William of Blois (poet)

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Abbot of Matina
Appointed c. 1167
Term ended after 1167
Personal details
Profession clergyman and writer

William of Blois[a] was a French medieval poet and dramatist. He wrote at least one poetical work, which has not survived, and some dramas. Besides being an author, William was also an ecclesiastic, being considered for a Sicilian bishopric and serving as abbot of a monastery in Italy.

Family and early life[edit]

William was from the Loire Valley,[1][2] the brother of fellow poet Peter of Blois. While named after Blois, there is no documentary evidence that either brother was born there.[2] The family's origins may have been in Brittany.[2] The family, which also included sisters, had some nobility if not much wealth, and William was well educated.[2] William moved to the Kingdom of Sicily, arriving shortly after his brother Peter.[3]

Writing career[edit]

William wrote in the 12th century and was the author of at least one work, the Flaura et Marcus, which has not survived. It was written in Latin. He is also credited with two other works, although his authorship is uncertain. These two works are the Alda, which survives in three manuscripts, and the Iurgia muscae et pulicis, surviving in one manuscript. Both of these other works were also written in Latin.[4] The Alda was modeled closely on the style of Matthew of Vendôme, so much so that it is difficult to distinguish the Alda from Matthew's own works.[5] One of the plot lines of the Alda is the seduction of a woman who is immured by the device of pretending to be a woman.[6]

Some at least of William's works were dramas.[7] William's works are part of a group of works known as the "Latin Elegiac comedies", although other names such as "Latin comedies", "Latin fabliaux", or "Latin comic tales" have also been employed. Major themes were guile, deception, lust and sexual scheming and were produced in elegiac verse modeled on that of Ovid.[8]

Clerical career[edit]

In 1167 William was the candidate of the French party that had come to Sicily in the following of the chancellor Stephen du Perche for the vacant diocese of Catania. He also had the support of the queen, Margaret of Navarre.[3] By November he had definitively lost the election to John of Ajello, candidate of the "xenophobe party" led by Matthew of Ajello.[3]

Around this time, perhaps as compensation for the lost bishopric, William became the abbot of the monastery of Santa Maria della Matina in Calabria. There is some confusion over the name of this abbey, but in letters from his brother Peter, William is referred to as abbas Matinensis or Mathinensis, a name which became emended to Maniacensis (Maniaci) in the Histoire Littéraire de France, which nonetheless correctly identifies the abbey.[3] Although the abbey was Benedictine at the time, as was William,[9] it became Cistercian in 1179/80. While he was still abbot, William received letters from his brother saying that William had not acquired his position in the best manner[10] and urging him to leave Italy and return to France. William agreed to do so, but it is not known if he actually left.[7]

William has been confused in the past with William de Blois, who was Bishop of Lincoln in England and died in 1206. This has since been disproven.[4]


  1. ^ French: Guillaume de Blois; Latin: Gulielmus Blesensis


  1. ^ Elliot Seven Medieval Latin Comedies intro.
  2. ^ a b c d Cotts The Clerical Dilemma pp. 19–20 and footnote 7
  3. ^ a b c d White "Biography of William of Blois" English Historical Review pp. 488–89
  4. ^ a b Sharpe Handlist of Latin Writers p. 754
  5. ^ Sedgwick "Textual Criticism" Speculum p. 290
  6. ^ Carver "Transformed in Show" English Literary Renaissance p. 327
  7. ^ a b Holmes and Weedon "Peter of Blois" Speculum p. 252
  8. ^ Bishop "Influence of Plautus and Latin Elegiac Comedy" Chaucer Review p. 297 and footnote 17
  9. ^ Cotts The Clerical Dilemma p. 248
  10. ^ Cotts The Clerical Dilemma p. 28