Medieval France. An Encyclopedia

(Darren Dugan) #1

Gaimar uses both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s recently
completed Historia regum Britanniae as sources. The latter work, although written in
Latin, must also be seen as belonging to the Anglo-Norman corpus, since it was to play
such a significant role in popularizing Celtic myth and legend in the Anglo-Norman
regnum and beyond. Gaimar’s Estoire, the only section of his planned work to survive in
completed form, uses the octosyllabic rhyming-couplet pattern established by the
Brendan. In both form and content, Gaimar’s influence was probably felt by the Norman
Wace, whose Brut may well have led to the eclipse of that of his predecessor. Wace’s
second section, the Roman de Rou, giving an account of the dukes of Normandy rather
than of the kings of England, was in its turn supplanted by Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s
Chronique des ducs de Normandie, a work likewise destined to remain unfinished. A
series of Bruts in verse and later in prose continues through the 13th and 14th centuries,
each one updated to include contemporary material. Among the more interesting are that
by Peter of Langtoft (d. 1307?) in laisses of Alexandrine lines, an account of the reign of
Edward I that was to become the source for all subsequent chroniclers, and the
Scalacronica of Sir Thomas Gray of Heton (d. 1369), beginning not with the fall of Troy
but with that of Lucifer, and continuing to the year 1362.
Not all Anglo-Norman chronicles took such a long view of history. Jordan Fantosme
records only the troubled years 1173 and 1174 of Henry II’s reign, but he does so more as
creative writer than as historian, emphasizing the human weaknesses of his protagonists
and the vicissitudes of fortune. Unlike Gaimar and Wace, he writes for the most part in
rhyming Alexandrines grouped in laisses. The Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal (1226),
commissioned by Guillaume’s eldest son soon after his father’s death in 1219, marks a
return to the octosyllabic couplet. This work, composed by a Norman writer, is a kind of
official biography, beginning with the subject’s childhood during the reign of Stephen
and continuing through the reign of Henry II. It details Guillaume’s close association
with Henry, the Young King, and continues on through the turbulent reigns of Richard I
and John, ending with Guillaume’s regency and finally his death. Its 19,254 lines not
only contain a vast amount of historical information, but are enlivened by well-observed
miniatures of daily life and especially of children. The Croisade et mort de Richard Cœur
de Lion, a prose work of undetermined date (possibly mid-13th c., but perhaps as late as
1320), is based on several sources, chief among these the Latin chronicle of Roger
Howden. It chronicles Richard’s participation in the Third Crusade, beginning in 1186
and ending with his death in 1199 from an arrow wound received on a battlefield in
Romances. As a general rule, Anglo-Norman romances depart markedly from their
continental counterparts in both form and content, perhaps owing to differences in social
organization arising from the Conquest. All land, and hence power, derived ultimately
from William, who granted land in tenure only, and from his successors. This centralized
power structure eliminated to a large extent local wars among the barons, which were in
any case expressly prohibited by Henry II. In consequence, an important concern is the
maintenance of feudal rights in face of usurpation and the consolidation of such rights
through successive generations. It is no surprise, then, that the majority of romances
composed for Anglo-Norman patrons should stress the rights of inheritance, the
establishment of solid family ties, and the avoidance of adulterous relationships, however
courtly, that might endanger legitimacy. Where continental romances examine the

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