Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes: Introduction


1 Caxton's Book of Curtesye, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS e.s. 3 (London: H. Milford/Oxford University Press, 1868), lines 351-52, 360, and 361-62.

2 George Ashby, "Active Policy of a Prince," in George Ashby's Poems, ed. Mary Bateson, EETS e.s. 76 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1899), lines 1-2.

3 G. Gregory Smith, The Transition Period (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1900), pp. 17-18.

4 Thomas Hoccleve, Hoccleve's Works: The Minor Poems, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS e.s. 61 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1892), p. xxxviii.

5 I accept the traditional label of "Prologue" for the first 2016 (or 2156) lines of the poem. However, those manuscripts providing rubrics intend Prologus to refer only to Hoccleve's address to the Prince (lines 2017-56). See the explanatory note to line 2017.

6 See Alastair J. Minnis, "Late-Medieval Discussions of Compilatio and The Role of the Compilator," Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutchen Sprache und Literatur 101 (1979), 385-91; and Medieval Theory of Authority: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), pp. 194-200. See also Kurt Olsson, John Gower and the Structures of Conversion: A Reading of the Confessio Amantis (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1992), pp. 1-15, and A.S. G. Edwards, "Selection and Subversion in Gower's Confessio Amantis," in Re-Visioning Gower, ed. R. F. Yeager (Asheville, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998), pp. 257-68.

7 Larry Scanlon, Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 316-18.

8 Derek Pearsall, "The English Chaucerians," in Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Literature, ed. D. S. Brewer (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1966), p. 224.

9 Thomas Hoccleve, Hoccleve's Works: The Regiment of Princes, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS e.s. 72 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1897), p. xvii.

10 Thomas Hoccleve, Selections from Hoccleve, ed. M. C. Seymour (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), p. xxxv.

11 John Trevisa, On the Properties of Things, ed. M. C. Seymour, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), p. xii, n. 1.
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Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes: Introduction

I: Poem, Poet, Context, Sources


Since the 1970s, Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes has received a degree of attention it had not had since the century in which the poem was written. While the 43 surviving manuscripts, all written between the poem's composition in 1410-11 and the end of that century, attest to its notability, William Caxton did not choose to print it, and as against the frequent salutes to the trinity of Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate in the poetry of the later fifteenth and early sixteenth century, Hoccleve receives just one mention. In the short poem known as "Caxton's Book of Courtesy," addressed to "Lytle John," the unnamed disciple of Lydgate recommends to this "child" a course of improving reading. After four stanzas on Gower and six on Chaucer, and before eight stanzas on his master Lydgate, he devotes two stanzas to Hoccleve's "translacion / In goodly langage and sentence passyng wyse," in which "by his wrytynge playne" he directed his Prince to "vertu apperteynyng to nobles [the nobility] / Of a prynce."1 George Ashby's poetry of the 1460s and 70s shows he has read Hoccleve, but he mentions by name only "Maisters Gower, Chauucer & Lydgate, / Primier poetes of this nacion."2 From the sixteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century, when first Thomas Wright and then Frederick Furnivall edited it, the Regiment was largely neglected.

The rest of Hoccleve's poetry fared scarcely better. Early in the seventeenth century William Browne, a minor poet, adapted the "Tale of Jonathas" from his Series, and much later George Mason, a scholar-collector, at the end of the eighteenth century published poems from a manuscript in his possession. But for the most part all of Hoccleve's poetry was either neglected or regarded as part of the large body of undistinguished English poetry written in the shadow of Chaucer. To be sure, historians cited colorful passages of autobiographical writing for their documentary charm, and literary historians cited the several passages in which Hoccleve pays homage to Chaucer. W. J. Courthope in his A History of English Poetry makes perceptive remarks, but the critical assessment of G. Gregory Smith in 1900 best reflects the prevailing literary judgment. Hoccleve, Smith writes, "could never have dreamt himself out of a respectable mediocrity," and in his "jolting verse" there is "the pathological interest of the inability of the changing medium to yield the music of which Chaucer in rather happier circumstance and by dint of genius proved himself the master."3 And in the preface to his Early English Text Society edition of Hoccleve's other poems which preceded his Regiment edition for that series, Furnivall writes: "We wish he had been a better poet and a manlier fellow; but all of those who've made fools of themselves, more or less, in their youth, will feel for the poor old versifier4 A more positive assessment is offered by Eleanor Prescott Hammond in her valuable 1927 volume English Verse between Chaucer and Surrey, but in the dominant view obtaining until well into the second half of the present century, Hoccleve's poetry belonged to no canon which students of English literature should be asked to study, let alone take pleasure in.

