Introduction

1. In 1543 John Leland published a poem of approximately 830 lines celebrating the birth of the future Edward VI under the title Genethliacon Ilustrissimi Eaduardi Principis Cambriae. Although Edward had been born on October 12, 1537, the delay in the appearance of this work is explicitly acknowledged in its full title, Genethliacon illustrissimi Eeaduerdi 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.NOTE 1 The work had been started at the time of the Prince's birth, Leland had only recently completed it.
2. Although not expressly articulated as such, the poem really falls into three distinct parts or movements. First (lines 1 - 182) is a series of short, epigrammatic poems dealing with various events connected with Edward's birth: following an initial address to Henry VIII and a short poem invoking Christ rather than the the Muses, we find descriptions of England's longing for an heir; Jane Seymour's family background; Jane's 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 Jane Seymour. This cycle of short poems resembles Leland's 1542 cycle on the death of his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. Next comes the second part of the overall poem (lines 183 - 334), with which we are concerned here. Finally, lines 335 - end represent a lengthy topographical description of Wales, with a particular interest in ancient place-names, that rather resembles the approach used in Leland's 1545 Κύκνειον ᾇσμα and requires a similar appendix of antiquarian explanation to render it comprehensible. The section sandwiched between these two parts is radically different from the others. It is composed in a variety of meters, whereas the outer parts are written in straightforward hexameters; and the outer parts deal realistically with Edward's birth, while the middle part, in which different bands of Nymphs out of Classical mythology come to the newborn boy bringing gifts, represents an excursion into fantasy.
3. It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine that the three parts of the extant poem had been written independently, and that Leland subsequently combined them into a single composition as best he could (with limited success, since in the third part he gives free rein to his antiquarian-topographical enthusiams, it is disproportionately long and would strike many modern readers as tedious). I would like to “deconstruct” the poem, considering its middle section in isolation, and argue that it was originally written as a masque. Although it is possible that the first fourteen lines of what we have, separately entitled Officium Nympharum (“The Nymphs Pay Their Duty”), may have been written subsequently as a kind of transition to the second part of the completed poem, it is striking that it describes the arrival of the various bands of nymphs as a procession (line 7), and both in this introductory passage and throughout the remainder of this part, considerable attention is paid to describing the nymphs' physical appearance. This all may be analyzed graphically:

NYMPHS
METER
APPEARANCE
GIFT
       
MUSES Sapphic stanzas ivy garlands ivy wreaths
       
GRACES hendecasyllables unbound hair a gem
       
OCEANIDS elegiac couplets none sea-shells
       
NAIADS dactylic hexameters poplar garlands reeds
       
DRYADS Alcmanic strophes oak-leaf garlands honey
       
NAPAEAE first Archilochians none roses
       
OREADS first Aesclepiadeans fawnskins, bows and arrows quiver and arrows

4. Here we have what looks like a specimen of a standard masque of the processional kind (what Latin writers of the time seem to have generically called a pompa), NOTE 2 in which a number of costumed individuals or groups occupy the performance area seriatim to deliver their message. Such masques were written in Latin as well as in the vernacular. One can cite, for example, the five masques George Buchanan wrote for the court of Mary Queen of Scots (the polymetric fourth of these, in which Satyrs, Naiads, Fauns, and Oreads successively present their gifts for the wedding of Mary and Lord Darnley, is so comparable to our present passage that one cannot help wondering whether Buchanan was imitating Leland, unless, of course, both were following a common model. This suspicion is especially strong since Buchanan was writing to celebrate a similar occasion (the baptism of the future James VI). Then too, one can mention the four pompae Thomas Watson appended to his Latin translation of Sophocles' Antigone, published in 1581. NOTE 3 And elsewhere I have argued that the first 292 lines of John Sanford's 1592 Εὐκτικὰ Εἰδύλλια, written for Elizabeth's 1592 visit to Oxford (likewise a series of polymetric passages delivered individually by Apollo and the Muses, very much like Buchanan's first masque, albeit on a larger scale), looks like another pompa subsequently embedded in larger literary structure.
5. Genethliacon Ilustrissimi Eaduardi Principis Cambriae was published at London by Reyner Wolfe in 1543 [Short Title Catalogue 15442]. The original presentation manuscript is also preserved as Clare College (Cantab.) ms. 0 6 26. The present edition is based on the printed version.

 

Notes

NOTE 1 I. e., Earl of Chester, technically a palatine earldom. Since the fourteenth century, this has been one of the subsidiary titles of the Prince of Wales.

NOTE 2 As a matter of Neo-Latin lexicography, in the Introduction to Buchanan's masques I have argued that in contemporary Latin pompa was employed to designate a processional masque.

NOTE 3 I.84 - 103. We know that these pompae were written for the stage rather than just as some kind of literary exercise, since in one of his marginalia Gabriel Harvey writes of having attended a production of Antigone at which Watson's appended pompae and “themes” were performed.