East meets West: Medieval European Travellers and the Great Khans of Mongolia (8th March 2017)

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Marco, Niccolò, and Maffeo Polo presenting the Papal Letters to Kublai Khan, MS Bodl. 264, Part III, f. 220 r.

Next meeting: 8th March 2017 / Room 2.04 / 3-5pm

Genghis Khan and The Mongol Empire

Genghis Khan (b. 1162, d. 1227), born Temüjin, was the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which was the largest contiguous land empire in history. Originating in the steppes of Central Asia, the Mongol Empire eventually stretched from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan, extending northwards into Siberia, eastwards and southwards into the Indian subcontinent, Indochina, and the Iranian plateau, and westwards as far as the Levant and Arabia.

Temüjin rose to power in the late twelfth century. When his wife, Börte, was kidnapped by the Merkit tribe, Temüjin united the rival Mongol tribes under his rule through political manipulation and military might. With the help of Toghrul, Khan of the Keraites, and his childhood friend, Jamukha, Temüjin defeated the Merkit tribe, secured the return of his wife, and went on the defeat the Naimans and Tatars.

Temüjin was elected khan of the Mongols in 1186. In the following year, however, Jamukha attacked Temüjin defeated him at the Battle of Dalan Balzhut. Temujin and his patron Toghrul were subsequently exiled. In 1197, the Jin dynasty initiated an attack against the Tatars, with help from the the Keraites and the Mongols. Temujin commanded part of the attack, and after his victory the Jin restored him to power. In 1201, Jamukha was elected Gür Khan, which caused Temüjin to declare war on him.  After several battles, Jamukha was turned over by his own men, and Temüjin was victorious.

By 1206, Temüjin had managed to unite or subdue the Merkits, Naimans, Mongols, Keraites, Tatars, Uyghurs, and other disparate smaller tribes under his rule. He was acknowledged as Khan of the consolidated tribes and took the new title, ‘Genghis Khan’. The title Khagan – or ‘Great Khan’ – was conferred posthumously by his son and successor, Ögedei, who took the title for himself.

Genghis had four sons by his wife Börte, including Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei, and Tolui, and he divided his empire among them; however, Genghis did not name his eldest son, Jochi, as his successor as there was widespread doubt over his paternity. Chagatai declared that he would not accept Jochi as his father’s successor and threatened to go to war with his brother. To avoid civil conflict, Genghis named his third son, Ögedei, as his successor.

Three of the descendants of Genghis Khan – Güyük Khan, Möngke Khan, and Kublai Khan – are described in the travel narratives of John of Plano Carpini, William of Rubruck, and Marco Polo. Güyük Khan reigned from 1246 to 1248, and he was the eldest son of Ögedei Khan. Möngke Khan reigned from 1251 to 1259, and he was the eldest son of Tolui Khan. Kublai Khan reigned from 1260 to 1294, and he was the second eldest son of Tolui Khan.

Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China and Korea and he assumed the role of Emperor of China. By 1279, the Mongols had conquered the Song dynasty and Kublai became the first non-native emperor to conquer all of China. By the time of Kublai’s death in 1294, the Mongol Empire had fractured into four separate khanates or empires, each pursuing its own separate interests and objectives: the Golden Horde khanate in the northwest; the Chagatai Khanate in the middle; the Ilkhanate in the southwest; and the Yuan dynasty in the east based in modern-day Beijing

The Travellers and their texts

John of Plano Carpini (c. 1185-1252)
John of Plano Carpini was a Franciscan Friar from Umbria in Italy. Pope Innocent IV sent John to Mongolia and, acting in his official capacity as a papal legate, he delivered a letter written by the Pope on 13th March 1245 to Güyuk Khan that requested the Mongols to stop persecuting Christians.

John’s History of the Mongols exists in two different versions – a longer one and a shorter one – that survive in a number of manuscripts. The best manuscript of the History is Corpus Christi, Cambridge, MS. 181, which contains the longer version of the text along with William of Rubruck’s Itinerary. The History of the Mongols was also included in Vincent of Beauvais’ thirteenth-century encyclopedia, the Speculum Historiale.

William of Rubruck (1220-1293)
William of Rubruck was a Flemish Franciscan missionary. He accompanied King Louis IX of France on the Seventh Crusade in 1248. On 7th May 1253, he set out on from Constantinople on a missionary journey to convert the Tatars to Christianity, and he followed the route of John of Plano Carpini through Asia. William was granted an audience with Möngke Khan, and presented his report to King Louis IX on his return.