The recent rehabilitation of Hoccleve's poetry is largely owing to three distinct developments. First, Hoccleve, like other writers of the generation after the great Ricardians (Chaucer, Langland, the Gawain poet, and Gower), has benefited from the recent move to "open up the canon," to see the literature written between Chaucer and Spenser as important in understanding what has come to be called, no longer a terminally ailing "late Middle Ages" but the early modern period. Second, beginning in the 1970s and 1980s a few discerning scholars began to discover in Hoccleve's poetry a level of accomplishment at odds with the older assessment, so that there were reasons besides the historical ones for reading it. In particular the British scholars Derek Pearsall (a brief hint as early as 1966, the year after Jerome Mitchell's subsequently published dissertation), A. C. Spearing (1985), and above all John Burrow (beginning in 1977) wrote perceptively about some of Hoccleve's poetry, though they dwelled on poems other than the overtly didactic and political Regiment. The latest critical development has brought together the literary critical and the cultural interests of his poetry, and in so doing it has extended the critical interest to include the Regiment. It is the interaction of the concerns of the literary critic and the cultural historian that is evident in work on the Regiment by such scholars as David Lawton, Larry Scanlon, and Antony Hasler. Third, the very autobiographical passages which made Furnivall wish Hoccleve had been "a manlier fellow" and which institutional historians such as T. F. Tout have drawn on for documentation have attracted the interest of critics interested in studying the formations of subjectivity in early modern literature, for which purpose Hoccleve joins the unlikely company of Margery Kempe. The interest in Hoccleve encouraged by these recent scholars as well as the inadequacy and relative inaccessibility of the century-old Furnivall edition are the principal reasons why a new edition of the Regiment is needed.

Author and Date of Composition

While most of the manuscripts of the Regiment in typical medieval fashion neither begin nor end with the identification of the name of its author, the fact that Hoccleve introduces his own name as a principal character in the poem ("What shal I calle thee, what is thy name?"/ "Hoccleve, fadir myn, men clepen me"- lines 1863-64) has eliminated any question about authorship. We know a good deal about Thomas Hoccleve, both his career as clerk in the government office of the Privy Seal and his career as poet, from three sources. Documents principally from the Exchequer recording payments for his work as clerk establish the chronology of his professional career, from his early years at the Privy Seal office to the year of his death. These documents by themselves would tell us nothing about his career as poet but for a second source, Hoccleve's occasional references in his poetry to his own chronology and to approximately or precisely datable external events. Taking these autobiographical references together with the documentary evidence allows us to establish an approximately accurate chronology of his life and work. Though contributing imperfectly to that chronology, the survival of manuscripts written by Hoccleve, as poet, as government clerk, and as scribe, add importantly to our understanding of his career. The paleographical work of H. C. Schulz established that nearly all of Hoccleve's other poems, though not the Regiment, survive in three manuscripts written in his own hand, and the content and structure of these holographs provide insight into his career as poet. Also surviving, and a key to Schulz's argument, is the large Formulary which Hoccleve wrote out towards the end of his life, containing model letters, petitions, and other documents in French or Latin, of the sort that a Privy Seal clerk would have to produce.

