Middle English Word of the Moment

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Notes on Chaucer's Dido and Fame

This is a quick draft of something I may rework in a later paper to reflect on Criseyde and her understanding of the power of her own speech. I think the central ideas of the House of Fame are more focussed on trouthe and its representation than speech per se, so I'm skewing it slightly to my own ends here; but it's just thoughts, for now. Given it's meant to be used later, it doesn't really have a thesis, nor any kind of shape.

All line references are to the first book of the House of Fame, in the Riverside Chaucer.


The moment in which Dido falls for Aeneas is narrated twice, ascribed once to the intervention of Venus and once to Aeneas’ stories of himself. An intervention by Venus to cause sudden love is a familiar romantic figure, but so is the woman falling in love with tales of the adventuring man. Stories of Yvain’s valour win Laudine over twice. Guenevere’s heart gradually softens as she hears of Lancelot’s adventures, and Bertilak’s wife tells Gawain that she loves him because of the stories she has heard of his valour and courtesy. But the Gawain of rumour has a questionable relationship to the Gawain we see, Yvain himself is hidden once by an invisibility ring and once by a pseudonym, and news of Lancelot is slow, erratic and rumour-coloured. In this case, the fact that Aeneas himself narrates his stories could give his first-hand account greater authority, eliminating that unreliable middleman, Fame. But of course, a man may have any number of reasons for misrepresenting the truth about himself; and Chaucer undercuts the sincerity of the proceedings here by casting a shadow of irrationality and haste over both accounts the crucial moment.
And, shortly of this thyng to pace,
She made Eneas so in grace
Of Dido, quene of that contree,
That, shortly for to tellen, she
Becam hys love, and leet him doo
Al that weddynge longeth too. (240-44)
The repetition of “shortly” emphasises the immediate effect of Venus’ work. So far, this is a story of the gods’ games with mortals, and we expect her to fall in love instantly, and do not question its rationality, psychological likelihood or the moral implications of Venus’ actions. But the ominous tone of the last line, censorious or compassionate, hints at a woman deceived or tricked into not only acting but feeling contrary to her will, to her lasting detriment. And then we see this god’s game from the other side, the actors playing out the plot twist that the producer decreed. The narrator brushes aside the tale of “the manere / How they aqueynteden in fere” (249-50) as too “long” - a word he uses twice in two lines – to return to the rapidity of the seduction:
Ther sawgh I grave how Eneas
Tolde Dido every caas,
That hym was tyd upon the see.
And after grave was, how shee
Made of him, shortly, at oo word,
Hyr lyf, hir love, hir luste, hir lord; (253-58)
We know, of course, that “every caas / that hym was tyd upon the see” does, in fact, make a very impressive story, but the dry brevity of the narration makes her response seem impossibly fervent. The breathless passion of “Hir lyf, hir love, hir luste, hir lord” belongs to the climax of a whole-hearted romantic scene, not the erratic and slightly bemused narration of this dreamer. Its very rhythm feels out of place here - even without the return of that word, “shortly”, snagging the syntax in the middle of the line before it and reminding the ear of Venus’ intervention. Dido’s sudden infatuation is unnatural, and feels so; and we know it will lead to her death. Even before the narrator casts doubt on the truth of Aeneas’ stories (“Wenynge hyt had al be so, / As he hir swor” 262-63), or reveals that “he to hir a traytour was” (267), there is a sense of unfairness about both Venus’ too-partial actions[1] and Aeneas’ too-powerful words.

Dido’s love for Aeneas, on the human level, is presented as the direct result of Aeneas’ words. The man she falls in love with is the man she hears about, not the man she sees – and it is this man “unknowen” (270) who drives her to her death. This potential discrepancy between “apparence” and “existence” (265-66) is at the heart of the House of Fame, and is usually, though not invariably, expressed in concern over words: their weight and power, and their questionable ability to represent reality. Aeneas ascribes less weight to his words than does Dido. For her, they represent reality: for him, they are a deliberate manipulation of reality, a means to an end, conjuring a man who can impress Dido (and perhaps himself), easily set aside for his departure. Dido is left to lament her misconception, that “your bond / That ye have sworn” (321-22) does not have the power she believed it had, to “holde yow stille here with me” (324).

The narrator echoes Aeneas’ actions in the more cynical story of Theseus and Ariadne. Despite everything that “he had y-swore to here, / On al that ever he myghte swere” (421-22), Theseus has no qualms about abandoning Ariadne when her usefulness (or her appeal) has passed. Like Aeneas, Theseus regards his words primarily as a tool: powerful enough to win Ariadne over while he needs her, but ultimately disposable. They have no binding effect on him, and there is no necessity for them to represent reality accurately.

Dido’s experiences alter her perception. In the world that she sees now, men have “such godlyhede / In speche”, but “never a del of trouthe” (330-31). Aeneas’ exposure of the gap between fame and reality has opened her eyes - “Now see I wel” (334) – and left her bitterly aware of fame’s contradictory nature: insubstantial, but ruinously powerful. While it may not reflect reality accurately, its effect on the lives it touches has real substance.
O, wel-awey that I was born!
For thorgh yow is my name lorn,
And alle myn actes red and songe
Over al thys lond, on every tonge.
O wikke Fame! - for ther nys
Nothing so swift, lo, as she is! (345-350)
Like Criseyde, she laments the irretrievable loss of her good name, and the injustice of the words that will memorialise her (353-60). Fame has ruined her throughout her life and beyond her death, but its uncertain nature paradoxically renders her own speech too insubstantial to recreate her in a positive image:
Al hir compleynt ne al hir moone,
Certeyn, avayleth hir not a stre. (362-63)
Uncertainty about the power and accuracy of one's own words extends beyond the characters carved on the wall, even to the narrator. Virgil's robust “Arma virumque cano” becomes a tentative “I wol now singe, if that I can, / The armes, and al-so the man”. (143-44). The narrator's reaction on leaving Venus' temple casts doubt on the poetic form itself. His prayer for protection against illusion undermines the tangibility and reliability of everything that has gone before - a poem relating and discussing the events of another oft-poesied poem - and therefore, by implication, on the validity and “auctoritee” of poetic tradition. How can poetry convey truth, after all, if the poets themselves are at odds with each other?[2] The appearance of the eagle, traditionally clear-sighted and immune to illusion, seems a promising answer to his prayer, and his feathers are the gold of purity and clarity and truth. But we've just read a whole book warning us against deceptive appearances: “Hyt is not al gold that glareth” (272).

