Anglo-Norman Literature: - The French language (q.v.) came over to England with William the Conqueror. During the whole of the 12th century it shared with Latin the distinction of being the literary language of England, and it was in use at the court until the 14th century. It was not until the reign of Henry IV. that English became the native tongue of the kings of England. After the loss of the French provinces, schools for the teaching of French were established in England, among the most celebrated of which we may quote that of Marlborough. The language then underwent certain changes which gradually distinguished it from the French spoken in France; but, except for some graphical characteristics, from which certain rules of pronunciation are to be inferred, the changes to which the language was subjected were the individual modifications of the various authors, so that, while we may still speak of Anglo-Norman writers, an Anglo-Norman language, properly so called, gradually ceased to exist. The prestige enjoyed by the French language, which, in the 14th century, the author of the Manière de language calls "le plus bel et le plus gracious language et plus noble parler, apres latin d'escole, qui soit au monde et de touz genz mieulx prisée et amée que nul autre (quar Dieux le fist si douce et amiable principalement à l'oneur et loenge de luy mesmes.
Et pour ce il peut comparer au parler des angels du ciel, pour la grand doulceur et biaultée d'icel)," was such that it was not till 1363 that the chancellor opened the parliamentary session with an English speech. And although the Hundred Years' War led to a decline in the study of French and the disappearance of Anglo-Norman literature, the French language continued, through some vicissitudes, to be the classical language of the courts of justice until the 17th century. It is still the language of the Channel Islands, though there too it tends more and more to give way before the advance of English.
It will be seen from the above that the most flourishing period of Anglo-Norman literature was from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the first quarter of the 13th. The end of this period is generally said to coincide with the loss of the French provinces to Philip Augustus, but literary and political history do not correspond quite so precisely, and the end of the first period would be more accurately denoted by the appearance of the history of William the Marshal in 1225 (published for the Societe de l'histoire de France, by Paul Meyer, 3 vols., 1891-1901). It owes its brilliancy largely to the protection accorded by Henry II. of England to the men of letters of his day. "He could speak French and Latin well, and is said to have known something of every tongue between'the Bay of Biscay and the Jordan.' He was probably the most highly educated sovereign of his day, and amid all his busy active life he never lost his interest in literature and intellectual discussion; his hands were never empty, they always had either a bow or a book" (Dict. of Nat. Biog.). Wace and Benoît de Sainte-More compiled their histories at his bidding, and it was in his reign that Marie de France composed her poems.
An event with which he was closely connected, viz. the murder of Thomas Becket, gave rise to a whole series of writings, some of which are purely Anglo-Norman. In his time appeared the works of Béroul and Thomas respectively, as well as some of the most celebrated of the Anglo-Norman romans d'aventure. It is important to keep this fact in mind when studying the different works which Anglo-Norman literature has left us. We will examine these works briefly, grouping them into narrative, didactic, hagiographic, lyric, satiric and dramatic literature.
Narrative Literature: (a) Epic and Romance. - The French epic came over to England at an early date. We know that the Chanson de Roland was sung at the battle of Hastings, and we possess Anglo-Norman MSS. of a few chansons de geste. The Pèlerinage de Charlemagne (Koschwitz, Altfranzösische Bibliothek, 1883) was, for instance, only preserved in an Anglo-Norman manuscript of the British Museum (now lost), although the author was certainly a Parisian. The oldest manuscript of the Chanson de Roland that we possess is also a manuscript written in England, and amongst the others of less importance we may mention La Chançun de Willame, the MS. of which has (June 1903) been published in facsimile at Chiswick (cf. Paul Meyer, Romania, xxxii. 597-618). Although the diffusion of epic poetry in England did not actually inspire any new chansons de geste, it developed the taste for this class of literature, and the epic style in which the tales of Horn, of Bovon de Hampton, of Guy of Warwick (still unpublished), of Waldef (still unpublished), and of Fulk Fitz Warine are treated, is certainly partly due to this circumstance.
Although the last of these works has come down to us only in a prose version, it contains unmistakable signs of a previous poetic form, and what we possess is really only a rendering into prose similar to the transformations undergone by many of the chansons de geste (cf. L. Brandin, Introduction to Fulk Fitz Warine, London, 1904).
The interinfluence of French and English literature can be studied in the Breton romances and the romans d'aventure even better than in the epic poetry of the period. The Lay of Orpheus is known to us only through an English imitation; the Lai du cor was composed by Robert Biket, an Anglo-Norman poet of the 12th century (Wulff, Lund, 1888). The lais of Marie de France were written in England, and the greater number of the romances composing the matière de Bretagne seem to have passed from England to France through the medium of Anglo-Norman. The legends of Merlin and Arthur, collected in the Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth († 1154), passed into French literature, bearing the character which the bishop of St. Asaph had stamped upon them. Chrétien de Troye's Perceval (c. 1175) is doubtless based on an Anglo-Norman poem. Robert de Boron (c. 1215) took the subject of his Merlin (published by G. Paris and J. Ulrich, 1886, 2 vols., Société des Anciens Textes) from Geoffrey of Monmouth. Finally, the most celebrated love-legend of the middle ages, and one of the most beautiful inventions of world-literature, the story of Tristan and Iseult, tempted two authors, Béroul and Thomas, the first of whom is probably, and the second certainly, Anglo-Norman (see ARTHURIAN LEGEND; GRAIL, THE HOLY; TRISTAN). One Folie Tristan was composed in England in the last years of the 12th century. (For all these questions see Soc. des Anc. Textes, Muret's ed. 1903; Bédier's ed. 1902-1905). Less fascinating than the story of Tristan and Iseult, but nevertheless of considerable interest, are the two romans d'aventure of Hugh of Rutland, Ipomedon (published by Kölbing and Koschwitz, Breslau, 1889) and Protesilaus (still unpublished) written about 1185. The first relates the adventures of a knight who married the young duchess of Calabria, niece of King Meleager of Sicily, but was loved by Medea, the king's wife.
The second poem is the sequel to Ipomedon, and deals with the wars and subsequent reconciliation between Ipomedon's sons, Daunus, the elder, lord of Apulia, and Protesilaus, the younger, lord of Calabria. Protesilaus defeats Daunus, who had expelled him from Calabria. He saves his brother's life, is reinvested with the dukedom of Calabria, and, after the death of Daunus, succeeds to Apulia. He subsequently marries Medea, King Meleager's widow, who had helped him to seize Apulia, having transferred her affection for Ipomedon to his younger son (cf. Ward, Cat. of Rom., i. 728). To these two romances by an Anglo-Norman author, Amadas et Idoine, of which we only possess a continental version, is to be added. Gaston Paris has proved indeed that the original was composed in England in the 12th century (An English Miscellany presented to Dr. Furnivall in Honour of his Seventy-fifth Birthday, Oxford, 1901, 386-394). The Anglo-Norman poem on the Life of Richard Coeur de Lion is lost, and an English version only has been preserved.
About 1250 Eustace of Kent introduced into England the roman d'Alexandre in his Roman de toute chevalerie, many passages of which have been imitated in one of the oldest English poems on Alexander, namely, King Alisaunder (P. Meyer, Alexandre le grand, Paris, 1886, ii. 273, and Weber, Metrical Romances, Edinburgh).