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Advice for Princes in Middle English Translation: Introduction


1 See Evans et al., “The Notion of Vernacular Theory,” p. 317 and Nall, Reading and War, p. 5.

2 Following the previous editor James D. Gordon, I adopt the title The Lytle Bibell of Knyghthod to distinguish this text from Scrope’s; this title is modeled on the translator’s description of the work as a “lytle bibell” (Proh.105). Ed. Gordon, Bibell, pp. xlvii-lxiii, concludes that the language of the text is from the middle of the fifteenth century, too early for Babyngton (ca. 1477-1536). I therefore refer to the figure responsible as the Bibell translator. For a modern edition of Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea, see ed. Parussa, Epistre Othea; for a modern translation, see ed. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Richards, Othea’s Letter; there is also ed. and trans. Chance, Letter, which relies on London, British Library, MS Harley 4431 alone and has frequent infelicities.

3 On the complicated and sometimes fraught relationship between English and French as “co-vernaculars,” see Butterfield, The Familiar Enemy; see also Wogan-Browne et al., eds., The Idea of the Vernacular; Wogan-Browne et al., eds., Language and Culture in Medieval Britain; and, on Scrope specifically, Warren, Women of God and Arms, pp. 68-77.

4 Earlier scholars mistook her family’s origins to be from Pisa, resulting in “de Pisan,” instead of the spelling Christine herself used, “de Pizan”; see Christine de Pizan, Othea’s Letter, ed. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Richards, pp. 3-4.

5 For introductions to Christine’s biography and career, see Christine de Pizan, Othea’s Letter, ed. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Richards, pp. 3-10; Margolis, An Introduction to Christine de Pizan; and Willard, Her Life and Works. See also the bibliography in Christine de Pizan, Mutability of Fortune, ed. and trans. Smith, pp. 245-46.

6 There are too many studies of Christine’s efforts to provide a comprehensive list here; I recommend consulting the bibliographic appendices in Christine de Pizan, Mutability of Fortune, ed. and trans. Smith, pp. 245-57. On Christine and the political instabilities of her time, see T. Adams, Fight for France, and Blumenfeld-Kosinski, “Political Life in Late Medieval France.”

7 Earlier scholars considered the text a more general conduct manual, perhaps even intended for her son, but Hindman, Painting and Politics, pp. xix-xx, convincingly demonstrates the political force and import of the work; see also Christine de Pizan, Epistre Othea, ed. Parussa, pp. 97-98. On her recipients’ importance in France’s political fortunes, see Christine de Pizan, Mutability of Fortune ed. Smith, pp. 10-13; and T. Adams, Fight for France.

8 Hindman, Painting and Politics, pp. 40-42; but for doubts, see, Christine de Pizan, Othea’s Letter, ed. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Richards, p. 36n11.

9 Hindman, Painting and Politics, pp. 21-60; see also Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Reading Myth, pp. 187-93.

10 On the further divisions of the Othea, see Ignatius, “Manuscript Format.” On the role of illuminations as mnemonic aids, see L. Lawton, “Illustration of Late Medieval Secular Texts.”

11 Some scholars see allegoresis as distorting the text or imposing external meanings, in opposition to “purer” forms of allegory like personification (in which a figure is Beauty or Pride, with little or no interpretation beyond the narrative level required to understand her as such). See Tuve, Allegorical Imagery, pp. 227-28; and the defenses of allegoresis by Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation, pp. 63-65, and Akbari, Seeing Through the Veil, pp. 12-14.

12 This format, of Paris, BNF fr. 848, draws on the layout of exegetical commentaries and allows readers to choose which section to read first, without necessarily implying a hierarchical relationship among textual elements; see Ignatius, “An Experiment in Literary Form.”See also Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Reading Myth, p. 191. The early modern printers Pigouchet, Le Noir, and Wyer later adopted the same non-linear layout.

13 Chapters 5 and 45 do not properly belong to these groups, but each serves as a fitting cap to the sequence that it concludes: Chapter 5 illustrates the reputation that comes from practicing the Cardinal Virtues; Chapter 45 represents the redemption available to every Christian. Tuve, Allegorical Imagery, pp. 38-40, and Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Reading Myth, p. 188, view the allegories as the most important level of the text, but see also Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 144-47.

14 On the Othea’s mythography, see Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Reading Myth, pp. 187-93. See also Chance, Medieval Mythography, pp. 1-17.

15 Hampton, Writing from History, pp. 8-19, discusses how exempla remove events from their original circumstances to persuade the author’s readers, not reflect historical reality.

16 For an account of Christine’s intertextual methods, see Parussa, “Le concept d’intertextualité comme hypothèse interprétative.”

17 Campbell, Epître, pp. 80-109, demonstrates that Christine preferred the second redaction of the Histoire ancienne, a version that expands on Trojan history using a prose rewriting of Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s poem Roman de Troie, which scholars refer to as Prose 5; Prose 5 is only available in manuscripts, but modern editions of the Roman de Troie can offer a sense of the narrative content. See Le Roman de Troie, ed. Constans, and a modern prose translation, The Roman de Troie, ed. Burgess and Kelly; for an analysis of Prose 5 in relation to Benoît’s poem, see Jung, La légende de Troie in France, pp. 505-26. Christine also may have known Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium. Brownlee, “The Special Case of Boccaccio,” p. 258-59n10, suggests that she may have known Premierfait’s translation (1400); the first version of the Othea was completed ca. 1399-1400.

18 Desmond and Sheingorn, Myth, Visuality, & Montage, show how Christine repeatedly defends women characters specifically against negative representations in the Ovide moralisé. Rouse and Rouse, “Prudence” pp. 195-200, show how Christine modifies the Chapelet and Manipulus florum.

19 Christine de Pizan, Epistre Othea, ed. Parussa, pp. 31-70; Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, pp. xxvi-xxviii; Campbell, Epître, pp. 163-70. Bühler’s notes, where possible, cite the direct works of the Church Fathers rather than a medieval compilation and remain useful for the exploration of original contexts; Lemmens, in Othea’s Letter, pp. 133-54, provides updates and, where available, translations of the sources for the allegories. On the Chapelet, see Bühler, “The Fleurs de toutes vertus and Christine de Pisan’s L’Epître d'Othéa” and “The Fleurs de toutes vertus,” though it must be cautioned that Bühler was unaware that there are two versions of the French text he called the “Fleurs” - an early version now called by that name, and the Chapelet, a much altered revision that was Christine’s source. See Rouse and Rouse, “Prudence,” p. 185n5-6. Rouse and Rouse analyze Christine’s tandem use of the Manipulus florum and the Chapelet; however, their UCLA copy of the Chapelet (ca. 1500-1510) contains errors that were not necessarily in Christine’s copy and are not present in earlier copies like Paris, BNF fr. 572 (1402), the manuscript that I have consulted (following Parussa).

20 Christine de Pizan, Epistre Othea, ed. Parussa, pp. 63-64. Because Christine often cites St. Augustine in her section on the Ten Commandments, Lemmens, in Othea’s Letter, pp. 138-39, points toward Augustine’s Sermon 250 as a possible source, but ultimately that sermon only lists the Ten Commandments, and in a different order than Christine. Bühler, “Apostles and the Creed,” gives a brief overview of the tradition surrounding this twelve-line expression of Catholic beliefs.

21 Unfortunately for students with limited knowledge of French and Latin, many sources, such as the Ovide moralisé and Manipulus florum, exist only the original language (although a project to translate the Ovide moralisé has begun). Wherever possible, this edition cites available translations, with the caveat that, like the medieval works under consideration here, translations can vary in their representation of the original content.

22 On Christine’s broader approaches to gender, see Brown-Grant, Moral Defence; Quilligan, Allegory of Female Authority; and many of the essays in the collections by Desmond, ed., Categories of Difference; Altmann and McGrady, eds., Christine de Pizan: A Casebook; Zimmermann and De Rentiis, eds., City of Scholars; and Richards, ed., Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan.

23 Brown-Grant, Moral Defence, pp. 78-87; Desmond and Sheingorn, Myth, Visuality & Montage.

24 Brown-Grant, Moral Defence of Women, pp. 78-87, proposes that Christine’s allegoresis de-genders virtues and vices by focusing on the abstract. An alternative view is that, even so, the literal and historical level of reading, where gender matters, remains important because the exemplum insists on portraying its protagonist as a historical human being (Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 147-51).

25 The most narrow definition of mirrors for princes claims that they must be in Latin and associated with ecclesiastical writers; see Genet, “Ecclesiastics and Political Theory.” Although numerous vernacular translations and compositions attest to the shifting of this model in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the mirrors for princes tradition tended to represent women as inferior and threatening to masculine authority, with few exceptions.

26 Christine de Pizan, Epistre Othea, ed. Parussa, 100.31-33 (translation mine). On this topic, see Ferster, Fictions of Advice, p. 47.

27 See Abray, “Imagining the Masculine” and Krueger, “Christine’s Anxious Lessons,” especially pp. 20-21.

28 The Nine Worthies are figures from history, Scripture, and legend whom medieval thinkers believed exemplified the chivalric ideals of their eras: the pagans Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar; the Jewish leaders Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus; and the Christian leaders King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.

29 There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule, such as Jean Gerson, a prominent French scholar and Chancellor of the University of Paris who defends Christine’s attacks on the Roman de la Rose, and, in the English milieu, Chaucer’s works and Gower’s Confessio Amantis, which express significant sympathy for women.

30 Mombello, La tradizione, surveys the majority of them; Parussa, Epistre, pp. 87-88, notes three new discoveries and, at p. 29n53, places the number at forty-nine.

31 These printings were by Philippe Pigouchet (Paris, 1499/1500), the widow of Jean Trepperel (Paris, ca. 1518), Philippe le Noir (Paris, 1522), Raulin Gaultier (Rouen, before 1534), and Robert Wyer (Charing Cross, 1536-1545), who consulted Le Noir’s edition (itself largely a copy of Pigouchet’s). None of the male-produced editions acknowledge Christine’s authorship, and they all re-title the work. Only the edition by the Widow Trepperel, now lost, retained her authorship and title, Epistre Othea. See Brown, “Reconstruction of an Author,” especially pp. 217, 222-25.

32 Henry IV’s copy is no longer extant; Bedford acquired the copy formerly owned by Queen Isabeau of France, now London, British Library, MS Harley 4431; Edward IV commissioned a copy for his sons, now London, British Library, MS Royal 14 E II; Fastolf’s copy is now Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud misc. 570; Harling’s copy is no longer extant but is recorded in her will, printed in Testamenta Eboracensia, ed. Raine, p. 152. On ownership of the French Othea, see Campbell, “Christine de Pisan en Angleterre,” and Meale, “Patrons, Buyers and Owners,” p. 208. Watson, “Women, Reading, and Literary Culture,” pp. 250-51, provides a helpful chart.

33 Indeed, Christine saw the English as adversaries of the French and Henry as a usurper, but her son had been in England under the care of the recently executed Earl of Salisbury, so she feigned interest in Henry’s offer to ensure her son’s return to her in France; see Christine de Pizan, The Vision of Christine de Pizan, trans. McLeod and Willard, pp. 106-07. Earlier scholars thought the dedication to be for Charles VI of France. See Laidlaw, “Earl of Salisbury and Henry IV”; and Parussa, Epistre, p. 98. On Christine’s opinion of Henry and the English, see Richards, “French Cultural Nationalism,” p. 75, and Warren, Women of God and Arms, p. 59 and p. 195n3.

34 On which, see Schieberle, “A New Hoccleve Literary Manuscript.”

35 See The Assembly of Gods, ed. Chance, Introduction; Benson, “Prudence, Othea” and The History of Troy, pp. 124-29; and Meyer-Lee, Poets and Power, pp. 64-68. In his notes to the Othea, Bühler provides evidence of similarities in Lydgate’s and Christine’s accounts of the Trojan material. I have asserted in “The Problem with Authorial Manuscripts,” pp. 121-28, that the Assembly in fact draws on the Bibell, not on Scrope’s Epistle.

36 Summit, Lost Property, pp. 71-80.

37 I develop this argument more fully in Feminized Counsel, pp. 139-91. Like Summit, I understand Othea and Christine as enabling models for male writers outside the traditional authorizing structures of the Church or the University, but I see the translators identifying with Othea, and in Scrope’s case, Christine, to authorize their textual interventions.

38 Hindman, Painting and Politics, pp. 21-25. See also Tuve, Allegorical Imagery, pp. 33-45; and ed. Gordon, Bibell, pp. xxvii-xxviii.

39 Ashley and Clark, eds., introduction to Medieval Conduct, explains how conduct manuals became fashionable and began to break down traditional boundaries to teach “gentle” behaviors to non-aristocratic audiences.

