This spectacular manuscript contains The Regiment of Princes by Thomas Hoccleve (1367–1426), who was a poet and government clerk. The text belongs to the popular medieval genre of Fürstenspiegel, or advice for princes. It was written for Henry, the Prince of Wales, shortly before he became King Henry V (1387–1422) on 21 March 1413. (We know this not because the poem is dated, but because of its repeated references to Henry as ‘Prince’.)
The poem is an elaborate homily on virtues and vices, adapted from De Regimine Principum by Aegidius de Colonna (known as ‘Giles of Rome’ in English). The poem is framed as a ‘dream-vision’. It opens at night with the narrator lying in his bed near the Inns of Court in London, worrying about his lack of money. When morning arrives, he gets out of bed and goes for a walk, where he encounters an old man, with whom he engages in a dialogue.
One of the images from this manuscript shows some rather enviable royal gift-giving (f. 39v, digitised image 3). It is an image of a man kneeling before a prince, who is wearing a gold crown and is dressed in flowing blue robes, with a gorgeous ermine trim. The kneeling man is being given a book in a red leather cover. The prince is the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Henry V, and the kneeling man is probably John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1392–1432).
The image may not represent a scene that actually took place, but its purpose is to indicate that the manuscript in which it appears was a gift from Henry to John. Hoccleve dedicated The Regiment of Princes to Henry, who seems to have appreciated the gesture because he then gave a copy of it to John Mowbray. The words below the image are a fawning address to the prince:
Hye noble and myȝty Prince excellent,
My lord the Prince o my lord gracious,
I humble servant and obedient
Unto your estat hy and glorious,
Of which I am ful tendre and ful gelous,
Me recommande unto your worthynesse,
Wyth herte enter and spirit of meeknesse; (ll. 2017–23)
[High noble and mighty Prince excellent,
My lord the Prince, O, my lord gracious,
I, humble servant and obedient
To your office, high and glorious,
Of which I am full devoted and full jealous,
I recommend myself unto your worthiness,
With pure heart and a spirit of meekness;]
Why is this manuscript so significant?
Manuscripts written in the hands of authors (known as ‘autograph’ manuscripts) are rare in the medieval period. Hoccleve is therefore an exciting figure for people who study Middle English literary texts because he was a government clerk, meaning that his job was to copy official documents in the office of the Privy Seal. This means that we can identify his handwriting and see that he copied some of the manuscripts containing his own works. He also copied other literary texts and his handwriting has been identified in several important manuscripts of Chaucer and John Gower.
This manuscript was probably made under Hoccleve’s supervision. It is unclear whether Hoccleve directed the manuscript decorator to make the charming image we see on f. 65 (digitised image 5). There, a scribe has failed to leave enough room for one of the poem’s stanzas at the bottom of the page and has been forced to place the text to the right-hand side. To show that the stanza is misplaced, the decorator has drawn a man lassoing the stanza back into place.
View a more images of this illuminated manuscript.
- Article by:
- Mary Wellesley
- Form and genre, Faith and religion, Myths, monsters and the imagination
Used by diverse writers throughout the Middle Ages, the dream vision as a form was as popular in the late medieval period as the novel is today. From courtly comedy to social critique, via feminist polemic, Mary Wellesley explores some of the most captivating works of the medieval period.