Saturday, 29 December 2012

Basilikon Doron - James I & VI's mirror

Today I saw the Lost Prince exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery - featuring the life of Henry Stuart, first son of King James I and VI, heir to the throne.

Henry was groomed to be the next king, and it was a terrible shock when he died at 18, leaving a teen Charles to be refitted and trained in his place. I've read a bit about English Civil War, but I'd not known that Charles I had been the 'spare' to his brother's 'heir'.

When Henry was a child, his father wrote a book of advice for him - Basilikon Doron (1599). I'd never heard of it before today, and got to see both a beautiful embroidered book cover of it, and the original handwritten copy, in a delicate italic hand.

I'm not adding it to my book list for discussion at present; I have other medieval & renaissance titles I want to read first. But I thought it worth highlighting.

I was charmed that a royal father, whose son was raised apart from him, in another household, set aside time and energy to write out his advice for his son. He'd been Scotland's king for some years by then, knew many of the troubles of being Elizabeth's (unspoken) heir; noone else could speak to a prince with the same authority.

Luminarium page of James I & VIs writing

Folger Shakespeare library page with Basilikon Doron, with discussion for (highschool?) students

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Looking ahead to the new year

I've had two fine resources pointed out to me by Lena, a friend from Nordmark, which I'm now adding to the blog to share them.

The first is a link to Ex, a charming blog subtitled History Philosophy Books Food & Fandom, which should be enough to encourage anyone to at least take a look.

Specifically, it's the posts tagged Machiavelli that Lena recommended, as a fine introduction to that author, and the author of the next work, The Prince, suggested for reading in the winter, and discussion in the spring. Suggest reading the posts in date order, rather than the order they appear when selecting by tags.

Secondly, at a recent revel in Thamesreach, Lena brought me a copy of a 'King's Mirror' I'd never heard of: Konungs skuggsjá, or Speculum Regalea Norwegian work dated around 1250 (link to Wikipedia summary).

It's available from (PDF and assorted reading formats), and in HTML, as a transcription of an early 20th century translation.
I'll be adding it to the list of resources, and suggest it as the book to follow Machiavelli's The Prince in the new year.

The first part seems a summary of natural wonders - a sort of overview of marvellous things that a king ought to know about; the scond and third parts are about the court, and about the nature of justice. It's the second and third parts that interest me, though don't let that stop you from reading part I.

Why this book? Partly because someone took the time to recommend it; partly because it's a change from the well-known titles we're starting with; and partly to combat my own ignorance of northern European medieval literature.

Have you started reading Book of the Courtier?

Today is the first of December, and the annual consumer frenzy has begun. Call it Christmas, Yule, Hogswatch, whatever - it's a busy time of year.

Seems an odd time to suggest that you sit down and read a book, much less one that was written in early 16th century.

Nevertheless: if you haven't already started, and wanted to take part in the discussion at Drachenwald 12th night (or other winter event), now is an excellent time to pick it up.

The main reasons

1. Avoid the rush! In translation, this little book isn't heavy going, but this reminder is to help you pace yourself and give yourself enough time to read and absorb the text, and think about what key points Castiglione feels are most important.

2. It's a refreshing break from the rest of December's traditional activities (mostly shopping, speciality food preparation, assorted social commitments, involvement with some form of St Nicholas and all the emotional highs and lows of the season...and in England where I live, moaning about all of the above).

3. There's always a third this case, you enjoy reading, and this discussion gives you a deadline, which of course is part of the point of the exercise. It could even be a useful excuse: 'I'm terribly sorry, I'd love to go to work drinks, but I must stay home with Castiglione'.

SO: start your bookmarks, friends, and I look forward to seeing and hearing from you at 12th night.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Electronic vs in person discussion

Since I floated the idea of the reading group, a couple of people have suggested an online version - host an online chat, so more people (who don't make all events, or the events I'm suggesting) can take part.

My response is in a couple of parts:

For me, the fun is in the in-person discussion. I want to chat about the book over a drink, with my fellow event goers.

I've been part of online discussion groups on assorted topics for years; they're hugely valuable, but not the same as sitting down with a circle of people. So this (the sitting with human beings) is what I'll be doing first.

I spend my working day in front of a computer screen, so in my free time I try to do other activities.

However: I am not the single font of all knowledge on this project - far from it.

  • If you want to organise a discussion group about mirrors for princes at an event close to you - please, go forth and make it happen. It takes only two or three people to start the dicussion rolling. Even 'organise' is a strong word - just tell folks you'll be sitting with your book, and your drink, at X time at Y event, and see who turns up!
  • If you want to set up an online chat about mirrors for princes - please, do so.

My own approach does not have to define yours!

Frankly, I'd be overjoyed if my interest in reading and talking about medieval books sparked, and spread to other  people, using formats they enjoy. What could be cooler?

SO: I'll be at the events named, and will report back on the discussion. If other groups meet, in any venue, please rest assured I'll be delighted to hear of it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tentative reading plan

To get started I offer a reading list for the next few months. See my preferences on the About page.

Book:  Castiglione's Book of the courtier - available for free in Elizabethan English online (see sources) or widely available in paperback. My copy is from the charity shop.

Proposed discussion date: Drachenwald 12th night in West Dragonshire, or other January event.

Book: Machiavelli's The Prince - available for free from Project Gutenberg, or in paperback.

Proposed discussion date: Drachenwald Crown Tourney, Nordmark, in early April, or other spring event.

Inspiration for Mirrors for princes

For peradventure in all Italy a man shall have muche a do to fynde out so many gentlemen and noble personages that are so worthy, and besyde the principall profession of Chivalrye so excellent in sundry thinges, as are presently here.

Therfore if in any place men may be founde that deserve the name of good Courtyers, and can judge what belongeth to the perfeccion of Courtyership, by reason a man may beleve them to be here.

To disgrace therefore many untowardly asseheades, that through malepertnes thinke to purchase them the name of a good Courtyer, I would have suche a pastime for this night, that one of the company myght bee picked out who should take in hand to shape in woordes a good Courtyer, specifying all suche condicions and particuler qualities, as of necessitie must be in hym that deserveth this name. And in suche thinges as shall not appere necessarie, as of necessitie must be in hym that deserveth against them, as the maner of Philosophers schooles is against him that kepeth disputacions.
From Castiglione's Book of the Courtier

This text appears early in the Book of the Courtier, and inspired my 'salon discussion' at Raglan ffair this year. I love the idea of 'shaping in words a good Courtier'. The discussion revealed to me how much I didn't know about medieval and renaissance authors particularly authors of 'mirrors for princes', and prompted me to start the blog.