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Acts and Texts

» LUDUS «

Medieval and Early Renaissance Theatre and Drama
8
Edited by
Wim Hüsken

Volume 1: English Parish Drama
Volume 2: Civic Ritual and Drama
Volume 3: Between Folk and Liturgy
Volume 4: Carnival and the Carnivalesque
Volume 5: Moving Subjects
Volume 6: Farce and Farcical Elements
Volume 7: Cyclic Form and the English Mystery Plays
Volume 8: Acts and Texts

Acts and Texts
Performance and Ritual in the Middle Ages
and the Renaissance

Edited by

Laurie Postlewate
and

Wim Hüsken

Amsterdam – New York, NY 2007

Cover design: Studio Pollmann
All titles in the Ludus - Medieval and Early Renaissance Theatre and Drama
series (from 2002 onwards) are available to download from the Ingenta website http://www.ingenta.com
The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of “ISO
9706:1994, Information and documentation - Paper for documents Requirements for permanence”.
Le papier sur lequel le présent ouvrage est imprimé remplit les prescriptions
de "ISO 9706:1994, Information et documentation - Papier pour documents
- Prescriptions pour la permanence".
ISBN-13: 978-90-420-2191-4
©Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam – New York, NY 2007
Printed in The Netherlands

Contents

Laurie Postlewate
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

7

The Power of Performance
Dallas G. Denery II
The Preacher and His Audience: Dominican Conceptions
of the Self in the Thirteenth Century . . . . . . . . . 17
Joyce Coleman
Public-Access Patronage: Book-Presentation
from the Crowd at a Royal Procession . . . . . . . . 35
Amy Schwarz
Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power . . 63
L. Caitlin Jorgensen
Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession . . 77
Alejandro Cañeque
On Cushions and Chairs: The Ritual Contruction
of Authority in New Spain . . . . . . . . . . . 101
Performance and the Page
Adrian P. Tudor
Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page . . . . .
Kathryn A. Duys
Medieval Literary Performance: Gautier de Coinci’s
Guide for the Perplexed . . . . . . . . . . . .
Paul Creamer
Privatizing the Conte du Graal: How Renaissance
Printers Reformatted Chrétien’s Public Text for
Private Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

151

183

217

Contents

Nancy Freeman Regalado
A Contract for an Early Festival Book: Sarrasin’s
Le Roman du Hem (1278) . . . . . . . . . . .
William E. Engel
Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage:
Morris Dancing, Mimed Moors, and Nascent Rituals
in Fletcher and Shakespeare . . . . . . . . . . .
Evelyn Birge Vitz & Linda Marie Zaerr
Experimenting with the Performance of
Medieval Narrative . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

249

269

303

The Performance of Gender
Marilyn Lawrence
Yseut’s Legacy: Women Writers and Performers
in the Medieval French Romance Ysaÿe le Triste . . .
Felicity Henderson
‘A Bawdy Lecture unto Ladies’: Music Speeches
at Early-Modern Oxford . . . . . . . . . . . .

319

List of Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

355
359

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337

Introduction

Laurie Postlewate
In the pre-modern era, communication was almost strictly viva
voce and through the physical presence of its agents. For the
Middle Ages and Renaissance—before the dissemination of the
printed (much less the broadcast) word—meaning and power
were created and propagated through public performance. By performance we mean here the actual, physical, visual, and audible
manifestations of bodies and voices which communicated to their
publics through symbolic systems and codes. Scholars today are
increasingly aware of the importance of these instances of display
and performance which reveal so much to us about the mentalités
of their actors and audiences. Processions, coronations, speeches, trials, and executions are all types of public performance that
were both acts and texts: acts that originated in the texts that gave
them their ideological grounding; texts that bring to us today a
trace of their actual performance. Literature, as well, was for the
pre-modern public a type of performance: throughout the medieval and early modern periods we see a constant tension and negotiation between the oral/aural delivery of the literary work and the
eventual silent/read reception of its written text.
The current volume of essays examines the plurality of forms
and meanings given to performance in the Middle Ages and Renaissance through discussion of the essential performance/text relationship. The authors of the essays represent a variety of scholarly disciplines and subject matter: from the “performed” life of
the Dominican preacher, to coronation processions, to book presentations; from satirical music speeches, to the rendering of
widow portraits, to the performance of romance and pious narrative. Yet in spite of the diversity of their objects of study, all of

Introduction

the essays in the volume examine the links between the actual
events of public performance and the textual origins and subsequent representation of those performances.
Part One of the volume, “The Power of Performance,” includes chapters on how social structure and political power were
constructed, destroyed, and recorded through public rituals such
as coronations, processions, tournaments, and court entertainments. Special attention is given in these chapters not only to the
actual events of performance, but also to the representation of
those events in the texts that record and comment on them. In the
first essay, ‘The Preacher and His Audience: Dominican Conceptions of the Self in the Thirteenth Century’, we see how within
the Dominican order, the dynamic between performer and audience was extended to influence the notion of the self. Dallas G.
Denery, drawing on a variety of texts including preaching aids
and novice manuals, discusses how the Dominican imperative to
adapt one’s preaching style to various audiences also shaped the
brothers’ behaviour generally; this included not only their conduct
before the laity to whom they might preach, but also before their
fellow brothers in the priory, and indeed before themselves and
God. The notion of constant self-presentation before the gaze of
God and other people, implied also constant self-adjustment—
“the heuristics of adaptation”—which required study and a new
kind of speculatio focusing less on inward contemplation and
more on informed calculation of outward behaviour.
Public rituals, normally highly regulated and orchestrated
events, were also by their very public-ness open to the possibility
of the un-programmed and unexpected. Joyce Coleman, in her
essay ‘Public-Access Patronage: Book-Presentation from the
Crowd at a Royal Procession’, discusses a curious episode in
which the normally elegant and noble ceremony of the bookpresentation was imitated by a lowly and unknown author in his
attempts to procure patronage for his work. The event is recorded
in the proem to the work being presented, Knyghthode and Bataile, and reportedly took place in the procession of Henry VI
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Laurie Postlewate

and Margaret of Anjou on the famous Love-Day, a celebration by
the Lancastrian Henry of the peace he had negotiated with the
Yorkist lords. Coleman examines how the etiquette of the courtly
book presentation was exploited here by a member of the general
public, offering insight into contemporary ideas about the role of
ritual in bringing majesty—and power—closer to the aspiring obscure. Coleman furthermore considers the possibility that the actual presentation recounted never happened but was a fantasized
“textual performance” that, nevertheless, reveals much about medieval views of patronage.
The power of public performance is again evidenced by the
political feats of Cola di Rienzo in fourteenth-century Rome. In
her essay ‘Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power’,
Amy Schwarz documents the series of public processions and
ceremonies orchestrated by the ambitious notary Rienzo in 1347.
Exploiting the established practice of manipulating and combining
the traditions of the Roman triumph with those of Christian liturgy, Rienzo achieved his own “coronation” as Tribune of Rome;
one step in his objective to establish his own authority as the head
of government and embark on a campaign of reform in a Rome
ravaged by plague, famine and civil strife. Schwarz analyses the
political context of Rienzo’s use of public performance and establishes links with contemporary pictorial representation of his civic
processions.
L. Caitlin Jorgensen’s essay, ‘Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s
Coronation Procession’, examines how the civic pageants that
were an essential part of the 1559 coronation processions of Elizabeth I, emphasized the idea of mutuality between the monarch
and her subjects as a means of promoting the theme of national
unity. Jorgensen bases her argument on one important narrative
account of the procession, Richard Mulcaster’s The Quenes
Maiesties Passage, which reveals how Elizabeth’s self-presentation as both actor in and spectator of the pageants was calculated to emphasize mutuality—and not hierarchy—in the relationship between the queen and her people. Jorgensen then discusses
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Introduction

how the motif of communitas and the image of the monarch as
“listening student” are linked to Elizabeth’s humanist orientation.
Jorgensen provides a reading of Mulcaster’s document which
puts into question the commonly held impression that Elizabeth
was a passive agent in her own coronation.
In his essay ‘On Cushions and Chairs: The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain’, Alejandro Cañeque examines the
“liturgy of magnificence” in which the figure of the viceroy acts
as the sacred centre of political action and colonial power in
seventeenth-century New Spain. Through the viceroy’s displayed
body—exhibited in processions and surrounded with brilliance
and splendour—the authority of the “invisible” sovereign was
made visible and real to the entire population of the subject nation.
Cañeque analyses the outward signs of the viceroy’s special role
in the grammar of colonial society: the composition and itinerary
of the viceregal processions, and the position of the viceroy in
these events; regulation of the participants’ dress, gestures, and
language; the coveted right to use of the “palio” canopy. He then
demonstrates the significance of these signs in the ritual battles
between the viceroys who were the representatives of secular
authority, and the archbishops whose ecclesiastical power was
threatened by the introduction in colonial Mexico of the idea of
absolute monarchy.
The essays of Part Two, ‘Performance and the Page’, examine
performance as a motif in early literature and how the representation of performance helps us understand today the reception contexts of the pre-modern literary text. Adrian P. Tudor’s contribution, ‘Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page’, examines how
in both medieval and modern terms, “performance” is multifaceted and multi-layered. Through a careful examination of the
illustrations of a number of the manuscripts of the Old French
Vie des Pères, Tudor demonstrates how the medieval literary
work, in addition to being performed in oral delivery, also performed itself through illustrations which acted as logical continuations of the text. These illustrations are treated by Tudor as a gate10

Laurie Postlewate

way into contemporary reaction to and interpretation of medieval
texts. His discussion points finally to an important shift in the
later Middle Ages when the visual and aural elements of the text
for oral performance were repeated and elaborated in the illustrations accompanying the text destined for silent reading.
Kathryn A. Duys’s essay, ‘Performance Through the Eyes of
a Medieval Poet: A Guide for the Perplexed’, demonstrates that
the performance of the medieval literary text only just begins with
the praxis of oral delivery. Duys discusses three different paradigms of performance which can be detected in the thirteenthcentury collection of Marian miracles and songs of Gautier de
Coinci known as the Miracles de Nostre Dame: one paradigm is
drawn from the Classical arts of poetry; the second from the liturgy; and the third from traditions of vernacular minstrelsy. Central
to Duys’s demonstration is the fact that Gautier’s collection is
presented as a single, intricately designed and delivered poetic
monologue, in the centre of which we find the representation of a
procession performed to commemorate a miracle worked by the
Virgin for the poet himself. Gautier’s very “personal” collection
allows Duys to show how performance, viewed through the eyes
of a medieval poet, was a complex of practices, modes, images,
and theories that takes us far beyond the practical, functionalistic
definitions that have so far been proposed to understand this rich
and fascinating work.
The transition from performance to silent reading is also the
topic of Paul Creamer’s essay, ‘Privatizing the Conte du Graal:
How Renaissance Printers Reformatted Chrétien’s Public Text for
Private Reading’. Here the author compares the codicological features of Chrétien’s famous story of Perceval in a series of illustrated medieval manuscripts and then in printed form in the Renaissance. Through his discussion of the evolution of presentation of the Conte du Graal, Creamer provides further evidence
for the ongoing discussion in literary circles today of the transition in reading practices from the orally “performed” text of the
Middle Ages to that of silent reading in the Renaissance.
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Introduction

The interplay between romance and theatre is the topic of
Nancy Freeman Regalado’s essay ‘A Contract for an Early Festival Book: Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem (1278)’. One of the earliest surviving documents of a festive performance, the Roman
du Hem was commissioned by the organizers of the 1278 tournament at Le Hem in Picardy, and written by a professional poet,
Sarrasin, who took notes during the festivities. This “account” of
the tournament is modeled as an Arthurian adventure of Chrétien
de Troyes’ Chevalier au Lion from his romance of the same
name, with the knight being played by an important historical
figure, Robert d’Artois, the king’s cousin. Through analysis of
the detailed descriptions in the Roman du Hem of the Arthurian
interludes staged during the banquet and between the jousts,
Regalado examines how Sarrasin’s work is both a remarkable
record of the influence of romance fictions on real chivalric performances, and—because it is the unique record of an actual “Arthurian” performance and the response of its audience—an important document in the history of medieval theatre.
In his essay ‘Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Morris
Dancing, Mimed Moors, and Nascent Rituals in Fletcher and
Shakespeare’, Bill Engel examines how blackness, death, foreigners, and cross-dressers came together in the Renaissance visual imagination and in performance practices. Engel focuses on
the fabled Moorish origins of the “rustic” English fertility festival
entertainment called the “Morris Dance”, and how this rite became
linked to the Dance of the Dead through a conflation in the texts of
the terms “moriskors”, “moors”, and “morts”. The implications
of this textual transference of meaning become evident when a
Morris dance is called for in plays like those of Shakespeare and
Fletcher’s Two Noble Kinsmen.
The final contribution to our section on ‘Performance and the
Page’ is somewhat unique: ‘Experimenting with the Performance
of Medieval Narrative’ is an account of and commentary on an actual—and very successful—performance of medieval texts which
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took place during the Seventeenth Barnard Medieval and Renaissance Conference, “Public Performance / Public Ritual,” in December 2000. In this essay, the performance by Linda Marie
Zaerr of passages from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,
Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, and Alfonso the Wise’s Cantigas de
Santa Maria, is introduced and commented on by Evelyn Birge
Vitz who provides the historical evidence for the performance of
medieval texts. Interspersed with Vitz’s historical backdrop is a
description by Linda Marie Zaerr, of the performances and a discussion of the different approaches that can be taken today in the
performance—both spoken and sung—of medieval literary
works. This contribution demonstrates how many of the issues
discussed in the present volume are not limited to the realm of
scholarly interest, but also have practical—and very important—
application for the classroom and performance hall today.
In Part Three, ‘The Performance of Gender’, issues raised in
the two previous sections are taken up again, but with a focus on
how gender influenced the content and form of performance in the
Middle Ages. The essay by Marilyn Lawrence, ‘The Woman
Composer and Performer: The Heroine Marthe in Ysaïe le Triste’, examines late-medieval ideas concerning the art and identity
of the minstrel and the author, including issues of gender, class,
genre, and literary modes of performance and transmission. Lawrence focuses on how Ysaïe le Triste, an anonymous French
prose romance dating from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth
century, defines and distinguishes the identities of the author and
the performer through the heroine Marthe’s use of minstrel disguise (that is her disguise as a professional performer). Marthe’s
primary identity as an author and her adopted minstrel identity
(first as a male and then as a female minstrel) are kept distinct
throughout her lengthy disguise. Lawrence demonstrates how the
author of Ysaïe le Triste uses Marthe’s minstrel-disguise episode
to create a hierarchical differentiation between the author and minstrel that privileges the figure of the author—and specifically the
female author—over that of the minstrel, and writing over oral
performance.
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Introduction

Felicity Henderson’s contribution, ‘“A Bawdy Lecture unto
Ladies”: Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford’, discusses the
satirical and virulently misogynistic “orations” made by the music
lecturer during the seventeenth-century Oxford graduation ceremonies known as ‘The Act’. Under the guise of a serious lecture
on the topic of music—and accompanied by instrumental interludes—these speeches both targeted and addressed the female
members of the audience; they are preserved for us today in a
lively manuscript tradition as the “music speeches”. Henderson
argues that in addition to the traditional misogyny which influences the text of the speeches, the “orations” reveal a deep, underlying anxiety about the place of women in early society, and in particular, about their place in the university community. While the
speeches did function on one level as a ritual of exclusion, Henderson’s reading demonstrates that the occasion of their performance (including investigation of the physical performance space)
reveals a more complex picture of the university’s relationship
with women.
Taken together, the essays of this volume present a strong argument for the centrality of public manifestation and ritual in the
medieval and early modern periods, as well as for the interdependence of document and performance, text and presentation.
We would like to thank all of the contributors for their helpfulness
and patience during the project of the publication of this volume.
We would also like to express our gratitude to the Provost’s Office of Barnard College for their support in the form of a Faculty
Grant which made possible the reproduction of previously published material for the book.

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Part I:

The Power of Performance

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The Preacher and His Audience:
Dominican Conceptions of the Self
in the Thirteenth Century*

Dallas G. Denery II
In the Vitae Fratrum, a collection of stories compiled during the
1250s concerning the formation and early growth of the Dominican Order, Gérard de Frachet relates the tale of an unnamed
English friar who thought it might be a good idea to incorporate
‘as many philosophical reasonings and axioms as possible into
the matter of his sermon.’ The night before he was to give his
sermon, Christ appeared before him as he slept and handed him a
Bible covered in filth. When the friar asked for a reason, Christ
opened the book and showed him that, despite its cover, the
pages themselves were spotless. ‘My word is fair enough,’ Christ
tells the Englishman, ‘but it is you who have defiled it with your
philosophy’.1 The tale itself is not particularly unique. It is only
one in a series of short anecdotes scattered throughout the Vitae
Fratrum that point up a certain unease with studying, with philosophy and with teaching.
Dominicans were not alone in their ambivalence towards
studying, nor in their recognition of its importance. A tradition
extending back to the Bible itself had simultaneously warned of
both the dangers and the importance of study. No less an authority than Bernard of Clairvaux had contrasted those who sought
knowledge for its own sake, for glory or for money with those
who sought knowledge in order to be of service to others or to
better themselves.2 And Bernard’s was an authority that the Dominicans were eager to repeat word for word. Regardless, appearances can be deceiving and the apparent continuity of concern
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Dallas G. Denery II

that seems to unite Dominican writing in the thirteenth century
with Bernard, who had died in 1153, conceals a striking discontinuity. It is not a discontinuity at the level of words, but rather at
the level of organization. Dominicans happily cite Bernard’s sermons, letters and meditations (not to mention those of Bernard’s
fellow Cistercians and Benedictines). However, the manner in
which Dominicans organize their concerns, the form they impose
on them, points to a context far removed from those that spawned
the Cistercian ideals. In this case contexts and settings are everything, not only for locating the source of a specifically Dominican
discomfort with study and philosophy, but even for the determination of a Dominican understanding of self as self-presentation.
The specifically Dominican ambivalence towards study reflects an uneasy inheritance. During the course of the twelfth century the activity of speculatio underwent a reinterpretation. For
eleventh-century Benedictines such as Anselm of Bec and even
for twelfth-century Cistercians, speculatio meant ‘a gazing upon
the divine’ and was essentially a devotional exercise related to
contemplatio.3 Anselm’s Proslogion and Monologion, regardless of their philosophical content, were written as meditative
prayers designed to assist the monk in acquiring a more affective
understanding of God. The (ideally) complete assimilation of
study to prayer, of intellectual to affective experience, was facilitated by the institution of the monastery itself in which every activity was always already interpreted and organized for the sake of
piety, the love of God.4 Study was a form of prayer and devotion, as were manual labour and the chanting of the psalter. These
connections were loosened during the course of the twelfth century. As the cathedral school supplanted the monastery as the centre of intellectual activity, speculatio became disentangled from
contemplatio. It came, instead, to refer to a teachable activity of
the mind independent of religious emotion.5 Theology, for example, became a professional academic discipline, a body of
knowledge to be mastered and, in turn, taught to others in the environment of the university classroom. While thirteenth-century
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The Preacher and His Audience

scholars and theologians continued to condemn curiosity as a sin,
the realities of university training made it all the easier to treat
speculation as an end in itself.
The special calling of the Dominicans to be public preachers
practically guaranteed that they would manifest the tensions inherent in the new institutional organization of learning more vividly
than prior Orders. Although Dominic himself shared with the
founders of prior Orders the desire to establish a school of contemplation in which his friars could work to perfect themselves
before God, the additional emphasis or shift away from contemplation and towards preaching, moved the activity of study more
fully to the centre of Dominican life. After all, one cannot preach
without doctrine and doctrine must be learned.6 This, in turn, introduced the (potential) separation between study and prayer into
the heart of Dominican life itself.
In the Vitae Fratrum, Gérard de Frachet includes the telling
anecdote of a German friar who regularly ‘would prostrate himself in spirit’ before the blessed womb that bore Christ, the
breasts which fed Him and the hands which protected Him. Before each he would say a “Hail Mary” in memory of the blessed
Virgin’s virtues. One day, while rapt in such prayer, the blessed
Virgin appeared and granted him those very same virtues. ‘From
that moment,’ Gérard continues, ‘he put aside all study and other
pursuits, and gave himself up entirely to prayer.’ This did not go
unnoticed by his fellow friars, who criticized him for neglecting
his proper duty to study. The German friar then prayed that the
Lord would convert some of his new found delights ‘into knowledge, so that he might benefit the souls of others to the glory of
His name. His suit was granted, for his scanty store of learning
was so increased that he preached fluently in German and Latin,
and was endowed with a rare understanding.’ In the changed environment of the thirteenth century, a miracle was required to join
prayer and study.7
To appreciate the precise nature of this miracle, to appreciate
how it moves us to the centre of practical Dominican conceptions
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Dallas G. Denery II

of the self as self-presentation, we need to understand how the
calling to be public preachers, to be heard and to be seen, decisively influenced the way Dominicans were trained to think about
themselves. In the Liber de eruditione praedicatorum, Humbert
of Romans, the Order’s fifth Master General, spends a great deal
of time reflecting on the interplay between preacher and audience.8 Preachers preach and, obviously enough, this requires
them to speak; indeed to speak often, in any number of quite varied circumstances, in any number of quite varied places, before a
countless variety of people. A good preacher, Humbert argues,
must recognize these different circumstances, must identify these
various settings, and adapt his sermon accordingly. He must, for
example, fit the topic of his sermon to the needs of each and every
audience for ‘there is no single exhortation which is suitable for
everyone, because men are not all held by the same kind of morals. Often, what helps one man harms another.’9 Not only must
he adapt the topic of his sermon to his audience, he must also
adapt his words to his audience. He must speak ‘crudely to the
uneducated’ and ‘more subtly with the wise.’10 Similarly, he must
consider the circumstances of his audience: Are they tired?
Sorrowful? Have they just eaten lunch?11
Adjusting and adapting the content, the form and the style of
his sermon to the audience is only part of the preacher’s duty. The
preacher must also consider the impression he himself makes on
the audience. Even before founding the Order, Dominic had recognized the importance of the preacher’s appearance. Jean de
Mailly’s Life of St. Dominic recounts the famous meeting which
Dominic and Bishop Diego had with a legate of Pope Innocent, a
number of bishops and twelve Cistercian abbots ‘in the land of
the Albigensians.’ When asked what was the best means of countering the spread of the Albigensian heresy, Diego recommended
that they abandon ‘all their splendid horses and clothes and accouterments’ and that they adopt ‘evangelical poverty so that their
deeds would demonstrate the faith of Christ as well as their
words.’ Only if their deeds and appearances matched their words
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The Preacher and His Audience

would they be able to ‘bring back to the true faith the souls which
had been deluded by the heretics with their false appearance of
virtue.’12
This demand to live the life of witness, institutionalized into
the very self-understanding of the Dominican Order, appears
throughout Humbert’s treatise. A preacher, he writes, ‘should
preach not only with his voice, but with all that he is.’13 A
preacher must maintain ‘a certain radiance about his life. It does
not suffice for a preacher to lead a good life; rather, his brilliance
must shine before everyone so that he preaches not only with
words, but also with deeds.’14 The demand for good conduct,
however, is more than a demand aimed at improving the effectiveness of the preacher’s sermons. It effectively erases the distinction between preaching and non-preaching settings. Humbert
notes that a preacher must attempt to win the salvation of others
‘in any way they can. And sometimes this is achieved better by
good conduct than by words.’15 The preacher’s conduct ‘must not
be good in just one respect, but totally, that is, with respect to
everything’ and this means in every sort of company, in every
sort of place, and during every moment of the day. ‘Be Holy in
all your way of life,’ Humbert concludes, glossing 1 Peter 1, ‘all
your way of life, that is, with regard to everything and every
body, in every place and all the time.’16 These demands arise because all settings are, in effect, preaching settings, settings in
which the preacher must present himself appropriately in word
and in deed. A preacher, Humbert warns, must never be idle ‘in
the presence of people he lives with. He should always be devoting himself to some chance of getting results.’17
If all settings become preaching settings, then the preacher is
enjoined at every moment to consider, adapt and adjust himself to
his audience. Not only must he consider how he appears to his
listeners, but also to his companions. When he is alone, the
preacher is required to treat himself as his audience, to see himself, to look within and to examine his conduct. After all, preaching presents the preacher with specific dangers precisely because
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it is a public activity. Set loose from the confines of a monastery,
placed among the temptations of the world, there is a constant
threat that the preacher will be taken in by his own public presentation, that he will mistake his public persona of virtue for real
virtue. 18 No matter how holy the preacher appears to others,
Humbert notes, should he appear lacking before God, ‘his whole
public presentation would simply be hypocrisy.’19
Even as the division between preaching and non-preaching
settings dissolves, so too does the division between public and
private settings. Since the preacher must always consider himself
in terms of how he presents himself (even when he is alone), he
is, almost imperceptibly, transformed into a thoroughly public being. The preacher is always confronted by and must always adapt
himself to some audience. He is always the object of somebody’s
gaze and his conduct, his conscience, his intentions, must always
be regulated by the demands to preach to that gaze, by the demand
never to be idle. At points Humbert speaks as if the preacher is
unable to hide anything from anyone. A preacher’s words and actions reveal much about his inner nature. Quoting Isidore of Seville, Humbert writes, ‘It is a man’s tongue that publishes his
character; the sort of mind he has is shown by the words he
speaks.’ 20 This ideal of visibility is particularly evident in an
anecdote from the Vitae Fratrum in which Gérard de Frachet relates the tale of an ‘exemplary religious and very capable’ friar
who began to include rash intellectual novelties in his lectures.
Despite the protests of his superiors, he refused to withdraw
them. Later, Gérard notes, ‘a venerable and saintly prior, whose
testimony is beyond all suspicion, testifie[d] that he saw a devil
on this man’s head as he stood in the chapter-house.’21 The
preacher is marked by a visibility that transforms the interior taint
of sin into a public announcement of its presence.
The preacher becomes the site of a continual self-disclosure, a
regulated self-presentation aimed always at assisting, in as economic a manner as possible, an audience which never leaves him.22
The peculiar difficulties that confront the preacher arise precisely
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The Preacher and His Audience

from this constant demand to accommodate his self-presentation
to an ever-shifting array of settings. Humbert describes this as a
need for the preacher to moderate [mediocritatem] his words,
indeed, his entire life.23 The preacher must, quite simply, learn ‘to
follow the middle way’ when adapting his self-presentation to the
demands of the moment and this requires him to study and to
learn.24 But even here there is a need for balance, for discretion.25
Anecdotes of friars tempted to over-philosophize and suffering
the torments of Hell as a result of their philosophical studies point
to the dangers which the preacher faces when he fails to study
with discretion, with moderation. Within a specifically Dominican
context, this failure gains its structural possibility and significance
from the preacher’s need to regulate his appearance to an audience
that never leaves him, to properly adjust his self-presentation to
the specific setting in which he finds himself and to the varying
elements and needs that arise in that setting. It is, furthermore,
linked to a conception of the preacher as thoroughly public and
visible. And if this conception of the preacher as visible finds its
ideal model in the “pre-eminence” of the preacher raised above the
crowd to whom he speaks,26 it nevertheless recurs and is endlessly replicated within the Dominican priory itself where it becomes
normative in establishing a Dominican conception of self.
From outside the priory to within it, from Dominican preachers to Dominican novices, I now want to consider the Libellus de
instructione et consolatione novitiorum, the work of an
anonymous Dominican novice master in Toulouse. Whereas other
thirteenth-century Dominican novice manuals focus exclusively
on the external duties that make up the novice’s daily life, the Libellus, which received official approval at the 1283 chapter general meeting in Montpellier, considers the novice’s spiritual formation. 27 Unlike such “disciplinary” works as Humbert’s De
officiis ordinis or Jean de Montlhéry’s Tractatus de instructione
novitiorum,28 works that focus on the ‘large and small duties that
go to make up the daily life of the Dominican novice,’29 the
anonymous Libellus focuses instead on the novice’s spiritual
23

Dallas G. Denery II

formation and on the rightness and rectitude that he must observe
during his first months as a Dominican.
As an organizational device for much of the work, the author
looks to the organization of the Dominican priory, to the different
rooms and places and persons that make it up. Well into the
treatise, for example, the novice master writes, ‘Since it has been
told to you, servant of God, how much justice you ought to pursue, whether in the monastery or in the cloister, with respect to
God and to the prelate, with respect to yourself and to your fellow
brothers, now I think it ought to be shown to you how much justice you ought spiritually to pursue in each office.’30 What follows is, in essence, a tour of a thirteenth-century Dominican priory. If the novice wishes to appear ‘with justice before God in
Church’ he must consider how quickly he rushes to appear before
mere men and hurry all the faster to God in his church.31 He cites
Bernard’s Commentary on the Song of Songs and Hugh of
Fouilly’s The Cloister of the Soul as authorities on how the
novice ought to behave in church and in the choir.32 He proceeds
in a similar vein, citing similar sources, to consider how the novice ought ‘to appear with justice’ in the chapter hall, in the refectory, the dormitory, in the lecture room, in the infirmary and outside the priory’s boundaries. Similarly, activities are also treated
as settings in which the novice must be aware of his appearance.
He must consider the ‘justice which ought to be preserved in the
study of wisdom,’33 when serving his fellow brothers34 or when
reading in the rectory.35 Finally he must consider and adapt
himself to his audience, whether he is alone, with his fellow
brothers or with his superiors. The Dominican priory, in other
words, is broken into discrete places and settings. The novice’s
spiritual formation and comportment is explained in terms of how
he should respond to those places and to the various types of
people he will meet in them.
Obviously, the anonymous novice master’s strategy is not the
only one for presenting the novice’s spiritual formation and, perhaps more interestingly, it was not the strategy that his sources
tended to employ. The contrast with the ascetic and spiritual writ24

The Preacher and His Audience

ings of the twelfth-century Cistercian, William of Saint Thierry,
are valuable in this regard.36 William, who was a close acquaintance of Bernard of Clairvaux, composed the Epistola ad fratres
de Monte Dei in the 1130s. After an introductory section in
which he praises the Carthusians of Monte Dei for introducing
that ‘eastern light and ancient Egyptian fervour for religion to our
western darkness and French cold, namely the pattern of solitary
life,’37 William proceeds with a narrative of spiritual development. He tells the story of the novice, new to his cell, and his
slow progress towards perfection from the state of the animal man
to that of the rational and, finally, to the state of the spiritual man.
Interspersed throughout the temporal narrative and ordered by the
demands of that narrative, William offers advice to the novice.
For example, after describing the state of the animal man, his attempts to free himself from the dependence on bodily pleasure,
and the various temptations and consolations that might be visited
upon him,38 William offers advice explicitly geared to the novice
in this beginning state. He suggests obedience, daily self-examinations, adherence to a spiritual master and so on.39
The Carthusian cell or the Cistercian monastery, for that matter, appears in these writings as a single and unified setting in
which a narrative of the individual monk’s spiritual development
unfolds. The narrative of progress, however, melds with a narrative of incorporation. As William would put it in a related work,
the novice’s ‘miserable soul and degenerate spirit, corrupted by
the vice of sin’40 must slowly be reformed and assimilated into the
social structure of the religious community so that one and all
‘share the same order of life, living one rule, having nothing as
their own, not even their bodies or their wills in their own
power.’41 The narrative finds its natural conclusion when that assimilation has been realized, when the Carthusian monk who ‘has
been so affected centres himself upon [the good] in such a way as
not be distracted from it until he becomes one or one spirit with it’
or when the Cistercian monastery becomes the School of Charity,
Jerusalem on earth.42
25

Dallas G. Denery II

No doubt the Dominican novice’s complete incorporation into
the Order was also a central concern for Dominican novice masters. The regimen of daily life in the priory and the friar’s obedience to his superior, ‘who stands before him as the representative
of God himself,’43 were both aimed at this incorporation. Manuals showing Dominic in different postures of prayer, receiving or
administering penance with wooden whips or iron chains, were
utilized as both devotional tools and behavioral models to heighten each friar’s identification with Dominic and with the Order he
founded.44 Regardless, in the Libellus de instructione, the Dominican priory, unlike the Carthusian cell or the Cistercian monastery, is not elaborated as the unified setting in which a narrative
of progress and incorporation unfolds. Rather, the priory is elaborated into a number of discrete settings in which the novice always already finds himself confronted by an audience, by multiple audiences at once.
Of course, Dominicans were not the first religious Order to
consider the impression they might make on others and to include
instructions on how a person should present himself in various
situations. Similar advice crops up in a variety of twelfth-century
works, particularly works by Regular Canons such as Hugh of
St. Victor and Hugh of Fouilly. In On the Formation of Novices,
Hugh of St. Victor writes that the novice must learn how ‘to
exhibit himself’ and that this requires the ‘knowledge of discretion’. Living a common life with his brothers, the novice must
know how to behave before them, must teach them through his
example.45 The anonymous Dominican master would not have
disagreed. He may well have been familiar with Hugh’s treatise,
but within the Dominican context the demand for discretion, to
adapt one’s self-presentation to a gaze becomes much more central to the Order’s very self-understanding, more complex and allencompassing. These are degrees of difference, but they are degrees that must be marked if we hope to understand the transformations and tensions in later medieval spiritual experience.46

26

The Preacher and His Audience

As the constant object of an audience’s gaze, the novice is
transformed into the subject of continual adjustments. Like the
preacher ad extra, the novice in the priory must constantly be
aware of his self-presentation, of how he appears to others. Discretion, balance or moderation are the types of knowledge, according to Humbert, that the preacher needs in order to adapt
himself to whatever audience confronts him. The anonymous author of the Libellus introduces a similar notion into the priory itself. In the study hall, he writes, the novice must always weigh
his words and actions on the soul’s ‘scale of meditation’ to determine if they are good or evil, useful or useless.47 The novice
manages his self-presentation through a weighing of options,
through a constant series of calculations that harmonize his words
and activities with whatever situation and audience he confronts.
The demand always to employ the ‘balance of meditation’ is a demand that the novice recognize every setting as the site of a potential edification, be it of himself or of his fellow brothers. It is,
likewise, a demand to imagine himself as the object of a continuous gaze that renders him completely ‘transparent and clear’, that
constructs him as the site of a constant self-disclosure of the truth,
a truth revealed in the carefully managed presentation of his
words and deeds.
If all settings are preaching settings, the Dominican priory can
be no exception and the demands and duties that apply to the
preacher in the world, apply no less to the novice in the priory.
The centrality of public preaching in Dominican life, accordingly,
forced Dominicans to conceptualize themselves in new and unique
ways. As the relatively self-enclosed settings of the cloister of
Saint Victor or the Cistercian monastery gave way to the openended settings that the friar faced in his travels, the goal of assimilation became equally open-ended. It was no longer enough for
the friar simply to be assimilated to his Order. He also needed to
assimilate himself to a potentially infinite range of preaching settings. Narratives of progress necessarily gave way to heuristics of
adaptation.
27

Dallas G. Denery II

This demand for constant adaptation, the demand to treat all
settings as preaching settings, marked the friar as the site of a
constant tension and, perhaps, unease. It is an unease that can be
captured in Dominican exempla about friars struggling, often failing, to adapt to the various gazes, the various demands, that surround them. But it is captured just as easily in the images they occasionally used to describe themselves, as when Thomas of Cantimpré borrows from Matthew 10:16 to describe young, newly
converted preachers, ‘simple as doves among the cunningly malicious, but at the same time as prudent as serpents in the care of
themselves.’48 The friar achieved holy simplicity by employing
the scale of meditation, by employing a heuristics of adaptation,
and this required wiles and cunning. He could present himself as
a dove only by playing the part of the serpent. As a self constructed for an audience, even if that audience consisted only of God
and himself, the friar was constantly utilizing this cunning to balance the various parts of his self-presentation. In an intellectual
environment in which study had divorced itself from prayer, for
example, in which study was no longer always already inscribed
as a necessarily devotional activity, this required the friar to adapt
his self-presentation when studying not only with respect to
himself and to God, but also ‘with respect to his neighbours and
with respect to the order or manner of studying.’49
Historians have long noticed that medieval distinctions between exterior and interior states do not map onto later distinctions, such as the early modern mind/body distinction.50 One way
to capture the precise contours of the medieval distinction between
inner and outer, between public and private, is to attend to medieval visual practices and analogies. Thirteenth-century Dominican
writings reveal that the public visual dialectic between preacher
and audience shaped every aspect of a friar’s life. The techniques
Dominicans employed to think about how they appeared to others
were also applied, sometimes directly, sometimes through analogies, to their inner appearance, that is, to how they appeared to
themselves and to God. Late in his treatise, for example, Humbert
28

The Preacher and His Audience

refers to the preacher’s need to ‘wash away any defilement that he
has incurred and repair anything that has got broken’ in the course
of preaching.51 This act of cleansing, of self-examination and
confession, was itself an act of preaching, of self-edification,
and, therefore, also required careful observation, adjustment and
adaptation on the part of a preacher as he worked to properly present his conscience both to himself and to God. And for thirteenth-century Dominicans, having constructed a notion of the
self as self-presentation, as the continuous object of an audience’s
gaze, these observations, adjustments and adaptations were
everything.
Notes
*

1
2

3

4

5

6
7

Reprinted, by permission of the author and Cambridge University Press,
from © Dallas G. Denery II, Seeing and Being Seen in the Later Medieval World Optics, Theology and Religious Life, Cambridge, 2005.
Gérard de Frachet, Lives of the Brethren of the Order of Preachers, (ed.)
Bede Jarett O.P., (trans.) Placid Conway O.P., London, 1955, pp. 178-79.
Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermones super Cantica Canticorum 36-38, Ser.
XXXVI:3, in: Jean Leclercq, Charles H. Talbot & Henri Rochais (eds.),
Sancti Bernardi Opera, Roma, 1957-77, vol. II, p. 6.
G. R. Evans, Old Arts and New Theology: The Beginnings of Theology
as an Academic Discipline, Oxford, 1980, pp. 93-95. See also: Paul F.
Gehl, ‘Mystical Language Models in Monastic Educational Psychology’,
Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 14 (1984), pp. 219-43,
esp. 230-32.
Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, (trans.)
Catharine Misrahi, New York, 1962, pp. 18-19. See also: Paul F. Gehl,
‘Competens Silentium: Varieties of Monastic Silence in the Medieval
West’, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 18 (1987), pp. 125-60,
esp. 138-41.
Evans, Old Arts and New Theology, p. 29 and, generally, pp. 8-56, for
the rise and effects of the twelfth-century cathedral schools. See also:
Marcia Lilian Colish, ‘Systematic Theology and Theological Renewal in
the Twelfth Century’, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 18
(1988), pp. 135-56, esp. 154-55.
William A. Hinnebusch, The History of the Dominican Order: Origins
and Growth to 1500, Staten Island, 1965, pp. 122-24.
De Frachet, Lives of the Brethren, pp. 142-43. John Van Engen, ‘Do-

29

Dallas G. Denery II

minic and the Brothers: Vitae as Life-forming exempla in the Order of
Preachers’, in: Kent Emery Jr. & Joseph P. Wawrykow (eds.), Christ
Among the Medieval Dominicans: Representations of Christ in the
Texts and Images of the Order of Preachers, Notre Dame, 1998, p. 14,
warns against interpreting these sorts of miracle exempla as denigrating
learning in favour of a more simple faith.
8 Humbert most likely wrote the text some time after he had stepped down
from his position as head of the Order in 1263. For an overview of the
treatise see Simon Tugwell O.P., ‘Humbert of Romans’s Material for
Preachers’, in: Thomas L. Amos et al. (eds.), De Ore Domini: Preachers and Word in the Middle Ages, Kalamazoo, 1989, pp. 105-17, esp.
105-06 and Marian Michèle Mulchahey, “First the Bow is Bent in
Study...”: Dominican Education before 1350, Toronto, 1998, p. 476.
For a brief sketch of Humbert’s life see Edward Tracy Brett, Humbert of
Romans: His Life and Views of 13th-Century Society, Toronto, 1984,
pp. 3-11.
9 ‘... non una eademque cunctis exhortatio congruit, quia nec cunctos par morum qualitas astringit. Seape namque aliis officiunt quae aliis prosunt ...’
(Humbert de Romanis, Liber de eruditione praedicatorum, IV:XVIII, pp.
421-22).
10 Ibid., p. 424.
11 ‘Item, vitet, quando bono modo potest, praedicare immediate post prandium: id enim tempus est tam audientibus quam loquentibus minus aptum;
sed si oportet fieri, temperatius sumat cibum et potum.’ (Humbert de Romanis, De officiis ordinis, in: De vita regulari, vol. II, p. 371.) The
difficulties facing the preacher are even more complex than Humbert allows for. As Thomas Aquinas notes in the Summa Contra Gentiles, I:2
(Anton C. Pegis [trans.], Notre Dame, 1955, pp. 61-63) not everyone accepts the same holy books. When preaching to Jews, the preacher can only employ the Old Testament and, when preaching to the Muslims, who
(according to Thomas) accept neither the Old nor the New Testament, he
must employ natural reason. In other words, there are cases in which the
preacher must employ the method of the Athenians. In his introduction to
the English translation, Anton Pegis, pp. 20-21, argues that the Summa
Contra Gentiles was written with just this purpose in mind, as a ‘manual of apologetics for missionaries’ working in Spain. Norman Kretzman,
The Metaphysics of Theism: Aquinas’ Natural Theology in Summa
Contra Gentiles I, Oxford, 1997, pp. 43-45, argues that this interpretation is implausible and that the treatise is an analysis of ‘the interrelation
of philosophy and Christianity.’
12 Jean de Mailly, ‘The Life of St. Dominic’, in: Simon Tugwell (ed.),
Early Dominicans: Selected Writings, London, 1982, pp. 53-60, esp.

30

The Preacher and His Audience

13
14

15

16
17

18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27

54. Patricia Ranft, ‘The Concept of Witness in the Christian Tradition:
From its Origin to its Institutionalization’, Revue Benedictine 102
(1992), pp. 9-23, esp. 22-23, notes that the Dominicans were the first religious Order ‘to realize the vital connection between witness and the vita
apostolica, and the importance of institutionalizing witness within the
apostolic life.’ Caroline Walker Bynum, ‘The Cistercian Conception of
Community’, in: Idem, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of
the High Middle Ages Berkeley, 1982, pp. 59-81, notes that Benedictines and Cistercians did not possess a positive institutionalized understanding of example, witness or edification. She writes, ‘[E]ven the occasional references to edification found in Cistercian treatises usually occur
within broader discussions which see the community as a setting for individual growth, not as an opportunity for service’ (p. 74).
Humbert, Liber de eruditione, IV:XX, p. 429: ‘Item, non solum voce,
sed se toto praedicet ...’
Ibid., II:VIII, p. 400: ‘Aliud est vitae luciditas. Non enim sufficit praedicatori ducere bonam vitam, sed debet sic lucere lux eius coram hominibus, ut non solum verbo, sed et opere praedicet.’
Ibid., VII:XXXV, p. 455: ‘Item, praedicatorum interest procurare salutem
aliorum modis quibus possunt. Quandoque vero melius procuratur per bonam conversationem quam per verbum.’
Ibid., VII:XXXVI, p. 457.
Ibid., VII:XXXVI, p. 457: ‘Non enim convenit quod praedicator sit unquam otiosus apud eos inter quos conversatur: sed semper debet alicui
fructui vacare ...’
Ibid., III:XIV, pp. 413-15.
Ibid., VII:XXXVI, p. 457: ‘Primo in hoc quod sit bona coram Deo. Alioquin totum quicquid exterius praetenderetur esset hypocrisis.’
Ibid., VII:XXXVIII, p. 463.
De Frachet, Lives of the Brethren, p. 178.
Humbert, Liber de eruditione, VI:XXIV, p. 437.
Ibid., II:X, p. 403.
Ibid., VII:XLII, p. 474 and II:IX, pp. 400-02.
Ibid., II:IX, pp. 400-02.
Ibid., II:VIII, p. 400: ‘Aliud est vitae excellentia. Sicut enim preadicans
in alto stat, ita debet esse in alto statu vitae.’
Raymond Creytens O.P., ‘L’instruction des novices’, Archivum Fratrum
Praedicatorum 20 (1948), pp. 114-93, esp. 149-52. Part of the anonymous Libellus itself is edited and attached to Creytens’ study (pp. 15393). The entire introduction and prologue (which includes a thorough review of the matters discussed in each chapter of the Libellus) is reprinted

31

Dallas G. Denery II

in Creytens’ study itself (pp. 122-30).
28 Both Humbert of Romans’ De officiis ordinis and Jean de Montlhéry’s
Tractatus de instructione novitiorum are edited in Humbert of Romans,
De vita regulari, vol. II.
29 Creytens, ‘L’instruction des novices’, pp. 135-36. See also: Hinnebusch,
History of the Dominican Order, p. 293; Mulchahey, “First the Bow is
Bent...”, pp. 111.
30 Libellus, pp. 153-54, ‘Postquam, serve Dei, dictum est tibi quam iusticiam sectari debeas in monasterio seu in claustro quantum ad Deum et
quantum ad prelatum et generaliter ad te ipsum et quantum ad proximum
fratrem, nunc tibi arbitror ostendum quam iusticiam sectari debeas spiritualiter in aliquibus officiis.’ Unlike the novice manuals by Humbert of
Romans and Jean de Montlhéry, writes Mulchahey. First the bow is bent,
when the anonymous novice master turns to external matters of discipline, that is, to how the novice ought to behave within the cloister, he
is still ‘at pains to make explicit the connection between the inner man
he has just described and the outer man’.
31 Libellus, p. 154, ‘Si ergo tu vis cum hac iusticia coram Deo in ecclesia
apparere, considera et attende quod si contingeret te morari cum uno episcopo et archiepiscopo ... vel cum aliquo comite sive rege ... et vocaret te
ille prelatus sive dominus ... ad aliquod persone sue servitium speciale ...
quam velociter surgeres et venires ad eum sine mora. ... Si ergo, sicut coram tuo domino temporali, vis coram Deo in iusticia apparere et ei tribuere ... statim ut audieris per capanem vocem Domini ad suum servitium
te vocantis, surge velociter ... ad ecclesiam ad Dominum sine mora.’
32 Ibid., p. 156 and 157.
33 Ibid., p. 162, “...nunc aliquid tibi dicendum de iusticia quam debes in
studio sapiencie conservare.”
34 Ibid., p. 174.
35 Ibid., p. 176.
36 The anonymous novice master was certainly aware of William’s Epistola which he cites at page 187. Following established tradition, however,
he would have thought the work to have been written by William’s
friend, Bernard of Clairvaux. Beyond this particular quotation, however, it
is worth noting that in De instructiones de officiis (in Vita Regulari,vol. II, p. 230), Humbert of Romans recommends that all Dominican
novice masters have their charges read Epistola, as well as works by,
among others, Hugh of St. Victor and Hugo de Folieto (De disciplina,
De claustro animae), Anselm (Meditationes, Orationes) and Augustine
(Confessionem, Abbreviata).
37 Guillaume de Saint-Thierry, Lettre aux Frères du Mont-Dieu (Lettre
d’or), (ed. and trans.) Jean Déchanet, Paris, 1976 [Sources Chrétiennes,

32

The Preacher and His Audience

38
39

40

41

42

43
44

223], p. 144: ‘Fratribus de Monte Dei, orientale lumen et antiquam illum
in religione Aegyptium fervorem tenebris occiduis et gallicanis frigoribus
infenetibus, vitae scilicet solitaire exemplar ...’.
Ibid., pp. 166-218.
Ibid., pp. 267-303. For an overview of William’s thought and career, see
the two works by Jean Déchanet, Guillaume de Saint-Thierry: Aux
sources d’une pensée, Paris, 1978, and William of St. Thierry: The
man and his work, (trans. Richard Strachan), Spencer, 1972. For an examination of the theological ideas behind William’s notions concerning
spiritual ascent, see Odo Brooke, ‘William of St. Thierry’s Doctrine of
the Ascent to God by Faith’, in: Idem, Studies in Monastic Spirituality,
Kalamazoo, 1980, pp. 134-207.
William of Saint Thierry, De natura et dignitate amoris, cap. 1, edited as
part of Bernard of Clairvaux’s works by D. Joannis Mabillon, Patrologiae Latina, Paris, 1879, col. 380: ‘Et cum horum nihil a naturae suae
tramite aberret; sola misera anima et degener spiritus, cum per se naturaliter eo tendat, peccati vitio corrupta nescit, vel difficile discit ad suum
redire principium.’ Translated by Thomas X. Davis as The Nature and
Dignity of Love, Kalamazoo, 1981, p. 48.
William, De natura, cap. ix, col. 395 (Nature and Dignity of Love, p.
82): ‘Omnia quaecunque faciunt, in nomine Domini faciunt; simul habitantes uno ordine, una lege viventes, nihil habentes proprium, nec ipsa
corpora sua, nec voluntates in poteste sua habentes.’
William of Saint Thierry, Lettre, p. 275. William makes it clear that
this spiritual incorporation with God includes participation in the common life of the monastery (p. 298). Making a similar observation with
respect to twelfth-century religious life in general, Caroline Walker Bynum, ‘Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual?’, in: Idem,
Jesus as Mother, p. 108: ‘[T]he goal of development to a twelfth century
person is the application to the self of a model that is simultaneously,
exactly because it is a model, a mechanism for affiliation with a group.’
Hinnebusch, History of the Dominican Order, p. 129.
Jean-Claude Schmitt, ‘Entre le texte et l’image: les gestes de la prière de
Saint Dominique’, in: Richard C. Trexler (ed.), Persons in Group: Social Behavior as Identity Formation in Medieval and Renaissance
Europe, Binghamton, 1985 [Medieval & Renaissance Texts and
Studies, 36], pp. 195-220, esp. 209-11, and Van Engen, ‘Dominic and
the Brothers’, pp. 19-20. For an entertaining, if perhaps dated, overview
of this sort of self-disciplining as both a penitential and devotional activity, see Louis Gougaud, Dévotions et pratiques ascétiques du Moyen
Age, Paris, 1925.

33

Dallas G. Denery II

45 Hugh of St. Victor, De institutione novitiorum, in: Patrologiae Latina,
vol. CLXXVI, cap. II, col. 927: ‘Quam timoratum, quam sollicitum,
quam devotum ac religiosum in Dei servitio homo exhibere se debeat,
quam spontaneum, quam hilarem, et quam paratum offerre in sublevandis
necessitatibus proximorum ...”.
46 For a discussion of Hugh’s treatise, see Caroline Walker Bynum, Docere
Verbo et Exemplo: An Aspect of Twelfth-Century Spirituality,
Missoula, 1979, pp. 45-48. Despite Hugh’s attention to instructing
others through one’s gestures, behaviour and words, Bynum concludes
that ‘Hugh’s awareness of educational responsibility does not have an
impact on the form of his treatise. The novice’s “teaching by example”
and “by word” is not carefully fitted into the hierarchy of activities Hugh
discusses’ (p. 48).
47 Libellus, p. 182, ‘Siquidem debes in animo ponderare statera meditationes, utrum verba illa que vis loqui, sint bona vel mala, licita, utilia vel
inutilia, ut ex hac ponderatione facias quod apostolus Paulus dicit: “Omnis sermo malus ex ore vestro non procedat, sed si quis bonus est ad edificationem”.’
48 Thomas of Cantimpré, Defense of the Mendicants, in: Early Dominicans, p. 135.
49 Libellus, p. 162, ‘Si ergo tu studes in studio sapiencie salutaris, sapienciam concupiscens, oportet ut iusticiam habeas et conserves, et hos quantum ad te ipsum, et quantum ad Deum, et quantum ad proximum, et
quantum ad studendi ordinem sive modum.’
50 See, for example, Evelyn Birge Vitz, Medieval Narrative and Modern
Narratology: Subjects and Objects of Desire, New York, 1989, pp. 6495.
51 Humbert, Liber de eruditione praedicatorum, IV:XIX, p. 427.

34

Public-Access Patronage:
Book-Presentation from the Crowd
at a Royal Procession*

Joyce Coleman
Among the many illuminations showing book-presentation, the
many prologues implying such a presentation, and the few surviving actual descriptions of such presentations taking place, I
know of only one text that departs from elegant, upper-class ritual
to depict a grab at patronage by a humble and unknown petitioner.
This is the proem to a translation known as Knyghthode and
Bataile, and what enabled this scene to take place was its setting,
a royal procession.
Illuminations almost always show books being presented
within the patron’s court or household—in a throne room, hall, or
bed-chamber. The moment always seems frozen in its ritual and
symbolism: kneeling presenter, seated patron graciously extending a hand to the book, attendants clumped to one side or another
as witnesses, elegant surroundings and costumes. Often a court
official stands to one side of the patron with a small piece of paper
rolled up in his hand, representing the “bill” or petition that requested or announced the ceremony.1 Figure 1 is a typical scene,
showing the earl of Shrewsbury presenting a collection of French
texts to Margaret of Anjou, on the occasion of her marriage to
Henry VI of England.
While public, as a site of general interaction, the court or
household was clearly a place where access was monitored and
events were managed. Occasions on which royalty, especially,
took their symbolism to the streets exposed them to a form of pub35

Joyce Coleman

Figure 1
John, earl of Shrewsbury, presents a book to Margaret of Anjou (London, BL
Royal 15 E.vi, fol. 2v, 1445). By permission of the British Library.

36

Public-Access Patronage

licness potentially much harder to regulate. In Knyghthode and
Bataile we have an example in which a man who would apparently have had little entrée at court could not only gain access
first to the royal chamberlain and then to the king—in this case,
the same Henry VI shown in Figure 1—but could do so in a way
that cannily exploited both the symbolism of the event and its
practical realities. This fascinating description of an author emerging from the anonymous crowd to present the king with his translation of Vegetius’ De re militari has been largely ignored by
historians and literary scholars alike. Only quite recently, with the
emerging interest in the uses of literacy and books among all social classes in the Middle Ages, has it begun to attract attention.2
The Knyghthode and Bataile proem reflects a time of acute
political turmoil in England. The Lancastrian Henry VI, with his
wife Margaret of Anjou, was fighting a losing battle against the
dynastic challenge posed by the Yorkist earl of Warwick and the
future Edward IV. The volatility of the political situation is reflected in the fact that only one of the three manuscripts of
Knyghthode and Bataile—Pembroke Coll. Cam. ms. 243—
contains the opening proem describing the presentation to Henry,
as well as a proem to Book 3 celebrating the king’s victory at
Ludlow in October 1459. The other two manuscripts—BL Cotton
Titus A. xxiii and Bodl. Ashmole ms. 45 (nr. 2)—drop both
proems, substituting an address to Edward.3 The whole translation was finished, presumably, some time before Henry’s defeat
and capture at Northampton in July 1460.4
Procession, Author, Patronage, Presentation
For an examination of the proem, I will use my own diplomatic
transcription (see Appendix), as the modern punctuation added in
current editions sometimes misrepresents the text. The manuscript
itself is liberally marked with virgules, puncti, rubrication, and
even parentheses, which can be a more reliable guide to interpretation. Boldface type indicates that the letter was written in, or
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slashed with, red. I will postpone discussion of scholarly debates
about the setting of the action until after presenting the text itself.
The proem mixes religion, patriotism, and partisanship, past,
present, and future, in a challenging stream-of-consciousness
style. Its account begins in medias res, with delirious invocations
of Christ’s entry to Jerusalem, presenting ‘Emanuel jhesus’
returning to his city as ‘Conquerour’ (l. 4). Gordon Kipling has
identified this kind of Advent symbolism as the core imagery of
medieval processions, which merge the coming of Christ, portrayed ‘as a kind of imperial epiphany reception’, with the entry
of the king, staged as ‘the advent of the Saviour’.5 Appropriately,
therefore, the proem’s third stanza describes Henry VI as ‘goddes
sone’ and ‘kyng Emanuel’; the crowd greets him with cries of
‘Now wel Now wel’ (ll. 17-18, 20).6 The confusing mentions of
David—along with Jesus (enthroned), Mary, and angels (ll. 2-6,
9-15)—may suggest that actual pageant-figures played a part in
the procession.7 The poet, who leaves us to imagine him as one
of the general crowd witnessing this ‘ritualized communal drama’,8 describes anthems being sung as the king and queen approach St. Paul’s, in celebration of ‘Vnitas’ (l. 24). But the aura
of harmony and forgiveness vanishes with lines 29-32, where the
author denounces the hypocrisy of the Yorkist lords, labeling
them ‘Periurous ... / Rebell[ou]s / and atteynte’ (l. 30).
Next the author, working up the courage to begin his presentation, apostrophizes himself, giving the only evidence we have
of his identity:
Now person of Caleys pray euery Seynte
In hevenys & in erth / of help

(ll. 33-34)

As an English parson in Calais who apparently supported the
Lancastrian cause, the author may well have been chased out of
the city (or cut off from his revenues, if not resident) by its governor, the Yorkist earl of Warwick. Towards the end of the poem,
the author describes himself living in a ‘litil case [cottage]’ or
‘pouere hous’ (l. 2987). He seems thus to establish himself as a
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displaced person, a man of little family or importance. If the author was poor, however, his style, with its many echoes of Chaucer and Lydgate, and his competence as a translator evidently
working directly from Vegetius’ Latin, implies that he was a welleducated and intelligent man.9 Possibly, as Henry Noble MacCracken hypothesizes, he was the same man who had produced
On Husbondrie, a translation of Palladius’ De re rustica, for
Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, between 1439 and 1447.10 His
Vegetius project may have been intended to restore his fortunes,
but it was not hackwork. Rather, the poet ardently desires to inspire Henry to assert control of his kingdom—especially Calais,
which he envisions, at the close of his work, regained in a great
naval victory (ll. 2833-923).11
Manuscript in hand, now, the parson encourages himself with
his prayer to all the saints in heaven and earth, summons up a
happy image of his book sailing before a good wind, and admonishes himself to
Enserche & faste [in]quere
Thi litil book of knyghthode & bataile /
What Chiualer is best on it bewere {bestow} .
(ll. 38-40)
The author is looking among the royal retainers for the one most
likely to ease his way to Henry.
In the next stanza (stanza 6), anthems are sung at St. Paul’s as
our author hies himself to Westminster, apparently preparing to
intercept the procession on its return. More anthems, and then the
author declares:
Thi bille vnto the kyng is red . and he
content withal . and wil it not foryete /

(ll. 45-46)

To evaluate this statement, we need to see what happens next—
which is that the author is hailed by one of the royal party:
What seith my lord Beaumont Preste vnto me
Welcom

(ll. 47-48)
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We discover that the ‘Chiualer’ whom the author has identified as
his likely target is John, Viscount Beaumont, who until his death
at the battle of Northampton in July 1460 was king’s chamberlain, high constable of England, and steward of the queen’s and
Prince Edward’s lands.12
Many scholars assume that this encounter was prearranged; as
Anthony Gross puts it, Knyghthode and Bataile was ‘written
under Beaumont’s patronage and designed to stiffen Henry’s resolve against pardoning his enemies’.13 Daniel Wakelin conjectures that the work could be ‘a product of Queen Margaret’s
household’.14 If so, we might suppose that Beaumont or another
patron had previously arranged for the author’s bill to be read to
the king, and had organized the meeting during the procession (or
even afterwards, in the palace, although the proem gives no indication of a movement indoors). If any such schemes and prearrangements lay behind the scene described in the proem, however, it is unusual that the author does not mention them, or pay
explicit honour to his patron. How often did a medieval author
play down his or her important connections and sponsorship? In
a modesty topos authors disclaim their worthiness to write for
such a grand patron or audience—a strategy that of course allows
them simultaneously to parade their close association with the
powerful sponsors. The Palladius translator, as one relevant example, immediately establishes Humphrey of Gloucester as patron and himself as a humble petitioner who hopes the flower of
princes will accept his incompetent verses.15 The entire 128-line
proem to On Husbondrie is devoted to praise of Humphrey’s
political and scholarly achievements, and the duke is invited at the
end of several chapters to correct the author’s errors.16 In
Knyghthode and Bataile, on the other hand, the author makes
himself out to be a total stranger to his alleged patron, and stages
his book-presentation as a gamble, an ‘assay’—‘here is tassay .
entre to gete’, he says at line 48.
In any case, if such affiliations do underwrite the presentation
drama, the author made the interesting choice to elide them. As far
as the text goes, Beaumont does not seem to know who the priest
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is or what is coming when he hails him over—since the author
immediately launches into an explanation of the book on offer:
Of knyghthode & Bataile my lord / as trete
the bookys olde . a werk is made now late
And if it please you / it may be gete

(ll. 49-51)

Even then Beaumont has to ask what the book is:
What werk is it Vegetius translate
into Balade .

(ll. 52-53)

Another hypothesis is that the parson himself somehow arranged
for his bill to be read to the king before or during the procession.
If it were some generally worded recommendation, the chamberlain’s need to determine the precise nature of the petitioner’s request would make sense. The final possibility is that the lines
about the bill represent a momentary fantasy of the author, aligning his projected act with the proper courtly ritual as he is about to
embark on a highly atypical form of presentation. In this scenario,
it would be the parson’s urgent signals from the crowd that inspired Beaumont to call him over.
That early readers responded to the drama of this leap from the
crowd is suggested by the marginal comment ‘Aftir my mastre’,
added at line 47, where Beaumont says ‘Preste vnto me’ (fol.
2a).17 The letter-shapes and ink do not match those of the scribe,
but do resemble those of ‘Thomas bynder’, who has written his
name, upside down, on fol. 1b and perhaps contributed the other
scribbles on fol. 2a (see Figure 2).18
Relying on the manuscript’s punctuation, I would parse the
“presentation dialogue” between the author and Beaumont as follows:
Author:
Of knyghthode & Bataile my lord / as trete
the bookys olde . a werk is made now late
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And if it please you / it may be gete
Beaumont:
What werk is it
Author:
Vegetius translate
Into Balade .
Beaumont:
O [pre]ste I pray the late
Me se that werk .
Author:
Therto wil I you wise
Lo here it is .
Author (as narrator):
Anoon he gan therate /
To rede thus /
Beaumont (quoting the first line of the translation):
Sumtyme it was the gise .
Author (as narrator):
And red therof a part /
Beaumont:
ffor my seruyse
Heer wil I rede (he seith) as o psaultier
Author:
It pl[ea]seth you /
Beaumont:
Right wel .
Author:
Wil your aduyse
suppose / that the kyng / heryn pleasier
may haue .
Beaumont:
I wil considir the matier /
I fynde it is right good . and pertynente
Vnto the kyng / His Celsitude is hier
I halde it wel doon / hym therwith presente . (ll. 49-64)
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Figure 2
Thomas Bynder’s scribbles and, by line 47, the marginal comment:
‘Aftir my mastre’, possibly also by Thomas
(Pembroke College, Cambridge, ms. 243, fols. 1b-2a, 15th century).
By permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

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This dramatic exchange implies some means for private conversation among the crowds and the noise. I would guess that we are
to imagine the author hailed by and then walking beside the
mounted lord in the procession, or standing with him as the group
piled up at the end, as they dismounted and prepared to enter
Westminster Palace. The array of short, enjambed utterances in
stanzas 7 and 8 seems to imply not an author petitioning the
king’s minister in the relative calm of the palace but, rather, one
making his case as fast as he can, before the preoccupied lord
waves him away.
In the final lines of stanza 8, the pace slows as the viscount’s
assent, alleviating the author’s anxiety, sends him off into rapturous praise of Henry. Then, in the tenth stanza, he either continues this apostrophe or moves back into reportage, giving the (no
doubt prepared) words he said when introduced to the king:
Lo Souuerayn Lord of Knyghthode & bataile
This litil werk your humble oratour
Ye therwithal your chiualers tavaile
Inwith your hert to crist the conquerour
offreth ...

(ll. 73-77)

and so on.
In this interpretation, line 79—’Accepte it is to this Tryumphatour’—would report Henry accepting the book. Whatever the
occasion, Henry was a likely target for such a gift, or any gift.
Ralph Griffiths notes that Henry’s relations to his household ‘can
scarcely be paralleled in medieval England for its indulgence,
generosity, and liberality. ... [Henry] was likely to respond readily to ... the importunings of associates, servants, and acquaintances’.19 Moreover, Henry was a habitual reader of chronicles,20
while his education would presumably have included study of
Vegetius, a standard manual for all upper-class males.21
By line 81, accordingly, the king—also, one assumes, sheltered in this threshold moment between public spectacle and pri44

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vate retreat to his palace—is examining the book, seeking ‘How
hath be doon / and what is now to done’ (l. 82). This could mean
how far the (possibly incomplete) translation has advanced and
what more needs doing (see below for discussion of this issue),
or it could mean how much he, Henry, has established himself in
his realm, and what further enemies remain to be dealt with. The
author passes easily at this point into prophecy, seeing Henry
chasing his enemies by land and by sea. Such an offensive would
surely include the de-Yorkification of Calais and the author’s happy return to his parishioners (or his revenues).
Henry seems in fact to have made use of a copy of Vegetius—
though probably not that given him by the parson. According to
the author or compiler of the Wheathamstede Register, Henry,
on the eve of the battle of Ludlow, ‘began to read over various
historical accounts, and many annals—most especially, among
others, that which Vegetius wrote in his book Concerning the
Rules of Military Affairs’.22 From his reading, and from the
defeat of a party of his men by a smaller Yorkist force at Blore
Heath, Henry learned that his large army was no guarantee of
victory over the rebels. Accordingly, he decided to try ‘other
means than arms’ against them,23 and in fact, his offers of pardon
and his own appearance in the field so demoralized the enemy that
they abandoned their positions without offering battle.24 ‘Thei
fleth his face. / Where ar they now?’ (ll. 985-86), exulted our anonymous author—but it is unlikely that his text was the one involved. Vegetius’ comments on the possible disadvantages of
large armies do not come until Book 3, and since the parson’s
celebration of the battle of Ludlow comes in the proem to his
Book 3, he presumably did not complete its translation until after
the battle. Nor does the parson include the details of Roman history with which Vegetius illustrates his point, and which the
Wheathamstede Register also mentions.
Reality Checks
Recent critical and historical discussions have raised doubts about
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the traditional view of the Knyghthode and Bataile proem. The
editors of the EETS edition, R. Dyboski and Z. M. Arend, presented it as a more or less factually reported, real event.25 More
recent scholars (particularly historians) have treated it as a fictionalized version of a far more conventional book-presentation, one
in which a previously commissioned book was delivered to the
king under the auspices of its patron, either as a staged “impromptu” moment during the procession or later, back in the
palace of Westminster.26 It is also possible that the scene is a
complete fantasy, and that the book was never presented to Henry
at all. Most recently, Wendy Scase has compared Knyghthode
and Bataile to the Historie of the Arrivall of King Edward IV, an
eye-witness account of Edward’s return to England in 1471. Both
the Arrivall’s report of the miraculous response of an image of
St. Anne to the praying Edward and Knyghthode and Bataile’s
description of the procession, Scase claims, ‘demonstrate an
understanding of the idea of the political epiphany and a use of the
poetics of spectacle’. The you-are-there approach of both texts,
she argues further, is meant to draw their audiences into identifying with the author/witness, and thus into acquiescence with the
political messages impacted in the account.27 Depending on the
scholarly approach one favours, it is thus possible to read the leap
from the crowd reported in Knyghthode and Bataile as completely factual, as fictionalized fact, as complete fiction, or as a subtle
form of political propaganda.
Abetting the confusion is the issue of the procession itself. If
the proem is describing a real event, there are two candidates.
Dyboski and Arend argued for the Love-Day of 25 March, 1458,
when Henry staged an elaborate procession to and from the City
in celebration of the—very fragile—peace he had negotiated with
his Yorkist enemies.28 If this was the procession described in
Knyghthode and Bataile, then Henry would have received only
half the translation, since the proem to Book 3 (of four) celebrates
the victory at Ludlow and the attainting of the Yorkists at the
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vember 1459. Since the opening proem must have been written
some time after the events it describes, however, Dyboski and
Arend assumed it was affixed to the work upon its completion
and final presentation.29 The historians, and some literary scholars, have favoured a different royal entry. Noting that the proem
dates the event to 1 March,30 and refers to the Yorkists as ‘atteynte’ (l. 30), this group associates the Knyghthode and Bataile
procession with Henry VI’s return to London from Coventry on 1
March, 1460.31 That argument is supported by the poet’s association of the procession with the day on which ‘Dauid the Confessour’ ascended to heaven.32 Although he is not known to have
ascended to heaven, the Welsh St. David was nominated Bishop
and Confessor, and 1 March was his feast-day.33
The 1458 procession matches the description in the opening
proem better, however. Like the procession depicted there, the
Love-Day was a full-scale royal entry, with king, queen, and nobles processing to and from a mass at St. Paul’s. March 25—
Lady-Day, the feast of the Annunciation—is also a highly appropriate setting for the Advent imagery that plays a large part in the
opening of the poem. Meanwhile, our only evidence of the later
entry are minutes from a London council meeting of 28 February,
1460. The aldermen note that the king will be entering the City the
next day, at Cripplegate, and plan to meet him there with twentyfour men ‘armed and arrayed’. They arrange similar guards for
every other gate of the City as well, suggesting their awareness of
the volatility of the political situation. The security arrangements
in place, the council then notes briefly the need to welcome the
king “honourably”; obviously, however, there was little time to
arrange for masses and pageantry. If there were plans to stage a
faux-impromptu book-presentation at Cripplegate, they would
presumably have had to be coordinated with the City council.
Otherwise, one can imagine the reaction of the twenty-four guards
to an unknown man launching himself out of nowhere towards
the king. But the only subsidiary plan mentioned in the minutes is
a proposal to ask the king to appoint a certain John Aungewyn as
sergeant-at-arms.34
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My personal feeling is that the procession being described in
Knyghthode and Bataile is the Love-Day of 1458, but I admit
that it is hard to explain away the emphasis on 1 March and St.
David’s day. Possibly the presentation took place on 1 March,
1460, with the proem mixing confused memories of the much
more elaborate 1458 procession with elements appropriate to a
setting two years later. If the translation was presented in 1460,
however—after Ludlow and the attainders—why is there only
one chance word invoking these achievements in the proem to
Book 1—and a thirty-eight-line long celebration of Ludlow at the
head of Book 3 (ll. 985-1022)? If the author was so thrilled with
Ludlow and so ready to celebrate it, why didn’t he put this material at the beginning of the book presented to the king returning
from that victory? On the other hand, if the opening proem was
written, and the last two books translated, after Ludlow, it would
not be surprising if an anachronistic reference to attainder found
its way into the proem’s description of the procession.
Faced with these concatenated existential dilemmas—a historical setting impossible to pin down, a book-presentation of unprovable authenticity, and an author whose motivations and sponsorship escape determination—I have decided to read the presentation, for the purposes of this article, as though it had really happened as described. Even if the proem is a total fiction, the fact
that a fifteenth-century author felt it was believable to imagine a
presentation happening this way in itself constitutes valuable evidence about late medieval views on the operations of patronage.
Spectacular Aurality
The Knyghthode and Bataile proem explores the intersections
among a carefully calibrated series of public and private spaces
and events. From his place in the anonymous crowd, propelled
by his anxious thoughts and ambitions, the author observes and
penetrates the public spectacle. Then, in the liminal space between
the total exposure of the procession and the controlled semiprivacy of the courtly household, the author enacts a conscious
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imitation of courtly presentation. Instead of a measured and elegant exchange, however, we see a breathless and improvised—
but successful—encounter.
In Wendy Scase’s view, as noted above, this exciting story
follows more than the fate of one displaced parson of Calais.
‘[A]ttention to the perspective of the witness’, she notes, ‘is more
a function of a “poetics of spectacle” than of a first-hand documentary account’.35 It is a politicized form of affective piety,
fueled by a conflation of monarch with deity: in the Arrivall, we
witness a miracle sacralise Edward’s claims to kingship; in
Knyghthode and Bataile—to use Ruth Evans’ words—the author
fuses ‘Christ’s role as conqueror ... with Henry’s duties as a king
in an attempt to present warfare as a devotional exercise. Indeed,
in the latter part of this difficult proem, it is sometimes hard to tell
if Henry or Christ is the subject’.36 As readers and hearers of a
poem such as “Abide, Ye Who Pass By” are invited to stand at
the foot of the cross and experience directly the sacrifices of
Christ,37 readers and hearers of the Arrivall or of Knyghthode
and Bataile are perhaps being invited to stand among the adoring
crowd and experience the divine aura surrounding their king. In
Knyghthode and Bataile the effect diversifies, however; rather
than merely reporting the event, the author creates a vivid drama
of personal displacement and ambition. The sense of urgency
carries on throughout the translation, with the author continually
exclaiming about the importance of the information he is relaying.
Whether he invented this strategy on his own, however, or
whether it was specified by Beaumont or another patron, is as
unanswerable a question as the general issue of the proem’s historicity and origin.
Neither drama nor propaganda can have effect, of course, until the book reaches its audience. Scase does not consider how
such “spectacular” texts would be read, but surely the most productive means would be a public reading, by which the political
propaganda imbued with religious affect would be most widely
propagated. Knyghthode and Bataile “takes breath”, literally,
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when Beaumont reads the first line of the translation aloud
(‘Sumtyme it was the gise’; l. 56). This piece of self-referentiality
is marked in the manuscript by being written in a slightly larger,
more spaced-out script, with the first letter rubricated. Beaumont’s odd remark—‘ffor my seruyse / Heer wil I rede ... as o
psaultier’ (ll. 57-58)—makes sense in a text whose author views
‘warfare as a devotional exercise’,38 and also when we remember
that psalms were literally read and sung in church.39 Along with
explicit references within the text to the hearing of books,40 these
clues suggest that the author anticipated the sort of public reading
reported by Henry VI’s chief justice, Sir John Fortescue, as well
as in the household book of his successor, Edward IV. The latter
describes courtiers assembling in ‘lordez chambrez within courte’
to amuse themselves by, among other things, ‘talkyng of cronycles of kinges and of other polycyez’.41 Figure 3, the frontispiece
to a French manuscript of the Latin text of Vegetius, illustrates
this conception of the text moving into a setting of public rather
than (as we might assume) private study.42
The public context into which the text might move suggests a
rationale for the parson’s translation project. As he could have anticipated, and as the account in the Wheathamstede Register
implies, Henry probably owned a Latin Vegetius (though none
survives that is known to be associated with him43). Whether he
could read Latin well or not, the king would have had clerks in
his household who could interpret the text for him.44 We know
Henry had access to Christine de Pizan’s redaction of Vegetius,
the Livre des fais darmes et de chevalerie, because it was one of
the texts included in the manuscript presented to Queen Margaret
by the earl of Shrewsbury (see Figure 1). Why, then, prepare
and offer an English version? Two answers are obvious: the author may have thought that Henry could read more easily in English, and he certainly wanted to inspire martial fervour through the
comments he added and the slant he gave to his translation. A
third reason, perhaps, is that he anticipated the book’s usefulness
as a text to share with the lesser gentry, who may not have been at
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Figure 3
Flavius Vegetius reads his De re militari to an emperor and his knights
(Oxford, Bodl. Laud Lat. 56, fol. 1, first quarter 15th century).
By permission of The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

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home with Latin or even French. The author consistently invokes
as audience both the king and his soldiers; e.g., ‘Criste truste I,
that the kyng it [his work] wil attende / And werreours to knowe
it condescende’ (ll. 2241-42). There may have been a similar
double audience to this author’s earlier translation of Palladius (if
it was the same author): not just Duke Humphrey, whose Latin
was presumably adequate for a gardening manual, but the gardeners whom the duke would want to train. As Figure 3 suggests,
the public reading of a work could put everyone involved in some
enterprise—whether gardeners or warriors—literally “on the same
page”. The discussion that would inevitably attend the reading, as
in the courtiers’ ‘talkyng of cronycles’, would be the means of
adapting the text’s general suggestions to the specific issue—
flower-patch or battle—facing the group. One further reason for
transforming Vegetius’ Latin prose into English “Balade” (l. 53)
may thus have been to make it easier to memorize.
Even if the proem to Knyghthode and Bataile is a complete
fantasy, the author’s self-dramatized marginality has an authentic
feel. His translation is the image of his own obsessions, not the
product of a court poet accustomed to patronage and ready to
crank out appropriate genres on demand—such as one might
characterize other Vegetius translators such as Christine and the
author of an anonymous English version prepared for Thomas,
Lord Berkeley, in 1408.45 ‘Like a presentation miniature come to
life’, as Evans puts it,46 the episode makes a fascinating pendant
and contrast to the famous Shrewsbury presentation reproduced
as Figure 1. If the leap from the crowd was genuine, one can
wonder if it would have worked with any other monarch than
Henry VI—a man as naive and impractical, and even in his own
way as marginalized, as the author from Calais. If it is fantasy,
then, at a minimum, it reveals contemporary ideas about the role
of public ritual in providing entrée for the aspiring obscure.

