As I explained in a previous post, over New Year’s I stumbled upon a little-noticed prologue, uniquely preserved in London, British Library MS Harley 7578. It prefaces the Liber Proverbiorum, a mid-fifteenth-century verse translation of an early fourteenth-century collection of proverbs and wise sayings by the friar and preacher Nicole Bozon. The text as a whole had been edited in two American PhD dissertations, but neither had been published, and so the poem had faded into obscurity.
This obscurity is undeserved, because, as the epilogue to the text makes clear, this sapiential text is translated at the command of an English queen. I think this queen is Margaret of Anjou, and I’ve written up and submitted an article explaining why I think this is the case. Whilst I wait to hear back about the article, I thought you might like to have a sneak preview of the text of the prologue and epilogue, which I’ve edited as an Appendix to the article. Here’s a pdf to download:
As well as addressing his patron, the author also discusses verse-form with his patron, and has an interesting take on the classicism which Chaucer and Lydgate had made popular in English poetry. The language of the prologue and epilogue is distinctively difficult and full of neologisms: half the fun of editing them has been working out how this author has coined his words and whether a word is the first or only example in Middle English. In places the syntax is very difficult, and there are some tentative paraphrases in my notes.
Quite what Margaret of Anjou, who was in her mid-teens and newly arrived in England to marry Henry VI, would have made of this poetic diction is anyone’s guess (though I do have some speculations in the article). We don’t know anything about the translator, apart from his Christian name, John. But at least he is not quite so hidden away anymore. I hope you enjoy some of his verse, which was fit for a queen in the 1440s.