We are leaving our Anglo-Norman authors to investigate the literature dating back to the Hundred Years’ War.
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400), the “Father” of English literature, is our main figure and a transitional figure. He took to England the French Roman de la Rose, written by Guillaume de Lorris (c. 1230-1235) and Jean de Meun(g) (1275-1280) and he translated part of it as the Romaunt of the Rose. Pre-Raphaelite Frederick Startridge Ellis (1830–1901) translated the Roman de la Rose in its entirety.
Chaucer’s name is derived from the French le chausseur (the shoemaker), which suggests French ancestry. Moreover, Chaucer knew French. This would explain his ability to translate literary works written in French as well as his being assigned diplomatic missions that required a knowledge of French. For instance, as a courtier, he was asked to make an attempt to end the Hundred Years’ War. Chaucer was a man of many talents.
The Hundred Years’ War
In 1359, during the Hundred Years’ War, Chaucer travelled to France with Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence[.] In 1360, he was captured during the siege of Reims. Edward III paid £16 to ransom him, a large sum of money that did not cover in full the amount demanded by France. Ransoms helped finance wars, hence the idiomatic ‘king’s ransom.’
The Romaunt of the Rose & Courtly Love
In all likelihood, it would at that time that Chaucer took to England the above-mentioned Roman de la Rose, which epitomizes courtly love. The number of the 22,000-line Roman de la Rose Chaucer translated seems of lesser importance than the role he played in introducing the conventions of courtly love to an English public. Chaucer’s the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde reflect his familiarity with courtly love.
In 1340, when Charles, Duke of Orleans was released, after 25 years of captivity in England, he took to the court of France much of the legend of Valentine’s Day, which may or may not have included the myth about birds mating on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. In 1340, Chaucer had yet to write his 700-line Parlement of Foules (1343 – 1400) in which he speaks of birds mating of 14 February. Nor had Chaucer come into contact with Petrarch (20 July 1304 – 19 July 1374), and Boccaccio (1313 – 21 December 1375) authors whose works can be associated with Chaucer’s.
In all likelihood, the most important work our ransomed Chaucer took to England is the above-mentioned allegorical Roman de la Rose, which epitomizes courtly love. As noted, Chaucer translated at least part of the Roman de la Rose into The Romaunt of the Rose. However, the number of verses he translated seems less important than his introducing the conventions of courtly love to an English and probably courtly public. Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde reflect his familiarity with courtly love.
Reynard the Fox
Chaucer also used ‘Reynard material’ in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. He wrote a “Chanticleer and the Fox.” The Roman de la Rose and the Roman de Renart (Reynard the Fox) are the French Middle Ages’ foremost literary achievements.
The “Father” of English Literature
Yet, Chaucer was very much an English writer. He is considered the “Father” of English literature and is credited with validating the use of the English language, as a literary language, in a country where French and Latin were “the dominant literary languages.” (See Geoffrey Chaucer, Wikipedia.)
Shakespeare and other Authors
The Hundred Years’ War also exerted an influence on Shakespeare, the co-author of Edward III. Moreover, Thomas Hardy (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) evokes the presence of the French in England in his Tess of the d’Huberville (1891). However, characters inhabiting Hardy’s ‘fictional’ Wessex would be the descendants of Normans who settled in England when it was conquered by William, Duke of Normandy.
The Hundred Years’ War was not a continuous struggle, but it was a very long and complex conflict that ended the most vigorous attempt on the part of England to claim the French throne. Marriages had made French the language of the English court and the English had relatives in France as did the French in England.
But this is where we end this post.
With kindest regards to everyone. ♥
- Charles d’Orléans: a Prince & a Poet (17 February 2015)
- Valentine’s Day: Martyrs & Birds (14 February 2012)
- La Pléiade: Du Bellay (30 December 2011)
- The Petrarchan Movement (6 December 2011)
© Micheline Walker
24 January 2016