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APPENDIX
A diplomatic transcription of the text of the proem, from Pembroke Coll. Cam. ms. 243, fols. 1a-2b. Boldface indicates that
the letter or word is written in, or slashed with, red. Abbreviations have been expanded silently, while line and stanza numbering have been added. Conjectural readings at points of damage in
the manuscript are placed in square brackets; editorial comments
are in pointed brackets. (See the frontispiece to Dyboski and
Arend’s EETS edition for a facsimile of the first page of the
proem.)
Proemium
[fol. 1a]
Salue festa dies
Mauortis {inserted above: .i. martis} auete
Kalende Qua deus
ad celum subleuat
ire Dauid .*
Stanza 1
1

Hail halyday deuout / alhail kalende

5

Of marche wheryn Dauid the Confessour
Commaunded is . his kyngis court ascende .
Emanuel jhesus the Conquerour
This same Day as a Tryumphatour
Sette in a chaire & throne of maiestee
to London is comyn O Saviour
Welcome a thousand fold to thi Citee .

* Ruth Evans translates the Latin incipit: ‘Hail, holy day / of the 1st of
March! / Welcome the calends of March! / when God / lifted David up to
heaven’. See Jocelyn Wogan-Browne et al. [eds.], The Idea of the
Vernacular: An Anthology of Late Middle English Literary Theory,
1280-1520, University Park, 1999, p. 183.

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Stanza 2
And she thi modir (. Blessed mot she be)
10 That cometh eke . and Angelys an ende
Wel wynged / and wel horsed hidir fle
Thousendys or {error for ‘on’} this goode approche attende /
And ordir aftir ordir thei commende /
As Seraphin . as cherubyn . as throne
15 As Domynaunce and princys hidir sende
And at . o . woord . Right welcom euerychone .
Stanza 3
But Kyng Herry the Sexte as goddes sone
Or themperour or kyng Emanuel
to London welcomer / be noo persone
20 O souuerayn lord welcom / Now wel Now wel
Te Deum to be songen / wil do wel
and Benedicta Sancta Trinitas
Now prosperaunce and peax perpetuel
shal growe / And why / ffor here is Vnitas
Stanza 4
25 Therof / to the Vnitee . Deo gratias
In Trinitee the clergys and knyghthode
And comynaltee better accorded nas
Neuer then now / Now nys ther noon abode
But . Out on hem that fordoon goddes forbode
30 Periurous ar / Rebell[ou]s / and atteynte /
So forfaytinge her lyif and lyvelode /
Although ypocrisie her faytys peynte .
Stanza 5
Now person of Caleys pray euery Seynte
In hevenys & in erth / of help . Thavaile
54

[fol. 1b]

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35 it is . That in this werk nothing ne feynte
But that beforn good wynde it go ful sayle
And that not oonly prayer / But travaile
heron be sette . Enserche & faste [in]quere
Thi litil book of knyghthode & bataile /
40 What Chiualer is best on it bewere {bestow} .
Stanza 6
Whil Te deum laudamus vp goth there
[fol. 2a]
At Paulis . vp to Westmynster go thee
The kyng comyng Honor Virtus the Quene
So glad goth vp / that blisse it is to see {i.e., anthems being
sung for the king and queen}
45 Thi bille vnto the kyng is red . and he
content withal . and wil it not foryete /
What seith my lord Beaumont Preste vnto me {in margin, in
a different hand: Aftir my mastre}
Welcom . (here is tassay . entre to gete .)
Stanza 7
Of knyghthode & Bataile my lord / as trete
50 the bookys olde . a werk is made now late
And if it please you / it may be gete
What werk is it Vegetius translate
into Balade . O [pre]ste I pray the late
me se that werk . Therto wil I you wise
55 Lo here it is . Anoon he gan therate /
To rede thus / Sumtyme it was the gise . {these are the first
words of the text; ll. 55-56 are reversed in the ms., with a
scribal annotation so indicating}
Stanza 8
And red therof a part / ffor my seruyse
Heer wil I rede (he seith) as o psaultier
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Joyce Coleman

It pl[ea]seth you / Right wel . Wil your aduyse
60 suppose / that the kyng / heryn pleasier
may haue / I wil considir the matier /
I fynde it is right good . and pertynente
Vnto the kyng / His Celsitude is hier
I halde it wel doon / hym therwith presente .
Stanza 9
65 Almyghti maker of the firmament
O mervailous in euery creature
So singuler in this most excellent
Persone our Souuerayn lord / Of what stature
is he . What visagynge / how fair feture
70 How myghti mad and how strong in travaile /
In oonly god & hym / it is tassure
As in a might . That noo wight dar assaile .

[fol. 2b]

Stanza 10
Lo Souuerayn Lord of Knyghthode & bataile
This litil werk your humble oratour
75 Ye therwithal your chiualers tavaile
Inwith your hert to crist the conquerour
offreth / ffor ye ther y[eu]eth {or, y[e geu]eth} him thonour
His true thought / accepte it he besecheth
Accepte it is to this Tryumphatour
80 That myghti werre exemplifying / techeth .
Stanza 11
He redeth . And fro poynt to poynt he secheth
How hath be doon / and what is now to done
His prouidence on aftirward he strecheth
By see & lond . he wil provide sone
85 To chace his aduersaryes euerychone
Thei hem by lond . Thei hem by see asseyle /
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The kyng his Oratoure / god graunt his bone /
Ay to prevaile in Knyghthode & bataile .
Amen .
Notes
*

1

2

3

I am indebted to the members of the Seminar in Medieval and Tudor London History, of the Institute of Historical Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, for their comments and suggestions
on a draft version of this paper. My thanks to Caroline Barron and Vanessa Harding for inviting me to present this material in that stimulating forum. I am also grateful to Daniel Wakelin, of Christ’s College Cambridge, for sharing his expertise on Knyghthode and Bataile and for
allowing me to read his forthcoming work on the topic. Work on this
project was supported by a grant from the Senate Scholarly Activities
Committee of the University of North Dakota.
For discussion of book-presentation and its iconography, see Erik Inglis,
‘A Book in the Hand: Some Late Medieval Accounts of Manuscript Presentation’, Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscript and Printing History 5 (2002), pp. 57-97.
Ruth Evans edited the proem for Jocelyn Wogan-Browne et al. (eds.),
The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary
Theory, 1280-1520, University Park, 1999, pp. 182-86. Wendy Scase
discusses it in ‘Writing and the “Poetics of Spectacle”: Political Epiphanies in The Arrivall of Edward IV and Some Contemporary Lancastrian
and Yorkist Texts’, in: Jeremy Dimmick, James Simpson & Nicolette
Zeeman (eds.), Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval
England: Textuality and the Visual Image, Oxford, 2002, pp. 172-84,
esp. 181-82. I am grateful to Prof. Scase for allowing me to see a preprint of this article. Daniel Wakelin has investigated the humanistic roots
of the text and its manuscripts in his doctoral thesis (“Vernacular Humanism in England, c. 1440-1485”, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2002) and in resulting articles (see notes 3 and 14 below).
On the manuscripts, see R. Dyboski & Z. M. Arend, ‘Introduction’, in
Idem (eds.), Knyghthode and Bataile: A 15th-Century Verse Paraphrase
of Flavius Vegetius Renatus’ Treatise “De re militari”, London, 1935
[EETS OS 201], pp. xi-lxxvi, esp. xi-xvi, and Daniel Wakelin, ‘Scholarly Scribes and the Creation of Knyghthode and Bataile’, English Manuscript Studies 12 (2005), pp. 26-45. All that is known of the Pembroke
manuscript’s provenance is that it came into the college’s collection in
the seventeenth century, presumably as a gift of an alumnus or fellow
(see Montague Rhodes James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manu-

57

Joyce Coleman

4
5
6

7

8
9

10

11

12
13

58

scripts in the Library of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Cambridge,
1905, pp. xxvi-xxx). It is a simple, short volume, with a few large decorated initials, and contains only the one poem.
Dyboski & Arend, ‘Introduction’, pp. xviii-xxii.
Gordon Kipling, Enter the King: Theatre, Liturgy, and Ritual in the
Medieval Civic Triumph, Oxford, 1998, pp. 26-27.
‘French crowds customarily shout[ed] “Noel, Noel”, ... as a way of paying explicitly divine honours to their prince’ (Ibid., p. 28; see also p. 59
n. 19).
The records for the 1458 entry do not mention pageant figures, but that
does not mean there were none. Anne Lancashire, London Civic Theatre:
City Drama and Pageantry from Roman Times to 1558, Cambridge,
2002, p. 129, has recently pointed out the fallacy of assuming that
‘where we have little or no pageant information, little or no pageantry
occurred’. Chroniclers, she notes, ‘recorded what was politically important or otherwise of special interest to them, rather than trying to make a
complete and consistent record of events as they occurred’. The chronicles
say nothing about pageant figures for Elizabeth Woodville’s entry to
London in 1465, for example, but London Bridge House accounts show
that there were angels, saints, and choristers (p. 130).
Kipling, Enter the King, p. 47.
Dyboski & Arend, ‘Introduction’, pp. xxvi, xxxviii-xxxix, lxxiii-llxxiv;
Evans in Wogan-Browne et al. (eds.), The Idea of the Vernacular, p.
182.
Henry Noble MacCracken, ‘Vegetius in English’, Anniversary Papers by
Colleagues and Pupils of George Lyman Kittredge: Presented on the
Completion of his Twenty-fifth Year of Teaching in Harvard University,
June, MCMXIII, New York, 1967 (reprint ed. Boston-London, 1913),
pp. 389-403, esp. 399-400; Kenneth H. Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester: A Biography, London, 1907, p. 395. MacCracken (and,
following him, Derek Pearsall, Old English and Middle English Poetry,
London, 1977, pp. 240-42) cites a number of linguistic and stylistic similarities; in particular, On Husbondrie exhibits, in addressing Gloucester,
the same breathless rush of impressions and anxieties that characterizes
the proem to Knyghthode and Bataile.
On the author’s medievalization of Vegetius, see Diane Bornstein, ‘Military Manuals in Fifteenth-Century England’, Mediaeval Studies 37
(1975), pp. 469-77, esp. 473.
Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI: The Exercise of Royal
Authority, 1422-1461, London, 1981, pp. 262, 288 and 803.
Anthony Gross, The Dissolution of the Lancastrian Kingship: Sir John

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14
15
16
17

18

19
20

21

22

Fortescue and the Crisis of Monarchy in Fifteenth-Century England,
Stamford, 1996, p. 109, n. 62. See also Anthony Goodman, The Wars
of the Roses: Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97, London,
1981, pp. 31 and 124.
Daniel Wakelin, ‘The Occasion, Author and Readers of Knyghthode and
Bataile’, Medium Aevum 73 (2004), pp. 260-72, esp. 263-64.
Mark Liddell (ed.), The Middle English Translation of Palladius “De re
rustica”, part 1, Berlin, 1896, pp. 1-7.
Ibid., vol. II, pp. 449-56 and 480-86, vol. III, pp. 1211-13 and vol. IV,
pp. 981-85.
Note that the scribe left the proem unpaginated, while paginating the
translation itself, beginning from 1. The two folios of the proem, therefore, are traditionally referred to as fols. 1a-2b, with the translation beginning on fol. 1.
The flourishes on the T of ‘Thomas’ (fol. 1b), resemble the flourishes on
the unreadable word written in between stanzas 6 and 7, of which the
readable letters (‘onia’) resemble the letter-forms in the ‘Aftir my mastre’
written by line 47. At the bottom of fol. 18, Thomas has written his first
name with elaborate strap-work, again upside-down, along with some
other scribbles; and on the bottom of fol. 52 the same hand has written a
short prayer. To my knowledge no one has yet identified Thomas Bynder.
Caroline Barron suggests that he was a member of Beaumont’s household
(personal communication, 2003).
Griffiths, Reign of King Henry VI, p. 329.
John Blacman, Henry’s confessor, recalled in a memoir written c. 1450
that the king ‘was continually occupied whether in prayer or the reading
of the scriptures or of chronicles’ (‘aut in orationibus, aut in scripturarum
vel cronicarum lectionibus assidue erat occupatus’). See John Blacman,
Henry the Sixth: A Reprint of John Blacman’s Memoir, (ed. and trans.)
Montague Rhodes James, Cambridge, 1919, pp. 5 and 27. At a later
point Blacman notes again: ‘such days [days other than Sundays or holy
days] he passed no less diligently whether in treating of the business of
the realm with his council as need might require, or in reading of the
scriptures or of authors and chronicles’ (‘dies illos aut in regni negotiis
cum consilio suo tractandis, prout rei exposcerat necessitas, aut in scripturarum lectionibus, vel in scriptis aut cronicis legendis non minus diligenter expendit’; Ibid., pp. 15 and 37).
Anne F. Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs, Richard III’s Books: Ideals and
Reality in the Life and Library of a Medieval Prince, Stroud, 1997, pp.
14-15 and 80.
‘... coepit revolvere res gestas varias, annaliaque multa, praecipue tamen,
inter alia, illud quod sententiat Vegetius in Libro suo “De Dogmatibus

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23
24
25
26
27
28

29
30
31

32
33

34

60

Rei Militaris”’ (Henry Thomas Riley [ed.], Registra quorundam abbatum
Monasterii S. Albani: Qui saeculo XVmo. fluorere, vol. I: Registrum
Abbatiae Johannis Wheathamstede [etc.], London, 1872 [Rolls Series
28, no. 6], p. 338).
‘... media alia quam arma’ (Ibid., p. 339).
Bertram Wolffe, Henry VI, New Haven, 2001 [rpt. ed. London, 1981],
pp. 318-19.
Dyboski & Arend, ‘Introduction’, pp. xviii-xx.
E.g.: Goodman, Wars of the Roses, pp. 31, 37 and 124; Gross, Dissolution of the Lancastrian Kingship, pp. 37 and 109, n. 62.
Scase, ‘Writing and the “Poetics of Spectacle”’, pp. 172-80; quote from
p. 181.
Dyboski & Arend, ‘Introduction’, pp. xvi-xxii. See also, e.g., Bornstein,
‘Military Manuals’, p. 472. On the Love-Day procession, and the speedy
failure of the truce, see, e.g., Mabel E. Christie, Henry VI, London,
1922, pp. 267-70; Griffiths, Reign of King Henry VI, pp. 775 and
806-07.
Dyboski & Arend, ‘Introduction’, pp. xviii-xxii.
Lines 1-2; also in ll. 2-3 of the Latin incipit.
E.g.: Goodman, Wars of the Roses, pp. 31 and 237, n. 61; John Watts,
Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship, Cambridge, 1996, p. 354, n.
389; Wakelin, “Vernacular Humanism".
Lines 2-3, and also ll. 3-5 of the Latin incipit.
Evans in Wogan-Browne et al. (eds.), The Idea of the Vernacular, p.
185, n. to ll. 3-10; see also online, Catholic Encyclopedia. Since the
biblical King David also died a normal death (1 Kings 2:10), the reference
remains unexplained—except inasmuch as the author himself clearly
hopes to parallel this apocryphal David by ascending to Henry VI’s favour. Neither Evans nor I can explain why a Welsh saint should figure so
prominently in an English king’s entry to London (whether fictionalized
or real). Presumably there is some conflation of St. David with the biblical David, who did often figure in the imagery of royal processions.
London, Corporation of London Record Office, Journal 6, fol. 204 (photo
no. 332), recording a meeting of the City Council, dated Friday, 28 February, 38 Henry VI [1460]: ‘In primis consideratum est pro eo : quod dominus rex intendit ut asseretur venire ad ciuitate per Crepulgate . quod
xxiiiior homines bene armati et arriati custodient portam illam et sic ad
quamlibet portam per quam rex iterus est . habeatur custodia huius homin’ arriat’ quod singulo porte ciuitate similo modo custodiantur’ (‘First
it was considered that because the lord king intends, as it is said, to come
to the City through Cripplegate, that twenty-four men well armed and ar-

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35
36
37

38
39
40

41

rayed should guard that gate and similarly for whichever gate through
which the king (?)might come . arrayed men will have its custody so that
[every] individual gate of the city will be similarly guarded’). Journal 6,
fol. 204v (photo no. 333) continues: ‘In esto communo concilio ministrantur materia pro adventu regis honorifice faciend’ et habiend’ die sabbati proxeme’ (‘In this common council means were decided to honourably
make and have the king’s arrival next Saturday’); ‘Item esto communo
consilio ministrantur lettere facias bene honorabile domine nostri rege pro
officis communis serventes ad armas pro admissione Johannes Aungewyn
serventis ipsius regis in officio predicto’ (‘Item, in this common council
it was decided to make full honourable letters to our lord the king for the
common offices of sergeants at arm for the admission of John Aungewyn
the servant of this same king in the aforesaid office’). I am very grateful
to Jessica Newton, archivist at the Corporation of London Record Office,
for her help, including providing copies of these entries, and to Maureen
Jurkowski for her assistance in reading and translating them. As the
minutes are written by a poor hand in uncertain Latin, the transcriptions
and translations provided here are at some points speculative; any errors
are my own. On the City’s reactions to the political upheavals of the
period, see Caroline M. Barron, ‘London and the Crown 1451-61’, in:
John R. L. Highfield & Robin Jeffs (eds.), The Crown and Local Communities in England and France in the Fifteenth Century, Gloucester,
1981, pp. 88-109.
Scase, ‘Writing and the “Poetics of Spectacle”’, p. 174.
Evans in Wogan-Browne et al. (eds.), The Idea of the Vernacular, p.
182; see also Dyboski & Arend, ‘Introduction’, p. xxxii.
“Abide, Ye Who Pass By” is poem no. 46 in Carleton Brown (ed.), Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century, Oxford, 1952 [2d ed. revised by G.
V. Smithers], pp. 59-60.
Evans in Wogan-Browne et al. (eds.), The Idea of the Vernacular, p.
182 and p. 186 n. to l. 65.
I am indebted to Mary Kay Duggan for her comments on this passage.
Speaking of ‘chiualeres’, for example, the author comments: ‘And think I
wil that daily wil thei lere, / And of antiquitee the bokys here, / And that
thei here, putte it in deuoyre’ (ll. 1695-97).
For the reading at the Inns of Court, see Sir John Fortescue, De laudibus
legum Anglie, (ed. and trans.) Stanley Bertram Chrimes, Cambridge,
1942, pp. 118-19. For Edward IV’s household, see A. R. Myers (ed.),
The Household of Edward IV: The Black Book and the Ordinance of
1478, Manchester, 1959, p. 129. For discussion, see Joyce Coleman,
Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and
France, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 130-31 and 135-36; and Joyce Coleman,

61

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42

43

44

45

46

62

‘Talking of Chronicles: The Public Reading of History in Late Medieval
England and France’, Cahiers de Littérature Orale 36 (1994), pp. 91-111.
See Otto Pächt & J. J. G. Alexander, Illuminated Manuscripts in the
Bodleian Library, Oxford, Oxford, 1966, vol. I, p. 52 and plate 51, no.
660.
See Charles R. Shrader, ‘A Handlist of Extant Manuscripts Containing
the De re militari of Flavius Vegetius Renatus’, Scriptorium 33
(1979), pp. 280-305.
On Latin texts, royal readers, and the role of clerkly interpretes, see
Joyce Coleman, ‘Lay Readers and Hard Latin: How Gower May Have Intended the Confessio Amantis to Be Read’, Studies in the Age of Chaucer 24 (2002), pp. 209-35.
See MacCracken, ‘Vegetius in English’, pp. 389-93; Bornstein, ‘Military
Manuals’, pp. 470-72; Geoffrey Lester, ‘Introduction’, in Idem (ed.), The
Earliest English Translation of Vegetius’ “De re militari”, Heidelberg,
1988, pp. 7-48.
Evans in Wogan-Browne et al. (eds.), The Idea of the Vernacular, p.
182.

Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

Amy Schwarz
The anonymous biographer of Cola di Rienzo (1313-54) recorded
the ascent of an innkeeper’s son to become the self-appointed
“Tribune” of Rome. The authority of the papacy, situated in
Avignon from 1309 until 1368, and that of the reigning nobility
upon the citizen’s government were overcome by opportunity.
Fourteenth-century Rome was ravaged by plague and famine, the
city was unsafe for trade and community, and the feuding barons
struggled for dominance, particularly from the Colonna and Orsini families.
In 1343, the notary Cola di Rienzo, accompanied the citizen’s
committee of “Thirteen Good Men” to urge the newly elected
Pope Clement VI to return the papacy to Rome. In an eloquent
letter from Avignon to the Roman citizens, Rienzo announced papal permission to declare 1350 a Jubilee Year, thus indicating the
Pope’s promised return to the Eternal City. The Jubilee of 1300,
decreed by Pope Boniface VIII to take place each century, was
amended to every fifty years to restore faith in the papacy and in
the importance of Rome.
The papal residency in Avignon, a humiliating distance from
St. Peters, was due to coercion from the French Monarchy and
threats of anti-papal sentiment in Italy. Rienzo met with Clement
VI through the auspices of the Roman Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, as recommended by the recent poet laureate and honorary citizen of Rome, Francesco Petrarca (1304-74). A poet and statesman promoting the revival of the ancient Roman Republic, Petrarch was in the employment of the Cardinal situated in Avignon.
An early Humanist, Petrarch desired to see Rome in the form of

Amy Schwarz

the ancient Republic, while uniting Christian and antique imagery
in his poetry and in legal rhetoric. He proved to be very influential
to Rienzo’s own course of action.
Prior to Cola di Rienzo’s own political show of power, “mysterious” allegorical paintings appeared on the walls of buildings
directed at those associated with the neighbourhoods, inherent to
the sites. Apocalyptic images and references to the ancient Roman
Republic were depicted in Dantesque allegory on the Senatorial
Palace at the Capitol, the Lateran Basilica (Papal Palace), the
church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria (under the auspices of the
only Roman Cardinal, Giovanni Colonna), and the Maddalena, a
small church near Castel S. Angelo en route to St. Peter’s. The
paintings, in words and pictures, proclaimed the need for salvation and justice in Rome, Italy, the Christian world. Meanwhile,
Rienzo discreetly gathered supporters from amongst the citizens
seeking reform.
In my dissertation on the subject, emphasis was placed upon
the painted political allegories created for Cola di Rienzo’s manifestation of prophecy and presence. The focus, here, is upon the
public ceremonies and spectacles performed to enhance his political program. Cola di Rienzo incorporated every known traditional and contemporary ritual to manufacture his assumed authority. With performance, Rienzo publicized his political agenda to
manipulate civil and ecclesiastical governments. The primary
sources describing these activities are the extant letters of Cola di
Rienzo, letters and accounts about him, and the colourful anonymous Vita written four years after his death (1358).1
The buildings and sites chosen for each of the four paintings
(described only in the Vita) correlated with the neighbourhoods
and audiences addressed by the public ceremonies. In mid-trecento Rome, socio-political concerns were communicated through
visual rhetoric, over-laid with references to Ancient and Christian
Rome as Caput Mundi or the Eternal City. The objective was the
return of the Pope to his rightful place at St. Peter’s, along with
64

Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

reviving the morale in the recreation of the glory of the ancient
Roman Republic. A just citizen government, with the approval of
the papacy, was to elect the Senator or Tribune of Rome, and,
that position was assumed by Cola di Rienzo.
The chosen routes through the City of Rome followed the example of familiar processions at the sites of important institutions,
reaching the audiences from those neighbourhoods (rioni), and
cohered to specific holidays, or, Saint’s days. Cola di Rienzo’s
strategy concerned itself with mapping the southern oval of the
city, from the Lateran Palace to St. Peter’s. Positive, or negative,
references often were drawn to the controlling, reigning nobility,
especially of the Orsini and Colonna families.
On 19 May, 1347 Cola di Rienzo’s revolution began with the
takeover of the Senatorial Palace on the Capitol Hill, the day before Pentecost.2 He was accompanied by a varied social stratum
of citizens, including one hundred mercenaries. Relying on the
tradition of spiritual prophecy, the previous night was spent at the
Church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria, listening to thirty masses to
the Holy Ghost. The Savelli family, “landlords” of rione S.
Angelo, were powerful supporters. Just as the Senatorial Palace
represented civic government in Rome, Sant’Angelo, a local
church in the fish market, represented the Church. It was important to the domain of the Savelli family and the rione of Rienzo’s
origins.3
Significant to Cola di Rienzo’s intermingling of Christian and
ancient imagery, the church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria was
built upon the ruins of the temple Porticus Octaviae (c. 27 BC).
The temple was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus, a
period immortalized by the early humanists and antiquarians.
Giovanni Colonna, cardinal-deacon of Sant’Angelo (1327-48),
represented Rome in the French dominated papal curia and was
regarded as a necessary intercessor between the citizens of Rome
and the Avignon Papacy.

65

Amy Schwarz

On Pentecost day, Cola di Rienzo with the papal legate, Raimond de Chameyrac, and a large following of citizens and soldiers proceeded to the Capitol.4 The presence of the papal legate
signified the backing of Pope Clement VI, thereby attracting additional support and lending conviction to Rienzo’s position. Four
large banners were carried in the procession: the red banner of
liberty bore the inscription in gold Roma Caput Mundi; on it was
painted Queen Rome enthroned between two lions, a globe in her
left hand, a palm in her right. The white banner of justice revealed
St. Paul holding a sword and a crown. Next, a banner depicted
St. Peter holding the keys of “concord and peace”. Last was
brought an old banner of St. George, the Knight of Christendom,
earlier carried in the processions of Pope Boniface VIII.5 The
banners visually proclaimed the need to defend Rome’s liberty,
justice and peace, and prepared the setting for the promised Jubilee in 1350. For all those who could not hear or comprehend Cola
di Rienzo’s fine speech, in which he announced a new constitution, the banners asserted new hope for “abandoned Rome”.
At the Senatorial Palace, Rienzo and the papal legate became
joint rectors of Rome, thereby confirming this revolutionary figure’s papal appointment. In addition, after the practice of the ancient histories recorded by Livy, Boetius, and more currently, Petrarch, Cola di Rienzo assumed the title of Tribune. This was in
conjunction with the idea of reviving the Roman Senate, or,
House of Justice, and drew attention to the Capitol as an institution and as a monument. He signed his letters, as found in an example to the poet Francesco Petrarca (Epistolario 15, Rome, 28
July, 1347), ‘Nicholas, the severe and clement, by the grace of
our most merciful Lord Jesus Christ, tribune of liberty, of peace,
and of justice, and illustrious deliverer of the Holy Roman Republic ...’.6
All the sacred feast-days and Saint’s days were observed, ensuring Cola di Rienzo’s own exposure to the populace. On the
Feast of St. John (24 June), he arranged a splendid procession to
66

Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

the Lateran reminescent of Henry VII’s coronation in 1312. Rienzo rode a white horse, a privilege of the pope or an emperor, and
was accompanied by one hundred horsemen. He wore the robes
of triumph, white trimmed with gold.7
Earlier at the Lateran (some time in 1346), Cola di Rienzo rediscovered a bronze tablet inscribed with the Lex Regia of Emperor Vespasian (Rome, 69-79 AD). Placed on the altar in the
time of Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1300), it had been forgotten as
the basilica was left in disrepair.8 The Lex Regia documented the
Roman Senate conceding power to the emperor. Rienzo had the
tablet set onto the inside wall behind the choir, framed by one of
the allegorical paintings that appeared to depict its meaning.
Remarkably, given the origin of the Lateran basilica as a Constantinian foundation, the painting made no reference to the Donation
of Constantine, the document that for centuries provided the papacy with the legitimation of the Church’s temporal rule and territorial holdings, including the city of Rome. Cola di Rienzo, in a
glorious costume, explained from his decorated pulpit, ‘You see
how great was the magnificence of the Senate, which gave authority to the Empire’.9 He appealed to the nobles, the city’s judges
and canon lawyers, and men of authority to observe and protect
the law in the interest of justice. Naturally, Rienzo’s ability to eloquently persuade and hold the attention of his listeners, and their
inability to read and decipher the inscriptions on the tablet, were
essential to the illusion of legitimate authority.
Amongst a variety of possible sources for the painting surrounding the bronze tablet is the example of decretal miniatures.
Illuminated manuscripts of canon law were produced in great
quantities during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, particularly with the establishment of communal governments in Italy.
Concepts of jurisprudence were made tangible in manuscript illumination, inventively derived from the iconography of the Last
Judgement. The figure of Justice was a recognized form with
which to illustrate principles of authority grounded in Roman law.
The personification of Iustitia, like that of Roma, was an en67

Amy Schwarz

throned female holding a sword in her right hand and scales in her
left hand, as seen on the covers of books of civil law and finance
records, bicchierna.10
A composition of influence to Cola di Rienzo’s painting might
be seen at the Lateran, the Triclinium mosaic of Pope Leo III
(798). This associated Charlemagne with the Donation of Constantine. However, Rienzo’s legitimation of authority deviated
from the content of Leo III’s mosaic, taking advantage of the
secular concerns of the Lex Regia, prior to Christianity.11
On the feast-day of Saints Peter and Paul, the tribune dressed
in green and yellow silk. In the pious procession to St. Peter’s,
Rienzo threw coins to the crowd, as the pope would do. On the
steps of the church, he was greeted by the canons and clergy
singing Veni creator spiritus.12 There was no mention of the
papal legate’s presence at the event.
Cola di Rienzo advanced from pageantry to serious performance on 1 August, 1347. It was the ancient Roman triumphal festival of Augustus and the Christian feast-day of St. Peter in
chains. Dressed in white and riding a white horse, he appeared
like an apocalyptic hero. Accompanied by the pope’s vicar, the
procession traveled from the Capitol (seat of the Senate) to the
Lateran (seat of the papal curia). Foreign ambassadors, knights
and prelates entered the Lateran Baptistry. There they witnessed
Rienzo’s baptism in the very font where Constantine had been
baptized by Pope Sylvester more than a thousand years earlier.
Visible examples were accessible to Rienzo in the frescoes painted
for the chapel dedicated to Pope Sylvester (1246) in S.S. Quattro
Coronati in Rome. One scene reveals the humble, naked figure
of Emperor Constantine crouched in a basin (font), while Pope
Sylvester pours the baptismal water over him. Another fresco depicts Constantine delivering the tiara to the Pope, which was not
so explicitly imitated in 1347. Rienzo arranged to be knighted,
‘Immaculate knight of the Holy Ghost’.13 These actions did not
meet with the approval of the Romans, and outraged the papacy in
Avignon, once the news was received.
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Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

After a night held in vigil at the Lateran Baptistry, Cola di Rienzo appeared in scarlet the next day. In public ceremony, he received gold spurs and a sword from the Mayor of Rome, Gottfridus Scotus.14 Wearing the tiara and sword of Constantine, while
standing on the Lateran loggia of Boniface VIII, Cola di Rienzo
summoned all candidates with any claim to the rule of Rome to
come forth within two weeks. The Roman people then would
choose an emperor. Giotto painted (c. 1300), now located on a
pillar near the entrance to the Lateran, Pope Boniface VIII on his
balcony. Only the painted principle figures on the balcony remain,
but beneath it were depicted crowds awaiting his benevolence, as
preserved in a seventeenth-century drawing (Milano, Biblioteca
Ambrosiana, ms. Codice F. inf. 227, fols. 8v-9r).15 In 1347, the
site of the papal benediction was transformed into an electorial
platform for a new emperor of Rome. In defiance of the example
of Constantine, Rienzo disregarded all rights of the papacy. He
thus declared all Italian cities free from foreign rule, confident that
a unified empire, as in Antiquity, was desired by all. Twenty-five
delegates from the Italian communes were present.16 This was a
well publicized event.
The Franciscan Church, Sta. Maria in Aracoeli, standing near
the Senatorial Palace on the Capitol Hill, organized additional
ceremonies of the commune to honour Cola di Rienzo. Franciscan
support encouraged Rienzo’s manipulation of the prophetic tradition, particularly the views of the radical Franciscan spiritualists,
the Fraticelli.17 The Aracoeli was the head church of the Franciscan Order in Rome (established in 1291), and its location at the
Capitol inspired civic activity. Rienzo had his titles in blue and
gold hung from the tower of the Aracoeli.18 He managed to leave
his mark upon every site utilized.
Cola di Rienzo’s program was based upon manufacturing legitimate authority in order to assume the head of government in
Rome. The coronation of Rienzo took place on Assumption Day
(15 August, 1347), an event not recorded in the anonymous Vita. On the previous day, he had accompanied the annual proces69

Amy Schwarz

sion from the Chapel of Sancta Santorum at the Lateran, to Sta.
Maria Maggiore. As described in the twelfth-century guidebook,
the Mirabilia, the miracle-working image of Christ ‘made by
God’ was carried between the churches.19 In other words, Rienzo
attached his political practices to every traditional Christian ritual
held in the city, thus assuring a large public gathering. After the
Assumption mass at Sta. Maria Maggiore, the ancient ceremony
of bestowing laurels on the tribune was elaborated upon, in Rienzo’s program. Pagan and Christian values were united in the reception of six crowns. The prior of each major church bestowed a
wreath: the Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, S. Lorenzo fuori-lemure, and Sta. Maria Maggiore. Fra Giacomo, prior of the
Hospital of Sto. Spirito, presented a sceptre and silver crown in
honour of the Holy Ghost. The Mayor of Rome offered a silver
globe and recited, ‘Take this globe, administer justice, and restore
to us liberty and peace’.20
The intermingling of the ancient Roman coronation ceremony
with the liturgy of church ritual was common practice in royal
coronations in the Middle Ages. The ceremony, with civic and ecclesiastical acclaim, legitimized the ruler’s authority. Rienzo’s intentions for a unified Italian Empire, headed by Rome, may not
have been as well comprehended as his plans for rebuilding the
“forsaken city”. His ancient models were visibly found amongst
the ruins of Antiquity. For example, the reliefs seen on the Arch
of Constantine and the Arch of Titus and the inscriptions examined on the monuments. The south façade of the Arch of Constantine is carved with reliefs of the emperor receiving a crown or triumphantly entering the city on horseback. In front of the Lateran
(moved to the Capitol in the sixteenth century) stood the bronze
equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, once identified as Constantine. This followed the popular medieval guidebook, Mirabilia
Urbis Romae, originally written in the twelfth century. Rienzo, a
well-read layperson, was inspired by the Latin authors Livy,
Seneca, Cicero, and others, and the heroic deeds of Julius Caesar. Ancient Rome fueled his political aspirations, perhaps no less
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Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

directly than the thirteenth-century text and illustrations of Li fete
des Romaines. The French text (1213) was translated into
several languages as in the local Romanesco (1282), Liber Ystoriarum Romanorum, or, Storie de Troja et de Roma (Hamburg,
Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Codex Ms. 151). A copy was
owned by the influential Savelli family, written in the local Romanesco. The medieval text would have been regarded as an accurate
rendition of the ancient histories, the illustrations and processionals described worthy of imitation. Of relevance to the discussion
of Cola di Rienzo’s models are the histories of Octavian and
Julius Caesar. The illustration, ‘Julius Caesar returning victorious
to Rome’ (fol. 90) portrays Caesar in a chariot pulled by white
horses, entering the walled city in triumph, preceded by his soldiers. An angel, the personification of Peace, also carved in relief
on the Arch of Titus, crowns the emperor with several wreaths.
Roma Caput Mundi (fol. 97v) recalls Rienzo’s banner of Rome:
a female figure sits on a throne between two lions, holding a palm
leaf signifying peace and a TO-map globe signifying the world.
The image was frequently found on ancient coins and seals, and
copied by civic rulers throughout the Middle Ages. Thus in words
and images, the text described how the Senate appointed Caesar
military tribune with the support of, rather than election by, the
citizens. The heroic role of the tribune was emphasized in
triumph.21 In the context of justice, as derived from the authority
of the ancient Roman Senate, Cola di Rienzo sought to reform
contemporary Rome’s weak civic government. The examples of
other trecento rulers, like Henry VII (1312) and Louis of Bavaria
(1328), neither managing to set up government, let alone stay in
Rome, gave legendary and historical models to follow. Nearer to
Rienzo’s own lifetime, was the self-orchestrated ceremony of
Francesco Petrarca, crowned poet laureate at the Capitol in 1341,
and, made honorary Roman citizen.22 The two men met in
Avignon, two years later, and corresponded well into Rienzo’s
term as tribune. The title, derived from Livy, and further used in
Li fete des Romaines, was suggested by Petrarch.23 With that
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Amy Schwarz

source, it is obvious Cola di Rienzo was not solely responsible
for his entire political program. The attention to details involving
Roman history and civil law, Christian ritual and liturgy, the
legendary and the spiritual, ostensibly worked in every context of
the medieval city. It is recognized, now, that many collaborators
provided knowledge, imagination, material and financial support.
One of the “discreet” supporters identified in the anonymous Vita
was Fra Giacomo, prior of the Hospital of Santo Spirito. He was
a member of the first embassy of Romans who, in 1342, went to
Avignon to persuade the new pope to come to Rome. He would
have met Rienzo there in January, 1343.24 Located near St.
Peter’s, the Hospital of Santo Spirito was founded by Innocent
III (c. 1200), a self governing institution committed to the papacy. However, it suffered financial neglect and loss of influence,
during the Avignon Papacy. As Cola di Rienzo gained audience
with Clement VI, and the promise of a return to Rome for the
1350 Jubilee, Fra Giacomo became loyal to Rienzo. Less than
five years later, he participated in the tribune’s coronation ceremony at Sta. Maria Maggiore.25
When Cola di Rienzo wrote (late January, 1343) to the Roman
citizens of the pope’s amended Bull for the Jubilee, he proposed a
statue ‘of gold and porphyry’, honouring Clement VI, be erected
in Rome. The idea was comparable to numerous images of Boniface VIII, and the life-size sculpture of the seated King Charles of
Anjou, once senator of Rome, at the entrance of the Capitol by
Arnolfo di Cambio (c. 1265), now located in the Capitoline Museum.26 Though the sculptor and workshop remain unknown, Fra
Giacomo took responsibility for the commission and site. Evidence of the sculpture is documented by two fragments of an inscribed plaque, once held by the marble figure. The Latin inscription cited Fra Giacomo as having commissioned the sculpture of
Clement VI situated at the entrance of the Hospital of Santo Spirito.27 The disruptive situation in Rome, suffering natural, social
and political disasters, encouraged many citizens to back Rienzo’s
spirited revolution. Of course, Rienzo’s enemies, particularly be72

Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

longing to the Colonna family, did not give in easily, nor with
ceremony. But here, we are concerned with the events of Rienzo’s early government.
Nearly two-hundred years later, Niccolo Machiavelli recorded
in his “Florentine Histories” (1525):
... A memorable thing happened in Rome: one Niccolo di Lorenzo, chancellor at the Capitol, drove out the Roman Senators and made himself,
with the title of Tribune, head of the Roman Republic, which he restored
in its ancient form with such a reputation for justice and virtue that not
only the towns nearby, but all Italy sent ambassadors to him.
[Book 1-31]28

Now, that proves the effectiveness of Cola di Rienzo’s campaign
media.29
Notes
1

2
3

4

5

Annibale Gabrielli (ed.), Epistolario di Cola di Rienzo, Roma, 1890
[Fonti per la storia d’Italia, 6]; Lodovico Antonio Muratori, Historiae
romanae fragmenta ab anno 1327 usque ad 1354 [etc.], in: Idem, Antiquitates italicae Medii Aevi [etc.], Mediolani, 1740, vol. III, pp. 247548. Idem, Rerum Italicarum scriptores [etc.], 28 vols., Mediolani,
1723-51, vols. XI and XV; Konrad Burdach & P. Piur (eds.), Briefwechsel des Cola di Rienzo, 5 vols., Berlin, 1912-29; Egenio Dupré
Theseider, Roma dal comune di popolo alla signoria pontificia (12521377), Bologna, 1952; John Wright (ed.), The Life of Cola di Rienzo,
Toronto, 1975; Giuseppe Porta (ed.), Cronaca, Milano, 1979; Gustav
Seibt, Anonimo romano: Geschichtsschreibung in Rom an der Schwelle
zur Renaissance, Stuttgart, 1992. See my dissertation: “Images and
Illusions of Power in Trecento Art: Cola di Rienzo and the Ancient Roman Republic”, Binghamton, 1995.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 39.
Ibid., pp. 40 and 45; E. Guidoni, ‘Roma e l’Urbanistica del Trecento’, in:
Giulio Bollati & Paolo Fossati (eds.), Storia dell’arte italiana, Torino,
1983, part II: Dal medioevo al Novecento, vol. I: Dal medioevo al
quattrocento, pp. 305-83, esp. 353.
Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle
Ages, (trans.) A. Hamilton, London, 1898 [rpt. 1967], vol. VI: 13051420, part 1, p. 247; Seibt, Anonimo romano, p. 106.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 41.

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Amy Schwarz

6

7
8

9

10

11
12
13
14
15

16
17
18

19

74

Petrarch, The Revolution of Cola di Rienzo, (trans.) Mario Emilio Cosenza, New York, 1986 [2nd ed. by Ronald G Musto], pp. 50 and 164;
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 47; Gabrielli (ed.), Epistolario
di Cola di Rienzo, pp. 37-38 [original Latin text].
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 51.
Jean-François Sonnay, ‘La politique artistique de Cola di Rienzo (13131354)’, Revue de l’art 55 (1982), pp. 35-43, esp. 39. On the Medieval
use of the Lex Regia, see essays by Frugoni, Miglio and Greenhalgh in
Salvatore Settis (ed.), Memoria dell’antico nell’arte italiano, vol. I:
L’Uso dei classici, Torino, 1984 [Biblioteca di Storia dell’arte, n.s. 1].
See also Carrie E. Benes, ‘Cola di Rienzo and the Lex Regia’, Viator 30
(1999), pp. 231-52. The tablet is preserved in the Capitoline Museum,
Rome.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, pp. 35-36; Ernst Kantorowicz,
The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology,
Princeton, 1957, pp. 96-97.
Anthony Melnikas, The Corpus of the Miniatures in the Manuscripts of
Decretum Gratiani, Ohio, 1975, vol. I, pp. 16 and 83. J. B. Riess,
‘Justice and Common Good in Giotto’s Arena Chapel Frescoes’, Arte
Cristiana n.s. 1 (1984), pp. 69-80, esp. 74.
Richard Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308, Princeton,
1980, pp. 114-15 and note.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 52; P. de Angelis, L’Ospedale
di S. Spirito in Saxia, 2 vols., Roma, 1960-62, vol. I, pp. 276-77.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, pp. 73 and 70; Gabrielli (ed.),
Epistolario di Cola di Rienzo, p. 107.
Massimo Miglio, ‘Gruppi sociali e azione politica nella Roma di Cola di
Rienzo’, Studi romani 23 (1975), pp. 442-61, esp. 460.
Eugène Müntz, Etudes sur l’histoire des arts à Rome pendant le MoyenAge: Boniface VIII et Giotto, Roma, 1881, pp. 20-24. Charles Mitchell,
‘The Lateran Fresco of Boniface VIII’, in: Andrew Ladis (ed.),
Franciscanism, the Papacy, and Art in the Age of Giotto; Assisi and
Rome, New York & London, 1998 [Giotto and the world of Early
Italian Art, 4 ], pp. 337-45.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 72; Gregorovius, History of
the City of Rome, p. 269; Seibt, Anonimo romano, p. 110.
Mariano Armellini & Carlo Cecchelli, Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV
al XIX, 2 vols., Roma, 1942, vol. I, pp. 664-66, vol. II, pp. 820-21.
Teodoro Amayden, La storia della famiglie Romane, (ed.) C. A. Bertini,
Roma, 1967, vol. I, pp. 316-18; Sonnay, ‘La politique artistique de Cola
di Rienzo’, p. 41.
The Marvels of Rome: Mirabilia Urbis Romae, (ed. and trans.) Francis

Eternal Rome and Cola di Rienzo’s Show of Power

20

21

22
23

24
25
26
27

28
29

Morgan Nichols, New York, 1956 [rpt. ed. 1889], pp. 173-75; Ernst Kitzinger, ‘A Virgin’s Face: Antiquarianism in twelfth-century art’, Art
Bulletin 62 (1980), pp. 6-19.
Miglio, ‘Gruppi sociali’, p. 448; Gregorovius, History of the City of
Rome, pp. 283-85; Gabrielli (ed.), Epistolario di Cola di Rienzo, pp.
58-60.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 31; Jeanette M. A. Beer, A
Medieval Caesar, Genève, 1976; Ernesto Monaci, Storie de Troja et de
Roma: altrimenti dette “Liber Ystoriarum Romanorum”: testo romanesco del secolo XIII: preceduto da un testo latino da cui deriva,
Roma, 1920 [Miscellanea della R. Società romana di storia patria, 5],
pp. xxv and xlvii-xlviii. See also: Serena Romano, ‘L’immagine di Roma: Cola di Rienzo e la fine del Medioevo’, in: Maria Andaloro & Serena
Romano (eds.), Arte e iconografia a Roma: dal tardoantico alla fine del
Medioevo, Milano, 2002, pp. 175-94.
Ernest H. Wilkins, ‘The Coronation of Petrarch’, Speculum 18 (1943),
pp. 155-97.
Petrarch, Revolution of Cola di Rienzo, (trans.) Cosenza, pp. 2-3; Beer,
A Medieval Caesar, pp. 13 and 139; Livy in fourteen volumes; with an
English Translation by B. O. Foster, XIV vols., London-New York,
1919-59, vol. IV: Books VIII-X, Book IX, chapter 46, pp. 349-53.
De Angelis, Ospedale di S. Spirito, vol. II, p. 26; Sonnay, ‘Politique
artistique’, p. 42.
Wright (ed.), Life of Cola di Rienzo, p. 70, note 33; Gabrielli (ed.),
Epistolario di Cola di Rienzo, pp. 58-60, letter 22.
J. Gardner, ‘Boniface VIII as a patron of sculpture’, in: Angiola M.
Romanini (ed.), Roma anno 1300, Roma, 1983, p. 515.
See De Angelis, Ospedale di S. Spirito, vol. II, p. 33, for complete
Latin inscription and Italian translation. See also Giovanni Battista De
Rossi, Inscriptiones christianae urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores Romae, vol. II, part 1, Roma, 1888, p. 434.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Florentine Histories, (trans.) Laura F. Banfield,
Princeton, 1988, Book I-31, p. 43.
Just published, since the presentation of this paper (2000), perhaps the
definitive work on the subject, Ronald G. Musto, Apocalypse in Rome:
Cola di Rienzo and the Politics of the New Age, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 2003.

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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

L. Caitlin Jorgensen
Preparations for Queen Elizabeth’s official entry into London
began in Christmas week, 1558.1 The Court of Aldermen sponsored a series of pageants written by Richard Hilles, a Member of
Parliament and a Merchant Taylor; Francis Robinson, a Grocer;
Richard Grafton, a printer and chronicler; and Lionell Duckett, a
Mercer and future Lord Mayor.2 These men had a long tradition
within which to develop Elizabeth’s triumphal entry. The procession route and locations of pageants, with minor variations, had
been regularized by 1415.3 Certain pageants and rituals were traditional: the civic triumph ‘remained fundamentally conservative
in its emblematic ideas’4 and props and set pieces were even reused from one monarch’s reign to the next.5 As is typical for a
show of this type, the themes and subject matter of pageants in
Elizabeth’s entry strongly emphasize civic unity.
The emphasis on unity in the procession was more than a
matter of tradition, however. As merchants and political figures,
Hilles, Robinson, Grafton, and Duckett had a vested interest in
the welfare of England. Like many, they hoped that the new reign
would bring peace rather than a continuation of conflict. The
Wars of the Roses were not so distant as to be forgotten, and the
marital difficulties of Henry VIII had created discord that directly
resulted in the religious turbulence of the reigns of Edward and
Mary. Tired of strife, many pinned their hopes for peace on the
young Elizabeth. It was necessary that the pageants to accompany
the royal entry focus on the Queen’s virtues, on God’s blessing
for her reign, and the need for good government. The vehicle for
these notions is unity, which was displayed through the pageants
in a variety of ways.

L. Caitlin Jorgensen

On 14 January, 1559, the Queen set out from the Tower of
London to view a series of nine pageants presented by the City.
The first pageant, at Gracious Street, takes as its topic ‘The uniting of the two houses of Lancaster and Yorke’.6 While the obvious purpose of the genealogy is to establish Elizabeth as a legitimate ruler, the pageant does so through emphasizing unity as the
remedy for civil war. At the display at Cheapside, two of the
causes of a ruinous commonwealth, rebellion in subjects and civil
disagreement, stem from a lack of unity.7 The title of the pageant
at Fleet Street, ‘Debora the judge and restorer of the house of
Israel’, hints at the role of the Hebrew Judge in uniting a kingdom, but the Biblical story extends the notion of unity further. In
Judges 4 and 5, the Israelites have been divided by their enslavement. Deborah collects an army and leads them to victory, then
sings that, before the intervention of God, her people were separated: ‘In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael,
the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah arose, arose a
mother in Israel’ (Judges 5:6-7).8 The exemplary ruler not only
ends war but also brings her people together with a sense of community that had been lost. The final pageant, that of Gotmagot
and Corineus, provides a sense of unity as well as closure by reiterating for the Queen and the onlookers the lessons of the previous displays.
The nine pageants or displays also demonstrate unity through
common characteristics: the use of children as presenters, the
translation of each Latin passage into English and each English
passage into Latin, and the emphasis on virtue. Unity is emphasized even in details: Mark Breitenberg has noted the procession’s
persistent use of ‘sentences concerning unitie’9 in all the ‘voide
places’ of the pageants—literal sentences, words, or phrases
pasted in the blank spots within and between the pageants that
acted as a written summary or reinforcement of the pageants’ arguments.

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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

This emphasis on unity troubles a number of scholars, however—it seems forced or contrived, and New Historicists in particular emphasize the historical conditions that make unity a hopeless fantasy for early-Elizabethan England. Susan Frye, for instance, argues that the text of The Quenes Maiesties Passage is
unable to conceal the anxieties that lie behind its pretense of unity.
‘Unity is an impossible achievement for any text, since all writing
—especially authoritative writing—summons the very inconsistencies, anxieties, and doubts that it attempts to quash’.10 By
these standards, the thematic unity of the Queen’s coronation procession is either a blatant lie or a thin veil masking eroticized violence and social discontent. In one case, Frye reads the City’s gift
of a purse with a thousand marks of gold as ‘a kind of inseminated vessel’.11 The gift, according to Frye, brooks no refusal, so
that in her reading the act is a kind of rape performed on a young
Queen in the presence of her subjects—hardly a harmonious occasion.
The concept of unity is troubling when it involves one class
or group achieving an apparent—not real—unity by silencing the
voices of others. It is also troubling when unity means homogeneity, which would have been impossible in religiously- and economically-divided Elizabethan England.12 Perhaps these pageants,
commissioned by the Aldermen and employing an unequivocal
message of peace and accord, could be understood in this fashion. Theatrically, they are for the most part tableaux, the most
static of dramatic forms. The allegorical message of each pageant
is accompanied by a poem or speech that explains (and thereby
limits) the meaning. The story of The Quenes Maiesties Passage,
however, is larger than the pageants themselves. If New Historicist readings offer one model for interpreting the pageants, I
would like to offer another: that the procession emphasizes mutuality in place of hierarchy. Richard Mulcaster’s account of the
day’s activities describes each pageant fully, but it also includes
commentary on the pageants, observations of facial expressions
or signs of emotion, and narrative descriptions of interactions
79

L. Caitlin Jorgensen

among procession participants. This inclusive account augments
the unity of the pageants with a sense of reciprocity in human
relationships, as each person in the procession plays a valuable,
active role. This sense of reciprocity also informs a reading of the
Queen’s self-representation in this early moment in her reign,
demonstrating the power of communitas in the early-Elizabethan
procession.
I
Richard Mulcaster’s account of the procession was published by
Richard Tottel only nine days after the event.13 Mulcaster was
from a wealthy landowning family in Carlisle; his father was untitled but sat on the Council of Carlisle and later in Parliament. At
the time of Elizabeth’s entry, Mulcaster was himself an incoming
Member of Parliament. In the latter part of 1559, he became a
schoolmaster, and by 1561 he was the headmaster of the Merchant Taylors’ School. He served in that post for twenty-five
years and later served as high master of St. Paul’s school from
1596 to 1608. He also had a hand in the Lord Mayor’s pageants
of 1561 and 1568 and contributed some Latin verses for Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth castle in 1575.14 At Elizabeth’s death
Mulcaster composed a long narrative tribute to the Queen, both
reverent and highly personal in tone.15
Mulcaster’s life had a liminal quality that made him an apt narrator for the complex social structures of the Elizabethan royal entry. He was not a City man, but with his narrative account he began a positive relationship with London guilds. He was not titled,
but he had influence with Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester.16 In order to further his own political interests, Mulcaster
could have focused his account on the splendour of the pageants,
the generosity of the City, or the fashionable apparel of the nobility. However, Mulcaster emphasizes much more emphatically
the Queen’s interaction with the common people and the actors, in
the process focusing on liminal spaces rather than fixed points.

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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

Mulcaster’s tendency to focus his narrative on communitas
rather than hierarchy may also be related to his humanist education. In Framing Authority, a study of the broad cultural significance of English commonplace books, Mary Thomas Crane provides a useful context for understanding humanist pedagogical
theory and its implications in social practice. Scholastic thought is
contrasted with humanist learning in that the former emphasizes
rote memorization, the latter absorption and digestion of material.
The role of classical texts is to transform the reader, but the reader
also transforms the texts in a kind of intertextuality. Classical
fragments, then, are bits of cultural code that the scholar must absorb to re-order, must re-order to understand, must understand to
use.17 Crane argues that this interpretive strategy affected cultural
practices ranging from political treatises to courtly festivities.18
J. G. A. Pocock also addresses the question of humanist training
and civic consciousness by arguing that humanist rhetorical training wrestled with the ‘question of how particular men, existing at
particular moments, could lay claim to secure knowledge’.19 This
emphasis on particulars rather than universals helped the humanist
negotiate difference, whether it was the historical difference between the author of a classical text and the humanist reader or the
political difference between the citizen with one civic consciousness and the citizen with another. As Pocock argues, ‘the idea of
direct conversation with antiquity is a key concept in all forms of
humanism and may occur in or out of a political context, but there
is something ineradicably social and even political about it ...’.20
Pocock’s and Crane’s understandings of humanist interpretive
strategies offer a way of reading Mulcaster. Though humanist education was offered primarily to the wealthy, it could be a tool for
helping the humanist understand those who were different. As
Mulcaster observed the entry and wrote The Quenes Maiesties
Passage, his humanist education may have made him more sensitive to particulars in word and forms of expression and more
able to capture the diversity of participants.

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L. Caitlin Jorgensen

Even as diversity is emphasized in The Quenes Maiesties
Passage, references to hierarchy are fewer than might be expected. Lawrence Manley describes the role of City companies and
officials, who lined the processional route in full livery, forming a
physical buffer between monarch and crowds.21 Mulcaster mentions these companies, but seems to do so as an afterthought: the
Queen approached the Aldermen at Cheapside ‘where the companies of the citie ended, which beganne at Fanchurch’.22 This
seemingly important aspect of the procession is simply not mentioned until after the reader has traveled with the Queen past Fenchurch, Gracious Street, Cornhill, Soper’s Lane, and on to Cheapside. Similarly, though John Nichols lists thirty-one noblemen
and thirty-two Ladies of Honour who would have accompanied
Elizabeth during the procession,23 they are given only brief references in Mulcaster’s account: the Queen was ‘accompanied, as
wel with gentlemen, Barons, and other the nobilitie of thys
realme, as also with a notable trayne of goodly and beawtiful ladies, richely appointed’.24 This concise statement is immediately
overshadowed by a lengthy description of Elizabeth’s relationship
to the throngs of common people.
Hierarchy does have a place in The Quenes Maiesties Passage, but often it is elided by Mulcaster’s account so that nothing
appears to stand between the Queen and the watching crowd. Instead of hierarchy, there is a strong emphasis on communitas and
mutuality. The unity of the procession is initially created by the
pageants written by Hilles and others, perhaps as an expression
of their yearning for civic peace, but in the recorded interactions
between Queen and people unity becomes much more complex, a
matter of reciprocity and mutuality.
By the end of the first page of The Quenes Maiesties Passage, several social groups have already been identified. The
Queen is mentioned first, of course, and the nobles who surround
her are described immediately, though very briefly, afterwards.
The next two pages are dominated by a description of the Queen’s
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relationship to those “baser personages” who had flooded the
streets to catch sight of the new monarch. The notion of relationship is particularly important as this section describes a strongly
dialogical exchange between monarch and people. The people received the Queen with
prayers, wishes, welcomminges, cryes, tender woordes, and all other
signes, which argue a wonderfull earnest love of most obedient subjectes
towarde theyr soveraynge. And on thother side her grace by holding up
her handes, and merie countenance to such as stoode farre of, and most
tender and gentle language to those that stode nigh to her grace, did declare her self noless thankfullye to receive her peoples good will, than
they lovingly offred it unto her. To all that wished her grace wel, she
gave heartie thanks, and to suche as bad God save her grace, she sayd
agayne God save them all, and thanked them with all her heart. So that
on eyther side ther was nothing but gladness, nothing but prayer, nothing
but comfort.25

This passage emphasizes both the content of the communication
and its form. While Mulcaster’s words may be hyperbole—‘nothing but gladness, nothing but prayer, nothing but comfort’—the
message is certainly one of general unity. The Queen affirms that
the people’s love is matched in her heart, that her joy is like
theirs, and that God is the protector of them all. Within this unity,
however, there is rhetorical variation: both the Queen and the
crowd receive the other with joy, but each expresses that joy in
different ways.26
Many of the expressions attributed to the watching crowd are
verbal: prayers, wishes, cries, and affectionate words. The
Queen’s responses are primarily non-verbal—gestures and facial
expressions—and her verbal responses are ‘gentle’, which seems
to contrast with the ‘cryes’ of the crowd. Mulcaster, in good humanist manner, is sensitive to difference, and his text makes a
distinction between the rhetorical style of the Queen and that of
her subjects. Both groups, however, are described in a flattering
way.
This relationship between Queen and subjects—similar in
meaning, dissimilar in style—is emblematic of many of the ex83

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changes in The Quenes Maiesties Passage. In this text, the
significant issue is not that each party expresses joy, nor is it that
each party is sincere or insincere. The significant issue is the convergence of disparate voices in which contact is made. The Queen
is confronted with the requests, the needs, and the expectations of
her people—but more importantly, she is confronted with their
voices, their physical presence, their awkwardness and eloquence, their idioms and their dialects. They, too, are confronted
with an alien presence—a woman who grew up among titled people, a woman who is as fluent in Latin and Italian as in English, a
woman who wears a crown. It is clear that the two groups are
different, though the people communicate to the Queen the same
types of emotions she communicates to them. In accounts of
James’s triumphal entry into London in 1604, the differences between monarch and people create distance. In Elizabeth’s procession, the distinctions not only make room for communication but
also demonstrate the flexibility of roles within a procession.
II
David Bergeron comments on the theatrical quality of civic
entertainments: each one includes actors, an honoured guest, and
an audience, three components or roles that are fused into a
‘single compound of entertainment’.27 Jean Wilson takes this notion a little further, noting that the audience itself is threefold,
made up of the monarch, the public, and the performers.28 It is
not only the audience that is multifaced, however. Because of the
interactive nature of The Quenes Maiesties Passage, each person
takes on the roles of honoured guest, performer, and audience
member at various successive moments.
The Queen is certainly the honoured guest at her own coronation, but she also performs for the audience through a number of
gestures, responses, and speeches to her people. Mulcaster comments at one point that the Queen’s behaviour confirms the people’s preconceptions of what a loving Queen should be like—thus
she anticipates and fulfills a role.29 She also performs for the per84

Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

formers by dramatizing her interest in the displays: moving closer
to hear a pageant, moving farther back to see it clearly (at the Gracious Street pageant, she did both30). While performers spoke,
the Queen displayed her attentiveness: ‘Here was noted in the
Quenes maiesties countenance, during the time that the child
spake, besides a perpetual attentivenes in her face, a mervelous
change in looke, as the childes wordes touched either her person
or the peoples tonges and hertes’.31 In addition, although Bergeron makes the valid distinction between honoured guest and audience member, in this case Elizabeth serves as both, applauding
and praising the performers just as the rest of the audience does.32
The people who watch the procession are primarily audience
members, but they function in other ways as well. They are performers in the procession—at appropriate moments, they approach the Queen to present her with posies and request favours
of her.33 They confirm the sentiments of the pageants with their
cheers.34 They even have their speaking parts, such as the one
who called out, ‘Remember old king Henry theight’, causing the
Queen to smile with joy.35 In all these actions, the people corroborate the themes of the procession—that the Queen is willing to
listen to her people, that she is the “natural child” of her father and
therefore the rightful heir to the throne. The people, then, contribute to the meaning of the pageants through their engagement with
the monarch and the paid actors. They are not merely passive observers that sit in front of the modern proscenium stage;36 they
take part as players do.
These people who watch the procession are also treated by the
monarch as honoured guests. When they approach the Queen,
when they ask favours of her, when they give her small presents,
she responds with remarkable graciousness. In the section entitled
‘Certain notes of the quenes maiesties great mercie, clemencie,
and wisdom used in this passage’, Mulcaster emphasizes that on
this occasion in particular the Queen honoured the poor:
What more famous thing doe we reade in aucient histories of olde time,
then that mightye princes have gentlie received presentes offered them by

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base and low personages. If that be to be wondered at (as it is passingly)
let me se any writer that in any one princes life is able to recount so
manie presidentes of this vertue, as her grace shewed in the one passage
through the citie. How many nosegays did her grace receive at poore
womens hands; how ofttimes staied she her chariot, when she saw any
simple body offer to speak to her grace. A branche of Rosemarie given to
her grace with a supplication by a poore woman about fleetebridge, was
sene in her chariot till her grace came to Westminster, not without the
mervaillous wondring of such as knew the presenter and noted the
Queenes most gracious receiving and keeping the same.37

Even though Mulcaster gives striking attention to the poor in this
text, there is a trace of condescension here: ‘base and low personages ... poore womens hands ... simple body ... mervaillous
wondring of such as knew the presenter’. This last quotation
identifies other onlookers (here, perhaps the nobility) as also distasteful of poverty. However, the Queen does not shrink back
from these people—if anything, she honours them. The rosemary, a sign of remembrance, accompanies a “supplication”, and
may have been designed as a reminder to follow through on the
requested aid. Rather than tossing it away as soon as she passes
the supplicant, the Queen kept the branch with her to the end of
the procession, although it is likely that she received more nosegays and bouquets than could reasonably be accommodated in her
carriage. In this behaviour, then, Elizabeth gives honour and favour to the poor, privileging them so that they become more like
guests than subjects.
The child actors in the procession were neither wealthy nor
prominent, but the Queen treats them likewise as honoured
guests.38 She is a gracious hostess, hanging on every word spoken by the actors and repeatedly asking for quiet from those
around her so she could hear. Even when a pageant’s meaning is
obvious from the visual representation, she asks the actors to explain the meaning or clarify the message of the pageant, thus allowing them to speak their carefully prepared texts.39 The actors,
then, are treated as valuable parts of the day’s entertainment. The
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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

Queen honours them by making it clear that their contributions
should not be overlooked nor their efforts to perform ignored.
The actors are also audience members for the performances of
the Queen and of those who watch the pageants. There is no
fourth wall in this dramatic display—the performers, in fact, are
cued by the monarch herself. In most cases, the cue is the arrival
of the Queen at the appropriate place, but at St. Dunstan’s church
the cue is more complex. A child waited by the side of the road
and ‘offred to make an oracion unto her’.40 When the Queen stopped her chariot to listen, she ‘did cast up her eyes to heaven, as
who shoulde saye, I here see this mercifull worke towarde the
poore whom I must in the middest of my royaltie nedes remember, and so turned her face towarde the childe, which in latin pronounced an oracion ...’.41 Whether or not Mulcaster is correctly
interpreting this pregnant look from the Queen, it is clear that the
child knows to watch and wait until the Queen has had her dramatic moment. A performer in the procession, he is also an audience member.
These preliminary considerations of the relationships and roles
in The Quenes Maiesties Passage demonstrate that the complex
social structures of a procession define, in part, its meaning. To a
greater extent than in the theatre or a static pageant, the meaning
of a procession evolves through the interactions of all participants. If all audience members are also performers, if all performers are also honoured guests, if all honoured guests are also audience members, then each person has significance even beyond
his or her typical or expected roles. This significance creates a
kind of power for the participants in this procession. This power
comes not at the expense of another person, but through the participation of others. Each member of the procession has a moment
in the spotlight, and each takes turn applauding the others. For
those watching, power comes through the ability to transform the
procession as it develops through their participation. They are not
bystanders but artists, at least for a moment. Further, this procession serves not only to honour but also to counsel and direct the
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Queen herself.42 Additional power comes through the Queen’s
consideration of the wishes of her people—the disenfranchised
discover that, if only for a moment, another person values them.
For the actors, the procession offers an opportunity to have their
work come under the very-attentive gaze of the Queen. Her response makes the performances, and therefore the performers, significant.
This concept of power is paradoxical, for power comes
through mutuality and cooperation rather than competition. Instead of clinging to control, each party gives up power to another
party, at least for a time. Considering this procession in this way
does not argue that the procession was somehow utopian: supplications were offered to the Queen in hopes of positive responses,
salaries were paid for the acting, and Elizabeth herself certainly
benefited from her newly-forged relationship with the people of
England. Nor was the procession somehow egalitarian. The
Queen remained the Queen, and people bowed in her presence.
However, there was reciprocity: each party was dependent on the
others in this particular power arrangement. In the pageant of the
ruinous and flourishing commonwealths at Cheapside, both ruler
and ruled have responsibilities. A commonwealth is ruined by
blindness in leaders, bribery in magistrates, or unmercifulness in
rulers, but it is also ruined by disobedience to rulers, rebellion in
subjects, civil disagreement, and unthankfulness of subjects. A
flourishing commonwealth is caused by a similar, though opposite, list of attributes.43 This interdependence, while offering a
model for the Elizabethan procession, may also offer a new way
of understanding the role of the Queen during this procession.
III
Some critics of The Quenes Maiesties Passage, such as Sidney
Anglo, Jean Wilson, David Bergeron, and Roy Strong, have little
to say about Elizabeth’s involvement, noting basically that she
interacts well with the planned festivities and impresses the crowd
with her graciousness. For Susan Frye, the procession is a
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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

struggle for power that the Queen ultimately loses because she is
forced by the London Aldermen into a passive, powerless role.
Though Frye allows for the possibility that Elizabeth could have
taken power in this procession,44 power for Frye is limited to
control, particularly control over interpretation. Conflicting agendas prevent the possibility of collaboration. In Frye’s view, Elizabeth and the Aldermen have little or no common ground; I have
demonstrated that the flexibility of roles in this procession created
a kind of kinship. Frye’s argument is also limited by the parties
she selects for analysis. Though she is correct in attributing more
power to the London Alderman than other scholars have, in the
process she ignores the actors and the audience for the procession. Because Frye’s reading of the coronation procession is so
different from mine, it may be useful to explore more thoroughly
Frye’s assumptions about Elizabeth’s role in and response to the
procession.
Frye focuses her analysis on ‘the gendered exchanges that
produced the text’ of The Quenes Maiesties Passage.45 As Frye
limits the procession to an interchange between the Queen and the
Aldermen, it becomes essentially about the weakness of a young
woman in the face of aggressive older males who wish to view
her as ‘compliant, malleable, and grateful—in short, as their metaphoric wife’.46 Even as Frye argues that these roles were ‘imposed’47 on the Queen, she notes that Elizabeth herself used these
roles to her advantage many times during her life. This way of
analyzing the situation creates the appearance of conflict, but it is
not at all clear that Elizabeth resented the roles she took on during
the procession.
In order for Frye to view Elizabeth as compliant and malleable, she limits Elizabeth’s participation in the procession to ‘two
brief moments of self-representation: her prayer and her response
to the city’s gift of a purse of gold’.48 However, as I have argued
above, Elizabeth was continually active during her procession,
communicating both verbally and non-verbally with the audience
and the performers. Frye dismisses these moments by noting that,
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other than at the two occasions mentioned above, ‘Elizabeth’s role
was largely limited to receiving, briefly thanking, and remembering ...’.49 These moments, however, were not limitations: it is
precisely in these moments, through her ‘mercie, clemencie, and
wisdom’, that Elizabeth established her authority with her people.
Frye’s argument depends largely on her assumption that the
procession acts out the conflict between the ways in which Elizabeth wanted to represent herself and the ways in which the City
wanted to represent her. For this argument, though, Frye is largely dependent on speculation. When arguing that the pageants represented the interests of the City elites, she uses as evidence the
fact that Elizabeth at numerous other times took control of a situation when she was uncomfortable with the subject matter.50 She
never addresses the issue of why Elizabeth uttered no protest
here, except to note that the Queen may have chosen to collaborate
with the Aldermen ‘in the appearance of her own relative passivity’.51 This collaboration is, however, not a peaceful one, for Frye
notes moments in which Elizabeth’s “own perspective”—i.e., her
resistance to the representations around her—comes out.52 How
Frye can distinguish between Elizabeth’s “own perspective” and
what she assumes to be feigned graciousness is unclear.
In her introduction, Frye addresses several flaws in previous
views of agency, which include the assumption that the Queen is
self-determined and conscious of her own signification. While I
would agree with Frye that such a reading is unsound, Frye’s only alteration of the flawed perspective is to add a sense of process
to this conscious and unconscious self-signification: agency becomes ‘a question of how signification and resignification work’.53
This reformulation seems weak, and it is puzzling in light of
Frye’s comment two pages earlier: ‘[w]e cannot know whether
Elizabeth was consciously a partner in the process of self-representation and competition’. Throughout The Competition for
Representation, though, Frye’s descriptions of Elizabeth imply
that the Queen is conscious both of others’ attempts to signify
her and the necessity for her own self-signification. For Frye,
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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

Elizabeth’s self-representation seems only to occur when she cannot be influenced by those around her—she notes that the prayer,
one of her moments of success, is ‘the single scene that she does
not share with the merchants’.54 She notes, ‘the extent of her
power was determined by her willingness to engage and restructure the discourses current in her culture that naturalized gender
identity’.55 Although Frye claims that the young Queen lacked assertiveness and rhetorical practice, in Frye’s analysis Elizabeth
comes to her accession already conscious of the cultural, gendered systems of signification that she would oppose for the rest of
her reign. Frye provides no explanation for how Elizabeth is able
to recognize, as if from the outside, that context.
In fact, she could not have. Although Elizabeth sometimes
displayed frustration with the rules of her society, particularly as
they related to her role as a female monarch, the only way she
could interact with her culture was from the inside. If anything,
though, that was an advantage. Although some of her goals and
ideas may have been different from those of others, Elizabeth
identifies with the people of her coronation procession through
their shared culture: shared interpretive strategies, shared concerns about peace and unity, and shared hope at the beginning of
a new reign. Rather than being a contest of wills between the
Queen and the Court of Aldermen, the coronation procession is a
collaborative effort among all those who watched, created, and
participated. The scripts written by the authors of the pageants
framed the procession, Mulcaster’s account narrates it, but the
procession came alive through the active participation of the
Queen, the actors, and the audience.
Frye’s argument is dependent on her assumptions about the
competition inherent in power relationships and on a very specific
reading of the exchanges during Elizabeth’s coronation procession. As I have argued above, the complexity of roles and relationships in the procession gives evidence for a very different
kind of exchange. When power is understood not as an absolute
weapon, but as a flexible tool for communication, the coronation
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procession, and the Queen’s role within it, are opened up for a
fresh analysis. In choosing to give significance to parties other
than herself, the Queen demonstrates that she is not passive, is
not without power. The question then becomes, in what ways
does she exercise her agency and her strength?
During the procession, Queen Elizabeth maintains a gracious
demeanour and a listening posture. She stops her carriage frequently to listen to requests from her people. She thanks the City
and the people often for their efforts and their love.56 She listens
carefully to the pageants, frequently asking for explanation and
reiteration. These moments make it clear that she is neither passive nor powerless. In fact, her behaviour is consistent with her
well-established role as a humanist student or scholar. Humanist
pedagogy, while providing a method for understanding Mulcaster’s interests and approaches, may also offer a way to interpret
the rhetorical strategies of Elizabeth I. In Elizabeth’s hands, the
scholarly role demonstrates her strength and enriches her relationship to her people.
Prior to her accession, Elizabeth Tudor was a precocious
scholar, proficient in Latin, Italian, and French by her early teens,
and she added Spanish and Greek to the list as she grew into maturity. Our primary source for information about Elizabeth’s education is Ascham’s The Scholemaster, in which he lays out his
pedagogy as well as his specific interactions with the Lady Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s education under Ascham consisted of the study
of both Greek and Latin with particular emphasis on Cicero, Demosthenes, Aristotle, Isocrates, Quintilian, and Plato.57 The bulk
of her time was spent in translation of the classics into English
and then back into Greek or Latin.58 Although as an adult she was
not forced to continue her studies, she did so willingly her whole
life—one of her final projects was the translation of Boethius’ De
Consolatione Philosophiae into English.59 Elizabeth’s proficiency in these studies demonstrates her excellence as a scholar, but
her zeal demonstrates that she is also an active student—interested in learning for its own sake. Although the speeches and
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pageants of The Quenes Maiesties Passage were unlikely to
further the Queen’s knowledge of the classics, they were opportunities to listen to and learn from others. It is in this capacity that
her response to the coronation may be understood.
In contrast to Frye’s approach, which shows Elizabeth as disempowered Other because of her gender, the humanist system as
described by Crane and Pocock allows for the possibility of communication between disparate voices—in this case, between the
Queen and her people during her coronation procession. The
Queen’s education helped her read classical texts in all their foreignness; in a similar way, her education may have helped her
“read” those diverse people around her. These educational practices may also open up a way of understanding Elizabeth’s response to the counsel offered in her coronation procession.
One of Frye’s objections to the pageantry and speeches of
The Quenes Maiesties Passage is that Elizabeth is frequently
placed in the position of a listener. For Frye, these are moments
of passivity in which the Queen is not permitted self-representation. However, in light of Elizabeth’s scholarly upbringing, these
moments could instead be understood as Elizabeth’s active representation of herself in the role of student. The Deborah pageant at
Fleet Street offers one example of this role. Deborah sits in the
centre of the pageant under a Palm tree, and gathered around her
are six people. The tablet below identifies the image as ‘Debora
with her estates, consulting for the good government of Israel’,
but Mulcaster’s note is more specific: two of the people represent
the nobility, two the clergy, and two the commonality.60 Frye
mentions the pageant only briefly—‘Deborah, the married judge
dutifully consulting her councillors in Fleet Street’61—and John
N. King analyzes it primarily in terms of its symbolic references
to Parliament.62 Although King may be accurate in his analysis,
the three groups of counselors—nobility, commonality, and clergy—evoke not only Parliament but also the three main social
groups in England. Although the Biblical story notes that Deborah
ruled from under a palm tree and that the Israelites came to her, it
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gives no reference to a range of social classes. This innovation,
underscored by Mulcaster, demonstrates the importance of all social groups to the meaning of this procession and to the future of
the nation. Elizabeth dramatizes her approval of the message: ‘her
grace required silence, and commaunded her chariot to be removed nigher, that she might plainlie heare the childe speake’.63
In the process, Elizabeth shows ‘her estates’ that she values communication.
If at other times Elizabeth showed herself resistant to the advice of her Parliament or closest counselors, during this pageant
she demonstrated receptiveness. Elizabeth’s response troubles
Frye because it seems passive, but as Elizabeth listens, she has
the opportunity to learn what her people want and expect out of
her reign. Although she might not agree with or accept everything
her subjects want, she embodies here the motto, both scholarly
and shrewd, that she retained her whole life: Video et Taceo: I
see and remain silent.64 She identifies herself as a person who is
willing to listen and to learn—not a passive role, but an active
one. Elizabeth’s choice to respond in this way opens up the procession to the many voices that were present. Some of those
voices were authorized through political power, such as the nobility who walked beside the Queen. Some were authorized by the
texts they had commissioned or written for performance in the
procession. Other voices, though, take centre stage in Mulcaster’s
account. These voices were authorized through the Queen’s acts
of graciousness: stopping, acknowledging, watching, listening,
receiving, thanking. In return, the people greeted, spoke, performed, entreated, presented, and counseled. These activities
gave power and significance to those that would otherwise have
been considered of no consequence. In surrendering absolute
power and positioning herself as a student—at least for a time—
Elizabeth was able to make contact with her people, which in turn
strengthened and extended the power of her reign.
Although the role of the Queen in this procession was almost
certainly informed by sixteenth-century notions of the acceptable
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Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

place for women, for Elizabeth these notions become here a foundation for authority: the qualities that made for an idealized Renaissance woman, such as gentleness, mercy, and attentiveness,
also made for an ideal ruler. In this procession, these qualities
allowed Elizabeth to listen to her people and to honour them. As
The Quenes Maiesties Passage disrupted hierarchical distinction,
the honoured guest became an audience member as well as an
actor, and those who watched and performed were able to take on
power as well. This mutuality widened the scope of the procession: it was not only about a monarch and her powerful advisors or wealthy supporters, but also about people from a range
of backgrounds and social practices. As Elizabeth connected with
the larger audience in this early-Elizabethan procession, their interaction diffused some of the dichotomies that come so easily to
any culture—rich and poor, male and female, powerful and powerless—and called the people together through their mutual desires for peace and unification.
Notes
1

John Gough Nichols (ed.), The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and
Merchant-Taylor of London, from A. D. 1550 to A. D. 1563, London,
1848 [rpt. 1968], p. 185. Analyses of Elizabeth’s entry into London vary
in focus but can roughly be divided into two groups: those that emphasize theatrical conventions and literary qualities over social interactions—
this group would include studies by David Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642, London, 1971; Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy, Oxford, 1997 [2nd ed.]; Roy Strong,
The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry, London,
1977; and Gordon Kipling, ‘Wonderfull Spectacles: Theater and Civic
Culture’, in: John D. Cox & David Scott Kastan (eds.), A New History
of Early English Drama, New York, 1997, pp. 153-71—and those that
focus on political and social implications of pageantry. The latter group
would include texts by Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further
Studies in Interpretive Anthropology, New York, 1983; Stephen Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance
England, Chicago, 1988; Jean Wilson, Entertainments for Elizabeth I,
Woodbridge & Totowa, N. J., 1980; Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the
Politics of Literature; Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne and their Contempo-

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2
3
4
5

6

7
8
9

10
11
12
13

96

ries, Baltimore, 1983; Louis Montrose, The Purpose of Playing:
Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre, Chicago, 1996; and Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation, New York, 1993. The first group often emphasizes unity of
the text but fails to interrogate social relationships; the second group
describes a multiplicity of social agendas but generally assumes that difference always results in violence or discontinuity. As such, neither offers
a satisfactory model for understanding the complexity of social relationships in The Quenes Maiesties Passage—a complexity that is neither
simplistic nor violent.
See Richard L. DeMolen, Richard Mulcaster (c. 1531-1611) and Educational Reform in the Renaissance, Nieuwkoop, 1991, p. 133.
See Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London,
Cambridge, 1995, p. 223.
See Kipling, ‘Wonderfull Spectacles’, p. 168.
David Bergeron, ‘Elizabeth’s Coronation Entry (1559): New Manuscript
Evidence’, English Literary Renaissance 8.1 (1978), pp. 3-8; Idem,
English Civic Pageantry, p. 13.
My text for Elizabeth’s coronation procession is the Yale Elizabethan
Club’s facsimile edition of Richard Mulcaster’s The Quenes Maiesties
Passage through the Citie of London to Westminster the Day before her
Coronation, (ed.) James M. Osborn, New Haven, 1960. Here quoted on
B1.
Ibid., D1v.
While this specific text was not part of the coronation pageantry, it certainly would have been familiar to Elizabeth.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, B1. See Mark Breitenberg,
‘“... the hole matter opened”: Iconic Representation and Interpretation in
“The Quenes Majesties Passage”’, Criticism 28 (1986), pp. 1-26.
Frye, Elizabeth I, p. 33.
Ibid., p. 42.
Although Frye never explains exactly what she means by “unity”, this
notion of homogeneity seems closest to the ways she uses the word.
From John Neale’s ‘Introduction’ to the facsimile edition of The Quenes
Maiesties Passage, p. 14. Mulcaster’s account is the most full account
of the procession. There is a brief précis in Henry Machyn’s Diary (See
Nichols [ed.], The Diary of Henry Machyn, p. 186), but Machyn only
sketches out what happened in a few of the pageants. The Venetian ambassador, Il Schifanoya, also narrated parts of the pageants in a letter to
the Castellan of Mantua dated 23 January, 1559. He is more concerned,
however, with religious changes at the advent of Elizabeth or with the

Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

14
15
16
17

18
19
20
21
22

23
24
25
26

physical preparations the City undertook (See Rawdon Brown et al.
(eds.), Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts Relating to English
Affairs Existing in the Archives and Collections of Venice, and in other
Libraries of Northern Italy: 1202-[1675], 38 vols., London, 1864-1947,
vol. VII, pp. 10-16).
Mulcaster was paid by the Court of Aldermen on 4 April, 1559, ‘for
making of the boke conteynynge and declaryng the historyes set furth in
and by the Cyties pageauntes at the tyme of the Quenes Maiesties Passage highness commyng thurrough the Cytye to her coronacon xls which
boke was gevyen unto the Quenes grace’ (Corporation of London, Repertory 14, fol. 143).
DeMolen, Richard Mulcaster, pp. xxviii, 1-11 and 140.
Ibid., p. 147.
Ibid., p. 36.
See Mary Thomas Crane, Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and
Society in Sixteenth-Century England, Princeton, 1993, chapters 1-3,
particularly pp. 20, 22, 38 and 63.
Ibid., p. 5.
See J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political
Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition, Princeton, 1975, p. 62.
Ibid.
Manley, Literature and Culture in Early Modern London, p. 220.
A sketch, reproduced from ‘Egerton MS 3320’ for the facsimile edition of
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, shows one example of the guildsmen
lining the streets at Elizabeth’s coronation the following day. This drawing was not included with the printed text of the royal entry, however.
John Nichols, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, 3 vols., London, 1823 [rpt. AMS Press, 1977], vol. I, p. 37.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, A2.
Ibid., A2-A2v.
My analysis of rhetorical variation in this procession is influenced by
Bakhtinian dialogism. Bakhtin’s translators Caryl Emerson and Michael
Holquist define dialogism as ‘the characteristic epistemological mode of a
world dominated by heteroglossia ...—there is a constant interaction between meanings, all of which have the potential of conditioning others.
Which will affect the other, how it will do so and in what degree is what
is actually settled at the moment of utterance’ (Mikhail Bakhtin, The
Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, (ed.) Michael Holquist, (trans.)
Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist, Austin, 1981, p. 426). Dialogism is
the interchange of two or more voices, each speaking in the idiom, the
dialect, the rhetorical style most familiar to himself or herself. Those differences between voices create the meaning of the text.

