J. R. Mattison
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Between men
French books and male readers in fifteenth-century England

This chapter assesses the evidence for the movement of books in French during the Hundred Years War. Using the surviving books of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, as a starting point, it reveals a network of cross-Channel book owners during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Operating through the shared language of French, this predominantly masculine network is further strengthened by military roles. Such military links both developed relationships between men and facilitated the movement of people during the course of the war that led to the exchange of books. The contexts of these exchanges encompassed gifts, purchases, ransoms and more. Linked foremost by martial and gender ties, rather than national or social affiliations, these men participated in the transnational trade of books that persisted even beyond the official end of the Hundred Years War.

At the close of a manuscript containing French translations of De regimine principum and De re militari, a note reads: ‘Cest liure est A moy homfrey duc de gloucestre du don messieur Robert Roos chevalier mon cousin’ [This book belongs to me, Humfrey Duke of Gloucester, a gift from Sir Robert Roos, knight my kinsman].1 The early fifteenth-century volume from France was one of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester’s many books in French. Robert Roos, Duke Humfrey’s former ward and older brother to poet Richard, served in various capacities as a soldier and ambassador in France during the Hundred Years War.2 This closing annotation witnesses an exchange between two men bound by familial and martial ties; it says nothing about the text nor the context of the exchange. Instead, it stresses the French book’s status as a gift from one Englishman to his former guardian.

During the Hundred Years War, books like this manuscript circulated between England and the Continent, crossing the Channel through various means: Henry V, for example, took 110 books from libraries in the captured city of Meaux in 1422.3 His brother John, Duke of Bedford purchased 843 volumes that previously formed Charles V and Charles VI’s royal library in 1425.4 Other individuals commissioned and gifted continental books, like John Talbot, who presented Margaret of Anjou with a miscellany of French texts in 1445, and English patrons who ordered books of hours from Northern France.5 English men and women visiting and living on the Continent purchased items from local artisans.6 Similarly, English books crossed the Channel in the other direction. Charles d’Orléans owned an English-made manuscript of John of Hoveden’s poems, Jean d’Angoulême a Canterbury Tales and Jean, Duc de Berry Nicholas Trevet’s Cronicles.7

However, the specific people and books that enabled the movement of French-language materials between England and the Continent are not yet fully understood.8 Was Roos’s French De re militari, for example, an unusual exchange between two Englishmen? The circulation of French-language works in the late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England is especially striking as new compositions in Insular French declined.9 At the same time, English poets translated, adapted and responded to continental French works in Middle English.10

This chapter lays the groundwork for understanding the significance of the circulation of French between England and the Continent through one group of book owners centred on Duke Humfrey. Extant manuscripts – gained by English readers as gifts, purchases, bequests and thefts – with inscriptions and references to the movement of books in French provide the basis for such inquiry. Tracing the circulation of these manuscripts reveals a collection of interconnected, cross-Channel, Francophone book owners linked by familial, literary and, importantly, martial and gender ties. The movement of people during the Hundred Years War not only gave Englishmen access to books in French from the Continent, but also cultivated individual connections between men that fostered the exchange of books. These connections enmesh owners of French books in an expansive network that stretches across Europe, crossing national boundaries through a shared experience of language. Moreover, this network supersedes the importance of the books themselves and allows men to uphold homosocial relationships.

Duke Humfrey’s gifts

Duke Humfrey’s large extant collection provides insight into England’s participation in Francophone book culture; while many French manuscripts from England survive, many more have been lost. Son of Henry IV, brother of Henry V and uncle of Henry VI, Humfrey is perhaps the best-known English bibliophile: he was a patron of English literature and humanism, and donated some 300 volumes to Oxford that laid the foundation for the university collection that would become the Bodleian Library.11 In addition to his literary pursuits, Humfrey served in several campaigns in France, including at Agincourt (1415), and later acted as England’s Protector during Henry VI’s minority, vying with Henry Beaufort for political sway. Dying under mysterious circumstances after his arrest in 1447, Humfrey left no will dictating the dispersal of his goods.12 At least forty-seven of his books survive, with thirteen in French.13 The manuscripts, made both in England and on the Continent, range from a twelfth-century romance to contemporary princely advice.

Like much of his extant library, Humfrey’s French manuscripts came to him as gifts. Most can be connected to his brother John, Duke of Bedford and Regent of France, himself involved in the battles and politics of the Hundred Years War. Bedford gave Humfrey six French books, perhaps acquired when he bought the Louvre Library, including a Lancelot-Grail, Roman de Renart, Legende dorée, Le Songe du vergier, Christine de Pizan’s Livres des faits et bonnes mouers and Pierre Bersuire’s translation of Livy’s Histoire romaine.14 Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and Lieutenant of Normandy, who served alongside Humfrey at the Siege of Rouen (1418–19) and in several other campaigns, gave Humfrey copies of Boccaccio’s Decameron in French and a collection of Jean Froissart’s poems.15 Sir Robert Roos, ambassador and soldier, not only gifted Humfrey the manuscript mentioned above, but also signed his name in a copy of the Livre de l’informacion des princes alongside the duke’s.16 Two more soldiers who participated in the Agincourt campaign, Sir John Stanley (d. 1437) and Sir Thomas Carew (d. 1429), gifted Humfrey a Bible historiale and a Livre de seyntz medicines, respectively.17 From the estate of the military man Sir John Cornwall, Baron Fanhope (d. 1443), who served at Agincourt and Rouen with the duke, Humfrey either received or purchased a Grandes chroniques de France.18 The movement of these books occurred between 1427 and 1443, towards the end of Humfrey’s life while he advocated an aggressive foreign policy.19 Even as Humfrey spent more time in England as Protector, he demonstrated a persistent interest in French books. Significantly, all Humfrey’s surviving manuscripts in French have links to men involved in the Hundred Years War, many of whom received chivalric honours at home that cemented their military connections. Bedford, Beauchamp and Cornwall were members of the knightly group the Order of the Garter alongside Humfrey. While Stanley, Roos and Carew were not, Stanley’s father (d. 1414) was a member and Roos was nominated. The military connections of Humfrey’s French books contextualise these gifts within the politics of the Hundred Years War. While the exchange of these manuscripts enacts a translatio imperii et studii of continental literature, it also builds on a pre-existing Insular Francophonia. Humfrey’s surviving French books reveal how the war strengthened England’s multilingual book culture, from both an international and domestic perspective.

