Page 4, 29th April 1938

29th April 1938
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Page 4, 29th April 1938 — Biography
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Organisations: Court of Chivalry

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Biography

The "Butcher Of England"

Brought The Renaissance To Our Country

John Tiptoft. By R. J. Mitchell. (Longmans, 16s.)

Reviewed by HELENE LAWRANCE

This interesting study of John Tiptoft, first Earl of Worcester and first "Italianate Englishman," would scarcely have received a flattering review in his own fifteenth century. Englishmen of those days did not exactly love their Italian brethren. " L'inglese italianato 6 diavolo incarnato " sums up their attitude. Of course, the Wars of the Roses allowed the nobles but little leisure to start the fashion for a grand tour even had they desired to do so; but they had no such desire, and scholarly travellers such as Tiptoft were the exception, not the rule.

To the average man, intensely insular in outlook, dalliance with foreign culture savoured of disloyalty, although there was actually less to fear from Italian influence then, than in the days of Elizabeth, when the " ltalianate Englishman" brought home a taste for luxury and for torture, for the jewelled dagger and the poisoned flower. John Tiptoft brought home books, and a love of beauty, of the new learning; he was a pioneer of the English Renaissance, and his life certainly deserves more attention than it has hitherto received.

Tiptoft visited many countries beside Italy, and perhaps the most vivid part of this biography is the description of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Here the account is based on that of a contemporary English traveller who embarked with Tiptoft at Venice. These pilgrims' galleys were captained by Venetian noblemen, but a pilgrimage was a pilgrimage and not a tour de luxe; only the barest necessities were provided, " feble brede and feble wyne and stynkynge water" forming the staple diet of the travellers. No wonder that some of them decided that their sins did not merit such treatment and brought a whole hen-coop with them to provide fresh eggs on board.

It is not as a pilgrim, however, but as a pioneer scholar that Tiptoft is chiefly presented in these pages. He is on the one hand a survival of the wandering scholar of the Middle Ages, and on the other a discoverer of the Renaissance, studying under Guarino, visiting Padua, Ferrara and Rome, and collecting books from Vespasiano's workshop in Florence, where manuscripts of delicate workmanship were produced, in a thoroughly conservative spirit, long after the invention of printing. This was the life for him, a life of thought rather than of action.

When eventually he did return to England, his knowledge and application of the " Paduan law " so hated by his countrymen was to earn him the title of the Butcher of England-a title which I cannot help thinking was to some extent deserved, in spite of the author's eager defence of his justice and patriotism-and to bring him to the scaffold.

His life as Lord High Constable of England and Deputy in Ireland, set against the terrible background of the civil wars, makes less pleasant reading. It is enlivened by a scene of brilliant heraldic colour, that of the great tournament at Smithfield where Lord Scales fought the Bastard of .Burgundy. Tiptoft was President of the Court of Chivalry and drew up the ordinances for the occasion. This is only one instance of the remarkable versatility of the man, who could be at once a scholar, book-collector, herald, statesman and judge.

The scholarship displayed by the author in the arrangement of the notes, bibliography and appendix containing one of Tiptoft's hitherto neglected works, deserves high praise and renders easy the work of the student of the period, to whom the book should make a distinct appeal. I recommend it to all who are interested in the Renaissance and who admire the pioneer spirit of those who go in search of a new learning wherever it is to be found, and bring it borne to enrich their country.

A Great Elizabethan

Astrophel. or the Life and Death of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney. By Alfred H. Bill. (Cassell, 15s.) Whatever may be the position on the other side of the Atlantic, we should demur, for Great Britain, to the view that the figure of Sir Philip Sidney is "one that seems to be in danger of being forgotten." It is not because another biography of Sidney was wanted, but because Mr. Bill has retold the story so brightly and so well, that we gladly welcome the present volume. The book is really more than a biography, since it goes into many matters of contemporary history in order to throw the more light on the chief character.

There is much in the volume to appeal to Catholic sympathies. The author holds a balanced pen in dealing with the early penal laws, and inter alia he gives a touching account of Blessed Edmund Campion's last days. As to the distinguished Elizabethan who forms, as it were, the hub in the book whence all else revolves, he is shown adequately under his various aspects: the lover, the poet, the warrior. The story of Sidney's love for Penelope Devereux is well set out; there is a generous sampling from the sonnets; and at the end all the force of pathos is invoked in the picture of the stricken volunteer fighter dying slowly and too young from the ill-fated bullet which shattered his thigh.

Mr. Bill's book is particularly strong on the pictoral side, thanks to the permission of the King and other owners for the reproduction of paintings which together constitute a veritable gallery of English portraiture. G. E. A.




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