The Works of the Devonshire Manuscript

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Of its 194 items, a figure that includes all creative textual works—complete poems, verse fragments and excerpts from longer works, anagrams, and other ephemeral jottings—the manuscript collection consists of short courtly verses by Sir Thomas Wyatt (129 items, 66 of which are unique to the manuscript) and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1 item); verses attributed to Lady Margaret Douglas (2 items), Richard Hatfield (2 items), Mary Fitzroy (née Howard) (1 item), Lord Thomas Howard (3 items), Sir Edmund Knyvet (2 items), Sir Anthony Lee (1 item [“A. I.” has 3 items]), and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (1 item); transcribed portions of medieval verse by Geoffrey Chaucer (11 items), Thomas Hoccleve (3 items), and Richard Roos (2 items); transcriptions of the work of others or original works by prominent court figures such as Mary Shelton, Lady Margaret Douglas, Mary (Howard) Fitzroy, Lord Thomas Howard, and, perhaps, Queen Anne Boleyn; and some 30 unidentified or unattributed pieces.[1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 As Marotti has noted, courtly manuscript miscellanies and poetic anthologies “represent the meeting ground of literary production and social practices” (1995, 212), and the Devonshire Manuscript contains a number of pertinent examples, most notably in the form of epistolary verse and scribal annotation. The most widely documented instance is the sequence of epistolary love-poetry exchanged between Lady Margaret Douglas and Lord Thomas Howard, presumably composed while the couple was incarcerated for their clandestine betrothal.[2] The exchange takes place over a series of poems (ff. [26r]–[29v]), assumed to be in sequence, and all entered by the same hand (TH2).[3] The first verse begins with Lord Thomas lamenting “Alas that euer prison stronge / sholde such too louers seperate” (f. [26r], ll. 5-6). The poem immediately following, thought to be Lady Margaret’s reply, also makes reference to the lovers’ imprisonment and separation: “the one off us from the other they do absent” (f. [26v], l. 9).[4] Lord Thomas then promises his “worldly tresor” that “My loue truly shall not decay / for thretnyng nor for punysment” (f. [27r], ll. 15-16). The form of this “punysment” is captivity, which Lord Thomas likens to that of “a hawke” in a “mue” (f. [27r], l. 27). A hawk is kept in a mew or moulting-cage (OED, “mew, n.2” 3.a) while it sheds its feathers. The image is optimistic, as it suggests that the lovers’ imprisonment and vulnerability is only temporary, and is a time of transformation and renewal: the sixteenth-century encyclopedia Batman vppon Bartholome held that hawks were mewed “that they may be discharged of olde fethers and hard, and be so renewed in fairnesse of youth” (1582, f. 178r).[5]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In the following poem, Lord Thomas identifies his secret betrothal to Lady Margaret as the source of the couple’s current woes—”alas me thynke the[y] do me wronge / That they wold haue me to resyne / my tytly tytle wych ys good and stronge / that I am yowrs and yow ar myne” (f. [27v], ll. 9-12)—and that this punishment is designed to compel him to “swere / your company for to forsake” (f. [27v], ll. 13-14). As the next verse makes clear, the faithful lover remains steadfast in his devotion: “The[y] wyll me hyr for to deny / whom I wyll loue moste hartely / vntyll I dye” (f. [28r], ll. 9-12). The poem immediately following, presumably composed by Lady Margaret, is written as a response to the “great paynes he [Lord Thomas] suffereth for my sake / contynnually both nyght and day” (f. [28v], ll. 5-6), promising to reward his sufferings with eternal love in terms that poetically echo his earlier sentiments: “from me hys loue wyll not decay” (f. [28v], l. 8).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As the sequence progresses, the hopeful tone of the earlier verses—the protestations of unerring commitment and unwavering love, the casting of the lovers’ imprisonment as temporary and a time of renewal—is gradually overtaken by more pessimistic sentiments. The gift of love exchanged between the lovers is no longer described as eternal, but “for terme off lyfe” (f. [29r], l. 22). Explicit allusions to death and despair become more frequent. Consider the closing lines of the final poem in the sequence:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 but whan ye comen by my sepulture
remembre that yowr felowe resteth there
for I louyd eke thowgh I vnworthy were[6]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 Remley has suggested that this pastiche of lines from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde “recast[s] an excerpt from the lament of Troilus on the impending departure of Criseyde” and is “meant to serve as Howard’s epitaph” (1994, 52). Other images are more ambiguous in the final poems of the sequence. For instance, those who interfere (“bate or stryfe”) with the lovers’ marriage (“ower louyng bandys”) are wished to be on “goodwyn sandys” (f. [29r], ll. 25-27), a large sand shoal off the coast of Kent, famous as a site of shipwrecks. To “set up shop on Goodwin Sands” was proverbial for hopeless endeavor and running aground.[7] The allusion is clearly designed to express Lord Thomas’ desire to thwart efforts to hinder his relationship, but there is a cruel irony in the desperation of the proverb since it may be read as a projection of his own hopelessness.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 While an association between these poems and Margaret Douglas and Thomas Howard can be inferred on the basis of “the insertion of names and initials and the close fit of the biographical detail” (Heale 305, 1995), to interpret these poems as actual love letters or as evidence of sincere feeling is, as Catherine Bates has argued, “to assume the position of the state interrogator who could claim, on the basis of such actions or words, to understand exactly what they signified” and to know “the contents of the heart” (2007, 41). Moreover, Bates asks,

