Escopart, le géant dépérissant de Beuve de Hantone’, in La chrétienté au péril sarrasin, Senefiance 46 (2000), 249–65. See, however, Ian Short, ‘Patrons and Polyglots: French Literature in Twelfth-Century England’, Anglo-Norman Studies 14 (1991), 229–49, who cautions us against assuming ‘insular conservatism’ from the preservation of epic manuscripts (footnote 3, p. 230). See Boutet, ‘Introduction’, p. 6: ‘Le thème de la faibless royale, génératrice d’injustices, est dévelopé d’une façon particulièrement virulente dans le cycle de Guillaume.’ Weiss, ‘The Date’, pp. 238–40. Compare the Escopart’s attitude to the bishop of Cologne, 1931–3 and 1969–74. See the Escopart’s teeth, 1761. The huge width between his eyes (1749) is also a common feature in Guillaume chansons (Couronnement Louis, 508, Moniage Guillaume II, 2580), as is the club. On Saracens as a source of burlesque humour, see Kay, Chansons, p. 177.


‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone Norman, was destroyed by German bombing in 1944,29 fortunately after its fragment of Boeve had been edited by Stimming but unfortunately before the rest of its contents, the earliest extant version of Fierabras, a chanson de geste, could be transcribed. Luckily there are many surviving manuscripts of Fierabras, which seems to have been as popular as Boeve itself. Though a chanson de geste originating on the Continent, perhaps as early as the late eleventh or early twelfth century,30 it was clearly popular in Britain. where it existed in at least four Anglo-Norman manuscripts and is still extant in two; one of the lost manuscripts is known to have been in Dover Priory.31 I think it is no accident that Boeve and Fierabras were paired in DidotLouvain. Some scribe had seen that the two poems had some marked similarities. Apart from resembling Boeve in portraying its supposedly heroic male protagonists as occasionally comically stupid and abusive – Roland and Charlemagne in particular – Fierabras uses the figures of giant and bele Sarrasine, the latter as a source of humour. The Saracen giant, Fierabras himself, is as noble, handsome and dignified as the Escopart is boorish, ugly and ludicrous, and Fierabras’s own baptism is a serious affair. He is a vehicle, however, for some of the comic undermining of Christian heroes like Roland who refuse to fight him. The Saracen heroine of Fierabras is Floripas, a sexy and violent princess with a magic belt, clothes made by fairies and a link to the land of Colchos, the country of Medea the sorceress. She certainly has a magical solution to Greek fire: she puts it out with camels’ milk and vinegar. More mildly, she cures most ills with mandragora. Her belt is not used for purposes as violent as Josiane’s – who strangles a would-be husband with hers – but it protects wearers from poison and sustains them against hunger. She confronts all who oppose her wishes with abuse, threats and force, pushing one of them out of a window into the sea. Having fallen in love with a Christian, the reluctant Gui de Bourgogne, she offers herself to him with a sexual hunger which makes the warrior blush. When he refuses her advances, she threatens to hang him and all his companions. Wrong-footed and upstaged at every turn by this beautiful virago, Gui and his friends cut inadequate and comical figures beside her. I suspect she contributed substantially to the portrayal of Josiane. My third, insular, text is Hue de Rotelande’s Ipomedon (c. 1180). In both Hue’s romances, wooing women are used for comic purposes, but in Ipomedon in particular there is a scene which is very similar to Josiane’s wooing of Boeve. The hero, disguised as a fool, accompanies his beloved’s waiting-woman, Ismeine, back to her mistress in order to defend her against an unwelcome suitor. On the way, in a manner reminiscent of Malory’s Gareth, he encounters various enemies and, though 29 30


See Judith Weiss, ‘The Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone: a fragment of a new manuscript’, Modern Language Review 95 (2000), 305–10, at p. 305. This is the view of André de Mandach, Naissance et développement de la chanson de geste en Europe V: la Geste de Fierabras (Geneva, 1986), p. 123, and other, earlier scholars dated it c. 1170; however, recent critical opinion dates it as contemporary with Boeve, c. 1190 or just after. See M.J. Ailes, ‘Romance and Epic Elements in the Different French versions of Fierabras’, Olifant 10 (1982–3), 41–49, and Fierabras: chanson de geste du XIIe siècle, ed. Marc Le Person (Paris, 2006), pp. 11 and 141. The surviving Anglo-Norman MSS are London, British Library MS Egerton 3028 and Hanover, Niedersächsische Staatsbibliothek MS IV, 578. See K. Sinclair, ‘Fierabras in AngloNorman: Some Cultural Perspectives’, Anglo-Norman Anniversary Essays, ed. Ian Short (London, 1993), pp. 361–77.


Judith Weiss mocked and abused by Ismeine, manages to defeat them all. At last Ismeine, won over and in love with the supposed fool, approaches his bed: Ismeine esgarde sa beauté E sun corssage ad avisé, Enz en sun quer asez le prise, Mut se repent d’estrange guise Ke el l’out si estrange tenu… Ismeine ne volt suffrir plus, Sun mantel prent e si saut sus Vers le lit Ipomedon vait Treis pas avant, pus s’arestait E se est suvent repurpensee […] Ipomedon pas ne dormi, Ces suspirs, ces pleintes oï, Estrangement s’en esmerveille, En pes se jut, si fist dorveille, Ne volt pas ke el aparceüst Ke il ren de ses estres soüst. Ismeine aproche vers le lit, Suëf en suspirant li dit: ‘Bel sire, asez dormi avez, Un petitet a mei parlez.’ Ipomedon l’ad oï ben, En pes se tent, ne respunt ren. Ismeine est mut anguissuse E del parler trop desiruse, Sa main met aukes a poür Par desdesuz le cuvertur. Ipomedon la main senti, Cume desvez se tressailli, La main prent e met a sa buche, Si ke a ses denz l’asent e tuche, Dedenz ses denz avant la boute Cum si il la vousist manger tute… ‘Kar me lessez ma pes aveir, Alez, si me lessez dormir!’ (Ipomedon, lines 8651–875) [Ismeine saw his beauty and looked at his body; in her heart she gave him much praise and much regretted the harsh way in which she had treated him so hostilely… Ismeine did not want to suffer any more; she took her mantle and jumped up, went three steps towards Ipomedon’s bed, then stopped and often reconsidered… Ipomedon was not asleep: he heard these sighs and laments and was much amazed. He lay quiet and pretended to sleep; he did not want her to realise that he knew anything of her behaviour. Ismeine approached the bed and said softly to him, sighing: ‘Fair sir, you’ve slept enough; talk to me a little.’ Ipomedon heard her very well; he kept quiet and did not reply. Ismeine was in great distress and very anxious to talk; fearfully, 158

‘The Courteous Warrior’: Epic, Romance and Comedy in Boeve de Haumtone she put her hand a little under the coverlet. Ipomedon felt the hand and started up like a madman; he took the hand and put it in his mouth, so that it touched and came up against his teeth. He thrust it between his teeth as if he wanted to completely devour it… ‘Leave me in peace, go away and let me sleep!’] This scene is repeated twice more, though by the end Ismeine dare not touch him. There is of course a great difference in context. Unlike Josiane, Ismeine is not the heroine and, in urging Ipomedon to abandon her mistress’s defence and flee with her to Burgundy, she is yielding to selfish and dishonourable lust rather than love. Her judgment is poorer than that of her dwarf. The scene is peppered with Hue’s repeated misogynistic and flippant comments on women’s emotional and irrational instability. The larger context is one of parody of what was becoming a stock Arthurian episode: a ‘fool’ taking up a knightly challenge. Hue constantly puts his characters in undignified situations and disguises. He also invariably alerts us, through his humour and his burlesque of the figures and plots of courtly romance, to the improbability of his fictions.32 In this way, Hue is both courtly and anti-courtly. Though the poet of Boeve was a very much less sophisticated writer than Hue, I think he picked up from him not just the details for a comic bedroom scene but the idea of occasionally indicating to his readers that his narrative could be implausible. There is a nice example when Boeve tells Josiane that nothing but a virgin will do for him and suggests that after seven years of marriage to Yvori it would be amazing if she were one (lines 1475–79). I have suggested three major textual influences on the composition of Boeve de Haumtone. Where might the poet have come across them? In the case of the Guillaume cycle, the existence of an Anglo-Norman manuscript of one of the chansons shows they were available in England. The probable patrons of Boeve, the Albinis, had some remarkable wives, among them the Queen Dowager Adeliza of Louvain (d. 1151), who brought the honour of Arundel to William II of Albini and is perhaps obliquely praised through Josiane (like her, twice married), who gives the horse Arundel to Boeve. She was a patron of writers like Philippe de Thaon and Benedeit; chansons de geste may have circulated in her household and survived in her library. Fierabras, either earlier or contemporary with Boeve, was copied by AngloNorman scribes, and by the thirteenth century is paired with it in a manuscript; it is possible that it too may have been amongst the Albini books. As to where the poet could have read Hue’s works, we know Hue wrote for the FitzBaderon family of Monmouth, which was connected to the Albinis through the Clares.33 The ‘closely connected households of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy’ suggest the possibility of narratives being passed between families, serving as inspiration for the poets they employed.34 The writer of Boeve de Haumtone was not amongst the first rank. But he knew how to profit by ideas picked up from other poets. What he picked up, I have been 32 33


See Judith Weiss, ‘A Reappraisal of Hue de Rotelande’s Protheselaus’, Medium Aevum 52 (1983), 104–11, at p. 107. See Short, ‘Patrons’ and Judith Weiss, ‘The Power and the Weakness of Women in AngloNorman Romance’, in Women and Literature in Britain 1150–1500, ed. Carol Meale (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 7–23, at pp. 17–18). Field, ‘Romance in England’, p. 161.


Judith Weiss suggesting, is partly characters and scenarios, and partly the idea of presenting them in a comic, even burlesque, light. From chansons de geste he learnt that the noble behaviour we might suppose characterised the world of the epic could be undercut by humorous encounters with the gigantic or grotesque, and with women playing a dominant, near-masculine, role. An insular, near-contemporary, romance poet – Hue de Rotelande – taught him that curteisie, sanity and wisdom might be implausible expectations in the world of the court. As a text that is part epic, part romance, Boeve de Haumtone could be said to exploit the tensions implicit in its occupation of the boundary between the two genres.


11 Rewriting Divine Favour IVANA DJORDJEVIĆ Tangible manifestations of divine favour abound in popular romances. Visible and invisible heavenly messengers offer advice, warning and admonition, and otherwise intervene in the affairs of the hero. At times unsolicited and even unwelcome, such interventions are more often the result of a direct request for assistance from above. Like many other elements of the popular romance, the hero’s plea for divine help tends to be formulated in fairly conventional terms. It elicits a response that is invariably positive but can assume a variety of forms, the variability helping to maintain narrative tension in a genre that needs to make intelligent and nuanced use of predictability in order to keep the listener listening and the reader reading. The relationship between God and hero thus changes from text to text, but it changes diachronically too, so that over time a gradual shift is observed in the representation of divine favour. The thirteenth century sees especially pointed changes. Roughly speaking, and with due awareness of the dangers of generalisation, a reasonably sharp distinction can be made between texts written around 1200 and those written after 1300, with a more mixed picture in the intervening years. I would like to sketch out some of these changes in very broad terms by looking at a handful of prominent instances of divine favour in multiple versions of two popular, widespread, and very different narratives: the stories of Amis and Amiloun and of Bevis (Boeve in his Anglo-Norman incarnation) of Hampton. In the Middle English Amis and Amiloun, a romance with two heroes rather than one, divine meddling is so prominent that the narrative has often been described as a ‘secular hagiography’. Three divine interventions mark turning points in the narrative: two appearances of angelic messengers and one miracle, performed in answer to a specific plea. In (1) below, as Amiloun is riding to the place appointed for the judicial combat in which he is to impersonate his friend, he hears a voice from heaven warning him that he will be made a leper if he undertakes the battle. In (2) an angel appears to Amis in his sleep to tell him that he can cure the leprosy-stricken Amiloun if he kills his two children and anoints his friend with their blood. (That same night Amiloun has a very similar dream, in which an angel imparts to him the same information.) After some agonized hand-wringing, Amis eventually goes ahead with the grisly cure and bathes Amiloun in his children’s blood, then goes to church and prays to be ‘saved from shame’. His prayer is granted: the following day the children are found safe and sound (3).

Ivana Djordjević (1) As he com prikand out of toun, Com a voice fram heuen adoun, Þat noman herd bot he, & sayd, ‘Þou kni3t, sir Amiloun, God, þat suffred passioun, Sent þe bode bi me; 3if þou þis bataile vnderfong, Þou schalt haue an euentour strong Wiþ-in þis 3eres þre; & or þis þre 3ere ben al gon, Fouler mesel nas neuer non In þe world, þan þou schal be! Ac for þou art so hende & fre, Ihesu sent þe bode bi me, To warn þe anon …’1 (lines 1249–63) (2) So it bifel opon a ni3t, As Sir Amis, þat gentil kni3t, In slepe þou3t as he lay, An angel com fram heuen bri3t & stode biforn his bed ful ri3t & to him þus gan say: 3if he wald rise on Cristes morn, Swiche time as Ihesu Crist was born, & slen his children tvay, & alien his [broþer] wiþ þe blode, Þurch godes grace, þat is so gode, His wo schuld wende oway.2 (lines 2197–208) (3) … for his childer, þat he hadde slon, To God of heuen he made his mon & preyd wiþ rewely chere Schuld saue him fram schame þat day, & Mari, his moder, þat best may, Þat was him leue & dere; & Ihesu Crist, in þat stede 1


Quoted from the Auchinleck manuscript (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates 19.2.1), as edited by MacEdward Leach in Amis and Amiloun, EETS OS 203 (London, 1937). The text of this stanza is substantially the same in all four manuscripts of the Middle English romance. An additional stanza unique to the Auchinleck manuscript explains that Amis received three visits from the angel on successive nights.


