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Finding time for romance: medieval Arthurian literary history.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae may have scandalized a circle of fellow-historians, but the work quickly established itself as the authoritative account of the Arthurian past. As Christopher Dean has shown, its status as respectable history was never in serious danger until Polydore Vergil debunked the legend of Arthur in his early sixteenth-century Anglica historia.(1) To be sure, Ranulf Higden had earlier cast doubts on the reliability of the Arthurian section in the Historia, but his scepticism was not shared by monastic chroniclers, and was effectively countered by Trevisa's defence of its historicity in his English translation of Higden's Polychronicon.(2) Moreover, Higden's doubts left no traces in the immensely popular English and French prose versions of the Brut of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which faithfully retold the story of Arthur along the lines of Geoffrey's Historia, and became the closest thing to an |official' history of England that mediaeval England possessed.(3) So uncontroversial was Geoffrey's Historia that the Plantagenets frequently claimed Arthur as their forefather, and referred to his alleged conquest of the British Isles to legitimize their territorial claims to Scotland and Wales.(4)

Historians of Arthurian literature cannot afford to ignore the long-lasting authority of Geoffrey's Historia. Having insinuated itself as national history, it continued to dictate the possibilities and limits of Arthurian literature in the mediaeval period. Malory's Morte Darthur is perhaps not quite the first English work to have liberated Arthur from |history' and released him into the world of romance, as Felicity Riddy suggests, but she is surely right to emphasize the strength of Geoffrey of Monmouth's control on what could and could not be said about Arthur, even in the fifteenth century.(5) When we realize that, in England, the great majority of Arthurian texts merely reproduces the Historia's standard account of Arthur's reign, we can appreciate how heavily the authority of Geoffrey's chronicle must have weighed on later writers.

The chronicle version did not, of course, remain unchallenged. An alternative oral tradition probably pre-existed the Historia, and Geoffrey's history did not entirely supplant it. From the late twelfth century, French verse romances served up Arthurian fictions in written form. And while, by contrast to the chronicles, their fantastic stories were frequently dismissed as lies, in popularity they soon matched Arthurian historiography.(6) It was perhaps due to the association of prose with truth, and verse with fiction, that many Arthurian romancers of the thirteenth century adopted prose.(7) The different medium seems to have convinced some of the veracity of prose romances; witness the reference to a prose Lancelot in London, British Library, MS Add. 21212:

Issi vos en fere le conte Non pas rime, qui an droit conte, Si con li livres Lancelot Ou il n'a de rime un seul mot Por mielz dire la verite Et por tretier saunz fausete.(8)

To others, and most notably Dante, Arthurian prose romances belonged, like those in verse, to the realm of the imagination; his Paolo and Francesca pay a heavy price for living out the seductive fictions of the Lancelot in reality.(9)

Literary histories, such as the seminal collection Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, have done much to chart the developments of Arthurian chronicle and romance,(10) but because they represent these as changes that occurred over time, we sometimes need reminding that texts can speak across time. For that is what the Historia regum Britanniae did. It passed on to posterity a story which many of its disseminators took to be the definitive word on Arthurian history, and which left those who did not the task of turning its weaknesses and omissions into opportunities or justifications for saying more. For writers after Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthurian history was no longer a tabula rasa but a story whose chronology had been fixed by Geoffrey's Historia. And, as a consequence, adding to it was a matter not simply of thinking up other adventures that might have happened, but of finding moments in his history in which they could have happened.

Critics have of late begun to explore the ways in which verse and prose romancers sought to present their narratives against the broader canvas of Arthurian history as invented by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Sarah Sturm-Maddox has noted the allusions in Chretien's Conte du Graal to the unruly period following the death of Uther Pendragon and Arthur's inheritance of the crown.(11) And, as Elspeth Kennedy has suggested, the difficulties Arthur faces in his homeland during this |historical' period are used by the author of the Prose Lancelot to explain why Arthur cannot cross the channel to help his vassal Ban in his wars against Claudas.(12) This article will explore a different strategy that mediaeval writers adopted to fit new Arthurian matter into the historical tradition, a strategy that depended on discovering or opening up in the chronicle periods of unused story-time.

While Geoffrey had set the parameters of Arthurian history, his account contained two temporal gaps on whose literary fortunes I shall focus. Twice, Geoffrey makes a casual mention of some uneventful years that pass by. The first is a period of twelve peaceful years, which occur after Arthur has crushed all opposition in the British Isles; the second is one of nine years in which Arthur consolidates his rule in France after many conquests in Europe:

Emensa deinde hyeme reuersus est in Britanniam statumque regni sui in firmam pacem renouans moram .xii. annis ibidem fecit.

Emensis interim .ix. annis, cum totius Gallie partes potestati sue summisisset, uenit iterum Arturus Parisius.(13)

Geoffrey may have decided to note the passing of twelve and nine years in order to give his story the illusion of reality which such seemingly trivial details typically create. But, as we shall see,these two openings in Geoffrey's chronology were significant for the evolution of Arthurian literature, as they provided two unwritten periods of Arthurian history that could be appropriated as the story-time of romance.

