Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (20th February)

Portrait of Gottfried von Strassburg from the Codex Manesse (f. 364r)

Next Meeting: 20th February 2019 / Room 2.46 / 3-5pm

Very little is known about Gottfried’s life. He died in 1210 before finishing Tristan. Along with Hartman von Aue, who translated two of the romances of Chretien de Troyes into German, and Wolfram von Eschenbach, who is best known for the Parzival, Gottfried is one of the great writers of German Arthurian romance. W. T. H Jackson writes that

[o]f all the German courtly poets, he [Gottfried] gives immeasurably the greatest evidence of formal learning – his knowledge of the classics, his skill in the formal style which some rather unwisely persist in calling rhetoric, his acquaintance with French literary, and his grasp of mystical theology and its terminology – all these stamp him as formally trained, as a magister or dominus.[1]

Later writers and Gottfried’s continuators referred to him as meister (master) – rather than hêr (sir) – which designates educational or social status. Gottfried’s occupation is uncertain: he was probably a member of the urban patriciate of Strassburg, but he could have also been a local urban or episcopal secretariat.

 

Overview

Gottfried’s Tristan ‘is the most ambitious and sophisticated treatment of the story in German’.[2] The story begins with the romance of Tristan’s parents, Rivalin and Blancheflor (King Mark’s sister). Gottfried also dedicates a large portion of the text to Tristan’s youth, including his education by his tutor Governal, his arrival at King Mark’s court, and his adventures in Ireland. The main narrative focuses on the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde.

Like many Tristan texts, Gottfried’s version is incomplete. The poem (19,416 lines) breaks off as Tristan is contemplating marriage to Isolde of the White Hands. The remainder of the plot, including Tristan’s marriage, his return to Isolde, and the deaths of Tristan and Isolde, can be reconstructed from Gottfried’s Anglo-Norman source, the Tristan of Thomas (1170-5). Two later poets, Ulrich von Türheim (1235) and Heinrich von Freiburg (1290), continued Gottfried’s narrative in Tristan; however, they used Eilhart von Oberge (1175) as their main source rather than the Tristan of Thomas.

Gottfried’s Tristan is extant in fourteen complete manuscripts (including three now lost), as well as twenty-one fragments from seventeen manuscripts. The manuscripts were produced between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, primarily in the Upper Rhineland and Central Germany.

 

Selected Extracts

In addition to the prologue, we are reading a selection of chapters from the Penguin edition of Tristan translated by A. T. Hatto.

Chapters 15 and 16

In ‘Chapter 15’, Tristan and Isolde mistakenly drink the love-potion (or liebestrank) that Queen Isolde – Isolde’s mother – intended for King Mark and Isolde. Gottfried was the first writer to make Tristan offer the cup to Isolde before he drank it. ‘Chapter 16’ describes the anguish and pain of the lovers before they succumb to their desires; it also includes one of Gottfried’s commentaries or discourses.

Chapter 22

In this chapter, Melot and King Mark hide in an olive tree to discover Tristan and Isolde’s adultery; however, Tristan recognises their shadows and alerts Isolde. The lovers deceive Melot and Mark and disprove the rumours of their relationship. In the following chapter (not included), Melot and Marjodoc trick Tristan and provide evidence of adultery. Isolde is subsequently tried by the Bishop of the Thames and at the final judgement she convinces the court of her innocence.

Chapters 25 to 28

These four chapters describe the banishment of Tristan and Isolde from King Mark’s court, their refuge in the Cave of Lovers, their discovery by King Mark’s huntsman, and the return of Tristan and Isolde and their final parting. In the final chapter (not included), Tristan flees to Brittany and the text breaks off as he is considering marriage to Isolde of the White Hands.
Questions for discussion

  • How does Gottfried’s Tristan compare to other versions of the legend? (Béroul, for example). Why does Gottfried choose to follow the Tristan of Thomas?
  • How does Gottfried address his audience in the prologue?
  • Denis de Rougement proposes that the Tristan story ‘set passion in a framework within which it could be expressed in symbolical satisfactions’.[3] How are love and desire described and articulated in Gottfried’s Tristan?
  • What is the function of the love-potion – or liebestrank – in Gottfried’s Tristan?
  • Is Mark a jealous husband or a pathetic figure?
  • How do the discourses on love (pp. 202-4) and surveillance (pp. 275-9) comment on the narrative of the text?
  • What is the significance of sight and vision in the text?
  • Gottfried appropriates represents various discourses from religious allegory, hagiography, mysticism, Ovidian love-discourse, classical historiography, medieval Platonism, Christian salvation history, and Arthurian romance (among others). How do these discourses function in dialogue with each other?
  • William D. Cole describes the Cave of the Lovers as a ‘bizarre, multivalent, and ultimately undefinable symbol’.[4] Is it possible to interpret the meaning of the Cave? What could it signify?

 

References

[1] W. T. H. Jackson, ‘Tristan the Artist in Gottfried’s Poem’, in Tristan and Isolde, ed. by Joan Tasker Grimbert (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 125-146 (p. 125).

[2] Mark Chinca, ‘Tristan Narratives from the High to the Late Middle Ages’, in The Arthur of the Germans: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval German and Dutch Literature, ed. by W. H. Jackson and S. A. Ranawake (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011), pp. 117-134 (p. 120).

[3] Denis de Rougement, Love in the Western World, trans. by Montgomery Belgion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 22-3.

[4] William D. Cole, ‘Purgatory vs. Eden: Beroul’s Forest and Gottfried’s Cave’, The Germanic Review, 70.1 (1995), 2-8 (p. 2).

