Anglo-Norman literature

Anglo-Norman literature

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

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

The Anglo-Normans were mainly the descendants of the Normans who ruled England following the conquest by William of Normandy in 1066, although a few Normans were already in England before the conquest. Following the Battle of Hastings, the invading Normans and their descendants formed a distinct population in England. They later spoke what became the Anglo-Norman language.

The Norman Conquest of England

The Norman Conquest of England, being a conquest by a people whose tongue and institutions were different from those of the English in many respects, was an event of an altogether different character from the Danish conquest, a conquest by a people whose tongue and institutions were more akin to those of the English. The Norman settlers felt no community with the earlier Danish settlers. In fact, the Normans met with the steadiest resistance in a part of England which was the most influenced by the Danish. Ousting the Danish leaders who recently conquered parts of England and provided some of the stiffest resistance to the Normans, and largely replacing the powerful English territorial magnates, while co-opting the most powerful of them, the Normans imposed a new political structure that is broadly termed "feudal". (Historians debate whether pre-Norman England should be considered a feudal government - indeed, the entire characterization of Feudalism is under some dispute.)

Many of the Anglo-Saxon nobles lost lands and titles; the lesser thegns and others found themselves lower down the social order than previously. A number of free geburs had their rights and court access much decreased, becoming unfree villeins. At the same time many of the new Anglo-Norman magnates were distributed lands by the King that had been taken from the old Anglo-Saxon nobles. Some of these Norman magnates used their original French-derived names, with the prefix 'de,' meaning they were lords of the old fiefs in France, and some instead dropped their French names and took their names from new English holdings.

But the penultimate result of the Norman conquest of England was bringing the British Isles into the orbit of the European continent, especially what remained of Roman-influenced language and culture. If the earlier England of Anglo-Saxons and Norse was tied to indigenous traditions, the England emerging from the Conquest owed a debt to the Romance languages and the culture of ancient Rome, which though long gone, transmitted itself in the DNA of the emerging feudal world that took its place. That heritage can be discerned in language, incorporating shards of the Roman past, in architecture, in the emerging Romanesque (read Norman) architecture, and in a new feudal structure erected as a bulwark against the chaos that overtook the Continent following the collapse of Roman authority and the subsequent Dark Ages. The England that emerged from the Conquest was a decidedly different place, but one that had been opened up to the sweep of outside influences.

Military impact

The Norman conquest of England also signalled a revolution in military styles and methods. The old Anglo-Saxon military elite began to emigrate, especially the generation next younger to that defeated at Hastings, who had no particular future in a country controlled by the conquerors. William (and his son, William Rufus), encouraged them to leave, as a security measure. The first to leave went mostly to Denmark and many of these moved on to join the Varangian Guard in Constantinople. But the Anglo-Saxons as a whole were not demilitarized; this would have been impractical. Instead, William arranged for the Saxon infantry to be trained up by Norman cavalry in anti-cavalry tactics. This led quickly to the establishment of an Anglo-Norman army made up of Norman horsemen of noble blood, Saxon infantrymen often of equally noble blood, assimilated English freemen as rank-and-file, and foreign mercenaries and adventurers from other parts of the Continent. The younger Norman aristocracy showed a tendency towards Anglicisation, adopting such Saxon styles as long hair and moustaches, upsetting the older generation. (Note that the Anglo-Saxon cniht did not take the sense of the French chevalier before the latest period of Middle English. John Wycliffe (1380s) uses the term knyytis generically for men-at-arms, and only in the 15th century did the word acquire the overtones of a noble cavalryman corresponding to the meaning of chevalier.) The Anglo-Norman conquest in the twelfth century brought Norman customs and culture to Ireland. The Carol was a popular Norman dance in which the leader sang and was surrounded by a circle of dancers who replied with the same song. This Norman dance was performed in conquered Irish towns.

Norman-Saxon conflict

The degree of subsequent Norman-Saxon conflict (as a matter of conflicting social identities) is a question disputed by historians. The nineteenth century view of intense mutual resentment, reflected in the popular legends of Robin Hood and the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, may have been considerably exaggerated (see Whig history). Some residual ill-feeling is suggested by contemporary historian Orderic Vitalis, who in Ecclesiastical Historii (1125) wrote in praise of native English resistance to "William the Bastard". In addition, a fine called the "murdrum," originally introduced to English law by the Danes under Canute, was revived, imposing on villages a high (46 mark/~£31) fine for the secret killing of a Norman (or an unknown person who was, under the murdrum laws, presumed to be Norman unless proven otherwise).

Whatever the level of dispute, over time, the two populations largely intermarried and merged, combining languages and traditions. Normans began to identify themselves as Anglo-Norman. Eventually, even this distinction largely disappeared in the course of the Hundred Years War, and by the 15th century the Anglo-Normans had merged with the Anglo-Saxons to form the English.

Channel Islands

The Channel Islands reflect the last vestiges of Anglo-Norman culture. The Norman language predominated in the Islands until the 19th century, when increasing influence from English-speaking settlers and easier transport links led to anglicisation.

Wales

Main article: Cambro-Norman

Anglo-Normans also led excursions into Wales from England and built multiple fortifications as it was one of William's ambitions to subdue the Welsh, however he was not entirely successful. Afterwards, however, the border area known as the Marches was set up and English influence increased steadily. Encouraged by the invasion, monks (usually from France or Normandy) such as the Cistercian Order also set up monasteries throughout Wales. By the 1400s a large number of Welsh gentry, including Owain Glyndŵr, had Norman ancestry. The majority of knights which invaded Ireland were also from or based in Wales (see below).

Ireland

Main article: Hiberno-Norman

Anglo-Norman barons also settled in Ireland from the 12th century, initially to support Irish regional kings such as Diarmuid MacMorrough whose name has arrived in modern English as Dermot MacMurrough. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, known as "Strongbow", was the leader of the Anglo-Norman Knights whom MacMurrough had requested of Henry II of England to help him to re-establish himself as King of Leinster. Strongbow died a very short time after invading Ireland but the men he brought with him remained to support Henry II of England and his son John as Lord of Ireland. Chief among the early Anglo-Norman settlers was Theobald Walter (surname Butler) appointed hereditary chief Butler of Ireland in 1177 by King Henry II and founder of one of the oldest remaining British dignities. Most of these Normans came from Wales, not England, and thus the epithet 'Cambro-Normans' is used to describe them by leading late medievalists such as Seán Duffy.

They increasingly integrated with the local Celtic nobility through intermarriage and became more Irish than the Irish themselves, especially outside the Pale around Dublin. They are known as Old English, but this term only came into use to describe them in 1580, i.e., over four centuries after the first Normans arrived in Ireland.

Anglo-Norman families

References

Further reading

  • Crouch, David. The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. Hambledon & London, 2002.
  • Loyd, Lewis C. The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman Families. (Harleian Society Publications, vol. 103) The Society, 1951 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980).
  • Regesta Regum Anglo Normannorum, 1066-1154. (Henry William Davis & Robert J. Shotwell, eds) 4v. Clarendon Press, 1913 (AMS Press, 1987).
  • Douglas, David C., The Normans, Folio Society, London, 2002.

External links

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