Rewriting Divine Favour Ful wele he herd þat kni3tes bede & graunt him his praiere.3 (lines 2356–64) […] Into a chamber þey went swyþ, Þer þe children lay; With-out wemme and wound Hool and sound þe children found, And layen to-geder and play. For ioye þey wept, þere þey stood, And þanked god with myld mood, Her care was al [away]. (lines 2417–24) The Auchinleck Amis is the earliest version of the narrative in English, but not in England, where the English romance was preceded by an Anglo-Norman version, in which divine intervention had been less intrusive. There are three extant manuscripts of the Anglo-Norman romance, preserving two different redactions, of which one postdates the earliest Middle English text. The Middle English is not a translation of the Anglo-Norman, although the consistent matching of narrative segments in the two indicates a textual kinship, perhaps mediated through several reworkings.4 This evidence of a direct line of descent from the Anglo-Norman text to the Middle English suggests that a comparative backward glance at the corresponding passages in Anglo-Norman is well worth taking: (1a) Kant Amilun se dust nomer, Si se purpensa mult estreit: Est vus, une voiz li diseit, Ke nul ne l’oi si li noun: ‘Lessez, lessez, sire Amilun! Jeo vus di certeine novele Ke, si vous prenez la damoisele, Ainz ke seient treis ans passe, Apert leprus vus serriez, Avant mes unc si led ne fud!’5 (lines 708–17) [When Amilun had to give his name, he was plunged into thought and lo and behold, a voice, which nobody heard but he, said to him: ‘My lord Amilun, don’t do it! I tell you for certain, if you take the maiden, before three years 3

4 5

Mary’s intercession is emphasised in the late fourteenth-century London, British Library, MS Egerton 2862, which adds that the prayer was granted ‘Þrou3 þe beseching of [Christ’s] moder dere’. On the Anglo-Norman versions see Judith Weiss, The Birth of Romance: An Anthology (London, 1992), pp. xxxii–xxxv. The text is from Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 50, as printed in Amis and Amiloun, ed. Eugen Kölbing (Heilbronn, 1884). The related redaction in London, British Library, MS Royal 12.C.XII is available in an edition by Hideka Fukui (Amys e Amillyoun, ANTS Plain Text Series 7 (London, 1990)), but the text that is probably closest to the Middle English romance, in Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, MS 345 (formerly Durlac 38), remains unedited.


Ivana Djordjević have passed, you’ll be a leper for all to see. Henceforward, there will be no man so ugly!’]6 (2a) Tant passa le tens issi, Ke li coens une nuit dormi; Une voiz oit, ke li diseit Ke Amilun bien le garreit, Se il vousist i mettre cure. Dou fiz aveit de s’engendrure: Si il les dous enfanz tuast E Amilun el sanc baignast, Si sein devendreit com pessun. (lines 1075–83) [The time passed thus until one night, when the count was asleep, he heard a voice, saying he could easily cure Amilun if he tried. He had fathered two sons: if he killed the children and bathed Amilun in their blood, he would become as sound as a fish.] (3a) ‘Des enfaunz nient plus n’enpensum, Si deu le veut, bien recovrom!’ Atant la parole ont lasse E le service ont escoute. Apres la messe vunt a meison, Joius e lez pur Amilun; E Amis la dame mena En la chambre, ou il lessa Les enfanz mortz e senglante: Est vus, ke vifs les ont trove! En lur lit s’entredalierent, Del rai del solail se juerent. A deu grant graces en rendirent Piere e miere, kant ceo virent. (lines 1131–44) [‘Let us think no more of the children; God willing, we shall have some more!’ Then she stopped speaking and listened to the service. After mass they went home, joyful and happy for Amilun, and Amis led the lady into the room where he had left the children dead and bleeding. Lo and behold, they found them alive! They were playing together in their bed with a sunbeam. When their father and mother saw this, they thanked God heartily.] The warning to Amiloun (1a) no longer occurs at the same point in the narrative, which is itself an interesting and significant change.7 More germane to my present argument, however, is that the provenance of the warning is left unclear. The 6 7

All translations from the Anglo-Norman romance are by Weiss, The Birth of Romance, pp. 159– 78. On its implications see Françoise le Saux in the introduction to her edition of the Middle English romance, Amys and Amylion, EMETS (Exeter, 1993), pp. 5–7.


Rewriting Divine Favour narrator does not tell us that the voice Amiloun hears is a ‘voice from heaven’, nor is there any hint of God’s special and well-deserved affection for Amiloun, conveyed in lines 1261–63 of the English text. On the contrary, in the Anglo-Norman the disembodied voice, heard – as in the Middle English – by Amiloun alone, does not claim any kind of divine authority for its message. Indeed, since it is heard immediately after we are informed of Amiloun’s perplexity in line 711, we could justifiably read it as the externalized voice of his conscience. When the way to cure Amiloun is revealed to Amis in a dream (2a), it is not through an angel but again through ‘a voice’. Here too, neither the narrator nor the voice itself indicates that the instructions conveyed are of divine provenance. Moreover, Amis’s dream is not shared by Amiloun, as in the Middle English, where the recurrence of the dream further confirms its divine credentials. And finally, although the slaughtered children are revived (3a), as in the Middle English, the miracle is not the direct result of prayer. It should be noted that divine intervention is not an obligatory part of romantic tellings of the Amis-Amiloun story.8 The earliest extant text in this branch of the narrative tradition, the story of Amicus and Amelius told by the eleventh-century monk Radulfus Tortarius, is in fact remarkably realistic. God does not intervene in the trial by battle, Amicus’s leprosy is not a punishment for anything, and the information that the blood of children is the best cure comes from physicians, not from God. The only miracle is the revival of Amelius’s children, but this is narrated in an oddly offhand way, as a curiosity that merely confirms the extraordinary power of the two men’s bond, which is itself the real miracle in Radulfus’s narrative.9 Although the Middle English romance has been described as more religious than its Anglo-Norman antecedent, it would be more accurate to describe it as religious in 8


Scholarship has traditionally distinguished between the romantic and hagiographic versions of the story. The Anglo-Norman and Middle English romances belong to the former group, along with Radulfus Tortarius’s Latin verse narrative (see below), a thirteenth-century chanson de geste, some Latin redactions of the Seven Sages of Rome, as well as two French fifteenthcentury developments of the tradition – a lengthy poem and a miracle play. So-called hagiographic versions are numerous and spread throughout Europe. Here is the ending of Radulfus’s version, remarkably free of religious sentiment, in MacEdward Leach’s translation (Amis and Amiloun, pp. 101–105, at pp. 104–105): After several happy years, Amicus, you became ill with the well-known spots of leprosy. So your wife most cruelly cleared you out […] You, a beggar, knock at the door of dear Amelius; he kisses you repeatedly; he does not shudder at the foul sores; he takes you to his home, and prepares your food himself. Eager somehow to bring health to your body, he resorts to doctors. He learns that your sores can be healed by no medicine other than the blood of children. He shows how great his love is for you in that he sacrifices his own sons for your sake. […] He sends their mother, Beliardis, away lest sight of these things cause her death. He washes your sores with the blood of his own sons and restores you to perfect health. Now I have a marvel to relate, one which, remember, has often come to my ears from many. Their mother had left the boys sound asleep in the nursery. When she returned she saw them playing with red apples, in perfect health. Such confidence characterizes pure friendship. Amicus went away well, and lived a long time after that without any trace of leprosy.


Ivana Djordjević a different way. The relationship between God and the heroes is more direct and more personal in it. God intervenes more obviously in the affairs of the protagonists; his messages are delivered in a more straightforward manner, by angelic messengers whose authority and authenticity are established beyond doubt. And the change in God’s attitude to the hero is paralleled by changes in the way that the hero himself approaches God. Whereas the protagonists of the Anglo-Norman Amis limit themselves to expressing their confidence that whatever God wills is for the best, the characters in the Middle English narrative do not hesitate to ask God for assistance. After the death of the children, for example, Amis’s wife in the Anglo-Norman text says, ‘Let us think no more of the children. God willing, we shall recover them’ (1123). What she means by ‘recover’ is not entirely clear, since the Anglo-Norman verb covers a rather broad range of meanings. She could be saying ‘we shall have more children’ (as in Judith Weiss’s translation quoted above) but she could also be hoping for a miracle, for a literal recovery of the lost children, without, however, asking for it explicitly. Either way, on their return from mass Amis and his wife find that God has indeed been ‘willing’ and that the children are alive and well. But in the later, Middle English, romance the resurrection of the children is explicitly said to be the direct result of Amis’s prayer to Jesus and Mary to ‘save him from shame’, itself a somewhat intriguingly formulated request. A shift can be perceived here, parallelled in other contemporary rewritings of earlier stories: from a narrative world in which the divinity is distant and intractable to one in which a peculiar kind of intimacy is established, so that the individual’s connection to God gradually comes to include an element of personal favour, and even mutual obligation. In earlier texts, the hero who invokes God’s help does not necessarily expect to receive it, God being unaccountable and his ways notoriously incomprehensible. Such an attitude is discernible in many, if not all, examples of the chanson de geste’s ‘epic creed’ or ‘prière du plus grand péril’.10 Characters act with faith in the justness of God’s dispositions, but not with the sense of entitlement that the heroes of later narratives are beginning to display. In some later texts we could almost speak of ‘heroic favour’ and ‘divine agency’, as God acts on behalf of the hero in exchange for favours such as a pilgrimage or the endowment of a house of religion; or else the hero, in asking God for a favour, lists the things that he has done for God in order to justify his request.11 It is not a coincidence that this shift in the perception of the individual’s relationship with God, who now becomes more approachable, more tractable and more directly involved in individual human lives should be happening during the thirteenth century, for this is generally a time of far-reaching changes, if not in the essential nature of religiousness, then certainly in some of its forms. At the institutional level, the impact of Innocent III, whose pontificate culminated in the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, can hardly be overestimated. By the time of this 10


On this literary convention see, for example, E.R. Labande, ‘Le crédo épique: à propos des prières dans les chansons de geste’, in Recueil des travaux offerts à M. Clovis Brunel, 2 vols (Paris, 1955), vol. 2, pp. 62–80, or J. Garel, ‘La prière du plus grand péril’, in Mélanges de langue et de littérature médiévales offerts à Pierre le Gentil (Paris, 1973), pp. 311–18. In a variation of this theme, the hero may remind God that his steadfast adherence to his faith in a hostile environment deserves a recompense. See below for a few examples in versions of the story of Bevis of Hampton.


Rewriting Divine Favour most important gathering, Innocent had already been instrumental in the establishment of the preaching orders, the Dominicans in 1205 and the Franciscans in 1209. Both reached England in the early 1220s and set about their popularizing work, instilling in the faithful a growing sense that their relationship with the divinity was a personal one which, like other personal relationships, depended to a large extent on mutual trust and responsibility. At the institutional level, national synods were not slow to incorporate the constitutions of the Lateran Council into their own domestic legislation. The preaching of the friars and the newly instituted ecclesiastical regulations certainly did not create a new and more personal kind of religious sensibility ex nihilo, but they did give a powerful boost to a process of slower and more gradual change that had already begun. Many of these changes are mirrored in popular literature. For example, the mention of the Virgin’s intercessory role in the Egerton MS of the Middle English Amis reflects Mary’s growing prominence in popular piety and devotional practices since the twelfth century. Similarly, the belief in guardian angels, which spread significantly after the early thirteenth century, may perhaps have played a part in the proliferation of fictional angels whom God uses as errand-runners in popular narratives, especially after the twelfth century.12 And although it is true that angels are already employed in this capacity in twelfth-century texts such as the Chanson de Roland and other chansons de geste, there is less emphasis in these earlier narratives on the personal nature of the relationship between God and the hero. The chanson de geste hero rarely acts as a fully independent and self-interested agent; much more often he defends or otherwise represents a family or broader social group. As its privileged representative he is by no means denied his individuality, but it is clear that any divine favour that he may enjoy is motivated by concern for him and, perhaps even more, the group. When, for example, the angel Gabriel visits Charlemagne in the Chanson de Roland, he does so because of God’s interest in both Charles himself and his realm. On the other hand, the angel dispatched to warn a later romance hero, such as Sir Isumbras, is on a mission that bespeaks God’s care for the hero as an individual, regardless of his affiliation to a community beyond him. The newly promulgated obligation of annual confession, probably the best-known of the constitutions of 1215, provided the impetus for the creation of a huge body of confessional and penitential literature, in which the exemplum quickly acquired a central place. Collections of exempla proliferated, beginning with the Dialogus Miraculorum of Caesarius of Heisterbach in the 1220s. In England, William of Waddington’s Manuel des Pechiez, composed around 1260, was preserved in nearly thirty manuscripts, most of them written between 1275 and 1325, and served as the source of Robert Mannyng’s early fourteenth-century Handlyng Synne. Other collections of a similar nature also circulated in England, in manuscripts owned not only by religious institutions but by individuals too, lay as well as clerical. It is not hard to see why exempla were such powerful preaching tools. They were memorable, they were entertaining, and they showed God wielding both carrot and stick to instruct and correct, reward and punish ordinary men and women. This new 12

In Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215–c. 1515 (Cambridge, 1995), R.N. Swanson sees the popular belief in guardian angels as a largely fourteenth-century development, ‘although their existence was accepted by theologians from at least the early thirteenth century’ (p. 171).


