Bernard of Morlaix: the literature of complaint, the Latin tradition and the twelfth-century “Renaissance”

Bernard of Morlaix: the literature of complaint, the Latin tradition and the twelfth-century “Renaissance”

John Balnaves

Doctor of Philosophy, Australian National University, March (1997)


Bernard of Morlaix was a Cluniac monk who flourished around 1140. What little is known about him, including his visit to Rome, is examined in relation to the affairs of the Cluniac family in his day. A new conjecture is advanced that he was prior of Saint-Denis de Nogent-le-Rotrou. His poems are discussed as examples of the genre of complaint literature. His treatment of the end of the world, and of death, judgement, heaven and hell, is discussed in relation to twelfth-century monasticism. His castigation of the sins of his time includes some of the earliest estates satire. His anticlericalism and his misogyny are compared with those of his contemporaries, and discussed in the context of twelfth-century monastic culture. Bernard’s classical learning is analysed and compared with that of his contemporaries, especially John of Salisbury and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

His use of metre and rhyme is examined in the context of the development of metre based on stress rather than quantity and of systematic and sustained rhyme in the Latin verse of the twelfth century. Bernard’s use of interpretive and compositional allegory is explored. Bernard is seen as a man of his time, exemplifying a number of twelfth-century characteristics, religious, educational and cultural. Special attention is paid to the Latin literary tradition, and it is suggested that the culture of the twelfth-century was in many respects a culmination rather than a renaissance.

Click here to read this article from Australian National University

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!