Printer Friendly

Henry of Lancaster and Geoffrey Chaucer: Anglo-French and middle English in fourteenth-century England.

The study of Middle English and that of medieval English history need to take account of the trilingual character of the civilization of medieval England, especially the pervading influence of Anglo-French between 1066 and about 1450. Specialists in medieval French have failed to offer their colleagues dealing with English a coherent and comprehensible picture of this Anglo-French element, on account of their traditional concentration on the questionable phonological aspect of its limited early literary legacy to the detriment of the lexis and semantics of the much greater mass of non-literary texts from the later period. The lives and works of Lancaster and Chaucer embody the need to redress this imbalance.


Traditionally, these two famous historical characters from the middle and later fourteenth century belong to different and separate spheres, Henry of Lancaster to medieval English history and Geoffrey Chaucer to medieval English literature. They are near-contemporaries, Lancaster being about thirty years older than Chaucer, so their periods of activity overlap to a certain degree, but this is as far as the comparisons between them usually go. The medieval historian will know about the chivalrous exploits of Lancaster on the battlefields of France in the Hundred Years War and the medieval English scholar will not be unaware that Chaucer's English has a French content, but both are accustomed to stay within the confines of their respective disciplines, in which French is regarded as no more than a marginal and often troublesome extraneous element, rather than as an integral component of the intellectual fabric of the medieval England in which their speciality is located. Yet, in fact, French played a major role in the lives of both Lancaster and Chaucer, at once linking and separating them. In a sense they are two sides of the same French coin. That this situation has not been explored up to the present time is to be attributed in large measure to a third group of scholars, those dealing with medieval French. Like the historians and the Anglicists, these too remain within the confines of their speciality, where for many decades the Anglo-French of later medieval England has been regarded as so degenerate as to be unworthy of serious study. In fact, however, the volume of writings in this form of French, made up of thousands of pages of official documents of a broadly administrative nature stemming from governmental and municipal bodies, covering the reigns of several kings, together with a mass of legal reports from the royal courts of justice extending over many decades and an abundance of records dealing with trade and commerce, not to mention a wide range of medical and other technical works, vastly outweighs the relatively small number of earlier insular texts, largely of fiction, judged to be more linguistically 'correct'. The lack of consideration shown to all this later material by scholars dealing with medieval French leaves an important linguistic gap between medieval English history and medieval English literature, a gap which conceals the links between Lancaster and Chaucer.

This failure on the part of their colleagues specializing in medieval French to provide historians and Anglicists with any broad understanding of the nature, role, and influence of later Anglo-French has resulted in the conventional assessments of these prominent figures, in which Lancaster is enshrined as the English epitome of the dashing medieval knight and Chaucer as the 'father' of English literature, being less than complete in one important regard. They fail to take account of the French civilization that formed the cultural background of all the principal groups who wielded power and influence in the English society of the fourteenth century. In all the literate sections of the community French played a major role, being used right down to the level of personal communications among native English speakers. (1) This fact helped shape the lives of both Lancaster and Chaucer. Not only was the reputation of Lancaster the warrior made on the soil of France, but, no less importantly, both he and Chaucer were actively engaged as diplomatic representatives of the English king in a number of the negotiations with the French that led to the succession of truces and peace agreements which mark the course of the Hundred Years War. These negotiations took place in spoken French and, as in the Treaty of Bretigny, (2) for example, were recorded in written French. Consequently, neither Lancaster nor Chaucer was a stranger to France, its people, or its language: France and French were part of their make-up and their lives, and so French needs to be taken into consideration in any balanced assessment of their place in English history.

Although the French component in Chaucer's work has not gone unnoticed, it has for long been regarded by the specialists in Middle English as an adjunct rather than an integral part of his daily vocabulary. The term 'borrowings' currently used to describe the high proportion of French terminology in his works is a euphemistic misnomer and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of Chaucerian scholars of the linguistic situation in Chaucer's England. In the normal world outside linguistics something 'borrowed' does not become the personal property of the borrower and ought to be returned to its rightful owner, but the 'borrowings' attributed to Chaucer have stayed on this side of the Channel for over six hundred years and have been completely absorbed into the lexis of English, only a few, such as 'record', finding their way back to France with an altered semantic content. (3) If Chaucer's Man of Law in The Canterbury Tales uses French terminology, (4) it is not as an 'adjunct' or 'foreign borrowing', in order to lend 'colour' to the narrative, but because the tools of his trade were, in effect, French, and had been so since the Conquest. (5) About a century before The Canterbury Tales the extensive legal compendia Britton (6) and The Mirror of Justices (7) had brought together the many diverse strands of jurisprudence in French as used in the English courts of law, and even non-specialist writers such as Guernes de Pont-Sainte Maxence and Marie de France display a knowledge of legal terms and practice as early as the twelfth century: (8) English law is very largely French. Nor was the French input into Middle English restricted to the elevated and polite registers of the language. English 'bastard', 'bawd', 'bugger', 'coward', 'glutton', 'harlot', 'lecher', 'traitor', 'vile' are all French immigrants from the lower registers of the language that have survived into modern times, while others such as 'holard' (< Anglo-French holour 'lecher') and 'sote' have subsequently disappeared. (9) This breadth of French elements in Middle English is shown in the works of Chaucer himself. To take just one example: his Pardoner's Tale is full of high-minded French 'borrowings' from the 'noble' registers of Middle English, but it also contains 'baudes' (p. 196, l. 479), (10) 'lecherye' (p. 19, l. 481), 'glotonye' (p. 196, l. 482), etc. The Host's ribald (11) rejoinder to the Pardoner's demand for money is that he would like to cut off the Pardoner's testicles (coillons) and help him carry them enshrined in a pig's turd in place of his 'sacred' relics (ll. 952-55). The OED (s.v. cullion) credits Chaucer with the introduction of the word into Middle English on the evidence of this passage, but under the disguise of a different spelling--quilunt--it had been in Anglo-French from the early thirteenth century as a term of abuse, exactly like the modern French couillon. (12) The figurative sense of a word usually develops from the literal sense, which would suggest that the literal sense in this case had been in the French of England even before the early thirteenth century, (13) so it is most unlikely that coillon(s) would have spent nearly two hundred years waiting in the wings for Chaucer to introduce it into Middle English. This shows that the misleading notion of 'borrowing' ignores the role of Chaucer's readers. If those who read or heard the Man of Law's Tale or the the Pardoner's Tale had been ignorant of the French terminology they contain, both elevated and otherwise, the tales would have been incomprehensible to them. Consequently, when the dictionaries of English attribute the introduction of a French term to Chaucer, as is frequently the case, they are merely listing the earliest attestation of it found in English up to the time when the dictionary was published, not, as is so often assumed, stating that Chaucer was springing on his unsuspecting readers an entirely new word that he had 'picked up' in the course of his travels in France, as one might pick up a shiny, polished galet on the beach at Dieppe and bring it back across the Channel as a souvenir. The society in which Chaucer moved was based to a very considerable degree in many different fields on three hundred years of French civilization in England.