40 Kipling, Triumph of Honor, pp. 11-30, 169-72. There is a parallel to other mirrors for princes: just as John Gower’s Confessio Amantis was both a mirror for princes that might benefit Richard II and an expression of contemporary social ideals “for Engelond’s sake” (Prol.24), so the English translations of the Othea present behavioral ideals for the entire community.

41 Summit, Lost Property, pp. 71-73.

42 Sonja Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” p. 347.

43 New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.775, fol. 200r (Scrope’s MS M, treated in more detail below). On the Paston women and other women who owned copies of Scrope’s Epistle, see p. 16, below.

44 As Collette, “Heeding the Counsel of Prudence,” pp. 424-29, has argued for the Melibee, noble women readers might imitate a strong female exemplar’s activities in order to gain agency. It is equally plausible that just as Christine sought to advise Queen Isabeau, the Othea might have resonated with English women readers, like Margaret Paston, whose responsibilities often included negotiating with powerful men and defending her family’s estates. Unfortunately, there is limited evidence of circulation for either translation, so their impact can only remain speculative.

45 These groups are called “families” because scholars are tracing the relationships among existing manuscripts, and a “family” consists of manuscripts whose texts are closely related, with few substantial scribal differences. Individual manuscripts are assigned letters to indicate the family, Roman numerals to indicate subgroups within the family, and a unique subscript number, with all numbers indicating how close the manuscripts are to the earliest text of that family or subgroup. For the “family tree” of these manuscripts, called a stemma, see Mombello, La tradizione, p. 326.

46 Mombello, La tradizione, pp. 199-328, explains all three families in detail, including additional subgroups; see also Parussa, Epistre, pp. 84-101. For dating these manuscripts, I have followed Hindman, “Composition of the Queen’s Manuscript,” pp. 111-12; and Painting and Politics, p. xix; she dates the copy in Harley 4431 as contemporaneous with BNF fr. 606 but integrated into the Harley volume later, ca. 1410-1415. As Hindman, Painting and Politics, pp. 14-15, notes, the Duke’s copy was likely intended for Louis of Orléans but after his assassination was offered to the Duke of Berry instead; it still contains the dedication to and presentation portrait of Louis.

47 On autograph manuscripts, see Ouy, et al., eds., Album Christine de Pizan. The autograph status of Harley 4431 is contested, though most scholars accept it as Christine’s final revisions; see Ouy and Reno, “Identification des autographes”; Laidlaw, “Christine and the Manuscript Tradition” and “A Publisher’s Progress,” pp. 42, 61-62; Parussa, Epistre, pp. 91-94; and Mombello, review of “Les hésitations de Christine.”

48 Mombello, La tradizione, thought that BNF fr. 1187 (DI) could be traced to the early decades of the fifteenth century and possibly to Christine’s scriptorium (pp. 310-11 and 319); he was unaware that the MS Harley 219 (D) Othea was dedicated to Henry IV and that Hoccleve, who died in 1426, copied it (p. 192 and 192n2). It is likely that Hoccleve, who worked at the Royal Office of the Privy Seal composing letters in Henry’s name, obtained Henry’s copy of the Othea (Schieberle, “A New Hoccleve Literary Manuscript,” pp. 15-16).

49 Mombello, La tradizione, pp. 310-28, analyzes all of the D family, including some variants that are usually attributable to the intervention of a copyist, not the author. See also Parussa, Othea, pp. 96-97. One DIII copy boldly translates Christine’s complex French and Latin into easier French (Cologny-Genève, Bibliotheca Bodmeriana MS 49); the DIV copies show influence of the French scribe and writer Jean Miélot, who has occasionally made changes to Christine’s text, including possibly authoring the dedication to the Duke of Burgundy. On Bodmer, see Christine de Pizan, Épître d’Othéa, ed. Cerquiglini-Toulet and Basso. On Miélot, see Brown-Grant, “Illumination as Reception”; and Marynissen, “The Epître Othéa in MS. 4373-76,” pp. 97-98.

50 See Mombello, La tradizione, pp. 343-45 and 364-70.

51 In addition to textual similarities, Laud and the two Scrope manuscripts with illuminations (S and M) follow the same visual program as Laud; Laud also contains the Livre des quatre vertus cardinaulx [Book of the Four Cardinal Virtues], which shares with Christine’s work an interest in morality. Bühler suggests that Laud may have been copied from Scrope’s archetype after the translation (Scrope, Epistle, p. xxvi n1); Scott also dates Scrope’s translation to around 1440 and the Laud manuscript to 1450 (Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, 2:264). See also Beadle, “Sir John Fastolf’s French Books” and Gibbs, “Epistre Othea in England.”

52 See ed. Gordon, Bibell, pp. xxxvii-xlvi. Bühler’s notes to Epistle consistently align the Bibell with the early printed editions, and in “Saying Attributed to Socrates” he speculates that it was produced in the sixteenth century, without considering that the Bibell and the early printed editions might have descended from similar yet independent D manuscripts.

53 For more, see Schieberle, “The Problem with Authorial Manuscripts,” pp. 100-21.

54 Scrope may have translated another French text, according to Raymo and Whitaker (The Mirroure of the Worlde, pp. 18-26). Fox, “Stephen Scrope, Jacques Legrand,” has speculated that Scrope also translated the Livre de bonnes moeurs [Book of Good Manners].

55 In fact, Fastolf effectively forced Scrope to sign over any claim to his inheritance in order to repay a debt; for more on Scrope’s unfortunate biography, including an unhappy marriage, details on his fraught relationship with his stepfather, and his failed attempts to find employment elsewhere, see Hughes, “Stephen Scrope and the Circle of Sir John Fastolf” and Mirroure, Raymo and Whitaker, eds., pp. 22-25.

56 Dicts, ed. Bühler, p. 2.8-9.

57 Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” p. 350, also views Fastolf’s copy in Bodleian, MS Laud misc. 570 as a rebuttal to Scrope’s attempt to reform him. Scrope’s grievances were passed on to his stepfather’s executors, the Paston family, so they are preserved in ed. Beadle and Richmond, Paston Letters and Papers, 3:138-142 and 3:172-74.

58 Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” pp. 346-50, suggests that L may have been Fastolf’s, but L contains copying errors that make that proposal unlikely. For more on the manuscripts, see Gibbs, “Epistre Othea in England;” and Bühler, “Fastolf’s Manuscripts”; “Revisions and Dedications;” and Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, pp. xiv-xvii. See also Scrope, Boke of Knyghthode, ed. Warner, for an edition of the Longleat manuscript.

59 Bühler, Epistle, p. xix, thought S may have belonged to Humphrey, and Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” p. 351, proves it: the lines describing Humphrey — and only these lines — were erased and Humphrey’s name written over what was presumably a dedication to someone else. Drimmer, p. 355n52, also indicates that an Arthur Bramshott (the more common spelling of Bremschet) was a servant in Stafford’s household, which makes his family the likely source of the inscriptions; the Latin prayer names Emelena Bramshott, whose name is also recorded in the birth records. On the Bramshott family and the inscriptions, see S. Watson, “Women, Reading, and Literary Culture,” pp. 120-30 and 275-80, who proposes that the Bramshott scribe was Emelena herself, who may have read the Epistle (it would be unusual for a woman to refer to herself only by surname at this time). There is a pen-trial on folio 16v, but it appears to be later than the Bramshott scribal hand; there are no annotations to the Epistle. See also James, A Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 238-40.

60 Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” pp. 355-58.

61 For the various cases, see Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, pp. xix-xxi; Desmond, “Reading and Visuality,” pp. 106-07; and Nuttall, “Margaret of Anjou as Patron,” p. 650.

62 For a succinct chart of ownership, see S. Watson, “Women, Reading, and Literary Culture,” pp. 250-51; on the Pastons, see ed. Davis, Paston Letters and Papers, 1:518, and 2:391-92, which contain an inventory listing a copy of the Othea and a bill for the copying of “Othea Pistill.” The Pastons had a close relationship to Fastolf, so it seems plausible that the text in question is Scrope’s Epistle (the Pastons were executors of Fastolf’s will, and a marriage between Elizabeth Paston and Scrope was proposed in 1449 but never realized).

63 Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, pp. xiv-xvii.

64 Samples of Scrope’s handwriting can be found in his lists of grievances against his stepfather, in London, British Library, MS Additional 28209, fols. 21r-22r; folio 21r is reproduced in ed. Beadle and Richmond, Paston Letters and Papers, plate xxix.

65 See Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, pp. xvi-xvii, and xxi-xxv; and Scrope, Boke of Knyghthode, ed. Warner, pp. ix-xi. For a more thorough description of the manuscript, see Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” pp. 346-50.

66 On this text, see Boffey, “Writing English in a French Penumbra.”

67 Nall, “Ricardus Franciscus; Driver, “Me fault faire;” A. Doyle, “Appendix B,” pp. 125-27; and James, A Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 238-40. S nevertheless lacks some of the decorative features that Franciscus regularly used, namely strapwork initials and scrolls wrapped around ascenders on top lines, such as those found in Laud that feature Fastolf’s motto (e.g., fols. 87v, 93r). Drimmer emphasizes such decorative features as consistent elements of his scribal practice (Art of Allusion, p. 189).

68 Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, 2:264-65, ascribes the presentation portrait to Abell and the other illustrations to the Abingdon Missal Master; James-Maddocks and Thorpe, “Petition Written by Ricardus Franciscus,” pp. 250-52, indicate that Abell collaborated with Ricardus Franciscus on multiple occasions; and Drimmer, Art of Allusion, pp. 27-35, provides a measured history of Abell’s career.

69 For further details, see The Morgan Library and Museum online collection, “Ordonances of Chivalry,”

70 Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts, 2:291.

71 For a study of the book’s composition, see Lester, “Sir John Paston’s Grete Boke,” who considers the overlap in contents between this manuscript and John Paston’s “Grete Boke,” British Library, MS Lansdowne 285. But see also Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” pp. 355-58.

72 Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” 355-58, at p. 358.

73 Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, p. xxiv; Drimmer, “Failure before Print,” p. 356.

74 Scrope, Epistle, ed. Bühler, pp. xxiv-xxv.

75 Bühler sets forth the possibility of revision in his introduction to the Dicts and Sayings, p. xlii and note 3, and in his article “Revisions and Dedications”; he retracts that suggestion in Scrope, Epistle, p. xxiii.

76 On evidence for Scrope’s hasty and careless translation, see Schieberle, “Rethinking Gender and Language.”

77 For example, M records “worthinesse” for “hardynes” at Epistle, 31.5 (Laud misc. 570: “hardement”); it offers “bene full” rather than “the victorye” at Epistle, 85.20 (Laud misc. 570: “victoire”); and it has “undir that tre” for “undir the laurere” at Epistle, 87.17 (Laud misc. 570: “soubz le lorier”), among other similar substitutions.

78 Bühler, Epistle, p. xxii n1, revises his earlier assessment that the L manuscript is further removed from the French source, but he still prioritizes M because it is more complete. Because M is closer in dialect to S than L, when S lacks its one folio after 55v, I have used M to supply the missing text.

79 Scrope and each of his independent scribes misrepresent Pan as “Oan” (Chapter 26), Cygnus as “Tynus” and “Signus” (Chapter 44), Eolus as “Colus” (Chapter 79), and perhaps most confusingly, Perseus as “Percyval” (Chapters 5 and 55). On the propensity for scribal error with classical names, which in this instance should also be extended to the translator Scrope, see Wakelin, “Not Diane.” On Scrope’s broader confusion, see Schieberle, “Rethinking Gender and Language.”

80 Christine de Pizan, Othea, ed. Parussa, 17.2-6; Christine de Pizan, Othea’s Letter, ed. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Richards, pp. 55-56.

81 Schieberle, “Rethinking Gender and Language,” pp. 101-07.

82 Bühler, “Revisions and Dedications,” p. 270, points out that normally one would expect an author to dedicate a work to the most prominent person first. However, that does not seem to have been the case for Scrope.

83 Warner in Scrope, Boke of Knyghthode, pp. xxv-xxvi.

84 The fruits of Bühler’s labors are evident in his Introduction in Scrope, Epistle, and I owe a great debt to his research and edition. See also Bühler, “Revisions and Dedications,” “Fastolf’s Manuscripts,” “Sir John Paston’s Grete Booke,” “Apostles and the Creed,” “The Fleurs de toutes vertus and Christine de Pisan’s L’Epître d’Othéa,” “Saying attributed to Socrates,” and “The Assembly of Gods and Christine de Pisan.”

85 Drimmer, “Failure before Print”; Desmond, “Reading and Visuality;” and Schieberle, “The Problem with Authorial Manuscripts,” pp. 121-27.

86 See on the one hand Mahoney, “Middle English Regenderings,” and Chance, “Gender Subversion,” and, on the other, Finke, “Politics of the Canon,” and Schieberle, “Rethinking Gender and Language.” On early modern English printings of Christine’s works as validated by her English translators and “not deauthorized . . . but decontextualized,” an important distinction that is also relevant to medieval translations like those in this volume, see Coldiron, English Printing, pp. 21-68 (quotation on p. 24).

