- The Correspondence of Reginald Pole. Volume 1: A Calendar, 1518–1546: Beginnings to Legate of Viterbo
Thomas F. Mayer plans to deliver a four-volume series on the correspondence of Reginald Pole (1500-1558), the British cardinal archbishop of Canterbury and papal legate to the opening sessions of the Council of Trent. The first three volumes will present the correspondence, with suggestive stemmata, and almost [End Page 544] always in summary form rather than complete texts. The fourth volume will be a biographical companion to the volumes of correspondence, covering all persons mentioned in the letters and other documents. This first volume covers 510 of the 2300 pieces of correspondence and official papers identified by Mayer. The book outlines Pole's correspondence between 1518 and 1546, and hence relates some of his most interesting contacts with Italian reformers, with the papal court, and with the court of King Henry VIII.
What Mayer has provided here solves part of the set of problems associated with earlier work on Pole's papers. Specialists on this period are already familiar with the five-volume, eighteenth-century edition undertaken by Angelo Maria Querini, entitled Epistolarum Reginaldi Poli (Brescia, 1744-1757). In his introduction, Mayer explains the problems with that edition, problems that begin with the selective nature of Querini's work (only about 400 items) and that culminate with errors introduced by inept assistants Querini employed. Other scholars have presented portions of Pole's correspondence since, but always in summary form. Mayer provides what will be a comprehensive list of all the known items, plus identification of lost pieces that would add about another 700 items to the total list. He will not provide a "complete" edition in any sense. The major reason for this is a practical one. Pole wrote a lot, and was known for verbosity. As a result there is, Mayer explains, simply too much material for a complete edition to be published in any reasonable size. In addition, Pole worked and reworked his correspondence, so establishing any single text is exceptionally difficult. Therein lies Mayer's principal contribution: he has put many years of painstaking archival investigation behind this edition, and has made his notes available to other scholars. One can only admire his systematic mining of manuscript collections in dozens of libraries and archives scattered across England, Italy, Spain, Austria, Belgium, France, the United States, and Vatican City. Mayer also carefully acknowledges every debt, however small, for help received from colleagues.
The significance of this volume, and of the collection when completed, surely turns on Mayer's indefatigable efforts. Few, in my opinion, will want to read this work. Still, this first volume, and the collection overall, belongs in every university and research library that collects material on early modern European history. This collection will be a crucial starting point for anyone wishing to explore the career of Pole, or the history of his participation in the events associated with the Reformation, broadly conceived. By systematically hunting—and now presenting the locations of—the records of Pole's career, Mayer has not just identified the sources behind his recent, and somewhat controversial, biography of the cardinal archbishop of Canterbury (Reginald Pole, Prince and Prophet [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000]). Mayer has also provided future scholars with a tool to begin reconsideration of his own conclusions. This collection represents a tremendous service to students of Tridentine Catholicism.