The Legend of Charlemagne in Medieval England

August 2017
5 black and white illustrations
489 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures
BISAC LIT011000, LIT004130

The Legend of Charlemagne in Medieval England

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

Phillipa Hardman, Marianne Ailes

The first full-length examination of the medieval Charlemagne tradition in the literature and culture of medieval England, from the Chanson de Roland to Caxton.
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, Fierabras, Otinel. Why did writers and audiences in England turn again and again to these narratives, rewriting and reinterpreting them for more than two hundred years?
This book offers the first full-length, in-depth study of the tradition as manifested in literature and culture. 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.

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


Carefully researched, ambitious in scope, and lucidly written, [the book] conclusively debunks long-held perceptions of the insular Charlemagne narratives as inferior `hack-work' and will become an indispensable resource for anyone working within this tradition. REVIEW OF ENGLISH STUDIES

Hardman and Ailes have made an important contribution to this initiative by giving scholars a much-needed survey and study of insular Charlemagne literature. SPECULUM

this book offers many new insights into the political and cultural uses of translation and adaptation, as well as a fresh perspective on the development of Middle English literature through dialogue with literature in French. FRENCH STUDIES

[A] rich and deeply researched study that is carefully organized and refreshingly readable, especially given the depth and detail that it provides. H-FRANCE REVIEW

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