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1 - Reading Vegetius in Fifteenth-Century England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Catherine Nall
Affiliation:
Royal Holloway, University of London
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Summary

In the prologue to his Troy Book, the poet John Lydgate offered the following commendation of his patron, Prince Henry, the future Henry V:

He besyeth euere, and ther-to is so fayn

To hawnte his body in pleies marcyal,

Thoruʒ excersice texclude slouthe at al,

After the doctrine of Vygecius.

In this passage, Lydgate fuses Henry's martial practice, his ‘excersice’ and ‘pleies marcyal’, with the theory or ‘doctrine’ of war advanced by Flavius Vegetius Renatus, the author of a Latin treatise on warfare known as De re militari. Lydgate's use of Vegetius in this passage points to De re militari's status as perhaps the most authoritative military manual of the Middle Ages.

This was not the first time that Vegetius' name had been utilised in this way by an English poet during the course of the second decade of the fifteenth century. As discussed above, Lydgate's contemporary, Thomas Hoccleve, also referred to Vegetius in his ‘Address to Sir John Oldcastle’, written in 1415: ‘Clymbe no more in holy writ so hie!’, Hoccleve advised the rebel Lollard knight, but rather ‘Rede the storie of Lancelot de lake, / Or Vegece of the aart of Chiualrie’. Towards the end of the decade, Vegetius appeared again in Hoccleve's verse, in his Dialogue, probably written between 1419 and 1421. Henry himself may have been present at the Epiphany sermon delivered in 1414, in which the preacher urged ‘knyʒtes and oþur gentils’ to consider the ‘many sotell questions and conclusions in mater of werre and armes’ found in Vegetius' De re militari and Giles of Rome's De regimine principum.

Type
Chapter
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Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England
From Lydgate to Malory
, pp. 11 - 47
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2012

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