This roundtable will bring together scholars from various fields, including English, French, history, and art history, in order to explore intersections between literature, the visual arts, and historical events from across the medieval Anglophone and Francophone worlds during the course of a single year: 1402. By focusing on the resulting cultural cross-section rather than on one of the organizing rubrics—an author, a text, a theme, a genre, a national tradition, or a period such as the Hundred Years’ War—that furnish guiding narratives for typical sessions, this roundtable seeks to expose overlooked aspects of late medieval Europe’s fundamental interconnectedness, drawing out the myriad links forged by war, by trade, and by the exchange of transforming ideas about how to frame fictions, theorize politics, and write lives.
For instance, 1402 was the year in which the English poet Thomas Hoccleve completed his first major work, The Letter of Cupid, which was a translation of the French writer Chistine de Pizan’s Epistre au dieu d’Amours, a translation made possible by both the ascension of Henry IV in England and the cross-Channel communications occasioned by the Hundred Years’ War. In the same year, Christine de Pizan was involved in the “Querelle de la Rose,” a public debate about the poetics and gender politics of erotic poetry, and working on the Livre du Chemin de long estude, which innovatively integrates didactic and autobiographical agendas and poetics. Meanwhile, two French soldiers of fortune, Gadifer de la Salle and Jean de Bethencourt, products of the Hundred Years War, were leading a multinational expedition to conquer and settle the Canary Islands under the king of Castile—an expedition whose chronicle, Le Canarien, shows the ethical ideals and generic conventions of chivalric literature (another frequent target of Christine de Pizan’s ironic, critical pen) buckling under the combined pressures of ignoble, self-interested behavior and an unfamiliar colonial scenario.
In tracing the networks of intellectual and political exchange that connect these and other contemporaneous events at a single late medieval moment, the roundtable hopes to uncover provocative perspectives on the turn of the fifteenth century while also prompting reflection on the extent to which no historical phenomenon occurs in a vacuum, so that understanding medieval texts and events means rethinking their causality in terms of their entanglement with a host of other events, grasping them as threads in the fabric of a world.