A month’s worth of work

Much reading as well as (seemingly) endless writing has brought me closer to saying something about Bevis that feels worth saying. The coincidence that the original Boeve poem was written around the time when Bovo of St Laurence was living in Southampton still eludes a definitive treatment, but clearly St Bovo of Fraxinet relates to both. Furthermore, the apparent crossover of material between the poem and the Vita of Thomas Becket confirms the use of St Bovo’s story as a source for Boeve. The propaganda encoded by reference to the crusader saint Bovo refers to Cluniac constructions of the saint as the ideal of the pious lay warrior, defender of the Christian faith. It is, then no accident that his example, inflected with the ill-treatment of abbot Maiolus by the Andalusi pirates, should be flagged up in fashionable literary form in the aftermath of Henry II’s conflict with Becket when the rights of the Church were at stake. The implicit message seems to be that lay warriors should defend Christianity against its infidel enemies, and not persecute its ministers like Saracens.

Yesterday 22nd May, was St Bovo’s Day. Maybe next year research conditions will be easier, and I will be able to write up the rest of the issues that the current work is throwing up. There is certainly more to be said about the relationship between Boeve, St Bovo, and Becket.

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May, and some progress

The book by Damien Carraz that looks unpromising from its title, which flags it up as concerned with the Templars in high medieval southern France, has actually proved a vital help in understanding the power, purpose, and influence of early Cluniac hagiography, not least because it picks up the role of troubadours. It has helped me to establish some of this links I knew had to be relevant to my research but was struggling to find. Together with J-P Poly’s earlier work on feudal Provence, it has given me so much to work with that I’m going to have to cut severely to meet the publisher’s word limits. This is not necessarily a bad thing!

The latest reading has helped to focus the timeline of my chapter and has expanded the sense of liminality which is now its topic, although it still circulates to some extent around the idea of the transition of the Bevis story from exemplum to popular legend.

It is also good to see that the call for chapters is receiving responses. I’m really hoping that the breadth of the topic will encourage diversity, not just the English and French traditions of medieval romance. Not that these have been exhausted, by no means! But I would so like to see someone write on the Arabic Sirat, or explore African literature from this perspective. But for now Boeve/Bevis is occupying all my time, and from different angles too.

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Maiolus of Cluny, the key?

The work I am doing on Boeve keeps coming back to the same questions, one of which is how does Maiolus of Cluny fit into the wider picture of transmission? I am sure he does, and I can see how the two-part structure of Boeve mirrors the two events that lead to the defeat of the Andalusi pirates in Provence, one of which involves Maiolus.

I can see how Cluny relates to distantly to Henry II because it was founded by his ancestor William I of Aquitaine (the Pious), but it is really SO distant, and even Maiolus pre-dates Henry by more than 200 years.

There is a potential line of transmission through Benedictine foundations. St Bertin may be one, it is certainly important in its own time, and had its own Abbot Bovo, although he was a ‘bad thing’. Malmesbury may be another. It’s all very fascinating, but so slow to unravel, and as fast as I think I’ve found a definite thread it ravels itself up into even more of a Gordian knot.

Magnyfycence is still open encouragingly on my desk, but I really need to come at this from a different direction, preferably with a great big sword!

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Good Friday 2020

The ecclesiastical and theological significance of 10.4.20, like the weather, is somewhat at odds with the time we are enduring as Covid 19 reaches its terrible peak. The beautiful sunny warm spring weather is mocking so many families who cannot go out to enjoy it, and there is general sympathy for all those who are restricted, especially those living in flats. Good Friday is technically the moment of horror in the Christian calendar that precedes the joy of the Resurrection, a trial to be endured before the eschatological change signalled by Easter Day. For many people there will be no joy.

So it seems also rather inappropriate to find myself feeling rather more joyful about my research now than I was when I first started thinking about it this morning. Thanks to the wisdom, scholarship and generosity of friends and colleagues, my Boeve research may have taken a step in the right direction towards a degree of subtlety in its argument that feels more convincing. This is, of course, the moment at which it will begin to fall apart again, but that’s such a familiar feeling it’s just a matter of picking up the pieces!

Thanks to my daughter too for a stimulating chat about Robin Hood and Boeve/Bevis, I think I have something to say about that which will come later in the current chapter. Meanwhile, a bit more reading around the taini regis is in order, thanks to Ann Williams.

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April begins

The current outbreak of Covid 19 is making it hard to find time for writing but this morning I have been able to do some work on my chapter for The Rise and Rise of Romance book – a nice reminder in its medieval aspect that there have been plagues before, some much worse, and the world has recovered. In response to the Black Death Boccaccio wrote, and Chaucer followed him, particularly recalling attitudes such as the riotours’ who waylaid the old man. A whole post-plague culture arose, and maybe it will happen now, but storytelling will continue, and so will attempts to understand our ancestors’ views and interpretations of the world around them in the narratives they left.

So to Boeve, something approaching a line of argument is slowly beginning to resolve itself,  an almost straight line from my introductory paragraph through to the revelation that Boeve was a real person, that in his Vita Pentecost was significant, as was St Laurence, and Cordova/Cordoba also has tangential significance. All these additonal elements seem to pop up in unexepected ways, without supporting contexts, until you see where they come from! Cordova is particularly allusive and elusive, but perfectly relevant. The St Eustace legend fits into this story, as it’s influence has already been flagged up in the Boeve poem.

In addition today, Ann Williams’ work on the taini regis has added a little to the poem’s treatment of its recent history. The big challenge remains which way to read the Angevin lineage, and the over-writing of Wessex. There’s a lot of research still to do on that and being unable to get to the university isn’t helping, but at least it feels like a bit of progress today.

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Saint’s preserve us!

After a real crisis of confidence last year, I have just submitted a piece of research concerning Boeve. I came across an historical reference that seems so provocative I had to try to write it up. If it gets accepted then I will post the relevant link, and explain the reference above, if it doesn’t, then I shall have to keep trying because I really think it is significant. The huge essay that was  rejected by Medium Aevum in 2018 laid the foundations, but now looks hugely overinflated by comparison.

It also occurs to me that I should at some stage try to write up my castles paper, given at a study day in 2018, because the research I have just been working on fits into that.

After such a long ‘dark night’ it will be a long and anxious wait to see if anyone else agrees with my new reading.

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At long last!

After all thsi time of reading and re-reading I have at last discovered the link I have been looking for between the saint for whom Boeve/Bovo/Bevis was named and the place where the character was buried, and now I can say more about why the original chanson de geste had a hero with such an unusual name. It doesn’t solve the question of how I structure the chapter I’m writing, and may be better written up for N&Qs so I can explore it in greater detail, but it will help to establish the changing view of the cultural and political environment that appears in each extant redaction of the Boeve/Bevis poem, and commentary on it.

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