William’s Itinerary only survives in eight manuscripts. The three manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the one at the British Library, are the sources of all the extant manuscripts. The Itinerary was partially edited and translated into English by Richard Hakluyt in the late seventeenth century, and the Hakluyt Society published a full translation of the text by William Woodville Rockhill in 1900.

Marco Polo (1254-1324)
Marco Polo was a merchant traveller from Venice. In the 1260s, Marco’s father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, travelled through China and were invited to the court of Kublai Khan, who asked them to deliver a letter to the Pope. Kublai asked the Pope to send him 100 Christian scholars who were familiar with the Seven Liberal Arts and he also requested that an envoy bring him back the oil of the lamp in Jerusalem.

Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Venice in 1269, and Marco met his father for the first time. The death of Pope Clement IV in 1268, and the three-year election of Pope Gregory X, prevented Niccolò and Maffeo from immediately fulfilling Kublai’s request. In 1271, Niccolo and Maffeo set out for China with Marco. Just as they were leaving Acre, the Polos were recalled following the election of the new Pope, who provided them with letters and gifts for the Great Khan. The Polos eventually arrived in China around 1275, and they presented the oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to Kublai Khan. Marco soon became a favourite of the Great Khan: he was sent as an emissary throughout the empire, and he described each of the territories he visited to Kublai on his return.

The Polos travelled throughout Asia for 24 years, and Marco returned home in 1295. At the time, Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa, and Marco was captured in a naval battle and imprisoned by the Genoans. While in prison, Marco met the Arthurian romance writer Rustichello da Pisa, and he dictated his travels to Pisa who wrote them down in Italian-French as Livre des Merveilles du Monde. Marco’s account of his travels in Asia was translated into Tuscan, Venetian, German, Latin, and Court French during his lifetime.

The Travels survives in 150 manuscripts, but the original manuscripts have been lost. The extant manuscripts are divided into two groups: A and B. The ‘A’ texts are best represented by Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 1116, a Franco-Italian version that was written in Italy during the fourteenth century. Meanwhile, the ‘B’ texts derive from a lost version that preserved the content, but not the style, of the original text. These texts include the sixteenth-century printed text by Giovanni Battista Ramuiso and the early fifteenth-century Latin manuscript that was discovered in Toledo in 1912.

Questions for discussion

  1. How do these texts negotiate the different genres of itinerary, historiography, ethnography, autobiography, and/or romance?
  2. What is the significance of the first-person narrative?
  3. How is the reader/audience constructed as part of the narrator’s journey?
  4. Do the different roles and/or occupations of the travellers inform their narratives?
  5. How are the different Khans presented in each of the texts?
  6. How are conversion and religious conflict described in the texts?
  7. What is the function of letters, envoys, and interpreters in the texts?
  8. Mary B. Campbell observes that ‘[t]he travel book is a kind of witness: it is generically aimed at the truth’.[1] Are these texts committed to truth, or do they slip into fiction?
  9. Kim M. Phillips argues that the ‘desire for information and for pleasure were two chief impulses guiding late medieval readers’ interest in travel writing on Asia’.[2] How do these texts describe the customs and lifestyle of the Mongols, while also presenting them as a source of wonder for the reader?

 


[1] Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 2-3.

[2] Kim M. Phillips, Before Orientialism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), p. 2.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Medieval Werewolves (23rd November 2016)

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The werewolves of Ossory in Gerald of Wales’ Topographica Hibernica (London, British Library, Royal MS 13 B. viii, f. 18r)

Next meeting: 23rd November 2016 / Room 2.46 / 3-5pm

One of the first stories of the transformation of a man into a wolf occurs in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In Book 1 of the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of Lycaön, the king of Arcadia, who served human flesh to Jupiter when the king of the gods wandered the earth disguised as a mortal. Lycaön’s ‘gruesome banquet’[1] breaches the laws of hospitality, and Jove retaliates by transforming him into a wolf:

Lycaön fled to the country
where all was quiet. He tried to speak, but his voice broke into
an echoing howl. His ravening soul infected his jaws;
his murderous longings were turned on the cattle; he still was possessed
by blood lust. His garments were changed to a shaggy coat and his arms
into legs. He was now transformed into a wolf. But he kept some signs
of his former self: the grizzled hair and the wild expression,
the blazing eyes and the bestial image remained unaltered.
(Metamorphoses, I.233-9)

Ovid’s story of Lycaön fits into the broader thematic structure of Book 1 of the Metamorphoses, which focuses on the depravity of humanity. In response to Lycaön’s treachery, Jove holds an assembly of the gods, and he announces his intention to send a flood to destroy mankind for their crimes. Only Deucalion and Pyrrha survive the flood, and they produce ‘new race of miraculous birth’ (Metamorphoses, I.252) who repopulate the earth.