87 Warren, Women of God and Arms, pp. 68-74; Summit, Lost Property, pp. 71-81.

88 Warren, Women of God and Arms, pp. 68-74, traces these attitudes to English and French animosities and Englishmen’s views of French women such as Christine, Margaret of Anjou, and Joan of Arc as threatening to both Englishness and masculinity; Summit, Lost Property, pp. 61-81, contextualizes the literary enterprises of Scrope and Worcester as part of a reshaping of English conceptions of both authority and chivalry.

89 One reason Scrope receives criticism is the presentation portrait of Christine offering the book to the Duke of Berry that appears in MS Laud misc. 570 (BI) and therefore also was present in Scrope’s source; however, that image finds parallels not only in author portraits but also in portraits of patrons gifting books to princes, and a thoughtless viewer might easily mistake Christine’s role (Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 159-60).

90 On which see Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 158-62.

91 Even the M text for the “hye princesse” rarely deviates from the expected text; see Schieberle “Rethinking Gender and Language,” pp. 107-09.

92 Most scholars typically only mention its existence in discussions of other Othea texts or, on rare occasions, to provide a variant reading (e.g., Amsler, “Rape and Silence”). Except for Gordon’s edition, Bühler’s notes, and my own work, the Bibell has not been the subject of sustained scholarly study.

93 Ed. Gordon, Bibell, p. xliv.

94 See Schieberle, “Problem with Authorial Manuscripts,” pp. 100-21.

95 The * indicates that a numbered page is a flyleaf and not a folio. The letter p watermark matches item WM I 01697 in Watermarks in Incunabula printed in the Low Countries,; clicking the “equivalent group” link reveals other examples of the same watermark in Dutch and Latin books printed in Zwolle, Delft, Leiden, and Antwerp. The designation of “left-facing” is a recent innovation designed to divide up the many p watermarks and to indicate the side of the watermark mold used to produce it. The two hand (or glove) watermarks are broadly similar in hand shape to Briquet 10715, 10718, and 10719; the ones in MS Harley 838 are mirror images of each other (one with thumb facing left, one with it facing right). The watermarks suggest that MS Harley 838 was indeed produced and compiled in the years on either side of 1500.

96 There is also a looped symbol resembling a P in the margins of fols. 68v and 69r next to citations by Aristotle and Augustine, but it does not appear elsewhere in the Bibell.

97 A Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, 1:454. On similarities to Lydgate, see p. 28, below.

98 On such genealogies, see Anglo, “Early Tudor Propaganda.”

99 These texts should not be confused with the Old English Wonders of the East. The Mirabilia Orientis and Mirabilia Anglie also appear together in London, British Library, MS Royal 13 D i; Cambridge, St. John’s College Library, MS F.18; and Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ll.1.18.

100 Ward, Catalogue of Romances, 1:302, notes that the Welsh chronicles are a later addition in an earlier hand.

101 Ed. Gordon, Bibell, p. xxxi, and MacCracken, “Unknown Middle English Translation,” both verify that the hand is the same here and in the Bibell.

102 Ed. Gordon, Bibell, pp. xxxii-xxxvii. MacCracken, “Unknown Middle English Translation,” p. 122, posited an earlier Anthony Babyngton, of whom no record has been found, as the scribe. Gordon counters that Sir Anthony Babyngton of Dethick would have been trained in the late fifteenth-century scribal habits evidenced in MS Harley 838 and that even though it is “far from certain” if the handwriting matches other documents attributed to Sir Anthony, he remains the most likely candidate (and may have employed an amanuensis for some of the documents that bear his name).

103 Black, “Babington, Anthony,” p. 356.

104 Ed. Inderwick, Inner Temple, pp. 6, 9, 25-27, 37, 48-114.

105 Ed. Inderwick, Inner Temple, pp. 101-111.

106 For more precise details on these events and the records available for Babyngton’s life and career, see Gordon, Bibell, pp. xxxii-xxxvii, and Black, “Babington, Anthony.”

107 The distribution of his lands expressed in his will, Prerogative Court of Canterbury 39 Hogen, demonstrates the number of holdings he possessed at Kingston, Ashover, Litchurch, Rampton, Sutton Bonington, and elsewhere, and it references his involvement with livestock and mining.

108 His first wife Elizabeth Ormond was the mother of their son Thomas, and his second wife Katherine Ferrers was mother to Katherine, Elizabeth, John, George, and Barnard. Black, “Babington, Anthony,” indicates that Elizabeth produced two sons and Katherine five sons and three daughters, but the wills of Anthony and Katherine list only the above-mentioned children (Prerogative Court of Canterbury 39 Hogan, 14 Dyngeley), suggesting that only they survived into adulthood (or survived their parents). For additional genealogical information on Babyngton and his descendants, see ed. Madden, Collectanea topographica, 8:338-56, with the caveat that the ordering of his children does not always agree with the one presented here or by Black.

109 MacCracken, “Unknown Middle English Translation,” p. 122, suggests that the signature belongs to our copyist Sir Anthony Babyngton who died before 1537, but this hand is different from the signature on fol. 8v. The current British Library description of the manuscript accepts that the signature belonged to the conspirator Babyngton. There are also other pen trials and sketches of the Babyngton arms (among other doodles) on later blank folia and flyleaves (fols. 94r-94*v and 95*r). For a brief summary of the Babington Conspiracy, see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Babington, Anthony (1561-1596).”

110 This record of confiscated items is contained in London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 50, fols. 165-68.

111 See ed. Wright, Fontes Harleiani, pp. 58, 190, 316.

112 Ed. Gordon, Bibell, p. xxxvii.

113 Ed. Inderwick, Inner Temple, p. 72.

114 Ed. Gordon, Bibell, pp. xlvii-lxiii.

115 Ed. Gordon, Bibell, p. lxiii.

116 Another major error is the omission of “figured” in 75.21.

117 Given that Hoccleve, one of Chaucer’s imitators, copied the Epistre Othea in MS Harley 219 (D), it may be tempting to wonder if he could have authored the Bibell, but I would say not. The Bibell’s language is closer to the middle of the fifteenth century (see ed. Gordon, Bibell, pp. xlvii-lxiii), and the Bibell’s text shares unusual features only with DI7 of the Othea, including readings that are not in MS Harley 219 (D).

118 The full list encompasses Proh.1-120; see Explanatory Notes for more detail.

119 Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, Prol. 17. On Aristotle’s ideas in England, see Collette, “Aristotle, Translation and the Mean” and Rigby, “Aristotle for Aristocrats.

120 Aristotle’s ideas were often used to justify inequality in the social system, as Rigby, “Aristotle for Aristocrats,” p. 273, shows for Giles of Rome.

121 On the late medieval expansion of chivalry, see Kipling, Triumph of Honor, pp. 11-30, 169-72. On contemporary anxieties about status groups and the necessity of a strong middle class, see Collette, “Aristotle, Translation and the Mean,” p. 379.

122 Because the translator does not follow one of Christine’s Prologues, it is unknown whether his source contained one, but it seems likely: the closest extant manuscript BNF naf. 10059 (DI7) transmits the dedication to Louis of Orléans.

123 On Fortune’s evolution in medieval literature, see Patch, The Goddess Fortuna. See also Mann, “Chance and Destiny.”

124 See, for instance, Gower, Confessio Amantis, ed. Peck, Prol. 546-49, and Lydgate, Fall of Princes, ed. Bergen, 2.43-56. On Lydgate’s deliberate departures from his source on the subject of personal responsibility for tragedy, see Mortimer, Narrative Tragedy in its Literary and Political Contexts, pp. 153-218. It is little wonder that the early Harley cataloguer connected the Bibell to Lydgate: the Fall of Princes, ed. Bergen, 6.253-73, alone, articulates the notion of man “enarmed in vertu” being protected against Fortune’s whims, which is analogous to the Bibell’s Proheyme goals, and Lydgate then lists virtues and dismisses the planetary influences, a trajectory with some similarities to the Othea’s (and the Bibell’s) first four chapters, Chapters 13-15, and Chapters 6-12.

125 Nolan, “The Fortunes of Piers Plowman,” p. 4.

126 Strohm, Politique, pp. 3-4. Accepting personal responsibility for one’s actions was always a feature of Aristotle’s views on virtue, just one that medieval writers often elided in favor of blaming Fortune (perhaps to avoid criticizing rulers, past or present).

127 Strohm, Politique, pp. 5, and 87-132, especially 124-27, explains the shift from policy as concerned with the common state of the realm to “an emergent sense in which policie began to tilt towards conduct we might label ‘self-interested’ or ‘shrewd’” (p. 125).

128 Compare Christine de Pizan, Epistre, ed. Parussa, 16.29-30.

129 See Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 181-89.

130 The French text tends to simply address “le bon chevalier” [the good knight] or “le bon esperit” [the good spirit]; Christine only occasionally refers to the behaviors necessary to exemplify a true Christian (e.g. Epistre, 34.11-12), but the Bibell inserts such references regularly.

131 On Christine’s rehabilitation of women, see Brown-Grant, Moral Defence, pp. 78-87. On Circe specifically, see Desmond and Sheingorn, Myth, Montage, & Visuality, pp. 142-47, and Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 163-65 and 176-77.

132 For more, see Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 174-76.

133 Epistre, ed. Parussa, 84.5, 8; compare the Bibell 84.8-9.

134 For more detailed discussion of these chapters on Antenor, Calchas, Criseyde, and Pasiphaë, see Schieberle, Feminized Counsel, pp. 177-82.

135 This confusion is symptomatic of the similarity of the letters in fifteenth-century hands; see Langland, Piers Plowman: The A Version, ed. Kane, p. 119.

136 It is important to note that Parussa, Epistre, consults AI manuscript Chantilly, Musee Condé, MS 492, identified as AI by Mombello, La tradizione, pp. 106-16; the Paris, BNF fr. 604 manuscript that I have consulted to represent the subgroup and that I refer to as AI for convenience is identified as AI1 by Mombello, La tradizione, pp. 9-13. I have collated my evaluation of BNF fr. 604 with the variants from the Chantilly manuscript in Parussa, Epistre, pp. 343-79, and indicated if a difference is substantial (e.g., Scrope Explanatory Note 39.18).

137 Mombello, La tradizione, pp. 365-68, assesses Pigouchet’s text as closest to two extant DI manuscripts and Le Noir’s text as practically identical to Pigouchet’s, with only minor variants.


Medieval translations must be treated not merely as attempts to replicate a text in another language but rather as responses to and readings of the original text.1 In the two renditions of Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea (ca. 1400; hereafter, Othea) into Middle English chivalric manuals, we have the opportunity for a case study in translation styles by analyzing Stephen Scrope’s Epistle of Othea or Boke of Knyghthod (ca. 1440; hereafter, Epistle) and the Lytle Bibell of Knyghthod (ca. 1450; hereafter, Bibell), which was copied by Anthony Babyngton, though he was most likely not the translator.2 Except for his Preface and some elements of his Prologue, Scrope stays as close as possible to his source (aside from errors and misreadings), while the Bibell diverges from the Othea in major ways — in both form and content, and in the translator’s attempts to make the text concrete and comprehensible for his English readers. For instance, in explaining how planets give names to the days of the week, Scrope parrots Christine: “Venus is a planete of hevin, aftir whom the Friday is named” (7.5). He passes over the incongruity that the English “Friday” does not derive directly from Venus’s name. By contrast, the Bibell translator explains more fully that Venus, “geveth in the Latyn tong to the Frydey hys name, werfor that dey is cald in Latyn dies veneris, as myche to sey in Englysch as the day of Venus” (7.8-10). Curiously, both men neglect to mention Christine’s reference to the French “vendredi” [Friday], perhaps indicative of their desire to privilege English, and even Latin, over French.3 The Bibell translator’s unique Prohemye provides further evidence of how his text situates the Othea as a work that specifically can help readers forestall Fortune, a concept that gained popularity in English writings of the fifteenth century.

These two contemporary but independent renderings therefore bear witness to two distinct interpretations of the Epistre Othea. One purpose of this edition is to underscore varying modes of translation: Scrope’s translation almost slavishly follows his source, but the Bibell offers unique responses to Christine’s work, particularly her views of women and exemplarity. Another related goal is to reconsider the judgments of twentieth-century editors that have become the scholarly consensus: Scrope’s Epistle imitates Christine’s text and is better, even if he is overly literal, while the Bibell is “flawed.” Rather, both translators occasionally struggle with Christine’s complex ideas and difficult poetry, but both provide reasonably good translations of very different source manuscripts. Studying these translations offers a window into how some English readers received Christine’s incredibly popular and impressive work.

