The French of England

Thelma Fenster

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
The French of England

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology


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French of England studies is a field that recognizes the claim of medieval England’s French culture, as represented by nearly a thousand extant texts, to assume its place in any comprehensive history of Britain, its literature, and its culture. To that end, it takes a multidisciplinary approach to medieval England’s four-hundred-year practice of Francophony, bypassing, in so far as possible, modern one-nation, one-language understandings of medieval cultures. It accepts as a given the multilingual fluidity (English, French, and Latin, primarily) that marked the insular experience of many, and the prevalence of strong Anglo-French relations, at times less intercultural than intracultural. Historically, French was the mother tongue of royalty from the time of the Conquest (although earlier close ties between Anglo-Saxon royalty and Norman nobles meant that French was used in England before the Conquest) until the end of the 13th century. It became fashionable among the aristocracy, was learned by elite landholders, court administrators, and bureaucrats, and was used in several professions. The great surge in French vernacular literary production of the 12th and 13th centuries (historiography, romance, devotional and doctrinal literature, and saints’ lives) can be traced more often to England than to France. Especially in the 12th and 13th centuries, French was also a medium for literary patronage and composition by women. Studies in the French of England incorporate areas covered by the still useful labels “Anglo-Norman” and “Anglo-French,” with the caveat that the latter terms construct artificial boundaries inside what was a historical continuum. In literary studies, moreover, they have sometimes determined the shape of scholarship by suggesting that investigation can be restricted to work in Anglo-Norman or Anglo-French alone, and they have inadvertently encouraged the view that French in England was a defective offshoot of Continental French. Among historians, the term “Anglo-Norman” has frequently signaled a limited period of time, that of Angevin rule (1066–1216), generally studied through Latin documents. Yet there is ample evidence that French, in various forms, remained alive in England at least into the 15th century. By looking at the subject more widely—that is, by including French writing of many types, whether composed, copied, or circulated in England in dialects of insular or Continental French—French of England studies can embrace the larger and more transformative phenomenon. It looks at the history of French in England as (variously and often simultaneously) aristocracy’s cachet, a language of medicine, law, record, and administration, a medium of commerce and trade, and perhaps a marine lingua franca. Not least, French of England studies recognizes a level of mostly lexical but also syntactic intimacy between insular French and English—the matrix for “English” writers such as Chaucer, Gower, and Langland. This bibliography has been prepared in consultation with Professor Jocelyn Wogan-Browne.

Article.  20827 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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