The exchange of these books as gifts perhaps reveals more about the men involved than their literary tastes. The social dimensions of gift giving exceed the value of the gift itself: gift giving in medieval Europe, especially at Christmas and New Year, produced and reproduced ‘social relations within court society’, and even apparent enemies traded gifts with one another.20 Such exchanges were defined by gender, with men more likely to give to other men, while women gave to both men and women.21 By presenting Humfrey with books, donors might have sought to ingratiate themselves or acquire closeness.22 Additionally, Humfrey’s gifts like the Songe du vergier and De regimine principum stress the importance of gift giving in maintaining power and loyalty.23 Humfrey himself gave Stanley a New Year’s gift in 1426.24 Giving and receiving French books created mutual social connection between men.

A subset of Humfrey’s manuscripts articulates the social relationships transmitted by these books. While in many surviving manuscripts, Humfrey attests his ownership with a simple ‘Cest livre est a moy Homfrey duc de Gloucestre’ [This book belongs to me, Humfrey duke of Gloucester], in others he provides a lengthier description of his manuscript’s source.25 Six of Humfrey’s French manuscripts include detailed inscriptions, including the one from Robert Roos. The others read:

From John, duke of Bedford: ‘Cest liure fut enuoye des parties de france et donne par monsieur le Regent le royaume duc de Bedford a monsieur le duc de Gloucestre son beau frere lan mil quatrecens vingt sept.’ (Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève MS 777, fol. 433v [for fol. 434v; folios misnumbered])

[This book was sent from parts of France and given by my lord the regent of the realm, the duke of Bedford to my lord the duke of Gloucester, his dear brother, in the year 1427.]

From Richard Beauchamp: ‘Cest liure est A moy Humfrey duc de gloucestre du don mon treschier cousin le counte de Warrewic.’ (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS fr. 12421, fol. 452r)

[This book belongs to me, Humfrey duke of Gloucester, a gift from my dear cousin the Count of Warwick.]

From Thomas Carew: ‘Cest liure est A moy Homfrey Duc de Gloucestre du don du baron de Carew.’ (Clitheroe, Stonyhurst College MS 24, fol. 126v)

[This book belongs to me, Humfrey Duke of Gloucester, a gift from the Baron of Carew.]

From John Cornwall: ‘Cest livre est a moy Homfrey Duc de Gloucestre du don les exsecuteurs [sic] le seigneir de Faunhope.’ (London, BL Royal MS 16 G VI, fol. 445r)

[This book belongs to me, Humfrey Duke of Gloucester, a gift from the executors of the lord of Fanhope.]

From John Stanley: ‘Le dixiesme jour de septembre lan mil quatrecens vingt et sept fut cest liure donne a treshault et trespuissant prince humfrey duc de Gloucestre conte de haynnau hollande et cetera protecteur et deffenseur dengleterre par sire Jehan Stanley cheualier ledit prince estant en labbaye notre dame a chestre’. (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS fr. 2, fol. 511r)

[On September 10, 1427, this book was given to the high and powerful prince, Humfrey duke of Gloucester, Count of Hainault, Holland etc., Protector and Defender of England by Sir John Stanley, knight, the said prince being in the Abbey of Our Lady in Chester.]

These inscriptions present important similarities: none mention a text’s title or language, de-emphasising the variety of texts at hand. All are written in French and appear at the end of the text; this placement might have foregrounded the inscription if Humfrey’s books were opened from the back.26 All use ‘don’ [gift] or ‘donner’ [to give], even the one from Cornwall’s executors. This phrasing frames the exchanges as developing the social bonds implied by gift giving. The two inscriptions not in Humfrey’s hand – from Bedford and John Stanley – add further details: Bedford’s manuscript was sent from France in 1427 and Stanley presented Humfrey with the manuscript that same year at an abbey in Chester. Both inscriptions praise Humfrey, calling him ‘beau’ [dear] but also a high, powerful prince. Humfrey himself refers to Beauchamp as ‘treschier’ [dearest] and marks out Roos as his ‘cousin’ [kinsman]. Additionally, the inscriptions supplement each name with their social rank: ‘duc’, ‘conte’, ‘baron’ or ‘chevalier’ [knight]. In so doing, these notes socially situate both sender and receiver and highlight the dynamics behind the exchange. Most inscriptions name Humfrey first, underscoring the book’s recipient; only the inscription describing his older and more powerful brother inverts the name of receiver and sender. These similarities emphasise the act of exchange and the importance, rank and closeness of the men involved.

The inscriptions deemphasise not only the text involved, but also the earlier sources of these manuscripts: most often continental sources encountered within the theatre of the Hundred Years War. These six inscriptions focus on the individual connections between Humfrey and another man and promote their particular social positions. However, Humfrey’s other seven French books – those without these kind of descriptive inscriptions – were also gifts from Bedford, Beauchamp and Roos. Perhaps the seven manuscripts without long inscriptions were presented alongside those with descriptive notes, so that one inscription acknowledged a man’s presentation of multiple items. Such a possibility, in which one inscription refers to several books, would further emphasise the act of exchange rather than the French book that changed hands. Humfrey’s French books provide tangible affirmations of homosocial bonds.

A network of soldiers and books

Humfrey and his donors were neither the first nor last owners of these books. Acknowledging these manuscripts’ other owners connects Humfrey to a larger community dominated by men who exchanged books in French as gifts, purchases and thefts.27 Many of these men might be called ‘soldiers’, for they participated in or led armies, and maintained English conquests in France.28 The successive ownership of each of Humfrey’s French manuscripts – as far as can be reconstructed – is summarised in Table 12.1.

