Medieval Studies Nicholas Bozon
by
Laurie Postlewate
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0244

Introduction

Nicholas Bozon is the author of religious texts composed in England from the late 13th to the early 14th century in a wide range of forms, including sermon exempla, allegories, verse proverbs, saints’ lives, and devotional lyrics. Bozon’s works are composed primarily in the dialect of French used in England in the later period of Anglo-Norman literary activity, with occasional use of Latin and Middle English. For eight of the works in which his name is given, Bozon is associated in at least one manuscript with the Order of Saint Francis, del ordre de freres menours, and indeed his entire literary production, in both prose and verse, transmits a penetrating spiritual message by means of striking imagery and entertaining stories. Bozon’s oeuvre is marked, both in form and technique, by a penchant for collecting and assembling images, stories, and examples that might well be used in preaching; however, the manuscript transmission of the works, as well as the pastoral and devotional content, lead us to consider the possibility of both lay and religious audiences. A compilation structure in which elements of various kinds are listed and developed is found in the following works: a collection of moralized facts of nature, a sequence of sermonizing poems, a collection of verse adaptations on aphoristic sayings, two allegorical poems itemizing and visualizing lists of sins, and a legendary of female saints’ lives. Other works of a more devotional nature include a verse description of the Incarnation and Passion as a courtly tale of love, and poems to the Virgin. Bozon’s texts are of interest for multiple reasons: they demonstrate the focus on identifying and understanding vice and virtue that marks so much of vernacular literature in the post-Lateran IV period; they offer evidence of the vitality and evolution of the French language in late medieval Britain; and they show the importance of translation and adaptation in the development of vernacular literature. Also, the textual trace of Bozon as a preacher and poet provides a window onto the wider activities and methods of the Franciscan order, whose pastoral mission was to indoctrinate and inspire the lay public. Bozon’s literary production is an excellent example of how sermon literature had a cultural impact extending well beyond the context of the pulpit. Bozon’s works have almost all been edited, albeit in somewhat piecemeal fashion and in editions that are sometimes dated. Studies of Bozon are surprisingly scarce, however, given the breadth and variety of his output. This neglect may in part be explained by the tendency of earlier (predominantly Continental) scholarship to disparage Insular French and the deviations from the norm of Continental versification that characterize its poetry.

General Overviews

There are fourteen distinct works in which Bozon is named in at least one manuscript, either in an introductory rubric or in a concluding prayer. Other pieces have been attributed to our author, both on thematic and formal grounds, and by their proximity to ascribed works in the manuscripts. The most important repository of Bozon is British Library MS Additional 46919, a miscellany that transmits eight works with Bozon’s name and another ten texts that can be reliably attributed to him. Dean and Boulton 1999, a bibliographic guide to Anglo-Norman literature, is especially helpful in gauging the breadth of Bozon’s literary talent and in locating texts and manuscripts. Bozon’s contributions first drew the notice of literary historians in the early 19th century; Paul Meyer was among the early scholars to document Bozon’s work in his description of the medieval miscellany Cheltenham MS Phillipps 8336 (now British Library MS Additional 46919; see Meyer 1884). A number of survey articles, which frequently refer to the “corrupt” quality of Bozon’s French, nevertheless appreciate the variety and energy of his work. Early notice of Bozon led to interest in his association with the Franciscan order and to speculation that he hailed from a branch of one of the illustrious families of Bohun or Bozon, although positive identification has proved elusive. The general consensus is that our friar lived and worked around Nottingham, possibly at the Franciscan house there—a speculation supported by a number of local references in his works. Klenke 1947 furnishes an exhaustive review of the research on Bozon to the mid-20th century, and Legge 1963 documents Bozon’s production in a survey of Anglo-Norman literature. Levy 1981, an edition of Bozon’s “verse sermons,” includes a summary of his works within the Franciscan production of medieval preaching materials. Postlewate 1996 discusses his major works in the contexts of late Anglo-Norman and Franciscan pastoral literature.

  • Dean, Ruth, with Maureen B. M. Boulton. Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1999.

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    An indispensable tool for all students of Anglo-Norman literature. Entries are arranged by genre, providing a useful overview of the scope of French texts produced in England. Includes bibliographic references to authors as well as manuscripts, incipits, titles, and even patrons.

  • Klenke, Sister M. Amelia. Three Saints’ Lives by Nicholas Bozon. St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1947.

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    This edition of Bozon’s lives of Mary Magdalene, Margaret, and Martha is preceded by documentation on the manuscripts, on early attempts to pinpoint Bozon’s historical identity, as well as a discussion of language and versification.

  • Legge, Dominica. Anglo-Norman Literature and Its Background. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963.

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    An overview of Anglo-Norman literary production from the early 12th century with an emphasis on historical context.

  • Levy, Brian J., ed. Nine Verse Sermons by Nicholas Bozon: The Art of an Anglo-Norman Poet and Preacher. Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediaeval Languages and Literature, 1981.

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    Includes an introduction in which the author sets Bozon in the milieu of the mendicant orders in England, and presents the tradition of sermon aids, which is critical to an understanding of Bozon’s work overall. Special consideration is given to the content and tenor of Franciscan teaching to the laity.

  • Meyer, Paul. “Notices et extraits du MS 8336 de la bibliothèque Sir Thomas Phillipps à Cheltenham.” Romania 13 (1884): 497–541.

    DOI: 10.3406/roma.1884.6325E-mail Citation »

    Catalogue of the contents of British Library MS Additional 46919, a miscellany presenting religious, secular, devotional, and didactic texts in a surprising variety of forms. While dated from nearly a century and a half ago, the article provides a description of the single most important manuscript source of Bozon’s works that remains useful and interesting.

  • Postlewate, Laurie. “Moral and Spiritual Instruction in the Works of Nicole Bozon.” PhD diss., New York University, 1996.

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    Consideration of Bozon’s literary production with a focus on the social and cultural milieu of a Franciscan writing in the French of England. Chapters on the Contes moralisés, Proverbes de bon enseignement, saint’s lives, and allegorical poems.

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