The Fair of Lincoln and the 'Histoire de Guillaume le MarEachal'

1903 English Historical Review  
The Fair of Lincoln and the ' Histoire de Guil/aume le Martchal* B Y far the most detailed account of the battle of Lincoln of 20 May 1217, and of the movements which preceded it, is that which is given in the Old-French poem on the ' History of William the Marshal,' discovered among .the Phillipps manuscripts by M. Paul Meyer, and published by that eminent scholar for the Societe de l'Histoire de France. In 1901 M. Meyer completed his edition by issuing a third volume, which contains an
more » ... d translation of the poem and very careful and valuable notes and elucidations of some of the more difficult passages of a puzzling text. We are, therefore, now in as good a position as we are ever likely to be to ask what new light the poem throws upon history. The object of the present paper, which owes very much to M. Meyer's recent volume, is to put this question with regard to the poet's long account of the battle of Lincoln. 1 M. Meyer has conclusively shown that the poem is no mere panegyric, but a serious attempt at writing history. He has also emphasised the special value of the poem as illustrating the concluding years of the Marshal's career, and in particular the time when he was rector regis et regni. The song was composed within nine years of the battle of Lincoln-not later, that is to say, than 1226-and is thus a strictly contemporary narrative. Moreover it was inspired by first-hand sources. The poet wrote under the direction of the ' young Marshal,' the earl's eldest son and successor, who himself took a conspicuous part in the engagement. He had also before him elaborate memoirs specially drawn up for his information. The chief but not the only one of these was that composed by John of Earley, a knight who was the most faithful follower and constant companion of the earl of Pembroke.' He 1 ETxaUnr* d» Guiilaumt U Marichal, ii. 217-51, lines 16181-17030. Cf. ili. 227-40, and especially the notes on pp. olix-olz, 329, 282-4. * On all these points see M. Meyer's introduction to the third volume of the Histoiri d* QuiUaume le Marlchal, especially what he says as to the poet's matirt, or written information (pp. x-xii), on John of Earley (pp. liv-iii) and on the ' regency' (pp. lxxxiz-zcii). at The University of British Colombia Library on June 16, 2015 Downloaded from 1908 'HISTOIRE DE OUILLAUME LE MARECHAL' 241 had, then, every opportunity of getting at the true facts of the case. Before dealing with the poem it will be as well to enumerate the other main sources of our knowledge of the Lincoln fight. 3 By far the most important of these is the St. Alban's chronicler, Boger of Wendover, whose version is singularly clear, full, and straightforward. 4 This version has been incorporated in Matthew Paris's 1 Chronica Maiora,' where there are, of course, also to be found characteristic embroideries and embellishments of Matthew's own." But these additions show a bias quite foreign to the original narrative, and it is a great pity that so many writers have preferred to consult the later and less authentic rendering rather than the original source from which it is compiled. Wendover had special means of information with regard to the battle of Lincoln. At the time of the fight he was prior of Belvoir, a cell of St. Alban's, situated on the very border of Lincolnshire and hardly more than thirty miles from the scene of action. It was probably as an eye-witness that Boger recorded the march of the baronial army through the vale of Belvoir on their way to press the siege of the long-beleaguered castle of Lincoln. He vividly describes the ravages of the ill-clad and ruffianly French infantry, ' the scum of France,' as they devastated the rich valley in which his home was situated. 8 It is directly or indirectly from Wendover that those who wrote about the battle before M. Meyer's discovery mainly derived their information. Compared with him the other writers are insignificant. The most elaborate of-the remaining accounts is that in the ' Annals of Dunstaple,' 7 written for this period by the prior, Bichard de Morins, who, though less strictly contemporary than the poet, laid down his pen and died in 1242, twenty-five years after the battle, and whose house, distant though it was from Lincoln, was within the dioceBe. The few sentences devoted to the fight by the 1 Thoy are nearly all enumerated in Petit-Dutaillis's Studs sur la Vie et le Rigne de Louis Vm, p. 158 (1894). ' Boger of Wendover, Flons Historiarum, iv. 17-26, ed. Coxe (1843), Engl. Hist Soc. This edition, though sixty years old, has not been superseded by Mr. Hewlett's edition in the Bolls Series. It is curious that Wendover misdates the fight by a day (iv. 25). The familiar name of the battle, ' Nundlnae Lincolniae,' the Fair of Lincoln, is authenticated by Wendover, iv. 21. The word is generally thought to refer to the traffic in the spoil of the victory. Bat nundinae was not uncommonly need in the sense of tournament, as in the almost contemporary Lambert of Ardres, ' in nondinis et in bellicis iUusionibas promptas' and ' execrabiles nnndinas quas tomeamenta vocant' (Monum. Qerm. Bist., Scriptores, xxiv. 579, 570). It may therefore also suggest the artificial character of the almost bloodless fight. (See below, p. 245, note 26.) * Chronica Maiora, iii. 15-25, ed. Luard (Bolls Ser.) Paris's additions to Wendover are very few and trivial in this instance. One, relating to the manner of the death of the count of Perche (p. 22), is otherwise substantiated as regards the fact, though the colour is very characteristic of Matthew. • Wendover, iv. 17.
doi:10.1093/ehr/xviii.lxx.240 fatcat:dnvvup3v2vh5hmnab57nlnoxm4