Ivana Djordjević understanding of the relationship between God and the individual spread to other narrative genres and had a curious effect on popular romance, a hero-centred narrative with a fundamentally worldly system of values: as he relies increasingly on God’s active help, the hero becomes in a sense less heroic, but God also becomes less divine, as his interventions in the hero’s favour span the entire range from the sublime to the ridiculous. However, at the same time as divine assistance is increasingly required in trivial undertakings, another emerging narrative tendency is to rationalize the miraculous, in what seems a return of sorts to the matter-offactness of narratives like Radulphus’s Amicus. The realism is a product, among other things, of rewriters’ general tendency to explain and often normalise their originals, and it is not surprising to encounter such an explicitating trend in the Middle English romance, a genre that depends to a large extent on different kinds of rewriting, including translation. The growing repertoire of exempla also provided ready-made motifs and entire plots, to be used as formal models or direct sources of narrative material, even in texts whose aims are in no way exemplary. An interesting instance of such intergeneric traffic occurs in the multiple rewritings of a miraculous episode in the story of Bevis of Hampton; a number of the changes and influences I have just sketched out find themselves reflected in successive versions of this episode. First recorded in Anglo-Norman in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, the story of Boeve or Bevis of Hampton was translated into Middle English about a century later. Several Middle English redactions have been preserved, as well as numerous continental French versions. Although these last represent a separate development of the tradition, they clearly derive from the Anglo-Norman text and contain many of the same episodes, including the one which interests me here. In this episode the hero, who has spent seven years at the bottom of a dungeon, has finally managed to kill his two gaolers, but is still manacled and chained to a large stone and therefore threatened with starvation. After three days without food and water, he kneels and invokes God. In the Anglo-Norman version, which is the earliest, this is a very simple matter – after a brief prayer, God causes the chains to break:13 [A] donc genula Boefs o le corage fier, dampnedieu comença fortment a prier, ke il ly donast grace de iloks eschaper. Quant Boefs out deu une pose ahoré, par la vertu deu, ke roi est de pité, si sunt ly liens tretuz depescé. (lines 1085–90) [Then Boeve the bold knelt and prayed God very earnestly to grant him escape from there. After Boeve had prayed God for a while, his chains shattered to pieces through the power of God, king of mercy.]


The text quoted is from Paris, BNF, MS fr. nouv. acqu. 4532, as edited by Albert Stimming, Der anglonormannische Boeve de Haumtone, Bibliotheca Normannica 7 (Halle, 1899). Translations from the Anglo-Norman and Continental French versions of the story are all my own.


Rewriting Divine Favour Four out of six Middle English manuscripts follow the Anglo-Norman text quite closely. The Auchinleck text is representative of this group:14 To Iesu Crist he bed a bone, And he him grauntede wel sone; So 3erne he gan to Iesu speke, Þat his vetres gonne breke And of is medel þe grete ston. Iesu Crist he þankede anon; A wente quik out of prisoun Be þe rop, þe gailer com adoun… (lines 1645–52) A late fifteenth-century redaction combines elements of the epic creed (‘Lord’, sayde B. wiþ stedeffast þou3t,/ ‘Þou madyst al þis world off nou3t/ As weel Jewys as crystene men’) with a reminder to God that the hero is on His side and that his enemies are therefore God’s enemies too (‘Þenk on me, þat lygge ibounde/ Here among þese heþene hounde’).15 As I remarked above, this kind of request for one’s steadfast faith to be recompensed is fairly common, especially in later texts.16 A fifteenth-century redaction shows an interesting and not uncommon rationalizing tendency, and without even mentioning the chains it focuses instead on another aspect of Bevis’s predicament: the rope he could use to climb out of his prison is too high for him to reach. His request to God is therefore a modest and sensible one; all he wants is to be able to grab the dangling rope. God is happy to help, and the narrator tells us that it is through his grace that Bevis was able to jump high enough to catch the rope and climb out. ‘Ihesu Cryste’, Syr Befyse sayde, ‘Helpe me now a lytull brayde! The rope may y not reche, But yf Þou me wysse and teche.’ So hye smote Befyse hyt yn sonder, Yf he hyt raght hyt were wonder! But, noght forþy, þorow Godys grace, Befyse lepe vp (full lyght he was) And kaght the rope yn hys honde,

14 15


I quote from the edition prepared by Eugen Kölbing, The Romance of Sir Beues of Hamtoun, EETS ES 46, 48, 65 (London, 1885–94). This redaction is preserved in Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 175/96. Kölbing, who makes it almost impossible to follow the text of redactions other than Auchinleck, prints these lines in a footnote on p. 86. For example, the fifteenth-century Irish version of the story, Stair Bibuis, makes much of the mutual obligations that are apparently thought of as binding on both hero and God: ‘See, Lord, that I did not abandon faith in you while I was for fifteen years in the land of the pagans, and, Lord […], you know that I could have obtained a great heritage and chiefkingdom if I had abandoned this faith in you.’ The hero is in effect demanding divine compensation for having given up the prospect of considerable material gain for God’s sake. The passage is quoted by Erich Poppe in ‘Codes of conduct and honour in Stair Bibuis’, in Ogma: Essays in Celtic Studies in Honour of Próinséas Ni Chatháin, ed. Michael Richter and JeanMichel Picard (Dublin, 2002), pp. 200–210, at p. 207.


Ivana Djordjević And vp he steyed, y vndurstonde.17 Compared with the breaking of chains and smashing of heavy stones, this is obviously not much of a miracle. Admittedly, the author of this redaction has already enriched the narrative he inherited by the addition of a number of instances of effective prayer during Bevis’s imprisonment, as well as an angelic visitation.18 But while such additions may serve to underline the hero’s exemplary piety and God’s special affection for him, they also show how reliance on divine assistance can become so automatic that even the most trivial of tasks now requires to be aided by grace. It is a process that trivializes both piety and heroic action, and diminishes both God and the hero. The thirteenth-century continental versions of the story stage this scene in a variety of ways. One, contained in Paris, BNF, MS franç. 25519, combines disparate motifs into a compelling, if somewhat illogical, whole. It begins with Bueve (the hero’s name on the Continent) praying for his liberation, assuring God that he deserves it because he longs so much for his beloved Josiane and her enticing body (lines 2694–2718).19 Meanwhile Josiane, who has been told that Bueve is dead yet does not quite believe it, has masses sung for him daily and prays to the Virgin to restore her lover to her (lines 2807–14). One night an angel visits Bueve in his sleep and tells him that Josiane’s prayers have persuaded God to break his fetters. On waking up, Bueve discovers that this has indeed happened: A une nuit, quant il fu endormis, Li vint uns angles d’amont le paradis, Qui li a dit: ‘Levés vous sus, amis, Alés vous ent, trop i avés chi sis, Car Yosiane, ki tant a cler le vis, A tant a dieu et proié e requis, Les fers vous ai depechiés et finis…’ (lines 2838–44) [One night while he was asleep an angel came to him from paradise above and told him: ‘Stand up, my friend, and leave; you have stayed here too long. For Josiane, whose face is so bright, has prayed and entreated God so much that he has shattered and destroyed your shackles.] Not too concerned with verisimilitude (at this point Josiane is not yet Christian), the author of this redaction is careful to emphasise the efficacy of prayer and the certainty that faithful service to God will be rewarded. Thus the narrator, in one of his frequent proleptic interventions, reassures the worried audience that the Virgin has heeded Josiane’s prayer and is willing to help Bueve – who will return the favour by fathering four Christian kings in his union with the Saracen princess (lines 2814– 17



Cambridge, University Library, MS Ff.2.38, fols 116ra–116rb. I quote from the transcription made by Dr Jennifer Fellows, to whom I am very grateful for making the electronic text available to me. The corresponding passage in Kölbing’s edition is buried in a somewhat confusing footnote on p. 88. Siobhain Bly Calkin discusses these instances in ‘Defining Encounters: Saracens and “the kn3it of cristene lawe” in Bevis of Hampton’, in Sir Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition, ed. Jennifer Fellows and Ivana Djordjević (forthcoming). Line numbers refer to the edition in Der festländische Bueve de Hantone: Fassung I, ed. Albert Stimming, Gesellschaft für romanische Literatur 25 (Dresden, 1911).


Rewriting Divine Favour 19). God himself loves his ‘companion’ (or ‘helper’) Boeve, just as he loves and is ready to help all those who serve him well: ‘Oiés por dieu, qui nos face pardon,/ Com dameldieus ama son compaignon;/ Qui bien le sert, ja n’ara se bien non’ (lines 2820–22; my italics). This kind of explicit moralisation, more at home in an exemplum than in the long swashbuckling narrative that is the continental Bueve, recurs soon afterwards, this time in the words of the angelic messenger: ‘A dieu vous rent, en lui soiés tous fis,/ Qui bien le sert, tous jors est ses amis’ (lines 2849–50).20 If the entire episode not only makes little sense in terms of the broader plot but also sounds suspiciously exemplary, that is because it is in fact modelled on a very popular exemplum on the efficacy of masses, versions of which are found in most major collections of exempla. The well-known story about a captive whose chains break whenever his wife has masses said for him goes back to Gregory the Great but reappears in a number of different versions, some more elaborate than others.21 Here is how William of Waddington tells it:22 Seint Gregoire cunte de vn prodom Qe tenu fu en cheitiuesun, Ou il fu lié cum prisun, Sicum entre gent est custum. Sa bone femme, par certeins iurs, Messes fist pur luy chanter plusurs. Apres long tens reueneit De cheitiuesun ou il esteit, E sa femme ad cunté Qe ces liens sunt deslié Par certeins iurs qe il nomeit, E de ceo grant sola3 aueit. Sa femme tu3 les iurs ad noté, E aparceue, se est pur uerité, Qe ces iurs fist ele celebrer Pur sun barun messe chanter Cum solum sun cunte fut deslié. Del miracle vnt Deu regracié. (lines 7585–602) [Saint Gregory tells of a worthy man who was held in captivity, where he was tied up like a prisoner, as the practice is among people. On certain days, his good wife had several masses sung for him. Much later he returned from captivity and told his wife that his bonds would come untied, to his great comfort, on certain days, which he named. His wife made note of all these days and realised, truly, that on the days when he said he had been untied she had had masses sung for her lord. They thanked God for the miracle.]

20 21 22

‘I entrust you to God; have full confidence in him. Whoever serves him well is always his friend.’ For a list of versions see E.J. Arnould, Le Manuel des péchés: étude de littérature religieuse anglonormande (Paris, 1940), pp. 173–74. The text from London, BL, MS Harley 273, is included in an edition of the Middle English Handling Synne, ed. F.J. Furnival, EETS OS 119, 123 (London 1901, 1903), pp. 328–29.


Ivana Djordjević It appears that as this redaction of the continental Bueve was being composed the scene in which a prisoner’s chains miraculously break inevitably triggered a reminiscence of the widespread exemplum, and the entire scene was then recast in accordance with the ready-made model, which gave it an unusual and slightly incongruous exemplary flavour. In some continental manuscripts the narration of the same miracle is influenced by the tendency I have already mentioned, increasingly common in thirteenthcentury narratives, to explain divine favour in terms of the principle that one good turn deserves another. The hero thus tries to strike a deal with God, offering to repay a favour – here the breaking of his chains – by a pilgrimage or the establishment of a house of religion. Here is a straightforward example of such bargain-making from a continental Bueve de Hantone, in which the hero’s chains break at his promise of a barefoot pilgrimage to Jerusalem:23 ‘He dieus!’ dist il, ‘par la vostre bonté, Glorious sire, et cor me delivrés! Au saint sepulcre u vos fustes posés Vous requerrai nus piés et sans sollers […] Sainte Marie, glorïeuse pucele, Delivrez moi du carcan qui m’apresse; Au saint sepucre c’on requiert et apele En Jursalen vous en irai requerre Descaus, en langes, en pure ma gonnele.’ Dieus l’entendi, cui l’orisons fu bele, Li carcans froisse, s’en volerent li pelle, Rompent les broques et li anel desserrent, Devant Buevon chäirent a la terre. (lines 2809–12, 2816–24) [‘O God!’ he said, ‘deliver me through your goodness! I shall seek you out, barefoot and with no shoes on, at the holy sepulchre in which you were placed. […] Holy Mary, blessed maiden, deliver me from the iron collar that weighs me down. At the holy sepulchre which people seek out and invoke I shall visit you in Jerusalem, barefoot, in rags, in my cloak only.’ God heard him; the prayer pleased him. The collar broke, its bolts flew apart, the pins were shattered, the fetters were unfastened and fell on the ground before Bueve.] A third redaction of Bueve de Hantone offers an especially intriguing reworking of this episode. As above, Bueve promises to seek God in Jerusalem. Then, for good measure, he offers a similar deal to St James. Finally he kneels, and his chains break – but only because, we are told, the iron was rusty anyway: ‘Glorious pere, qui onques ne mentis, Ostés moi, sire, de cest mortel peril, Requerrai vous, dous dius pöestëis, Au saint sepulcre, la ou vous fustes mis, 23

Paris, BNF, MS franç. 12548, printed in Der festländische Bueve de Hantone: Fassung II, 2 vols, ed. Albert Stimming, Gesellschaft für romanische Literatur 30, 41 (Dresden 1912–18), vol. 1.


Rewriting Divine Favour Sire sains Jakes, de moi serés requis Nus piés, en langes com uns autres chaitis.’ Tout erraument s’estoit a genols mis, Les buies brisent, car li fers ert porris.24 (lines 2695–702) [‘Glorious father, who never fails, rescue me, Lord, from this mortal peril. I shall seek you out, good and powerful God, at the holy sepulchre in which you were placed. Lord Saint James, I will seek you out barefoot, in rags, as other wretches do.’ He knelt at once. The fetters broke, for the iron had decayed.]25 Confidence in the efficacy of outward forms of penitence, which aligns the romance with exemplary literature, here coexists awkwardly with the rationalising impulse so characteristic of rewriting. The text is momentarily pulled in opposite directions and an unintended absurdity is created. On the other hand, we may choose to read the rusty iron as yet another example of divine magnanimity, no less reassuring for being singularly unspectacular. The miraculous has become the quotidian, but by the same token the quotidian has become miraculous.



Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, MS XIII (V), printed in Der festländische Bueve de Hantone: Fassung III, 2 vols, ed. Albert Stimming, Gesellschaft für romanische Literatur 34, 42 (Dresden 1914–20), vol. 1. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in the preparation of this article.


