Anglo-Norman Literature: Part I ~ Introduction to Medieval Verse Romances

Early “romances” were stories written in verse in one of the Roman language. Essentially, a romance incorporated the elements of adventure, passion, the extraordinary, and an exaggeration of the virtues and vices of human nature. Originating from the French, the early English romances developed from the epic. Before Chaucer’s time, there were four cycles of French romance popular in England: tales of King Arthur and the Round Table; Alexander the Great; the heroes from the siege of Troy; and the time of Charlemagne.

The medieval verse romance developed from the epic narratives known as “Chansons de geste” celebrating the victories of Charlemagne and others over the Saracens. In the 12th Century, French minstrels regarded love as the motive for the chivalrous actions of knights. The epic transformed into the romance. It came to the English as part of the literature of the royal court. The verse romance was meant to be read aloud in groups of lords and ladies. 

Needless to say, for the English, the most appealing of the four cycles of romance  were the tales of King Arthur and his Knights. The French and the Anglo-Norman poets created a large romantic structure in harmony with the ideals of chivalry. 

Le Morte d'Arthur - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Le Morte d’Arthur – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The legend of King Arthur comes to the English via the Anglo-Saxon period. It was the “Historie Regum Britanniae (1136),” written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in Latin, which first enthralled the English populace. Wace translated Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work into French in 1155. This translation eventually came to Layamon, a priest living in Worcestershire. Layamon added additional verses before “translating” the romanticized poem into the Southern English dialect. Wace’s Brut was 15,300 lines in length. Layamon’s Brut was 32,250 lines in length. Thus, Layamon was the first to render the poem into English. Chretien de Troyes (1140-1190) added French versions to the story of the Grail. 


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Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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