Registers of petition in the holograph manuscripts of Thomas Hoccleve

Durham University’s Palace Green Library is home to many medieval manuscripts, but among the most precious is one of just three surviving collections of poetry written by the hand of one Thomas Hoccleve – fourteenth-century civil servant, letter writer, and poet. Laurie Atkinson puts some of Hoccleve’s literary output under the reading lamp, as he argues that this disremembered figure deserves to seen in his own right rather than hidden in the shadow of his immediate poetic predecessor, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Durham University Library, Cosin MS V. iii. 9 is one of only three holograph manuscripts for the poetry of the Privy Seal clerk Thomas Hoccleve (c. 1367-1426). Despite having produced one of the most popular works of the fifteenth-century—the Lancastrian Regiment of Princes dedicated to the future Henry V—Hoccleve’s work has only recently begun to draw the kind of critical attention that befits this early follower of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The Durham Manuscript, alongside the two other Hoccleve holographs held in the Huntington Library, San Marino, have been central to Hoccleve’s revived critical reputation as a deliberate self-anthologiser in a financially perilous bureaucratic culture. That said, remarkably little attention continues to be paid to the devotional and specifically Marian verse that actually makes up much of the holographs’ contents.

In this talk, I offer a critical reappraisal of Hoccleve’s devotional verse, and in particular, the shared petitionary register that is employed to apparently opposing ends in his secular and religious poetry. Taking as my focus the enigmatic ‘Monk who clad the Virgin by singing Ave Maria’, I suggest that the reciprocal remembrance proffered by the prologue to the legend is also a feature of the complaints and dedications inscribed elsewhere in the holographs. The contract of reciprocal remembrance between a supplicant speaker—meditating on the Passion, and singing his Ave Maria—and the mediatory Virgin—who in return ‘haast evere in mynde | Alle tho þat up-on thee han memorie’—offers a striking analogue to the distinctively ‘Hocclevean’ strategies of petition in the secular verse. The prologue to the ‘Monk who clad the Virgin’ presents the text itself as at once an object and an act of remembrance: a compelling new direction for our critical understanding of making, reading and their various ‘ends’ in the literature of Lancastrian England.

From snake women to Islamic mythology, the beginnings of sound film to the burning of Shakespeare’s globe, Late Summer Lectures in 2018 explored the theme of ‘Beginnings and Endings’ in literature.

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