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A Companion to Fifteenth-Century English Poetry

A Companion to Fifteenth-Century English Poetry

Julia Boffey
A. S. G. Edwards
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Fifteenth-Century English Poetry
    Book Description:

    This collection of seventeen original essays by leading authorities offers, for the first time, a comprehensive overview of the significant authors and important aspects of fifteenth-century English poetry. The major poets of the century, John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve, receive detailed analysis, alongside perhaps lesser-known authors: John Capgrave, Osbern Bokenham, Peter Idley, George Ashby and John Audelay. In addition, several essays examine genres and topics, including romance, popular, historical and scientific poetry, and translations from the classics. Other chapters investigate the crucial contexts for approaching poetry of this period: manuscript circulation, patronage and the influence of Chaucer. Julia Boffey is Professor of Medieval Studies at Queen Mary, University of London; A.S.G. Edwards is Professor of Medieval Manuscripts at the University of Kent. Contributors: Anthony Bale, Julia Boffey, A.S.G. Edwards, Susanna Fein, Alfred Hiatt, Simon Horobin, Sarah James, Andrew King, Sheila Lindenbaum, Joanna Martin, Carol Meale, Robert Meyer-Lee, Ad Putter, John Scattergood, Anke Timmermann, Daniel Wakelin, David Watt.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-111-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Conventions
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The scholarly study of fifteenth-century English verse is very much a late twentieth-century phenomenon. A number of the writings associated with the fifteenth-century authors covered in this collection of essays were not accessible in usable editions until some point in the twentieth century, and the critical tendency to overlook fifteenth-century poetry was in part an inevitable result of its simple unavailability. But the early decades of the twentieth century saw significant changes in the landscape of fifteenth-century verse, attributable largely to the efforts of dedicated individuals working in isolation. Henry Bergen, most significantly, produced in the first two decades of...

  7. Part I: Background and Context

    • 1 The Patronage of Poetry
      (pp. 7-20)

      In 1445, when Isabel Bourchier, Countess of Eu, commissioned the Augustinian friar, Osbern Bokenham, to write a life of Mary Magdalene for her, she used a phrase in relation to her patronage that seems to be a gracious request, apparently leaving Bokenham a choice in the matter: ‘If ye liked þe labour to take’ (Bokenham, ed. Serjeantson 1938: line 5074).¹ Bokenham is, however, open about the quandary in which she places him. Further on in the ‘Prolocutorye’ to the Legend, following the conventional rehearsal of the modesty topos, doubting, he ruminates:

      I thowt how hard it is to denye


    • 2 Forms of Circulation
      (pp. 21-32)

      Just as the verse of fifteenth-century poets such as Lydgate and Hoccleve was heavily indebted to Chaucer’s model for its themes, subjects and forms, so too were its modes of circulation influenced by Chaucerian texts and manuscripts. An important model for the format and layout of the verse manuscripts of his followers was the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales (HEH, MS EL 26.C.9), a de luxe and authoritative copy of the work, produced in London in the first decade of the fifteenth century. In addition to its expansive use of white space, illuminated initials and the provision of a...

  8. Part II: Authors

    • 3 Thomas Hoccleve
      (pp. 35-46)

      Thomas Hoccleve began the practice of poetry at a crucial juncture, just at the start of the Lancastrian era, when poets were attempting to adapt the achievements of their late fourteenth-century predecessors to a new set of cultural conditions. As a clerk of the Privy seal, Hoccleve himself was professionally well placed to negotiate this transition. Although he lacked the social rank and learning of his poetic ‘masters’, Chaucer and Gower, his employment in the world of London’s elite clerks, where these authors were well known, enabled him to absorb and perpetuate their example, while he also had first-hand knowledge...

    • 4 Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes
      (pp. 47-58)

      To judge by the number of surviving manuscripts, the Regiment of Princes was not only Thomas Hoccleve’s most popular poem but also, arguably, among the most popular poems written in Middle English in the fifteenth century. The Regiment survives in forty-six copies that seem to have been designed to be substantial or complete (Edwards 1971; Seymour 1974; Green 1978).¹ In comparison, John Lydgate’s Fall of Princes survives in thirty-nine copies that initially seem to have been complete, though selections of it survive in many other manuscripts. The number of surviving Regiment manuscripts also compares favourably with the number of witnesses...

