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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: November 2019

Introduction

Summary

Thomas Hoccleve has enjoyed renewed critical attention in recent years, and has been read, in turn, as a Lancastrian spokesman, a failed laureate, and a bureaucrat whose interests in creating autobiographical poetry emerge from intense anonymity in the workplace. This study takes a different approach: it situates Thomas Hoccleve as an individual who cultivates, throughout his works, the role of poetic mediator – ‘intermediary’ in the most virtuous sense, and also in the most explicitly Christian sense – and who uses his poetic works to engage with contemporary religious reform movements and religious debate. The study situates Hoccleve firmly within the context of heresy, orthodox reform, and ecclesiastical controversy – including fervent debate over the role of the Eucharist and religious images, the role and function of priesthood, and the position of laypeople within the church. It positions Hoccleve, furthermore, as a poet less interested in securing earthly fame, and more genuinely interested in creating works that contribute to the spiritual health of English society – from translating the Ars moriendi treatise from Henry Suso's Horologium sapientiae, to writing devotional poems to the Trinity and the Virgin, to using his poems to contemplate Christ's sacrifice and commenting allusively on ecclesiastical wounds, to indicating possible solutions for such wounds and offering emblems of unity in the face of clear division.

This study benefits from the revitalized critical conversation surrounding the effects on poetry of heresy, the church's response to heresy, and orthodox ecclesiastical reform both at home and abroad in the early fifteenth century. The religious turn in medieval studies of the 1990s has given way to contrasting yet invigorating debates over the effects of Archbishop Arundel's Constitutions, the role of the conciliar movement (and the Council of Constance in particular), the purposes and manifestations of ecclesiastical reform in England, and the fate of vernacular religious writing in fifteenthcentury England. These debates have led, in turn, to some re-evaluations of the role that heresy plays in Hoccleve's works – from the relevance of John Badby in the Regiment of Princes, to Hoccleve's poetic address to the Lollard knight John Oldcastle, to valences of ecclesiastical rehabilitation alongside narratives of authorial recovery in the Series.