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  • “ut legi”: Sir John Mandeville’s Audience and Three Late Medieval English Travelers to Italy and Jerusalem
  • Anthony Bale

So perhaps one of us might have formed in his mind an image of a putative Jerusalem: however greatly different the actuality may be, as his mind has fashioned [its image] for itself so [Jerusalem] will seem to him . . . ; from known shapes he fashions a thing unknown.

Alcuin of York1

La construction d’un récit de voyage se fait souvent dans un rapport de dependence avec desécrits antérieurs. Le récit a une mémoire, toile de fond faite de references et d’influences culturelles, tant de l’auteur que du lecteur ciblé.

[The construction of a travelogue is often done in a relationship of dependence with previous writings. The story has a memory, a backdrop made out of references and of cultural influences, both of the author and of the target reader.]

Nicole Chareyron2 [End Page 201]

I. Mandevillean “solace,” Virtual Jerusalems, and the Erudite Traveler

Sir John Mandeville’s Book of Marvels and Travels (c. 1356) was the preeminent travel narrative in late medieval western Europe, surviving in about 300 manuscripts and fragments and many early prints.3 Mandeville’s Book enjoyed a long and varied afterlife, largely esteemed as a valuable source, and was read by the Pearl-poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, Christopher Columbus, Thomas More, and many others.4 Evidence from the English manuscripts suggests a diverse fifteenth-century audience, from the aristocratic to the clerical to the mercantile, and Mandeville’s Book seems to have been credited with a considerable degree of auctoritas.5 In contrast to Mandeville’s later reputation as a purloiner of others’ writings and an ironic pilgrim whose Book celebrates error, Mandeville’s Book was found in the libraries of learned and highly cultivated readers in fifteenth-century England: for instance, the Cambridge University senior proctor and bibliophile Thomas Markaunt (d. 1439) left a copy of Mandeville in Latin to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (now Corpus Christi College, MS 275) amongst his bequest of [End Page 202] seventy-six volumes, almost all of which seem to have been in Latin and included works by Aquinas, Aristotle, Augustine, and Wyclif.6 Richard Lee (d. 1472), a London grocer and later lord mayor of London, had a French copy of Mandeville (now London, BL, MS Harley 1739). The London attorney Sir Thomas Urswick (d. 1479) had a copy of Mandeville in the library of his manor at Marks (Essex), along with copies of Froissart’s Chronicles and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.7 The Benedictine abbey at St Albans (Hertfordshire), from which Mandeville claims to have set off on his journey, held a manuscript of Mandeville’s Book, in English (now London, British Library, MS Egerton 1982). Meanwhile, other texts, including the Middle English purgatory vision The Gast of Gy (in Oxford, The Queen’s College, MS 383) and the ballad “Ser John Mandavelle and the Gret Souden” (in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS e. mus. 160, fol. 111v), were attributed to Mandeville. The English Augustinian friar John Capgrave (1393–1464), writing his own guide for pilgrims to Rome, invoked Mandeville with great respect and apparent sincerity. According to Capgrave, Mandeville “made a book ful solacious on to his nacyoun” and was, alongside Plato, Livy, and Marco Polo, one of the “grete cryeris of wonderfull þingis”; here, Capgrave extols the Mandevillean “solace”—both recreational pleasure and spiritual edification—to be found in reading about foreign places.8

This article explores the kinds of “solace” found by readers of Mandeville’s Book who were also pilgrims to the Holy Land. Rather than focusing on the origins of Mandeville’s text, here I attend to its reception and audiences. My evidence shows how readers and travelers invested new meanings in Mandeville’s Book, which continued to inform actual journeys well over 100 years after its initial appearance. Educated and literate pilgrim-writers used Mandeville as a point of departure to build [End Page 203] their own textual repositories of memories of Jerusalem and the East, through the vital and personal appropriation of writing from the past. I bring this issue into...