Home  »  Volume II: English THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES  »  § 2. L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XVIII. Political and Religious Verse to the Close of the Fifteenth Century—Final Words

§ 2. L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal

Gaimar’s Estorie des Engles was based, mainly, on the Old English Chronicle and, apart from his relation to Layamon, his chief value for us lies in the sections which deal with contemporary matters, in his contributions to the story of Havelok and in his descriptions of social manners and customs. Of greater worth is the life of William Marshal, first earl of Pembroke and Striguil, regent of England, a soldier and statesman who died in 1219, after having served, for nearly half a century, more than one king of England with rare fidelity, and whose deeds are worthily enshrined in the poem which bears his name. L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, which was finished in 1226, consists of some 19,000 octosyllabic lines, and its discoverer, Paul Meyer, has claimed for it a place in the front rank of French medieval historiography, and as having no superiors in its kind in the writings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Garnier de Pont-Sainte-Maxence’s Vie de St. Thomas Becket, a poem worthy of its subject, and of great historic value; Fantosme’s Chronicle of the Scottish Wars of 1173–4; Ambroise’s Histoire de la Guerre Sainte, with á Richard Cœur de Lion for its central figure; Old French psalters and saints’s lives; moral tales, like those told by the Franciscan Nicole Bozon in the earlier half of the fourteenth century; immoral fables; pilgrimages and gospels for the laity; popular presentations of current science and works on venery, such as those which probably served the somewhat mythical Juliana Berners; lais, as those of Marie de France—all these may be recorded as links in the direct chain which bound French medieval literature to England. To these may be added books of counsel and courtesy, which became models for and directly inspired the popular literature of the native tongue—“the booke,” for example, “whiche the knyght of the Toure made to the enseygnement and techyng of his doughters, translated oute of Frenssh in to our maternall Englysshe tongue by me, William Caxton”; dialogues, as those contained in a maniere de langage que t’enseignera bien a droit parler et escrire doulz françois, which help to make clearer to us the social relations of the fourteenth century; and French versions of the old romances such as Caxton and his followers popularised, to which reference has already been made, and which will be further discussed when the prose of the sixteenth century is under consideration.