Anglo-Norman or Christian Age or Conquest of England
The world’s history shows that without a great nationality a great literature is impossible—W.J. Long
It may be possible that Norman believes in the above philosophy so he decides to make the conquest of England. Conquest means, as Oxford Dictionary defines it, “act of taking control of a country, city, etc, by force.” At the battle of Hastings (1066) the powerful monarchy of the last Saxon King, Harold, was broken and William, the duke of Normandy, becomes the master of England.
The literature of the time was in the hands of clergy and nobles; that the common people could not read. There are metrical or verse romances of French, Celtic and Heroes like Roland, Arthur and Tristan, and Bevis of Hampton. There are legends of Virgin and the Saints, a paraphrase of Scripture, a treatise On Seven Deadly Sin, some Bible history etc.
We simply note that writings of the time were medieval in spirit and French in style and expression; and that all sums up the age. All the poets begin writings with Latin. The works of the time were written in French, or elsewhere, English copies or translation of French Originals that is the reason it is hardly belongs to the history of English literature.
Metrical Romances OR Cycles of Romances
Love, Chivalry, and religion, all pervaded by the spirit of romance—these are the three great literary ideals which find expression in the metrical romances. Read these romances now, with their knights and fair ladies, their perilous adventure and tender love making, their minstrelsy and tournaments and gorgeous cavalcades—as if humanity were in parade, and life itself were on tumultuous holiday in the open air—and you have an epitome of the whole childish, credulous soul of the middle ages. The Normans first brought this type of romance into England, and so popular did it become, so thoroughly did it express the romantic spirit of the time, that it speedily overshadowed all other forms of literary expression.
Though the metrical romances varies much in form and subject-matter, the general type remains the same—a long rambling poem or series of poems treating of love or knightly adventure or both. Its hero is a knight; its characters are fair ladies in distress, warriors in armor, giants, dragons, enchanters, and various enemies of Church religion,@ and duty as defined by chivalry. In the French originals of these romances the lines were a define length, the meter exact, and rimes and assonances were both used to give melody. In England this metrical system came in contact with uneven lines, the strong accent and alliteration of the native songs; and it is due to the gradual union of the capable of the melody and amazing variety of verse forms which first find expression in Chaucer’s poetry.
Cycle of Romances:
In the enormous number of these verse romances we note three main divisions, according to the subject, into the romances (or the so called matter) of France, Rome, and Britain. The matter of France deals largely with the exploits of Charlemagne and his peers, and the chief of these Carlovingian cycles is the Chanson de Roland, the national epic, which celebrates the heroism of Roland in his last fight against the Saracens at Roncecal. Originally these romances were called Chansons de Geste; and the name is significant as indicating that the poems were originally short songs celebrating the deeds (Gesta) of well-known heroes. Later the various songs concerning one hero were gathered together and the Geste became an epic, like the Chanson de Roland, or a kind of continued ballad story, hardly deserving the name of epic, like the Geste of Robin Hood.
The matter of Rome consisted largely the tales from Greek and roman sources; and the two great cycles of these romances deal with the deeds of Alexander, a favourite hero, and the siege of troy, with which the Britons though they had some historic connection. To these were added a large number of tales from Oriental sources; and in the exuberant imagination of the latter we see the influence which the Sarances—those nimble wits who gave England first modern sciences and who still revealed in the Arabian Nights—had begun to exercise on the literature of Europe.
To the English reader, at least, the most interesting of the romances are those which deal with the exploits of Arthur and his knights of the Round table—the richest storehouse of romance which English literature has ever found. There were many cycles of Arthurian romances, chief of which are those of Gawain, Launcelot, Merlin, the Quest of the Holy Grail, and the Death of Arthur. In preceding sections we have seen how these fascinating romances were used by Geoffrey and the French writers, and how, through the French, they found their way into English, appearing first in English speech in Layamon’s Brut. The point to remember is that, while the legends are Celtic in origin, and their literary form is due to French poets, who originated the metrical romance. All our early English romances are either copies or translation of the French; and this is true not only of the matter of France and Rome, but of Celtic heroes like Arthur, and English hero like Guy of Warwick and Robin Hood.
Magna Carta (1215)
It was during the reign of Richard’s Successor, John (1199-1214), that the steady development of monarchical authority was partly checked. As with his predecessors, John ruled not only England as a monarch, but he also ruled much of France as a vassal of the French King. This rankled the French kings all during the reigns of the early Norman Kings. By 1204, the French king, Philip Augustus, retook for France the lands that John ruled on Normandy. In Philip Augustus, John faced on of the most capable military and administrative kings in French history—he was dealt defeat after defeat in his attempt to first defended and then reign his lands.
Fed up with his war in France, John’s nobles resented the power of the king to raise money for what they felt was a losing war. In the famous Magna Carta of 1215, they forced the king to sign a charter that renounced much of his power. The Magna Carta was not really a document about rights, it was a document about limiting monarchical government and the power of the king.
First and foremost, it revoked the right of the king to raise revenues independently—in order to raise revenues; the king first had to obtain permission from his vassals. The document also limited the power of the king’s judges arbitrary to try and sentence free men; all men could only be tired and sentenced by their equals. Finally, created a council of vassals that could approve or disapprove of the King’s revenge raising; this council would eventually develop into the parliament.
The great experiment with monarchy in Europe was entering a new phase—the first involved the creation of monarchical power and the institutions to run it; the second phased involved the creation of the institution to check and limit the growing power of the monarch. Everything was in place now for the subsequent history of government in Europe.