Romance and Chivalry in

English Medieval Literature
Historical Background
 The Anglo-Norman kings of England did not like
being considered the vassals of the Kings of France
 The Norman kings of England had to create a
mythology justifying their political independence
from France.
 The theme of translatio imperii "proved" political
legitimacy translated/transferred (translatio imperii)
from the ‘Ancients’ not only to the French, but also
to England.
 They devised the story of the "first" British king,
Brutus, who supposedly founded the kingdom of
"Britain" ("Brut" in Anglo-Norman French).

Translatio Studii Et Imperii
 Refers to the the transfer/ translation (translatio) of
culture/knowledge (studium) and of political
power/legitimacy (imperium) from one civilization
to another.
 Studium: sort of WRITTEN knowledge that
constitutes literary "Authority" (auctoritas)
 Imperii: political power and political legitimacy.
 The Norman kings of England had to create a
mythology justifying their political independence
from France.

Fabricating History
 Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the King's of Britain
(1136) was presented as a scholarly work in Latin.
 This History begins with Brutus, down to the Anglo-Norman
Kings.
 A certain war-lord named "Arthur" helped to organize British
resistance after the fall of the Roman Empire
 Arthur's descendants (the English kings) can claim not to owe
allegiance to the French.
 The story of Arthur's Round Table: a fellowship of Knights
modeled on Charlemagne's traditional group of warrior
followers, the twelve "peers."
Middle English Poetry: Overview
 The circumstances of writers in the English
vernacular changed after the Norman Conquest.
 Collapse of written standard established in Anglo-Saxon
England and exclusion of English writings. English poetry
and prose flourished towards margins of society.
 Accelerating decline of French in the England of Edward
III: readers and listeners now increasingly turning to
English.
 Continuous increase in literacy; consequent development
towards what is almost mass production of manuscript
copies.
 Audience and market for English poetry grew in numbers
and importance.


Middle English Poetry
 Brut, illustrates clearly the relative marginality of
English in the cosmopolitan ‘Channel Kingdom’ of
the Normans and Angevins.
 Here Arthur appears for the 1
st
time English: his
accounts occupy more than ¼ of Lagamon’s 16.000
lines
 The "round table" is the invention of the Anglo-
Norman poet Wace
 Wace’s poem the Roman de Brut ("Romance of
Brutus“); "romance" originally did not refer to any
idea of "romantic" love;
 Wace dedicated his "romance" to Eleanor of
Aquitaine

English Romances
 Can be broadly categorized as dealing with
three types of historical material:
 The ‘matter’ of Rome (classical legends)
 The ‘matter’ of France (often tales of
Charlemagne and his nights)
 The ‘matter’ of Britain (Arthurian stories/tales
dealing with knightly heroes)


Romance Characteristics
 Typically, a romance tells the story of one quest
undertaken by one knight
 The setting is a timeless fairy-tale world; there is no
"rise and fall" of Arthur's empire
 Many of these romances concern the role of love
(courtly or otherwise) in human existence
 Frequently, the knight has some difficulty in
working out an appropriate balance between love
and chivalry
Arthurian Romance Origins
 Chrétien first had the idea of making Lancelot and
Guenevere into courtly lovers;
 Their story is recounted in a romance Chrétien wrote
at the request of the Countess Marie of Champagne
 Their love is a positive, ennobling force: their love
was not regarded as immoral, adulterous;
 Far from being a traitor to his king, the Lancelot of
Chrétien's romance rescues Guenevere and restores
her to her husband

Malory's Morte D'Arthure
 Based upon these 13
th
century French prose
romances
 Incorporates their essentially negative view of
Lancelot and Guenevere's love
 The original meaning of "courtly love" still shows:
the love of Lancelot and Guenevere is the ennobling
force, and the sin that prevents him from becoming a
"heavenly" knight
 Reaction to the theme of courtly love invented and
developed in the "woman-influenced" Provençal,
French and Anglo-Norman literature of the 12
th

century.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
 Represents another transformation of the courtly
love motif.
 Preserves the structure typical of French verse
romance
 Revives an Old English verse form: alliteration
 Represents a negative reaction to "courtly love"
similar to French prose romances: a rejection of
sensual earthly love in favor of a spiritual love.
Romance & Courtly Love vs. Church
 This love affair caught imagination of late12
th
&
early-13
th
century public: the Church took notice:
 Tended to ignore the vernacular romances as "popular
culture“
 Attacked them as vain, frivolous and "untrue"
 Regarded them as potential didactic tools, which should
be used to teach moral "truths"
 Disapproved of romance's emphasis on love stories: "bad"
examples
 The "Vulgate Cycle" linked the Arthurian kingdom to
Christian salvation history: shift in theme (Quest of the
Holy Grail).