Stories of werewolves were also popular in medieval Europe. Werewolves became associated with the romance tradition in which a man – baron, knight, or king – became trapped in a wolf’s body through the treachery of his wife. Marie de France follows this plot in Bisclavret (1160-1215), which was the source for Melion (c. 1170-1267) and Biclarel (1319-22). Meanwhile, the French romance Guillaume of Palerne (1200), which was translated into English in the fourteenth century, recounts how the hero was changed into a wolf through his stepmother’s enchantments.

The medieval werewolf is a rational creature. As Amanda Hopkins writes, these stories demonstrate the werewolf’s

gentle behaviour, his human mind and sensibilities [which are] trapped inside an outer form that was indistinguishable from a wolf. If a werewolf attacked someone, it was with reasoned purpose: to express the injustice done to him and often to identify the culprit.[2]

The benevolent nature of the medieval werewolf contradicts our modern view of the werewolf as a vicious, cannibalistic creature; however, the Wolfsbane potion helps today’s werewolves resist their killer instincts. Remus Lupin – who was surely everyone’s favourite Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – frequently used the potion during his lifetime.

 

Overview of the texts

Five different manuscripts contain one or more of Marie’s lais, but only one thirteenth-century manuscript – London, British Library, MS Harley 978 – contains all twelve.

Melion survives in a single thirteenth-century manuscript, Paris Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, 3156, f.343r, col. 1-344r, col. 4 – 1268.

Biclarel is extract from first redaction (A-text) of Le Roman de Renart le Contrefait, which is included in MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1630, anc. 7630, de la Mare 284. Biclarel appears in f.188 col. a- f.190, col. D. The manuscript dates from the fourteenth century.

Arthur and Gorlagon survives in a single fourteenth-century manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 149, pp. 55-64. The story originates from the twelfth century.

 

Questions for discussion

  • How does the werewolf challenge the boundaries between human and animal? How do the different accounts of transformation from man into wolf compare with each other?
  • Marie writes that ‘[a] werewolf is a ferocious beast which […] devours men, causes great damage and dwells in vast forests’. Do the werewolves in these texts conform to or defy this description?
  • Is Biclarel ‘a mere imitation’ of Bisclavret?
  • Medieval werewolf stories traditionally explore the opposition between marital love and feudal service; however, Arthur and Gorlagon focuses on the question of ‘what women want’. Is this text a parody of the werewolf romance? What other texts also revolve around this central quest?
  • Biclarel and Melion are more explicitly misogynistic that Bisclavret and Arthur and Gorlagon. Why do you think gender politics are central to medieval werewolf stories?
  • In medieval werewolf stories, adulterous women are often punished ‘publicly and voyeuristically’. How do these texts legitimate violence against women? Is it significant that the wife goes unpunished in Melion?
  • Why do to you think King Arthur was later included in werewolf romances? Is the Arthurian setting relevant in these texts?
  • Does the medieval werewolf story constitute a genre in its own right? If so, what are its defining features?

 

Further reading

Medieval werewolves

‘One thing I know’: Werewolves Are a Thing

The Werewolf’s Indifference

Naked came the werewolf

 

References

[1] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. David Raeburn (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004), I.164.

[2] Amanda Hopkins, ‘The Medieval Werewolf’, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick. Available at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/ren/news_and_events/researchblog/werewolf/ [accessed 18th November 2016].

Caxtons Prologues and Printing: The Christian Worthies

By David Mason

William Caxton’s printing is diverse, but he is perhaps best known for his prose romances. The subject of this post are three prologues to the romances of the so-called ‘Chivalric’ or ‘Worthies’ series:[1] Godfrey of Bullogne (printed 1481), Charles the Grete (1485), and Le Morte Darthur (1485), as well as the non-romance Book of the Ordre of Chyualry (1481).[2]

Caxton personally translated many of the prose romances he printed, including Godfrey of Bullogne and Charles the Grete, working meticulously and word by word.[3] Each was accompanied by short prologues and epilogues, offering insights into the motivation behind his work and the audience he intends to address. This post explores Caxton’s use of the Nine Worthies motif in the prologues of the ‘Chivalric’ or ‘Worthies’ romances, through which he groups the texts thematically, and aligns his printing with an established literary motif of the late Middle Ages.

