Medieval Studies Wace
Francoise Le Saux
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0142


Wace (rarely: Guace, Gace; or, erroneously: Robert Wace), is arguably one of the most influential writers of the 12th century. Born in Jersey after 1100, he started his career as a cleric based in the town of Caen, at a time when Normandy was still at the heart of the Anglo-Norman world and appears to have worked in the ducal administration, giving him access to court circles and probably involving travel to England. Wace was made a canon of Bayeux cathedral c. 1160 and is thought to have died between 1174 and 1183. Five of his works have been passed down to us. The hugely successful Roman de Brut (1155) is a verse translation into French of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (1138–1140); it contains the first attested mention of King Arthur’s Round Table. This text is regularly cited by literary historians and extracts of certain passages (predominantly from the Arthurian section) are frequently anthologized; it has given rise to a vast body of scholarship. The Roman de Rou (c. 1160–1174), Wace’s last work, is a history of the dukes of Normandy, from the Viking Rollo, founder of the line, to Duke Robert Curthose. It draws upon a range of sources, mostly Latin chronicles and histories but also oral tradition, making it a valuable resource for historians of medieval Normandy as well as a literary masterpiece. Less well known are Wace’s three earlier, religious poems, a Life of St. Margaret of Antioch (Vie de Ste Marguerite), a Life of St. Nicolas (Vie de Saint Nicolas), and a Life of the Virgin (Conception Nostre Dame). The exact date and order of composition of these three works is uncertain, though the Marguerite is thought to be the earliest (c. 1130–1140) and the Nicolas possibly closest in time to the composition of the Roman de Brut. All are adaptations into French verse of Latin narratives; and in the case of the Conception Nostre Dame in particular, they are at the forefront of 12th-century religious developments. All of these works except part of the Roman de Rou are composed in rhyming octosyllabic couplets.


Wace is studied mainly in the field of medieval Arthurian literature (both for the Roman de Brut and certain parts of the Roman de Rou), and by historians of medieval Normandy (Roman de Rou). The three hagiographical poems have until very recently been relatively neglected and have been the subject of few publications. The key sources of bibliographical information for Wace are Dean 1999, for the manuscript witnesses of the texts; Blacker and Burgess 2008, for manuscripts, editions, and publications up to 2007; and the yearly Bibliographical Bulletin of the International Arthurian Society for more recent publications.

  • Blacker, Jean, and Glyn S. Burgess. Wace: A Critical Bibliography. St. Helier, UK: Société Jersiaise, 2008.

    This comprehensive bibliography covers publications on and around Wace’s works from the 19th century onward, with helpful abstracts and a simple but efficient cross-referencing system alerting the reader to areas of scholarly controversy or debate.

  • Dean, R. J. Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1999.

    The reference for all scholars working on Anglo-Norman texts; essential for research involving knowledge of the manuscripts.

  • Bibliographical Bulletin of the International Arthurian Society.

    This yearly publication of the International Arthurian Society is an essential resource. The Wace entries are not confined to studies of the Roman de Brut, but tend to encompass the entirety of his surviving work. All entries are followed by a brief abstract.

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