We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

St Cuthbert's Society


Publication details

Archibald, Elizabeth (2014). Love and Marriage in the Breton Lays. Études Épistémè (25).

Author(s) from Durham


Love is usually said to be the central concern of the Middle English Breton lays, as of the French ones. But in fact the English poems pay relatively little attention to romantic love, and are more concerned with identity, family separation and reunion, loyalty and justice. In the French lays, as in French romances, adultery is often accepted, and the happiness of the malmariée put before moral considerations. It is often argued that the English in the Middle Ages were not keen on stories of adultery. There are some striking exceptions – for instance Malory’s focus on Lancelot and Guinevere – but it is certainly not a common theme in the English lays, though it is notable that the two lays by Marie which survive in English versions are both about extra-marital love affairs.