Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warwic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances

Translated by Judith Weiss

FRETS vol. 3 (MRTS vol. 343) ACMRS Press, 2008

Some of the most famous romances in the French of England (Tristan, The Romance of Horn, Haveloc, Amis and Amiloun, Fouke le Fitzwaryn) are available in modern English translations by two well-known scholars, Judith Weiss and Glyn S. Burgess, but a large number of them still lack modern translations.  Boeve de Haumtoune and Gui de Warewic have long been known to scholars of medieval English and French as sources and analogues of the Middle English romances of Bevis of Hamptoun (modern Southampton, UK) and Guy of Warwick.  It is only recently, however, that they have been recognized–by anglicist, francophone and art history scholars–as texts of interest in themselves.

Although the argument that these texts function as household histories is controversial, they are narratives with a great deal to say about attitudes to monarchic and baronial power. Gui, it is said, functions as an ancestral romance for the earls of Warwick, whereas Boeve can be paired and compared with Gui as a romance of more legendary meritocratic achievement.  These romances are also of interest for their portrayals of women, especially the figure of ‘the wooing woman’, who, contra received understandings of the represented behavior of elite women in the middle ages, does not wait to be sought out by the hero, but declares her own preference for him.

Recent work on medieval religion also offers new interpretative contexts. Gui of Warwick’s desertion of his hard-won bride for a penitential life can be newly assessed in the light of recent work on lay investment in penitential practices. A version of the French Boeve with illustrations appears in the bas-de-page of a semi-liturgical book, the Taymouth Book of Hours, raising new questions about how this romance was read in its own time.