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FoE: Texts and Territories (York)


The French of England: Texts and Territories
Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York

  An experimental course, taught by Prof. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne in Spring 2006 before the establishment of French Ancillary Modules at York  
  Course Description

For four centuries French was a major language of literature in medieval Britain, as well as a significant language of record, law, government, administration and the professions. This significant literary corpus (nearly a thousand texts) remains understudied because nationalising literary histories have often allowed it to fall between continental French and English scholarship. Yet, beyond a few well-known works famously kidnapped for French national literary history (the Chanson de Roland, the lais of Marie de France), there is a wealth of post-Conquest historiography, epic, romance, saints' lives, lyric, devotional and other works in the French of England, from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. Taking this literature into account involves re-mapping the literary history of medieval Britain; it adds, for instance, two hundred years of composition by women to a tradition sometimes supposed as beginning with Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe: it offers a complex post-colonial literature as the Normans re-write their past as English. And it challenges and remodels some of our most important assumptions about literature, language, and their interrelations.

Set Books
  • E. Einhorn, Old French: A Concise Handbook (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1974, repr 1999).
  • The Fables of Marie de France, ed. and tr. Harriet Spiegel (Toronto, 1994)
  • The Lais of Marie de France, tr. K. Busby and G.S. Burgess (Harmondsworth, 1987 and repr): includes some French text.
  • Virgin Lives and Holy Deaths: Two Exemplary Biographies for Anglo-Norman Women, tr. J. Wogan-Browne and G. S. Burgess (Dent, 1996): includes some French text.
  • Wace: A History of the British, ed. and tr. Judith Weiss (Exeter University Press, 2nd edition, 2003): complete French text and English translation.
  • Fouke Fitzwaryn tr G. S. Burgess in his Two Medieval Outlaws (Cambridge, Brewer, 1997): translation only.
  • Horn tr J. Weiss in her The Birth of Romance (Dent, 1997): translation only.
  • The Song of Roland, ed and tr. G. Brault (University Park, 1978 and repr.): complete texts and translation.
  • Fergus of Galloway, tr. D.D.R. Owen (Everyman, 1991).

Learning Outcomes

Direct knowledge of some of the texts composed and circulated in the French of England, acquired through a combination of reading in the original and more widely in translation. Awareness of the importance of the French of England in the medieval literary culture of Britain. Re-thinking of models for authorship, patronage, reading and textuality as formulated in Middle English studies.


A-level modern French or equivalent. (Students with O-level French will be considered subject to discussion of their linguistic experience.)

Preliminary Reading

M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (2nd edition; Oxford; Blackwell, 1993).

Teaching programme

Seminars will routinely begin with a linguistic practicum on grammar and translation in which excerpts from the texts set for discussion in the second hour will be translated. The amount and pace of material covered is subject to adjustment in the light of the specific language experiences of seminar members.

Week 1: Introduction: Anglo-Norman/The French of England
  • Linguistic definitions and discussions, pronunciation, sociolinguistic and other contexts. Anglo-Norman texts and translations: themes and issues.
Week 2: Poetry, patronage, courts
  • Marie de France, Lanval
  • Eructavit for Marie de Champagne [?] (extract: King David's minstrelsy at the heavenly joie de la court)
  • Hue de Rotelande, Protheselaus (prologue)
Week 3: Vernacular intellectuals and authorial identity
  • Clemence of Barking, Life of St Catherine
  • Marie de France, Fables
Week 4: Constructing Lineages: the English Norman past
  • Wace, Brut (ed and tr Weiss)
  • Fouke Fitz Waryn (extract)
Week 5: Foundresses in Britain
  • Albina, foundress of Albion (Des grantz geanz: tr Fenster and Wogan-Browne)
  • St Osith (tr Zatta, rev Wogan-Browne)
  • Mohun chronicle, Prologue
Weeks 6: Insular? Romance
  • Horn, Fergus of Galloway
Week 7: Constructing National Groups (i) (Then and Now)
  • The Chanson de Roland (plus secondary reading: Andrew Taylor, 'Was There a Song of Roland?', Speculum 76 (2001), 28-65)
  • The Anglo-Norman Venjeance nostre seignur and Destruction de Rome (extracts, tr. Fenster and Wogan-Browne)
Week 8: Constructing National Groups (ii) The First Martyr and the Last King
  • The Lives of St Alban and of Edward the Confessor. (tr Fenster and Wogan-Browne)

General note:

Because we need to pay attention to language as well as literature, the reading set for each seminar is relatively short for graduate work: usually a couple of articles and/or chapters, two or three primary texts and/or excerpts from them. But remember to allow in your preparation time for working through the regular language exercises in our Old French grammar and for the occasional quiz to be done in class. Also, though the passages set for translation will usually be quite short, they will still take time to prepare if done properly (i.e. with you working to understand exactly how each element functions grammatically and lexically). The total workload should not be out of proportion with other courses (and is open to some modification of pace if too heavy or fast). If unusually pressed for preparation time for some good reason, always work on the primary texts and the language work rather than on secondary materials.


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