Fulton, Helen, “‘Mirror of the gentry’: vernacular versions of the ‘Secretum Secretorum’ in medieval Wales and England”, in: Norbert Kössinger, and Claudia Wittig (eds), Prodesse et delectare: case studies on didactic literature in the European Middle Ages / Fallstudien zur didaktischen Literatur des europäischen Mittelalters, 11, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019. 57–82.

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Citation details
“‘Mirror of the gentry’: vernacular versions of the ‘Secretum Secretorum’ in medieval Wales and England”
Abstract (cited)

Though the early medieval advice manual known as ‘Secretum Secretorum’, ‘The Secret of Secrets’, has been fairly well discussed by modern critics, including its numerous Latin and vernacular versions, there has been relatively little consideration of the ways in which the contents of the manual have been remediated into fictional literary texts of the Middle Ages, especially in Welsh. This article provides a new examination of the reception of Latin and vernacular versions of ‘Secretum Secretorum’ in medieval Welsh and English literatures. It is the first attempt to list the Middle Welsh versions of the ‘Secretum’ and to discuss them together with the Middle English versions. The article argues that the medieval ‘Secretum’, styled as a speculum principum, functioned not so much as a “mirror of princes” addressed to actual kings and princes but as an advice manual for professional and bourgeois readerships. The dominant function of the treatise, especially in its vernacular versions, was therefore as what we might call a “mirror of the gentry”, educating emergent shire and urban leaders about individual responsibility and how to follow a noble way of life. Both vernaculars, English and Welsh, transfer the ethical precepts popularised by ‘Secretum Secretorum’ and other didactic texts into fictional worlds where the moral message is wrapped in a more attractive package of fantasy and allegory addressed to a diverse readership.

Subjects and topics
Dennis Groenewegen
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April 2022