The first author to see the possibilities of Geoffrey's time-lag was Wace. Elaborating on the brief mention by Geoffrey, Wace uses the twelve years of peace as a convenient moment to dispose of the fables that had accumulated around the figure of Arthur:

En cele grant pais ke jo di, Ne sai si vus I'avez oi, Furent les merveilles pruvees E les aventures truvees Ki d'Artur sunt tant recuntees Ke a fable sunt aturnees; Ne tut mencunge, ne tut veir, Tut folie ne tut saveir. Tant unt li cunteur cunte E li fableur tant flable Pur les cuntes enbeleter, Que tut unt fait fable sembler. (9787-99)(14)

Wace does not get his hands dirty on the period. He only expresses his scepticism about the fables of adventures that allegedly took place in this |grant pais'.(15) By exposing their dubious veracity, Wace turns the fables that threaten to undermine the credibility of Arthurian history to his advantage, for his rejection of them helps to establish his credentials as a judicious historian. Having found the sources on the twelve years unreliable, he then abandons the period and moves on to Arthur's conquest of Norway. Not surprisingly, the part of Arthur's reign that Wace sacrifices for the sake of historicity deals with peace. Because mediaeval histories record the gesta of the great, these usually being understood as feats of arms, and extended period of peace is a continual source of embarrassment for the mediaeval chronicler. And undoubtedly Wace did not feel the worse for passing over the |grant pais' in silence. Peace, merveilles and aventures are the subject of |fable'. The respectable chronicler prefers the deeds of men at war. But whatever Wace's preferences, the fables seem to have been too well known to be ignored completely. And so Wace banished them to the twelve-year gap in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia; a small concession, yet a concession all the same, for they had now conquered a time and place in the official chronology of Arthur's reign.

Wace's trick of converting the unused time of the Historia into a dumping-ground for fable was not lost on verse romancers. They, however, did not share the historian's contempt for tales of aventures and merveilles. On the contrary, these disreputable subjects were taken up by poets such as Chretien de Troyes, who openly admitted to sharing the raw matter of their narratives with the cunteur of fable. Admittedly Chretien boasts that his romances are far superior, but he stakes this claim not on the matter of the fable-tellers, but on their manner of presentation:

Por ce dist Crestiens de Troies que reisons est que totevoies doit chascuns panser et antandre a bien dire et a bien aprandre; et tret d'un conte d'avanture une molt bele conjointure par qu'an puet prover et savoir que cil ne fet mie savoir que s'escience n'abandone tant que Dex la grasce I'an done: d'Erec, le fil Lac, est li contes, que devant rois et devant contes depecier et corronpre suelent cil qui de conter vivre vuelent.(9-22)(16)

Unlike Wace, Chretien objects to the cunteur not on grounds of historical accuracy, but on those of artistic merit. The point is no longer that they tell lies, but that they tell them badly.

Critics have noted that by concentrating on the aventures and merveilles of fable, which Wace had marginalized in his Brut, the poets of verse romances managed to liberate their narratives from the linear dimensions of the chronicles.(17) Their departures from the Historia or the Brut may, however, conceal that many verse romancers nevertheless thought of their narratives as taking place within the accepted time-frame of chronicle: within, to be precise, the twelve years in which Wace dumped the fables.

Rosemary Morris has recently suggested that the romances by Chretien de Troyes, who knew Wace's Brut and his comments about the twelve years, are designed to fit this time-lag.(18) With the exception of Cliges, their story-time does not exceed twelve years; they portray Arthur in the comforts of rest and peace, and contain in plenty the merveilles and aventures that Wace had censored. It is not, as Morris claims, that Chretien exploited the time-lag in Wace's chronicle to lend credibility to his fictions.(19) Surely Chretien would not in that case have associated his stories with the period condemned by Wace as a realm of fable. Nor is Chretien the kind of writer who worried much about strict verisimilitude. The fact appears from Chretien's sly allusion to another instance where Wace had tried to cultivate his image as a careful historian. In his Roman de Rou, Wace had reported a visit to the forest of |Brecheliande', where he had gone to verify rumours about magic. Finding none, he returned disillusioned, reproaching himself that he should have known better than to believe such nonsense:

La alai jo merveiles querre, vi la forest e vi la terre merveilles quis, mais nes trovai, fol m'en revinc, fol i alai; fol i alai, fol m'en revinc, folie quis, por fol me tinc. (II.6393-8)(20)

These, as critics have noted,(21) are the words that Chretien in Yvain attributes to Calogrenant, who also reports a disappointing visit to Broceliande:

Ensi alai, ensi reving; au revenir por fol me ting. (577-8)(22)

Calogrenant, however, bemoans not his credulity or the absence of miracles in Broceliande, but the shame he incurred after failing in the adventure of the magical fountain. The forest, diligently but fruitlessly explored by Wace in search of magic, becomes in Chretien's hands a deliberately fantastic setting stocked with supernatural adventures and marvel, where the poet is at liberty to trace the contemporary realities of opportunistic young knights and defenceless women without deferring to historical plausibility.(23)

