The Dark Ages and the Bards
English Medieval literature had no existence until Christian times of the Dark Ages when Latin was the language of English literature. English Medieval literature was not written. It is passed by word of mouth from one generation to another by English, Welsh and Irish bards. The origins of the stories about King Arthur and the Arthurian Legend are found in many Welsh legends and Celtic Myths which told by Bards who therefore contributed to Medieval literature.
The Romantic Arthurian Legend
Tales told by the Bars were transferred into book form and the romantic stories of the Arthurian legend and the ideals of courtly love became part of Medieval literature. The main source of information about King Arthur and the ArthurianLegend was written by a Welsh cleric and author called Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote a fictional book called Historia Regum Britanniae - the History of the Kings's of Britain in 1136. Other books called Historia Brittonum by Nennius, the Annales Cambriae, the Chronicon Anglicanum and the Welsh Mabinogion also make references to the Arthurian Legend and King Arthur.
The French language came over to England with Williams the Conqueror. During the whole of the 12th century it shared wit Latin the distinction of being the literary language of England, and it was in use at the court until 14th century. It was not until the reign of King Henry IV that English became the native tongue of the kings of England.
The Epic poems - Narrative Literature
The French epic poem came over to England at an early date. We know that the Chanson de Roland was sung at the battle of Hastings and such poetry was recited and sung in the 11th and 12th centuries by Troubadours, Trouveres and Minstrels who were the poets and musicians sang songs of courtly love and romance and were expected to learn and recite epic poems by heart. The aristocratic troubadours were poets who originated in the south of France and the elite troubadours of the north of France wrote in French and were called trouveres. Medieval poetry of the troubadours was invariably linked with music. The tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, originating with music and the poems of the English and Welsh Bards, were themes which were included in the lyrics of the Troubadour and minstrels songs.
The poets and Authors
Medieval literature was written by a variety of authors and poets, many of which are included in the following list:
- Caedmon (657-680) was the first English poet of whom we have any knowledge and credited with the authorship of "The Dream of the Holy Rood"
- Venerable Bede (673-735) who wrote the Ecclesiastical History of England and the scientific treatise, De Natura Rerum
- Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) Famous Medieval author of the Canterbury Tales
- Margery Kempre (1373-c1438) Famous as the author of the first autobiography in English
- John Gower (1325-1374) was famous as a Medieval Poet
- Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) was famous as an Italian poet, and humanist and for his poems which were addressed to Laura
- Dante 91265-1321) famous as a Medieval Poet and Politician
- Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) famous as a Medieval author and feminist
- William Longland (c13320c1386) who was famous as an English Poet who wrote the Vision of Piers Plowman
- Boccaccio (1313-1375) an Italian writer who was famous for writing the Decameron
- Rapahel Holinshed (c1529-1580) Famous as the Medieval Author of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland