The subtitle to a volume in this series is very often the last part of the text to be decided. For inordinate lengths of time the contents are often unpredictable, dependent on the readiness of contributors to meet deadlines, their ability to fit composition and revision into busy schedules, and their willingness to respond to feedback. What, in the planning stages, might promise to develop into a coherent theme may have to be discarded as the date of publication draws nearer. But then sometimes (as on this occasion) a common thread unexpectedly emerges. For volume XV this could be summed up as ‘The Word’, for each of the articles collected here focuses on specific words or use of language – the contents of books, either read in private or listened to in company, of missives dispatched by rulers with political purposes in mind, of speeches delivered at the opening of parliaments, or of inspiring sermons addressed to open-air congregations. They were employed with polemic or didactic intent, and took concrete form as practical guidebooks for merchants and travellers, chivalric tales to entertain magnates and their servants alike, devotional works to promote understanding of the teachings of the Church, and legal documents to preserve a record of judicial proceedings and royal grants. In the late fifteenth century such books and sermons introduced English readers and listeners to humanist writings from the continent and a direct link to the works of authors from antiquity.
The volume has been roughly divided into three parts. The first focuses on the written word: the ‘Libelle of English Policy’ and the intentions (and possible identification) of its author; contemporary books, among the first to be printed in England, which introduced topics of historical interest and illustrated the geography of the known world; the works belonging to the duchess of York, mother of kings, and what they reveal about her tastes and concerns. The last part focuses on sermons: the purposes of the opening addresses delivered at the start of parliaments, varying as the century progressed, and the provenance of their themes, found in the scriptures or increasingly in classical texts; and the oratory of Bishop John Alcock, whether in parliament or at St. Paul's Cross, the development of his thinking and his influence on those who heard him. The four articles sandwiched in between these two parts might seem to fit the theme less snugly.