97

L. Caitlin Jorgensen

27
28
29
30
31
32

33
34
35
36
37
38

39
40
41
42

98

Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, p. 15.
Wilson, Entertainments for Elizabeth I, p. 9.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, A2v.
Ibid., B1v.
Ibid., A3v.
In James’s entry into London, these roles are split—he is the honoured
guest but does not appear interested enough in the pageants to be an audience member.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, A2v.
Ibid., A3v and C3.
Ibid., E3.
Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, p. 15.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, E3v.
Only two children are identified specifically: a boy of Paul’s School who
gave an oration in Latin (D1v) and a child of St. Dunstan’s (D4). Since
the others are not identified, it is likely that they did not come from either
of these places, or Mulcaster would have noted that as well. There is no
specific evidence about the identity of the rest of the children, but I would
argue that the frequency of singing and music in the procession would
have called for choirboys.
Child actors came either from grammar schools or from the choirs of
private chapels and ecclesiastical institutions (Michael Shapiro, Children
of the Revels: The Boy Companies of Shakespeare’s Time and Their
Plays, New York, 1977, p. 2). Grammar school boys would have been
trained in acting and thus capable of performing in these pageants, but
their musical training was not as thorough as that of choirboys. Choirboys were scholarship boys, chosen for their musical ability rather than
social prominence, and they were supported by alms (Ibid., p. 8). Harold
Newcomb Hillebrand, The Child Actors: A Chapter in Elizabethan Stage
History, Urbana, 1926 [rpt. New York, 1964], also points out that
choirboys were generally used for this sort of event: ‘the musical character of so many of the pageants made demands which choir boys, from
whom most of the actors were drafted, could satisfy admirably ...’ (p. 36).
If, then, the actors are choirboys, Elizabeth’s attentiveness to them is a
form of honouring the poor.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, A3, B1v, B3, B4, C2v,
D2v, D3v.
Ibid., D4v.
Ibid.
Though some critics, such as Frye, tend to make much of this fact in
light of the Queen’s gender, the role of counsel in pageantry was well es-

Diversity in Unity: Elizabeth’s Coronation Procession

43

44
47
48
51
54
56

57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64

tablished and conventional. Lawrence Manley, Literature and Culture in
Early Modern London, acknowledges ‘the tendency of ceremony to
laudando praecipere—to teach by praising,’ then says, ‘[b]ut with its
emphasis on sharing, exchange, and reciprocity, the discursive teaching of
the inaugural show tended to become, through a kind of meta-liturgical
awareness, a general model of the innovative kinds of human relationships the inaugural shows extolled’ (p. 215). Though this comment relates to early modern mayoral inaugural shows, I would argue that it
could be extended to processions in general.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, D2v. Mulcaster comments
that the purpose of the pageant is ‘to put her grace in remembrance of the
state of the common weale’ (D1). The interdependence of a commonwealth is also a theme in English humanist descriptions of the body
politic as a mixed state. Though fully-developed republican arguments are
still well in the future, Markku Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-1640, Cambridge,
1995, pp. 9-10, notes that early English humanists such as Thomas Starkey, John Ponet, and John Aylmer used reciprocity to argue for mixedstate theory before and during the time of Elizabeth’s accession.
Frye, Elizabeth I, p. 11.
45 Ibid., p. 25.
46 Ibid.
This word is used several times, notably on p. 28.
Ibid., p. 36.
49 Ibid., p. 26.
50 Ibid., p. 38.
Ibid., p. 50.
52 Ibid., p. 42.
53 Ibid., p. 7.
Ibid., p. 36.
55 Ibid., p. 7.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, A3v, B1v, C1, C2, C3v.
In the facsimile edition, C2 is incorrectly marked C3. To prevent confusion between the two pages marked C3, I cite the correct page reference.
See Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster, (ed.) Edward Arber, [s.l.], Folcroft, 1976, Book 2.
Ibid., p. 26.
Maria Perry (ed.), The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I from
Contemporary Documents, Woodbridge, 1990, p. 297.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, D3v.
Frye, Elizabeth I, p. 24.
John N. King, Tudor Royal Iconography: Literature and Art in an Age
of Religious Crisis, Princeton, 1989, p. 227.
The Quenes Maiesties Passage, (ed.) Osborn, D3v.
Mary Thomas Crane, ‘“Video et Taceo”: Elizabeth I and the Rhetoric of
Counsel’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 28 (1988), pp. 1-15.

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On Cushions and Chairs:
The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

Alejandro Cañeque
In 1620 several judges of the audiencia (High Court) of Mexico
sent a long letter to the king to complain about the authoritarian
practices of the viceroy who ruled the viceroyalty of New Spain.
In that letter, the oidores (ustices) devoted a great deal of space to
what, at first sight, may seem to be mere anecdotal incidents in
the relations between the viceroy and the audiencia. For example,
the judges contended that the viceroy had clearly shown his intent
to snatch away their power and authority by forbidding them to
place black velvet cushions on the floor in front of their seats
when they attended church services, this being, according to the
oidores, the usual custom everywhere in the Indies, whenever
the viceroy was not present.1 Ironically, it would be a viceroy, the
count of Salvatierra, who, years later, would complain to the king
because Juan de Palafox, who had been sent to inspect the
viceroyalty at that time, argued that the viceroy could not put a
cushion on his seat while sitting in the audiencia with the
oidores. Whereas Palafox thought that the viceroy should not be
seated higher than the oidores, lest he differentiate himself from
them, the viceroy contended that the cushion simply served ‘to
differentiate himself with this little sign from the other ministers’.2
Although most historians have been aware of the ceremonial,
complicated protocol and frequent disputes over matters of precedence that surrounded the viceroys, they have generally dismissed these matters as simply amusing episodes, as vestigial
medieval customs designed to please the vanity of the vice-sovereigns, or as utterly irrelevant details, no matter how “colourful”

Alejandro Cañeque

they were.3 However, since pomp and pageantry, spectacle and
splendour, were integral parts of the political process and the
structure of colonial and imperial power, the study of the rituals
of power and the power of rituals should play a central role in any
analysis of colonial politics. This article will show that the rituals
of rulers, the “symbolics of power”, were not mere incidental
ephemera but, indeed, were central to the structure and working
of colonial society. Some authors have argued that states require
rituals to mask or legitimate hegemony, because they make coercion less evident.4 In my approach, however, I see pomp and ceremony as neither the exercise of power by cosmetic means nor the
mask of power, but as an integral part of power and politics. In
this sense, political rituals embody the very production and negotiation of power relations and are not merely the instrument of
power, politics, or social control (which are usually seen as existing before or outside the ritual activities).5 In this respect, I do not
regard the rituals of colonial power as simply reflections of the
social structure, since they, like language, were endowed with a
capacity to construct social reality.6 The rituals that were acted out
in Mexico in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shaped colonial society as much as they were a reflection of it, allowing for a
variety of often unpredictable responses. Therefore, the theatre of
colonial politics, constitutive as well as representative of power,
was by no means inconsequential in elaborating the rapport of
forces in colonial political culture. This approach allows me to
understand more completely how Spanish colonial power, in general, and viceregal power, more particularly, were constituted.
In order to reconstruct the logic of Spanish rule, it is essential
to examine the politics of viceregal rule since the appointment of
viceroys was a key mechanism in the imposition of royal authority in New Spain. But, despite the political significance of the
viceregal figure, little is known about the mechanisms of viceregal
power. Those historians who have examined the structure of
Spanish colonial administration have usually seen the viceroy as a
prominent figure in the effort to build a colonial state. In my opin102

The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

ion, however, postulating the state as the normal form of political
organization is a highly problematic concept when applied to the
study of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and, thus, not
very useful for understanding viceregal power. This is so because
the idea of the “state” as the essential concept that unified and
gave cohesion to the political community—an entity with a life of
its own, distinct from both rulers and ruled, and able, in consequence, to call upon the allegiances of both parties—had not yet
entered the political imagination of the Spanish polity.7
This is a point crucial for understanding why government by
ritual played such an extraordinary role in New Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Quentin Skinner has argued,
the emergence of the modern concept of the state as both a supreme and an impersonal form of authority brought about the displacement of the charismatic elements of political leadership and
with it the belief that sovereignty is intimately connected with display, that the presence of majesty serves in itself as an “ordering
force”. The connection between the presence of majesty and the
exercise of power could not thus survive the transfer of public authority to the purely impersonal agency of the modern state.8 On
the other hand, one intrinsic aspect of early modern society was
the lack of physical force available to local rulers. In the words of
Michel Foucault, the theory of the absolute monarchy ‘enables
power to be founded in the physical existence of the sovereign,
but not in continuous and permanent systems of surveillance’.
That is why the authority of the absolute sovereign was based on
‘spectacular and discontinuous interventions of power, the most
violent form of which was the “exemplary”, because exceptional,
punishment’.9 This would explain the importance attributed by
contemporaries to indirect enforcement, above all, exemplary
punishment and the almost metaphysical belief in the value of authority’s presence, based on the assumption that society was essentially disorderly, and that authority had to be regularly and visibly manifested. This led to a sensitivity concerning all aspects of
symbolic authority, since public opinion was seen as highly res103

Alejandro Cañeque

ponsive to nuances detected in public appearances and ceremonies.10 It is also connected with the fact that in a society most of
whose members were not literate, symbolic representations of
power had a crucial importance: it was the language of power that
everybody understood. Thus, in this essay I examine how the
Spanish rulers constructed their authority through ritual and how
different sectors of the ruling elite contested colonial authority also through ritual.11 More concretely, I analyse the public display
of viceregal power, and explain the important role played, in the
grammar of colonial society, by the viceroy’s extreme visibility,
in opposition to the “invisibility” of the Spanish king. My argument is that colonial authority depended on the continuous public
display of the rulers.
The Politics of the Viceroy’s Body
Throughout the early modern period, the Spanish monarchy
created or adapted an extraordinarily rich repertoire of rituals devoted to creating what can be considered a true “theatre-state”.
These rituals were mostly borrowed from the ritual vocabulary of
the Church. In Catholic thought as elaborated in the Middle Ages,
rituals had the ability to enact, to bring something into being, to
make something “present” (the consecrated Host did not represent
the body of Christ, it was the body of Christ).12 It should not be
a surprise, then, that in the quintessential Catholic monarchy, the
Spanish monarchy, power was thought to be enacted through ceremonial performances. This is clearly evident, for example, in the
rituals surrounding the reception in New Spain of the royal seal.
The royal seal was stamped on all the writs (reales provisiones)
issued by the audiencias. Every time that a new monarch ascended the throne, a new seal with the king’s coat of arms would
be sent to Mexico, the old one being melted down and the silver
sent back to Spain. On its arrival in Mexico City, the seal was received in the same way as the king or the viceroy was: the audiencia and the cabildo (City Council) would go to meet it and
ride back to the city with the seal, placed on a horse or mule, be104

The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

tween the president of the audiencia and the senior oidor.1 3
Thus, the ritual of reception of the seal made the king “present”,
at the same time that it reactivated his power. Just as happened
with the Host during the mass, the seal did not represent or symbolize the king—it was the king.
In this regard, the same can be argued in relation to the figure
of the viceroy. He was a “symbol” of royalty who, as such, reenacted the king’s power every time he was displayed in the theatre of colonial politics. In his analysis of the rituals of justice in
Ancien Régime France, Michel Foucault argued that, in the absence of continual supervision, power sought a renewal of its effects through the spectacle of cruelty and torture, so as to make
everyone aware, through the body of the criminal, of the unrestrained presence of the sovereign.14 In New Spain, this ‘liturgy of
punishment’ through which royal power was manifested also
played its role, with public executions of criminals and autos-dafé taking place regularly.15 But there also existed in Mexico a
‘liturgy of magnificence’ which likewise revealed royal power periodically and sought a renewal of its effects. Here, to paraphrase
Foucault, it was the viceroy’s body, rather than the criminal’s,
which played the main role. On his displayed body, exhibited in
processions, surrounded with brilliance and splendour, royal authority was legible to all. This production of magnificence was
perfectly regulated and formed part of a ritual, a “viceregal epiphany” that met two demands: it marked the viceroy, not with infamy, as in the case of the criminal, but with majesty, by the
many symbols that accompanied him. And it was spectacular, it
had to be seen by all as the triumph of the sovereign power that
had sent the viceroy: his body, constantly exhibited through the
streets of Mexico City, was made the visible announcement of the
king’s power.
Since the viceroy’s body played such a transcendental role in
proclaiming royal authority, his exhibition in public was regulated
to the smallest detail. That is why, among the recommendations
given by the president of the Council of the Indies to the marquis
105

Alejandro Cañeque

of Montesclaros to make certain his success as viceroy of New
Spain, he included a piece of advice on how he should ‘govern
his person’. For the president, every viceroy ought to follow the
general rule that nothing said to him should disturb or upset him.
He then went on to add that
[a viceroy’s] person and actions must be of great demeanor, modesty and
gravity. ... He must dress in a decorous way, the cape long rather than
short, his traveling clothes should be of grave and dignified colours, he
should wear no feathers in his hats, and in all these matters and in everything else he must always look older rather than younger. He must always walk very slowly, in a orderly manner, calmly and showing authority. In churches and on the street, he must never look directly at the people, although ... he will try to see and notice everything. ... He should
utter few words, those in a grave and soft-spoken manner. Whenever he
gets irritated, he must not lose his temper, one single word or look being
sufficient as punishment.16

This way of exhibiting himself in public highlighted the viceroy’s majesty, since gravity and impassivity were thought to be
characteristics peculiar to monarchs (the Spanish kings were famous for their impassivity).17 This regulation of the publicly displayed body was applied not only to the viceroys but also to any
magistrate whose public appearance represented a manifestation
of royal power. Thus, a royal magistrate was expected to adopt
the same body language as the monarch who had given him his
power.18 In this regard, the body of the ruler had to be not only
well-proportioned and of austere bearing (to walk in a solemn and
sober way, for instance, demonstrated a judicious intellect), but
also had to be, in the words of the prominent Spanish jurist of the
sixteenth century Jerónimo Castillo de Bobadilla, ‘splendorous
and adorned’. Rulers and magistrates had to dress with distinction, in a manner befitting their station, not for their own sake but
because of the authority they represented, since their offices were
imbued with the majesty of the prince, and ‘for that reason the
populace esteems them more and fears them more, because they
cause fright with their greatness’.19 The dignity and decorum of
the office of viceroy, therefore, demand that his body be covered
106

The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

with great magnificence. Likewise, this need to dress splendidly
must be extended to his retainers and servants.20 Because of all
this, argues Bobadilla, ‘the luster and splendid treatment of the
ruler’s person and retinue should not be censured but praised, because ... beauty and greatness inspire admiration’.21 Although the
practice of “conspicuous consumption” may not be governed by a
strictly economic logic (i.e., may not be oriented towards financial gain), it nevertheless contributes to an increase in another sort
of capital, one as important as economic capital in early modern
societies: the symbolic capital that was accumulated through the
public recognition of honour and prestige.22 Magnificence, therefore, was one of the essential mechanisms through which a viceroy’s authority was constituted and sustained.
Just as the external appearance of the viceroy’s body was
completely regulated, both his public and private gestures were
highly ritualized. As the king’s alter ego, he constituted the “sacred centre” of political authority in New Spain.23 As such, colonial rituals always revolved around his figure. In the theatre of
power the viceroy, like his original, the king, occupied the focal
point. Platforms, curtains, rugs and armchairs marked the viceroy’s place. In this geometry of authority, the viceroy was also
the centre and axis of a lateral symbolics of power in which the
viceroy’s right side signified preeminence or deference and his
left indicated inferiority. Similarly, proximity or distance from the
viceroy’s body were used to codify rank and privilege. In this regard, it has been argued that protocol was used as a weapon to
enhance royal authority.24 But court etiquette was much more than
a weapon. It was the substance of the king or, in our case, the
viceroy, since the viceroy’s movements, dress, and language objectified the essence of his power: they were unavoidable, obligatory, and imperative. He was not simply the viceroy, he had to act
as such. His post depended on his representing his office with
dignity. Viceregal ceremonial and ritual thereby re-presented his
power every day and in every formal act: they constructed viceregal power.25
107

Alejandro Cañeque

This could be appreciated from the moment he landed in Veracruz and in his progress towards the capital. Through the viceregal progress, the viceroy, like the king himself would have done,
took symbolic possession of his realm. His public processions
and attendance at festivals stamped the territory with ritual signs
of dominance, marking it as though it were physically part of
him.26 In the case of Mexico, Octavio Paz has pointed out that the
itinerary followed by the viceroys from Veracruz to the capital city
was a ‘ritual voyage which can be seen as political allegory’.
Thus, before arriving in Mexico City, the new viceroy made public entries in three cities: the port city of Veracruz, associated with
the landing of Cortes and the beginnings of the conquest; Tlaxcala, the capital of the Indian republic allied with the conquistadores;
and Puebla, a city founded by the Spaniards and the rival of Mexico City, which in the symbolic geography of New Spain represented the Creole centre, while Tlaxcala signified the Indian one.
In addition, in Otumba, where a decisive victory of Cortes’s army
had taken place, the outgoing and the incoming viceroys met for
the transfer of power.27
The public entry of every new viceroy into these cities in his
progress towards the capital was a ritual with a very precise political meaning, whereby the viceroy was assimilated in a symbolic
and ritual way with the absent monarch. Every public gesture of
the viceroy was modeled after the royal entry, which always began with a gesture of loyalty on the part of the city: the handing
over of the keys of the city to the ruler on his arrival at the city
gates. The ruler, in turn, guaranteed the rights and privileges of
the city residents. This same gesture was repeated later before the
clergy on arriving at the cathedral or main church.28 It has been
argued that the meaning of the royal entry, nevertheless, changed
in the course of time. In the late Middle Ages, the entry was conceived above all as an “advent”, after Jesus’s entry in Jerusalem
on Palm Sunday, in which worldly government was presented as
a mirror of the heavenly one. But starting in the sixteenth century,
the notion of the entry as “triumph” gained currency, and mon108

The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

archs began to be represented as heroes in the fashion of the triumphal entries celebrated by Roman generals and emperors after
some victory. As a result, the entry gradually lost its character as
a dialogue between the rulers and the ruled and became instead an
assertion of absolute power.29
In New Spain, in the mid-seventeenth century, nevertheless,
the entry as advent was still present, though it is also true that in
the arches erected to welcome them, the viceroys were regularly
presented as heroes or gods of Antiquity. This is the way it is
presented, at least, by the author of one of the descriptions of the
ceremonies surrounding the arrival in the viceroyalty of a new
viceroy. Its author clearly constructed the ritual of the viceregal
entry as an “advent” rather than as a “triumph” (perhaps the fact
that the author was a member of the clergy might have had some
influence on it), as proven by the exclamations he put in the
mouth of those present. For him, the populace show for the arrival of the viceroy ‘the same joy as that which captives show
when their ransom arrives’, blessing him with expressions like,
‘Welcome, father of the poor’, ‘We welcome the light which is
going to expel darkness from us’, or ‘Since you are coming to
cure this republic, heal its abscesses’. Similar expressions had
been used previously, according to the author of the description,
in the viceroy’s entry into Puebla, when the clerics had exclaimed:
‘Blessed be he who is sent in the name of the Lord’.30 On the
other hand, the entry as “triumph” was manifested in the arch
built by the city in which the viceroy was depicted as Mercury,
who, according to the anonymous author of the description of the
arch, was a ‘divine ambassador of God’. Thus, the viceroy, ambassador of the monarch, represented the bond uniting the king
with his distant kingdom of New Spain.31
The official procession that welcomed the new viceroy at the
entrance of the city constituted, from the political point of view, a
very important aspect of the ceremony of the viceregal entry. At
the head of the procession were the constables with kettledrums
and bugles, followed by numerous knights. After them, there
109

Alejandro Cañeque

came in hierarchical order from lesser to greater, indicative of the
distribution of power in the body politic, the university professors, the audiencia reporters and clerks, the city councillors, the
alcaldes ordinarios (city magistrates), the corregidor (chief
magistrate), the members of the Tribunal of Accounts, the alcaldes del crimen (criminal judges of the High Court), and, finally,
the oidores, with the senior oidor bringing up the rear of the
procession. After meeting him, the viceroy rode in procession on
a horse offered to him by the city for this special occasion towards the triumphal arch erected by the city council. There, the
city clerk, in the presence of the audiencia, had the viceroy swear
an oath that he would defend the kingdom and maintain the city’s
privileges. Once this ceremony had been performed, the doors of
the arch were opened so the viceroy could pass through, after
which the regidores (aldermen) placed the viceroy under the
royal canopy (palio). Then, with the two alcaldes ordinarios
carrying the bridles of the viceroy’s horse, the procession headed
towards the cathedral, where another arch had been erected.
There, the ecclesiastical chapter, holding a cross and a canopy and
singing the Te Deum Laudamus, went to meet the viceroy. Finally, after the cathedral ceremonies were concluded, the viceroy
proceeded to the viceregal palace.32
The procession expressed an ideal image of the political community. While the realities of political life were often disorderly
and contentious, processions usually proceeded in a relatively
structured fashion. In the procession the city was put in order: it
was an occasion when the ideal of a society both hierarchical and
harmonious, both stratified and unified, attained a momentary reality. But the procession also embodied a fundamental tension between the rules that ideally governed its staging and the actual behaviour of its participants. The processional order lent itself to
different interpretations that reflected the diverse views of power
and society held by the different sectors of colonial society. If the
procession can be understood as a theatrical performance, there
was always the risk that the participants would fail or refuse to
110

The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

perform as scripted. In fact, processions were regularly disrupted
by their participants.33 It has been argued that royal entries were a
fusion of two distinct processional rites: the royal progress and
the civic procession. The former was framed by the assumption
that the size and quality of a great man’s entourage directly reflected his status. In the latter, the frame consisted of the view of
urban society as an organic hierarchy, in which the guilds played
a very important role.34 The viceregal entry, however, was designed to highlight political authority above all. Thus, there was
no room in it for civic or popular displays (although native participation in the festivities was always prominent, they did not take
part in the viceregal procession, as neither did any confraternities35). Few things expressed, therefore, the majesty of viceregal
authority more vividly than the sight of so many brilliantly dressed men, walking or riding with solemn dignity around an even
more resplendent viceroy.
In addition, during the procession a series of symbols associated with royalty highlighted the close bond that existed between
the absent and invisible monarch and the present and visible-to-all
viceroy. In the first place, there was the horse the viceroy was
presented with by the cabildo and on which he paraded in every
city that celebrated a formal entry—the horse had been a royal
symbol at least since medieval times.36 Then, there was the oath
and the handing over of the keys, a ceremony that emphasized not
only the king’s sovereignty over the city but his obligation to respect its privileges as well. Similarly, the cathedral chapter meeting
the viceroy with cross and canopy while singing the Te Deum
was a ceremony reserved for monarchs on the occasion of their
first entry into a city. In relation to this, the right to sit under a
canopy or baldachin (dosel) in the main chapel of any church
when attending services there was another privilege of kings that
was also reserved for viceroys.37 But above all else it was the use
of the palio which most underlined the viceroy’s power and his
condition as a surrogate monarch. This was so mainly for two
reasons. First, for the Spanish monarchy the palio was probably
111

Alejandro Cañeque

the most important marker of royalty, more important than even
the crown, since the Spanish monarchy was conspicuous for the
absence of a coronation ceremony.38 Second, in an intrinsically
Catholic monarchy, in which the language used to refer to and address the monarch was the same as that used to refer to God, it
was almost inevitable that the same marker be utilized to denote
the monarch’s sovereignty as to signify divine power. To parade
under the canopy was a privilege that the monarch shared solely
with the Sacred Host, something that comes as no surprise if we
bear in mind the identification that existed between the Sacred
Host and the Habsburg monarchs.39
In this regard, the debate that took place in the 1630’s as to
whether viceroys had a right to be received under the canopy
shows us in a precise way the transcendent importance attributed
to the symbols of power and how such symbols were thought to
be endowed with a constitutive force. Ever since the first viceroys
had been appointed to rule New Spain, it had been customary to
receive them under the palio whenever they celebrated an official
entry, until the use of the palio was prohibited in 1619 because
of the many expenses it caused. But in 1632, when a grandee, the
duke of Escalona, was appointed viceroy of New Spain for the
first time, he solicited permission to be received under the canopy
for two reasons: one, on account of his status as grandee and
two, because of the geographical distance that lay between the
viceroy and the monarch any prerogative that increased the dignity
of the former’s post would greatly contribute to making his time
in office more effective. The effects attributed to this quintessential symbol of Spanish royalty were such that the duque de Escalona maintained in his petition that one of the reasons why the
marquis of Gelves had lost control of his government in the 1624
riot was because he had not been allowed to parade under the canopy during his official entry into Mexico City, something that, in
Escalona’s view, had enormously impaired his authority.40 Although it could be adduced that these arguments were simply
shallow rhetoric presented by Escalona to reinforce his request, it
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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

is interesting to note that a majority of the councillors of the Indies
who examined his petition agreed with him that the authority of
viceroy Gelves had been seriously affected by the absence of such
an important marker of royal sovereignty.41
When in 1638 the brother of the deceased duke of Escalona
was selected as viceroy of New Spain, he requested to be awarded the same privilege as his brother, i.e. the use of the palio. In
the subsequent debate that took place in the Council over this petition, the majority opinion, including that of Juan de Palafox, argued that since the current duke of Escalona had the same qualities as his late brother, he should also be allowed to use the canopy for his entry. However, they added to their opinion that the
prerogative of the canopy was awarded because viceroys represented the king’s person, and no matter how great the difference
of rank between a grandee and the “titled nobility” (dukes,
counts, and marquises) was, it was not so great as to allow such
an inequality between viceroys. They all occupied the same post,
contended the councillors, and they all, therefore, ought to possess the same esteem and authority, especially ‘in such remote
provinces where so much attention is paid to outward appearances’.42 With this last sentence the councillors were not saying that
the utilization of the palio by the viceroys was just a decorative
matter, which was allowed to satisfy the fancy of New Spain’s
inhabitants. What they were really arguing was that the distance
of those lands from Spain made far more necessary to associate
the viceroys with the symbols of royalty, which, in turn, would
make them more respected and would contribute to an increase in
their authority.
Nonetheless, this debate in the council did not end the discussion over the palio. Although that same year a cédula (royal
decree) was issued allowing the viceroys to parade under the palio, provided that no more than 8,000 pesos were spent on their
entries into Mexico City (and 12,000 in Lima),43 the complaints
about the excessive expenses caused by this ceremony forced the
Crown to come up with a peculiar solution to solve the problem.
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From the 1640’s onwards, and utilizing the pretext that the duke
of Escalona, in spite of the royal cédula that allowed him to be
received under the canopy, had renounced this privilege when the
Mexican regidores presented him with the canopy, it became
customary to give two royal letters to the viceroys before their
departure for the Indies. The first was a public one, by which the
viceroys were allowed to be received under the canopy in consideration of their personal status and the eminence of the post of
viceroy, so that those appointed could be successful in their service to the monarch. The second was a secret one, whereby the
king ordered the viceroys not to use the palio ceremony, even
though they had been authorized to do so by the previous cédula.44 This ingenious formula solved the problem of excessive
expense while, at the same time, safeguarding the viceroy’s authority by explicitly acknowledging that it was right for the viceroy, as the king’s living image, to use so fundamental a symbol
of royalty. He was not denied this use; it was only postponed,
due to ‘the poverty of the present times’, until the situation improved. Such a solution clearly shows the transcendent importance that contemporaries attributed to certain objects, which
rather than being mere adornments of power were its very embodiment.
In his study of the English royal entry, R. Malcolm Smuts has
argued that the Stuart kings’ dislike of public ritual, especially the
royal entry, contributed to the collapse of royal authority in the
1640’s. Instead of a visible symbol of the values that united England, Charles I ruled as a remote source of authority. Thus, by
failing to project an effective public image, he found it increasingly difficult to inspire loyalty.45 This is something that the Spanish
monarchs and their viceroys appeared to have always had in
mind, despite the very serious financial difficulties experienced in
the seventeenth century and the many criticisms made against the
excessive costs of the viceregal entries. In the Mexican case, for
example, the king was always a remote source of authority but,
contrary to the English monarch, he never lost his powerful pub114

The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

lic image thanks to his viceroys, who were living as constant reminders of his existence; hence, the ambivalence about restricting
the use of the symbols and marks of royal sovereignty by the
viceroys. The inhabitants of Mexico City, for example, were constantly reminded of the idea that the viceroy was a surrogate king
through a series of ritual ceremonies that made him the centre of
the rites of passage of the monarch and his family. Every time a
member of the royal family was born, married, or died, or whenever the king’s or the queen’s birthday was celebrated, all the representatives of the principal institutions of New Spanish society
went to the viceregal palace to offer congratulations or express
their condolences to the viceroy. There, the viceroy, seated under
a canopy (which certainly highlighted the idea of majesty whose
surrogate embodiment he was) would receive these corporations
with total solemnity, separately, and in strict hierarchical order,
beginning with the lesser ones and concluding with the oidores.46
For their part, the viceroys always attempted to emphasize
their authority symbolically, conscious as they were that their
power could be seriously compromised if their public image as
the supreme authority of the viceroyalty was not clearly transmitted to the populace. This might explain the fact that ritual entries
of rulers never went out of style in New Spain, as they had elsewhere by the late seventeenth century, when monarchs emancipated themselves from old royal ceremonials that had brought the
ruler and his subjects together in public forums, creating in their
stead “rites of personality” carried out within the walls of their
palaces.47 In the case of Mexico, it was not until the second half
of the eighteenth century that these trends can be discerned, although viceregal arches continued to be erected as late as 1783,
when the practice was discontinued.48 Nor does New Spain’s
elite appear to have experienced any changes in their attitude toward the kind of conspicuous consumption exemplified by viceregal entries, in spite of the enormous debt accumulated by the
cabildo.49 Throughout the seventeenth century, the Mexican re115

Alejandro Cañeque

gidores never failed to comply with their obligation of paying for
the expenses of the entries, even if that meant having to mortgage
every single piece of property owned by the cabildo.50 This attitude on the part of the regidores could have been caused, as
Colin MacLachlan has argued, by the Mexican elite’s interest in
giving the monarch’s representative a vivid image of their own
status and power.51 But it could have also been motivated simply
because, in the world of New Spain, the belief that the exercise of
power is intimately connected with display was still very much
alive.
Along with viceregal entries, there was probably no more solemn and impressive ceremony in New Spain than the funeral for
the king’s death (the funeral rites of any member of the royal family were usually equally splendid). Indeed, it has been argued
that the fact that the exemplary ritual centre of the Spanish monarchy, the palace of El Escorial, was a monument to death lent an
extraordinary significance to the rituals of death.52 If in the viceregal entry, the culminating moment of all the ceremonies and festivities was the procession that led the viceroy to the triumphal arch
(symbol and compendium of royal government), in the obsequies
the culminating moment was the solemn and funereal procession
which made its way from the viceregal palace to the cathedral and
the catafalque erected there (symbol and compendium, likewise,
of royal power).53 If in the viceregal procession there was no
room for the clergy or the common people, almost everyone participated in the funeral procession. It was a perfect microcosm of
colonial Mexican society, with the lowest members of society
heading the procession and the representatives of royal power
bringing up the rear. The procession therefore presented an idea
of the community as harmonious and hierarchized as that of a
mystical body. The funeral procession for King Philip IV’s death,
celebrated in Mexico City in 1666, is probably the most refined
example of this form of processional order. If we are to believe
the chronicler, thousands of people participated in the procession,
which was headed by the black and mulatto confraternities, followed by the Indian and the Spanish brotherhoods. After these,
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came the colleges and seminaries, the religious orders (in strict
order of seniority, starting with the most modern, the Society of
Jesus, and concluding with the oldest, the Dominicans), the clergy, and the ecclesiastical chapter. Then the royal tribunals marched after the clerics. In first place came the protomedicato (board
of medical doctors) followed by the consulado (merchant’s
guild), the university, and the city council. After them, came the
royal insignia (the scepter, the sword, and the crown), escorted
by the members of the military orders. The chancellor, the Tribunal of Accounts, and the audiencia, in this order, marched behind
the royal insignia. Finally, the viceroy appeared, as expressed by
the chronicler, ‘crowning the cortege with his greatness’. He
marched with the senior oidor at his left. In addition, the viceregal guard escorted the viceroy and the audiencia, while the city
battalion brought up the rear of the cortege.54
From the political standpoint, it is necessary to underline several aspects of the processional order. First, while the procession
that welcomed the viceroy was exclusive, the funeral procession
was inclusive. They constituted different ritual “genres”, so to
speak. If in the procession that welcomed the viceroy, as we
mentioned above, the common people were formally absent, it
was because, in a procession devised to emphasize political power, there was no reason to include the people who lacked such
power. By including blacks, mulattos, mestizos and Indians, the
funeral procession, on the contrary, showed that, although the
common people’s mission was not to rule the community, they
were, nevertheless, rightful members of the body politic (in the
language of the period, they were not the heads but the feet of the
body politic). That is, the physical space they occupied at the procession meant the position they occupied in the political community: they were literally performing their place in the body politic.
On the other hand, the processional order was an assertion of
royal power, since the king’s “alter ego” was the “crown” of the
procession and its apex. It may be argued that, in a way, the en117

Alejandro Cañeque

tire procession was an extremely long introduction to the viceroy’s appearance. Furthermore, the procession proclaimed the
preeminence of secular over ecclesiastical power (although not the
latter’s separation or independence from the former) by having the
clergy march before the royal tribunals (in the processions, the
order of precedence was always established from front to back).
Lastly, the fact that the viceroy marched with the senior oidor at
his side was also a political statement, with which he was affirming his will to cooperate with the audiencia. Marching alone,
behind the oidores, separating himself from the audiencia,
would have meant that the viceroy desired to assert his power as
independent from that of the audiencia. Thus, the procession
provided a continuous discourse on the constitutional order of the
community. As Edward Muir has argued, the procession was, in
fact, the constitution, since one of the defining characteristics of
the period was that political constitutions were ceremonial as well
as textual in nature.55 That is why any change in the processional
order was considered a grave matter and created continuous confrontations among the different institutions of colonial rule.
Contesting and Affirming Power through Ritual
The viceroy, although the manifest centre of power, nevertheless
had to compete with other centers of authority to be able to sustain
his power. In colonial society there were only two kinds of people who could seriously question viceregal authority: the oidores
and the bishops. In the case of the former, as shall be shown in
the last section, it was more a question of establishing the limits
of viceregal power within a relationship of subordination (at least
in theory); in the case of the latter, the problem was far more serious, especially in Mexico City, where the archbishops constituted another powerful centre of power, often challenging viceregal
authority. The Church, despite being usually depicted as the loyal
instrument of the Spanish monarchy, never lost its jurisdictional
autonomy. This autonomous power of the Church found its justification in the ideology of the “two knives”.56 The existence of
such an ideology was only possible in the political system that
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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

predated the modern state, with its dual conception of power—
spiritual and temporal—as opposed to the monopoly of sovereignty typical of the statist concept of power.57 Although it is true
that the monarchs always attempted to exercise the greatest control
possible over the clergy of their kingdoms, they never disavowed
the idea of the two powers and, with it, the autonomy of the
Church in relation to civil authority. In the theatre of colonial politics, the ideology of the two powers combined with the distance
and absence of the monarch to turn the bishops into quasi-autonomous figures vested with formidable authority.
The viceroys, as the supreme officials charged with maintaining and defending royal authority, were almost inevitably destined
to clash with the claims of autonomy of the clergy, as the viceroys
tolerated with difficulty the presence in their dominions of individuals who constantly questioned the superiority of viceregal
power in relation to them. The confrontations were endless, especially with the archbishops, since they resided in the same city
as the viceroy, making the opportunities for conflict much more
frequent. In a highly ritualized society, the power of viceroys and
archbishops was constantly tested on the public stage of the
streets and churches of Mexico City. That is why the public appearances of viceroys and archbishops were potentially charged
with conflict, their gestures and those of their subordinates being
carefully scrutinized in order to detect any attempt to assert the
authority of one to the detriment of the other.
The episcopal rhetoric constructed an image of the archbishop
which was extremely similar to that of the viceroy. Both were
conceived of as “princes of the republic”, the one secular, the
other ecclesiastical. Ideally, both the viceroy and the archbishop
should cooperate in the ruling of the commonwealth, without attempting to extend their respective jurisdictions beyond the established limits. Whenever cooperation between both of them was
achieved, the peace and harmony of the community was guaranteed.58 The archbishop surrounded himself with the same pomp
and circumstance as the viceroy, his retinue being equally large.
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While the viceroy was escorted by the audiencia on all public
occasions, the archbishop always appeared in public accompanied
by the ecclesiastical chapter, since he was their “head”. It comes
as no surprise, then, that the same public gestures were used with
him as with the viceroy. For instance, archbishops also staged
ceremonial entries when they first arrived in Mexico City. As with
the viceroy, the municipal council was in charge of the episcopal
entry, organizing the festivities and setting up illuminations.59
Even more relevant to our argument is the fact that triumphal arches were also erected on which archbishops were represented as
classical heroes or gods.60 It should not be surprising, therefore,
that the archbishops also tried to appropriate certain markers of
sovereignty—the palio and the baldachin—which were intimately
associated with royal and viceregal power. The paradox here is
that during the course of the Middle Ages, the monarchs had appropriated these markers, which had originally belonged to the
Church, in an attempt to reinforce their own power. By the
seventeenth century, such markers had become completely associated with royal power, though the American archbishops and
bishops would still insist on using them to mark their authority.
This attitude would create tensions and clashes with the viceroys
throughout the century.
Around the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of
the seventeenth, a more determined attitude on the part of the
Crown to prevent the prelates from utilizing the palio—the quintessential royal symbol—can be clearly appreciated. It seems that
cities heretofore had customarily received prelates under the canopy. Now, the monarch, alleging that this was a ceremony reserved only for him and his viceroys, forbade the prelates, in a
straightforward way, from using it and requested that the pope
take away this privilege from the bishops.61 There is evidence,
however, that in the mid-1600’s some bishops (especially those
of Puebla) were still received under the canopy. So was Juan de
Palafox received in 1640,62 and so was the new bishop, Diego
Osorio, in 1656. The difference between the two entries is that
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Bishop Osorio was received under the canopy in express contravention of the viceroy’s orders. When the viceroy was informed,
he flared up and in a long and repetitive letter begged the king to
punish the bishop’s audacity, reminding the monarch that the
palio was a sacred object and his ‘greatest royal privilege’. In a
peremptory tone, he also pointed out to the king that the viceroys’
orders ‘must be obeyed blindly’, especially in the Indies because
of its remoteness; otherwise, he argued, viceroys would not be
necessary, nor could the monarch preserve his possessions.63
As for the baldachin (dosel), this was a ticklish matter, as the
viceroys insisted on using it in places—churches—which fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the bishops. Archbishops and
bishops, for their part, often tried to make clear that they had the
same right as the viceroys to sit under a canopy. By the midseventeenth century, it appears that some sort of compromise had
been reached: the archbishop could not sit under a canopy if the
viceroy and the audiencia were present (with this, the preeminence of royal over ecclesiastical power was acknowledged), unless he was celebrating mass in pontifical dress, that is, he was
wearing all of the archbishop’s liturgical vestments and insignia.
In this way, the equality between archbishop and viceroy was
recognized.64 This compromise solution, however, did not solve
the problem entirely, since it could lend itself to different interpretations. The archbishops could try to affirm their right to sit under
a canopy whether the viceroy was present or not, especially as a
means of asserting their power when they were in the middle of
some confrontation with the viceroys. The viceroys, for their
part, could opt for tolerating the practice or asserting the preeminence of royal power, depending on the state of their relations
with the archbishops at that precise moment.
The royalist arguments in defense of viceregal primacy are
presented in all clarity by Juan Francisco de Montemayor, one of
the oidores of the audiencia of Mexico, whose opinion Viceroy
Baños had solicited concerning Archbishop Osorio’s decision to
sit under a baldachin even when he was not in pontifical dress.65
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Montemayor begins his report by recognizing that there is no
doubt that the pope has the authority to determine all kinds of
ecclesiastical ceremonies. But he goes on to affirm that whenever
the viceroy attends a ceremony with the archbishop, the former
has precedence because he represents the king. For that same reason, the archbishop cannot sit under a baldachin in the presence
of the viceroy unless he is wearing the pontifical dress. After
wondering how it is possible to think that “before the king” (that
is, before the viceroy) anybody, even a prelate, might sit under a
canopy, Montemayor launches an all-out defense of royal authority. In his view, the clergy must be subordinated in all aspects to
secular authority, except in questions of religious doctrine, and
bishops, no matter how great their dignity may be, are not exempt
from the ‘obedience and vassalage they owe His Majesty as their
natural king and lord’.66 Not all the oidores, however, shared
such extreme “regalist” ideas. While for Francisco Calderón, for
instance, the archbishop might use the baldachin—which, in his
words, was the ‘seat and throne’ of archbishops and bishops—as
long as the viceroy was not present, even if he was not in pontifical dress, for Antonio de Lara, the majority of jurists who dealt
with this matter argued that bishops might sit under a canopy in
the churches, even if the viceroy was present (although he recognized that his examples did not refer to the Indies).67 For his part,
Archbishop Osorio contended that the use of a baldachin was an
honour owed to prelates as proof of veneration, since ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the distribution of the sacraments, and the spiritual government of souls resided in them. It is clear that in the archbishop’s mind the viceregal and archiepiscopal figures were parallel, seeing both as rulers, though one was a ruler of bodies and
the other, of souls.68
This tug-of-war between the secular and ecclesiastical powers
would inevitably manifest itself during the celebrations of Corpus
Christi, the most important of all the annual rituals in New Spain,
jointly attended by viceroy and archbishop. After the viceregal entry, it was the costliest festivity paid for by the city council. The
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culminating moment of the festivities was the solemn procession
that paraded the Sacred Host throughout the streets of Mexico
City.69 Although it was in theory a strictly religious celebration,
the identification that existed in the Spanish monarchy between
the body of Christ (the Sacred Host) and the body of the king
made this festivity a celebration full of political significance, during which the monstrance displaying the Sacred Wafer could become, literally, an object of contention between the secular and
the ecclesiastical powers.
For example, when in 1663 the viceroy, the count of Baños,
tried to alter the customary route of the Corpus Christi procession
to make it pass in front of the viceregal palace so that the vicereine
could see it without having to leave the palace, the symbolic
meaning of such a gesture was too evident for the archbishop to
ignore.70 Defending the right given to him by the Council of Trent
to decide all matters affecting the order and route of any religious
procession, the archbishop rejected the change. The archbishop
was further driven to oppose the viceroy because the latter had alleged that by virtue of the royal patronato he had the authority to
decide the route of a procession, though the oidores convinced
him that that was not the case. In the archbishop’s words, it was
the vicereine, therefore, who should ‘seek His Divine Majesty to
adore Him, not permitting Him, because of the authority and
power of [her] post, to go seek her at her house’. But in the symbolic context of New Spain, to adore the Holy Sacrament in public meant to acknowledge the power of the archbishop, since he
occupied the most preeminent position in the procession (the
closest to the Host), while the viceroy appeared in a subordinate
position by marching farther away from the monstrance. All this
notwithstanding, the archbishop decided to compromise on this
occasion and accept the proposed change because the preparations
for the procession had almost been completed. In return, however, the archbishop got snubbed by the vicereine during the procession, as she appeared on the balcony of the palace only after
the archbishop and the cathedral chapter, who were accompany123

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ing the monstrance, had walked by. Only then, as the viceroy and
the oidores were passing by the palace, did the vicereine show
up on the balcony. With this very visible gesture, there was no
doubt as to whom the vicereine was “adoring”.71
While during the viceregal entry procession, the viceroy was
welcomed separately by the representatives of the city and the
clergy, in the Corpus Christi procession there was a fusion of all
sectors of society around its central symbol: the consecrated
Host.72 For that reason, the position of a person or corporation in
relation to the monstrance was of the utmost importance, becoming a frequent object of contention.73 This “politics of proximity”
was not peculiar to the Corpus Christi procession. In fact, it was
a defining characteristic of all processions, which always revolved around a “sacred centre”, be it the king or the Host, the viceroy
or the archbishop. In the Corpus Christi procession it was the
monstrance displaying the Sacred Host which constituted the core
of the ritual parade. Thus, maintaining proximity to the “ritual
centre” of the procession was a public declaration of power, for
which reason the viceroys always strived to find a way to have
themselves seen as close as possible to the Host.74
The behaviour of viceroys and archbishops when they met in
public constituted an entire poetics of power. For example, in
processions the archbishop was to march in front of the viceroy
and was never to mingle with the audiencia. Whenever the viceroy attended a public ceremony other than a procession with the
archbishop, the viceroy had to march on the right side of the archbishop.75 When the viceroy was attending services at the cathedral, whenever the archbishop walked from the choir to the altar
and back again, the viceroy would rise from his seat and walk
forward two or three steps to receive the prelate’s blessing. Similarly, whenever the archbishop walked past the viceroy or the
vicereine, the page who was carrying the train of his cape had to
release it. Also, when the archbishop paid the viceroy a visit, the
latter would go to meet him at the door of the first antechamber
and, on leaving, the viceroy would accompany him to the first
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step of the main stairway. When the viceroy was the visitor, the
archbishop would greet and say good-bye to him to the middle of
the staircase of his residence, and sometimes he even accompanied him to his carriage.76
Each member of New-Spanish society possessed a capital of
honour, according to his or her respective position in the social
hierarchy, which, in the last instance, declared an individual’s
power. This power, in turn, was staged in different spaces, the
viceregal palace (or rather ‘royal’ as it was called by contemporaries) being one of the privileged stages of power in Mexico.77
Here the leading actor was, no doubt, the viceroy, his movements
and those of the rest of the actors who swarmed about the palace
being perfectly regulated by court etiquette. This etiquette provided the inhabitants of the palace with a mental map for guiding
their behaviour. In particular, these rules and ceremonies were
necessary among people of similar but not equal status. It was
imperative that one’s status not be confused with that of another,
much less that of the viceroy, who in theory presided over everything from the summit of the hierarchical pyramid. Thus, in the
case of visits to the viceroy, the higher the rank of the visitor, the
farther he was permitted to penetrate into the palace, whereas the
viceroy moved in the opposite direction, walking from his chamber to the appropriate place to welcome the visitor, according to
the latter’s rank and position.78 In this spatial code the stairs were
critical points of formal contact. Stairs were critical locations for
measuring the relations between powers and a way to lessen the
status of the visitor, depending on where the host chose to meet
him.79 That the archbishop usually accompanied the viceroy to the
middle of the stairway or to his carriage was an indication of the
primacy of royal power, just as keeping him to his right was. It
was enough that the archbishop awaited the viceroy halfway up
the staircase instead of going to meet him farther down for the
viceroy to clearly understand the message.
In the constant confrontations between viceroys and bishops,
which very often were manifested in ritual form, this liturgy of
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courtesy played a central role. Any variation of its precepts could
indicate a declaration of war or a sign of good will. This is precisely what happened in the clash between the marquis of Mancera and archbishop Enríquez de Ribera. The conflict originated in
Mancera a solid support of the religious orders in their customary
disputes with the archbishop concerning the Indian doctrines,
support that the archbishop believed to be an unacceptable encroachment upon his jurisdiction.80 As a result, Enríquez decided
to use the “symbolic” weapons at his disposal to respond to this
intrusion. Thus, he stopped visiting the viceroy for a long time
(these courtesy calls were one of the main forms of communication among the members of the ruling elite, a means of securing
harmony and cooperation among them). This action caused, in the
words of the viceroy, ‘the astonishment and even the scandal of
the populace’. In addition, the archbishop began to manipulate the
rituals of deference in a subtle way in order to ritually attack the
viceroy.81 An excellent occasion to do this was the solemn Mass
celebrated for the Corpus Christi octave, when the cathedral was
packed with people. As recounted by the notary who was assisting the viceroy that day:82
The High Mass having come to an end and the procession begun, His
Excellency along with the Royal Audiencia and the other tribunals followed the most sacred monstrance along the transept and towards the
choir, at whose entrance His Lordship was standing accompanied by the
rest of the prebendaries. On the arrival of the monstrance, he descended to
the church floor, and when it passed in front of him, His Lordship genuflected to the Holy Sacrament. Then he proceeded towards his seat, exchanging courtesies with His Excellency and all the ministers, and His
Excellency and everyone else corresponded with the appropriate reverences, ... his train bearer carrying the train without releasing it from his
hand ... This I saw and very carefully took note thereof ...83

The gesture of the archbishop was beyond doubt. By prostrating himself before the Holy Sacrament and refusing to release the
train of the cape, a courtesy owed to the viceroy because of the
preeminence of his post, he was refusing to recognize the su126

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premacy of viceregal over episcopal power. At stake was the preeminence of viceregal power, which a little gesture, executed by
the archbishop in front of New Spain’s entire ruling elite, had
questioned.84 As the viceroy and the oidores reminded Enríquez
de Ribera in a note that it sent to him soon after the cathedral incident, ‘the train on the prelates’ vestments was introduced because
of the gravity and dignity of their persons, and not releasing it
when exchanging courtesies denotes superiority, which is
something tolerable and allowed when done before those who do
not have an equal or greater [dignity]’.85
The viceroy would have considered the continual discourtesies
the archbishop directed at him as demonstrating a mere lack of
urbanity had they not become public knowledge. But when they
took place during a public ceremony, for all the populace to see,
then it became a matter of being disrespectful not only to the person of the marquis of Mancera but also to the viceroy of New
Spain and, by extension, to the monarch himself. Then, Mancera
contended, it was no longer possible to practice ‘dissimulation’.86
These same ideas had been forcefully expressed by the fiscal
(crown attorney) of the audiencia when answering a request
made of him to give his opinion on this matter. According to him,
[t]he preservation of monarchies consists in ... preserving the authority
and esteem of the offices, and that is why everyone is obliged to give
them special consideration and respect for the greater interest of the common good. ... This is so because this obligation emanates from natural,
divine, human, canon, civil, and political law, and he who does not comply with this reverence in all places ... commits a great and despicable
crime, such that he who occupies the office cannot pretend not to notice
when those prerogatives owed him because of [his post] are omitted. Furthermore, being the above general and common rules that apply to the
courtesy owed to any magistrates, the present case has other qualities of
much greater consideration, as the Most Excellent Viceroys of the Indies
are the living representation of His Majesty who sends them, on whose
authority and preeminence there are many statements aimed at maintaining in all its luster such a great post.87

It can be asserted that the ritual battles between viceroys and
archbishops, far from being odd anecdotes lacking in meaning,
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were the embodiment itself of the production and negotiation of
the relations between the secular and the ecclesiastical powers, relations that even in a specifically “Catholic” monarchy like the
Spanish monarchy could be characterized as stormy. These confrontations took place at the highest level, between the monarch
and the pope, and spread to the lower levels, which in the case of
New Spain translated into the constant clashes between viceroys
and bishops.88 Here, however, the situation was even more complicated, as archbishops and bishops had to obey two lords at the
same time: the pope and the king (although not even this was a
settled matter). Ultimately, what was at stake in the broader context was the degree of control that the monarch would be able to
exert upon the clergy of his kingdoms.
The Preeminence of the Body
Along with the viceroy and the archbishop, the oidores and
alcaldes del crimen as well as the corregidor, the regidores, and
the inquisitors all were leading characters on the public stage of
Mexico City. Their participation, however, was characterized by
constant disputes which marked the tensions and ambiguities of
the colonial structure of power. In the case of the ritual interaction
between oidores and viceroys, it was common for the former to
complain about the ceremonial abuses to which they were subjected by the latter. In 1674, for example, the oidores wrote to the
queen regent to protest the custom introduced by the viceroys (in
a gesture that clearly assimilated them to the monarch) of having
the audiencia visit them for their birthdays or that of the vicereines, or whenever they were ill. Furthermore, the viceroys insisted upon being escorted by the audiencia with all accustomed
pomp and circumstance on certain occasions when, according to
the oidores, they were not really obliged to do so, since these
occasions were not fiestas de tabla.89 The oidores, in reality, did
not deny the viceroy’s superiority, inasmuch as he was their
“head”. What they criticized was the viceroys’ attempt to make the
oidores completely subordinate to their power, ignoring the fact
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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

that the oidores also partook of the king’s authority, for which
reason it was indispensable for them to have enough “credit” to be
able to carry out their duties.90
In the context of New Spain, all these ceremonial gestures and
controversies, which may seem to us to be so insignificant, had a
deeper meaning: the strengthening of the viceroy’s and, by extension, the king’s power, in opposition to those who wanted to limit it. These disputes can be explained as the manifestation in the
theatre of politics of the ideological debate that took place in the
seventeenth century between the supporters of an “absolute”
monarch and those who thought that the best monarchy was that
in which the king ruled together with the kingdom (the latter being
represented by either the Cortes, or the cities, or the councils).91
This was reflected in New Spain’s politics in the conflicting
views of viceregal power held by the oidores and the viceroys.
Their disputes regarding ceremonial matters were but the most
visible aspect of this debate—and in the opinion of many of its
protagonists, the most decisive one, given the effects attributed to
the public exhibition of rulers. For example, concerning the
squabble about the viceroy’s cushion, mentioned at the beginning
of this paper, the count of Salvatierra had no doubts about two
things. First, his power and authority were superior to that of the
oidores because, as the monarch’s “image”, he represented royal
power ‘more closely’ (más inmediatamente), that is, the power
of a viceroy resembled that of the king more closely than did the
power of the oidores.92 Second, this superior power of the viceroys had to be acknowledged in public by the oidores, that is,
during all public ceremonies and rituals, by the oidores, as only
in this way could the authority necessary to guarantee the obedience and “love” of their subjects be established.93 Since the importance of personal prestige or crédito was thought to be essential to exercising authority in an effective way, then, without
sufficient “credit”, it was very hard for a ruler to impose his authority. Therefore, public recognition by the oidores of the viceroy’s superiority increased his “credit” and thus his authority.94
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Alejandro Cañeque

If cushions as signs of power and superiority were objects of
contention between viceroys and oidores, chairs also constituted
an essential element in the semiotics of power. To be allowed to
sit on a chair at public ceremonies was a privilege reserved in
New Spain for viceroys, bishops, and the judges of the audiencia, while cabildo members sat on a bench.95 An easy way for a
corregidor to stand out from the rest of the cabildo, therefore,
was to sit on a chair separated from the bench of the regidores.
This custom must have been very widespread because in 1652 the
monarch was forced to issue an order prohibiting an alcalde
mayor (as corregidores were known in New Spain) from sitting
on a chair, with a cushion and a rug, apart from his town council.
Their only distinguishing sign was to be the occupation of the
first place in the bench by the alcalde mayor, as he was “the head
of the body” of the town council.96 To enhance its symbolic
status, the cabildo of Mexico City repeatedly requested to be
allowed to sit on chairs at public ceremonies.97 In 1625, for
example, the regidores complained to the king that when attending church services, they were not allowed to sit on chairs next to
the Epistle. According to them, this had caused such a loss of
reputation to the cabildo (as their place in the churches was
‘obscure and without distinction from the rest of the populace’)
that no one could be found who wished to buy one of the six
vacant posts of regidor, something that, in the words of the regidores, had never been seen before in a city as wealthy and important as Mexico. The ultimate reason for this lack of buyers,
they said, was that the many expenses occasioned by the office
did not offer the compensation of a ‘preeminent and safe place’ in
churches and at public ceremonies.98 It was evident for the regidores that the place and manner in which one appeared in public
had all kinds of repercussions, not least of which was the possibility of making an economic profit.
There was always an insistence on the part of Mexico City’s
cabildo on defending its “authority” in public, that is to say, its
place in the processional order as well as its association with
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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

specific markers of power. If in the case of the viceroy and the
audiencia there was no doubt about their ceremonial place (they
always constituted the “head” of the procession), the situation
was not so well defined for the members of the rest of the institutions of colonial government. This created constant disputes about
exactly where to place them in the processions and how they
should display themselves in public. The cabildo always tried to
preserve its “identity” as a body differentiated from the other bodies that comprised the commonwealth. In this regard, the “language of corporeality” is fundamental for understanding the relations among the institutions of colonial power and their public behaviour. It was insofar as they were constituted as “bodies” that
their members represented royal power in its fullness. Although
as individuals each member certainly possessed a measure of royal power, it was never to the same degree as when they were congregated together and en forma (forming or in the shape of a
body). It was seen as natural that, according to the organicist
view of the political community prevalent at the time, a political
body or corporation was endowed with a personality and power
that an individual, separated and isolated from such a corporation,
could never enjoy, in the same way as an arm, separated from the
body, was an inert member, unable to realize any of its natural
functions.99
This same reasoning was applied to and by the viceroys, as a
viceroy was imagined as the head of the mystical body he formed
with the audiencia. It was precisely for this reason that the power
of a viceroy was more apparent and visible when he appeared
surrounded by “his” oidores and “forming a body” with them.
This would explain the viceroys’ insistence on being always and
everywhere accompanied by the oidores. This would also make
the regidores demand that at public ceremonies no strange
element be introduced into the body formed by the cabildo, that
is, that no one besides the corregidor or the regidores march or
be seated with them.100 To allow outsiders to mix with the cabildo during a public ceremony contributed to blurring its public
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presence as a corporation endowed with authority and privileges.
And this is why the Inquisition often quarreled with the municipal
council of Mexico City. The tribunal usually contended that its
lower officials should precede the corregidor and regidores at
public ceremonies or be incorporated into the “city’s body”.
When in 1650 the inquisitors notified the cabildo that, in the
procession previous to the proclamation of the Edict of Faith that
was going to take place in the cathedral, the corregidor was to
march right behind the inquisitors and with the Inquisition’s chief
constable at his right, the corregidor refused to attend the ceremony, with the excuse that he was ill. The inquisitors reacted to
his refusal by threatening to excommunicate him and fine him
2,000 pesos. Although the corregidor gave in and attended the
procession, he subsequently sued the inquisitors in the audiencia
to make sure that his privileges and those of the cabildo were
protected. In the corregidor’s view, the incorporation of the officials of the Inquisition into the “city’s body” was a ‘despicable
and ugly act in the eyes of the people’, which had been carried out
only because of the ‘irresistible violence’ with which the Inquisition used to impose its resolutions. He justified his decision to
sue the inquisitors on the grounds that,
[t]he most serious concern of magistrates must be to preserve the authority of their offices and the decorum of the royal jurisdiction that they exercise, since if these are tarnished or impaired, there follows the worrisome
problem that the populace, following the example of the show of force
made by others against the magistrates, fails in their obligation to venerate and respect them. Thus, not only is it inevitable that the magistrates
must see to the defense of the honours and prerogatives of their offices
and to the satisfaction of the insults made to the royal authority and jurisdiction, but neither are they free to remit or excuse them.101

In the eyes of the corregidor, to allow such a low-status figure as the chief constable of the Inquisition to walk publicly at his
right (a sign of deference and preeminence) was to allow his “reputation” and “credit” to be damaged and diminished. The corregidor, therefore, had no other choice than to defend the “decorum” of his post, which, in the last analysis, was what gave him
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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

the moral authority to have his orders complied with. That is why
it was impossible to ignore these public examples of disrespect
and contempt.
Conclusion
As has been shown in the course of these pages, the existence of
conflicting political views among the members of the New Spanish ruling elite manifested itself with great force in the theatre of
colonial politics. In this regard, the ritual activities of the inhabitants of New Spain constituted a crucial stage on which was developed not only the process of creation of legitimizing discourses
but also those processes of cooperation and contestation that characterize every political system. The Spanish monarchy was able to
turn the apparent handicap of the king’s continuous absence from
his American dominions into an advantage, as the king’s permanent invisibility endowed him with an attribute peculiar only to the
divinity. With this, the Crown reinforced the image of the monarch as a figure beyond good and evil, who, from the distance,
looked after the well-being of his American vassals. But, on the
other hand, in a society in which authority was intimately connected with the physical presence of the ruler, it was necessary to
have the presence of a figure who constantly reminded the inhabitants of Mexico of the existence and power of human majesty.
And here the figure, or more appropriately, the body of the viceroy acquired great transcendence: his constant exhibition in public, surrounded by the symbols of majesty, was an inescapable
reminder of the monarch’s existence and puissance.
The Spanish rulers, therefore, tried to create in New Spain a
ritual culture very similar to the one that existed in Spain. What
differentiated this culture from its peninsular original was not the
creation of ritual forms and principles different from those
brought from the other side of the Atlantic, but an intensification
of the importance of the physical presence of power. This was so
because the Mexican territory was constructed as a place where
order and authority were more difficult to maintain due to, at least
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Alejandro Cañeque

in the opinion of many viceroys, the presence there of a populace
upon whom the inculcation of the principle of authority was highly ineffective. Speaking of the multitude of peoples ‘of all kinds
of conditions, capacities, and colours’ who constituted the population of Mexico City, a viceroy declared, around the middle of
the seventeenth century, that ‘there is no action of the superiors,
especially in public, which is not new to them or does not surprise them ... because the populace of this city is comprised of
Spaniards, Indians, mestizos, blacks, mulattoes, and Chinese,
and other similar to these’, all of which always made possible,
according to the viceroy, the outbreak of a tumult.102 In the view
of the rulers of New Spain, this lack of internalization of the principle of authority made their correct presence in public of crucial
importance, since it was believed that the slightest alteration in the
most insignificant sign of the semiology of power could have unpredictable consequences. In this sense, the public ceremonies of
the colonial authorities were constitutive of their power. It was
through their participation in public rituals that the rulers were endowed with their identity as such, hence the significance of their
correct representation of their assigned roles on the stage of the
streets and churches of Mexico City as an effective means of imposing their authority.
If the power of the monarchy and of the viceroys was constituted through public ceremonies, these rituals were, at the same
time, representative of colonial power. In that sense, the frequent
altercations and disputes that the celebration of these ceremonies
provoked are an indication of the existence of different views of
colonial authority and of the fundamental importance that the public exhibition of power possessed. The apparently irrelevant disputes to decide the exact place that the different colonial actors
should occupy at these ceremonies or the controversies that arose
over matters of cushions, armchairs, stairways or corridors were
much more than quaint aspects of “Old Mexico’s Baroque times”,
lacking in importance or meaning. They were clear indicators of
the existence of different political views and of the struggles that
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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

went on among the members of the ruling elite in an effort to impose a particular political vision.
Notes
1

2

3

4
5

6

‘Carta de la audiencia de México, 10.I.1620’, in: Lewis Hanke (ed.), Los
Virreyes españoles en América durante el gobierno de la Casa de Austria:
México, 5 vols., Madrid, 1976-78 [Biblioteca de Autores Españoles
desde la formación del lenguaje hasta nuestros días, 275], vol. III, pp.
76-78, 81-84.
Archivo General de Indias [hereafter AGI], Mexico 35, n. 42, the count
of Salvatierra to the king, 20 February 1645. The following year, a royal
order was issued upholding the viceroy’s arguments. See Archivo
General de la Nación [hereafter AGN], Reales Cédulas Originales
[hereafter RCO], vol. 2, exp. 94, fol. 192, the king to the count of Salvatierra, 18 February 1646.
In his study of the Mexican viceroys, José Ignacio Rubio Mañe, for example, notes that there are thousands of letters written by the viceroys on
‘insignificant matters’, that today would make any serious administrator
laugh. See his Introducción al estudio de los Virreyes de Nueva España,
1535-1746, México, 1955-59, vol. I, p. 85. For his part, Irving A. Leonard, Baroque Times in Old Mexico: Seventeenth-Century Persons,
Places, and Practices, Ann Arbor, 1959, pp. 32-33, argues that to win
favours, the Creole ‘was obliged to cloak his bitter resentment in a hypocritical adulation of the more privileged class, the European-born Spaniard, and, in an unsatisfying dilettantism, he often frittered away his
talents on pageant-like ceremonies’.
See, for instance, Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, 1997, p. 231.
Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali,
Princeton, N. J., 1980, pp. 121-36, has argued that presenting ritual as
legitimating the exercise of political power casts rituals as mere artifice,
designed to disguise the brute exercise of "real" power. For him, rituals
do not refer to politics; they are politics, they are power itself. For an
elaboration of these ideas, see also Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual
Practice, New York, 1992, pp. 182-96; David Cannadine, ‘Introduction:
Divine Rights of Kings’, in: David Cannadine & Simon Price (eds.),
Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies,
Cambridge, 1987, pp. 1-19.
For these ideas see, Robert A. Schneider, The Ceremonial City: Toulouse Observed, 1738-1780, Princeton, N. J., 1995, pp. 10-12; Clifford
Geertz, ‘Religion as a Cultural System’, in: Idem, The Interpretation of

