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Marie de France (12th c.)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Works: Lais


Biographical Information

Marie de France: French author, active in the 12th century, perhaps associated with the court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

Main Works

Lais (Lays), twelve poetic tales dealing with matters of love and romantic adventure including "Lanval," "Laüstic" ("The Nightingale"), "Eliduc," "Bisclaveret" ("The Werewolf"), "Chevrefoil" ("Honeysuckle"), "Chaitivel" ("The Unfortunate One"), "Milun," "Yonec," "Les Deux Amanz" ("The Two Lovers"), "Le Fresne" ("The Ash Tree"), "Equitan," and "Guigemar"

Fables, so called Ysopets, in the style of Aesop

Moral tale L'Espurgatoire Seint Patriz ("St Patrick's Purgatory")


Twelfth century was period of change and transformation in medieval European culture and society: increased economic production and trade; prosperity, splendor, luxury, and entertainment at the courts of aristocrats; development of a sophisticated courtly culture celebrating love, courtesy, gallantry, and the enjoyment of the arts (poetry, music, dance, etc.)

Crusades: Christian European military enterprise seeking to gain control of the Holy Land (Palestine). Though claiming spiritual motivations, the Crusades had much to do with looting and pillaging of both pagan and Christian lands and opening and controlling vital trade routes with the East. The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II and resulted in the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. Though often resulting in military disasters, the Crusades brought to Europe an unprecedented influx of Eastern riches (silks, spices, jewels, etc.) which radically transformed the way of life of aristocrats.

Court of Henry II (r. 1154-1189) and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine; parents of Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland

Rise of women like Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and her daughter, Marie de Champagne, to positions of power and influence; role of women as patrons in the development of courtly culture; powerful women as centers of a courtly culture of love promoting values of courtesy and refinement in human behavior and relationships

Courtly love: practices of amorous dalliance at the courts, often involving adulterous relationships which were celebrated in poetry and narrative; jealous and brutish old husbands are portrayed as the villains in a variety of tales and poems, while beautiful ladies and their lovers (young knights, talented poets, witty clerks) enjoy themselves at their expense

Courtly literature: love poetry composed by courtly poets known as troubadours (e.g. Bernart de Ventadorn, in southern France) and trouvères (e.g. Thibaut de Champagne, in northern France); also narrative poetic romances telling stories of love and adventure (e.g. the Lais of Marie de France and the romances of Chrêtien de Troyes).

The animosity of the Catholic Church against the courtly culture of southern France led to the launching of a military and moral crusade against the supposed heresies practiced there (Albigensian Crusade, 1209-1229). The crusaders looted and destroyed all the main cultural centers of southern France and effectively put an end to courtly culture.


to come

Recommended Reading

to come

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