Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Back to FRETS

"Piety and Persecution"


Piety and Persecution in the French of England


Translated by Maureen M.B. Boulton

(A) The Countess of Champagne's Psalm Commentary

The verse paraphrase and commentary on Psalm 44 (King James Bible 45) dedicated to the Countess is composed as an epithalamium (chanson de chambre, v. 2075) sung by King David outside the nuptial chamber of Christ the bridegroom. It stands in a long tradition of psalm reading and psalter commentary for women in which this nuptial and erotic psalm has frequently figured, from St Jerome's treatise for the Roman matron Principia to the sixteenth-century Renaissance and beyond.  In this version the great royal penitent David is presented as a jongleur, pleading for entrance to the sacred nuptials, where eventually he is allowed to sing for the groom, bride and wedding guests.  The court of heaven is an intensely elegant feudal court engaging in the customary celebration of 'la joie de la cort' (recalling a famous adventure in Chrétien de Troyes' Erec et Enide), which attends a king's crowning of his son and giving of a wife to him.  Within this allegory the psalm is translated and commentated phrase by phrase in a poem that combines visionary mysticism, the conventions of romance narrative, religious eroticism and political comment (including injunctions against the killing of Jews). Although composed on the continent, the Countess's psalm commentary also circulated in French-speaking England.  

The court of Champagne has long been studied as a literary center of the Middle Ages. As a work associated with the Countess of Champagne, this text will have a ready market in medieval studies at large.  It should also be of especial interest in the study of writings for and by medieval women and the literary history of women in general. Recent interest in medieval religion makes it a text of considerable value in the study of medieval devotional and scriptural literatures. (2168 octosyllabic couplets).

(b)The childhood of Jesus christ

A version of the apocryphal infancy Gospels of Christ in verse.   The little boy Jesus performs a number of childish miracles and pranks, some of them alarmingly anti-Semitic.   This fascinating and controversial text is extant in insular and continental versions, is accompanied by a series of illustrations and also survives on the famous medieval set of tiles, the Tring tiles.   Professor Boulton here translates her own edition of the French of England version of the text.

(c) Robert Grosseteste, Chasteau d'Amour

As with other famous medieval writers, Bishop Grosseteste's Latin writings have been the chief object of study in most medieval scholarship.  But Grosseteste, for all the profundity and scope of his scientific and theological thought, was also, as bishop of Lincoln, deeply committed to pastoral care.  Nearly twenty years ago Sir Richard Southern noted that Grossesteste's Chasteau provided an overlooked witness to his thought (Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Europe, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, p. 225) and that it was a striking work of pastoral theology.  Grosseteste's thirteenth-century French verse treatise on the Virgin Mary, the redemption, the rights of God, humanity and the devil, and the nature of nature is indeed a work of startling range.  It was also highly influential, with an extensive thirteenth and fourteenth century manuscript circulation and several translations into Middle English in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  Nowadays it is of further interest as a witness to medieval interactions between church and laity, having possibly been written for the sons of Simon de Montfort or as part of Grosseteste's various pastoral initiatives.  The Chasteau lacks any modern translation, though a new edition of this French text (the existing edition by Jessie Murray was published in 1918) is nearing completion, and is expected to be the basis of the translation offered here (1768 octosyllabics).

(d) The Vengeance of Our Lord

A proliferating cycle of anti-Semitic texts known as the Venjance nostre Seignur continued to circulate in the thirteenth century (before, during, and after the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290).  The narratives of this cycle include the Siege of Jerusalem (where violent Christian fantasizing of the Jews as Christianity's Other depicts Jewish mothers eating their own children and Jewish veins shedding gold, not blood, when struck by avenging soldiers), the Legend of Veronica, and the Punishment of Pilate.  The cycle was also used in various ways in later Middle English narrative.  The French versions of these texts have no modern English translation, and a translation of the prose account in BL Egerton MS 613 (a nunnery manuscript) will render the cycle for this volume on vengeance and piety.  Attention to such texts of medieval anti-Semitism and Christian identity construction has greatly increased in recent years and is now a thriving field in its own right.  The standard edition by Alvin Ford of all continental and insular French versions will be the basis for the translation.

(E) Passion meditations and prayers

A selection of eight substantial sets of meditations on the passion and prayers to the cross, showing the range and variety of affective devotion in later medieval French in England.

(F) The Life of Little St. Hugh of Lincoln

This is a blood-libel tale of a Christian boy crucified by Jews, in which maternal grief is used to sanctify vengeance, much as is the devotion and grief of Veronica, a witness of Calvary, in the Venjance cycle. Composed before the death of Henry III in 1272, and edited in 1834, the text is extant in 92 octosyllables. England was one of the earliest places to develop the blood-libel tale and there has been extensive scholarship on the Latin texts concerning Little St. William of Norwich.  Little St. Hugh is an important testimony to the vernacular circulation of the blood-libel.  The text for translation will be based on the edition in a collation of nineteenth-century editions by F. Michel; the edition will be checked first against the manuscript text itself.


A selection of otherwise unavailable. single manuscript editions of important devotions, such as the Anselmian mediations on the passion (of which the medieval English equivalent is A Talkyng of the Luf of God).


As usual in FRETS volumes, Piety and Persecution concludes with original text extracts from the works translated in the volume, suitable for use in teaching. 



Site  | Directories
Submit Search Request