Denis Piramus’ La Vie Seint Edmund: A case for a transitory Anglo-Norman Identity

Gabriela A. Faundez Rojas
University of Miami

Written in the late 12th century, Denis Piramus’ La Vie Seint Edmund le Rei is a prime example of the Anglo-Norman literature produced in England in the centuries after the Norman Conquest. Although Piramus’ text is entirely written in the langue d’oil, the narrative is composed from an amalgam of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, British, and Anglo-Norman sources on Edmund’s life and the early medieval history of the British Isles. However, few works have considered Piramus’ treatment of these sources within the context of identity formation after the Norman Conquest. By examining the way in which Piramus adapts these sources to Edmund’s hagiography, his narrative additions, and the evaluation of the different participating ethnic groups (Britons, Anglo-Saxons, and Danes), my research will argue that La Vie Seint Edmund provides a glimpse of the ever-evolving and transitory Anglo-Norman identity developed in the century after the Norman Conquest. Historians have argued that ethnic identities shifted with the arrival of a new people after the conquest, and a dual identity encompassing both Norman and English elements developed. Christian writers were more often responsible for propagating the positive attributes of the English people, as Piramus does in his hagiography of Edmund. The interplay between the Anglo-Norman language of La Vie Seint Edmund, the employment of British sources, and the inflated praise of Anglo-Saxon individuals (and the vilification of others) is illustrative of the transitory Anglo-Norman identity shaped by the conquest that would culminate in the development of an English one by the 13th century.