12 Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance CORINNE SAUNDERS Among the motifs that approach, call into question and transgress the boundaries of romance are illness, medicine and healing. They can mark dramatic narrative shifts and elicit new modes of understanding, recalling the fragility of the human, but also proving individual strength, and gesturing towards the boundary between life and death. They also stand at the boundaries of romance in their links to other discourses: natural philosophy, medical writing, theology and other literary genres, in particular devotional writing and hagiography. The limits to human intervention in illness in this period, and the enigmatic nature of sickness and cure, illuminate the powerful role of destiny or providence in human existence, but also encourage responses that draw on alternative, illicit powers. In the sphere of folk belief particularly, magic and medicine blur. Romance provides a space in which these various aspects of illness, medicine and healing come into play: writers imaginatively engage with the actuality of such experiences, with the moral and providential questions they evoke, and with their potential for transformation of different kinds. Written on the body of the sufferer, the process of sickness and health becomes a narrative of affective and didactic power. Michel Foucault in his study of the history of madness writes memorably of ‘the lyric glow of illness’.1 From the classical period onwards, illness has figured in literature as a heightened or transitional state that opens the way for the creative act, or as a state of intensity in which the sufferer is taken out of himself, paradoxically to come to a new state of self-realisation or understanding of the world. This is most evident in classical representations of madness as divine frenzy. Thus in Plato’s Ion, Socrates famously persuades the rhapsode that his poetry results not from reason and learning, but from the madness of divine inspiration.2 The notion is sustained in medieval depictions of love-madness: Troilus’s passion for Criseyde, for instance, is



Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. R. Howard (London, 1967, repr. 1989), p. 537; originally published as Folie et déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (Paris, 1961). Plato, Ion; or, of the Iliad, trans. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Five Dialogues of Plato, ed. A.D. Lindsay (London, 1938), pp. 1–16, at pp. 6–7.

Corinne Saunders reflected in his composition of lyric poetry.3 Medieval writers also play on the connection between madness, penance and self-realisation in their portrayals of Nebuchadnezzar and of the great Arthurian knights, Yvain, Launcelot, Tristan.4 In the post-medieval period, the association between madness and creativity is disturbingly present in the poetry of Smart, Cowper, Blake, Clare, and later Lowell, Berryman and Plath. But illness more generally can fuel the creative imagination and play an epiphanic role in literature. This is particularly evident in Romantic writing: Keats’s poetry, for instance, is coloured by the ‘lyric glow’ of consumption. The profound, transformative experience of illness lies at the heart of a number of nineteenth-century and early modern novels, perhaps most memorably, Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice, and Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove.5 Medieval religious writing, and particularly mystical writing, repeatedly presents illness as a special state in which the boundary between earthly and divine worlds may be crossed. Julian of Norwich, for instance, prays to be brought near to death, so that she may ‘lyven more to the worshippe of God’, and it is during her extreme illness in 1373 that she experiences her visions.6 In romance, the experience of lovesickness, arising from the black humour of melancholy and potentially leading to madness, is an archetypal motif, seen at its height in Troilus, whose experience of love renders him pale, swooning, unable to eat, confined to his bed, and eventually 3




In Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, love is repeatedly characterised as illness and madness, as for instance when Troilus is first struck by love: ‘thanne felte this Troilus swich wo/ That he was wel neigh wood’ (The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (1987; Oxford, 1988), pp. 471– 585: Book I, lines 498–99). For Troilus’ songs, see I.400–20, III.1744–71, V.638–44. Troilus’ first song (which translates Petrarch’s Sonnet 88, ‘In Vita’) makes specific use of the trope of illness: ‘Allas, what is this wondre maladie?/ For hote of cold, for cold of hote, I dye’ (I.419– 20). Love-madness is a structuring motif in Chrétien de Troyes’ Le Chevalier au Lion, in which Yvain, his wits overset by the loss of his lady, runs mad into the forest, while Le Chevalier de la Charrete treats the irrationality of love. Madness is also a central episode in the Tristan legend, and in later Arthurian romance. In Malory’s Morte Darthur, for instance, both Sir Launcelot and Sir Tristram follow the pattern of Yvain, running mad into the forest as a result of grief in love. Gower’s Confessio Amantis offers a striking treatment of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness (Book I, lines 2785–3066), and see also Penelope B.R. Doob, Nebuchadnezzar’s Children: Conventions of Madness in Middle English Literature (New Haven, CT, 1974). These works are discussed further in my essay, ‘“The thoghtful maladie”: Madness and Vision in Medieval Writing’, in Madness and Creativity in Literature and Culture, ed. Corinne Saunders and Jane Macnaughton (Basingstoke, 2005), pp. 65–85. The many recent critical studies of illness in later literature include Shoshana Felman, Writing and Madness; (Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis), trans. Martha Noel Evans et al. (Palo Alto, 2003); Saunders and Macnaughton, Madness and Creativity in Literature and Culture; Allen Thiher, Revels in Madness: Insanity in Medicine and Literature (Ann Arbor, 1999); Raymond A. Anselment, The Realms of Apollo: Literature and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England (Newark and London, 1995); Allan Ingram, The Madhouse of Language: Reading and Writing Madness in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1991); Clark Lawlor, Consumption and Literature: The Making of the Romantic Disease (Basingstoke, 2006); Miriam Balin, The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction: The Art of Being Ill (Cambridge, 1994); Peter M. Logan, Nerves and Narratives: A Cultural History of Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century British Prose (Berkeley, 1997); Helen Small, Love’s Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and Female Insanity, 1800–1865 (Oxford, 1996); Jane Wood, Passion and Pathology in Victorian Fiction (Oxford, 2001). Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love, ed. Marion Glasscoe, revised edn, EMETS (Exeter, 1993), p. 3.


Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance so physically weakened by his love for Criseyde that he becomes unrecognisable, and must walk with the help of a crutch.7 Portrayals of tuberculosis in Romantic and Victorian writing in part develop out of medieval depictions of love-sickness. Like the one prostrated by love, ‘the tubercular is someone “consumed” by ardor, that ardor leading to the dissolution of the body’: both are possessed by inner fever, which is written on the body in pallour and hectic colour.8 In nineteenth-century writing, ‘romantic’ deaths from tuberculosis recur: the disease is often presented as ‘relatively painless’, or at least as preserving and even enhancing beauty.9 Illness of other kinds, not associated with melancholia, are not so commonly represented in literature. Cancer, by contrast, is largely seen as unromantic and hence as lending itself less well to metaphorical treatment – although the notion of the ‘canker’ can work powerfully in moral representations of illness, to suggest either inner corruption or chastisement of the spirit, as in the case of St Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ (II Corinthians 12, 7).10 Yet even in religious writing, illness is most often presented as a variant on love-sickness, a consumption of the body by the ardent soul, sometimes self-induced through fasting and the ascetic life, or, as in the case of Julian of Norwich, through prayer.11 In medieval romance, the forerunner of the novel, illness almost exclusively takes the form of love-sickness and related madness. Medicine is more often required for wounds than for sickness. Yet the few instances there are of illness of other sorts in romance are revealing, for they illuminate cultural attitudes to illness and cure, and can play powerful moral and symbolic roles. A consideration of illness and healing in romance demonstrates too that the distinction we draw between the marvellous and the natural is not absolute. Medical thought in the medieval period was shaped by the theory of the bodily humours, developed by Hippocrates and Galen, and influential up to the nineteenth century. The four humours, each associated with a bodily fluid, reflected the division of nature into four elements: the exact makeup of the humours created an individual’s temperament and complexion.12 Ideally, this comprised a balance of humours; imbalance created illness. The modern distinction between physical and mental illness did not exist, and in fact recent medical thought has come to emphasise anew the mind-body continuum.13 Illnesses were largely viewed as 7

8 9 10 11 12


Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, V. 1216–22, in The Riverside Chaucer, p. 576. For a comprehensive discussion, see Mary Frances Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The ‘Viaticum’ and its Commentaries (Philadelphia, 1990). Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (1978), reprinted in Illness as Metaphor; Aids and its Metaphors (Harmondsworth, 1991), p. 21, and see pp. 12–13. Sontag, Illness, p. 16; on romantic deaths, see especially pp. 13–17, 27–37. Sontag, Illness, p. 14. See further Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley, 1987). See Roy Porter’s summary, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present (London, 1997), p. 9, and further Simon Kemp, Medieval Psychology, Contributions in Psychology 14 (New York, 1990). For general studies of medieval medicine, see M.L. Cameron, Anglo-Saxon Medicine, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 7 (Cambridge, 1993); Faye Getz, Medicine in the English Middle Ages (Princeton, 1998); Nancy G. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice (Chicago, 1990); and C.H. Talbot, Medicine in Medieval England (London, 1967). The trend in modern medicine to re-connect body and mind is exemplified in the work of the neurologist and philosopher, Antonio Damasio: see, for instance, his Looking for Spinosa: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain (London, 2003).


Corinne Saunders physiological, rooted in some imbalance of the humours. This idea was, however, complicated by ideas of illness as sent from beyond, whether by God or the Devil. It was easy to associate certain effects of illness, such as sudden pain or manifestations on the skin, with external forces of a mysterious kind, just as it was to imagine the sudden experience of love as arrows shot by the God of Love. There was always a potential relation between sin and illness, for disease and decay had only come about after the Fall; illness might readily be seen as punishment and purification. The book of Job asserted the divine source of both illness and healing, and hence the beneficial, even privileged aspect of illness: ‘Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole’ (Job 5, 17–18).14 But the experience of Job also makes clear the difficulty of accepting illness as beneficial, and its demonic association: it is after all Satan who tests Job. Illness might be caused by malevolent demons or other spirits, through ‘the noxious vapors which they stirred up as they flew, or with the arrows which they shot’; ‘earthly illness of the most serious sort came from the aery regions in which demons were so overwhelmingly strong, and humankind so unbearably weak’.15 The celebrated charm found in the Old English collection Lacnunga (Remedies; in London, British Library MS Harley 585, early eleventh century), ‘Wið færstice’ (‘For sudden stabbing pain’) imagines pain as ‘ylfa gescot’, (‘shot of elves’).16 The charm offers further images of supernatural figures who may cause illness: mighty women throwing spears, witches, and the Norse Aesir. A number of other charms associate illness with elves, sometimes in the larger context of demonic temptation. Such ideas were reinforced by epidemics such as the Black Death, which appeared to be borne upon the air, and in their mass effect required an explanation beyond individual imbalance of the humours, whether this was divine punishment or demonic attack. A learned tradition of medicine rooted in classical study, and drawing especially on the works of Galen and Aristotle, endured across the Middle Ages. The site of medical innovation, however, lay to the East, in the Arabic world, and the earliest medical schools were situated in places with access to this learning. On the whole, the primary role of the medieval physician was to address the imbalances of the humours through a combination of advice on moderate daily living, herbal remedies, and certain, fairly limited medical practices such as blood-letting or dressing wounds; purgation of different kinds was an essential aspect of treatment. Chaucer’s depiction of the ‘Doctour of Phisik’ in the General Prologue suggests the place of medicine within a wider context of natural philosophy: it is ‘magyk natureel’, requiring the knowledge of anatomy, humours and disease, medicines, especially herbal remedies, and astrology.17 Chaucer’s reference to the Physician’s love of gold suggests the costliness of medical treatment. While there did exist learned, university-trained 14 15 16


See further the discussion of the divine origins of illness in Anselment, The Realms of Apollo, pp. 25–30. Valerie J. Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe (Oxford, 1991), pp. 240, 241. Edward Pettit, ed. and trans., Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The Lacnunga, vol. 1: Introduction, Text, Translation and Appendices, Mellen Critical Editions and Translations, 6a (Lewiston, NY, 2001), cxxviia, pp. 90–95, lines 760, 782. Elfshot is interpreted as rheumatism by G. Storms in Anglo-Saxon Magic (The Hague, 1948), pp. 141–42. Chaucer, The General Prologue, I. 411–44, in The Riverside Chaucer, p. 30.


Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance physicians and surgeons, and some celebrated foreign physicians were attached to the court, these were comparatively rare figures. More common were the tradesmen and women who practised medicine as a sideline – barber-surgeons and others in London, nurses, midwives, toothdrawers, apothecaries, country practitioners. Care of the sick and knowledge of herbal remedies were also important aspects of monastic life and pastoral duty. In a world where the limits of medicine were so clear, prayer and faith in providence played an important role. The New Testament made explicit God’s healing power through Christ’s miraculous ability to cure the sick, and even to raise the dead; the process of illness and healing was a paradigm too for the movement from sin to redemption through the forgiveness and grace brought to sinful man by Christ, the great Physician, and of the hope of resurrection at the Last Judgment. St Augustine employs a series of examples of miraculous healing, of the sight of a blind man restored, of the healing of fistula, cancer, gout, paralysis, hernia, possession and various kinds of sickness, even of the revival of the dead: such miracles, he writes, could fill many books, but their message is one, ‘Cui nisi huic fidei adtestantur ista miracula, in qua praedicatur Christus resurrexisse in carne et in caelum ascendisse cum carne?’ (‘What is it that these miracles attest, except the faith which proclaims that Christ rose in the flesh and with it ascended to heaven?’).18 The cure of illness was as likely to lie in a visit to the shrine of a saint as in the advice of a physician. The lack of hospitals and exclusiveness of learned physicians meant that for most people illness and healing belonged within the family and community – aspects of folk experience. Basic medicine was complemented not only by Christian ritual but also by folk remedies that might be termed magical. Such medical magic could blur into learned medicine, although theologians in particular were eager to distinguish the two. Magical remedies included amulets, ligatures (bindings or knots) and various concoctions – potions, salves and powders – very similar to those recorded in the spells preserved from the classical period, which address a range of basic human desires and fears: love, prosperity, success, and general preservation from harm, including illness. Pliny emphasises the connection between magic and medicine, and presents a plethora of exotic or unpleasant examples.19 Recipes may require as well as herbs other, sometimes bizarre, ingredients, and magical or Christian words and rituals of gathering, preparation and application, which typically use ideas of sympathy or correspondences in the universe.20 They frequently include notions of appropriate time and place, and other rituals. The remedy against elf-shot, for example, is elusive but combines a salve of feverfew, red nettle and plantain boiled in butter, the commanding of spirits through the invocation of a smith (probably Weland) and six deadly spears, and the use of a knife in some way to cancel the pain imagined as caused by the spears of elves, witches or other harmful spirits. The archaeological evidence from Anglo-Saxon England of many amulets, found 18 19 20

St Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, trans. G.E. McCracken et al., LCL, 7 vols (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1957–72), vol. 7, XXII, 9. Books XX–XXX of Pliny’s Natural History treat “Materia Medica”; Book XXX specifically addresses magic. See further Flint, Rise of Magic, pp. 240–53, and Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989, 2000), in particular, ‘The Common Tradition of Medieval Magic’, pp. 56– 94.