Like other METS editions, this volume is designed for relative newcomers to medieval English language and literature, as well as for more experienced students and scholars. In the years since the 1942 (Gordon) and 1970 (Bühler) publications of the previous editions of these works, scholarship on Christine de Pizan and the Othea has exploded, particularly on topics of gender, politics, and manuscript studies. This edition will allow students and scholars to bring Scrope’s Epistle and the Bibell into similar conversations about how English men frame and interpret the crucial topics of the Othea for their contemporary audiences.


Christine de Pizan (ca. 1364-1431) was the first Western medieval woman to make her living as a writer, and her lengthy career was influenced by her personal circumstances. Her father Thomas de Pizan (originally from Pizzano, Italy) served as astrologer and alchemist to Charles V of France.4 His position and the intellectual environment in Paris facilitated young Christine’s education and, later, her access to aristocratic patronage. At age 15, Christine was married happily to Etienne du Castel, a royal secretary, but her father died around 1387, and then Etienne died suddenly in 1390. Christine found herself solely responsible for the care of her widowed mother, a niece, and her own three children, and her struggles were amplified by the difficulties many a medieval widow experienced attempting to collect money owed to her husband’s estate, including deception and lawsuits. She turned to writing, first perhaps as a distraction, and then as a means of supporting her family.5 By 1400, her works gained popularity in the French court and beyond. On the one hand, aristocratic patrons may have enjoyed the novelty of a woman writer. On the other, Christine’s works engage not only the most popular literary genres and topics such as romances and courtly love but also important social issues of her day, including politics, war with England, morality, and, not surprisingly, the forces that shaped her life as a widow and writer: antifeminism and the difficulties women faced being recognized as authoritative in a man’s world.6 From her early criticisms of the misogyny of the Roman de la Rose [Romance of the Rose] to her last poem in praise of Joan of Arc, Christine’s career reflects her profound desire to celebrate women’s accomplishments and to defend women against the antifeminist stereotypes so prevalent in clerical writings and medieval society.

Christine first dedicated the Epistre Othea la deesse, que elle envoya à Hector de Troye, quant il estoit en l’aage de quinze ans [Letter of Othea the goddess which she sent to Hector of Troy when he was fifteen years old] to Louis of Orléans (ca. 1400), the younger brother of Charles VI, when he was in his late twenties. She later dedicated copies to Charles V’s brothers — Jean, Duke of Berry, and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy — and presented one to his wife Queen Isabeau to encourage the most powerful elite of France to practice political wisdom (ca. 1404-1410).7 The work transmits and analyzes advice from Othea the goddess of prudence and wisdom, who counsels Hector based on her knowledge and her prophecies of future events. With no classical precedent for this deity, it seems possible that Christine joined the invocation “O” with the Greek word for goddess “thea” to produce the name.8 In Othea, Christine invents her own female authority figure — free from any of the preconceived notions her readers might have about other classical goddesses — that she could exploit to assert women’s wisdom.

By selecting Hector of Troy as Othea’s addressee, Christine establishes a political context for the work, not only because of the numerous political failings that preceded the destruction of Troy but also because the French aristocracy traced their lineage to Hector and considered him an ideal of both kingship and chivalry. The work functioned initially as a mirror for princes, a genre that used the exemplum (a brief illustrative narrative) to teach aristocratic readers to practice moral, political, and spiritual virtues. The theory behind such works was that aristocratic readers would identify with the narrative protagonists (the exemplars), learn vicariously from their successes or mistakes, and imitate (mirror) their virtuous behaviors while avoiding those that lead to dishonor or death.9

Christine delivers her lessons about virtues and vices through complex, multi-layered allegorical interpretations of classical figures. The Othea contains one hundred chapters, and three primary levels of reading for each chapter: the texte (literal narrative), glose (moral interpretation), and allegorie (spiritual interpretation). The texte, usually a short four-line poem in rhyming couplets, depicts a classical character as an exemplar. In deluxe manuscripts for aristocratic patrons, an illuminated miniature often provides a visual image to complement the texte and help the reader remember the work’s lessons.10 In Christine’s fictional account of the work’s design, Othea has supposedly authored the texte (but really Christine composed it).

In the two prose sections that follow, Christine explains why an exemplar’s behaviors should be imitated or avoided, and both the glose and allegorie are presented as commentaries, modeled on expositions of religious or university texts. They rely on a mode of allegory called allegoresis or “imposed allegory,” in which general abstract qualities are drawn from (or imposed upon) the literal narrative; that is, the protagonist exemplifies a virtue or vice only through interpretation.11 The glose recounts in more detail the classical narrative evoked in the texte and analyzes it as an illustration of advantageous chivalric and political virtues; it almost always concludes with a supporting quotation by a classical authority such as Plato, Aristotle, or another ancient philosopher. Finally, the allegorie underscores the spiritual benefits of practicing ideal moral behaviors; Christine authorizes those claims with quotations from the Church Fathers and the Bible, the Apostles’ Creed, or the Ten Commandments. Together Christine’s commentaries reflect on the main behavior embodied in the texte and use widely popular moral and theological authorities to validate her arguments about morality, virtues, vices, and the ideal conduct for a Christian ruler.

Within this tripartite structure, one might assume that the spiritual level of reading is most important, and, indeed it was for most clerically-authored mirrors for princes. However, there is evidence that Christine sought to challenge such hierarchical reading practices through non-linear manuscript layouts and by frequently blurring the lines between the literal, moral, and spiritual levels of interpretation. The earliest manuscript presents a fragmented arrangement with the texte in the center and commentaries in the margins, so that each chapter element coexists with the others, without a clear hierarchy and without the linear procession of texte, glose, and allegorie displayed in later manuscripts.12 Even in linear format, the levels compete for the reader’s attention, and all parts work together to create the fullest meaning for the chapter. Thematic connections among the allegories give structure to the first forty-five chapters - the Four Cardinal Virtues (Chapters 1-4), the seven planets and their spiritual significances (6-12), the three theological virtues (13-15), the seven deadly sins (16-22), the Apostles’ Creed or Twelve Articles of the Faith (23-34), and the Ten Commandments (35-44) - but the remaining chapters treat vices and virtues without unifying themes across the allegories.13 All of the exempla draw on classical mythology, and many treat the arc of events that led to the downfall of Hector and Troy (which Othea can address through her prophetic powers, in theory forewarning him of various tragedies including his own death).

At the Othea’s core lies the question of how the pagan past is relevant to the Christian present and future. Christine participates in a popular medieval practice that sought to apply Christian moralizations to mythological texts through an interpretive process called euhemerism or mythographic reading.14 This process treats mythological events as if they were historically plausible, as if historical events were simply exaggerated by poets to stress the virtues, vices, or impressive feats of the characters. For example, Hercules’s journey to rescue companions from Hell becomes a poetic invention designed to emphasize his extraordinary fortitude (Chapter 3). The gods, goddesses, and demi-gods of the pagan world become exceptional humans whom the pagans mistook for deities, and myth becomes history exaggerated for literary effect. Despite the emphasis on history, the period in which these exemplars existed (if they ever did) is irrelevant to the medieval Christian moralist, who instead focuses on the pagan figures as anticipating the Christian virtues that medieval audiences ought to practice.15

In constructing her chapters, Christine draws upon a wide variety of works in a truly intertextual process, but she also frequently innovates beyond her sources, creatively reworking source material and adding her own interpretations.16 For classical narratives, she frequently uses Boccaccio’s Genealogie deorum gentilium libri [Book of the Genealogy of Pagan Gods], the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César [Ancient History until Caesar], and the Ovide moralisé [Moralized Ovid].17 The Ovide moralisé often offers the starting point for Christine’s moralizations and allegorical interpretations, though she is just as likely to react against the text’s misogynist views as to adopt its perspectives on vice and virtue.18 Most of the authoritative citations in the gloses and allegories can be traced to the Dits moraulx des philosophes [Moral Sayings of the Philosophers], the Manipulus florum [Handful of Flowers], and the Chapelet des vertus [Garland of Virtues]. Although Christine uses the Vulgate Bible for Scriptural quotations, she regularly follows the Chapelet’s pairings of quotations from the Church Fathers and Scripture; she also occasionally alters the quotations from her sources.19 The excerpts from the Ten Commandments and Apostles’ Creed may have come from any number of works that address these important Christian texts, so it is impossible to determine the precise source text or manuscript Christine used.20 Nevertheless, the analysis of her innovative combination of and modifications to her known sources has become a rich area for study, especially as more of her sources become available in digitized manuscripts, French editions, and English translations.21

Christine differs most from her sources in her moralizations and allegorical interpretations, which consistently challenge the reductive readings of women offered by the clerical tradition. The defense of women against contemporary stereotypes occupies Christine’s attention throughout her career, for example, in the L’Avision-Christine [Christine’s Vision], Livre de la Cité des Dames [The Book of the City of Ladies], and Livre des Trois Vertus [The Book of the Three Virtues, also known as The Treasury of the City of Ladies].22 In the Othea, she combats antifeminist images of women in the Ovide moralisé and the Roman de la Rose. As scholars such as Rosalind Brown-Grant, Marilynn Desmond, and Pamela Sheingorn have argued, the Othea criticizes these works’ arguments that women are immoral, inferior to men, and exemplars of sin. Through both text and illustrations, Christine urges her reader to use alternate modes of interpreting gender in order to counter antifeminist stereotypes.23 Women become not only models of virtue but also models for male readers to imitate, challenging the gender binary. The Othea’s combination of the historical exemplum with allegoresis exploits productive tensions between “real” exemplars in the “real” world and abstract qualities. Moreover, characters exemplify truth or wrath; they are not Truth or Wrath personified into an abstract, inhumanly perfect embodiment. The exemplum maintains a historical existence for the exemplar and purports to illustrate one lived moment in which he or she demonstrates a perfect or imperfect amount of an abstract quality. Even characters who exemplify vices are not necessarily wicked or foolish people unless there is a sustained history of such behavior, and they are certainly not “types” by which all people at all times should be judged.24 For example, Ulysses can be both the malicious trickster who steals the Cyclops’s eye (Chapter 19) and the model of a wise military leader (Chapters 71 and 83). Achilles is the Greeks’ best warrior, naturally given to feats of arms (Chapter 71), but also a reckless, naïvely trusting lover (Chapters 40 and 93). This notion of interpreting people based on their circumstances and specific choices alone is particularly relevant when Christine tells her readers that just because Pasiphaë let her sexual inclinations overcome her, that does not mean all women are similarly foolish (Chapter 45).

In other words, Christine uses the exemplum and its interpretation of supposedly historical vignettes both to teach virtues and to defend women. In so doing, she provides a counter position to most texts in the mirrors for princes genre, which, like the Ovide moralisé and Roman de la Rose, were products of clerical traditions. Most mirrors represented women negatively as threats to the ruler’s morality or even his life.25 By contrast, the Othea develops a strong female authority figure in Othea, who is mirrored in the many wise, accomplished women who populate the book: Minerva, Io, Isis, Ceres, Andromache, and the Cumaean Sibyl, among others. Because Christian mythography argued that pagan goddesses were simply exceptional women, each of these figures provides a classical precedent for Christine’s own identity as a wise woman. Othea and the Sibyl in particular become exemplars of an adage commonly used in mirrors for princes to authorize advice-giving: good advice ennobles the speaker, or, as Christine says of the Sibyl, “bonne parole et bon enseignement font a louer de quelconques personne que ilz soient dis” [good words and good teachings bring praise to whatever person has spoken them].26 Othea addressing Hector becomes a screen through which Christine counsels her aristocratic readers, authorizing her intervention into the masculine worlds of textual production and moral, political advice-giving.

Just as Othea becomes an exemplar for Christine as a counselor, so Hector offers an exemplar for her readers, but he is hardly perfect. Within Christine’s fiction, Othea warns him of precisely the willful and immoral mistakes that will lead to his death. This inventive chronology imagines that Othea could intervene in Hector’s fate and use her advice to change the course of history. Of course, the success of her intervention depends on Hector himself: he must remember and employ her lessons, something Othea cautions him about in the opening chapter. As Christine’s aristocratic audiences familiar with the Trojan saga would know, Hector did not avoid his death but died exactly as Othea “prophesied.” This fact implies that he was a poor student, which leads scholars to understandably consider him a flawed exemplar.27 But by depicting Hector, one of the three pagan members of the Nine Worthies (exemplars of chivalry), as an imperfect, human character, Christine also allows her readers the opportunity to equal or surpass his exalted reputation.28 In other words, she leaves open the possibility that her readers will fulfill Othea’s program for ideal aristocratic virtue and protect their state more wisely than did the classical heroes and rulers, even renowned Hector. When Christine’s defense of women is considered in this context, it becomes clear that she defines the ideal Christian ruler as eager to acquire and maintain moral virtues but also willing to practice a more favorable view of women than the one articulated by the overwhelming majority of her contemporary writers.29 Christine thus creates a powerful argument that all but forces her reader to accept her advice by suggesting that the first steps toward revealing himself (or herself) superior to Hector are embracing Christine as an authority and following her advice.


