Writing History for the King: Henry II and the Politics of Vernacular Historiography
- Publish Date: 2013-10-22
- Binding: Hardcover
- Author: Charity Urbanski
Writing History for the King is at once a reassessment of the reign of Henry II of England (11331189) 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. 11601174) and Benot de Sainte-Maures Chronique des ducs de Normandie (c. 11741189). 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 Benot de Sainte-Maure.
Urbanski examines these histories as part of a single enterprise intended to cement the kings authority by enhancing the prestige of Henry IIs dynasty. In a close reading of Waces Rou, she shows that it presented a less than flattering picture of Henrys predecessors, in effect challenging his policies and casting a shadow over the legitimacy of his rule. Benot de Sainte-Maures Chronique, in contrast, mounted a staunchly royalist defense of Anglo-Norman kingship. Urbanski reads both works in the context of Henrys 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.