King Arthur and Glastonbury (18th April)

Next Meeting: 18th April 2018 / Room 3.62 / 3-5pm

Glastonbury is a village situated in a secluded spot in the marshes, though it can be reached both on horseback and on foot. It affords pleasure neither by its situation nor by its beauty.[1]

Located in Somerset, Glastonbury Abbey is a site of popular myth and legend. In the Middle Ages, the Abbey claimed to have been founded by Joseph of Arimathea, and it is also the legendary burial site of King Arthur.

Hagiography and Historiography

In the 1129, the monks at Glastonbury commissioned William of Malmesbury to write the official history of the Abbey, as well as the life of Saint Dunstan, who was the first abbot of Glastonbury (and later became the Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London, and Archbishop of Canterbury).

William’s original version of De antiquitate Glastoniensis ecclesie has not survived. The text is extant in two thirteenth-century manuscripts. Both manuscripts include several interpolations relating to the legend of Joseph of Arimathea, the relics of Saint Patrick and Saint Dunstan, and the exhumation of the bodies of Arthur and Guinevere. These interpolations were introduced into the text between 1171 and 1247.

In the 1130s, the Welsh cleric Caradoc of Llancarfan, who was a contemporary of Geoffrey of Monmouth, composed the Vitae Gildae for the Glastonbury monks. Caradoc claims that the sixth-century British monk ‘Gildas Sapiens’ – or ‘Gildas the Wise’ – wrote De excidio et conquestu Britanniae while at Glastonbury. Caradoc was also the first writer to associate King Arthur with Glastonbury, and the Vitae Gildae includes the earliest version of the story of the abduction of Guinevere.

The Exhumation of King Arthur

By the late twelfth century, Glastonbury Abbey ‘was in a state of financial and ecclesiastical crisis’.[2] In 1184, a great fire at Glastonbury destroyed the monastic buildings. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and the Lady Chapel was consecrated in 1186 or 1187; however, work on the abbey was postponed by the death of Henry II (1189), which ended financial support and royal patronage.

In order to raise funds, the monks of the abbey commenced a series of propaganda exercises, and used holy relics and the bodies of saints to promote Glastonbury as place of pilgrimage. The bodies of Arthur and Guinevere were discovered in the cemetery at Glastonbury in 1190 or 1191. In both of his accounts of the exhumation, Gerald of Wales recalls how a Welsh bard had told Henry II about the location of Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies. Gerald was the first to explicitly identify Avalon – the resting place of Arthur – with Glastonbury.

Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies were re-exhumed in 1278. At Easter, Edward I visited the Glastonbury with his wife, Eleanor of Castile, and on the 19th April he instructed the bodies to be moved to the high altar. The exhumation asserted that Edward I ‘was a legitimate successor to the Arthurian imperium’.[3] Following the conquest of Wales in 1282, Edward took possession of Arthur’s crown in 1283, and held a Round Table at Winchester in 1284. His grandson, Edward III, also visited Arthur’s tomb with his wife, Philippa of Hainault, in 1331. 

The Legend of Joseph of Arimathea

The legend of Joseph of Arimathea was popularised in thirteenth-century French Arthurian romance. In the first part of his trilogy of Arthurian romances, Robert de Boron describes how Joseph of Arimathea used the Holy Grail to catch the last drops of blood from Christ as he hung on the cross. Robert also claims that the descendants of Joseph brought the Grail to Britain.

In the mid-thirteenth century, the story of Joseph of Arimathea was interpolated into William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastoniensis ecclesie. These revisions asserted that Joseph was the original founder of Glastonbury, which subsequently bolstered the reputation of the abbey. John of Glastonbury also expanded the story of Joseph in his Cronica sive antiquitates Glastoniensis ecclesie, using the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus – also known as The Acts of Pilate – and the first part of the Lancelot-Grail cycle, L’estoire du Graal, as his main sources for the apostle’s life.

The legend of Joseph of Arimathea also survived into the later middle ages. In the fifteenth century, John Hardyng included the story of Joseph of Arimathea in the two versions of his Chronicle (1457 and 1464). As Edward Donald Kennedy points out, ‘[t]he account of Joseph afforded Hardyng an ideal story to use to counter Scotland’s claims to preeminence as a Christian nation’.[4] Hardyng’s Chronicle also contains a grail quest – which is unprecedented in the chronicle tradition – and Galahad’s achievement of the Grail occurs before Arthur’s war against Rome and the final battle between Arthur and Modred.

Texts

Gerald of Wales

Gerald wrote two accounts of the exhumation of King Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury. The first account is contained in De principis instructione (c. 1193), while the second – and more detailed – account is included in Speculum ecclesiae (c. 1216). Gerald claims that he was an eyewitness of the exhumation, but Richard Barber has challenged his claim to authority.

Ralph of Coggeshall

Ralph was abbot of Coggeshall, near Colchester in Essex. He wrote his Chronicon Anglicanum in around 1223, and the entry for 1191 includes an account of the exhumation of Arthur and Guinevere.

Adam of Damerham

Adam was a monk of Glastonbury Abbey in the thirteenth century. He wrote a history of the abbey entitled Historia de Rebus gestis Glastoniensibus, which is a continuation of William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastoniensis ecclesie from 1126 to 1291. Adam was also an eyewitness of Edward I’s visit to Glastonbury in 1278 when the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere was opened and their bones were moved to the high altar.

