Walter Map’s Authorship


Despite the obvious suggestions and references to Walter Map as the primary copier of the Prose Lancelot, there is still much debate about text authorship, which I dare to illuminate. Mr. Map may  not have been the original author, but it is more likely, by the proceeding evidence, he had some part in its ultimate conception as found today. Copyists and translators, especially in a world before mass print, would have been contributors of content and stamping their own variation of authorship often.

It can be evinced that 1) the original author was a hermit who had once been a great knight of battle and 2) that Walter’s Courtier’s Trifles contains duplications of the same material found in the Prose Lancelot. Nowhere else is the story of Guichard, a monk of Cluny, recorded. Such dealings between the secular and spiritual world seem commonly enlaced in 12th century social spheres given the high number of clergy in the day. Indeed, one bound by duty to his sons rightful inheritance and by vows to God is between Scylla and Charybdis, sailing to destruction if he doesn’t take it lightly. And yet the convergence of these two worlds, in two different texts, are expressly made clear; the conclusion is that the authorship is drawn from the same spring. Moreover, the inlaid narrative is a definitive look at the author himself, who was a hermit that was once a knight of great valor. One need only read the introduction to book one of the Prose Lancelot in the History of the Holy Grail to see the evidence of this statement. The damsel of the Golden Circlet is well aware of our Hermit writer and he is recognized, by appearance, as one of the knight’s who won the day of tourneying. Yet, this is a digression; the purpose of this article is to point out the similitude between in narrative content.

  1. Walter Map’s Guichard, a Monk of Cluny:

“ Guichard of Beaujeu, the father of that Humbert who is now engaged in a strife with his son, took the monastic habit at Cluny in the decline of his old age, and in his ease and newfound quiet, set himself to concentrate his mind, which hitherto in his life as a soldier had been always subject to distractions. This Guichard, when he had become a Cluniac monk, regained by armed forced for his son Humbert the whole of his land, which that son had lost through the strength of his enemies and his own want of strength: but the abbot and monks could hardly be prevailed upon to permit him to fight. He then returned to Cluny, remained faithful to his vow, and closed his life with a happy ending.” (37)

2) Prose Lancelot, a mysterious hermit tells Gawain:

“I had here with me a lord, a companion of mine, a knight, and he was deeply religious until great concern for worldly matters made him leave, for he had a son who was being dispossessed by a neighbor who had taken all his land except for one very strong tower. There his troops were still holding out. The attacker was a very fierce knight named Serugade, who lived along the road out of Britain beside Roestoc, near the river Severn. When the son saw he had lost everything, he did not know what to do except flee, for he saw that all his men had abandoned him because of their fear of this wondrous knight. So he came here (to the hermitage) to seek his father, whose name was Alier and who had been wonderfully strong and an excellent knight. When the father saw him in such anguish, he trembled in his heart, for he was still a man of flesh and blood. He said to me, ‘Master, is he who destroys life without justification not worse than a saracen? If I went overseas to fight against the destroyers of Christendom, it would be judged praiseworthy, for I must do all in my power to avenge the death of Jesus Christ, since I am a Christian. Therefore I’ll go to avenge my son, who is a Christian, and help him against those who are in the place of the unbelievers.’ It was after Easter, and since then I have had much news of him, for with a great force he brought his war to an end, and he is soon due to return.” (383)

Could the link between these stories not only illuminate the character of the original author of the entire prose but interrelate Map’s dealings with the copying, translation and maintaining of that text on behalf of King Henry II? It is very likely the case, and not much more evidence is required to stamp the verdict in favor of the case.

A case could be made that the writer of the Prose Tristan was equally indebted to the patronage of Henry II, who was as adamant about the Tristan Romance as he likely was about the Vulgate cycle. He was a true lover of romance and given that these two romances are so intertwined, despite the lack of proper english translations for the latter, it could be that Map had dealings with both of these key texts, as the lead courtier in that court.

3) Prose Tristan, Authors Epilogue

“I have told the story to the best of my ability in such a way as to give pleasure and delight. And since there are so many fine words contained therein, King Henry of England has read it from beginning to end, and still reads it frequently, no doubt because he finds it so enjoyable; and for this reason, and also because he discovered much more in the Latin Book than the translators of it put into French, he asked and begged me, both in person and through other people, in writing as well as orally, on account of the fact that he found many things missing in this book which should be included in it but could no longer be added now, that I set to work again on another book which would contain everything which is missing in this one. And since I would not dare to disregard the request and command of my lord, now that I have completed this book, and as soon as the cold winter has passed and we see the beginning of the pleasant season which we call spring, when I shall have rested a little after the strenuous toil of this book to which I have devoted one whole year and left all knightly deeds and all other pleasures, I promise that I shall turn once again to the Latin Book, and also to the other works which have been translated into French; and I shall look through them from over to cover, and from the material I find missing there but present in the Latin text, I shall make a new book.”