Philip de Thaun

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Philip de Thaun (sometimes Philippe de Thaun, Philippe de Thaon[1] or Philip de Thaon[2]) was the first Anglo-Norman poet. He is the first known Anglo-Norman poet to write in the Anglo-Norman French vernacular language, rather than Latin.[1]

Philip was probably a member of the noble family that held Than or Thaon in Normandy, near Caen. He may have arrived in England late in the 11th century, perhaps following his uncle who was an official for Prince Henry, later King Henry I of England. Paul Meyer disagreed with attributing noble birth to Philip, arguing instead that he was from an unknown background.[3]

Three works by Philip survive.[4] The first is the Comput,[1] or Computus,[4][a] written in 1113. The Comput contains the first surviving example of scientific,[1] or technical French. It deals with the calendar,[4] and is written in hexasyllabic couplets, using as its sources Bede, William de Conches, and Chilperic of St Gall.[3][b] It was dedicated to Philip's uncle, Humphrey de Thaon, who was an official of Eudo Dapifer.[4]

Philip's second work is the Bestiaire,[1] or Bestiary',[4] dedicated to Queen Adeliza of Louvain and written between 1121 and 1139[1] in French.[2] The Bestiarie is a translation of the Physiologus. It is a poem mostly in rhyming hexasyllabic couplets, with the final three hundred or so lines in octosyllabic verse. It is divided into a prologue, 38 chapters – 35 on animals and 3 on precious stones – and an epilogue. Although the translation is not considered a literary masterpiece, it is the earliest surviving translation of the Physiologus into French and is a critical reference for Anglo-Norman French.[3][c] The Bestiaire is one of two works from medieval England that relates the story that a crocodile cries when it eats a human. This story is the basis for the phrase "crocodile tears".[5][d]

Philip's last surviving work is Le Livre de Sibile.[1] This work is a translation into French of a Latin poem, the Prophecy of the Tibertine Sibyl. Philip dedicated his translation to Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I.[6][e] It is also in hexasyllabic verse and also includes some information from a work by Adso of Montier-en-Der entitled Libellus de Antichristo. The only extant manuscript of Le Livre does not have any indication that the work was by Philip, however.[3]

Three other works have occasionally been attributed to Philip but are not considered to be definitely written by him. These are the Debat de l'ame et du corps and two lapidaries – one alphabetical and one apocalyptic.[3]


  1. ^ It is given the name Liber de creaturis in Thomas Wright's 1841 work Popular Treatises on Science.[3]
  2. ^ Four manuscripts survive in England and three are in the Vatican Library.[3]
  3. ^ Philip's Bestiaire survives in three manuscripts.[3]
  4. ^ The other work is De naturis rerum by Alexander Nequam.[5]
  5. ^ Matilda was also the stepdaughter of Queen Adeliza.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Short "Language and Literature" Companion to the Anglo-Norman World p. 208
  2. ^ a b Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 45
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Beer "Thaun, Philip de (fl. 1113x19–1121x35)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ a b c d e Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 497
  5. ^ a b Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 675
  6. ^ Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings p. 656


  • Bartlett, Robert C. (2000). England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings: 1075–1225. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-822741-8.
  • Beer, Jeanette (2004). "Thaun, Philip de (fl. 1113x19–1121x35)" ((subscription or UK public library membership required)). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22099. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  • Short, Ian (2002). "Language and Literature". In Harper-Bill, Christopher; van Houts, Elizabeth. A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World. Woodbridge: Boydell. pp. 191–213. ISBN 978-184383-341-3.