The Epistre Othea was an extremely popular work, a late medieval “bestseller” that enjoyed the most widespread circulation of all of Christine’s works and was popular in England. There are forty-nine surviving manuscripts of the French text, some of which were copied in England or for English patrons.30 In addition, there were four early printed editions before 1534 of the French text, and Robert Wyer translated and printed an English edition between 1536-1545.31 Several prominent English figures owned copies of the Othea in French, including Henry IV, the Duke of Bedford and his family, Edward IV and his sons, Scrope’s stepfather Sir John Fastolf, and Anne Harling (d. 1498), the widow of John the fifth Baron Scrope of Bolton (our Scrope’s first cousin, twice removed), who bequeathed her copy to Thomas Howard, Lord Surrey (d. 1524).32 Christine even composed a dedication to Henry IV (before 1402), while feigning interest in his invitation that she visit England, an offer she never accepted.33 Although Henry’s original copy no longer exists, London, British Library, MS Harley 219 preserves the dedication and the general state of the text, albeit in Anglo-French orthography, in the hand of the famous poet Thomas Hoccleve, who also translated Christine’s Epistre au dieu d’Amours into the Letter of Cupid (1402) and whose original Middle English poems may yet show influence of the Othea.34 We know that the Othea influenced other English authors: the anonymous poem The Assembly of Gods and John Lydgate’s Troy Book both invoke the goddess Othea, who did not exist before Christine’s work; it is also plausible that Lydgate draws on the Othea in his Troy Book treatment of Hector’s death.35 Due to Christine’s unmistakable interest in defending women, it may seem surprising to modern readers to find her text so widely disseminated and influential among premodern men. But her defenses are so tightly woven into her advice to princes and knights as to be inseparable. Moreover, Christine expertly explains the Othea’s moralizing and allegorizing strategies, so one reason for its popularity may be that it effectively teaches not only morality but also how one ought to read exemplary texts and understand the gloses and allegories. Simply put, the Othea teaches readers how to read.

In carrying these lessons over into English, translators such as Scrope and the Bibell translator, intentionally or not, brought with them Christine’s positive views of women and her challenges to traditional conceptions of literary authority. In the English milieu one might see analogously sympathetic treatments of women in Chaucer and Gower, but Christine’s defenses seem far more immediate, wide-ranging, and genuine (whereas Chaucer’s often contain the potential for irony and Gower ultimately retreats into a more conservative position). For our translators, in addition to the moral and political content, Christine’s provocative views of authority may have been attractive. Like Christine, Scrope and probably the Bibell translator too, existed outside of the Church and University structures that typically generated authority for Latin writers and some vernacular moralists like Lydgate. As Jennifer Summit has argued in an analysis of Scrope’s Preface, Christine simultaneously offers the attractive model of a writer outside traditional authorizing structures and also a feminine persona against which Scrope can reify his masculine superiority.36 Yet in translating a work whose major authoritative voice is feminine, our male translators complicate the binary view of gender. If it is evident that Christine identifies with Othea and uses the goddess to authorize her ideas, then in the translations, we find not only a male writer speaking through a woman character (as in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale or Prioress’s Tale) but also a male writer depending upon Othea to initiate and authorize his work, without Chaucerian satire or irony, without implications of antifeminism, and with little separation between the translator’s voice and Othea’s (or Christine’s). In effect, the male translators must accept and even defend the possibility of feminine authority in order to assert the legitimacy of their volumes and the validity of their own positions as vernacular writers.37

The two Middle English translations in this volume interpret the Othea as a chivalric manual. In fact, they may be partially responsible for the reading of the Othea itself as a courtesy book or generalized conduct manual that largely dominated critical views until Sandra Hindman demonstrated that the work more properly is classified as a mirror for princes.38 Yet the contemporary shift to viewing the Othea as a more general manual is understandable. The dissemination of the Othea to broader audiences beyond the original royal dedicatees coincides with a movement in the fifteenth century in which upwardly mobile audiences hungered for literature that could teach them to imitate the behaviors of the nobility.39 The Othea and other vernacular mirrors for princes, like Gower’s Confessio Amantis, were embraced as teaching moral values to all of literate society. At the same time, “chivalry” was developing significance beyond the denotation of literal knighthood, and chivalric instruction was becoming a literary guise through which writers addressed social ideals.40 As Summit argues, this new definition meant that those who were not knights could nevertheless inculcate and demonstrate chivalric virtues.41 The expanding conception of chivalry meant that Scrope could serve chivalry by writing about it, even though he was physically unable to perform as a knight, by redefining chivalry as a set of prudent, intellectual, and spiritual qualities that allow one to combat vice and sin.42 And although he identifies the book as focused on chivalry, the Bibell translator characterizes it as an aid for “every wyght” [every creature] (Proh.164), and frequently points out moral behavior as appropriate not only for all knights but also for “every other wurschypfull man” (29.21) or “every other well avysed persoun” (34.10). For both Scrope and the Bibell translator, chivalry becomes a metaphor for society, for living according to culturally-accepted expectations of virtue.

The Othea translations invite another audience into the broadening notion of chivalry: women. Because their source so effectively defends women from antifeminist commonplaces and uses women as exemplars of ideal behaviors appropriate to men as well as women, the English versions also implicitly challenge perceived gender limitations. Women are brought into conversations about chivalry and masculinity, and they are asserted as exemplars, advisors, and practitioners of virtue, while antifeminist stereotypes are countered and debunked. Like Christine’s Othea, Scrope’s Epistle also reached women readers and had at least one prominent woman dedicatee, an unidentified woman referred to only as a “hye princesse.”43 The Bibell does not directly show evidence of a female audience, but nor does the translator exclude the possibility. The translations therefore might empower English women readers as they negotiated their roles in the household and beyond.44

Of course, there are significant differences in the Scrope and the Bibell translations, long identified as independently produced (that is, neither translation influenced the other). Both translators occasionally use two, sometimes three, English words to capture the range of possible French meanings for their readers, and they attempt to preserve the moral and spiritual lessons Christine imparts. However, Scrope very closely translates his source for aristocratic dedicatees and gentry readers, embracing direct English cognates of his French source whenever he can and almost always maintaining Christine’s defenses of women. In contrast, the Bibell translator departs regularly from Christine in form and content. He adds commentary to explain complicated material and draws clear lines among the three levels of interpretation, perhaps in anticipation of the broader audience he imagines. He sometimes restores antifeminist readings that Christine sought to eliminate, even as he praises other women as virtuous models. The Bibell is very much an adaptation of Christine’s work that contrasts the more literal rendering by Scrope, who confines most of his interpretation to the Preface, not the translation itself.

Beyond these substantive differences, a number of the variants between Scrope’s Epistle and the Bibell occur because their sources derived from different manuscript families of the French Othea, an important observation that has only recently been recognized. There are three main manuscript families that reflect different stages in the revision and transmission of the Othea: A, B, and D.45 The A family represents Christine’s first draft for Louis (Paris, BNF fr. 848, in autograph; ca. 1400) and texts closely descended from it; manuscripts presenting a somewhat modified version of the first draft receive the designation AI. The B family preserves a significantly revised text, and its earliest and most famous witnesses are Paris, BNF fr. 606 (B), which was owned by the Duke of Berry, and the “Queen’s Manuscript,” produced for the Queen of France, now London, British Library, MS Harley 4431 (B1), both plausibly in Christine’s own hand (ca. 1406-1408); a version with slight changes and a dedication to the Duke of Berry constitutes BI.46 The aforementioned A, B, and B1 copies are considered the most authoritative, because they can be traced to Christine herself as scribe (or at least supervisor).47

The D family manuscripts are more problematic: although Christine likely produced the earliest of them before 1402 (to dedicate it to Henry IV before her son’s return), no copy closely connected to her exists. Only two copies, London, British Library, MS Harley 219 (D) and Paris, BNF fr. 1187 (DI), can be dated to the first third of the fifteenth century. Thus, D manuscripts must be treated with caution in terms of the degree to which they transmit authorial readings (that is, text Christine composed and authorized), because none of the D copies are in Christine’s handwriting, and, although MS Harley 219 (D) likely derives from an authoritative copy and was produced before 1426, only BNF fr. 1187 (DI) might be traceable to Christine’s scriptorium.48 In his survey of all extant manuscripts, Gianni Mombello theorizes that the original D copies represent an intermediary stage between the A version and B revisions, which is supported by the dating of Henry IV’s nowlost original copy before 1402, between the earliest A copy at ca. 1400 and the earliest B copy at ca. 1406-1408. As Mombello’s comparison of manuscripts amply demonstrates, the text of D manuscripts combines readings attested in A copies and those attested in B copies, and he lists sufficient shared characteristics across all, or almost all, D manuscripts to establish them cohesively as a family; subgroups within the family indicate how far from the early D and DI copies the text shifts, and some very late copies have been corrupted by scribal errors, attempts at correction, or comparison to other A or B copies.49 The majority of surviving manuscripts are D copies, and D manuscripts provided the source for all early sixteenth-century French printed editions and, in turn, for Robert Wyer’s English translation.50 In other words, medieval and premodern readers had a greater chance of encountering a D version of the Othea than in one of the authorial versions we value most today.

We know with certainty that Scrope’s translation drew on a BI manuscript, that is, a manuscript with the dedication to Jean, Duke of Berry, and otherwise containing textual features that tend to align with B manuscripts. Although Scrope’s direct source has not survived, Curt F. Bühler has shown that the BI copy of the Othea owned by Scrope’s stepfather and employer John Fastolf, now Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud miscellaneous 570 (BI), should be considered a “sister manuscript” to Scrope’s translation: Laud and the Epistle were likely produced from the same French copy, which Fastolf may also have owned.51 The Bibell’s source has until recently been unrecognized, and it was without question a DI manuscript. As the description of the manuscript families makes clear, above, the presence of material from A/AI manuscripts in D/DI copies means that they vary substantially from B/BI manuscripts. This in turn clarifies why scholars reading Scrope and MS Harley 4431 (B1) assumed that the Bibell translator executed a poor translation: they expected his Middle English to resemble the French of a B family manuscript.52 In fact, the Bibell is a very good translation and adaptation of a DI manuscript that contained idiosyncratic readings that today can be found in the French copy in Paris, BNF naf. 10059 (DI7).53 This revelation also gives us a better sense of the types of Othea manuscripts circulating in England: we have known that MS Harley 219 (D) contained the dedication to Henry IV, that the Duke of Bedford purchased MS Harley 4431 (B1) around 1425, that Fastolf had access to more than one BI copy in the mid-fifteenth century, and that Edward IV owned British Library, MS Royal 14 E II (DIII2); now we also know that at least one other copy from the DI family group was independently circulating in fifteenth-century England and available to the Bibell translator. Bringing these two distinctive and independent translations together better equips us to understand many variants in the Middle English renderings and to study more accurately the translators’ decisions to follow a source or to transform the Othea into a vehicle to convey their own views on English chivalric and social ideals.


Stephen Scrope (1397-1472) translated at least two texts from French sources, The Epistle of Othea (ca. 1440) and The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers (1450), and he dedicated both initially to his stepfather, Sir John Fastolf (d. 1459).54 Scrope was the eldest son of Sir Stephen Scrope, who was the son of the first Baron Scrope of Bolton and served as deputy of Ireland under Henry IV, and the heiress Millicent Tiptoft (d. 1446). Despite these auspicious beginnings, Scrope would suffer numerous misfortunes. Sir Stephen died of the plague in 1408, and the next year Millicent remarried his butler, John Fastolf (d. 1459), a member of the minor gentry, who would control her estates and then Scrope’s inheritance throughout his lifetime.55 In 1411 Scrope was sent as a ward to Yorkshire, in the home of Chief Justice William Gascoigne, where he lived unhappily until he returned to Fastolf’s household in 1413, at the age of sixteen, suffering from an unknown illness that left him physically disfigured and unable to serve in the active military. He entered service as Fastolf’s secretary, which would take him to Normandy and provide him invaluable experience with the French language.