(NB: Adam’s account of the second exhumation in 1278 is taken from John of Glastonbury’s Cronica)

Vera historia de morte Arthuri (c. 1200)

Written around 1200, the Vera historia de morte Arthuri is extant in four manuscripts. Two manuscripts – London, British Library, Cotton Titus A. xix and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 186 – include materials relevant to Glastonbury, such as excerpts from the works of William of Malmesbury and John of Glastonbury. In Paris Biblioteque de l’Arsenal, 983, the Vera historia is interpolated between chapters 178 and 179 of the First Variant version of the Historia regum Britanniae. Richard Barber and Michael Lapidge have suggested that the Vera historia was originally composed in Wales.

John of Glastonbury, Cronica sive antiquitates Glastoniensis ecclesie (1350s)

The Cronia survives as a complete text in seven manuscripts. The main sources for John’s Cronica are William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastoniensis ecclesie and Adam of Damerham’s Historia de Rebus gestis Glastoniensibus. John’s Cronia is ‘highly derivative’,[5] and he uses a selection of chronicles, hagiography, and romance to construct a history of Glastonbury Abbey.

Questions for discussion

  • What are the motivations for the exhumation in the accounts by Gerald of Wales, Ralph of Coggeshall, and Adam of Damerham?
  • What is the significance of royal and ecclesiastical authority in the different accounts of the exhumation of Arthur and Guinevere?
  • How does Arthur’s tomb function as a site of public memory?
  • Philip Schwyzer classifies the exhumation of Arthur as a sub-genre of the inventio topos that participates in an act of ‘colonial archaeology’.[6] How are the materials and artefacts of British history appropriated in these texts?
  • Catherine Clarke argues that local landscapes are ‘central to the fashioning of monastic identity and its connection to images of the nation’.[7] How is the landscape of Glastonbury represented in these texts?
  • Why does Gerald of Wales undermine of the myth of Arthur’s return?
  • How do the texts – particularly the Vera historia and John of Glastonbury’s Cronica – engage with models of Arthurian history in chronicle and romance?
  • How do Gerald of Wales and John of Glastonbury align the story of Arthur’s death by Geoffrey of Monmouth with Glastonbury?
  • Can the relocation of Arthur’s resting place to Gwynedd in the Vera historia be read as a response to the growth of Glastonbury legends in the 1190s?

Useful links

Glastonbury Abbey

Digital reconstruction of Arthur’s tomb

Glastonbury in the news

Recent excavations at Glastonbury

[1] William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum: Volume One: Text and Translation, ed. and trans. by M. Winterbottom with the assistance of R. M. Thomson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 2.91.1.

[2] Valerie M. Lagorio, ‘The Evolving Legend of St Joseph of Glastonbury’, Speculum, 46 (1971), 209-31 (p. 210).

[3] John Carmi Parsons, ‘The Second Exhumation of King Arthur’s Remains at Glastonbury, 19 April 1278’, Arthurian Literature, 12 (1993), 173-77 (p. 176).

[4] Edward Donald Kennedy, ‘John Hardyng and the Holy Grail’, Arthurian Literature, 8 (1989), 185-206 (p. 197).

[5] James P. Carley, ‘Introduction’, in The Chronicle of Glastonbury Abbey: An Edition, Translation and Study of John of Glastonbury’s Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1985), pp. xi-lxii (p. xi).

[6] Philip Scwhzyer, Archaeologies of English Renaissance Literature (Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 55.

[7] Catherine A. M. Clarke, Literary Landscapes and the Idea of England, 700-1400 (Cambridge: Brewer, 2006), p. 68.

Queens and Queenship in Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy (9th August)

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The Darnley Portrait (c. 1575)

Next meeting: 9th August / Room 2.46 / 3-5pm

In 1592, the pamphleteer, poet and playwright Thomas Nashe wrote that the Elizabethan plays which drew their subject matter from English Chronicles should be celebrated because, through them:

our fore-fathers valiant actes (that have lyne long buried in rustie brasse and worme-eaten bookes) are revived, and they them selves raysed from the Grave of Oblivion, and brought to pleade their aged Honours in open presence: which, what can bee a sharper reproofe, to these degenerate effeminate dayes of oures?[1]

Nashe was referring to those plays which we now call the ‘English history plays’, which enjoyed enormous popularity in the 1590s. Whether a result of nationalistic pride, anxieties about the country’s future, or otherwise, the last decade of Elizabeth I’s reign, in particular, saw a proliferation of plays produced which dramatised events of the country’s ‘glorious’ and often bloody past. These plays were well-attended, making these iterations of history accessible to a vast number of theatre-goers. Nashe articulates a notion that dramatising English history was laudable not only for its celebratory patriotism and memorialisation of the past, but also because such plays could have a particular utility: to help to recall and revitalise traditional chivalric values, and to revive a ‘valiant’ national history for the public eye and imagination.

An additional merit of such dramatic renderings of history, Nashe suggests, derives from the fact that they could provide ‘sharp reproof’ of the more indulgent, less masculine Elizabethan days of the early 1590s. In this view, the valour demonstrated in history plays was made all the more vivid by their contrast to the supposedly ‘effeminate’ contemporary moment of their dramatic construction and production. Carol Banks titles an article after Nashe’s words, and provides some discussion of the broader, sixteenth-century connotations of the term ‘effeminate’.[2] According to Banks, Nashe uses the word ‘effeminate’ to mean not only ‘womanish’ – or, perhaps, ‘unmanly’ – but employs its wider definition as ‘a virtual antonym to military valour and honour’. Indeed, there are numerous moments of nostalgia for this apparently dead or dying chivalric code throughout the first tetralogy (perhaps most notably, but not exclusively, through the person of Talbot in 1 Henry VI).

