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Romance of the French (Alfred) | Le Roman des Franceis (Arflet)

Introduction to the Text

The Roman des Franceis, also known as Arflet, is a short satirical piece in octosyllabic verses, arranged in four-line strophes. Its author, who names himself André (361, 371, 385, 395), has been confirmed by Gaston Paris to be André de Coutances, the Norman who is known as the author of an Évangile de Nicodème (Paris and Bos 1885, xvi–xix, xxiv–xxvii). It should be noted, however, that the attribution is hypothetical. Given its subject matter and the views expressed therein, it has been suggested that the Roman des Franceis could not have been written after 1204, when Philippe-Auguste invaded Normandy. 

The Roman des Franceis is presented as a charter issued by Alfred, king of Northumberland. It takes a biting stance towards the French, who are depicted as cowardly, stingy, and poor garlic-eating wretches. First, it stages the invasion of France by King Arthur (41-224), during which Arthur defeats Frollo, king of the French, in a duel (173-192) and throws the French into serfdom after the latter’s defeat (193-208). André then goes on to describe the stinginess of the French: to avoid petty fighting over food, they developed the tradition of tying pieces of bread to strings, allowing them to retrieve their share of soup (237-312; this motif has been studied by Félix Lecoy [1970]), and they have their guests pay for their share of food (345-360). The Roman des Franceis also includes a series of burlesque commandments proffered by Frollo (137-156). While the text chiefly targets the French, the English get their share of satirical observations too, heavy drinkers as they are (5-15). It should be noted that when the text refers to the French, it might be refering to the inhabitants of the small royal domain surrounding Paris (see 62-64). At the time it was likely written, half of what we know as France was under Plantagenet rule, while the other half was only nominally subject to the king of France. The list of names at the end of the poem (386-396), as well as the list of peers of France, copied in Latin after the Roman and transcribed here, attests to this.

Introduction to the Source

The Roman des Franceis appears in London, British Library, MS Add. 10289, fols. 129v-132v. The manuscript was likely made in Mont-Saint-Michel in the late 13th century (Paris and Bos 1885, xix–xxiv; see also the BL manuscript notice), and besides the Roman des Franceis, it contains a number of other texts, listed by Paris and Bos. Some texts have a connection to the manuscript’s place of production, such as ours and Guillaume de Saint-Pair’s Roman du Mont-Saint-Michel, while others are less place-specific. The text of the Roman des Franceis is at times rather obscure, in all likelihood due to the vagaries of transmission. It has been edited by Achille Jubinal (1842, vol 2, 1–17), and more recently and with substantial improvements by Anthony Holden (1973). The GMS translation is based on an interpretive transcription of the Roman des Franceis, and occasionally draws on Holden’s edition, commentary or glossary to establish a legible text, where necessary.

Further Reading

Catalog notice for Add. MS 10289. n.d. British Library.

Holden, Anthony J. Le Roman des Franceis. Études de langue et de littérature du Moyen ge offertes à Félix Lecoy par ses collègues, ses élèves et ses amis. Champion, 1973, pp. 213-33.

Jubinal, Achille, ed. Nouveau Recueil de contes, dits, fabliaux et autres pièces inédites des XIIIe, XIVe et XVe siècles pour faire suite aux collections de Legrand d’Aussy, Barbazan et Méon. Challamel, 1842.

Lecoy, Félix. A propos du Roman des Franceis d’André de Coutances. Revue de linguistique romane, vol. 34, 1970, pp. 123-25.

Paris, Gaston, and Alphonse Bos, editors. Trois Versions rimées de l’Évangile de Nicodème Par Chrétien, André de Coutances, et un anonyme. Didot, 1885.


Transcription by Johannes Junge RuhlandTranslation by Johannes Junge RuhlandEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Danny Smith

Suggested citation: André de Coutances. "Romance of the French (Alfred)." Trans. Johannes Junge Ruhland. Global Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved on July 02, 2022.