Like Wace, whom Calogrenant invokes, Chretien was no escapist writer; but he departed from Wace in representing the social tensions of his day within a self-consciously fictitious frame. And it may have been precisely such a fictitious frame that Chretien looked for when he situated his adventures in the twelve years dismissed by Wace. The opening left by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace enabled Chretien to create an autonomous realm of fiction where, freed from the constraints of history, he could address the concerns that occupied him and his audience.(24)

While Morris's suggestion that Chretien intended to set his romances in Wace's twelve-year period remains speculative, there is evidence that some mediaeval writers indeed considered this period in the chronicles as the time in which the adventures of verse romances might be located. A manuscript in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, MS f. fr. 1450, provides one such piece of evidence. The manuscript contains Wace's chronicle, and interpolates Chretien's romances after the mention of the twelve years of peace in the Brut as a testimony to the adventures that occurred at this time. Only after inserting Chretien's romances does the scribe continue with the remainder of Wace's Brut.(25) The verse romancer of Claris et Laris, from the second half of rhe thirteenth century, who was steeped in Arthurian legends,(26) also set his story in Wace's twelve years:

Au tens que li rois d'Engleterre Artus vint Bretaigne conquerre Et saisit ot la seignorie, lert en grant pes chevalerie Et largesce el plus haut degre Car tuit la servoient de gre. (89-94)(27)

Like the scribe of BN f. fr. 1450, the poet evidently imagined the adventures of verse romances as having taken place after Arthur had established control over his dominions, in the same period that Wace had called |cele grant pais'.

The English poet of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight may have envisaged this period as the general background for his adventure as well. He opened his romance with a short summary of British history, probably drawn from the |Brutus bokez' (2523) which he refers to at the end of his romance, until his chronological survey reaches the time of |Arthurez wonderez'(29), when a young Round Table enjoys the pleasures of peace.(28) It is as if the Gawain poet had searched out the chronicle history for the narrative gap of fiction and outrageous adventure that had also appealed to his predecessors in the verse tradition.(29) This, at any rate, is how the poet of the tail-rhyme version in the Percy Folio must have seen it. Sketching the wider Arthurian chronological setting of the plot more precisely than the Gawain poet, he clearly locates the story in Wace's black hole:

List, when Arthur he was K: He had att all his leading

The broad Ile of Brittaine; England & Scottland one was, & Wales stood in the same case,

The truth itt is not to layne. He driue allyans out of this Ile, Soe Arthur liued in peace a while,

As man of mickle maine. (1-9)(30)

Anyone with a knowledge of Wace's Brut or a prose Brut would have realized that the |peace' alluded to by the poet of The Grene Knight corresponds to the twelve-year period of the chronicles, which likewise follows Arthur's victory over the rebels of his kingdom.

My final and most eloquent witness to the relevance of the twelve years of peace to verse romances is Robert Mannyng of Brunne. His Story of England, written in the early fourteenth century, contains the most sophisticated mediaeval taxonomy of chronicle, verse romances and prose romances that we possess.(31) In his adaptation of Wace's Brut, Mannyng's main source for the Arthurian section of his chronicle, he slightly alters his source when he comes to the time of |grant pais'. As we have seen, Wace had discounted the many fables about the miraculous adventures that allegedly took place at this time. Wace seems to have been referring here to oral fables, told by |Bretun' (9752), by |cunteur' and |fableur' (9795-6). But in Mannyng's Story of England the twelve years are the subject no longer of oral fables but of written romances |in ryme':

But in byse twelf zeres tyme ffel auentures that men rede in ryme; In bat tyme were herd and sen bat somme sey, bat neuere hap ben. (10,579-82)

Where Wace had talked scornfully of unreliable rumours, Mannyng thought of verse romances, put down in writing (men read them), and consequently endowed with an authority that, while doubted by |somme', goes unquestioned by the author himself. The verse romances have come, in Mannyng's account, to testify to the |auentures' rejected by Wace. With the help of this stretch of time, Mannyng has succeeded in clearing a space in the authoritative chronicle account for the material of verse romances. If the reader is willing to accept that the |twelf zeres tyme' is when the incredible adventures took place, the conflicting evidence of chronicle and romance need no longer jar.

