Main content start

French of England

The Production and Use of English Manuscripts Project has reconceived the long twelfth century as a period where Old English continues to be copied - and copied not as aftermath and decay, but as active anthologizing, selecting, reshaping. But alongside this activity (sometimes literally alongside Old English in manuscript books), the period sees a great efflorescence of French composition in a range of text types including historiography and hagiography, romances, lyric, devotional material, bestiaries, biblical commentaries, homilies, medical, computational and other scientific and professional treatises. The importance of multilingualism in approaching this newly complex century or so of literary production has become widely perceived in recent years: not only are both bodies of material still relatively understudied but the question of their interrelations or lack thereof requires much further research.

The starting point for work on francophone texts must be the great catalogue completed by Ruth Dean with the help of Maureen B. M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, ANTS OPS 3 (London: ANTS, 1999). The online Anglo-Norman Dictionary completed under David Trotter at Aberystwyth is a superb resource, especially as the full Dictionnaire etymologique de l'ancien fran├žais at Heidelberg has a number of fascicules to go. The Anglo-Norman Text Society continues to produce essential editions of the major texts. A good initial sense of the range of documentary records in French can be gained from Maryanne Kowaleski's Bibliographies. A recent collaborative volume of 34 essays draws attention to the longevity of French in England and its capacity to affect the conceptualization and practice of most fields of medieval English literature: Language and Culture in Medieval Britain: The French of England, c. 1100-c.1500, ed. J. Wogan-Browne with C. Colette, M. Kowaleski, L. Mooney, A. Putter, D.A. Trotter (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 2009). A study exemplifying the importance of close manuscript work and its wide-ranging implications is John Frankis, 'Languages and Cultures in Contact: Vernacular Lives of St Giles and Anglo-Norman Annotations in an Anglo-Saxon Manuscript', LSE 38 (2007), 101-33. For a stimulating large scale re-thinking of the interrelations between Old English, Latin and French literary culture see E. M. Tyler, 'From Old English to Old French', in Wogan-Browne et al. (eds), Language and Culture in Medieval Britain, pp. 164-79; in the same volume Geoff Rector studies the large corpus of multilingual twelfth-century psalter translation of which the Eadwine Psalter is the best known example. The status and development of Anglo-Norman itself is currently being re-thought: see e.g. Richard Ingham (ed.), The Anglo-Norman Language and Its Contexts (Woodbridge:York Medieval Press, 2010).

The long twelfth century in all its French, English, and Latin multilingualism now presents so much new material and so many research questions that a wide range of work is needed, from detailed study of manuscript evidence to the rethinking of entire traditions and genres in the light of the linguistic and cultural environments affecting texts, manuscripts, and those who produce them. Anglo-Saxonists, Anglo-Normanists and Anglo-Latinists will need to continue and develop their research conversations together.

Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Fordham University, New York