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Alejandro Cañeque

7

8
9

10

11

12
13

Cultures: Selected Essays, New York, 1973, pp. 87-125.
See John H. Elliott, Richelieu and Olivares, Cambridge, 1984, pp. 4248; Jesús Lalinde Abadía, ‘España y la Monarquía universal (En torno al
concepto de “Estado moderno”)’, Quaderni Fiorentini per la Storia del
Pensiero Giuridico Moderno 15 (1986), pp. 109-66; Quentin Skinner,
‘The State’, in: Terence Ball et al. (eds.), Political Innovation and
Conceptual Change, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 90-131.
Skinner, ‘The State’, pp. 124-26. On the public display of rulers as an
ordering force of society, see Geertz, Negara, esp. pp. 121-36.
Michel Foucault, Power / Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other
Writings, 1972-1977, (trans. and ed.) Colin Gordon et al., New York,
1980, pp. 104-05 and 119. Obviously, I cannot agree with Charles Tilly’s argument, as presented in Coercion, Capital, and European States,
AD 990-1990, Oxford, 1990, according to which coercion (understood as
the permanent presence of an armed force that constitutes the largest
single branch of government) was the central element of the premodern
state. This argument can hardly be applied to colonial Spanish America,
where there was never a standing army or regular police force. This is not
to deny that coercion existed, since it indeed did, but permanent coercion
was not a central aspect of the Spanish colonial regime, at least until the
second half of the eighteenth century.
These are William Beik’s arguments in his Absolutism and Society in
Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in
Languedoc, Cambridge, 1985, pp. 179-87. Although both Foucault’s
and Beik’s comments refer to France, I believe that they very well apply
to New Spain too.
In the case of colonial Mexico, with all the elite's factionalism and political contestation, a more nuanced approach to the study of the Spanish
ruling elite is indispensable. We are used to think of “colonialism” as an
abstract force and take the politically constructed dichotomy of “colonizer” and “colonized” as a given. As Ann Laura Stoler, ‘Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule’, in:
Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1989), pp. 134-61, has
argued in relation to nineteenth-century European colonialism (though it
could similarly be applied to early modern Spanish imperialism) the result of this way of thinking is that colonizers and their communities are
frequently treated as diverse but unproblematic, while colonial political
agendas are considered to be self-evident. See also the introductory essay
in Frederic Cooper & Ann Laura Stoler, Tensions of Empire: Colonial
Cultures in a Bourgeois World, Berkeley & London, 1997, pp. 1-56.
Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, p. 7.
See Recopilación de leyes de los reinos de Indias, lib. II, tít. XXI, ley i;

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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

14
15

16

17
18

19
20

21

22
23

AGI, Mexico 41, no. 54, the marquis of Mancera to the queen regent, 30
November 1666.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, London, 1977, pp. 47-57.
See, for example, Gregorio Martín de Guijó, Diario (1648-1664), México, 1952, and Antonio de Robles, Diario de sucesos notables (16651703), 3 vols., (ed.) Antonio Castro Leal, México, 1946.
‘Instrucción dada al marqués de Montesclaros por Pablo de la Laguna, presidente del Consejo de Indias, 14.I.1603’, in: Hanke (ed.), Virreyes españoles en América, pp, 267-70.
See John Elliott, Spain and Its World, 1500-1700: Selected Essays, New
Haven, 1989, p. 150.
On the relation between power and body language, see, for instance, Jerónimo Castillo de Bobadilla, Política para corregidores y señores de vasallos [etc.], [Madrid, 1597] Amberes, 1704, lib. I, cap. VIII, and Juan
de Madariaga, Del senado y de su príncipe, Valencia, 1617, pp. 303-05.
Castillo de Bobadilla, Política para corregidores, lib. I, cap. III, nos. 4447.
One of the functions of servants dressed in splendid liveries was to accompany their masters as walking signs of wealth and power. On “conspicuous consumption” as a symbol of status and power, see Peter Burke,
The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy: Essays on Perception and Communication, Cambridge, 1987, pp. 132-49.
Castillo de Bobadilla, Política para corregidores, lib. I, cap. III, no. 47.
For a similar argument, see Diego de Tovar Valderrama, Instituciones
políticas, (ed.) José Luis Bermejo Cabrero, [Alcalá de Henares, 1645]
Madrid, 1995, pp. 193-94. Part of the instrucción given by the president
of the Council of the Indies to the marquis of Montesclaros was devoted
to the viceroy’s “adornment”, something that, in the president’s words,
would give “honour and credit” to the viceroy. See ‘Instrucción dada al
marqués de Montesclaros’, in: Hanke (ed.), Los virreyes españoles en
América, pp. 271-72. On the extraordinary importance given by the
regidores of Mexico to the clothing they had to wear for the viceregal
entry, see Linda A. Curcio-Nagy, The Great Festivals of Colonial Mexico City: Performing Power and Identity, Albuquerque, 2004, p. 20.
For this argument, see Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, (trans.)
Richard Nice, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 117-20.
The idea that to define itself and advance its claims political authority requires a "cultural frame" or "master fiction" that has a central authority
with sacred status was first proposed by Clifford Geertz in ‘Centers,
Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power’, in: Jo-

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Alejandro Cañeque

24
25

26
27
28

29

30
31

32

seph Ben-David & Terry Nichols Clark (eds.), Culture and Its Creators:
Essays in Honor of Edward Shils, Chicago, 1977, pp. 13-38. However,
as shall be shown below, the viceroy was not only the manifest centre of
political action and colonial power in New Spain but of resistance as
well.
Orest Ranum, ‘Courtesy, Absolutism, and the Rise of the French State,
1630-1660’, Journal of Modern History 52 (1980), pp. 426-51.
On the constitutive power of etiquette and ceremonial, see Norbert Elias,
The Court Society, (trans.) Edmund Jephcott, Oxford, 1983, pp. 78-116.
Further on in his study (pp. 117-18, 130-31, 137-8), Elias, however,
argues that etiquette was used by the king as an instrument to dominate
his subjects, especially the nobility. On how the Spanish kings’ power
was constructed through ritual, see Carmelo Lisón-Tolosana, La imagen
del rey: Monarquía, realeza y poder ritual en la Casa de los Austrias,
Madrid, 1991, pp. 115-70.
Geertz, ‘Centers, Kings, and Charisma’, p. 16.
Octavio Paz, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe, México,
1982, pp. 193-95.
See, for example, Real Academia de la Historia [hereafter RAH], Col.
Salazar y Castro, F-20, ‘Relación de la entrada que hizo en la ciudad de
México ... el Sr. Arzobispo Don Fray García Guerra ... a tomar la posesión del oficio de virrey y capitán general de aquel reino por Su Majestad
..., año 1610’, fols. 113-16.
Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450-1650, Woodbridge, 1984, pp. 7-11, 44-50. The formalities of the entry constituted a
ritual defense of the city, since cities were physically and symbolically
vulnerable at their gates. The entry can also be understood as a liminal
rite during which the body of the prince entered the ‘closed’ space of the
city. See Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, p. 241.
Cristóbal Gutiérrez de Medina, Viaje del virrey marqués de Villena, (ed.)
Manuel Romero de Terreros, México, 1947), pp. 64, 83-84.
Descripción y explicación de la fábrica y empresas del sumptuoso arco
que la ... ciudad de México, cabeza del occidental imperio, erigió a la
feliz entrada y gozoso recibimiento del Exmo. Sr. Don Diego López
Pacheco ... duque de Escalona, marqués de Villena, México, 1640, fols.
2v, 17v.
This description is based on Gutiérrez de Medina, Viaje del virrey marqués de Villena, pp. 85-87. See also RAH, Col. Salazar y Castro, F20, ‘Relación de la entrada ...’. For an almost identical way of receiving
the king, see Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid [BNM], ms. 11260 (17),
‘Ceremonial que suele guardarse en el recibimiento del rey cuando entra en

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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

las ciudades’, [n.d.].
33 For a discussion of the meaning of processions in general, see Schneider,
Ceremonial City, pp. 138-47. Interestingly enough, although there is
plenty of evidence on the disputes that the processional order provoked, I
have not found any evidence that these squabbles ever happened during a
viceregal entry. See below for an analysis of these tensions.
34 R. Malcolm Smuts, ‘Public Ceremony and Royal Charisma: The English Royal Entry in London, 1485-1642’, in: A. L. Beier et al. (eds.),
The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of
Lawrence Stone, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 65-93, esp. 68-73.
35 On the role played by the natives in the viceregal entry, see Curcio-Nagy,
Great Festivals, pp. 44-58.
36 Teófilo Ruiz, ‘Unsacred Monarchy: The Kings of Castile in the Late
Middle Ages’, in: Sean Wilentz (ed.), Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual, and Politics Since the Middle Ages, Philadelphia, 1985, p. 125.
37 See Juan de Solórzano y Pereira, Política indiana, (ed.) Miguel Angel
Ochoa Brun, Madrid, 1972), lib. V, cap. XII, nos. 49-50; Recopilación,
lib. III, tít. XV, leyes i, x; AGI, Mexico 21, no. 49f, ‘Las ceremonias
que se hacen con el rey Nro. Sr., así en su capilla como fuera de ella por
sus capellanes y prelados, 14 March 1588’. On the Te Deum as a triumphal ritual of thanksgiving, reserved primarily for kings, their families,
and military victories, see Schneider, Ceremonial City, pp. 161-65.
38 On the absence of a coronation ceremony of the Spanish monarchs and
the importance, instead, of the ceremony of proclamation carried out
through the raising of the banner of Castile, see Ruiz, ‘Unsacred Monarchy’. On the royal proclamation in Mexico during the Habsburg period,
see Linda Curcio, “Saints, Sovereignty and Spectacle in Colonial Mexico”, Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1993, pp. 141-54. For the
medieval origins of the royal canopy, see José Manuel Nieto Soria, Ceremonias de la realeza: Propaganda y legitimación en la Castilla
Trastámara, Madrid, 1993, p. 195.
39 Nevertheless, it should be noted that the use of the canopy was not specific to the Spanish monarchy. An interesting parallelism, for example,
could be established between the use of the canopy by the Spanish viceroys and the French provincial governors. See Robert R. Harding, Anatomy of a Power Elite: The Provincial Governors of Early Modern
France, New Haven, 1978, pp. 11-17. On the identification between the
Spanish monarchs and the Holy Eucharist, see Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio
Alvariño, ‘Virtud coronada: Carlos II y la Piedad de la Casa de Austria’,
in: P. Fernández Albaladejo, J. Martínez Millán & V. Pinto Crespo
(eds.), Política, Religión e Inquisición en la España Moderna: Homenaje
a Joaquín Pérez Villanueva, Madrid, 1996, pp. 29-57.

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40 AGI, Indiferente 760, consulta of 3 April 1632. For a detailed account of
the 1624 riot, see Jonathan I. Israel, Race, Class and Politics in Colonial Mexico, 1610-1670, London, 1975, pp. 135-60.
41 Although the king acceded to Escalona’s petition, he never had a chance
to put it into practice as he died before taking possession of his post. The
king’s decision, however, appears to be solely based on the duke’s status
as a grandee. When three years later, the marquis of Cadereita solicited
that he also be allowed to use the palio, the monarch, following the opinion of the president of the Council of the Indies, rejected his petition
with the arguments that the causes that had brought the prohibition were
still in force and that that privilege had been awarded to the duke of Escalona only on account of his being a grandee and of the many services
that he and his predecessors had performed for the Crown. See AGI, Indiferente 760, consulta of 23 March 1635. The king’s attitude could indicate the existence of an unresolved tension in the conceptualization of the
viceregal figure, who, while always representing the king, also represented himself and his “class”.
42 AGI, Indiferente 760, consultas of 9 November and 17 November 1638.
See also, Solórzano, Política indiana, lib. V, cap. XII, nos. 47-48.
43 AGN, Reales Cédulas Duplicados [hereafter RCD], vol. 40, fols. 48788, cédula of 24 December 1638.
44 AGI, Indiferente 760, consulta of 28 May 1649; AGI, Mexico 38, no.
15, the duke of Alburquerque to the king, 25 July 1656; AGI, Mexico
77, ramo 1, no. 8, consulta of 26 May 1663; AGI, Mexico 41, no. 20,
the marquis of Mancera to the king, 31 March 1666; AGN, RCD, vol.
40, fol. 498, cédulas of 6 May 1688.
45 Smuts, ‘Public Ceremony and Royal Charisma’, pp. 89-93.
46 For a description of this ritual, see, for instance, Baltasar Fernández de
Castro, Relación ajustada, diseño breve y montea sucinta de los festivos
aplausos ... en la ... nueva del feliz nacimiento de nuestro deseado príncipe Felipe Próspero, México, 1659, fols. 7-9. In relation to the royal
rites of passage as seen from Mexico, see also AGI, Mexico 36, no. 22,
the count of Salvatierra to the king, 18 May 1647; AGI, Mexico 38, no.
44, the duke of Alburquerque to the king, 20 April 1658; AGI, Mexico
50, no. 23, the archbishop-viceroy Enríquez de Ribera to the king, 20
February 1678; AGI, Mexico 52, no. 25, the count of Paredes to the
king, 8 July 1681.
47 This was the case, above all, of Louis XIV, as Ralph Giesey has argued
in ‘Models of Rulership in French Royal Ceremonial’, in: Wilentz (ed.),
Rites of Power, pp. 58-62.
48 On the declining importance of the viceregal entry as a public ceremony

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The Ritual Construction of Authority in New Spain

49

50

51
52

53

54

55

and its replacement with private in-palace entertainment in the course of
the eighteenth century, see Curcio-Nagy, Great Festivals, pp. 79-83.
Malcolm Smuts has also noted that, by the mid-seventeenth century, the
English royal entry had become both prohibitively expensive and increasingly out of step with changing attitudes towards conspicuous consumption among the aristocracy. See Smuts, ‘Public Ceremony and Royal
Charisma’, pp. 87-89.
On the costs and willingness of the Mexican cabildo to incur debt in order to finance the viceregal entry in the first half of the seventeenth century, see Curcio-Nagy, Great Festivals, pp. 35-37. By the end of the century, this attitude does not appear to have changed much, as attested by a
petition to the king by one of the many creditors of the Mexican cabildo
to limit the expenses of the viceregal entry, which entailed an expenditure
of more than 20,000 pesos, way above the 8,000 peso cap. See AGN,
RCD, vol. 40, fols. 488-91, 498v-501, cédulas of 30 December 1690.
Colin M. MacLachlan, Spain’s Empire in the New World: The Role of
Ideas in Institutional and Social Change, Berkeley, 1988, p. 23.
See Carlos M. N. Eire, From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of
Dying in Sixteenth-Century Spain, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 255-368. On
the exequies of the Spanish monarchs, see also Javier Varela, La muerte
del rey: El ceremonial funerario de la monarquía española (1500-1885),
Madrid, 1990.
For a description of a royal catafalque, see Steven N. Orso, Art and
Death at the Spanish Habsburg Court: The Royal Exequies for Philip
IV, Columbia, Missouri, 1989. For the catafalques erected in Mexico for
the exequies of Philip IV and Charles II, see Fernando Checa Cremada,
‘Arquitectura efímera e imagen del poder’, in Sara Poot Herrera (ed.), Sor
Juana y su mundo: Una mirada actual, México, 1995, pp. 261-83.
For a description of the cortege, see Isidro Sariñana, Llanto del Occidente
en el ocaso del más claro sol de las Españas: Fúnebres demostraciones
que hizo, pira real que erigió en las exequias del rey, N. Señor, D. Felipe
IIII el Grande el ... marqués de Mancera, virrey de la Nueva España,
México, 1666, fols. 108v-11v. On funeral processions in Mexico City,
see also Real mausoleo y funeral pompa, que erigió el Excelentísimo
Señor conde de Salvatierra y la Real Audiencia desta ciudad de México a
las memorias del Serenísimo Príncipe de España Don Baltasar Carlos,
México, 1647, fols. 22-25; Agustín de Mora, El sol eclipsado antes de
llegar al cenit: Real pira que encendió a la apagada luz del rey N.S.D.
Carlos II el ... conde de Moctezuma ..., México, 1700, fols. 83v-85, 9395.
Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, Princeton, 1981, pp.
189-90.

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Alejandro Cañeque

56 On the theory of the two knives or two swords, see Francisco Ugarte de
Hermosa y Salcedo, Origen de los dos gobiernos divino y humano y forma de su ejercicio en lo temporal, Madrid, 1655, pp. 100-17, 126-40;
Castillo de Bobadilla, Política para corregidores, lib. II, cap. XVII, nos.
1-7.
57 For these arguments, see Pablo Fernández Albaladejo, ‘Iglesia y configuración del poder en la monarquía católica (siglos XV-XVII): Algunas consideraciones’, in: J.-Ph. Genet & B. Vincent (eds.), Etat et église dans la
genèse de l’état moderne, Madrid, 1986, pp. 209-16.
58 So it was believed at least by the anonymous author of the account of
Prince Baltasar Carlos’ funeral. He was pleased by the harmony that existed at that moment between the two “princes”, which increased the
splendour of the obsequies. See Real mausoleo y funeral pompa, fol. 4.
59 Among the privileges of those cities which were “head of the kingdom”
was that of being obligated to meet only royal persons, although an exception was made with archbishops and bishops the first time they entered their dioceses. This clearly put archbishops on a symbolic level very
similar to that of viceroys, who were the only persons the Mexico City
cabildo received ceremonially. See Castillo de Bobadilla, Política para
corregidores, lib. III, cap. VIII, no. 21; Gaspar de Villarroel, Gobierno
eclesiástico pacífico y unión de los dos cuchillos, pontificio y regio,
Madrid, 1656, pp. 28-29; Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México
[hereafter AHCM], Ordenanzas 2981, nos. 16, 17, 22. On the archbishop’s entry, see, for example, AHCM, Actas de Cabildo, vol. 365-A,
cabildos of 29 and 31 August 1628; vol. 369-A, cabildos of 31 December 1640, and 3, 8, and 9 January 1641; AGI, Mexico 44, no. 73,
the corregidor of Mexico City to the viceroy, 30 November 1670.
60 On the arches erected to welcome the archbishops, see, for example, Esfera de Apolo y teatro del sol: Ejemplar de prelados en la suntuosa fábrica y portada triunfal que la ... Iglesia Metropolitana de México erigió
... a la venida del Ilmo. Sr. Don Marcelo López de Azcona ... arzobispo
de México, México, 1653; Alonso de la Peña Peralta & Pedro Fernández
Osorio, Pan místico, numen simbólico, simulacro político, que en la fábrica del arco triunfal, que erigió el amor y la obligación en las aras de
su debido rendimiento la ... Metropolitana Iglesia de México al felicísimo recibimiento y plausible ingreso del Ilustrismo. y Revermo. Señor
M. D. Fr. Payo Enriques de Ribera, ... su genialísimo pastor, prelado y
esposo, México, 1670.
61 AGN, RCD, vol. 180, fol. 20, cédula of 2 July 1596; AGN, RCO,
vol. 6, exp. 33, cédulas of 29 August and 20 November 1608. This prohibition would be later included in the Recopilación, lib. III, tít. XV,

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ley iiii.
62 See AGI, Mexico 38, no. 15b, cabildo of 17 July 1640.
63 AGI, Mexico 38, nos. 15 and 15a, the duke of Alburquerque to the king,
20 and 26 July 1656; ibid., no. 15b, ‘Copia de las diligencias fechas sobre la consulta que la ciudad de la Puebla de los Angeles hizo al duque de
Alburquerque ... sobre si se había de recebir con palio por dicha ciudad al
obispo della’, 20 July 1656; ibid., no. 15c, the alcalde mayor of Puebla
to the duke of Alburquerque, 24 July 1656; ibid., no. 15d, ‘Testimonio
que remitió la ciudad de la Puebla sobre haber entrado el obispo della debajo de palio ...’, 25 July 1656. As a result of this incident, the Council
of the Indies resolved to send a cédula to every viceroy and governor
whose district had a bishop, reiterating the prohibition against using the
palio. See AGI, Mexico 6, Ramo 1, consulta of 17 May 1658; AGN,
RCO, vol. 6, exp. 33, cédula of 23 July 1658.
64 See AGI, Mexico 39, no. 13b, the king to the count of Baños, 9 March
1660; ibid., no. 13, the count of Baños to the king, 20 November 1663;
16, the fiscal of the Council, 18 August 1664; Recopilación, lib. III,
tít. XV, ley iii.
65 The political-religious career of Diego Osorio is very similar to that of
Juan de Palafox, another controversial figure of seventeenth-century New
Spain. Both were bishops of Puebla, both were appointed archbishops of
Mexico (although they both renounced the archbishopric in order to remain in the diocese of Puebla), both were appointed acting viceroys, and
last but not least, their clashes with the viceroys were among the most
virulent of the entire century.
66 AGI, Mexico 39, no. 13b, Montemayor to the count of Baños, 11 October 1663.
67 AGI, Mexico 39, no. 13b, Acuerdo of 22 October 1663.
68 AGI, Mexico 39, no. 13b, bishop Osorio to the count of Baños, 6/29
October 1663; AGI, Mexico 344, bishop Osorio to the king, 18 January
1664. On bishops as rulers of souls, see Francisco Núñez de Cepeda,
Idea de el buen pastor, copiada por los SS. Doctores, representada en
Empresas Sacras con avisos espirituales, morales políticos y económicos para el gobierno de un príncipe eclesiástico, Lyon, 1682, p. 438-39.
69 On the importance and significance of Corpus Christi in Mexico City,
see Linda A. Curcio-Nagy, ‘Giants and Gypsies: Corpus Christi in Colonial Mexico City’, in: William H. Beezley et al. (eds.), Rituals of
Rule, Rituals of Resistance: Public Celebrations and Popular Culture in
Mexico, Wilmington, Del., 1994, pp. 1-26.
70 AGI, Mexico 39, no. 10, the count of Baños to the king, 2 June 1663;
ibid., no. 10f, autos hechos por orden del virrey, 1663; Martín de Guijo,

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Diario, vol. II, pp. 208-09.
71 AGI, Mexico 39, no. 10e, Diego Osorio to the king, 26 May 1663;
ibid., no. 10d, the ecclesiastical chapter to the king, 26 May 1663; ibid.,
no. 10a, autos hechos por orden del arzobispo, 23 May 1663.
72 On Corpus Christi as a feast of concord and unity, which nonetheless
brought about conflict because of the competition for “honour”, see Mervyn James, ‘Ritual, Drama and Social Body in the Late Medieval English
Town’, Past and Present 98 (1983), pp. 3-29.
73 This has already been noted by Curcio-Nagy in ‘Giants and Gypsies’, pp.
8-10. See also James, ‘Ritual, Drama and Social Body’, p. 5.
74 Perhaps the most notorious example of this in seventeenth-century Mexico was a dispute over the exact position of the viceroy’s pages in the
1651 Corpus Christi procession that brought the viceroy, the count of
Alba de Liste, and the ecclesiastical chapter (the archiepiscopal see was
vacant at the time) face to face. See AGI, Mexico 36, no. 58, the count
of Alba de Liste to the king, 31 July 1651; ibid., no. 58c, the audiencia
to the king, 11 July 1651; ibid., no. 58c, the ecclesiastical chapter to the
king, 8 August 1651; ibid., no. 58d, the dean of the ecclesiastical chapter
to the king, 14 July 1651; ibid., no. 58e, ‘Testimonio de los autos
fechos en razón de que el cabildo eclesiástico de la santa iglesia catedral de
esta ciudad guarde la costumbre en el modo de llevar las hachas los pajes
de Su Excelencia el día del Corpus Christi’, 1651. The controversy over
the viceroy’s pages was an old one. See, for example, AGN, Historia,
vol. 36, exp. 3, fols. 198-277, ‘Testimonios sobre haber hecho injurias
el marqués de Cerralvo en público ... el día de la octava del Corpus’,
1626.
75 Recopilación, lib. III, tít. XV, ley xxxvi.
76 Recopilación, lib. III, tít. XV, leyes xxxviiii, xxxx; AGI, Mexico 44,
no. 15e-1, decree of the marquis of Mancera, 12 September 1669.
77 For a description of the viceregal palace in Mexico City and how it could
be seen as a replica of the royal palace in Madrid, see Checa Cremada,
‘Arquitectura efímera e imagen del poder’, pp. 256-61.
78 This poetics of space is the same as that which took place in the royal
palace in Madrid, the only difference being that the number of “referential
space signs” (i.e., rooms) was probably much greater. See Lisón Tolosana, La imagen del rey, pp. 141-45.
79 This has been pointed out by Richard Trexler in Public Life in Renaissance Florence, New York, 1980, pp. 319-21.
80 See AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15e-3, bishop Enríquez to the marquis of
Mancera, 9 October 1669.
81 AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15e, the marquis of Mancera to the king, 29 October 1669.

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82 The notary, always close to the viceroy, was an indispensable figure in
any ceremony or procession, as his duty was to put on record any kind of
incident that might happen during the celebration. On the importance of
the physical proximity of viceregal notaries to the viceroy on all ceremonial occasions, see AGN, RCD, vol. 14, fols. 437-38, petition of the
viceregal secretaries to the count of Salvatierra, 15 May 1647.
83 AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15a, testimonio, 12 June 1670.
84 According to the viceroy, the archbishop maintained that ‘in the presence
of the consecrated Divine Majesty, this ceremony should not be performed with the temporal magistrates, not even with the sovereign princes’.
To this, Mancera responded that no text or ecclesiastical authority justified such an opinion. See AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15, the marquis of Mancera to the queen regent, 17 July 1670. On the occasions when bishops
had to release the cape train in the viceroy’s presence, see Recopilación,
lib. III, tít. XV, ley xxxviiii.
85 AGI, Mexico 338, ‘Dos testimonios ...’, 1670 [emphasis added]. In the
face of what in the viceroy’s eyes were constant insults aimed at him by
the archbishop, Mancera communicated to the king his decision to no
longer attend any celebrations that took place in the cathedral. To this decision the monarch reacted by asking Mancera not to suspend his attendance at those festivities, since the viceroy’s absence would set a bad ‘example to the republic’. The archbishop, on the other hand, was asked not
to be disrespectful towards the viceroy and to show him all due respect.
See AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15 (161), consulta of 31 January 1671; AGN,
RCO, vol. 12, exp. 16, fols. 56-57, the queen regent to the marquis of
Mancera, 9 February 1671; ibid., fol. 58, the queen regent to the archbishop Enríquez de Ribera, 9 February 1671.
86 AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15e-1, ‘Consulta del virrey marqués de Mancera al
Acuerdo’, 6 September 1669.
87 AGI, Mexico 44, no. 15e-1, ‘Respuesta del fiscal’, 8 September 1669.
88 For an account of the turbulent relations between the Spanish monarchy
and the papacy in the seventeenth century, see Antonio Domínguez Ortiz,
‘Regalismo y relaciones Iglesia-Estado en el siglo XVII’, in: R. GarcíaVilloslada (ed.), Historia de la Iglesia en España, Madrid, 1979, vol. IV,
pp. 73-89.
89 Fiestas de tabla were those feast days when it was mandatory for the
viceroy and the audiencia to participate in the processions and celebrations in the cathedral. On this subject, see AGN, RCO, vol. 8, exp.
15, fol. 51, the king to the marquis of Mancera, 8 March 1665; vol. 9,
exp. 27, fol. 94, the queen regent to the marquis of Mancera, 30 June
1666; vol. 27, exp. 52, fol. 123-24, the king to the count of Moctezuma,

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Alejandro Cañeque

21 August 1696.
90 AGI, Mexico 82, no. 2, the audiencia of Mexico to the queen regent,
12 January 1674. The queen agreed with the arguments of the oidores
and ordered the viceroys not to force the oidores to escort them when
they were not obligated to do so. See AGI, Mexico 82, no. 2, Fernando
Paniagua to the Council, 14 June 1674; AGN, RCO, vol. 14, fols. 88,
90, 92, 93, 94, 95, the queen regent to the archbishop-viceroy Enríquez
de Ribera, 6 July 1674 (also in AGI, Mexico 48, nos. 23, 27, 29, 30,
31). All this notwithstanding, when the archbishop’s successor, the count
of Paredes, arrived in Mexico, he wasted no time in soliciting the king
that all the cédulas issued in 1674 be revoked. The success of Paredes—
the cédulas favouring the position of the oidores were abrogated by a
royal order in 1681—was determined, in all likelihood, by his powerful
connections at the Madrid court (he was the brother of the duke of
Medinaceli, who, besides being one of the wealthiest and most powerful
noblemen of Castile, was the monarch’s chief minister at the time).
While Paredes had based his petition on ‘the authority and reverence’
owed to his post, the monarch justified the order given to the oidores to
always accompany the viceroy from his private residence to the viceregal
palace (viceroys usually moved out of the palace in the weeks before their
successors took office) with the argument that it was precisely at that
time when, more than ever, the viceroy’s authority needed to be reinforced, as it was a period of transition in which his power was weakened.
See AGN, RCO, vol. 19, exp. 5, fols. 7-12r, the king to the audiencia
of Mexico, 31 December 1681.
91 For an analysis of these two main currents, which dominated Spanish political thought in the seventeenth century, see José A. Fernández-Santamaría, ‘Reason of State and Statecraft in Spain (1595-1640)’, Journal of
the History of Ideas 41 (1980), pp. 355-79.
92 On the importance and significance of the concept of the viceroy as the
monarch’s image, see Alejandro Cañeque, The King’s Living Image:
The Culture and Politics of Viceregal Power in Colonial Mexico, New
York, 2004, ch. 1.
93 AGI, Mexico 35, n. 42, the count of Salvatierra to the king, 20 February 1645. The following year, a royal order was issued upholding the
viceroy’s arguments. See AGN, RCO, vol. 2, exp. 94, fol. 192, the
king to the count of Salvatierra, 18 February 1646. Only when the audiencia had taken over the government because of the absence of a viceroy was the senior oidor allowed to use the cushion in public ceremonies. See Recopilación, lib. III, tít. XV, ley xxvi.
94 On the meaning and importance of the notion of personal “credit” in the
early modern world, see Kristen B. Neuschel, Word of Honor: Interpret-

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95
96

97

98

99

ing Noble Culture in Sixteenth-Century France, Ithaca, 1989, pp. 7277; Jonathan Dewald, Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern
Culture: France, 1570-1715, Berkeley, 1993, pp. 157-58; and Jay M.
Smith, ‘No More Language Games: Words, Beliefs, and the Political
Culture of Early Modern France’, The American Historical Review 102
(1997), pp. 1427-38.
See Recopilación, lib. III, tít. XV, ley xxv.
AGN, RCO, vol. 4, exp. 78, fol. 168, cédula of 26 June 1652. See
also Recopilación, lib. III, tít. XV, ley xxviii. On the symbolism of the
chair as a marker of power, see AGN, RCO, vol. 24, exp. 37, fol. 85,
the king to the count of Galve, 22 June 1691 (also in AHCM, Cédulas
y Reales Ordenes, vol. 2977, exp. 12).
See, for example, AGN, RCO, vol. 16, exp. 84, fols. 168-69, cédula
of 13 September 1678; AGI, Mexico 319, the city of Mexico to the
king, 13 July 1689; AGI, Mexico 318, informes del fiscal, 29 August
and 16 November 1690; AGN, RCO, vol. 23, exp. 111, fol. 428, the
king to the count of Galve, 30 December 1690; AGN, RCD, vol. 39,
fol. 47v, the king to the count of Galve, 30 December 1692.
AGI, Mexico 318, the city of Mexico to the king, 21 November 1625.
The city always resented having to sit on a bench instead of chairs. See,
for instance, AGI, Mexico 33, L. 2, F. 5-12, the marquis of Cadereita to
the king, 22 July 1637. Another way of defending the preeminence of the
city was by ceremonially strengthening the figure of the corregidor,
since all the honours bestowed upon the “head” were likewise reflected on
the rest of the “body”. This was the reason for the request of Mexico
City’s cabildo to allow the corregidor to sit on a chair during his visits
to the viceroy. See A G N , R C D , vol. 180, fol. 67v, cédula of 27
August 1614.
Early modern society was populated by “imaginary persons” (personae
fictae in the terminology of the law) such as the estates or the corporations of diverse rank, which were the exclusive subjects of the system.
The “individual” as an “indivisible” person, as a unitary subject of rights,
was nonexistent. This way of conceiving the political community had
one fundamental implication: the multiplicity of estados (estates) and the
absence of individuals made the existence of the Estado (state) as the
only depositary of the subjects’ loyalties impossible. In other words, as
long as these political and juridical assumptions were not altered in a radical way, it was not possible to conceive of the modern idea of the state.
For these arguments, see Bartolomé Clavero, Tantas personas como estados: Por una antropología política de la historia europea, Madrid,
1986, pp. 53-105, and Idem, Razón de Estado, razón de individuo, razón

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Alejandro Cañeque

de historia, Madrid, 1991, pp. 39-45.
100 That was the function of the maceros (mace-bearers), who always
marched before the city, marking with their presence the boundaries of the
body formed by the corregidor and the regidores. See AHCM, Ordenanzas 2981, no. 24; AGI, Mexico 278, cédulas of 5 October 1630 and
6 November 1648.
101 AGI, Mexico 278, ‘Proposición del señor corregidor’, cabildo of 17
March 1650; see also cabildo of 18 February 1650; ‘Protesta del corregidor’, 12 March 1650; ‘Protesta de la ciudad’, 13 March 1650.
102 AGI, México 39, no. 15, the count of Baños to the king, 25 November
1663.

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Part II:

Performance and the Page

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Adrian P. Tudor
In his seminal essay on the Roman d’Eracle, Paul Zumthor
spoke of ‘la prépondérance, parmi les valeurs mises en jeu par
l’écriture, de celles qui s’attachent au modèle performanciel, c’està-dire vocal et au sens complet du terme dramatique’.1 Zumthor
acknowledges the intrinsic link between orality and performance,
noting that Gautier d’Arras situates the whole text ‘dans la perspective concrète d’une performance’ [in the concrete perspective
of a performance], calling it ‘la figure d’une parole vive’ [the figure of a living word].2 But, most importantly for the present essay, Zumthor concretizes the notion of performance as essentially
oral:
La finalité performancielle est si profondément inviscérée au texte que de
nombreux passages ne sont facilement compréhensibles à la lecture muette que grâce aux artifices des éditeurs [...]. Qu’est-ce qu’à dire, sinon que,
dans l’intention même de Gautier, le texte exige une glose vocale-tonale,
mimique ou gestuelle?3

Karl D. Uitti views performance in a more abstract manner in his
important study of the Vie de Saint Alexis:
To read any work of literature demands that one participate effectively in
the full gamut of its formal and rhetorical possibilities. But, in texts that
show a close affiliation to broad legendary constructs—hagiographic
composition, popular song, folk epic, folk tale—the sense of the formal
patterns [...] depends heavily on the public’s capacity to respond ritualistically to the historical, religious, or psychological motifs that these patterns are designed to represent. There is a kind of performance at issue
here [when a Saint’s Life is told to a Christian audience]. For, in conforming to hagiographic patterns, the Saint’s Life not only offered a biography composed of coherent, eventful signs corroborating the hero’s

Adrian P. Tudor

saintliness, but also confirmed the public’s devotion and translated its understanding of reality and the mysteries of its fate.4

The present essay, whilst wholeheartedly embracing Zumthor’s
analysis, and by developing Uitti’s interpretation, seeks to extend
the scope of the term “to perform” and suggest that, in both
medieval and modern terms, “performance” is multi-faceted and
multi-layered. In some cases visual images can fulfil the role of
performance much better than an acting out of a holy character’s
life. Stylized pictorial images of hermits, for example, are most
effective (and affective), their symbolic role instantly understood.
Of course, “performance” refers primarily to the oral delivery of a
text, but that interpretation, at least as far as the texts presented
here are concerned, is not exclusive. Sylvia Huot, with reference
to the role of copyist, comments that ‘the scribe assumes a role
analogous to the performer: he is an intermediary between the audience and the story, and the book is the space in which the
written “performance” takes place’.5 Karl Reichl has noted that
‘listening to the popular entertainer was in the course of time replaced by reading the texts of the poetry which minstrels or gestours would generally recite. With this shift in reception a new
way of appreciation can be assumed, which eventually led to the
development of popular fiction divorced from oral performance
and the speech-event’.6 The first Old French Vie des Pères, the
text upon which I will base my argument, lies squarely in the
middle of this shift, and changes in reception have far-reaching
consequences for the notion of “performance”. Reichl hints at,
but does not make explicit, this modification in the sense of the
term: oral performance is distanced, but in some contexts at least,
performance per se is far from wholly absent.
The First Old French Vie des Pères
The first Vie des Pères is a collection of over forty selfcontained pious tales and miracles, each enclosed between an individual prologue and epilogue.7 Composed during the first third
of the thirteenth century, the text survives in over fifty extant
manuscripts. The illustrations adorning a number of these manu152

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scripts, although inspired in each case by the same short narrative, display features which suggest widely differing interpretations of and reactions to the same text. Following Conrad
Rudolph, who has characterized the illuminations of the Cîteaux
Moralia in Job as a contemporary response to the concerns outlined in the text, I read these illustrations as a gateway into the
notoriously inaccessible area of contemporary reaction to and
interpretation of medieval texts.8
Talking Pictures: Performance by the Texts
Short pious narratives such as the first Vie des Pères are both
eminently “performable” and plainly “performative”. Some are
also conserved in richly illustrated manuscripts that are a far cry
from the plain and portable codices commonly held to contain
“texts for performance” (or at least the repertory of a jongleur).9
The conundrum is clear. But “performance” is not merely a synonym for “drama”. It is my assertion that certain illustrated manuscripts themselves “stage” the texts they contain, visually, on the
page. These are not merely ‘pictures showing the text being performed / read’, but as logical continuations of the text are performances in themselves. The evidence seen in some Vie des
Pères illustrated manuscripts is that they can perform the story
(or at least convey the message) just as effectively as can the
words of the text. Take the example of the third tale in the collection, Sarrasine (ll. 723-1194):
Long ago in Egypt lived a saintly hermit. One day, in order to escape
conversation with his fellow hermits, he decides to leave his community
and live on his own. He travels a good distance and sets up his new hermitage in pagan territory, near a wood and next to a spring. Avoiding the
luxury of rich food, he lives a very ascetic life. The spring attracts pagan
women who often come to wash or draw water, and the hermit notices a
particularly beautiful woman who frequently comes on her own. He falls
in love with her and begins to forget about God. When he realizes his sin
and its possible consequences, he laments and vows to close his eyes the
next time she comes; but, when she does come again, he wrestles with
himself and is haunted by her beauty. Finally, he decides that he is doing

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no wrong to give her his love. He goes to her “priest” and asks for her as
his wife. The pagan priest, after consultation with the devil, agrees that
the hermit should have the woman of his desire, and the hermit is overjoyed. It is agreed that if he renounces his faith and accepts the pagan law,
then he can marry her. But, when the hermit speaks to confirm the pact, a
white dove flies out of his mouth; he suddenly becomes aware of his sin
and runs away. Again he laments, and this time it is sincere: how could
he renounce God and the Virgin? Close to despair, he prays for forgiveness and pledges himself to God. In a very sad state, he sets off to find
his brother hermits again. He is forgiven after confession and penance and
prays for the dove to reappear; this it does, eventually returning to the
hermit’s mouth and staying there for the rest of his life. When he dies, he
rises to heaven.

Manuscripts set about illustrating this tale in a number of ways. In
BNF, fr. 1039, the tale is copied under the rubric: Del hermite ki
ama la sarrazine (fol. 7 [Fig. 1]). The thumbnail illustration,
measuring around three square centimetres, is a modest affair.
There is little interpretation of the tale, and yet a medieval eye
would surely understand certain details of the story from the performance of the illustrated characters: to the right is the woman,
holding up her hands in a gesture of surprise. She is not instantly
recognizable as a Saracen, nor, if not for the flowing contours of
her shift, as a woman of easy virtue. In the centre stands a priestfigure who, having read the narrative, we believe to be the pagan
priest. We know that he has consulted the devil about the affair: is
that the devil’s face which we see behind the priest’s head, in
profile and wearing a green cap? Or is it rather an attempt at perspective, perhaps a pagan mitre?10 At any rate, the pagan holds
the hermit’s right hand at the moment when the hermit, stage
right, is prepared to renounce his faith. Out of the latter’s mouth
flies a white dove. The body language of the illustration is not
complex but the whole makes up a clear pictorial illustration of the
tale’s defining moment. (This is continually the case in this manuscript: key dramatic moments are performed by the illustrations,
and the action, if not always the message, of the tales, is always
‘readable’.) It also occupies three lines alongside a fitting portion
of text:
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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

De sa franchize se demet
Qui en servitude ce met;
A boin droit ce doit cil doloir
Qui s’aservist par son voloir.

(ll. 723-26)

[A person who places himself in servitude strips himself of all his
freedom. So anyone who willingly goes into servitude has good
cause to lament.]
In BNF, fr. 25440 a later illustration of Sarrasine can be found
(fol. 64v [Fig. 2]). This image illustrates the story, as opposed to
telling it or commenting on it. Many of the details of the text are
there: the hermit with his back to his hermitage, the spring, the
sexual advances, but it would be difficult to “read” the picture
without knowledge of the text. However, a third illustration of the
same tale “performs” quite dramatically. In BNF, fr. 12471, we
find an image from which much of the tale can be told and which
could stand alone and be read “iconographically” (fol. 161 [Fig.
3]). To the right is Christ on the cross, occupying half of the four
square centimetre illustration. This image is, of course, paramount to a pious context and echoes the words of the “general”
prologue that the audience may recently have heard: Dex / qui
[...] en la Sainte Crois criais: / ‘Je muir de soif’ [‘God, who
upon the Holy Cross said: ‘I’m dying of thirst’, ll. 2-4]. In the
centre, with his back turned to Christ, is the hermit. His right arm
is around the Saracen girl’s back, his left hand placed seductively
on her stomach. The woman on the left holds her left hand open,
but points at the rejection of Christ with her right. The overall effect is to indicate the enormity of what is happening. The performances in the illustration can be “read” quite easily, and many
of the details of the narrative gleaned.
My final example for this section, Sénéchal (ll. 1259613297), is a complicated and exciting story of love, lust and deception:
One day a young king is separated from his entourage when hunting. He
comes across a castle, asks for lodgings and is presented to his host’s

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daughter. He instantly vows to make her his queen. Before leaving, the
king asks his fiancée if he can see her in private. She shows him a secret
entrance to her chambers and gives him a key to her room. The king’s seneschal, however, persuades him the foolishness of such a meeting, and
the king, convinced that his wishes are unwise, hands over the key. At
this point, the seneschal decides to help himself to the girl. He makes his
way into her chamber at the appointed time and, since it is dark, she does
not notice that he has taken the king’s place. The seneschal thus tricks
her into sleeping with him. Afterwards, he falls asleep and begins to
snore, and the girl realizes by this sign that, unlike the young king, this
man is old and fat: she fetches some light and her worst fears are
confirmed. She seizes the seneschal’s sword and slays him as he sleeps.
With the help of her cousin, the girl throws the body into an old well.
There is an extensive search for the seneschal when his absence is noted,
but no trace of him is found.
Some time later, on the day of the wedding, the girl agrees with her
cousin, a virgin, that the latter should secretly take her place in the conjugal bed; this will hide the fact that the new queen is not a virgin. However, once the couple have had sex and the king falls asleep, the cousin
refuses to give way to the queen: having enjoyed sex, she decides that she
wants the king for herself. The queen’s reaction is to tie her now sleeping
cousin to the bed and set fire to it. The cousin is consumed by the flames
but the king is saved. He is delighted to discover his new wife safe and
sound, and since the fire is so intense, no trace of the cousin is found, and
no-one except the queen knows that another person had been present in
the chamber.
The queen never forgets her sins and establishes a chapel dedicated to
the Virgin. After two years she decides to confess and tearfully tells all to
the king’s chaplain. He, however, is a lustful and hypocritical priest who
threatens to tell the king of the matter unless the queen sleeps with him.
Astonished, the queen refuses and, fearful that she will recount the episode of his blackmail to the king, the chaplain hurries first to the king
and tells of the queen’s crimes. The king is shocked, and orders the well
to be searched. Sure enough, the body of the seneschal is discovered. The
king has the queen tried by his bishops and his barons and she is sentenced to be burned. Terrified, the queen prays to the Virgin for mercy.
An old and respected hermit is then told in a vision that he must save her;
he makes his way to court and has the queen brought before the king.
Miraculously, as soon as she sees the holy hermit, she is freed from her
chains and clothed and veiled by heavenly grace. On her veil there is a
message which is read out by the hermit. When the king learns of all the

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queen has done for his sake, he feels great remorse. He has the chaplain
burned and dispossesses the seneschal’s family. He and the queen lead
pious lives and earn eternal salvation.

Two manuscript illustrations show elements of the action. In
BNF, nouv.acq.fr. 13521 there is a clear and identifiable link between rubric and image (fol. 204 (Fig. 4]). Ci commence de la
reine qui ocist son senechal is reflected by exactly that scene of
the tale in the illustration. The character in the bed is a wicked
felon, as can be seen by his green clothes, green being the colour
of envy, greed, treachery and decomposition; this not without
irony, since green is also the colour of rebirth, but here the seneschal is one of the few characters of the Vie des Pères who will
not find salvation in death. The man is dead, since he is on his
back with his eyes closed, and the crossing of the inert forearms
is a gesture that signifies treason and contradiction. The empty
hands, facing downwards, equally symbolize contradiction and
lies. Sex is suggested by the presence of a bed, and the lady’s
arm rests upon the pillow, establishing the bed as a major player
in the miniature. The sword, an obvious phallic image, is fittingly
used to kill the seneschal as in the tale proper. There is also clear
Old Testament iconography in this illustration, the scene mirroring the story of Judith and Holofernes. The image as a whole corresponds less with the text than with the rubric; it illustrates what
the rubricator or planner or artist highlights as the most significant
episode in the tale. Yet, as we know, this is not the only major
crime committed by the queen since there is another murder and
various sexual misdemeanours. The queen, although the perpetrator of the crime, bows her head as the consequence of being the
subject of evil: she is depicted as a victim. However, the lady is
not yet queen when she murders the seneschal, and although it
may be argued that in this illustration the crown merely identifies
her, it may also point to the artist having just read his now lost
written instructions and/or the rubric; he was not necessarily a
responsible reader of the text. Whatever the case, the matrix of
iconographical details allows us to say that the illustration per157

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forms a key scene of the narrative. However, the message of the
whole tale is lost.
BNF, fr. 1544 depicts the marriage scene, with the evil seneschal to the left showing his back (fol. 86 [Fig. 5]). This delightful illustration does not portray the whole message, or even the
main details, of the tale for it is the miracle that takes pride of
place in the text. It is more figurative than the first illustration but
still cannot be said to “perform” the text. But in BNF, fr. 1039,
we come across an illustration which not only performs the text
iconographically, but which adds a detail indicating that just such
an interpretation/performance was intentional (fol. 104 [Fig. 6]).
The rubric here highlights both murders committed by the queen:
De la roine ki tua le senechal et fist ardoir sa cousine. The illustration, though, is a rather curious confection. Almost certainly
an established iconographical topos, it illustrates only the second
murder. The queen is easily identifiable as the character kneeling
before God, asking forgiveness and displaying humility. Her
white shift as that of the other woman may be a symbol of purity
and virginity, a significant theme in the tale. Behind her stands the
king, his arms apart in a gesture of surprise. On the far left is the
hermit who is the Virgin’s instrument of miraculous forgiveness.
In the name of the Church he blesses the entire scene, and the
queen in particular. The queen’s lustful cousin is dying in the
flames, as is the case in the text. However, who is the supernumerary character in red, standing to the left? Clearly the figure of
an executioner, yet there is no such character in the tale. Is this an
image of the queen murdering her cousin? The most satisfactory
explanation for the figure’s inclusion here may be that the artist
does not know the tale and has misread the written instructions
(or even the rubric). Fist ardoir sa cousine refers, as we know,
to the action of pushing the bed near the fireplace so that it will
catch fire. However, it can also mean “has her cousin burned”.
This may be what the artist has read and understood and has
illustrated so vividly, but this is not what is recounted in the text.
This said, it is surely overly simplistic to suggest that supernu158

Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

merary details included in illustrations are a result of the artist not
having read the text: plenty of medieval manuscripts contain illustrative elements which, for whatever reason, go beyond the text.
We should always ask ourselves: how does the artist perceive his
own role? Is it more important to portray exactly the details of the
narrative or to offer another iconographical matrix ready to be interpreted? On a more human level, perhaps the artist was principally concerned with balance, or with other constraints: he might
not have had the time, budget or flair to create a new topos with
which to illustrate a particular tale. After all, these were by now
men working in a growing industry, knocking off painting after
painting in quick succession.11 What is sure, however, is that this
illustration of Sénéchal shows our artist or workshop responding
to and interpreting not only the subject of the narrative but also,
more importantly, the message. And this is how the text may be
said to perform, through choices and skill.
Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page
The first Vie’s opening tale follows a “general” prologue to the
entire collection. This tale, Fornication imitée, was acknowledged by the makers of the extant medieval manuscripts containing
the text as where the Vie des Pères begins. It acts, therefore, as
an introduction to the whole “collective” text, setting the agenda
for much of what ensues:
Two hermits live close to one another, both physically and spiritually.
They sleep on the floor, eat bread and water, and make baskets which they
sell at the Saturday market in order to meet their modest needs. One Saturday, one of the hermits catches the eye of a townswoman, and despite
early resistance, he soon gives in to the temptations of the flesh. As soon
as he has slept with her he laments, tearing out his hair and almost falling into despair. Meanwhile, his companion is eventually led to where
the first hermit has fled. When he has heard of the cause of his friend’s
lamentations, and recognising that he is perilously close to despair, the
second hermit tells a white lie: he too has been tempted to break his vow
of chastity, and so the two of them should do penance together since they
are equal in their sins. This ruse is successful: the first hermit turns towards God, and when both confess at the end of the year, the first hermit
is forgiven and the generous nature of his companion commended.

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In BNF, fr. 1039 the basket-making trade of hermits in general,
and those of the tale in particular, are illustrated (fol. 1 [Fig. 7];
see also BNF, nouv.acq.fr 13521, fol. 121 [Fig. 8]). What is especially striking here, in an illustration which is otherwise not
remarkable, is a possible commentary by the artist (or a subsequent reader). This commentary is reacting to a performance of
both fictional tale and real life: the artist has painted a bell-tower,
bells ringing the hours of devotion dictating the lives of hermits
and monks. They live their lives by bells, just as the pattern-book
hunting hound on the left: is this artist (or whoever) saying,
‘God, I have a dog’s life’? The presence of bells in both the main
illustration and the “doodle” outside the frame is more than mere
coincidence. But then Gaston Phébus shows plenty of hounds
(greyhounds and bloodhounds) and it is always the greyhound
who leads the hunt and wears a bell: is the fact that the dog here is
a bell-wearing bloodhound yet another level of commentary/satire?12
In a cleverly composed illustration, another manuscript brings
together Fornication imitée, the collection’s second tale, Juitel
(telling the well-known legend of the Jewish boy saved from the
fires of an oven), and the text’s overarching spiritual teaching.13
In BNF, fr. 1544 there is a neat balance between text and image
(fol. 1 [Fig. 9]). At the top grotesque babewyns can be seen, their
Janus heads looking both left and right, denoting the past and the
future, damnation and salvation. This clearly mirrors a text in
which the notion of “choosing the right path” is central. The first
image depicts the creation, a curious choice for a text which does
not, at first sight, deal with the details of the creation story. Upon
closer inspection, however, this picture has quite properly been
selected to accompany a section from the sixty-eight line general
prologue (which, let us remember, immediately precedes Fornication imitée and Juitel):
Mout fait a home grant bonté
qui de mort le tret et delivre

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et a la mort por lui ce livre.
Dex, ceste bonté nos feïs
qu’a la mort por nos te meïs
si k’en morant venquis la mort.
Autrement fuissions nos tuit mort
por le mors k’en la pome fist
Eve, qui en mordant defist
les biens ke promis nos avoies
por nos besoinz ke bien savoies.

(ll. 12-21 [my italics])

[Any man who saves another and delivers him from death by laying down his own life for him, performs a great and good deed.
Lord, you performed that deed for us by dying for us, and in dying you triumphed over death. Otherwise, we would all have perished, as a result of Eve’s biting of the apple; when she took that
bite, she undid all the good which you, who well knew of our
needs, had promised us.]
It would appear that, for the artist, the creation of woman was the
moment which led to the Fall. In the next illustration (top right)
two hermits are pendant to the creation image. This is how to
avoid the Fall, to save one’s soul and avoid sin: read horizontally,
these two pictures show the two ways of ‘In the beginning...’,
the cause and consequences of the Fall. This pictorial performance is both brilliant and effective. Below is an illustration of
Juitel which informs the more general teaching of the upper
images: red is dominant on the left, denoting of hell, fire, wrath
and sacrifice. The initially evil Jewish father is in three-quarter
profile, but is neither grotesque nor even noticeably Jewish. To
the right the viewer sees the mother of the saved child, her gesture
suggesting both piety and surprise. This can be compared to the
image of anguish in the first frame: the artist uses the same gestuelle in both, refining the detail of his composition with an excellent use of body language diacritics. The man in green is pointing to moral of picture, whilst the father’s hands are held in salvation and wonder. The fire (red) is still burning in the second picture, but is effaced by the Christ figure. The boy’s gesture evokes
the saved in the bosom of Abraham. Read horizontally, the pic161

Adrian P. Tudor

tures dramatically and forcefully show how we can all be saved
from damnation. Pattern book images come together to make a
fitting commentary on the whole text, performing not just the narrative intrigue or teaching of single stories, but rather the broad
message conveyed by the entire text throughout the remaining
pages of the manuscript.
However brilliant the artistic solution to depicting the Christian ideal may be in BNF, fr. 1544, the most striking performance
on the page is to be found elsewhere. Upon opening BNF, fr.
25440 the viewer is met with a text apparently subordinated by
marginal decoration (fol. 1 [Fig. 10]). All is not as it seems here.
Vice and deceit are denoted by the interlocked rings of the conjurer, a performer common throughout the Middle Ages, and also
by a fox, whose very presence suggests trickery and deception.
Indeed, the fox’s head has been worn away, presumably by superstitious readers, much like heads of devils in other medieval
manuscripts. Baskets symbolically denoting the way to salvation
are also in evidence here. The fox below plays an organ: this is
holy music (the portative organ is liturgical) played by the most
unworthy of creatures, and so is instantly devalued. Bear baiting
(another popular entertainment) or the chained bear (quite commonly seen on medieval choir stalls) is equally depicted in the
bottom margin. To the right can be seen two centaur creatures: the
upper one has a monkey on the fingerboard of lute, adding an
acid commentary on the human condition, and plays the instrument with a bow which closely resembles a cattle goad. The
lower centaur is absurdly playing bellows (bagpipes are a low
instrument) with a spoon. Again, all is not what it seems: is this
simply to show musicians who might have been present at a
reading of the text? Almost certainly not, for in this section of the
text itself we read:
Une gent sont ki vont contant
de cort a autre et vont trovant
chansonetes, moz et flabiaz

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por gaaignier les biaz morsiaz.
Mais je pris petit lor affaire...

(Fornication imitée, ll. 33-37)

[Some people go from one court to another, telling stories and
singing songs, ditties and fabliaux in order to earn a good crust.
But I find their business trivial.]
However formulaic these lines may appear, they are undoubtedly
more fitting in a pious text such as the Vie des Pères than in the
context of other romance literature. Pictorially the whole page
seems to be an image of wile, snares, deception and mockery.
Only once we have taken in the illustrative matrix do we then
turn to the text. And the beginning to this particular text, one promoting confession and penance, is especially vital in our understanding of how the page as a whole actually functions. The
opening lines to the Vie des Pères represent an anguished cry for
help:
Aîde Dex! Rois Jesucris,
Peres et Filz, sainz Esperis,
Dex qui tout puez et tout creais,
Qui en la Sainte Crois criais:
‘Je muir de soif’ ...

(ll. 1-5)

[Come to our help, O God! Lord Jesus, Father, Son and Holy
Ghost: God omnipotent and creator of all things, who cried out
on the Holy Cross: ‘I’m dying of thirst’...]
The shock here is tangible: a pious, improving text clashes with
the world of the margins, a world of trickery, entertainment and
deceit, so transparently performed by its marginal characters. In
many ways, it echoes and functions in the same way as the sculptural patterns adorning the outside of medieval churches. The first
thing the viewer sees is the deception, attractive performers and
seductive entertainments; it takes an effort to reach and read the
text. In his study of the Luttrell Psalter, Michael Camille has
spoken of the “high” and “low” marginal images in Gothic manuscripts, remarking that they ‘keep both sides in tension, caritas
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and cupiditas, pious silence and the sounds of gossips and
swearers, the authority of the book and the oral traditions of the
people’.14 Camille insists that there was a more elevated, learned
approach to the margins of Gothic manuscripts: ‘Popular culture
can never be glimpsed in its pure uncontaminated form in medieval art because most art served predominantly elite groups [...].
Image-making was controlled by the official culture which appropriated all unofficial discourse found within it for specific ends’.15
Elements of burlesque and folk belief that we see in the margins,
such as those performed in BNF, fr. 25440, support, rather than
challenge, the existing social order.
Two more folios from BNF, fr. 25440 provide compelling illustrations of performance on the page. On fol. 2v (Fig. 11) we
see once more the attractive nature of the world here set in the
context of an image directly corresponding to Fornication imitée
and the less appealing road to salvation. The viewer’s eyes stray
from the dark and drab left-hand side of the image to dwell on the
warm and seductive colours of the world on the right. The road to
hell is indeed alluring. Facing this image begins the narrative itself
(fol. 3 [Fig. 12]). Here again, the margins perform a mordant
commentary on the message of the text. The spiritual healing recommended by the narrative is mirrored in the scene of doctor and
patient in the margins. Is this again an image of the fox and bear,
already viewed on folio 1? But the physician is more likely to be
an ape, since the ape physician consulting a flask was a standard
topos. At any rate, the undercurrent of a general distrust of
doctors in the Middle Ages, added to the acerbic humour of the
fox legend, leads the viewer to consider these images with caution. Below a text which is constantly telling of the battle between
good and evil and the combats of saintly characters with Satan
himself, is the image of a joust. But this joust—pretend war with
sexual connotations—is only a pretend joust. To the right, and in
keeping with the tournament image, hangs a large shield on a
tree.16 Are these the arms of the manuscript’s patron? The red
cross seems crude and over-painted and there is some doubt over
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whether the patron would have wanted to be associated with such
a world turned upside-down. This page can be read on various
levels: it is comic; then, when viewed with the image in the preceding folio, it depicts the variety of human behaviour; finally, it
might be seen to show an interpretation of a man acting as an
animal on the left, and animals acting as man on the right (and in
both cases “nature” is turned upside-down). However one understands the opening folios of BNF, fr. 25440, it is clear that their
pictures talk to us: aspects of performance are cleverly woven into
a commentary which, when combined with the text, makes the
whole page itself perform.
Conclusions
It would be easy, on one level, to counter my argument with the
comment that medieval artists relied heavily on stock images and
existing patterns of representation. This does indeed makes it difficult to distinguish indications of individual reception and interpretation of medieval texts. As Michael Camille pointed out, unlike the postmodern artist or the modern painter, the medieval
illuminator was not shackled by ‘the tyranny of originality’.17 But
selecting elements from a pattern book still represents a choice.
An artist or planner or whoever chose the illustrative pattern for
these medieval books might well base their illustrations on stock
images, but in doing so they are also making an essential interpretive contribution, one which defines how the manuscript page will
reflect or perform the narrative it contains. As for storytelling,
although it might be argued that this is profoundly oral, and as a
consequence performed, we should not limit ourselves to a definition of “performance” in a solely oral/dramatic sense. Images
and gesture too are a form of communication, charged with storytelling potential and occupying a central role in the culture of the
Middle Ages. When associated with a narrative text, their performative potential becomes so much more powerful. In fact, it
might be argued that all writing is a sort of image, and that all
writing intended to be read aloud is a sort of performance. This
interpretation would render the links between image and perform165

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ance a little less obscure. Marco Mostert reminds scholars of the
aesthetic value of religious images:
Il va sans dire que même un illettré, ou un clerc qui n’était pas ou pas encore versé dans les traditions dont témoignait une image, pouvaient éprouver des émotions en regardant une image [...]. Le problème est, pour
les historiens de la fin du XXe siècle, de savoir si les émotions éprouvées
par les contemporains des commenditaires sont identiques aux nôtres, et
si le sens qu’on prête aujourd’hui à une image correspond quelque peu à
celui des gens du Moyen Âge.18

[It goes without saying that even an illiterate person, or a cleric
who was not (or not yet) versed in the traditions to which an
image bore witness, could still experience emotions towards that
image [...]. The problem, for historians working at the end of the
twentieth century, is knowing whether the emotions experienced
by the patrons’ contemporaries are identical to our own, and whether the meaning we accord an image today corresponds, even just a
little, with the meaning accorded by people in the Middle Ages.]
This also goes some way to explain why a text such as the first
Vie des Pères, a text with one foot firmly in the oral tradition, is
preserved in richly decorated manuscripts. Another reason for this
is obvious: it is inevitable that more valuable manuscripts will be
preserved with more care than workmanlike books. This distorts
the evidence somewhat, but, happily for us, also provides attractive and precious indications of contemporary reception, interpretation and reaction.
Glending Olson follows Richard Bauman in using “performance” to refer to an ‘interpretative frame’ involving a performer’s
‘assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative competence’, beyond the purely referential, one perceived as offering ‘present enjoyment of the intrinsic qualities of
the act of expression itself’ and thus ‘subject to evaluation for the
way it is done’.19 The images discussed above certainly fulfil this
role. Richard K. Emmerson has recently written on an analogous
topic, suggesting that the scribe and artist of the mid-fourteenth166

Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

century Besançon MS 579 ‘collaborate to transmit a lost theatrical
performance [of the Jour du Jugement] by recording the verbal
dialogue and the visual miniatures, arranging and organizing them
in this deluxe manuscript for later medieval readers’.20 The images of MS 579 ‘help visualize and potentially recover some features of a lost performance of this remarkable and fascinating
play’.21 The Vie des Pères illustrations do not depict an actual
performance or reading of that text, but that they sometimes perform the text they accompany, in similar fashion to those of MS
579, appears beyond doubt: many of them clearly go beyond the
text, relating aspects of the pre-text and thereby enriching, rather
than simply illustrating, the co-text. This, I would argue, is especially evident in an illustration such as Figure 6. As Pamela
Sheingorn notes, ‘performance, like art, is a means of visualizing
text’.22 For these illustrations I offer no claims of artistic innovation or exceptional skill, but I do insist that they, just as the visual, oral and aural elements which also punctuate the text at regular
intervals are not always subordinate to the text. They can in fact
be read as a logical consequence of the text, a performance in
themselves, illustrating, interpreting and reacting, a performance
which in many ways is self-contained and independent.
‘Who performed? In what way? To whom and for what purpose?’23 These questions, posed by Karl Reichl with reference to
romance, are of vital importance, and yet they can never be comprehensively answered by modern scholarship. Reichl goes on to
explore the notion of performance in an oral milieu. The semiliterate society of thirteenth-century France presents further obstacles in that the very term “performance” cannot be defined in a
manner which is wholly satisfactory. In general terms, a scholar
knows that he is fighting a losing battle when his own work
comes down to an exploration and interpretation of definitions,
for this tends to indicate the fundamentally insubstantial, speculative nature of his work. But at the same time, by exploring what
exactly we mean by “to perform”, new aspects of medieval literacy and textuality become apparent. The notion of the miniature as
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Adrian P. Tudor

a performance, as a logical result of, rather than accompaniment
to, the text, is as surprising as it is exciting; and these performances become available to a privileged public as soon as the manuscript page is opened.
Notes
1

2
3

4
5
6

7

8
9

‘[T]he preponderance, amongst the elements brought into play by the
written form, of those which are connected to the performance model, that
is to say vocal and in the fullest sense of the word dramatic’. (Paul
Zumthor, ‘L’écriture et la voix’, in: Leigh A. Arrathoon (ed.), The Craft
of Fiction: Essays in Medieval Poetics, Rochester, Mich., 1984, pp.
161-209, esp. p. 205. All translations and paraphrases are my own.
Ibid., pp. 206 and 207.
‘The inherent knowledge that these texts will be performed is so deeply
rooted that many passages are only comprehensible, when read silently,
thanks to the skill of the editor [...]. How do we know that Gautier did
not intend his text to be glossed by voice/tone, mimicry or gesture?’
(Ibid., p. 207.)
Karl D. Uitti, ‘The Old French Vie de Saint Alexis: Paradigm, Legend,
Meaning’, Romance Philology 20 (1966-67), pp. 263-95, esp. p. 273.
Sylvia Huot, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old
French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry, Ithaca, 1987, p. 174.
Karl Reichl, ‘The Literate Fallacy: Interpreting Medieval Popular Narrative Poetry’, in: Piero Boitani & Anna Torti (eds.), Interpretation: Medieval and Modern, Cambridge, 1993, pp. 67-90, esp. p. 88-89.
Félix Lecoy (ed.), La Vie des Pères, 3 vols., Paris, 1987-99. For a brief
commented bibliography of Vie des Pères scholarship, see my article
‘The One that Got Away: The Case of the Vie des Pères’, French
Studies Bulletin 55 (1995), pp. 11-15. For a more substantial overview
of this extraordinary text, see Adrian P. Tudor, Tales of Vice and Virtue:
The First Old French “Vie des Pères”, Amsterdam-New York, 2005
[Faux Titre, 253].
Conrad Rudolph, Violence and Daily Life: Reading, Art and Polemics in
the Cîteaux “Moralia in Job”, Princeton, N. J., 1997.
Keith Busby, ‘Fabliaux and the New Codicology’, in: Kathryn Karczewska & Tom Conley (eds.), The World and its Rival: Essays on Literary
Imagination in Honor of Per Nykrog, Amsterdam, 1999 [Faux Titre,
172], pp. 137-60, esp. 157, puts forward the view that his fabliaux
manuscripts, unillustrated and plain, might represent a jongleur’s repertoire. On the broader issue of manuscript manufacture, propagation and

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

10
11

12

13

14
15
16

use, including how the complex matrices of any single manuscript page
may be interpreted, Keith Busby’s Codex and Context: Reading Old
French Verse Narrative in Manuscript, 2 vols., Amsterdam-New York,
2002 [Faux Titre, 221-222], is indispensable.
Might the illustrator have had in the back of his mind the pattern-book
image of the bishop-saint of exorcisms?
See Busby, Codex and Context, and Richard A. Rouse & Mary A.
Rouse, Illiterati et Uxorati: Manuscripts and their Makers: Commercial
Book Production in Medieval Paris, 1200-1500, Turnhout, 2000.
The Hunting Book of Gaston Phébus: Manuscrit français 616, Paris,
Bibliothèque Nationale, (commentary by) Wilhelm Schlag, London,
1998.
For a dated, but still interesting, study of this fascinating legend, see Eugen Wolter (ed.), Der Judenknabe: 5 griechische, 14 lateinische und 8
französische Texte, Halle, 1879 [Bibliotheca Normannica, 2]. See also
my essay, ‘La Légende de l’enfant juif: peinture des personnages,
mouvance d’épithètes’, in: Larry Duffy & Adrian P. Tudor (eds.), Les
Lieux Interdits: Transgression and French Literature, Hull, 1998, pp.
31-62.
Michael Camille, Mirror in Parchment: The Luttrell Psalter and the
Making of Medieval England, London, 1998, p. 269.
Ibid., p. 275.
I am indebted to Catherine Emerson for the following details given during
our e-mail correspondence: ‘In BNF, fr. 286 (the first book of the Mémoires of Olivier de La Marche) can also be seen a shield hanging from
a tree. In fact this was a fairly standard practice in jousting. Most jousts
had somewhere to attach participants’ coats of arms (Réné d’Anjou stipulates that coats of arms should be displayed in the course of tournaments,
in the Traictie de la fourme et devis d’ung tournoy (in: Théodore de
Quatrebarbes [ed.], Oeuvres complètes du roi Réné, 4 vols., Angers,
1843-46, vol. II, pp. 1-42) and quite often this seems to have taken the
form of a tree. There were two major pas d’armes in the Burgundian
court named after trees, the pas de l’arbre Charlemagne and the pas de
l’arbre d’or. In the first, shields were hung on the tree and combatants
touched the shield of their choice to determine what sort of combat they
would participate in. In the pas de l’arbre d’or, held to celebrate the
wedding of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York, in 1468, challengers
hung their shields on the tree when they made their challenge’. There are
also literary archetypes: Gallahad in the Grail Romances finds his armour
hanging on a tree. Illustrators wanting to depict coats of arms have a
number of ways of doing this, and one of these is to show them in the
context in which they appear in court combat affixed to a tree.

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Adrian P. Tudor

17 Michael Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art,
London, 1992, p. 160.
18 Marco Mostert, ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une image?’, in: Jean-Marie Sansterre &
Jean-Claude Schmitt (eds.), Les images dans les sociétés médiévales:
Pour une histoire comparée, Bruxelles-Rome, 1999 [Bulletin de l’Institut Historique Belge de Rome, 69], pp. 265-71, esp. p. 269.
19 Glending Olson, ‘Plays as Play: A Medieval Ethical Theory of Performance and the Intellectual Context of the Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge’,
Viator 26 (1995), pp. 195-221, esp. p. 196, n. 1.
20 Richard K. Emmerson, ‘Visualizing Performance: The Miniatures of the
Besançon MS 579 Jour du Jugement’, Exemplaria 11 (1999), pp. 24584, esp. p. 246.
21 Ibid., p. 272.
22 Pamela Sheingorn, ‘Medieval Drama Studies and the New Art History’,
Mediaevalia 18 (1992 [1995]), pp. 143-220, esp. p. 151.
23 Reichl, ‘The Literate Fallacy’, p. 78.

