Vernacular history in the making : Anglo-Norman verse historiography in the twelfth century.
The first significant form of vernacular historiography in French, the verse estoire, was
produced in the Anglo-Norman regnum between c. 1135 and the early years of the
thirteenth century. Despite its importance, this genre (comprising at least fourteen texts
and forming a corpus of over '/a million verse lines) has largely been ignored in studies
of the vernacular literature of the period.
After a general survey of twelfth-century attitudes to history, and a more detailed
overview of Latin and vernacular historiography in the Anglo-Norman regnum during
the twelfth century, this study delineates the corpus of verse estoires. Taking as a
starting-point the acknowledged `self-conscious' authorial presentation common to much
medieval literature, the study then examines the whole of the estoire corpus from the
viewpoint of authorial self-consciousness and self-presentation within the text. This
authorial persona is examined in three main areas: firstly, authorial self-presentation and
presentation of the nature of historiography in prologues and epilogues; secondly, direct
authorial intervention in the narrative, in particular the `authorising' interventions
(references to sources and assertions of speaking the truth) characteristic of historiography;
and thirdly, the terminology chosen by historiographical authors to refer to their
works and their source materials. Particular attention is paid to the three most commonly
used terms, estoire, geste, and livre.
These aspects of authorial self-presentation are placed within the context of the
social and literary factors influencing the appearance of the different types of verse
estoire in twelfth-century Britain. From this, the study attempts to give a practical
working definition of the verse estoire, and suggests reasons for the appearance and the
disappearance of the genre. Finally, the verse estoire is placed within its wider literary
context, and an analysis is offered of its role in relation to the development of other
major literary forms of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The study closes with three
appendices, comprising transcriptions of two previously unavailable verse estoire
fragments, together with a list of all examples of authorial interventions and uses of
historiographical terminology in the texts of the corpus.