Latin and French as Languages of the Past in Normandy During the Reign of Henry II: Robert of Torigni, Stephen of Rouen, and Wace

  • Elisabeth van Houts
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


There was no shortage of interest in the past in Normandy during the reign of Henry II.1 Although Latin was the conventional language employed by historians writing about the past, the vernacular became an important medium.2 The juxtaposition of Latin and French raises various questions about patronage, authorship, audience, and gender. These can be explored through a study of the work of three contemporary Norman historians in particular: Robert of Torigni, monk of Bee (ca. 1128–54) and abbot of Mont Saint-Michel (1154–86), Stephen of Rouen, monk of Bee (d. after 1170), and Wace, born at Jersey, educated at Paris and Caen, and later canon of Bay eux (d. after 1174).3 All three were clergymen: two monks and one secular clerk. All three were excellent Latinists, well versed in Latin historiography and court documentation, but only Abbot Robert and Stephen wrote, as far as we know, exclusively in Latin, while Wace used the vernacular. Yet, while Stephen and Wace preferred verse, Abbot Robert’s work is in prose. The close connection between Henry II’s mother, Empress Matilda (d. 1167), and the monastery of Bee no doubt explains the personal knowledge of her revealed by the monks Robert and Stephen.4 Did they write as a result of her request or in expectation of patronage? Either way, a good knowledge of Latin on Matilda’s part need not only be assumed but can be proven by other evidence.


Historical Narrative Twelfth Century Young Queen Norman Author Maternal Concern 
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© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2006

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  • Elisabeth van Houts

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