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Figure 1
Sarrasine (BNF, fr. 1039, fol. 7)

171

Adrian P. Tudor

Figure 2
Sarrasine (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 64v)

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Figure 3
Sarrasine (BNF, fr. 12471, fol. 161)

173

Adrian P. Tudor

Figure 4
Sénéchal (BNF, nouv.acq.fr. 13521, fol. 204)

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Figure 5
Sénéchal (BNF, fr. 1544, fol. 86)

175

Adrian P. Tudor

Figure 6
Sénéchal (BNF, fr. 1039, fol. 104)

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Figure 7
Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 1039, fol. 1)

177

Adrian P. Tudor

Figure 8
Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 13521, fol. 121)

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Figure 9
Fornication Imitée / Juitel (BNF, fr. 1544, fol. 1)

179

Adrian P. Tudor

Figure 10
Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 1)

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Talking Pictures: Performance on the Page

Figure 11
Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 2v)

181

Adrian P. Tudor

Figure 12
Full page opening of Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 3)

182

Medieval Literary Performance:
Gautier de Coinci’s Guide for the Perplexed

Kathryn A. Duys
The Miracles de Nostre Dame, a collection of miracles of the
Virgin and pious songs that Gautier de Coinci composed between
1214 and 1236, was surely performed.1 There is musical evidence to support this assertion, manuscript evidence, and evidence drawn from our understanding of liturgical ritual and public
reading practices in the high Middle Ages.2 The collection nevertheless poses serious problems for the understanding of medieval
literary performance because of the bewildering variety of performance modes that applies to it.
The conundrum that faces a researcher of medieval literary
performance in the Miracles de Nostre Dame involves the
management of multiple performance modes and the resolution of
conflicts that arise among them. Let us begin with the basic observation that the songs of the Miracles require performance because their newly-composed devotional lyrics comment on the older melodies that Gautier borrowed from the well-known trouvère repertory. For his lyrical commentaries to work, one must
not only hear the melodies, but one must also listen to them carefully to recognize their origins in secular love songs. But this tells
us nothing of how they were performed; were they sung singly,
in sequence, or as part of a performance that included the miracle
narratives as well? Since the songs rarely circulated singly or independently of the work’s miracle narratives, they were probably
performed in sequence.3 Supporting this idea is Gautier’s practice
of attaching his song cycles to the spoken poems (dits) that precede them using a sophisticated rhetorical figure, annominatio,

Kathryn A. Duys

which locks the poems into long, unbroken sequences.4 This
technique is part of an overall design strategy that casts the entire
work—all 36,000 lines of its eighty-nine poems—as a single unit:
one long monologue. And yet, imagining a single continuous performance of all 36,000 lines of the Miracles de Nostre Dame is
mind-boggling, to say the least. It would take several entire days
to read and sing the whole work this way, a performance practice
that is both impracticable and unknown to modern scholars for
this type of poetry collection. As an alternative, we may consider
the continuous performance of the entire work a fiction. This idea
is supported by one late thirteenth-century Miracles manuscript
(Ms D) whose remarkable colophon mimics Gautier’s voice, signature rhetorical style, and sign-off, but casts it in the voice of the
book itself.5 In Ms D, the book is no longer merely a record of
the monologue, nor is it a prop in the performance, it is the performer itself.
Such self-conscious play with performance fictions is further
complicated by the representation of an actual procession at the
very centre of Gautier’s collection, in his Leocadia miracle (I Mir
44). According to the poet, the procession was held to commemorate a miracle that the Virgin and St. Leocadia performed on
Gautier’s behalf. The miracle narrative is followed by a series of
three songs that Gautier claims were sung during the procession,
which he tells us was repeated annually. Since the three songs
form a narrative sequence that retells the miracle story, this brings
Gautier’s central miracle and its song sequence tantalizingly close
to being a script for re-enactment.
Trying to accommodate this tangle of performance practices
and fictions, representations and ritual re-enactment within a
single operational notion of performance risks rendering the term
too non-specific to be a useful analytical tool, or it explodes the
notion altogether. Therefore, this study begins by acknowledging
that Gautier self-consciously manipulated different types of performance. It then sets out to describe the performance ideas upon
which he built his book, which can be divided into three catego184

Medieval Literary Performance

ries: philosophical attitudes toward performance drawn from classical sources (with their practical medieval applications), processional liturgies as model performances, and vernacular minstrelsy
in all its scurrilous glory. These three categories are not perfectly
exclusive of one another; in Gautier’s hands all three share a concern for the value of performance. Furthermore, the first two categories have a common interest in dramatic performance, and the
second two overlap in their focus on the figure of the performer
himself. As I present Gautier’s ideas of performance, I will show
that he put them to use to regulate his audience’s experience of the
Miracles de Nostre Dame, to define his authorial presence in the
work, and to shape his vast collection into what he felt would be a
useful book.
The Poet and His Work
Gautier de Coinci was a monk at the royal Benedictine abbey of
St. Médard de Soissons in northeastern France.6 He entered the
monastery in 1193, when he was fifteen or sixteen years old. Just
one year later, in 1194, St. Médard founded a small priory in honour of St. Leocadia in the nearby town of Vic-sur-Aisne. In
1214 Gautier became prior of St. Leocadia; he remained in Vic for
approximately nineteen years and there composed most if not all
of his Miracles. In 1233 Gautier was recalled to St. Médard to
become grand prior of the large royal monastery. He died there in
1236 at the age of fifty-nine or sixty.
Gautier’s birthplace, Coinci, is located slightly to the southeast of Soissons. His family seems to have been closely associated with the Priory of St. Leocadia at Vic-sur-Aisne, for its first
three priors there were Guy, Gautier, and Gobert de Coinci. All
three later became grand priors of St. Médard, while another relation, Jérome de Coinci, was later abbot of that monastery. Since
few monks at St. Médard were of humble origin, and high ranking positions at the royal abbey were usually held by influential
aristocracy, we can be reasonably certain that Gautier’s family
was quite prominent in the region.
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Kathryn A. Duys

We have no information on Gautier’s early life, but scholars
have taken the musical virtuosity of his lyrics, his rhetorical style,
the learned references sprinkled throughout his miracle stories,
and his harsh criticism of the student’s life in his Ildefonsus miracle (I Mir 11, ll. 1058-146) to suggest a period of study at the
University of Paris before he went to Vic.7 References to friends
describe a man whose adult life was spent in the region of Noyon, Soissons, the Abbey of Longpont, and Laon, while his
knowledge of literary contemporaries stretched from the Hainaut
in Belgium to the north, through Picardy, Paris, and south-east to
the region of Champagne. The circulation of the Miracles de
Nostre Dame likewise describes a poet of regional celebrity, for
most of the ninety-seven surviving manuscripts originated in
Gautier’s immediate surroundings, the Soissonais and Picardy.8
The Miracles de Nostre Dame, Gautier’s chef d’oeuvre, is
essentially a compilation of fifty-eight traditional miracle stories of
the Virgin that the author translated from Latin prose into lively
Old French octosyllabic rhymed couplets, replete with dialogue.
He appended a short moral to each miracle story and divided the
whole collection into two books. To this core of fifty-eight traditional exempla, Gautier added numerous pieces—narrative and
non-narrative dits, songs, sermons, and prayers—as prologues
and epilogues that frame his two books of traditional miracle stories. The frame poems shape the collection into a single cohesive
unit, a book, and reflect on this function by recounting the story
of how Gautier made his book.
The autobiographical narrative that frames Gautier’s two books
of miracles begins in the prologues that open his collection (I Pro
1 and II Pro 1) with a description of his translation project. It
identifies the libraries that furnished him with his sources, and
then tells how he embellished his book with songs. At the end of
his first book, the midpoint of the Miracles, Gautier recounts the
Leocadia miracle (I Mir 44), a personal story and the only miracle
in his collection that is not based on a Latin source. In that miracle, the devil appeared to Gautier and threatened the poet’s life if
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Medieval Literary Performance

he refused to abandon his book. Gautier drove the devil off with
the sign of the cross, but as the demon departed he promised to
exact revenge once the vision had slipped from Gautier’s memory. Four days before Pentecost in 1219, when daily duties did
finally drive the devil’s threat from Gautier’s mind, an image of
the Virgin that Gautier had painted and the relics of St. Leocadia
were stolen. Thanks to the intervention of the Virgin and St. Leocadia, however, on the eve of Pentecost the image was recovered
in a nearby pasture and the relics were found at the banks of the
river Aisne, which runs through the town of Vic. There the chilly
waters began to cure the sick, a miracle that Gautier commemorated with a procession and a great feast. This miracle enabled Gautier to return to his work. He then turns once again to his great
Latin manuscript from the library of St. Médard and pushes forward (II Pro 1). Finally, at the end of the Miracles de Nostre
Dame, Gautier wearily closes his great Latin source and urges
his manuscript pages into the hands of a friend at a nearby priory
who had the work copied, illuminated, and disseminated among
local clergy and nobility (II Epi 33).
The collection’s frame narrative is studded with cycles of
songs attached to the prologue and epilogue poems. The songs
have several functions, one of which is structural and depends on
a deceptively simple device: repeated melodies, a form of lyric
citation. Two melodies in particular form the skeleton of Gautier’s
work; they are set to the first and last songs of the Miracles, and
also to the middle songs, the ninth and tenth. When the two melodies reappear at the midpoint of the collection, they are set to new
words in the processional songs of the Leocadia cycle.9 Those
songs commemorate Gautier’s personal miracle, and because they
are the ninth and tenth songs of the eighteen Miracles de Nostre
Dame lyrics, they also divide Gautier’s lyric corpus into two
groups of nine songs each. The repeated melodies therefore impose a symmetrical patterning on the collection and root that patterning in the dramatic story of the theft of the Leocadia relics—
Gautier’s personal authorizing miracle.10
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Kathryn A. Duys

The frame poems of the Miracles de Nostre Dame not only
recount an autobiographical narrative and structure the collection
with melodic citations, but they also cast the entire collection as a
single long performance.11 At the outset of the collection, Gautier
announces his intentions to begin translating and pauses to sing a
few songs to relieve his weary, aching head before beginning. He
then opens his grant livre, his great Latin source, and translates
until he reaches the mid-point of the Miracles, when he tells his
one personal miracle with no Latin source. That miracle story is
followed by three songs that he sings to relieve a headache and
fatigue. At the beginning of Book II, before re-opening his grant
livre, he sings a few songs—again to relieve his headache and
weariness—and as he ends, he is drooping and his head is throbbing while he sings one last song. He brings his collection to a
close with a cycle of prayers.
Were the representation of performance that Gautier built into
his Miracles de Nostre Dame actualized (headaches aside), I
estimate that the 36,000 lines would take at least four full days to
perform. I base this estimate on Arnoul Greban’s Mystère de la
Passion which is 30,000 lines of octosyllabic verse and was
performed over four days. As a dramatic work, Greban’s mystery
play would have had a somewhat slower rate of performance than
a recited work like Gautier’s. A performance rate of approximately a thousand lines per hour corresponds to that of modern scholars who seek to recreate medieval literary performances. Linda
Marie Zaerr of Boise State University, for example, has confirmed that she performs approximately one thousand octosyllabic
lines in Old French in an hour.12 While I am certain that Gautier’s
work was read and sung aloud, in the absence of models of marathon performances for a work of this nature, I believe that the
single extended session it portrays is a fiction. It seems reasonable to surmise that his work was read aloud as we know other
works to have been read, in a series of shorter sessions, an hour
or two at a time. In that way the whole collection could be read
over the course of several weeks, or selected parts could be ex188

Medieval Literary Performance

cerpted and combined with other works, which is how they appear in over forty manuscripts.13
One nagging question remains, however, and with this question I launch my examination of performance in the Miracles de
Nostre Dame. As I mentioned earlier, we know that Gautier’s
work was performed; it is consistent with our knowledge of medieval reading habits and with the nature of Gautier’s songs,
whose lyrics comment on their melodies. Why, then, would Gautier build an elaborate performance fiction into the frame of a
work that was performed anyway?
Performance and the Salutary Literary Delights of
Aristotle and Horace
Why did Chaucer represent the performance of the Canterbury
Tales within the work itself; why did Boccaccio do so in his
Decameron? The autobiographical and lyrical performance frame
that Gautier used to shape his miracle collection predates these
works by at least a century and was one of the most important innovations he wrought on his Latin sources. Some of Gautier’s
miracles came from twelfth-century Latin “general collections” of
Marian miracles, that is, compilations of the oldest and most
widely-circulated stories (Theophilus, Ildefonsus, The Jewish
Boy, etc.). These works are thought to have been used as liturgical readings on Marian feasts.14 Others he drew from twelfthcentury Latin “shrine collections”, compilations of miracles that
all occurred at a single shrine within a relatively brief period of
time. One of the primary functions of these shrine collections is
that they supported pilgrimages by serving as documentary evidence that the site was favoured by the Virgin; they may also have
served as liturgical readings on Marian feast days. By the late
twelfth century, the most famous shrine collections (from Laon,
Soissons, and Rocamadour) were combined with the voluminous
general collections and were widely circulated. Gautier’s vernacular collection of Marian miracles was strikingly different from
these Latin models, for it was meant neither for liturgical reading,
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Kathryn A. Duys

nor was it evidence for establishing or strengthening a pilgrimage.
Gautier insists repeatedly in the prologues of the Miracles that his
listeners and readers should take pleasure in the vernacular stories
and songs that he had composed with great delight.15
Talens me prent que de li chant
Et novel dit et novel chant.
Pour vos esbatre et deporter
Et por mon chief renconforter,
Chanter en veil part grant deport,
Car en ses chans mout me deport.
En ses doz chans a deport tant ...

(II Pro 1, ll. 395-401)

[I want to sing new dits and new songs of her to entertain and
amuse you and to comfort my head. I want to sing of her with
pleasure for in her songs I take great pleasure, in her sweet songs
there is so much joy ...]
When Gautier introduced the pleasure principle into his Marian
compilation, it was no slapdash affair. On the one hand, he asserts that his poetry was more delightful than pastourelles and the
romances of Renart the Fox:
Plus delitant sont si fait conte
As bonnes gens, par saint Omer
Que de Renart ne de Romer
Ne de Tardiu le limeçon.

(II Pro 1, ll. 46-49)

[All these tales are more delightful are to good people, by Saint
Omer, than those of Renart or Romer, or those of Tardiu-thesnail.]
However, Gautier chafed at this comparison too. He meant his
songs and miracles to entertain, but only to a degree—they were
not supposed to elicit raucous laughter or buffoonery. He defined
the literary delight of his work and circumscribed it with care, introducing Horace’s famous dictum to argue that unlike the tales of
Renart, his poetry should profit more than it pleases: ‘En ces myracles ci retraire A porfiter be plus que plaire’ (II Pro 1, ll. 6465). 16
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Medieval Literary Performance

Many of Gautier’s clerical contemporaries had similar concerns about the balance of profit and pleasure in literary works,
and generally sought to justify delight by using a number of standard strategies. One oft-used argument was that the skilled use of
rhetorical ornamentation in a delightful work might serve as a
model for others and would thereby justify the pleasures of the
narrative itself.17 Gautier did not make this argument even though
his elegant use of annominatio was much admired and often imitated. In fact, he disavowed rhetorical ornamentation as frivolous
and claimed that his own style was actually simple and rusticated
like St. Jerome’s: ‘Mais sains Jeroimes fait savoir Et bien le dit
l’autoritex Que symplement la veritez Vaut milz a dire rudement
Que biau mentir et soutilment’ (II Pro 1, ll. 58-62).18 The pleasure of Gautier’s poetry needed no such justification. It was not
derived from trifles, but from the truths his tales recounted and
from the very nature of the Virgin herself, whose sweet solace
had no equal. The pleasure his work inspired was virtuous in and
of itself because of the spiritual, temperate, and exemplary nature
of Mary and her miracle stories.
Tuit nos devomes deliter
En recorder ses grans douceurs.
C’est li refuis as pecheürs,
C’est li solas, c’est li confors
A toz foibles et a toz fors...

(II Pro 1, ll. 224-28)

[We should all delight in remembering her great sweetnesses. She
is the refuge of sinners, she is the solace, she is the comfort for
all the weak and all the strong...]
Gautier’s virtuous literary delight may appear to come close to
later interpretations of literary pleasure which differentiated “high”
and “low” literature, and justified the pleasure that high literature
and art gave by arguing that the experience of its aesthetic refinements was itself a valid category of knowledge, and that appreciation was a sound means of acquiring it. Such an abstract notion of
aesthetic pleasure as an end in itself was unknown in the Middle
Ages, however.19 The virtuous pleasure in Gautier’s miracle col191

Kathryn A. Duys

lection was of a fundamentally pragmatic nature: it was an entertainment that restored energy to the body and tranquility to the
mind within an ethical framework attuned to the spiritual concerns
of religious men and women.
The useful pleasure that Gautier experienced as he composed
and recited the Miracles de Nostre Dame, and which he hoped
others would find in it, is not provided for at all in the Benedictine
rule. In fact, the rule harshly criticizes casual entertainments: ‘as
for buffoonery or idle words, such as move to laughter (scurrilitates ver vel verba otiosa et risum moventia), we utterly condemn
them in every place, nor do we allow the disciple to open his
mouth in such discourse’.20 Gautier practically quotes this part of
the rule as he explicitly restricts literary pleasure to temperate and
ethical diversions. In doing so, he acknowledges that monks and
nuns turned habitually to secular songs and stories for relaxation.
One of his goals was to replace that worldly vernacular fare with
delightful songs and stories that were spiritually uplifting and
edifying.
Dyables saut, dyables trepe
Et trop demainne grant baudoire
Quant peut un clerc ou un provoire,
Qui dire doit les Dieu paroles,
Faire chanter chans de karoles,
Dire gabois et legeries
Et chanter chans de lecheries.
Il m’est avis que sainte bouche
Qui le cors Dieu baise et atouche
Ne devroit ja mençoignes dire
Ne vanité chanter ne lire.
Quant gens letrees sont ensamble
Plus grans deduis est, ce me samble
De raconter vraies estoyres,
Bons essamples, paroles voires
Et de retaire les sains fais
Des sains hommes et des parfais
De parler de sains et de saintes
Que de truffer truffes et faintes.

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(II Pro 1, ll. 346-62)

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[Devils leap, devils tap their feet and create a great rumpus when a
clerk or priest, who should say the words of God, sings songs of
caroles (dances), recites taunts and ditties, and sings boorish
songs. I am advised that the holy mouth who kisses and touches
the body of God should never tell lies, nor should it read or sing
vanities. When lettered people are together there is greater pleasure, it seems to me, in telling true stories, good exempla, truthful
words, and in recounting saintly deeds of saintly men and perfect
people, and in speaking of men and women saints rather than toying with trifles and fantasies.]
Beginning at the end of the twelfth century, the clergy’s harsh
views on relaxation and entertainments began to change. References to salutary recreation began to appear and some aspects of
minstrelsy gained a measure of respect among clergy.21 In Paris,
Peter the Chanter wrote about the usefulness of salutary pleasures:
... artifices etiam instrumentorum musicorum, ut eis tristitia et taedium
amoveatur, devotio non lascivia excitetur.22

[Players of musical instruments are also necessary (to the Church)
so that boredom and depression can be relieved by them and so
that devotion, not wantonness, may be inspired by them.]
... uel cantent de gestis rebus ad recreationem uel forte ad informationem,
uicini sunt excusationi.23

[But if they (minstrels) sing with instruments, or sing of exploits
to give relaxation and perhaps to give instruction, their activities
border upon being legitimate.]
Peter the Chanter wrote these lines in Paris in the 1180s in treatises on penance, so if Gautier did study there before going to Vic,
he may have been exposed to the influential ideas of Peter and his
circle. Thomas Aquinas would later elaborate upon the nature of
salutary pleasures in a way that harmonizes with Peter’s and Gautier’s ideas. In his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean
Ethics (Book IV,8) Aquinas considers the virtues of social intercourse:
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Kathryn A. Duys

Amusement does have an aspect of good inasmuch as it is useful for human living. As man sometimes needs to give his body rest from labors,
so also he sometimes needs to rest his soul from mental strain that ensues from his application to serious affairs. This is done by amusement.
For this reason Aristotle says that, since there should be some relaxation
for man from the anxieties and cares of human living and social intercourse by means of amusement—thus amusement has an aspect of useful
good—it follows that in amusement there can be a certain agreeable association of men with one another, so they may say and hear such things as
are proper and in the proper way.24

Just as sleep repairs physical exhaustion, Aquinas asserts, so
pleasure alleviates psychological stresses and refreshes the soul.
From about the fourteenth century, works appear that specifically treated the place of virtuous pleasure in monastic life, reflecting practices that were by then well-established. Monastic recreations mentioned in those later texts were varied and generally
included walks outside the cloister (though not aimless wandering), reveling on special occasions, conversation, eating meat,
bloodletting, holidays at locations outside the monastery, hunting,
and plays.25 The Summa recreatorum, a German work, most
probably Dominican, which was composed no later than 1412,
presents monastic recreatio in the context of a philosophical banquet that explicitly models itself on Macrobius’ Saturnalia. The
work is divided into several parts that contain information on food
and diet, discussions of philosophical questions, and literary
entertainments appropriate for relaxation: delightful stories and
songs, many of which were Marian.26
When Gautier sought relief from weariness and headaches in
his miracles and songs, we are reminded that complaints we tend
to consider psychological were at the time thought to be physiological, for they were attributed to an imbalance of humours in the
body. Hence, one fruitful place to discover the benefits of literary
delights is in medieval medical manuals. Generally speaking, medieval medical practice divided treatment strategies into three
parts: the first depended on drugs, the second on surgery, and the
third, called the non-naturals, depended on the therapeutic use of
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air, food, drink, exercise, rest, sleep, wakefulness, repletion and
evacuation, and “accidents of the soul”—accidentiae animae. The
accidents of the soul were essentially medieval mind-body medicine because they involved the manipulation of emotions for medical purposes. This is where salutary literary delights came in because, like exercise and variations in diet, they served to enhance
or maintain physical well-being. This mid fifteenth-century medical regimen of Benedetto Reguardati, which draws on sources of
a century earlier, explains the hygienic effects of gaudium temperatum, temperate cheerfulness.
For the preservation of health we should strive most resolutely for moderate pleasures and for gladdening solaces, so that as much as possible we
may live happily in temperate gaiety. That condition expands the spiritus and natural heat to the outer parts of the body and makes the blood
purer; it sharpens one’s wit and makes the understanding more capable; it
promotes a healthy complexion and a pleasing appearance; it stimulates
the energies throughout the whole body and makes them more vigorous
in their activity.27

Bartholomaeus da Montagnana, an early Renaissance Italian physician, prescribed singing or reciting aloud as exercises that were
particularly good for the chest, but he also attributed adverse effects to certain types of narrative. In a long concilium (a physician’s report on one of his cases, or one he knows of) for a Dominican friar, he stressed that the man should avoid reading horrible stories depicting martyrdoms or death.28 Hence, the stories
and songs recommended as medical therapy were, like monastic
recreations, restricted to avoid excesses and frivolity, and to conform to ethical restrictions as well.
Among literary therapies, song and music were the most popular recommendations, but stories were sometimes recommended,
and with time theatre predominated. This accentuates one aspect
of salutary and therapeutic literature that we have not touched upon yet: its dependence on the social conviviality of public performance. The Secretum secretorum was among the best known
medical treatises on health in the Middle Ages. The short Latin
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Kathryn A. Duys

version of Johannes Hispaliensis, quoted here in a Middle English translation, makes it clear that social intercourse is part of the
recommended literary experience: ‘Also if he may beholde beauteuous parsonis, and delectabil bookis, and here pleasaunt songis,
and be in the cumpany of such as a man louith, and to were goode
clothis, and to be anoyntid with swete oynementis’.29 The social
conviviality of gathering in public to attend the theatre is one of its
therapeutic features, so it is not surprising that when physicians
recommended stories, they advised their patients to listen to
stories told or read aloud by others, or to read aloud themselves to
others. Reading in private did not have the same benefit, and, if
we are to believe Francesca’s tearful testimony to Dante, it could
even have tragically adverse effects. In the Summa recreatorum,
discussed above, monastic “refreshers” are presented in the context of a banquet, which presupposes that social intercourse is
part of the recipe for recreation and provides a classic performance context for storytelling and singing. Indeed, when Hugh of
St. Victor discusses the salutary effects of theatrica, which he
classes as a mechanical art in his Didascalion, he includes recitations and storytelling, making music and singing songs, as well
as dramatic scenarios.
These occur in public places such as the entrance porches of
buildings, feasts, and shrines among others—all to forestall people from gathering in taverns.30 And when Bonaventure folds
Hugh’s ideas on theatrica into his own De reductione artium ad
theologiam, we come full circle, for he explicitly associates the
salutary delights of such public entertainments with Horace’s
ideas on literary profit and pleasure: ‘every mechanical art is intended for man’s consolation or his comfort; its purpose, therefore, is to banish either sorrow or want; it either benefits or delights, according to the words of Horace’.31
Public performance was an integral part of the virtuous pleasure of the Miracles de Nostre Dame, and it was just as crucial to
the restorative powers of the work as its ethical concerns and temperate qualities were. Standard literary practice was to read aloud
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Medieval Literary Performance

in public, which is exactly Gautier’s performance stance. His audience of clerks, monks, nuns, and pious lay nobility accordingly
enjoyed a measure of social conviviality as part of the work’s salutary pleasures—perhaps more than just a little, for Gautier often
calls for quiet among his listeners, suggesting lively interactions:
‘Tenez silence, bele gens’ (I Mir 21, l. 1) and ‘Entendez tuit,
faites silence’ (I Mir 22, l. 1). The Decameron and Chaucer’s
Canterbury Tales contain similar touches, as do Chaucer’s Book
of the Duchess, and Aucassin et Nicolette. The salutary effects
of literary performance explain why in the later Middle Ages and
throughout the Renaissance, when solitary readers were not as
rare, performance fictions persisted. Without such virtual performances, literature like the Decameron and the Heptameron
could not fulfill the practical application of the Horatian dictum:
that good literature should profit and please by refreshing physical, mental, and spiritual faculties—in good company, with moderate cheer and moral direction—to restore one’s forces for the
true work of life.
Who’s Afraid of Processional Liturgies?
All performances, whether real or virtual, depend on a set of
recognizable practices that shape the experience of a work of literature and its meaning. Not all performances deliver the same
quality of delight, and Gautier fretted that lower forms of entertainment might corrupt clergy, especially in their youth, in search
of recreation. The sort of entertainments against which the Miracles de Nostre Dame pit themselves—secular romances, animal
fables, love songs—extended into the territory of minstrelsy,
which the clergy traditionally complained about vigorously. It is
perhaps for this reason that Gautier showcased another form of
performance as the centrepiece of his collection: a processional liturgy reported and represented in his Leocadia miracle narrative,
which is followed by trouvère-style songs that he claims were
sung in the procession. With this processional cycle of poems,
Gautier asserted a devotional performance practice and called for
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Kathryn A. Duys

its re-enactment annually, trumping, he hoped, the alternative:
minstrel-led spectacles that revolved playfully around Marian miracles. The tensions that Gautier evoked between liturgy and minstrelsy might seem utterly unremarkable on the one hand (given
the standard clerical stance on minstrelsy), or excessively paranoid on another (could minstrels really appropriate liturgy?).32
However, historical record shows that at this time, Marian processions could be and were regularly led by many. Minstrels and
merchants, secular and regular clergy, and even different monasteries routinely competed for the right to shape the pilgrims’ experience and lay claim to their donations. We focus here on
Gautier’s fears: the tensions between minstrels and monks.
Processions are prominent of place in compilations of Marian
miracles going back to the twelfth century. Gautier dedicated his
second book to one of the first and most famous Marian shrines
of northern France, the nearby Notre Dame de Soissons. This
monastery was a Benedictine women’s house, a royal monastery,
and sister house of St. Médard de Soissons, which was where
Gautier began and ended his monastic career. The abbey catapulted to fame in 1128 with a miraculous mass-cure of at least one
hundred and three people who had been infected with ergotism,
or the mal des ardents, as it was known. The miracle inspired
highly dramatic penitential processions by masses of pilgrims
who sought cures for ergotism. They are vividly described in
Hugo Farsitus’ little compilation of the shrine’s miracles which
the nuns had lent Gautier as a source for his Miracles.33 The
Soissons shrine of Mary remained very popular for centuries; so
in Gautier’s lifetime, the penitential processions were very much a
part of life in and around the Marian shrine. These dramatic processions therefore formed the immediate backdrop of the Miracles de Nostre Dame, both in terms of literary sources and
models, and in terms of Gautier’s everyday reality.
The processional liturgies of pilgrims drawn to Marian shrines
during the twelfth-century epidemics were remarkable for the dramatic penitential atmosphere of their religious frenzy.34 Hugo
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Medieval Literary Performance

Farsitus described thousands of penitents who packed into the
Soissons shrine seeking cures. They were mostly poor pilgrims
who walked barefoot while beating themselves, publically confessing their sins and weeping in repentance. They held services
en route to the shrine and sang hymns until they reached the sanctuary. Records from other shrines tell us that the processions included carts that carried those too sick to walk alongside building
materials donated for the renovation of the shrine. Once they arrived at the shrine, the penitents prayed over the sick, often
through the night and into the next day. When cures were announced, the church bells rang and all present sang a Te Deum.
One miracle from the Marian shrine at St.-Pierre-sur-Dive even
recounts how, in the early morning hours, the pilgrims turned to a
statue of the Virgin and began to argue with it. These processions
were just one type of processional liturgy that occurred in and
around shines. There were also more organized, clergy-led processions that were held annually to celebrate the miracles that occurred as a part of the initial, spontaneous and very dramatic
procession of pilgrims to the shrine. Those processions, which
toured the inside of sanctuaries and the town itself, were somewhat more reserved for they were carefully scripted liturgies that
required the approval of ecclesiastical and secular authorities.35
In his Leocadia miracle, at the centre-point of the Miracles de
Nostre Dame, Gautier represents a clergy-led procession that
celebrated the recovery of St. Leocadia’s relics and her miracle on
Pentecost Monday. A statue of the Virgin and the relics of St.
Leocadia had been stolen shortly after Gautier had a vision in
which the devil threatened his life if he did not abandon his work
on the Miracles. On the eve of Pentecost, the statue was recovered in a nearby field and the relics were found at the banks of the
river Aisne, whose waters then began to heal the sick. On Pentecost Monday the miracle was commemorated with a feast that included a procession from the priory at the Château de Vic, down
the hill to the place at the banks of the river where the miraculous
cures had occurred. The aumonier of St. Médard gave the ser199

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mon, and Raoul, abbot of St. Eloi de Noyon, presided over the
procession bearing a reliquary with one of Leocadia’s teeth (I Mir
44, ll. 647-75). The three lyrics that follow the Leocadia miracle
represent themselves as the songs that were sung during the kilometer-and-a-half procession; the songs form a narrative sequence
that retells the miracle story en route. The Pentecost Monday procession in honour of the Virgin and St. Leocadia was held every
year for centuries, finally dying out in the nineteenth century.36
Around 1830, a Confraternity of St. Leocadia was formed to renew the spiritual life of its members.37 Unfortunately, I do not
know if Gautier’s three songs were sung in the annual processions until the nineteenth century, and if they were, whether his
Miracles served to preserve the repertory for performance in the
annual procession. Let us recall that they were the lyric centrepiece of the book. By setting two of the three Leocadia songs to
the first and last melodies of his book, Gautier used lyric citations
to create a melodic embrace that tied the entire collection into the
Leocadia story, the miracle that authorized the entire poetic project.
As a performance piece, the Leocadia miracle has literary
resonances that reached from liturgy across many generic boundaries. We already saw how Gautier hoped that his miracles
might be understood like saint lives, but worried that they could
be interpreted like minstrel’s tales and secular love lyrics. Now
we shall see how, through processional liturgies, the miracles intersected with early dramatic traditions, especially those of Arras.
Arras drama had its roots in Marian miracles, but its poetic culture
was dominated by a strong confraternity of minstrels who
brought a different flavour to Mary’s feats, as we shall see. By
placing his own clergy-led procession at the centre of his book,
and calling for its re-enactment, Gautier made every effort to
displace the possibilities inherent in the increasingly slippery
genre of Mary miracles.
Processional liturgies that reenacted miracle stories, as the
Leocadia miracle and its songs do were not uncommon, but pro200

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cessions with ties to Mary, vernacular lyric poetry, and the
poetics of lyric citation were. There is one such processional liturgy from Arras, a wealthy city about one hundred kilometers
northwest of Vic. The Arras Confrerie des jongleurs et des
bourgeois, also known as the Carité des ardents, held an annual
procession to celebrate a Marian healing miracle that featured
jongleurs as its protagonists and had authorized the establishment
of the confraternity. The annual Arras procession was held in
conjunction with a puy, a literary competition where the poetics
of lyric citation flourished alongside France’s earliest comic theatre. The procession began with the retelling of the founding miracle of the Carité, which was actually more of a dramatic reenactment. That miracle told the story of how during an epidemic,
the Virgin appeared to two jongleurs who were sworn enemies,
and told them to go to the bishop of Arras to recount their identical visions. At first the bishop was sceptical, but he then realized
that the two despised each other and could not be in league. He
preached charity to them and filled their hearts with love for one
another. The Virgin then appeared to the two jongleurs that night
in the church and gave them a candle that would cure the sick.
The next day one hundred and forty-four pilgrims infected with
ergotism were cured by water distilled by the candle, which became the relic of the Carité.38
The cartulary of the Carité preserves a vernacular version of
the miracle that is composed in octosyllabic rhymed couplets,
L’Advenement du sainct chierge.39 It was scripted for three
voices—hault, bas, and en lisant—and at the moment when the
Virgin gives the candle to the two jongleurs, a rubric instructs that
the candle should be held out for all to see. Gautier was very
troubled by the mixing of liturgies, miracle stories, minstrelsy,
and players. In his Miracles he included one miracle from Arras
—alas, not the miracle of the jongleurs that was celebrated by
Carité—where he addresses these fears.40 The miracle itself has
nothing to do with minstrels and jongleurs, but his commentary
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tween Marian miracles and minstrelsy in Arras was obvious to
him, and particularly dangerous. His principal complaint in the
commentary is the growing scepticism about Mary’s miraculous
deeds and he lays the blame at the feet of those who turn her miracles into fables and fictions like the tales of Renart. Not one for
self-restraint, Gautier calls the culprits criminals and murderers,
as well as minstrels. He specifically complained that fast-talking
goliards, or scholar-poets, would trick people by carrying reliquaries about town all day long, ringing bells and performing
false miracles, leading the townspeople to doubt all miracles:41
Diex, quel tüer! Diex! Diex! Qui que
Aint telz larrons, telz menestreuz
Jes has de mort. Ausi fait Diex,
Sa douce mere et tuit si saint.
Sainte Marie! Diex me saint
Por ce s’aucun sermoneür
Goulïardoys et guileür,
Qui toute jor par ces viletes
Fiertres comportent et clochetes,
Fauz myracles font a la fois,
Se diront cil en cui faut fois
Et cui croire ne doit nule ame
Que li myracle Nostre Dame
Sont ausi faus et contrové.

(II Mir 27, ll. 534-47)

[God, what a murderer! God! God! Whoever loves such criminals, such minstrels, I hate to death. So do God, His sweet
mother, and all her saints. Holy Mary! May God help me! For
some fast-talking scholar-poets and tricksters who go about these
towns every day carrying reliquaries and little bells and perform
false miracles and because of them, those who lack faith and
whom no one should believe say that the miracles of our Lady are
also false and invented.]
Li haut myracle, li haut fait
Que jor et nuit par le mont fait
Nostre Dame sainte Marie,
Ce seit bien chascuns, ne sont mie
De myracles truanderés

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Que truant font as mosterez
As croisiez voyes, as fontainnes.

(II Mir 27, ll. 563-69)

[The great miracles, the great deeds that day and night all over the
world Our Lady, Holy Mary performs are not, some know well,
trumped-up miracles that tricksters perform in monasteries at
crossroads, and at fountains.]
The counterfeit miracles that Gautier associates with Arras minstrelsy were fictions that entertainers invented, but they could also
be “cons”—the ruses of tricksters for swindling a gullible public.
Gautier’s fears are confirmed by the slippery trickster-minstrels
who later appeared in a well-known Arras comedy by Adam de la
Halle, the Jeu de la Feuillée, which was likely composed for the
annual celebration of the confraternity’s founding Marian miracle. In that play, Adam casts himself as scholar-poet who bids
farewell to the people of Arras as he heads off to Paris to become
a clerk. Among the townspeople is a dim-witted monk who
parades through the town ringing a bell and carrying relics of St.
Acaire that are said to cure madness. The relics have no effect on
a mad boy, li Dervé, who is led among the crowds by his father
in fruitless search of a cure. In the final scene of the play, Adam
and his friends are in the tavern and set about swindling the
monk. There the monk, who has spent much of the play asleep,
awakens to find that the medieval barflies have tricked him. One
fellow has played dice on his behalf, and lost, so the monk must
foot the bill for everyone’s revelry. He leaves his relics as security and goes off to raise money to pay the tavern keeper. Relics
in hand, the tavern keeper then announces that he can preach and
asks the company of barflies, Adam included, to croon in solemn
celebration of the saint whose relics they had “christened”, so to
speak. The good fellows, glad to comply, bray the incipit of a
weaving song, at which point the Dervé, who had been absent,
returns and rejoins with his own caterwauling, a scene that has
long been thought to parody the puy of Arras.
The necrology of Arras makes it clear that Adam de la Halle,
who appears to play himself in the Jeu de la feuillée, also cast his
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friends as themselves. So the poor monk who processed through
Arras with the relics of St. Acaire was probably also based in
reality. The nearby monastery of Haspres possessed the relics of
St. Aichadre (often referred to in literary texts as St. Acaire) that
were known for curing madness.42 As one who processed with
relics, perhaps it was one of Gautier’s greatest fears that a wily
minstrel the likes of Adam might reshape a processional liturgy
that was meant to commemorate and reenact a miracle, into an
zany entertainment—in a tavern no less!
Many of Gautier’s narratives were later scripted for dramatic
(though not comic) performance. In the late thirteenth century, the
Parisian poet Rutebeuf based his Theophilus play on Gautier’s
miracle narrative, and from 1339 and 1382, the Paris gold workers’ guild, the Confraternité de St. Eloi des orfèvres de Paris,
put on an annual celebration that featured a Marian miracle play.
The link to lyric remains constant in the plays of the Orfèvres, for
many of their dramas have rondeaux inserted into them —usually
at the moment of the Virgin’s benevolent intervention.43 And in
the single manuscript that preserves this play corpus, there are
also sirventois couronées at the end of many plays. The traces of
erased rubrics indicate that those songs were winners of a puy, a
poetry competition, that was also part of the confraternity’s
festivities.44
Reaching deep into the early dramatic traditions of medieval
France, we find examples of how two performance practices—
drama and processional liturgies—coincided in Arras, making
Gautier’s fears that minstrelsy might overtake Marian devotions
very real. By contrast, the Leocadia procession in the Miracles de
Nostre Dame directs the enjoyment of his book’s recitation toward a devotional goal. As a performance within a performance,
Gautier focuses his book on that miracle and in fact calls for the
audience to participate in the annual Leocadia festivities as he has
designed them. Gautier thus showcases and prescribes a performance practice that trumps the alternative, minstrelsy, and shapes
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his public’s experience of his work as devotional recreation rather
than as what minstrelsy offers: entertainment as an end in itself.
Gautier and the Minstrel’s Mantle
In order to achieve such tight control over the interpretation of his
work, Gautier required a constant presence that would fend off
unworthy interpretations and guide the pleasures of his audience
in appropriate directions. In short, he needed a trustworthy minstrel. However, minstrelsy was, to put it mildly, problematic for
Gautier. He admired the works of the great trouvères associated
with the court of Blois whose melodies he cites abundantly—
Gilles de Vieux Maisons, Blondel de Nesle—but he lambasted
their love lyrics and other standard minstrel fare, animal fables,
pastourelles, and motets. And yet Gautier’s performing persona
in the Miracles de Nostre Dame is commonly taken as that of a
minstrel or jongleur, for at the beginning of his book he takes up
his lyre and vielle and tunes it (I Pro 2, ll. 56-58), and at the end
he puts them away (I Epi 33, ll. 50-53).45 In fact, the image of a
musician in these lines is not that of a minstrel, or at least not of
any old minstrel. It is a commonplace that evokes King David,
and appears in the works of Walter of Chatillon, Rutebeuf, Robert de Sorbonne, Geofroi de Paris, the poets of the Carmina
Burana, and Villon, among others.46 Gautier takes the model of
King David further than just a commonplace, for the passage in
which Gautier takes up his instrument(s) echoes the story in
which Saul had called David to draw evil spirits out of him by
playing his harp (I Samuel 16:15-23).
Or veil atant traire ma lire
Et atemprer veil ma vïele,
Se chanterai de la pucele
Dont li prophete tant chanterent
Et qui mil ans ains l’anoncerent
Qu’engenree ne nee fust
Ne cloufichiés fust Diex en fust.
Qui que vos chant chançons polies
De risees et de folies,
Je ne veil pas chanter tex chans,

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Car trop i a pleurs et deschans:
L’ame souvent pleure et deschante
Dou chanteür qui tex chans chante.
Qui l’anemi velt enchanter
De la grant dame doit chanter
Dont jor et nuit li angle chantent.
Dyable endorment et enchantent
Tou cil qui chantent sen doz chant.
Or escoutez comment j’en chante.

(I Pro 2, ll. 56-74)

[Now I would like to take out my lyre and to tune my vielle to
sing of the Maid of whom the prophets sang, who a thousand
years ago announced that God would be conceived and born and
crucified on wood. Some sing you songs polished with frivolity
and folly; I do not want to sing such songs for they have too
many tears and descants; the soul of the singer weeps and wails
who often sings such songs. He who wants to charm the enemy
should sing of the Great Lady of whom the angels sing night and
day. All those who sing her sweet song lull the devil to sleep and
charm him. Now listen to how I sing of her.]
Gautier explains how King David achieved the expulsion of the
demon from Saul in his commentary on the miracle of the jongleur at Rocamadour (II Mir 21). There he calls all monks to try to
sing like the pious jongleur in the miracle, who sang with his
heart focused on God as David had.47
Qui Dieu loer vielt doucement
Ausi le lot com fist David:
Ses cuers ou ciel ert toz ravid
Quant li looit Dieu en sa harpe.
Bien chante cil, vïele et harpe
Qui en sen cuer l’aeure et prie
Queque la harpe ou la voiz crie.
...
Quant li hons est de bone vie,
Adont harpe il si bien et chante
Que les diables touz enchante
Si com David les enchantoit
Quant pour le roi Saül harpoit.

206

(II Mir 21, ll. 270-76, 280-84)

Medieval Literary Performance

[Whoever wants to praise God sweetly should sing as David did:
his heart was focused on the heavens when he praised God with
his harp. He sings and plays his vielle and harp well who in his
heart prays and praises what the harp or the voice sings ... When
the man who leads a good life plays his harp and sings well, then
he enchants all the devils just as David enchanted them when he
played his harp for King Saul.]
Gautier depended on the figure of a David-like minstrel to
create a complex authorial persona for himself that was rooted
both in Latin and vernacular traditions. It depended as much on
bookish ecclesiastical authority as it did on song-filled minstrelsy.
After all, the Miracles de Nostre Dame were at once a salutary
performance and an intricately designed book. As a Marian author, Gautier modeled himself on St. Ildefonsus, who also composed a book for the Virgin, but Gautier joined that august prototype of an author with the figure of the David-like minstrel, using
a link he established through St. Leocadia, some miraculous robes,
and the convention of remunerating minstrels with clothing.
In his Leocadia miracle Gautier reveals that when her relics
were recovered on the banks of the river Aisne, among them was
a bit of the saint’s clothing that had been the personal relic of St.
Ildefonsus, the seventh-century archbishop of Spain’s royal city,
Toledo (I Mir 44, l. 327). Ildefonsus had been a devotee of Leocadia, the patron saint of Toledo, and once, while he was singing
the divine office in her church, she rose from her sepulchre to tell
Ildefonsus that the Blessed Mother appreciated the book he had
composed for her. Before Leocadia’s tomb closed over her, Ildefonsus sliced off a bit of her robes, which became his personal
memento of the event—his personal relic. When St. Médard,
Gautier’s mother house, acquired the relics of Leocadia, Ildefonsus’ snippet of Leocadia’s robes was apparently among them (I
Mir 44, l. 327).
In the cult of Mary, Ildefonsus was an important figure, so a
link to him was valuable. The famous story of the miracle that
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Kathryn A. Duys

Mary performed for him was the first in the earliest and most
widely circulated collection of Mary miracles, known as H-M
(Hildefonsus-Murieldis, named for its first and last miracles).48
When the Virgin appeared to Ildefonsus, only ten days after Leocadia did, she was seated on the episcopal throne in the cathedral
and offered him a celestial chasuble—a piece of clothing made in
heaven—in thanks for his work on her behalf.
This miracle was especially important to Bartholomew de Jur,
bishop of Laon from 1113 to 1150, where another cult of Mary
had developed after the cathedral burned in the communal insurrection of 1112. Bartholomew had tried to acquire relics of Ildefonsus for his cathedral shrine, but was unable to. Instead, he
used Ildefonsus’ story and his book on Mary’s perpetual virginity
to make a prologue for the shrine collection of Mary’s Laonnois
miracles which he commissioned. As a result, the archbishop of
Toledo and his little book on the perpetual virginity of Mary stand
as a model for the bishop of Laon and the Laon shrine collection,
the little book of miracles that he had had made, also for Mary.49
The Laon shrine collection was among Gautier’s Latin sources
and Bartholomew’s careful construction of his own authority
using Ildefonsus as his model was a powerful influence on the
way Gautier used the Ildefonsus miracle. As Gautier saw it, he
had close ties to Ildefonsus, not only because he had Ildefonsus’
Leocadia relic, but because both he and Ildefonsus had been beneficiaries of a miracle in which Leocadia and the Virgin had teamed up for a literary cause. Leocadia and the Virgin had thanked Ildefonsus for his book, and the two had saved Gautier’s book
from being abandoned to the devil. Both Ildefonsus and Gautier
also received gifts of clothing in the two miracle stories. The Virgin gave Ildefonsus a heavenly chasuble, and she returned to
Gautier the bit of Leocadia’s robe that Ildefonsus had snipped off
so many centuries earlier. It was through the detail of the clothing
that Gautier worked minstrelsy into his connection with Ildefonsus, a move that encompassed the breadth of his own authorship,
208

Medieval Literary Performance

which included lyrics as well as miracle narratives, and brought a
performance-based image to his authorial construct.
Gautier’s Ildefonsus miracle is a gloriously messy piece composed of many apparently disparate parts, probably because he
revised it so much, which suggests how important it was to him.
It contains an account of the miracle Leocadia performed for Ildefonsus, an attack on Jews, the miracle of the Virgin, an extended
attack on abusive high-ranking clergy, a passage on the poverty
of scholars, a discourse on hypocrisy, an account of the translation of Leocadia’s relics to France (with a reference to the procession Gautier held to commemorate her miracle for him), and finally, toward the very end, the following passage that compares
Gautier’s work to minstrelsy:
Des troveeurs, quant je ’essai,
Ne mespris mie les essaies,
Mais por ce se vest noires saies
Et il vestent les robes vaires,
Ne leur desplaise mes affaires,
Car troveres ne suis je mie
Fors de ma dame et de m’amie
Ne menestrex ne sui je pas.
Mais por les nuis que j’en trespas
Et por ce que j’en ai tensees
Aucunes fois vainnes pensees
A la foïe m’i sui pris
Je ne truis pas por avoir pris
Ne por robes ne por avoir,
Mais por l’amor la dame avoir
Qui tost revest les ames nues
Et ses amans en porte es nues.
Je ne truis pas por avoir robe,
Mais por la dame qui m’enrobe
Quant anemis m’a desrobé,
Cil deceü sont et lobé
Qui jor et nuit truevent les lobes
Por gaïgner chevaus et robes.
Je ne truis mie por avoir,
Mais por l’amor la bele avoir
Qui n’a compaigne ne pareille.

(I Mir 11, ll. 2310-35)

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Kathryn A. Duys

[As for trouvères, when I try to do their work, I do not scorn the
challenges at all, but because I wear black stuff and they wear
multicoloured robes, may my undertaking not offend them, for I
am no trouvère at all, except for my lady and my beloved. Nor
am I a minstrel, except for the nights when I digressed and because sometimes I have disputed their vain thoughts about faith,
I’ve criticized them. I do not compose to win fame, nor for robes
or for wealth, but to obtain the love of the lady who quickly
clothes naked souls and carries her lovers up to the clouds. I
don’t compose to get a robe, but for the lady who clothes me
when the devil had stripped me. They are deceived and tricked
who day and night compose flatteries to earn horses and robes. I
do not compose for wealth, but to obtain the love of the fair one
who has no peer or equal ...]
In this closing passage, Gautier deliberately uses the practice
of remunerating minstrels for their performances with clothing to
create a chain of authority that works an inherently unauthoritative
figure, the minstrel, into an authorial construct that rests on St. Ildefonsus. He might have simply associated himself with Ildefonsus; after all, he had the Spanish archbishop’s Leocadia relic.
However, he deliberately introduced the figure of the minstrel, albeit in a negative way, to make a comparison that allowed him to
bring courtly lyricism and a performer’s presence to his persona.
Thus, Gautier created a three part authorial construct, having harnessed the literary and ecclesiastical auctoritas of Ildefonsus to
the performing presence of the lowly minstrel, whose wily nature
he tamed with the figure of David. In doing so, he accommodated
some of the most innovative aspects of the Miracles de Nostre
Dame: the fact that it is in the vernacular and combines lyric and
narrative poetry, and though the collection is unified by its focus
on the Virgin, each piece in the compilation calls forth Gautier
himself as well. Gautier used cutting-edge lyrico-narrative poetics
to structure a new vernacular authority that appropriated the performance traditions of minstrelsy and reshaped them to fit a book
that answered to the needs of his reality: the spiritual life of monks.
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Medieval Literary Performance

Conclusion
Gautier de Coinci fit an elaborate performance frame around the
miracles of his Miracles de Nostre Dame to regulate his audience’s delight by moderating their pleasure and soothing their
cares with religious, not worldly solace. This required a complex
authorial persona whose presence in the work rests on a carefully
structured pattern of lyrical citations that tie him to the figure of a
performer who leaves nothing to chance. The interpretation of
Gautier’s Marian miracles is a potentially slippery affair, for they
intersect with a broad range of performance traditions: minstrel
recitations of animal fables; the singing of saints’ lives and secular
love songs; processional liturgies shaped by pilgrims, clergy,
jongleurs; and finally early drama in all its configurations. Gautier’s ever-present persona directs the performance, monitors the
audience’s response, and shapes their interpretation of the powerful stories of the Virgin that so many sought to usurp. By fixing
this dynamic performance in a book, Gautier’s finely attuned performance was reproducible and available to the broad sweep of
audiences that constantly sought new sources of pleasure and
solace.
The historical moment of the emergence of the Miracles de
Nostre Dame is important. Without the philosophical advances of
the late twelfth century, two developments that are crucial to the
Miracles would not have been possible: the rising acceptance of
minstrelsy and the massive movement of vernacular poetry into
manuscript culture. This period saw the birth a body of devotional
and moral literature whose temperate pleasures were meant as
recreatio for pious men and women, whether they were in holy
orders or not. Gautier was hardly alone in his endeavour to shape
recreations; many other religious works from this period are cast
as minstrel performances as well, such as the Eructavit paraphrase by Adam de Perseigne,50 the Chateau d’amour by Robert
Grosseteste, the Miserere and the Roman de Carité of the Renclus de Moliens, the anonymous Court de paradis, many saints
lives, La Bible de l’Assomption de Notre Dame by Hermann de
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Kathryn A. Duys

Valenciennes, l’Evangile de l’Enfance, La Descente de St. Paul
aux enfers, and L’Espurgatoire de St. Patrice which Marie de
France composed for a monastery of canons regular.51 The Miracles de Nostre Dame stand out as belonging to the most generous
offerings in this area, and as a collection whose ninety-five extant
manuscripts speak eloquently of the “bestseller” status it achieved. They allow us to appreciate the tremendous appeal of an author who is usually taken in small doses by modern readers and
tends to come off little better than a curmudgeon. In fact, his authorial persona is the harbinger of the intricate lyrico-narrative
authorial constructs created by Alfonso X el Sabio, Adam de la
Halle, Jean de Meun, Guillaume de Machaut and François Villon,
to name but a few medieval literary luminaries.52
The Miracles de Nostre Dame are a monumental performance
piece that effortlessly embraces extremes that modern theory
strains to accommodate: fictions and realities; live performance
and past performances fixed in a book, classical theories and medieval pragmatism, lyrical liturgies and minstrelsies both biblical
and fabulous. It calls into question our theoretical formulations of
medieval literary performance and prompts us to reassess the concept just as we have lately reassessed literacy in the Middle Ages.
We now recognize that medieval concepts of reading easily sidestep modern notions of functional literacy to define the multi-level
hermeneutics of the lectio divina and the uses and theory of
memory, without the technical ability to read. Gautier de Coinci
now invites us to expand our ideas of performance beyond praxis
to accommodate his practical-minded self-conscious play with
theories, modes, and images that bring to life a performance
shaped like a book.
Notes
1

The standard literary edition of the complete collection of the Miracles de
Nostre Dame is Gautier de Coinci, Les Miracles de Nostre Dame, 4
vols., (ed.) V. Frédéric Koenig, Genève, 1955-70. The standard musical
edition of the songs is Jacques Chailley (ed.), Les chansons à la Vierge
de Gautier de Coinci (1177[78]-1236), Paris, 1959 [Publications de la

212

Medieval Literary Performance

Société Française de Musicologie, 15]. All citations are taken from
Koenig’s edition; translations are mine unless otherwise noted. The numbering of poems is Koenig’s; for other numbers associated with Miracles
de Nostre Dame lyrics, see Robert White Linker, A Bibliography of
Old French Lyrics, [s.l.], University of Mississippi, 1979 [Romance
Monographs, 31], pp. 146-50.
2 For musical and manuscript evidence of performance, see Kathryn A.
Duys, “Books Shaped by Song: Early Literary Literacy in the Miracles
de Nostre Dame of Gautier de Coinci”, Diss. New York University,
1997. For public reading practices see Joyce Coleman, Public Reading
and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France, Cambridge, 1996.
3 For the circulation of individual pieces of the Miracles de Nostre Dame
see Arlette P. Ducrot-Granderye, Etudes sur les miracles Nostre Dame de
Gautier de Coinci: Description et classement sommaire des manuscrits,
notice bibliographique, édition des miracles, Helsinki, 1932 [Annales
academiae scientiarum fennicae, Ser. B, 25], p. 244-48 and passim; see
also Duys, “Books Shaped by Song”, pp. 38-55, esp. p. 44.
4 Gautier used annominatio to link the song cycles that open his two
books to the prologues that he composed for them: I Pro 2 is linked to I
Ch 3, and II Pro 1 is linked to II Ch 2.
5 Miracles de Nostre Dame, Ms D, Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, 35173518. See Duys, “Books Shaped by Song”, pp. 195-96.
6 For a more extensive biography of the poet see Koenig’s standard edition
of the Miracles de Nostre Dame, introduction, pp. xvii-xxx.
7 V. Frédéric Koenig, ‘Further Notes on Gautier de Coinci’, Modern
Philology 35 (1938), p. 356.
8 Ducrot-Granderye, Etudes, passim; and Duys, “Books Shaped by
Song”, pp. 20-29.
9 The melody of Gautier’s first song, I Ch 3 (Amors qui seit bien enchanter), is set to new words in I Ch 46 (Sour cest rivage), the second
of the three Leocadia songs; and the melody of the last song, II Ch 36
(Entendez tuit ensemble) also reappears at the centre of the collection
with new lyrics in I Ch 46 (De sainte Leochade), the third and last
Leocadia song.
10 Duys, “Books Shaped by Song”, pp. 123-37; see diagram p. 136.
11 I am indebted to my colleague Morgan Powell, who first pointed this out
to me.
12 At the Seventeenth Barnard Medieval and Renaissance Conference on
Public Performance/Public Ritual (2 December 2000), where I presented
an earlier version of this article, I conferred with Linda Marie Zaerr of

213

Kathryn A. Duys

13
14

15

16
17
18
19
20
21

22

23

24

25
26

Boise State University who, with Evelyn Vitz of New York University,
presented a performance of a medieval narrative with commentary. See
their contribution to the present volume.
Duys, “Books Shaped by Song”, p. 23-25.
On the earliest Latin “general” and “shrine” collections of Marian miracles, see Evelyn Wilson (ed.), The “Stella Maris” of John of Garland,
edited, together with a study of certain collections of Mary legends made
in Northern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Cambridge,
Mass., 1946, pp. 3-12.
My English translations of I Pro 1 and II Pro 1 take into account the
Spanish translations of Jesús Montoya in his article ‘Los prólogos de
Gautier de Coinci [I Pro 1 (D. 1) y II Pro 1 (D. 53)]’, Estudios romanicos 2 (1979-80), pp. 43-75.
Jean-Louis Benoit, L’art littéraire dans les Miracles de Nostre Dame de
Gautier de Coinci: Un art au service de la foi, Lille, 1999, p. 177-81.
Glending Olson, Literature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages,
Ithaca & London, 1982, pp. 35-36.
Jesús Montoya, ‘Los prólogos’, pp. 12-16.
Olson, Literature as Recreation, pp. 19-20, 37.
Timothy Fry (ed.), The Rule of St. Benedict in English, New York,
1998, p. 16.
Christopher Page, The Owl and the Nightingale: Musical Life and Ideas
in France, 1100-1300, Berkeley, CA, 1989, p. 9, and Edmond Faral,
Les jongleurs en France au Moyen Age, Paris, 1911 [rpt. 1987], pp. 4465.
Petrus Canter, Verbum abbreviatum, in: J.-P. Migne (ed.), Patrologiae
cursus completus [...], Series Latina, Paris, 1844-90, vol. CCV, col.
253; cited in Page, Owl and the Nightingale, p. 20.
Petrus Canter, Summa de sacramentis et animae consiliis, (ed.) JeanAlbert Dugauquier, Louvain, 1954-67, vol. III, 2a, p. 176; cited in Page,
Owl and the Nightingale, p. 22.
Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, 2 vols.,
(trans.) C. I. Litzinger, Chicago, 1964, vol. II, pp. 900-01, cited in Olson, Literature as Recreation, p. 96. Thomas Aquinas, In decem libros
ethicorum Aristotelis ad Nicomachum expositio, (ed.) Raimondo M.
Spiazzi, Torino, 1964 [3rd ed.], L. X, lectio IX, p. 538.
Olson, Literature as Recreation, p. 111.
Olsen, Literature as Recreation, pp. 111-12. See also Alfons Hilka, ‘Zur
Summa recreatorum: Liste der poetischen Stücke und Abdruck von vier
Marienliedern’, in: W. Stach & H. Walther (eds.), Studien zur lateinischen Dichtung des Mittelalters: Ehrengabe für Karl Strecker zum 4.
September 1931, Dresden, 1931, pp. 97-116.

214

Medieval Literary Performance

27 Benedetto Reguardati, Pulcherrimum et utilissimum opus ad sanitatis
conservationem, [Bologna], 1477, fols. 124v-25, cited in Olson, Literature as Recreation, p. 50.
28 Consilia Magistri Bartholomei Montagnane, Venetia, 1499, fols. 288v
and 18, cited in Olson, Literature as Recreation, pp. 61-62.
29 M. A. Manzalaoui (ed.), Secretum Secretorum: Nine English Versions,
Oxford, 1977 [EETS o.s. 276], pp. 4, 8-9, cited in Olson, Literature as
Recreation, p. 53.
30 Jerome Taylor (trans.), The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A
Medieval Guide to the Arts, New York, 1991, p. 79. For a discussion of
this passage, see Olson, Literature as Recreation, pp. 64-75. I note, as
Olson does, that Tatarkiewicz correctly observed that Hugh’s treatment of
theatrica is in the past tense unlike other parts of his Didascalicon, and
it conveys Isidore’s ideas on theatrica, and therefore archaic rather than
contemporaneous ideas of performance and performance spaces (such as
amphitheatres, arenas, and gymnasia). However, those who used Hugh’s
passage on theatrica treated these performances as contemporaneous
amusements. Furthermore, medieval dramas record performances on carts
in town squares, in the porticos of churches, at shrines, and in public
houses as later examples in this study shows. See W. Tatarkiewicz,
‘Theatrica, The Science of Entertainment’, Journal of the History of
Ideas 26 (1965), pp. 263-72.
31 St. Bonaventure, De reductione artium ad theologiam, (ed. and trans.)
Emma Thérèse Healy, St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1940, p. 38; cited in Olson, Literature as Recreation, p. 70.
32 Faral, Les jongleurs, pp. 26-43.
33 Hugo Farsitus, Libellus de miraculis beatae Mariae Virginis in urbe
Suessionensi, (ed.) Michel Germain, in: Migne (ed.), Patrologia latina,
vol. CLXXIX, cols. 1777-1800.
34 For a description of the twelfth-century pilgrimages to Marian shrines,
see Benedicta Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record
and Event, 1000-1215, Philadelphia, 1982, pp. 132-65.
35 See Carol Lynn Symes, “The Makings of a Medieval Stage: Theater and
the Culture of Performance in Thirteenth-Century Arras”, Diss. Harvard
University, 1999, pp. 197-203.
36 Alexandre Poquet, Histoire de Vic-sur-Ainse, [s.l.], Res Universis, 1988
[rpt. ed. 1854], p. 19, n. 1.
37 Denis Rolland, Le Château et les chatelains de Vic-sur-Aisne, St.
Quentin, [s.d.], p. 46.
38 Symes, “Making of a Medieval Stage”, pp. 263-66.
39 Carité de Nostre Dame des Ardents d’Arras, ‘L’Advenement de sainct

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Kathryn A. Duys

40

41

42
43
44

45
46

47

48
49

50

51
52

Chierge en vers anciens quy se chantent la veille de l’Assomption’, in:
Louis Cavrois (ed.), Cartulaire de Notre-Dame-des-Ardents à Arras,
Arras, 1876, pp. 127-54; cited in Symes, “Making of a Medieval Stage”,
316.
The Arras miracle in the Miracles de Nostre Dame relates how a young
woman, who had consecrated herself to the Virgin, was married off by her
parents. Her husband, frustrated in his efforts to consummate the marriage, eventually tried to remedy the situation with a knife and only succeeded in creating a festering wound that would not heal. The woman,
who still refused her husband in spite of her suffering, subsequently developed a wound on her breast that cured people infected with ergotism.
Translation of II Mir 27 (with slight adjustments) from Gautier de Coincy by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, ‘Miracles of the Virgin Mary’, in:
Thomas Head (ed.), Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, New York
& London, 2000, pp. 646-52.
Adam de la Halle, Le Jeu de la Feuillée, (trans.) Jean Dufournet, Paris,
1989, pp. 163-64, n. 322.
Nigel Wilkins, ‘Music in the Fourteenth-Century Miracles de NotreDame’, Musica Disciplina 28 (1974), pp. 39-75.
Graham A. Runnalls, ‘The Miracles de Nostre Dame par personnages:
Erasures in the MS, and the Dates of the Plays and the “Serventois”’,
Philological Quarterly 49 (1970), pp. 19-29.
Ardis Butterfield, Poetry and Music in Medieval France: From Jean
Renart to Guillaume de Machaut, Cambridge, 2002, p. 105.
Nancy Freeman Regalado, Poetic Patterns in Rutebeuf: A Study in
Noncourtly Poetic Modes of the Thirteenth Century, New Haven, 1970,
p. 233.
Translation of II Mir 21 (with slight adjustments) from: [Gautier de
Coinci], Of the Tumbler of Our Lady and Other Miracles, (trans.) Alice
Kemp-Welch, New York, 1908, pp. 128-37.
Wilson, Stella Maris, pp. 4-5.
Hermanus monachus, De miraculis sanctae Mariae Laudunensis de
Gestis venerabilis Bartholomaei episcopi et S. Nortberti Libri tres, (ed.)
Dom Luc d’Achéry [1651], in: Migne (ed.), Patrologia latina, vol.
CLVI, cols. 961b-1018a.
See Morgan Powell, ‘Translating Scripture for Ma Dame de Champagne: The Old French “Paraphrase” of Psalm 44 (Eructavit)’, in: Renate
Blumenfeld-Kosinski et al. (eds.), The Vernacular Spirit: Essays on
Medieval Religious Literature, New York, 2002, pp. 83-103.
See Duys, “Books Shaped by Song”, pp. 137-56 and Ducrot-Granderye,
Etudes, passim.
Ardis Butterfield, Poetry and Music, p. 8.

216

Privatizing the Conte du Graal:
How Renaissance Printers Reformatted
Chrétien’s Public Text for Private Reading*

Paul Creamer
Introduction
Modern scholars agree that medieval romance was an art form
initially conceived for public enjoyment, an auditory experience
involving a performer who enunciated a text, written or memorized, in front of an assembled group of listeners.1 What is far less
clear, and what has received little scholarly scrutiny, is precisely
when the reading of a document containing a romance ceased to
be a public endeavour involving a trained lector and an audience
and became instead a private one that involved a single, amateur
reader.2 The purpose of the present study is to offer evidence that,
by 1530 in France, the reading of romance had become a personal
activity. Specifically, this study will document how in 1530 a
Parisian printing house seized a medieval intellectual product patently constructed for public performance—Chrétien de Troyes’
Conte du Graal—and reformatted it textually and visually with
the express goal of creating a second intellectual product, a printed book designed to be read in private by an amateur reader.
Before presenting my definition of an amateur reader, I will
first offer a summary of the portrait that modern scholars draw of
the medieval professional reader. In a group setting, such as at a
royal court or in the home of a wealthy private citizen, the professional reader was a skilled performer who was engaged to read
literary works aloud.3 Codex in hand, this individual declaimed a
romance in front of his or her audience. Perhaps this lector was
itinerant, perhaps hired full-time, and it is probable that the per-

Paul Creamer

formance of longer works was divided into several sessions. Paul
Saenger believes that those who read to princes normally received
university training.4 It is probable that many professional readers
were simultaneously jongleurs, possessing a repertoire of poetic
and literary works that they had memorized and could perform
without written support.5 I define an amateur reader as any individual, living during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, who
was of modest literacy, who read for pleasure rather than as an
occupational engagement, and who did not have constant, sustained, and unfettered access to written literature.6 He or she
might have read silently, as we read today, or might have whispered or spoken the words aloud as he or she worked through the
text.7
I will draw my evidence for the shift from public to private
reading of romance from two related groups of surviving literary
objects, the first dating from the Middle Ages and the second
from the Renaissance. The first group comprises the five surviving illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts, which were produced
between approximately 1275 and 1350 in what is now northern
France and western Belgium.8 The second group consists of two
surviving copies of an early printed book manufactured in Paris in
1530, an illustrated prose adaptation of Chrétien’s poem entitled
the Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire du Trespreulx et valliant
Chevallier Perceval le galloys. By examining the layout, organization, and readerly features of these medieval manuscripts and
this Renaissance book, I will seek to prove that by the time the
story of Perceval reached printed-book status, it was a knightly
adventure destined for an audience no longer composed of groups
of listeners, but rather of individual private readers.
My argument for distinguishing literary objects intended for
public performance from those intended for private reading is
based on a single litmus test: the relative ease of navigation
through the text for a hypothetical reader encountering it for the
first time. I posit that the Conte du Graal manuscripts, which
feature virtually no reader-orienting features, must have been de218

Privatizing the Conte du Graal

signed for public-reading professionals who—because of their
training and previously acquired familiarity with the romance—
were able to make their way through Chrétien’s story without
such supplemental guidance. Conversely, I argue that the Tresplaisante Hystoire, rich in extratextual orienting features, must
have been produced for amateur readers, who purchased the volume with the intention of reading it on their own, and who therefore preferred or even depended on those guiding tools in order to
successfully progress though the work.
Architecture of the Illustrated Conte du Graal
Manuscripts
Only fifteen complete or nearly complete manuscripts containing
Chrétien’s Conte du Graal survive from the Middle Ages.9 For
the purposes of this article, I shall consider only the five that contain a cycle of illustrations for the Conte du Graal text because I
am comparing them, as a group, to a printed book that is itself illustrated.10 It is worth noting, however, that nearly all of the codicological traits that are enumerated below for the five illustrated
manuscripts hold true for all ten unillustrated codices as well,
with the chief exception being, of course, that those in the latter
group have no miniatures. All five illustrated manuscripts contain
Chrétien’s text as well as either three or four of the lengthy verse
continuations of the Conte du Graal that were composed by separate poets after the Champenois romancer left his own effort unfinished.11 In all five cases, the continuations are copied out immediately after Chrétien’s poem in sequence, giving the visual
impression that the assembled works are actually a single textual
entity.12 In each of the five manuscripts, each continuation features a set of miniatures, just as the Conte du Graal does.13 In
this study I will look only at the architecture of the Conte du
Graal portion of each handmade book, but these codicological
observations are valid for the other sections of each codex because all sections share the same strategies of layout and design.

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In what is considered the definitive codicological catalogue of
Chrétien’s manuscripts, Terry Nixon approximates the various
dates of production of the five illustrated Conte du Graal codices
as falling between 1275 and 1350, and indicates the region in
which each was most likely produced.14 The data assembled by
Nixon suggests that no two were made in the same workshop or
by the same artisans. At present my goal is to treat all five as a
group, and to indicate how their physical form manifestly invites
a performative reading by professional readers. Modern scholars
usually endorse medieval romance as an entity expressly created
for public performance based chiefly on their evaluations of narrative form, authorial commentary, and literary-historical context.
By contrast, my goal is to use codicological data to prove that
these five codices—each as large as and even heavier than a modern metropolitan telephone directory, yet entirely handmade—
must have been designed to serve as a “script” for trained lectors,
rather than as a book for private readers.
All five of the illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts are
heavily lacking in what we readers of today consider standard
apparatus for navigating through a text. No such punctuation devices as periods, question marks, commas, or quotation marks
are to be found. Such common words as et, que, and qui are
almost always reduced to a corresponding single letter- or
number-like symbol, and substantives such as chevalier and the
names of major characters are usually abbreviated as a permutation of three or four consonant letters and/or symbols. With very
few exceptions, nonetheless, all words in a verse—whether written out in full or abbreviated—have white space between them,
allowing for visual separation. These manuscripts featured no title
page, no table of contents, and no numbered folios at the time
they were produced.15 In essence, this means that the person who
held one of these codices in his or her hands was in possession of
a monolithic written chunk, no fewer than approximately 43,000
lines of octosyllabic verse in length,16 for which the codex pro220

Privatizing the Conte du Graal

vided no name, no guide for subdivision, and no ready way for
the person to keep track of his or her progress through the manuscript.
The organization of the Conte du Graal text upon the folios
is, in each manuscript, exemplary in its simplicity. During the
production process, the codex’s blank leaves were ruled on both
sides with tidy, tall, relatively narrow identical columns.17 Next,
just a single octosyllabic verse was written out on each ruled line
of each column.18 To read the full poem, the eye needed merely to
start at the top of the left column on the recto face of the codex’s
first folio, scan down it, then move to the top of the column immediately to the right of the first one, read down that second
column, move to the top of the third column, and continue in this
manner through to the end of the romance. Such a layout seems,
a priori, easily navigable. But there is no subdivision of the text
to be found: there are no chapter headings nor any white space left
within any columns to visually break the text into smaller units. In
other words, this long, complicated story of the knights Perceval
and Gauvain—replete with combats, witty dialogues, love
scenes, single combats, and heavy use of imagery—begins at
verse 1 and concludes at verse 8,96019 as an uninterrupted linear
unspooling of eight-syllable verses, without any sort of demarcation that would be homologous to today’s chapters. Even the
shifts from one poet’s work to another (for example, from the end
of the Conte du Graal text to the beginning of the First Continuation) go unsignaled.
Only three graphical elements encroach upon the steady unreeling of the text and perturb, however slightly, the one-verseper-ruled-column-line pattern: minor capitals; major capitals; and
miniatures, along with (in three of the five codices) their accompanying rubrics. Normally, all letters in the text of the Conte du
Graal or any other romance manuscript were executed in ink and
were the same size, just as a modern typewriter produces characters that are all of the same point size. A minor capital is what I
call the first letter of the first word of a verse when it has been
executed slightly larger than all of the other letters in the verse and
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has been given some form of decoration.20 This device demanded
that the letter be executed in coloured paint rather than in black
ink, and it often included coloured-ink flourishes. There are between fifty-four and one hundred seventy-three minor capitals in
the five Conte du Graal transcriptions under consideration.21
These minor capitals are physically too small to separate the written text into segments, but they do attract the eye as it scans down
the columns of text. Our question is whether the hypothetical medieval reader would have been able to derive some sort of guidance from the minor capitals as he or she navigated through the
text for the first time. I would argue, for two reasons, that he or
she would not. First, in my judgement the minor capitals are not
consistently inserted in such a way that they signal that a new episode, adventure, conversation, or other such division in the text is
either starting or ending. Second, as I have argued elsewhere, the
manner in which they are positioned in the illustrated Conte du
Graal manuscripts seems—on the contrary—to serve as a cue to
performers who declaimed the texts before their listeners, flagging moments where dramatic energy was required.22 Françoise
Gasparri, Geneviève Hasenohr, and Christine Ruby have studied
the utility of minor capitals for the full group of surviving codices
of Chrétien’s first romance, Erec et Enide, as has Roger Middleton, who worked independently of them. Both studies find that
they served a performative purpose, for example often indicating
direct discourse, rather than serving as fixed and inviolable signposts of textual division.23
Major capitals are present in very small numbers in each of the
five illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts.24 Major capital is
the name I give to an oversized, multi-coloured first letter found
in the first word of a verse, usually painted upon its own rectangular, coloured background.25 It often features decoration in gold
leaf, and sometimes a small pictorial scene. Normally the size and
shape of a large postage stamp, these capitals fill up a good portion of the left side of the column of text in which they appear, requiring the copyist to compensate by distributing the accompany222

Privatizing the Conte du Graal

ing verse over two or even three ruled lines on the column’s right
side. Unlike the minor capitals found in the illustrated Conte du
Graal manuscripts, the major capitals do, in my judgement, fall
at the beginning of major textual segments.26 When, for example,
the narrative reaches the end of a triumphant adventure of Gauvain’s and then moves to rediscover the troubled Perceval at verse
6009, Manuscripts P, T, and S begin this verse with a major capital.27 But there are two reasons that prevent me from endorsing
major capitals as a reader-orienting tool. First, they are merely
single letters, rather than detailed explanatory phrases. A large,
multi-coloured, and decorated “P” at the beginning of verse 6009
(‘Percevax, ce conte l’estoire’) might well have drawn the medieval eye, but the large “P” alone could not have explained that
Chrétien was moving from an accounting of a successful campaign by Gauvain to a reconsideration of the wayward Welsh
lad.28 Second, there are so few major capitals (a total of fifteen
found in Manuscripts M and S, and far fewer in the three other
codices) for the Conte du Graal’s roughly 9,000 verses that it
would not have been possible for them to provide sustained guidance.29 Major capitals, like minor capitals, must have served as a
cue for lectors who performed the romance.30
Miniatures, at first glance, would seem like the ideal tool to
help readers through the Conte du Graal text. These illustrations
—rectangular in shape—were painted into blank spaces on the
parchment that had been reserved for them at certain points within
the columns of text. The codex, once completed, featured these
colourful illustrations embedded every so often in the chain of the
text. For the most part, these painted scenes correctly depict—in
pictorial form—the action that occurs in word form in the romance.31 It seems reasonable to suggest from the outset, however, that a first-time reader of the Conte du Graal would not
have found guidance from the miniatures—no matter how accurate and detailed they were—for the simple reason that he or she
would not yet have understood the depicted figures’ role in the
plot during that first reading. Another problem is the very small
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number of images that represent the Conte du Graal story in each
manuscript.32 Even the most heavily illustrated of the codices,
Manuscript M with its twenty-five miniatures, provides only
about one image per four hundred verses of text in a dense narrative that is driven by diverse and fast-changing imagery, description, and movement.
Another problem that would have prevented the miniatures
from aiding the first-time reader is their placement.33 In the great
majority of cases, the illustrations are not inserted in the text columns at the precise point where the textual information they depict
is found. As I have described elsewhere, the miniatures have
most often been situated in the columns of text in positions that
are—oddly and surprisingly—slightly “out of synch” with the
written narrative they accompany.34 This literal gulf between text
and image would have further frustrated the first-time reader who
sought orientation from the miniatures.
Rubrics—red-lettered, hand-printed captions that accompany
miniatures—seem initially to promise some sort of readerly guidance, but a closer examination of those found in three of the five
Conte du Graal manuscripts suggests that they would have been
of little utility. The miniatures in Manuscripts M and T are not accompanied by any rubrication.35 Manuscript P has eight rubrics
and Manuscript S fifteen rubrics, one for each illustration.36 Each
of these rubrics is no longer than a single phrase. In my estimation, these brief descriptions do little more than announce in word
form what already stands in pictorial form in the image, yet do not
guide the reader further along the narrative train. On folio 30 of
Manuscript S, for example, we find a miniature depicting Perceval defeating Kay in single combat.37 The accompanying rubric
proclaims the obvious: ‘Coment Perchevalz bati Kex’. Such simple written interventions, occurring only eight times, or even fifteen times, in a text that is roughly 9,000 verses long, would have
been of very little service to the first-time reader. Manuscript U’s
rubrics are a bit different. While there are only eight for the full
Conte du Graal text, they are voluble and precise, averaging
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some forty words per rubric.38 Again, at issue is how much eight
intermittently inserted rubrics could have directed a reader who
was navigating through the Conte du Graal, which runs fifty-two
full folios, or one hundred and four full “pages”, in Manuscript
U. Because in this codex there is less than one rubric per thousand verses of text, I do not believe the rubrication could have
offered the reader sustained help.39
These observations suggest that the illustrations must have
been meant to be shown by the lector to his or her audience during short breaks in the performance, and that the rubrics were intended to serve as a cue to the lector as he or she progressed
through the text.40 Both elements also added aesthetically pleasing
enrichment to the folios they occupied.
Architecture of the Tresplaisante Hystoire Printed
Book
On 1 September 1530, a printed book entitled the Tresplaisante et
Recreative Hystoire du Trespreulx et valliant Chevallier Perceval
le galloys was published in Paris.41 For the sake of brevity, this
book will hereafter be referred to as the Tresplaisante Hystoire.
While the Conte du Graal is a work in verse, this anonymous
Renaissance adaptation is in prose. To be precise, this volume
contains a prose rendering of Chrétien’s Conte du Graal, the
First Continuation, the Second Continuation, and the Continuation of Manessier in sequence and as a single text. While being
rather flat and unartistic, this mise en prose of the Conte du
Graal is in general quite faithful, in a word-for-word, scene-forscene way, to the original.42 Three men are mentioned on the
book’s title page as being the marchans libraires responsible for
the volume: Jehan Longis, Jehan Sainct-Denis, and Galliot Du
Pré.43 I was unable to find any scholarly reference to the first two
men during my research, and very little to Du Pré.44 Their business enterprise was located in the Palais, a massive building that
held governmental offices, law courts, as well as commercial addresses, and it was a structure that had been located on Paris’ Ile
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de la Cité since the Middle Ages.45 While perhaps a thousand
copies were printed during its press run,46 I know of only two
surviving copies of the Tresplaisante Hystoire, and I have examined each. One is housed in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New
York, the other at the Tolbiac site of the Bibliothèque Nationale in
Paris.47 Very little published work has been done on this text. It
was partially reprinted as an annex to Alfons Hilka’s monumental
1932 edition of Chrétien’s romance,48 but otherwise has been
little studied.49
The Tresplaisante Hystoire was printed in Gothic typescript
in two columns per page in black ink on white, watermark-bearing paper that I judge to be of high quality and medium thickness.50 The two exemplars are identical to each another except that
the Morgan copy contains a very short “Elucidation” that precedes
the main text, whereas the Bibliothèque Nationale copy was manufactured without it. This elucidating text, which functions as a
sort of genealogical prologue and is related to the two prologues
that appear in Manuscript P,51 runs six and a half pages, and is
positioned in the Morgan exemplar between the table of contents
of the Tresplaisante Hystoire and the beginning of the text proper.52 The Morgan copy, using our modern foliation system, runs
448 pages and the Bibliothèque Nationale copy runs 440 pages.
The title page (reproduced photographically in Figure 1) is printed
partially in black ink and partially in red ink, with red ink being
used for key words and terms.53 Each recto face of each page of
the text proper was numbered consecutively in the upper right
corner, using Roman numerals.54 Nearly every word throughout
the book was printed out in full, and each sentence has space
between all of the words in it.55
While the illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts were equipped with essentially no reader-guidance tools, the Tresplaisante
Hystoire is laden with them. There is a title page, and quite a rich
one: it points out that Perceval is Welsh, very noble and valiant,
affiliated with the Round Table, and that he pursued the Grail adventure to its conclusion. Gauvain is mentioned, as is King Arthur. From this very first page of the Tresplaisante Hystoire, the
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Figure 1
Title page of the Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire
du Trespreulx et vaillant Cheuallier Perceual le galloys ...
(Paris: J. St. Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pré, 1530)
[The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, PML 31537]

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Figure 2
Folio ii recto of the Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire
du Trespreulx et vaillant Cheuallier Perceual le galloys ...
(Paris: J. St. Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pré, 1530)
[The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, PML 31537]

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Privatizing the Conte du Graal

Figure 3
Folio iiii verso of the Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire
du Trespreulx et vaillant Cheuallier Perceual le galloys ...
(Paris: J. St. Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pré, 1530)
[The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, PML 31537]

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Figure 4
Folio aa iiii verso of the Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire
du Trespreulx et vaillant Cheuallier Perceual le galloys ...
(Paris: J. St. Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pré, 1530)
[The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, PML 31537]

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Figure 5
Folio a i recto of the Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire
du Trespreulx et vaillant Cheuallier Perceual le galloys ...
(Paris: J. St. Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pré, 1530)
[The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, PML 31537]

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reader becomes acquainted with the material contained within.
Next we find in this printed book a dense, rich table of contents.
Organized upon pages whose contents are divided into two columns, this table runs for four and a quarter pages and treats all of
the action in the combined text. The first page of this table is reproduced photographically in Figure 2. One example should suffice to suggest the detail and intelligence of this reader-orienting
tool. If we look just below the large ‘C’, we find the following
chapter summary avant la lettre, which refers to the moment in
the text when Perceval leaves the knights whom he had encountered by chance, returns to his mother, and prepares to set off to
find King Arthur:
Comment après le parlement que Perceval eust avec les cheval[l]iers retourna vers sa mère de laquelle print congé pour aller à la court du roy
Arthus.56
folio .iii.