Corinne Saunders particularly in the graves of women, attests to the widespread use of simple protective magic, as does the repeated condemnation of medical magic in secular laws and penitentials, in which it is associated with paganism.21 Theologians repeatedly condemned such practices. Isidore of Seville, following Augustine, includes medical magic in his extensive discussion of magic, to conclude, ‘In quibus omnibus ars daemonum est ex quadam pestifera societate hominum et angelorum malorum exorta’ (‘In all these things the craft of demons has issued from a certain pestilential alliance of humans and evil angels’).22 Chaucer’s Parson places medical magic as effective only through divine intervention, ‘Charmes for woundes or maladie of men or of beestes, if they taken any effect, it may be peraventure that God suffreth it, for folk sholden yeve the moore feith and reverence to his name’.23 The passage also suggests, however, the enduring folk practice of medical magic. Herbals and charms continue to be copied in the late Middle Ages, and the monastic provenance of many charms and remedies demonstrates the difficulty of distinguishing magic from acceptable medicine, despite the cautionary statements of theologians; there seems to have been considerable uncertainty among medical practitioners.24 Richard Kieckhefer emphasises the ambivalent quality of medical magic. If successful, it could be seen as medicinal or god-sent, if destructive, as the harmful enactment of sorcery: ‘The techniques for sorcery were essentially the same as those for medical or protective magic: potions, charms and amulets, often with accompanying rituals. The difference between positive and negative magic lay not in their basic conception but in the purposes they served’.25 How do illness, medicine and healing in romance intersect with this already multifaceted cultural tradition? Critical attention to these motifs has been limited on the whole to the specialised manifestations of illness in love-sickness and madness, and to certain, particularly resonant, episodes: in the Tristan legend, the love potion and Tristan’s poisoned wounds; in Arthurian romance, the madness of Launcelot, Tristan and Yvain, the poisoned wounds of Sir Urry, the role of the Grail in healing, and the saintly illnesses and deaths of those on the Grail Quest. Middle English nonArthurian romance offers comparatively few, and much less well-known instances, but these do evince an interesting range of attitudes to illness and ideas of healing, and demonstrate their literary potentiality. Prominent is the moralisation of illness and the use of the motifs of illness and healing to reflect on the workings of providence. Illness functions as well to illuminate the virtue and emotions of the romance hero or heroine, and can, as in later literature, play transformative roles. Romance can comment too on the actual experience and treatment of disease. Instances of the summoning of ‘leeches’ (a term suggesting one of the physician’s main practices) are comparatively few, a reflection of medieval actuality, but healing 21 22

23 24 25

See Bill Griffiths, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic (Swaffham, Norfolk, 2003), p. 115, and his discussion of the tradition of women as seeresses, pp. 115–18. Isidore of Seville, Etimologías, VIII, ix, ed. Jose Oroz Reta and Manuel-A. Marcos Casquero, 2 vols (Madrid, 1982–83), vol. 1, p. 716, and The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, trans. Stephen A. Barney et al. (Cambridge, 2006), p. 183; for discussion of this passage, see Kieckhefer, Magic, p. 11. Chaucer, The Parson’s Tale, X. 606, in The Riverside Chaucer, p. 308. See, for instance, Kieckhefer’s discussion of the attitudes of physicians such as John of Mirfield and John of Gaddesden (Magic, pp. 64–75). Kieckhefer, Magic, p. 81.


Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance in romance is practised more widely, by monks, hermits, and ladies, and also reflects the hand of providence. Romance exploits the blurring between medicine and magic, to increase exoticism and to create a characteristic blend of realism and fantasy, as well as to probe the limits of human intervention. This essay does not claim to be comprehensive, but will consider a range of instances in order to suggest the diversity and richness of the subject in non-Arthurian romance, from the moral romances of Sir Gowther and Amys and Amylion, to the otherworldly Breton lay of Sir Orfeo, to the extended narratives of Guy of Warwick and Sir Beues of Hamtoun, with their heightened use of realism.26 The motifs of illnesss and healing play crucial structural roles in Sir Gowther. While this is very much a non-medical romance, it is not a wholly non-realist romance despite the apparently fantastic subject of the demonic child. The notion of the incubus was taken extremely seriously by theologians such as St Thomas Aquinas. 27 Matthew Paris records an episode very reminiscent of that on which Sir Gowther is founded, of the birth of a demon child in 1249 in Herefordshire, whose teeth are fully grown and whose height is that of a boy of seventeen after only six months; his mother declines and swiftly dies.28 Central to a narrative that engages with complex theological issues and situates itself within clerical debate is the association of illness with God’s will. The theme of physical healing functions to illuminate that of spiritual healing. The conditions of barrenness or impotence provide the impetus for the tale, and unhappiness is manifested physically in the lady’s pallour at the start, ‘Tho ladé sykud and made yll chere,/ That all feylyd hur whyte lere’.29 The lack of an heir is addressed not by medicine, however, but by the lady’s misguided prayer. Medical charms, including those against barrenness, were forbidden largely because they were supposed to invoke demonic powers, and the lady’s prayer functions in just this way, to summon the devil in the likeness of her husband. Gowther’s penance, along with only eating food snatched from the mouths of dogs, of speaking ‘no word… for evyll ne gud’ (295), is neatly paralleled by the Emperor’s daughter’s unchosen muteness, ‘Scho wold have spokyn and myght noght’ (373). Again, there is no question of human medicine, but this time supernatural intervention is positive: the maiden’s healing becomes the divine sign that releases Gowther from his penance, when, having lain for two days as if dead, she revives just as she is about to 26




While all the works considered here (apart from Sir Orfeo) have extant continental and/or Anglo-Norman sources and analogues, this essay will focus on the nuances of the Middle English texts. Amys and Amylion, Sir Orfeo, Sir Beues of Hamtoun and Guy of Warwick are all found in the Auchinleck manuscript (which was probably compiled in the 1330s); Sir Gowther survives in two late-fifteenth-century manuscripts. See further my discussion in Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 218–28, and Neil Cartlidge, ‘“Therof seyus clerkus”: Slander, Rape and Sir Gowther’, in Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England, ed. Corinne Saunders, Studies in Medieval Romance (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 135–47. Matthew Paris, Matthaei Parisiensis, Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica majora, ed. Henry Richards Luard, 7 vols, RS 57 (London, 1872–84), vol. 5, p. 82, and for a translation, Chronicles of Matthew Paris: Monastic Life in the Thirteenth Century, ed. and trans. Richard Vaughan (Gloucester and New York, 1984), p. 190; cited by George Lyman Kittredge, Witchcraft in Old and New England (1929; New York, 1956), p. 117. Sir Gowther, in Six Middle English Romances, ed. Maldwyn Mills (London and Rutland, VT, 1973), pp. 148–68, lines 58–59. All subsequent references to Sir Gowther will be from this edition and will be cited by line number.


Corinne Saunders be buried, ‘Syche grace God hur sentt/ That scho raxeld hur and rase/ And spake wordus that wyse was/ To syr Gwother varement’ (651–54). Like the miracles recounted by Augustine, her recovery recalls the promise of resurrection, and her new-found voice affirms Christ’s miracles. Through the narrative of illness and healing, the progression of Gowther towards penitence and holiness is made complete, and the pattern of the saint replaces that of the demonic. Amys and Amylion sustains but complicates this emphasis. Illness is a structuring motif in this romance: because of ‘o maladye that on him wes’, Amis remains at home rather than accompanying the duke whom he serves out hunting. Seeking ‘solace’ in a garden, he encounters the love-sick Belesawnt, the duke’s daughter, who also seeks to ‘slake here of here care’.30 Later, when Amylion has taken on Amis’s battle, Amis claims to suffer ‘suche maladye/ That all chaunged ys my blode;/ [And] all my bonys be so sare’, in order to avoid making love to Amylion’s wife. The profound connection between the two friends seems to be affirmed by the realisation of this mock illness in Amylion’s actual leprosy. The symbolic emphasis is maintained, for the narrative is oddly disengaged regarding the physical manifestation of this illness or its medical treatment. It is explicitly God-sent: an angel announces to Amylion that he will become ‘a ffouler man’ than any other if he fights in place of Amys (103). The romance dramatically probes a conflict of moral responsibility, as, despite the fact that he likes the idea ‘ylle’ (105), Amylion chooses to take on the battle, placing friendship above obedience to God. The illness that begins as punishment, however, becomes a test of moral virtue, both of Amylion and those around him. Leprosy held a special resonance for medieval writers, its physical symptoms of degeneration of flesh, limbs and bones making it seem a ‘living death’, the ‘unclean’ disease: it is known now that the term was applied to many skin diseases where ulcers and sores were present. Leprosy was thought to be a sexual disease and was thus associated with pride and lust of the flesh, a direct mark of sin, although it could also be seen as a ‘purgatory on earth’, with its sufferers finding ‘swifter reward in heaven’.31 Robert Henryson in the Testament of Cresseid dramatically employs the convention of leprosy as divine punishment: the immediate result of Cresseid’s blasphemy against the gods, leprosy also functions on a symbolic, moral level as the fruits of her betrayal of Troilus and her promiscuity. Waking from her vision of Saturn laying his ‘frostie wande’ on her head, Cresseid sees in the glass the terrible ravages of leprosy: ‘Sum knew hir weill, and sum had na knawledge/ Of hir, becaus scho was sa deformait,/ Wyth bylis blak ouirspred in hir visage,/ And hir fair colour faidit and alterait’.32 Cresseid’s leprosy, writes Susan Sontag, ‘show[s] the true face of the beautiful liar’; the leper’s body becomes ‘a social text in which corruption [is]made visible’.33 Cresseid is a living example of the temporal, mutable nature of the 30 31



Amys and Amylion, ed. Françoise le Saux, EMETS (Exeter, 1993), stanzas 41, 42, 45. All subsequent references to Amys will be from this edition and will be cited by stanza number. Porter, pp. 121–22. See further Saul Nathaniel Brody, The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (Ithaca, NY, 1974), and Carole Rawcliffe, Leprosy in Medieval England (Woodbridge and Rochester, NY, 2006). Robert Henryson, The Testament of Cresseid, in The Poems, ed. Denton Fox (Oxford, 1987), pp. 111–31, lines 311, 393–96. All subsequent references to the Testament of Cresseid will be from this edition and cited by line number. Sontag, Illness, pp. 44, 59.


Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance world and all within it, ‘Nocht is 3our fairnes bot an faiding flour… 3our roising reid to rotting sall retour’ (461–64): only a glance of her eyes recalls to Troilus Cresseid, ‘sumtyme his awin darling’ (504). Whereas Henryson’s narrative graphically realises leprosy, Amys offers no physical details of Amylion’s foulness, but states simply, ‘As the angell had him ytolde,/ A fouler lazar was none yholde/ In this world then he’ (125). We hear of no medical attention. This is in direct contrast to the treatment of Amylion’s wounds earlier, ‘Leches thei had sone yfounde;/Thei gon taste the knyghtes wound,/ And heled him faire agayn’ (115). Leprosy seems entirely a moral indicator. Yet in a secondary way, Amys does reflect on social attitudes to the illness, in the vivid description of the unwillingness of his wife and household to accept him. This is presented in very negative terms, as proof of the wickedness of Amylion’s wife. Yet because leprosy was considered a seriously contagious disease, isolation was the traditional treatment, following the decree in Leviticus, ‘he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be’ (13, 46); local courts sometimes required individuals to leave cities or towns.34 Leprosy provided one of the strongest incentives for building ‘hospitals’, which approached more nearly the modern-day hospice than the hospital.35 Henryson’s Cresseid realistically hides herself in ‘3one hospitall at the tounis end’ (382), where lepers are segregated from the rest of society to wander with their clappers, warning of their uncleanness and begging alms from passers-by. Amys, however, demonstrates that romance may offer an alternative and more charitable perspective on illness, presenting the disease from the point of view of the sufferer and as God-sent, and recalling Christ’s enjoinment of his disciples to ‘cleanse the lepers’ (Matthew 10, 8). Thus a mark of the selflessness of Amys’s wife is her greeting to Amylion: ‘As foule a lasur as he was,/ The lady kiste him in that plas’ (175). The ‘treatment’ for Amylion’s leprosy, of bathing in the blood of Amys’ children, takes selflessness to an extreme. It recalls Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, but goes several steps further: the two children really do have their throats cut and are miraculously restored. Their innocent blood, like Christ’s, restores the sufferer, and the sacrifice functions to prove Amys’ love for his friend above himself, re-enacting Christ’s sacrifice for mankind. The scene finds a parallel in Sir Thomas Malory’s tale of the Sankgreall in Le Morte Darthur, when the blood of Perceval’s sister heals a sick lady from a ‘malodye’ that has become a ‘mesell’, a term that suggests a leprous illness. Whereas ‘no leche cowde remedye her’, she may be healed by ‘a dysshfulle of bloode of a maydyn’: as in Amys the blood must be pure.36 The sacrifice of Perceval’s sister is again patterned on that of Christ, for she loses so much blood in filling the dish that she may not live. Malory employs too the model of the pelican, the Christlike bird that pierces itself with its beak to save its young: ‘and so the grete birde bledde so faste that he dyed amonge hys birdys. And the yonge birdys toke lyff by the bloode of the grete birde’ (XVI, 6, p. 564). In Amys, however, the pattern includes a disturbing twist, for it is the children who lose their lives to preserve 34 35 36

See further Porter, Greatest Benefit, pp. 121–22; Getz, Medicine, p. 80. See Porter, Greatest Benefit, p. 122 and Getz, Medicine, pp. 90–91. Sir Thomas Malory, Malory: Works, ed. Eugène Vinaver, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1971; paperback edn, 1977), XVII, 11, p. 591. All subsequent references to Malory’s Morte Darthur will be from this edition and will be cited by book, section and page number. I use this edition as the most accessible, since the third edition, revised by P. J. C. Field (Oxford, 1990), is now out of print.