If the relationship of Chaucer with French may be said to be less than fully understood up to the present time, this applies in even greater measure to that between Lancaster and French. Chaucer the writer is known worldwide, Lancaster the writer is not. Although Chaucer's translation of the Roman de la Rose and the clear indications that he was conversant with the works of leading French writers such as Froissart, Eustache Deschamps, and Guillaume de Machaut (14) bear witness to his familiarity with the literature of France, the man with the French name wrote in English, while Lancaster, despite the Englishness of his name, chose to write in the French of later medieval England, that corrupt form of language reputed to lie outside the bounds of serious study. This choice of language by the two men was not a haphazard one. Chaucer's subject matter and his readership called for a language that would recommend itself to a wide audience, while Lancaster's subject belonged to a tradition rooted in the French of the small religious elite in England. His Livre de seyntz medicines is a long, painful act of contrition, in which all the senses are personalized and their role in the ills of sinfulness examined in minute detail, along with the spiritual medicines necessary to remedy them. This is by no means an isolated phenomenon in Anglo-French writing. In the later thirteenth century Pierre d'Abernon (15) of Fetcham had composed a lengthy treatise of some 14,000 verses setting out the intellectual basis for all the practices and tenets of the Church--La Lumere as lais. (16) The laity referred to in the title were not the population at large as distinct from the clergy, any more than Britton was a popular treatise on the law: both works addressed themselves to an educated, specialist, and hence severely limited audience. Along similar lines to the Lumere was the same author's Le Secre des secrez, (17) Le Mirour de seinte eglyse (18) translating the Speculum ecclesie of Edmund of Abingdon, the Miroir by Robert of Gretham, (19) the long Manuel des pechez, rendered into English as The Handlyng Synne, (20) and the shorter Les Set Pechez morteus, (21) together with the two later French versions of the Ancren Riwle (22) which again had a Middle English parallel. Around the time of Chaucer there appeared the trilingual De quatuordecim partibus beatitudinis in Latin, Anglo-French, and Middle English. (23) These texts and the various French compilations of rules for religious houses (24) are all in the spirit of the Seyntz medicines, but nearer to the allegorical style of Lancaster's work is the Chateau d'amour of Robert Grosseteste or his LeMariage des IX filles du diable (25) and the allegorical writings of Nicole Bozon at the end of the thirteenth century, not only his Contes moralises, (26) in which animals assume human attributes for good and ill, but also his Sermons, in which 'Shame', 'Pride', 'Lust', etc. are personified, together with his difficult Char d'orgueil, where the individual parts of the cart are made to represent different aspects of the sin of pride, and his corresponding Lettre de l'Empereur Orgueil. (27) In the fourteenth century John of Howden's as yet unedited Rossignol (28) uses the nightingale to represent Christ in a protracted devotional study centred around the Passion. These texts form the background to Lancaster's work and help explain his choice of language. The abiding vitality of French in England for this kind of religious exercise even as late as the middle of the fourteenth century is shown by Lancaster's comment that some of his good friends had repeatedly asked him to write his work. (29) Such texts have an obvious relevance for the Anglicist studying the religious writings in Middle English, but the form of French in which they are couched acts as a strong deterrent to most students of English.

It was only in the 1930s that E. J. Arnould began an edition of the Seyntz medicines, a piece of work whose completion had the misfortune to coincide with the outbreak of the Second World War. The text itself was published in 1940 by the Anglo-Norman Text Society with a brief Introductory Note in English, (30) but the fuller study of Lancaster's life and writing meant to accompany it did not appear until 1948, published in French in Paris, (31) a separation in time and space which did nothing to promote the diffusion of the edition. Yet, in any event, the Seyntz medicines was unlikely to recommend itself to either the student of medieval English history, or to the majority of Anglicists, or, indeed, to specialists in Medieval French. The medieval historian will probably find little that is new to him in the sixty-odd pages devoted by Arnould in his explanatory volume to an account of the life of the author, and he will certainly have scant concern with the following hundred pages dealing in minute detail with the phonology, morphology, and a few syntactical points relating to the language of the Anglo-French text. Nor will the subject of Lancaster's treatise, being an extensive exposition of the author's spiritual condition in later life, be considered to fall within the normal parameters of medieval history. Most Anglicists similarly will have little inclination to tackle a difficult text that impinges directly on their work in Middle English only from the religious point of view. Not even for the specialist in medieval French is there likely to be any attraction in Le Livre de seyntz medicines, with its unromantic, unheroic, profoundly religious subject matter and its date of 1354, which places it firmly in the 'period of degeneracy' that is held to have characterized insular French after the loss of Normandy in 1204. In these circumstances it is perhaps small wonder that both Arnould's edition of the text and his accompanying book have gone virtually unnoticed for half a century.