According to Scrope’s prose Preface to the Epistle of Othea, he addresses this text to the aged, renowned knight Fastolf to refine his chivalry into a form of wisdom and spiritual chivalry that can battle vices and defend his soul (Preface.1-27), with an emphasis on the four Cardinal Virtues. The much shorter dedication of the Dicts, a collection of moral sayings and one of Christine’s sources, submits it for Fastolf’s “contemplacion and solace.”56 The Epistle account typically has been read as part of Scrope’s attempts to urge his stepfather Fastolf to restore his inheritance. If this intepretation is accurate, such attempts failed, for the next texts Scrope presented to his stepfather were documents outlining grievances and mistreatment and calling for reimbursement (ca. 1450-1452), and Fastolf never relinquished Scrope’s inheritance during his lifetime.57

Yet Scrope’s redefinition of chivalry is important in its own right, as part of a widening conception of chivalry as a metaphor for moral living that applied to any reader. Perhaps in search of patronage, Scrope rededicated copies of the Epistle to Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (d. 1460), and to an unnamed “hye princesse,” replacing the prose Preface to Fastolf with a Prologue in rhymed couplets, modeled on Christine’s prologue dedicating the work to Jean, Duke of Berry. Scrope’s Preface is preserved in Longleat House, MS 253 (L), though this was not Fastolf’s original copy.58 As the exceptional recent analysis by Sonja Drimmer demonstrates, Stafford’s copy is preserved in Cambridge, St. John’s College, MS H.5 (S); later inscriptions including a Latin prayer, a Middle English text on the Virgin’s sorrows, and birth records in English and Latin were added to the flyleaves by a member of the lower gentry who records “Bremschet scripcit” [Bremschet wrote] (fol. 61r).59 Drimmer also argues convincingly that New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.775 (M), is the original copy dedicated to the “hye princesse” that was obtained by Sir John Astley (d. 1486), a knight in Stafford’s retinue, who imposed his coat of arms onto it.60 A variety of possibilities for the princess’s identity have been proposed, all speculative, which I summarize for expediency: Eleanor Cobham (d. 1452, second wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester), Anne Beauchamp (d. 1492, wife to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick), Anne Neville Stafford (d. 1480, Humphrey’s widow), Anne Stafford de Vere (d. 1472, Humphrey’s daughter), and Margaret of Anjou (d. 1482, wife of Henry V).61 Other copies no longer extant may have existed: assuming she was not the “hye princesse,” Anne Stafford de Vere, Humphrey’s daughter, bequeathed a copy to her sister-in-law Margaret Beaufort (d. 1509), mother of the future Henry VII; and the records of the Paston family show that they owned at least one copy of the “Othea Pistill,” so the women in their household had access to the text.62 The evidence for the circulation of Scrope’s Epistle from the extant and known copies seems to suggest that it was limited to people connected to the households of either Fastolf or Stafford. Nevertheless, from the early days of its existence, Scrope’s Epistle enjoyed not only the expected audience of aristocratic men but also women and gentry readers.

As the above discussion indicates, there are three extant manuscripts of the Epistle, L, S, and M, all dating to the middle of the fifteenth century.63 None of these manuscripts is closely related to the other two, none shows signs of Scrope’s own handwriting, and each manuscript contains errors not in the other copies.64 All have a similar layout, in which texte, glose, and allegorie proceed in a linear fashion. The Longleat manuscript L contains the only copy of Scrope’s Preface to Fastolf, and it therefore gives us access to some of Scrope’s earliest efforts, filtered through another scribe. L is written on vellum, 9.5 by 7 inches, bound in nineteenth-century dark brown leather, but the old parchment cover is preserved as the current first leaf, with the medieval title “The book of knyghthode” written on it; there are no catchwords. L is incomplete textually and visually: there is a single leaf missing after folio 9v and a whole quire of eight missing after folio 34v, and there is blank space left for decorative features that were never completed: rubrics, initial capitals, Latin quotations, and miniatures. The scribal hand is legible, but it more closely resembles a documentary hand than a professional book script, and the identity of the scribe is unknown.65 The manuscript begins with the Epistle and contains one other text, the Middle English Tree of Love, probably also a translation of a French source, written in rhymed couplets; it is copied in the same hand and has the same sense of incompleteness as the Epistle, in blank spaces left for illustrations and some missing folios and lines.66 However, despite the incomplete status of the manuscript and the presence of some copying errors, comparison of all three Epistle manuscripts to the French in MS Laud misc. 570 (BI) shows that L preserves some of Scrope’s original translations, when its readings are closer to the French than the readings of S and M.

The Cambridge St. John’s manuscript (S), Humphrey Stafford’s copy, is the most complete and has been used as the base text for this edition. Bühler recognized S as the most authoritative because its production can be connected more closely to Scrope and Fastolf than any other. The scholarly consensus is that this manuscript was produced by the professional scribe Ricardus Franciscus, who copied a number of texts for the Fastolf household, including the Laud (BI) French Othea from the same BI source that Scrope used.67 S is a vellum manuscript, 11.25 by 8 inches, written in a professional, fifteenthcentury book hand, with catchwords at the end of each quire, and bound in stamped brown leather over boards; there is one folio missing after folio 55v. S has a complete visual program: rubrication, decorated and enlarged initial capitals (in gold leaf on a background of rose and blue ink with white penwork decoration), and six illustrations framed in gold leaf that include a portrait of Scrope presenting a book to Humphrey Stafford by the artist William Abell and grisaille images for the first five chapters of the Epistle (Othea, Temperance, Hercules, Minos, and Perseus) by the Abingdon Missal Master; in this program, S agrees with the Laud (BI) manuscript.68 The Epistle is the only text in the volume, except for the inscriptions added by Bremschett.

The third manuscript of the Epistle preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library (M) presumably represents the latest version. The manuscript is vellum, 9.75 by 6.75 inches, and written in a professional, fifteenth-century book hand (the scribe is unknown), with catchwords at the end of each quire; the binding is sixteenth-century English stamped calf, gilt, with the motto “ich dien” of Edward VI Prince of Wales, who owned the volume prior to his accession.69 This is the copy dedicated to the “hye princesse” and later reappropriated by Sir John Astley (d. 1486), who added his coat of arms to the final folio. The Epistle begins acephelously, without the presentation portrait it likely contained and early text that may have identified Scrope’s intended recipient. M contains three illuminated miniatures (Othea, Hercules, Minos), but the other two (Temperance and Perseus rescuing Andromeda) have been removed; the remaining miniatures are similar to those in S and Laud (BI) and have been attributed to the Wingfield Master.70 The M manuscript is rubricated, and it features enlarged decorated capitals in gold on rose and blue background with penwork decoration in white, with foliate decoration spreading into the margin. Unlike the other copies, here the Epistle is incorporated into a large volume of 320 folios containing a number of texts closely related to the more worldly aspects of chivalry, including a treatise on jousting, an English translation of Vegetius’s treatise on warfare De re militari [Concerning Military Matters], information on arms and armor for foot combat, regulations for trial by battle, and commemorations of Astley’s own chivalric feats.71 In other words, the Epistle appears as what Drimmer calls “an empty gesture towards gentility,” its sophisticated content and spiritual messages overwhelmed by the masculine military focus of the other texts.72 In part, the contents “quite inappropriate for a lady” led Bühler to believe that M could not be the princess’s original copy, but Drimmer has shown that the Epistle was produced independently from the rest of the manuscript, later incorporated into the volume, and plausibly mutilated to remove images of women and better suit the masculine tenor of the other contents.73 Thus, it seems quite likely that M preserves the princess’s original copy.

In producing his edition, Bühler privileged the texts recorded in the manuscripts in the order S, M, and L. Like Bühler, I have used S as the base text for this edition, but I have given M and L approximately equal weight. Bühler dismissed many L readings because it seemed to him the least authoritative copy (i.e., incomplete and “most corrupt”).74 However, my collation shows that L often has readings that are closer to the Laud manuscript’s French than either S or M; since those readings are more likely to have arisen from Scrope’s reading of the French than a scribe’s alterations of Scrope’s English, I have given L more weight than Bühler did. Bühler at one point considered the possibility that the M text reflected editorial revisions by Scrope or perhaps his colleague in Fastolf’s household William Worcester, but he later retracted that claim because there was insufficient supporting evidence.75 Indeed, it is clear that the Epistle never underwent large-scale revisions: across all three manuscripts, there are too many misunderstandings of French grammar, produced, I hypothesize, from a hasty process of translation.76 My own view is that the M scribe made occasional replacements of Scrope’s Middle English with synonyms or words he thought made better sense — evidence of an engaged copyist but not a reading that can be traced accurately to Scrope or to his French source.77 Therefore, I have hesitated to adopt text from M that is not attested in S or L, and I have occasionally adopted readings from L that Bühler rejected, when they are closer to Laud’s French and thus likely to have originated with Scrope and not with a scribe.78

Scrope’s translation follows the French as closely as his skills and the English language will permit: he frequently employs (or invents) direct cognates, and it is rare for him to stray from Christine’s content. However, in addition to grammatical infelicities, the Epistle transmits errors in mythological narratives that include misspelling names, misrepresenting the genders of female characters wrongly in the texte but correctly (sometimes) in the glose, and presenting a narrative account that is muddled or otherwise seems ignorant of the classical myth.79 For example, Chapter 17 offers a confused account of the narrative of Athamas and Ino. According to Scrope’s texte, Athamas was “ful of righte greete madnes,” but “The goddes verily of woodnes, / She feersly strangeled her childer tweyne” (17.1-3, emphasis mine). In Christine’s account, the goddess of madness causes Athamas to go insane and strangle his children.80 Scrope’s glose muddles some details but correctly relays Christine’s narrative events. Scrope’s Epistle frequently witnesses such incongruities between texte and glose, with errors in the texte even when the glose shows him to understand the narrative. Such disconnect suggests that he often struggled with the complexity of Christine’s poetic textes, frequently mistranslating both language and content that he never corrected.81 Perhaps he was more comfortable in prose: after all, his other major translation The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers is exclusively prose, and when he authored his major original contribution to the Epistle, the Preface to Fastolf, he chose prose. He only undertook the translation of Christine’s poetic Prologue when he decided to use the Epistle for other recipients — Humphrey Stafford and the “hye princesse” — plausibly readers he knew less intimately and for whom the stylized and conventional Prologue was more appropriate.82

Scholarship on Scrope has tended to concentrate, first on the manuscripts and later on the gendered implications of his Preface and translation. George F. Warner first identified Scrope and Fastolf as the translator and recipient in 1904, based on Scrope’s description of himself as “yowre most humble son Stevyn” and of Fastolf’s age and exploits in the Preface.83 The majority of the early research on Scrope and Othea was conducted by Curt F. Bühler in the years leading up to the publication of his 1970 edition: analysis of French and English manuscripts, the dedications of Scrope’s Epistle, and observations on sources, variant readings, and possible influence of Scrope on the Middle English poem The Assembly of Gods.84 Bühler’s pioneering scholarship laid the foundation for more recent research that has refined our understanding of Scrope’s manuscripts and the impact of his work, such as Sonja Drimmer’s revised assessment of the three extant manuscripts, Marilynn Desmond’s analysis of the interplay between text and image in the Scrope manuscripts, and my own evaluation that the Lytle Bibell of Knyghthod, not Scrope’s Epistle, influenced the Assembly of Gods.85

A consistent debate in Scrope scholarship concerns the issue of gender and the degree to which Scrope exhibits misogynist attitudes toward Christine and the women she so artfully defends and establishes as exemplars. Some scholars see Scrope as deliberately denying Christine’s authorship and regendering female figures, while others have asserted that he is no more misogynistic than the average man of his era or that his misogyny must be seen within the broader context of his often careless translation.86 Perhaps the best site to gauge Scrope’s perspectives on the Othea is his Preface, which outlines his interpretation of key features: spiritual interpretations of chivalry and the primacy of the four Cardinal Virtues (Pref.13-45). He also provides his view of the production of the Othea:

And this seyde boke, at the instaunce and praer of a fulle wyse gentylwoman of Frawnce called Dame Cristine, was compiled and grounded by the famous doctours of the most excellent in clergé the noble Universyté of Paris, made to the ful noble famous prynce and knyght of renounne in his dayes, beyng called Jon, Duke of Barry, thryd son to Kyng Jon of Frawnce, that he throwe hys knyghtly labourys, as welle in dedys of armes temporell as spirituell exercisyng by the space and tyme of an hundred yeerys lyvyng, flowrid and rengnyd in grete worchip and renounne of chevalry. (Pref.49-56)

Originally seen as a straightforward misogynistic denial of Christine’s authorship, Scrope’s account has received more nuanced treatments from Nancy Bradley Warren and Jennifer Summit that take into account not only gendered differences but also the fifteenth-century hostilities between England and France. Warren and Summit evaluate how English men, particularly Scrope and William Worcester, appropriated Christine’s works and shuttered her away by identifying her as a cloistered nun to minimize her authority and masculinize her writings.87 For Warren, Scrope marginalizes Christine to minimize the threat she poses to English masculinity as a politically active French woman; for Summit, Scrope appropriates authority from French texts to build a “new” English literature that redefines chivalry as the practice of prudence and wisdom, and to construct a new community of literary clerks that develops its masculine authority through the exclusion of women (just as University and Church clerks excluded women).88

Scrope here suffers somewhat from being treated alongside Worcester, his colleague in Fastolf’s household, for only Worcester portrays Christine as a cloistered nun; still, even if Scrope represents Christine as a gentlewoman (elevating her status), he seems to have believed it more plausible that a group of men wrote the political and spiritual commentaries of the Othea and that Christine was the patron, not the author.89 Yet, as Scrope constructs parallels between Fastolf and the Duke of Berry, he inevitably develops his own role as analogous to Christine’s, paradoxically identifying with her and placing her in a role more equivalent to his own, as a powerful transmitter of wisdom, regardless of that wisdom’s origin.90 Whether he is willfully ignorant or intentionally denying Christine’s authorship, it is apparent from the Preface that he is more focused on masculine virtues, male relationships, and the moralizing, didactic elements of the work than with women and gender in any serious, thoughtful way.