The man Dido fell in love with was created by words, created by man, not the reality of the man created by God. There is a hook there, regarding the public and private aspects of speech – Fame vs. vice/virtue, and how each affects and effects the person – but that is for another day!

[1] From a divine perspective Venus' actions are internally consistent, but from a human level they appear as arbitrary as Fame's later judgements to her petitioners.

[2] After writing this, I read Nick Havely's introduction to HoF (Chaucer's dream poetry, eds. Helen Phillips and N. R. Havely, London: Longman, 1997), in which he makes a similar point about Chaucer problematising his own medium, the book. When the word “boke” occurs at line 426 it “refers to an authoritative witness to a woman's fidelity and trust [Ariadne's for Theseus]... Yet only three lines later “the booke” is just as emphatically invoked to justify Aeneas' betrayal of Dido”. The effect of this is to “emphasize the medium's capacity both to convey and celebrate 'truth' in love, whilst... compounding and perpetuating falsehood” (114). And of course, that takes us into the question of whether fiction is lies, and what Chaucer would have understood by “fiction”, to what extent he considered Virgil's stories as history and what ethical obligations he would have felt he had to the historical figures he himself was depicting, which is quite another tangent on the topic of fame and memory in itself.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Real life does its intruding thing, again

So, on Sunday I took just my boy down to the park, leaving the other beagle and our young brittany at home. And he hadn't had a walk in the morning, because I'd been working, so he was terribly enthused and went into happy hyperzoom mode as soon as we got out of the car, and - then he was lying on the ground screaming in pain.

Turns out there was a nail sticking out of a post at just beagle-shoulder height, and he had an inch-deep hole in his side, and our vet closes early on a Sunday (it was only 4 pm!) so I had to take him to the emergency clinic, and yes, that was as expensive as it sounds.

So now Oliver has seven stitches in his shoulder, though he seems to have forgotten it hurts at all and doesn't understand why he has to stay inside and keep warm and rest and not, eg, go rolling around in the mud outside with the puppy.

(Yes, his lip regularly gets stuck like that, mostly when he's trying to look serious.)

I have told him that when it heals he will have a terribly manly scar, just like Major in Footrot Flats. As his personality when it comes to pretending to be terribly manly (just so long as no one bigger than him comes along) is very similar to the Dog's, I think he should be pleased. Here is the Dog standing up to Major in an Oliver-like manner:

And here is the Dog's snapshot of Major's scar.

So Oliver will look manly like that, just as soon as the painkillers wear off and he stops falling over every time he tries to lift his leg.

Anyway. He's doing alright so far, which leaves me free to contemplate other things, such as the fact that he just cost me $1030. So much for savings. Looks like going international to do my postgrad courses may be off the cards after all, so it's back to replanning my future. Again.

In other dog-related news, we just heard that Annie, one of our two old terriers who still live with our parents, has died - probably also on Sunday. It isn't really a surprise, but it would have been nice if it could have happened when my parents weren't on holiday in Europe.

So, all up, between panicking over dogs, nursing dogs and mourning dogs, not been a terribly productive week here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Malory and games of musical horses

So, it's Arthur's first big battle. On the home team, we have kings Arthur, Ban and Bors, and all their knights. On the away team, eleven kings (technically some of them are dukes, but who's counting), foremost among them Arthur's half-brothers-in-law Lot of Orkney, Nentres of Garlot and Uriens of Gore (married to Morgause, Elaine and Morgan respectively). And it is all very grand and heroic and written on a large scale - 60000 men fighting, 15000 left alive by the end of the day, according to Merlin (and he would know, for in addition to being factotum, military strategist, conduit for God's word and general ideas man, he is really good at counting things). In all this vast field of carnage, the knights seem primarily concerned with swapping their horses around, and the kings seem to prioritise personal combat with all the other kings and famous knights over, say, leading their own forces or seeing to the right flank. Really. The kings can all see each other all the time and reach each other's sides in short order, and we have two full pages of horse-swapping:
Whan sir Kay saw sir Gryfflet on foote, he rode unto kynge Nentres and smote hym downe, and ledde his horse unto sire Gryfflette and horsed hym agayne. Also sir Kay with the same spere smote downe kynge Lotte and hurte hym passyinge sore. That saw the Kynge with the Hondred Knyghtes and ran unto sir Kay and smote hym downe, and toke hys horse and gaff hym kynge Lotte, whereof he seyde gramercy. Whan sir Gryfflet saw sir Kay and sir Lucas de Butler on foote, he with a sherpe spere grete and square rode to Pynnel, a good man of armys, and smote horse and man downe, and than he toke hys horse and gaff hym unto sir Kay. Than kyng Lotte saw kynge Nentres on foote... (Malory[1], 19.1-11)
Is it just me, or have the real generals shooed all the big names with fancy outfits off into their very own exclusive field to engage in their all-important little games of chivalric exchange out of the way of the real business, where they won't accidentally get stuck on some unnamed soldier's pike or get any ideas about giving orders to the men who are actually fighting this war?

Well, but of course, this is a tournament-style battle, not intended for realism, but for entertainment. If tournaments were intended to mimic war in game, here we have a war mimicking a tournament, following the conventions of chivalric combat in the ring and in literature. And it also has layers of 'game' - certainly for the audience, for whom it is constructed, devised, laid out, as carefully as ever Theseus could arrange; maybe even for the participants as well, panoplied and tricked out, busy with the detailed rules of musical horses and intricate social obligation. Kings Ban and Bors come to join Arthur in his war ostensibly for political advantage, but also for their own glory, recalling the actions of young knights such as Piers Gaveston and his little gang when they abandoned Edward I's drawn-out, fruitless campaign in Scotland to skip across the channel to France and enter in a few more interesting tournaments over there.

