England and mainland Europe in the fifteenth century
Poggio Bracciolini, the Tuscan Papal Secretary, after meeting Henry Beaufort at the Council of Constance, followed the bishop of Winchester to England to serve as his Latin secretary between 1419 and February 1423. Poggio was critical of the English climate and the preoccupation of English bishops with politics at the expense of learning, and during this period he offered the following assessment of this country in a letter to the Florentine humanist Niccolo de Niccoli:
I began travelling with my lord; but there was no great pleasure in the travelling, since I could find no books. Monasteries here are very rich but of new foundation; they have been built no more than four hundred years ago. If older ones survive they have no secular books, but are full of the most recent works of the doctors of the church and especially the ecclesiastics. I also saw carefully compiled inventories in which there was nothing of worth of humanist studies. And nothing interesting indeed. Lettere 1 Lettere Niccolo Niccoli ed. H. Harth, Instituto Nazionale di Studi sui Rinascimento (Firenze, Olshki, 1984), translated in A. Petrina, Cultural Politics in Fifteenth-Century England: The Case of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (2004), p. 62
Poggio’s dismissal of English intellectual culture points to a wide range of interactions between fifteenth-century England and its neighbours in continental Europe, and it raises many questions that have interested scholars in recent years. What was the nature of interaction between England and continental Europe? What kinds of exchange (political, economic, cultural) took place, when, and how? What was the role of courts, cities, and the Church, as well as individuals, in this process? How was England perceived elsewhere in Europe, and how did the English perceive Europe and the wider world in their turn? How did cultural and intellectual exchange with continental Europe interact with the growing body of vernacular writing, in many genres, being produced in England, and with local and national senses of identity?
At a time when this country’s relationship with Europe is once again uncertain it seems appropriate to use Poggio’s comments to host a conference that considers this same question during another period of doubt and transition. This conference aims to address, however broadly, the different ways in which the late medieval kingdom of England could be considered in religious, political, social, economic and cultural terms as either a part of Europe, or apart from Europe – a nation with a separate identity.
This year’s Fifteenth Century Conference on Thursday 5th to Saturday 7th September will be hosted by the University of Exeter, which is home to a community of late medievalists across several disciplines.
A draft programme is available here.
To book the conference please use the following link: 2019 conference booking