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Medieval Literature

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Literature - The Dark Ages  and the Bards
English Medieval literature had, so far as we know, no existence until Christian times of the Dark Ages when Latin was the language of English literature. English Medieval literature was not written. It is was passed by word of mouth from one generation to another by English, Welsh and Irish bards.

The origins of the stories about King Arthur and the Arthurian Legend are found in many Welsh legends and Celtic Myths which were told by the Bards who therefore contributed to Medieval literature.

Medieval Literature - The Romantic Arthurian Legend
Tales told by the Bards were transferred into book form and the romantic stories of the Arthurian legend and the ideals of courtly love became part of Medieval literature. The main source of information about King Arthur and the Arthurian Legend was written by a Welsh cleric and author called Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote a fictional book called Historia Regum Britanniae - the History of the King's of Britain in 1136. Other stories about King Arthur and the Arthurian Legend were written in the Welsh  'Black Book of Caernarvon' in 1250 . Other books called Historia Brittonum by Nennius, the Annales Cambriae, the Chronicon Anglicanum and the Welsh Mabinogion also make references to the Arthurian Legend and King Arthur.

Medieval Literature - The Language
The French language 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 King Henry IV that English became the native tongue of the kings of England.

English Medieval Literature - The Epic poems - Narrative Literature
The French epic poem came over to England at an early date. We know that the Chanson de Roland was sung at the battle of Hastings and such poetry was recited and sung in the 11th and 12 centuries by Troubadours, Trouveres and Minstrels who were the poets and musicians who influenced Medieval Literature. The troubadours and minstrels sang songs of courtly love and romance and were expected to learn and recite epic poems by heart. The aristocratic troubadours were poets who originated in the south of France and the elite troubadours of the north of France wrote in French  and were called called trouveres. Medieval poetry of the troubadours was invariably linked with music. The tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, originating with  music and the poems of the English and Welsh Bards, were themes which were included in the lyrics of the Troubadour and minstrels songs.   

Medieval Literature - The Poets and Authors
Medieval literature was written by a variety of authors and poets, many of which are included in the following list:

  • Caedmon (657680) was the first English poet of whom we have any knowledge and credited with the authorship of "The Dream of the Holy Rood"

  • Venerable Bede (673-735) who wrote the Ecclesiastical History of England and the scientific treatise, De Natura Rerum

  • Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) Famous Medieval author of the Canterbury Tales

  • Margery Kempe (1373 - c1438) Famous as the author of the first autobiography in English

  • John Gower (1325 - 1408) was famous as a Medieval Poet and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer

  • Francesco Petrarch (1304 - 1374) was famous as an Italian poet, and humanist and for his poems which were addressed to Laura

  • Dante (1265 1321) famous as a Medieval Poet and Politician

  • Christine de Pizan (1364 -1430) famous as a Medieval author and feminist

  • William Longland (c1332 - c1386) who was famous as an English Poet who wrote the Vision of Piers Plowman

  • Boccaccio (1313 - 1375) an Italian writer who was famous for writing the Decameron

  • Raphael Holinshed (c1529 - 1580) Famous as the Medieval Author of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Medieval Literature - The Clerics -  - Famous Theologians and Religious Authors
The writers of the late Dark Ages and early Medieval period were the clerics and theologians so much of the early Medieval literature was of a religious nature. Countless hymns survive from this time period. Religious scholars such as Thomas Aquinas, and Pierre Abelard wrote lengthy theological and philosophical treatises.
Many of the Theologians and Religious Authors who contributed Medieval literature are as follows:

  • John Wycliffe ( 1324 - 1384) who was famous as a Medieval religious reformer and the first person to translate the Bible into English
  • William of Ockham (1288 1348) was famous as a philosopher and the author of many books
  • Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) wrote a scholastic objection protesting against the church practice of indulgencies known as the 95 Theses
  • Thomas Aquinas (c1227-1274) Though Aquinas died at an early age, he left behind him no less than eighteen folio volumes. His Summa Theologiae ("Compendium of Theology"), as the name indicates, gathered up all that the Middle Ages believed of the relations between God and man.
  • Peter Abelard (1079 - 1142) - The story of his life and love of Heloise was chronicled in Abelard's autobiographical writing and the lovers letters
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