I am looking forward to visiting, this coming week, the University of Cork, where I will be giving a lecture entitled ‘ “The Butcher of England”, a Renaissance man: John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester and the Yorkist discovery of humanist eloquence’. I do not seem to be able to get away from Tiptoft, Constable of England, Lieutenant of Ireland, notorious for both his bloodthirsty nature and his status as ‘a Renaissance Prince’. I am hoping to do something new in this talk, tailored to my hosts: I am going to attempt to combine codicological discussion with an overview of changes in Latin style in fifteenth-century England. The purpose of this post is to provide those who are planning to attend (and those who, though absent, can conjure up a concept of what the evening will be like) with a sneak preview. I have produced a few pages comprising some of the texts to which I will refer (it is a Word document) — close reading of them beforehand is not essential, and to avoid disappointment, I should emphasise that there will be brief discussion of them. Those who do look at them will, I suspect, not find it hard quickly to grasp the line of argument of the paper.
For those who are less interested in the niceties of Latin epistolography, the lecture will also provide — the gods of Powerpoint willing — some visual stimulation. The argument will be underpinned by discussion of my research into the library of John Tiptoft. It was a collection which, in the middle of the twentieth century, was lamented as being nearly completed lost. We can now identify over thirty manuscripts from the collection, and for those who are interested, they can view the present list on this website.
I hope that these resources provide some intellectual nourishment — not that a whole meal, more an amuse-bouche for this coming week.
Update: Today, 1st December, I have also upload my handout for the talk, as a pdf.
The first in an ever-so-occasional series.
This morning saw me in Lambeth Palace Library, which I have not visited for too long. It is a calm location, as befits the epicentre of the Church of England, where you can forget you are yards from the bustle of London and the Thames. I had forgotten its lavatorial arrangements. It boasts one toilet, with a label on the wall behind it:
Please flush gently
How Anglican! While others might be riven with guilt about their bodily functions, and some might take perverse delight in the quotidian symbols of their fallen nature, those of our communion are enjoined politely to rouge, but only moderately. This is the church for me.
Yesterday, I was looking once again at Andrew Pettegree’s important article on ’Centre and Periphery in the European Book World’ in last year’s Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. He closes by providing a brief appendix, estimating the total number of books printed in each country up to 1601. A real hostage to fortune, as nothing is more likely to be shown to be inaccurate than an ambitious listing like this, but whatever its deficiencies, it really does highlight a significant point: how unusual England was in its failure to have a strong printing tradition in the lingua franca of Europe, Latin.
Pettegree provides columns for vernacular printings, those in Latin and totals. He gives raw figures, which I reproduce here, adding a final column, with a simple percentage (with figures rounded up or down as appropriate) of total printed in Latin. I have kept his distinction between ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ but reordered each section to give countries in descending order of Latin percentage:
As I said, what is so marked here is how out of step with other countries England was in the production of Latin books — a point which, even with significant revision of these figures, would remain true. It provides in simple, pungent fashion corroboration of a point made often but worth repeating: that, for learned works, England relied on imports, and, indeed, a learned Englishman would often go abroad to have his Latin works printed. Yet, before we English hang our heads in shame at the unlettered nature of our earlier presses, let us consider this positively. England’s book culture was, of necessity, cosmopolitan, thriving on allowing in ’foreigners’; in that sense, the English had reason to be more European than their colleagues on the mainland.
To review a review article might seem to be like being the flea on the back of the insect on the back of the lumbering mammal, but it is what I am about to do. I have just read your piece in the latest English Historical Review on Kevin Sharpe’s Selling the Tudor Monarchy. It is a sign of how stimulating I found it that I can not resist writing to you about my immediate reaction.