So, since it is essential in any game to keep a proper score, without more ado, have the Musical Horses Scoretable!

Royal purple denotes those properly of the Pendragon party, while those treacherous, ungrateful, sinister ingrates are, naturally, in green.

Conquering hero

Suddenly horseless failure

Suddenly rehorsed knight

Sir Brastias

Duke Estance of Canbenet

Sir Ulphuns

Sir Kay

King Nentres

Sir Gryfflet

Sir Kay

King Lot


The King with the Hundred Knights

Sir Kay

King Lot

Sir Gryfflet

Sir Pinnel

Sir Kay

King Lot

Sir Meliot de la Roche

King Nentres

The King with the Hundred Knights

Sir Gwyniarte de Bloy

King Idres

King Lot

Sir Clarinaus de la Foreyste Saveage

Duke Estance of Canbenet

King Arthur

King Cradilment of North Wales

Sir Ulphuns

The King with the Hundred Knights

Sir Ector

King Cradilment

King Arthur

King Cradilment of North Wales

None, because Arthur killed the horse too, which probably didn’t please his foster-father overmuch, even if it was done with the best of intentions.

Sir Kay

King Morganor

Sir Ector

Sir Ector

Sir Lardance

Sir Brastias

Sir Gryfflet

Unnamed knight.

Sir Lucas

Sir Lucas

King Anguischance


Sir Lucas

Two unnamed squires.

Sir Bloyas de la Flaundres and Sir Gwynas

Interestingly, the three unnamed victims in this list are also the only three to explicitly be killed in the process. Clearly, they shouldn't have just rashly wandered into that special field with all the big guns.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #9: J. C. to William Milton, Archdeacon of Buckingham

Translation of a petition from one J. C. of Croydon to William Milton, asking for his help to redress and call a halt to a certain nasty habit belonging to the local bailiff representing the area's feudal lord, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is not the William Milton who was Archbishop of York during the latter part of Edward II's reign; this Milton was the Archdeacon of Buckingham from 1403 until his death in 1424[1]; the editor here just dates the petition "After 1406", without explanation. According to the editor's note, Milton was also registrar to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which explains why he is the recipient of the letter. Presumably J. C. can't write to the Archbishop directly because, if he were to do so, it would have to pass through the bailiff in question.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XXVI, p 27: J. C. to William Milton.
Or, How the Feudal System Will Fail You When You Need It.

To his most honourable, most wise and discreet[2] lord, Master William Milton, archdeacon of Buckingham, a poor[3] man, J. C. of Croydon, tenant to my most honourable lord the Archbishop of Canterbury, humbly entreats that, as in the month of August last gone, Margery, the wife of the said supplicant, was walking to oversee his[4] servants at work in the fields, there came J. Piers, the junior bailiff of my said lord in Canterbury, and by force and coercion there in the field he conquered the said Margery and shamefully overcame her and carnally defiled her contrary to her will, and many times afterwards the said J. has lain in ambush by diverse roads and paths to do carnal and shameful villainy to the said Margery. And also in the meantime when your said supplicant had gone out of town about his business, the same J., perceiving this, many times came and entered the house of the said supplicant and by force overcame and carnally defiled the said Margery, as can be well and truthfully proven against him by many worthy and discreet[5] people of Croydon, to the lasting detriment of the said supplicant and of his said wife, as well as other damage to their names and honour. For which reasons, may it please you that in your most wise counsel you make relation of this loathsome matter to my said most honourable lord and to lend your good help to such end that a due remedy may be ordained and made, as required by justice. For God and in the name of charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 27.

I thought I had rather a strong stomach, but working on this made for a very unpleasant afternoon's. At least she seems to have a relatively supportive husband. Though it hardly makes up for being assaulted all over the town and in her own house. I suppose if there are household servants there, they can't really stop him, because he is the Archbishop's bailiff. And they can't appeal directly to the Archbishop. Because he is the Archbishop's bailiff.


[1] According to the list of Buckingham's archdeacons held at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=32598.

[2] “discret”, which might, of course, mean simple “wise” or “discerning”. But it isn't a word I've encountered in these petitions before - “sage” is usual, and is the word I just translated as “wise” here, and, given the nature of the situation, I don't think it's going too far to suppose that J. C. would want discretion to be a quality Milton bears in mind when reading this.

[3] As elsewhere, 'poor' here clearly isn't literal - the man can speak and write French, or hire someone to do it for him, and has servants working in the fields. Calling oneself poor seems to be as much part of the form as opening with elaborate flattery of the recipient and referring to oneself in the third person, and I can think of several reasons for it off the top of my head: poverty as a spiritual attribute, extreme subjugation by comparison with the recipient, simple adherence to form, etc, any or all of which may be present in the pen of any one petitioner. In a case like this, it's tempting to imagine that he is also referring to his own emotional state, but that may be reaching a little too far beyond formal words.

[4] Or, possibly, her.

[5] In this case, “discretz” may simply mean “of good judgement”, with the word choice informed by his earlier use of “discret”.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #8: The Isle of Wight to the king

Translation of a petition from the Isle of Wight to the king (Richard II or Henry IV), asking to be excused from the tenths and fifteenths that are intended to fund the war against France in order that they may fortify their island against the constant French raids, and saying that, without those funds, the island will have to be evacuated.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XX, p 21: The Isle of Wight to the King.

To the most redoubtable and gracious lord, our lord the king, the poor citizens both spiritual and temporal of the Isle of Wight humbly beg that you may wish to consider, in your benign grace, the great hardship and costs that they have borne before these times and which they still bear from day to day because of the war against the enemies France and Brittany, for which reason they have great fear for their lives and livelihoods, and they mean to remove from the said Isle and to live on this side of the sea if no remedy may be found quickly for the said Isle, and therefore may it please your most gracious lordship to grant the said supplicants, in your benign grace, that they may be excused from all manner of tenths and fifteenths and all kinds of tallages to the said Isle, paid or yet to pay, to you or your heirs, throughout the aforesaid war, in order that the said supplicants may make arrangements to repel the landing of the enemy here, or to make fortifications against said landing at their own costs. For God, and in the name of charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 21.

