Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas (fl.1200?)

THOMAS (fl. 1200?), romance-writer, is said by Wright to have lived in the reign of Richard I, but other authorities place him in the latter half of the thirteenth century. Nothing is known of him except that he produced versions of the romances of ‘King Horn’ and ‘Tristan.’ M. Pauline Paris considers it certain that he was an Englishman, though he lived among French-speaking people and himself wrote in French, imitating the style of his contemporary romancist, Adènes le Roi (Hist. Litt. de France, xxii. 551–68). Thomas has sometimes been credited with the original authorship of the romance of King Horn. There is, however, little doubt that in its original form—in which it is not now known to be extant—Horn was written in English, and possibly the ‘parchemin’ to which Thomas refers was written in that language. Thomas himself evidently expanded his original by inserting the long speeches of Rimel and ‘many courtly details of feast and tournament’ (Ward, Cat. Romances, i. 454), and by incorporating many purely French names. Thomas's version, in which his name frequently occurs, is extant in Douce MS. cxxxii. art. 1, Harleian MS. 527, and Cambridge Univ. MS. Ff. vi. 17. An analysis of the romance from the Cambridge manuscript was printed by Wright in the ‘Foreign Quarterly Review,’ xvi. 133–41, and it was edited in 1845 for the Bannatyne Club by M. Francisque Michel. English versions of the romance of ‘King Horn,’ expanded perhaps from the same original that Thomas followed, are extant in Cambridge Univ. MS. Gg. 4, xxvii. 2, in Bodleian MS. Laud 108, and in Harleian MS. 2253. The Harleian manuscript was very inaccurately printed by Ritson in vol. ii. of his ‘Early English Romances,’ 1802, and has been fully described in Ward's ‘Catalogue of Romances,’ i. 454 et sqq. The Cambridge manuscript was edited by J. R. Lumby for the Early English Text Society in 1866.

Thomas's other work, a version of the romance of ‘Tristan,’ was printed by M. Francisque Michel in 1835 from an imperfect manuscript belonging to Douce, which by a special clause in his will was not bequeathed to the Bodleian Library (Michel, pref. p. lvii). Wright (Biog. Brit. Lit. ii. 342) says vaguely that a fragment of another manuscript from a private collection had been printed but not published. Like Thomas's version of ‘King Horn,’ his ‘Tristan’ is written in French, but in ‘different measure and style.’ Thomas has been generally identified with the ‘Thomas von Britanie,’ whose French version of ‘Tristan’ Gottfried of Strasburg (fl. 1310) professes to have translated into German. Thomas's version, which does not appear to have been of any great length, is said to have been the basis of most of the later ‘Tristan’ romances (for the various English versions of ‘Tristan,’ which are not certainly known to have been connected with Thomas's works, see Ward, Cat. Romances, i. 356 et sqq. and Kolbing, Die nordische und die englische Version der Tristan-Sage, Heilbronn, 2 Theile, 1878–83, esp. vol. i. pp. cxlii et sqq.).

[Authorities cited; Catalogues of the Douce, Harleian, and Cambridge University Libraries; Preface to Michel's Tristan Romances 1835, Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, 1840, i. 95–112; Wright's Biogr. Lit. ii. 340–4.]

A. F. P.