The ‘ROMAN DE ROU’ chronicles Norman history, in French verse, from the founding duke, Rollo (i.e. Rou), to the battle of Tinchebray in 1106. The last, and longest, section of the work (in which the Norman Conquest of England occurs) is in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, and was seemingly composed in the early-1170s. In it the author of the ‘Roman de Rou’ tells us something about himself:
“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 by Henry the second, the grandson of Henry and the father of Henry.”*
For some reason, Wace's sponsor, Henry II (king of England 1154–89), 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, 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 apparently ceased work soon after 1174.* Incidentally, Wace is most likely a personal name, not a surname. He has sometimes (perhaps as the result of a textual misreading) been, mistakenly, called Robert Wace.
Translation by Glyn S. Burgess
The last section of the ‘Roman de Rou’ is found in three medieval manuscripts (one early-13th, one late-13th and one late-14th century), but the first section plus an Introduction are found only in a 17th century copy (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Duchesne 79). Whilst the last section is in octosyllabic rhymed couplets (as was Wace's earlier ‘Roman de Brut’), the other two pieces are stylistically different, being written in alexandrines. The Introduction, which is essentially a brisk run-through of the history of the dukes of Normandy from Henry II back to Rollo, was named the ‘Chronique Ascendante des Ducs de Normandie’ by Frédéric Pluquet, who did not consider it to be part of the ‘Roman de Rou’, and so did not include it in his edition thereof (1827). Today, however, it is generally accepted as part and parcel of the ‘Roman de Rou’. It begins with the statement that in the year 1160 “a cleric from Caen by the name of Master Wace undertook the story of Rou and his race”.  Later, there is a reference to the siege of Rouen, which took-place in 1174.
It would seem that Wace began writing, in alexandrines, in 1160, but sometime later abandoned his work – the first section concludes with a complaint about his poverty. He subsequently returned to the work, resuming in the more familiar octosyllabic rhymed couplets – he makes a reference to “three king Henrys” near the beginning of this last section, which cannot have been written before 1170. Before abandoning the work completely, he revisited his Introduction to add the reference to the siege of Rouen. No events of later date are anywhere alluded to.
Wace's major previous work, the ‘Roman de Brut’ (finished in 1155), is a vernacular (i.e. French) versified (octosyllabic rhymed couplets) adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fantastical, Latin, ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’, in which Wace introduced King Arthur's round table.
This third Henry is not Henry III – his reign was 1216–1272. Henry II's son, Henry the Young King (as he is known), was crowned during his father's lifetime, at the age of 15, in 1170. In 1173–4 the Young King rebelled against his father. The rebellion failed and the two Henry's were reconciled. Henry the Young King died in 1183, six years before his father.
Volume II, pages 94–95: Frédéric Pluquet's two volume edition of the ‘Roman de Rou’ (1827).
en romanz
Probably Benoît de Sainte-Maure: ‘Chronique des Ducs de Normandie’.
Volume II, pages 407–409: Frédéric Pluquet's two volume edition of the ‘Roman de Rou’ (1827).