The reader is informed that this moment in the text occurs on ‘fol.
iiii’.57 What is even more surprising is that when we then turn to
this page in the Tresplaisante Hystoire, we find—preceding the
actual portion of the text in question—a yet more detailed summary than the one that stands in the table of contents. This page,
labeled by the printers as ‘fol. iiii’, is reproduced photographically in Figure 3. The capsule reads as follows:
Comment après que Perceval eust faict plusieurs demandes et enquestes
aux nobles chevalliers / et d’eux prins congé: retourna vers sa mère. Lequel après avoir ouy plusieurs enseignmens Doctrines et remonstrances
qu’elle luy fist / print congé d’elle pour aller au noble et vaillant Roy
Artus.

What is most interesting about these two summaries is that they
look both backward on what has just happened in the text proper
that precedes the capsule (Perceval has encountered the knights)
and then forward to what will happen once the text recommences
(he will seek out King Arthur). Functioning like our modern
automobile Global Positioning System computers, capsules of the
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Privatizing the Conte du Graal

second, lengthier type are embedded throughout the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s text, assuring the reader that he or she is never
more than a few turns of a page away from a synopsis that
specifies what has just happened and what is about to happen.
We see, too, that many optical devices are used to separate the
various units of meaning on this page. White space divides all of
the various printed entities so that, for example, the capsule is
clearly and immediately distinct from the actual text. We note,
too, that the portion of the text found below the capsule begins
with a very large ‘A’. This pattern of using oversized initials immediately after capsules to introduce the various articulations of
the story proper is consistent throughout the Tresplaisante Hystoire, as is the generous and intelligent use of white space.
The printers’ rigid attention to detail and organization can be
further documented if we return to the first page of the table of
contents and note the smaller details found there.58 Not only is
this table labeled as such in the large-type title running atop the
page (‘La table de ce présent livre’), but the printers have also included at the top of the left column of that first page the words
‘Brièfve recollection des matières continues au présent volume’ in
smaller type, and at the conclusion of the table of contents, four
and a quarter pages later, the phrase ‘Fin des matières continues
en ce présent volume de Perceval le Galloys’. In other words, the
table of contents is designated as such a total of three times
within the table itself.
What offers a striking contrast to the precision and userfriendliness of the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s textual content is the
inanity and banality of its illustrations. There are only two images
in the whole book: one of a knight, and one of an author. These
images are reproduced, respectively, in Figures 4 and 5.59 These
pictorial representations—manufactured from engraved plates—in
no way suggest any real affinity with the text they purport to
illustrate. The image of the knight (Figure 4), which is positioned
in each book opposite the page that contains the beginning of the
Tresplaisante Hystoire’s text, could not be more generic: He
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bears none of the weaponry or clothing traditionally associated
with Perceval the Welshman, such as the clumsy costume his
mother forces him to wear or the three javelins he traditionally
carries.60 It seems clear that this armour, for both knight and
horse, is of the type worn for ceremony during the early Renaissance. Yet the Tresplaisante Hystoire text represents itself as occurring during the reign of King Arthur, at the dawn of the medieval era. By contrast, most of the images that illustrate the
Conte du Graal manuscripts are rich in detail and demonstrate
pictorially an understanding of the particularities of Chrétien’s
romance.61
I find the author portrait (Figure 5), which is positioned on the
upper half of the first page of the text proper,62 far more intriguing than the first image, if ultimately equally empty. Here we see
a man sitting at a writing desk with a closed book on it. The
man’s clothing, his ink pot, his carrying case for his quills, and
the ornate books which fill the room all seem appropriately medieval, and must have looked “retro” in 1530. There is, however,
besides the medieval décor no object or landscape of any sort that
links this engraved image to the story of Perceval and Gauvain:
no javelins, no crowns, no grails, and no Welsh forest in the
background. It is worth adding that at no point anywhere in the
Tresplaisante Hystoire—not on the title page, not in the royal
privilege, not in the prologue, nor anywhere else—is the name
‘Chrétien de Troyes’ or ‘Chrétien’ mentioned. In other words, we
have here an author portrait that is era-appropriate but otherwise
entirely generic, meant to represent a master poet whom the printers have, for reasons I do not grasp, erased from their adaptation
of his text.63 I found further evidence that this author portrait is a
generic image when reading Richard and Mary Rouses’ twovolume study of Parisian bookmaking. In the second volume of
this work, Illustration 182 in the section containing photographic
plates64 shows a virtually identical image as the author portrait in
the Tresplaisante Hystoire. Only in this case, the engraving was
used as a sort of signature image for the Parisian printer Jean
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Treppeal, and dates from 1505. It seems clear that both illustrations in the Tresplaisante Hystoire were merely pulled from a reserve of stock printers’ images, and were not intended to offer
customized pictorial representation of the story of Perceval and
Gauvain.
In sum, the Tresplaisante Hystoire—with its title page, its
dense table of contents, its detailed summary capsules inserted
throughout the text, its physically aerated textual segments printed
in clear typeface with little use of abbreviation, and its consistent
use of block initials at the beginning of each major articulation in
the narrative—would seem to have comprised an easily navigable
text for a reader of modest competence.65 The two illustrations,
however, seem like afterthoughts and bear virtually no relevance
to the text.
Conclusion
The two preceding sections of this study were meant to document
the presence or absence of reader-orienting tools that would have
met the eye of a first-time reader of, respectively, the Conte du
Graal and the Tresplaisante Hystoire. It seems evident, from
this codicological evidence, that the Tresplaisante Hystoire was
designed to be used by anyone possessing a basic degree of literacy. The illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts, however,
would have been discouraging for the modestly skilled reader
who was unfamiliar with the story. Their lack of any sort of extratextual guidance, combined with the harshly monolithic layout,
would probably have been untenable for the amateur reader. The
professional reader, however, fluent in the spontaneous decryption of medieval abbreviation systems, able to instantaneously
“invent” and insert punctuation based on context, and probably
already familiar with the legend of Perceval and Gauvain by trade,
would have had little problem with these codices.66
The last of the illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts was
completed around 1350. Less than two hundred years later we
find the Tresplaisante Hystoire. But this time span reveals far
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more than just the distance between a public- and a private-reading audience for the story of Perceval the Welshman. Dramatic
changes took place in the production of, and access to, the literature in France between 1350 and 1530, some of which I feel have
not been exhaustively studied. Clearly the manner in which the
legend of Perceval was artfully transmuted as it traveled from
Chrétien’s plume across time—morphing into an element in the
plot of Perlesvaus, the Queste del Saint Graal, and other texts,67
gaining or losing importance, shifting from verse to prose—to arrive in its Tresplaisante Hystoire form (an unartistic prose twin
of Chrétien’s original text, only now in “modern” French) is worthy of our interest. But I would prefer to look at the broader questions of why and how, between 1350 and 1530, the reading of
this tale went from being a public, performative effort to being an
individual, private one.68
I do not believe that such a shift occurred monolithically,
whereby one mode of reading (public performance) suddenly
switched over to another (private reading), universally and without difficulty. Joyce Coleman argues for a much more nuanced,
text-specific, and complex process of change:
The habit of approaching late medieval literature with the standard oral/
literate polarities ready-mapped before our faces, sure the data will fit the
map, has led us down some debatable paths. If we are willing to adopt a
more “ethnographic” approach, following the texts as they draw their own
map for us, we will identify not a triumphal, quick-step march from “orality” to “literacy,” but a long-term, intricate interdigitation of the oral,
the aural, and the literate.69

I agree with her that we must study this shift in all of its intricacies.70 I believe that the present study of the Tresplaisante Hystoire will prove useful because it clearly signals 1530, a precise
calendar year, as a point at which private readership of romance
had been established in France. But this calendar year is only a
single point in a vast and vague time period designated as “the
Renaissance”, a period during which we scholars have assumed
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preponderant private reading but have not yet, in my judgement,
secured this assumption with specific codicological evidence that
breaks this shift down into smaller, more chronologically precise
steps.
Analysis of other Renaissance-era textual adaptations of medieval works (with attention paid to each specific text, to its manner of transmission, to its genre, and to its country of origin) will
offer up a constellation of precise dates and other information that
will allow us to better pinpoint the complex movement of secular
literary culture in France away from a performance mode and towards one of private reading.71 This movement, however, involves not just aesthetics, literary taste, or even literacy. I see in
the Tresplaisante Hystoire a forceful example of the nascence of
a true commerce of literature—the commercialization of specialized literary products for a specific consumer group, just as
today marketing experts refine and modify commercial goods for
a targeted client base.72 Charon-Parent notes, for example, that
Du Pré was affiliated with the publication of seven modernized
printed editions of Arthurian heroes during his lifetime.73 The
merchandising of books in France during the Renaissance, I suspect, played a significant role in how literature developed there. In
the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s royal privilege, for example, we
find a description of an almost mechanical stripping away of
Chrétien’s octosyllabic verse to fashion a market-ready prose format. Here is how the printers describe the creation of their product:
[...] Jehan Longis et Jehan sainct Denys Libraires à Paris Ad ce qu’il leur
fust permis Imprimer ung ancien livre intitulé L’hystoire de Perceval le
gallois lequel acheva les entreprinses des Chevalliers de la Table ronde
faict en ryme et langaige non usité lesquelles ilz avaient faict traduyre de
ryme en prose et langaige moderne pour imprimer.

We find in this sober legal statement proof that there was no interest, at least not in this case, for simply reprinting Chrétien’s original text tel quel for a Renaissance audience. It seems clear from
this privilege that both an updating of Chrétien’s language and a
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reformatting into prose were commercially essential.74 This conversion process was so expensive that the French king’s representative, in the privilege, granted these printers six years’ exclusive rights to the Conte du Graal story to compensate them for
their investment:
Ad ce qu’ilz peussent recouvrir les fraitz et impenses par eulx faitz et
fraitz pour faire imprimer et traduire ledict livre [...] Et deffendons à tous
autres de ne Imprimer ne faire imprimer ledict livre jusques à six ans sur
peine de confiscation desdictz livres et d’amande arbitraire.

In this citation we have a suggestion not only of the “turf wars”
involved in printing a classic text for the consumer market of Renaissance France, but also an indication that the state played an almost proprietary role in protecting printers’ investments.
It is my hope that this study has presented with some clarity
how the printers of the Tresplaisante Hystoire carefully integrated reader-orienting tools into their 1530 adaptation of the
Conte du Graal, and—in a parallel manner—has shown to what
extent the commercial minds of Renaissance Paris became involved in creating literary products that were accessible to a newly developing audience that consisted of private, non-specialist readers. I hope that the future will bring greater scrutiny of this pivot
point in French literary history, when books became not only
intellectual items of private interest and contemplation, but also
commercial and commercialized goods heavily modified by those
who reproduced and sold them.
Notes
*

Between the time I completed the final draft of this study and the time I
received the printer’s proofs for it, I became aware of two other studies
that focus on the Tresplaisante Hystoire. The most recent is Pierre Servet, ‘D’un Perceval à l’autre: La mise en prose du Conte du Graal
(1530)’, in Claude Lachet (ed.), L’Oeuvre de Chrétien de Troyes dans la
littérature française: Réminiscences, resurgences et réécritures, Lyon,
1997, pp. 197-210. While Servet’s article is chiefly concerned with how
the anonymous Renaissance adapter translated and modified Chrétien’s

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Privatizing the Conte du Graal

1

2

medieval textual model, two points in common between Servet’s study
and my own must be cited. First, Servet comments on commercial significance of the royal privilege granted to the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s
publishers (p. 199), as do I in my study (pp. 225-26). Second, Servet discusses the orienting value of the capsule-like entries in the Tresplaisante
Hystoire’s table of contents (pp. 201-02), as do I in my study (p. 220),
and we both reproduce the same extratextual capsule found on fol. iiii of
the Tresplaisante Hystoire (pp. 202 and 220 respectively. In his book
Autour du Graal (Genève, 1977), Jean Frappier devotes a brief chapter
(entitled ‘Sur le Perceval en prose de 1530’, pp. 211-24) to the Tresplaisante Hystoire. While this chapter is essentially a fine-toothed examination of instances where the anonymous Renaissance adapter misunderstood and mistranslated the Conte du Graal, I must point out that
Frappier emphasizes the orienting utility of the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s
table of contents and extratextual capsules (pp. 219-20), as do I in my
study (pp. 220-21). Both Servet (p. 198) and Frappier (pp. 211-12) note
that Chrétien’s name appears nowhere in the Tresplaisante Hystoire, as
do I in my study (p. 220).
For examples of scholarly discussion of the oral performance of medieval
literature that date from the last twenty-five years: see Manfred Günter
Scholz, Hören und Lesen: Studien zur primären Rezeption der Literatur
im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert, Wiesbaden, 1980; Walter J. Ong, Orality
and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, London, 1982; Sylvia
Huot, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric
and Lyrical Narrative Poetry, Ithaca, 1987; Paul Zumthor, La lettre et
la voix: De la “littérature” médiévale, Paris, 1987; Joseph J. Duggan,
‘Oral Performance of Romance in Medieval France’, in: Norris J. Lacy &
Gloria Torrini-Roblin (eds.), Continuations: Essays on Medieval French
Literature and Language in Honor of John L. Grigsby, Birmingham,
Alabama, 1989, pp. 51-61; D. H. Green, Medieval Listening and Reading: The Primary Reception of German Literature, 800-1300, Cambridge, 1994; Joyce Coleman, Public Reading and the Reading Public in
Late Medieval England and France, Cambridge, 1996; Evelyn Vitz,
Orality and Performance in Early French Romance, Woodbridge, 1999;
and Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, ‘The Shape of Romance in Medieval
France’, in: Roberta L. Krueger (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to
Medieval Romance, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 13-28. The now-discredited
theory that held that romance was, at its origin, conceived to be read
rather than performed is reviewed by Vitz, Orality and Performance, pp.
47-49.
Scholars seem willing to acknowledge that by the Renaissance, private
reading was common if not universal, but I believe they generally do not

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Paul Creamer

3

4

5
6

pinpoint that shift within a specific time frame. Roger Chartier, ‘The
Practical Impact of Writing’, in: Roger Chartier (ed.), A History of Private Life, vol. III: Passions of the Renaissance, Cambridge, Mass.,
1989, pp. 111-59, for example, writes that ‘[B]etween 1500 and 1800
man’s altered relation to the written word helped to create a new private
sphere into which the individual could retreat, seeking refuge from the
community’ (p. 111), but he does not narrow the time frame further.
For descriptions of the professional reader, see: Zumthor, La lettre et la
voix, pp. 60-82; Coleman, Public Reading, pp. 84-85, 110-13, 12122, and 141-44; and Vitz, Orality and Performance, p. 207-17. See Vitz,
Orality and Performance, pp. 164-227, for a panoramic description of all
possible modes of performance for romance during the Middle Ages. She
divides them into two broad categories, each of which she further refines:
recitation from memory, such as at major festive events, enriched by
theatrical articulations and gestures; and reading from a codex, less dramatic but still with a hint of staging, and almost always in a small-group
public setting. I agree with her that private, individual reading of romance
during that period was ‘exceedingly rare’ (p. 164). I believe there must
have been, during the Middle Ages, a very small number of people (a)
who were not professional readers, as defined above, (b) who—because of
their profession, such as lawyer or cleric—were nonetheless far more
talented at reading than a typical amateur reader, and (c) who, by position
or good fortune, had access to manuscripts containing works of romance.
This tiny fraction of the population was able to enjoy texts of medieval
romance “right off the shelf”, for and by themselves, as we do today.
Paul Saenger, ‘Reading in the Later Middle Ages’, in: Guglielmo Cavallo
& Roger Chartier (eds.), A History of Reading in the West, Cambridge,
1999, pp. 120-48, esp. p. 142. I am not aware of any studies that definitively (a) establish how an individual was selected and trained to become a
professional reader, (b) indicate whether this career was a full-time or a
part-time endeavour, (c) specify whether it was viewed as an elite or an
unglamorous field, or (d) explain how the reader was financially compensated. Clearly, this figure remains elusive. In addition, royal courts and
households must have had educated, literature-loving members who read
to their peers but did so for pleasure, not pay. See Vitz, Orality and Performance, pp. 205-15.
See Duggan, ‘Oral Performance of Romance’, pp. 53-58.
For a somewhat different approach to describing amateur readers of the
Middle Ages, see Vitz’s (Orality and Performance) discussion of semiprivate and private reading, pp. 217-24, and Coleman’s (Public Reading)
description of recreational readers, p. 92.

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7
8
9

10

11

12

13
14

On pronouncing words to oneself when reading alone, see Scholz, Hören
und Lesen, pp. 103-11.
See p. 208 below.
The physical composition and characteristics of all fifteen of the Conte
du Graal manuscripts are described in Terry Nixon, ‘Catalogue of Manuscripts’ in Keith Busby et al., Les manuscrits de Chrétien de Troyes /
The Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes, Amsterdam-Atlanta, 1993, vol.
II, pp. 18-85.
Three of the illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts are now housed at
the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris; one at
the Bibliothèque Universitaire in Montpellier, France; and one at the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Mons-Hainaut in Mons, Belgium. I have
examined all five on two occasions, once during the Academic Year 199697 and once during the Academic Year 2002-03.
All five illustrated codices follow the same basic sequence: the Conte du
Graal, the First Continuation, the Second Continuation, and M a nessier’s Continuation. Manuscript T adds another text, called Gerbert’s
Continuation, which was inserted between the Second Continuation and
Manessier’s Continuation. Manuscripts P and T each feature a small
number of additional brief texts.
For a meticulous description of how the component texts are seamlessly
arranged upon the leaves of Manuscripts M, P, T, S, and U, see the ‘Introduction’, pp. ix-xxxix, of Keith Busby’s critical edition of the romances, entitled Le Roman de Perceval ou Le Conte du Graal, Tübingen,
1993.
An exception: manuscript M’s Continuation of Manessier has no miniatures.
This work is the ‘Catalogue of Manuscripts’, mentioned in footnote 9.
The shelf number, Conte du Graal textual letter designation, approximate date of production, and area of production of these manuscripts are
as follows, as indicated in the Catalogue:
1) Montpellier, Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire, section médicine, H
249; [M]; 1275-1300; Ile-de-France
2) Mons, Bibliothèque de l’Université de Mons-Hainaut 331-206
(4568); [P]; 1275-1300; Tournai, Flanders
3) Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds français 12576; [T];
1275-1300; Northeastern France
4) Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds français 1453; [S];
1325-1350; Paris
5) Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds français 12577; [U];
1325-1350; Paris
Because it is believed that Chrétien died around 1180, he could not have

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Paul Creamer

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

personally supervised or been party to the manufacture of any of these
codices.
For the purposes of this article, I will consider only those features that
stood in the manuscripts in their original completed state, and I will not
mention or assess material or textual additions or modifications that were
made to them subsequently. These changes, however, are detailed in the
‘Catalogue of Manuscripts’.
Manuscript P is the shortest illustrated Conte du Graal manuscript in
length, the grand line-count total of its combined texts reaching approximately 43,000 verses. Manuscript T is the longest, counting approximately 65,000 lines.
Manuscript M has two columns of forty lines each; Manuscript P, two
columns of forty-five lines; Manuscript T, three columns of forty-three
lines; Manuscript S, two columns of thirty-six lines; and Manuscript U,
two columns of forty-five lines.
There are a few exceptions to this one-verse-per-ruled-line pattern. Rarely,
for decorative purposes, or because of an error made by the scribe, the
modern scholar will find that an illustrated Conte du Graal manuscript
has a single octosyllabic verse divided between two or three ruled lines of
a column, or two verses wedged into a single ruled space.
This is the total number of verses in Félix Lecoy’s definitive, two-part
edition of Chrétien’s poem, Les Romans de Chrétien de Troyes: Le
Conte du Graal (Perceval), 2 vols., Paris, 1984-90, an edition based on
Manuscript A. The five illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts have
verse-count totals that vary slightly from Lecoy’s tally.
Some scholars refer to minor capitals as pen-flourished initials. My
thanks to Keith Busby for help with alternative terminology for minor
and major initials.
Manuscript M has fifty-three minor capitals in its Conte du Graal section; Manuscript P has ninety-nine; Manuscript T has ninety-three; Manuscript S has one hundred and eighty-one; and Manuscript U has one hundred and seventy-three. This striking range in the number of minor capitals for the same text deserves further study.
See Paul Creamer, “Choices in the Chain: How The Medieval Scriptorium’s ‘Assembly Line’ Influenced the Conte du Graal’s Illustrations”,
Diss. University of Wisconsin at Madison, 1999, pp. 227-30. See also
Keith Busby, ‘The Illustrated Manuscripts of Chrétien’s Perceval’, in:
Busby et al., Manuscrits de Chrétien de Troyes / Manuscripts of
Chrétien de Troyes, vol. I, pp. 351-63.
See Françoise Gasparri, Geneviève Hasenohr & Christine Ruby, ‘De l’écriture à la lecture: Réflexion sur les manuscrits d’Erec et Enide’, in:

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Privatizing the Conte du Graal

24

25

26

27
28

29
30

31

32

33

Busby et al. (eds.), Manuscrits de Chrétien de Troyes / Manuscripts of
Chrétien de Troyes, pp. 97-148; and Roger Middleton, ‘Coloured Capitals in the Manuscripts of Erec et Enide’, in: Ibid., pp. 149-93. For a
more general discussion of the utility of major and minor capitals, see
Keith Busby, Codex and Context: Reading Old French Narrative in
Manuscript, Amsterdam-New York, 2002, vol. I, pp. 184-95.
Manuscript M has fifteen major capitals in its Conte du Graal section;
Manuscript P has eight; Manuscript T has nine; Manuscript S has fifteen; and Manuscript U has two.
Some scholars refer to major capitals as initials or champie initials.
When they contain an illustrated scene, they call them historiated
initials.
Busby, in ‘Illustrated Manuscripts’ and in ‘Text, Miniature, and Rubric in
the Continuations of Chrétien’s Perceval’ (published in the same volume, pp. 365-76), discusses how—in the illustrated Conte du Graal
manuscripts—miniatures or major initials announcing a transition are
sometimes positioned at the beginning of major textual segments. See,
for example, pp. 274-75 in ‘Text, Miniature, and Rubric’.
Manuscripts M and U, it should be noted, begin verse 6009 with a minor capital.
On how the rubric that accompanies this miniature-bearing major initial
in Manuscript P performs an interlacing function, see Busby, ‘Illustrated
Manuscripts’, p. 362.
Busby, ‘Illustrated Manuscripts’, pp. 356-57, makes this point, regarding
manuscript T.
For a somewhat different interpretation of the use of the major initials in
Manuscript U, see Sandra Hindman, Sealed in Parchment: Rereadings of
Knighthood in the Illuminated Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes,
Chicago, 1994, pp. 44-46. For an analysis of the possible sociopolitical
symbolism of the historiated capitals featuring knights on horseback in
Manuscript P, see ibid., pp. 117-20.
On the accuracy of these miniatures, see: Creamer, “Choices in the
Chain”, pp. 45-48; Busby, ‘Illustrated Manuscripts’; and Angelica Rieger, ‘Neues über Chrétiens Illustratoren: Bild und Text in der ältesten
Uberlieferung von Perceval-le-Vieil (T)’, Bulletin bibliographique de la
Société Internationale Arthurienne 41 (1989), pp. 301-11.
In Manuscript M, there are twenty-five miniatures depicting scenes from
the Conte du Graal; in Manuscript P, there are eight; in Manuscript T,
there are eight; in Manuscript S, there remain fifteen; and in Manuscript
U, there are fifteen.
Relating to the Continuations, cf. Busby, Codex and Context, vol. I,

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Paul Creamer

pp. 363-65.
34 See Creamer, “Choices in the Chain”, pp. 156-59, and Appendices 5 (pp.
250-56) and 6 (p. 257). See also Busby, ‘Illustrated Manuscripts’, esp. p.
356. Regarding manuscripts T (p. 356), S (p. 358), and M (p. 359),
Busby points out how, physically speaking, miniatures were positioned
relatively evenly across the run of the text.
35 Today Manuscript M does, in fact, have rubrication, but I agree with
Nixon that its rubrics, located at the bottom margin of each folio and
written in a later hand, must have been added long after its initial manufacture. See the ‘Catalogue of Manuscripts’, p. 53.
36 These rubrics can be seen written out fully in printed type in Busby et
al., Manuscrits de Chrétien de Troyes / Manuscripts of Chrétien de
Troyes, Appendix IV, vol. II, pp. 284-88 for Manuscript P and pp. 297303 for Manuscript S.
37 A black-and-white photographic representation of this miniature can be
found in ibid., vol. II, p. 523.
38 The rubrics of Manuscript U are found written out fully in printed type in
ibid., vol. II, pp. 288-96.
39 Busby, ‘Illustrated Manuscripts’, p. 362, writes of the four rubric-bearing
codices: ‘What the rubric certainly do not do is help the reader interpret
the text [...]’, citing Scholz, Hören und Lesen, p. 199 (see following
note).
40 See Creamer, “Choices in the Chain”, pp. 144-215, and Busby, ‘Illustrated Manuscripts’, pp. 356-57 and 361-62, who also cites Scholz, Hören
und Lesen, p. 194. Busby writes (p. 362) that Scholz sees rubrics as
having three possible functions: aiding the public reader during performance; intriguing or prompting the private reader or recapitulating for him;
and helping the illustrator understand what is to be painted in the given
miniature. On the orienting value of rubrics, Busby writes (p. 362): ‘That
the rubrics indeed helped the reader or performer orientate himself is a
plausible suggestion that can be neither proved nor disproved.’
41 This date is found in the book’s royal privilege, found on page 2 of the
Morgan exemplar and the Bibliothèque Nationale exemplar, as they are
foliated today.
42 Alfons Hilka (ed.), Der Percevalroman (Li Contes del Graal) von
Christian von Troyes, Halle, 1932, p. 792, notes the conservatism of
the Renaissance adapter, while offering a short catalogue of what he believes to be troubling mistranslations.
43 I will spell Du Pré’s surname with a capital ‘D’, as does Annie CharonParent, ‘Aspects de la politique éditoriale de Galliot Du Pré’, in: Pierre
Aquilon et al. (eds.), Le livre dans l’Europe de la Renaissance, Paris,
1988, pp. 209-18.

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Privatizing the Conte du Graal

44 The main study I found on Du Pré was Charon-Parent’s. In it, she mentions a few other modern scholars who have inventoried Du Pré’s surviving property lists and commercial inventories.
45 Ibid., p. 210.
46 Ibid., p. 214.
47 The Tresplaisante Hystoire at the Pierpont Morgan Library bears the call
number of PML 31537, and the localization number of E/12/D. The
exemplar at the Bibliothèque Nationale bears the call number of RES-Y274 support imprimé, and is found in the magasin of the rez-de-jardin.
48 Hilka (ed.), Der Percevalroman, reprinted only that portion of the
Tresplaisante Hystoire that corresponded to Chrétien’s text.
49 See note * above.
50 The page dimensions, by my measure, are 25.3 centimeters by 18.1 centimeters. The written area is that of two columns, each measuring 20.8
centimeters by 6.8 centimeters.
51 See Frappier, ‘Sur le Perceval en prose de 1530’, p. 213, note 4.
52 If we were to mentally remove from the Morgan copy the four sheets that
host the ‘Elucidation’s’ six and a half pages of text, it would then be
identical in all ways to the copy housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale.
The ‘Elucidation’ itself does not figure in the table of contents of the
Pierpont Morgan exemplar, nor—of course—in that found in the Bibliothèque Nationale copy. Because the ‘Elucidation’ was not paginated, the
original Roman-numeral foliation of the text proper is the same in both
exemplars. Each book, however, has subsequently been given modern,
Arabic-numeral pagination according to how it is bound at present. I will
use each volume’s modern foliation to indicate specific pages. Both Hilka (p. vii) and William Roach, The Continuations of the Old French
Perceval, Philadelphia, 1949, vol. I, p. xxxii, point out that some exemplars lack the ‘Elucidation’, and Hilka writes that he does not believe this
portion was a later insertion. For a precise description of where in the
volume the various textual segments start and end, see Roach, p. xxxii.
53 The title page is found in both volumes on page 1, as they are foliated
today.
54 When the books were printed, the title page was not numbered and the
table of contents was given its own separate numbering system, with
Roman-numeral page numbers found at the bottom—rather than the top
—of the recto side of each page.
55 There are, however, two types of abbreviation that are used in the Tresplaisante Hystoire with some frequency: m’s and n’s that follow vowels are sometimes designated by a tilde above the preceding vowel character, and the word et is usually represented with the “Tironian 7” symbol.

245

Paul Creamer

56 In the citations from the Tresplaisante Hystoire found in this article, I
have restored the abbreviated m’s and n’s, written out the word et
fully, added modern accents, and adapted the use of v and u to modern
style.
57 ‘[F]ol[io]. iiii’ of the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s printers corresponds to
page 24 in the Pierpont Morgan exemplar, and page 16 in the Bibliothèque Nationale copy.
58 See Charon-Parent’s description of Du Pré’s singular drive for clarity
(Charon-Parent, ‘Aspects de la politique éditoriale de Galliot Du Pré’, pp.
213-14).
59 The Pierpont Morgan Tresplaisante Hystoire bears a total of three illustrations because it displays this same illustration of the knight twice:
once at the beginning of the ‘Elucidation’ (on page 8 as the book is foliated today) and once opposite the beginning of the text of the Tresplaisante Hystoire (on page 16). Because the Bibliothèque Nationale’s exemplar does not have the ‘Elucidation’, this image of the knight is shown
only once, opposite the beginning of the Tresplaisante Hystoire’s text,
or, on page 8 as that exemplar is paginated today.
60 It should be noted that this costume is well-depicted in miniatures in
Manuscripts M, S, and U, and that we see the Perceval’s signature javelins represented in illustrations in Manuscripts M, P, T, S, and U.
61 These are featured in photographic reproduction in Busby et al.,
Manuscrits de Chrétien de Troyes / Manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes,
vol. II, pp. 343-541.
62 This image is found in the Morgan exemplar on p. 17, and on p. 9 of the
Bibliothèque Nationale copy, as the volumes are foliated today.
63 The name ‘Chrétien’ appears written in the prologue of four of the five
illustrated Conte du Graal manuscripts (verse 62 of Lecoy’s edition).
Because Manuscript S has lost its first leaf, the prologue—and its reference to Chrétien as author—are now missing.
64 See Richard H. Rouse & Mary A. Rouse, Illiterati et Uxorati: Manuscripts and Their Makers. Commercial Book Producers in Medieval
Paris, 1200-1500, 2 vols., Turnhout, 2000. These photographic-plate
pages are not numbered.
65 The inclusion of such reader-friendly optical tools in the printed adaptation of a romance was not unique to the Tresplaisante Hystoire. See
Georges Doutrepont, Les Mises en prose des Epopées et des Romans
chevaleresques du XIVe au XVe siècle, Bruxelles, 1939, p. 644.
66 See Busby, Codex and Context, vol. I, p. 146.
67 See Jessie Laidlay Weston, The Legend of Sir Perceval: Studies upon it
Origin, Development, and Position in the Arthurian Cycle, London,
1906-09, and Emmanuelle Baumgartner, Chrétien de Troyes: Le Conte

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Privatizing the Conte du Graal

du Graal, Paris, 1999.
On this shift, see Doutrepont, Mises en prose, pp. 381-82.
Coleman, Public Reading, p. 2.
See Coleman, Public Reading, esp. Chapter 1: ‘On Beyond Ong’.
Reading aloud in small groups, however, did not cease to exist altogether.
See Coleman, Public Reading, pp. 144-47.
72 See Ong, Orality and Literacy, pp. 122-23.
73 See Charon-Parent, ‘Aspects de la politique éditoriale de Galliot Du Pré’,
p. 209. See her full article for examples of Du Pré’s numerous, stealthy,
and financially successful modifications to his booklist over his long
career.
74 On the changes that needed to be made to Chrétien’s texts so that readers
of the late Middle Ages could understand them, see Vitz, Orality and
Performance, p. 225.

68
69
70
71

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A Contract for an Early Festival Book:
Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem (1278)

Nancy Freeman Regalado
The 25-line epilogue to Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem contains a
unique record of a medieval book contract.1 Moreover, Sarrasin’s
Roman is of notable interest to historians of performance, for it
is one of the first surviving French festival books, works composed to commemorate courtly celebrations in the later Middle
Ages and the Renaissance. A poem of some 4600 lines, L e
Roman du Hem is Sarrasin’s eyewitness account of a three-day
tournament held in 1278 at Le Hem, a village in Picardy. It is,
with Jacques Bretel’s Tournoi de Chauvency (Lorraine, 1285),2
one of the earliest extended accounts of a historical chivalric festivity in France.3 Sarrasin’s chronicle is also a precious document
for the history of medieval theatre, for in addition to recording
more than one hundred jousts, the poet describes a half-dozen
“aventures”, dramatic scenes based on motifs from Arthurian romance. Although there are allusions to Arthurian themes in thirteenth-century chivalric festivities,4 Le Roman du Hem offers the
first detailed description of actual performances of Arthurian
scenes. In a companion piece to this article, I have examined these
“aventures”, which were performed by the knights, ladies, and
members of their household present at the tournament and which
were staged as entertainments during the festive banquet and interspersed among the jousts.5 For Performance and Ritual,
however, I focus on the contract for Sarrasin’s “petit livre” which
is a document of remarkable significance for the history of the
book and of medieval performance. It records the commission of
this early festival book; and it illustrates the extension of medieval

Nancy Freeman Regalado

performance into writing and into the vernacular book culture of
the Middle Ages.
Let us begin with the fine print, that is, with the words of the
book contract itself:
4600

4604

4608

4612

4616

4620

4624

Sarrasins en un petit livre
Mist les joustes qu’il vit molt dures
Et si i mist les aventures
Dont vous avés oï de beles,
Des chevaliers et des puceles
Et du Chevalier au Lyon,
Qui bons est et de grant renon,
Et tout l’afaire qui i fu.
Et la roïne qui la fu
Li commanda et si li dit
Que, s’il en faisoit un bel dit,
Qu’ele le paieroit si bien
Qu’il ne s’en plainderoit de rien,
Et feroit a sa gent paiier.
‘Tu ne t’en dois mie esmaiier,’
Dist li sires de Basentin.
‘Je suis pleges, par Saint Martin,
S’ele m’en prie tant ne quant.’
—‘Sire, je m’en tieng bien a tant.
Mais je ne vous refuse mie
Que vous arés et crouste et mie,
Je pens et croi, encore auwen.’
Ci fine li Remans du Hen,
Et Sarrasins, s’ill en est mieux,
Dist que boine part i ait Dix.6

[Sarrasin put in a little book the mighty jousts he saw, together
with the fine adventures you have heard about knights and damsels and the Knight of the Lion who is good and famous, and
about all that was done there. And the Queen who was there gave
him a commission, saying that if he made a handsome poem of it
she would have him paid so well he would have no cause for
complaint, and would have her people pay him. ‘Fear not,’ said
the Lord of Bazentin. ‘I’ll be her pledge, by Saint Martin, for
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Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

whatever she asks of me’. ‘Sire, I count myself already well satisfied. But I certainly won’t refuse your request: You’ll have it
complete, crust and crumb, this very year, I do believe’. Here
ends Le Roman du Hem. And if Sarrasin comes out ahead, he
says it is largely thanks to God.]
The contract shows that Sarrasin’s Roman is conceived from
first to last as a book describing performances of chivalric feats
and the scenes inspired by romance played at the tournament. It
records the names of the parties to the agreement and the book
commission, including the content of the performances to be reported in a handsome style, the promise of payment, and the time
set for completion. Examining each of these elements of record in
turn, this article seeks to explain how Sarrasin conceives his festival book as a report of courtly performances, what models he
adapts for his account, how he envisions his task, his ethical and
social overview of the Le Hem tournament, and, finally, how the
contract itself points to a new relation between poet and patron.
‘...en un petit livre’
Le Roman du Hem is one of the first festival books, that is, a
free-standing composition devoted solely to depiction of the
events and ceremonies of a courtly celebration. While to date,
most scholarship has focused on the later medieval entries and on
printed festival books,7 much remains to be learned about the early examples, which record chivalric performances rather than the
liturgical, municipal, or royal ceremonies described and depicted
in later festival books such as the Coronation Book of Charles V
(London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius B, VIII). I came upon
Le Roman du Hem in my search for accounts of noble and urban
festivities to which I might compare the extended descriptions of
the royal Parisian feste of 1313 in the Chronique métrique of
Paris Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS fr. 146, the famous
Fauvel manuscript, and in other sources.8 However, Sarrasin’s
poem, like Jacques Bretel’s contemporary Tournoi de Chauvency, is not part of a chronicle. Instead, it is conceived as an inde251

Nancy Freeman Regalado

pendent, book-length account of a chivalric tournament. It may be
compared to Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s Frauendienst (1255), but
where Ulrich’s autobiographical narrative recounts extended
jousting tours he made the 1220s and in 1240,9 Sarrasin reports a
single, three-day event. Sarrasin’s narrative is as picturesquely
detailed as those of Ulrich and Jacques Bretel: these three thirteenth-century festival books stand in sharp contrast with the brief
prose accounts of royal entries that begin to appear in fourteenthcentury chronicles and archives.10
For all its apparent historical transparency, the existence of
Le Roman du Hem as a composition written in the vernacular is
not to be taken for granted. Although descriptions of tournaments
abound in romance, it was most unusual to produce an extended
written account in French of an actual chivalric festivity in the
thirteenth century, although these become increasingly common in
fourteenth- and fifteenth-century chronicles.11 Three important
cultural shifts may account for the commissioning of a festival
book to commemorate the courtly performances at Le Hem: the
vogue of writing down works performed in the vernacular; a new
fashion for artistic commemoration of celebratory or ritual events;
and a developing aristocratic taste for vernacular books as deluxe
possessions.12
Le Roman du Hem can be placed first in the context of the
great move towards writing down all sorts of oral, musical, or
dramatic performances in the latter part of the thirteenth century.
This is the period when vernacular songs are being written in the
great chansonniers and scribes are seeking to lay out theatrical
dialogues on their pages.13 Moreover, Le Roman du Hem is
what I call a monument of performance, that is, a commemoration
of a contemporary, theatricalized performance or ritual ceremony
that is fully realized as an artistic composition. Starting about the
middle of the thirteenth century, we find artistic representations
memorializing other contemporary ritual events. A stained glass
window in the Sainte-Chapelle commemorates its consecration in
1248 by depicting the ritual ostention of the Crown of Thorns.
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Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

Montjoies or monumental crosses were built to mark the processional route where Saint Louis’ relics were set down during
their solemn translation from Paris to Saint Denis and similar
crosses were erected to fix in memory the itinerary of the funeral
procession of Queen Eleanor of Castille from Lincoln to London
in 1290. Le Roman du Hem of 1278 does not commemorate any
such royal ritual but a contemporary festivity of far less political
weight. Yet Le Roman du Hem, like the Tournoi de Chauvency,
and the Frauendienst, show that writing, and a written record
commemorating notable festivities, are becoming features of a
lavish courtly style. These deluxe souvenir books are a mark of
social distinction, one of the luxury products of thirteenth-century
courtly culture.14
‘Et la roïne qui la fu / Li commanda...’
The epilogue to Le Roman du Hem stages one scene of that
courtly culture in the charming dialogue between Sarrasin, ‘la roïne’ who commissions Sarrasin’s festival book, and the Lord of
Basentin. ‘La roïne’ is identified only by the fictional role of
“Queen Guinevere”, which she plays throughout the tournament,
and by her family connection: she is the sister of Aubert, Lord of
Longueval, who died with Philip III on the ill-starred Aragonese
crusade in 1286. Aubert co-organized the Le Hem tournament
with his neighbour Huart de Bazentin, whose taste for tournaments took him to Chauvency in 1285. If ‘li sires de Basentin’
gallantly guarantees payment of the commission, it is perhaps a
gesture of courtship, for he apparently married the “Queen”
sometime after 1278. Sarrasin’s Roman points to gendered roles
within the families that sponsored the tournament and its written
record. It is noteworthy that a woman—the “Queen”—is represented as commissioning the festival book (with a male guarantor), for she plays no part in Sarrasin’s detailed account of the
planning of the tournament itself,15 a role apparently reserved for
men. These latter arrangements are represented as a conversation
between Aubert de Longueval and Huart de Bazentin, during
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which they decide to hold a tournament, discuss possible sources
of funding such as mortgaging their lands, and—in consultation
with the allegorical figure of Lady Courtesy—determine in what
terms and places the festive program of jousts and entertainments
was to be proclaimed (ll. 189-471).
The Le Hem tournament attracted participants from the highest
courtly circles of Northern Europe:16 Robert, Count of Artois and
cousin of Philip III, was a notable presence as was Robert, Count
of Clermont, the king’s younger brother, and the Duke of Lorraine. Local interest, however, appears to define the circumstances
in which Sarrasin’s book itself was conceived and circulated: it
highlights the role of the two families ‘de la marce d’Artois’ (from
the border of Artois; l. 192) who organized the tournament and
commissioned the book; many of the names of participants it records, came from nearby localities; and it survives only in Paris,
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1588 (about 1300), where it
was copied in Arras after the collected works of Philippe de
Remi, Sire de Beaumanoir († before 1265).17
‘Sarrasins...’
Unlike Ulrich von Liechtenstein, who is the hero of the chivalric
encounters he relates, the single name ‘Sarrasin’ suggests that the
poet is a professional like his contemporary Rutebeuf or like the
entertainers bearing names such as ‘Trenchefer’, ‘Rungefoie’,
‘Portehote’, ‘Tuterel’, cited in poems by two braggart minstrels.18
However, Le Roman du Hem is based on a skill very different
from that of these two minstrels, who boast of the large repertory
of works they know by heart. Although Sarrasin too shapes his
poem for oral performance by using traditional formulas to address his audience—‘Vous qui cest romant escoutes’ (You who
are listening to this romance; l. 5)—the poet’s achievement depends on his ability to write. Sarrasin, like Jacques Bretel (l.
2107), bases his account of the tournament on his written notes:

254

Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

4216

Jel truis lisant en mon escrit,
Et si l’ai oï tesmoignier,
En lla feste n’ot chevalier
Miex venant que li quens estoit.

[Reading over what I wrote, I find and I have heard witnesses say
that no knight in this feast attacked more boldly than the Count of
Clermont.]
‘...les joustes qu’il vit molt dures’
What Sarrasin most urgently needed to write down was names!
His festival book is intended to serve as a narrative roll of arms,19
for in it he records the full name and/or title of some one hundred
and eighty-nine knights joined in more than a hundred jousts.
This is a considerable feat if we imagine the difficulty of writing
in the turbulent circumstances of an outdoor tournament and of
singling out individuals among the throngs of knights, horses, and
grooms. Sarrasin himself notes how hard it was to follow the
many jousts occurring near and far from the grandstand:

3660

3664

Mout durement en ont prisié
Monsigneur Pieron de Houdenc:
J’oï tesmoignier en un renc,
Qu’il estoit uns des bien joustans;
Mais on ne puet mie tous tans
Estre souvenans de cascun
Amonter ensi un et un
De nuef vins joutes qu’il i ot.

[Many greatly esteemed Monseigneur Pieron de Houdenc: somewhere in the lists, I heard tell that he was one of those who jousted well; but it isn’t possible at every point to remember to praise
each, one by one, in the nine score jousts held there.]
Sarrasin does not seem to have collaborated with a herald as does
Jacques Bretel in the Tournoi de Chauvency, for unlike Jacques,
he rarely blazons the coats of arms of the knights he names.20 Instead of drawing on the technical vocabulary of heraldry, Sarrasin
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celebrates the noble courtesy and prowess of every knight present
by rapidly sketching one joust after another, enlivening each with
notes of praise, touches of elegant banter, a shiver of danger, and
quick action.
2544

2548

2552

2556

2560

Aprés vint li sires de Chanle,
Bien acesmés de biaus adous.
‘Certes, cis est et biaus et dous,’
Dist une dame qui fu haut.
Ses rens fu pres de l’escafaut,
Mout plus que le le jet d’une piere;
Et mesire Jehans de Piere
Part de son renc et mut a li.
Or se tenra bien pour fali
Jehans de Chanle, s’il ne brise.
Quant il ot que dame le prise,
De son rench se part tout huant,
‘Amours! Amours!’ va escriant;
Et ses compains plus n’i demeure.
Trois lances brise en petit d’eure
Jehans de Canle et puis s’en part.
Mesire Nicoles Donchart
Et Jehans de Fenieres muevent;
Nule si fort lance ne truevent

[Next came the Lord of Chanle well outfitted with fine armor.
‘Certainly, this knight is fair and fine,’ said a lady up on high.
His side of the lists was near the grandstand, closer than a stone’s
throw. And Messire Jehan de Piere leaves his place and charges
toward him. Now Jehan de Chanle will think he has failed if he
doesn’t break (a lance). When he hears a lady favours him, he
sets off down his side of the lists shouting: ‘Love! Love!’ he cries
out. And his partner doesn’t dally. Jehan de Chanle breaks three
lances in short order, and then leaves the field. Messire Nicoles
Donchart and Jehan de Fenieres move forward. No stronger
lances can be found.]
‘...s’il en faisoit un bel dit’
In what way does the poet’s reporting satisfy the “Queen”’s
256

Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

request for ‘un bel dit’? Despite the historical cast of characters
peopling Le Roman du Hem, Sarrasin’s representation of the
tournament is idealized throughout: there are no winners or losers
in the jousts, but only glorious demonstrations of chivalric skill.
Sarrasin’s task, expressed by Fortrece, handmaiden to “Queen
Guinevere”, is to ‘leave out the bad’ and to ‘speak well of each’.21
3947

3952

Sarrasin, et je te requier,
Si com tu m’aimes et as chier,
Que tu dies de cascun bien;
Et s’aucuns fait aucune rien
Qui face a taire et a celer,
Tant soit de povre baceler,
Di le bien et si lai le mal.

[Sarrasin, I ask you, since you love and esteem me, that you
speak well of each; and if anyone does anything not worthy to be
spoken of or revealed, even if it’s a poor young knight, say what
was good and leave out the bad.]
The chief value of Sarrasin’s festival book for its patrons and
readers lies in its reflection of glory for the male participants, so
the poet threads the knights’ names he has noted into a gleaming
tapestry of prowess. Only a few strands mark individual effects:
Nevelon de Molains jousts in an angel’s costume (ll. 2630-33);
Enguerran de Bailleul is disguised as a devil (ll. 2262, 2659). At
one point, the shadowy presence of lower-class spectators is
glimpsed. When Monseigneur Flamenc de Mons unhorses his
partner, Bauduin de Saint-Nicolas, in front of the Queen’s grandstand, the rabble—‘li vilain de pute orine’ (l. 2514)—pour into
the lists to get a closer look, pull Flamenc from his horse, and injure his groom. But this incident gives Sarrasin a chance to affirm
class distinctions in chivalric performance and to deliver a lesson
about proper equipment:
Peu ont li vilain gaaignié
Qui l’ont abatu sans raison.
Pour çou vous di ge que nus hom

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2524

Ne doit emprendre tel mestier,
S’il n’est montés sur bon destreier,
C’on est lués de feble abatu.

[The rabble profited little from dragging him down for no reason.
This is why I say that no one should undertake to joust unless
he’s mounted on a good steed, for one can quickly be dragged off
a weak one.]
‘Et si i mist les aventures / Dont vous avés oï de beles /
Des chevaliers et des puceles / Et du Chevalier au Lyon’
Sarrasin displays considerable literary proficiency in producing
his bel dit. He does not adorn his narrative with snatches of
courtly song as does Jacques Bretel in the Tournoi de Chauvency, or insert a collection of his own lyric compositions as does
Ulrich in his Frauendienst. Sarrasin is adept, however, at varying his descriptions of more than one hundred jousts; he handles
the resources of personification allegory easily, introducing the
gracious figure of Lady Courtesy (ll. 274-454). Above all, Sarrasin exploits his knowledge of courtly romance, for he takes Chrétien de Troyes and the tales of the Round Table as the model for
his festival book.
472

478

480

484

258

Sarrazins dist en sa parole
C’un rommant i vaurra estraire,
Selonc çou qu’il en savra faire.
Oï avés des Troïiens
Et du remant que Crestiiens
Trova si bel de Perceval,
Des aventures du Graal,
Ou il a maint mot delitable.
De chiaus de la Rëonde Table
Vous a on mainte fois conté
Qu’il furent de si grant bonté
Et de si grant chevalerie
Qu’en toutes cours doit estre oïe
La prouece et la vertu
Qui fu u vaillant roi Artu
Et es chevaliers de sa court.

Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

488

Or vous pri que cascuns s’atourt
De biaus mos oïr et entendre
Et je dirai, sans plus atendre
De toute le plus bele emprise

[As he speaks, Sarrasin says that he will want to use his knowhow to bring forth a romance (about this feast). You have heard
of the Trojans and of the fine romance that Chrétien made about
Perceval, about the Grail adventures where many words bring
pleasure. You have often heard stories told about those of the
Round Table, that they were very worthy and such great knights
that every court must hear of the prowess and the courage of valiant King Arthur and of the knights of his court. Now I ask that
each make ready to hear and listen to fair words and I will speak,
without more delay about the most wonderful enterprise of all.]
The romance paradigm Sarrasin selects for his own poem complements the design of the Le Hem tournament itself, for the
knights and ladies assembled at Le Hem are depicted throughout
as if they were performers in an Arthurian tale. “Queen Guinevere” presides over the tournament and knights are said to joust in
order to enter her court (ll. 369-408). Romance motifs and characters are highlighted too in the interludes which punctuate the
feast (and Sarrasin’s narrative) and which feature roles for
women in scenes where damsels in distress appeal to “Guinevere”
and her knights or are rescued by ‘The Knight of the Lion’ (played by the guest of honour, Robert d’Artois). When, in turn, Sarrasin invokes Chrétien and Arthur, he appeals to his readers’ familiarity with chivalric literature to cast the glamour of romance
over his idealized representation of the jousts and the interludes
that enlivened these chivalric performances. The romance roles
played by participants, the theatricalized Arthurian interludes, and
Sarrasin’s desire to outdo Chrétien—all speak to the grip of fictional models on the chivalric imagination and on the very practice
of tournaments.22

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‘Qu’ele li paieroit si bien / Qu’il ne s’en plainderoit de
rien / Et feroit a sa gent paiier’
Although Sarrasin’s book is replete with chivalric glories and
courtly festivities, in his book contract, the poet pulls back the
edges of the frame of his festival book to reveal the kind of economic realities that are rarely mentioned in romance. He devotes
half of the lines of his epilogue to the issue of payment for his
festival book. The epilogue of Le Roman du Hem thus complements the overview of tournaments in Sarrasin’s prologue where,
in similar fashion, he mingles an ethical concern for chivalric virtues with practical economic concerns. The poet opens his Roman with a vision of the prowess, largesse, and courtesy inspired by Charles d’Anjou and of the decline of chivalry in France resulting from royal edicts against tournaments that were maintained
by Philip III (ll. 1-116). Sarrasin then turns his gaze in an unexpected direction, speaking of the economic impact of that prohibition on all those who earn their living by tournaments. He points
to the poor knights who, lacking tournaments, have no occasion
to win booty nor to test their strength as future crusaders: ‘On
n’est pas par parole preu’ (Mere words don’t make one brave; l.
163). But Sarrasin speaks also of the craftspeople whose business depends on such festivities: the minstrels, the makers of
equipment, and even the vendors who sell food at tournaments.

120
124

128

Premierement li glougleour
I gaaignoient cascun jour,
Et li hiraut et li lormier,
Li marissal et li selier;
...
‘Tout n’en soient il desfendu!’
Font cil qui vendent les bons vins
Et cil qui vendent les commins
Et les pertris et les plouviers
Toutes gens qui sont de mestiers
Dient: ‘Amen, que Dix l’octroit!’

[First the minstrels used to profit from each occasion and the
260

Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

heralds, and makers of spurs; and blacksmiths and saddle makers
... ‘Let them not be prohibited!’ say those who sell good wines
and those who sell rabbits and partridges and plovers; all those
who practice crafts say: ‘Amen! May God grant it!’]
In his prologue, Sarrasin sets out the ideal relation of noble patrons to craftspeople in a tournament setting: it is an encounter
where rewards are based on products, profits and sales rather
than on prowess and love. His epilogue supplies a scene that exemplifies that relation. The work of making a book is presented as
a commercial transaction in which the “Queen” will get ‘a handsome poem’ and Sarrasin will ‘come out ahead’.
The notion of payment highlighted in the book contract points
to a new relation between patron and poet, which no longer appears governed by the ethical principle of largesse or the personal
obligations of salaried service in a patron’s household. In the
“begging” poems of Sarrasin’s contemporary Rutebeuf, patrons
are invited to display the courtly virtue of liberality towards a poet
who exhibits his poverty.23 In Cleomadés (1285), Adenet le Roi
expresses gratitude for protection, hallmark of this minstrel’s service in the courts of Brabant, Flanders, and France and the patronage of Robert d’Artois.24 But in the book contract of Le Roman du Hem, Sarrasin enters into a very different contractual relationship, defined by the material values attributed to product and
payment.25 Largesse, service, and payment all involve expenditure for a patron, but Sarrasin’s book contract marks a shift in the
basis of cultural value earned by expenditure and in the grounds
for the patron’s sense of self-worth—from magnanimity towards
magnificence. The spectacle of lavish spending is reinforced by a
display of costly products purchased; and the social prestige the
sponsors earned by staging the tournament is prolonged by their
commissioning and ownership of the festival book.

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‘Que vous arés et crouste et mie / Je pens et croi encore
auwen’
The poet’s status too is altered in Sarrasin’s contract. The poet
does not represent himself receiving any largesse nor does he appear to be bound by longstanding personal ties of service to his
patrons. Moreover, he does not show himself as a familiar companion of many noble guests and other poets at the tournament as
does Jacques Bretel.26 Sarrasin depicts only two personal interactions with tournament participants, and both concern his book:
Fortrece’s injunction to speak well of all (cited above) and Sarrasin’s response to the “Queen” in the epilogue. The poet presents
himself as a hired craftsman, a journeyman, who is paid not according to his need or as a retainer in a sumptuous court, but for a
commodity, the book completed, “crust and crumb”. Sarrasin’s
contract may be seen as one of the signs of increasing awareness
of the professional status of poets and minstrels who were incorporated in 1321 into a guild in Paris that regulated conditions of
employment.27
Sarrasin’s engagement as poet and writer appears limited to a
specific job: he contracts to finish his book ‘encore auwen’ (this
very year). This term is dictated by the nature of his book, for,
unlike the timeless tales of romance, the festival book is of necessity a time-bound, occasional piece, created to report real performances and intended for particular readers and hearers. Sarrasin must record the names of those present at the Le Hem tournament soon enough so that participants may read about themselves,
finding glorious reminiscences of their fine performances.
The book contract in the epilogue thus frames Sarrasin’s Roman as an artistic achievement and also as a material product reflecting a new set of values in a courtly economy. It reveals the
continuing chivalric aspirations and imagination of the courtly
world, but it also represents a poet well satisfied with payment for
a new kind of artifact, a festival book in which courtly performances could be represented, preserved, and relived in writing.
262

Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

Notes
1

2

3

4

5

6
7

See Sarrasin, Le Roman du Hem, (ed.) Albert Henry, Paris, 1939 [Travaux de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l’Université de Bruxelles,
9]. Susan Muterspaugh’s survey of French romance prologues and epilogues shows that although many speak of a poet’s desire to please a patron, the presence of an explicit contract is exceptional; at most, one may
compare Wace’s expression of gratitude for support by Henry II, who
gave him ‘une provende / E meinte autre dun’ [a prebend and many other
gifts]. See Le Roman de Rou, ll. 174-755, cited in Susan D. Muterspaugh, “The Prologue in Medieval French Epic and Romance”, Diss.
New York University, 1994, p. 118.
See Jacques Bretel, Le Tournoi de Chauvency, (ed.) Maurice Delbouille,
Liège, 1932 [Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de
l’Université de Liège, 49]. See also Juliet Vale, ‘The Late ThirteenthCentury Precedent: Chauvency, Le Hem, and Edward I’, in: Idem, Edward III and Chivalry: Chivalric Society and its Context 1270-1350,
Woodbridge, 1982, pp. 4-24 and Appendices 1-9, and Nancy Freeman
Regalado, ‘Picturing the Story of Chivalry in Jacques Bretel’s Tournoi
de Chauvency (Oxford, Bodleian MS Douce 308)’, in: Susan L’Engle &
Gerald B. Guest (eds.), Tributes to Jonathan J. G. Alexander: Making
and Meaning in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, London, 2006.
At least three knights attending the Le Hem tournament—Huart de Bazentin, Pierre de Bauffremont, and Waleran de Luxembourg—are also
named among the knights present at Chauvency. In his edition of the
Roman, Albert Henry offers historical information on all known participants at Le Hem. Vale, ‘The Late Thirteenth-Century Precedent’, adds information about the genealogy and provenance of participants, and the
role of the English at Le Hem.
See Roger Sherman Loomis, ‘Chivalric and Dramatic Imitations of Arthurian Romance’, in: William R. W. Koehler (ed.), Medieval Studies in
Memory of A. Kingsley Porter, Cambridge, Mass., 1939, pp. 79-97.
See Nancy Freeman Regalado, ‘Performing Romance: Arthurian Interludes in Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem (1278)’, in: Evelyn Birge Vitz,
Nancy Freeman Regalado & Marilyn Lawrence (eds.), Performing Medieval Narrative, Woodbridge, 2005, pp. 103-19.
Translations of Sarrasin’s Roman are mine.
See Gordon Kipling, Enter the King: Theatre, Liturgy, and Ritual in the
Medieval Civic Triumph, Oxford, 1998; and Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly
& Anne Simon, Festivals and Ceremonies: A Bibliography of Works
Relating to Court, Civic, and Religious Festivals in Europe 1500-1800,
London, 2000. I thank Samuel Kinser, Gordon Kipling, and Margaret
Pappano for personal e-mail communications concerning bibliography on

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Nancy Freeman Regalado

8

9

10

11

12
13

manuscript festival books.
See Elizabeth A. R. Brown & Nancy Freeman Regalado, ‘La Grant
Feste: The Account of the 1313 Celebration of the Knighting of the
Three Sons of Philip the Fair in the Chronique métrique in BN Ms Fr.
146’, in: Barbara Hanawalt & Kay Reyerson (eds.), City and Spectacle
in Medieval Europe, Minneapolis, 1994, pp. 56-86 [Medieval Studies
at Minnesota, 6]; and Nancy Freeman Regalado, ‘The Chronique
métrique and the Moral Design of Paris, BNF, MS Fr. 146: Feasts of
Good and Evil’, in: Margaret Bent & Andrew Wathey (eds.), Fauvel
Studies: Allegory, Chronicle, Music, and Image in Paris, Bibliothèque
Nationale de France, MS français 146, Oxford, 1998, pp. 467-94.
I am grateful to Carola Dwyer for summarizing and translating stanzas
from the section of the Frauendienst where Ulrich undertakes a jousting
journey in 1240 in the character of King Arthur. See Ulrich von Liechtenstein, Frauendienst, (ed.) Franz Viktor Spechtler, Göppingen, 1987
[Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, 485], pp. 300-35, stanzas 14011604. For a translation of that portion of Ulrich’s journey where he
jousted costumed as Lady Venus, see Ulrich von Liechtenstein, Service
of Ladies, (trans.) J. W. Thomas, Chapel Hill, 1969 [Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, 64].
Thirteenth-century records of royal entries in Paris run between 2 and 111
lines in Bernard Guenée & Françoise Lehoux (eds.), Les Entrées royales
françaises de 1328 à 1515, Paris, 1968 [Sources d’Histoire Médiévale,
5], pp. 47-58. The 532-verse description of the royal Parisian celebration
in the Chronique métrique is exceptional. See Brown and Regalado, ‘La
Grant Feste’; and Regalado, ‘The Chronique métrique and the Moral
Design of Paris’, pp. 476-78. Not until the fifteenth century do chronicle
and archival accounts of royal entries begin to include extended descriptions of processional order, theatrical tableaux, costumes, speeches, and
ritual ceremonies and to appear as independent compositions (and in
printed souvenir books) such as Pinel’s versified account of Charles
VIII’s entry into Rouen in 1485. See Guenée and Lehoux (eds.), Les
Entrées royales françaises, pp. 241-65; and Kipling, Enter the King,
pp. 226-34.
See Michelle-Noelle Magallanez, “Mirrors of Glory: Spectacles of Chivalry and Aristocratic Identity in Fifteenth-Century Burgundian Romance,
Chronicle, and Chivalric Biography”, Diss. New York University, 2001.
Malcolm Vale, The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in
North-West Europe, 1270-1380, Oxford, 2001, pp. 278-79.
Carol Symes, ‘The Appearance of Early Vernacular Plays: Forms, Functions, and the Future of Medieval Theater’, Speculum 77 (2002), pp.

264

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14

15

16
17

18

19

20

778-831, and Idem, ‘The Boy and the Blind Man: A Medieval Play Script
and its Editors’, in: Siân Echard & Stephen B. Partridge (eds.), The
Book Unbound: Editing and Reading Medieval Books and Texts, Toronto, 2004, pp. 105-43.
See Georges Duby, ‘The Culture of the Knightly Class: Audience and
Patronage’, in: Robert L. Benson, Giles Constable & Carol D. Lanham
(eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge,
Mass., 1982, pp. 248-62; and “Luxury, Display, and the Arts” (in Chapter 5, “Court Life and Court Culture”), Vale, The Princely Court, pp.
165-70.
D. H. Green, Medieval Listening and Reading: The Primary Reception
of German Literature, 800-300, Cambridge, 1994, p. 296, comments
on ‘the appeal of court literature to the interests of women’.
Vale, ‘The Late Thirteenth-Century Precedent’.
On Philippe de Beaumanoir père and fils as readers of romance, see
Elspeth Kennedy, ‘The Knight as Reader of Arthurian Romance’, in:
Martin B. Shichtman & James P. Carley (eds.), Culture and the King:
The Social Implications of the Arthurian Legend. Essays in Honor of
Valerie M. Lagorio, Albany, 1994 [SUNY Series in Medieval Studies],
pp. 70-90, esp. pp. 70-83. In his ‘History of BNF fr. 1588’ (pp. 42-68),
Roger Middleton traces connections between Philippe de Beaumanoir and
possible owners of the exemplar of Le Roman du Hem. See Philippe de
Remi, Le Roman de la manekine; edited from Paris BNF fr. 1588,
(trans.) Barbara N. Sargent-Baur with contributions by Alison Stones &
Roger Middleton, Amsterdam, 1999 [Faux Titre, 159]. On the milieu in
which BNF Fr. 1588 was produced and its subsequent history, see also
Keith Busby, Codex and Context: Reading Old French Verse Narrative
in Manuscript, 2 vols., Amsterdam, 2002 [Faux Titre, 221-222], vol.
II, pp. 518-23 and 798-804.
See ‘Les deux bourdeurs ribauds’, in: Edmond Faral (ed.), Mimes français du XIIIe siècle, Paris, 1910, pp. 93-105, esp. the names listed on p.
98, ll. 138-47, and p. 103, ll. 92-106.
See Vale, ‘The Late Thirteenth-Century Precedent’, pp. 22-23. A specifically heraldic genre which begins to appear in the thirteenth century, rolls
of arms are lists of blazons or rows of painted coats of arms of knights;
some list those present at a particular event, and may take a narrative
form, such as the Siege of Caerlaverock, a rhymed account in French of
Edward I’s expedition to Scotland in July 1300. See T. Wright (ed. and
trans.), The Roll of Arms of the Princes, Barons and Knights who Attended King Edward I to the Siege of Caerlaverock, London, 1864.
The only real coats of arms mentioned are those of Huart de Bazentin (ll.
4043 and 4083) and Wautier de Hardecourt (ll. 3090-93). The arms of the

265

Nancy Freeman Regalado

21

22

23

24

25

26
27

Lord of the Castel du Bois (l. 1124) are perhaps imaginary; those which
the Knight of the Lion blazons for a squire—‘unes armes d’or ai, / A coquefabues vermeilles’ (ll. 1072-73)—seem to be a comic disguise. See
Sarrasin, Le Roman du Hem, (ed.) Henry, p. xxxv.
Jacques Bretel declares the same intention in his Tournoi de Chauvency:
‘Donc doit on bien des bons bien dire / Que miex en valent, et li pire /
Aucunne fois i prenent garde’ (One must speak well of the good to increase their worth and so that the worst can learn from their example);
Jacques Bretel, Le Tournoi de Chauvency, (ed.) Delbouille, ll. 743-45.
See Larry D. Benson, ‘The Tournament in the Romances of Chrétien de
Troyes & L’Histoire de Guillaume Le Maréchal’, in: Larry D. Benson &
John Leyerle (eds.), Chivalric Literature: Essays on Relations between
Literature and Life in the Later Middle Ages, Toronto, 1980, pp. 1-24;
Richard Kaeuper, ‘The Societal Role of Chivalry in Romance’, in: Roberta L. Krueger (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 97-114; and Kennedy, ‘The Knight as
Reader’.
“La pauvreté de Rutebuef” (1277), in: Rutebeuf, Oeuvres complètes, 2
vols., (ed. and trans.) Michel Zink, Paris, 1989-90, vol. II, pp. 969-73.
In “Le dit d’Aristote” Rutebeuf says that gracious giving is worth more
than any gift (‘Au doneir done en teil meniere / Que miex vaille la bele
chiere / Que feras, au doneir le don, / Que li dons, car ce fait preudom’
(ibid., pp. 956-61, ll. 63-66). But in “De Brichemer”, the poet complains he has not received a promised payment (ibid., pp. 950-53). On
begging and payment to poets, see Nancy Freeman Regalado, Poetic
Patterns in Rutebeuf: A Study in Non-Courtly Poetic Modes of the
Thirteenth Century, New Haven, 1970, pp. 284-85.
See Albert Henry (ed.), Les Oeuvres d’Adenet le Roi, tome V: Cleomadés, Bruxelles, 1971 [Travaux de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres, 46], ll. 18587-698.
Compare the contract between Mahaut d’Artois and the painter Pierre de
Brossielles for a wall painting depicting the deeds of her father, Robert
d’Artois (cited by Vale, The Princely Court, pp. 280-81). A contract for
payment for a product is different from the contracts stipulating an annual
compensation for service by knights in the households of the great lords
of Northern Europe, which could include repayment of the considerable
expenses incurred in service at tournaments (Vale, The Princely Court,
pp. 186-92).
Regalado, ‘Picturing the Story of Chivalry’.
Edmond Faral, Les Jongleurs en France au Moyen Age, Paris, 1911 [2nd
ed. 1964], pp. 128-42, Carol Symes, “The Makings of a Medieval Stage:

266

Sarrasin’s Le Roman du Hem

Theatre and Culture of Performance in Thirteenth-Century Arras”, Diss.
Harvard University, p. 364, and Christopher Page, ‘Minstrels in Paris c.
1300: Rules and Repertoire’, in: Idem, The Owl and the Nightingale:
Musical Life and Ideas in France, 1100-1300, London, 1989, pp. 61-80.
Other signs of professional status include Guiraut Riquier’s appeal in the
1270s to Alfonso the Wise to establish a hierarchy of value privileging
singers of courtly lyric over mere buffoons. See Joseph Lindskill (ed.),
Les Epîtres de Guiraut Riquier, Liège, 1985, pp. 167-245; see also
Kathryn A. Duys, ‘Captenh: Jongleurs et hiérarchie professionnelle’,
Cahiers de littérature orale 36 (1994), pp. 65-90, and the careful recording of cash payments of largesse to the minstrels of the royal and aristocratic households who performed at the Feast of the Swans in 1306. See
Constance Bullock-Davies, Menestrellorum multitudo: Minstrels at a
Royal Feast, Cardiff, 1978.

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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage:
Morris Dancing, Mimed Moors, and Nascent Rituals
in Fletcher and Shakespeare*

William E. Engel
My previous work on verbal quibbles and visual puns signaling
eruptions of our mortality has turned up a number of references
that link Death to the figure of a blackamoor.1 The visual counterpart to calling Death the “black man”,2 which incidentally offers a
glimpse into the workings of the Renaissance allegorical imagination, is a dark and puissant figure, but one implicitly in the service
of a greater sovereign—as can be seen in the Kalendrier des
Bergers (Figure 1).3 Accordingly, he was at times associated
with being a herald; more specifically, a moor. Death, like his
harbinger, often was depicted—especially in the danse macabre—as being an alien among us; as something, or rather someone, foreign and sovereign (Figure 2). Indeed there are instances
when this recurring character of the Dance of Death, a spry cadaver visiting people of all stations leading them away from this
life, is depicted as a Turk or Moor, as in the panel from the
Luzern Totentanz, and in this case with a most arresting unMoorish white-face (Figure 3).4 Still there is no mistaking that the
infidel here is the agent of Death; at once an historical reality for
many in central Europe at the time and also intended as a symbolic
reminder, a stark memento mori, of the fragility and transience of
life. This image therefore, along with the others in the series,
takes on added significance given its program and specific location for those who crossed this bridge leading to and from the
Market Square in the commerce of daily life.5

William E. Engel

Figure 1
“Moor with Horn and Dart”, [Guy Marchant], Kalendrier des Bergers (1493),
sig. K3v. Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library.