The subtlety of Mannyng's move is likely to escape us if we do not notice that Mannyng is at this point referring to |auentures' composed in |ryme'. That Mannyng was consciously singling out verse romances clearly appears from the fact that he later finds a similar slot in Wace's Brut for romances in prose: the nine years in which Arthur ruled in France after his European conquests. Wace had gone some way towards giving content to this lapse of time in Geoffrey's Historia, when he stated: |Es nuef anz que il France tint / Mainte merveille li avint ...' (10,143-4). But the many marvels attracted more detailed attention in Mannyng's chronicle, in which they are imagined as the adventures of French romance:

Manye wondres by times sers Bitydde Arthur bo nyne zeres; many a proud man lowe he brought, Til many felon, wo he wrought; Enuyous men he hated alle, pe mysproude ful lowe dide falle. per haue men bokes of al his lyf, per are his merueilles red ful ryf, pat we of hym here alle rede, pere were pey writen ilka dede. pyse grete bokes so faire langage, Writen and spoken of ffraunces vsage, pat neuere was writen porow Englischemen Swilk stile to speke, kynde ne can, But ffrensche men wryten hit in prose, Right as he dide, hym for to alose. (10,96I-76)(32)

As Lesley Johnson has pointed out, Mannyng seems in this passage to be trying to explain why the |wondres' about the eminently British hero Arthur are all in French, not in English. Is it, as critics today believe, because Geoffrey of Monmouth's |historical'version of Arthur never became the national foundation myth in France, where the matter of Arthur remained a more fertile quarry for imaginative writers?(33) Not according to Mannyng, who claims that Arthur was responsible for creating French romance rather than the other way around. During the nine peaceful years he spent in France, he made himself so popular with the local population that they wrote romances |hym for to alose'. The nine years in France that pass quietly by in his source give Mannyng a chance to explain away the puzzling fact that the Arthurian prose so avidly read in England - presumably Mannyng had the Vulgate Cycle in mind - was produced in France.(34)

But the nine-year gap does more. It allows Mannyng to reconcile the Arthurian chronicle tradition, which makes no mention of any |wondres' of peace-time, with the conflicting evidence of French romance, in which they are commonplace. While acknowledging the disagreements between the content of chronicle and French prose |bokes', Mannyng finds a way of escaping the conclusion that one or both might be fabricated, by associating the |wondres' of romance with the nine years of peace which the Historia regum Britanniae and Wace's Brut had left empty. Romance and history are thereby made to complement rather than contradict each other. Note, however, that the nine years are specifically designed for romances in prose, a point on which Mannyng insists in the couplet that follows the passage quoted above:

In prose al of hym ys writen, pe betere til vnderstande and wyten. (10,977-8)

While the romances |in ryme' are comfortably lodged elsewhere in the chronicle, Mannyng has found separate accommodation for the romances |in prose'. Now the material of prose and verse romances need no longer clash with the testimony of Geoffrey of Monmouth's or Wace's chronicle. The twelve years of domestic peace can furnish an alibi for verse romances, and the nine years that next punctuate Arthurian history can vouch for the romances in prose.

The aptness of Mannyng's choice of the twelve years for verse romances has already been demonstrated. Was his idea to contextualize prose romances in the nine years after Arthur's European conquests equally successful? Chronologically it is not. The Vulgate Lancelot alone spans about half a century of Arthurian history, far more than Mannyng's nine years. Nevertheless, Mannyng was not alone in trying to incorporate the adventures of prose romances into the chronicle framework, and, like Mannyng, other Arthurian writers understood that in these attempts chronicle-time was of the essence. A century after Robert Mannyng, John Hardyng also felt that the nine years skipped by Wace and Geoffrey of Monmouth were full of narrative potential. In the shorter version of his chronicle (1464), he referred to the period as one of daily adventures for Round Table knights:

Nine yeres he held his throne riall in Fraunce, And open hous, greatly magnified Through all the world, of welthe and suffisaunce Was neuer prince so highly gloryfied: The rounde table with princes multiplied, That auentures then sought cotidianly, With grete honour, as made is memory. (p. 128)(35)

Hardyng only hints at these adventures, but his statement that they have been committed to memory suggests that he had in mind other Arthurian writings that told these adventures more fully.

Perhaps they were part of the Vulgate Cycle, for later in his narrative Hardyng intercalates another part of this Cycle, the Grail Quest, into the chronicle account of Arthur's reign.(36) Following the standard historians, Hardyng has Arthur return to Britain after his stay in France, and hold a sumptuous feast at Caerleon. In Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace, the festivities are disturbed by twelve ambassadors who demand tribute on behalf of the Roman emperor. Arthur crosses the Channel and defeats the Roman forces, but his success is followed by the news of Mordred's treachery. The subsequent misfortunes are well known. Unlike his sources, however, Hardyng included a brief summary of the Grail Quest, drawn from the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, and interpolated it after the feast of Caerleon, which in Hardyng is not interrupted by any Roman challenge. It is only a year later, at a second Whitsuntide feast unique to Hardyng's Chronicle, that the Roman ambassadors duly put in their appearance. While Hardyng does not avail himself of the opportunity of the nine unwritten years, he resembles Mannyng in reading prose romances back into the chronicle account. Briefly holding off the stroke of destiny, Hardyng grants Arthur some respite before the entry of the twelve messengers from Rome - enough to wedge in the paraphrase of Galahad's quest for the Holy Grail.

