1. The first edition of Anglorum Praelia by the Cheltenham schoolmaster Christopher Ocland appeared in 1580. His principal concern in writing may have been as innocent as an attempt to address the perennial problem of a Latin teacher, the selection of texts that are sufficiently interesting to schoolboys that they will be motivated to study them with diligence. A series of colorful narratives of battles fought by land and sea certainly fits that description. But he may have had an ulterior propagandistic intent from the outset, which is hinted at by the words Cum serenissima regiae maiestatis privilegio on the title page. In any event, in 1582 a second edition was published, prefaced by a copy of a letter “directed by the Lords of hir hignesse privie Counsell to hir Maiesties high commissioners in causes Ecclesiasticall,” signed by than six members of the Council (the Earls of Lincoln, Warwick, and Leicster, Sir James Croft, Sir Francis Knollys, Sir Christopher Hatton, and Sir Francis Walsingham) containing the following passage:
…forasmuche as [Ockland's] travell therein with the qualitie of the verse hathe receyved good commendation, and that the subjecte or matter of the said booke as such as is worthie to be read of all men, and especially in common scholes, where divers heathen Poetes are ordinarily read and taught, from the which the youthe of the realme doth rather receive infection in manners than advauncement of vertue, in place of some of which Poets we thinke this booke fitte to bee read and taught in the Grammer schoole: we have therefore have thought good, as well for thee ncouraging of the saide Ocklande and others, that are learned, to bestowe their travel and studies to so good purposes, as also for the benefitt of the youth and the removing of such lascivious Poets as are commonly read and taught in the said scholes…to pray and require uppon the sight hereof, as by our speciall order, to write your Letters unto all the Bishoppes throughe this Realme, requiring them to give commaundement that in all the Grammer and freescooles within their sevearll Diocesses, the said bookes de Anglorum proeliis and peaceable government of hir maiestie may bee in place of some of the heathen Poets, received and publyquely read and taught by the Schoolemasters unto theyr Scolers in some one fourme in their schole, fittest for that matter.
2. This ukase was duly transmitted down the chain of command in a document which repeated their instructions nearly verbatim, but inserted a significant addition after the words “in place of some of the heathen Poets,” “as Ovide de arte amandi, de tristibus, or such lyke.” NOTE 1 It seems very unlikely that Anglorum Praelia gained widespread currency in the schools curriculum (which would have engendered a spate of reprints, and these do not exist). Nevertheless, it is interesting to speculate on the Lords' motivation for issuing this command. One reason, obviously, is that the regarded the poem as wholesome and morally edifying in a way that Classical poets (above all, Ovid) conspicuously were not. But it also seems likely that they perceived a more specific propagandistic value in Ocland's poem. War with Spain was increasingly likely, and Anglorum Praelia was useful because of its frank glorification of war. The reader is constantly told, both by Ocland himself and in the hortatory speeches placed in the mouths of his characters, that the exhibition of virtus (tacitly defined as martial courage) in battle is the sovereign means of acquiring fama, gloria, decus, and a nomen. In the pursuit of which one can, of course, get killed, but a fair death in battle is itself a glorious thing, and is certainly preferable to a protracted and lengthy death by disease. But this is not a likely outcome: whenever Ocland reports casualty statistics, they are absurdly lopsided in favor of the English. In his 1582 Εἰρηναρχία Ocland adhered to a very different propagandistic theme which praised Elizabeth for being a paragon of peacefulness. In Anglorum Praelia he seems to adopt a diametrically opposite attitude towards pacifism, as emerges in his initial remarks on the reign of Richard II, one of whose faults in the eyes of his contemporaries was his inability to summon up any enthusiasm for the Hundred Years War (I.1063ff.):
Dicere non facile est quantum distaret avitis
Moribus atque animo. Fuit hic quam dispare mente,
Dissimili ingenio clarae matrique patrique.
At virtus animis satraparum pristina mansit.
Ille vigor regni priscis heroibus olim
Floruit ingenitus, proles ut digna parentes
Aequaret fortes animis et laude duelli,
Auderetque ultro quosvis tolerare labores.
