Marie de France ("Mary of France") was a poet evidently born in France and living in England during the late 12th century. Virtually nothing is known of her early life, though she wrote a form of Anglo-Norman. She also translated some Latin literature and produced an influential version of Aesop's Fables.
Marie de France from an illuminated manuscript
Although her actual name is now unknown, she is referred to as "Marie de France" after a line in one of her published works: "Marie ai num, si sui de France," which translates as "My name is Marie, and I am from France." Some of the most widely accepted candidates for the poet are Marie, Abbess of Shaftesbury and half-sister to Henry II, King of England; Marie, Abbess of Reading; Marie de Boulogne; Marie, Abbess of Barking; and Marie de Meulan, wife of Hugh Talbot.
Four works have been attributed to Marie de France: The Lais of Marie de France (a collection of twelve short narrative poems not unlike shortened versions of romances), the one hundred and two "Ysopet" fables, a retelling of the Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick, and, most recently, a saint's life called La Vie seinte Audree about Saint Audrey of Ely. Scholars have dated Marie's works between about 1160 at the earliest, and about 1215 at the latest, though it is probable that they were written between about 1170 and 1205. One of her works, the Lais, is dedicated to a "noble king," another to a "Count William." It is thought that the king referred to is either Henry II of England or his eldest son, "Henry the Young King." The Count William in question is, most likely, either William of Mandeville or William Marshall.
It has been suggested that Marie de France was a member of the court Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1816, the English poet Matilda Betham wrote a long poem about Marie de France in octosyllabic couplets, "The Lay of Marie."Return to Main Index
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