Introduction

1. In 1543 John Leland published a complex volume entitled Genethliacon 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, NOTE 1 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 quite different items. The 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 bears a striking resemblance to Leland's 1542 cycle on the death of his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, Naeniae in Mortem Thomae Viati.spacer
spacer 2. 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 newbornd boy bringing gifts (possibly it was written for performance in the Great Hall of Hampton Court), with which we are concerned here. Finally, lines 335 - end contain 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 required a similar appendix of antiquarian explanation to render it comprehensible. The literary justification for this exercise is that Leland was upholding the polite fiction that Edward had ever been officially been created Prince of Wales (he hadn’t). This same fiction is reinforced by the inclusion 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 at the front of the book, and is repeated by the famous 1546 full-length portrait of Edward by some anonymous member of the Flemish School in the possession of the Royal Collection, in which the boy is wearing a medallion bearing the same device.
3. It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine 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 enthusiams, it is disproportionately long and could easily strike many modern readers as tedious indulgence in the author’s personal enthsiasm. The volume’s full title really indicates that the first two parts were written at the time of Edward’s birth in 1537 and the third part was a recent composition. Here 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 added 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 portion, 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 standard masque of the processional kind (what Latin writers of the time identified as a pompa), NOTE 2 in which a number of costumed individuals or groups occupy the performance area seriatim to deliver their various messages. 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 wrote 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.