1. What are lais?
The source Ive selected is a collection of what are called lais, which are short, poetic romances. This is part of a genre that emerges in the Middle Ages in the late 11th, early 12th century, as part of the culture of courts and romances. Lais are on the subject usually of love, chivalry, most of those things you associate with the Middle Ages often have a supernatural element, like swans that go back and forth taking notes to people and ships that emerge out of nowhere to take characters off to other places.
These lais are popular stories in this courtly culture, popular in that the courts were centers of noble culture. Considering that these stories were recited, performed, repeated, and spread throughout Western Europe in many different vernacular languages, we know that theyre a good source for at least this nobilityits values, its issues, the customs of this social groupwhich although elite, was also extremely important in the Middle Ages since they held power.
In the late 12th century, there really isnt a distinction between public and private. You see across the central and into the later Middle Ages, a process that we often call the institutionalization or bureaucratization of government, where royal power is exercised more through institutions than through personal, feudal ties is really just accelerating.
In the late 12th century, Henry II is one of the key figures in this process, especially in the development of a judicial system and the development of a core of officials. That process of distinguishing the royal household from something that we might recognize as a government is just beginning, so the court is both public and private. Its where power is exercised, but its also where family and friends cultivate friendship.