Land and Lineage
The Historia Regum Britanniae ( c.1134) by Geoffrey of Monmouth is well-known as the legendary history providing the most influential version of England’s past from the twelfth century onwards, launching Arthur on his European career, and offering a Welsh/British perspective against the prevailing model of Bede’s English and Rome history. The polyglot reception of Geoffrey’s Historiais perhaps least studied in its manifestations in the French of England. Yet after Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis and Wace’s Brut in the twelfth century, reworkings of the Brut tradition and the prophecies of Merlin continue apace as the Anglo-Normans write an English past for themselves in French. Alongside Welsh, Latin and Middle English Brut traditions, a voluminous Brut literature in the French of England develops in the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries, with important prose reworkings and continuations of the material dealt with in verse by Wace. (For the French of England, the most efficient overview of this complex territory–in which many texts are not yet edited–is to be had by looking at Ruth J. Dean’s Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts [London: ANTS 1999], entries no. 1-75. Further detail is available in Lister M. Matheson, The Prose Brut: The Development of a Middle English Chronicle [Tempe: Arizona: Medieval and Renaissance Texts Series, 1998], which reviews MSS in French, English and Latin). There are approximately 181 Middle English, 49 Anglo-Norman and 19 Latin manuscripts of the prose Brut extant: the Anglo-Norman Brut dominates in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the Middle English in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, though it should be noted that the production of French Brut manuscripts and associated materials continues into the fifteenth century.
Geoffrey of Monmouth peopled Albion with giants for Brutus to conquer but did not explain their origin. The French Brut tradition, followed by Latin and Middle English, develops a scandalous preliminary female foundation for Britain, by Albina. We will look at a short prose version of this story together with two more diverse receptions of Brut and allied materials in particular elite families. Lineage and genealogy are matters requiring constant re-invention and re-membering: we have seen how, in Protheselaus, the production of romance literature might serve a mutual creation of patronage and poetic identities, and a number of other Anglo-Norman romances have been seen to function, among other things, as romans lignagers (though whether for individual families or for class groups is disputed). But the vocabulary of motifs, topoi and tale types available for the invention of tradition in elite and aspirant kin groups also embraced a wide range of what we now categorize as historiographical rather than romance material. In the chronicles studied here particular families do not hesitate to inscribe themselves not only in the Brut story but in the genre of universal chronicle in their origin stories.
PRIMARY TEXTS (texts and translations on email)
- A short prose Albina prologue composed in the early fourteenth century, on how thirty three sisters murder their royal husbands in a single night and become the first people to occupy the country they call Albion after the eldest sister, Albina (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1804).
- The prologue to the Mohun Chronicle, composed before 1350 for the Mohun family, most probably for Lady Joan de Mohun by Walter Hove, Abbot of Newenham (1.5 pages of text).
- The prologue to the Scalacronica, begun c. 1355 by Sir Thomas Gray while a prisoner in Edinburgh.
ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND READING
Extract (text and translation) from the opening of Wace’s Brut (finished by 1155) from Wace’sRoman de Brut: A History of the British, ed. Judith Weiss (Exeter, Exeter UP, 1999), pp. 2-35.
REPORTS AND PAPERS
- Discussion paper on the Albina story in MS Ashmole 1804: what functions might this have as prequel to the Brut story as found in, e.g., Wace?
- What uses of the past and versions of identity are offered in chronicles for elite families? And through what rhetorical strategies are these manifested?
- Lesley Johnson, Johnson, Lesley, ‘Return to Albion’, Arthurian Literature 13 (1995), 19-40 (lucid and suggestive introduction to the Anglo-Norman verse text and Albina issues).
- Marvin, Julia, ‘Albine and Isabelle: Regicidal Queens and the Historical Imagination of the Anglo-Norman Prose Brut Chronicles’, Arthurian Literature 18 (2001), 143-83 (the only study–and a very good one–of the prose Albina text).
- For the Mohun Chronicle and the Scalacronica, reading the introductions and the notes to the texts should suffice for a start, and information for further reading on particular aspects is given in the Headnotes and notes to these excerpts.