Anglo-Norman literature


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Anglo-Norman literature,

body of literature written in England, in the French dialect known as Anglo-Norman, from c.1100 to c.1250. Initiated at the court of Henry I, it was supported by the wealthy, French-speaking aristocracy who controlled England after the Norman conquest. The dominant literary forms were histories, sacred and secular biographies, and homilies; romance and fiction were relatively scarce. Perhaps the most important historian was Geoffrey Gaimer, whose two-part history of England, Histoire des Bretons and Estorie des Engles, was written in verse. Philippe of Thaün, the earliest known Anglo-Norman poet, was noted for the moral allegory the Bestiaire. Of secular works, Thomas's Tristan (c.1170) is notable both artistically and as an early source for the Tristram and Isolde legend.

Bibliography

See M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature and Its Background (1963).

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After an introduction by the editors and David Crystal, the essays examine a wide variety of related subjects: Old English influence on The Lord of the Rings; a general introduction to Beowulf in particular, old English minor heroic poems, the Riddles and the Elegies; The Dream of the Rood and Anglo-Saxon Northumbria: Caedmon and Old English Biblical verse; the role of monasteries and courts as seen in the relationship between Alcuin and Offa; King Alfred and his books; the difficulties of Old English; the coming of the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Viking religion; Icelandic sagas; the influence of English Benedictines; and finally an essay on Anglo-Norman literature.
Although Ross sees enough minor differences between the two to be convinced they are not by the same artist, he finds that their numerous similarities 'point to a single workshop as their place of origin' and thus to 'the existence of a lay establishment specialising in the copying and illustration of secular Anglo-Norman literature in the second quarter of the thirteenth century'.
All this suggests that the 'lay establishment specialising in the copying and illustration of secular Anglo-Norman literature in the second quarter of the thirteenth century' described by David Ross was not that uncommon.
Leyser argues that the survival of English was largely due to the influence of the native wives of the Norman incomers, and points out the important role that noblewomen played as patrons of both English and Anglo-Norman literature.
A more specific context for the Lais is provided at the end of the volume: a useful chronological list of political and literary or other cultural events during the period between 1066 and 1200, a brief account of Marie's career, some comments on Anglo-Norman literature, and a discussion of the relationship between the narrative lai and the roman.
The author of the Anglo-Norman `Geste de Burch' is of little significance as a poet, but he receives due consideration in Dominica Legge's survey of Anglo-Norman literature,(10) whilst scarcely so much as a mention in Antonia Gransden's study of historical writing in England.
She then surveys the role of knights and other combatants and argues that, while by 1100 heavy cavalry played a major part in warfare, other categories of troops were not disparaged as they were, for example, in Anglo-Norman literature.