Introduction

1. To introduce this work I can do no better than to summarize what I wrote when introducing Leland’s 1537 Pompa Nympharum. In 1543 John Leland published a complex volume entitled Geneathlicon illustrissimi Eaduerdi Principis Cambriae, Ducis Coriniae, et Comitis Palatini libellus ante aliquot annos inchoatus, nunc vero absolutus, & editus, A Birthday Song of Edward Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Palatine Earl, now completed and published.” Ostensibly a single long poem of approximately 830 lines celebrating the birth of the future Edward, this is really a conglomeration of three very different items. The first (lines 1 - 182) is a series of eighteen more or less short poems, all written in dactylic hexameters and describing various events connected with Edward's birth. Next comes a distinctly masque-like part (lines 183 - 334), an excursion into fantasy in which various bands of Nymphs out of Classical mythology come to the newborn boy bringing gifts (there seems no reason for doubting it was written for actual performance, very likely in the Great Hall at Hampton Court). Both of these sections show every sign of having been written soon after the events they describe, i. e., in 1537. Finally, lines 335 - end contain a lengthy description of Wales, which shares an interest in ancient place-names also found in the first section but is far more concerned with topographical detail, that in these respects rather resembles the approach used in Leland's 1545 Κύκνειον ᾇσμα and requires a similar appendix of antiquarian explanation to render it comprehensible. The literary justification for its presence here is that Leland was upholding a polite fiction that Edward had ever been officially been created Prince of Wales (he hadn’t). This same fiction is reinforced by the placement at the front of the book of a woodcut, possibly the work of no less accomplished an artist than Lucas Horenbout, of the Prince’s three-feather device with the motto Ich dien, a fiction repeated by the well-known 1546 full-length portrait of Edward by an anonymous member of the Flemish School in the Royal Collection (possibly Willem Scrots), in which the boy is wearing a pendant bearing this same device. NOTE 1 It is not difficult to conclude that this third section was recently written and is what Leland meant when he described the whole production as nunc vero absolutus. It will of course be understood that the volume’s title, repeating the Prince of Wales claim, was only invented at the time of publication.
3. We should therefore conclude that the three parts of the extant poem had originally been written independently, and that Leland subsequently combined them into a single composition as best he could albeit with limited success, since in the third part he gives free rein to his antiquarian-topographical interests in a section that is disproportionately long and could easily strike many modern readers as a tedious and largely irrelevant indulgence in a personal enthusiasm: he was simply using this publication as a flimsy pretext for placing this effusion on the public record. Here I would like to “deconstruct” the poem and treat its first section in isolation. Genethliacon Ilustrissimi Eaduardi Principis Cambriae was published at London by Reyner Wolfe in 1543. The original presentation manuscript is also preserved as Clare College (Cantab.) ms. 0 6 26. The present edition is based on the printed version.
spacer3. In this section, following an initial address to Henry VIII and a brief invocation Christ rather than the the Muses, we find a series of short poetical vignettes describing England's longing for an heir; Jane Seymour's family background; her childbearing; rejoicing at London; artillery fire at the Tower; ambassadors departing to bear the glad tidings overseas; celebration at Dover; at Calais; at Hampton Court; at Kingston; Edward's baptism; Jane Seymour's piety; Edward's careful nursemaid; and the death of Queen Jane. In its conception this cycle of short poems bears a striking resemblance to Leland's 1542 similar one on the death of his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, Naeniae in Mortem Thomae Viati and also is comparable with Κύκνειον ᾇσμα for its geographical organization: the reader is taken for a trip in the company of a knowledgable guide.spacer

 

Notes

NOTE 1 In a concluding section of his O. D. N. B. article on Edward VI devoted to a list of surviving portraits, Dale Hoak includes three likenesses identifying Edward as Prince of Wales, a.) this one and also b.) a 1541 miniature by Horenbout currently in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch, and c.) a 1543 portrait by some follower of Holbein, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Regarding the second, the boy is wearing a cap with some kind of badge; the poor quality of the single reproduction I have been able to find precludes certainty, but the badge does not appear to represent the Prince’s device. The third is devoid of any inscription or iconographic feature that can warrant the interpretation Hoak placed on it. The portrait with the device is used as the frontispiece on the title page of the present edition.