This is actually surprisingly hard to date, because of the Isle of Wight's habit of being attacked by the French whenever the latter had a few spare hours because their wives weren't expecting them home for tea. A quick search fails to turn up any references to this petition, or any other requests for / grants of funds, though there is refence in 1375 to the Crown threatening to confiscate the lands of nobles fleeing the raids, which makes a plausible background to this threat to evacuate.

That's quite a cunning little clause, asking to be excused from all war taxes under the king and his heirs for so long as the war with France may last. Do you think someone had tipped them that this was to go down in history as the Hundred Years War? Or that it would be probably possible to argue for the rest of recorded history that 'the aforementioned war' had never, in fact, ended?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #7: Margery to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Translation of a petition from a London woman called Margery to the Archbishop of Canterbury, possibly Arundel. She says that her husband believes, or feigns to believe, that she was pre-contracted to another man before marrying him, and is attempting to annul their marriage.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XL, p 40: Margery to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

To the most reverend father in God and her most gracious lord, Margery, wife of W.G. of London, humbly supplicates that, having wedded the said W. and lived with him in legal matrimony for four years, and not having been contracted to any other man before the nuptials were solemnised between them, the said W., thinking[1] falsely to be separated from the said supplicant by means of a false conspiracy between him and[2] one Robert C., clerk, has feigned a false[3] charge in the court of the most reverend father in God the Bishop of London, and there has pronounced to the said supplicant that she must have made a precontract with another man, when the said supplicant has no knowledge of any such man on this earth, and by means of this charge the said W. has pressed an annulment[4] between himself and the said supplicant, which annulment, through the false supposings[5] of the said Robert, will be carried out, if no solution may be found by your lordship, and so[6] may it please your most noble paternity, for the salvation of W.'s soul, to ordain remedy in this case. For God and in the name of charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 40.

Firstly: please father, save my marriage, for the sake of my bastard of a husband's soul? This lass needs to go have a serious chat with Maude about taking charge of her own life.

Secondly: ymagenant, ymaginacions. This word appears twice, and makes the task of determining just what her husband is about rather a slippery one. The first occurrence is when we are told that W. is ymagenant fauxment d'estre departi de [Margery]... par faulx conspiracie par entre luy et un Robert C. I have translated ymagenant here as thinking, both because it lets me preserve the syntax of the original and because it's a rather neutral word and I wanted to keep discussion of implications out of the text itself. And here she uses it rather neutrally - the moral weight of that phrase is, or seems to be, on fauxment. She could have written creyent for ymagenant, without altering the sense of the phrase - in fact, I'll go out on a limb a little and say that this part reads as if she is trying to excuse her husband and lay the blame on Robert. It's perfectly possible to read ymagenant here as a blameless creyent and faulx in its sense of mistaken, incorrect, erring.

But then we come to the second use of the same word: le quel devors par faulx ymaginacions de dit Robert serra parforny s'il ne soit remedie. The two words again, faulx and ymaginacions, but here the context changes their reception. My first thought here was imaginations, fantasies, the lies Robert comes up with about her life, but the second, hard on its heels, was machinations. And indeed, on consulting the Anglo-Norman dictionary, I found it notes that "there is semantic and formal overlap and/or confusion between imaginer and machiner", defining imaginer as
v. a. 1. to imagine, envisage, create a mental image of; to imagine, conceive, think up 2. to invent, make up; to devise, contrive 3. to plot, scheme (cf. machiner);
v.n. 1. to imagine, envisage, create a mental image 2. to assume, think 3. to make plans;
So, if Margery is (consciously or otherwise) exploiting the ambiguity inherent in this word, this darkens her fau[l]xs to their more negative moral interpretations: wicked or sinful, rather than mistaken. This casts a different light back on what she was thinking when she wrote that first ymagenant, even if she meant to avoid laying the blame on her husband: paranoia, anger that she can't allow herself to feel properly, vulnerability, witnessing a conspiracy that she can neither expose nor withstand? She is concerned to keep her husband from falling into mortal sin, begging the Archbishop to save his soul, but even if she seems to try to keep most of her fau[l]xs from pointing directly at her husband, I think in her eyes his moral state is already fairly questionable. Or perhaps she wavers between seeing him as victim and agent.

This man does not make a good head, Margery. Use your own.

[1] 'Ymagenant' - but see note above.

[2] 'E[s]t' - I'm not sure why the editor has added that 's', as in context it can't be a verb, and while 'et' (in the sense of 'and') is sometimes spelt with an 's', 'et' is more common.

[3] Yes, she really does use 'fau[l]x' three times in a row. And while the double negative of ad feyné une faulx cause sounds clumsy in English, I'm leaving it in there to preserve the sense of vehemence or desperation that comes with the lady protesting too much.

[4] 'Devors', but he seems to be seeking to declare the marriage invalid altogether on the grounds of an earlier contract, not to be granted what we would call a divorce.

[5] 'Ymaginacions' - again, see note above.

[6] While 'and so' is necessary to make the grammar scan in English, it doesn't appear in the French. Her plese a vostre tresnoble paternitee... ordeigner remedie should, according to the usual form of these petitions, refer back to her opening que come ele ad esté espousé; but that has already been closed long ago, with ore le dit W... ad feyné. Technically, I think this is a grammatical flaw (unless I'm missing something); but to me, looking back at the other petitions, it seems more that the patterns within this form are becoming figures of their own. You open with supplie que, come... and close with plese a vous, and in the middle you tell a dramatic and poignant story in one long, involved sentence, but by the time you reach plese a vous you've forgotten what you're referring back to, and the form stands on its own.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some disjointed notes on folklore origins

Various notes to return to later, some more interesting than others, culled from a conversation with zastrugi. She’s Canadian, I’m Australian, and yes, I know I should read more of Jeffrey J. Cohen’s work if I want to take this any farther.