Yet the lack of interest in Le Livre de seyntz medicines on the part of these different categories of scholar reflects a compartmentalization of modern scholarship which stands in the way of a better understanding of the reality of later medieval Britain. Basically, the inescapable fact of the trilingual nature of the country in the Middle Ages calls for a trilingual approach to its study. In the case of Henry of Lancaster, Arnould's Introduction shows how this charismatic figure repeatedly played a pivotal role throughout his adult life not only in many military campaigns in northern and southern France, but also, like Chaucer, in the various truces and treaties with the French that followed them, acting as a principal negotiator on behalf of the English king, with whom he had been brought up. In all these activities and in his writing he must have been using French as a natural second language, again like Chaucer, whose work as a diplomat abroad and civil servant at home dealing with the Customs in London must have regularly involved French, this being the language of international trade as well as of diplomacy. (32) Arnould describes how Lancaster's joust with the Duke of Brunswick in 1351 was an elaborate all-French occasion, with Brunswick writing a letter of challenge in a French very similar to the insular variety and Lancaster being met at Calais by the Marechal de France with a splendid escort to take him to Paris, where the King of France himself would act as adjudicator and reconcile the combatants.

So natural was this use of French that it did not elicit any surprise in the native French chroniclers of the time, who evidently found nothing untoward in what in more recent times would be regarded as unusual, to say the least. (33) As Arnould points out, Henry of Lancaster's reputation both on the battlefield and off it was such that the contemporary French chronicler Jehan le Bel wrote this tribute to him: 'Le duc de Lencastre qui, au temps present, est l'ung de plus proeus et des beaulx chevaliers, arme et desarme, qui soit en vye' (Etude, p. ix). The phrase 'arme et desarme', coupled with 'beaux', which, like the English 'handsome', can mean more than just 'having a fine figure or countenance', shows that Jehan le Bel was referring not solely to Lancaster's being a fine warrior, but to other qualities of a non-military kind, such as his recorded acts of chivalry and his great popularity as a free-spending host at lavish entertainments. Arnould adds a further quotation from Jehan le Bel later in his Chronique, to the effect that 'il [i.e. Lancaster] les passe tous en fait et en renommee' ( Etude, p. lvi). In England or France, in English or French, it was the same character playing on an international stage. Such compliments paid by a French chronicler of standing to one of the principal enemies of his country are a reminder that the linguistic divisions which underpin the modern concept of European nationhood cannot be transferred automatically to the Europe of the fourteenth century.

Henry of Lancaster was not only prominent on the stage of military and diplomatic history until his death of the plague in 1361, as has been amply chronicled by generations of historians, but his Livre de seyntz medicines makes him an important figure as far as the linguistic history of England is concerned, an aspect of his life which has not been adequately appreciated. The relegation of later Anglo-French to the status of an outlandish jargon absolved specialists in medieval French from the need to devote attention to a nuisance language which could not be made to conform to the 'rules' of phonological or general grammatical behaviour developed by philologists over decades from the later nineteenth century in order to explain the transformation of Latin into modern French. At the same time it discouraged Anglicists from involving themselves in unnecessary contact with a language that would disappear from England with the Middle Ages, leaving behind as a record of its passing only a legacy of what was regarded as simply lexical 'borrowing'. Finally, it did little to encourage medieval historians to apply themselves to a language that loomed large in a mass of documents which were the foundation of their study, but was, apparently, no more than a 'faux francais', not a 'proper' language with a fixed structure that would repay the effort of learning to read it correctly.

In such circumstances it may seem strange that neither Jehan le Bel nor even Froissart, whose span of life and work covers amost exactly the lifetimes of Lancaster and Chaucer, shows any hint of subscribing to the modern phonologists' dismissive judgement of the Anglo-French of Henry of Lancaster. Indeed, they might well have agreed with the minority opinion of F. J. Tanquerey quoted by Arnould, that the Livre de seyntz medicines was 'le chef d'oeuvre de la prose francaise en Angleterre au xive siecle' (Etude, p. ccviii). This is a far cry from the scorn of the leading French philologists of the late nineteenth century. (34) For some years now, however, the convenient traditional picture of the linguistic state of medieval France and England has been increasingly under attack in both countries: in France itself new research into writings outside the standard literary repertoire has shown that there was far more linguistic diversity in the country during the medieval and even later periods than had been allowed for by earlier scholars, (35) a change of attitude that brought with it the corollary that the reprehensible wayward French of later medieval England was also, perhaps, less of a pariah language than it had been depicted, being closer to the reality of the now not so 'pure' French being brought to light on the mainland and constituting an indispensable component of the England of the Middle Ages, a matter of legitimate concern to historians as well as to linguists. (36) It is against the background of this revised view of the role of Anglo-French that Henry of Lancaster's Livre de seyntz medicines needs to be situated and studied accordingly.

In this regard the position of Arnould himself needs to be taken into account. As a young scholar starting his editorial work only a year or two after the publication of Mildred Pope's From Latin to Modern French, (37) he could hardly escape being influenced by it. Indeed, its influence was so strong that he dedicated his edition to her. This means that his comments on the language of Lancaster's text must be seen as coming from a committed disciple imbued with her approach to Anglo-Norman, not from a hostile critic. With this in mind it is instructive to see how Arnould handles the language of a text that his mentor would have dismissed outright as the product of the period of degeneracy. Like Pope, he concentrates his attention almost exclusively on the phonology of the text to the neglect of other aspects of the language, but has to admit to basic difficulties in this chosen area:

La prose nous prive des renseignements que peuvent fournir sur les sons la rime et sur la place de l'accent la versification. Le seul element dont nous disposions, surtout pour l'appreciation des faits phonetiques, est donc l'orthographe, element trop souvent sujet a caution et dont le peu d'homogeneite est rendu plus embarrassant encore par la longueur du texte. (Etude, p. cix)