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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Such easy commerce between
the fact and symbol, signaling the
concrete embodiment of abstract
themes, like the fluid slips of
thought that are registered between
the sonic and visual in what I am
about to discuss, at times marked
and at times crossed, and at times
melded, zones of tension and social
anxieties associated with recognitions—and misrecognitions—of cultural difference.6 Thus through fairly typical displays of displacement
and transference, the malaise traditionally felt about Death get imposed onto the Moor, and vice versa.
By the same token, the sense of
sexual abandon associated with
dark strangers, initially ascribed to
Death and the Devil represented as
stalking and seducing us, is sublimated and played out, as we shall
see in what follows, through boys
cross-dressed variously as girls
(Maid Marians, also called “may
Figure 2
‘The Foole’, John Daye, The
marrions”) and as Moors (also callBooke of Christian Prayers,
ed “Moorens”). But this sonic and
London, 1578, sig. Gg3v.
symbolic overlapping and crossing
of terms and characters is only half of the story I would tell in this
essay. The other part, with which this study will conclude, brings
us back to Death; but it is a strange, unlooked for, appearance of
Death, where his power is expressed all the more forcefully because of his recognized absence. For it is what we cannot see,
what we cannot fix a label on, that makes for the kind of eruption
of mortality being tracked in this study. And it is theatre that
271

William E. Engel

brings it back to us doubled, as it were mimetically and symbolically, and it does so with a vengeance. Let us see how this comes
to pass.
In Elizabethan England blacks in general were known as
“moors”. 7 This term was voiced phonetically the same as the
name given to the character of Death, mors (Figure 4).8 The likesounding term “morris”—also rendered “morisse”, “moreys”,
“moris”, and “mourice”—described a traditional festive entertainment, which, although spelled in a variety of ways that linked it to
putative Moorish origins, all ‘capture the same underlying phonetic idea’.9 In records of the day this can lead to confusion as to
whether a blackamoor or a morris dancer was intended in an entertainment.10 So too, the term used for blackamoors in Elizabethan England, “moriens”, was the same as that used for the dying
person, ‘Moriens’, in conventional Ars moriendi treatises, on
“The Art of Dying Well”.11 Such homophones and what they signify, keep in play, and yet, by virtue of their very presence, undermine familiar mechanisms and conventions of representation.12
“Mors” and “Moriens”, like this visual display of morts, as such
images of the dead summoning people from their affairs of the
world were called in the French texts, quite literally served a mortifying function (Figure 5).13 Among the other phrases that attest
to the persistence of this foreign term, mort, in English, is as a
verb meaning to kill. In the printed version of the York Plays,
Cayaphus tells Pilate what they should do with Jesus: ‘Sir, to
mort hym for mouyng menne’.14 And a little farther North, in
Scotland, the term “tramort” indicated a newly dead person. It
shows up Dunbar’s poem “Of Manis Mortalitie” appropriately
enough: ‘Thocht now thow be maist glaid of cheir, / Fairest and
plesandest of port, / Yit may thow be, within ane yeir, / Ane ugsum, uglye tramort’.15 The final “t” in ‘Thocht’ [though] would
not have been voiced, and neither would it have been in “tramort”
[dead body], thus making it recall the word “moor”, which, like
this corpse figure (mort), was recognized by its darkened skin.16
For in his “Dance of the Sevin Deidly Synnis”, the stanza where
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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Lechery, who looks a lot like Death (‘that lathly cors’) and is led
by Idleness, is accompanied by ‘ane ugly sort, / And mony stynkand fowll tramort, / That had in sun bene deid’.17 From the
dancing of the deadly sins to that of the dead is a short step in the
allegorical imagination.
And so, although it is difficult to prove for certain, the morris
may well be connected to the Dance of the Dead by way of earlier
fertility rites.18 It is possible that through ritual and festive practices the morris was linked to morts, connections that were preserved through resonant cultural memories and aural echoes.19
This essay isolates and sorts out just such accidents of language
and related slips of thought that impinged on early modern cultural designs, and is guided in this endeavour by Cassirer’s view
‘that symbolism is rooted in the phenomenon of expression situated language within a larger rhetorical and social context: gesture
and ritual action’.20
To get some theoretical bearings as to how visible expressions
were the basis of such cultural designs, let us begin by sampling
some representative displays of the kind of visual cunning that
typically drew on and extended the boundaries of verbal ingenuity. An emblem in Alciato’s celebrated collection sets up an uncanny situation in which there is confusion of characters and concepts, when Amore and Morte get their iconographic lines crossed
(Figure 6; compare with Whitney’s English version, Figure 3).21
One day Death and Love, not noticing the other, fell asleep behind
a tree; each woke up and grabbed the other’s arrows in error;
young people started dying and old ones fell in love. Although
this emblem was meant to be humorous in the service of evincing
a definite moral point, it also indicates the high price that is paid
when symbolic attributes are mixed up and crossed. We are left
with a residual sense of malaise concerning the always possible
(and, as depicted in this emblem, potentially fatal) instability of
conventional signs to convey their proper meanings, and thus the
faulty means by which meaning itself is produced in the world.

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William E. Engel

Figure 3
‘Der Ritter’ [Death Takes the Knight]; reprinted with permission from Heinz
Horat, ‘Katalog der Brückenbilder’, in: Josef Brülisauer & Claudia Hermann
(eds.), Die Spreuerbrücke in Luzern: Ein barocker Totentanz von
europäischer Bedeutung, Luzern, 1996, p. 183 [panel 21].

274

Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Figure 4
Geffrey Whitney, ‘De morte, & amore: Iocosum’,
in: Idem, A Choice of Emblemes, London, 1586, p. 132.

275

William E. Engel

Figure 5
“Death Visits the Printing House”, La grôt danse macabre, Lyons, 1499;
reproduced from A. W. Pollard, Early Illustrated Books, London, 1893, p.
164.

Figure 6
‘De Morte et Amore’, Andrea Alciato, Emblemata Liber (1531), sig. D3v.
Photo courtesy of the Henry E. Hunting Library, San Marino, California.

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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Judith Dundas has commented on this emblem that the same
sort of crossing of sound and sense at play here has a long history
in the Romance languages.22 Indeed, as Margaret Ferguson, observed, there is ‘only the slightest difference in pronunciation between the French “la mort” and “l’amour”; and the Latin “amor”’
overlaps sonically with mors.23 And in Italian, the recognizable
verbal play on “moor” afforded Leonardo da Vinci ample opportunity to craft a witty plea to Il Moro, the name by which Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, was known: ‘O moro, io moro se
con tua moralita non mi amori tanto il vivere m’é amoro” [O
Moro, I shall die if with your goodness you will not love me, so
bitter will my existence be).24 Also, a contemporary allegorical illustration, in the form of an elaborate impresa for the Sforziada,
extended the senses of the word ‘moro’, implying both mulberry
and moor, merging them in a single device to express how Lodovico shelters and protects.25 Randle Cotgrave reported to English
readers details of the ‘cognisance’ referring to ‘Francis Sforce the
last absolute Duke of Milan (surnamed the Moore, because of his
swart complexion, and the most craftie Prince of his time)’.26
Significantly, this reference is delivered as a gloss on the French
term Il a esté pris comme le more with the explanatory definition:
‘His cunning is discovered; or he hath cousened himself in
thinking to cousen others; he is caught in the snare he layed for
another’. And since the discovery of one’s cunning is the implicit,
or tacit, aim of such a blending of the verbal and the visual
through such conceits, we can go on to say, by way of a metacommentary, that mors ‘a esté pris comme le more’. This is in
keeping with the notion prevalent in Christian Europe that Death
will be cozened in the end; ‘Death thou shalt die’ in Donne’s famous formulation of the theme. This allegorical irony is reflected
as well in the popular motto sometimes used as an epitaph: ‘Mors
Christi mors mortis mihi’ [Christ’s death is to me the death of
Death].
The tacit play of this phonetic field of signification moved off
in other directions as well, especially as regards heraldry. At least
277

William E. Engel

one member of the “Moore” family, according to the rules of usage sanctioned by the Herald of Arms, was represented by a
“canted” visual pun on a Moor’s head.27 Although more common
in Northern Europe, there are examples of an Italian family’s use
of the moor’s head where it had nothing to do with any ancestor’s
honourable engagement with the Turk, or even with the Saracens
in the Holy Land.28 As is evident, then, orthography was far from
stable where the spelling of “moors” and “morris” was concerned. In fact, the family name “Morse”, which some later branches
spelled “Morris”, derives from the ancient line of “de Mors”, and
which after the Conquest was shortened to “Mors”.29 With such
slips of thought in mind, conditioned by verbal as well as visual
cues, we can begin to understand how they come to mean more
than originally was intended and expected.
In 1620 three of King James’s sergeants-at-arms obtained a license to build a large amphitheater.30 Insofar as these entrepreneurs sought to turn a profit, they proposed including a great variety of exhibitions and entertainments that would appeal to a
broad spectrum of people in London. Not unlike our modern day
municipal auditoriums and civic-centre arenas, which at various
times house ice follies, wrestling matches, garden shows, gun
exhibitions, monster-truck demolition and tractor-pulls, the proposed amphitheater was to have had ‘all manner of Armes, and
Weapons for Foote, faire and richly armed’, ‘wrestling two or
three against one’, ‘Straunge and vnvsuall Padgeantes with very
admirable and rare Inventions’, ‘The nymble Niades in their
proper natures, and delightfull pleasures, in and about ye Springes, Fountaines, and Waters’, as well as ‘Masques of very Exquisite and Curious Inuentions with the best Dauncers that can be,
Mummeries allso, and Moriskors’. The Moriskors presumably
were to have been the best that can be as well. And to play the
amphitheatre, they would have to choreograph the act and perhaps
shake some of the hayseed out of it—or else, in a self-conscious
gesture back to its putative origins, put in more. By virtue of its
being presented at this urban venue, the domesticated morris un278

Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

avoidably contained an element of satire, if not self-parody; it became an art form doubled, or at least folded over on itself. The
same sort of cultural dislocation and recontextualization can be
seen in our own age when operas call for “traditional” country
dances, as in Smetana’s Bartered Bride or Floyd’s Susannah.
At nearly the same time the amphitheatre’s plans were approved, John Fletcher admonished that morris dances need not be
staged in plays having ‘representations of shepherds and shepherdesses’.31 The preface to his Faithful Shepherdess, printed
after the play apparently flopped, instructs his readers in the decorum of this pastoral tragi-comedy, telling them not to expect
‘Whitsun-ales, cream, wassail, and morris dances’.32 The author’s
attention to, and his need to justify the absence of, morris dancing
in a city-play about pastoral folk again comes back to the ticketbuying public’s expectations about Moriskors for them to be
recognizable as such.
The title-page to Will Kemp’s self-aggrandizing Nine Days
Wonder (1600), an account of his antics on the road from London to Norwich, gives the key elements usually associated with a
typical morris dancer: accompanied by a drummer with a fife, he
wears bells on his legs, ribbons on his arms, and has floral designs on his smock (Figure 7). But is this to be taken for what a
Moriskor really looked like, or rather what Kemp and his backers
thought prospective pamphlet purchasers wanted to see? Can this
be taken to represent what he actually wore? Or were Moriskors
more like these nine common-folk making up a ‘nine-man morris’, a low, pastoral, ‘drollery’, corresponding in kind to the more
elevated nine muses represented dancing in a ring (Figure 8)?
Whatever morris dances looked like—which, no doubt, varied
venue to venue, whether at court or in a rural May Day festival—,
and whatever the dancers did to be considered Moriskors, they
were what entrepreneurs thought would lend variety and luster to
an amphitheatre. And so let us keep these issues in the air for now
so that, in the end, we might catch ourselves discovering how it is
that such artifice can open up a space from within which theatre
279

William E. Engel

sets up, and reflects on, its own truth—which is, I will argue,
double. For now, though, let us continue noting how morris
dancers figured into the visual and aural imagination, and how
they came to be linked symbolically to confusion and, ultimately,
to death.
Shakespeare’s 2 Henry VI gives us precisely these bearings.
York reflects on Cade who he has enlisted to make commotion
under the title John Mortimer, whose very cognomen contains the
word of death, mort. Cade is likened to a morris dancer, but the
implication is more of a savage dark warrior; furthermore, lurking
within this comparison is the rampant figure of Death himself
with his deadly dart: ‘I have seen / Him caper upright like a wild
Morisco, / Shaking the bloody darts as he his bells’.33 So too
William Dunbar’s poem “Of Ane Blak-Moir” brings together the
themes of wondrous strange festivities (morris), aliens among us
(moors), and the prospect of death (mort) whether on the point of
a lance or in the arms of a woman.34 This is a sly satire on the
“beauty” of a blackamoor (the refrain being: ‘My ladye with the
meckle lippis’) in the Scottish court around 1506. She was the focus of a costly spectacle, as it was reported: ‘the justing of the
wild knycht for the blak lady’.35 And in Myles Coverdale’s The
Old Faith (1547), we find: ‘But alas and Woe to this unthankful
world! if any play a wise man’s part, and do as he is warned by
God’s word, he shall have a sort of apish people, a number of
dizzards and scornful mockers, which, because the man will not
dance in the devil’s morrice with them ... laugh him to scorn, and
blear out their tongues at him’.36 The late nineteenth-century facsimile of this text, which does not offer much in the way of footnotes, found it necessary to gloss this passage: ‘The morrice or
moorish dance is said to have been first brought into England in
Edward the Third’s time’. Owing to the ease with which these
terms are collapsed and the moorish origins accepted, we need to
sample this morris matter further. In the meantime, find a place in
the theatre of your memory for the grotesque image of the Devil’s
morris hoofed with apish people blearing out their tongues.
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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Figure 7
Alexander Dyce (ed.), Kempes Nine Daies Wonder, (1600), Title-page,
[rpt. London, 1840]. Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library.

281

William E. Engel

Figure 8
I[ohn] C[otgrave], Wits Interpreter, London, 1655, frontispiece.
Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library.

282

Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Figure 9
“Death Leads a Fool”, Les Images de la Mort, Lyon, 1547, sig. C8.
Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library.

283

William E. Engel

Figure 10
‘Der Tanz der Toten’; reprinted with permission from Heinz Horat, ‘Katalog
der Brückenbilder’, in: Josef Brülisauer & Claudia Hermann (eds.), Die
Spreuerbrücke in Luzern: Ein barocker Totentanz von europäischer
Bedeutung, Luzern, 1996, p. 133 [panel 1].

284

Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

Figure 11
‘Der Bote’ [The Messenger Overtaken by Death]; reprinted with permission
from Heinz Horat, ‘Katalog der Brückenbilder’, in: Josef Brülisauer & Claudia
Hermann (eds.), Die Spreuerbrücke in Luzern: Ein barocker Totentanz von
europäischer Bedeutung, Luzern, 1996, p. 255.

285

William E. Engel

Dance historian Cecil Sharp rejected the received derivation of
“morris” from “moorish”: ‘To our forefathers, for whom the typical black man was the Moor ... the natural equivalent would have
been a “Moorish” or “Morris” dance’.37 And E. K. Chambers alleged ‘the faces [of morris dancers] were not blackened because
the dancers represented Moors, but rather the dancers were
thought to represent Moors because their faces were blackened’.38
Visual corroboration of this claim about blackened faces, at least
where stage performances were concerned, can be found in the
now celebrated sketch of Aaron the Moor from a contemporary
production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, most probably
by Henry Peacham.39 And while recent scholarship on Jonson’s
Masque of Blackness (1605) has brought attention to court-ladies
including the queen making themselves dark,40 this does not tell
us anything about the more mundane Moriskors or even dancers
striving to “be” moors, whether in an antimasque or a morris
dance.
The problem is thorny because, as is the case with ephemeral,
non-verbal social practices, especially those of rural origins, we
must rely on written accounts which are several levels removed
from the phenomenon they seek to document and preserve.41
Still, though, we have access to the textual residue of accreted
fancies concerning this entertainment of uncertain origins which
flourished in England after the War of the Roses, or at least that
was when it begins to be documented. For example, Blount’s
Ancient Tenures records that in Oxfordshire ‘the Custome was,
that on Monday after Whitson week’, there was a festival where
ladies, with hands tied behind their backs, chased after the lamb
until one took hold of it with her mouth, thereby becoming the
Lady of the Lamb; it was ‘attended with Music and a Morisco
Dance of Men’, and another of Women, ‘the rest of the day spent
in dancing, mirth, and merry glee’.42 Aside from this rustic
‘Lamb-Ale’, which calls for ‘Morisco’ dancers—whatever that
might have entailed—, Blount elsewhere goes on to define Morisco first as ‘a Moor’ and then adds that it is ‘also a Dance so call286

Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

ed, wherein there were usually five men, and a boy dressed in a
Girles habit, whom they call the Maid Marrian or perhaps Morian,
from the Italian Morion a Head-peece, because her head was
wont to be gaily trimmed up. The common people call it a Morris
Dance’.43 Before proceeding, and to keep the phonetic play of
these terms in mind, it is worth noting in passing that the word
‘Morian’, as used to describe a dancer in a morris, also at the time
was used to define ‘More’, meaning ‘A Moore ... Blackamore’.44
But let us track the term as Blount gives it to us: ‘moor’,
‘marrian’, ‘morian’, ‘morion’, ‘morris’. The Maid Marian (also
spelled ‘Marion’) part is easy to understand.45 English folk festivals and rustic entertainments often centred on the geste of Robin
Hood. In 1612 Warner records a poem that wistfully looks back
to a simpler time: ‘At Paske begun our Morrise, and ere Penticoste our May, / Tho Robin Hood, liell Iohn, Frier Tuck and Marian deftly play’.46 The morian, or head-piece, is easy to understand as well, in that girlonds were required for this ‘morian
dance’. As for the boy in a girl’s habit, suffice it to say there was
a long, and persistent, tradition of this practice in Renaissance
England.47 While much can be, and has been, surmised from this
about sexual conventions and anxieties of the day,48 for our present purposes I would have us direct attention toward another kind
of cross-dressing at work here, one which crosses not gender but
racial and cultural boundaries—in the form of a boy dressed as a
moor.
In Arbeau’s Orchesographie (1588), under the heading of
‘Morisques’, he mentions that: ‘In my young days, at supper-time
in good society, I have seen a daubed and blackened little boy his
forehead bound with a white or yellow scarf, who, with bells on
his legs, danced the Morisques’.49 Acting the part of a foreigner,
in this wild jog-trot dance, with bells and scarves, we can see a
fantasmatic movement away from, while remaining securely
within, Christian Europe. A passage in Marston’s Malcontent
(1604), makes even more clear the mixing of cultural and bodily
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William E. Engel

anxieties that, within the frame of the entertainment, were played
out and, to some extent, exorcized. The deposed and disguised
Malevole, in his antic melancholy, releases a torrent of double entendres including: ‘Here’s a knight of the land of Catito shall play
at trap with any page in Europe, do the sword-dance with any
morris-dancer in Christendom’.50 Of the many things that could
be said about this passage, it is enough to remark only that the
morris alluded to was not done by moors, but used in a string of
references to conjure images of easy morals and impropriety that
cut across the line of decorous social conduct and sexual behaviour.
This potentially unsettling and dangerous crossing of social,
sexual, and iconographic lines of signification, is performed and
laughed off the stage, among other places, in Heywood’s Fair
Maid of the West, where Clem is honoured with being castrated
so he can become the eunuch to the chief moor, Mullysheg: ‘I
sould certain precious stones to purchase the place’ of Bashaw of
Barbarie. 51 Puns on barber, barbarous, and Barbary moors
abound in this play.52
A similar skirting of the bounds of comfortable propriety, but
in this case moving beyond barbarism to beastliness, shows up in
the morris sequence of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Two Noble
Kinsmen.53 Gerrold, the Schoolmaster, calls for the ‘Bavian’
(3.5.33), by which we are to understand a fool most likely aping
a baboon, as another of the characters is named ‘the beast-eating
Clown’ (5.3.131).54 He seeks to coordinate a troupe of locals to
dance as part of the royal wedding festivities, bavian and all—
which would be appropriate given the connection to rustic fertility
festivals, for like bavians, baboons are elsewhere linked to sexual
license.55 Gerrold urges the randy lad playing the ape to ‘carry
your tail without offense / Or scandal to the ladies; and be sure /
You tumble with audacity and manhood, / And when you bark,
do it with judgment’ (3.5.34-37).56 In this way the rustic prerequisite of misrule is humorously accommodated and, as it were,
incorporated, excused, and good for a laugh. This is especially
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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

the case since the bavian’s typical role in the morris was that of a
“fool”, a figure which Holbein among others showed to be unconcerned with such matters of bodily modesty (Figure 9).
This tongue-in-cheek expression of pedantic concern with
phallic decorum from within the frame of the play resonates outward to suggest that the boundaries were crossed often enough,
or that the audience in part expected them to be—as is borne out
by the phrase introducing the characters in the dance: ‘and next
the Fool, / The Bavian, with long tail and eke long tool’ (3.5.13132).57 The characters of the Kinsmen morris dance, perhaps intended as a good-natured parody as Gordon McMullen has suggested, parallel those in an antimasque that Fletcher’s friend and
sometime-collaborator, John Beaumont, included in the Masque
for Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn written and performed as part of
the wedding festivities of Princess Elizabeth and the Count Palatine.58 A Pedant ushers in the pairs of dancers: a May Lord and
May Lady, Servingman and Chambermaid, Country Clown and
Wench, Host and Hostess, He-Baboon and She-Baboon, HeFool and She-Fool.
In calling for a “morris” and thus bringing along with it the
semantic array of what morris / moors / morts might connote when
any one of the terms was used, whether or not in an intentionally
quibbling sense, all of these terms emerge and hover like a tacit
tutelary spirit of the play. In the Kinsmen morris, in fact, a most
unlooked for moor shows up as it were, through the literalization
of a rebus-charade. The syllables “moor” and “is” are put together
to form “morris”, possibly by holding up two emblematic pictures, or perhaps two characters mimed a tawny Moor and icy
Winter. The Schoolmaster explains to the royal party gathered in
the field: ‘And with thy twinkling eyes look right and straight /
Upon this mighty morr—of mickle weight— / Is—now comes
in, which being glu’d together / Makes Morris, and the cause that
we came hither’. (3.5.117-20). Unlike elements are thus made to
form a recognizable third term. The jarring union seeks to make
two separate things one by combining them to make something
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William E. Engel

singular and familiar, accomplished, quite literally, by sticking
them together. This pattern is paralleled in the coupling of the
Jailer’s Daughter and The Wooer, even as it is in the decreed
union of Emilia and whoever turns out to be the victor of the contest for her hand in the heroic plot of the play.
Indeed, this group of rustic “mechanicals” was one person
short for the pairing off for the dance—and who will make up
their number? This is where the Jailer’s Daughter comes in, an
Ophelia-spin-off who expresses her distraction and frustrated
sexual desire through coded fragments of bawdy songs (she freed
Palamon, but he has eyes only for the chaste Emilia). The country
swain says: ‘There’s a dainty mad woman, master, / Comes i’th’
nick, as mad as a March hare. / If we can get her dance, we are
made again. / I warrant her, she’ll do the rarest gambols’. (3.5.7174). After several double entendres concerning tinkers and holes
and conjurers, she says: ‘Raise me a devil now, and let him play /
Chi passa o’th’bells and bones’ (5.3.85-86). At once concealed in
and revealed through her banter is the crux, or crossing, and temporary coalescence of the worlds depicted in the play, as well as
of the principal signifying conventions by which they are made to
open up a world of and beyond artifice and shine forth from the
stage. This morris dance becomes a strange version of a mortsdance, a Totentanz, made up of the earthiest and earthliest elements of this play. It is a comic, indeed a parodic, dance performed for the court by the lowly who sham the spectrum of humanity
from high to low, from regal to bestial, namely from some form
of a Lord and Lady of May to a He-fool (with bells, bladder, and
most likely a bavian’s tail) and She-fool (in the person of the melancholy mad Jailer’s Daughter), and with it comes a distracted call
for bells and bones. Instruments made of bones were clapped together to accompany rustic dancing. Still, one familiar with the
conventions of the day and aware of how the terms “morris”,
“moors”, and mors at times overlapped, cannot help but hearing
the clattering of bones of dancing skeletons in a typical the Dance
of Death (Figure 10). The morris in Two Noble Kinsmen more290

Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

over is a curious enactment of Coverdale’s ‘Devil’s morris’, complete with men aping apes.59
Other than the staging of the ‘Moor-Ice’ rebus in the middle of
Two Noble Kinsmen, there are no moors in the morris—save
mors. Death is the creative genius animating the movement of
play, from start to finish. Indeed, the first act aptly concludes
with a sententious rhyme: ‘This world’s a city full of straying
streets, / And death’s the market-place, where each one meets
(1.5.15-16). Thus the heavy loss of the three queens, who in the
opening scene had sought recourse to bury their husbands, comes
full circle. Ringing out further still, to encompass the entire play,
it is with the completion of funeral rites that some sort of reconciliation and resolution is achieved, if but in ceremony—and always
involving mors. From first to last, Death has been there, waiting;
waiting for Arcite who, even though he wins the contest, loses
his life in an unlooked for riding accident on his triumphal march
back to claim his prize of Emilia (5.4.90-95). It is the unbidden
presence of death that gives all cause to pause for, as Theseus
sums the substance of the play: ‘Never fortune / Did play a subtler
game. The conquer’d triumphs, / The victor has the loss; yet in
the passage / The gods have been most equal’ (5.4.113-16).
Death, as is his allegorical nature as the great leveler and thus who
has a hand in fortune’s game, is equal to all as well. He has been
there all along, waiting in the wings as it were, throughout the interrupted marriage rites and halted funeral games, so that he might
take part in and pair off for the final dance. Death brings Arcite’s
into his fold, in whose place Palamon must be substituted for the
nuptials and lead Emilia ‘from the stage of death’ (5.4.123). Theseus continues: ‘A day or two / Let us look sadly, and give grace
unto / The funeral of Arcite; in whose end / The visages of bridegrooms we’ll put on, / And smile with Palamon’ (5.4.124-28).
Thus the simple rustic instruments like those associated with
“bells and bones”, conjure up another dance in the Renaissance
visual and aural imagination, namely the Dance of the Dead.
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William E. Engel

cial degree, in the form of Emilia with the substitute victor, Palamon, and the Jailer’s Daughter with her substitute Palamon in the
form of The Wooer (otherwise unnamed in the play, and who
takes the name of Palamon to bed and wed her), reminiscent of
the Dance of Death, a kind of city-version of the morris is evoked, one in which women are made to give themselves over to men
who are not of their own choosing. In The Roaring Girl, for example, as Ralph Trapdoor exchanges bawdy quips with Sir Alexander: ‘The jingling of golden bells, and a good fool with a hobby-horse, will draw all the whores i’ th’ town to dance in a morris’.60 Adding further to the association of taking a partner by way
of compromise, and moreover linked also to death, the term
“morts” was London street slang for one of several varieties of
prostitutes.61
In addition to street-walkers (who led one away from the affairs of the work-a-day world and promise a tussle with death, the
little-death, la petite mort), among the phrases current in Stuart
England which preserve the sense of the tension associated with
pursuit was ‘all amort’.62 In Thomas Lodge’s popular Roselind,
we find the same sense of melancholy (the black humour) and
sexual tension evoked through Aliena’s entreaty to her beloved
moorish prince: ‘Why, how now, my Saladyne, all amort. What
melancholy, man, at the say of marriage?’63 Moreover, the term
“mort ’o the deer” was the specific horn-call sounded when death
came to the quarry. Blount’s Ancient Tenures records: ‘As soone
as the Bukks head is offered uppe all the keepers shal blow a
Morte three tymes’.64 There are even instances in the Totentanz
where the figure of Death is shown blowing the horn for the
messenger, hunting him down as it were, and bringing him to his
death (Figure 11).
In Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, the term ‘mort’ takes on
these, and additional, resonances when Leontes frets suspiciously
over the attention his best friend, Polixenes, is showing to his
wife, Hermione: ‘But to be paddling palms, and pinching fingers,
/ As they now they are, and making practis’d smiles / As in a
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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

looking-glass; and then to sigh, as t’were / The mort o’ th’ deer—
O, this is entertainment / My bosom likes not, nor my brows”
(1.2.115-18). In this passage we find an obvious pun on “deer /
dear” (one’s beloved and also referring initially to the cuckhold’s
horns, as well as the bringing down of the stag), no less than the
implication of dying being equated, in this case disquietingly,
with sexual sport. The Winter’s Tale therefore offers a fitting
way to reach for an end to this study, specifically in the light of
John Sallis’s treatment of the monument-scene which concludes
his analysis of Heidegger’s view of aesthetics, where ‘the work
of art gives place to truth, provides the place where truth can appear, can shine’.65
Sallis gives us a way to understand what happens when the
seemingly dead words of the poet are cast into the living speech
of characters on stage.66 Specifically, what Sallis shows us about
The Winter’s Tale is a kind of after-image of what always has
been before our gaze—like the immanence of Death, and more
particularly the prefiguration of our own death—, what always
has been before our gaze in other artistic realms, but especially so
when stone is involved, whether materially or metaphorically.
Appropriately enough he focuses on ‘Statua’s Moving’, to use
Bacon’s phrase,67 the scene in which Hermione poses as a funeral
monument that would resemble her exactly as if she had aged
from the time when she had been presumed dead. Sallis explains
that it is characteristic of the predominantly mimetic nature of art
in the West to bring to presence the trace of what is past, what is
no longer there to be seen. And further, that it is the nature of art,
indeed, to be engaged with “pastness”, with what, like Hermione,
and like Perdita (whose very name etymologically bespeaks what
her character enacts), is somehow lost in time, and which,
through representation can, in part, be restored as and in terms of
something other than, but still hauntingly similar to, what it was
once. 68 By virtue of the doubled character of theatre’s reality
(what it is concretely and materially, and what it shows abstractly
and metaphorically), according to Sallis, it ‘brings to presence
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William E. Engel

something that is dead and gone, if it ever was at all, something
vorbei, something decisively absent. Theatre brings it back; back
to the light of day, back to the domain of the living. Theatre lets it
come forth in and as its double’.69 There is a way in which the
figure of death, at once theatrically and specularly, very much
functions as our double—a mirror of that to which all must come.70
Dramatic artifice, including a staged morris dance, brings with
it a glimpse of its own double nature, when we, like Leontes, are
made speechless and are moved by a sense of wonder evoked
through the spectacle. The dramatist thus speaks to the conditions
of his own expressive forms through Paulina when she says: ‘I
like your silence, it the more shows off / Your wonder’ (5.3.2122). Even prior to the unveiling of this truth, interlopers are moved to remark that what is about to be presented will exceed the
bounds of what urban and popular forms of expression can relate:
‘Such a deal of wonder is broken out within this hour that balladmakers cannot be able to express it’ (5.2.23-25). At the same time
we are left to wonder still whether the extent of such a thing ever
can be instantiated fully, albeit with the aid of artifice. Indeed, we
are left wondering further, and by extension, whether the encounter we have with the concrete, with the material, for example with
what passes for a credible version of Moriskors, ever can be anything more than a confirmation—or refutation—of what we expected to find there. And so it is finally with the Moriskors at the
projected amphitheater of 1620, howsoever they happened to have
been conceived.
Notes
*

1
2

This study is indebted to Roland Mushat Frye, Paul Gehl, Heinz Horat,
Nabil Mater, and Anne Lake Prescott, who have shared their ideas and
critical suggestions along the way. For access to the images from the
Luzern Totentanz, I would acknowledge with gratitude the superintendence of the Kantonale Denkmalpflege, Mr Elmar Elbs.
William E. Engel, Mapping Mortality: The Persistence of Memory and
Melancholy in Early Modern England, Amherst, 1995, p. 72.
On Death as Der schwarze Mann, see Henri Stegemeier, The Dance of

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Death Slips Onto the Renaissance Stage: Fletcher and Shakespeare

3

4

5

6

7

8

Death in Folksong, Chicago, 1939, pp. 22-24. And on popular accounts
of the pagan Underworld during the English literary Renaissance which
associated the King of the Dead with the colour black, see Thomas Sackville’s ‘Induction’, in: A Mirror for Magistrates, London, 1610, p. 258:
‘Where Pluto God of Hell so grizly black / Doth hold his throne’.
Although later editions show a more stereotypical Moor with a flapping
bandol and holding Death’s dart, his designation as Death’s horn-tooting
herald is unmistakable—as can be seen in the Kalendrier des Bergers,
Paris, 1510, sig. L4v (reproduced in Engel, Mapping Mortality, p. 73)
and the same holds for later English versions, such as in the Kalender &
Compost of Shepherdes, London, [1518?], sig. M7v.
Heinz Horat, ‘Katalog der Brückenbilder’, in: Josef Brülisauer & Claudia
Hermann (eds.), Die Spreuerbrücke in Luzern: Ein barocker Totentanz
von europäischer Bedeutung, Luzern, 1996, pp. 182-83. On the colouring of this restored Totentanz, see Liselotte Wechsler, ‘Zur Restaurierungsgeschichte der Gemälde der Spreuerbrücke’ and ‘Restaurierungsgeschichte Spreuerbrücke Bildteil’, in: ibid., pp. 95-121.
On the construction and history of the Spreuerbrücke and its place in the
community life of Luzern, see Fritz Glauser, ‘Eine Brücke, ihre Geschichte, ihr Umfeld’, in: ibid., pp. 7-57, esp. 28-35.
Cf. Kim Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in
Early Modern England, Ithaca & London, 1995, pp. 5-6 on ‘the association of black people with the conflated imagery of blackness and death’.
See, for example, Rychard Eden, regarding ‘The People of Africa’ in
Decades, London, 1555, 4U3v: ‘The people whiche nowe inhabit the
regions of the coast of Guinea and the mydde partes of Africa ... were in
oulde tyme cauled Ethiopes and Nigrite, which we nowe caule Moores,
Moorens ...’. For additional corroborating evidence of this nomination,
see Eldred Jones, Othello’s Countrymen: The African in English Renaissance Drama, London, 1965, p. 28; Anthony Gerard Barthelemy,
Black Face, Maligned Race: The Representations of Blacks in English
Drama from Shakespeare to Southerne, Baton Rouge, 1987, pp. 7-17;
Ruth Cowhig, ‘Blacks in English Renaissance drama and the role of
Shakespeare’s Othello’, in: David Dabydeen (ed.), The Black Presence in
English Literature, Manchester, 1985, pp. 1-25, esp. 2-5; Roslyn L.
Knutson, ‘A Caliban in St. Mildred Poultry’, in: Tetsuo Kishi, Roger
Pringle & Stanley Wells, Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions, Newark,
1994, pp. 110-26, esp. 113.
Death, as ‘Mors’, is so named, among other places in Geffrey Whitney,
A Choice of Emblemes, London, 1586, p. 132: ‘While furious Mors,
from place, to place, did flie ...’. As a personage, Mors, for example,
comes to Herod in the N-Town mystery play known as Death of Herod;

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William E. Engel

9

10

11

12
13

14
15
16

see Phoebe S. Spinrad, The Summons of Death on the Medieval and
Renaissance English Stage, Columbus, 1987, p. 51.
See John Forrest, The History of Morris Dancing, 1458-1750, Toronto
& Buffalo, 1999, pp. 47 and 364. The phonetic sliding between moors
and morris has likewise been observed by Patricia Parker, Shakespeare
from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context, Chicago & London,
1996, pp. 4-5 and 275.
Forrest, The History of Morris Dancing, p. 365, considers the problem
of trying to reconstruct whether a blackamoor’s coat or a morris dancer’s
costume is intended in a ‘reference taken from an early-sixteenth century
(1527) churchwardens’ accounts in Great Dunmow, Essex: “Item payd for
a blakk morres coott xij d.”’ While in this instance contextual evidence
favours it being a costume for a player taking the part of a Moor, the larger point is made: ‘every potential reference must be viewed carefully to
determine whether the key word is truly a variant of “morris”, or a red
herring’. Forrest goes on to assert that ‘[t]he problem of word variation
does not cease with orthography, however’. Notwithstanding the comprehensiveness of Forrest’s book, Mors and the Dance of Death are not mentioned. This may be a result of the author’s underlying thesis throughout
that morris dancing does not have pagan or ancient origins. Further investigation of the confusion of moors / Mors however may reopen this
topic along the line of inquiry urged by this essay.
On “moriens” to indicate black people, see The Sheepherdes Calendar
[1518?] glossed in a facsimile edition (London, 1930, p. 174). On “Moriens” in the ars moriendi tradition, see Caxton’s 1490 printing of The
arte & crafte to know well to dye (sig. A2v), glossed by Spinrad, Summons of Death, p. 31; see also Mary Catherine O’Conner, The Art of
Dying Well: The Development of the Ars Moriendi, New York, 1942,
p. 49.
See Michael Bath’s review of my Mapping Mortality in Review of
English Studies, N. S., 48 (1997), pp. 534-35.
French commentaries on the conventions used to represent death referred
to ‘la similitude de Mort’; see, for example, Les simulachres & histories
faces la mort, Lyons, 1538, sig. 3, reproduced in facsimile in Werner L.
Gundersheimer (ed.), The Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger,
New York, 1971, p. 5.
‘The Cuttelers’ (XXVI), in: Lucy Toulmin Smith (ed.), York Plays,
Oxford, 1885, p. 222.
W. Mackay Mackenzie (ed.), The Poems of William Dunbar, London,
1950, p. 149 (ll. 17-20).
The term would seem to be a blending of the Gaelic word for “early”,

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tràth (pronounced “tra”), and the French import mort (dead).
17 Mackay Mackenzie (ed.), Poems of Dunbar, p. 122 (ll. 79, 82-84).
18 Charles Read Baskerville, The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama,
Chicago, 1929, pp. 6-7; and, more recently, Frederick Kiefer, ‘The dance
of the madmen in The Duchess of Malfi’, Journal of Medieval and
Renaissance Studies, 17 (1987), pp. 211-33, esp. 226-27.
19 On possible performances and festive enactments of the Dance of Death
during the Middle Ages, see Kathi Meyer-Baer, Music of the Spheres and
the Dance of Death, Princeton, 1970, 307-08.
20 Cyrus Hamlin & John Michael Krois, ‘Introduction’, in: Idem (eds.),
Symbolic Forms and Cultural Studies: Ernst Cassirer’s Theory of
Culture, New Haven & London, 2004, p. xv.
21 Situating it in the larger context of the iconography of the figure of
Death, see Wolfgang Eckart, ‘Die Darstellung des Skeletts als Todessymbol in der Sinnbildkunst des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts’, in: Paul Richard
Blum (ed.), Studien zur Thematik des Todes, Wolfenbüttel, 1983, pp.
21-47, esp. 42-43. See also James Kettlewell, ‘Themes of Love and
Death in a Reading of the Carved Ornament of a Puritan Headboard’, in:
Ann Hurley & Kate Greenspan (eds.), So Rich a Tapestry: The Sister
Arts and Cultural Studies, Lewisburg, 1995, pp. 315-24.
22 Judith Dundas, ‘De morte et amore: A Story-Telling Emblem and Its
Dimensions’, in: Michael Bath, John Manning & Alan R. Young (eds.),
The Art of the Emblem: Essays in Honor of Karl Josef Höltgen, New
York, 1993, pp. 39-70.
23 Margaret W. Ferguson, ‘Hamlet: Letters and Spirits’, in: Patricia Parker
& Geoffrey Hartman (eds.), Shakespeare and the Question of Theory,
New York & London, 1985, pp. 292-309, esp. 303. The name of an offstage character in Hamlet, Lamord, a gallant gentleman of Normandy,
may well have been ‘La Mort’ prior to a possible slip in typography in
the Second Quarto (ibid., p. 308, n. 16).
24 Martin Kemp, Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and
Man, Cambridge, Mass., 1981, p. 164. This concetto was brought to
my attention by Nevet Dolan in ‘Names as Games’, paper read for the
Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, 25 October, 1995.
25 Richard M. Ketchum (ed.), The Horizon Book of the Renaissance, New
York, 1961, p. 181. On the etymology and black properties of the mulberry, see Philemon Holland, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius
Secundus, London, 1601, XV:24 (sig. Qq2, p. 447). Kemp, Leonardo,
p. 164: ‘Lodovico could be happy symbolized by a mulberry tree, whose
leaves provided vital nourishment for Lombard silkworms, or by a black
man, or by both in conjunction’. While Lodovico’s baptismal second
name was ‘Maurus’, or ‘morus’ (Latin for the dark mulberry), the Italian

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William E. Engel

26
27

28

29

30

31
32

word ‘moro’ meant “black man” as well. On a document dated 1461,
referring to him as ‘Lodovicus Maurus’, see F. Malaguzzi Valeri, La
corte di Lodovico il Moro, 2 vols., Milano, 1929 [rpt. 1970], vol. I, pp.
7-8; and for detailed references to devices and imprese using the image of
a moor, as well as other words that pun the term, see Dawson Kiang,
‘Gasparo Visconti’s “Pasitea” and the Sala delle Asse’, Achademia
Leonardi da Vinci 2 (1989), pp. 101-09, esp. 106, n. 31.
Randle Cotgrave, Dictionarie of the French and English Tongves, London, 1611, sig. 3H4.
See also, for example, the armorial bearings of John Broün-Morison,
Esq., the main shield of which is blazoned as follows: ‘Quarterly, 1 and
4, argent, a fess sable between three Moors’ heads couped proper, banded
or (for Morison); 2 and 3, gules, a chevron between three fleurs-de-lis
argent (for Broün)’, as described by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, The Art
of Heraldry: An Encyclopedia of Armory, London, 1986 (reprint of the
1904 edition), p. 118.
Stephen Friar & John Ferguson, Basic Heraldry, New York & London,
1993, p. 24, relate in this regard that, where ‘canting arms’ are concerned,
while at times used to commemorate notable events, ‘the almost identical
moor’s head crests of the Moore and Mordaunt families clearly allude to
the names and have no further significance’.
See Henry Dutch Lord, Memorial of the Family of Morse, Cambridge,
1896, p. 19. It is noteworthy in connection with the nature of my interest in seeing the word of death in unexpected places that, in his exposition on how Norman names were Anglicized after the Conquest, Lord
gives as an example the following: ‘The family of “D’ath”–“de Ath”–(a
Norman family, mentioned in William, Duke of Normandy’s Lists) was
vulgarly changed (corrupted) to Death’ (p. 21). See also Jonathan Flynt
Morris, A Genealogical and Historical Register of the Descendants of
Edward Morris, Hartford, 1887, p. xi, who demonstrates that ‘Morris’
was ‘variously spelled: Morys, Morrys, Moris, Morris, Morice, Morrice,
Moryce, Mawrice, Maurice ...’. He also notes that ‘Mont-Morrice’ signified ‘the Moorish mountains’.
Gerald Eades Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols., Oxford,
1941-68, vol. VI, p. 291. See also Leslie Hotson, ‘The Projected
Amphitheater’, Shakespeare Survey 2 (1949), pp. 24-35.
Alexander Dyce (ed.), The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, London,
1843, vol. II, p. 16.
For an incisive analysis of this passage in Fletcher’s ‘To the Reader’, especially as it pertains to the question of popular festivity, see Gordon
McMullan, The Politics of Unease in the plays of John Fletcher, Am-

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herst, 1994, p. 58.
33 2 Henry VI, 3.1.364-66.
34 On the semantic exchanging of the terms and activities concerned with
love and death in the Renaissance, see Eric Partridge, Shakespeare’s
Bawdy: A Literary & Psychological Essay, and a Comprehensive
Glossary, London, 1948, p. 101.
35 Mackay Mackenzie (ed.), Poems of Dunbar, p. 211.
36 ‘To the Reader’, in: The Old Faith, translated by Henry Bullinger
(1547), reprinted as Works of Coverdale: Fruitful Lessons, Cambridge,
1894, vol. I, [no page nrs.].
37 See Cecil A. Sharp, The Morris Book, London, 1911-36, vol. I, pp. 1011. This groundbreaking treatise originally was published in five parts,
London, 1907; parts 1-3 were written by Herbert C. MacIlwane, History
of Morris Dancing, with a Description of Eleven Dances as Performed
by the Morris-Men of England.
38 Quoted by Sharp, The Morris Book, p. 11.
39 This pen-and-ink drawing also has the distinction of being the earliest
known illustration of a scene from Shakespeare’s plays. An enlargement
can be found in The Riverside Shakespeare, Plate 9, between pages 494
and 495. This chronogram, dubbed the Peacham Document by centuries
of Shakespeare scholars for reliable clues about the dating of Titus
Andronicus, was among the Harley papers acquired from Sir Michael
Hicks, and currently is part of the Longleat Portland Papers that were
acquired from the first Marchioness of Bath, Elizabeth Cavendish Bentinck, the daughter of the Duchess of Portland. For more information
about the provenance and significance of this document, see Eugene M.
Waith’s ‘Introduction’ to Titus Andronicus, London-New York, 1984.
40 See, for example, Richard Edmonds, ‘To Blanch an Aethiop: Colour and
Gender in the Stuart Court Masque’, Proceedings of the 3rd British
Graduate Shakespeare Conference, The Shakespeare Institute (June
2001); and Hall, Things for Darkness, pp. 128-40 on the response to
Queen Anne and her ladies’ performance in The Masque of Blackness.
41 On the ‘“discovery” of performativty’, as it pertains to new approaches to
research in the social sciences and humanities, see, for example, Peter
Matussek, ‘Bewegte und bewegende Bilder: Animationstechniken im historischen Vergleich’, in: Christina Lechtermann & Carsten Morsch (eds.),
Kunst der Bewegung: Kinästhetische Wahrnehmung und Probehandeln in
virtuellen Welten, Bern, 2004, pp. 1–13.
42 Thomas Blount, Ancient Tenures, London, 1679, p. 149; cited in Sharp,
Morris Book, p. 11.
43 Thomas Blount, Glossographia, London, 1656, sig. Cc3v.
44 Cotgrave, Dictionarie, sig. 3H4.

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45 See, for example, Barnabe Rych, The Honestie of This Age, London,
1615, sig. F, which faults men for ‘this imbrodering of long locks ... fitter for Maid Marion in a Moris dance, then for him that hath either that
spirit or courage that shold be in a Gentleman’. Also, ‘Mawdmarion’ is
listed as one of the parts in ‘a liuely morisdauns’ according to the account
given by Robert Laneham of the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth at
Killingworth Castle during her summer progress of 1575; see Frederick J.
Furnivall, Laneham’s Letter, London, 1890, pp. 22-23.
46 William Warner, Albion’s England, London, 1612, p. 121.
47 In an invective against ‘the abuses which are committed in your maygames’, Christopher Featherstone, Dialogue against light, lewde, and
lasiuious dauncing, London, 1582, sig. D7, provides insight into the
fluid terminology associated with this manner of transgression: ‘that you
due use to attyre men in womans apparel, whom you doe most commonly call may marrions’.
48 McMullan, Politics of Unease, pp. 149-53. See also Stephen Orgel,
Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s England,
Cambridge, 1996, pp. 10-12; and Jonathan Dollimore, ‘Subjectivity,
Sexuality, and Transgression: The Jacobean Connection’, Renaissance
Drama 17 (1986), pp. 53-81.
49 Thoinot Arbeau (anagrammized pseudonym for Jean Tabourot), Orchesographie (1588), sig. A2. See the translation by Cyril W. Beaumont,
London, 1925, and see also Francis Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare
and of Ancient Manners with a Dissertation on the English Morris
Dance, London, 1807, vol. II, p. 148, see also p. 437.
50 John Marston, The Malcontent, (ed.) M. L. Wine, Lincoln, 1964,
1.3.57-59. ‘Catito’ is glossed as a boyish game, hence ‘Catito’ is a boy’s
play-land.
51 Thomas Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West, Part Two, London,
1631, sig. L4v.
52 For example, II FMW, sig. L5; on the earlier currency of this epithet, see
Andrew Boorde, The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge,
[1562?], p. xxxvi, concerning ‘the Mores whych dwel in Barbary’.
53 Two Noble Kinsmen (Riverside Shakespeare), 3.5.
54 E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, Oxford, 1903, vol. I, pp. 19697, notes of this passage that “Bavian” names the fool, coming from the
Dutch baviaan (baboon). The terms seems to be linked with apes in
most contexts in which it appears; for example, a list of grotesques in an
extended comparison in John Hart, Orthographie, London, 1569, sig.
H1: ‘For they shoulde not halfe so well represent them, as should the
well proportioned figures of manye skipping Babians, Apes, Marmosets

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55
56

57

58
59

60

or Monkeys, and dauncing Dogs and Beares’. See also Ben Jonson, Epigrammes, CXXIX, “To Mime”, in: George Burke Johnston (ed.),
Poems of Ben Jonson, Cambridge, Mass., 1954, p. 67: ‘Whil’st thou
dost raise some Player, from the grave / Out-dance the Babion, or outboast the Brave’; and Francis Bacon, Essayes, XXXVII, “Of Masques
and Triumphs”, in: Francis Bacon, Essayes, (ed.) Michael Kiernan,
Cambridge, Mass., 1985, pp. 117-18, esp. 118: ‘Let Antimasques not
be long; They have been commonly of Fooles, Satyres, Baboones,
Wilde-Men, Antiques, Beasts, Sprites, Witches, Ethiopes, Pigmies, Turquets, Nimphs, Rusticks, Cupids, Statua’s Moving, and the like’. This
list sounds very much like what the promoters of the Projected Amphitheatre would have been delighted to have secured for their patrons.
See, for example, Thomas Middleton & Thomas Dekker, The Roaring
Girl, (ed.) Andor Gomme, London, 1976, 4.2 (l.131).
The tail may also refer to the fact that sometimes a fox tail worn by a
morris fool. Furthermore, Chambers, following Alfred Burton, Rushbearing: An Account of the Old Custom of Strewing Rushes [etc.],
Manchester, 1891, observes that the fool, sometimes known as ‘owd
sooty-face’ generally was black, thus bringing back the darkened skin associated with death (tramort) and the tawny moor.
Chambers, Mediaeval Stage, pp. 196-97, comments that ‘[h]is “tail” is
be noted; for the phallic shape sometimes given to the bladder which he
carries’. And likely as not, there may well be some further iconographic
and semantic slipping involved in the “tail” or “long tool” attributed to
the bavian, or baboon, with regard to the classical character and etymological derivation of “Baubo”; see Winifred Milius Lubell, The Metamorphosis of Baubo: Myths of Woman’s Sexual Energy, Nashville & London, 1994, p. 22. And on the socio-sexual compensatory strategies used
in the Renaissance, especially as regards Baubo, see Adriane Stewart,
“Body Phantoms: Ontological Instability, Compensation, and Drama in
Early Modern England”, Diss. Vanderbilt University, 1995, chapter 3.
McMullan, Politics of Unease, p. 106.
On networks of apes and blackface in dance and theatre of the day as it is
being discussed here, see Kim F. Hall, ‘“Troubling Doubles”: Apes,
Africans, and Blackface in Mr. Moore’s Revels’, in: Joyce Green MacDonald (ed.), Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance, Madison &
Teaneck, 1997, pp. 120-44, esp. 124: ‘Apes and moors make their appearance concurrently and work to interrogate European social and cultural
assumptions in much the same way’.
Roaring Girl, 1.2., ll. 221-22. See also the Jailer Daughter’s series of
bawdy double entendres involving the horse Palamon is imagined to have

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William E. Engel

61

62

63
64
65
66
67
68

69
70

given her, able to ‘dance a morris twenty mile an hour, / and that will
founder the best hobby-horse’ (Two Noble Kinsmen, 5.2, ll. 51-52).
See for example Dyce (ed.), Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, vol. IX,
p. 29 (Beggars’ Bush, 2.1); Thomas Dekker, Belman of London (1608),
sig. D4, and also Lantern and Candlelight (1608), chapter one; Thomas
Harman, A Caveat for Common Cursitors (1566), reprinted in Arthur
Kinney (ed.), Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars, Amherst, 1990,
p. 138.
Cf. ‘all amort’, properly ‘alamort’, French à la mort, which in Shakespeare’s day meant “dejected”, thus in Taming of the Shrew, 4.3.36-37:
‘How fares my Kate? What, sweeting, all amort’; and Robert Greene,
Friar Bacon, (ed.) Daniel Seltzer, Lincoln, 1963, 1.1.21; Ermsby, concerned that Prince Edward is melancholy over not being able to have the
lass he desires, remarks: ‘Shall he thus all amort live malcontent?’
Thomas Lodge, Roselind, (ed.) Donald Beecher, Ottawa, 1997, p. 223.
Blount, Ancient Tenures, p. 170.
John Sallis, Stone, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1994, p. 4.
Ibid., pp. 117-47.
See above, note 54.
For a more detailed analysis of this theme, see William E. Engel, Death
and Drama in Renaissance England: Shades of Memory, Oxford, 2002,
pp. 164-67.
Sallis, Stone, p. 124.
Jane H. M. Taylor, ‘Un Miroer Salutaire’, in: Idem, Dies Illa: Death in
the Middle Ages, Liverpool, 1984, pp. 29-43, esp. 40: ‘If the Danse
Macabre, then, is as I have argued a series of thirty potential self-portraits
structured around the notion of image and obverse, the spectator’s familiarity with the macabre associations of mirrors was likely to make him
able to grasp the message without further explanation’.

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Experimenting with the Performance
of Medieval Narrative*

Evelyn Birge Vitz & Linda Marie Zaerr
I (Evelyn Birge Vitz) am delighted to be working again with Linda
Marie Zaerr. We had a wonderful time a couple of years ago doing a joint presentation at Kalamazoo.1 On that occasion, we focused just on Chrétien de Troyes; we were largely exemplifying
points I made in Orality and Performance in Early French Romance.2 Today, we are broadening our corpus, painting on a
larger canvas. We are drawing on works from three different languages—English, French and Galician-Portuguese—and from
two different genres: romance and Marian devotional song. We
are also making a larger and more far-reaching set of arguments
which do not bear exclusively on French romance.
We want to make three major points. Let me enumerate them
briefly now, and Prof. Zaerr will make them come alive with regard to three highly diverse medieval “texts”. She will demonstrate
that what I say to be important and necessary is also, in point of
fact, entirely possible—do-able—and highly memorable.
The first and most fundamental, and most radical, point is that
we need to start thinking of all of medieval literature, not just
plays and songs, as works intended for performance. Medieval
works are only rarely books that were meant to be read privately
and silently, as is our norm today. Rather, they invited performance, often in a very strong sense of the word—and they were
performed. I should add, however, that I am prepared to define
the term “performance” broadly. Even reading—certainly reading
aloud, and to some degree silent reading as well—can be usefully
thought of as a “performance mode”.

Evelyn Birge Vitz and Linda Marie Zaerr

Our second point is that we should think in terms of many
kinds of performance—of a wide range of performance styles with
a great deal of variability, even with regard to the same work.
Our third point is that medieval performers, even when they
performed alone in one sense, often drew on their audience, not
merely for response, but for active participation.
Let us return to these points in a bit more detail and start demonstrating them.
As we begin to think of all medieval literature as performed,
high on the list of works to be reevaluated—reimagined—are medieval romances, which are today most commonly thought as
having being “read” and intended for reading. But there is an
abundance of evidence to suggest that from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries on romances were typically, and for a long time
almost exclusively, performed by minstrels and jongleurs from
memory; they were recited, and frequently sung. References to
such performance occur in many works.3
So, just as it is in our interest as scholars and lovers of medieval literature to perform and attend performances of medieval
plays, it also behooves us to think of romances—and of epics,
and fabliaux, and saints’ lives, and many other works—in terms
of performance, and to try to arrange for them to be performed;
we should attend such performances, and encourage our students
to do the same. (In the last couple of years I have been experimenting with a course entitled “Acting Medieval Literature” in
which the students perform everything—all the literature that we
“read”.)
If we want to understand how medieval romances functioned
—“worked”—in medieval culture, and within the medieval court
“esthetic”, if we want to appreciate their “social functions”, we
need to see and hear them performed; not just read them privately
as we typically do. We can read them silently to ourselves over
and over again, but that is not the point.
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Experimenting with the Performance of Medieval Narrative

In a few moments, Linda Marie will perform a passage from
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.4 In her performance, she will
be elucidating not merely our first but also our second point: that
many works lent themselves to performance in a wide variety of
styles and manners. The available evidence, both textual and
iconographic, indicates that there were many different ways of
performing works, even the same works. Variation appears to
have resulted primarily from two sorts of considerations:5 first,
the nature of the event, and, secondly, the numbers and kinds of
performers available.
As to the nature of the event: at great feasts in the medieval
courts—weddings, coronations, the celebration of Easter, Pentecost, and the like—lavish entertainment was generally provided.
For example, the entertainment often lasted for days, even weeks;
dozens of performers might be present. By contrast, on ordinary
occasions, ordinary days and evenings, performance was simpler:
less rich and complex, and less musically diverse.
The other variable has to do with the particular performers
present at the event and the nature of their skills. Some performers played the vielle or the harp,6 or another instrument. Other
performers seem not to have played any instrument while reciting:
they were just telling the story; they functioned above all as “storytellers”. Sometimes the recitation was strongly dramatic. Sometimes it was acrobatic if the performer possessed such skills. For
example, Béroul’s Tristan certainly invites acrobatic performance, with all its references to jumping and leaping: Tristan leaps
out the chapel window, and so on. So does the famous pious tale
“Our Lady’s Tumbler” (Li tombeor Nostre Dame). Sometimes
jongleurs and minstrels performed solo; sometimes they worked
in pairs or in groups: early dramatic troupes. But in any case, the
particular skills and gifts and the personal style of the actual performers were clearly important (as they still are today, of course,
in the world of the theatre and of musical performance).
Linda Marie Zaerr will now perform the memorable scene
where Gawain cuts off the Green Knight’s head. First, she will
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Evelyn Birge Vitz and Linda Marie Zaerr

do a fairly straightforward, dramatic, recitation. Then she will reperform the passage in two different ways, first playing with the
issue of metered vs. unmetered recitation. Then she will sing the
passage while also playing the vielle.
[performance]
Linda Marie Zaerr’s subsequent comments on her performance: First I pantomimed the action as I recited the lines.
This approach is most accessible to a modern audience unfamiliar
with this difficult dialect of Middle English. I created the illusion
of a decapitated man lifting up his head by bowing my head and
then grasping my hair to lift up my face, rolling my eyes.
Then I illustrated two of the performance options that have
been discussed for alliterative long lines with irregular numbers
of syllables. Either the stressed syllables may be regularly
spaced, with the unstressed syllables fitting in as they may, or
the passage may be more freely rendered, with the stressed
syllables falling sometimes more quickly and sometimes more
slowly. There is certainly more room for expression in the second, unmetered approach, and such an approach allows a performer to conceal memorial hesitation in a way that is not
possible in a metronomic performance.
Finally I illustrated a sung version. There are many possible
ways of singing a text,7 but I settled on a chanted version to
demonstrate a maximum contrast with the initial performance. I
played a drone on the vielle and presented the text as a liturgical
style chant. A significant result was the diminution of my emotional involvement with the text. This approach instantly flattens
out the performer’s role, distancing her from the text. Presumably in a context where the audience were native speakers, the text
would then be more purely available to the audience, less tampered with by the performer, who becomes, as much as possible, a neutral intermediary of the text.
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Experimenting with the Performance of Medieval Narrative

Evelyn Birge Vitz: We turn now to Chrétien de Troyes’ romance Yvain. Linda Marie will recite the scene where Yvain first
meets up with the lion. Again, she will first recite the passage in a
dramatic fashion, playing particular attention to the character of
the lion. We know from many iconographic images that performers often played the roles of animals. Then, she will again
re-perform the passage twice. She will be experimenting with different uses of the vielle. At our performance at Kalamazoo, we
also tried out a performance version in which Laura Zaerr played
the harp while Linda Marie recited and acted out the scene. That
variation was quite successful: in particular, it presented the advantage of freeing Linda Marie up to dramatize the scene rather
fully, while having an attractive musical backdrop. Clearly, having more than one performer available expands options considerably.
[performance]
Linda Marie Zaerr: Again, I first presented this passage by
pantomiming the action as I recited the text, and I adopted a
whimsical approach. I represented the lion by holding up my
hands, palms out, with the fingers slightly bent like claws. As
Prof. Vitz has discussed in her book, a figure like the lion has
considerably more impact when he is allowed a physical
presence.
I used this passage to demonstrate two different ways that a
musical instrument may be used to accompany Chrétien’s octosyllabic couplets. The first approach employed melodic motifs to
underscore the verse structure. I adapted motifs from a song by
Gautier de Coinci to coordinate with the first and second lines of
each couplet.
For me this was not a satisfying approach. It was difficult for
me to recall the passage while thinking about what I was playing,
and the structure seemed more rigid and dangerous for a performer. It would certainly be possible for me to do an extended
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Evelyn Birge Vitz and Linda Marie Zaerr

performance using this approach, and I think I could make it
reasonably interesting, but it would require more preparation. In
this case, where I had intended to demonstrate using ten or
twelve lines, I ended up using only eight. It was just too hard. I
would be intrigued to know if other performers have the same
experience. Would alternative musical motifs make a structural
approach to accompaniment more feasible? Would another performer find this approach more natural?
For me my second approach was far more satisfying, and I
demonstrated the entire passage using this approach. My vielle is
tuned concordantly according to a system described by Jerome of
Moravia, and I have found that the tuning of the strings provides
a convenient modal framework that allows me to improvise comfortably. I decided to accompany the text in the phrygian mode to
emphasize the strangeness of the occurrence, and then I allowed
the vielle to emphasize the text as I recited. The music functioned
to establish an emotional tone, as movie music does. This approach is very easy to maintain, and it facilitates memory rather
than hindering it. The instrument becomes a personal and natural
enhancement of the performer’s emotional interpretation of the
passage.
Evelyn Birge Vitz: Finally, we turn to one of Alfonso the
Wise’s Cantigas—that great “book” composed of lyrics and
stories in honour of the Virgin. Prof. Zaerr will focus on Cantiga
18, which relates the miracle which the Blessed Virgin performed for the lady who kept silkworms. This time, in suggesting
something of what she calls the ‘endless performance flexibility’
of the Cantigas, Prof. Zaerr will show how the audience can be
drawn into the performance of the lyric.
[performance]
Linda Marie Zaerr: My first performance of the Cantiga
illustrates the impact of specific circumstances. I had had a cold,
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Experimenting with the Performance of Medieval Narrative

so my voice was lower than normal. My vielle is tuned to my
normal voice range, so it was too high for me on this occasion. I
sang the Cantiga only once, leaving out stanzas 6, 7, and 9,
without instrumental accompaniment. This was also convenient
in allowing me to pantomime the action for an audience not fluent
in Galician Portuguese.
I then taught the chorus to the audience. I had previously
written the text on a blackboard with neumes to indicate the direction and flow of the melody. I have found that these medieval
symbols work well as a tool for modern audiences who may not
be able to read modern notation or the rather ambiguous notation
used in the Cantiga manuscripts. The audience rallied magnificently and produced a resounding chorus.
Next I asked for volunteers to represent the different roles in
the Cantiga. Needless to say, no one volunteered, but many
were willing to participate when asked. The key roles in the Cantiga were the woman (the silk-weaver), the Virgin, the silkworms (numbering two in this performance), and neighbours
(also two in number, in our performance). I then re-sang the
Cantiga, with the audience singing the refrain and the “actors”
miming the events recounted, with a single prop: a long scarf
which, first the lady, then the silkworms, pretended to weave,
and which then became the veil for the Virgin. The unrehearsed
performance was quite remarkable—and it certainly appeared to
elicit great pleasure and appreciation from the audience / participants.
For this improvisational group performance, I used a written
text to sing the verses. I have found that it is too difficult to keep
track of what people on stage are doing, direct a large group
during each chorus and keep track of a memorized text. It is also
less important that the text be memorized when the focus of the
audience is on other performers. This is an interesting point from
a historical standpoint. A lavish spectacle could fairly easily be
arranged with one person directing and singing the stanzas and
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Evelyn Birge Vitz and Linda Marie Zaerr

reading from a manuscript on a lectern. Other performers in
costume could act out the story, possibly sing dialogue lines, and
sing the chorus.
As improvisational performances go, this was fairly lavish.
The actors made effective use of a red silk scarf, first spinning it,
and then weaving it into a rather exotic veil which they placed on
the head of the Virgin Mary. The silk worms even engaged in an
elaborate dance with the scarf during one of the choruses, and
this struck me as a historically feasible and very effective option.
The atmosphere was festive, and there was a strong sense of
community. The laughter and the strong involvement of individuals we knew brought the text to life in a fresh and powerful
way.
Evelyn Birge Vitz: Let me simply close by thanking Linda
Marie Zaerr for her beautiful demonstration, and, more importantly, for a wonderful set of performances. This is certainly a case
where pictures—concrete auditory and visual examples—are
worth a thousand words. Perhaps even a thousand arguments.8
Appendix
Texts Performed
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The grene knyght vpon grounde graythely hym dresses,
A little lut with the hede, the lere he discouerez,
His longe louelych lokkez he layd ouer his croun,
Let the naked nec to the note schewe.
Gauan gripped to his ax, and gederes hit on hyght,
The kay fot on the folde he before sette,
Let hit doun lyghtly lyght on the naked,
That the scharp of the schalk schyndered the bones,
And schrank thrugh the schyire grece, and schade hit in twynne,
That the bit of the broun stel bot on the grounde.
The fayre hede fro the halce hit to the erthe,
That fele hit foyned wyth her fete, there hit forth roled;
The blod brayd fro the body, that blykked on the grene;
And nayther faltered ne fel the freke neuer the helder,
Bot stythly he start forth vpon styf schonkes,

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Experimenting with the Performance of Medieval Narrative

And runyschly he raght out, there as renkkez stoden,
Laght to his lufly hed, and lyft hit vp sone;
And sythen boghez to his blonk, the brydel he cachchez,
Steppez into stelbawe and strydez alofte,
And his hede by the here in his honde haldez;
And as sadly the segge hym in his sadel sette
As non vnhap had hym ayled, thagh hedlez he were in stedde.
He brayde his bulk about,
That vgly bodi that bledde;
Moni on of hym had doute,
Bi that his resounz were redde.

[J. R. R. Tolkien & E. V. Gordon (eds.), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,
Oxford, 1967 (2nd ed.), ll. 417-43.]
The Green Knight upon ground girds him with care:
Bows a bit with his head, and bares his flesh:
His long lovely locks he laid over his crown,
Let the naked nape for the need be shown.
Gawain grips his ax and gathers it aloft—
The left foot on the floor before him he set—
Brought it down deftly upon the bare neck,
That the shock of the sharp blow shivered the bones
And cut the flesh cleanly and clove it in twain,
That the blade of bright steel bit into the ground.
The head was hewn off and fell to the floor;
Many found it at their feet, as forth it rolled;
The blood gushed from the body, bright on the green,
Yet fell not the fellow, nor faltered a whit,
But stoutly he starts forth upon stiff shanks,
And as all stood staring he stretched forth his hand,
Laid hold of his head and heaved it aloft,
Then goes to the green steed, grasps the bridle,
Steps into the stirrup, bestrides his mount,
And his head by the hair in his hand holds,
And as steady he sits in the stately saddle
As he had met with no mishap, nor missing were his head.
His bulk about he haled,
That fearsome body that bled;
There were many in the court that quailed
Before all his way was said.

[Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, (trans.) Marie Boroff, New York, 1967.]

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Evelyn Birge Vitz and Linda Marie Zaerr

Yvain ou le chevalier au lion
A s’espee, qui soef tranche,
va le felon serpant requerre;
si le tranche jusqu’anz en terre
et les deus mitiez retronçone,
fiert et refiert, et tant l’en done
que tot le demince et depiece.
Mes il li covient une piece
tranchier de la coe au lîon
por la teste au serpant felon
qui par la coe le tenoit;
tant con tranchier an covenoit
en trancha c’onques moins ne pot.
Quant le lîon delivré ot,

si cuida qu’il li covenist
conbatre, et que sus li venist;
mes il ne le se pansa onques.
Oez que fist li lîons donques,
con fist que preuz et deboneire,
com il li comança a feire
sanblant que a lui se randoit,
que ses piez joinz li estandoit
et vers terre encline sa chiere;
si s’estut sor ses piez derriere
et puis si se ragenoilloit,
et tote sa face moilloit
de lermes, par humilité.

[Mario Roques (ed.), Le chevalier au lion (Yvain), Paris, 1971, ll. 3372-97.]
He drew his sword—
its blade was clean—and then the lord
Yvain attacked the lowly snake
and cut him down, so he could break
the snake in two. Then Sir Yvain
struck at the snake time and again,
until the snake was cut in pieces.
But the dead snake would not release his
head, which held the lion tight
and gripped him by the tail. The knight
was forced to cut away a bit
of the lion’s tail to sever it.
So he cut off the least that he
could cut and set the lion free.

Then he was sure he’d have to fight
the lion, that the lion might
attempt to spring at him, but no,
the lion never would do so.
I’ll tell you what the lion then did,
because he was so brave and splendid:
the lion tries to make it plain
he yielded to the lord Yvain.
The lion rose on his hind feet
and joined his forepaws in complete
submissiveness, and then he spread
his forepaws out and bowed his head
in great humility. His face
was wet with tears.

[Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain or the Knight with the Lion, (trans.) Ruth
Harwood Cline, Athens, GA, 1984 [1975], ll. 3183-210].

Cantiga 18
Chorus:
Por nos de dulta tirar,
Praz a Santa Maria
De seus miragres mostrar
Fremosos cada dia.

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[1] E por nos fazer veer
sa apostura
grand miragre foi fazer
en Estremadura,
en Segovia, u morar
hua dona soya,
que muito sirgo criar
en ssa casa fazia.

[4] Onde ll’aveo assi
ena gran festa
d’Agosto que veo y
con mui gran sesta
ant’a omagen orar;
e ali u jazia
a prezes, foi-lle nenbrar
a touca que devia.

[2] Porque os babous perdeu
e ouve pouca
seda, poren prometeu
dar hua touca
per’a omagen onrrar
que no altar siia
da Virgen que non à par,
en que muito criya.

[5] Chorando de coraçon
foi—sse correndo
a casa, e viu enton
estar fazendo
os bischocos e obrar
na touca a perfia,
e começou a chorar
con mui grand’alegria.
...
[8] Un e un, e dous e dous
log’y veeron;
ontre tanto os babous
outra fezeron
touca, per que fossen par,
que se alguen queria
a hui delas levar,
a outra leixaria.

[3] Pois que a promessa fez,
senpre creceron
os babous ben dessa vez
e non morreron;
mas a dona con vagar
grande que y prendia
d’a touca da seda dar
senpre ll’escaecia

[Alfonso X el Sabio, Cantigas de Santa Maria, 3 vols., (ed.) Walter Mettmann, Madrid, 1986]
Chorus: It pleases Holy Mary to perform Her beautiful miracles each day in order
to free us from doubt.
[1] To prove Her worth to us, She performed a great miracle in Extremadura, in the
city of Segovia, where dwelt a lady who produced much silk in her home.
[2] Because she lost the silkworms and had little silk, she therefore promised to
give a length of silk for a veil to honor the statue of the Peerless Virgin, in whom
she fervently believed, which was on the altar.
[3] As soon as she had made the promise the silkworms thrived and did not die. But
the lady became negligent about her promise and kept forgetting to give the silk
for the veil.
[4] Then it happened that on the great feast of August, she came to pray before the
statue at midday. While she knelt in prayer, she remembered the silk cloth that she
owed.
[5] Weeping in penitence, she ran home and saw the silkworms working
diligently to make the cloth. Then she began to weep with happiness.
...

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Evelyn Birge Vitz and Linda Marie Zaerr

[8] One by one and two by two they came quickly to the place and saw. Meanwhile, the silkworms made another veil, so that there might be a pair, and if
someone wished to take one of them, there would be another left.

[Songs of Holy Mary of Alfonso X, The Wise: A Translation of the “Cantigas de Santa Maria”, (trans) Kathleen Kulp-Hill, Tempe, 2000.]

Notes
*

1
2
3

4

5
6
7

8

The following text constitutes an attempt to provide a narrative reconstitution of our joint performance at the Barnard Conference. We think it is
useful to describe what Linda Marie Zaerr did in her performance, as well
as the reception / participation by the audience. We also discuss other
performance options that we might have tried, had time allowed—or had
other performers been present as well.
Our presentation, entitled: “We must perform early medieval romances:
The case of Chrétien de Troyes”, was given in May 1998.
Evelyn Birge Vitz, Orality and Performance in Early French Romance,
Cambridge, 1998.
I discuss this issue in considerable detail in Orality and Performance in
Early French Romance. Such texts include Pierre de St. Cloud’s version
of the Renart; branch 1b of the Renart; Le bel inconnu of Renaut de
Beaujeu, as well as the romance Joufroi and Gerbert’s Perceval le
Gallois; some manuscripts of Erec et Enide including (ms. BN 1376)
the text recently edited by David Hult; occitan romances such as Jaufré
and Flamenca; ‘Les ailes de courtoisie’, ‘Abril issi’e’ by the troubadour
Raimon Vidal; the comic argument between two jongleurs entitled ‘Les
deux bourdeurs ribauds’, and others. Numerous chansons de geste make
the same point, give the same picture of romance performance; they
include Aye d’Avignon, Doon de Nanteuil, and Les enfances Godefroi.
Since this conference, Linda Marie Zaerr, together with harpist Laura
Zaerr and vielle player Shira Kammen, have produced a fifty-minute DVD
of excerpts from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, TEAMS and Chaucer
Studio, 2002.
I discussed these issues at some length in Chapter 6 of Orality and
Performance.
At our performance at Kalamazoo in 1998, Laura Zaerr also happened to
be present, and played the Gothic harp at various points.
Some other alternatives are demonstrated in Music and Medieval Romance: A Possible Performance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,
audiotape, Chaucer Studio, 1990.
Since this talk/performance, I have, with two colleagues launched a web-

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site that contains clips of performances of works of medieval narrative.
The performances are by students of mine, as well as by professionals
such as Linda Marie Zaerr. The website is “Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase”: http://enterpe.bobst.nyu.edu/mednar/. I
have also published a co-authored/co-edited volume that is relevant here:
Performing Medieval Narrative, with Nancy Freeman Regalado and
Marilyn Lawrence, Cambridge, D.S. Brewer, 2005.