Corinne Saunders Amys’ friend. Although they may be seen as extensions of the self, and the sacrifice of Amys and his wife thus as fulfilling the words of St John, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15, 13), the logic remains troubling, for the children have no choice. The sacrifice of Virginia in Chaucer’s Physician’s Tale is similarly troubling. Elaine Scarry writes of the power of stories of child sacrifice: ‘here the two extreme forms of physical alteration, selfreplication and wounding, converge’. The story of Abraham and Isaac, she suggests, may be seen as ‘containing the central mystery of the Judeo-Christian God’: the body is ‘turned inside-out’, imaging ‘the structure of belief itself, the taking of one’s insides and giving them over to something wholly outside oneself’. Amys and his wife, like Abraham and Sarah, agree ‘to sacrifice the interior of . . . [their] bodies, and to participate actively in that surrender’. The risk is extraordinary, but, as in the biblical story, it is worthwhile: the effect is ‘to make an already existing God more immediately apprehensible, to remake of an unapprehensible God an apprehensible One’. 37 Thus in Amylion’s healing, God is again made flesh. The substance at the heart of the episode, blood, is the central symbol of Christianity. Ancient notions of the power of blood are rewritten in the concept of Christ shedding his blood for mankind, and the transformative power of blood is repeatedly celebrated in the mysterious trans-substantiation of the Eucharist. Alongside and partly fuelled by the religious centrality of blood, a strong medical and folk belief in the power of blood endured. Blood figures repeatedly in recipes for magical spells and potions, and certain kinds of blood were viewed as having special powers (the blood of a virgin that of healing, menstrual blood that of polluting): Pliny offers a highly melodramatic account of menstrual blood as causing new wine to turn sour, crops to become barren, fruit, plants and bees to die, metal to be dulled and rusted, and dogs to become mad and poisonous.38 Blood played a central role in medieval medicine, most obviously in the common practices of blood-letting and leeching, but also that of giving the patient – especially the madman, who was thought to be suffering from a deficiency in blood – fresh blood, sometimes human, to drink.39 Thus the ‘cure’ of Amylion plays with more secular ideas of healing as well as with religious models. The motifs of illness, sacrifice and mutilation of the body present in Sir Gowther and Amys also occur, eerily reconfigured, in Sir Orfeo. Heurodis’s vision as she sleeps under a ‘fair ympe-tree’ in her orchard, of the King of Faery, who tells her that she will be taken into his country, is written on her body in self-mutilation and madness: Ac as sone as she gan awake, She crid and lothly bere gan make; She froted hir honden and hir feet And crached hir visage – it bled wete. Hir riche robe hie all to-rett

37 38 39

Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford, 1985), pp. 204– 205. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. H. Rackham et al., LCL, 10 vols (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1938–62), vol. 2, VII, xv, 64–65. See further Doob, Nebuchadnezzar’s Children, p. 38.


Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance And was reveysed out of hir wit.40 Orfeo’s description of Heurodis’s deathly appearance paints her as experiencing a kind of living death: ‘Thy body, that was so white y-core, With thine nailes is all to-tore! Alas, thy rode, that was so red, Is all wan as thou were ded! And also thine fingers smale Beth al blody and all pale!’ (81–6) Heurodis’s physical ravishment only enacts that which has already occurred within her mind, its violence manifested on her body. Like Amys’s children, and like those invaded by disease, she has no choice. The King of Faery’s desire to possess Heurodis’s body is not constructed as sexual, but seems rather to correspond with a more general emphasis on violent pursuit of bodies in this work, evident later in the image of the faery hunt that catches ‘no best’ (263), and most of all in the disturbing vision of the bodies caught in the throes of death that people the kingdom of faery (363–78). The continuity of mind and body suggested by Heurodis’ frenzy is differently illustrated in Orfeo’s choice to allow his body to become that of a Wild Man, his hair grown long, his skin blackened and his body emaciated: his inner suffering is intentionally written on the body. The eventual restoration of the body and the recovery of physical wholeness and beauty, of both Orfeo and his queen, is synonymous with the restoration of order. Strikingly, although suffering and mutilation of the body are central motifs in all these works, in none of them do doctors play a role. These romances depict illness, physical suffering and healing within the context of contemporary notions of both illness and cure as symbolic and God-sent, and of the continuum between mind and body. The long romances of Guy of Warwick and Sir Beues of Hamtoun employ more secular realism in their treatment of illness, medicine and healing, although they also retain the moral and spiritual emphases of the motifs. Thus when Guy falls in love with Felice, experiencing all the usual symptoms of love malady – sickness, proximity to death, lack of appetite and sleep – the ‘leches’ are summoned.41 Guy, ‘blaike and blo’ (506), tells them of his burning heat and icy chills, and one of the doctors says wisely, ‘a feuer it is’ (523). There is, however, no suggestion of cure: Guy simply agrees, and ‘Þe leches gon, & lete Gij one,/ Þat makeþ wel michel mone’ (525–26). The scene nicely demonstrates the limits to the treatment of illness: doctors, even when summoned, cannot cure love-sickness, although they can recognise its symptoms. Later, about to marry and thinking suddenly of Felice, Guy falls into a swoon and lies sick, neither eating nor drinking for a fortnight, imitated by his lion. He recovers not through doctors but by deciding not to forgo Felice: now he is ‘Glad 40


Sir Orfeo, in Middle English Verse Romances, ed. Donald B. Sands, EMETS (Exeter, 1986), pp. 185–200, lines 46, 53–58. All subsequent references to Sir Orfeo will be from this edition and will be cited by line number. The Romance of Guy of Warwick: The First or 14th-century Version, ed. Julius Zupitza, EETS ES 42, 49, 59 (London, 1883, 1887, 1891), line 503. All subsequent references to Guy will be from this edition, based on the Auchinleck MS, and will be cited by line number, or from line 7305 onwards, by page and stanza number.


Corinne Saunders & bliþe wiþ hert li3t’ (4282). The affective quality of illness, the direct association of physical and emotional, body and sense, is striking, and there is no place for medical treatment. The same mind-body continuum is manifested in Felice’s sorrow at Guy’s departure, which echoes Heurodis’s frenzy. Felice swoons, weeps and sighs, but also mutilates her flesh: ‘Hire here sche drou3, hir hond sche wrong,/ Hir fingres brast o blode’ (p. 408, st. 34); she intends to commit suicide until she thinks of her unborn child. This affective emphasis is not, however, the only perspective offered on illness in Guy. When Herhaud, Guy’s companion, is wounded ‘to death’ by Lombards, Guy takes his body to an abbey to be buried, but in fact the knight is healed by a monk there: He [the abbot] dede beren his body Into a chamber to vnarmy. A monk of þe house biheld him, Bodi & heued & ich a lim. Þilke monk sorgien was, Þe vertu he knewe of mani a gras; Þe wounde he biheld stedefastliche, Þat in his body was so griseliche. Bi þe wounde he seye y-wis Þat to þe deþ wounded he nis, & seye þat he hym hele mi3t; & so he dede ful wele, y pli3t. (1655–66) Suddenly we are in a different world of trained surgeon-monks with a sophisticated knowledge of herbs and plants (‘mani a gras’), and the ability to diagnose and heal. Despite the monastic setting, this is not an instance of marvellous or divine intervention, but of the practice of the art of medicine, and Guy too is healed by a hermit in the abbey. When his friend Tirri is wounded, Guy calls for ‘leches þere/ Þe wisest þat in þat cite were’ (4847–48), offering them a hundred gold coins; and again we hear realistic details of how ‘Þai groped his veynes & his wounde,/ Þai feld hem boþe hole & sounde:/ Wele hii seþ he nis nou3t dede.’ (4857–59). Their knowledge is nicely contrasted to the sorrow of Tirri’s lady, and healing is presented as the result of the skill of the practitioner in recognising the nature of the wounds, not as the result of miracle. Later Duke Otous will also have his wounds ‘lete loken to’ (5507). The poisoned wounds of Sir Urry, which play a crucial role in the dénouement of Malory’s Morte Darthur, offer a striking contrast. These wounds are placed firmly beyond medicine, the result of the ‘suttyle craufftis’ wrought by the sorceress mother of Urry’s enemy Sir Alpheus: ‘ever his woundis shulde one tyme fester and another tyme blede, so that he shulde never be hole untyll the beste knyght of the worlde had serched hys woundis’ (XIX, 10, p. 663). For Malory, the drama is situated in the great list of the hundred and ten Arthurian knights, none of whom succeed in healing Urry, and in the virtue and humility of Sir Launcelot, who weeps ‘as he had bene a chylde that had bene beatyn!’ (XIX, 12, p. 668) when he finally searches the wounds at Arthur’s command. Here, the motifs of illness and healing prove Launcelot’s excellence and holiness in one last, resounding triumph just before all spirals downwards. Earthly medicine plays no role. This perspective is evident in Guy in the 186

Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance portrayal of the holy deaths of Guy and Felice, which, like the deaths of Launcelot and Guinevere, are not accompanied by physical illness but by prayer, prophecy, and the sweet savour of sanctity. This is a romance that exploits both the spiritual and secular aspects of illness and healing. Of all Middle English romances, perhaps Sir Beues of Hamtoun engages with most realism and most extensively with illness, medicine and healing. The motif of illness is present from the start: Beues’s mother feigns sickness, saying to the Earl, ‘euel was on hire falle,/ 3he wende be ded’, and her supposed craving for a wild boar sends him out to his death in the forest.42 A sequence of actual illness follows, the result of wounds, but more complex and developed than in many romances, with a focus on medicine, although the role of God in both sending and curing sickness remains clear. Beues’ greatest tests are encounters with monstrous opponents, which repeatedly result in illness. Imprisoned by Brademond, he must defeat first two dragons and then many snakes ‘Þat prouede euer wiþ her venim/ To sle Beues’ 1542–43). The final black adder attacks him in the forehead, and with her tail, so that he swoons and ‘almest is lif was in balaunse’ (1562); he lies seven years in his ‘peines grete’ (1569), only rescued through miraculous response to his prayers. Beues’s later battle with the dragon of Cologne is similarly constructed. Earlier in the narrative, we learn from the cries of a wounded knight in his sleep that the venom of the dragon has the power to rot the flesh from the bone (2697). When the dragon throws its poison onto Beues: Al ferde Beues bodi þere, A foule mesel alse 3if a were; Þar þe venim on him felle, His flesch gan ranclen & tebelle, Þar þe venim was icast, His armes gan al to-brast; Al to-brosten is ventaile, And of his hauberk a þosend maile. (2829–36) The effect is similar to that of leprosy, and like leprosy requires not medical but divine intervention. Just as the virgin’s well has earlier cooled and fortified Beues, now it proves to have the power of healing when he fortuitously falls into it. These tests of wounding and illness, and their miraculous healing, reflect the inner grace of the hero: Beues is divinely protected and the corrosion of the body, the ‘foule mesel’, made whole and pure, as Amylion’s is by the blood of Amys’ children. In a similar though abbreviated way, we hear of Sir Saber’s ‘gret sikenesse’ (3900): for half a year he cannot leave his bed, until ‘Swiche grace god him gan sende / And heled him of his maladie’ (3920–21). The resonances are both symbolic and realistic, for sickness, finally, is indeed mysterious and providential. While there is no treatment for Ermin’s sickness and death (4007–4009), or for ‘swiche siknesse’ (4590) as that which finally takes Josian from the world, this romance does offer an alternative perspective on illness and healing, that of learned 42

The Romance of Sir Beues of Hamtoun, ed. Eugen Kölbing, EETS, ES 46, 48, 65 (London, 1885, 1886, 1894), 1. 179–80. All subsequent references to Beues will be from this edition, based on the Auchinleck MS, and will be cited by line number.


Corinne Saunders medicine. Medicine is placed firmly within the female sphere, for the great healer of Beues is the lady Josian. The motif of women as healers recurs across romance: the Tristan legend offers one of the most celebrated instances, when Tristan’s wounds are healed through the knowledge of Isolde’s mother; in Malory’s version, it is La Beale Isode herself, ‘a noble surgeon’, who cures Sir Tristram, ‘whan she had serched hym she founde in the bottom of his wounde that therein was poyson, and so she healed hym in a whyle’ (VIII, 9, p. 238). Arthurian legend offers other intriguing instances: Elaine of Astolat cares for Launcelot’s wounds, employing, like Isode, therapeutic herbal baths; an unnamed lady expends the entire contents of a precious box of ointment obtained from Morgan le Fay to heal Yvain’s madness, suggesting the nexus of healing, magic and feminine agency.43 One of the most common properties of magical objects, most often presented to knights by ladies, is that of protection from wounds or marvellous powers of healing: the scabbard of Excalibur, for instance, given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, is described by Merlin as preventing the loss of blood, however sore the wound (I, 25, p. 36) – just the kind of protective magic, perhaps, that troubled the Church Fathers. What is most striking in Beues is the realism with which the medical learning of Josian is portrayed: while it does have a marvellous aspect, it is not explicitly presented as magical. The romance thus avoids the dubiousness of medical magic while drawing on some of its qualities. Josian is not an enchantress but possesses sophisticated medical knowledge: While 3he was in Ermonie, Boþe fysik and sirgirie 3he hadde lerned of meisters grete Of Boloyne þe gras and of Tulete, Þat 3e knew erbes mani & fale, To make boþe boute & bale. (3671–76) Partonope of Blois contains a similar description of the healing arts of the lady Melior, who is also a great enchantress; her knowledge of herbs, roots and spices complements her magical knowledge, although the poet does not include the provenance of the ‘grette clerkes’ and ‘c. mastres’ who teach her.44 By including these details and isolating medical from magical arts, the poet of Beues highlights the learned, respectable quality of Josian’s knowledge. The figure of the woman healer is not unrealistic. The earliest medical faculty had been established at Salerno in the mid-900s, and flourished particularly from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth century; it was especially associated with women through the legendary female healer, Trotula.45 The protagonist of Marie de France’s Les Deus Amanz obtains from his lady’s aunt in Salerno the marvellous potion that will allow him to climb a mountain 43

44 45

For these episodes, see Malory, Morte Darthur, XVIII, 15, p. 633, 17, p. 635; VIII, 11, p. 241, and Chrétien de Troyes, Le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain), ed. Mario Roques, Les Romans de Chrétien de Troyes IV, CFMA 89 (Paris, 1982), lines 2776–3028. The Middle English Versions of Partonope of Blois, ed. A. Trampe Bödtker, EETS ES 109 (London, 1912 for 1911), lines 5921–27, 5915, 5918. A number of medical treatises, particularly concerning gynecology, obstetrics and feminine disorders, are attributed to Trotula, although recent scholarship has questioned these attributions and Trotula’s identity: see further Monica H. Green, ed./trans., The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine (Philadelphia, 2001).


