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This chapter considers two plays which draw explicitly on the broadside ballad tradition of merry world fiction: Thomas Heywood’s The First Part of Edward IV (c. 1599); and Henry Chettle and Anthony Munday’s The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington (c. 1598). While these play-texts quote from, allude to, and overlap with the ballad stories they dramatise in various ways, it is also possible to see a distinctively theatrical vocabulary emerging which adapts the merry world topos to the stage. As such, they presuppose a high degree of audience familiarity with the visual and verbal conventions of the genre on page, stage, and in performance. The theatrical literacy of this assumed audience allows both plays to be constructed around moments of recognition and repetition. This degree of stylistic self-consciousness is playfully knowing in Heywood’s Edward IV and a source of frustration in the Downfall, where it is the impetus for an elaborate meta-theatrical framework exploring audience desire and response.
Despite constantly accumulating evidence of the ownership of books and of arrangements for their storage and care during earlier reigns, King Edward IV remains clearly identifiable as the founder of the old Royal Library. The bulk of Edward's manuscripts are large-scale copies of well-known and widely distributed library texts in French of original Latin texts. Several members of Edward IV's immediate family are known to have owned books. The next major contributor to the English Royal Library was the first Tudor sovereign, Henry VII. His own acquisitions seem to have been the result of gifts. A particularly grand gift was offered during the last year of the reign by the French ambassador, Claude de Seyssel, who presented a richly illuminated copy of a translation of a work by Xenophon from a Greek manuscript in the French royal library at Blois. The King's mother Lady Margaret Beaufort, owned at least one very grand contemporary Hours from a leading Parisian workshop.
Edward IV dated the start of his reign from 4 March 1461, the day he was acclaimed by the Londoners and took his seat on the throne in Westminster Hall. His claim to be king of England received its real confirmation three weeks later, on 29 March, when he led the Yorkists to victory at Towton. Alongside Edward's search for domestic security went the need to secure recognition for his dynasty in Europe. The Burgundian alliance was formalised in the marriage of Duke Charles to Edward's sister Margaret, the only one of the Yorkist royal family to make a 'dynastic' marriage. Edward IV, now reconciled with Clarence, defeated Warwick at the battle of Barnet and then went on to overcome a Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury. The handful of exceptions included the Lancastrian half blood, now represented by Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry, and a few men who knew that they had no hope of regaining their land under York.
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