In sum, Scrope should be viewed as a translator, without poetic pretensions, working to frame Christine’s Othea for an English audience interested in chivalry — first Fastolf and then the aristocratic readers Humphrey Stafford and the “hye princesse.” His project is both personal — if we take the Preface account of its origins at face value — and impersonal, since he does little to alter Christine’s text, emend his own translation errors, or tailor the text to his various audiences.91


In contrast to Scrope’s Epistle, The Lytle Bibell of Knyghthod has received very little scholarly attention, chiefly because for many decades it was treated as a bad translation.92 Gordon was the first to present the work as the product of “decidedly weak translation.”93 While there are certainly a few areas where the translator has erroneously or willfully misunderstood his French source, many of the flaws Gordon lists in fact derive from a source Othea manuscript from the D family, which was unknown to him.94 Additionally, the majority of the translation reveals an intimate knowledge of Christine’s Othea, some of her sources, and the broader purpose for the exemplum in didactic literature. Especially when compared to Scrope’s more word-for-word translation, in the Bibell, we find a translator engaged with the full-scale adaptation of the Othea to his particularly English contexts.

The Bibell is extant only in London, British Library, MS Harley 838, dated to the end of the fifteenth century or beginning of the sixteenth. This paper volume is 11.75 by 8.25 inches in size, with a modern binding. Some leaves are badly stained, and occasional portions are damaged because another piece of paper (and perhaps liquid or some sort of glue) have gotten stuck and are irremovable (e.g. fol. 67v); in some areas of the manuscript, the ink has faded, though the text remains generally legible. There are watermarks of a leftfacing bifurcated letter p with quatrefoil above it on flyleaves 9*r and 94*r, which can be identified with one used in seven books printed between 1494 and 1497 in the Netherlands and Belgium; on folio 49v and flyleaf 49*r, there are hand watermarks that broadly resemble others from ca. 1495-1503 without an exact match.95 In the Bibell, the poetic Prohemye and the poetic textes are split into two columns; the prose portions of chapters are in one large column of block text. Spaces are left with guide letters for initial capitals in the Prohemye and the texte, glose, and moralité of Chapter 1, but they were never completed (at least not professionally; the moralité has a messy initial capital), and subsequent chapters’ initial letters match the regular script size but may have a slightly longer strokes ascending above the line of text. Names of characters and authorities are almost always underlined in the prose sections, perhaps to focus the reader’s attention, and occasionally, concepts and authoritative sayings are underlined, but, aside from the names, there does not seem to be a consistent program for underlining content. There is a single instance of marginalia in the Bibell, the name “hargrave” written by a later hand in the right margin next to Chapter 35 (Bellorophon), and there are often (but not always) double slash marks near the end of a chapter’s moralité; it is unclear whether the slashes are to call attention to the Scriptural verse or just note the end of one chapter and beginning of another.96

The 1808 description in the Harleian Catalogue identifies the Bibell as, “An old Peom, upon Hector of Troy, with the Glose, & Moralite; perhaps by Lidgate.”97 Although the Bibell has not been connected to John Lydgate, the description nevertheless accurately positions the work in the same context as his moral and political works, and readers familiar with the Troy Book or Fall of Princes will notice overlapping sentiments. Harley 838’s other contents, primarily in Latin, suggest that the entire volume likely served the didactic purpose of providing chivalric and, perhaps to a lesser extent, political instruction, the latter of which is chiefly expressed in the Bibell and in the collection of multiple genealogies of kings, aristocrats, and ecclesiastical officers. The manuscript begins with rough, full-color drawings of coats of arms, including the Nine Worthies and contemporary noblemen, followed by instructions on the composition and significance of heraldic designs — most of this material is in Latin, though some instructions are in English (fol. 5r). There is also a brief, rudimentary bestiary in English and Latin (fol. 8r), followed later by a diagram of English hunting terms appropriate for “a harolde” or “a wodesman” (fol. 11v). The manuscript demonstrates an interest in lineages, and the heraldic sections discuss how coats of arms change for various generations. It also includes a list of noblemen who arrived with William the Conqueror; a genealogy of kings featuring roundels and narrative descriptions from Adam through King Arthur to 1435 in the original hand (a later artist and scribe has added notes and images of kings through Richard III, with a reference to Henry VII);98 a brief chronicle of the kings of Rome and Italy up to 1471; a list of popes up to Sixtus IV; and a list of cardinals of the Roman Church. Other contents include a summary of the Old and New Testaments, and brief Latin texts known as the Mirabilia Orientis [Wonders of the East] and the Mirabilia Anglie [Wonders of England].99 After the Bibell, the manuscript includes excerpts from the Prophecies of Merlin and a genealogy of Angevin aristocracy. The collection was later bound with two Welsh annals in a different, earlier Latin hand.100 As a whole, excluding the later additions, the manuscript compiles instructional material and historical information that the scribe-compiler must have deemed valuable.

Excepting the Welsh annals, the majority of MS Harley 838 contents are in the same hand that belongs to Anthony Babyngton, who identifies himself in an endnote to one of the first texts (fol. 8v).101 The most likely identification is Sir Anthony Babyngton of Dethick (ca. 1477-1536), a lawyer and Member of Parliament.102 As Parliament historian C. J. Black suggests, Babyngton’s career was shaped by “his legal training and experience, rather than his gentle birth and inheritance.”103 Babyngton enjoyed a prominent career at the Inner Temple: records list him as pensioner, reader, attendant on the reader, auditor, treasurer, and governor between 1506-1535/6.104 After November 1532, he is referred to as “Sir Anthony Babyngton, knight,” or simply, “Babyngton, knight.”105 Babyngton was also active in affairs in Nottingham and Derby as recorder (the highest appointed legal office), justice of the peace, and sheriff. Evidence shows him to have been involved in several disputes over land, to have taken an interest in local churches and monasteries connected to his family, and to have accused men of violating livery statues and speaking against the King.106 He was heavily involved in acquiring property, some of which he used for livestock farming and the mining of lead ore.107 Married twice, Babyngton had at least four sons and two daughters who survived into adulthood.108 His eldest son Thomas apparently inherited the codex now known as MS Harley 838 and passed it on to his own eldest son Henry, as ownership notes dated to 1549 (fol. 12r) and 1550 (flyleaf i) attest that it was in Henry’s possession. The first flyleaf also contains signatures that likely belong to Henry’s eldest son, another Anthony Babyngton, our scribe’s great-grandson, who was executed as a traitor for his part in a Catholic conspiracy against Elizabeth I in 1586.109 Nothing identifiable as MS Harley 838 is listed in the records of items confiscated from the conspirator Anthony, so it must have been transferred before his death, but ownership then becomes more difficult to trace.110 Another note shows that a Daniel Hills (unidentified) possessed the volume in 1594 (fol. 12r); it was later owned by the Bishop of Worcester, Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699) before Robert Harley purchased it around 1701.111 After his death, it went with the rest of Harley’s library to become one of the foundational collections of the British Museum (now British Library).

Sir Anthony Babyngton of Dethick certainly had the interest in legal and broadly political matters to be plausible as the figure responsible for the bulk of MS Harley 838.112 An anecdote from his days at the Inner Temple also indicates his interest in books and written records: when appointed reader in 1523, he refused and was fined, but he was pardoned because, “the same Anthony undertook to make a book of all the statutes and rules necessary in the House of the Inner Temple, by ancient custom used, and to deliver the said book so made to the treasurer.”113 This book has not been identified, but the anecdote demonstrates Babyngton’s affinity for books, book production, and sharing valuable knowledge, since, after all, he could have simply paid the fine.

Babyngton’s biography and other texts in MS Harley 838 give a sense of the type of reader who valued the Bibell and in what contexts, but he was almost certainly not the translator. Gordon argues the language of the text indicates that the Bibell was likely translated ca. 1450, nearly contemporary with Scrope’s translation, and that, therefore, Babyngton was the copyist but not the translator.114 This theory is supported by errors in the manuscript that are attributable to transcription rather than translation. Gordon points to two minor copying errors, but there are more.115 For instance, the Bibell misrepresents the French “le las du serpent” [the snare of the serpent] as “the meyte of the devel” (67.18). The interpretation of the serpent as the devil is common; however, “meyte” [food] can be traced to a copying mistake. The translation would have originally read “thaweyte” — in modern punctuation “th’aweyte,” a term the translator uses elsewhere for “agait” [ambush or trap], a synonym for “las” (compare 66.17). But Babyngton misunderstood the first three letters as “the,” and misread “w” for “m” — all plausible errors in manuscript contexts.116 Such instances confirm that MS Harley 838 was not the first or the only copy of the Bibell.

Thus, although the scribe-copyist of the Bibell was Anthony Babyngton, the identity of the poet-translator remains unknown and perhaps unknowable.117 However, as the discussion below indicates, a general characterization of the individual responsible for this translation can be developed based on evidence from the general and specific adaptations that he makes to the Othea. Ultimately, the Bibell not only interprets and repackages the Othea for an English audience but also offers striking perspectives on gender, chivalry, and the new political vocabulary emerging in England.


One of the most noticeable features of the Bibell is its verse form: while Christine used rhyming couplets (with most chapters featuring a quatrain), the Bibell translator chooses seven-line rhyme royal stanzas, an elaborate aesthetic form used by Chaucer and popularized by his imitators. Thus, the translator Anglicizes the verse form, which allows — even requires — him to produce new material, which he uses to interpret Christine’s content, add proverbs or other commentary to focus the reader’s attention, and urge the reader to follow the good advice contained within the work.

The translator also generates an original Prohemye in rhyme royal that is arguably the most fascinating marker of the Bibell as a significant interpretation of the Othea. This Prohemye explains the structure of the work and situates it within the context of didactic conduct manuals and the ethical values that underpin a number of medieval discussions about morality and appropriate behavior. The translator frames Christine’s unusual tripartite structure of texte, glose, and moralité (an English equivalent for Christine’s allegorie) as divinely inspired by citing numerous other trinities — the three dimensions of the world, the three types of souls, the three estates of the medieval social hierarchy — before he categorizes the three textual divisions of the work’s chapters “Poetrie, philosophye, and theologye” (Proh.120).118

Thus, the textual divisions are justified and intimately linked to the other three-part concepts enumerated, and this is particularly important to the translator’s explanation of why his book (or rather, his reading of the Othea) is concerned explicitly with knighthood. He draws on the Aristotelian concept of the “mean” — the midpoint between excessive vice or excessive virtue, conceptualized by Gower as “the middel weie.”119 After explaining the hierarchy in which the religious occupations represent the highest echelon of society, the knights the next, and the laborers the lowest, the Bibell translator announces that he addresses “knyghthod” as the “mene estat” [middle rank] between the other two, with the intention of outlining certain conditions suited to the estate of “noble chyvallrye,” namely the increase of virtue and avoidance of vices (Proh.82-87). He paradoxically argues that knighthood, as the middle estate between the superior religious and inferior laboring estates, is the ideal by implying that the tenets of the religious estate might be excessive for the majority of society.120 In his formulation, the middle ground of knighthood encompasses citizens who are neither clergy nor peasants, so the book addresses all of those readers, not simply ones who literally hold the title of knight.

