As mentioned in April’s post, I was in search of Rhona Beare’s articles on these birds, and although old and strange, they are oddly productive. Barlow’s book is back beside me, and Anglo-Saxon history, though very chaotic in the pre-Conquest period, is where I am still finding the most useful material for understanding the opening of Boeve. Inevitably, almost, dear old Derrida’s différènce is helping to untangle one part of the story from another when due consideration is given to how it really separates out. So, for now, the so-called Continuation is not my focus. I’m trying to understand what the story is doing before that takes over. It has long been established that the Continuation is different in many ways, so it needs to be considered for its separate status. When the time comes, I shall consider why it was tacked on to the original, but without understanding the point of that original the impulse behind the Continuation is bound to be rather out of focus.
Although I think I am making some progress with the original, I think I probably need refer only to the earliest MSS because to propose any oral version may be unnecessary. The dating does not need to be based mid to late 12th century historical events, although these are undoubtedly relevant. Nevertheless, the original MS may just as easily have been created in the 13th, looking back as the chroniclers constantly did to events in earlier times in order to comment on their own, wryly perhaps. Indeed, I believe now that a narrow focus on the date has obscured much of the interest that lies in the opening of the story, and therefore skews understanding of the later relationship between the original and the Continuation.
Meanwhile, the matter of the hero’s name and the name of his horse require further investigation and careful consideration. It remains difficult to see the logic behind creating a hero whose lands are so closely associated with Southampton (if that’s what they are!), if the work is to be focussed on the lords of the largest castle in West Sussex. The Anglo-Norman poem itself does not name Southampton, only Hampton. The fourteenth-century Middle English poem names Southampton in various spellings, and it may have been so called in intermediary redactions, but if we accept that these all derive from the Anglo-Norman version of the thirteenth century the disconnect between Southampton and Arundel must be addressed and understood. In the thirteenth century the only link between the two Anglo-Norman settlements was the pilgrims’ road to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury that started at Southampton’s western quays. The Pilgrim’s Gate, and a nearby place known as ‘Pilgrim’s Pit’ testify to this in Southampton’s medieval records. There was at that time, according to the Victoria County History, no actual coast road, which was a Victorian development. The medieval pilgrims’ road ran east to Arundel where there was a convenient stop-over, and the road is of some significance to the story of the poem, as is Becket’s earliest biography. But dating again comes into play at this point, as it does in the case of Edward the Confessor’s shield!
However, the biggest question to be tackled in relation to the earliest version of the poem that we have evidence for is the matter of the hero’s name, which appears to have no connection with anything on this side of the Channel except the son of a Southampton merchant. If it is a coincidence it is a mighty strange one, given that the date of the poem and the dates of the son are very close. And what relationship do they, together or separately, have to either St Bovo of Fraxinet, or Bovo of St. Bertin?
It has taken me years to get to the point of being able to ask some of these essential questions. The answers I originally proposed were judged unconvincing and although I can now see why, they have at least given me some foundations on which to build, not just an argument and set of theories, but the confidence to take on the task. As part of that confidence building I’d like to credit Dr. Luke Sunderland for an email he sent which spurred me on to consider further the significance of a woman speaking English, even while I was looking at the swallows and geese.