But Wace was a courtier, as well as a poet. Not content with pleasing the fancy of the English people with a fabulous royal lineage, he proceeded to gratify the pride of their Norman masters by writing, in 1171, his “Roman de Rou, et des Ducs de Normandie,” an epic poem on Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy—Rollo, called the Marcher, because he was so mighty of stature that no horse could bear his weight. This Rollo compromised with Charles the Simple of France by marrying his daughter, and accepting that tract of Neustria to which he gave the name of Normandy. He was the ancestor, at six removes, of William the Conqueror, and his mighty deeds were a pleasant and popular subject for the poet of that day, when a great-grandson of William, Henry II., was upon the throne of England. The Roman de Rou contains also the history of Rollo’s successors: it is in two parts; the first extending to the beginning of the reign of the third duke, Richard the Fearless, and the second, containing the story of the conquest, comes down to the time of Henry II. himself. The second part he wrote rapidly, for fear that he would be forestalled by the king’s poet Benoit. The first part was written in Alexandrines, but for the second he adopted the easier measure of the octo-syllabic verse, of which this part contains seventeen thousand lines. In this poem are discerned the craving of the popular mind, the power of the subject chosen, and the reflection of language and manners, which are displayed on every page.
So popular, indeed, was the subject of the Brut, indigenous as it was considered to British soil, that Wace’s poem, already taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth, as Geoffrey had taken it, or pretended to take it from the older chronicle, was soon again, as we shall see, to be versionized into English.
OTHER NORMAN WRITERS OF THE TWELFTH CENTURY.
Philip de Than, about 1130, one of the Trouveres: Li livre de creatures is a poetical study of chronology, and his Bestiarie is a sort of natural history of animals and minerals.
Benoit: Chroniques des Ducs de Normandie, 1160, written in thirty thousand octo-syllabic verses, only worthy of a passing notice, because of the appointment of the poet by the king, (Henry II.,) in order to forestall the second part of Wace’s Roman de Rou.
Geoffrey, died 1146: A miracle play of St. Catherine.
Geoffrey Gaimar, about 1150: Estorie des Engles, (History of the English.)
Luc de la Barre, blinded for his bold satires by the king (Henry I.).
Mestre Thomas, latter part of twelfth century: Roman du Roi Horn. Probably the original of the “Geste of Kyng Horn.”
Richard I., (Coeur de Lion,) died 1199, King of England: Sirventes and songs. His antiphonal song with the minstrel Blondel is said to have given information of the place of his imprisonment, and procured his release; but this is probably only a romantic fiction.