Manuscripts and Special Collections

Education and Accomplishments: View Documents

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Transcripts and translations for manuscript items are also available for download:


Document 1

WLC/LM/4, f. 57r: Robert of Gretham, 'Mirur’, lines 1-36 (composed c.1250, Anglo-Norman) 
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The author of the ‘Mirur’ was Robert of Gretham, who is believed to have been the chaplain of Alain (Alan) la Zouch, a knight in the reign of King Henry III. The ‘Mirur’ is dedicated to the Lady Aline, believed to be Alain’s wife. The exact date of Alain's marriage to Aline (Elena de Quency or Quincy, died 1296) is unknown but thought to be c.1240.

The prologue given here reflects the task that Robert had set himself of rescuing the souls of women like Aline. He tells how he has been inspired to help the souls of his readers (or listeners) escape from the seduction of the ballads which tell of heroic deeds, and often have a love story interwoven into the tale. In Robert's opinion the way the tales are devised trick their readers into believing that these are real tales about real people. Robert's aim is to turn the attention of his readers away from these imaginary tales, dreamed up by minstrels and troubadours, towards the contemplation of the truth and towards leading a Christian life. Robert, in keeping with the style of his time, sought to uncover the real sense of what was being said in the Scriptures and to pass on this deeper sense to his readers. His aim was to discover, as he said, the ‘apples’ (an explanation of the underlying meaning or the deep sense) hidden behind the ‘leaves’ (the text). To achieve his aim he searched in the saintly writings which gave him the sources for his teaching.

Further reading:
• K.V. Sinclair, ‘The Anglo-Norman Patrons of Robert the Chaplain and Robert of Greatham’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 27 (1992), 193-208 


Document 2

WLC/LM/7, f. 2v: ‘L’estoire del Saint Graal’ (The History of the Holy Grail) (early 13th century, Anglo-Norman) 
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In this story, King Solomon reflects on women’s trickery and deception and Eve’s wickedness. He receives a vision telling him not to hold women in such contempt – that another woman will come to repair women’s misdeeds, and that she will be from his own lineage (this turns out to be the Virgin Mary). He also hears that the last of his line will be a knight of the highest goodness and chivalry (this knight is Galahad). Wondering how he can ensure that the knight understands that the prophecy was known to him, Solomon is advised by his clever wife to build a ship to house his father King David’s sword, for the knight to find and use, and to leave a note explaining the gift. The ship is sprinkled with water and inscriptions by angels overnight, and taken away to sea by the wind. It reappears later in the ‘Vulgate Cycle’ of Arthurian legends, in ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail’.

In the passage shown here, Solomon writes the note while his wife decorates the sword-belt and prophesies that it will later be replaced with one more splendid and fitting. The prophecy comes true in‘The Quest for the Holy Grail’, when this is done by Perceval’s sister.

Arthurian romances were read by women (and men) for pleasure. However, ‘The History of the Holy Grail’ is not mere entertainment, as it incorporates Christian stories and characters from the Old Testament as well as more legendary elements. 


Document 3

WLC/LM/8, f. 190v : John Gower, ‘Confessio Amantis’, Book 8, lines 1477-1497 (composed c.1393, English)  
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An illustration of the redemptive power of a good education, and the type of learning required by young ladies, this extract tells how the girl Thaise has been sold to a brothel (her abduction is described earlier), but that her purity is such that no customer will hire her. As she has been well educated, she asks the brothel-owner Leonyn to set her up as a teacher of refined girls, promising that this will raise more money for him. She teaches music, proverbs and riddles, and is soon the most sought-after teacher in the land. 


Document 4

WLC/LM/6, f. 203r: Heldris de Cornuälle, ‘Le Roman de Silence’, lines 2859-2869 (early 13th century, French)  
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Silence, the girl disguised as a boy, decides to join a troupe of jongleurs. She is concerned that, should she ever have to live as a woman, she would not fit in to the feminine culture inside the women’s private space of a chamber (as opposed to the masculine outdoor space in which she has been trained in hunting and hawking). She cannot sew, but life with the jongleurs will at least teach her how to play musical instruments well. Music is an art shared between the sexes, as opposed to chivalry (men only) and embroidery (women only). 


Document 5

WLC/LM/8, f. 53r: John Gower, ‘Confessio Amantis’, Book 3, lines 783-817 (composed c.1393, English)  
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Many medieval stories come ultimately from the classical literature of earlier centuries. They were retold by different authors, with details altered to suit the changing times. Gower’s tale of Phebus (the sun god) and his unfaithful lover Cornide would already have been known to medieval audiences.

In the original tale, the Roman author Ovid’s 'Metamorphoses' (written c.8 AD), Phoebus shoots Coronis through the heart with an arrow after the crow betrays her. The dying Coronis tells Phoebus she is pregnant, and the guilty sun god takes the unborn baby before her body is burned on a funeral pyre. The crow is removed from the group of 'white birds'.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s 'Canterbury Tales' (late 14th century), the anti-feminist Manciple changes the tale to focus on the wife as deceitful adulteress. She becomes nameless, and was owned, like the tuneful crow, as Phoebus' property. The Manciple’s focus is on women’s untrustworthiness and the requirement to domesticate them. 


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