Humfrey’s manuscripts had varied origins and moved between families, social classes and geographies. Books moved among male family members as gifts or inheritance, as the manuscript exchanged among the duke of Bedford, Humfrey and Henry VI attests. Other manuscripts followed disjointed paths. The copy of the Histoire romaine briefly left the French royal collection, but Charles VI’s son returned it in 1409, before it was transported to England.29 Along with his other manuscripts, Thomas Woodstock’s copy of Froissart’s poetry, a gift from the poet to the duke, was seized by Richard II, and Henry IV gained Richard’s books.30 Either king might have given Beauchamp the Froissart. Like Beauchamp, Cornwall might have gained the Grandes chroniques through his associations with Richard II, John of Gaunt, Henry IV or his wife Elizabeth of Lancaster. Alternatively, he might have acquired it through his military campaigns, as Jean II lost the manuscript after the Battle of Poitiers (1356). Stanley’s Bible historiale belonged to Jeanne de Navarre, Henry IV’s second wife and Humfrey’s stepmother, who was still alive in 1427; Jeanne’s goods were confiscated in 1420, and while she regained them in 1422, Humfrey and others extorted her remaining wealth.31 It is possible that Stanley came by the manuscript dishonestly before he gave it to Humfrey, a fact obscured by its inscription.32 Although Humfrey received them as gifts, the manuscripts also circulated as ransoms and commodities. These books, all ‘second-hand’, moved between men with existing relationships, whether of family, enmity or patronage.

Similarly, Humfrey’s French books dispersed piecemeal. There is only one record that Humfrey himself gave a French book, a copy of Livy’s Histoire romaine, to Alfonso V of Aragon in 1445; the manuscript might have been the one from Bedford or another copy.33 Further manuscripts returned to the Continent. Philip de Louans bought the Bible historiale in London on 15 November 1461, adding an inscription below Humfrey’s that describes his position as ‘escuier d’escuirie de treshault et puissant prince monsigneur le bon ducq Philipes par la grasse dieu ducq de Bourgongne de Brabant et cetera’ [equerry of the equerry of the high and powerful prince, my lord the good duke Philip, by the grace of God the duke of Burgundy, Brabant, etc.].34 Louans describes his situation through his relationship to Philip the Good and imitates Humfrey’s earlier language of ‘treshault et trespuissant prince’. At least three manuscripts entered the library of the dukes of Burgundy; these might have been bought in England or sent abroad as diplomatic gifts.35 In 1441, a Burgundian illuminator was paid to replace the English arms and portraits ‘du roy et de madame de Hollande’ [the king and my lady of Holland] in a copy of Brunetto Latini’s Livre du trésor with those of Philip and his wife.36 This lost manuscript might represent another of Humfrey’s books that passed into Burgundian hands.

Manuscript no. Owners before Humfrey Owners in the century after Humfrey
KBR MS 9627–8, Lancelot-Grail Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford ‘cest livre est a lestoneit’, Philip the Good and successive dukes of Burgundyi
Stonyhurst MS 24, Livre des seyntz medicines Arms of England, Henry of Lancaster?; Thomas Carew ‘Wylliam Huse’, perhaps Sir William Hussey (d. 1495), Lincolnshire knight and judgeii
CUL MS Ee.2.17, De regimine principum and De re militari, in French Robert Roos bought in Paris? ‘Strahgways J’, perhaps Sir James Strangways (c.1410–80), Sir Giles Strangways of Dorset (1486–1546) or his son Sir Gilesiii
BL Royal MS 16 G VI, Grandes chroniques de France Jean II, John Cornwalliv Henry VI; unknown person to Henry VIII
BL Royal MS 19 A XX, Livre de l’informacion des princes Made by ‘Stephanus fortis clericus’ in 1395 in Paris; Robert Roos bought in Paris? unknown source to ‘Poyngz ion’, perhaps John Poyntz (c.1485–1544), grandson of Anthony Woodville;v Henry VIII
BL Royal MS 19 C IV, Songe du vergier Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford Henry VI, unknown person, Henry VIII
Bibliothèque Mazarine MS 1729, Legende dorée Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford ‘Ex dono D. Dorleans civis Parisiensis 1561’vi
BnF MS fr. 2, Bible historiale Charles V, Jeanne de Navarre, taken by John Stanley for Humfrey? Philip de Louans
BnF MS fr. 831, Jean Froissart’s poems Froissart, Thomas Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, Richard II?, Henry IV?, Richard Beauchampvii Unknown
BnF MS fr. 10153, Christine de Pizan, Livres des faits et bonnes moeurs Philip the Bold, Jean sans Peur?, Charles VI, duke of Bedford Philip the Good and successive dukes of Burgundy
BnF MS fr. 12421, Boccaccio, Decameron, trans. French Beauchamp purchased in Paris? Saladin d’Anglure, sire d’Étoges (d. 1499)viii
BnF MS fr. 12583, Roman de Renart Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford Philip the Good and successive dukes of Burgundy
BSG MS 777, Livy, Histoire romaine, trans. French Jean II or Charles V, Charles VI, Jean de Montaigu, duc de Guyenne, Charles VI (again), duke of Bedford Philip the Good and successive dukes of Burgundy; or Alfonso V of Aragon


i Brussels, KBR MS 9627–28, f. 1r.; ‘lestoneit’ is unidentifiable.

ii Stonyhurst MS 24, f. 127v, signed ‘Wylliam Huse. A luy cest liure partient’. See Boardman Catalogue, 25; Doe, ‘Hussey, Sir William’.

iii Briggs, Reading and Writing Politics, 67, identifies ‘Straghways J’ as Sir James Strangways, Speaker of the House of Commons 1461–62, sheriff of Yorkshire and ally of Edward IV. His grandson Sir Giles Strangeways, who owned a French Alexander manuscript, has also been offered. Dutschke, ‘Truth in the Book’, 299 n.73.

iv McKendrick et al., Royal Manuscripts, cat. 136.

v London, BL Royal MS 19 A XX, fols 1r, 152v, signed ‘John Poyngz’. Hawkyard, ‘Poyntz, Sir Robert’. Poyntz’s brother Francis’s name appears as ‘Poyngz’ in Thomas Berthelet’s printing of The Table of Cebes the Philosopher in 1531(?), STC: 4890.5.

vi Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine MS 1792, f. 1r. The ‘Parisian citizen’ implied by this inscription is unclear.

vii Transmission suggested by Croenen et al., ‘Patronage’, 1–42.

viii Branca, ed., Boccaccio visualizzato, 3.230–34; Bozzolo, Manuscrits, 107–8.

