The Dragon and the Cloister: History and Rhetoric in the Writing of Stephen of Rouen

Elizabeth Grace Kuhl, Fordham University


The Draco Normannicus of Stephen of Rouen, a twelfth-century monk of Bec, uses an unconventional nonlinear structure and ornate Latin verse to recount the history of the dukes of Normandy. It is best understood in the context of Stephen’s other works, including a handbook for teaching rhetoric which shows that the school of Bec was engaged with contemporary educational practices. It includes Stephen’s abbreviation of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, which was unique for the time in its scope and indicates some of the rhetorical principles at play in the Draco. Stephen’s interests were shared by other monks of Bec, some of whom also created their own personal florilegia and wrote histories that focused on the dukes of Normandy, their patrons. Bec’s surviving documentary records show the extent of this patronage. The dukes and several other prominent families established relationships with the monks through repeated donation, often renewing ties at transitional moments in their lives, and often focused around a priory of particular importance for the donor family. These relationships, in which the monks provided prayers for the dead and liturgical commemoration, were also extended through literary works, including Stephen’s eulogies for patrons which portrayed dead patrons as paragons to be imitated. The Draco also participated in this task of commemoration by taking the structure of the ducal family as its framework. The work focuses on the ducal family and especially the Empress Matilda to legitimize Henry II, portraying him as the ruler of an independent empire comprising Normandy, England, and Anjou. Chronological jumps offer favorable comparisons between Henry and heroes of the past. Drawing on his rhetorical expertise, Stephen used reported speech and debate to air and diffuse potential criticisms of Henry while making an implicit argument for the continued independence of Normandy from the kings of France.

Subject Area

History|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Kuhl, Elizabeth Grace, "The Dragon and the Cloister: History and Rhetoric in the Writing of Stephen of Rouen" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10634116.