    • 5 John Lydgate’s Major Poems
      (pp. 59-72)

      John Lydgate (c.1370–1449) was a Benedictine monk of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, who entered the novitiate at age 15 and in his forties served for several years as prior of Hatfield Broad Oak (Hatfield Regis) in Essex. He was also indisputably the most prominent vernacular poet in England in the first half of the fifteenth century. Over the course of his writing career, he produced an astonishing amount of verse – in the order of 145,000 lines (Pearsall 1970: 4). He wrote in a wide array of genres, ranging from secular accounts of ancient military conflicts, such as...

    • 6 John Lydgate’s Religious Poetry
      (pp. 73-86)

      In the fervent, contentious, and sometimes ostentatious religious culture of fifteenth-century England, one writer stands out as a particularly prolific and versatile author of devotional texts: the monk of Bury St Edmunds, John Lydgate (c.1370–1449). Lydgate wrote thousands of lines of religious poetry for a wide range of patrons, both individual and institutional, and his poetry provides a comprehensive picture of orthodox fifteenth-century English religious life and its concerns: highly sacramental, habitually influenced by meditative spirituality and imitatio Christi, defiantly anti-Lollard, and profoundly invested in the cults of the saints and of the Virgin. Perhaps more surprisingly, however, Lydgate’s...

    • 7 John Lydgate’s Shorter Secular Poems
      (pp. 87-98)

      The number of short secular poems associated reliably with John Lydgate (c.1370–1449) is considerable. However, despite the variety of Lydgate’s shorter verse in style, subject matter and genre, its critical reception has been mixed and his shorter poems are often neglected in favour of his more ambitious works such as Siege of Thebes, Troy Book and Fall of Princes. The only critical edition of Lydgate’s collected ‘minor’ poems, secular and religious, is that by Henry Noble MacCracken, made for the Early English Text Society in the early decades of the twentieth century (Lydgate, ed. MacCracken 1934; see also Lydgate,...

    • 8 John Capgrave and Osbern Bokenham: Verse Saints’ Lives
      (pp. 99-112)

      Until relatively recently, hagiography was not really considered an appropriate subject for serious scholarly attention. The pioneering nineteenth-century editing efforts of scholars such as Carl Horstmann were almost exclusively philological in their approach, with little sense that the saintly narratives themselves were worthy of literary or historical consideration (Horstmann 1878, 1881). The comments of the editor of Osbern Bokenham’s Legendys of Hooly Wummen, working in the 1930s, might be taken as evidence of a much more widespread disregard for the genre:

      My treatment of such questions as Bokenham’s sources, literary value, and so forth, is obviously only the briefest of...

    • 9 Peter Idley and George Ashby
      (pp. 113-126)

      ‘“Al that is writen is writen for our doctrine”, and that is myn entente’, writes Chaucer, quoting Romans 15: 4, and seeking to excuse himself for his ‘translacions and enditynges of worldly vanities’ (CT, X. 1083). But even if this claim were generally true of the Middle Ages, it would also be possible to maintain that some writings are more obviously intended to transmit learning than others. Books of instructional or educational advice, which are the subject of this chapter, are designed to transmit the accumulated wisdom – both bookish and experiential – from one generation to the next. Characteristically, experienced spiritual...

    • 10 John Audelay and James Ryman
      (pp. 127-142)

      John Audelay and James Ryman are linked in literary history by virtue of the circumstance that each has his name attached to a large fifteenth-century collection of religious lyrics. Collections ascribed to an author are quite rare for the period. Additionally, both Audelay’s and Ryman’s anthologies contain many carols, a fashionable form of lyric from the late fourteenth through the early sixteenth centuries. The two are therefore frequently paired as named authors with large corpuses of similar kind, each preserved primarily by means of a single manuscript: the Audelay manuscript (Bodl., MS Douce 302) and the Ryman manuscript (CUL, MS...