Literature of the Nine Worthies

The Nine Worthies is a motif common to late medieval literature: nine heroic individuals from history and legend who are grouped together in a sort of pantheon of the greats. They can be divided into three groups of three, in a system popularised (though not devised) by Jacques de Longuyon in his c.1310 Les Vœx du Paon.[4] These are:

The Pagan Worthies:hans_burgkmair_d-_a-_drei_heidnische_helden

Hector, King of Troy
Alexander the Great
Julius Caesar

The Jewish Worthies:

Joshua of Israel
David, King of Israel
Judas Maccabeus

The Christian Worthies:

King Arthur
Charles the Great
Godfrey, King of Jerusalem

Each figure was the subject – collectively and individually – of a great deal of literary and artistic production in the late medieval period. Israel Gollancz’s appendices to his 1897 edition of The Parliament of the Thre Ages provide a numerous examples of medieval texts that showcase the literary popularity of this motif – two extracts from which are transcribed below:[5]

Men ȝernen iestes for to here,
And romaunce rede in dyuerse manere;
Of Alisaunder þe conqueroure,
Of Julius Cæsar þe emperoure, […]
Of King Arthour þat was so riche
Was noon in his tyme him liche; […]
How Kyng Charles & rouland fauȝt
With Sarazines nolde þei neuer be sauȝt…

(From the Anonymous Cursor Mundi (C11), ll.1-16)

The eldest was Alexandere, that alle the erthe lowtteded;
The tother Ector of Troye, the cheualrous gume;
The thirde Iulyus Cesare, that geant was holdene,
In iche jorne jentille, a-juggede with lords;
The ferthe was sir Iudas, a justere fulle nobille,
The maysterfulle Makabee, the myghttyeste of strenghes;
The fifth was Iosue, that joly mane of armes,
That in Ierusalem oste fulle myche joye lymppede.
The sextet was Dauid the dere, demyd with kynges…

(From Huchowne’s “Morte Arthure” (c.1380), the Interpretation of Arthur’s Dream, ll.3406-3446)

Both examples highlight some of the most typical descriptive features of late medieval depictions of the Worthies, which typically extol their martial deeds and great conquests. Alexander is the ‘conqueroure’ of all the world; Judas Maccabeus is the ‘myghttyeste of strenghes’ as a commander; Godfrey becomes King of Jerusalem after his success in the First Crusade.

Of the nine, Caxton’s ‘Worthies’ series details the lives of just three of the heroic individuals: the Christian figures of Arthur, Charles and Godfrey. Caxton’s printed translations are prose versions of the verse romances that proved popular at the Court of Burgundy during his own stay there in the mid-fifteenth century.[6] His mercantile and political connections meant that a significant portion of his working life was spent at the court of Philip the Good of Burgundy, where he had an intimate access to the libraries and social circles of the upper echelons.

Not only was the literature that Caxton selected for printing heavily influenced by Burgundian vogue, but so too was his printing style: it was the custom of the Burgundian court to write prologues and epilogues. Caxton’s influence in these prologues, which go some way to elucidate the connections between the ‘Worthies’ texts, have been recognised as being jointly-influenced by the dedications of the French texts he translated and those that appeared in Lydgate’s poetic works.[7] The particular style of Burgundian prologues emphasised the positive, didactic aspects of chivalry, and this didacticism is present in the prologues of the Worthies series;[8] Caxton prints, he repeatedly suggests, so that these great deeds might be emulated. Furthermore, we can read in the links between these prologues an intention that the texts should be read together, under the motif of the Nine Worthies.

Godfrey of Bullognecaxton

The first of these ‘Worthies’ texts is Godfrey of Bullogne, printed in 1481.[9] The prologue gives a detailed description of each of the Worthies, and focuses particularly on their deeds. The extent of this description puts Caxton’s work in line with the previous literary iterations of the motif:

Accordyng to that we fynde wreton in holy scripture of many noble historyes, which were here ouer long to reherce. But in especial of thre noble and moost worthy of alle other, that is to wytte, fyrst of duc Iosue, that noble prynce / whiche ladde and conduyted the Childeren of Israhel, the chosen people of God, oute of deserte in to the londe of promyssyon, the Londe flowynge Mylke and hony. Secondly, of Dauyd the Kynge and holy Prophete…

Caxton continues as such for each of the Worthies, eventually arriving at Godfrey himself:

Henne as for the thyrd of the Cristen prynces, taken, reputed and renommed for to be egal emong thyse worthy & best that euer were, I mene the noble Godefroy of Boloyne […] whos noble hystorye I late fonde in a booke of ffrenssh, al alonge of his noble actes, valyaunces, prowesses / and accomplysshement of his hye empryses.

