"One thousand, one hundred and sixty years in time and space had elapsed since God in His grace came down in the Virgin, when a cleric from Caen by the name of Master Wace undertook the story of Rou and his race ..."Wace's 'Roman de Rou' chronicles Norman history, in verse, from the founding duke, Rollo (Rou), to the battle of Tinchebray in 1106. It was apparently commissioned by King Henry II (reigned 1154-89), possibly on the strength of Wace's earlier work (finished in 1155), a versified adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fantastical 'Historia Regum Britanniae', the 'Roman de Brut' (which seems to have achieved considerable popularity, and in which Wace introduced King Arthur's round table).
Both Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, were descended from Rollo. Henry via Rollo's son, and successor, William 'Longsword'. Eleanor via Rollo's daughter, Gerloc (who married Duke William III of Aquitaine, and was called Adela).
Within the 'Roman de Rou', Wace writes:
"The history of the Normans is a long one and hard to set down in the vernacular. If one asks who said this, who wrote this history in the vernacular, I say and will say that I am Wace from the Isle of Jersey, which is in the sea towards the west and belongs to the territory of Normandy. I was born on the island of Jersey and taken to Caen as a small child; there I went to school and was then educated for a long time in France. When I returned from France, I stayed in Caen for a long time and set about composing works in the vernacular: I wrote and composed a good many. With the help of God and the king - I must serve no one apart from God - a prebend was given to me in Bayeux (may God reward him for this). I can tell you it was Henry the second, the grandson of Henry and the father of Henry."At any rate, for some reason, Henry became dissatisfied with Wace's work (or with Wace himself), and withdrew his patronage. Wace breaks off from his narrative, and writes:
"Let he whose business it is continue the story. I am referring to Master Beneeit [probably Benoît de Saint-Maure], who has undertaken to tell of this affair, as the king has assigned the task to him; since the king asked him to do it, I must abandon it and fall silent. The king in the past was very good to me. He gave me a great deal and promised me more, and if he had given me everything he promised me things would have gone better for me. I could not have it, it did not please the king; but it is not my fault. I have known three king Henrys and seen them all in Normandy; all three had lordship over Normandy and England. The second Henry, about whom I am talking, was the grandson of the first Henry and born of Matilda, the empress, and the third was the son of the second. Here ends the book of Master Wace; anyone who wishes to do more, let him do it."Wace ceased work after 1174 (he mentions the siege of Rouen of that year). A substantial portion of the 'Roman de Rou' only exists in a 17th century copy, though the section in which the Norman Conquest of England occurs is also preserved in three medieval manuscripts (one early-13th, one late-13th and one late-14th century). Incidentally, Wace is most likely a personal name, not a surname. For some reason (perhaps based on an erroneous reading) he has sometimes been called Robert Wace.
Translation by Glyn S. Burgess