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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: September 2012

The “Fairfax Sequence” Reconsidered: Charles d'Orlèans, William de la Pole, and the Anonymous Poems of Bodleian MS Fairfax 16

from Essays

Late medieval English single-author lyric collections are rare. Scholars contend that English examples of courtly lyric compilations lack representation compared to the widespread Continental lyric manuscript tradition; however, an exception to that assessment appears in a unique codex, British Library MS Harley 682, the English poems attributed to Charles d'Orlèans. The manuscript, dated to 1439–1440, contains English versions of Charles's French poems along with almost 3000 lines of original English verse and has been recognized as “England's largest and earliest surviving self-contained, author-assembled body of personal lyric.” Scholars such as Julia Boffey and J.P.M. Jansen have raised critical objections to this statement and dispute the “Englishness” of the Harley lyrics inasmuch as the verses derive from a body of work by a French poet. Mary-Jo Arn likewise has argued that the poems contain a clear narrative thread, having been assembled in the style of an English dit amoureux, and therefore do not qualify as a purely lyric collection.

The question as to whether the Harley poems constitute an individual lyrical work with a coherent narrative progression in the poetic tradition of Machaut and Froissart or whether they exist as a precursor to the early modern style of courtly lyric anthology merits a brief discussion. The corresponding French poems of Charles d'Orlèans open with a narrative description of the poet-lover who makes a contract with Cupid, thereafter becoming his feudal retainer and giving his heart to the god of love as security in order to guarantee the deity's faithful service.

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Fifteenth-Century Studies
  • Online ISBN: 9781571137623
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