Deed and ‘accomplysshement’ takes pride of place, and Caxton suggests that these actions should prove an example for all of his readers. The Christian Worthies are given particularly great emphasis as men of legend, potentially as indication of Caxton’s intent to print on both Arthur and Charles in the coming years. Arthur is not only ‘kyng of the brytons’, but was the ‘fyrst founder of the round table’; Charles is likewise noted to have performed ‘noble actes and conquestes’ that have inspired many ‘large volumes’, the likes of which Caxton would translate and print only four years hence

Malory’s Morte Darthur

The second of the ‘Worthies’ romances is Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, printed by Caxton in July of 1485.[10] As with his translations, Caxton accompanies his edition with a lengthy prologue that begins with reference to the Worthies:

For it is notoyrly knowen thorugh the unyversal world that there been nine worthy and the best that ever were, that is to wete, thre Paynyms, thre Jewes, and thre Crysten men.

Specifically, he mentions the repeated demands to print Malory’s text that he has received – which he says has prompted his continuation of the Worthies motif.[11] While we cannot accept his claims at face value, his discussion in the prologue indicates that he prints Le Morte Darthur because he is obliged:

 …many noble and dyvers gentylmen of thys royame of Englond camen and demaunded me many and oftymes wherefore that I have not do made and enprynte the noble hystorye of the Saynt Greal and of the moost renomed Crysten kyng, fyrst and chyef of the thre best Crysten, and worthy, Kyng Arthur, whyche ought moost to be remembred emonge us Englysshe men tofore al other Crysten kynges.

The sayd noble jentylmen instantly requyred me t’emprynte th’ystorye of the sayd noble kyng and conquerour Kyng Arthur […] affermyng that I ought rather t’enprynte his actes and noble feates than of Godefroye of Boloyne or ony of the other eyght…

The passages are in direct reference to his 1481 work, a feigned dismay that he has mis-ordered his Worthies and removed the English King Arthur from his rightful place at the top. The initial passage is followed by a clear listing of the Worthies, along with a justification that the Pagan heroes are acceptable as men of legend as they were ‘tofore the Incarnacyon of Cryst’. Presumably, he suggests, no Pagan man can be held to the same standard as Christian man after the coming of Christ. The insinuation is hardly surprising; the Morte, is the only of the three texts in this set where the Worthy in question does not spend the majority of their time on crusade against Pagan foes.

Charles the Grete

Finally, we reach Charles the Grete, which can be precisely dated from Caxton’s final lines of the epilogue, stating that it was ‘enprynted the first day of decembre’ of 1485, roughly five months after the Morte.[12] More interesting though is that Caxton ‘fynysshed in the reducyng of hit in to englysshe’ on the 17th June – the point at which he was working on printing the Morte. Once again, Caxton claims that popular demand provides the reason for his printing:

I haue been excyted of the venerable man messier henry bolomyer, chanonne of Lausanne, for to reduce for his playsyr somme hystoryes as wel in latyn & in romaunce as in other facion wryton, that is to say of the ryght puyssaunt, vertuous, and noble charles the grete…

However, shortly afterwards, the motive is twisted. Whilst still referring to the demands of his readership, Caxton makes mention of the Worthies series. Just as he has printed the works of Arthur and translated those of Godfrey:

 Thenne for as moche I late had fynysshed in enprynte the book of the noble & vyctoryous kyng Arthur, fyrst of the thre most noble & worthy of crysten kynges, and also tofore had reduced into englisshe the noble hystorye & lyf of Godfrey of boloyn kyng of Iherusalem, last of the said iij worthy, Somme persones of noble estate and degree haue desyred me to reduce thystorye and lyf of the noble and crysten prynce Charles the grete, kyng of fraunce & emperour of Rome, the second of the thre worthy…

The prologue to Charles the Grete, in this sense, is the most obscure of the three prologues; it does not follow trend Caxton has set of explaining the complete structure of the Nine Worthies, referring only to the Christian three. Perhaps, by this point, Caxton believes his readership has sufficient knowledge to make the connection. The link is not hidden, as he refers to Charles as ‘the second of the thre worthy’, but nor is it made explicitly clear in this prologue who these Worthies are. There is no mention of nine, no reference to the full pantheon, to the Pagans or the Jews, only the ‘thre most noble & worthy of crysten kynges’.

Caxton’s Worthies

Referring to these texts as a ‘Worthies’ series is a title we apply retrospectively, but not without reason. The evidence exists in Caxton’s own prologues to suggest that his intention was always that Godfrey of Bullogne, Charles the Grete, and his printing of Malory’s Morte Darthur be thematically linked and read as such. In using the motif as a linking factor, Caxton does not tread new ground. Many of the poetic works such as the Cursor Mundi treat the Worthies as a group, described and revered within a single text. Caxton prints each of his Worthies individually, but weaves throughout his own comments on the works a commonality that binds the three texts as one.