These tactics of temporization are not unique to Mannyng or Hardyng. Like them, the authors of prose romances looked for ways of accommodating their matter within the accepted chronicle account. One way of achieving this was to sever Arthur's successful battle against the Romans from the news of Mordred's betrayal; in the chronicles these follow one upon the other as ineluctably as the turning of Fortune's Wheel. Thus prose romancers could make room between Arthur's Roman campaign and Mordred's fatal betrayal, and while preserving these 'historical' elements they could fill the newly created space in between with their story-matter.

This is the overall architecture we find in Malory's Morte Darthur and in the Vulgate Cycle, both eloquent witnesses to the self-consciousness with which their authors manipulated Arthurian chronology. In the case of Malory it is the retelling of Arthur's battles with the Romans in the Tale of King Arthur and the Emperor Lucius' that highlights Malory's deliberate departures from the chronicle tradition.(37) Based closely on the alliterative Morte Arthure, which follows the familiar chronicle account of Arthur's death, Malory must have felt the full weight of the fate which in his source links Arthur's glorious campaign with Mordred's betrayal. Malory's departures from the alliterative Morte are designed precisely to break the inexorable chain of events of the chronicle, in order that Arthur may leave for France, vanquish Lucius and the Roman forces but only hear of his nephew's usurpation in the final book of the Morte Darthur.

The crucial difference between Malory and the alliterative Morte is not simply that Malory omitted the tragic final 1128 lines of his source when the poem turns sour. At this point Malory had already averted the impending doom of a coup d'etat in Arthur's homeland. Unlike the Arthur of the alliterative Morte, who leaves Britain and the queen in Mordred's hands, Malory's Arthur shows better judgement: 'Than the kynge commaunded hem to God and belefte the quene in sir Constantynes and Sir Baudewens hondis, and all Inglonde holy to rule as themselfe demed beste' (p. 195.14-16).(38) Eugene Vinaver suggested that Malory's departure from his source serves to bring his story of Arthur closer to Henry V's historic campaigns on the Continent, and that Bishop Beaufort and the duke of Bedford to whom Henry V entrusted the kingdom may have stood as models for Sir Constantine and Sir Baldwin of Britain.(39) Yet, however much recent history may have inspired Malory in his artistic choices, his decision to depart from his source by eliminating Mordred reflects in the first instance his desire to leave room for the Arthurian matter of the prose romances, and to harmonize it with the 'historical' elements of the alliterative Morte Arthure.

The Vulgate Continuation of the Merlin, which Malory seems not to have known, is likewise closely modelled on chronicle material.(40) Written to precede the Vulgate Lancelot, the Queste and the Mort Artu, it tells, among other things, of Arthur's wars against rebellious vassals and includes his campaign against the Romans. The incorporation of this 'historical' element, which the author of the Merlin Continuation had found in Wace, was fraught with difficulties, since the author could not follow his source in making Arthur's battle against the Romans the beginning of his tragic end.(41) After all, many more years of Arthurian adventures were to follow in the Lancelot, for which the author of the Merlin wished to set the scene. It is only in the final part of the Vulgate Cycle, the Mort Artu, which contains a heavily condensed version of Arthur's Roman campaign, that the chronological sequence of Arthur's triumph and his downfall is observed."

The Merlin continuator may have felt that the author of the Mort Artu had missed a golden opportunity in reducing Wace's rich description of Arthur's military triumphs to a brief mention. To quote Alexandre Micha: 'Le morceau de Wace restait donc a utiliser, n'ayant pas figured integralement dans le vaste corpus. Notre auteur n'a pas resiste a la tentation.'(43) Yet by choosing to incorporate Wace's Roman campaign in his account of Arthur's early reign, the author faced, not unlike Malory, the task of rewriting the consequences of this campaign in order to leave time for more adventures. The author of the Vulgate Merlin Continuation therefore has Arthur cross the Channel but makes no mention of a guardian who is left in charge. Moreover, whereas Wace's Brut sees Kay and Bedivere die on the battlefield, our author had to keep them alive for their reappearance in the Lancelot, the Queste and the Mort Artu. Bedivere receives a blow almost as fatal as the one that kills him in the Brut. Hit by King Boclus, he falls off his horse unconscious, while Kay, convinced his friend is dead, rushes towards him in a fascinating replay of Wace's Brut. Compare the episode in which King Boclus attacks Bedivere in the Vulgate with its model:

& il tint j. glaiue court & gros si laisse coure encontre bedoier & le feirt si durement quil li fait passer le fer del glaiue parmi le bu doutre en outre. & sil leust assene j. poi plus bas mort leust . Et neporquant li le parta del cheual a terre tout pasmes . Et quant kex le uit cheoir si en fu moult dolans car il quida quil fust mors si sen uint enuers lui a tant de gent comme il pot auoir & fist chels de mede resortir. (p. 439)

Li reis Boccuz un glayve tint; Mal ait sis cors quant il i vint! Les dous cuntes ad descunfiz, E Beduer feri el piz; De la lance parmi le cors Li fist passer le fer tut fors. Beduer chiet, li cuers li part, L'alme s'en vait, Jesus la gart. Key, ad trove Beduer mort; En talent ad que il l'en port, Mult l'aveit chier et mult l'amot; Od tant de gent cume il ot Fut ces de Mede departir E la place lut fist guerpir. (12,627-40)

Bedivere's narrow escape is registered in the close resemblance between the passage from the Merlin Continuation and its source. Bedivere's unconscious body in the Vulgate comes near to being the corpse of the Brut; so near that Kay cannot tell the difference between them. But the author of the Merlin Continuation brings Bedivere back to life, and allows Kay to escape with only a minor injury, leaving it to the Mort Artu to deprive him of existence.