At almost the same moment that Nashe was writing these words, William Shakespeare (possibly with collaborators, and perhaps even with Nashe himself) was writing some of his earliest plays and contributing to the increasingly popular history play genre. In 1591 to 1592, Shakespeare wrote his ‘first tetralogy’ of history plays. He probably began with The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster (more commonly known as The Second Part of Henry VI, or simply 2 Henry VI), then Richard Duke of York (The Third Part of Henry VI, or 3 Henry VI), before returning to First Part of Henry VI (or 1 Henry VI). Though usually performed in isolation, The Tragedy of King Richard III (more commonly just Richard III) follows on from events of the Henry VI plays to complete the tetralogy; this play was also likely to have been written last of the four.[3] The first tetralogy dramatises a telescopic version of the ‘Wars of the Roses’, the period of civil unrest that followed the death of the great English martial king, Henry V. Shakespeare begins with the coronation of Henry VI, depicts the ongoing battles against the French, shows the emergence of a Yorkist line of claimants to the throne and the battles that result from these factionalist divisions, dramatises Richard III’s machinations against his own family, and ultimately concludes with his defeat and the ‘healing’ of ‘civil wounds’ with the union of the Houses of Lancaster and York that is symbolised by the marriage of Henry Tudor (the new King Henry VII) and Elizabeth of York.

Many of Shakespeare’s formative years as a dramatist, then, were spent writing these ‘intensely nationalistic’ (English) history plays.[4] By depicting the rise and eventual victory of the first Tudor king at the beginning of his career, Shakespeare’s earliest plays seem, ultimately, to contribute to the genre’s politically expedient, propagandist aims to contribute to the so-called ‘Tudor myth’ and ‘support the right of the Tudors to the throne’.[5] However, the first tetralogy does not simply serve to straightforwardly glorify the Tudors, aggrandise the past, or offer simple ‘reproof’ to an ‘effeminate’ present in a manner Nashe seems to deem commendable. Rather, these plays explore a number of complex issues that Shakespeare would continue to address throughout his career, for example: what is the nature of divine providence and what happens when it is meddled with? What makes a ruler (a king?) effectual or ineffectual, just or unjust? What role do (and should) women play in political and social action?

Indeed, though the first tetralogy’s primary focus is, as suggested by the plays’ usual titles, on the martial conflicts and political machinations of the kings and key male players of the Wars of the Roses, significant space and importance is also afforded to women: the wives of influential nobleman and the kings’ queen consorts. These figures occupy different and intriguing spaces in a group of plays which dramatise, primarily, a masculine, masculinised conflict. History playwrights ‘remained [largely] committed to a notion of historical truth and are bound by the received record concerning the major events of the past’,[6] ‘records’ referring to (chronicle) accounts by the likes of Thomas More (c. 1519), Edward Hall (1548), and Raphael Holinshed (1577 and 1587) among others. Nonetheless, embellishment of the historical ‘fact’ and/or emphasis on moments the playwright deemed important or interesting was common practice. When Shakespeare writes compelling female characters and addresses the matter of queenship and female rule in the first tetralogy (and in his history plays more generally), therefore, it is difficult to divorce such depictions from the knowledge that they were rendered in a moment of longstanding, independent female sovereignty, of a true Queen Regnant whose (even recent, direct) ancestors were depicted in these plays and their sources.

At the beginning of the 1590s, when Shakespeare was writing his earliest (history) plays, England had been under the rule of a female sovereign for around four decades. Though this was a lifetime for many and, indeed, a lifetime for Shakespeare himself (born in 1564, eleven years after Mary Tudor’s coronation and half a decade into what would become Elizabeth Tudor’s forty-five years on the throne), the question of female rule was no less contentious. When John Knox wrote that ‘to promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature’ in his 1558 pamphlet The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women, he was contributing to a familiar, longstanding discourse about the (in)appropriateness of female power and authority. By dramatising the actions and voices of the women who sat on the throne of England before the Tudor queens so thoroughly, Shakespeare’s first tetralogy appears to contribute to these (continued) questions about the rights and roles of women, and encourages audiences to interrogate the actions and individuals traditionally valued in our historical accounts.

Questions for discussion

  1. Are there any significant or particularly interesting departures from, or ‘faithful’ similarities to, Hall’s Chronicle in the Shakespeare extracts?
  2. How relevant are Chronicle texts and other sources to the writing of (these) history plays? Is there a sense that Shakespeare is not just striving to represent history, but also to re-present history? If so, why?
  3. Is it appropriate to consider the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III as a cogent ‘tetralogy’? Do the portrayals of Margaret and Elizabeth vary between these plays or even between these scenes?
  4. Can we identify an aesthetic of queenship in these texts? Or, what makes a queen a queen?
  5. Are queens represented positively, negatively, or otherwise in these extracts? Does our reading change/depend on the plays’ late Elizabethan context?
  6. A lot of these scenes focus on (women’s) speech and language as a means of accessing power. Why do you think this is? Is it effective?
  7. How is marriage presented in these texts? What about love and lust?
  8. How do Margaret and Elizabeth respond to the men who proposition, befriend or antagonise them? How do these men respond to them? How are their bodies used (by themselves, or by others)?
  9. The queen’s primary responsibility was often considered to be to produce a legitimate (and preferably male) heir to the throne. How do these scenes represent the queen (as) mother or queen regents?
  10. And finally, what’s up with John Knox?

 


[1] Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Divell (1592).

[2] Carol Banks, ‘Warlike women: ‘reproofe to these degenerate effeminate dayes’?’, in Shakespeare’s histories and counter-histories, ed. by Dermot Cavanagh, Stuart Hampton-Reeves and Stephen Longstaffe (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2006), pp. 169-181 (p. 170).

