Anglo-Saxon Literature and the Literature of the Norman Period
In the 7th—11th centuries the culture of the early Britons changed greatly under the influence of Christianity. The monasteries where the art of reading and writing was practiced, became the centers of almost all the learning and education in the country. No wonder many poets and writers imitated those Latin books about the early Christians, and they also made up many stories of their own about saints.
Though the poets were English, they wrote in Latin.
A writer of this time was Bede. His famous book "The History of the English Church" was well known in France and in Italy because the people of the Middle Ages considered it a scientific book. The book is important and interesting for us because it shows what the country was like thirteen hundred years ago and how men acted and thought at that time.
One of the greatest kings of England was Alfred who is famous not only for having built the first navy but for trying to enlighten his people. He drew up a code of laws. To him the English owe the famous Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which may be called the first history of the early Britons and includes miniature sagas.
Various writers of different times wrote for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
In the year 1066, the Norman Duke William crossed the Channel and conquered the English in the great battle fought at Hastings. Within five years William the Conqueror was complete master of the whole of England.
Most of the British writers and poets about whom we are going to speak were educated at Universities. In 1168 some professors founded schools at the town of Oxford which formed the first university. A second university formed in 1209 at Cambridge.
In the first half of the 14th century king of England was Edward III. This powerful feudal lord wished to make himself king of France as well. Wishing to make his people believe that he defended English trade, the king made war with France in 1337 This war is now called the Hundred Years' War because it lasted over a hundred years.
The greatest writer of the 14th century was Geoffrey Chaucer. He was born in 1340 ir London. At 17 he was page to a lady at the court of Edward III. At 20 he was in France anc was then taken prisoner by the French. When he returned to England, his education wa; none the worse for that, though he had not been to a university.
Chaucer's earliest poems were written in imitation of the French romances. During 1373 and the next few years, Chaucer travelled much and lived a busy life. He went to France, and made three trips to Italy.
Chaucer was well read in the old Roman authors. Italian literature taught him th meaning of national literature.
In 1384 Chaucer wrote his masterpiece, the "Canterbury Tales".
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