Of the remaining six, Caxton is remarkably quiet. He makes little mention of either the Pagan or Jewish worthies, save for his comments in the prologue to Malory’s Morte Darthur that they ‘were ‘tofore the Incarnacyon of Cryst’. Caxton’s judgements echo through the prologues, of these three texts and of many of his other prose romances. Many of these prologues show a considerably greater enthusiasm for religious war than can be reasonably explored in this post. Caxton’s allots a significant space in his prologue to Godfrey of Bullogne for direct comparison between the Saracen threat of the Godfrey’s crusade and the Ottoman threat that is ‘moche more nowe than were in his dayes’.

The prologues provide the clearest indication we could hope for of the intentions behind Caxton’s choice of texts to translate and print, even if we cannot discern the truth in his claims of patronage. Caxton adopts the motif of the Nine Worthies in his printing, but redirects focus from the entire pantheon onto the Christian three most relevant to his readership and printing interests.

Editions:

  • William Caxton, Godeffroy of Boloyne, ed. Mary Noyes Colvin, EETS ES 64 (London: Trübner, 1893)
  • William Caxton, The Lyf of the Noble and Crysten Prynce Charles the Grete, ed. Sidney J. H. Herrtage, EETS ES 36 & 37 (London: Oxford University, [1880] 1967)
  • William Caxton, The Book of the Ordre of Chyualry, ed. Alfred T. P. Byles, EETS SS 2 (London: Oxford University, 1971)
  • Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, ed. P. J. C. Field (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2013)

 For further reference:

  • Blake, N. F., Caxton and His World (London: Andre Deutsch, 1969)
  • Blake, N. F., Caxton’s Own Prose (London: Andre Deutsch, 1973)
  • Bornstein, D., ‘William Caxton’s Chivalric Romances and the Burgundian Renaissance in England’, English Studies, 57 (1976), 1-10.
  • Cooper, H., The English Romance in Time (Oxford: University Press, 2004).
  • Dickson, D., ‘The Nine Unworthies’, in Medieval Literature and Civilization, ed. D. A. Pearsall and R. A. Waldron (London: Athlone, 1969), pp.228-32.
  • Goodman, J. R., ‘Malory and Caxton’s Chivalric Series, 1481-85’, in Studies in Malory, ed. James W. Spisak (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1985), pp.257-71.

caxton3

 

[1] William Kuskin, ‘Caxton’s Worthies Series’, ELH, 66:3 (1999), 511-551; J. R. Goodman, ‘Malory and Caxton’s Chivalric Series, 1481-85’, in Studies in Malory, ed. James W. Spisak (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1985), pp.257-71.

[2] The Book of the Ordre of Chyualry is regarded as part of the ‘Chivalric’ series, but it is not a ‘Worthies’ text like the romances. Still one of Caxton’s own translations, from the work of thirteenth-century French writer, Ramon Llull, it is addressed not as popular fiction but as specifically for those noble gentlemen who intend to enter the Order of Chivalry. See Caxton’s Epilogue to The Book of the Ordre of Chyualry, ed. Alfred T. P. Byles, EETS SS 2 (London: Oxford University, 1971).

[3] See ‘Introduction’ by Sidney J. H. Herrtage, in Charles the Grete, ed. Sidney J. H. Herrtage, EETS ES 36 & 37 (London: Oxford University Press, [1880] 1967), p. vii.

[4] Bruce Dickins, ‘The Nine Unworthies’, in Medieval Literature and Civilization, ed. Pearsall and Waldron (London: Athlone, 1969), 228-32.

[5] The following examples are transcribed from: The Parlement of the Thre Ages, ed. Israel Gollancz (London: Oxford University, 1897). The text is available on archive.org at < www.archive.org/details/cu31924013116219 > and the relevant appendix begins on p.119. A number of later texts considering the Nine Worthies, largely from C15-C18, are also freely available online on the Early English Books Online database.

[6] See: Diane Bornstein, ‘William Caxton’s Chivalric Romances and the Burgundian Renaissance in England’, English Studies, 57 (1976), 1-10.

[7] N. F. Blake, Caxton and His World (London: Andre Deutsch, 1969), pp.152-63.

[8] Bornstein, ‘Caxton’s Chivalric Romances’, p.6.

[9] Quotations from Godfrey are taken from Caxton’s prologue, transcribed in the EETS edition: William Caxton, Godeffroy of Boloyne, ed. Mary Noyes Colvin, EETS ES 64 (London: Trübner, 1893), pp.1-5.