[3] Jean E. Howard’s ‘Introduction to The First Part of Henry the Sixth’ gives a good, concise overview of the first tetralogy’s compositional dates. The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd edn, ed. by Stephen Greenblatt et al (New York: Norton, 2008), pp. 465-474.

[4] Irving Ribner, The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare (London and New York: Routledge, 1965), p. 2.

[5] Ribner, The English History Play, p. 2.

[6] Jesse M. Lander, ‘William Shakespeare: The History Plays’, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Volume 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 489-494 (p. 490).

East meets West: Medieval European Travellers and the Great Khans of Mongolia (8th March 2017)

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Marco, Niccolò, and Maffeo Polo presenting the Papal Letters to Kublai Khan, MS Bodl. 264, Part III, f. 220 r.

Next meeting: 8th March 2017 / Room 2.04 / 3-5pm

Genghis Khan and The Mongol Empire

Genghis Khan (b. 1162, d. 1227), born Temüjin, was the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which was the largest contiguous land empire in history. Originating in the steppes of Central Asia, the Mongol Empire eventually stretched from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan, extending northwards into Siberia, eastwards and southwards into the Indian subcontinent, Indochina, and the Iranian plateau, and westwards as far as the Levant and Arabia.

Temüjin rose to power in the late twelfth century. When his wife, Börte, was kidnapped by the Merkit tribe, Temüjin united the rival Mongol tribes under his rule through political manipulation and military might. With the help of Toghrul, Khan of the Keraites, and his childhood friend, Jamukha, Temüjin defeated the Merkit tribe, secured the return of his wife, and went on the defeat the Naimans and Tatars.

Temüjin was elected khan of the Mongols in 1186. In the following year, however, Jamukha attacked Temüjin defeated him at the Battle of Dalan Balzhut. Temujin and his patron Toghrul were subsequently exiled. In 1197, the Jin dynasty initiated an attack against the Tatars, with help from the the Keraites and the Mongols. Temujin commanded part of the attack, and after his victory the Jin restored him to power. In 1201, Jamukha was elected Gür Khan, which caused Temüjin to declare war on him.  After several battles, Jamukha was turned over by his own men, and Temüjin was victorious.

By 1206, Temüjin had managed to unite or subdue the Merkits, Naimans, Mongols, Keraites, Tatars, Uyghurs, and other disparate smaller tribes under his rule. He was acknowledged as Khan of the consolidated tribes and took the new title, ‘Genghis Khan’. The title Khagan – or ‘Great Khan’ – was conferred posthumously by his son and successor, Ögedei, who took the title for himself.

Genghis had four sons by his wife Börte, including Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei, and Tolui, and he divided his empire among them; however, Genghis did not name his eldest son, Jochi, as his successor as there was widespread doubt over his paternity. Chagatai declared that he would not accept Jochi as his father’s successor and threatened to go to war with his brother. To avoid civil conflict, Genghis named his third son, Ögedei, as his successor.

Three of the descendants of Genghis Khan – Güyük Khan, Möngke Khan, and Kublai Khan – are described in the travel narratives of John of Plano Carpini, William of Rubruck, and Marco Polo. Güyük Khan reigned from 1246 to 1248, and he was the eldest son of Ögedei Khan. Möngke Khan reigned from 1251 to 1259, and he was the eldest son of Tolui Khan. Kublai Khan reigned from 1260 to 1294, and he was the second eldest son of Tolui Khan.

Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China and Korea and he assumed the role of Emperor of China. By 1279, the Mongols had conquered the Song dynasty and Kublai became the first non-native emperor to conquer all of China. By the time of Kublai’s death in 1294, the Mongol Empire had fractured into four separate khanates or empires, each pursuing its own separate interests and objectives: the Golden Horde khanate in the northwest; the Chagatai Khanate in the middle; the Ilkhanate in the southwest; and the Yuan dynasty in the east based in modern-day Beijing

The Travellers and their texts

John of Plano Carpini (c. 1185-1252)
John of Plano Carpini was a Franciscan Friar from Umbria in Italy. Pope Innocent IV sent John to Mongolia and, acting in his official capacity as a papal legate, he delivered a letter written by the Pope on 13th March 1245 to Güyuk Khan that requested the Mongols to stop persecuting Christians.

John’s History of the Mongols exists in two different versions – a longer one and a shorter one – that survive in a number of manuscripts. The best manuscript of the History is Corpus Christi, Cambridge, MS. 181, which contains the longer version of the text along with William of Rubruck’s Itinerary. The History of the Mongols was also included in Vincent of Beauvais’ thirteenth-century encyclopedia, the Speculum Historiale.

William of Rubruck (1220-1293)
William of Rubruck was a Flemish Franciscan missionary. He accompanied King Louis IX of France on the Seventh Crusade in 1248. On 7th May 1253, he set out on from Constantinople on a missionary journey to convert the Tatars to Christianity, and he followed the route of John of Plano Carpini through Asia. William was granted an audience with Möngke Khan, and presented his report to King Louis IX on his return.

William’s Itinerary only survives in eight manuscripts. The three manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the one at the British Library, are the sources of all the extant manuscripts. The Itinerary was partially edited and translated into English by Richard Hakluyt in the late seventeenth century, and the Hakluyt Society published a full translation of the text by William Woodville Rockhill in 1900.

