A Time of Transition: Studies In Lord Berners' "Arthur of Little Britain"

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Stanley Hauer

Advisor Department



The Early Tudor era in England was a germinal, transitional period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in both linguistic and literary development. At a time when English as a language of literature and learning was still in its infancy, translators such as John Bourchier, Lord Berners (1467-1533), who looked both backward to the age of chivalry and forward to the Renaissance, were indispensable in maintaining the continuity of England's cultural heritage. Arthur of Little Britain, Berners' English translation of the anonymous fourteenth-century French prose romance Artus de la Petite Bretagne, stands as evidence that a vital part of that heritage, the chivalric romance, remained popular in England throughout the sixteenth century, even in the face of opposition from humanists and Protestant moralists. The purpose of the present study is to assess the historical significance of Berners and of Arthur of Little Britain within the realm of English letters. The study is divided into four major chapters followed by a summary of conclusions. Chapter I examines Berners and his canon within the context of their significance in the development of sixteenth-century literature. Chapter II familiarizes the reader with the narrative of Arthur of Little Britain and analyzes its traditional quest pattern, its mythical ancestry (both Celtic and classical), and its episodic structure, thematically unified through entrelacement. Chapter III represents an attempt to assess the position of this romance within its own genre, while Chapter IV reveals Berners' Arthur as an important source upon which Edmund Spenser drew for The Faerie Queene. Arthur of Little Britain, whose action to a great extent was directed by a fairy queen and whose hero Arthur was not initially a king but throughout the narrative was learning "kingly virtues," deserves to be remembered both in its own right and as an inspiration for a literary masterpiece.