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7 - The Medieval ‘Side-Hustler’: Thomas Hoccleve’s Career in, and out of, the Privy Seal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2020

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Summary

IN A 2012 ARTICLE, ANDREW PRESCOTT bemoaned ‘the failure [of scholars] to consider such administrative documents as pipe rolls, petitions, charters or even tallies as scribal products, whose codicology (if this is the appropriate word here) and script are just as worthy of close investigation and analysis as such celebrated scribal achievements as the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales or the Luttrell Psalter.’ Since the publication of this article, there have been further advances in this area of scholarship. It remains the case, however, that there have been relatively few studies of medieval administrative documents with an explicit focus on their scribal production. The discussion in this chapter makes a contribution to this subject through a close study of the career of a single clerk, Thomas Hoccleve. Hoccleve is uniquely suited to such a study since, through his poetry, we have access to an unprecedented level of autobiographical detail; this has made him one of the key sources for those who have studied the daily life of the late medieval clerk. In addition, others have attempted to piece together the chronology of Hoccleve's life using the various grants and payments made to him out of the exchequer, which were recorded in the issue rolls. However, there has been surprisingly little scholarship focussing on the documents produced by Hoccleve during the course of his career at the privy seal. In an important study, Linne Mooney identified a number of documents sent from the privy seal to the exchequer in Hoccleve's hand. This work revealed many new insights into Hoccleve's life and the possible motives behind the composition of his poetry; however, there is a substantial number of documents written by him that were not considered in Mooney's analysis.

The present discussion presents a more rounded picture of Hoccleve's career as a clerk through examination of documents sent from the privy seal not only to the exchequer (the focus of Mooney's analysis), but also to the chancery. This brings to the fore a total of over 900 new documents which have been identified in Hoccleve's hand.

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Monarchy, State and Political Culture in Late Medieval England
Essays in Honour of W. Mark Ormrod
, pp. 144 - 163
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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