The French of England:
Multilingualism in Practice, c. 1100-c. 1500

27th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies, Fordham University
Friday, March 30 - Sunday, April 1, 2007
At the Lincoln Center Campus of Fordham University

The Rhyming French Chronicle of the Godstow Nuns
Emilie Amt

The early fifteenth-century cartulary of Godstow Abbey, outside Oxford, opens with a short French text describing the foundation of the monastery in the twelfth century. This narrative contains almost all that is known about the earliest history of this house of Benedictine nuns. While the content of the text has long been known to historians (mainly through the Middle English translation' made for the nuns' use in the mid-fifteenth century), the French text itself has never been published or studied. In the course of editing the cartulary for publication, I discovered (with the help of Ian Short) that the unpublished French text, which does not appear in Ruth Dean's Guide, is in fact a verse text, written in rhyming octosyllabic couplets (although its form in the cartulary appears to be prose). From internal evidence I can demonstrate that this is an excerpt – the only surviving fragment-of a longer work; thus the nuns of early fifteenth-century Godstow possessed an unparalleled and otherwise unknown French verse work, probably a chronicle, possibly one that told the history of their convent. No other such work is known to have existed anywhere in medieval England.  This paper will introduce the surviving French verse text with its foundation legend and set it in its historical and linguistic context, discussing issues of language and literacy among the nuns, books and genres in the Godstow library, and possible connections with vernacular saints' lives. While focusing on the French verse fragment, it will also explore the varied evidence for the use(s) of French, as well as English and Latin, in this late medieval convent.
'The English Register of Godstow Nunnery, Near Oxford, ed. Andrew Clark (Early English Text Society, 1905-191 I), VOI. I, pp. 26-7.

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