Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

  The French of England  

Anglo-Norman/French of England Studies at Fordham

  The French of England -- a term meant to cover both Anglo-Norman and Anglo-French, and which could almost more properly be "the Frenches of England" -- is a major field for fresh exploration.  This website gives information about material on the French documents and texts of England: on translations of previously untranslated and unpublished work, and on current research.  Nearly one thousand literary texts are listed in the most important survey of Anglo-Norman literature to date, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, ANTS OPS 3 (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1997) by Ruth J. Dean and Maureen B. M. Boulton.  The total documentary corpus composed in the French of England is unquantified and probably unquantifiable, but it is large and significant, and the subject of much important recent work both by historians and by linguists (especially as there has been fresh scholarship in recent years on the nature and uses of the fourteenth- and early fifteenth- century French of England).  This site includes a bibliographic guide to the French records of medieval England.

The French of England is a field that welcomes and benefits today's newer approaches in, for example, post-colonial and feminist and post-disciplinary studies, which seek to cross, re-align, and rethink disciplinary boundaries.  Scholars are asking new questions about the ways in which "French" texts are "English" and about the interrelations between insular French literature, that of the continent, and the literatures of other medieval cultures.  Historians and literary scholars taking a post-colonial approach recognize that the French of England was at various times the language of a political and military elite, while scholarship on medieval women continues to demonstrate the importance of vernacular records and texts, not only in the history of women in England, but for medieval scholarship at large.  In the field of insular vernacular pastoralia and devotional texts, where clerics as well as religious and laywomen play significant roles, for instance, it has been estimated that French of England texts number approximately 500 as against Middle English's 800: a significant corpus, without which accounts of vernacular literary production in England are seriously incomplete.

England is the location of the earliest historical writing in French and has an important continuing tradition of such writing from the early twelfth into the fourteenth century and beyond.  Saints' lives, now widely recognized as one of the major European narrative genres, and an indispensable resource for knowledge of medieval culture, have a rich corpus in the French of England.  So too, numerous religious works in the French of England showcase the conspicuous religiosity of aristocratic laypeople's formation -- often their spiritual cultural capital -- in medieval Britain.

The French of England Project (FoE) is based at Fordham University in New York City and has also been located in and supported by the University of York, UK.  It has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the USA and from the Modern Humanities Research Association in the UK. 
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  Center for Medieval Studies  

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  French of England Project
  Center for Medieval Studies
  FMH 405
  Fordham University
  Bronx, NY 10458

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  Jocelyn Wogan-Browne

  Thelma Fenster

  Part-time Office and
  Research Assistant
  Rebecca June


  Terms and Definitions for the Study of the French of England  

Used in scholarship of a French spoken in England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  In this period, it was not usually the first language of those who spoke it, but it was a frequently taught second language and an important language of record.  The term may also be used to describe continental French texts circulating in copies made in England, and for French used as a language of record on the Continent by English speakers.  More recently, Anglo-French has been used to refer to all the types of French associated with England.


Linguistically and historically, the question of what can be called "Anglo-Norman" is complicated.  For scholars of language and literature, Anglo-Norman increasingly refers to the variety of the French language used in England from the Norman Conquest to the fifteenth century (some scholars still use "Anglo-French" for the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries).  For historians, Anglo-Norman is generally used to describe the period of English history from the Norman Conquest to King John's loss of Normandy -- or, even more narrowly, the reigns of William the Conqueror and his sons.  The term Anglo-Norman is now used to describe the twelfth-century aristocracy of England, many of whom had either been born in Normandy or whose families retained significant holdings on the Continent.  In most cases, however, the kings of England after William the Conqueror hardly ever referred to themselves in terms of their joint possessions in England and Normandy.  Although the Conqueror often styled himself "rex Anglorum et dux Normannorum," his son Henry I appears to have been first to operate under the paradigm of a single realm divided by the Channel, with the assumption that his authority over Normandy was implicit in his authority as King of England. 

When it comes to specific examples, the lines can be blurry but perhaps represent the true situation of French of England.  For example, the earliest extant manuscript of the Chanson de Roland, the classic French epic, was actually written in England, and its language contains many regional variations specific to the French of England.  Should the Chanson de Roland -- or this manuscript, at least -- be counted among Anglo-Norman literary works?  Similarly, since Anglo-Norman was used as a language of devotional, poetic, and educational literature well into the fifteenth century, can the historical term Anglo-Norman really be limited to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? 

Another difficult question is the status of Anglo-Norman in relation to continental French.  Many scholars, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, assumed that Anglo-Norman was simply an inferior version of continental French, and that those who used it were trying to speak or write in continental French and failing.  Jordan Fantosme's verse Chronicle was long held to be "irregular" by the standards of continental French versification, but R. C. Johnston's recent work on patterns of stress in Fantosme raises the possibility that his verses were not a deteriorating continental meter but rather a consciously organized, insular form. 

Scholars of language have often supported their view of "irregular" Anglo-Norman with the famous passage from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales about the hypocritical Prioress who spoke French "after the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe for Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe."  More recent scholarship, however, has questioned this perspective.  Today, many historians and literary scholars agree, and they approach study of the French of England as a language of insular culture of no less value, though often different from, its continental equivalents.  French developed and changed in medieval England according to local linguistic habits, necessarily influenced by the important and continuing linguistic substratum that was the English language, not a factor on the Continent.  But the view that French in medieval Britain was a defective, low-status vehicle in comparison with other versions of medieval French no longer retains intellectual validity. 

French of England

A proposed new term, intending to encompass the varieties of French spoken or written in England (whatever their territorial origin) and the English Frenches that migrated abroad, e.g. in Gascony or elsewhere, in manuscripts circulating from Britain to the continent.

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