- So, America has an inordinate number of road-related evil folkloric things – the hook man, phantom hitchhikers, etc (cf Supernatural, which exploits these and which started this conversation). Possibly related to the fact that America has an awful lot of roads and quite a culture of interstate/city driving?

- Canada has some of the same but not so many, intercity driving / hitchhiking not being considered so much of a social danger as in America? Tends to be a little more regional in its folklore, eg, stories of pirate/ship ghosts in the east, though for obvious reasons not so much in the landlocked provinces. Places with forests are prone to sasquatch stories.

- Australia has a lot of water-based spirits/bogeys (granted, everywhere does, but more than most places), many of which can be vaguely lumped under ‘bunyip’ - water being a strong focus of rural-based communities, a rare commodity, desirable and necessary and also a danger, don’t-go-near-the-waterhole? We do have a few larger Nessie-type creatures, and there’s a several thousand year old Aboriginal painting in a cave near a Sydney lake that depicts something suspiciously like a Plesiosaur. We don’t get so many humanoid monsters – why? Nor road-based ones, possibly because we don’t do so much intercity driving, our cities being too far apart.

- Those humanoid monsters Aboriginal myth has given rise to are mostly of the old man of the forest type, and mostly focus on grabbing/stealing/victimising children. The figure of the lost/stolen children carried on more strongly than most aboriginal myth patterns into white settlers’ imagination – why this particularly? Fear-stories to prevent children from wandering off? Insofar as there is a difference, I think Aboriginal stories tend to personify, have a certain thing (monster?) being responsible for taking them, whereas European stories it’s the bush itself that eats them up, disorients them and consumes them - the bush itself as something threatening, waiting, hostile? The bush not so foreign and other to aboriginal societies, so they locate the evil on specific things?

- Zastrugi would like to point out that Australia is scary and the landscape is still foreign / dangerous enough to give us enough monsters without needing humanoid demons. Canada has “various legend/stories that are ... liberally told .. about wild animals or the cold killing people, and madness, but it's usually a variation of THE WILDERNESS KILLED THE POOR PERSON (in some horrible way), not so much FOCUSSED EVIL OUT TO GET YOU”.

- We do have phantom big cats in modern folklore, and joke things like drop bears. But we don’t have much. Australia doesn't go so much for the folklore at all, which maybe can be attributed to mostly being settled within the whole modern frame so you don't get so much local background legend building up, and possibly the fact that the humanoid monsters seem less popular in the last century or so – in western society, are human-faced monsters (vampires, werewolves) less prevalent or taken less seriously since Victorian times?

- The type of monster-with-a-human-face doesn’t really work now - now monsters are actually humans, the rapist, the paedophile, the terrorist, the nightly news, no need to make things up. Zastrugi points out “one of my favourite authors (An American who actually DID run away because it was scary there and is now a Canadian, bless Spidey Robinson) wrote before Sept. 11 that soon the only two sins the Western world would recognise would be paedophilia and terrorism, because they're the only two sins that you can allege without proof.”

- Mediaeval maps / travel accounts – the boundaries of the known world are marked with monsters and deformed people, two heads, head beneath their shoulders, ape men, dog-headed people, more and more not-human the farther they get. Distance increases otherness, pushes the unfamiliar farther away and makes it comfortably monstrous, helps to define what is ‘here’ and ‘us’. Cf. Gerald of Wales – you think Wales is foreign and backwards? Wait until you hear about Ireland, with all their shapeshifters and sex with animals! But now we have mapped all the world, and can’t mark HERE BE DRAGONS anywhere. So logically, the boundaries with strange things on them move farther out – aliens, monsters of the mid 20th century, the unknown that defines us in body and mind.

- But now aliens are not so scary because I think collectively we kind of feel like we have control over space/science, which we didn't in the mid 20th century. Now it's the human psyche, back to look at humans again, but the ‘other’ is no longer spatial, it’s internal. Still about the limits of comprehension, but it’s pushed back on what we comprehend of ourselves.

- WWII had a part in it, maybe? Z: “as the realisation slowly began to sink in that normal people can be monsters, too, then go back to being normal people without so much as a pause or recognition that there was anything wrong with who they were being.” me: “yes, without even that disjuncture that you can say that is not a human like you can with a werewolf or a vampire. But also people feeling so comfortable with science and technology and feeling like we all control/understand it on an everyday level, so aliens which were the realm of science aren't so foreign or so potent.”

- Zastrugi speculates that this is why there’s so little actual science fiction, as opposed to fantasy set on a spaceship: “why bother dreaming about the impossible when you've been trained that it'll happen with enough time? Heinlein, though (old sci fi writer) is very good to read, because he actually does do science in it (without being as thick as some of his contemporaries), but he also thinks very much about how all the changes he's postulating would change how people interact with each other”.

- Zastrugi has made sauce to bread something for dinner and has only now realised that “I don't have bread or breadcrumbs. :/”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Notes on Malory: the sword in the stone

So I just realised that I haven't actually read Malory for three years, and when last I did I didn't know any of the names beyond the obvious, so most of it's rather a blur of lots of knights being the best knight ever, sequentially.

Therefore, it is only logical to read it again, and take notes of anything interesting that happens along the way.

And something must be very broken in my head, because whenever I read "Uther Pendragon" I see Anthony Stewart Head, and whenever I see "Merlyn" I see Colin Morgan, and the image of Colin-Merlin actually telling Tony-Uther what to do is very, very wrong.

Besides, I think Bradley-Arthur would have a fit if he heard Merlin giving his dad masterful advice on his sex life.