As ingenious as his handling of Kay and Bedivere is the role the author allots to Merlin, who is after all the central character of his work. Absent from the scene in Wace, the magician assists Arthur throughout his campaign in the Merlin Continuation; also at the crucial moment when Arthur's luck changes in the chronicles. As our author would have known from Geoffrey's Historia or Wace's Brut, the Wheel of Fortune turns when Arthur makes up his mind to march on a defenceless Rome. I quote the turning-point in the chronicles:

Adueniente uero estate dum Romam petere affectaret et montes transcendere incepisset, nuntiatur ei Mordredum nepotem suum cuius tutele permiserat Britanniam eiusdem diademate per tyrannidem et proditionem insignitum esse reginamque Ganhumeram uiolate iure priorum nuptiarum eidem nephanda uenere copulatam fuisse. (p. 129)

En este volt Mungyeu passer E a Rome voleit aler, Mes Mordred l'en ad returne. Deus, quel hunte, Deus, quel vilte (13,013-16)

The Vulgate Merlin Continuation presents a subtle change in this scenario. Instead of deciding to press on, Arthur asks Merlin whether a march to Rome is wise. And Merlin, as if he foreknows that the route to Rome is doomed, advises against it: 'lors apela li rois merlin & li dist biaus dous amis que vous plaist que ie face. Sire fait merlins vous nires pas auant a romme' (p. 441). Thanks to Merlin's prophetic powers, Arthur embarks on a different course of events, on a different road, where news of betrayal cannot yet reach him. Momentarily escaping the fall from Fortune's grace, Arthur and Merlin play a trick on historical necessity that allows the story to swerve away from tragedy and make way for romance.

As the verse romances had created imaginative room for their own inventions by using the narrative opening afforded by the twelve years of peace, Malory and the anonymous author of the Merlin Continuation looked for ways of misreading the 'historical' account of Arthur, for ways of playing for story-time, by undoing the chronological link that ties Arthur's military triumphs abroad to Mordred's fatal betrayal. Robert Mannyng's approach differs only in that he seems to have realized that a discursive space already existed in the nine years that previous chroniclers had failed to account for. Here, as in his handling of the twelve years of peace, his stroke of genius is to have converted the empty time of his sources into opportunities for romance.

In his attempt to bring the contradictory statements of romance and chronicle into agreement, Robert Mannyng of Brunne cleverly used the narrative gaps of twelve and nine years as an alibi for romances in verse and prose respectively. The kind of literary history that emerges from Mannyng's reflections on the variety of Arthurian material may seem to us ludicrous. Instead of putting the differences between romance and chronicle down to a question of genre or artistic preference, he locates the source of their inconsistencies not in the books about Arthur, but in Arthur's lifetime itself, in which the war-time of chronicle alternated with the spells of peace and adventure of romance. In Mannyng's analysis, the heterogeneity of Arthurian literature only reflects the fluctuations of Arthur's reign. Uncomfortable with the thought that Arthurian history and romance might be products of writers' lively imagination, Mannyng prefers not to pursue the possibility that the recent literature about Arthur is responsible for the contradictions.

But Mannyng's literary history also has its strengths. Rather than assigning chronicle, verse and prose romances to distinct and successive stages in a literary evolution, Mannyng's Story of England fuses these separate modes and developments into one intertextual mosaic that bears out the realities of literary influence better than a merely chronological model of literary development. For while Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia or Wace's Brut may have been composed well before verse and prose romances, the authors of romance still conceived of their works in relation to the 'historical' version of Arthur's reign, which continued to constitute an authoritative presence throughout the mediaeval period. Mannyng's Story of England, which inserts prose and verse romances into the discursive gaps of Wace's Brut, neatly describes the ways in which romancers too had cleared or appropriated imaginative space in the chronicle for their own inventions. But, as Mannyng's Story also makes clear, the traffic between romance and chronicle was not one-way; for just as chronicle influenced the shape of romance, so romances affected earlier chronicles by way of revisionary interpretations, by disclosing a wealth of significance behind the casual mentions of the passing of twelve or nine years, where previously there was none. In this way later texts may well be said to influence earlier ones.(44) Certainly Robert Mannyng of Brunne, who had read his romances, found meanings in Wace's chronicle that only the advent of Arthurian romance could have revealed.

Jesus College, AD PUTTER



I should like to thank Professor Jill Mann, Mr james Simpson, and the editors of medium AEvum for commenting on an earlier version of this article.