Marco Polo (1254-1324)
Marco Polo was a merchant traveller from Venice. In the 1260s, Marco’s father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, travelled through China and were invited to the court of Kublai Khan, who asked them to deliver a letter to the Pope. Kublai asked the Pope to send him 100 Christian scholars who were familiar with the Seven Liberal Arts and he also requested that an envoy bring him back the oil of the lamp in Jerusalem.

Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Venice in 1269, and Marco met his father for the first time. The death of Pope Clement IV in 1268, and the three-year election of Pope Gregory X, prevented Niccolò and Maffeo from immediately fulfilling Kublai’s request. In 1271, Niccolo and Maffeo set out for China with Marco. Just as they were leaving Acre, the Polos were recalled following the election of the new Pope, who provided them with letters and gifts for the Great Khan. The Polos eventually arrived in China around 1275, and they presented the oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to Kublai Khan. Marco soon became a favourite of the Great Khan: he was sent as an emissary throughout the empire, and he described each of the territories he visited to Kublai on his return.

The Polos travelled throughout Asia for 24 years, and Marco returned home in 1295. At the time, Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa, and Marco was captured in a naval battle and imprisoned by the Genoans. While in prison, Marco met the Arthurian romance writer Rustichello da Pisa, and he dictated his travels to Pisa who wrote them down in Italian-French as Livre des Merveilles du Monde. Marco’s account of his travels in Asia was translated into Tuscan, Venetian, German, Latin, and Court French during his lifetime.

The Travels survives in 150 manuscripts, but the original manuscripts have been lost. The extant manuscripts are divided into two groups: A and B. The ‘A’ texts are best represented by Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 1116, a Franco-Italian version that was written in Italy during the fourteenth century. Meanwhile, the ‘B’ texts derive from a lost version that preserved the content, but not the style, of the original text. These texts include the sixteenth-century printed text by Giovanni Battista Ramuiso and the early fifteenth-century Latin manuscript that was discovered in Toledo in 1912.

Questions for discussion

  1. How do these texts negotiate the different genres of itinerary, historiography, ethnography, autobiography, and/or romance?
  2. What is the significance of the first-person narrative?
  3. How is the reader/audience constructed as part of the narrator’s journey?
  4. Do the different roles and/or occupations of the travellers inform their narratives?
  5. How are the different Khans presented in each of the texts?
  6. How are conversion and religious conflict described in the texts?
  7. What is the function of letters, envoys, and interpreters in the texts?
  8. Mary B. Campbell observes that ‘[t]he travel book is a kind of witness: it is generically aimed at the truth’.[1] Are these texts committed to truth, or do they slip into fiction?
  9. Kim M. Phillips argues that the ‘desire for information and for pleasure were two chief impulses guiding late medieval readers’ interest in travel writing on Asia’.[2] How do these texts describe the customs and lifestyle of the Mongols, while also presenting them as a source of wonder for the reader?

 


[1] Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 2-3.

[2] Kim M. Phillips, Before Orientialism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), p. 2.

Representing Crisis in Contemporary Historiography: The Murder of Thomas Becket (1st February 2017)

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Alabaster panel depicting Thomas Becket’s Murder, England, 1450-1500

Next meeting: 1st February 2017 / Room 2.46 / 3-5pm

The murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own cathedral and, supposedly, on the orders of Henry II, was major crisis point in the conflict between secular and ecclesiastical power in the twelfth-century and sent shockwaves through Western Europe. One of the ways in which this shock manifested itself was in an outpouring of literary production. Ten Lives of Becket were produced within just seven years of his murder, and there are records of many more – including one by a woman – which have not come down to us. Often written by men personally acquainted with Becket, these hagiographies were predominantly written with the purpose of promoting his canonisation (achieved in 1173) or to bolster the ‘Cult of Becket’ that, in the years following his murder, had spread across Western Europe.

However, this event is also widely recorded in the contemporary historiography of the period. As the Becket Affair involved three key figures of institutional power – Henry II, the King of England, Thomas Becket, the head of the Church in England, and Pope Alexander, the leader of Christendom – it posed a particular representational challenge to contemporary historiographers. Many negotiated this by drawing substantially on the Lives and utilising their discourse – which, by the 1180s and 90s had become institutional in its own right – to safely represent this event. Others, however, including William of Newburgh, remained troubled by Becket’s involvement in secular affairs, unable to reconcile the worldly Chancellor with martyred saint, and this scepticism manifests itself in their histories

 

Overview of Thomas Becket’s Life

Thomas Becket was born on 21 December c. 1119 in Cheapside, London. In c. 1143 he acquired a position in Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury’s household, and was made Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154. In January 1155, he was made Chancellor by Henry II and, as a result of his success in that post, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury on 3 June 1162.

Becket’s appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury was an unpopular one.[1] Tradition dictated that the monks of Canterbury elected their own Archbishop – usually a Benedictine of their own house. Not only was Becket a figure of secular power, but he was only ordained as a priest the day before he assumed the archbishopric. By overriding this established ecclesiastical custom in order to put his friend and loyal follower in power, Henry II hoped to be the de facto ruler of both secular and ecclesiastical affairs through Becket.

However, on 10 August 1162 Becket resigned the Chancellorship to focus exclusively on his new ecclesiastical role. This early indication of trouble was confirmed when Becket refused to sign the Constitutions of Clarendon in January 1164, which decreed that any ecclesiastic found to have committed a crime should be tried in secular, as well as ecclesiastical, courts. Becket’s refusal to grant the increase of secular control over ecclesiastical affairs infuriated Henry II, and, on 2 November 1164, Becket fled to France, where he remained for six years, under the protection of Pope Alexander and the King of France.