In other words, the variety of spellings for the same word in Seyntz medicines makes any categorical judgement regarding its pronunciation a doubtful proposition, and the longer the text, the greater the variety of spellings and hence the greater the uncertainty of any hard and fast interpretation. Further down on the same page he explains away this uncomfortable situation in the time-honoured fashion: 'Le manque d'homogeneite des graphies n'est, apres tout, qu'une reflection de l'etat linguistique de l'anglo-normand tardif: la ou il n'y a plus guere de regles il serait illusoire, voire dangereux, de chercher une uniformit e qui ne saurait resulter que de principes bien arretes.' The undisciplined nature of Anglo-French is yet again being blamed for hindering the application of proven phonological techniques, although it must be said that the laying down of any such 'principes bien arretes' capable of guaranteeing uniformity of orthography even in France itself, let alone in England, could not be so much as contemplated before the arrival of dictionaries to help disseminate an accepted system of spelling and, in practice, would have to await the establishment of the Academie francaise in 1635 to become a plausible reality.

In fact, however, the maligned insular scribes of the later period were not the only ones to present the reader with a variable French orthography, as may be seen by a perusal of Godefroy's ten-volume Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue francaise, (38) where numerous entries have as many as twenty or more different forms attested in continental medieval French, entries which had been in the public domain for decades before Arnould set pen to paper. (39) Yet, while lamenting the loss of the phonological certainties represented by early Anglo-Norman texts such as The Voyage of St Brendan, 'datant d'une epoque ou l'on pourrait raisonnablement s'attendre a trouver encore le respect des lois de la grammaire et de la tradition phonetique' (Etude, pp. cix-cx), Arnould then adds a rider which is hardly calculated to further the cause of the traditional philologists: 'Mais de tels textes sont bien rares, en verite, et bien plus rares encore sont ceux ou l'auteur ou les copistes se sont abstenus de pratiquer la rime visuelle plus encore que la rime auditive, de sacrifier le son a la graphie, la realite a l'apparence, et d'enlever ainsi a cette rime toute valeur reelle comme indice de la prononciation' (Etude, p. cx). The result, he arms, is that 'Trop souvent [...] les editeurs de textes anglo-normands se sont fourvoyes dans l'interpretation des rimes' (ibid.). This observation on the part of a scholar who was certainly not inimical to the intellectual position of the philologists of his day is highly significant in that it was applied not to the 'decadent' later Anglo-French, but to the early texts written in the traditionally 'acceptable' form of Anglo-Norman. According to Arnould, instead of being able to use with confidence the works of a solid phalanx of verse writers from the century and a half after the Conquest in conformity with the phonological edifice described in Pope's book, his colleagues were faced with a situation in which the scribes and copyists of even the 'good' insular French of the early period were open to censure for their spelling and their improper rhymes, faults which had already misled those who later relied on these texts for solid, irrefutable evidence of pronunciation.

This important caveat from Arnould in 1948 received support not long ago from a different and perhaps unexpected quarter. In a wide-ranging article dealing with the syllabic structure of Anglo-Norman works, (40) Bernadette A. Masters refers to a statement by Vising that no Anglo-Norman scribe seems ever to have counted out his syllables correctly for more than a few lines at a time (pp. 172-73), and to a similar remark much later from Dafyyd Evans to the effect that syllabic irregularity was a feature of Anglo-Norman verse texts from the beginning (p. 182). She then goes on to give her conclusion derived from her own research: 'syllabic instability is endemic to Anglo-Norman verse productions' (p. 183). Among her evidence produced to back this claim she shows how Ewert in his edition of the Lais of Marie de France had to alter a great many 'errors' for metrical reasons: 'Graphical alterations [...] account for no fewer than 448 editorial changes to the syllable count of verses' (p. 179). Unless he were specifically searching for this kind of evidence, the ordinary reader of the Lais would not suspect such editorial intervention, and would in most cases accept the printed text at face value. It is unlikely that Ewert was alone in tidying up the syllable count of texts in the course of his editorial work. If the writers and copyists of early verse texts in Anglo-Norman can be shown to display faults in their spelling, their rhymes, and also in their syllabic counts, the state of 'decadence' usually attributed to later Anglo-French works was not just a consequence of the loss of Normandy and the diminution of contacts with France that this was supposed to have produced, but must have had its roots further back in time.

Arnould widens the debate by quoting in a footnote on the same page (Etude, p. cix) an extract from the work of an Anglicist referring to a not dissimilar situation in Middle English in respect of rhymes: 'Rene Huchon a note la meme pratique dans la litterature anglaise de l'epoque et ce qu'il en dit pourrait tres bien s'appliquer aux textes anglo-normands.' This linking by Arnould of scribal practice in Middle English with that in later Anglo-French is more than just a reminder that the languages of later medieval Britain were not rigidly compartmentalized. (41) Huchon is quoted as saying that 'avec ces ecrivains primitifs et inexperimentes, c'est non pas a la phonetique et a lamorphologie des rimes qu'on doit se fier'. When read in conjunction with Arnould's previous remarks, this statement is of cardinal importance, because the shortcomings in Anglo-French texts have for decades been regarded as particular to the later 'ignorant scribes' who were using someone else's language and lacked the intelligence to do it successfully. (42) However, if not only the earlier writers using what has been praised as 'good' insular French, but also Englishmen writing in Middle English right up to the time of Chaucer, can all be shown to have produced work containing the same kind of faults preventing it from meeting the standard required for philological purposes, then they must all stand charged with the 'ignorance' up to now reserved for their later colleagues. For those writing in Middle English this would inevitably mean ignorance of their mother tongue, an astonishing accusation that would call for detailed substantiation. Viewed, however, in the light of the new evidence relating to continental French, this simply puts medieval England on a par with what is now being accepted as the true situation in medieval France as referred to above: the myth of a universal francien which would serve as the yardstick against which to measure all medieval French has been exploded, and continental French may now be seen to share some of the 'imperfections' of Anglo-French and also of Middle English.

