MARIE DE FRANCE
The world's first author known by name was a woman : the Sumerian poet Enheduanna. The first author of French courtly love was a woman, too. I sum up here the background to my research, the results of which appear in my volumes and papers. Marie is the signature appended to four ancient French literary works dating back to the XII century which have come down to us : Lais, Fables, Espurgatoire Seint Patriz and Vie Seinte Audree. Whilst there is consensus about attributing the first three to the same author, in 2002, June Hall McCash put forward a theory about a forth text by Marie, the so-called Vie Seinte Audree : her suggestion was also to attribute to the same author the hagiographic Anglo-Norman short poem on the Life of Santa Etheldreda of Ely, a Saxon queen and abbess. The text, in which Marie's stylistic mannerisms are ungainsayably recognisable, has come down to us from a single source and accords well with the pattern which is common to all the poetess's works, a pattern closely related to the cultural programme pursued by the circle of Canterbury scholars, whose purpose was to establish traditional, epochal genealogical and religious foundations for courtly Anglo-Norman Society".My research commenced in 2004 with an article for the magazine Critica del Testo, in which I refuted Yolande de Pontfarcy's theory, propounded in 1995, which on the basis of Holmes'1932 study, had suggested that the poetess was none other than Marie de Meulan, a lady who, unfortunately, had never existed as historical figure. Simply stated, as I have documented in my works, there was a trifling misunderstanding, a carelessness in reading the archive papers, as it is the very archives which amply attest to the existence of a Marie de Meulan who was however born around the year 1000, in France, daughter of Waleran II de Meulan (an ancestor of Waleran IV) and Oda de Conteville, who had at least one son, Hugh (Hugue II, ~1018-1053) as well as another daughter: Adeliza, Alisende or Amice. The misunderstanding about Waleran IV's supposed third daughter obviously stems from this (indeed the name cited by Y. de Pontfarcy for the third daughter is the same).My candidate for the historical Marie de France is Marie Becket, sister of archbishop Thomas of Canterbury (martyred in 1170), who was named abbess of Barking by King Henry II. in 1173 (the same year as her brother's canonization). As the daughter of a merchant from Rouen brought up in London, this Marie could plausibly identify herself as coming from France, speak a continental rather than an insular dialect of French, yet be familiar with the linguistic and cultural mix characterizing twelfth-century Britain. As the sister of Henry II's friend and chancellor Thomas Becket, she would have been in proximity both to the angevin court and to the intellectual circles around the archbishop of canterbury, including John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois, and Walter Map, whose interests included preoccupations identified in the texts attributed to Marie. Her association with Barking, a monastery populated by members of the anglo-norman elite and where women translated saints' lives into French and with Wilton Abbey (closely related to Ely Cathedral, that promoted the cult of Saint Aethelthryth or Audrey) is another support for the identification. At present, I'm studying the rich iconography of Mary Becket, especially the stained glass windows of Notre-Dame de Chartres, whose iconographic program dates back to the thirteenth century and was decided by John of Salisbury, a one-time secretary to Thomas Becket, in which Marie Becket is the only woman among the scholars of Canterbury. Marie Becket also appears among Becket's litterati in one of the four surviving leaves (fol. 2 r - see the illumination above) of the Vie Saint Thomas le Martyr by Matthew Paris.
For more information, please read my articles and books :
2016 The surviving Iconography of Marie Becket, in La Fucina di Vulcano, Lithos Editrice, Rome, 2016, pp. 37-44. 2015 The withheld Name of Marie in the Epilogue of Guernes Vie Saint Thomas, in Il nome dell'Autore, Studi per Giuseppe Tavani, a c. di Luciano e Carla Rossi Collana: I libri di Viella, p. 125-140. 2009 Marie de France et les Erudits de Cantorbery, aux Editions Classiques Garnier, Paris. (Read review in Speculum) 2007 Marie, ki en sun tens pas ne s'oblie. Marie de France: la Storia oltre l'enigma, Il Bagatto Libri, Roma. 2006 La Vie seinte Audree, un nuovo tassello per ricostruire l'identità di Maria di Francia?, in Atti del Convegno Romania Romana, Roma, giugno 2006, in Critica del Testo IX, 3, pp. 871-886. 2004 Brevi note su Marie de Meulan (~1000-1060), un'improbabile Marie de France, in Critica del testo, VII/3 (pp. 1147-1155).