Recognition that there is a closer connection than one might expect between the government clerk and the poet is one of the many contributions of John Burrow to Hoccleve studies. In his excellent monograph on Hoccleve, Burrow notes the affinity between what he calls Hoccleve's petitionary poetry and the presence of petitionary documents in the Formulary. In the course of another remarkable paleographical essay, A. I. Doyle and Malcolm Parkes have identified one other activity of the poet-scribe, Hoccleve's short contribution as scribe to a manuscript of Gower's Confessio Amantis written by several hands (including the scribe of the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales). In addition to demonstrating Hoccleve's "hands-on" connection with another major English poet besides Chaucer, and which very likely put him in touch with the most important scribe of Chaucer's greatest poem, the passage of 415 lines which he copied (Confessio Amantis V.7083-7498), whether by design or chance, begins with the foundationally literary story of the Judgment of Paris and the events leading up to the Trojan War. Yet more, the documents contain a single item pertaining to Hoccleve's library: in 1392 he was bequeathed a book on the Trojan War. Thus the surviving documentary evidence itself invites us to investigate the poet who himself, in his frequent autobiographical pose, solicits our attention.

If Hoccleve inevitably fits Paul Strohm's idea of "the narrowing of the 'Chaucer tradition'" in the fifteenth century, an assessment well presented long ago by Eleanor Hammond, he nonetheless does so in a much more positive way than Hammond or Strohm argue, for precisely in Hoccleve's "narrowness" lies his greatest strength, which manifests itself in his creation of an early modern subjectivity, in his distinctive observations of his time, and in his self-critical awareness of the limits imposed on a poet writing in the wake of Chaucer.

Burrow's monograph provides a clear and full chronology, complete with all the supporting documents, and the briefest summary here will have to suffice. Hoccleve was born about 1367, entered the government office of the Privy Seal about 1387, completed his earliest datable poem, the Epistle of Cupid (a free translation of Christine de Pisan's 1399 "Epistre au Dieu d'Amours") in 1402, wrote the best known of his shorter works, La Male Regle, about 1405, and between then and the Regiment wrote a few occasional poems that can be dated between 1405 and 1409. After the Regiment, he continued working in the Privy Seal until 1426, interrupted only by a period of mental illness which is an important part of the subject of his later Complaint and Dialogue with a Friend - the first two sections of the five-part work known as Hoccleve's Series. He continued as clerk until close to the time of his death in 1426. To return to the Regiment, since so many of the principal concerns of the poem connect so closely with its date of composition, its chronology is best viewed in relation to its historical context.

Historical Context

The approximate date of composition of the Regiment is largely determined by two dates: early in the poem (lines 281 ff.) Hoccleve refers to the burning of the Lollard John Badby, which took place in March 1410; and the poem's dedicatee, Prince Henry, ceased to be a prince when he ascended the throne March 21, 1413, as Henry V. The fact that the poem was written in part to remind the Prince of delinquent payments due him and the evidence for the delay of payments recorded in the documents permit us to narrow the date of composition to 1411, a date corresponding to Hoccleve's assertion that he is writing the poem when he has been twenty-four years in the office of the Privy Seal (lines 804-05). To these indications of termini prior and post quem for the poem's composition, we should add a few other dates pertinent to the poem's concerns: 1399, the date of Henry IV's usurpation of the throne; 1400, the death of Chaucer; and 1408, the death of Gower and the year when the Prince replaced Archbishop Arundel as head of the king's council until his dismissal in 1411. Taken together, these dates and the themes immediately associated with them define a good part of the literary and historical significance of the Regiment.

Hoccleve's poem was written at a time when England was still feeling the consequences of the deposition of Richard II, which haunted the usurper's reign by raising questions about the legitimacy of the Lancastrian line. The effort to assert its legitimacy was a constant concern of the Crown and is exemplified in the Regiment by two flattering references to the Prince's grandfather, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who had died in February of 1399 (lines 512-20 and the Latin gloss at line 3347), and one to Henry, John's father-in-law and the first of the Plantagenet dukes of Lancaster (lines 2647-53). Moreover, the theme of the importance of a king's councilors, a fundamental motif in the popular medieval genre of Fürstenspiegel, had a quite specific significance in the England of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, among other instances manifesting itself in the Prince's active and controversial role during the reign of his father in the years immediately leading up to the poem. In their need for authoritative support, the Lancastrians were diligent in supporting issues of concern to the church. Prominent among these was the Lollard heresy. Introduced early in the poem in the reference to the burning of Badby, the anti-Lollard theme is implicit elsewhere, and resurfaces near the end in a defense of icons in churches - a major object of Lollard attack.