The coronation of Henry, the Young King on 14 June 1170 by Roger, Archbishop of York, was seen – and, probably intended – as a direct insult to Thomas Becket. However, by 22 July 1170, a tentative peace had been reached and, on 2 December 1170, Becket returned to Canterbury. Despite the supposed peace, at the end of his sermon on Christmas Day, Becket formally excommunicated de Broc, and a number of churchmen who had sided with Henry II in the dispute. Four days later, on 29 December 1170, Becket was brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four men who had come directly from Henry II’s court.

 

Overview of the Texts

William of Newburgh’s Historia rerum Anglicarum
William of Newburgh (c. 1135 – 1198) was an Augustinian Canon, cloistered at Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire. His Historia (1196-98) was written at the request of Ernald, abbot of the nearby Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, and covers the years 1066 to 1198. For much of his earlier material, William draws most prominently on Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum, and John Gillingham has recently proven that William of Newburgh used Roger of Hoveden’s Chronica as an ‘essential skeleton of information’ for the years from 1148.[2]

The Chronicle of Battle Abbey
The Chronicle of Battle Abbey, written sometime after 1155, tells the history of the abbey from its foundation in the late eleventh century until the 1180s. As well as being a history of the affairs of Battle Abbey, the Battle Abbey chronicler intended his work to provide a legal guide for the next generation of monks. He was probably the Abbey’s representative at legal disputes and had a high regard for Henry II’s legal administration.

Roger of Hoveden’s Chronica
Roger of Hoveden (Howden) (c. 1201) became parson of Hoveden, Yorkshire, following his father’s death in c. 1174. He was also a royal clerk at the court of Henry II from around this time and continued in this office until just after the King’s death in 1189. The extract we are reading is from his Chronica. Antonia Gransden has argued that, whilst Roger relied on letters for his account of the ‘Becket affair’, the narrative seems to be his own.[3]

Edward Grim’s Vita
Edward Grim was a clerk from Cambridge who was in Canterbury visiting the Archbishop at the time of his murder. He was an eyewitness to the murder and was wounded trying to protect Becket from his attackers. His subsequent hagiography was one of the earliest Vita (c. 1174) and had a substantial influence on subsequent hagiographical and historiographical engagements with the event.

Gervase of Canterbury’s History of the Archbishops of Canterbury
Gervase of Canterbury (c. 1145 – c. 1120) was a Benedictine monk of Christ Church, Canterbury and was ordained by Thomas Becket in 1163. The extract we are reading is from his Actus Pontificum Cantuariensis Ecclesia, a history of the archbishops of Canterbury.

 

Topics for discussion

  • How is martyrdom constructed and represented in these texts?
  • How does the institutional alignment/positioning of the historians inform and influence their depictions of the ‘Becket affair’? Is the enormity of the crisis enough to overcome these ties?
  • David Knowles has observed that ‘all but eight years of Thomas’ adult life were notoriously deserving of criticism rather than admiration.’ How do these historians reconcile the problematic nature of Becket’s life with his martyrdom?
  • How do these texts depict a) Henry II, b) Thomas Becket, and c) Pope Alexander, d) the knights, and their roles in the conflict? How and where is blame ascribed?
  • How do these texts make use of rhetoric/rhetorical devices?
  • How does the type of history (i.e. institutional, national) that is being written affect the way that historians engage with this event?
  • William of Newburgh was writing with a copy of Roger of Hoveden’s Chronica before him. How does William of Newburgh adapt his source text and, more generally, how do the historians respond to hagiographical materials (i.e. Grim’s Vita) that were in wide circulation at the time? What are the significances of their changes in emphases, additions, elisions?

[1] R. W. Southern, The Monks of Canterbury and the Murder of Thomas Becket (Canterbury: Friends of Canterbury Cathedral and the William Urry Memorial Trust, 1985).

[2] John Gillingham, ‘Two Yorkshire Historians Compared: Roger of Howden and William of Newburgh’, Haskins Society Journal, 12 (2003), 15-37 (p. 24).

[3] Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England c. 550 to c. 1307 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1974), p. 226.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Medieval Werewolves (23rd November 2016)

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The werewolves of Ossory in Gerald of Wales’ Topographica Hibernica (London, British Library, Royal MS 13 B. viii, f. 18r)

Next meeting: 23rd November 2016 / Room 2.46 / 3-5pm

One of the first stories of the transformation of a man into a wolf occurs in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In Book 1 of the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of Lycaön, the king of Arcadia, who served human flesh to Jupiter when the king of the gods wandered the earth disguised as a mortal. Lycaön’s ‘gruesome banquet’[1] breaches the laws of hospitality, and Jove retaliates by transforming him into a wolf:

Lycaön fled to the country
where all was quiet. He tried to speak, but his voice broke into
an echoing howl. His ravening soul infected his jaws;
his murderous longings were turned on the cattle; he still was possessed
by blood lust. His garments were changed to a shaggy coat and his arms
into legs. He was now transformed into a wolf. But he kept some signs
of his former self: the grizzled hair and the wild expression,
the blazing eyes and the bestial image remained unaltered.
(Metamorphoses, I.233-9)

Ovid’s story of Lycaön fits into the broader thematic structure of Book 1 of the Metamorphoses, which focuses on the depravity of humanity. In response to Lycaön’s treachery, Jove holds an assembly of the gods, and he announces his intention to send a flood to destroy mankind for their crimes. Only Deucalion and Pyrrha survive the flood, and they produce ‘new race of miraculous birth’ (Metamorphoses, I.252) who repopulate the earth.