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Is it not preferable in literary historical terms, and closer to the spirit of Renaissance Court practice, to suspend judgment, to delay pronouncing the fatal “meaning,” and to sustain the play of enigmatic signification, since to do this leaves open the whole range of possibilities that such play-acting allows for: namely, that Thomas Howard and Margaret Douglas dramatized themselves as tragic lovers (or were so dramatized by their friends) either because such role-play did indeed correspond to their inner feelings, or because it allowed them to dissemble feelings that were quite different, or because the whole thing was a joke or game in which no feelings were involved at all, or because it provided an idealized model for feelings to which they aspired? (2007, 40-41)

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 In addition to the composition of epistolary verse, contributors to the manuscript interacted with one another through scribal annotation. These marginal responses are, at times, quite personal in nature. For example, the text of the poem “Suffryng in sorow in hope to attayn” (f. [6v–7r]) is annotated in the left margin: a hand identified as Lady Margaret Douglas’ writes “fforget thys,” to which a hand identified as Mary Shelton’s responds, “yt ys wor[t]hy” (f. [6v]). The poem is written in a male voice appealing for the love of a lady: “suffryng in sorow” and “desyryng in fere,” the poet pleads for his unnamed addressee to “ease me off my payn” (f. [6v], ll. 1-2, 4). While its authorship remains hotly debated, the acrostic of the verse suggests that Mary Shelton is the intended recipient: the first letter of its seven stanzas spells out “SHELTVN.”[8] The scribal annotations, which may only to refer to the quality of the verse, might therefore take on a more profound and personal meaning: Lady Margaret recommends rejecting the poem and its suit (“fforget thys”), but this advice is contradicted by Shelton who finds “yt ys wor[t]hy.” At the end of the poem, Mary Shelton adds a comment that has been variously transcribed as “ondesyard sarwes / reqwer no hyar,” “ondesyrid favours / deserv no hyer,” or perhaps “ondesyard fansies / requier no hyar.”[9]  The transcription poses an interesting editorial crux: “sarwes” might be read as “service” or “sorrows.”[10] Likewise, “hyar” may be read as “hire” or “ear.” As S. P. Zitner has argued, “[w]hether Mary Shelton was saying that undesired service (attention) required no hire or that undesired sorrows required no ear, the response is pretty much the same in tone and substance” (1983, 513). While this comment may be a “remarkable example of an overtly critical rejoinder to a courtly lyric” written in the spirit described by Zitner, Remley has argued that “it seems equally probable that her words are meant ironically,” that they offer a “private recognition of the absurd spectacle of a man determined to get his way through protestations of extreme humility” (1994, 50). Similarly, Heale has argued such “unsympathetic replies may be part of the conventional exchange of courtly verse” and might be offered in jest, as “such jesting offered some opportunities for female subject positions that seem to have appealed to the women using the manuscript” (2004, 21). Although the precise intentions behind Mary Shelton’s annotations and commentary remain obscure, their potential importance to the meaning and interpretation of the verse cannot be disputed.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Another example of this kind of social interaction is found in the scribal annotations attached to the text of a short verse, “The pleasaunt beat of swet Delyte” (f. [66r]). The poem, entered by an ornate and unidentified hand (H13), closes with the lines “whereas wysdome the soft Iudge doth Raign / prove wyt avoyedes all Daunger breding pain” (ll. 5-6). Over the word “Daunger,” a hand identified as Lady Margaret’s has written “doutt” or “doute.” As with the previous example, the intentions behind the annotation are unclear: if it is meant as a correction, why has the word “Daunger” not been struck out? An alternative explanation might be that the intention is to draw attention to the word “Daunger” by leaving it visible, and to literally label its appropriateness or sentiment as doubtful.             The instances of scribal annotation and exchanges of epistolary verse detailed above are but representative samples of the kinds of social interaction found throughout the Devonshire Manuscript. In addition to examining the volume as “a medium of social intercourse,” other aspects of the Devonshire Manuscript —its multi-layered and multi-authored composition, its early history and transmission, the ways in which its contents engage with and comment directly on contemporary political and social issues—invite further investigation.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 [1] Scholars have only cautiously asserted an approximate number of items preserved in D: “the number of poems in the manuscript can only be given as approximately 184” (Southall 1964b, 143); “the manuscript preserves about 185 items of verse, but it is impossible to obtain an exact figure as many of these are fragments, medieval extracts or the like, and others are divided up differently by various editors” (Remley 1994, 47). Ethel Seaton identified the medieval origin of the Richard Roos texts (1956, 55-56). Richard Harrier first noted the use of William Thynne’s 1532 edition of Chaucer as the source for that poet’s verse in D (1960, 54). Southall suggested Anne Boleyn’s contributions (1964b, 143); see the biographical entry on Boleyn for a more detailed discussion of her involvement with the manuscript. The most recent examination of the hands in D is that of Helen Baron, especially Table 1 (1994). See also the earlier findings of Edward A. Bond (1871, 654-655). The present edition follows Baron’s findings, confirmed by independent investigation, as outlined in the Textual Introduction. See Contributors to the Devonshire Manuscript for brief biographies of each of the identified hands and authors.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 [2] Bond first noted the relevance of the Howard-Douglas affair to this sequence in D (1871, 654-655).

