The Legend of Charlemagne in Medieval England

The Legend of Charlemagne in Medieval England

The Matter of France in Middle English and Anglo-Norman Literature

Phillipa Hardman, Marianne Ailes





First in-depth examination of the medieval Charlemagne tradition in England.
The Matter of France, the legendary history of Charlemagne, had a central but now largely unrecognised place in the multilingual culture of medieval England. From the early claim in the Chanson de Roland that Charlemagne held England as his personal domain, to the later proliferation of Middle English romances of Charlemagne, the materials are woven into the insular political and cultural imagination. However, unlike the wide range of continental French romances, the insular tradition concentrates on stories of a few heroic characters: Roland, Fierebras, Otinel. Why did writers and audiences in England turn again and again to these narratives, rewirting and reinterpreting them for more than two hundred years?
This book is the first full-length study of the tradition. It investigates the currency and impact of the Matter of France with equal attention to English and French-language texts, setting each individual manuscript or early printed text in its contemporary cultural and political context. The narratives are revealed to be extraordinarily adaptable, using the iconic opposition between Carolingian and Saracen heroes to reflect concerns with national politics, religious identity, the future of Christendom, chivalry and ethics, and monarchy and treason.

Phillipa Hardman is Reader in Medieval English Literature (retired) at the University of Reading; Marianne Ailes is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Bristol.


August 2017
5 black and white illustrations
489 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures
ISBN: 9781843844723
Format: Hardback
BISAC LIT011000, LIT004130
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Charlemagne in England: Owning the Legend
Acculturating Charlemagne: The Insular Literary Context
Charlemagne 'Translated' [i]: The Anglo-Norman Tradition
Charlemagne 'Appropriated' [ii]: The Middle English Tradition
Re-Imagining the Hero: The Insular Roland and the Battle of Roncevaux
Re-Presenting Otherness: The Insular Fierabras Tradition
Re-Purposing the Narrative: The Insular Otinel Tradition
Conclusion: The Insular Afterlife of the Matter of France
Appendix: The Corpus: Texts and Manuscripts

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