The Brut is the name of a poem by the English poet Lawman which renders Wace’s Roman de Brut into Middle English between 1129 and 1225. The author’s name is recorded as Laȝamon, Laweman, and Loweman in the two extant manuscripts of the poem.
Lawman’s Brut survives in two manuscripts, both in the British Museum. They are MS Cotton Caligula A ix, hereafter referred to as MS C and MS Cotton Otho C xiii, hereafter referred to as MS O. Only 145 folios of MS O survive, many badly damaged in a fire at Ashburnham House in 1731.
MS O appears to be a purposely somewhat abridged version of the work, revised to remove non-factual descriptive passages, rhetorical expressions, and archaic diction. MS C therefor more closely represents what Lawman wrote, and is the base manuscript used by scholars. MS C is written in self-consciously archaic spelling and grammar, apparently to provide a patina of age to a tale of long ago. But the diction is colloquial and up-to-date for the time it was written.
Lawman tells that he wished to tell of the earliest famous men in England and went searching for books which contained this information. He found an English translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Wace’s Roman de Brut, and a third book which Lawman describes as being in Latin and written by St. Augustine and Albin. No such work is known. Perhaps Lawman could not read much Latin for sense and here speaks of the original Latin version of Bede’s Historia in which Albin is said to provide Bede with information and in which Augustine is a character.
For though Lawman claims to have merged the three accounts into one, in fact, nothing of Bede’s work appears in Lawman’s Brut. The work appears to be taken almost entirely from Wace, with additional material here and there from sources unknown. Lawman either found that Bede’s account was too different to fit easily into Wace’s version, and so changed his purpose. Or the idea of merging three accounts may have been thought of when the work was almost complete, when the introduction may have been written; but it was never achieved, at least in the two manuscripts that have survived.
Lawman's Brut is written in a loose alliterative style, sporadically deploying rhyme, as well as a caesural pause between the hemistichs of a line. The vocabulary is very English. In his edition, Frederick Madden claims there are under 50 words of French origin in MS C and no more than 70 in the MS O adaptation.
Lawman generally follows Wace’s Roman de Brut almost exactly, but his poem is about twice the size of Wace’s work, mostly because Lawman amplifies Wace’s scenes with extra dialogue and description. Generally it is not possible to see whether Lawman is taking his material from another source or whether Lawman is inventing. The following discussion mentions only those passages where Lawman’s account differs factually from Wace’s, or where large amount of information have been added or removed. Very minor differences are not mentioned here.
Material Removed by LawmanEdit
Lawman removes most of Arthur’s account of the giant Rithon and how Rithon was defeated. He also omits the list of four princes slain by the Romans in their attack on the prisoners’ convey.
Material Added by LawmanEdit
Lawman gives the name Orien to the daughter of Octaves whom Maximian marries, a woman whom neither Geoffrey nor Wace name, and whom some Welsh traditions name Elen, as Lawman, living to close so the Welsh border might have known if he had wished to. Seemingly Lawman here invented a name for a character who was nameless in Wace’s account.
Lawman does give the name Ursula to the chief of the women captured and raped by Wanius and Melga, indicating that Lawman realizes that this is a variant of the story of St. Ursula and the eleven thousand virgins. But he adds much in his descripion of the storm which rises and in non-hagiographic fashion simply has Ursula given to Melga, who rapes her, and then to his men who also rape and ignores her final fate.
Lawman tells that in King Constantine’s war, Wanius and Melga were slain. Constantine’s coronation is in Silchester as in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, rather than in Cirencester as Wace relates. The Pict who assassinates Constantine is named Cadal. Lawman has Vortigern, when persuading King Constantine to allow him to bring in Pictish soldiers, mention not only danger from Norway and Denmark, but news that the King of Russia, the King of Gothland, and the King of Frisans are planning to attack Britain. Lawman names the foremost Pict in the assassination plot as Gille Callæt.
Apollin, Tervagant, the Sun, the Moon, and Tidea are added to Hengist’s account of the gods he worships. Later Venus, Didon, and Mamilon are also mentioned. Vortigern’s second son is named Catigern, as in Geoffrey, not Vortiger as in Wace. Ebusa accompanies Oisc son of Hengist to Britain, but is introduced as Oisc’s brother-in-law, rather than Osic’s kinsman. After his visit to Britain, Germanus reports to the Pope, who is named Romain. Vortimer is buried at Billingsgate.
