William Worcester, The Boke of Noblesse and the English Texts from its Codicil

boke of noblesse cover

This is a new edition of a political treatise by William Worcester, The Boke of Noblesse. He started composing it around 1451 and revised it twice, around 1475, in order to present it to Edward IV, to encourage and advise the king in his plans to invade France after England's disastrous defeats under Henry VI. Worcester’s autograph of this revision survives, written round the margins and between the lines of the only manuscript, and is the version printed here. It offers a rare chance to see a medieval writer revising his own work, word by word, to strengthen the argument and sharpen the style.

Worcester also prepared to accompany The Boke of Noblesse a ‘Codicil’ of documents about past wars. The treatise and Codicil were later presented by Worcester’s son to Richard III with a new preface. The English texts in the Codicil and the later preface are also included in this edition. In addition to the treatise, many manuscripts survive with Worcester’s annotations, revealing his many debts to other sources. With the copious surviving records of his life, they give a unique insight into this medieval author's research and working methods. The edition has an extensive introduction and set of explanatory notes, tracing Worcester’s reading and writing habits and they way they shaped The Boke of Noblesse.

The treatise draws on diverse sources: older English and French history; classical or pseudo-classical works, including a section translated from Cicero; recent French authors, including Christine de Pizan; and the history of the French wars under Henry V and Henry VI, including eyewitness reports by Worcester’s former employer Sir John Fastolf (1380-1459). It offers a record of military history and political thought in the fifteenth century and changing literary tastes on the cusp of the Renaissance. He explains the way to serve the ‘common weal’, in a manner which foreshadows Tudor writers; he sets out ideas of justice and fortitude; gives highly practical advice on warfare; and retells the history---as he sees it---of England.

As well as being available for sale, The Boke of Noblesse is also sent free to subscribers of The Early English Text Society, a society run by some current and former members of the Faculty: www.eets.org.uk, which publishes new editions of early English literature and keeps editions in print in perpetuity. Don’t forget to sign up for future years!

Find out more on the publisher's website.