Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 August 2022
This question is posed by the authors of A Mirror for Magistrates, the enormously popular verse history collection that came out in increasingly expanded editions from the 1550s onwards. In the collection, guilty or unfortunate historical figures make didactic orations to the poets who transcribe them, in short poems interspersed with practical and theoretical prose discussions between the poets themselves (Baldwin, Ferrers, Sackville and others). The question quoted above appears in the poem ventriloquizing Collingbourne, a citizen in the time of Richard III ‘cruelly executed for making a foolishe rime’.1 The poem emotively illustrates the risks of satirizing authority figures in verse. The foolish rhyme itself appears to have been merely a couplet: ‘The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel our Dog, / Do rule al England, under a Hog’ (fol. C.xliii). As the reanimated Collingbourne explains, the cat is Catesby, the rat is Ratcliffe, and the dog is Lovell. Richard III himself is the hog, partly because it is the animal depicted on his device or badge, and partly – as the speaker somewhat disappointingly admits – ‘to ryme’ (fol. C.xliiv). Overall, the poem reads as a manifesto for freedom of ideas in verse, and a lament for the loss of satirical licence since the ancients. It also raises some questions about rhyme and historical truth.