On the 12th February, the reading group met to discuss the stories of Brutus and Troy and Albina and her Sisters in a selection of texts from the Brut tradition.
Surviving in over approximately 240 manuscripts, and having been translated into Anglo-Norman, Latin, and Middle English, the prose Brut is one of the most prolific works of ‘English’ historiography ever produced. The reading group primarily focused on the Middle English version of the text (c. 1380), and supplemented this with selections from two versions in Anglo-Norman, namely the oldest version of the Brut (to 1272), and the Long version (to 1333).
The stories of Brutus and Albina included in these texts explain the origins of Britain and Albion. The Brutus story originates from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae (which he appropriated from Nennius’ Historia Brittonum); it recounts how Brutus – a descendant of Aeneas – was expelled from his homeland, and how he founded the island of Britain after killing off the indigenous giants. The Albina story, which was invented in the thirteenth century and attached to various versions of the prose Brut, acts as a preface to the Brutus story. This alternative origin story explains the ancestry of the giants, and they are revealed to be descended from a group of transgressive sisters who were banished to Albion for inciting rebellion against their father and their husbands.
The group discussed a range of topics, including: the presentation of Albina and the murder plot, as well as the foundation of Albion; the roles of Brutus, his foundation of Britain and New Troy, and the division of Britain between his three sons. The group also considered the origins and etymologies of the geographical locations provided in the text, alongside any discrepancies in the translation from Anglo-Norman to Middle English.
Overall, these two stories of legendary origins were well received by the group. The next meeting is scheduled for the 12th March, and the set reading is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess.
The Brut, or the Chronicles of England, ed. Friedrich W. D. Brie (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1906), I, 1-15
Marvin, Julia, ‘Albine and Isabelle: Regicidal Queens and the Historical Imagination of the Anglo-Norman Prose Brut Chronicles’, Arthurian Literature XVIII (2001): 143-91 (185-91)
The Oldest Anglo-Norman Prose Brut Chronicle: An Edition and Translation, ed. and trans. Julia Marvin (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2006)
Lister Matheson, The Prose Brut: The Development of a Middle English Chronicle (Arizona, USA: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1998)