Writing History For The King: Henry Ii And The Politics Of Vernacular Historiography by Charity UrbanskiWriting History For The King: Henry Ii And The Politics Of Vernacular Historiography by Charity Urbanski

Writing History For The King: Henry Ii And The Politics Of Vernacular Historiography

byCharity Urbanski

Hardcover | October 22, 2013

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Writing History for the King is at once a reassessment of the reign of Henry II of England (1133–1189) and an original contribution to our understanding of the rise of vernacular historiography in the high Middle Ages. Charity Urbanski focuses on two dynastic histories commissioned by Henry: Wace's Roman de Rou (c. 1160–1174) and Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Chronique des ducs de Normandie (c. 1174–1189). In both cases, Henry adopted the new genre of vernacular historical writing in Old French verse in an effort to disseminate a royalist version of the past that would help secure a grip on power for himself and his children. Wace was the first to be commissioned, but in 1174 the king abruptly fired him, turning the task over to Benoît de Sainte-Maure.

Urbanski examines these histories as part of a single enterprise intended to cement the king’s authority by enhancing the prestige of Henry II’s dynasty. In a close reading of Wace’s Rou, she shows that it presented a less than flattering picture of Henry’s predecessors, in effect challenging his policies and casting a shadow over the legitimacy of his rule. Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Chronique, in contrast, mounted a staunchly royalist defense of Anglo-Norman kingship. Urbanski reads both works in the context of Henry’s reign, arguing that as part of his drive to curb baronial power he sought a history that would memorialize his dynasty and solidify its claim to England and Normandy.

Charity Urbanski is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Washington.
Title:Writing History For The King: Henry Ii And The Politics Of Vernacular HistoriographyFormat:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.39 inPublished:October 22, 2013Publisher:CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESSLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801451310

ISBN - 13:9780801451317

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Norman Genealogical Table
Map of the Angevin Empire


1. Situating the Roman de Rou and Chronique des ducs de Normandie
Poetry and History
The Origins of Old French Historiography

2. Henry II
Lineage and Regional Rivalries
Stephen's Reign and the Civil War
The Restoration of Royal Authority
The Great War, 1173/74
The Succession Question
History and Dynastic Memory

3. The Roman de Rou
The Conquest of England
The Death of William the Conqueror
Henry I and Robert Curthose
The Battle of Tinchebray

4. The Chronique des ducs de Normandie
Providence and the Norman Dukes
The Norman Conquest
William the Conqueror
Henry I
The Empress Matilda and Henry II
Benoit de Sainte-Maure



Editorial Reviews

"Writing History for the King features a reevaluation of the reign of Henry II, who has traditionally been considered the most secure and powerful king of England in the High Middle Ages. Charity Urbanski suggests that Henry's authority in England and Normandy was 'remarkably tenuous in some ways’ and that the future of his dynasty was far from certain. Urbanski argues that Henry II commissioned Wace and Benoît de Sainte-Maure to provide a legitimizing, genealogically framed account of early Norman history that would strengthen and ultimately secure his legitimacy. Urbanski’s lucid and fluidly written book is novel in its interpretation both of the texts under consideration and their function, and of the political situation that originally engendered them. Everyone interested in Anglo-Norman historiography will want to read Writing History for the King."—Gabrielle Spiegel, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of History, The Johns Hopkins University, author of Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth-Century France