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George Ashby's Poems.
EDITED FROM TWO 15tu CENTURY MSS. AT CAMBRIDGE
No fresh light is thrown on the history of George Ashby by the publication of these poems, for the few biographical notices they contain have already appeared in print. The first poem was written in the Fleet Prison, 1463, and Ashby describes himself therein as for forty years writer to the Signet. The “ Active Policy," written for young Edward, Prince of Wales, “gallant-springing, brave Plantagenet,” was penned when Ashby was "right nigh at mony yeres of foure score," and in the preface he describes himself as late Clerk of the Signeti to Queen Margaret of Anjou. The facts of Ashby's life, so far as they are known, are recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography. A reference, however, may be added to a letter from Margaret of Anjou, 1447-1454, in which she thanks a lady unnamed for her service to “our servant George Ashby, Clerk of our Signet.” It is thought that the lady may have been Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, the possible granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer,? whom Ashby praises in his “ Active Policy."
The young Edward, Prince of Wales (1453—1471), must have been a model of virtue if he carried out all Ashby's instructions. These are not dangerously original, but between the lines of Ashby's platitudes we may read something of the peculiar character of the period. Ashby hints at the "great changes of high estates," at much division, due entirely to covetousness. In “Time Present ” he
Coke, Second Inst., p. 556 [Artic. sup. Cartąs, cap. vii.], says, At the making of this Statute (28 Ed. 1) the king had another seal, and that is called ‘Signettum,' his Signet. This seal is ever in the custody of the Principal Secretary ; and there be four Clerks of the Signet, called Clerici Signetti,' attending on him. The reason wherefore it is in the Secretaries' custody, is, for that the King's private Letters are signed therewith. Also the duty of the Clerk of the Signet is to write out such Grants or Letters Patent as pass by Bill signed (that is, a Bill superscribed with the Signature or Sign Manual, or Royal hand of the King) to the Privy Seal; which Bill being transcribed and sealed with the Signet, is a Warrant to the Privy Seal, and the Privy Seal is a Warrant to the Great Seal.”
2 Letters of Margaret of Anjou, ed. C. Monro, Camden Society, p. 114.
recommends Edward “all rebellion for to suppress," and, in " Time Future,” to put down “false conspirators,” and all persons “pretending right to your coronacion"; "grete hatellis dispiteous” are named, but it seems scarcely possible that Ashby should write so prosily as he does if another king was in fact reigning in Henry's stead. It is difficult, therefore, to decide at what date this work was written, whether before the Fleet imprisonment, in perhaps 1460-1, or later, perhaps after the reconciliation of Warwick and Margaret, and the temporary Lancastrian successes of 1470.
Ashby appears to have felt a decided respect for history, and constantly recommends Edward to consider what will be said about him in chronicles. Many warnings are given, which may well have arisen from the example of Henry's misfortunes. He presses the claims of old servants (and from his Reflections, he seems to have been one of the neglected); as to money matters, he recommends strict keeping of accounts, and the payment of servants' wages, that they may not resort to extortion; the king must enrich his subjects, but keep himself always the richest ;1 men of high rank should not be treasurers, as the poorer the man the smaller will be his pay. In the choice of ministers Ashby has advice to give; he recommends a councillor, leech, and secretary; in choosing servants, the king should notice with whom they have been brought up; he is to avoid making many lords; he must be careful in granting fees and offices, and he must not withdraw grants after they have been made. Ashby's recommendations on the manner in which petitions should be dealt with indicate some of the abuses which then prevailed. But he was no great reformer, and his motto is not “Trust the people.” He bids Edward beware of the commonalty : they must be disarmed, owing to the misuse they make of their arms in private warfare. Maintenance and livery of course are mentioned; compulsory archery is advocated, as also the enforcing of sumptuary laws, and the revival of cloth-making. The king must cherish strangers, pilgrims, and merchants; he is to learn practical economy in buying up goods when they are cheap and in season, and when he can look about him at his leisure. As a Lancastrian he is specially recommended to magnify his ancestry. Ashby approved, we may suppose, of Margaret's peace policy, for he urges great caution in making war. A king ought to study the past history of disturbed
Henry's policy was the reverse.
Cf. Plummer's Fortescue, p. 12.
foreign possessions, so that he may learn what has always been their attitude in the past.
In his diplomatic teaching, Ashby inculcates such a policy as that which Henry VII put into practice. Tale-tellers are not to be too soon credited, but the tale may be borne in mind, and proof amassed to test its trustworthiness. But it must be confessed that Ashby's instructions have, as a rule, no personal interest, and are only of general application.
The “Dicta et opiniones diversorum philosophorum ” were evidently drawn from the same original as that used by De Thignonville for his French version, which Stephen Scrope and Lord Rivers translated into English. A copy of the Latin version is in MS. ccxli., 127 b, Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Stephen Scrope, stepson of Sir John Fastolf, translated the sayings for that knight's contemplation and solace (Harl. MS. 2266), and a copy was corrected after the original (Cambridge Univ. Lib. Gg. i. 34) by William Worcester in 1472. Lord Rivers' translation was printed by Caxton in 1477. There is evidence that these.commonplaces had extraordinary popularity in the Middle Ages, but the true origin of this collection of proverbs is still to seek.
Since these poems were in type, Prof. Max Förster has edited the Prisoner's Reflections in Anglia, 1897, and some interesting notes on scansion enrich his edition. It is hoped that the present edition of the works of Ashby may prove useful to students of fifteenth-century grammar. My best thanks are due to Miss K. Jex-Blake, of Girton College, for her help in the interpretation and emendation of the scribe's Latinity. I am also indebted to Miss J. E. Kennedy for notes and corrections in the Englislı passages, and to Dr. Furnivall for the side-notes to the Dicta, and for the List of Words.