What does is feel like to be an exile from your land?
Monday, 8 August 2022
A theme of several mediaeval romances is that of exile; typically a young knight is disinherited from his lands by a wicked relative and, over several episodes, recovers them. Yet, as we know from our own times, exile is more than just a literary theme; it is a state to which many are condemned by the violence and insensitivity of others. A state of loss.
In William and the Werewolf, the hero…
William of Palerne - William and the Werewolf - and the critical importance of its Old French source
Wednesday, 23 March 2022
How do you translate an old manuscript when the opening pages of the original hand-written script are missing? This is the precise challenge facing any translator of the Middle English William of Palerne (William and the Werewolf): the opening folios of the only extant ME redaction of the romance, Cambridge, King's College, MS13, were lost long ago.
Missing these folios, the Middle English …
A friendly werewolf arrives in the nick of time
Sunday, 13 February 2022
Dear lover of mediaeval poetry,
I thought it would be nice to share with you some of my translation of William and the Werewolf (William of Palerne).
This short film gives you a flavour of the warmth and texture of this remarkable fourteenth century poem, telling of the moment when the two lovers William and Melior, having eloped from Rome disguised as bears, are discovered by quarrymen and…
Leaders lacking in integrity are nothing new - but are still beneath contempt
Tuesday, 25 January 2022
In the mediaeval period, even though people had little power to be able change anything, this did not mean they had to accept the ways of their rulers come what may. If 'peasants' could revolt - as in 1380s England - others could react in different ways; in particular by the power of the written word. It is for this reason that mediaeval romances must be looked at beyond their surface layers.…
What makes a happy home - mediaeval style
Tuesday, 7 December 2021
The simplest words often convey the most complex meaning. This is certainly the case in place-names where settlements with the shortest names are often the most ancient in origin, a testament to when the land was new in the experience of those who lived within it. The brevity of their names – Ware, Lymm, Wath – conveying a presence in the landscape larger than their current sense might now suggest…
Longthorpe Tower and how mediaeval audiences saw their world
Tuesday, 26 October 2021
In an earlier update for William and the Werewolf, I discussed different environments for audiences of mediaeval romances. Last week, I managed at the third attempt to visit Longthorpe Tower near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, a fourteenth century tower erected alongside the family hall by Robert Thorpe, a professional lawyer who, amongst other things, was regularly working on behalf of Peterborough…
Join me on a journey to hear the voice of mediaeval writers and how they inspire me - short film
Wednesday, 1 September 2021
I have produced a brief film about the beauty of fourteenth century Middle English and why I find it so inspiring; in particular, the notion of making contact with the voices and personalities of the unknown writers themselves.
In the film, I introduce you to some familiar proverbs which you might not think were centuries old. I also take you into the world of the narrator…
Is there really life after death? Austin Friars in London reveals some secrets
Tuesday, 20 July 2021
If you walk from Liverpool Street Station in London towards St Paul's Cathedral along Old Broad Street you might, in one unthinking moment, blink and miss a curious little alleyway on your right hand side. At the corner where the pedestrian turns into Throgmorton Street is Austin Friars; the unprepossessing entrance to a part of London now long forgotten.
Here is a place where centuries ago…
Imagined castles and faraway lands in mediaeval romance
Tuesday, 29 June 2021
As well as being rich in chivalric exploits and common themes of quest and adventure, mediaeval romances are also defined by their setting; in particular those of castles and countries. Possibly due to its French origins and/or the presence of the Normans in Sicily, the story on which William and the Werewolf is based sets itself in the Italian peninsula, with dynastic links to Spain and to Greece…
William and the Werewolf new linocut illustrations
Tuesday, 18 May 2021
Dear subscriber – as the fundraising continues for William and the Werewolf, I thought I’d update you with work behind the scenes: the not inconsiderable task of illustrating the book! I estimate I’ll need to produce around 40 linocut illustrations to give balance to the translation; reflecting its “feel good” theme, I’ve chosen a gentler illustrative style than with King Arthur; more akin to…
An end to sleaze, duplicity and lies - voices from the past show us the way
Wednesday, 28 April 2021
As once again government ministers become embroiled in allegations of sleaze embedded in a suffocating cloud of self-entitlement, mendacity and lack of empathy, it’s all too often easy to forget that we’ve been here before - in the end days of Edward III and the years of Richard II.
In the days before social media and a notionally free press (and indeed the days before what we claim to call…
A new kind of chivalry - not Apocalypse Now
Monday, 5 April 2021
Mediaeval poets knew how to describe a good battle: lots of charging, slashing, blood and gore. The Alliterative Morte Arthure, King Arthur's Death, is one such example - perhaps taking matters to extremes at times with the nature of knightly injuries inflicted. And yet... how warfare is described may, it seems, depend on your patron. Who was the scribe writing the romance for?
In William and…
M R James, Humphrey de Bohun and William and the Werewolf
Tuesday, 2 March 2021
In 1936, M R James and E G Millar published The De Bohun Manuscripts: a Group of Five Manuscripts Executed in England about 1370 for Members of the De Bohun Family through the Roxburghe Club. Describing together a group of manuscripts of major importance, it revealed the De Bohuns (prounounced de Boon) as patrons of works of the highest order.
Outside the collections of royal circles, these…
A mediaeval scribe and the secrets he reveals
Thursday, 4 February 2021
The work of mediaeval scribes was one of quiet concentration and, at times, excruciating pain and toil; their manuscripts often all we have left to tell of the dedicated, yet unsung, lives they lived. In the case of the Middle English William of Palerne (William and the Werewolf) there is only one mansucript to tell such a tale of its creator, contained today within a larger manuscript, King’s…
The folk motif of the Fair Unknown in William of Palerne
Sunday, 17 January 2021
In the words of Leah Haught of the Camelot Project, the "Fair Unknown" is a “universally popular folk motif with strong Arthurian connections in which a young man of questionable lineage becomes an integral part of society. Initially appearing in court without an established identity, the Fair Unknown nevertheless boldly demands to be knighted.” Classic examples in the Arthurian canon are Chretien…
Mediaeval marriage vows and dramatic tension in William and the Werewolf
Tuesday, 22 December 2020
In my last update, I discussed the passion of the two lovers in William and the Werewolf, that between the Sicilian prince William and the Roman princess, Melior. In this update, I want to reflect on the significance of this for the story and how the poet frames the romance so it is rich in tension for its contemporary audience.
Central to the tension is William’s perceived unroyal status …
Courtly love, sex and desire in William and the Werewolf
Wednesday, 11 November 2020
A central component of William and the Werewolf (the fourteenth century romance also known as William of Palerne) is the love between William, the poem’s central character, and Melior, the daughter of the Roman Emperor. Yet it is how this love plays out which makes us consider our approach to the notion of “courtly love”.
When the emperor first brings William to his palace as a foundling in…
Home entertainment and the reading of books in the mediaeval household.
Monday, 19 October 2020
Public storytelling, alongside minstrelsy, dancing, jesting and games, formed an important part of entertainment in noble, knightly and/or merchant households in fourteenth century England. Such storytelling included readings from stories such as William and the Werewolf (William of Palerne).
Like a number of such works, it takes the form of a long poem, broken down into manageable sections…
A mediaeval werewolf with a difference
Monday, 5 October 2020
The character of the werewolf in the Middle English poem William of Palerne (the romance of William and the Werewolf) is one which, when we meet it, is not what we were expecting. A benign creature whose mission is to help others combat injustice is in remarkable contrast to the notion of the werewolf in our own minds. Why is he so different?
To consider the notion of the werewolf, it is important…