Five manuscripts’ later owners have no explicit connection to Humfrey: perhaps these men bought Humfrey’s books in London as Louans did, attracted by Humfrey’s former ownership. Yet other distant connections are suggestive. A knight named ‘Saladin Denglure’ served under William de la Pole in 1423, possibly the father of the knight who added his arms to Humfrey’s Decameron.37 De la Pole, favoured by Henry VI, could have received the manuscript after Humfrey’s death and passed it to his former man-at-arms. ‘John Poyngz’ might be the same John who was grandson to Anthony Woodville and great-grandson to Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Humfrey’s sister-in-law. Two more trickled down to Henry VIII. Although not every connection can be confirmed, each of Humfrey’s thirteen French books has its own transmission history, connecting the duke to a network of book-owning men through time. Used for seeking and dispensing favour and other forms of exchange, Humfrey’s French books transmit social bonds between men.

Visualising the connections between Humfrey and the other owners of his books as a network diagram (see Figure 12.1) reveals an interconnected network of mostly men – and one woman – from relatively minor knights to kings across Europe. Notably, the circulation is not unidirectional, with books crisscrossing the Channel and moving up and down the social hierarchy. Humfrey is one, shared locus for these books with diverse routes of circulation. However, many of the men linked to Humfrey’s books exchanged French books with other men, expanding the Francophone network outwards and contextualising his thirteen manuscripts. Like those men involved in the circulation of Humfrey’s manuscripts, these additional men also fought in the Hundred Years War. English soldiers exchanged books with their fellows and their family. For instance, Beauchamp gave John Shirley a copy of the Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince; Shirley served in the earl’s retinue, and later acted as his secretary in England and France.38 Bedford gifted Charles VI’s book of Christine de Pizan’s poems to Jacquetta and Charles’s Lancelot-Grail to Richard Roos, Robert’s younger brother; Richard then gave the book to Robert’s daughter Eleanor.39 In 1434, Bedford gave an eleven-volume French bible to Richard Sellyng, lieutenant of Calais castle, as surety for his indenture to the Crown. That bible, now destroyed, might have been part of a ransom payment for Charles d’Orléans, who shared some of his books with his English captors.40 The residue of Bedford’s ‘grete librarie that cam owte of France’ passed to Bedford’s uncle Henry Beaufort, who sold, gifted or otherwise disseminated a handful of those books to Charles d’Orléans and Jean d’Angoulême, while they were prisoners in England, and to Philip the Good and Louis de Bruges.41

Other French manuscripts from the French royal collection were not part of Bedford’s purchase but were dispersed earlier. In addition to his Grandes chroniques that passed to Humfrey, Jean II lost two of his manuscripts to English owners after the Battle of Poitiers: William Montagu, earl of Salisbury (1328–97) and important military commander, bought the French king’s Bible historiale that was taken at the battle.42 The other, a copy of the Miracles de Nostre Dame, returned to Charles V, who gave it to Jean de Berry.43 Charles V’s inventory only notes that the manuscript was ‘rachetés des Anglois’ [ransomed from the English], leaving the means of its return obscure.44 Yet Charles V sent his ostensible enemy Montagu a copy of the Roman de la Rose via the bishop of Rouen in 1380.45 Like his father, Charles VI gave Jean de Berry a French manuscript, a Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César made in Naples.46 The French king also sent Richard II Philippe de Mézières’s Epistre au roi Richart in 1395 to celebrate his marriage to Isabella.47 Around the same time, Richard presented Philip the Bold with a Chroniques de Saint Denis.48 Richard II, who might have given Beauchamp the manuscript of Froissart’s poetry, received his own copy from Froissart and gave French books to John Beauchamp (d. 1388) and his valet de chambre John Rose.49 He perhaps received eighteen French books from his grandfather Edward III, who in turn obtained them from his mother Isabella of France.50 As noted, Richard gained Thomas Woodstock’s many French books, some of which the duke may have gained while leading expeditions in the 1370s and 1380s in France. Among Woodstock’s books was Brunetto Latini’s Livre du trésor from William Montagu and a Roman de la Rose from the estate of Sir Richard Stury, Lollard knight and knight of the king’s chamber.51 Richard’s remaining books, perhaps including some from Woodstock, passed to Henry IV, who left manuscripts to his son as well as a Bible historiale to the soldier, diplomat and Lollard knight Sir John Cheyne (d. 1414).52 Like Humfrey’s books, these French manuscripts cross the Channel and social classes.

These further exchanges, which encompass thefts, purchases and gifts, develop a growing network of book owners centred on Humfrey (see Figure 12.2). In this expanded network, built from the previous and subsequent owners of Humfrey’s books, Humfrey is no longer the sole point of connection. Rather he participates in a larger network. The additional exchanges add new figures, like John Shirley and Richard Sellyng, whose major connections to the network are through their military positions. However, the expansion also reinforces connections between men already present in Humfrey’s network. Notably, the network remains predominantly male, although diverse in its social and geographic reach.

