Saturday, February 27, 2010
Medieval scholar examines anti-French poem from the 12th century
The poem, known as the Roman des Franceis, was written by a cleric named Andrew of Coutances sometime between 1180 and 1194, a period when the kings of England and France were frequently at war with each other.
The poet describes the French as "more vilely than dogs" and "happy perjurers in God's name."
The text is being edited and translated by Professor David Crouch of the University of Hull. It is among several texts which show that the Anglo-Normans had a very negative view of their French counterparts.
Professor Crouch says that the poem is of great interest to historians because of its "racial rhetoric", which was deployed by Anglo-Norman intellectuals in support of their kings' bitter political and military struggle.
In the late 12th century the French king Philip II attacked Normandy on several occasions and supported a revolt against the English ruler Henry II led by Henry's own children.
It is believed that many pieces of propaganda were written by people on both sides of the conflict, to boost their own moral and denigrate their opponents.
"Intellectuals were deployed to compose diatribes against the enemy," said Professor Crouch. "This poem was poisonously undermining the French and their national legend while promoting the legend of King Arthur."
The poet refutes criticisms of King Arthur and celebrates a legendary victory over Frollo, the French ruler who is portrayed as lazy and incompetent:
"Lying flat out without stirring himself
Frollo got the French to equip him
For that is the way of the French
Getting their shoes on while lying down."
Having described at length the cowardly nature of the French, he even claims, wrongly, that Paris derived its name from the word 'partir', which means to flee.
He calls the French "serfs" and "peasants" in an attempt to suggest that they are a race without
nobility, adding: "People remind them often enough about this source of shame, but they may as well have not bothered; for they take neither offence or account, as they know no shame."
Extracts from the Roman des Franceis by Andrew de Coutances:
On King Arthur leading the English against France:
Arthur besieged Paris, doubt it not at all!
He had a large force of
Well trained and equipped knights,
So he fiercely attacked the city.
The English went on the attack,
And the French defended like cowards,
They gave up at the first onset
And shamefully ran away.
It was from this flight [partir] that
Paris got its name, there is no concealing it,
Originally the place was called Thermes
And was indeed very famous.
On France’s humiliation:
Arthur took homage from the French
And he established as a release-payment
A four-pence charge for being a peasant
To be paid as their poll tax.
People remind them often enough about
This source of shame, but they may as well not have bothered;
For they take neither offence or account,
As they know no shame.
Such a Frenchman as does value virtue and honour
Will not like it of course,
But so far as he is the more ashamed
He will boast twice as much
So know that, wherever you go,
Believe a Frenchman not at all;
Seek indeed and you shall find
But you find no prowess if there’s none to be had.
On French culinary habits:
A man who dines with the French
Should grab whatever he may
As either he will end up with nuts
Or will just carry off the shallots
A Frenchman would need to own the world
To live as well as he would like.
Because that is something that cannot happen
The French know to hold what provisions they have.
That’s the way they are in their own land
But when they’re abroad they’re even more greedy
And shamefully gorge themselves at every table
Whenever they get near one.
And whenever hosts have them in their homes
They realise the French are such men
So greedy and so avaricious
That he ought to drive them off with kicks.