Lydgate's Libraries: Duke Humfrey, Bury St. Edmunds, and the Fall of Princes

Jennifer Summit

in Memory's Library

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226781716
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226781723 | DOI:
Lydgate's Libraries: Duke Humfrey, Bury St. Edmunds, and the Fall of Princes

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This chapter presents and examines the implications of the following argument: while the fifteenth-century “age of libraries” took place against the backdrop of expanded literacy in late medieval England, to both their founders and their critics, the new libraries represented an effort to restrict, rather than advance, popular literacy. This argument counters an assumption that the growth of libraries was a natural outcome of, or necessarily promoted, the spread of books and literacy, and it carries implications for understanding the broader cultural significance of libraries. At a time when literacy could no longer be considered the exclusive domain and defining privilege of the clergy, the newly centralized libraries worked to safeguard literacy and its privileges by other means. The chapter makes this point by considering two of the most important libraries of the fifteenth century: the library of Bury St. Edmunds, established by Bishop William Curteys in the middle of the century, and that of Duke Humfrey of Gloucester, who would go on to endow the central university library at Oxford. While the two libraries represent two different forms of literacy—monastic and humanist—they are joined and mediated through the work of John Lydgate, who was a monk at Bury under Curteys and who enjoyed Humfrey's patronage as well as access to his library while composing his monumental work The Fall of Princes.

Keywords: fifteenth century; libraries; medieval England; popular literacy; Bury St. Edmunds; Duke Humfrey of Gloucester; John Lydgate; Bishop William Curteys; The Fall of Princes

Chapter.  15511 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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