1) So, the first time Sir Kay is introduced, his name is actually Kaynus:
... and with hym rode syr Kaynus, his sone, and yong Arthur that was hys nourisshed broder; and syr Kay was made knyght at Alhalowmas afore. So as they rode to the justes-ward sir Kay had lord his suerd... (8.15-17)
And thencefore he remains Kay. I don't remember him being Kaynus, or variants on it, in earlier versions: I wonder if Malory (or whoever he copied this bit from)[1] meant it as an echo of Cain? I know Kay's meant to be variously a bit annoying, a bit of comic relief or the epitome of bad manners, but surely Cain is going a bit far. Or maybe, somewhere along the way, the echo in the name became the reason.

And also, justes-ward? I wonder if the editor got that hyphen right. It could be just “as they rode towards the jousting”, but that makes the “to” slightly awkward: might it also be “as they rode to the joust-sward”, in the sense of grass, lawn, arena?

2) Arthur pulls that sword out of the stone six times. Firstly, all alone, to provide Kay with a sword (8.27-28), then in front of Kay and Ector (9.14), then in front of the assembled lords four times (9.40, 10.5-9, 10.19-20) before they believe it.

The first three seem to be a logical progression, the burden of proof of entitlement, and provide a logical dramatic structure as well: witnessed only by himself and God, innocent and not recognising the import; witnessed by his family and learning that he is something else, that they are not his blood family and is now destined to be king; witnessed by the barons, proving his identity to the whole country. Besides, everyone knows these things happen in threes.

But then the story is pulled out of shape: the barons don't believe him. I suppose there are at least two reasons for it, and one is the narrative necessity for resistence at this point if Arthur is to win his throne, because it's much more interesting if there is fighting and besides, what about all those juicy stories left over from warlord days where he has to carve out a kingdom by defeating people? Wouldn't do to leave them out, just for the sake of one neatly shaped myth. So you have at least two legends tacked onto each other - warlord and divine appointment.

But then, for the second reason, we must have several more versions rolled into one. The first two drawings-out take place on New Year's Day[2], the third twelve days afterwards. The next three are, variously, Candlemas, Easter and Pentecost. So unless there's some precedent about having to prove oneself at each of the major Catholic feast days throughout the year, I'd guess that Malory, or his source, had seen different version in which the final proof happened on different days, and incorporated them all - for added legitimacy!

And is Arthur still meant to be two years old at this point?

3) “And the thyrd syster, Morgan le Fey, was put to scole in a nonnery, and ther she lerned so moche that she was a grete clerke of nygromancye”. In a nunnery[3]? Honestly? I can buy that she got a much better and more literary education there than she might have elsewhere and therefore had the tools to learn “nygromancye”, theoretically, but - the nuns had those books in their library? I think, Malory, you may be protesting a tad too much with this whole 'impose Christianity on the pagan myths' business.

On the other hand... everyone knows Morgan le Fay, and knows what he means she learned there. So if he just means “And that is where she learned all her Stuff, because YOU KNOW WHAT goes on in THOSE places”... isn't that a fairly extreme example of male paranoia of all-female societies? Sure, they might have the father of the local chapter of monks being nominally in charge, but behind those walls... who knows what those strange, floaty women in weird clothes get up to.

4) On that note, Malory is very careful to preserve the shape of the original myths but keep them acceptable to Christian sensibilities. Such as his insistence that Arthur, though conceived through trickery and Uther taking on the shape of Igrayne's husband, is not illegitimate, through two carefully timed (and carefully insisted on) chances. Firstly, as Uther rides off in Gorlois' shape, Gorlois attacks Uther's former position and is killed, and therefore “after the deth of the duke kyng Uther lay with Igrayne, more than thre houres after his deth, and begat on her that night Arthur”. So it wasn't adultery, as we are told twice in a sentence, because that would presumably make him a bastard, as much as him being born out of wedlock. And, of course, Uther and his trusty Ulfius make sure to avoid the second as well.

Then we have the emphasis on Arthur's baptism (6.15-27). We have preserved Merlin's insistence that Arthur be delivered to him unchristened (and again I'm getting disturbing images of Colin Morgan holding a baby Bradley James, which is just wrong too), which might have been at one point a remnant of some tension between Merlin as Christian wise man and pre-Christian... something, rewriting magic as mysticism[4]. But here it just serves the secret-heritage plot, because no one but Merlin knows the name he bestowed on the royal child.

And again, all the events of the sword-from-the-stone legend are surrounded in Christian trappings. Uther, on his death bed, gives his unknown son “Gods blissyng and myne, and byd hym pray for my soule” (7.9-10); to call an assembly of the lords, Merlin goes and has a friendly chat to the Archbishop of Canterbury (and there's an image I have trouble fitting into my head, for reasons for once wholly unconnected with any BBC TV series), and they, when they come, “made hem clene of her lyf, that her prayer myghte be the more acceptable unto God” (7.25-26). And masses are said, and though it looks like Merlin orchestrated this whole event, mysterious stone included, it is emphasised repeatedly that “God wil make hym knowen”, he “that shall encheve the swerd” (8.1-2).

5) Speaking of Christianising - how about Anglicising? The stone containing the sword, and therefore presumably all the events centred on it, including Arthur's coronation, are “in the grettest chirch of London - whether it were Powlis or not the Frensshe booke maketh no mencyon”. Well, that's definitely one way to reconcile the fact that you revere a Welsh king with the fact that you revile the Welsh. And all that pother about him being crowned in Caerleon (or Carlisle, or Cardiff, or Camelot, or one of those other somewhat interchangeable Welsh places starting with C)? Easily sorted.
[After the coronation at St Paul's (or not), and after] the kyng had stablisshed all the countryes aboute London... within fewe yeres after Arthur wan alle the North, Scotland, and alle that were under their obeissaunce, also Walys... Thenne the kyng remeved into Walys and lete crye a grete feste, that it shold be holdyn at Pentecost after the incoronacion of hym at the cyté of Carlyon. (10.38-44)
So, two coronations - one nice and Christian and English, as king, and one nice and mythic and Welsh, presumably as high king - or possibly just another ceremony to say “See me, I have totally done what Edward I will never manage: take that, Norman apocryphal-descendents!”

Wales has not succeeded in culturally invading England, oh no. England physically invaded Wales. Well, the Welsh are too backwards for it to have happened any other way, surely?