  9. Part III: Themes and Genres

    • 11 Fifteenth-Century Chaucerian Visions
      (pp. 143-156)

      This chapter is devoted to a group of Chaucerian visions: The Flower and the Leaf, The Assembly of Ladies, La Belle Dame sans Mercy and The Isle of Ladies. ‘Chaucerian’ has been a common epithet for these poems in modern scholarship ever since Skeat edited all of them except The Isle of Ladies in his collection Chaucerian and Other Pieces (1897). The association of these poems (and others) with Chaucer, however, goes back much further, to scribal attributions in medieval manuscripts and to Chaucer’s earliest printers, who naturally had an interest in presenting as wide a corpus as possible (see...

    • 12 Historical and Political Verse
      (pp. 157-170)

      Historical and political writing are related – at times identical – concepts, but ones that have enjoyed different trajectories in medieval and post-medieval literatures. While strong traditions of historiography were inherited from classical antiquity and refined and altered in various ways during the Middle Ages, the category of ‘political writing’ is largely a modern scholarly invention. Evidently, medieval political writing existed, as did a sense of the political, but it is not clear that it was recognised by medieval authors or readers as a distinct literary genre. (There is, for example, no equivalent to the term ‘historia’ to describe a work of...

    • 13 Classical and Humanist Translations
      (pp. 171-186)

      There is no known English translation of Ovid’s verse before some excerpts from his Ars amandi were printed as a textbook in Latin translation, The flores of Ouide de arte amandi, in 1513 (STC 18934). But on the back of a songbook of music and carols (Bodl. MS Arch. Selden. B. 26, fol. 33v) some fifteenth-century person wrote this couplet translating two lines from Ovid’s Remedia amoris (lines 139–40). It is a teasing fragment to add to a small but intriguing set of fifteenth-century translations from Latin – whether the classical Latin of authors such as Ovid or the fine...

    • 14 Romance
      (pp. 187-198)

      Romance, as a literary mode, is frequently characterised by its resistance to narrative closure – a resistance fuelled, as in any Charles Dickens novel, by multiple and multiplying incidents and characters, frequently spanning generations as well as continents (Parker 1974: 1 and passim). That picture of generation, movement and the crossing of new boundaries fits well with the history of verse romance texts themselves in fifteenth-century England. As more and more romance texts are sent forth, like young aspirant adventurers, by their makers or foster-parents – ‘Go, litel bok, go’ (TC, V.1786) – and as older textual ‘warriors’ continue to find new armour...

    • 15 Scientific and Encyclopaedic Verse
      (pp. 199-212)

      The fifteenth century witnessed two significant developments in the communication of information. The invention of print towards the end of the century may be the more prominent of the two. But a sudden, persistent and energetic demand for vernacular scientific texts, particularly in verse form, was no less significant. Indeed, this thirst for scientific information defined and changed the role of the written word in fifteenth-century England.

      The genre of scientific and encyclopaedic poetry is more emblematic of the fifteenth century than prose texts or non-scientific verse in many respects. This is partly due to its various connections with classical...

    • 16 Popular Verse Tales
      (pp. 213-224)

      From most vantage points the fifteenth century in England must appear to be the age of the long poem, more often than not responding somehow to Chaucer, whether directly or through the influential oeuvres of his most prolific imitators. A number of these long poems were evidently widely read, and thus ‘popular’ in the sense that they were widely transmitted and had substantial reputations: works of this kind by Lydgate, Hoccleve, Hardyng and Walton survive in some numbers, as other chapters in this book make clear. But it is probably fair to assume that readers with the means to acquire...

    • 17 Beyond the Fifteenth Century
      (pp. 225-236)
      A. S. G. EDWARDS

      The Great Chronicle of London, written in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, contains a number of poems in addition to its main prose narrative. One of these was composed as an attack on John Grimaldi, a crony of Henry VII’s much loathed ministers, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, both executed in 1510. The poem includes the following passage:

      O most cursid Caytyff, what shuld I of the wryte

      Or telle the particulers, of thy cursid lyffe

      I trow if Skelton, or Cornysh wold endyte

      Or mastyr moor, they myght not Inglysh Ryffe

      Nor yit Chawcers, if he were now...

  10. Chronology
    (pp. 237-238)
  11. Index of Manuscripts
    (pp. 239-240)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 241-244)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)