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 [3] It is unclear whether the hand belongs to Lord Thomas Howard, since no independent examples of his hand have survived. Bond argued that Lord Thomas entered the series of poems into the volume during his imprisonment in the Tower (1871, 655). The alternative theory, that the epistolary verses were collected and entered into D as a group later, is proposed and dismissed by Baron (1994, 327).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 [4] Scholars have traditionally followed Bond’s earlier assertion that the name “margrt” is scrawled at the end of the poem (f. [26v]), perhaps attributing authorship: Baron (1994, 332); Harrier (1975, 25); Heale (1998, 42). Independent examination of the manuscript suggests that the “scrawl” is only partially legible, with only the letter forms “ma”, “r”, and “h” clearly identifiable. As such, it may refer either to Mar[y] H[oward] or to Mar[garet] H[oward], the latter symbolically adopting her husband’s surname following their betrothal. An entry found on the flyleaf (f. [1r]) is similarly unclear: in faint ink, “margeret how” is possibly inscribed (Baron 1994, 331; Bond 1871, 655); however, Remley has argued that the “hurried and surreptitious mark” was in fact made by Mary Shelton, reading it as “Mary Sh—lt—” (1994, 54).

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 1 [5] In his dictionary Phillips notes, “[a] Mue for Hawks” is “a kind of cage or aviary where Hawks are kept when they change their feathers” and “comes from the French word Muer, to change” (1658, f. 2C4v).

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [7] See Morris Palmer Tilley (1950, S393) and W. G. Smith and F. P. Wilson (1970, S393). John Heywood’s Prouerbes is usually cited as the earliest usage in print.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 1 [8] The poem is entered in D by an unidentified hand (H2), and is also preserved in the Blage Manuscript (Trinity College, Dublin, MS 160, f. 159r). Modern editors of Wyatt’s poems commonly attribute the poem to him (F, I: 257-58; M, 96-97; M & T, 176-77; N, II: 590; R, 268-69). However, this attribution has not been universally accepted: Harrier argues that the poem “must be excluded from the Wyatt canon” since it “may be by Thomas Clere” (1975, 41, 45), and Joost Daalder silently excludes the poem from his edition (1975). Julia Boffey has argued the author is Mary Shelton, mistaking Shelton’s signed comment at the end of the poem as an attribution (1996, 173). See also the discussion in H. A. Mason (1972, 126).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [9] The first transcription as per Baron (1994, 331); Remley gives “ondesyerd” (1994, 50). The second as per F, I:258. The third as per Heale (1995, 301). Heale gives “ondesiard fansies / requier no hiar” (1998, 43) and “ondesyred fansies / require no hyar” (2004, 21).

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [10] “Searwes” (device) is also possible, but unlikely. Alternatively rendering the word as “fansies” or “favours” is less problematic, but equally less probable.

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