- John Mandeville, Edward III, and the King of Inde
For many years, scholars have speculated as to the circumstances of composition of that much-read later medieval text, The Book of John Mandeville, or Mandeville's Travels: when, where, by whom, for whom, and in what language was this elusive work originally written? Three pieces of evidence within the text lie at the heart of this dispute: the statement in the exordium that the author was "John Mandeville, knight . . ., born in England, in the town of St Albans"; the information that the author gives as to his departure from England in September 1322 and, after many years of travelling, his composition of the text in 1356 (in some versions, 1357 or 1366); and the presence at the end of some of the manuscripts of the Anglo-Norman version of a Latin dedication to Edward III, king of England (1327-77).1 Some have dismissed the self-conscious assertion "I, John Mandeville, knight" as a mere conceit, arguing that the Travels was most likely composed outside England by a writer living either in Liège or some location in northern France; that it was only later rendered into the Anglo-Norman that gave it currency among fashionable audiences in England; and that the dedication was itself a belated intrusion into the Anglo-Norman translation intended to assert royal patronage after the event and thus enhance the text's prestige and popularity with English audiences.2 Others by contrast, asserting the primacy [End Page 314] of the Anglo-Norman version of the Travels, have taken up (in various combinations) a series of important counterarguments: that the work betrays signs of composition by someone with English connections and interests; that the self-identified author was likely a member of a well-established Essex gentry dynasty descended from the earlier Anglo-Norman baronial family of Mandeville; and that the dedication to Edward III is susceptible to being regarded as at least contemporaneous with the main text and therefore of suggesting that the work found some degree of early patronage among English courtly audiences.3
This study attempts to add some new dimensions to this complex debate by addressing four discreet elements of the topic: the careers of the various John Mandevilles who can plausibly be identified as members of the family of Mandeville of Black Notley and Broomfield (Essex); the connection between that family and the household of Edward III; the form and possible date of the dedication; and the general congruence between the subject matter of Mandeville's Travels and the taste for the exotic exhibited by the fourteenth-century English court. The findings and interpretations are not intended as definitive proofs. Rather, by beginning from the premise that the authorial information and the dedication might be taken as literal and authentic, this discussion simply seeks to explore quite how far we could reasonably take a hypothesis about the reception of Mandeville's Travels at the court of Edward III.
In a seminal study published in 1954, Josephine Waters Bennett argued that the author of the Travels may have been a relatively well-documented John Mandeville who flourished in Essex in the early fourteenth century. She also attempted to link this man with the family of Mandeville of Black Notley and Broomfield in the same county, and suggested that John was a younger brother and uncle to two successive heads of this dynasty, Thomas Mandeville II (d. 1346) and Thomas Mandeville III (d. before 1386).4 In a 2006 study, Michael J. Bennett published a careful review of the existing arguments [End Page 315] relating to the author John Mandeville's links with the Mandevilles of Black Notley and Broomfield and particularly stressed the importance of the family's connections with their principal lords, the Bohuns. Specifically, he reported a new reference to a John Mandeville, parker of Enfield (Middlesex), who visited the court of Edward III's mother, Queen Isabella, at Hertford at Christmas 1357. Identifying the hunting grounds at Enfield as Bohun property, Bennett argued that this Mandeville was one and the same man with the John Mandeville who appears as an esquire in the retinue of...