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Medieval erotic blockbuster discovered in Worcestershire

Rhonda Niven, Conservator, with the Romance of the Rose document Published Friday, 18th October 2019

The oldest surviving fragments of an erotic French poem, written in the Middle Ages, have been discovered in archives in Worcester.

“Le Roman de la Rose” was published in 1280 and became a blockbuster of its time.

The story centres on a courtier’s attempts to woo his love, the Rose. It includes details of a sexual encounter between the two, which led it to become a hugely popular story.

The poem is widely regarded as a major piece of European literature.  The erotic scenes are considered the most well known in Medieval literature, earning it the notoriety ‘The 50 shades of grey’ of its time.

The fragments of the poem were uncovered, by chance, in the Diocese of Worcester records housed in The Hive. An eminent academic from the University of East Anglia, Professor Nicholas Vincent, found the parchment pieces and called in Professor Marianne Ailes from the University of Bristol to identify them and she recognised their significance immediately.

The Worcestershire fragments are not in particularly good condition, having been used a book bindings, but contain the final scenes of the story which are missing from the modern publication of the poem.

Academics say the find is “very special and unique”. The Hive holds the official Diocesan records for Worcester and the find amongst its papers has caused a great deal of excitement.

Councillor Lucy Hodgson, Worcestershire County Councils Member with Responsibility for Communities said; “Such a wonderful, internationally important discovery at The Hive highlights once again, how vital our archives are. We are very proud of the work our archive and library teams do to protect and preserve our past, ensuring these wonderful discoveries.”

The poem was written by 2 authors and is 22,000 lines long.