Medieval Studies Thomas Hoccleve
by
Andrew Galloway
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 December 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0037

Introduction

Of all the London and Westminster writers somehow personally associated with Chaucer (including John Gower, Henry Scogan, and John Clanvowe [see entries]), Thomas Hoccleve (b. c. 1367–d. 1426) claims the closest knowledge of Chaucer, claiming even some poetic instruction from him (which Hoccleve claims he was too “dul” fully to absorb: see Regiment of Princes, lines 2,077–2,079 in Blyth 1999, cited under Editions). Although Hoccleve was mostly overlooked in the Renaissance and often disparaged in the 19th and early 20th centuries, his works have found increasing appreciation. In part this is for the same reasons that led to his earlier disparagement, especially his confessional or desperate self-portraiture. Critics have focused on the conventional and social implications of his works, including their relation to the Lancastrian kings and princes from whom Hoccleve sought patronage, but critics have also examined his disarmingly vulnerable accounts of professional and personal struggles and failures. His portrayal of a long period of profound depression or madness in his late Series, and the social opprobrium that followed, are of unique interest. His major works include the popular Regiment of Princes, written in c. 1410–1411 (5,464 lines), and the Series (about 3,800 lines plus prose) written 1419–1421, announcing and demonstrating the author’s fitness to return to writing poetry. The latter, beginning with the confessional Complaint and Dialogue, is a loosely linked set of works surviving in only six copies, one made by Hoccleve himself. Hoccleve also wrote ballads, poems praising various patrons or would-be patrons and condemning Lollards, and devotional poems (such as a “Complaint of the Virgin” from Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de vie humaine, from which Chaucer also translated a section, the “ABC”). Hoccleve’s works include a translation of Christine de Pisan’s Letter of Cupid (1402), denouncing the abuses inflicted on women by men, and a description of his life as a slightly pathetic bon vivant in London: La Male Regle de Thomas Hoccleve (1405–1406). Despite or possibly because of the importance of his relationship to Chaucer, no poetry by Hoccleve survives from before Chaucer’s death in 1400.

Reference Works and Bibliographies

Thanks largely to the repeated studies of John Burrow, a number of guides now exist. Burrow 1994 is essential. Matthews 1972 remains useful, especially for its concision and for its summaries of the contents and sources of each of Hoccleve’s works. Bibliographies on Chaucer and Gower (as in The Essential Chaucer, the Chaucer Bibliography Online, and the Gower Bibliography) as well as on 15th-century poetry often contain information on Hoccleve. Mitchell 1968 presents a somewhat dated selection, mostly superseded by Matthews 1972 and Burrow 1994.

  • Allen, Mark, and J. H. Fisher, eds. The Essential Chaucer.

    E-mail Citation »

    A “selective, annotated bibliography of Chaucer studies from 1900–1984,” valuable for its organization and annotation; includes Hoccleve studies under “Contemporary English Literary Relations.”

  • Burrow, John A. Thomas Hoccleve. Authors of the Middle Ages 4: English Writers of the Late Middle Ages. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    Concise, authoritative guide to life and works, including summaries or excerpts from sixty-eight life records (mostly grants and payments from the Chancery and the Exchequer). The most authoritative bibliographical, biographical, and textual guide.

  • Chaucer Bibliography Online.

    E-mail Citation »

    Combines in a searchable form the annual annotated bibliographic entries in Studies in the Age of Chaucer from 1975 to the present (updated annually). Routinely includes entries on Hoccleve.

  • Gower Bibliography. Designed and implemented by Mark Allen, Shashi Pinheiro, Emilio Cantu, Elaine Wong, and Nicole Provencher.

    E-mail Citation »

    Online bibliography of materials from 1980 to the present (updated annually), with a growing number of entries pre-1980. Includes entries on Hoccleve, in which Gower is also mentioned.

  • Matthews, William. “Thomas Hoccleve.” In A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500. Vol. 3. Edited by Albert E. Hartung, 746–756. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1972.

    E-mail Citation »

    See also pp. 903–908. Brief summary of life and works, including a critical bibliography, but only to 1968 (ending with Mitchell 1968). Chronologically arranged.

  • Mitchell, Jerome. Thomas Hoccleve: A Study in Early Fifteenth-Century English Poetic. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968.

    E-mail Citation »

    Includes annotated bibliography (pp. 125–145); many works from before 1950.

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