16.11.01, Burgess and Brook eds., trans., The Anglo-Norman Lay of Haveloc

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Conrad van Dyk

The Medieval Review 16.11.01

Burgess, Glyn S., and Leslie C. Brook, eds. The Anglo-Norman Lay of Havelock. Gallica, 37. Woodbridge:D. S. Brewer, 2015. pp. 229. ISBN: 978-1-843-84413-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Conrad van Dyk
Concordia University of Edmonton

The story of Haveloc the Dane was widely disseminated in the Middle Ages, in part because of its inclusion in what Richard Moll has called the "Brut tradition." [1] The tale is a male Cinderella story in which Haveloc, the heir to the Danish throne, is saved from death by Grim, variously fisherman or baron. Grim takes Haveloc to England (they also survive a pirate attack on the way), where Grim founds the city of Grimsby. Haveloc ends up working as a scullery boy for an English king, but gradually discovers his true identity and reclaims his kingdom. In the process he ends up marrying Argentille (also called Goldeburgh), an English princess who has similarly been dispossessed. In this way Haveloc becomes king of Denmark and England.

The story still fascinates due to its curious mingling of romance and history. The Haveloc story is both a love story and a part of the civic identity of Grimsby. It was written down independently and inserted in chronicles, though with a great variety of different dates and names. For anyone who has a passing familiarity with the story, perhaps in its Middle English form, the source history can be bewildering. For that reason, Burgess and Brook's new edition of the Anglo-Norman lay of Haveloc is a welcome publication. Not only does it provide a new edition and translation of MS H of the Anglo-Norman lay (a text last edited in 1888), as well as a close comparison with MS P, but it also brings together the various shorter versions of the legend in French, Middle English, and Latin. On the whole, the translations are accurate and natural, and the commentary provides a good starting point for further criticism.

Burgess and Brook notes that this edition completes a project to translate "all twenty-three of the non-Marie-de-France lays" (6, n. 3), and indeed the introduction provides some insightful commentary on what makes this Anglo-Norman version a lay. The author seems to have borrowed four lines from Marie de France's Les Deus Amanz (7) and many other words and expressions are likewise conventional (17). Nevertheless the editors point out that Haveloc focuses less on romance and has more in common with the concerns of the chronicle tradition, namely "kingship, land, and power" (20). This is not entirely surprising, given that the source of the lay is Gaimar's mid twelfth-century Estoire des Engleis.

If there is one weakness to this edition, it is that the editors generally refrain from advancing a specific argument about the Haveloc tradition. The introduction, notes, and bibliography mention a great many critical perspectives, but Burgess and Brook tend to avoid criticizing any one point of view. For example, in discussing the Middle English Havelok, the editors first suggest that "scholars have argued that it catered for a less-educated audience" (35) before providing Susan Crane's opinion that the story appeals to interests shared by the barony and the mercantile classes (35). No comment is offered on this discrepancy, and while such an approach fits the stated aims of the edition, it can be somewhat frustrating for a reader looking for guidance.

Similarly, when it comes to the introductions to the shorter texts (in Part 2), the analysis is sometimes limited to a mixture of plot summary and a listing of the names and places that are different in the text at hand. Here is a typical paragraph, taken from the introduction to the folk-tale version:

At times one wishes for a more sustained argument about the significance of the various analogues. At the very least, such a bland listing of names and places seems somewhat superfluous.

What more than makes up for this are the excellent translations. The translation of MS H reads smoothly, and the translations of the shorter selections are likewise clean and accurate. [2] The editors prefer an idiomatic rendering, as can be seen from a comparison of the following lines:

While we might lose out on the formulaic aspects of the original (compare lines 414 and 431), the translations are entirely appropriate to the context.

The stated aim of this edition is "to provide the materials for further research" (47), particularly on the relationships between the various analogues. This modest aim will certainly be realized. The story of Haveloc offers a great deal to the general reader: it not only provides a subtle reflection on kingship, but it explores dreams and prophecy, loyalty and love, and legend and history. It is especially this last aspect (the mythopoeic nature of the text) that will continue to intrigue.



1. Richard J. Moll, "'Nest pas autentik, mais apocrophum': Haveloks and their Reception in Medieval England," Studies in Philology 105 (2008): 165-206, 165.

2. The translation of MS H contains just one line that seems a bit awkward. Line 204, "Mult out en lui noble baron," is rendered as "And he was a very noble baron," whereas one wonders if what was meant was that the king had many noble barons around him. In addition, a few times the translation seems to follow the P text (line 604 in H has "vostre piere," but the translation reads "our father" (compare P 599); line 1084 in H refers to "Ekenbright," but the translation reads "Achebrit" (in keeping with the spelling in P). As for the shorter versions in Part 2, my spot checking revealed just one minor glitch: on p. 176 we get a sentence that lacks a subject ("By virtue...").

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