Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2017
The year 1399 was troublesome for many in England, for the unfortunate Richard II as well as for other members within the political field, including Thomas, Lord Berkeley:
What should he, Berkeley, do? To which side did honour and justice direct him? In his soul-searching dilemma his Lordship turned to his ageing chaplain and confessor.
Trevisa was not surprised that his patron should seek his advice. Had they not often during the last ten years, and more especially in the last two, discussed theoretical situations somewhat similar to the present one, with always the ultimate question, “Is it ever morally right to rebel and depose a lawful sovereign who had received the sacring?” In hypothetical cases it had been easy to give an answer, but material as well as spiritual, rested in the balance. One also staked one's family and fortune upon the wheel of choice. Trevisa for days had prayed hard for guidance in this tense situation.
He had read and re-read the Gospels with the Master's teaching, and pondered deeply upon the argument in the De regimine principum. But still the answer to the agonising problem was not clear.
Obviously, this is a fictive account of the thoughts of John Trevisa and his patron on the events regarding the kingship of Richard II. However, it sheds an interesting light on the political discussions and the functions served by mirrors for princes or Fürstenspiegel during turbulent times in late medieval England. It leads to the question of whether Fürstenspiegel actually did have an influence on political events in the later Middle Ages and, if so, in what way they influenced political actions.
The influence of mirrors for princes on the deposition of Richard II will be investigated in order to look anew at the interdependence of pragmatic literacy,3 textual communities,