Writing History for the King
Henry II and the Politics of Vernacular Historiography
Publication Year: 2013
Writing History for the King is at once a reassessment of the reign of Henry II of England (1133–1189) and an original contribution to our understanding of the rise of vernacular historiography in the high Middle Ages. Charity Urbanski focuses on two dynastic histories commissioned by Henry: Wace's Roman de Rou (c. 1160–1174) and Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Chronique des ducs de Normandie (c. 1174–1189). In both cases, Henry adopted the new genre of vernacular historical writing in Old French verse in an effort to disseminate a royalist version of the past that would help secure a grip on power for himself and his children. Wace was the first to be commissioned, but in 1174 the king abruptly fired him, turning the task over to Benoît de Sainte-Maure.
Urbanski examines these histories as part of a single enterprise intended to cement the king’s authority by enhancing the prestige of Henry II’s dynasty. In a close reading of Wace’s Rou, she shows that it presented a less than flattering picture of Henry’s predecessors, in effect challenging his policies and casting a shadow over the legitimacy of his rule. Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Chronique, in contrast, mounted a staunchly royalist defense of Anglo-Norman kingship. Urbanski reads both works in the context of Henry’s reign, arguing that as part of his drive to curb baronial power he sought a history that would memorialize his dynasty and solidify its claim to England and Normandy.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Ac know ledg ments
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...over the course of writing this book. I am enormously grateful to my hus-band, Michael Carver, for his devotion and more than occasional personal sacrifi ce. He has displayed enduring patience and given me unfailing sup-port. I owe my family, and especially my mother, Laura Swick, my grand-mother, Inice Johnson, and my aunt, Nancy Adkins, special thanks for always ...
List of Abbreviations
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Wace began a history of the Norman dukes and kings of En gland at the behest of Henry II of En gland (r. 1154– 89). Wace had come to Henry’s at-tention after dedicating an earlier work, the Roman de Brut, to Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Adapting material from various Latin histories, Wace had already completed a narrative that chronicled the deeds of the Norman ...
Chapter 1Situating the Roman de Rou and Chroniquedes ducs de Normandie
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...sion between spoken and written language in Western Eu rope. Latin, which had been adopted by the early Christian church, continued to be used as the written language of much of Eu rope and the lingua franca of the Catholic Church long after it had ceased to be spoken as a native tongue. Literacy, however, was defi ned as the ability to both read and write in Latin, and Latin ...
Chapter 2Henry II
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...cember of 1154 to claim the throne of a kingdom that had been ruled by his mother’s family for almost a century.1 At the age of twenty- one, Henry was already duke of Normandy, duke of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou. His father, Geoffrey the Fair of Anjou, had turned the duchy of Normandy over to him by 1150 and had left him the family patrimony, the counties of An-...
Chapter 3The Roman de Rou
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...clerc lisant born on the Norman island of Jersey and living in the Bessin, to produce the fi rst vernacular history of his maternal ancestors, the Norman dukes and kings of En gland.1 Wace had recently fi nished another vernacular history, the Roman de Brut. Based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Brittaniae, the Brut recounted the history of the Britons from their Trojan ...
Chapter 4The Chronique des ducs de Normandie
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...the commission for a history of his Norman ancestors from Wace to Benoît de Sainte- Maure.1 Obviously dissatisfi ed with the history that Wace had taken almost fi fteen years to produce, yet equally unwilling to abandon the project, Henry appears to have searched for a more amenable author. In turning to Benoît, Henry chose an author with notable similarities to his ...
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...histories of his Norman ancestors that would have served Henry II’s pur-poses (Robert de Torigny’s F redaction of the Gesta Normannorum ducum would have done an excellent job), and neither Wace nor Benoît signifi -cantly extended the material covered by their Latin sources, Henry II must have commissioned a vernacular history of his dynasty in the hope that it ...
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Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth