Household Narratives and Lancastrian Poetics in Hoccleve’s Envoys and Other Early-Fifteenth-Century Middle English Poems
This article offers a contextual consideration of Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger as part of an analysis of two envoy poems by Thomas Hoccleve, the first one, addressed to John, Duke of Bedford, accompanying a copy of the Regiment of Princes and the second one, addressed to Edward, second Duke of York, composed to accompany a “‘pamfilet’ of . . . ‘balades'” (91). Hoccleve’s poems stage the “literary and presumably financial exchanges between poet and patron . . . within the household of familia of [the] nobal patrons, which allows [these] disingenuous strategies to occur” (92). Nuttall suggests that Hoccleve’s poems might be better understood when read against the “retrospective accounts of the political history of the 1380s and 1390s” (96) in Lancastrian polemics and poetry, such as the deposition schedule of Richard II or Arundel’s sermon contained in the Record and Progress or the two alliterative poems Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger. She reads the appearance of Wit in Passus 3 (ll. 228-36) of Richard the Redeless and the verbal and physical abuse meted out to him by the imagined members of Richard’s familia as instancing the supposed Ricardian “inability or unwillingness to deal with truth tellers who enter the court” (99). Nuttall also notes the attempts of the 1404 parliament to control the composition and entry into the royal household and suggests that criticism of the Henrician household occasioned the composition of Mum. A summary and analysis of several passages in Mum shows that the aversion to truth-telling, formerly construed as a particular Ricardian vice, is now generally widespread in the English nation. Nuttall posits that in the imagined interaction between Hoccleve’s books and the senior members of ducal households, the envoy poems combine the modesty topos with “two more contentious and contemporary possibilities: first, the sympathetic . . . welcome which ought to be offered to truth tellers in the ideal household . . . and second, its politically hazardous opposite, [their] exclusion by unruly courtiers who both exemplify and engender . . . incompetent governance” (104-5).
The Medieval Household in Christian Europe, c. 850-c. 1550: Managing Power, Wealth, and the Body . ed. Cordelia Beattie, Anna Maslakovic, and Sarah Rees Jones (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2003), pp. 91-106.