[10] Quotations from the Morte are taken from P. J. C. Field’s 2013 edition of the text and paratexts: William Caxton, ‘Prologue to Le Morte Darthur’, in: Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, ed. P. J. C. Field (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2013), vol. II, pp.854-7.

[11] Kuskin, ‘Caxton’s Worthies Series’, p.512.

[12] Quotations from Charles are taken Caxton’s prologue in the EETS edition: William Caxton, The Lyf of the Noble and Crysten Prynce Charles the Grete, ed. Sidney J. H. Herrtage, EETS ES 36 & 37 (London: Oxford University, [1880] 1967).

David Mason is a doctoral candidate in medieval English literature, based at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University. His work is funded by the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP). David’s thesis examines the English prose romances printed between 1473 and 1534 and the means by which these texts represent crusade, conversion, and the Eastern ‘other’. He can be found on twitter @d_s_mason

William Caxton, Prologues and paratexts (21st September 2016)

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The Caxton Celebration (1877)

Next meeting: 21st September 2016 / Room 0.43 / 3-5pm

Very little of William Caxton’s early life is known, though biographers have made an effort to speculate based on the family name of Caxton (and ‘Causton’), which has connections to the Kent area. There is reference to his early life and education the prologue to Charles the Grete, where he states he is ‘bounden to praye for my fader and moders soules that in my youthe sette me to scole’, but the earliest archival evidence we have is not until after his schooling.

This first evidence we have is an entry in the 1438 annual accounts of the Mercer’s Company, who traded cloths and silks on routes between England and north-west Europe. The Company provided the means for Caxton to live and work across Europe for a considerable portion of his life, though biographers and historians (naturally) disagree on the precise dates. Caxton’s prologue to the History of Troy provides the best evidence we have for his approximate date of departure from England. It was finished in 1471 and printed c.1473, and states that he had been in ‘Braband, Flandres, Holand and Zeland’ for the best part of thirty years.

During this thirty-year gap, Caxton became a Merchant Adventurer and a relatively wealthy businessman with connections across Europe. As his wealth and renown grew, so did his involvement in international politics. Around 1462, he became Governor of the English Nation at Bruges. As a result of this role, he spent several years in Flanders, at the court of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, and was present at many of the trade negotiations between England and Burgundy. Caxton eventually resigned from his governorship to devote time to translating and printing. The source of his interest in this area is still speculated upon, but some of those contacts Caxton established across his mercantile career will have included printers in Cologne.

The first of his publications, the History of Troy was printed at Bruges, shortly after the translation was finished c.1471. Following this, he returned to England in the early 1470s, to begin printing in Westminster. Caxton is recorded as having paid for a year’s rent for a shop near Westminster Abbey on 30 September, 1476 – at the price of ten shillings. He continued to rent this shop each year until his death in 1491. His successor, Wynkyn de Worde, also remained in this location until he moved premises in 1500. The shopfront Caxton selected was expertly placed. The city was one of great mercantile connection, and the shop was directly between the King’s Palace of Westminster (now the Houses of Parliament) and the Abbey Church. It was a location that attracted an audience of royalty and nobility, of the Church, of the Law, and of the middle and mercantile classes alike.

The texts Caxton chooses to translate include a wide range of materials: indulgences, books of chivalry and courtesy, historical texts, and romances, the prologues to which we are examining in this session. The romances Caxton selected for translation were undoubtedly influenced by his time in the Burgundian court, and the emphasis placed by the court and Duke Philip upon the chivalric code. Many of the romances represent the fashionable views and preferred tastes of the late-fifteenth-century Burgundian court. To each of these, again following the fashion of the Burgundian court, Caxton added his own words as prologue and epilogue.

The texts we’re reading are as follows:

(1) Caxton’s prologue to Malory’s Le Morte Darthur. We are all doubtless familiar with Malory’s work. Caxton’s printing of it in July 1485 was accompanied by this prologue, emphasising Arthur’s place among the Nine Worthies. The prologue is from is P. J. C. Field’s 2013 edition.

(2) Prologue and epilogue to Charles the Grete. One of Caxton’s own translations, Charles was printed December 1485, with this prologue and epilogue. The text is in three parts, and the largest and central of these tells the story of Charlemagne’s successful crusade into Saracen Iberia.

(3) Prologue and epilogue to Godeffroy of Bologne. Also Caxton’s own translation, from French, of the history of the First Crusade as written by William, Archbishop of Tyre. The text follows Godfrey, the final of the three Christian worthies, on crusade. The Godeffroy prologue and epilogue are some of Caxton’s most explicit and enthusiastic about crusade.