Bodily Narratives: Illness, Medicine and Healing in Middle English Romance carrying his beloved. The aunt’s knowledge of ‘herbes e racines’ (‘herbs and roots’) allows her to concoct ‘Teus lettuaires . . . / E teus beivres’ (‘such electuaries and such potions’) as to revive and increase the young man’s strength.46 Records survive of actual women practitioners, quite a number Jewish, across Europe, sometimes but not necessarily associated with midwifery or female patients; alongside Trotula stands Hildegard of Bingen.47 Such women were of course very rare, but their existence provides an interesting context for Josian. The particular places associated by the poet with medical learning are also realistic. From the early thirteenth century, ‘Boloyne þe gras’ (‘Bologna la grassa’) was indeed Italy’s great centre of medical learning, while ‘Tulete’ (Toledo) evokes the Arabic learning that flourished in Spain during the period of Muslim rule.48 Josian herself, described as from the Eastern, Saracen country of ‘Ermonie’ (Armenia), rather than Egypt as in the Anglo-Norman version, is given an exotic origin, but one that is nearer than Egypt to Spain and Italy. She is imagined as having access to their ancient, especially Arabic, traditions of learned medicine, rather as she has learned the art of minstrelsy there. Josian finds a parallel in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale in the figure of Canacee, who also has an exotic Eastern origin as the daughter of Ghenghis Khan, and is able to treat the wounded falcon with ‘plastres’ and ‘salves newe / Of herbes preciouse and fyne of hewe’.49 Josian, characteristically, goes about healing the wounded Beues with a certain confidence – ‘“Lemman”, 3he seide, “wiþ gode entent/ Ichaue brou3t an oyniment/ For make þe boþe hol & fere”’ (715–17). At the instigation of her father, ‘Ich praie, dou3ter, þat þow him saue/ And proue to hele, ase þow can,/ Þe wondes of þat dou3ti man!’ (728–30), she prepares for him ‘riche baþes’ (732) which soon make him ‘boþe hol and sonde’ (734). Later, she delivers her own twins, having sent Beues and Tirri out hunting, away from her ‘paines’ (3636): ‘God for-bede for is pite,/ Þat no wimman is priuite/ To noman þourz me be kouþe’ (3629–31). While her healing arts blur into the magical, the realism with which her medical skills are evoked allows her more extraordinary abilities to appear credible. Her herbal knowledge produces magical effects, most strikingly, when she is seized by Ascopard: On 3he tok vp of þe grounde, Þat was an erbe of meche mounde, To make a man in semlaunt þere, A foule mesel alse 3if a were. (3677–80) The herb transforms Josian’s appearance to that of a leper, effecting ‘A foule mesel on to se’ (3688), and thus causes the Muslim king Yvor to reject her, preserving her chastity. When rescued, Josian swiftly applies ‘an oiniment’ that makes ‘Hire coulur,



48 49

Marie de France, Les Deus Amanz, in Lais, ed. Alfred Ewert (1944; Oxford, 1978), 75–81: lines 100, 105–6; translated in The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (Harmondsworth, 1986), pp. 82–85, at p. 83. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, p. 27, and see further Monica H. Green, ‘Women’s Medical Practice and Medical Care in Medieval Europe’, Signs 14 (1989), 434–73. She estimates that women form 1.2% and 1.5% respectively of the total number of medical practitioners recorded in England and France. See further Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, pp. 29–30. Chaucer, The Squire’s Tale, V. 636, 639–40, in The Riverside Chaucer, p. 176.


Corinne Saunders þat was loþli of si3t… boþe cler and bri3t’ (3891–92).50 We might imagine it as, for instance, containing the herb ‘henbane’ or verveine, supposed to cure ‘botches’ or boils – marvellous but not impossible to the audience of the romance. Josian’s medical powers allow her to play with the appearance of illness that in Amys is so terrifyingly evocative of God’s powers. Similarly remarkable is her use of a ring with a stone ‘of swiche vertu’ (1470) that allows her to remain chaste, yet this too may be placed as ‘natural magic’. A fifteenth-century paper version of Beues heightens the fantastic, changing the ring into an enchanted girdle.51 The earlier version, however, draws on the idea, rooted in the neo-Platonic theory of sympathies that bound the universe, of occult powers in natural objects. Stones in particular were supposed to possess a variety of virtues, often medicinal: according to the Secreta Secretorum attributed to Albertus Magnus, for instance, chalcedony pierced with emery ‘is good against all fantastical illusions, and it maketh to overcome all causes, or matters in suit, and keepeth the body against… adversaries’.52 The learning of a physician such as Josian would include knowledge of the virtues of plants and stones. The poet of Beues, then, is careful not to present Josian as an enchantress figure, but as a wise woman, who brings with her the knowledge of natural magic, in particular the medical arts of the East. Healing becomes a power bordering on the magical, but relating to the knowledge of nature, which can conceal as well as heal, and which includes the occult. It is not exclusively a feminine sphere – but it is a means by which the romance lady may gain a powerful agency. The experiences of illness, medicine and healing, then, allow romance writers to create flash-points where human, otherworldly and divine may intersect, and where romance and realism meet. The affective and symbolic quality of illness is consistent, and illness repeatedly makes manifest on the body the state of the mind or soul, displaying sin or the passions of love and grief. Leprosy, like mutilation of the body, possesses special literary potential in its graphic symbolism. The suggestive power of illness is set against its inexplicability and suddenness, and the equally mysterious possibility of cure. Romance writing offers a spectrum of attitudes to the experience of illness, from the absence of medical intervention and a complete reliance on providence to the suggestion of the possibility of medical treatment. The ability to heal is portrayed as marvellous, but also as learned, and it offers a means of individual empowerment. Romances suggest the need for providential intervention, the hope for cure, and the desire for healing power, whether through the possibility of treatment or through something more nearly approaching magic. In romance, illness may be transient, transformative, leading to healing and spiritual regeneration, as it perhaps too rarely did in life. Romance invests the sufferer’s body with significance, to make meaningful narratives of the enigmatic processes of illness and healing. 50

51 52

Generydes employs the same motif: the hero transforms himself into a leper with an ‘oyntement’, and later washes away the effects with ‘a water’. See Generydes: A Romance in SevenLine Stanzas, ed. W. Aldis Wright, EETS OS 55 (London, 1878), lines 4274, 4315. Manchester, Chetham Library MS 8009 (edited by Kölbing below the Auchinleck version), lines 1394–96, p. 77. Michael R. Best and Frank H. Brightman, ed., The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus: of the Virtues of Herbs, Stones and Certain Beasts, also A Book of the Marvels of the World (Oxford, 1973), p. 37.


Index Acre, siege of 68 Aeneid 82, 125 Ailes, Marianne 43–55 Akbari, Suzanne Conkin 58–9, 65 Alantyne, Lord of Milan 61, 62 Albertus Magnus 190 Alfred, King, as lawmaker 117–18 Alnwick Castle 8, 9 ‘altered states’ 1 Ami(s) et Amile 43, 94, 163–6 Amis and Amiloun 37, 181 divine interventions 161–7 leprosy in 182, 183 amulets 179–80 Amys and Amylion, see Amis and Amiloun angels, see guardian angels Anglo-Burgundian Alliance 100 Annales de Wintonia 125 Anonymous Valesianus 119–20, 122 anti-Semitism, in Siege of Jerusalem 104, 105 Aquinas, St Thomas 181 Arthour & Merlin 32 Arthur of Algarve 94, 96, 101 Arthur and Merlin 54 Arthurianism, revival by Edward I 15 Ashe, Laura 80–1, 82, 88, 90, 129–47 Athelstan/Athelston, King 37, 38, 125 Athelston 30, 31, 32, 33, 36 Athelwold, King 115, 116 Aucassin et Nicolette 59 Auerbach, Erich 3 Augustine, St, on heroes 131–2 Bacon, Francis 26 Bamburgh Castle 8, 9 Barron, W.R.J. 32, 33, 44 Battle of Maldon 130 Bayless, Martha 60 Beaufort, Lady Margaret 23, 24

Bede, The Venerable 118–19, 120, 121, 122 bele Sarrasine 152, 155, 156 Beowulf 130, 134 Beowulf, as hero 145 Berlings, Elizabeth 57–70 Beues Hamtoun see Bevis of Hamtoune Bevis of Hampton 150–1 courtliness 151–2 divine intervention 168–73 see also Bevis of Hamtoune; Boeve de Haumtone Bevis of Hamtoune 24, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36–7, 81 illness in 185, 187–90 see also Boeve de Haumtone Biseth, Margaret 20, 21 Blackmore, Susan 72 Blanchardyn and Eglantine 21, 23, 24 Blanche of Lancaster 22 Bliss, Alan 73, 77 blood healing power of 183–4 in medieval medicine 184 ‘Blood-Brothers’ story-type 94, 96, 101 Bodel, Jean 29 Chanson des Saisnes 30 bodily humours, theory of 177–8 Boeve de Haumtone 11, 34, 43, 149 genre category 150 humour in 152–5 influences on 150, 159–60 see also Bevis of Hamtoune Bolingbroke, Henry (Henry IV) 21–2 boundaries connotations 1 in romance, merging of 5–6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 82, 149, 175 Bretons, in Sege of Melayne 60, 69, 70

Index Brut 18, 54, 141 Brut legend 15 Burgundy, Ducal Court 10, 13, 21 see also Philip the Good of Burgundy Burnley, David 89

Christ as divine healer 179 as supreme ‘hero’ 132–4 Clanchy, M.T. 86 Classen, Albrecht, Violence in Medieval Courtly Literature 106 Cobby, Anne Elizabeth 59 Comfort, W.W. 64 confessional literature 167 Conlon, Denis J. 73, 74, 75 Constantine, Emperor 61 Cooper, Helen 13–27, 34, 72 Crane, Susan 34, 71 creativity, and madness 176 Creek, H.L. 31, 39 Crouchback, Edmund 22 crusaders, Christlike death 134 Crystède, Henry 99 curteisie 152, 160 connotations 151 Curtius, Robert 56–7, 63 Cymbeline 26

Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miraculorum 167 Camelot 37, 140 Camus, Philippe 93, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101 Capystranus 65 Castillon, Battle of (1453) 100 Chandos Herald 110–11 La Chanson de Guillaume 156 Chanson de Roland 46, 53, 59, 60 chansons de geste 43, 74, 149 English adaptations 44–57 humour in 152 see also romance Charlemagne (Charles the Great), as imperial model 44 see also Charles the Great Charlemagne romances 59, 71 alliteration 45–6 attitudes to, manuscript evidence 54–5 devotional use 55 Englishness of 43 ‘Fierabras’ texts 51–2 formal characteristics 44–7 identities 50–1 narrative structure 47–50 ‘Otinel’ texts 52–4 prologues 44–5 religious elements in 53–4 verse forms 46–7 Charles the Great (Charlemagne), in Sege of Melayne 57, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66– 8, 69 see also Charlemagne Charles VIII, King of France 26 Charny, Geoffroi see Geoffroi de Charny Chaucer, Geoffrey, Physician’s Tale 184 chevalier/chevalerie 16 Childress, Diana 58 Chism, Christine, Alliterative Revivals 104 Chrétien de Troyes, Chevalier de la Charrette 2

Davies, Rees 38, 39, 88 Dawkins, Richard 72 de Worde, Wynkyn 93 delle Colonne, Guido, Historia destructionis Troie 107 Derbforgaill, abduction of 78–80 Destruction de Rome 54 Destruction of Troy 107 Diamond, Arlyn 103–13 Diarmait see McMurrough, Diarmait Dimock, James F. 76 divine interventions Amis and Amiloun 161–7 Bevis of Hampton 168–73 romance 161–73 Djordjević, Ivana 161–73 Dolan, T.P. 80 Domesday Book 146 Duffy, Sean 87 Duke Rowland and Sir Otuell 50 Dunn, Charles 34 Durendal (sword) 67 Edward the Confessor 21


Index Edward I, King 22 Arthurianism, revival of 15 Edward III, King 15, 17, 21, 22, 44, 100 Edward IV, King 22, 23, 25 Edwin, King 118–19, 121 Elizabeth of York 23, 24 Eneas 24 epic, romance, distinction 150 Ezrahi, Sidra deKoven 105

Gloucester, Duke of (Thomas of Woodstock) 99–100 Goldeburh 18, 24 Golden Age chivalric 16 legal 116 Goller, Karl Heinz 106 Gorre, Land of 2, 3 as boundary 4 Grail Quest 139–40 ‘Grateful Dead’ story-type 94, 96, 100, 101 Green, D.H. 29, 65 Grim 18, 26 Grimsby 18 guardian angels, intercessory role 167 Guinevere 2, 151, 187 Guy of Warwick 9, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38, 116, 181 illness in 185–7 safe travel motif in 116, 118, 123

