Marie de France ("Mary of France") was a poet probably born in France and living in England during the late 12th century. She lived and wrote at an undisclosed court. Virtually nothing is known of her life; both her given name and its geographical specification come from her manuscripts, though one contemporary reference to her work and popularity remains.
Marie de France wrote a form of Anglo-Norman French, and was evidently trained in a number of languages, including Latin. She is the author of the Lais of Marie de France; a translation of Aesop's Fables; and of a Latin text, Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick. Recently she has been (tentatively) identified as the author of a saint's life, The Life of Saint Audrey. Her lais in particular were and still are widely read, and influenced the subsequent development of the romance genre.
Life and works
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. However, it has also been speculated that Count William may refer to William Longsword. Longsword was a recognized adulterous son of Henry II. If Marie is actually Henry II's half-sister, a dedication to her nephew would be a reasonable inference (Kibler 589).
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