(1) Christopher Dean, Arthur of England: English Attitudes to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Toronto, 1987), pp. 3-31. (2) Laura Keeler, Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Late Latin Chronicles: 1300-1500, University of California Publications in English (Berkeley, Calif., 1946). (3) John Taylor, English Historical Writing in the Fourteenth Century (Oxford, 1987), p. 45. (4) Gordon H. Gerould, 'King Arthur and politics', Speculum, 2 (1927), 33-51, and Peter Johanek, 'Konig Arthur und die Plantagenets. Uber den Zusammenhang von Historiographie und hofischer Epik in mittelalterlicher Propaganda', Fruhmittelalterliche Studien, 21 (1987), 346-89. (5) Felicity Riddy, Sir Thomas Malory (Leiden, 1987), pp. 40-2. (6) For the sceptical reception of romances, see Paul Meyer, Notice du ms. 1137 de Grenoble', Romania, 16 (1887), 222; Robert Marichal,'Naissance du roman', in Entretiens sur la renaissance du douzieme siecle, ed. M. Gandillac and E. Jeauneau (Paris, 1968), pp. 449-82; and Joachim Bumke, Hofische Kultur, 2 vols (Munich, 1986), 11, 141-4. (7) See Thomas E. Kelly, Le Haut Livre du Graal: Perlesvaus. A Structural Study (Geneva, 1974), pp. 17-18. (8) Quoted from Brian Woledge and H. P. Clive, Repertoire des plus anciens textes en prose francais depuis 842 jusqu'aux premieres annees du XIIIe siecle (Geneva, 1964), p. 30. (9) Mediaeval condemnations of Arthurian romance as lies or vanities do not generally distinguish between verse and prose romances; for some examples, see Douglas Kelly, 'Romance and the vanity of Chretien de Troyes', in Romance: Generic Transformation from Chretien de Troyes to Cervantes, ed. Kevin Brownlee and Marina Scordilis Brownlee (Hanover and London, 1985), pp. 74-91 (pp. 75-6). On Dante's use of the Prose Lancelot, see Rene Girard, 'From The Divine Comedy to the sociology of the novel', in Sociology of literature and drama, ed. Elizabeth Burns and Tom Burns (Harmondsworth, 1973), pp. 101-8. (10) Ed. Roger Sherman Loomis (Oxford, 1959). (11) Sarah Sturm-Maddox, "'Tenir sa terre en pais": social order in the Brut and the Conte del Graal', Studies in Philology, 81 (1984), 28-41. (12) E. M. Kennedy, Lancelot and the Grail: A Study of the Prose Lancelot (Oxford, 1986), pp. 80-5. (13) Geoffrey of Monmouth: Historia regum Britannie', ed. Neil Wright (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 107, 109. (14) Wace's 'Roman de Brut', ed. Ivor Arnold, 2 Vols, SATF (Paris, 1938-40). (15) Cf. Maurice Delbouille, 'Le temoignage de Wace sur la legende Arthurienne', Romania, 64 (1953), 172-99. (16) Erec et Enide, ed. Mario Roques, CFMA (Paris, 1981). (17) Douglas Kelly, "'Matiere" et "genera dicendi" in medieval romance', Yale French Studies, 51 (1974), 147-59; Paul Zumthor, Langue, texte, enigme (Paris, 1975), p. 248; Peter F. Ainsworth, Jean Froissart and the Fabric of History (Oxford, 1990), p. 30. An exception to the separation of verse romance from chronicle is the Didot Perceval, in all probability a prose rendering of the final part of Robert de Boron's verse trilogy, of which only the Joseph d'Arimathie and the opening of the Merlin survive in original form. The Didot Perceval combines a Grail Quest with an account of Arthur's death which draws extensively on Wace: The Didot-Perceval, ed. William Roach (Philadelphia, Pa, 1941). (18) Rosemary Morris, 'Aspects of time and place in French Arthurian verse romances', French Studies, 42 (1988), 257-77. On Chretien's familiarity with Wace, see M. Pelan, L'Influence de Wace sur les romans franqais de son temps (Geneva, 1931). (19) Morris, 'Aspects of time and place', pp. 258-9. (20) Roman de Rou, ed. A. J. Holden, 3 vols, SATF (Paris, 1970-3). (21) For detailed discussions of Chretien's allusion to Wace's Rou, see Charles Foulon, 'Le Rou de Wace, l'Yvain de Chretien de Troyes, et Eon de l'Etoile', Bulletin bibliographique de la Soceite Internationale Arthurienne, 17 (1965), 93-102; Lee Patterson, Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (Madison, Wis., 1987), pp. 207-9. 