(4) Prologue to Eneydos. Another of Caxton’s own translations, from a French version of the Aeneid. This prologue is not directly related to the previous three sets of texts. However, the prologue is an enjoyable read, and contains Caxton’s discussions of the English language, translation, and eggs.

(5) An article by J. R. Goodman, entitled ‘Malory and Caxton’s Chivalric Series, 1481-5’. Goodman’s article is an excellent introduction to the texts from which most of these prologues are taken. She begins with a discussion of Caxton’s life before moving on to discussion of the series of ‘Worthies’ texts (Le Morte Darthur, Charles the Grete, and Godeffroy of Bologne) and their prologues.

There is also a separate blog post on Caxton’s ‘Worthies’ series, available on the MEMORI website.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Can we analyse these prologues/epilogues alone as part of the cultural context, or must they be attached to their respective texts?
  2. How are the prologues made relevant to their individual texts, and to what extent do they follow a set pattern of topoi?
  3. Caxton uses these spaces to directly address what he suggests are the relevant portions of his readership. How do these audiences differ between texts, and to what extent are they relevant?
  4. The texts Caxton printed 1481-5 – Godeffroy of Bologne, Le Morte Darthur, Charles the Grete – are often referred to as his ‘Chivalric’ or ‘Worthies’ series, based on his comments in the prologues and epilogues. How does this structure influence a reading of both the prologues/epilogues and the literary works?
  5. Do you believe the concerns over crusade and chivalry in these prologues/epilogues, or are they a mercantile attempt to utilise the printing press technology and boost book sales?
  6. Caxton translated many of the prose romances he printed himself, often literally and with a high degree of accuracy. What do you make of his discussion of the English language in the prologue to Eneydos? Can the prologues/epilogues tell us anything about the act of translation?
  7. What do you think of the continued relevance of Malory’s Morte Darthur, and of Caxton’s reasoning behind selecting this text for print? What links exist between the tales or thematic elements of the Morte Darthur and the elements we see discussed in any of these prologues/epilogues?
  8. Jane Goodman notes that Caxton’s time in the Low Countries would have allowed him to attend a variety of fifteenth-century chivalric spectacles, the records of which show that the ‘conviction of the participants … conveys their belief in what they were performing’ (p.259). To what extent do these prologues convey nostalgia for a chivalric past, or an attempt to usher in a new golden age of chivalry?

 

For further biographical discussion of Caxton, see:

N. F. Blake, Caxton and His World (London: Andre Deutsch, 1969)

N. F. Blake, Caxton’s Own Prose (London: Andre Deutsch, 1973)

George D. Painter, William Caxton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1976)

Diane Bornstein, ‘William Caxton’s Chivalric Romances and the Burgundian Renaissance in England’, English Studies, 57 (1976), 1-10.

J. R. Goodman, ‘Malory and Caxton’s Chivalric Series, 1481-5’, in Studies in Malory, ed. James W. Spisak (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1985), pp.257-71. [INCLUDED IN READING MATERIAL]

William Kuskin, Symbolic Caxton (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008)

Robert de Boron and Joseph of Arimathea

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Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie (‘Joseph of Arimathea’) was written in verse in the late twelfth century. The text forms part of a trilogy, along with Merlin and Perceval, and it was the first Arthurian cycle to be written before the longer prose romances, such as the Lancelot-Grail cycle or the Prose Tristan. Robert’s trilogy is, sometimes, considered a tetralogy as the Perceval section ends with the Mort Artu (‘Death of Arthur’).

Joseph d’Arimathie was the first Arthurian text to account for the Christian origins of the Holy Grail. The story of Joseph of Arimathea, who rescued Christ’s body from the cross, is the primary focus of this text, which was the first text to recount, through translatio imperii, how the Grail came to Britain. After Robert had written his Grail History, the legend of Joseph of Arimathaea was popularized in romance and history, with texts such as L’estoire du Graal (‘History of the Grail’), and the interpolations in William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie (‘Ecclesiastical History of Glastonbury Abbey’) supporting this story.

The text of Joseph d’Arimathie is structured in to four parts: the prologue; Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail; Bron and the westward Migration; the epilogue. Try to keep these episode and divisions in mind as you read the text, and consider the following questions:

1. Could Joseph d’Armimathie be considered a pseudo-biblical text? Is this a revisionist reading of the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the Gospels?
2. How the story of the Fall of Man in Genesis represented in this text?
3. What is the nature of Divine revelation?
4. What is the function of relics? How are they related to miracles?
5. What is the significance of Roman authority? (Vespasian, Pilate etc)
6. Is this anti-Semitic text?
7. How is the Grail described in this text? What is the significance of the Grail Family? (i.e. the descendants of Joseph of Arimathea)