I must admit it had not occurred to me until my wife mentioned it yesterday that this October sees the 620th anniversary of the birth of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester. In my defence, the six centuries and one score years is not necessarily the most memorable occasion which requires celebrating but this autumn does see the Duke having his own little local renaissance.
First of all, on 10th and 11th September, there is going to be a small conference on Humfrey, at which I am speaking alongside such luminaries at Alessandra Petrina and Derek Pearsall. Then, just under a month later, the Bodleian is having what it has dubbed ‘Duke Humfrey’s Night’ as a fund-raising event. One can sponsor an object or its conservation, though not one of the few Humfrey manuscripts now in the Library’s possession. The event is explicitly advertised as commemorating the anniversary of:
the birth of Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, whose generous donation in the mid-15th century of a large collection of classical manuscripts transformed the original University Library established by Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, and led to the construction of the beautiful reading room now known as Duke Humfrey’s Library.
My eye was caught by the description of his ‘donation’ — in fact, at least four donations, with the two most significant being in 1439 and 1444, and with a total of about 300 books being given to the University. The range of manuscripts included biblical commentaries, some scholastic texts, some legal works, a notable assortment of medical texts, some classical works, a few of them rare, and a smattering of new humanist writings. It is interesting to see, in Oxford, his gifts remembered for being a ‘collection of classical manuscripts’ — a partial recollection of the collection that perhaps says more about our generation’s interests than about his eclectic library. Humfrey is most celebrated for his patronage of humanists like Pier Candido Decembrio (though he claimed not to have received his dues from him) and Tito Livio Frulovisi, biographer of Henry V (though Tito Livio soon left the duke’s employ). It was via the Milanese Decembrio that Humfrey gained most of the rare classical works in his collection — refound texts like the Panegyrici latini. This, though, is in danger of overlooking the range of activities going on at his court around the duke, if not always with his close involvement. Then again, I can hardly complain about a concentration of interest in his ‘classical manuscripts’ — my own work, I suppose, is stoking that tradition. I must remember to make amends.
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.
If you did not, you have, of course, missed it now: it ended at the beginning of the month. And if I praise it and describe its riches, that may only serve to increase your frustration. I made it to London only in the last week of the show and what follows is meant not as a review but as a comment on what we can learn from it in terms of future exhibitions.
For this exhibition David Starkey was ‘guest curator’, a designation which could cover a wide spectrum of involvement from the highly engaged to the wilfully insouciant. There were certainly some features of the show that seemed trade-mark Starkey: for instance, the importance, in the early sections on portraits, with the captions attempting to read from the image an insight into the sitter. The exhibition, it must be said, was uneven in its chronological focus, with Wives Three to Six seemingly crammed into the last section, and Catherine of Aragon and her nemesis occupying the (English royal) lion’s share of the space. That, perhaps, reflects both a desire to shape the popular imagination, reiterating the now well-tried line that Henry’s first marriage lasted longer than all the others put together, but also to reflect a popular understanding in which the cataclysmic events of the 1530s were the pivotal moment of the reign. To judge from the evening I was there, and from what else I have heard, the show was certainly a success in terms of number of visitors through the doors. Which is all the more surprising considering what was, for me, the most significant feature of this display.
Being in a library, books were always going to feature heavily in the exhibition, and with that comes well-known difficulties. Books tend to be small items, in scripts illegible to many, around which people cram without quite knowing what it is they are supposed to be seeing. I would not suggest that the exhibition succeeded completely in overcoming those difficulties but what it certainly did do was make the most of these problematic objects. Drawing on the work of James Carley and others, the show emphasised the interest of Henry’s own marginalia in his books. It did this not just be noting their presence in an exhibit, but by providing replica pages next to the item, with a moving light-source literally to highlight the elements to which our attention, like the king’s before, was being drawn. I had not experienced this type of display before and it worked. At times, it was too ambitious: in one corner of the exhibition, where the light was supposed to rise and dim around you to connect a page with the objects shown nearby with which it related, I just could not work out what was meant to happen. More generally, however, it acheived the tricky task of helping these exhibits accessible without ‘dumbing down’ their content.
It made me think that this could be a prototype for future exhibitions. My dream: let’s have one on Henry IV and his sons, to coincide with the centenary of the first Lancastrian’s death in four years’ time. There are, in the BL, many manuscripts associated with him, with his sons, particularly John and Humfrey, as well as with his grandson. And, as I can point out where Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, annotated his books, the technology they have used could be put to good effect. Is anybody at the BL reading and willing to take up this challenge?
