Sunday, May 10, 2020

Fortnightly Book, May 10

The history of the Normans is a long one and hard to set down in the vernacular. If one asks who said this, who wrote this history in the vernacular, I say and I will say that I am Wace from the Isle of Jersey, which is in the sea towards the west and belongs to the territory of Normandy.

Of Wace we know very little; we don't even know how the W in his name was pronounced, because he lived on the cusp of a shift between pronouncing it as W and pronouncing it as V. What we do know is almost entirely what Wace tells us. He was born on Jersey (he is in fact the earliest known author from that Norman isle); he studied in Caen; he would have had to be born somewhere around the beginning of the twelfth century. He wrote a number of verse works, of which the most famous and important is the national epic of the Normans, the Roman de Rou, written in Old Norman:

Jo di e dirai ke jo sui
Wace de l’isle de Gersui

The Roman, written in the reign of Henry II, covers the history of the Norman people from the taking of northern France by the Viking Rollo (the Rou of the title) in the early tenth century to Henry I's ending of a civil war between Norman houses at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, and particularly considers that history in light of the rivalry of the Normans with the perfidious French.

Cronological tree William I - text

The Roman has three parts and is in many ways an oddity. The very different parts are not all written in the same kind of verse, and the work was never finished; Wace repeatedly complains about how difficult and long the work is and how little money he is given for doing it, and his last comment is a sour mention that he can't continue because the king had given the same task to Maistre Beneeit and that it isn't his fault. We don't know why that happened; perhaps the king had expected a more timely delivery, or perhaps he just got tired of Wace's complaining.

I'll be reading the Roman in Glyn Burgess's translation, entitled The History of the Norman People. I've done a few other national epics and thought it would be good to do for my Norman ancestors what I have done for my Danish and Norwegian ancestors. So here we are, something in memory of ancestor Rollo and ever-so-many-greats-grandmother Poppa of Bayeux, as well as all those in my family tree who conquered northern France, like you do if you're a Viking, and conquered England and Malta and Tunisia and Sicily and Cyprus and the Holy Land, like you do if you're a Norman.

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