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Art. 79, Un sage honme de grant valour: Introduction

Abbreviations: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

Composed in the second half of the thirteenth century, Urbain the Courteous was a popular treatise on morals, manners, and conduct for boys and young men. Read and disseminated among noble families in Anglo-Norman England, the work is a medley of proverbial and practical precepts. Redactions of varying length and arrangement survive in eleven manuscripts. In 1929, not knowing the Harley text, Parsons (pp. 386-90) identified two distinct versions, which she called the Earlier Version (244 lines) and the Later Version (321 lines). The Harley text’s 349 lines is a mixture of passages from both versions. The longest of all, it is published here for the first time. Kennedy’s valuable edition appears in an unpublished dissertation.

Regarding the Harley compiler’s interest in courtesy literature, this treatise may be compared to The Teachings of Saint Louis to His Son Philip and Hending (arts. 94, 89), both of which also appear in booklet 6. Urbain the Coureous is, like Teachings, directed at nobility and written in French. In contrast, the English Hending seems targeted at a wider audience, rich and poor alike. It is noteworthy that Urbain the Courteous includes a passage on how important it is that a child learn to speak French because that language is much prized among nobles (lines 18–20). Such advice stresses how French was a cultivated, learned language among English families seeking to attain or maintain a social status marked not just by wealth, manners, and affiliations, but also by language. In a treatise framed as advice from a father to his son, such counsel, delivered in French, tells a boy what is expected: he must augment his mother tongue with the superior “father” tongue that befits his birthright.

Parsons’s edition provides an important analysis of Urbain the Courteous but unfortunately does so without the Harley version. For other commentary, see Kennedy, pp. 1–9, 24–53; Nicholls, pp. 69, 154–55, 187; Nolan, 310, 325; and Dove 2000, pp. 341–42.

[Fols. 112rc–113vc. ANL 231. Långfors, p. 432. Vising §247, §248. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 12. Meter: Octosyllabic couplets. Layout: Triple columns. Edition: Kennedy, pp. 24–53 (no. 4). Other MSS: Eleven MSS: see ANL 231. Parsons produced a critical edition of eight MSS, not including MS Harley 2253. Translation: Kennedy, pp. 24–53.]

33–44 A parallel to this passage is found in just one other manuscript, Oxford, Bodl. MS Selden supra 74 (dated second half of the thirteenth century). The passage there cites Roland and Oliver for valor, Gawain for courtesy, Horn and Ipomadon for beauty. Here, Gawain is similarly exemplary in courtesy, prideful Roland is worth less than Oliver, and the handsome ones are Absolon and Hippomedes (i.e., Ipomadon). See Parsons, pp. 394, 411; Nicholls, pp. 54–55; and Kennedy, pp. 27–28. Ipomadon (ca. 1180) is an Anglo-Norman romance that was adapted several times in Middle English. Its author was Hue de Rotelande, who possibly wrote it in Herefordshire.

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