Seminar Five

Constructing Lineages: the English Norman Past

As is increasingly realized, Anglo-Norman post-colonial culture is a complex phenomenon of cultural appropriation and assimilation, often crossing ethnic and linguistic barriers in ways that have tended to be occluded in nationalizing historical and disciplinary models. Legendary history is an important mode of collective self-understanding and positioning in the period.   Wace’s Brut,itself a re-working of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s controversial Historia Regum Britanniae, is an influential account of the English Norman past, and yet a relatively small part of the textual production unleashed in the polyglot career of Brut material.  Brut texts abound in verse, prose, Latin, French, English and Welsh versions from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries and include many diverse responses to and appropriations of the Brutus origin story for Britain’s history.  This seminar includes  the Brutus frame in Wace’s text and a particular use of Brut framing in  Fouke le Fitz Waryn, a fourteenth-century prose reworking of an earlier (now lost) romance centred around modern Ludlow and the Welsh borders.  We will look carefully at both these texts to see what kind of cultural territory each is representing and negotiating.


Wace: A History of the British, ed. and tr. Judith Weiss (Exeter UP, 2nd edition, 2003).

Fouke le Fitz Waryn, ed. E. J. Hathaway et al, ANTS 26-7 (Oxford: ANTS,1975): tr G. S. Burgess,Two Medieval Outlaws (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer 1997: pprk 2008).


General Preparation: Read and note both primary sources carefully. If you are short of time, read only part of Wace, but be sure to deal with the whole arc of Brutus’ career (the minimum would be to read Brutus and the successive generations of British kings up to Caesar’s arrival (line 3980), 98 pages in the facing-page translation of your set edition).  In an ideal world we would have time to compare this with the model of kingship in Arthur’s career later in the Brut (from Arthur’s conception, pp. 217-335).  However the Brutus frame is the important thing to concentrate on here: it is if anything more prevalent in subsequent English medieval culture than Arthur (a figure of disputed historicity in much Anglo-Norman writing on the legendary history of Britain). Fouke Fitz Waryn occupies 41 pp in the modern prose translation in your set text.  Your primary reading for this seminar is thus something like the length of a short modern novel.

Presentation and Discussion Topics

  1. How true is it to claim that ‘Engletere’ is the real hero of the Brut? Consider Ashe’s claim that for all Wace’s constant attention to change and mutability in names and peoples, the land remains a figure of permanence in his Brut.  (for a discussion paper, you do not need to read all of Ashe’s book- on reserve in Walsh-, just to pursue the validity/value or otherwise of this suggestion).
  2. Fouke Fitz Waryn opens with a particular application of the Brutus frame and goes on to become a text which many critics have thought a confused mixture of history, fantasy and error. But what kinds of spaces and places feature in Fouke Fitz Waryn?  Can we assume they all belong to a single genre? Examine the the socio-cultural topography of the text, and the functions of its various settings to explore these questions.  (the article by Pensom on the bibliography is probably the most helpful here).


Concentration on primary reading is the chief need for this seminar.  But supporting bibliographies are included in separate documents for your use either now or later as your interests and the direction of your major project for the course suggest.  Since nothing reveals the way in which our term ‘literature’ misses as well as categorizes medieval textual culture, and since we also have some information about the West Midlands activities of the Fouke scribe (thanks to the large amount of research done on MS Harley 2253, see e.g. the collection edited  by Suzanna Greer Fein), I include a full description of the manuscript in which Fouke is item 20.  This seems appropriate in a seminar involving those category-crossers, legendary histories.