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Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England

Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England: From Lydgate to Malory

Catherine Nall
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England
    Book Description:

    "Offers an impressive vision of a militaristic culture and its thinking, reading and writing. This is war as political and economic practice - the continuation of politics by other means… A major contribution to the literary history of the fifteenth century." Professor Daniel Wakelin, University of Oxford. Reading, writing and the prosecution of warfare went hand in hand in the fifteenth century, demonstrated by the wide circulation and ownership of military manuals and ordinances, and the integration of military concerns into a huge corpus of texts; but their relationship has hitherto not received the attention it deserves, a gap which this book remedies, arguing that the connections are vital to the literary culture of the time, and should be recognised on a much wider scale. Beginning with a detailed consideration of the circulation of one of the most important military manuals in the Middle Ages, Vegetius' ‘De re militari’, it highlights the importance of considering the activities of a range of fifteenth-century readers and writers in relation to the wider contemporary military culture. It shows how England's wars in France and at home, and the wider rhetoric and military thinking those wars generated, not only shaped readers' responses to their texts but also gave rise to the production of one of the most elaborate, rich and under-recognised pieces of verse of the Wars of the Roses in the form of ‘Knyghthode and Bataile’. It also indicates how the structure, language and meaning of canonical texts, including those by Lydgate and Malory, were determined by the military culture of the period. Catherine Nall is Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-977-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction Reading and War from Lydgate to Malory
    (pp. 1-10)

    In his ‘Address to Sir John Oldcastle’, the poet Thomas Hoccleve offered the following advice to the heretical, rebel knight:

    Bewar Oldcastel & for Crystes sake

    Clymbe no more in holy writ so hie!

    Rede the storie of Lancelot de lake,

    Or Vegece of the aart of Chiualrie,

    The seege of Troie or Thebes thee applie

    To thyng þat may to thordre of knyght longe!

    To thy correccioun now haaste and hie,

    For thow haast been out of ioynt al to longe.¹

    Reading occupies a central place in the programme of correction and reform that Hoccleve recommends for Oldcastle. Rather than...

  6. 1 Reading Vegetius in Fifteenth-Century England
    (pp. 11-47)

    In the prologue to his Troy Book, the poet John Lydgate offered the following commendation of his patron, Prince Henry, the future Henry V:

    He besyeth euere, and ther-to is so fayn

    To hawnte his body in pleies marcyal,

    Thoruȝ excersice texclude slouthe at al,

    After the doctrine of Vygecius.¹

    In this passage, Lydgate fuses Henry’s martial practice, his ‘excersice’ and ‘pleies marcyal’, with the theory or ‘doctrine’ of war advanced by Flavius Vegetius Renatus, the author of a Latin treatise on warfare known as De re militari. Lydgate’s use of Vegetius in this passage points to De re militari’s...

  7. 2 Reading and War in the Aftermath of Defeat
    (pp. 48-74)

    In his Dialogue, probably written between 1419 and 1421, Thomas Hoccleve cites one of the most important military manuals circulating in the Middle Ages: Vegetius’ De re militari.² On the one hand, this reference simply serves as a compliment to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester’s martial prowess: Humphrey is such a good military commander that he can afford to ignore perhaps the most influential military handbook of his time.³ Hoccleve presents De re militari as an educative, didactic text; one that can teach ‘the art of chiualrie’ to those less well ‘preeued’ in the art of war than Humphrey. Yet, Hoccleve’s...

  8. 3 Making War: the Martial Endeavours of John Lydgate and Henry V
    (pp. 75-113)

    At a combined 34,833 lines, John Lydgate’s Troy Book (1412–1420) and Siege of Thebes (c. 1422) rank as two of the lengthiest and most ambitious works of Lydgate’s massive literary output. Although they have received a relatively large amount of critical attention from scholars, debate has tended to focus on two related issues.¹ First, critics have attempted to determine how far Lydgate was complicit with the agendas of his patron, Henry V and, in the case of Siege of Thebes, seemingly written without a specific commission, with the ideologies and strategies of the‘Lancastrians’ more generally; and second, criticisim has...

  9. 4 Sacralising Warfare in Knyghthode and Bataile
    (pp. 114-138)

    While the rhetoric generated by Henry’s wars in France clearly informed the way that Lydgate wrote about war and its prosecution in Troy Book and the Siege of Thebes, the presence of military conflict in England several decades later helped to produce one of the most brilliant military poems of the fifteenth century: an ambitious translation and rewriting of Vegetius’ De re militari, replete with Latinate vocabulary and rendered in rhyme royal, and now known as Knyghthode and Bataile. This extraordinary translation of De re militari, completed at some point between November 1459 and July 1460 by an anonymous translator...

  10. 5 Malory’s Morte Darthur and the Rhetoric of War
    (pp. 139-158)

    Sir Thomas Malory’s rewriting of the Roman war episode has long been a source of debate for Malory scholars.¹ In the second tale of his Morte Darthur, Malory departs from his main source, the late fourteenth-century poem the Alliterative Morte Arthure, to offer an account of the success and aftermath of Arthur’s Roman campaign that is significantly at odds both with that of his source and the majority of earlier insular narratives of this campaign. While in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, in a tradition stretching back to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1138), Arthur never quite achieves the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 159-164)

    In my analysis of Hoccleve’s‘Address to Sir John Oldcastle’ with which I began this study, I argued that Hoccleve fashioned a connection between writing, reading and the prosecution of war. This study has demonstrated how vital that connection is to fifteenth-century literary culture and the range of ways in which it manifested itself: in the proliferation of military treatises and ordinances, the annotations made by scribes and readers, and in the ways that writers – from the anonymous translator to Thomas Malory – rewrote their texts. England’s wars in France and at home, and the wider rhetoric and military thinking...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-190)
  13. Index
    (pp. 191-197)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 198-198)