This network of book owners exchanging French manuscripts can be expanded still further, at yet another level removed from Humfrey. In this third expansion, which builds on those new names and manuscripts added in the second expansion, the forms of exchange continue to occur mainly between men. For instance, Shirley gave Richard Caudray, a notary during peace negotiations and clerk in Normandy, a copy of Vegetius’s De re militari in French.53 On the occasion of their wedding in 1326, Philippa of Hainault gave Edward III a French manuscript, which passed to their son John of Gaunt, but was bought in 1396 by Jacques Jehan for Louis d’Orléans, who passed it to his son Charles.54 Meanwhile, Jean de Berry gave Humfrey’s other brother Thomas, duke of Clarence – who died at the Battle of Baugé (1421) – a copy of Guillaume de Machaut’s poems as part of a ransom payment.55 Jean de Berry also bought and commissioned manuscripts from Renault de Montet, a Parisian libraire who was arrested on charges of espionage for the English. De Montet sold manuscripts to Edward of Langley, who died at Agincourt, and to English ambassadors to France, including Bishop Richard Courtenay.56 Charles de Beaumont, constable of Navarre and Jeanne de Navarre’s chamberlain in England, wrote to Henry V to offer him a copy of Guiron le courtois.57 Sir John Cheyne willed Henry IV’s Bible historiale to his son Edward (d. 1415) and grandsons, although it fell out of the family’s possession and was bought by Louis de Bruges.58 How this Bible historiale initially arrived in England is unclear.59 Other French books circulated among soldiers, kings and continental women who married English men. Adding these exchanges – by people no longer connected to Humfrey’s books – to the network centred on Humfrey incorporates new figures, but also develops further interconnections among men already included in the network (see Figure 12.3). Some of the new figures, like the Duke of Clarence, Henry V and Louis d’Orléans, came from families already represented. These additional exchanges maintain the movement of French books back and forth across the Channel as well as between men of various ranks of society and military importance. In this way, Humfrey appears as an important node within a wide-reaching network of book owners that stretches across the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Other extant manuscripts and records of gifts and purchases could expand this network in an increasingly convoluted assemblage of names. However, the three versions of the network illustrate several important characteristics. First, men who played some military role in the Hundred Years War dominate. While the French and English kings, their brothers and their sons provide the structural basis for the network – excluding this group from either ‘senders’ or ‘receivers’ results in a fragmented series of exchanges – other men, from John Shirley to William Montagu, would have gained entry to the network through their military service. Serving in France created conditions to obtain wealth, favour and access to French manuscripts. Second, most men within the network both ‘received’ and ‘sent’ books, so that many names have multiple points of connection. Third, the French books exchanged vary widely, including French humanism, romances, chronicles, devotional works and contemporary poetry. There appears no concerted effort to circulate any one type of text, although these French books seem suited to private reading and education rather than liturgical or scholarly purposes, as books in Latin would be. Instead, French might underpin the transnational nature of these exchanges, as it was familiar to English, French, Burgundian and other European audiences. The Francophone networks make clear the existence of a widespread, interconnected, international French book exchange among men of different societal positions and some women during and after the war.

Excluding the books in English and Latin that might augment the network – and which were exchanged among some of these same men – highlights a distinct association among the circulation of books in French, men and military roles that might otherwise be obscured.60 Further, in contrast to Humfrey’s and Henry V’s Latin books, these French manuscripts did not enter the libraries of universities or religious foundations. Rather, they remained in personal collections, available for continued circulation among men. This network develops a distinct picture not only of Humfrey’s book ownership – one which links him to military men at home and abroad rather the Italian humanists with whom he is also closely allied – but also of English ownership of French books in general. Here, interest in French is not isolated, expressed through individual commissions, nor unidirectional from France to England. Rather, the circuits of movement back and forth across the Channel demonstrate a shared, longstanding, transnational desire for French.

These books in French moved not just incidentally alongside these men during their business of war, but as part of the practice of the war itself, which included ransoming and peacemaking. Even the eleven-volume French bible that Bedford gave to Richard Sellyng served as surety for his soldiers’ unpaid wages. The different forms of exchange that created this network – gifts to gain and dispense favour, as well as purchases and ransoms – develop connections beyond family ties. Some exchanges, especially those that were gifts, might have been an attempt to affirm or cultivate a relationship, while others, like plunder, demonstrate military strength. These men, on both sides of the Channel, were employers, subjects, friends, family, allies, enemies and customers. While the network is male-dominated, it is not patrilinear; instead, it represents a kind of homosocial assembly that cuts across family lines. But the network, as far as it can be reconstructed, is riddled with ruptures and dead ends. The names of owners of a book might be untraceable for a generation or two, like the Histoire ancienne that originated in Naples and passed between six continental book owners, before reappearing a century later in Henry VIII’s library.61 Gaps emphasise individual moments of exchange between men. Lost to history, unrecorded circulation underscores the names of known owners and how they are linked to one another.

The network only incorporates figures for whom there is some evidence of ownership and exchange, such as an annotation, documentary reference or heraldic imagery. French manuscripts with a single established English owner are excluded. Certain figures who owned or gifted French books, like John Talbot and John Fastolf, cannot be directly connected to the individuals within the network.62 Perhaps the manuscripts furnishing such links were destroyed, unrecognised or nonexistent. The incomplete evidence of circulation that underlies the network diagrams betrays a tendency to record and preserve certain types of provenance.

Such partiality might explain how few women appear within the network. Those included were continental queens, daughters of kings or wives of soldiers. Further women may be elided in recorded circulation. The largest number of women appear in the third expansion of the network, at the greatest distance from Humfrey’s inner circle. Women were, of course, important readers and owners of French books, and gifted each other French books.63 Reliance on written provenance in building a network of circulation emphasises certain owners even though the actual readers of these manuscripts might differ.64 The Lancelot-Grail owned by Richard Roos proves exceptional: Eleanor Haute gave it to Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, who shared it with her daughters Elizabeth and Cecily and sister-in-law Jane.65 Henry VII later seized a French apocalypse from Cecily, his aunt; the manuscript formerly belonged to her husband John Welles and his father Lionel, both soldiers.66 The short line of female owners exchanging a French book among themselves ends with books returning to men.

The tendency of only some types of exchange to be recorded clarifies the significance of exchanging French books within this network. Most manuscripts lack inscriptions like those in Duke Humfrey’s manuscripts that provide a specific interpretation of the exchange. Yet those manuscripts with inscriptions parrot the central concerns found in Humfrey’s books. The Bible historiale owned by Jean II, Montagu, and Montagu’s wife Elizabeth contains the note:

Cest liure fust pris oue le Roy de ffraunce a la bataille de peyters et le bon counte de saresbirs William montagu la achata pur cent mars et le dona a sa compaigne Elizabeth la bone countesse qe dieux assoile et est continus dedeins le Bible entier oue tixt et glose le mestre de histoires et incident tout en memes le volym. la quele lyure la dite countesse assigna aces executours de le uendre pur xl. liuers.67

[This book was taken from the King of France at the Battle of Poitiers and the good duke of Salisbury, William Montagu, bought it for 100 marcs and gave it to his wife Elizabeth, the good countess, God absolve her. And it contains the whole bible with text and gloss, the Master of histories [i.e. Peter Comestor] and event[s?], all in the same volume. The said countess directed her executors to sell the book for 40 pounds.]

Because the inscription mentions Elizabeth’s executors, it must postdate her death in 1415 and refer to events of sixty years earlier. It retrospectively establishes a direct line from Jean to Montague to Elizabeth. But, if the book ‘fust pris’ [was taken] at Poitiers as ransom, then Montagu would not have bought it from Jean. Instead, it seems possible that Montagu bought it from someone else at some point after the battle. By framing the manuscript’s transmission in this way, and possibly eliding an intermediary owner, the inscription connects Montagu and Elizabeth to the captured French king and the famous French defeat. Inscriptions like this one emphasise individual exchanges of French books as links between men. As a ‘genre of writing about books’ and ‘of life-writing’, records of French book circulation in this group develop a specific connection between owners and book.68 While the exchange of manuscripts in French can build a picture of interconnected book owners through multiple generations, inscriptions imply a greater interest in the localised, individual moments of connection rather than the shape of the larger network.

Manuscript Known owners
BL Harley MS 4431 Isabel of Bavaria, duke of Bedford, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Anthony Woodville
BL Royal MS 14 E III Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Richard Roos, Eleanor Haute, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York and Cecily of York
BL Royal MS 15 D II Lionel Welles, John Welles, Cecily of York, Henry VII
BL Royal MS 19 A XXII Richard Woodville, Henry VII
BL Royal MS 19 B XIII Richard Stury, Thomas Woodstock, Richard II
BL Royal MS 19 D II Jean II, William Montagu, Elizabeth Montagu
BL Royal MS 20 C VII Renault de Montet, Edward of Langley, Richard of York, Richard III, Henry VII
BL Royal MS 20 D I Robert d’Anjou, Jeanne d’Anjou, Peter the Cruel, Henry of Castile, Charles V, Charles VI, Jean de Berry, Henry VIII
BL Royal MS 20 B VI Charles VI, Richard II
Sir John Soane Museum MS 1 Louis de Bruges, Edward IV
University College London MS 1 Richard Beauchamp, John Shirley
BodL MS Douce 319 William Montagu, Thomas Woodstock, Richard II
BnF MS fr. 156 Isabella of France, Joan of Scotland, Richard II, Henry IV, John Cheyne, Edward Cheyne, John Cheyne, Louis de Bruges
BnF MS fr. 403 Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Henry Beaufort, Louis de Bruges
BnF MS fr. 437 Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Henry Beaufort, Jean d’Angoulême
BnF MS fr. 542 Jean de Montaigu, duc de Guyenne, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Henry Beaufort, Charles d’Orléans, Jean d’Angoulême
BnF MS fr. 571 Philippa of Hainault, Edward III, John of Gaunt, Louis d’Orléans, Charles d’Orléans
BnF MS fr. 1589 Jean II, Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Henry Beaufort, Louis de Bruges
BnF MS fr. 1792 Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Henry Beaufort, Charles d’Orléans
BnF MS fr. 9221 Jean de Berry, Thomas duke of Clarence
BnF MS NAF 24541 Jean II, English person, Charles V, Jean de Berry
BnF MS NAF 28876 Jean de Berry, Guillaume of Bavaria
Eleven-volume bible Charles d’Orléans, duke of Bedford, Richard Sellyng
Great library that came out of France Charles V, Charles VI, duke of Bedford, Henry Beaufort, Charles d’Orléans, Jean d’Angoulême, Philip the Good, Louis de Bruges
Roman de la Rose Charles V, William Montagu
A Book of Love Froissart, Richard II
18 French Books Isabella of France, Edward III, Richard II
11 French Books Richard II, John Beauchamp
3 French Books Richard II, John Rose
Chronique de St. Denis Richard II, Philip the Bold
Histoire ancienne jusqu'a César and Lancelot Renault de Montet, Jean de Berry
Tristan, Ovid, Froissart Renault de Montet, Richard Courtenay
Guiron le courtois Charles de Beaumont, Henry V
Jerusalem Joan Beaufort, Henry V
Tristram Thomas Beaufort, Joan Beaufort
‘Machaut’ and Lancelot Isabella of Castile duchess of York, Edward of Langley
Vices et vertuz (i.e. La Somme le roi) Isabella of Castile duchess of York, Lewis Clifford
Lancelot and ‘Sang real’ (for Saint graal) Isabella of France, John of Paris, Jean II

French books that circulated in England during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are often seen ‘as the spoils of war … substantive trophies and memorials of victory and also potential vehicles of cultural appropriation’.69 Yet, looking at the manuscripts individually and collectively shows that the movement of these books occurs among a range of men of different social positions and loyalties, so that they transmit a variety of relationships between men, during and after the war. The lack of women included in the network of exchange might be a purposeful reorienting of records to emphasise men’s relationships to each other. Moreover, as Duke Humfrey’s book inscriptions demonstrate, the men involved in this extensive Francophone network of book owners paid little attention to it. Instead, they concentrated on the specific connections between men enacted by the transfer of a book, whether as gift, ransom or purchase, in French. The exchange of French manuscripts not only happens mostly among men, but it also – and more importantly – prioritises one man’s connection to another man. French cuts across national boundaries and allyships to cultivate a cross-Channel community formed through a network of books and readers.


