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4 - Sacralising Warfare in Knyghthode and Bataile

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Catherine Nall
Affiliation:
Royal Holloway, University of London
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Summary

While the rhetoric generated by Henry's wars in France clearly informed the way that Lydgate wrote about war and its prosecution in Troy Book and the Siege of Thebes, the presence of military conflict in England several decades later helped to produce one of the most brilliant military poems of the fifteenth century: an ambitious translation and rewriting of Vegetius' De re militari, replete with Latinate vocabulary and rendered in rhyme royal, and now known as Knyghthode and Bataile. This extraordinary translation of De re militari, completed at some point between November 1459 and July 1460 by an anonymous translator who tells us that he is a ‘person of Caleys’ (line 33), was no straightforward ‘Englishing’ of a source: this author-translator succeeded in producing a text which, while having much to offer in terms of military insight and advice, also advanced a trenchant argument in support of Henry VI's government and against those who opposed it. Harnessing the representational mode of civic entry and the language and imagery of spiritual warfare, this author both urged the importance of firm military action against the Yorkist lords, while also investing such an enterprise with a crusade-like urgency and salvific value. In so doing, the author went beyond most other Lancastrian polemicists by constructing Henry's opponents not only as ideologically bankrupt, but also as heretical and akin to the archetypal traitors, Lucifer and Judas.

This chapter draws attention to the religious and military imagery found in Knyghthode and Bataile and shared by a range of contemporary works, and maps the various rhetorical strategies at play in this remarkable poem.

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Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England
From Lydgate to Malory
, pp. 114 - 138
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2012

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