I particularly enjoyed seeing you develop further your Tudor-sceptic line, first outlined in the Times Literary Supplement. It is a salutary reminder that descent but not dynasty mattered, that what concerned these monarchs was precisely not the accident of a surname they did not use. You neatly respond to the mental shrug of shoulders that some might have when realising the sixteenth-century English vocabulary is poorer, in effect, by one word. But, I must say, I think you still sell it short, so to speak: that the Tudors did not see themselves as Tudor, that 1485 was neither presented or remembered as a change of dynasty, should make us stop and think about our concepts of periodisation. Bosworth, which can be claimed to have seen the death of a tyrant, is itself a tyranny, dividing ‘medieval’ from ‘early modern’, with the following 118 years perceived as having some sort of internal coherence. We might need periods as a heuristic tool, and as a way of sorting out office space in university corridors, but we rarely stop at that: we begin to believe they reflect some deeper reality, and so slide back into Hegelian notions of the ‘age’ and its geist. Personally, I would prefer that we emphasised that change is a piecemeal process, that even if a paradigm shifts, life tout court does not — that there are no absolute dividing lines. But if we must order ourselves into chronological segments, at least it helps if we change their shapes as deftly as clouds change theirs. Your debunking of what we will have to call the ‘Tudor myth’ helps us to think again about what we would see as significant ‘turning-points’ — the equivalents (to echo your use of modern parallels) of 1989 or 11/9 — in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. If we take 1485 as a moment of relatively minor dislocation, with the fortuitous settling of a rekindled family squabble, we can look elsewhere for key moments when the pace of political and cultural (note that combination — to which I will return) change quickened, when innovation and concomitant destruction went hand in hand. At the latter end, we would have what you have dubbed the ‘Eltonian decade’, the 1530s; but, at the other end, how far would we retreat — to 1422 and the reality of a minority which challenged the nature of the political order, to 1399 and another non-change of non-dynasty? I would put down a marker for the 1460s, when I sense the language of English politics begins to alter in a way soon catalysed by the importing of print in the same era. But wherever we place the goal-posts, we must remember that it is a game, not a fixture.
I like even more than your de-Tudoring of the subject the line of thinking to which that led you in your piece. If not a dynasty, what was there to sell? The individual monarchs, of course, though there was, I would stress, little about this process that was ‘individual’. You pick up on the talk of ‘negotiation’ between sovereign and people, and highlight the importance of ‘reception’, particularly in its resistant or unintended modes. I am hugely sympathetic to this: we need to seek out, as it were, the graffiti artists defacing the official image — if, that is, the ‘official’ has meaning for this era. Image-making was, both of necessity and of choice, so often out-sourced, so remote from the individual it supposedly ‘projected’, that there was no officium masterminding representations. The displays at royal entries, for instance, were obviously not designed to a palace blueprint, even though the guilds and other organisers were attempting to depict what they thought would be appropriate — that, in other words, there was a straining to identify and to reinforce a shared language. This was surely less about projection than ‘imposition’, the dressing up of the monarch in garb chosen for him or her by those around and beyond, as in the image of the undressed and dressed Louis XIV discussed by Peter Burke. Image, I am arguing, was so susceptible to intervention, to redirection, as well as to misunderstanding and hostility, that it was very rarely under control. The messages that can be conveyed with any success are, in the first place, as you mention, ones that are repeated time and again, in coins, in services, in what you, and John Cooper, term the banal. But I would add the most subtle of activities can provide a message that is all headline and no fine print and this brings me to something about which I know a little: princely libraries.
Once again, I was delighted to see your brief reference to royal libraries and quite agree with your scepticism: they were not built up with an eagle eye on direct and specific political advantage that could be gained from them and their contents. I don’t deny that some princes read some of the time, but the collecting of a library was not a private pursuit. You say that we do not know much about who had access to the books; in some cases, we certainly do, and can see those around the prince actively intervening in ‘his’ books. I think, in particular, of the collection of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester but what I say for the early fifteenth century also works for at least some of the period you are discussing. But what is as interesting as the use in the library itself is how the books got there in the first place: in a phrase from a thesis you may remember reading back in 1997, book ownership for a prince was an occupational hazard. They might — on the advice of their secretaries and other members of the household — buy books, but a large number were also presented to them. It is often imagined that if a presentation occurred, the prince presumably wanted to accept the book. I do know of a few cases where a presentation failed to happen, but more often, I suspect, the prince felt the need to accept a gift, created and provided unsolicited, for otherwise the accusation of lack of magnanimity would hang around him or her. In other words, authors were rarely commissioned; they produced works which they might think would suit a prince they may have known only through repute, and thus add to the image in partial ignorance. Any recompense to the author was usually only received after the presentation occurred, making the production, particularly of a manuscript, a ‘loss-leader’, intended to recoup costs after the event. But, what matters more in the context of what you were saying, is that the importance for the prince lay less in the book itself but in the act of presentation — a moment identifying the prince as worthy of the respect of the person kneeling before him. In that sense, the books themselves are a recollection of previous events, witnesses to that respect and to an affinity that has existed, however temporarily. The books, in their chests, had only latent power: it was, as you mention, only when they are taken out of the hiding-places, put on display, or on loan, that they made real that potency. Or, I should add, when they were given away — as, for instance, Humfrey, duke of Gloucester did when he had carried away from his palace hundreds of his books as donations to the University of Oxford. It was an outsize action with an outsize message of his generosity and his respect for learning.