“A parte of it helde ayenst Arthur, but he overcam hem al, as he dyd the remenaunt, thurgh the noble prowesse of hymself and his knyghtes of the Round Table” (11.1-3). Which doesn't exist yet. Though, given I have distinct memories of entire knights coming back to life in later books of Malory without any mention of supernatural intervention, I suppose a slightly anachronistic piece of dining room furniture isn't too much to expect.

Also, I think he is still about five years old at this point.

All quotes from Malory, Thomas. Works. Ed. Vinaver, Eugene. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

[1] And please take that little hedging comment as read every time I say “Malory”.

[2] Or possibly Christmas. It's New Year's throughout page 8, not mentioned on page 9, then at 10.5-7 we have “And right as Arthur dyd at Cristmasse he dyd at Candelmasse, and pulled oute the swerde easely”.

[3] Didn't even prevent her from being a breeder of sinners, did it?

[4] And that is definitely a trick Colin-Merlin should try on Tony-Uther, if he ever looks like getting executed for sorcery.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #6: J. de G. and others to Henry IV

Translation of a petition to Henry IV. J. de G., the gentles and commons of W., T. and K. ask pardon for their part in a recent uprising and declare themselves his faithful subject.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions IX, p 8: J. de G. and others to Henry IV.

To our most high, most mighty and most redoubtable lord, our lord the King: if it be your pleasure, we, J. of G., the gentles and commons of [the counties of][1] W. and T. and certain people of K. represent that, as we are become your loyal subjects and tenants and we have submitted ourselves to your most high and excellent grace and will thus, may it please your most gracious lordship to pardon your said poor and humble gentles and commons of the counties aforesaid our insurrection and rebellious[2] and to accept[3] us along with our lands, goods and holdings and to receive us as loyal men and subjects beholden[4] to you and to no man else, save to our most redoubtable lord the prince, your most gracious son, etc.
Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 8.

[1] Judging by “the counties aforesaid” below.

[2] Or rebellion - “rebelté” could be either.

[3] “pardonner... et nous acceptee” - I can't find any way to read that except as a scribal error for “accepter”.

[4] “loialx et liegez tenantz a vous” - “loialx et liegez” could be nouns and “tenantz” the adjective, or the other way around: “loyal men and subjects beholden”, or “loyal and feudally bound tenants/subjects”. The phrasing echoes “loyal subjects and tenants” earlier (“loialx lieges et tenantz”).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #5: Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, to Henry IV

Translation of a petition from Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, to Henry IV, presumably in 1399. Having helped Henry IV overthrow Richard II, who had made him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 then exiled him for his association with the Lords Appellant, Arundel writes formally petitioning to be allowed to re-assume his position and the lands and holdings associated with it.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XIX, p 20: Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, to Henry IV.

To the most excellent and most redoubtable lord, our lord the king, your humble chaplain Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England entreats that[1], the said supplicant being wrongfully impeached of diverse matters by the parliament held at Westminster on the day following the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the twenty-first year of the reign of Richard the second, lately King of England, and being in addition in his absence and with no defence given sentences to permanent exile from the realm of England, and his temporalities of the said archbishopric having been seized into the hands of the said former king, and all his goods and properties having been declared forfeit against all true law and reason, may it please your royal majesty[2] to consider the matter of the said impeachment and judgement thus wrongfully given in his absence and with no defence given, and to make judgement in this present parliament to reverse the sentence and declare it invalid, to find that he must be restored to his temporalities in every degree with all the issues, commodities and profits of the holdings that accompany them from the day of the said judgement to the day of the present parliament, together with all the goods and strongholds thus against law and reason declared forfeit, as if no judgement had ever been delivered against him. For God, and in the name of charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 20.

[1] Isn't that a potent opening, the careful blend of power and reverence? It combines flattery - to a man just risen to new heights, those forms of address must be heady indeed, especially coming from the “Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England”, who nevertheless presents himself as “your humble chaplain” - with promise - I am on your side, God is on your side, I can consolidate your position - and just a hint of threat, because if you were to choose not to reinstate this man as is right (and he makes good use of righteous language throughout the rest of the letter) he has enough political clout to possibly bring you down again, not to mention the influence he might have with someone higher up. Richard II flouted Thomas Arundel, and look what happened to him...

[2] “vostre majesté roiale” - I believe it was Henry VIII who first insisted on “Your Majesty” as the formal form of address to the king. Arundel isn't using it here as a formal title, of course, but it stands out as uncommon: most petitions so far have used “hautesse”, “seigneurie”, etc. Perhaps Arundel is laying on the flattery rather thick.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #4: J. G. to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Translation of a petition to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (1397, 1399-1414): J. G. complains that a woman promised in marriage to him is avoiding solemnising the contract, avoiding a court summons by moving back and forth between two dioceses.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XXXIX, p 40: J. G. to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury.

To the most holy father in God and my most gracious lord, the Archbishop of Canterbury, J. S. of K, a poor man, humbly entreats that, being contracted to one Maude T. living in Royston to be taken as her husband, and as, with the protection of the prior of R. and other persons acquainted with the said Maude, she has retreated and wishes never to complete the said contract as required by the law of the holy church and good conscience; and as part of the said town of Royston is in the diocese of London and part is in the diocese of Ely, so that when the said Maute is summoned to appear before the law in one diocese she flees into the other diocese, so it appears she will not ever appear before the law in any manner because of the protection aforementioned; out of this, may it please your most holy paternity and gracious lordship to grant the said supplicant a summons to make the said Maude appear before your very person, in order that you may heard openly the said contract and ordain of it due remedy, as the law and good conscience demand. In the name of God and charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 29-30.

... Well, good on you, Maude. He sounds like an obnoxious drag. And isn't it odd to think of a time when people moved around so little that the courts didn't have any standard procedure to deal with this sort of situation, and it was left to the plaintiff to go over their heads?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #3: J. S. Esquire to the King

Translation of a petition to the king - either Richard II or Henry IV. J. S. Esquire has been imprisoned for six weeks without charge and asks to be brought to trial.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XII, p 10: J. S. Esquire to the King.