1 Cambridge, CUL MS Ee.2.17, fol. 36v.
2 Seaton, Sir Richard Roos, 42–9; Journal, ed. Nicolas, lxix–lxxi. Robert (c.1409–48), Richard and their brothers William, Thomas and John appear in the will of their father William, Baron Ros of Helmsley. Chichele, Register of Henry Chichele, ed. Jacob, vol. 2, 25. ‘Roos’ could possibly be Robert’s uncle Sir Robert Roos of Gedney (d.1441), who served under Humfrey in France in 1415 and 1417. See National Archives, E101/45/13, m2 and E101/51/2, m1 in Bell et al., Soldier in Later Medieval England.
3 Stratford, ‘Early Royal Collections’, 264; Harriss, ‘Henry V’s Books’.
4 Stratford, ‘Manuscripts’, 339–40; Stratford, Bedford Inventories, 91–6.
5 London, BL Royal MS 15 E VI. Taylor, ‘French Self-Presentation’; Reynolds, ‘English Patrons’.
6 For example, Oxford, Magdalen College MS 41, bought by Elizabeth de Vere during a trip to France, or Geneva, Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire, MS fr. 166, commissioned by Richard Neville in 1464. Wogan-Browne, ‘Parchment and Pure Flesh’; Boffey, ‘Books and Readers in Calais’, 67–74; Rouse and Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers, 297–300; Visser-Fuchs, ‘Enseignement de vraie noblesse’.
7 Paris, BnF MS lat. 3757; BnF MS ang. 39; BnF MS fr. 9687. Avril and Stirnemann, Manuscrits enluminés, 156, 160, 182; Reider, ‘Toward a Book History’, 103–5, 109–11.
8 Studies of individual authors, owners and manuscripts include: Middleton, ‘Manuscripts of the Lancelot-Grail’, 219–35; Busby, Codex and Context, 637–766; Boffey, ‘Early Reception of Chartier’s Work’, 105–16; Watson, ‘Women, Reading, and Literary Culture’. Other studies are referenced below.
9 While late medieval people circulated older Insular French and used it in professions like law, certain types of texts, especially literary ones, were less frequently composed in French than in earlier centuries. However, the production of certain French-language materials, like pedagogical texts, increased. See Hanna, London Literature, 222–42; Wogan-Browne, ‘“Invisible Archives?”’, 653–73.
10 See especially Butterfield, Familiar Enemy; Wogan-Browne et al. (eds), Language and Culture.
11 Rundle, ‘Respect for the Dead’, 106–24; Petrina, Cultural Politics, 224–58; de la Mare and Hunt, Duke Humfrey; Thomson with Clark, University and College Libraries, 3–6, 8–58.
12 On Humfrey, see Vickers, Humphrey; Harriss, ‘Humphrey, duke of Gloucester’.
13 Ullman, ‘Manuscripts of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester’, 345–56; Sammut, Unfredo, 98–132; Rundle, ‘Good Duke Humfrey’, 46–50. I exclude several manuscripts: Reims, Bibliothèque municipale MS 570, a La Somme le roi, belonged to Thomas, duke of Gloucester, not Humfrey. See Stratford, ‘Manuscripts of Thomas of Woodstock’, 268–82. Oxford, BodL MS Bodley 294, containing Gower’s Traitié selonc les auctours pour essampler les amantz marietz, is multilingual, not French. BnF MS NAF 28876, a Chroniques de France, owned by Thomas Wriothesley, might have arrived in England as a gift to Humfrey from his father-in-law Guillaume de Bavière or his wife Jacqueline of Hainault. Jean de Berry gave it to Guillaume. Humfrey’s name appears nowhere. See Calma and Lebigue, ‘NAF 28876’. BL Royal MS 15 D III’s allusion to ‘lady Powys’ could refer to several women, including Humfrey’s daughter Antigone.
14 Brussels, KBR MS 9627–8; Paris, BSG MS 777; BnF MS fr. 12583; Bibliothèque Mazarine MS 1729; BL Royal MS 19 C IV; BnF MS fr. 10153 were all part of the Louvre Library, and probably passed to Humfrey through Bedford.
15 BnF MS fr. 831; BnF MS fr. 12421.
16 CUL MS Ee.2.17; BL Royal MS 19 A XX.
17 BnF MS fr. 2; Clitheroe, Stonyhurst College MS 24. On Carew, who bears the courtesy title ‘Baron’, see Curry, ‘Carew, Sir Thomas’; Rawcliffe, ‘Stanley, John’.
18 BL Royal MS 16 G VI, fol. 445r. Payling, ‘Cornewall, John’. Cornwall has sometimes been misidentified as John Chandos of Faunhope, but Cornwall – who married Elizabeth of Lancaster and served in France – seems the better identification. See Rundle, ‘Respect for the Dead’, 110, 120 n. 22.
19 BSG MS 777, fol. 433v and BnF MS fr. 2, fol. 511r date their exchange to 1427. BL Royal MS 16 G VI, fol. 445r, refers to Cornwall’s executors, so Humfrey must have gained it after Cornwall’s death in 1443.
20 Buettner, ‘Past Presents’, 598, 602; Green, Poets and Princepleasers, 59–65; McGrady, Writer’s Gift, 14–23, 192–6. On gifts, see Mauss, Gift, esp. 83–106; Bourdieu, ‘Marginalia’, 231–40; Davis, ‘Beyond the Market’, 69–88; Adams, ‘Anne de France and Gift-Giving’, 65–83.
21 Buettner, ‘Past Presents’, 614.
22 Petrina, Cultural Politics, 180–92; Rundle, ‘Respect for the Dead’, 109–10.
23 Henri de Gauchi, Livres du gouvernement, 62–5; Evrart de Tremaugon, Songe du vergier, 2.123.
24 Rawcliffe mentions this gift but does not say what it was or where it is recorded. I have been unable to discover any more about it.
25 E.g. BnF MS fr. 10153, fol. 107r (erased). Rundle, ‘Good Duke Humfrey’, 46–50, classifies inscriptions as either ‘short ex libris’ or ‘long ex libris’.
26 Sawyer, Reading English Verse, 5–6.
27 On plunder, see Saul, Chivalry, 121–3, 131.
28 Curry, ‘English Armies’, 40–8; Saul, Chivalry, 115–20, 133.
29 Delisle, Recherches, 1.283, 2.161, no. 981; Doutrepont, Littérature française, 127 n. 1.
30 Dillon and St. John, ‘Inventory of the Goods’, 300–3, prints Woodstock’s book list. Henry IV re-gifted Richard’s manuscripts, implying that Richard’s books passed to his usurper. Krochalis, ‘Books and Reading of Henry V’, 50–77; Doyle, ‘Old Royal Library’, 68.
