Charles d'Orleans in
England, 1415-1440, ed. Mary-Jo Arn (Woodbridge:
Brewer, 2000; pp. x + 231. £45).
The English captivity of Charles, Duke of Orleans, after his capture at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, represented an important phase in the development of what the editor of this valuable volume describes as the 'trans-channel culture of the late Middle Ages' (p. 6). The duke was an accomplished poet, composing in both French and English: he was thus exceptional among his French contemporaries. This book contains a series of contributions devoted to many aspects of Charles's life, literary activity and milieu. It lacks only a study of the material conditions of his existence, and some consideration of his household and his finances.
The discrete studies presented here, however, not only survey the existing state of knowledge but, in some cases, break new ground. Besides examination of questions of authorship and language (Mary-Jo Arn, Claudio Galderisi, John Fox), close attention is paid to the neglected topic of relations between Charles and his brother, Jean d'Angouleme, who was also a prisoner in England from 1412 onwards. He, too, became conversant with Middle English writings and owned a manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
The milieux in which the two brothers resided in England are interestingly re-created in William Askins's essay, while Gilbert Ouy's account of their manuscripts represents a return to a project which Ouy had left unfinished almost fifty years ago, and to which he now contributes much interesting material, especially on the brothers' connections with Jean Gerson. Consideration of the 'keepers' ('gaolers' would be an entirely inappropriate term) of these two noble prisoners provide insights into the context—often provincial—in which literary production took place in fifteenth-century England. Robert Waterton; Thomas Cumberworth; John Cornwall, Lord Fanhope; William de la Pole, carl of Suffolk; and John, Lord Stourton, all acted as custodians of the two brothers, and their literary and more broadly 'cultural' activities and interests are outlined here. Suffolk's possible authorship of a series of poems, including the so-called 'Fairfax sequence', is discussed by Derek Pearsall in a sensitive and judicious essay. He rightly concludes that scholarship has become unduly preoccupied with authorship, believing that 'a poem somehow lacks identity if it cannot be attached to a named author' while 'acrostic references to ladies' names' should be 'recognised as the entertainment of an afternoon and not the clue to some life-devouring passion' (p. 156).
There is an interesting piece
(by A. E. B. Coldiron) on the reception and subsequent history of Charles
of Orleans's English poetry and the difficulties
experienced in locating such 'ambiguously
in any literary canon. In sum, then, this handsomely produced volume provides a sound guide to recent
scholarship on its subject but, as its
editor acknowledges, it may raise as many questions as it solves. Issues of
bilingualism and language learning, as well as
the role of translation and the
influence of factors such as age, social class and gender on the oral and
written culture of fifteenth-century
England clearly need to be taken much further.