This session is devoted to the on-going importance and development of French as a vital literary medium in England from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Focusing on works like Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis, the Vie de Saint Edouard le Confesseur, Clemence’s Vie de Sainte Catherine, a series of Anglo-Norman saints’ lives, the Prose Brut), the London Chronicle, the Anonimalle Chronicle, and the Scalacronica_, these papers pay particular attention to the active contribution of both secular and religious women to the maintenance of a French literary tradition in England.
Scholarly work on post-Conquest English convents has tended to assume that, unlike their male monastic counterparts, English nuns lacked historical documentation. On the contrary, this paper proposes that certain convent manuscripts containing traditionally ‘literary’ texts functioned as convent chronicles. I will use the post-Conquest foundation Campsey Priory and one manuscript, British Library Additional 70513, a collection of Anglo-Norman saints’ lives belonging to the priory from the 13th century, as a case study, demonstrating how these hagiographic texts together operate as a Campsey chronicle. Not only does this paper demonstrate an important instance of female historical documentation which has thus far been neglected, but it also establishes that a number of these convents maintained chronicles deliberately in French in the 15th century. Based on an analysis of manuscripts belonging to both Campsey Priory and Barking Abbey, I will suggest that French was preserved as a primary language of convent historiography in late medieval female organized religion in England.
While once it was believed that Anglo-French ceased to be a vibrant language after the 13th century, relegated to use only in administrative and legal contexts, in truth a number of literary works were written in the French of England well into the 14th century. This language, far from being a static, learned language as some have described it, was effectively used by writers who continued to enrich the lexis with neologisms and borrowings from a number of sources. The paper will discuss a range of literary works produced in the 14th century though the central focus will be innovations in the lexis of several Anglo-French chronicles written in the 14th century including the Anglo-Norman Prose Brut, the London Chronicle, the Anonimalle Chronicle and the Scalacronica.
With a focus on the Vie de Saint Edouard le Confesseur and Clemence’s Vie de Sainte Catherine, my paper explores romance translation at Barking Abbey in the late 12th century. I argue that these saints’ lives participated in a culture of monastic translation within English monasteries in the 12th century, which included translations out of the vernacular into Latin as well as into and between the vernacular languages. Through close readings of the nuns’ own remarks about their work and comparisons with other monastic translations, I complicate the picture themselves of their ‘female’ writing practices painted by the nuns themselves.
The Estoire des Engleis, the first extant historiography in French, is an enigmatical text, which interweaves antagonistic cultural narratives and punctuates annalistic history with romantic story. This paper argues that the text’s patronage by noblewoman Constance FitzGilbert and authorship by her private clerk Geoffrey Gaimar involve the Estoire closely with the experience of aristocratic women. The text’s pioneering vernacular is critiqued in terms of the social expectations placed on women’s patronage. Its structural diversity is shown to mirror noblewomen’s experiences of intermarriage. The Estoire’s idiosyncrasies and ambiguities become a woman’s ‘estoire’, reflecting the interests and complexities of twelfth-century noblewomen’s lives.