And this is the explanation, as I would see it, for the existence of those libraries: they were not necessarily repositories of wisdom to inform policy decisions, but they provided a simple and helpfully vague message about a prince being associated with learning. To try to identify a more precise or nuanced ‘image’ being ‘projected’ is to fall into one of the two traps you describe in your article. A prince could hardly avoid owning a collection and, as you point out, if a prince was bookless, they would be open to the imputation — from the relatively few — of a lack of necessary virtue. I say the relatively few but this particular audience, of peers (in every sense), of ‘opinion-formers’ domestic and foreign, mattered for a prince’s political reputation. In saying this I come to my last point: I do not see the separation you make between ‘political’ and ‘cultural’. I can not envisage a sphere — beyond perhaps the privy, but even there David Starkey would disagree — when the prince or monarch is not on display, in action, and thus political. A culture of politics suffused their existence, where even past-times were not simply play. This is not to deny the main points that you make, but rather to rephrase it: shrewd calculation of specific political benefits played no role in allowing a room in one’s palace to be given over to the books one came to own, but a library, like the palaces themselves, or the menageries and other exotica that cluttered them, was an element in the cultural impedimenta that were unavoidably part of the prince’s political existence. That owning a book collection had its use — simple, unsubtle, even banal — was an old reality of political life.
My thanks for having set me thinking and distracting me so usefully from the work I should have been doing these last hours!
Best wishes, as always,
I am not really one for recording ‘firsts’, just as I try to avoid the Romantic propensity to desire to identify an author by name — ‘anon.’ is for me as noble a designation as any; ‘firsts’ need only recording in Books of Records. But I have just made a discovery — a small one — so indulge me this once.
As I have mentioned before, I have been preparing an appendix of previously unpublished texts for the fourth edition of Roberto Weiss’s Humanism in England. They include two orations by the Veronese humanist Antonio Beccaria, secretary to Humfrey, duke of Gloucester. They were both written in 1444 and both relate to the negotiations surrounding Henry VI’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou. Weiss noted their existence in his addenda but did not linger long on them; they have not received scholarly attention since. They are not unaccomplished with some fine rhetorical turns, but what has recently interested me is the question of whether Beccaria, the stated author, was in fact their orator. I began to wonder about this when I thought more closely about the title given to the first speech; the phrasing in one of the two manuscripts reads ‘Oratio exhortatoria ad pacem ad regem francie per legatos regis anglie composita per antonium beccariam veronensem’ — phrasing that suggests that Beccaria may have composed the oration in order for it to be delivered by one of the English delegation to France, led by the Earl of Suffolk, in May 1444. Considering the membership of that delegation, I was struck by the presence of Adam Moleyns, then dean of Salisbury and Keeper of the Privy Seal, later to be raised to the episcopacy only to have his life just short by the rebels of 1450. What is more, he is remembered, in the words of the Oxford DNB, as ‘one of the most respected of the few English humanist scholars of his day’. In truth, that respect did not add up to much: a passing reference to his humanitas in a letter of Poggio Bracciolini’s (also in the appendix I am providing) and lukewarm praise for his eloquence from Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini. But could Moleyns have actually been the voicebox for Beccaria’s prose?