Field, Rosalind 29–42, 45 Fierabras 44, 46, 50, 53, 54, 150, 157 texts 51–2 Finlayson, John 32 Firumbras 46, 50, 52, 55, 60, 66 see also Sir Ferumbras Florence de Rome 43 Floripas 49, 157 Ford, John, The Chronicle Historie of Perkin Warbecke 26 Foucault, Michel 175 Fouke Fitzwarin 34, 37, 38 Frame, Robin 76–7 Frankis, John 33 Frantzen, Allen J. 31 French, in Sege of Melayne 62, 68–9, 70 Freud, Sigmund 91 Froissart, Jean 10, 94, 98, 99 Frothi I, King 125 Frothi III, King 124

hæleð 130 Hamel, Mary 103 hanging royal gold, motif 118–19 origins 123–7 see also safe travel motif Hanna, Ralph 103, 104, 106, 111 Hardman, Phillipa 43–55, 58, 60, 64, 65, 69 Havelok the Dane 9, 10, 19, 21, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 40, 142 royal rule, ideal 115–16, 144 safe travel motif 116, 118, 123 Havelok legend 18, 19, 20, 24, 26, 41, 143–4 Havelokian motifs, in Pratchett 10, 40–2 healers, women as 188–9 Hebron, Malcolm 68, 69 Helen of Troy 79 Heng, Geraldine 106 Henry of Huntingdon 38, 122 Henry I, King 121 Henry II, King 77, 80 meeting with Diarmait 82, 83–7 praise by Giraldus Cambrensis 142 Henry III, King 19, 20, 22

Gaimar, Geoffrei 38, 151 Estoire des Engleis 18, 142 Gamelyn 30, 31, 32, 38 Ganelon 62 Ganim, John 29 Geary, Patrick 65 Geoffrey of Monmouth 14, 15, 38, 79, 136 Geoffrey of Vinsauf 47 Geoffroi de Charny 110 Book of Chivalry 106 Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) Expugnatio Hibernica 75–6, 78–9, 88–9, 98 praise of Henry II 142 Girart de Rousillon 66


Index Henry V, King 22, 23, 100 Henry VI, King 23, 100 Henry VII, King 26 Henryson, Robert, Testament of Cresseid 182–3 hero Augustine on 131–2 Beowulf as 145 Christ as 132–4 earliest English use 130 etymological tree 129 Hercules connection 130–1 king as 142–6 knight as 133, 136–41 heros 130 Herrtage, S.J. 58 Heurodis 4, 5 Higden, Ranulph, Polychronicon 130 L’ Histoire d’Olivier de Castille de Artus d’Algarbe 93 history The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle as 97– 102 romance as 26–7, 74 Song of Dermot and the Earl as 74–6 Holden, A.J. 7 honour, literary models 82–3 Horn 83, 142, 143, 145, 156 Horn, Roman de 24, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 142, 143, 149, 151, 155 see also King Horn Horn Childe 30, 33, 34 Hue de Rotelande 152 Ipomedon 6–8, 157–9 humour in Boeve de Haumtone 152–5 in chansons de geste 152 Hundred Years’ War 17, 44, 51, 61, 65, 97, 100, 102 The Hystorye of Olyuer of Castylle 10, 21, 24, 93 and history 97–102 Irish connection 95 plot 94–7

in Amys and Amylion 182 as divine/earthly threshold 176, 190 in Guy of Warwick 185–7 in Morte Darthur 186 and sin 178, 179 in Sir Beues of Hamtoun 185, 187–90 in Sir Gowther 181–2, 184 in Sir Orfeo 184–5 and visions 176 see also leprosy; love-sickness Ireland Plantaganet incursion 74–5, 88 romance in 77 Isabel of Portugal 100–1 Isidore of Seville 180 Jacqueline of Hainault 100 James IV, of Scotland 26 Jean de Longuyon, Voeux du Paon 109 Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des Croniques 98 Jerusalem 105 destruction 104 John of Gaunt 21, 22 John, King 20 John of Salisbury 80, 85 Jónsson, Arngrímur, Skjöldunga Saga 125 Josian 187–8, 189–90 Joyous Garde 8, 9 Julian of Norwich 176, 177 Kaueper, Richard 106 Kay, Sarah 74, 87, 104 Keynes, Simon 117 Kieckhefer, Richard 180 king, as hero 142–6 King Alisaunder 36 King Horn 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 77, 142 see also Horn, Roman de king-mark claimants 20, 26 knight, as hero 133, 136–41 Kyng Alisaunder 54 Lady Bessy 21, 24, 25 Lai d’Haveloc 142 laisses 46–7, 49 definition 45 Sir Lancelot 2, 4, 5, 8, 140–1, 186, 187

illness in 19c literature 176


Index Laudibiliter Papal Bull 79 Lavine 24 Lawton, David 103, 104, 105–6 La3amon 141 Le Person, Marc 54 Leander 6, 7 Legge, Dominica 77 Leonin 6 leprosy in Amys and Amylion 182, 183 literary potential 190 in Testament of Cresseid 182–3 Liebermann, F. 75 Life of Alexander 54 Limerick, siege of 89 Lombards, comic role, as cowards 57, 61 Long, Joseph 73, 75, 77 Loomis, Laura Hibbard 34, 37 love-sickness motif 176–7, 180, 185 see also illness

origins of term 29–31 problems with term 35–9 representative texts 30, 31–2, 33–4 taxonomic value 31–2 Matter of France 10, 29, 36 Matter of Rome 29 Maximilian I, Emperor 26 medicine and magic 179, 180 medieval 178–80 blood in 184 see also healers; physicians Meecham-Jones, Simon 71–91 Mehl, Dieter 58 Melusine 14, 24 meme model, romance motifs 72–3, 82, 117, 118, 119, 126, 127 Ménard, Philippe 64, 66, 69 Merlin 23, 188 Milan siege of 61 walls 61–2 Mills, Maldwyn 64, 69, 74 Miracles of the Virgin 64, 69 Morte Arthure (Alliterative) 45, 106, 108, 109–10 Mullally, Evelyn 73, 75, 76, 77–8, 90 myth of origin examples 15 romance as 14–15

McClure, Judith 121–2 McDonald, Nicola, Pulp Fictions of Medieval England 108 McMurrough, Art(hur) 98 McMurrough, Diarmait, King 74–5, 78, 97–8 meeting with Henry II 82, 83–7 Madden, F.M. 31 Maddox, Donald 14 madness and creativity 176 as divine frenzy 175–6 Malory, Sir Thomas 8 Morte Darthur 8, 15, 183 illness in 186 see also Morte Arthure Mannyng, Robert, Handlyng Synne 167 Margaret of Burgundy 26 Marie de France, Les Deux Amanz, woman healer in 188–9 Martin, F.X. 80, 87–8 Martin, Jean-Pierre 150 Matter of Britain 29, 37, 38 Matter of England 9, 10 alternative terms 34 and Havelok the Dane 39

New Historicism 13 ‘Nine Worthies’, in alliterative romance 109–12 O’Doherty, J.F. 73, 75, 76, 78, 90 Oliver of Castille 94, 101 Olivier de Castille 93 Order of the Garter, creation 15 Orgelfinger, Gail 97 Orpen, Goddard Henry 73, 75, 86 Otinel 44, 45, 50, 53, 149 texts 52–4 O’Toole, Laurence, Archbishop 75 Otuel 44, 45, 52, 54 Otuel and Roland 46, 48, 50, 52, 55


Index Paris, Matthew 21, 181 Greater Chronicle 19–20 parody, definition 59–60 Sege of Melayne as 57, 59–60, 61 Partonope of Blois, woman healer in 188 ‘peace of the roads’ see safe travel motif Pearsall, Derek 31–2, 33, 71 Pèlerinage de Charlemagne 59 Peterborough Chronicle 120, 121 Philip Augustus, King of France 68, 69 Philip the Good of Burgundy 93, 98, 100 Philip IV, King of France 44 physicians, role 178–9 Piers Plowman 103 Plantaganets, Irish incursion 74–5, 88 Plato, Ion 175 poetry, alliterative 104 see also Morte Arthure; Siege of Jerusalem political discourse, and romance 71–2 politics of evasion, romance motifs 87 Pratchett, Terry, Havelokian motifs, use 10, 40–2 primogeniture rules 16–17 problems 21–2

Arthurian 135, 138 boundaries 1, 5–6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 82, 149, 175 chivalric, and the stirrup 16 courtly 150 divine interventions 161–73 emergence 135 epic, distinction 150 ‘French’ 33, 135 healing in 180–1 as ‘history’ 26–7, 74 insular 1, 3, 6, 11, 29, 47, 48, 71, 141, 142, 146–7, 149, 150, 152 in Ireland 77 love-sickness 176–7, 180, 185 as myth of origin 14–15, 19 and political discourse 71–2 and reality 3, 9, 13–14, 16–17 violence in 107, 108 see also chansons de geste; Charlemagne romances romance motifs meme model 72–3, 82, 117, 118, 119, 126, 127 politics of evasion 87 in The Song of Dermot and the Earl 82–3, 89–90 Round Table fellowship 15 origins 15 Rouse, Robert 115–27 Rowland 45 Rowland and Otuell 50, 52, 54 Rychner, Jean 150

Radulphus, Amicus 168 Regan, Morris 74, 75, 81 Rhys ap Gruffudd 7 Richard Coeur de Lion 32, 33, 38, 58, 68 Richard I Coeur de Lion 37, 68 Richard II, King 21, 100 Irish expedition 98, 102 Richard III, King 25, 27, 99 ‘Richard IV’ (putative) 26 Richmond, Colin 104 Rimenhild 24 Robert of Torigni 80 Robin Hood ballads 30, 37 Roland 62, 63, 64 death 134–5 Roland and Vernagu 44, 45, 48, 52, 53, 54, 61, 62, 66, 67 Rollo, Duke of Normandy 125 romance alliterative 107 and the ‘Nine Worthies’ 109–12 see also Morte Arthure; Siege of Jerusalem

safe travel motif 116–27 in Guy of Warwick 116, 118, 123 in Havelok the Dane 116, 118, 123 origins 119–23 see also hanging royal gold, motif Sands, Donald 32 Saracens, in Sege of Melayne 60, 61, 62, 64, 66–7, 69 Saunders, Corinne 175–90 Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum 124 Scarry, Elaine 184 Schofield, W.H. 30, 31


Index Secreta Secretorum 190 Sege of Melayne 10, 35, 36, 44, 46, 48, 53, 54, 57–70 Bretons in 60, 69, 70 Charles the Great (Charlemagne) in 57, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66–8, 69 explanations of 58–9 French in 62, 68–9, 70 motifs 57–8 as parody 57, 59–60, 61 Saracens in 60, 61, 62, 64, 66–7, 69 Shepherd, Stephen 58, 60, 62, 64–5 Short, Ian 77 Siege of Jerusalem (Alliterative) 10, 54 anti-Semitism in 104, 105 genre ambiguities 106–7 manuscripts 103–4 popularity 103–4 violence in 105–6 sin, and illness 178, 179 Sir Beues of Hamtoun, see Bevis of Hamtoune Sir Cleges 63 Sir Ferumbras 43, 44, 49, 51, 54, 55 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 108, 136, 141, 156 Sir Gowther, illness in 181–2, 184 Sir Launfal 35 Sir Orfeo 4–5, 7, 8, 32, 181 illness in 184–5 Sir Perceval of Gales 58, 69 Sir Tristrem 32 Somnium Scipionis 83 The Song of Dermot and the Earl 10 chanson de geste formulae 77–8 generic ambiguity 73–4 as history 74–6 ideology 81 influences on 82 romance motifs in 82–3, 89–90 ‘spin’ in 79–80 style 76–7 text of 73 Song of Roland see Chanson de Roland Sowdone of Babylone 44, 46, 52, 55, 60, 66, 67 Speed, Diane 32 Spenser, Edmund, Faerie Queene 23

Spiegel, Gabrielle 105, 139 Stephen, Robert fitz 88–9 Stevenson, Sharon 33 stirrup, and chivalric romance 16 Sultan, Saracen 45, 63 Sword Bridge 2–3 function 3, 4 Talbot, Sir John 100 Theodoric 119–20 Thomas of Kent, Le Roman de Toute Chevalerie 149 Thomas of Woodstock see Gloucester, Duke of Thompson, Rodney 118 Thrace, Winchester, blurring 4–5 Titus, Emperor 104, 112 Tolkien, J.R.R., Lord of the Rings 40 Trevisa, John 130 Tristan 30 Troilus and Criseyde 35 Troy 37, 38 chivalry of 16 siege 108 Turpin, Archbishop 50, 58, 60, 62, 64, 65–6, 67, 68, 69 Ua Ruairc, Tiernan 78 Valentine 25–6 Valentine and Orson 25, 93 van Court, Elisa Narin 104 Vespasian, Emperor 104, 112 violence, in romance 107, 108–9 Virgin Mary, intercessory role 167 Vlad, Prince of Transylvania 126–7 Wace 54, 136, 141, 151 Waldef 34 Walter of Châtillon, Alexandreis 83 war, as source of nobility 106 Warbeck, Perkin 25, 26 Warm, Robert 58 The Wars of Alexander 107–8 Wars of the Roses 8, 9 Watson, Henry 93, 100 Weiss, Judith 77, 149–60


Index Whitby, Synod of 85 Whitelock, Dorothy 118 William the Conqueror 21, 120–1, 146, 149 William of Malmesbury 38 Gesta Regum Anglorum 117, 125 William of Palerne 32 William of Waddington 171 Manuel des Pechiez 167 Williams, Elizabeth 93–102 Williams, Raymond 81, 82

Winchester 37 Thrace, blurring 4–5 woman healer in Les Deux Amanz 188–9 in Partonope of Blois 188 Wormald, Patrick 117, 122 Ywain and Gawain 35–6 Zatta, Jane Dick 34