By introducing this parallel with Middle English, even if only in a footnote, Arnould was moving into the area of multilingualism well in advance of most of his contemporaries. The manuals that chronicle the history of French usually treat the insular variety of the language as though it developed in isolation in medieval Britain, the point of reference and comparison being the French of Paris, but the scribes who copied documents in French were for the most part English and would normally have been trained in Latin also, so that their situation was a trilingual one. Taking Thomas Sampson as representative of the body of Oxford Schoolmen teaching around the time of Henry of Lancaster and Chaucer, there clearly existed a thriving business instructing young Englishmen how to draft letters in French and Latin on a range of subjects. (43) It would be somewhat odd if these young men, many of whom would later hold responsible posts in different walks of life, were able to write Latin correctly, but unable to do the same in their own language or French. How Huchon can possibly have known that the very large fraternity of writers in Middle English, most of whom, if not all, must have been at least not unacquainted with French, were collectively 'primitifs' and 'inexperimentes' must remain in the realm of conjecture, but if true it would set at naught all the centuries-old teaching programmes of the scriptoria and condemn out of hand the work of generations of scribes. Yet it must not be forgotten that the negative interpretation of the overall situation regarding both French and English advanced by Arnould and Huchon is entirely dependent on the acceptance of the traditional phonologists' fundamental proposition that medieval vernacular texts could legitimately be used to provide evidence that would allow them centuries later to tell exactly how the languages had been pronounced, and that any works that did not comply with their requirements must be the products of decadence. Such assumptions would alone permit the modern phonologists to construct with certainty from the evidence of written forms their long, straight highway of sound-change running directly from Rome to Paris. (44)

Another strand of evidence germane to the question of 'decadence' is provided by the pedagogical texts composed during the medieval period in order to teach French to English people. Without rehearsing material set out more fully elsewhere, (45) it may be said that the language was being taught in England in a variety of ways from even before the Conquest until the fifteenth century, often with the aid of Latin and/or English, using a range of grammatical terminology. Since they did not contain rhymes, however, the didactic works of the teachers have tended to be ignored by philologists. Although they differ in their approach and their aims, they share with later Anglo-French a variable orthography and a lack of conformity to the 'rules' of morphology and syntax. It is, however, difficult to dismiss these treatises collectively as being the product of ignorant writers, because the majority of them show a knowledge of Latin and often a detailed grasp of grammar. Moreover, a number of their compilers have impressive academic credentials. For example, the unknown 'T.H. Parisii Studentis' who composed his Tractatus orthographiae towards the end of the thirteenth century had a background of study in Paris and teaches French through the medium of Latin. He works his way through the alphabet, showing how letters are pronounced differently according to the position they occupy in the word, and explaining grammatical points. His work must have still been used in Lancaster's day, because it was taken up and greatly expanded by Canon Coyfurelly near the end of the next century--around Chaucer's time. Corfurelly claims to have a doctorate in both civil and canon law from the University of Orleans, qualifications that would necessitate a prolonged period of study in France. Even more so than in the earlier treatise his treatment of each letter in the alphabet is detailed and involved, calling for very considerable knowledge on the part of his students. A few years later, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, John Barton says that he studied at Paris and has even brought over to England a number of bons clercs du language avantdite to compile his treatise on French. The range of French grammatical terminology used in this work is particularly striking, demonstrating beyond any dispute a mastery of his subject. These teachers from the period of 'decadence' in Anglo-French were not isolated exceptions as regards their association with the intellectual heritage of France. Two centuries earlier Giraldus Cambrensis had spent a full decade studying at the university of Paris and was doubtless followed by many less famous students in subsequent decades. Yet the language used by all these teachers matches the French of the later writers such as Lancaster, and none of their texts meets the criteria sought by modern philologists in the pursuit of their goal.

In these circumstances it is legitimate to question the importance attached to the study of sounds and forms that predominates throughout works on medieval French, both insular and continental. It is only in the perspective of modern philology that the scribes' use of Arnould's 'rime visuelle' as opposed to the 'rime auditive' is viewed as reprehensible, or the general lack of a uniform spelling seen as sacrificing 'le son a la graphie, la realite a l'apparence'. In reality, a text written on parchment is a communication, and is normally destined for the eye rather than the ear in the first instance, with the reader's attention focused on the meaning rather than on the details of form which have little bearing on the sense of the message. The tangible marks made on parchment or paper are the true 'realite' of manuscripts, not the presumed but unknowable 'son', and the attempt to link spelling and sound in medieval manuscripts in order to serve the interests of late nineteenth-century phonology is anachronistic. Some fifty years later than Arnould, using medieval French texts composed on the continent, Jakob Wuest recently arrived at the conclusion that such a linkage between form and sound cannot be established, but without any suggestion that scribal ignorance was to blame for the failure: 'Es gilt deshalb abschliessend festzustellen, dass es keine unfelhbare Methode gibt, welche uns erlauben wurde, von der Graphie direkt auf die Phonie eines Textes zu schliessen.' (46)