Ergo primores populi (quia mente colebat
Rex pacem placida, saeva arma domique forisque
Languebant), veriti ne illos corrumpere possent
Ocia, ne populus solitis dissuetus ab armis
Degener inciperet fieri, se dedere turpi
Luxuriae, somno, ludis et inertibus horis.
[“It is not easy to describe how greatly he differed from his ancestors in manners and mind. For he was of a very different disposition and nature from his noble mother and his father. And yet the Peers retained their ancient virtue. That strength once thrived innately in the ancient lords of the realm, so that sons matched their fathers in stoutness of heart and martial praise, and freely dared undergo any ardors. Therefore, since the King calmly indulged in peace, and savage arms lay idle at home and abroad, they were afraid lest this idleness would corrupt them, and lest the people grow unaccustomed to war and begin to degenerate, give itself over to base wantonness, pastimes, and idle hours.”]
Ocland may have merely been reporting the attitude of the Peers of the realm, but one is tempted to read this passage as an endorsement of their view. In sum, it would seem likely that the aim of the Lords in Council was to employ this poem to glorify war in the eyes of schoolboys who might soon required to take the field themselves.
3. As English Neo-Latin poems go, Anglorum Praelia is lengthy. Few poets managed to match it: attempts to write Latin epics (such William Alabaster's Elisaeis NOTE 2 and Abraham Cowley's Davideis) collapsed under their own weight, and the longest Latin poem written by an Englishman of which I know, Cowley's De plantis libri VI, succeeded for the same reason that Anglorum Praelia did: it is not really a long poem, but rather a concatenation of individual set-pieces. Its episodic nature, as well as its lack of a unifying plot and central hero — John Dudley in Book II comes the closest to being one, but due to Ocland's refusal to mention his execution for high treason against Queen Mary he mysteriously drops out of sight as soon as Edward VI dies — prevent Anglorum Praelia from being classifiable as an epic, although it contains a number of traditional ingredients of that genre: battle descriptions, of course, and also speeches, epic similes, and even a detailed description of a hero's armor at II.324ff.). In the book the poem's actual episodic nature is rather concealed by the fact that Ocland did not do very much to divide his text into appropriate sections (he was even excessively sparing in his use of paragraphing to mark its rhetorical articulation); I have supplied these in the present edition.
4. Anglorum Praelia was originally printed independently at London in 1580, by Ralph Newberry. In 1582 it was reprinted in a volume entitled Anglorum praelia: ab anno Domini 1327 anno nimirum primo inclytissimi principis Eduardi eius nominis tertii, usque ad annum Domini 1558: carmine summatim perstricta; item, De pacatissimo Angliae statu, imperante Elizabetha, compendiosa narratio, also issued by Newberry, which was prefaced by the Privy Councillors' letter quoted above and also contained the Εἰρηναρχία. The London printer Robert Waldgrave more or less simultaneously issued a black-letter volume containing John Sharrock’s English translation of both works, under the rather formidable title The Valiant Actes And victorious Battailes of the English nation: from the yeere of our Lord one thousand three hundred twentie and seven: being the first yeare of the raigne of the most mightie Prince Edward the third, to the yeere 1558, also of the peaceable and quiet state of England under the blessed government of the most excellent and vertuous Princesse Elizabeth. My original intention was to use Sharrock’s translation here, as I did for the Εἰρηναρχία, but the copy of it employed in the Early English Books microfilm series and its on-line equivalent is of such poor copy (many pages out of order or missing altogether) that this proved impossible and I have included one of my own.
NOTE 1 J. R. Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council (London, 1890), XIII.389f., quoted by T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke (Urbana, 1944) I.112. Baldwin thought omission of the Ovid reference from the printed version showed that the Councillors had cooled down in their opposition to that poet, but in the printed text they speak of themselves in the first person, whereas in this document they are referred to in the third, and various minor alterations of spelling and phraseology are introduced. Clearly, therefore, the document is a secondary redaction of this letter, and so it seems likelier that the Ovid reference was added by the redactor to clarify their intention.
NOTE 2 Edited by Michael O’Connor, “The ‘Elisaeis’ of William Alabaster,” Studies in Philology monograph 76 (1979).