The translator also states his goal at the end of the Prohemye: he presents his material “oppynly” [clearly] so that “every wyght” [every creature] can learn how to stop the wheel of Fortune at its highest point (Proh. 162-65). In other words, he strives for clarity and conceives of his audience as a broad, general one and certainly not comprised solely of the aristocrats who were among the earliest recipients of Christine’s Othea. This stated audience also sets the Bibell translator apart from Gower, for instance, whose Confessio Amantis is addressed first to the king, even though it also is designed to speak to broader audiences. By defining as knighthood as the “mean” estate, the Bibell offers a new twist on the expanding idea of chivalry as a cultural ideal, not merely the specific practice of arms.121 If his original manuscript contained one of Christine’s dedications to her aristocratic readers, then the translator has universalized the Prohemye to invite in readers of any status for instruction in virtuous, metaphorical chivalry.122

In imagining that virtues can halt Fortune’s wheel, the translator also destabilizes the familiar image of Fortune, a practice becoming more common in late medieval English political texts. For centuries, the goddess Fortune was represented as capriciously turning her wheel without caring whether she would elevate a bad man or cast down a good ruler, and much medieval literature attributes to her the blame for any misfortune a character experiences.123 That image starts to shift in late medieval works such as Gower’s Confessio Amantis (ca. 1386-1392) and Lydgate’s Fall of Princes (1431-1438) that point to man’s responsibility for his own practice of virtue and therefore for any downfall.124 Reflections on the efficacy of human agency appear not only in poets’ works but also arguably in late medieval readers’ receptions of literature, as Fortune becomes recognizable as a “cultural shorthand” for debates about causality and human agency on the one hand, and fate and contingency on the other.125 Such discourses develop into the more overt assertions by John Fortescue (ca. 1394-1479), George Ashby (ca. 1390-1475), and other later writers, who, as Paul Strohm has shown, imagine that it is possible to stop, or at least forestall, Fortune’s wheel through the exercise of prudence and moral virtues. Strohm also points to an illustration in which a character labeled Ratio [Reason] inserts a spike into Fortune’s wheel to maintain the king’s position at the top.126 Yet rather than directing his book to a royal patron, the Bibell translator underscores that “every wyght” can combat Fortune’s instabilities. His work proposes to arm his readers “with prudent polecye” to enable success in the temporal world and secure salvation (Proh.122). Both prudence and “pollecye” became buzzwords for late medieval writers addressing social and political ideals, including activities of self-protection and pre-Machivellian political thought.127 The evocation of “prudent polecye” as the means to restrain Fortune’s wheel shows that the Bibell translator situates Christine’s Othea within the developing fifteenth-century literature of statecraft, even as he directs his work toward broader audiences.

The Bibell translation likewise shows the influence of these concepts of plain, direct identification of virtues and vices, personal responsibility, and virtue as a means to avoid tragedy. They are underscored through the translator’s process, of both streamlining and amplification. The streamlining tends to occur when Christine’s chapters celebrate a multiplicity of interpretations, which the Bibell reduces to one central lesson (e.g., the gloses of Chapters 72 and 87). This streamlining intentionally focuses attention on the chapter’s overall message; it is not the result of accidental omission or eyeskip error. A different form of streamlining occurs in the Scriptural quotations that cap off each moralité when the translator moves the name of the speaker or Scriptural book into the text. That is, he writes, “And to this purpose seyth thus the holy man Job” (16.24-25), eliminating the need to cite the Book of Job after the quotation.128 In general, the translator seems comfortable altering the Latin citations, even substituting a different verse or adding unique elements (e.g., Chapters 39.28, 59.23-24, 85.25-26).

The amplification of the text occurs most noticeably in the Bibell’s transformation of Christine’s quatrains into seven-line rhyme royal stanzas, the same form employed in the Prohemye. The translator’s expansions often take the form of proverbs and specific reminders to the reader. One type of reminder urges that the reader must retain what he learns, placing repeated emphasis on “remembraunz,” and on following the steps of exemplars, where Christine did not, like the Bibell’s invocation of the rewards to be gained from imitating Perseus: “Hys steppis loke thou foulo as neer as thou can, / Wyche wyll cause thee to be dred of best, foule, and man” [See that you follow his steps as closely as you can / Which will cause you to be feared by beast, bird, and man] (55.6-7). Another type of reminder warns of the potential for ruin if the reader does not follow the work’s advice, sometimes with the suggestion that Othea will be cross with him if he fails (e.g., 84.6-7). Collectively, these insertions work with the Prohemye to assert the necessity that the reader remember and use the lessons contained in the work because they are essential to his well-being. These choices reinforce the translator’s commitment to the exemplum as a didactic mode, and they constitute his innovative pedagogical push to spur his reader to moral behavior.129

On a more subtle level, the gloses and moralités (his English term for Christine’s allegories) show evidence of a translator invested in glossing his French source text’s contents for readers. For instance, he identifies concepts and characters: he illustrates how Venus gives her name to Friday by showing the Latin name dies veneris (7.9), he reminds readers that Proserpina was the daughter of Ceres (27.9), and he identifies Hippocrates as a physician (21.14) and Hermes as a philosopher (23.14). Other common minor insertions reflect the stated goal to aid “every wyght,” because chapters often counsel “every good knyght and in lyke wyse every other well avysed persoun” (34.10), or a similar broad formulation, to acquire the virtues extolled. Many moralités add language that “every trew Cristen” (30.47-48) or “every Crysten” (31.18) must believe the articles of faith and subscribe to the Ten Commandments.130

More substantial glose and moralité interventions typically provide clear correlations between the narrative level of a chapter and the allegorical interpretations. One approach evokes the same image or keyword in all three sections of the chapter, where they might have appeared once or twice in Christine’s Othea, such as the idea of grafting (Chapter 25 on Isis) or the term “unnatural” (Chapter 41 on Busiris). Another approach introduces main characters or events from the narrative level into the moralité to draw unmistakable lines between, for instance, Hercules’s rescue of friends from Hell and the spiritual interpretation of this event as exemplifying Christ’s Harrowing of Hell (27.20-25), or between “good knyghtes” and “trew soulys” (19.23). These additions undoubtedly help the reader make sense of interpretive leaps and seeming disjunctions that the translator identified in Christine’s Othea. As a whole, his insertions speak to the broad audience he imagined, and they construct the virtuous behaviors advocated as moral, religious, and cultural ideals for all English society.

Readers familiar with Christine’s Othea or her career-spanning defenses of women against antifeminist stereotypes will find certain surprises in the Bibell’s treatment of women, but they must be contextualized within his broader approach to didactic exempla. The translator does not accept wholesale Christine’s attempts to recuperate women such as Circe or Ino. He restores the traditional reading that Circe exemplifies hypocrisy, which Christine sought to counteract by deflecting attention onto Ulysses’s malicious Greeks.131 He transforms Ino in Chapter 99 into an exemplary fool, rather than requiring readers to investigate whether their own reading practices are active or passive.132 This translator is certainly aware of antifeminist attitudes towards women, and he capitalizes on them in chapters that urge the reader not to imitate the protagonist. His approach to the majority of the exemplars — not just women — oversimplifies Christine’s narratives to draw a clear line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. As a result, he also heaps significant abuse upon the worst of the male exemplars, such as the infamous Trojan traitors Calchas and Antenor (Chapters 81 and 95). The poet scornfully denigrates their betrayals of their homeland as unnatural, and he even argues with great vitriol that anyone who imitates or even aids a traitor like Antenor equally deserves death (95.1-4).

That the translator’s choices are not governed exclusively by gender is further evidenced in his consistently positive treatment of good women such as Othea, Io, Andromache, and others. But it is most clear when his alterations intensify even Christine’s sympathy for and defense of the traditionally “wicked” women Criseyde (who abandons her lover Troilus) and Pasiphaë (who commits bestiality). Because the translator stresses repeatedly the personal responsibility of the reader to act morally, the fault for Troilus’s heartbreak ultimately lies with the knight himself, while Criseyde is represented as essentially good — without Christine’s suggestions of her roving heart [“cuer vilotier”] or flighty and seductive nature [“vague et attrayant”].133 Perhaps most strikingly, the translator increases the sense that judging all women because of Pasiphaë’s errors would be against “kyndly resoun” (45.3), “unryte” (45.5), and “unwytty” (45.6), bolstering Christine’s claim that good women exist by adding the assertion that to think otherwise is unnatural and ignorant.134 The identification of behavior as natural or unnatural forms a broader part of the Bibell’s classification of virtuous or inappropriate behavior, and it is unexpected to find it invoked to defend women as a group against misogynist commonplaces.

The translation as a whole, therefore, represents the binaries of medieval gender debate in a state of flux: certain women and men are good, but others are not, and gender stereotypes may not apply to all individuals. Attitudes toward gender as a category are in tension with the underlying lesson of exemplary literature: there are no universal truths, but instead prudence, morality, and “goodness” are determined by particular circumstances. As a result, whether intentionally or not, the translation offers a remarkably progressive view that just as one must analyze every event to determine the appropriate moral response, so must one evaluate every person before entertaining stereotypical assumptions about his or her gender.

Despite the translator’s purposeful production of the Bibell, the reader should be aware of certain idiosyncrasies. He favors long sentences that often contain unspecified antecedents and multiple clauses piled upon one another. For instance, he records that, “Eleyn was a qween in Grece and wyff to Kyng Menelaus, wyche was ravysched by Pares” (43.8-9). Of course, it is Helen and not Menelaus who is ravished by Paris, but not all of the translator’s meandering sentences are as easily deciphered. On the level of letters and spelling, our copyist often confuses e and o, so that “word” and “alsoo” may appear as “werd” and “alsoe.”135 There may also be some e and a variants, and words like “power” are spelled “poyer” or “poyar.” As is common in Middle English, u and w are interchangeable, as in “qween,” “folou” [follow], and “owte” [out].

As indicated by my discussion thus far, the translation itself does not proceed word for word, but it nevertheless demonstrates a competent and significant reading of the Epistre Othea. The translator strives to produce a coherent, straightforward exemplum (eliminating material he considers ancillary or ambiguous), but he also wants to ensure that the reader understands the text and his interpretation of its meaning (which requires occasional expansions). Though his identity is unknown, his process of adaptation characterizes him as familiar with English poetic conventions (like rhyme royal), educated in Latin, familiar with Scriptural and philosophical sources (at least enough to alter Scriptural citations and identify quoted authorities), and writing for a broad English audience. On the whole, the Lytle Bibell of Knyghthod gives evidence of a translator profoundly engaged with transmitting the major themes and pedagogical strategies of the Othea that he considered essential for English audiences to understand.


My decision to present both Scrope’s Epistle and the Bibell represents an effort to provide complementary perspectives on the English reception of Christine’s Othea. By engaging with Scrope’s straightforward, often overly literal translation of text from a privileged manuscript family (B/BI) alongside the Bibell’s adaptation from a manuscript of a neglected yet popular family (D/DI), readers will have the opportunity to strengthen understandings of the concept of translation itself and of the specific, distinguishing choices these translators made as they grappled with conveying to an English audience Christine’s complex form and challenging arguments about gender, politics, and morality.

In keeping with the practices of the Middle English Texts Series, this edition uses the modern alphabet: thorn (þ) has been expanded to th and yogh (ʒ) has been expanded to its nearest modern equivalent (y, g, or gh). For readability, manuscript abbreviations have been silently expanded, i/j and u/v have been normalized according to modern usage, an accent has been added to final -e when it carries full syllabic value, and the has been silently emended to thee to distinguish the article from the second person pronoun. Double ff’s have been silently emended to single f, except for words like off. Capitalization, word division, and punctuation are editorial and follow modern usage as much as possible. Headings of Texte, Glose, and Allegorie/Moralité from the manuscripts are represented but are not counted in line numberings. Translations of the Vulgate are based on the Douay-Rheims Bible, but they have been adjusted to reflect the manuscript readings; unless otherwise noted, variants from the Vulgate are Christine’s. Any other deviations from the manuscripts have been addressed in the Textual Notes. Textual Notes do not identify rubrication, underlining, or enlarged capitals (these have been broadly described in discussions of the manuscripts, above), but they do identify illustrations and any damage to the manuscripts.

Explanatory Notes identify sources, recommend resources for further study and discuss translation and/or manuscript errors. Notes on sources used by Christine herself (and common to both translations) are in the Scrope Explanatory Notes, with reference to any places the Bibell differs. Expanded discussions of sources used in the allegories from the Manipulus florum can be found in Bühler, Epistle, pp. 128-96, and Lemmens, in Othea’s Letter, pp. 133-54, so I have not rehearsed them here, except when a statement has been misattributed.

In editing Scrope’s Epistle, I have used S as the base text, with missing passages supplied by M and with occasional recourse to L. For the Bibell, I have relied on British Library, MS Harley 838, the only surviving copy of the Bibell. For French manuscript references in my notes and analysis, following Parussa, I use selected exemplary copies from the manuscript groups of Christine’s Othea: A (BNF fr. 848), AI (BNF fr. 604, Mombello’s AI1), B (B: BNF fr. 606 and B1: Harley 4431), and BI (Bodleian Library, Laud misc. 570).136 References to D/DI refer to MS Harley 219 (D), BNF fr. 1187 (DI), and BNF naf. 10059 (DI7), unless otherwise noted; I have also evaluated the French paintings by Pigouchet and LeNoir, which contain DI manuscript readings, and the English translation printed by Wyer (based on LeNoir).137 These A/AI, B/BI, and D/DI copies comprise my roster of “consulted copies,” with additional manuscripts cited individually as relevant (e.g., I occasionally cite BNF naf. 6458 [BI2] to show whether alterations in BI and Scrope’s manuscripts are unique). My Explanatory Notes are committed to showing evidence that links the English translations to their French source manuscript type; readers interested in a fuller list of French textual variants from A, AI, and B copies are invited to consult Parussa, Epistre, pp. 344-79.

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