My hunch has become more likely when I looked further at the context of the second oration, given at the Convocation of Canterbury of October 1444. Checking that useful recent resource, the printed Records of Convocation, edited by Gerald Bray, there is a reference to lords attending on behalf of the king, led by the duke of Exeter and including Adam Moleyns, who, it is said, ‘satis eleganter aperuit … [et] apertissime delcaravit’ the king’s need for a grant to support his wedding celebrations. This is an unmistakable reference to the speech written by Beccaria — or should I say ghost-written? It seems to me highly likely that both speeches were composed by the humanist for delivery by Moleyns, thus making by my calculation Moleyns to be the first Englishman to utter the new Ciceronian Latin on an embassy or in Convocation.
The interest of this, of course, goes beyond the matter of a ‘first’. It throws both light and shadow on Moleyns himself: it provides evidence for a previously unnoticed association with Beccaria, but it also raises questions over how far praise of his eloquence was aimed at the wrong target: how far was his humanist learning, as it were, a thing but lent? It also gives more information about Antonio Beccaria, who was, it seems, available for hire, able to write speeches for those who asked (and, perhaps, paid) — only, it should be remembered,for him to efface the name of the actual orator when recording or circulating ‘his’ orations. At the same time, it puts Beccaria in his place, so to speak: Weiss had imagined that Beccaria may have entered royal service, assuming, one infers, that he himself gave these addresses. But, clearly, a humanist in person was not significant enough to have that task — speech writers are a lower sort even than Victorian children: they should not be seen and only heard through more distinguished voices.
A facetious title for an event which really should be celebrated: the ambitious project to digitise the manuscripts of the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge is now fully available on-line. As a click on the link will reveal, full access does not come without a price. Through the summer, the site has been teasing and tantalising us (those of us who get excited by such matters) with selected riches glistening for all to see. Now, any viewer can see for free complete manuscripts, but without zooming, and catalogue descriptions, but without bibliography or search facility. The other facilities are provided on subscription and any good university should be moving post-haste to sign up, if they have not already done so.
This site provides a resource the full potential for which will only become understood over time. The educational potential is immediately obvious, in the possibilities of both on-line palaeography tutorials and transcription exercises. The quality of the images will be a joy to those whose attention centres on illuminations. The search facility provides the ability for researchers to find their own route through the collection, hunting, for instance, for annotations by the Archbishop-collector, Matthew Parker himself, or by provenance (though, as always, some ingenuity is required in defining the right terms for a search). What the site also makes accessible are texts which have never made it into print. Let me give one example from my own area of study: the dialogue, written in England by Pietro del Monte, De Vitiorum inter se Differentia, has never enjoyed a wide circulation, and most would say justifiably so. As I discuss elsewhere it is a derivative work, lifting most of its text from Poggio’s De Avaritia. But how it takes that text and how it was read in England, to where its audience was nearly completed confined, are themselves interesting issues. The learned eighteenth-century successor to del Monte as Bishop of Brescia, Angelo Maria Querini, put into print a small section of the work, and its preface has received a modern edition, but now, for the first time the full text is available — admittedly, in a derivative copy, written in an uneven, though legible, anglicana cursive, but one which shows signs of Parker’s own interest, marked in his characteristic red crayon.
In other cases, what is now available on-line adds to the methods in which we can engage with a text. The Life of Henry V by Tito Livio Frulovisi is a work which those of you who read closely this site will know has been a recent focus of my attentions. It was edited in 1716 by Thomas Hearne, and that printed volume is available from Mr Google. Hearne worked from a transcription collating two copies, one in the Cotton collection and the other a manuscript in ‘Biblioteca collegii sancti Benedicti, sive Corporis Christi’, that is MS. 285 in the Parker Library. It is, in fact, the dedication manuscript of the work to Henry VI, written throughout in Frulovisi’s attractive littera antiqua script. I am an admirer of Hearne’s work but I know which version I will prefer to read in future.
In short, our bookshelves are changing. I still sit surrounded by wooden cases, which bow under the weight of hardback volumes. I would not want to give up the touch or the smell of that physical proximity. But new vistas for our libraries extend before us, as we can now complement what we have on the desk with what we view on screen. And what is on screen is not confined by the old economics of print circulation; there is a new age of manuscript culture.
These comments are only my first response to the potential of Parker on-line. Only over time will more become appreciated, as our own skills at ‘virtual discovery’ develop. But, for the time being, let me finish with a word to Christopher, Nigel and all those involved in the project: plurimas gratias vobis ago agamque.