As I have mentioned recently, I am working away on providing addenda and corrigenda to Roberto Weiss’ Humanism in England, which, forty years after its author’s death, is to be resurrected virtually, as it were, with an on-line edition on the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature website. It has given me the opportunity to bring together some shards of information which help clarify, if not fully resolve, some quandaries. Here is one of those.
Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, owned several manuscripts of Latin translations of Plutarch’s Vitae, some of which he gave to the University of Oxford, in his donation of 1444, and one of which, as we shall see, was shipwrecked in Cambridge after his death. The relevant booklists have been or are being edited in the Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues (that for Oxford by Rod Thomson, and that for King’s, Cambridge, already published, by Peter Clarke); I use the sigla of that series in the following notes. I will also cite the invaluable guide to the Latin Plutarch recently published by Marianne Pade and which I have discussed elsewhere.
Two of Humfrey’s Plutarch manuscripts are known now to survive. One is London: BL, MS. Harl. 3426, a set of translations by Leonardo Bruni, given to Oxford (UO3.97); the other Oxford: Magdalen College, MS. 37 (A), including renditions by the little-known (and less-loved) Antonio Pacini. This latter codex does not appear in Humfrey’s gifts to the University. Several other inventory entries attest to manuscripts that are now lost, like, for instance the mention of a Vita Pelopidae (UO3.100), which must be the translation produced by Humfrey’s secretary, Antonio Beccaria of Verona, and dedicated to Pietro del Monte (Pade, i, pp. 221 – 23 & ii, pp. 70 – 71). Another example occurs in the inventory of King’s College, Cambridge, probably made in 1457.
Here I should enter a caveat: as it is known that King’s asked for books owned by Humfrey on his death to be donated to the new college and as two surviving manuscripts from the King’s inventory (Cambridge: King’s College, MS. 27 and London: BL, MS. Harl. 1705) are, indeed, Humfrey books, it has sometimes been assumed that his library was given wholescale to King’s. This is demonstrably incorrect: probably only a small proportion of Humfrey’s collection reached Cambridge, as is shown by the fortunes of several of the prince’s other books; and only a proportion of the books listed in 1457 came to King’s from the chattels of the late duke of Gloucseter. But, having said all that, there is one lost book, formerly owned by King’s, that we can say for certain came from the duke’s palace of Greenwich. The entry reads ‘Vita Agidis et Cleomenis Lacedemoniorum regum…’ (UC29.154), which the modern editor, Peter Clarke, identifies as ‘Plutarch, Vita Agidis et Cleomenis, probably as tr. Antonio Beccaria (together with nine other of the lives)’. I think we should delete the word ‘probably’ , and the clause in parantheses.
The evidence Peter Clarke has in mind is a passage in a lively late-fifteenth-century eulogy of Vittorino da Feltre, schoolmaster to princes and to humanists like Beccaria. In it, the author, another of his pupils, Francesco Prendilacqua, takes the opporunity to praise Beccaria, and lists his works, which, he says, include translations of:
Vitas ex Plutarcho XI Romuli, Thesei, Solonis, Demetrii, Agidis, Cleomenis, Pelopidae, Coriolani, Alcibiadis, Timoleontis, Eumenis [F. Prendilacqua, De Vita Victorini Feltrensis Dialogus, ed. J. Morelli (Padua, 1774), pp. 66 – 67]
This list has sometimes been considered suspect and, certainly, for some of these translations there is no independent evidence, but Beccaria certainly did, as we have already seen, put into Latin while in England the Pelopidas, as well as the Romulus (even though that version, even including the dedication to Humfrey, was cribbed from Giovanni Tortelli). As the only other known translation of the Agis & Cleomenes was made in the late 1450s, after the production of the King’s catalogue, we should give Prendilacqua credence and be confident that the entry refers to Beccaria’s translation.
However, we should not entertain the suggestion that the King’s manuscript included all of the humanist’s renditions of Plutarch. That is, in fact, an impossibilty, since two of Beccaria’s known renditions of Plutarch, the Alcibiades paired with the Coriolanus, were composed about a decade after the humanist had returned to his homeland [Pade, i, pp. 323 - 26]. Nor would this suggestion sit well with what we can surmise of Beccaria’s habits. We know a fair amount about how Antonio Beccaria worked, because we have some other of his translations, from St. Athanasius, in his holograph, in London: BL, MS. Royal. 5 F. II and Cambridge: King’s, MS. 27. You can know see Beccaria’s script on-line, thanks to the generosity of the British Library. The manuscript now in the Royal collection is formed of booklets and it appears that he presented the work to his master, Humfrey, section by section: he practised the rule of small gifts often, rather than outsize presents irregularly. In that case, the booklets were gathered together and presented as one volume to Oxford (UO3.21). But, in the case of his Plutarch versions, the evidence of the book-list would suggest that each Life was kept separately and appears as a separate entry.
I have talked of there being ‘some’ lives are in the 1444 Oxford book-list. I have mentioned two, for both of which Humfrey’s copy is lost: Pelopidas, and Romulus (UO3.105). Immediately following the second entry, there is another (UO3.106), one which has left scholars, including myself, scratching our heads. It refers to a ‘Vita Demetrii’ — but the only known translation of Plutarch’s life of Demetrius comes from the end of the 1450s. However — and here is the point of this intricate discussion — look at the list from Prendilacqua above: he states that his former class-mate at Vittorino’s school translated this very work. The explanation for the entry, then, is that it was another Plutarch Vita translated by Humfrey’s Veronese secretary, presented to the duke and given away by him only a few years later.
This identification allows us to make a further, tentative suggestion. Note the ordering of Prendilacqua’s list. It would not seem to have any rationale in relation to the subjects of the Lives themselves and, of course, it could simply be random. But it is usually assumed that the Romulus was the first text presented by Beccaria to Humfrey in the late 1430s, and the Pelopidas is tentatively dated to 1441 – 2, while it is known, as I have mentioned, that the Alcibiades and Coriolanus were translated in the late 1450s. Might the list be in chronological order of translation? If so, it would suggest that Antonio Beccaria also rendered Plutarch’s Vitae of Solon and of Theseus into Latin while in England — versions which, like several others he produced, are lost.
The identification of Humfrey’s Vita Demetrii as being by Beccaria does away with the need to muse, as Marianne Pade does [i, pp. 254 - 56], about whether Guarino could have sent to Humfrey a translation of the Demetrius but which no longer survives. Guarino certainly wrote a letter to the duke, which may have been accompanied by a manuscript of Plutarch translations. Pade suggests that it might have included a collection of Guarino’s versions plus the Lucullus translated by Guarino’s pupil, Leonardo Giustiniani. If so, it would equate with the 1444 reference to ‘vitam Timonis et Lucilli 2o fo. hominibus (UO3.91, where the lectio probatoria appears in Giustiniani’s preface [Pade, ii, p. 120]). But there were other routes by which the Giustiniani, a popular translation, could have reached England, and if Guarino did send a manuscript with his letter, it may instead have been of his translation of Plutarch’s moral essays, one of which was certainly available in Oxford in the mid-1440s.
This brings me to my final point: the strange death of the Lives in England. Humfrey’s library shared the interest in Plutarchan biography that was fashionable in Italian humanist circles. But the taste at the ducal palace in Greenwich was no trail-blazer in England: interest in that aspect of Plutarch was surprisingly limited this side of the channel. It was, indeed, the moral essays that entertained Humfrey’s compatriots more. The neglect that eventually saw several translations of Plutarch vanish began soon after the duke of Gloucester’s own demise.
My waking hours at the moment are being spent providing addenda and corrigenda to Roberto Weiss’ Humanism in England during the fifteenth century, for the projected on-line edition to be produced in the autumn by the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. Checking a reference he provides to Charles Kingsford’s English Historical Literature this morning, I note that a passage from a chronicle recording the death of the duke of Gloucester in custody in 1447 contains praise of the late prince, with the transcription opening thus:
hic dux erat vix literatissimus…
Even I have hardly been as harsh in criticism. Given the context, Kingsford, or his typesetter, clearly slipped where it should say ‘vir literatissimus’. A claim which, even these five words demonstrate, could hardly be made for the chronicle’s author.
Enjoy the weekend!
On Thursday 2nd July in the Year of Our Lord 2009, most people in Oxford were wondering how to survive the relentless heat. Rod Thomson, meanwhile, was working coolly away in Corpus library, where, to add to his already-extensive record of scholarly achievements, he now can add unearthing a manuscript formerly owned by Humfrey, duke of Gloucester. It is a discovery that has made the sun shine all the brighter on my day.
The manuscript is Corpus MS. 1, a later thirteenth-century Bible, localised to Oxford. What had previously gone unnoticed was the partially covered, and partially erased ex libris at the top of the final verso (fol. 488v). I can confirm that it is undeniably and irrefutably the ‘short’ ownership inscription by the duke: Cest livre est a moy homfrey duc de gloucestre. The erasure, which removed part of the Christian name and all words following, is by scraping (itself a scrape of information which may assist to piece together this manuscript’s odyssey).
The verbum probatorium does not accord with the inventories of the duke’s gifts the University of Oxford, nor to any entry in the catalogue of King’s College, Cambridge (where a few – we should not overstate the number – of his books were washed up after his death). This codex can, therefore, take its place among the majority of those which survive from his collection for it is a remarkable fact that it appears that the rate of survival of those that reached an institution in his lifetime, or soon after, has been lower than those that remained in his hands. At the same time, this manuscript is highly unusual among the extant books which he owned as it is the only complete Bible that we can say for certainty was his. There are, of course, his lavish Psalters (London: BL, MSS Royal 2 B I and Yates Thomson 14) but nothing quite in this category.
It is for Prof. Thomson to coax further from the manuscript the secrets it blushes to tell the world, as he continues his work on the catalogue of the college’s collection. What is certain is that he can take his place among a small group of scholars who, in the past century, have discovered a manuscript once owned by ‘Good Duke Humfrey’. The roll-call includes Berthold Ullman, Roberto Weiss, Christopher de Hamel, Tilly de la Mare, Ian Doyle and, most recently, the young Dutch scholar, Hanno Wijsman. I hope Rod considers himself in worthy company.
I received the other day an off-print of what deserves to be recognised as an important article. And, as articles are supposed to be at a disadvantage to books in that they are not reviewed (a bitter-sweet blessing at best), let me draw attention to it for any internet explorers who, in their travel, stumble across this site.
The distinguished Italian journal, Italia medioevale e umanistica, was founded by ‘il grande’ Guido Billanovich and published by Antenore, the Paduan publishing house which, after Billanovich’s death, was bought by Salerno Editrice in Rome. It is pleasing to see that the journal which has been so important to humanist studies has returned to its highest standards with, in its latest volume (xlviii, carrying the year 2007), an article on ‘The Reception of the Italian Renaissance in fifteenth-century Oxford’ by Prof. Rod Thomson.
Rod Thomson is probably equally well-known for his work on William of Malmesbury and for his manuscript catalogues. An interest in humanism might seem a new departure, but it seems a more natural development from several projects he is working on or bringing to conclusion, in particular his volume in the Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues (under the general editorship of Richard Sharpe) which will publish the book-lists of the University and Colleges of Oxford. At the same time, he has been completing a catalogue of the manuscripts of Merton College (where a famous book once owned by one English collector, John Tiptoft, now resides) and starting one of the manuscripts of Corpus Christi College, which owns many of the books of John Shirwood and John Claymond, both of whom had humanist interests.
The article shows how scholarship has not yet drunk to the full from the book-lists of collectors like Humfrey, duke of Gloucester: there are more vivifying drops that can be squeezed out of the pithy records, in particular by a study of their verba probatoria ( the first words of the second folio of text, originally intended to identify the unique volume being cited but also allowing us on occasion to clarify the contents of a now-lost manuscript). Rod Thomson also provides helpful listings of known manuscripts owned by a range of English ‘humanist’ collectors, in the first place the duke of Gloucester, but also William Gray, Robert Flemyng and John Tiptoft (there kindly acknowledging the information which I could provide and which I present elsewhere on this website).
How I would put the central lesson of this article is that, when studying the arrival of humanist texts in England, what is notable is not so much the number of volumes reaching Britannos toto penitus orbe divisos, as the speed with which they travelled north: several works, especially in the collection of Gray, arrived in England in the mid-1450s only a couple of years after they had been composed. In the case of Gray, who became bishop of Ely, it should be remembered that his books reached Oxford, only by bequest; he died in 1478. While this new article concentrates on is Oxford, certainly the capital of humanist interest in fifteenth-century Britain, it has wider relevance beyond the colleges and halls of that university town.
Rod Thomson shows that there is more to be said in this area — a delight, as you might expect, for me to hear. In his first paragraph, he chides ‘notorious non-publishers.’ I am hoping to prove not to be eligible for that designation, as I finish off my book on England and the Identity of Renaissance Humanism, c. 1400 – 1460. When I have finished that I plan, time and funding permitting, to turn to a project which, as this article mentions, was once mooted by Richard Hunt and Tilly de la Mare: a study of English humanist hands. Already, I have much of the information gathered together, though more and more comes to light – only this last week, in Rome, I found another script which demands inclusion. But more of that another time.
I am about to upset the ghosts again. I have done so before when I described Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, as a book-lover but not a book-worm (a judgement I stand by, though I would express it with more subtlety now), or when I pointed out that Paul II, sometimes considered a humanist pope, in part because of his book-collecting, actually owed much of his library to the activities of one previous collector. On this occasion, the spirit who will be shaking his gory locks is far less distinguished than a royal or papal prince; it is the humanist, Tito Livio Frulovisi.
I have just seen the final set of proofs for an article coming out in the next issue of English Historical Review on Frulovisi’s most famous work, his Vita Henrici Quinti. Frulovisi – despite his resonant forenames — was hardly a great success in his own lifetime, but his Vita is remembered as the first posthumous biography of Henry V and, at a couple of removes, a source for Shakespeare’s play. The Vita was also, it is said, the source for another biography, called the Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti, which was once thought to have been by Thomas of Elmham, and is now sometimes known as Ps-Elmham. Though this latter work was, like Frulovisi’s biography, edited and published by Thomas Hearne in the eighteenth century, it has not found much favour with historians: much longer than Frulovisi’s, it is considered simply more prolix, with little extra information, and in an overblown style which compares poorly to Frulovisi’s humanist Latin. Frulovisi, as secretary of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, is thought to have been, in effect, ghost-writing the war memoirs of Henry V’s youngest brother, which the Ps-Elmham did little more than copy.
What I argue – what I hope I demonstrate – in my article is that the Vita et Gesta is actually the earlier of the two works, and provides Frulovisi’s main source. There are several reasons to reverse the usual chronology — to return, indeed, to the chronology which many pre-twentieth-century scholars considered to be the case — and they include matters of both structure and style. I do not intend to repeat the arguments in detail here, but the stylistic argument is that Frulovisi was converting the florid Latin into humanist diction, but not always being successful. I give in the article two extracts to show how this worked; examples could be drawn from most pages of the works. I will give you another brief example which I do not mention in English Historical Review. It comes from early on in the biographies, and relates to the revolt of Owen Glendower:
|Ps-Elmham, Vita et Gesta, p. 10||Frulovisi, Vita, p. 4|
|quousque totam Wallie rebellionem sua virtute penitus exstirpavit et ipsam patriam, cum universis incolis suis, eidem patri suo subjectam restituit||cum reliqua Wallia in deditionem patris reducta|
|excepto ipso Owanno, capitali rebelli, pre timore in loca deserta et latebrosas caveas, absque pugnancium fortitudine fugiente ibidemque vitam inhonorifice finiente||preter Owanum quendam Wallicorum caput, qui propter metum et conscientiam facinoris in deserta loca et antra sine comitibus fugatus vitam inhoneste finivit|
|eius filius et heres isti principi Henrico post in regem coronato serviens ei familiaris extitit domestico famulatu.||eius Owani Henrico postea regi famulatus est filius.|
|De hiis Wallie guerris, per multa annorum continuatis curricula, de obsidionibus, conflictibus, frequenti strage, discriminosis incomodis, fortuna et infortuniis, aliisque infinitis in eisdem contingentibus, idem expavescens calamus pauca ponit, quia ad veram et certam singulorum noticiam non pervenit.||Et hoc de Wallicis bellis satis, quorum ad certam quoque singulorum notitiam non devenerunt.|
Frulovisi’s phrasing is, as ever, more succinct but it retains many of the terms used in the Vita et Gesta, even when they are of dubious usage (see the repetition of famulatus, which the Vita et Gesta uses as a noun in the non-classical sense of ‘household’ while Frulovisi attempts to make it more classical by turning it into a past participle, but the verb from which it comes is of rare occurence in classical Latin). At other times, though, he strains to be different from that in the Vita et Gesta. Notice, for instance, that Ps-Elmham talks of Glendower hiding in gloomy caves — caveas — but Frulovisi, wanting to be different, uses antra, a term which is only to be found in poetry, not prose. My point is not that Frulovisi was a poor Latinist — humanist phrasing was in the making and mistakes were unavoidable — but that the verbal resonances are one sign that Frulovisi copied from the Vita et Gesta, rather than vice versa. The Vita et Gesta pays scant attention to the rules of classical phrasing — using guerra rather than bellum, say — and if it was following Frulovisi, it would have achieved the remarkable feat of stripping out all the humanist usages, and keeping those which were non-humanist. It makes more sense, I would contend, to see Frulovisi trying, and sometimes failing, to render the Vita et Gesta into ‘better’ Latin.
The best way to demonstrate the range of reasons why we should take Frulovisi’s work to be derivative of the much-derided Ps-Elmham would be to have a modern edition made of the work (there has not been one since the efforts of the redoutable Thomas Hearne in the early eighteenth century). If my article spurs renewed interest in the Vita et Gesta, that would be an achievement. But, you might ask, does it matter? Does the relative dating have any significance? The answer is yes, because, as I point out briefly in my article, it changes our view of the connexions between the different chronicles of the fifteenth century, and can also give us pause to reflect on the nature of political culture in the 1430s, when both these texts were written. It also raises a question mark over the usual perception of Humfrey as an engaged patron, supposedly directing ‘his’ scholars — an attitude which belittles those scholars’ own efforts, however unoriginal their works might have been. That is an issue which I will certainly be discussing again.
UPDATE: the article is now published and if you go to the page listing my publications, there is a free link to it on the Oxford University Press website.
I have a busy few months ahead of me. I’m hardly going on a world-tour but I have been invited to give lectures in a variety of locations, and I have listed them on a new page.
The first of these is at an event in the elegant surroundings of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, home to the Istituto Nazionale di studi sul Rinascimento. I anticipate a stimulating event, with several speakers who are always worth hearing, including Jonathan Woolfson (he of Padua and the Tudors fame, which I reviewed in Renaissance Studies), Alessandra Petrina (who shares with me an interest in Humfrey, duke of Gloucester; I reviewd her book for English Historical Review) and Michael Wyatt (author of The Italian Encounter with Tudor England, which I wish I’d had chance to review).
As these scholars and their publications suggests, the conference’s theme is the Italian Renaissance and the British Isles — a subject that appears to becoming newly fashionable. There has, of course, been a tradition of English interest in our forefathers’ engagement with Renaissance Italy, exemplified early in the twentieth century by Paget Toynbee and Mandell Creighton, and carried further in the second half of the century by scholars like Denys Hay, Sydney Anglo, Joe Trapp and David Chambers. I cite them in particular because their work is concerned directly with the interaction between Italian culture and Englishmen, rather than providing studies of northern humanism or the so-called English Renaissance — with, that is, the transmission of ideas as much as with the reception of ideas.
What has been less strong in the past, perhaps, has been Italian interest in the cultural dialogue. I exclude Roberto Weiss who wrote the seminal work on my specific area of interest, Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century, since he was a cosmopolitan character: an Italian count whose career was in England, and who lived in Henley-on-Thames. I remember Nicolai Rubinstein saying that Weiss always signed himself ‘Roberto’ when in England and ‘Robert’ when in Italy — he wanted always to be an exotic outsider. He was also a capable cartoonist, but this is to take us away from the point. If Weiss can not stand as an example of Italian interest in the interaction between England and Italy, I am hard-pressed to think of enough names to demonstrate a tradition of interest in Italy in the topic — until, that is, recent years. Alessandra Petrina, whom I have mentioned, stands as one talented example, as does the young scholar Diego Pirillo, who is involved in organising the conference in at the Istituto. Perhaps it is significant that these are scholars in English faculties. The present flourishing is not confined to those departments — I find especially interesting the work on the English market for Italian art by Cinzia Maria Sicca — but there may well be a link between the post-War development of English as an international language, and the renaissance of Italian interest in the encounters of their countrymen with England in the quattrocento and cinquecento.
The result includes a series of volumes recently announced by Ashgate in Anglo-Italian Renaissance studies, edited by Michele Marrapodi of Palermo University. That is only one of several ventures that could be mentioned. It appears to be a good time to working in this field.