Vortigern divides the land he has forced Vortigern to bestow on him, placing an earl over Kent, giving Essex to his steward and Middlesex to his chamberlain. The lowest folk are given lands in Sussex, most of their race are given lands in Middlesex, and the noblest folk are given lands in Essex.
When Vortigern’s messengers find the supposedly fatherless boy in Carmarthen, the order a reeve named Eli to give him up and it is Eli who brings Merlin’s mother to Vortigern to tell of Merlin’s fathering. Merlin’s mother is daughter of a king named Conan. She was fifteen years old, still living with her father, when in her sleep a tall knight dressed in gold approached her. Joram is the chief of Vortigern’s advisors who gave the false advice about the fatherless boy.
Oisc and his companions are baptized when peace is made. Later, at the point when Wace begins to talk about Eosa rather than Ebusa, Lawman talks about both of them, naming Eosa as “the other”.
Lawman tells how elves appear when Arthur is born and give him the gifts of being the best of knights, of being a rich king, of having a long life; and they give to him the virtue of generosity. Are these elven women? In the second continuation to Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, it is told that three woman were present at Arthur’s birth, and that their mistress gave to Arthur greater esteem and valor and wisdom and prowess and great honor and greater courage and worth than any man born.
Lawman tells that Arthur was in Little Britain when his father, King Uther Pendragon died. Presumably Arthur was being fostered there. Arthur is crowned at Silchester, as in Geoffrey, not in Cirencester, as in Wace. Later, a knight named Maurin, a kinsman of Arthur, warns Arthur that Colgrin’s brother Baldulf is preparing to attack his forces. Lawman calls Howel of Little Britain, Arthur’s kinsman or cousin, rather than Arthur’s nephew as in Geoffrey and Wace. Accordingly the reader or hearer is less likely to wonder what sister of Arthur was Howel’s mother. Arthur’s mail shirt was made by an elvish smith named Wygar. Arthur’s rich helm was named Goswhit (‘Goose-white’) which had been Uther’s.
Lawman tells how the Round Table was created. A violent quarrel broke out among Arthur’s knights at a banquet. Afterward Arthur meets a workman in Cornwall who promises to make him a round table about which sixteen hundred knights and more might sit, and he will make it so that Arthur may carry it with him when he rides and may set it down where he chooses. The Britons tell many things about Arthur that never happened.
When Arthur fights Frollo, he has a spear made in Carmarthen by a smith named Griffin, which had been Uther’s. Lawman adds a list of nobles present at Arthur’s duel with Frollo: King Angusel of Scotland, King Loth, King Urien, Yvain son of King Urien, Kay, Bedwyr, King Howel, Cador, King Gunhpar of the Orkneys, King Doldavius of Gothland, King Rumarolt of Geneland, and King Aschil of Denmark.
Lawman also adds King Kinkalin of Fiesland to the list of Arthur’s subject kings. He tells how Count Leodegar of Boulogne was slain by Gecron, the son of an admiral. To the burial of Kay at Chinon, Lawman adds that Chinon was thenceforward named Caen for Kay, a surprising confusion of two separate French cities. He adds the burial of Count Leodegar in Boulogne.
A messenger comes from Britain. That night Arthur has a dream which foreshadows his end. The messenger then informs Arthur of Mordred’s treachery. Arthur arrives in Britain at Romney where Gawain kills Chelric’s son before being himself slain by a Saxon.
Lawman also expands Wace’s tale of Arthur’s end. Two knights alone are left alive with the wounded Arthur at the end of Arthur’s battle with Mordred. A young lad appears, Constantine son of Cador of Cornwall to whom Arthur gives the kingdom. Then Arthur says that he will go to Avalun, that his wounds may be healed by the elf-queen Argante. A boat comes from the sea bearing two women and they take Arthur away.
One odd addition is that Lawman is very insistent in relating that King Carric, the King Keredic of Geoffrey, used instead a nickname Kinerich (‘Kingdom-rich’) and that this is the name that is used for him in many books. Then Lawman relates the trick by which Gormund conquered Cirencester as told in Wace. Burning tinder in nutshells is fastened to the sparrows of the town, so that when the sparrows return to Cirencester they set the town ablaze. Does Lawman have some source where this tale is told of King Cynric of Wessex, son of King Cerdic?
Lawman often uses similes, but especially so in Arthur’s war against the Saxons where the similes are greatly extended. Such extended similes are not uncommon in Latin verse, but rare in French verse or Middle English verse. Perhaps for this section Lawman had another source from which he derived these similes. Or perhaps the subject matter here inspired Lawman.