That almost ninety of the hundred pages given over to Arnould's examination of the text are devoted to phonology and morphology, with the vocabulary accorded just one page, without even a separate heading, is an indication of the editor's linguistic priorities and reflects the prevailing attitude of his contemporaries. However, he recognizes clearly that Lancaster's statement claiming that he does not know much French--'jeo sui engleis et n'ai pas moelt hauntee le franceis' (p. 90. 20)--is what Curtius would later label as affektierte Bescheidenheit, (47) and he attributes to him correctly 'une connaissance etendue non seulement des mots, mais des procedes de formation et de derivation, de beaucoup d'expressions idiomatiques, de dictons et proverbes familiers' (Etude, pp. ccvii-ccviii), concluding that 'le vocabulaire du Livre des Saintes Medecines est d'un francais de bon aloi' (ibid., p. ccviii). (47) As evidence of this he cites a few examples of Lancaster's ability to play with words, e.g. 'qe jeo ne meurge mye de la mort qe dure et dura sanz fyn et plus dure qe nul endurer purra' (ibid., p. ccvi). Others which he might have added are as follows: 'en poynt de la [=my soul] getter mult parfond en enfern si vous, douce Sire, ceo poynt ne metteiz a poynt sanz poynt de delaye' (p. 12. 6-8), or 'les hidouses et senglantes plaies de Jesus, qe feurent tout mys sur un file--c'estoit le fil Seinte Marie qe vous, douce Dame [...] ceo douz fil en voz douz flanes [var. flanks] doucement filastes. Mes qi afila celles rouges roses sur le fil blank?' (pp. 150-51); 'ne siu [l. sui] qe mort si jeo n'eie temprement attemprement de ma chalour par celle fyne et bon eawrose dont tout le monde est arosez' (p. 155. 1-3). While this kind of verbal play may not be to the taste of modern readers, there can be no doubt that, when added to the locutions, sayings, and proverbs mentioned by Arnould, the evidence shows that Lancaster's knowledge of French is far from superficial.

Furthermore, in the course of his work he not only shows familiarity with the French vocabulary of the techniques of siege warfare, as might be expected, but displays also a detailed mastery of the terms dealing with the practices of fox-hunting, as well as of those concerned with the commercial dealings in a busy town market place, and, of course, he is no stranger to the wide field of medicine, involving the afflictions of the body and their cures. In this respect Arnould's notes at the end of his book are more informative than his study of the language. It is clear from his note to coustume et pavage on pp. 101-02 that a number of the various local taxes gathered for the Duchy of Lancaster had French names--'pavage, passage, payage, lestage, stallage, tallage, carriage, pesage'. Even a generation later his kinsman John of Gaunt, who took over the duchy from him, would compose his voluminous Register (48) in this same Anglo-French, displaying a command of a wide range of French vocabulary needed to deal with the running of a large estate. Other notes in Arnould's book con.rm the link between the two vernaculars in medieval England. Lancaster's felons in the sense of 'boil, ulcer' (p. 77. 6), attested in Anglo-French from the thirteenth century, (49) is apparently found in the Middle English Pricke of Conscience contemporary with the Seyntz medicines, and his sursanneure 'scar' (p. 78. 28) is used by Chaucer and Lydgate. Arnould comments on the term dounggeon (p. 98), but only from the standpoint of orthography. The spelling of the word is of no importance, (50) but its semantics are germane to the question of French and English in fourteenth-century England. The fact that Lancaster uses it to mean the 'keep' of the castle, as in French, and that Chaucer similarly uses it with this meaning in the Legend of Dido--'the noble tour of Ylioun, That of the cite was the chef dongeoun' (ll. 935-36)--is another indication of the durability of the French of England, even though the modern English sense of a place of confinement was already present in the insular French of the Manuel des peches (51) in the thirteenth century, and the underground nature of the prison is made clear in Peter of Langtoft's Chronicle (52) around the turn of that century. The early meaning still survived in insular French into the generation after Lancaster. (53) In Middle English there is an abundance of spellings for the word, and the modern English meaning is confirmed in the fourteenth century alongside the old one.

Arnould's summing-up is categorical: 'La vie et l'oeuvre de notre auteur temoignent assez d'une connaissance remarquable de la langue francaise' (Etude, p. 103). This well-founded judgement, however, sits ill with the general negative assessment of later Anglo-French as defined by his dedicatee: 'a sort of Low French, characterized by a more and more indiscriminate use of words, sounds and forms, but half-known, markedly similar in its debasement to the "Low Latin" of the Merovingian period in Gaul'. (54) The acceptance of this damning indictment has for decades prevented the civilization of later medieval England from being studied in the round. Chaucer has enjoyed great fame for centuries, because the strictures of Middle English specialists like Huchon in respect of spelling and rhyme have not prevented successive generations of the literate public from reading what he and others wrote regardless of any philological niceties or quibbles, and there is an unbroken chain of English from the Middle Ages to the present day. On the other hand, there has never been an 'English Academy' on the lines of the Academie francaise, and works like H.W. and F. G. Fowler's The King's English and Modern English Usage have made little impact on the majority of the population of England. These saving factors, however, are absent from Anglo-French: here the phonologists have for long held sway, and the French of England has been anathematized, despite the incontrovertible fact that its lexis has contributed greatly to the making of modern English and, even more importantly, that the trilingual civilization of medieval England cannot be adequately approached so long as one of its vital components remains outside the purview of the great majority of historians of various specialities and Anglicists. (55) Until the French of later medieval England is accepted as a valid subject for study, Lancaster the writer will remain unknown and unsung.

(1) T. Stadtler, Zu den Anfangen der franzosischen Grammatiksprache: Textausgaben und Wortschatzstudien, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie, 223 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1988), pp. 128-37.

(2) Pierre Chaplais, 'Some Documents regarding the Fulfilment of the Treaty of Bretigny (1361- 1369)', Camden Miscellany, 19 (1952), 1-84.

(3) See W. Rothwell, 'The Missing Link in English Etymology: Anglo-French', Medium Aevum, 60 (1991), 173-96, and 'The Legacy of Anglo-French: Faux-amis', Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie, 109 (1993), 16-46.

(4) See W. Rothwell, 'The Trilingual World of Geoffrey Chaucer', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 16 (1994), 45-67, and 'Stratford atte Bowe Revisited', Chaucer Review, 36 (2001), 184-207.

(5) See W. Rothwell, 'The Problem of Law French', French Studies, 46 (1992), 257-71.

(6) Ed. by F. M. Nichols, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1865).

(7) Ed. by W. J. Whittaker, Selden Society, 7 (London: B. Quaritch, 1895).