9. (22) Le Chevalier au lyon (Yvain), ed. Mario Roques, CFMA (Paris, 1982). (23) For some recent analyses of the social realism of Chretien's Yvain, see Rene Girard, 'Love and hate in Yvain', in Modernite au moyen age: Le defi du passe, ed. Brigitte Cazelles and Charles Mela (Geneva, 1990), pp. 249-62; and Donald Maddox, The Arthurian Romances of Chretien de Troyes. Once and Future Fictions (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 54-81. (24) On the characteristic combination of the fabulous and the realistic in Chretien's romances in general, see Erich Kohler, Ideal und Wirklichkeit in der hofischen Epik (Tubingen, 1956); Kelly, 'Romance and the vanity of Chretien de Troyes'. (25) A description of the manuscript is given in Alexandre Micha, La Tradition manuscrite des romans de Chretien de Troyes (Paris, 1939), pp. 35-7, 268-70. The significance of the manuscript organization has been noted in Lori Walters, 'Le role du scribe dans l'organisation des manuscrits de Chretien de Troyes', Romania, 106 (1985), 303-25. (26) Martin Klose, Der Roman von Claris und Laris in seinen Beziehungen zur altfranzosischen Artusepik (Halle, 1916), demonstrates the poet's familiarity with Chretien de Troyes and his continuators. (27) Li Romans de Claris et Laris, ed. J. Alton, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur Romanische Philologie, 63 (Tubingen, 1884). (28) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, rev. Norman Davis (Oxford, 1967). (29) A general discussion of the Gawain poet's evocations of the different worlds of chronicle and romance may be found in John Finlayson, 'The expectations of romance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Genre, 12 (1979), 1-24. For the Gawain poet's indebtedness to the conventions of Old French verse romances, see Ad Putter, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and French Arthurian Romance (forthcoming). (30) The Grene Knight, ed. Frederic Madden, in Syr Gawayne: A Collection of Ancient Romance Poems (London, 1839). (31) A useful discussion of Robert Mannyng is R. Crosby, 'Robert Mannyng of Brunne: a new biography', PMLA, 57 (1942), 15-28. Mannyng's statements about Arthurian literature have been analysed by Lesley Johnson in her important study 'Robert Mannyng's history of Arthurian literature', in Church and Chronicle: The Middle Ages, ed. I. Wood and G. Loud (Hambledon, 1991), pp. 129-47. Mannyng's use of his sources is currently being investigated by Thea Summmerfield in a doctorate dissertation for the University of Utrecht. (32) Robert Mannyng of Brunne: The Story of England, ed. F. J. Furnivall, 2 vols, Rolls Series (London, 1887). (33) Riddy, Malory, p. 41. (34) Johnson, 'Robert Mannyng's history', p. 144. (35) The Chronicle of John Hardyng, ed. Henry Ellis (London, 1812). On this chronicle, known to Malory, see C. L. Kingsford, 'The first version of Hardyng's chronicle', English Historical Review, 27 (1912), 462-82; Edward D. Kennedy, 'Malory and his English sources', in Aspects of Malory, ed. Toshiyuki Takamiya and Derek Brewer (Woodbridge, 1981), pp. 27-55; and Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England, II: c.1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (London, 1982), pp. 274-87. (36) For Hardyng's use of romance elements, see R. H. Fletcher, The Arthurian Material in the Chronicles (Boston, Mass., 1906), pp. 251-3; Edward Donald Kennedy, 'John Hardyng and the Holy Grail', Arthurian Literature, 8 (1989), 185-206; and Felicity Riddy, 'Glastonbury, Joseph of Arimathea, and the Grail in John Hardyng's Chronicle', in The History and archaeology of Glastonbury Abbey: Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C A. Ralegh Radford, ed. Lesley Abrams and James P. Carley (Woodbridge, 1991), pp. 318-31. (37) The nature of Malory's relation to the chronicle tradition has been perceptively discussed in Mary E. Dickmann, 'The Tale of King Arthur and the Emperor Lucius', in Malory's Originality, ed. R. M. Lumiansky (Baltimore, Md, 1964), pp. 67-90, and Riddy, Malory, pp. 39-44. (39) Sir Thomas Malory: Works, ed Eugene Vinaver and P. J. C. Field, 3rd edn, 3 vols (Oxford, 1990). (39) Ibid., III, 1367. (40) Alexandre Micha has done much to elucidate the textual history and intentions of the Vulgate Merlin Continuation in 'The Vulgate Merlin', in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. Loomis, pp. 319-24, in 'La Suite-Vulgate du Merlin: etude litteraire', Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie, 71 (1951), 33-59, and in his 'La composition de la Vulgate du Merlin', Romania, 74 (1953), 200-20. (41) The episode from the Vulgate Merlin that retells Wace's Brut takes up pp. 424-41 in The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances, ed. Oskar Sommer, 7 vols, II: L'Estoire de Merlin (Washington, DC, 1908). (42) For the description of the Roman campaign in the Mort Artu, see La Mort le roi Artu, ed. Jean Frappier (Geneva, 1964), pp. 207-9. (43) A. Micha, La guerre contre les Romains', Romania, 72 (1951), 310-23 (p. 312). Micha's study provides a comprehensive account of the relationship between the Merlin Continuation and Wace's Brut. (44) Cf. Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York, 1973), pp. 141-4.
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Author:Putter, Ad
Publication:Medium Aevum
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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