The eight extended similes are:
- 1.) Arthur is compared to a wolf in winter snow (10041–2);
- 2.) Arthur and his men go forward like a tall forest under a strong wind (10047–8);
- 3.) Colgrin with his defeated Saxons resembles a crane in the marshes (10061–67);
- 4.) Arthur compares Cheldric to a hunted fox (10398–413);
- 5.) Arthur is likened to a wild boar meeting other swine (10609–10);
- 6.) Arthur compares Colgrim to a goat harassed by a wolf (10629–36);
- 7.) Arthur relates that Baldulf sees steel fish in the River Avon (20639–41);
- 8.) Arthur compares Cheldric to a hunter who has abandoned his hunt (10647–50).
Material Changed by LawmanEdit
Renwein does not send a servant to poison Vortimer, but does it herself, puring half the wine she brings into a bowl, and adding poison at that point using a hidden phial, so that Vortimer sees Reinwein drink from the wine that remains and sees no harm.
No mention is made that Uther’s daughter will be Queen of Scotland. The beam that splits into seven shafts is explictly said to stand for (in Mason’s translation):
... seven fair sons, who shall come of thy daughter, who shall win to their own hand many a kingdom; they shall be well strong, on water and on land.But later it is mentioned that Mordred is Gawain’s only brother, that he has no other.
Lawman makes the princess who is taken captive by the giant of Mount St. Michael to be Howel’s daughter rather than Howel’s niece.
Evaluation of Lawman’s WorkEdit
Lawman, so far as is known, was the first poet to write about Arthur in the English language, the first poet to write a long poem in English since the Norman conquest, and the first poet to put into English what was the reading material of the Norman and French aristocrats.
The poem is excellent and was presumably popular among those who knew it. But its archaic language may have soon made it seem to difficult to many.
No subsequent work, whether Arthurian or not, contains anything that suggests a knowledge of Lawman’s work. But then there are very few works where one might expect to find such knowledge mentioned.
- Middle English only:
- Ed. Brook, G. L. and Leslie, R. F (1963, 1978). Laȝamon: Brut, edited from British Museum MS. Cotton Caligula A.ix and British Museum MS Cotton Otho C. xiii. 2 vols. London: Early English Text Society.
- Middle English and Modern English translation:
- Ed. and trans. Barron, W. R. J. and Weinberg S. C. (1989). Laȝamon’s Arthur: The Arthurian Section of Laȝamon. [Lines 9229–14297.] Harlow: Longman.
- Ed. and trans. Madden, Sir Frederick (1847). `Brut’, or Chronicle of Britain: A Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of The Brut of Wace. 3 vols. London.
- See Internet Archive > Text Archive > European Libraries > Layamon's Brut, Or Chronicle of Britain: A Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of ... > Vol. 1 and Internet Archive > Text Archive > European Libraries > Layamon's Brut, Or Chronicle of Britain: A Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of ... > Vol. II and Internet Archive > Text Archive > European Libraries > Layamon's Brut, Or Chronicle of Britain: A Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of ... > Vol. III.
- See Internet Archive > Text Archive > American Libraries > Lazamons Brut > Harvard > Vol. I. and Internet Archive > Text Archive > American Libraries > Lazamons Brut > Harvard > Vol. II and Internet Archive > Text Archive > American Libraries > Lazamons Brut > Harvard > Vol. III.
- See Internet Archive > Text Archive > American Libraries > Lazamons Brut > New York > Vol. I and Internet Archive > Text Archive > American Libraries > Lazamons Brut > New York > Vol. II and Internet Archive > Text Archive > American Libraries > Lazamons Brut > New York > Vol. III.
- See Internet Archive > Text Archive > Canadian Libraries > Layamons Brut; or, Chroncile of Britain; a poetical semi Saxon paraphrase of the Brut of Wace. Now first published from the Cottonian MSS in the British Museum, accompanied by a literal translation, notes, and a grammatical glossary > Vol. II. and Internet Archive > Text Archive > Canadian Libraries > Layamons Brut; or, Chroncile of Britain; a poetical semi Saxon paraphrase of the Brut of Wace. Now first published from the Cottonian MSS in the British Museum, accompanied by a literal translation, notes, and a grammatical glossary > Vol. III.
- Modern English translation only:
- Trans. Allan, Rosamund (1993). Lawman: Brut. London, Everyman’s.
- Trans. Mason, Eugene (1962). In Wace and Layamon: Arthurian Chronicles, pp. 117–264. [Lines 6388–14297.] (Adapted from Frederick Madden’s translation of 1847.) London, Everyman’s.