(8) See W. Rothwell, 'The Trial Scene in Lanval and the Development of the Legal Register in Anglo-Norman', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 101 (2000), 17-36.

(9) See W. Rothwell, 'The Anglo-French Element in the Vulgar Register of Late Middle English', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 97 (1996), 423-36.

(10) References are to The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

(11) The extended 'family' of ribaud, as noun and adjective, with the nouns ribaudaille, ribaudel, ribaudie, ribaudrie and the verb ribauder, are all attested in Anglo-French, although with the basic 'rascally' sense rather than the modern 'scurrilous, irreverent' one.

(12) An Anglo-Norman Brut: Royal 13. A. xxi, ed. by A. Bell, Anglo-Norman Texts, 21-22 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1969), l. 2056.

(13) The historical dictionaries of French do not seem to have picked up quilunt, their failure to do so emphasizing the need for communication in the future between the lexicographers dealing with continental French, insular French, and Middle English.

(14) See The Riverside Chaucer, p. 1061.

(15) Also known as 'Peire de Feccham' or 'Peres de Pecchame'.

(16) Ed. by G. Hesketh, Anglo-Norman Texts, 54-58, 3 vols (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1996-2000).

(17) Ed. by O. A. Beckerlegge, Anglo-Norman Texts, 5 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1944).

(18) Ed. by A. D. Wilshere, Anglo-Norman Texts, 40 (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1982).

(19) Linda Marshall, 'A Lexicographical Study of Robert de Gretham's Miroir' (unpublished MA thesis, University of Manchester, 1971).

(20) Robert of Brunne's 'Handlyng Synne', a.d. 1303, with Those Parts of the Anglo-French Treatise on Which it was Founded, William of Wadington's 'Manuel des pechiez': Re-edited from mss. in the British Museum and Bodleian Libraries, by F. J. Furnivall, Early English Text Society, Original Series, 119, 123, 2 vols (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., 1901-03).

(21) Ed. by T. Hunt, in Medieval French Textual Studies in Memory of T. B. W. Reid, ed. by Ian Short, Anglo-Norman Text Society, Occasional Publications Series, 1 (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1984), pp. 65-98.

(22) The French Text of the Ancrene Riwle, Edited from British Museum ms. Cotton Vitellius F. vii by J.A. Herbert, Early English Text Society, Original Series, 219 (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), and The French Text of the Ancrene Riwle, Edited from Trinity College, Cambridge ms. R. 14. 7, with Variants from Bibliotheque nationale, ms. F. fr. 6276 and ms. Bodley 90, by W. H. Trethewey, Early English Text Society, Original Series, 240 (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1958).

(23) Ed. by Avril Henry and D.A. Trotter, Medium Aevum Monographs, New Series, 17 (Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediaeval Languages and Literature, 1994).

(24) See T. Hunt, 'An Anglo-Norman Treatise on the Religious Life', in Medieval Codicology, Iconography, Literature and Translation: Studies for Keith Val Sinclair, ed. by P. R. Monks and D. D. R. Owen, Litterae Textuales (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 267-75; id., 'An Anglo-Norman Rule of St. Augustine', Augustiana, 45 (1995), 177-89; id., 'An Anglo-Norman Treatise on Female Religious', Medium Aevum, 64 (1995), 205-31.

(25) Robert Grosseteste, Le Chasteau d'amour, ed. by J. Murray (Paris: Champion, 1918); Le Mariage des IX filles du diable, ed. by P. Meyer, in Romania, 29 (1900), 61-72.

(26) Ed. by L. Toulmin Smith and P. Meyer (Paris: Societe des anciens textes francais, 1889).

(27) Deux poemes de Nicholas Bozon: Le Char d'orgueil; La Lettre de l'Empereur Orgueil, ed. by J. Vising (Goteborg: Elanders boktryckeri aktiebolag, 1919).

(28) Jean de Howden, Le Rossignol, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge,MS 471.

(29) 'un fort enortement moelt diligent d'ascuns de mes bons amys, qe sovent me firent de ceo requeste' (p. 240. 8-10, in the edn given in n. 30).

(30) Le Livre de seyntz medicines: The Unpublished Devotional Treatise of Henry of Lancaster, ed. by E. J. Arnould, Anglo-Norman Texts, 2 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1940).

(31) Etude sur le Livre des saintes medecines du duc Henri de Lancastre: accompagne d'extraits du texte (Paris, Didier, 1948) (cited below as ' Etude').

(32) See W. Rothwell, 'Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice: From Oriental Bazar to English Cloister in Anglo-French', MLR, 94 (1999), 648-59.

(33) Arnould writes that 'Froissart [...] cite une lettre en francais du roi d'Angleterre a l'eveque de Stafford, rendant compte des pourparlers avec force details' (Etude, p. xxx n. 1).

(34) Gaston Paris dismissed all insular French as no more than 'une maniere imparfaite de parler le francais' in his edition (with A. Bos) of La Vie de Saint Gilles, poeme (Paris: Societe des anciens textes francais, 1881), p. xxxv.

(35) e.g. B. Cerquiglini, Eloge de la variante (Paris: Seuil, 1989) and La Naissance du francais (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1991). As early as 1968 Pierre Guiraud had shown that wills in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century France were not only failing to maintain a standard orthography, but were mixing a bastard Latin with French: 'Ces testaments sont ecrits dans une sorte de latin de cuisine entrelarde de formes indigenes' (Patois et dialectes francais (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1968), p. 43). For the French of the north-east border regions and the Gascon area in the Middle Ages, see now numerous articles in Skripta, Schreiblandschaften und Standar disierungstendenzen: Urkundensprachen im Grenzbereich von Germania und Romania im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert. Beitrage zumKolloqium vom 16. bis 18. September 1998 in Trier, ed. by Kurt Gartner, Gunter Holtus, Andrea Rapp, and Harald Volker, Trierer Historische Forschungen, 47 (Trier: Kliomedia, 2001); also D. A. Trotter, 'Some Lexical Gleanings from Anglo-French Gascony', Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie, 114 (1998), 53-72, and id., 'Mossenhor, fet metre aquesta letra en bon frances: Anglo-French in Gascony', in De mot en mot: Aspects of Medieval Linguistics, ed. by Stewart Gregory and D. A. Trotter (Cardiff: University of Wales Press in conjunction with MHRA, 1997), 199-222.

