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

Questions of Influence: Clemence of Barking’s Life of St. Catherine and Representations of Law, Lordship, and Civic Unrest in Two Old French Catherine Legends
Donna Bussell, University of Illinois-Springfield

In this paper, I compare the semantics of faith, justice, and lordship in Clemence of Barking’s late twelfth century Anglo-Norman Life of St. Catherine with the treatment of these concerns in two continental Old French Katherine legends, one in Picard by an anonymous author, and the other in a Western dialect by an author simply identified in the epilogue as Gui.   The two continental Katherine legends, which were composed in the first half of the thirteenth century, are much like Clemence’s in their poetic form, literary genre, and vernacular registers. It is also possible that one or both of the authors of these continental legends may have been familiar with Clemence’s Vie, which is extant in a Picard recension by the second half of the thirteenth century. By the end of the twelfth century, the semiotics of lordship evident in Clemence’s Vie and in the two other Old French continental Catherine legends register specific concerns with definitions of public good and reciprocity, an understanding of the difference between divine law and human law, and an appreciation of human perception and the translation of the inner life into public actions that mirror those of God toward his people.

First, I discuss ways that the legends share these concerns in order to consider the question of Clemence of Barking’s influence on the continental legends.  I propose that one possible reason for these similarities is that the theme of amity that Clemence undertakes in her Vie, a theme she explores in response to the questions raised by the Becket controversy, continues to resonate for the audiences of these legends on both sides of the channel well into the early thirteenth century.  I pay particular attention to the representation of civic unrest and tensions between baronial factions in each narrative. Finally, I argue that while Clemence’s Vie can be identified as one of the insular legends concerned specifically with insular ecclesiastical dynasties, her Vie should also be considered an important text among hagiographies concerned with questions of “civic service” and “Episcopal substitution.

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