Stories of werewolves were also popular in medieval Europe. Werewolves became associated with the romance tradition in which a man – baron, knight, or king – became trapped in a wolf’s body through the treachery of his wife. Marie de France follows this plot in Bisclavret (1160-1215), which was the source for Melion (c. 1170-1267) and Biclarel (1319-22). Meanwhile, the French romance Guillaume of Palerne (1200), which was translated into English in the fourteenth century, recounts how the hero was changed into a wolf through his stepmother’s enchantments.

The medieval werewolf is a rational creature. As Amanda Hopkins writes, these stories demonstrate the werewolf’s

gentle behaviour, his human mind and sensibilities [which are] trapped inside an outer form that was indistinguishable from a wolf. If a werewolf attacked someone, it was with reasoned purpose: to express the injustice done to him and often to identify the culprit.[2]

The benevolent nature of the medieval werewolf contradicts our modern view of the werewolf as a vicious, cannibalistic creature; however, the Wolfsbane potion helps today’s werewolves resist their killer instincts. Remus Lupin – who was surely everyone’s favourite Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – frequently used the potion during his lifetime.

 

Overview of the texts

Five different manuscripts contain one or more of Marie’s lais, but only one thirteenth-century manuscript – London, British Library, MS Harley 978 – contains all twelve.

Melion survives in a single thirteenth-century manuscript, Paris Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, 3156, f.343r, col. 1-344r, col. 4 – 1268.

Biclarel is extract from first redaction (A-text) of Le Roman de Renart le Contrefait, which is included in MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1630, anc. 7630, de la Mare 284. Biclarel appears in f.188 col. a- f.190, col. D. The manuscript dates from the fourteenth century.

Arthur and Gorlagon survives in a single fourteenth-century manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 149, pp. 55-64. The story originates from the twelfth century.

 

Questions for discussion

  • How does the werewolf challenge the boundaries between human and animal? How do the different accounts of transformation from man into wolf compare with each other?
  • Marie writes that ‘[a] werewolf is a ferocious beast which […] devours men, causes great damage and dwells in vast forests’. Do the werewolves in these texts conform to or defy this description?
  • Is Biclarel ‘a mere imitation’ of Bisclavret?
  • Medieval werewolf stories traditionally explore the opposition between marital love and feudal service; however, Arthur and Gorlagon focuses on the question of ‘what women want’. Is this text a parody of the werewolf romance? What other texts also revolve around this central quest?
  • Biclarel and Melion are more explicitly misogynistic that Bisclavret and Arthur and Gorlagon. Why do you think gender politics are central to medieval werewolf stories?
  • In medieval werewolf stories, adulterous women are often punished ‘publicly and voyeuristically’. How do these texts legitimate violence against women? Is it significant that the wife goes unpunished in Melion?
  • Why do to you think King Arthur was later included in werewolf romances? Is the Arthurian setting relevant in these texts?
  • Does the medieval werewolf story constitute a genre in its own right? If so, what are its defining features?

 

Further reading

Medieval werewolves

‘One thing I know’: Werewolves Are a Thing

The Werewolf’s Indifference

Naked came the werewolf

 

References

[1] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. David Raeburn (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004), I.164.

[2] Amanda Hopkins, ‘The Medieval Werewolf’, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick. Available at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/ren/news_and_events/researchblog/werewolf/ [accessed 18th November 2016].

Geoffrey Chaucer, Dream Visions (26th October 2016)

chaucer-visions

Next meeting: 26th October 2016 / Room 1.26 / 3-5pm

Alongside romance, dream visions formed one of the most popular genres of literary writing in the later Middle Ages. Chaucer wrote four dream visions before he wrote the Canterbury Tales, and his dream poetry draws on a range of classical and continental sources, especially French dream visions and love lyrics from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Chaucer’s choice to write dream poems was paralleled by the dream visions of his English contemporaries, including William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the Gawain-poet’s Pearl, and was emulated by fifteenth-century Chaucerian followers such as John Lydgate (The Complaint of the Black Knight) and James I of Scotland (The Kingis Quair). As a genre or mode, the dream vision is capacious and flexible: it can accommodate narrative, dialogue and debate, lyric, both the real and the allegorical, and both secular and spiritual concerns.

The Book of the Duchess (c.1368-72), Chaucer’s earliest dream vision and first sustained narrative poem, was likely written for Duke John of Gaunt in the years following the death of his wife Blanche, and it addresses ideas of grief and consolation following the death of a loved one. The Parliament of Fowls was perhaps composed c.1380-82, when King Richard II was negotiating for the hand of Anne of Bohemia. Yet these are much more than occasional poems. These poems deploy and interrogate theories of the origins and nature of dreams, and Boethian ideas of consolation. They explore themes of love, loss, death, and desire, and consider the interrelations of nature and culture, experience and authority, and the nature of and inspiration for poetry itself.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do you make of the narrators? How do they compare with Chaucer’s other narrators with which you may be familiar – for instance, in The Canterbury Tales or Troilus and Criseyde?
  2. What does Chaucer suggest about the sources and nature of dreams, and their interpretation?
  3. What is the role of books in Chaucer’s dream visions?
  4. How do sleep, insomnia, and emotions feature?
  5. What do the settings contribute to the poems’ themes and questions?
  6. How do Chaucer’s dream poems portray chivalric figures? (compared to, say, Chaucer’s romances?)
  7. How do Chaucer’s dream poems represent women?
  8. To what extent do Chaucer’s dream visions demand to be read on an allegorical level?
  9. To what extent are they independent of their immediate patronage contexts?
  10. Does the Book of the Duchess offer consolation, and if so, what sort? Does the Parliament of Fowls offer any resolution to debate, and if so, what sort?