(36) See D.A. Trotter, 'Not as Eccentric as it Looks: Anglo-Frenchand French French', Forum for Modern Language Studies, 39 (2003), 427-38, and 'L'anglo-normand: variete insulaire ou variete isolee?', Medievales, 45 (automne 2003), 43-54.

(37) From Latin to Modern French, with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman: Phonology and Morphology (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1934).

(38) (Paris: Viewig, 1880-1902).

(39) Opening volumes of the dictionary completely at random yields up soufisalment with twenty forms; a second 'blind' dip gives posseer with twenty-four forms, a third shows delgie with thirteen forms, etc. etc. Such divergences in spelling cannot be explained away by attributing them all to dialectal variations. For a dialectal attribution of a medieval text to be plausible would require precise knowledge of the origins of the writer, his formation, subsequent locations, influences, travels, etc., a condition rarely fulfilled in practice.

(40) 'Anglo-Norman in Context: The Case for the Scribes', Exemplaria, 6 (1994), 167-203.

(41) See W. Rothwell, 'Aspects of Lexical and Morphosyntactical Mixing in the Languages of Medieval England', in Multilingualism in Later Medieval Britain, ed. by D. A. Trotter (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 213-32; Tony Hunt, 'Code-Switching in Medical Texts', ibid., pp. 131-47, and id., Three Receptaria from Medieval England: The Languages of Medicine in the Fourteenth Century, Medium Aevum Monographs, New Series, 21 (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature, 2001). Significantly, this work was written in collaboration with the Middle English specialist Michael Benskin.

(42) See W. Rothwell, 'Ignorant Scribe and Learned Editor: Patterns of Error in Later Anglo-French Texts', forthcoming on the Anglo-Norman Hub.

(43) H. G. Richardson, 'Letters of the Oxford Dictatores', Oxford History Society, New Series, 5 (1942), 360-416. See also the same scholar's volume of similar letters, 'Cistercian Formularies', in Formularies Which Bear on the History of Oxford c.1204-1420, ed. by H. E. Salter, W. A. Pantin, and H. G. Richardson, Oxford History Society, New Series, 4-5, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942), ii, 281-327.

(44) 'Le francais n'est autre chose que le latin parle dans Paris et la contree qui l'avoisine' (Ferdinand Brunot, Histoire de la langue francaise, 13 vols (Paris: A. Colin, 1924), 1, 15). See W. Rothwell, 'Playing Follow-my-Leader in Anglo-Norman Studies', Journal for French Language Studies, 6 (1996), 177-209.

(45) W. Rothwell, 'The Teaching and Learning of French in Later Medieval England', Zeitschrift fur franzosische Sprache und Literatur, 111 (2001), 1-18.

(46) 'Sind Schreibdialekte phonologisch interpretierbar?', in Skripta, Schreiblandschaften und Standardisierungstendenzen, ed. by Kurt Gartner and others, p. 49.

(47) Europaische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter (Bern: Francke, 1948), pp. 91-93.

(48) It is to be regretted that Arnould did not delve into the details of Lancaster's use of the lexis in the way that Hesketh did for the Lumere as lais, revealing the extent to which Peter of Fetcham considerably enriched the religious vocabulary of Anglo-French. See his 'Lexical Innovation in the Lumere as lais', in De mot en mot, ed. by Gregory and Trotter, pp. 53-79.

(49) John of Gaunt's Register (1371-1375), ed. by S. Armitage-Smith, Camden Society, 3rd Series, 20-21, 2 vols (London: Offices of the Society, 1911), and John of Gaunt's Register (1379-1383), ed. by E. C. Lodge and R. Somerville, Camden Society, 3rd Series, 56-57, 2 vols (London: Offices of the Society, 1937).

(50) Alexander Bell, 'A Thirteenth-Century MS. Fragment at Peterborough', Modern Humanities Research Association, 3 (1929), 132-40.

(51) It is found in no fewer than ten spellings in Godefroy, ix, 408c-409a, and nine in Anglo-French (AND, 2nd edn, s.v. donjun), so any phonetic 'rules' applied to explain them all, whether in terms of 'standard' continental French or Anglo-French, would have to be very flexible indeed.

(52) 'Il est bricun, E (var. El) clostre dut estre, ou en dungun' (W. de Wadington, Le Manuel des pechez, in Robert of Brunne's Handlyng Synne, ed. by F. J. Furnivall (London: Roxburghe Club, 1862), and in the Early English Text Society edn (above, n. 20), l. 6696).

(53) 'ly roi descendist en un bas dongoun' (The Chronicle of Pierre de Langtoft, in French Verse, ed. by T. Wright, Rolls Series, 2 vols (London, 1866), ii, l. 434).

(54) 'L'auncien toure appellez le "Doungeon" deinz nostre Chastelle de P.' (John of Gaunt's Register (1371-75), ed. by Armitage-Smith, p. 242).

(55) Pope, From Latin to Modern French, p. 424.

(56) For a simple example of the need to include later Anglo-French in etymological work on English, see W. Rothwell, 'A Mere Quibble? Multilingualism and English Etymology', to appear in English Studies (Amsterdam) in 2004.


COPYRIGHT 2004 Modern Humanities Research Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rothwell, W.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:Samuel Purchas as editor--a case study: Anthony Knyvett's journal.
Next Article:Manipulating martyrdom: Corneille's (hetero) sexualization of Polyeucte.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters