Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes


The Regiment of Princes was the most popular work of the English poet Thomas Hoccleve (d. 1426). Hoccleve wrote the poem to provide advice on the virtues and vices of rulers for Prince Henry, the future King Henry V of England (r. 1413–1422). For his work, he made use of three principal sources: the so-called Secreta Secretorum (Secret of Secrets), a work that purports to be a letter by Aristotle to his student Alexander the Great; the De regimine principum (On the Rule of Princes), which Egidius Colonna (d.1316) wrote for the son of Philip III of France (r. 1270–1285); and Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium sive super ludum scaccorum (Book of the customs of men and the duties of nobles or the Book of Chess) by Jacobus de Cessolis (d. 1322), which uses the game of chess as a metaphor for society.

The Regiment of Princes survives in more than 40 English manuscripts from the 15th century. One impressive copy, produced in London or Westminster, is a presentation copy for an aristocratic owner, possibly made under the supervision of Hoccleve himself (Harley MS 4866).

In the poem, Hoccleve refers to his teacher Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400), who is considered one of the greatest English poets of the Middle Ages and is best known as the author of The Canterbury Tales. Hoccleve laments the death of his teacher and states that he has added a portrait of Chaucer to his work in order to keep his image alive in his readers’ memory. The Harley manuscript includes the earliest known image of Chaucer, who is depicted with an inkhorn around his neck, holding a rosary in one hand, while pointing with his other hand to the stanza that describes his memorial portrait.

Full title:
Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes
1411–20, London
Thomas Hoccleve
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Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Harley MS 4866

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