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Marie de France

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Lanval

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In Lanval, Marie uses the Legend of King Arthur to make her views of the king known. Marie's courtly audience would have recognized the target of her attack. Lanval is her only Arthurian lai, and Arthurian literature is often used as a vehicle for examination of the contemporary monarchy and culture. The Arthurian setting of Lanval is one of the strongest arguments in favor of identifying it as written about, not for, Henry II.

As a Norman ruler, Henry evidently wished to become identified with King Arthur in order to validate his reign in that country and on the continent, and to glorify his identity as an "Anglo-Angevin" king in opposition to the Capetian kings' legitimization through Charlemagne (Kelly 55). To destroy the myth of Arthur's return and to allow himself to take Arthur's place as national hero, Henry sponsored an archaeological excavation at Glastonbury Abbey and staged an "elaborate 'discovery'" of the tombs of Arthur and Guinevere (Duby 198).

Furthermore, the kernel of Marie's attack on Arthur in Lanval is his failure as feudal lord and administrator of justice. One of Henry's areas of concentration during his reign was the improvement of the judicial system.
Marie certainly displays great concern over this problem in Lanval and some of the Fables, but it must be wondered why Marie would "frequently point to the urgent need for a system of justice that treats everyone fairly" if Henry were successfully alleviating that need.

Surely the medieval audience understood the choice of traditional material as a vehicle for commentary on contemporary issues and persons, and Eleanor would not have missed the point. The likelihood of the image of Henry as a self-interested and rash administrator of justice, a cuckolded husband and graceless feudal lord being tolerated or considered as entertainment is unimaginable, not to mention the depiction of Eleanor as an adulterous, prideful queen, willing to pervert justice and the court to serve her ends.

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