The last page of a medieval book is usually a protective flyleaf, which is positioned between the actual text and the bookbinding. It was usually left blank and it therefore often filled up with pen trials, notes, doodles, or drawings. This addition I encountered today and it is not what you’d expect: a full-on drawing of a maiden playing the lute, which she holds just like a guitar. A peaceful smile shines on her face. I love this rockstar lady, so unexpectedly positioned at the end of the book, trying to catch the reader’s attention as he is closing it.
Pic: London, British Library, Sloane MS 554 (more here).
Claim to fame: Author of immensely popular works that challenged societal norms.
Marie de France was a 12th century medieval poet. Details of her life are scanty but she was probably born in France and lived in England, possibly writing in the court of King Henry II.
Marie was proficient in Anglo-Norman French, Latin and English. Her most notable work is the Lais of Marie de France, a series of twelve narrative octosyllabic poems that influenced the development of the romance genre.
The Lais are captivating stories that glorify the romance and suffering of courtly love. The poems are notable for defying the traditional religious ideals of virginal love and marriage. Marie wrote about adulterous affairs with the heroines seducing men, extricating themselves from loveless or abusive marriages, exhibiting self determination and sexual freedom.
Marie’s remarkable willingness to romanticise adultery in the 12th century “reminds us that people in the Middle Ages were aware of social injustices and did not just accept oppressive conditions as inevitable by the will of God”.