31 Jones, ‘Entre la France et l’Angleterre’, 66–9.
32 McKendrick, ‘European Heritage’, 47. BnF MS fr. 2, fol. 465v has the blind signature ‘La R. Jahanne. Tout dyz bien’, which must be Jeanne de Navarre. The identity ‘M Aroundell’, whose name appears on the same folio, is uncertain and need not signify an owner.
33 Petrina, Cultural Politics, 165 n. 34; Sammut, Unfredo, 215–16; Saygin, Humphrey, 120–9, interprets this gift as politically disastrous for Humfrey.
34 BnF MS fr. 2, fol. 511r.
35 BnF MS fr. 12583; KBR MS 9627–8; BnF MS fr. 10153. Wijsman, Luxury Bound, 230, adds BSG MS 777 to this list.
36 Wijsman, Luxury Bound, 231. This book may have belonged to Jacqueline of Hainault, deserted by Humfrey in 1425, rather than the duke.
37 BnF MS Clairambault 100, no. 95–7, Bell et al. (eds), ‘Soldier in Later Medieval England’.
38 London, University College London MS 1; Connolly, John Shirley, 19–22, 106–7.
39 BL Harley MS 4431, fols 1r, 51v, 52v, 115v; BL Royal MS 14 E III, fols 2v, 162r; Seaton, Sir Richard Roos, 547–8, prints Roos’s will.
40 Stratford, ‘Manuscripts’, 334–5; Stratford, Bedford Inventories, 91–3, 212–14; Askins, ‘Brothers Orléans’, 27–45.
41 E.g. BnF MS fr. 437 (Jean); BnF MS fr. 542 (Charles); BnF MS fr. 1792 (Charles). Stratford, ‘Manuscripts’, 340–1; Stratford, Bedford Inventories, 96; Ouy, Librarie, 35–71; Reider, ‘Apparatus’, 61–9. Because Beaufort died in 1447, he probably did not give books directly to Louis de Bruges (1427–92), who was too young at the time. Yet de Bruges bought books in England that originated in Charles V’s library, including BnF MSS fr. 403 and fr. 1589. Laffitte, ‘Les Manuscrits’, 246–7. Many of Louis’s books (re)entered the French royal library in the reign of François I. He added his motto to BL Harley MS 4431, fol. 1r, but likely did not own it.
42 BL Royal MS 19 D II, fol. i v. Montagu was a commander at Poitiers.
43 BnF MS NAF 24541, fol. 243v. de Becdelièvre, ‘NAF 24541’.
44 Delisle, Recherches, 2.156, no. 948.
45 Delisle, Recherches, 2.192, no. 1183. The manuscript is either unidentified or destroyed.
46 BL Royal MS 20 D I. Gaunt, ‘Philology’, 28–9; McKendrick et al., Royal Manuscripts, cat. 135; Rouse and Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers, 293–5.
47 BL Royal MS 20 B VI.
48 Hughes, ‘Library of Philip the Bold’, 185, no. 6.
49 Croenen, ‘Reception’, 410–14; Rickert, ‘King Richard II’s Books’, 144–7; Green, ‘King Richard II’s Books Revisited’, 235–9.
50 Cavanaugh, ‘Royal Books’, 309–14.
51 Oxford, BodL MS Douce 319, fol. 222v, inscription visible under UV light. BL Royal MS 19 B XIII, fol. 2r. The manuscripts both appear in his inventory. Dillon and St. John, ‘Inventory of the Goods’, 300.
52 BnF MS fr. 156, fols 3v, 282r; McKendrick, ‘European Heritage’, 48; McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings, 168–71, 180–1.
53 Nall, Reading and War, 15; Connolly, John Shirley, 107, 109, 112; Sobecki, Last Words, 107–9.
54 BnF MS fr. 571. The manuscript contains the duke of Lancaster’s arms, most likely John of Gaunt’s rather than Henry de Grosmont’s. See Sandler, Gothic Manuscripts, 103–5; Michael, ‘Manuscript Wedding Gift’, 582–99; Avril and Stirnemann, Manuscrits enluminés, 152. Jacques Jehan bought a Roman de la Rose, Jean de Meun’s Testament and the Livre des eschez moralisé along with MS fr. 571. Louis, writing to Jean le Flament to pay Jehan, does not specify where Jehan made his purchases for the duke, but he possibly did so in England. de Lincy, Bibliothèque, 36.
55 BnF MS fr. 9221; Guiffrey, Inventaires, 1.226–7, no. 860; Mattison, ‘Where is Chaucer’s Machaut?’
56 Rouse and Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers, 287–98.
57 Letter from Charles to Henry, April 1419, Rymer, Foedera, 9.742; Jones, ‘Entre la France et l’Angleterre’, 66.
58 BnF MS fr. 156, fols 3v, 282rv, contains Cheyne’s name and bequest; Cavanaugh, ‘Study of Books’, 184, prints Edward’s will. On fol. 1v, Louis de Bruges’s arms are visible beneath those of France on the recto.
59 McKendrick, ‘European Heritage’, 48, suggests Isabella of France brought it to England, and that it passed to Richard II and Henry IV. Patterson, ‘Stolen Scriptures’, 165, suggests Jeanne de Bourgogne owned it before it was taken by the Clare family to England.
60 E.g., Henry V left Henry VI the books from Meaux (Stratford, ‘Early Royal Collections’, 264), and Henry Beaufort borrowed two Latin books from the king’s treasury in 1426 (Cavanaugh, ‘Study of Books’, 81). Charles VI gave a breviary, BnF MS lat. 10483, to Richard II, which Henry IV gave to Jean de Berry.
61 BL Royal MS 20 D I; McKendrick et al., Royal Manuscripts, cat. 135.
62 He commissioned his two surviving French manuscripts, BodL MSS Bodley 179 and Laud Misc. 570, in England. See Beadle, ‘Sir John Fastolf’s French Books’, 96–112.
63 For example, Meale, ‘…alle the bokes’; Bell, ‘Medieval Women’.
64 See Strakhov and Watson, ‘Behind Every Man(uscript)’, 151–80.
65 BL Royal MS 14 E III, fols 1r, 162r. Lyons, ‘Woodville Women’, proposes that Humfrey gave Richard the manuscript, but there is no evidence for this exchange.
66 BL Royal MS 15 D II; McKendrick et al., Royal Manuscripts, cat. 87.
67 BL Royal MS 19 D II, f. i v; McKendrick et al., Royal Manuscripts, cat. 137.
68 Wakelin, ‘“Thy ys my boke”’, 13, 30.
69 McKendrick, ‘European Heritage’, 51. Cf. Taylor, ‘French Self-Presentation’, 452.
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