Your poor subject J. S. Esquire humbly beseeches[1] that, being suddenly taken by J. Venour, one of the viscounts of London, and placed in custody in your local gaol and being kept there in prison[2], and succeeding in discovering nothing of the reason for his imprisonment save what the said viscount told the said supplicant, that he took him on the order of your gracious self, may it please your most excellent lordship in your most abundant mercy to consider that your said poor subject has been detained there for more than six weeks to the great detriment and ruin of his poor estate[3], and also that the said supplicant is so ill with diverse maladies that the pain will not let him live, and to send for your said supplicant to be brought before your royal person or otherwise before your most wise council to reply as justice and law demand. For God, etc.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 29-30.

[1] The usual elaborate opening forms (“Au tresnoble/treshonouré/tresgracious” etc) are omitted. This and certain other touches give the letter an unpolished quality that make me wonder whether it was written by the prisoner himself, rather than a professional scribe. Given the circumstances, he may not have had access to a clerk.

[2] He does repeat himself rather here: “mys en garde en vostre countré [prison] illoeques et la demoert en prisoun”.

[3] Or possibly condition, health; but he turns to his health next, and “arrerissement et anientiesement” sound to me more like formal terms to be applied to one’s living, business, lands, etc, than to one’s body.

Anglo-Norman petitions #2: Maud Curteys to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Translation of a petition to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (1397, 1399-1414): c. 1404, Maud Curteys asks for justice against a man imprisoned on her charge of murdering her son-in-law, saying that he is also indicted for treason against the king.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions XXVIII, p 29-30: Maud Curteys to Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury.

To my most honourable, most noble and most gracious lord and most reverend father in God, the Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, your poor and devout petitioner Maud Curteys entreats most humbly and piteously that, one John Moyle the elder being imprisoned at the suit of your said supplicant for the death of one R. A., son[1] of the same supplicant, killed by his felonious contrivance; and the said supplicant having heard that the friends of the said John Moyle have informed you that he is not guilty of the aforementioned death in order to secure your aid in his deliverance, when in truth, most gracious lord, he is of that wholly guilty and the principal cause and contrivor of the deed, as can well be proven, if the testimony of the most worthy people of the county of Cornwall - given chiefly for his indictment - may suffice; may it please[2] your most gracious lordship and most reverent paternity[3] to consider how the said J. M. is also indicted for treason against the person of our most redoubtable lord the King, and then to graciously allow that the common law be permitted to take its course on the said J. M. for the reason aforesaid, as an example to other such men and as a vindication of justice, without aiding him or praying for him... [4] that they may have pity and compassion for the horrible murder of the said R. A., and for the great sorrow this has caused the said supplicant. For God, and in the name of charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 29-30.

[1] Other references in the Calendar Patent Rolls to Maud and Thomas Curteys and John Moyle indicate that R. A. was their son-in-law, according to the editor's notes.

[2] "The vehemence of Maud's protestations seem to have carried her away a little: the logical progression of “supplie que (come... come... come...) plese a [vous] considerer”, into which this and most of the other petitions are organised, has been disrupted by a little maze of subordinate clauses in which she pleads her case. The return to “may it please” here is consequently a little disorienting, as its referent is 12 very involved lines overhead. I've tidied up a little in translating, to make the sense flow more clearly with semi-colons and participles, but perhaps it would have been more honest to Maud to have left the tangle as it was. She (or her clerk) is, of course, writing quite capably in a very formalised convention, which does support large numbers of subordinate clauses, but in this case I think her subject matter - understandably! - ran away with her.

[3] “paternitee”: fathership? fatherhood?

[4] A line seems to be omitted. “que plese a [vous]... suffrer que la comune ley puisse courger sur [J. M.] ... en ensample de tielx aultres et en sustenance de droiture sanz luy eider ou pour luy prier eiant pitee et compassion del horrible mourdre du dit R. A...” There is no punctuation between “prier” (to pray) and “eiant” (avoir, 3rd pl pres subj), and even if there were there is still no subject for “eiant”. Possibly Maud intended the “aultres” as the subject, added “et en sustenance de droiture” above the line as an afterthought and forgot to precede “eiant” with “que”, but it's a bit of a stretch. Given the absence of editorial punctuation, or a footnote noticing the problem, I'm going to assume it's either a) me missing something stupidly obvious or b) the editors accidentally omitting a few words, not the mediaeval scribe(s).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Anglo-Norman petitions #1: O. of C. to the king.

Translation of a petition to the king (Richard II or Henry IV): O. of C. complains that a widow whose marriage was promised to him has remarried without licence, and asks that, in compensation, he receive the fine she will have to pay.

Please note: I have no qualifications in Anglo-Norman, or in fact in any form of French. The following translation is intended as a fun exercise, not a rigorous scholarly undertaking, and accuracy and finesse are in no way guaranteed.

Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions V, p 3-4: O. de C. to the King.

To the most excellent and most redoubtable lord, our lord the King, your poor subjet O. of C. humbly supplicates that, as it has pleased your most gracious lordship to write to A., once the wife of J. and now a widow, asking that she would take your said supplicant to be her husband; and as despite this she has taken a husband at her own will without your licence; and as she therefore must[1] pay a fine to you, most gracious lord, may it please your highness, since he[2] may not have the woman, to grant to him the fine that she must pay to you on account of having married without licence. In the name of charity.

Original text from Anglo-Norman Letters and Petitions from All Souls MS. 182, ed. M. D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Texts 3 (Oxford: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1941). 3.

[1] “ele convient faire un fin ovec vous”: possibly “she has agreed to pay you a fine” instead, but lacking specific indication of her input - and because the rest of the petition implies that legal proceedings have not yet begun - I'm assuming that O. is referring to the usual fine imposed in such situations, rather than an agreement she has reached with authorities.
[2] Ie, your supplicant, me. The petitioners, so far as I've read, refer to themselves exclusively in the third person.