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Part III:

The Performance of Gender

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Yseut’s Legacy:
Women Writers and Performers in
the Medieval French Romance Ysaÿe le Triste

Marilyn Lawrence
Women play a central role in the creation and performance of
written texts in the late-fourteenth- or early-fifteenth-century
anonymous French prose romance Ysaÿe le Triste.1 In particular,
the romance spotlights three women writer-performers: first
Yseut (mother of Ysaÿe, by Tristan), then Marthe (Ysaÿe’s lover
and, ultimately, his wife), and finally Orimonde (the wife of
Ysaÿe’s and Marthe’s son). Through the characters of Yseut,
Marthe, and Orimonde, Ysaÿe le Triste depicts performance
(singing, reciting, reading aloud, etc.) of written narratives, lyric
poems, and letters as a woman’s most effective means of communication and self-expression, crucial to the fulfillment of her
goals and desires. Performance of written texts serves to relay
fundamental personal messages regarding love, marriage, and
childbirth, and enables absolution of sins, recognition of original
identity, and union between lovers.
Gender roles in Ysaÿe le Triste highlight tension and reciprocity between performers and writers, and between oral and
written composition. Yseut, Marthe, and Orimonde are all highly skilled and admired performers.2 However, paradoxically,
none of these women transmits her written texts by performing
them herself. Rather, male characters perform women’s written
works and male audiences analyze and judge women’s compositions in terms of quality and content. Gender roles thus serve to
express a distinction here between authors and performers: in

Marilyn Lawrence

dissemination of written texts authors are separate from, yet dependent on, performers.
Ysaÿe le Triste opens with a pregnant Yseut fleeing the court
to give birth in secret to a baby boy, Ysaÿe. Hidden in the depths
of the forest, Yseut consults a book she has written recording the
story of her marriage with Marc and her love affair with Tristan
in order to determine the father of her child:
Izeut, que toudis metoit les heures en escript que Tristran gisoit avoec
elle, et ausy faisoit elle du roy Marcq ... elle est grosse. Si ceurt a ung
sien escring la u ou elle metoit il livre ou les heures devant nommees estoient escriptes, et treuve qu’il y avoit .iiii. mois et demi que Tristrans
l’avoit venu veoir.
(27, 2)3

Yseut then gives her book to a hermit so that he may read her
story and absolve her of her sins. Thus Yseut, a character represented in Tristan lore as a consummate composer and performer
of lyric and narrative, is represented in Ysaÿe le Triste as a
writer—indeed as the original writer of the romance of Tristan
and Yseut.
When Yseut’s son reaches adulthood, he falls in love with
Marthe and they conceive a son—named Marc! Receiving the
legacy of her mother-in-law, Marthe is portrayed as a gifted performer and writer. When the adventure-seeking Ysaÿe abandons
Marthe, she disguises herself as a wandering performer: first as
a male, then as a female minstrel. She travels incognito in search
of Ysaÿe, singing and telling her own compositions along the
way. Marthe eventually writes a romance which, like Yseut’s
book, is an autobiographical narrative recounting her relationship with her lover. When Marthe’s story, an allegorical romance that is actually inserted into Ysaÿe le Triste, is read aloud
to Ysaÿe by his dwarf attendant, Tronc, Ysaÿe at last recognizes
Marthe and the couple reunites.
Marthe passes down her skills to her future daughter-in-law,
Orimonde, the daughter of the Admiral of Persia. Orimonde impresses audiences by performing a variety of songs that she has
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apparently composed orally.4 She also writes, initiating her relationship with Marthe’s son, Marc, when she writes and sends
him a love letter. The Saracen maiden’s ability to write so pleasingly and proficiently in the French language astounds Marc.
His great-uncle, Yrion, explains that Orimonde learned her art
directly from Marthe: ‘le premiere annee que je fui rois, ly Amiraux le m’envoya par de cha pour aprendre, et n’avoit que douze
ans, et je lui envoyay Marte vostre mere, et fu la .vi. ans, et puis
le manday et il le m’envoya, si li renvoyay se fille.’ (220, 349)
For six years, starting at the age of twelve and continuing
through her adolescence, Orimonde becomes a woman under the
tutelage of Marthe, the character most developed in Ysaÿe le
Triste as a woman performer and writer.5
Through insertions of Marthe’s work, as well as through
scenes of Marthe’s composing and performing, Ysaÿe le Triste
constructs in detail the portrait of a prolific woman writer-performer whose art is varied in genre and mode. A prose romance,
Ysaÿe le Triste contains dozens of insertions, both in verse
(narratives and lyric poetry) and in prose (letters). Marthe composes more of these interpolations than any other character. Her
first inserted text is a prose letter; her twelve verse compositions
are songs and lais;6 her longest, most significant, and final interpolation is her written romance of over a thousand verses. She
composes orally—‘dist en chantant cest son nouvel’ (122, 153)
—and in writing: “‘je veul escripre un lay nouvel.’” (167, 251)7
From the moment the character of Marthe enters the romance, she is specifically designated as a writer of texts performed by men. She is initially introduced not through physical
description, but rather through her writing: a messenger delivers
to Ysaÿe a letter Marthe has written, an interpolated prose piece
that Tronc performs.8
Only after Ysaÿe le Triste has established the character of
Marthe through her written text and its performance is she represented physically—and when she is, this physical introduction
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furthers Marthe’s identity as a writer of texts performed by men.
Following her interpolated letter, after a brief interlude dedicated to Ysaÿe’s adventures, we see Marthe writing in a private
space, her room. Ysaÿe le Triste represents the art of this authorial figure as a private process, a contemplative act requiring
intense concentration. Marthe is so absorbed in composition that
when her uncle, King Yrion, walks in and finds her writing—‘sy
le trouve faisant ung escript’ (105, 122)—she does not notice
him: ‘Lors le salue et elle ne dist mot, car sy grant entente avoit
a ce qu’elle n’entendoit point a che qu’il disoit’ (105, 122). Absorbed in her writing, Marthe fails to hear Yrion, who twice
addresses her unsuccessfully: ‘Nient plus qu’elle ot parlé a le
premiere ne respont a le seconde.’ (105, 122) When the king
approaches her, the engrossed writer is startled: ‘Yrions s’approche de ly, et quant elle le perchut, sy tressaly.’ (105, 122)
Yrion inquires: “‘a quoy pensés vous sy fort?’” (105, 122).
Marthe explains to her uncle that she concentrates on a little
song that she composes—using the vague verb ‘faire’, which
frequently occurs in Ysaÿe le Triste to connote both oral and
written composition: “‘c’est a une canchonnette que je faisoye’”
(105, 122).
Ysaÿe le Triste emphasizes that this talented writer is a woman. After hearing Marthe’s romance performed, Ysaÿe expresses his surprise that a woman could produce such a work:
“‘Dieux! Comment peut corps ne ceurs de femme ce conchevoir
ne penser?’” (245, 362). His companion, Yreux, likewise stands
in awe of the woman’s craft and responds to the hero: “‘Simedieux, fait Yreux, que je ne say, car c’est le plus soutive chose
c’oncques mais oïsse.’” (245, 362) Ysaÿe’s attendant, Tronc, explains that in the expression of worldly love women are more
artful than men: “‘je n’en sui pas esmaris, quant son ceur s’y
adonne et son vouloir s’y assent, et especiaument puis que c’est
a venir a amour terrienne, car engien de femme est plus pres et
plus vif a che que ne soit ly engiens de l’omme’” (245, 362).

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Yseut’s Legacy

Tronc’s observation attests to a link for women between
composition and love. Because of her writing, Marthe becomes
the locus of the hero’s erotic desire. Distracted by his various
knightly adventures, Ysaÿe expresses little interest in Marthe for
seventeen years. Ultimately it is her written romance that causes
him to stop and focus his attention on her in the episode’s final
recognition scene. Struck by the heroine’s written words, the
hero is left speechless: ‘Quant Ysaÿe ot oÿ le livre, sy fu tant
esmaris que mot ne pot dire.’ (245, 362) As a result of hearing
Marthe’s romance performed for him, Ysaÿe finally realizes that
he must again possess Marthe: “‘il couvient que je l’aye, ou par
Sainte Croix, je l’iray querre je meismes’”; he insists: “‘il fault
que je l’aye, par forche ou par amours.’” (245, 362)9 Through
performance of her written narrative the woman regains her
position as the coveted object of the romance hero.10
Ysaÿe le Triste represents writing and performance as essential not only to the union of the hero and heroine, but as
central to all lovers’ courtship. In Marthe’s romance, the god of
Love has Beau Maintien (‘Bel Maintieng’) carry ‘Lettres et
escrips et grans briefz’ (229, 361, 210) between courting lovers,
and Venus makes her entrance singing: ‘Elle entra ens, empavenee / Ryant, cantant, escavelee’ (230, 361, 246-47). In a section of Ysaÿe le Triste devoted to the ‘Voeux du Butor’, men and
women—including Orimonde and Marc—express and affirm
their love through song.11 During Marthe’s period of minstrel
disguise, the daughter of a patron requests that Marthe speak on
the subject of love. Marthe describes lovers’ courting as a fury
of writing, composition, and performance:
Par jour font lettres, et quant elles sont faittes, lors ne scevent de qui faire
message qui ne soit sceu. A ce penssent ung grant pieche, et quant voient
que message n’aront seur, sy despechent tout et puis rentrent dans une
aultre pensee et dient que une aultre sera faitte et qu’i le porteront, car
plus secré message d’eux meismes n’y voient. A ce s’accorde volentés,
s’est faitte ly lettre, mes en l’eure est depechie, car dil dient que ja ne s’oseroient sy eshardir que de parler a elle, et d’aultre costévauroit mieulx
une chançon. Lors pensent a le matere de quoy il le voelle faire, sy le

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commenchent bien .x. fois ou .xii., et en le parfin ne vaut elle nient.
(188, 289)

Marthe translates the torments of love and the frustrations of
courtship into the difficulty of composition.12 The lovers Marthe
represents in her discourse never rest because they are constantly writing. Lacking the courage to speak directly to their beloved, they choose to send letters or songs, that is compositions
read aloud, read silently, or sung.
Like these lovers’ affairs, that of Marthe is mediated through
writing. Both Marthe and Ysaÿe first declare their love to each
other through letters.13 In her first letter, Marthe proclaims that
her passion drives her to compose, write, and perform: ‘Illecques cante, ry, souspire et balle et me detorch et fay canchonnettes et lez despeche. En tel maniere me deduis.’ (94, 96)
Intimately and inextricably tied to Marthe’s experience in
life and love, her compositions are all self-referential works that
express her own thoughts, feelings, and desires. The heroine’s
interpolated compositions are thus essential to the definition and
development of her character. Indeed, in her typology of inserted songs, Maureen Barry McCann Boulton logically categorizes Marthe’s compositions as monologues and argues convincingly that her autobiographical songs are her sole means of
emotional expression in Ysaÿe le Triste, a narrative that does not
otherwise reveal the character’s inner feelings.14
The introduction of Marthe—first through insertion of her
written letter and then through portrayal of her act of writing—
establishes not only the nature of her character, but also her relationship to other protagonists—and in particular to men.
Marthe’s relationship to her uncle (her foster-father in the romance) is depicted as that of author to reader. Marthe composes
in writing and requests that her uncle read and judge her work:
“‘regardés s’elle est bien faitte.’” (105, 122) Yrion, who is literate, takes her composition and reads it over two or three times:
‘Ly rois Yrions lut le canchon tout par loisir deux fois ou .iii.’
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Yseut’s Legacy

(105, 123). Although the text does not indicate whether he reads
the composition out loud or silently, Yrion takes her composition seriously and takes his time (‘par loisir’) to read and reread
it carefully.
Marthe’s relationship to her beloved, Ysaÿe, as well as to his
attendant, Tronc, are also defined by her writing and the performance of her written works. Through performance of
Marthe’s initial prose letter, Ysaÿe le Triste immediately constructs the essential relationship between protagonists as a triangular one between writer, auditor, and performer. The messenger presents Marthe’s letter to Ysaÿe and instructs the hero:
“‘Lisiés lez ou les faittes lires’” (94, 95). Ysaÿe, who is literate
and reads elsewhere in the romance, can indeed choose whether
to read the work himself or to have someone else read it to
him.15 Establishing the fundamental three-way relationship of
writer-auditor-performer, Ysaÿe orders Tronc to read the letter
aloud to him: ‘Lors prent Ysaÿe les lettres et froisse le chire et
baille lez lettres a Tronc qui lez lut appertement’ (94, 95).
Marthe’s letter is a written text well crafted for such reading
aloud. A prose piece, Marthe’s letter lacks rhyme, but is tightly
held together by the frequent repetition of speech sounds whose
importance Tronc’s oral performance would magnify. Virtually
every line of Marthe’s letter exploits alliteration, consonance, or
assonance to tie together strands of repeated consonantal or
vowel sounds into a densely-woven work. Read aloud, Marthe’s
letter seduces her auditor’s ear and draws him into the flow of
her lyrical prose: ‘A vous, chevaliers parfais, parfaitement amés
d’amie, savoir vous fay que le grant grasse grasscieuse dont
vous estes raemplis m’a dechut et me decheut, car vostre amour
est pis as seuree que le moie ne soit a la vostre ...’ (94, 96).
Through insertion of Marthe’s letter and representation of
another character’s performance of it, Ysaÿe le Triste positions
Marthe as the absent woman author, metonymically present
through her writing: “‘vechy unnes lettres que Marte, le nieche
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Yrion qui est rois de Blamir, vous envoye.’” (94, 95) Ysaÿe is
the recipient, addressee, and auditor of this writing: ‘Ysaÿe et oÿ
les lettres’ (95, 97). Tronc is the performer, reader, and transmitter of the writing: ‘Tronc qui lez lut’ (94, 95). Gender roles
underscore this relation, portraying the woman as writer with
men as performers, auditors, addressees, and judges of woman’s
written texts.16
This three-way relationship is disturbed when Marthe disguises herself as a minstrel, hiding her identity as a writer and
performing her own orally composed works herself. During her
fifteen-year-long minstrel disguise—that is for more than onesixth of the lengthy Ysaÿe le Triste (i.e., eighty pages out of Giacchetti’s 460-page edition)—Marthe persistently tries to reunite
with her beloved through performance of her own autobiographical oral compositions. While making appearances as a
minstrel at various courts, Marthe meets up with her beloved—
twice—but they do not recognize each other. They even unknowingly reside at the same court for some fourteen years.
How can it be that Marthe’s autobiographical performances, executed in the first-person singular, fail to spur recognition and
reunion—even when the hero and heroine face each other, virtually unchanged (with the exception of Marthe’s clothing)?
Although she is a skilled performer, the woman writer in
Ysaÿe le Triste does not perform her most important works herself. In Ysaÿe le Triste, the woman character’s most effective
compositions require a separation between the writer and performer. Resolution will occur only once the original triangle is
reconstituted, when Marthe resumes her role as absent woman
writer and sends to Ysaÿe her ‘livre’, her written verse romance,
which Tronc will perform aloud to the hero-auditor.17
Moreover, Ysaÿe le Triste gives performance of written texts
precedence over performance of purely orally composed works
—and specifically performance of written romance precedence
over performance of orally composed songs and lais. Although
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Yseut’s Legacy

Marthe consistently sings autobiographical songs about Ysaÿe
and herself, the performance of written romance by someone
other than the author is the key to the hero’s and heroine’s ultimate reunion.
In the lovers’ first encounter within the disguise episode, the
“male” minstrel, Marthe, happens upon a castle where a knight
sits daydreaming at a window. Marthe calls up to the man—who
is in fact Ysaÿe, but whom Marthe fails to recognize18—but he
does not respond. Believing a female minstrel might better attract the knight’s attention, Marthe changes clothing and enters
the castle as ‘“une jongleresse”’ (180, 278). There Marthe performs a narrative which, as it is not accompanied by a written
text, is apparently orally composed: ‘a tant sacque se harpe et
l’atempre, puis commenche ung lay tant bel qu’a merveilles’
(180, 278). Ignorant of the identity of her auditor, she unknowingly addresses Ysaÿe directly in the autobiographical lai she
sings, revealing for the first time that Ysaÿe is the father of a son
Marthe has borne: ‘Que t’as eu, amy, / Ung enffant en my’ (182,
279). Marthe and Ysaÿe are brought to the brink of recognition,
yet the only real revelation this oral narrative provokes is realization of a fact, Ysaÿe’s fatherhood. Her lai, not represented as
a written text and not performed by another, does not spur recognition of Marthe’s original identity.
During her minstrel disguise, Marthe feigns distance between the author and the performer and between the performer
and the composition performed. She does sing her autobiographical lai in the first person to her audience, Ysaÿe, whom
she addresses in the second person: ‘M’os tu, doulx amis?’ (182,
279). But when Ysaÿe asks Marthe who has composed the work,
she affects a distinction between herself as a performer and the
composer of the lai: “‘le nieche le Roy Yrion le m’aprins.’”
(183, 281) Ysaÿe asks if the minstrel knows the composer: “‘Oïl
voir, fait Marte, car j’ay demourémainte journee avoecq ly, et
avecq lui estoye quant elle fist se propre canchon.’” (183, 281)
Ysaÿe asks the minstrel why Marthe composed the song and she
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explains: “‘Pour l’amour d’un chevalier que elle amoit, qui estoit nommés Ysaÿe ly Tristes.’” (183, 281) Despite these revelations, there is not a true separation between author and performer, no apparent recourse to writing—and notably no recognition
nor reunion. Marthe persists in her search, proceeding, still in
minstrel disguise, to King Estrahier’s court to look for her lover.
Estrahier, a fanatic of female musicians, keeps Marthe imprisoned for a good fifteen years.19 There Ysaÿe and Marthe meet and
talk a second time. Yet despite ‘lez beaux mos que Marte savoit
dire’ (188, 291), Marthe’s conversation with Ysaÿe (who now
suffers from amnesia and can not remember who he is) does not
lead to recognition for either character.
The tension built by the incorporation of minstrel and authorial identities in the same character paradoxically lays the
ground for the solution of the crux of the episode: the reaffirmation of the protagonists’ original triangular relationship of
writer-auditor-performer. In this relationship, the woman is the
absent writer, the hero is the addressee and auditor of her writing, and the male attendant serves as its performer. Ysaÿe le
Triste divides roles along gender lines to emphasize separation
between the figures of the author and the performer. When
Yreux, Ysaÿe’s companion, arrives at Estrahier’s court, Marthe
overhears their recognition scene and learns Ysaÿe’s identity.
She takes out a little book containing a romance that she has
written—‘Lors quert a ung sien escring et en sacque ung livret’
(224-25, 359)—and tells a boy to deliver it to Ysaÿe who is to
have someone look at (read) its contents: “‘Mes enffes, fay tant
pour moy que tu portes cest livret au fol [Ysaÿe] que de chy se
part, et ly dy que l’une dez dames de ceste tour lui envoye et
qu’il fache garder qu’il y a dedens.’” (225, 359) The male messenger finds Ysaÿe and faithfully executes Marthe’s command:
“‘ly une dez dames qui est en le tour par desouls lequelle vous
gisiés vous envoye cest livre, faittes le lire hastivement.’” (225,
359)

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Yseut’s Legacy

The terms used for Marthe’s romance link her work to that of
Yseut and other lovers in Ysaÿe le Triste. Marthe calls her written narrative a ‘livret’, a little book; the boy presents it to Ysaÿe
as a ‘livre’, a book;20 Ysaÿe calls it a ‘brief’ (225, 359) which, in
addition to being a general term for a written document, means
‘letter’. Ysaÿe le Triste thus associates Marthe’s romance with
that of Yseut, which is also called a ‘livre’ (27, 2), ‘livret’ (29,
5), or ‘brief’ (29, 5-6). Use of the word ‘brief’ underscores the
manner in which the author’s story is delivered to its intended
audience. The term ‘brief’ also connects Yseut’s and Marthe’s
written narratives to general references in Ysaÿe le Triste associating courtship and letter-writing, and specifically to the first
written composition Marthe has performed for Ysaÿe, the letter
that established Marthe’s identity as a writer, and her relationship to Ysaÿe and Tronc. Just as performance of Marthe’s first
letter paved the way for the lovers’ union, performance of this
‘brief’—her romance—will make way for their reunion.
However, Ysaÿe does not immediately interpret the token as
a sign of Marthe’s identity: ‘Quant Ysaïe l’entent sy fu esmaris
dont ce peut venir.’ (225, 359) He can not interpret writing as a
signifier of Marthe’s identity unless another character performs
it to him: “‘Tronc, fait Ysaïe, une dame m’a envoyet ung livre.
Je vous prie que le lisiés ... Je voel qu’i soit lus, fait Ysaïe,
delivrés vous.’” (225, 360) Enabling recognition and reunion,
Tronc begins to read Marthe’s composition aloud: ‘Quant il voit
que faire ly couvient, lors commenche a lire’ (225, 360).
Tronc’s performance makes possible Marthe’s recovery of
her primary role as a woman writer, an identity separate and distinct from the performer of her writings. Through performance
of written narrative, Ysaÿe le Triste stages recognition without
physical presence. Marthe’s true voice is expressed in writing,
and thus heard through the intermediary voice of another, of the
reader who performs her work. As Jesper Svenbro remarks in
his examination of Sappho: ‘The order of written discourse requires the writer to define himself as absent, as dead’.21 He adds:
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‘The reader will breathe into the poem the psukhê that Sappho
breathed out there. In short, the reader will restore life, voice,
sound, and meaning to the graphê .’22 Paradoxically, the absence
—the death—of our Sappho, of our woman writer, generates her
rebirth: the resurrection of her original relations with the hero
and his attendant.
Performance of the woman’s written romance by a male
character emphasizes a separation between author and performer
necessary in Ysaÿe le Triste to ensure communication between
and union of protagonists, and to fulfill the woman’s needs and
objectives. To tell their stories successfully, both Yseut and
Marthe hand over their written texts to male readers who perform autobiographical works whose first-person narrative voice
is feminine. Ysaÿe le Triste thus uses gender to mark the distance between writer and performer, and between performer and
written text.
Yseut’s voice, like that of Marthe, is heard not through her
own oral performance, but rather through the male reader’s actualization of her written text. After giving birth to Ysaÿe, Yseut,
near death, does not confess orally, but rather has her confessor
read the ‘livret’ that records the entire history of her affair with
Tristan:
‘Sires, toutes les besongnes dont je me sui mesfaite vers Roy Marcq mon
mari ne sai ge mie, mais je sai aucques toutes les choses qu’avenues sont
entre moy et Tristran de Loenois. Et pour que je ne l’eusse seut tout detenir par coeur, en ay ge mis le plus grant partie en ung livret qui est sur
moy: tenés et lisiés et je connisteray toutes ces coses estre vraies: sy
m’en asollez.’ A tant regarde le brief, ne mie si brief qu’il n’y eust .xxx.
foelles, et parloit des le commenchement que Tristrans l’ala rouver pour
son oncle jusques a celui jour qu’elle estoit venue devant lui, et especiaument parloit de l’eure et du jour que Tristrans jut avoec lui, quant ly engenra le petit orphelin que encore n’est baptisé.
(29, 5)

Like Marthe’s thousand-verse romance, Yseut’s thirty-folio
book achieves what the woman writer can not accomplish
through the spoken word. Yseut’s book bears witness to the en330

Yseut’s Legacy

tirety of her adulterous affair, and ultimately exonerates her because it proves to her male reader, her confessor, that she is
powerless to resist her passion:
Et li ermittes en ot pité, car bien vy, parmi ce que li brief tesmoignoit,
qu’elle estoit assés des fais ygnorente, car les amours de Tristran avoient
commenchié par le vertu d’un beuvraige que li femme le roy Angins d’Irlande, mere Yzeut bailla a Gormorail et a Bongien. Si ly fist le signe de
le crois, en non d’assolucion.
(29, 6)

Ysaÿe le Triste endows the performance of written texts with
a significance that overshadows the performance of oral compositions. Through his reading of Yseut’s written narrative, the
hermit takes pity on Yseut, judges her innocent, and grants her
absolution shortly before her death. Marthe’s introductory prose
letter declares her love for Ysaÿe and spurs her initial union with
him. Orimonde will likewise initiate her relationship with Marc
by writing and sending a letter in prose. Marthe’s second written
interpolation, a song, proves, according to her uncle who reads
it, that she is truly in love: “‘Nieche, vous amés par amours.’”
(105, 123) Her third, a written lai, announces Marthe’s decision
to search for Ysaÿe as a minstrel, thus launching the extensive
disguise episode. The fourth written interpolation, her verse romance, prompts Ysaÿe’s recognition of her and paves the way
for their reunion. Invariably each of the women’s inserted written compositions occurs at a critical point in the story.
At this historical time in the Middle Ages when production
of books is on the rise, Ysaÿe le Triste uses gender roles to emphasize the importance of writing, while stressing that writing
does not replace, nullify, or supersede oral performance; the two
thrive in a reciprocal relationship.23 This is a crucial message in
a romance that was itself likely to have been a written text that
others read or had read in the absence of its writer.24 It suggests
that the author of Ysaÿe le Triste sees his—or her—own distance
from the work and the transmission of the text through another’s
performance not as an impediment or obstacle to audiences’ understanding, but rather as key to full telling of the story.
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Marilyn Lawrence

Ysaÿe le Triste stands out among medieval French narratives
as apparently the first and only work in which the figure of a
writer assumes the disguise of a minstrel.25 Although characters
who adopt minstrel disguise in other narratives may compose,
they are never essentially defined as writers. Indeed, vocal and
verbal signs frequently indicate their identity, enabling them
successfully to provoke recognition through performance of oral
compositions.26 Such narratives pre-date Ysaÿe le Triste, extending from the mid twelfth century (Le roman de Brut by Wace) to
the early fourteenth century (Fouke le Fitz Waryn). Reflecting a
rise in writing and book production, the late-fourteenth- or earlyfifteenth-century Ysaÿe le Triste is unique in its emphasis on the
tension between minstrel and authorial identities, as well as on
the power of the woman writer.
Ysaÿe le Triste explicitly represents itself as born of the
writings of a woman. As not even Yseut herself is able to remember accurately and completely her story, the woman
writer’s autobiographical book serves as the unique source of
one of the most compelling legends of the Middle Ages: the
romance of Tristan and Yseut. Moreover, this narrative proves
Ysaÿe to be the son of Tristan and therefore launches the story
of Ysaÿe le Triste.
Marthe follows in the tradition of her mother-in-law—not
simply as a woman writer, but as a writer of romance. Ysaÿe le
Triste shapes Marthe’s final, longest, and most important written
composition as a romance; in the minstrel-disguise episode and
its closing recognition scene, Ysaÿe le Triste privileges performance of written romance over that of orally composed genres.
The culmination of the quest by the most prominent author figure in Ysaÿe le Triste is the writing and reading aloud of a romance: as the author of romance, Marthe succeeds where the
minstrel’s performance of oral compositions fails.
Perhaps the ultimate disguise in Ysaÿe le Triste is that of the
real historical author who chooses to mask his—or her—own
identity behind the fictional figures of author-heroines in order
332

Yseut’s Legacy

to spotlight the prominence of women writers and the performance of written texts. Whereas Marthe invariably provides her
curious audiences specifics concerning her authorial identity and
intent, the actual historical author of Ysaÿe le Triste stubbornly
chooses to remain anonymous and mysterious—though, thanks
to our reading, our performance, of surviving manuscripts, not
silent.27
Notes
1

2

3

4
5

6

Scholars disagree on the romance’s date, which they generally estimate
to fall between 1350 and the beginning of the fifteenth century. See André Giacchetti, ‘Ysaÿe le Triste et l’Ecosse’, Bulletin bibliographique de
la Société Internationale Arthurienne 15 (1963), pp. 109-19 and 16
(1964), p. 121, and André Giacchetti (ed.), Ysaÿe le Triste: Roman arthurien du Moyen Age tardif, Rouen, 1989 [Publications de l’Université de
Rouen, 142], p. 26.
For discussion of Yseut as a composer-performer in the romances by
Gottfried von Strassburg (where Yseut can write also) and Thomas, and
in the Tristan en prose, see Susan Boynton, ‘Women’s Performance of
the Lyric before 1500’, in: Anne L. Klinck & Ann Marie Rasmussen
(eds.), Medieval Woman’s Song: Cross-Cultural Approaches, Philadelphia, 2002, pp. 56-58. In La continuation de Perceval by Gerbert de
Montreuil, Yseut declares that she and Tristan have co-composed the ‘lai
de Chievrefueil’, calling it ‘Le lai que moi et lui feïsmes.’ See Gerbert de
Montreuil, La continuation de Perceval, (ed.) Mary Williams, Paris,
1922 [Les classiques français du Moyen Age, 28], vol. 1, p. 126, l. 4085.
Citations are from Giacchetti (ed.), Ysaÿe le Triste, page number followed by paragraph number. Occasionally, in the case of verse insertions, a
third set of numbers indicates verses.
See 285, 425-29; 311, 477-78.
For a detailed summary of Ysaÿe le Triste see Julius Zeidler, ‘Der Prosaroman Ysaye le Triste’, Zeitschrift fü r romanische Philologie 25 (1901),
pp. 175-214, 472-89 and 641-68. Giacchetti offers a briefer synopsis in
his edition (pp. 19-25). For a review of relevant bibliography, see Patricia
Victorin, Ysaïe le Triste: Une esthétique de la confluence. Tours, tombeaux, vergers et fontaines, Paris, 2002, and Marilyn Lawrence, ‘Minstrel Disguise in Medieval French Narrative: Identity, Performance, Authorship’, Diss. New York University, 2001.
According to Giacchetti, she even invents a new form of lai: ‘Une nouvelle forme du lai apparue à la fin du XIVe siècle’, in: Etudes de langue

333

Marilyn Lawrence

7

8

9

10

11
12

13
14
15
16

17
18

et de littérature du Moyen Age offerts à Félix Lecoy par ses collègues,
ses élèves et ses amis, Paris, 1973, pp. 147-55.
See Victorin, Ysaïe le Triste, pp. 385-411; Michelle Szkilnik, ‘Des
femmes écrivains: Nérones dans le Roman de Perceforest, Marte dans
Ysaÿe le Triste’, Romania 117 (1999), pp. 474-506; and my companion
piece to this article, ‘Oral Performance of Written Narrative in the Medieval French Romance Ysaÿe le Triste’, in: Evelyn Birge Vitz, Nancy
Freeman Regalado & Marilyn Lawrence (eds.), Performing Medieval
Narrative, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 89-102.
94-95, 96. Ysaÿe le Triste introduces Orimonde in precisely the same
manner: she first appears as the writer of an interpolated prose letter that
she sends to Marc and which Marc’s companion Count Hergo reads to
him aloud (219-20, 347-49).
Ysaÿe’s knightly willingness to use force to obtain his beloved contrasts
with the female author’s accomplishment of the same task “‘par fait ou
par parolle’” (245, 362).
See also Evelyn Birge Vitz, ‘Erotic Reading in the Middle Ages: Performance and Re-performance of Romance’, in: Vitz, Regalado & Lawrence (eds.), Performing Medieval Narrative, pp. 73-88.
280-93, 420-50.
In the second half of the fourteenth century, writers such as Guillaume de
Machaut and Jean Froissart, who were likely contemporaries of the
author of Ysaÿe le Triste, begin to represent narratively the work and
effort involved in composition and the anxiety-provoking difficulties of
relying on composition as a mediator of love. Prior to these authors who
portray their work as a craft, composition is typically represented as the
spontaneous fruit of inspiration. See Maureen Barry McCann Boulton,
The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction,
1200-1400, Philadelphia, 1993, p. 276.
94-95, 96; 104, 120. Likewise, Orimonde first reveals her love to Marc
by letter; Marc responds by sending an oral message (220, 348-49).
See Boulton, The Song in the Story, chapter two, esp. pp. 72-79. See also
Boynton, ‘Women’s Performance’, pp. 61-62.
See 141-42, 194-96.
Ysaÿe le Triste similarly establishes the relationship between Orimonde
(writer), Marc (auditor), and Count Hergo (performer of Orimonde’s
written text) (220, 348).
225, 360.
A cloth covers Ysaÿe’s shield. The narrator explicitly states that if
Ysaÿe’s arms had been uncovered, Marthe would have recognized the
shield, and from the shield would have recognized the knight: ‘car se
desconvert fust, bien eust recongneu l’escu, et par l’escu le chevalier.’

334

Yseut’s Legacy

19
20
21
22
23

24
25
26

27

(184, 281) With Ysaÿe’s signifying shield sheathed, Marthe, subject to
the laws of the sign system in Ysaÿe le Triste, perceives her physically
unaltered fiancé as no more than a stranger.
184, 282.
At the end of her romance, Marthe also calls her written composition a
‘livre’ (244, 361, 992).
Jesper Svenbro, Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient
Greece, (trans.) Janet Lloyd, Ithaca, 1993, p. 152.
Ibid., p. 155.
See Joyce Coleman, Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late
Medieval England and France, Cambridge, 1996 [Cambridge Studies in
Medieval Literature, 26].
See 27, 1-2.
See Lawrence, ‘Minstrel Disguise’.
See Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Shaping Romance: Interpretation,
Truth, and Closure in Twelfth-Century French Fictions, Philadelphia,
1993, pp. 12-36, and Marilyn Lawrence, ‘Parole, pouvoir, plaisir et déguisement du goupil dans Renart jongleur’, Reinardus: Yearbook of the
International Reynard Society 14 (2001), pp. 173-88.
Ysaÿe le Triste is preserved today in two manuscripts—Darmstadt, Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek 2524, and Gotha, Herzoglich
Gothaische Bibliothek 668—and in altered and abridged sixteenth-century editions; see André Giacchetti, ‘Les éditions d’Isaye le Triste au
XVIe siècle’, Bulletin bibliographique de la Société Internationale Arthurienne 12 (1960), p. 131, and his edition, pp. 12-13.

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‘A Bawdy Lecture unto Ladies’:
Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

Felicity Henderson
Now Gentlemen for mee it misbecomes
To ask of you your ill deserved Humms
These Ladies here will prove more kind perhaps
And Kindly on us all bestow their claps.1

Despite his words, Thomas Lawrence might have expected hums
of approval, at least from the gentlemen in his audience, for managing to insert one final bawdy pun into the epilogue to his music
lecture. His performance took place at the Oxford graduation ceremony, known as the Act, in 1669. His audience was mixed—the
early modern Act was a public occasion that always attracted
crowds of visitors to the university. The formal entertainments included Latin speeches and sermons, panegyric verses spoken by
scholars, and ceremonial academic disputations. However, many
of the visitors to the Act in the later seventeenth century were
drawn more by the promise of scandal and comedy than Greek
versification. Revelations of academic intrigue were the standard
subject matter of the terrae filius, a master of arts who made a
satirical speech during one of the disputations.2 In a similar vein,
the music lecturer gave a speech in English addressed specifically
to the women in his audience.3 Internal and external evidence, and
the lively manuscript tradition, suggest that the music speech was
a well-known and popular part of the Act, attended by visiting ladies and scholars. It probably originated as a serious commentary
on interludes of instrumental music performed by scholars.4 After
the Restoration, however, speakers abandoned music in favour of
something much more amusing—bawdy and satirical attacks on

Felicity Henderson

women. Their performances reveal much about the attitude of
early-modern university men towards women, and the way they
wanted the outside world to view their relationships with women.
Because the Act was one of the very few occasions when a
wide variety of outsiders were invited to view university life, it
represented an important opportunity for the university to define
itself and its relationship with the outside world. It could be argued that much of the university’s formal ceremony was designed to
demonstrate its place in society—for example, the ceremonial disputations and recitation of verses in Greek and Latin emphasized
its erudition, while sermons reinforced its position as nursery of
the Anglican clergy. Individual scholars were attuned to the power of performance: in the oral atmosphere of the schools, careers
hung on a persuasive argument or pretty piece of rhetoric. Speakers at the Act, then, could use their performances to attract attention to themselves, or make a statement which reflected the outlook of the wider university.
Like other performers at the Act, music speakers used a scholarly form and humorous content to create boundaries between
their academic and non-academic audiences. In particular, they
drew attention to the strangeness of the women’s presence in their
midst, and their physical difference from the scholars. They reminded their audience that they were speaking in English, contrary to their usual practice, because the ladies would not understand
Latin. At the same time, however, they reveal a deep anxiety about
the place of women in society at large, and particularly about their
relationship with the university. Their frequent references to the
sexual availability of the town women (and concomitant emphasis
on their own desirability and activity as sexual partners) can be
read as an attempt to reinforce their masculinity, both for their
own benefit, and more importantly, for the benefit of the visitors
who had come up from London.
Music lecturers at Restoration Oxford were usually men who
had taken their master’s degree in the previous two or three years
338

Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

—that is, they would have been equally qualified to give a serious
lecture. It seems the position of music speaker was highly sought
after, but the speech itself was often the product of a group effort.
Mr. Walbank claimed in his 1684 epilogue that ‘The charming
Foster ... / Profferd a Guiney for this Preaching place’, and was
planning to ‘kill ye women ... / With his own beauty & ye students Wit’.5 Foster is characterized as a fop who had proposed to
deliver a speech written by some of the students, in the hopes of
making a name for himself among the women. James Allestree
offered an insight into the production of the 1679 speech, in his
epilogue:
Had you but known how fast intelligence came
Wt notes were sent of this & tother Dame
Who treated who wt baudry past last night
Who jilted yt raw Esqr & this young Knight
Had yee known this I justly had bin blamd
Not why these few, but why no more were nam’d.6

Even though the final composition was Allestree’s, there is a
sense in which the whole group of scholars had a hand in its
making and some definite expectations of what would be said.
The corporate nature of the production means that it can be heard
as not just the bawdy voice of one aberrant scholar, but of a wider
student body. This sense of corporate production is heightened by
the number of speakers who refer to, or place themselves within,
the tradition of music speakers and speeches. Langford called
them ‘bawdy Lectures ... read each year’, Walbank was surprised
that the ladies had ‘ventur’d here once more’, and Lawrence
spoke of his ‘ingenious predecessour of the Last Act’.7 By inserting their own performances into this tradition, speakers deflected
personal criticisms to a certain extent, and asked their audience to
react in a way which had already been mapped out for them by
previous audiences.
Though the almost-ritual nature of the speech meant that the
ladies in the audience knew what to expect, it is still not clear why
women regularly attended a performance that grew steadily more
339

Felicity Henderson

scurrilous and misogynist as the century progressed. Occasionally
witty, and always ostensibly intended, as Thomas Hearne claimed, ‘for the entertainment of the Ladies’, the speeches provided a
rather questionable form of amusement for visiting ladies.8 The
cruelest taunts were reserved for town girls and scholars’ wives,
so perhaps the visitors could take some comfort in their relative
anonymity, knowing that they were more likely to be the targets
of good-natured (or at least non-specific) raillery than pointed
satire. They may have been drawn by the fact that this was the
only entertainment designed expressly for their audience, and as
such, provided a sense of participation in commencement festivities from which they were otherwise barred. It is also possible
that some ladies would have wanted to see and be seen by the
lively young wits of the university, whose doings would later be
discussed in London circles.
The scholars had their own ideas about the ladies’ attendance,
showing that even they realized that the content of the speeches
was not necessarily an inducement. Langford played the part of
the growling satirist in 1683, beginning his prologue thus:
Were women half soe coy as they doe appeare
Such bawdy Lectures have been read each year
Long before this we had noe Ladies here:
Abused, exposed, yet tame they sitt, and still,
In spight of ribauldry the benches fill 9

His answer to this conundrum did not reflect positively on the
ladies present: ‘Your pride is such, you freely club your shame /
And rather court a bad then have noe name’. The desire for notoriety that these lines seem to attribute to the ladies reflects the
scholars’ knowledge that their wit, at least in the latter part of the
century, was food for gossip in some social circles. Being noticed
at the Oxford Act, even in derogatory fashion, was one way of
becoming famous.
While relatively few music speeches survive in their entirety,
those that do, especially those from the latter part of the century,
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Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

provide a good indication of the level of coarseness that could be
expected of the occasion. The texts are littered with sexual allusions, including, in Latin, puns on the erection of a new organ
(illum novum Organon extruxisse, quod festis diebus sacris
cantilenis inseruit), and references to sex; more puns and only
slightly less explicit allusions in English (‘I had rather play on the
Virgin-holes then the Organs’); and obscene jokes in the prologues and epilogues (‘I ... never yett / Could meet a formal, godly,
mincing Cit, / But loved to swallow still the slippery Bitt’).10
Taken as a group, the music speeches are generally much coarser
than other orations of the same kind. Therefore, it seems likely
that it was their specific function and audience which encouraged
obscenity.
Freud, in his Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious,
engaged in a brief but useful discussion of coarse jokes.11 He
claimed that obscene jokes are a form of sexual exposure: ‘By the
utterance of the obscene words it compels the person who is assailed to imagine the part of the body or the procedure in question
and shows her that the assailant is himself imagining it’. This exposure is primarily designed to elicit a response from the hearer, a
‘corresponding excitement’ which may lead to gratification of desire. However, if the gratification is delayed, as it generally is in
the presence of a third person, the obstruction to the sexual impulse causes the joke to turn hostile—in which case the woman
becomes the object of hostility, and the speaker and listening third
person form an alliance against her. While Freud’s analysis is
based on a modern understanding of obscenity and is perhaps too
focussed on libido as an explanation for the jokes (ignoring factors such as male bonding rituals), it is helpful in considering the
music speech performance. The scholars regarded most women
as potential sexual partners, and their demonstration of this in the
music speech can be seen as an opening gambit in their attempts
to achieve this goal. It seems that they either expected or pretended to expect the desired response from the ladies: Walbank
hoped to redden their pale cheeks with his ‘smutty Jeer’, saying
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Felicity Henderson

‘... it would a double kindness be / To raise their beauty & their
lechery’. 12 There is also some anecdotal evidence that music
speakers were justified in their expectations.13 However, it is the
role of Freud’s “third person”, the other listener, that is most
relevant in the university context. Freud argued that it is the third
person who laughs at the joke, and whose libido is gratified by
the first person’s attack on the second person. This category of
third person would include all the scholars who had also assembled to hear the music speaker. Thus, there was a process of
transferral going on: the scholars knew that the opportunity for
sex offered by the ladies’ presence was likely to remain unfulfilled, so they engineered a situation where they could gain a
similar (on one level) satisfaction that they could all share.
The extreme smuttiness of the later seventeenth-century speeches may also have been partly for the benefit of visiting Londoners. With court poets such as Rochester and his friends writing
verses beside which the music speeches seem as innocuous as
nursery-rhymes, it is not difficult to imagine the scholars attempting to keep up with their more sophisticated London cousins.
Some anxiety about the relative innocence of their productions is
evident in the speeches. Lawrence was most explicit in his epilogue, saying that the author
... feares he has treated you wth noe delight,
Hee is not yet debaucht enough to write.
Pardon the modesty of his first addresse
Next hee’l be more bold wth more successe.14

Interestingly, the speaker attributed to the visiting ladies a knowledge and enjoyment of debauchery similar to that of the London
courtiers. This scholarly insecurity about the relationship between
the universities and courtly society manifested itself in various
ways, most obviously in the derision of “fops”, but also in the
way the scholars spoke about London. Lawrence claimed the ladies’ transforming presence in Oxford ‘will make the Walkes &
Groves surpasse those of Greys-Inne’ and ‘convert our New into
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Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

an Hide-Parke, & our Paradise into a Spring-Garden’ (fol. 11v).
For a brief time, Oxford would enjoy the sophistications of the
metropolis, which seemed to depend upon one thing: the society
of women.
What, then, did the scholars think of the society of women?
Lawrence set the tone of his 1669 speech by addressing the ladies
in a verse prologue, beginning:
Blesse me! what sight is this invades my eyes?
Haue Ladies won the town by strange surprise?
What do Slop-shood Inceptours female come,
As well as male from this Acts teeming wombe?

(fol. 7)

From the very first words addressed to them, the strangeness of
their presence at Oxford is emphasized to the women; and on this
level their status as onlookers, rather than ‘Inceptours’ (or graduates), is reinforced. However, the same words betray the speaker’s underlying concern about the women’s presence—their images invade his eyes, and it seems they have also invaded and
conquered the town by stealth. Not only that, but their participation in the Act hints at their invasion of a strictly male preserve—
academic learning. This motif of subversive female power recurs
throughout the following prose speech, and most other music
speeches. Marriage is introduced as a primary site of male/female
contest, one where men are not always dominant. Lawrence exclaimed to the ladies at
how poorly we come off, when we engage wth you ... we all threaten
like young Bride-grooms the first night, & when our venom’s spit, looke
as simply as they doe the next morning.
(fol. 7v)

The metaphor reveals the speaker’s unease about marriage, both
in the wider world, and in university society. This attitude is also
reflected in the way husbands were characterized by the scholars.
Lawrence drank a toast to the ladies’ ‘good natur’d men at home
... They kind soules little thinke what we are saying here, & what
we shall be doing in another place’ (fol. 9v). Richard Torless, in
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Felicity Henderson

1661, used an analogy drawn from classical mythology: the ladies
leave ‘old Tithonus bed to court the youthful embraces of the Sun;
That is ... leave the good old man at home, and come to the Act at
Ox[ford]’.15 The gap between “home” and Oxford is emphasized,
characterising the Oxford Act as a carnival place and time where
the usual rules of conduct do not apply. The scholars bolstered
their own image as sexual predators by characterising all husbands as cuckolds who were unable to prevent their wives from
straying and unaware of their activities. At the same time, however, the scholars betrayed their fear of being tempted into marriage: in Lawrence’s words, the ‘Ignoramuses’ who are attracted to
women’s beauties ‘are ever caught bird lim’d in a kisse or snapt
in a pitfall of Matrimony’ (fol. 9v). It was only by resisting the
snare of marriage that the scholars were able to retain their
advantage over the weak and deceived husbands at home.
Lawrence pointed out further disincentives to marriage in a series of jokes about the advanced age of the college heads’ wives:
those antiquated Sybills of the University ... you may know them to belong to the church by their ruinous faces; to be kin to one of them is the
nearest way to be related to the Founder; And you may alwayes see them
among the Antiquities of the Coll: they are a sort of Religious reliques,
And their age is Testimony enough of the use of Marryage among
Church-men, even in Primitive times.
(fol. 8)

He did not approach a Juvenalian intensity of aggression, but cast
the wives as a variety of dull, religious, college furnishings.
Lawrence implied that their age effaced their sexuality, making
them undesirable; age and sex combined however to suggest an
alliance with darker, sibylline powers. It seems likely that these
women were described this way because the fact of their marriage
to senior university men meant it was no longer appropriate for
scholars to regard them as fair game.
This was certainly not the case for other Oxford women.
Lawrence introduced the townsmen’s wives as ‘a sort of Cattle as
dull and as common too as their husbands Hackneys’ (fol. 8v);
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Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

and he followed this up with the obvious joke that the wives may
be hired like horses. His statement reinforced once again the notion, repeated throughout university satire, that the townsmen’s
wives preferred the sexual attentions of scholars to those of their
husbands. Linked with this is the idea that the townsmen were
unable to keep the scholars from their women. Smith, in 1693,
mentioned ‘Byrams mornfull Nymphs’, who were ‘watch’t &
guard like his bags’: apparently a rare instance of a townsman
who had been able to enforce ‘a long virginity’ on his daughters.16 The example of Byram also illustrates the way in which
town women, both wives and daughters, were almost always associated with trades, legitimate and illegitimate. Lawrence called
the ‘better Herrings’ among them, ‘our Consorts those Gills of all
trades that furnish us wth one sort of ware more then their husbands’ (fol. 8v). Smith said ‘Where beauty is ye Traffick of ye
shop / The trade thrives best with windows folded up’, and derided ‘ye stale Daniels’ as ‘dated like our tradesmens-tarnish’d
ware’.17 The emphasis on buying and selling was an attempt to
distance the scholars from these town women by implying that
any transactions that may have occurred were purely commercial,
and not the result of any kind of emotional attachment between
people of such different social positions. Lawrence even suggested that these illicit negotiations were part of the town/university
economy, asking whether ‘the buying that [i.e., the wives’ sexual
favours] payes not for the rest’ of the husbands’ goods.
Like most of the music speakers, Lawrence devoted a portion
of his speech to discussing particular town girls. He not only
identified these women by their fathers’ occupations, but caricatured several of them as direct products of the townsmen’s trade.
One was ‘a pale girle the creature of a Baker & shee like her
fathers bread is underbaked and wants kneading’, another was ‘a
chandlers greasy daughter that makes use of Tallow instead of
Pomatum to gett her a shining countenance’ (fol. 8v). The wit of
these identifications lies in the cleverness with which the descriptions of the girls might be made to fit their fathers’ trades; but the
345

Felicity Henderson

satire is completed by allusions to their activities with members of
the university. For example, the gossip went that the baker’s
daughter had been expecting to elope with ‘the Bursar of a College’ but was disappointed. Similarly,
the Book Sellours Daughter a little Octavo ... hath been often hired out
to read in the sheets, & now hopes to be bound up in Wedlock & covered
wth some calve-skin husband, & to stand for an excellent authoresse in
the study of a Country-Parson
(fol. 9)

Lawrence’s insistence on the girls’ ultimate desire for marriage,
and his amusement when their plans failed, reflects the general
university attitude to the townspeople. The tension between town
and gown at Oxford and Cambridge stemmed partly from the universities’ distrust of the townsmen, whose trades they relied on
for the necessities of life, and who they believed were constantly
trying to encroach on university jurisdictions. Marriage with a
scholar would usually be a step up the social ladder for a town
girl. Here, as in other texts, marriage is seen as a trap into which
an unwitting scholar might be led by a scheming girl (or her
scheming and encroaching parent).18 This particular fear was, of
course, neither new nor specific to the universities. However, the
repercussions of marriage were greater in university society than
in the world at large. Apart from the heads of houses, married
men could not hold fellowships, and could not live in colleges.
This set married men apart from the rest of university society, and
to a certain extent excluded them from the tightly-knit, purely
male circles that the college environment produced. As has been
seen, the doctors’ wives were regarded with mockery and suspicion—and this was sometimes transferred to their husbands.19
Even without considering their well-known propensities for evil,
it is little wonder that women were regarded as dangerous by university men, living as they did in a society where illicit liaisons
could lead to scholars being expelled and fellows being ejected
from their fellowships. Men who identified themselves very
strongly with their status as scholars needed to reject women, not
only because they had no place at the university, but, more im346

Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

portantly, because their presence could lead to the scholar’s own
exclusion and consequent loss of identity.
As a defensive measure, the scholars seem to have developed
a policy of knowing their enemy. Apart from their detailed descriptions of the town women’s behaviour, music speakers often
dwelled on the physical attributes of the women in their audience.
Lawrence, for example, mentioned the ladies’ painted faces, then
went on to discuss their ‘patches’, ‘false Locks’, and dress (fols.
9v-10). This itemization not only demonstrated Lawrence’s intimate acquaintance with women’s fashion (suggesting a worldliness that may not have been expected of scholars), but also
showed that he was alert to the ways in which women attempted
to cover their defects and lure men into their toils. The first section of Richard Torless’ speech performed a similar function. He
claimed to be ‘at a losse for Titles’ to address the ladies in the
audience. For each title proposed he finds a negating response.
For example: ‘Some call you Deities; sure ’tis because you have
so little Humanity; ... Some call you their Paradice; sure tis
because you have so much of the old Serpent in you’.20 The wit
consists of subverting expectations, discovering an apposite
negative for common descriptions of women. By doing this, he
could undermine masculine ideals of womanhood and reveal the
“truth” behind elaborate courtly compliments, thus protecting men
from the confusing personas they create for their lovers. Torless
gave some explanation for his speech:
I had thought to have drawn a true and lively portraiture of your beauties,
and to have presented it to your selves for a looking-glasse; but I fear if I
undertake it myself, being no great Artist, I should draw it so gastly that
you’ld complain in that I had, instead of drawing you to the Life,
executed you in Effigie, therefore I will present you to your selvs and this
judicious assembly, as you are limb’d by your own Courtiers. (fol. 33v)

Using the same deflating technique, he went on to itemize the
women’s parts and undercut the eulogizing language in which
they were usually described: ‘Some tell you of the Roses and
Lillies of your Cheeks, and Violets of yr veins, when their whole
347

Felicity Henderson

desire is to Deflowre you’ (fol. 33v). Through this process the
women are divided into their parts, and then undergo a process of
metamorphosis into other substances—their cheeks become roses
and lilies. This can be seen as an attempt to control women’s
power by dividing and dispersing their bodies, “othering” them to
the point at which they ceased to be whole or even animate. The
argument is not simply a reiteration of well-known Renaissance
complaints about women’s painted faces. The speech was designed to strip away the fantasies of ‘Courtiers’ and ‘Lovers’, and indicates the difficulty the scholars had with pinning down the truth
about the female nature. In their view, women hid behind a series
of constantly shifting metaphors. The ladies’ made-up faces presented the scholars with a similar interpretative problem: a painted
face was a changeable and changing face, liable to be smudged,
or melted away entirely in hot weather. Permanence is the key to
comprehension, and so Torless sarcastically advised the ladies ‘to
mix with yr Paint plaister of Paris, so will yr Beauties be durable,
defying both Sun and worm’ (fol. 34).
Torless’ search for an encompassing emblem reflects the
scholars’ need to demonstrate that they knew women minutely
and intimately. This was clearly illustrated by Smith, who told the
ladies that he had ‘learn’d Anatomy’: ‘My knowledge goes beyound externall beauty / For, Gad, I know you Intus & in cute’.21
By applying the processes of university-taught (that is, male)
scientific methods, he claimed to know the women better than
they could know themselves. The attempt to define women, either
by a description of their physical bodies, clothing and personalities, or by an exhaustive listing of the metaphors used to capture
some aspect of their being, can be seen as the scholars’ way of
controlling women and limiting the extent of their power.
Further concern with control and boundaries is revealed in the
references, made in several speeches, to the surrounding buildings. Although Lawrence’s prologue suggested the ladies had invaded the university, his and other speeches also employed
348

Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

imagery in which the women had been metaphorically captured by
the scholars and safely enclosed in the the university’s usually
academic and cloistered environment. Charles Allestree, in 1679,
called the music school ‘yon narrow fulsom box’, and likened it
to ‘ye Stove ye Sweating Tub of Love’.22 July’s heat was more
easily escaped in the Sheldonian theatre, where the music speech
was delivered for the first time in 1679. The Sheldonian held particular significance in the minds of the scholars, as the place set
aside for degree-granting ceremonies. Performances given at the
theatre took on some of this aura, and Anthony Wood complained
bitterly when the music speech was moved back to the music
school in 1681.23 Music speakers continually emphasized the difference between public and private spaces at Oxford. Langford
was possibly alluding to Wood’s comment in his 1683 prologue
‘... tho some think ye Theater a grace, / Yet the most private is the
fittest place’.24 Smith proclaimed in 1693, ‘I’me told an Oxford
act is, / Design’d for Publick, & for chamber practise’.25 The audience was encouraged to believe that whatever kind of work
might be practiced in the scholar’s chamber, it was probably not
of a musical nature.26 This concern with the private chamber and
‘closet exercise’,27 is of course primarily meant to be sexually
suggestive. However it also adds to the image of the university
(and to some extent town) as a place consisting of multiple zones.
Entry to each new room required some further degree of
initiation, and the number of boundaries a person was able to
cross was a measure of their acceptance into university society. It
seems the scholars wished women to believe that their ‘fittest
place’ was the private chamber, and that their participation in the
public display of a music lecture was abnormal. However, the
only way for these women to enter the private chamber was for
sexual activity with the scholars.
Lawrence delivered his 1669 speech in the music school,
which he fancifully likened to a tournament list, saying
the very contrivance of this Schoole adds much to my amorous desires ...
I combat you wth my Tongue & you run a Tilt at me wth your eyes;

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Felicity Henderson

Valour & Knight-errantry must redeeme you out of this enchanted castle,
& a man must passe the pikes e’re he can come at you.
(fol. 11)

Torless also touched upon the theme of capture and combat, comparing his audience with ‘the Sabine Ladies, come to see our
sports’ (fol. 35). As it followed a long complaint about the university’s lack of women, the overtones of this allusion are obvious, and are not wholly effaced by his subsequent claim that
‘instead of our laying hands on you, You take us captives here at
home’.28 In both these metaphors, the scholars make the tension
of the situation clear. As well as fighting with each other over the
women, as competitors did in a tournament, the scholars must
contend with the attacks of the women on their freedom. The
speakers imply that these perceived attacks were welcome as
proof of the scholars’ desirability and susceptibility to female
charms; but they must still be resisted if the scholars are to retain
their freedom and identity.
The music speeches, then, have a mixed message. The scholars treated the occasion as an elaborate courtship ritual, directed
towards women but played out in the sight of other males. Their
goal was to entrance the women with a display of wit, learning
and musical accomplishment, all the while making suggestive remarks presumably intended to inflame the ladies’ desire. At the
same time, they marked out their territory for the benefit of the
visiting London fops and courtiers, characterising themselves as
rakish ladies’ men and demonstrating their intimate knowledge of
women in general and Oxford women in particular. Their attempts
to know women thoroughly by a minute description is a demonstration of the scholars’ reliance on their own power of objective
knowledge. This was contrasted with the women’s power, which
was mysterious or supernatural, stemming from their physical natures rather than their intelligence. The scholars’ defence of academic learning in the face of subversive female power was accomplished more completely through the women’s presence on
the scholars’ home ground. The university men were able to see
the women’s reactions to their raillery, reinforcing their dominant
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Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

position for the benefit of themselves and their colleagues. In a
strong subtext the scholars attempted to place limits on the ways
women could enter the university, with the message that affairs
were acceptable, but academic learning was only for men. In
marking these boundaries, the scholars revealed the ambivalence
in their relationship with the ladies, and their concern about the
ladies’ presence at Oxford.
Notes
1

2

3

Epilogue to ‘A Speech made by Mr Lawrence of University Colledge in
the Musick-School 1669’, Bodleian Library, MS Add. A. 368, fol. 12v;
printed in Pierre Danchin, The Prologues and Epilogues of the Restoration, 1660-1700: A Tentative Checklist, 7 vols., Nancy, 1981-88, vol.
I, p. 325.
For recent work on the terrae filius, see Kristine Haugen, ‘Imagined
Universities: Public Insult and the Terrae Filius in Early Modern Oxford’, History of Universities 16 (2000), pp. 1-31, and Felicity Henderson, ‘Putting the Dons in their Place: A Restoration Oxford Terrae Filius Speech’, History of Universities 16 (2000), pp. 32-64.
Whole or part copies of the music speeches given by the following Oxford men are extant: Richard West (1640) in Bodleian Library, MSS Eng.
misc. fol. 653, pp. 30-43, Rawl D. 361, fols. 72v-78v, Tanner 88, pp.
17-19, British Library Add. MS 37999, fols. 66-67v; Henry Thurman
(1656) in Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.vi.30, fols. 19v-25;
John Fitzwilliams (c. 1660) in Bodleian MS Rawl. D. 1102, pp. 1-19;
Richard Torless (1661) in Bodleian Library, MSS Add. A. 368, fols. 2126, Don. f. 29, fols. 26-43, Rawl D. 361, fols. 222-25v (part), Rawl. D.
1102, pp. 19-30, Top. Oxon. e. 202, fols. 31-42, Top. Oxon. e. 344,
fols. 148-146 [rev.], Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.vi.30, fols.
41-45, Society of Antiquaries of London, MS 330, fols. 33r-35v, University of Leeds, Brotherton MS Lt 38, fols. 2-5v; Thomas Lawrence
(1669) in Bodleian Library, MSS Add. A. 368, fols. 6-12v, Don. f. 29,
fols. 90v-77v [rev.], Hearne’s Diaries 52, pp. 1-19 (part), Rawl. D. 191,
fols. 43-44v, Rawl D. 361, fols. 226-30v (part), Rawl. D. 1102, pp. 3243, Top. Oxon. e. 202, fols. 15-29, Top. Oxon. e. 344, fol. 148v [rev.]
(part), British Library, MS Add. 4455, fols. 60-64, Sloane 203, fols. 8991v (part), Cardiff Central Library, MS. 1.482, fols. 35v-44, University
of Leeds, Brotherton MS Lt 38, fols. 5v-14, University of Minnesota
MS 690235 f, pp. 249-53, University of Oxford, Queen’s College, MS
478, fols. 21v-29v, Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. I, pp. 323-

351

Felicity Henderson

25 (part); James Allestree (1679) in Bodleian MS Rawl. D. 1481, fol.
58, Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. III, pp. 178-82; Edmund
Norden (1680) in University of Minnesota MS 690235 f, pp. 245-48;
Emanuel Langford (1683) in Bodleian MS Top. Oxon. e. 280, pp. 67673 [rev], Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, pp. 474-77; Harry
Walbank (1684) in Bodleian MS Top. Oxon. e. 280, pp. 664, 662, 660
[rev], Yale University Osborn MS fb. 142, pp. 20-21, Danchin,
Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, pp. 541-44; Thomas Smith (1693) in
Bodleian MSS Eng. poet. f. 13, fols. 61v-63v, Top. Oxon. e. 280, pp.
672, 670, 668, 666 [rev], Yale University, MS Osborn b.115, fols. 37v40v, Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. V, pp. 121-29.
4 P. M. Gouk, ‘Music’, in: Nicholas Tyacke (ed.), The History of the
University of Oxford, vol. IV: Seventeenth-Century Oxford, Oxford,
1997, pp. 622-24, discusses the history of musical instruction and entertainment at Oxford, including the institution of a music professorship in
1627. However, Christopher Wordsworth, Scholae Academicae: Some
Account of Studies at the English Universities in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge, 1877 [repr. New York, 1969], pp. 287-88, has printed
the notes from a humorous ‘music lecture’ given at an Oxford Act in
1615, which suggests that the facetious lecture was traditional and predated the professorship.
5 Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, p. 544.
6 Ibid., vol. III, p. 181.
7 Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, pp. 475 and 542; Bodleian
Library, MS Add. A. 368, fol. 8.
8 Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, 11 vols.,
(eds.) C. E. Doble et al., Oxford, 1885-1921, vol. XI, (ed.) H. E. Salter,
p. 226, writes that in his day (early eighteenth century) there was ‘both a
Musick Lecture and a Musick Speech ... besides the Musick Lecture by
the Professor, between 9 and 10 Clock, there used upon Act Monday
morning pretty soon (about 8 Clock) to be an English Musick speech by
a distinct person from the Professor, for the entertainment of the Ladies,
in which were many jocular & satyrical passages’.
9 Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, p. 475.
10 Bodleian MS Add. A. 368, fols. 6 and 11; Danchin, Prologues and
Epilogues, vol. IV, p. 543.
11 Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), in:
James Strachey (gen. ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 24 vols., London, 1953-74,
vol. VIII, pp. 96-102.
12 Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, p. 543. Walbank was also

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Music Speeches at Early-Modern Oxford

13

14
15
16
18

19

20
21
22

23

24
25
26
27
28

alluding to the disease chlorosis, or ‘Green-sickness’, which made its
young female sufferers pale, and was supposed to have been cured by sexual intercourse.
In The Oxford-Act: A Poem, London, 1613 [=1693], p. 22, Alicia d’Anvers finishes her description of the 1693 music speech with ‘That heap of
Scandals I’ll not write, / Which made for Sm- - the Ladies Fight. Tho
other Lovers sure ’twould ruine, / At Oxford ’tis their way of woing’.
Bodleian MS Add. A. 368, fol. 12v.
Society of Antiquaries of London, MS 330, fol. 33v.
Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. V, p. 127. Presumably ‘Byram’
was an Oxford townsman.
17 Ibid., pp. 128-29.
See, for example, the machinations of the townsmen in the early Cambridge comedy Club Law. See G. C. Moore Smith (ed.), The Comedy
Club, Cambridge, 1907, p. 26.
The Oxford terrae filii regularly ridiculed Oxford dons by exposing the
supposed indiscretions of their wives. Henry Gerard, for instance, announced in 1669 that he would say nothing about Dr. Savage, Master of
Balliol, ‘but like the fellows of the college I’ll conduct my business only
with her’ (Henderson, ‘Putting the Dons in their Place’, p. 56).
Society of Antiquaries of London, MS 330, fol. 33.
Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. V, p. 125.
Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. III, p. 179. Danchin notes that
the ‘sweating tub’ was an allusion to ‘the usual treatment for venereal
disease’ (ibid., p. 178).
The move was ostensibly made because of the damage caused to the Theatre by rowdy audiences, but Wood adds ‘we all imagined the true reason
to be, because he [i.e., the speaker for that year] was not a Ch[rist]
Ch[urch] man, and therefore [vice-chancellor Fell] would not allow him
the Theatre to grace him. Grand partiality!’ (see The Life and Times of
Anthony Wood: Antiquary of Oxford, 1632-1695, Described by Himself,
5 vols., (ed.) Andrew Clark, Oxford, 1891-1900, vol. II, pp. 547-48).
Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. IV, p. 475.
Ibid., vol. V, p. 124.
Also a legal term; the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘chamber-practice’ as ‘practice in chambers and not in court’.
Danchin, Prologues and Epilogues, vol. V, p. 127.
The same allusion was made by Henry Thurman in his 1656 speech, who
claimed that the ladies were ‘as necessary to this act as the Sabine virgins
to the Romans when their state depended on women’ (Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.vi.30, fol. 22).

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List of Illustrations

Joyce Coleman
Fig. 1: John, earl of Shrewsbury, presents a book to
Margaret of Anjou (London, BL Royal 15 E.vi,
fol. 2v, 1445) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Fig. 2: Thomas Bynder’s scribbles and, by line 47,
the marginal comment: ‘Aftir my mastre’,
possibly also by Thomas (Pembroke College,
Cambridge, ms. 243, fols. 1b-2a) . . . . . . . 43
Fig. 3: Flavius Vegetius reads his De re militari to
an emperor and his knights (Oxford, Bodl. Laud
Lat. 56, fol. 1) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Adrian Tudor
Fig. 1: Sarrasine (BNF, fr. 1039, fol. 7) . . . . . . .
Fig. 2: Sarrasine (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 64v) . . . . .
Fig. 3: Sarrasine (BNF, fr. 12471, fol. 161) . . . . .
Fig. 4: Sénéchal (BNF, nouv.acq.fr. 13521, fol. 204) .
Fig. 5: Sénéchal (BNF, fr. 1544, fol. 86) . . . . . .
Fig. 6: Sénéchal (BNF, fr. 1039, fol. 104) . . . . . .
Fig. 7: Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 1039, fol. 1) . . .
Fig. 8: Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 13521, fol. 121) . .
Fig. 9: Fornication Imitée / Juitel
(BNF, fr. 1544, fol. 1) . . . . . . . . . . .
Fig. 10: Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 1) . . .
Fig. 11: Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr. 25440, fol. 2v) . .
Fig. 12: Full page opening of Fornication Imitée (BNF, fr.
25440, fol. 3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

171
172
173
174
175
176
177
178
179
180
181
182

List of Illustrations

Creamer
Fig. 1: Title page of Chretien de Troyes, Tresplaisante et
Recreative Hystoire du Trespreusx et vaillant Chevallier
Perceval le galloys ... (Paris: J. St.
Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pre, 1530) . . . . . 227
Fig. 2: Folio ii recto of Chretien de Troyes, Tresplaisante
et Recreative Hystoire du Trespreusx et vaillant
Chevallier Perceval le galloys ... (Paris: J. St.
Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pre, 1530) . . . . . 228
Fig. 3: Folio iiii verso of Chretien de Troyes, Tresplaisante
et Recreative Hystoire du Trespreusx et vaillant
Chevallier Perceval le galloys ... (Paris: J. St.
Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pre, 1530) . . . . . 229
Fig. 4: Folio aa iiii verso of Chretien de Troyes, Tresplaisante et Recreative Hystoire du Trespreusx et vaillant
Chevallier Perceval le galloys ... (Paris:
J. St. Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pre, 1530) . . 230
Fig. 5: Folio a i recto of Chretien de Troyes, Tresplaisante
et Recreative Hystoire du Trespreusx et vaillant
Chevallier Perceval le galloys ... (Paris: J. St.
Denys, J. Longis & G. Du Pre, 1530) . . . . . 231
Engel
Fig. 1: “Moor with Horn and Dart”, [Guy Marchant],
Kalendrier des Bergers (1493), sig. K3v . . . .
Fig. 2: ‘The Foole’, John Daye, The Booke of Christian
Prayers, London, 1578, sig. Gg3v . . . . . .
Fig. 3: ‘Der Ritter’ [Death Takes the Knight]; reproduced
from Heinz Horat, ‘Katalog der Brückenbilder’,
in: Josef Brülisauer & Claudia Hermann (eds.),
Die Spreuerbrücke in Luzern: Ein barocker
Totentanz von europäischer Bedeutung,
Luzern, 1996, p. 183 [panel 21] . . . . . . .
Fig. 4: Geffrey Whitney, ‘De morte, & amore: Iocosum’,
356

270
271

274

List of Illustrations

in: Idem, A Choice of Emblemes, London, 1586,
p. 132 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275
Fig. 5: “Death Visits the Printing House”, La grôt danse
macabre, Lyons, 1499; reproduced from A. W.
Pollard, Early Illustrated Books, London, 1893,
p. 164 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276
Fig. 6: ‘De Morte et Amore’, Andrea Alciato, Emblemata
Liber (1531), sig. D3v. . . . . . . . . . . 276
Fig. 7: Alexander Dyce (ed.), Kempes Nine Daies
Wonder (1600), Title-page, [rpt. London, 1840] . 281
Fig. 8: I[ohn] C[otgrave], Wits Interpreter, London,
1655, frontispiece . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
Fig. 9: “Death Leads a Fool”, Les Images de la Mort,
Lyon, 1547, sig. C8 . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
Fig. 10: ‘Der Tanz der Toten’; reprinted from Heinz Horat,
‘Katalog der Brückenbilder’, in: Josef Brülisauer &
Claudia Hermann (eds.), Die Spreuerbrücke in
Luzern: Ein barocker Totentanz von europäischer
Bedeutung, Luzern, 1996, p. 133 [panel 1] . . . 284
Fig. 11: ‘Der Bote’ [The Messenger Overtaken by Death]; reprinted from Heinz Horat, ‘Katalog der Brückenbilder’,
in: Josef Brülisauer & Claudia Hermann (eds.), Die
Spreuerbrücke in Luzern: Ein barocker Toten-tanz von
europäischer Bedeutung, Luzern, 1996, p. 255. . 285

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Contributors

Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz teaches at New York University, where she
is Professor of French and Affiliated Professor of Comparative Literature,
Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Religious Studies. She has worked on
a wide range of medieval topics and texts. Her most recent book (co-edited
with Nancy Freeman Regalado and Marilyn Lawrence) is Performing Medieval Narrative. She is now working on a book entitled Performability of
Medieval French Narrative.
Alejandro Cañeque teaches History and Latin American Studies at New
York University. His main area of research is the study of the political culture
of colonial Mexico and the Spanish empire. He is the author of The King’s
Living Image: The Culture and Politics of Viceregal Power in Colonial
Mexico (New York, 2004). He is currently working on a political history of
martyrdom in the Spanish empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Joyce Coleman is the Rudolph C. Bambas Professor of Medieval English
Literature and Culture in the English Department at the University of Oklahoma. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1993. Her
research centres on literary performance and reception. Her book, Public
Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France (Cambridge, 1996; rpt. paperback, 2005), has been followed most recently by articles reconstructing the performance context of Robert Mannyng’s Story of
England, Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, and the anonymous Wynnere
and Wastoure.
Paul Creamer is a French teacher at the Packer Collegiate Institute in New
York. His research focuses on the manufacturing processes used by commercial manuscript-makers of the Middle Ages when they produced an illustrated codex. He studied as an auditeur libreat the Ecole Nationale des Chartes
in Paris during the 1996-97 academic year, and has since written a doctoral
dissertation and an expanded, book-length study on the illustrated manuscripts
of Chretien de Troyes’ Conte du Graal (Perceval).
Dallas G. Denery II is an Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College. His
first book, Seeing and Being Seen in the Later Medieval World (Cambridge),
came out in 2005.

Contributors

Kathryn A. Duys is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the
University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She received her doctorate in
Comparative Literature at New York University in 1997 and has since published several articles on the design of Gautier de Coinci’s miracle collection.
She is currently finishing her book on that topic; Books Shaped by Song:
Gautier de Coinci’s Miracles de Nostre Dame.
William E. Engel, visiting Professor of Shakespeare, University of the
South, Nashville, has published two books on Renaissance culture and memory (Mapping Morality and Death and Drama in Renaissance England) and
one on pedagogy (Education and Anarchy). He has just finished a monograph
on chiasms in the Renaissance, Memory and Pattern, and has begun to work
on Slips of Thought, a spirited foray into seventeenth-century meta-lexicography along the lines introduced in the essay published in this volume.
Laurie Postlewate is on the French faculty at Barnard College in New
York City where she is a Senior Lecturer. She works on a variety of topics
related to French literature produced in England in the Middle Ages. She is
currently preparing a book on the works of Nicole Bozon.
Nancy Freeman Regalado is Professor of French at New York University. She has published Poetic Patterns in Rutebeuf (1970), “Le Roman de
Fauvel” in the Edition of Messire Chaillou de Pesstain (1990) with Edward
Roesner and François Avril, and Performing Medieval Narrative (2005) with
Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz and Marilyn Lawrence.
Felicity Henderson is a Research Associate working in the AHRC-funded
project “Free-thinking and Language-planning in Late Seventeenth-Century
England” based at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests include
manuscript studies, early-modern satire, and the history of the Royal Society.
L. Caitlin Jorgensen is a Lecturer in English at Yale University, where
she is applying research on social interactions in the Renaissance to contemporary rhetorical theory.
Marilyn Lawrence writes on performance and medieval literature, as well
as on contemporary performing arts. She has published Performing Medieval
Narrative (with Evelyn Birge Vitz and Nancy Freeman Regalado), Cambridge, 2005, and is preparing a book on The Minstrel and Medieval Identity
and a volume of essays on Recognition in Narrative, Film, and Music: Interdisciplinary Studies on Anagnorisis (with Philip F. Kennedy). She holds a

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Contributors

B.A. from Princeton and a Ph.D. from New York University, where she is a
Visiting Scholar.
Adrian P. Tudor is Lecturer in French at the University of Hull and researches mainly in the area of Old French narrative. His publications include
Tales of Vice and Virtue: The First Old French “Vie des Pères” (Amsterdam,
2005), a translation of Jehan Renart’s Lai de l’Ombre (Liverpool, 2004),
and, among other publications, a CD recording of short narratives in Old
French (2004, with Brian J. Levy). He was a Kennedy Scholar and Visiting
Fellow at Harvard University and has given guest lectures at the Collège de
France, Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Birmingham.
Amy Schwarz has a doctoral degree in Early Renaissance Italian Art and a
second Masters degree in Library Science. She is a librarian at the Frick Art
Reference Library of the Frick Collection, New York.
Linda Marie Zaerr teaches English at Boise State University and specializes in the interdisciplinary study of medieval romance. She uses live performance and recordings to demonstrate principles indicated by her research.
She has recorded with Psallite and the Quill Consort and has produced videos
of Middle English romances for Chaucer Studio. She received an MA in Interdisciplinary Medieval Studies from the University of York and a Ph.D. in
Middle English Literature from the University of Washington.

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