That passage comes immediately after the passage in which Hoccleve causes an illuminated portrait of Chaucer to be inserted in his poem so that readers who have not known, or have forgotten, what Chaucer looked like may have "remembrance" of him. The placement of this third and (because of the portrait) most prominent of the poem's three salutes to Chaucer as "The firste fyndere of our fair langage" (line 4978) immediately before the anti-Lollard passage defending icons suggests that the presence of Chaucer in the poem is not simply a reverential expression of personal loss and poetic debt but also part of its thematic program, which may include, according to the argument of John Fisher, a specifically Lancastrian endorsement of English as the national language. These are a few of the issues with which recent writing on the Regiment has dealt. One of the challenges the poem presents to the reader is understanding how the poem's political and historical thematics interact with its identity as literary artifact.

Structure and Sources

It is not surprising that a poem addressed to a prince on the subject of his governance begins with a prologue; what is so unusual about the Regiment is that in this poem of over 5000 lines the Prologue occupies more than 2000 lines. Understanding this seeming imbalance is another of the issues which critics have variously addressed. Given the complex codicological history of many medieval poems, it is important to recognize that there is virtually unanimous manuscript support for this two-part structure of Prologue and what I shall call the "Regiment proper" as integral.5 After the Prologue and the formal address to the Prince, most manuscripts give a rubric which both defines the division and names the work. Thus, to cite British Library MS Arundel 38: "Explicit prologus de principum regimine, incipiendo de fide observanda" ("The prologue of The Regiment of Princes ends here; and the beginning [of the first section of the Regiment proper] on keeping faith").

The Prologue begins with the lament of a speaker who is unable to sleep because of anxiety about instability in the world in general and his own finances in particular. The night passes, he arises, and hastens outside. In his walk he soon encounters an old man whose polite greeting he scornfully rejects. C. S. Lewis recognized long ago in his Allegory of Love that the situation of the speaker is a powerfully effective variation of the opening situation of many medieval dream-vision poems. The gesture of arising in the morning and hastening "[i]nto the feeld" (line 117) belongs exactly to that tradition. But the speaker's thoughts also connect with another, even more pervasive medieval tradition, one that derives from Boethius' enormously influential Consolation of Philosophy; if the references to the instability of Fortune and the echo of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde were not sufficient to recall that source, Hoccleve, in the first of the Latin glosses inserted in the margin of the poem, cites Boethius' work (lines 50 ff.). The prevalence of Boethius in Hoccleve's England is underscored by the fact that John Walton translated the Consolation of Philosophy in 1410, a poem surviving in a number of manuscripts, including two in which it is accompanied by the Regiment. The ensuing dialogue between the speaker and the old man (misleadingly called the Old Beggar by Furnivall and hence by many subsequent critics) belongs to the Boethian tradition in which Lady Philosophy (or Dante's Virgil, or his Beatrice, or the Pearl maiden, or Gower's Genius) tries to educate the speaker as to the groundlessness and moral error inherent in his complaint.

The speaker's rudeness and self-pity are countered by the old man's offer to cure him by attending to his spiritual ills. Though in a secular sense and context, the old man urges him to confess: "Right so, if thee list have a remedie / Of thyn annoy that prikkith thee so smerte, / The verray cause of thyn hid maladie / Thow moot deskevere and telle out al thyn herte" (lines 260-63). The old man asks him if he risks spiritual despair by thinking and worrying about questions which a good Christian knows better than to indulge in. At this point Hoccleve's poem veers from the expected traditional form of Boethian instruction: the old man refers to the recent case of the Lollard John Badby who questioned the church's understanding of the Eucharist and questioned the special spiritual power of priests (lines 281-94). In the ensuing four stanzas Hoccleve quickly shifts from the doctrinal to the political, for the real story here is not the heretical belief of one individual but Prince Henry's presence at the examination of Badby and his unsuccessful effort to persuade him to renounce his beliefs. Thus early in the prologue to a poe