Renaissance Retrospections: Tudor Views of the Middle Ages ed. by Sarah A. Kelen (review)
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Reviewed by
R enaissanceR etrospections: T udorV iews of theM iddleA ges. Edited by Sarah A. Kelen. Studies in Medieval Culture, 102. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2013. Pp. ix + 233. $25.

This essay collection offers a welcome corrective to simplistic views of Renaissance writers’ alleged outright rejection of their medieval predecessors’ choices of texts and forms. Instead of showcasing this revisionist agenda based on observations of Europe-wide Early Modern trends, the editor has chosen to unite examples that focus on the English tradition during the Tudor era, for which many existing grand narratives would still postulate a sharp dividing line between pre- and post-Reformation writing. The result is a more nuanced picture of how Tudor writers of often opposing ideological and religious affiliations mined the medieval textual world to express a vast array of postmedieval authorial intentions. The Middle Ages, as the editor summarizes the contributors’ findings, was “an uncanny but continuous presence in the early modern period both culturally and textually” (p. 11).

Dan Breen (“The Resurrected Corpus: History and Reform in Bale’s Kynge Johan”) shows this “continuous presence” at work in John Bale’s play Kynge Johan(ca. 1538), in which the character Veritasrectifies the existing historiographical record, sullied by medieval monastic authors, by focusing on the actual physical evidence of King John’s achievements in the realms of architecture (e.g., London Bridge), topography, and town and city charters. While the “antiquity” of these monuments lends authority to Bale’s Tudor agenda, the out-of-date nature of Catholic historiographical texts weakens their evidentiary value. A similarly di-chotomous “usable” Middle Ages appears in Kathy Cawsey’s essay (“When Polemic Trumps Poetry: Buried Medieval Poem(s) in the Protestant Print I Playne Piers”), which offers an intriguing case study of a text that furthers the Protestant cause while remaining indebted to medieval poetic forms. Ironically, I Playne Piers, a Protestant poetic polemic first published around 1550, was printed in prose, thus obfuscating how its anonymous author strained to emulate medieval poetic form including, of course, Langland’s Piers Plowman, a text praised as a pre-Lutheran Protestant text by the likes of John Crowley. Cawsey’s essay seems to have escaped final editorial attention (p. 49 “been change[d] to”; p. 51 “If this is [the] case”; none of the titles in the “Notes” is italicized).

Thomas A. Prendergast (“The Work of Robert Langland”) investigates the Tudor reception of Robert Langland, considered by an entire group of Tudor scholars as the author of Piers Plowman. These scholars, although diametrically opposed on most political and religious questions, were united by their humanist desire to solve the authorship and biography question so that not only Protestant but also Catholic scholars found virtue in a textual history otherwise largely co-opted by Protestant ideology. Jesse M. Lander (“The Monkish Middle Ages: Periodization and Polemic in Foxe’s Acts [sic] and Monuments”) returns readers to the expectedly partisan reaction to the Middle Ages in John Foxe’s 1563 Actes and Monuments. Foxe welcomes the dissolution of monastic houses and the concomitant disappearance [End Page 303]of their “servile heaping up of rules” and detestable “ritual practices” (p. 108), and he hails their still visible ruins as reassuring signposts of the historical civilizatory progress made by the new age of Protestantism.

Rebecca J. Brackmann (“‘That auntient authoritie’: Old English Laws in the Writings of William Lambarde”) and Nancy Bradley Warren (“Owning the Middle Ages: History, Trauma, and English Identity”) introduce examples of convergences of medieval retrospections with national agendas. Brackmann offers Lambarde’s work, in the Archaeonomia(1568), the Perambulation of Kent(1576), the Archeion(1591), and various public addresses, as that of an activist collector and editor of Anglo-Saxon legal documents. Lambarde conflates “Anglo-Saxon” and “English,” celebrates the common Germanic ancestry of the Normans and Anglo-Saxons, denounces any Roman (i.e., Roman Catholic) influences, and thus strives to create a legal and racial foundation for his emerging country. Warren demonstrates the fascinating Catholic and Protestant attempts to claim certain aspects of the medieval Lancastrian heritage. While the (Catholic) Lancastrian support for the Brigittine abbey at Syon caused...


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