‘This realm is an empire’
Tales of origins in medieval and early modern France and England
in Interweaving myths in Shakespeare and his contemporaries
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The complex mixtures of myths, legends and biblical elements helped rival chroniclers to fashion tales of origins that Shakespeare would revisit, exploring alternatives of cultural and family hybridity. French and English medieval monarchs were one large family, divided by common sources, territories and ancestors. Chroniclers and poets supported their respective claims with millenarian or messianic themes, mythological epics and popular legends, often using the same ones. Gautier (Walter) Map for the Plantagenets, the monk Hélinand de Froidmont for the Capetians, tell the story of the Mesnie Hellequin, an incarnation of the Celtic god Herne from whom the kings of France and England inherited their power to heal scrofula. British history since time immemorial was one of repeated conquests and usurpations. Pressed to justify frequent dynastic changes, English chroniclers often urged their kings to emulate the French monarchs, St Louis or Charles V the Wise.

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