Rezension über:

Peter Brown / Jan Čermák (eds.): England and Bohemia in the Age of Chaucer (= Chaucer Studies; Vol. 49), Woodbridge / Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer 2023, XVI + 286 S., 13 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-1-84384-579-9, GBP 75,00
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Rezension von:
Thomas Fudge
University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ralf Lützelschwab
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Thomas Fudge: Rezension von: Peter Brown / Jan Čermák (eds.): England and Bohemia in the Age of Chaucer, Woodbridge / Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3 [15.03.2024], URL:

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Peter Brown / Jan Čermák (eds.): England and Bohemia in the Age of Chaucer

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It is not often to come across an academic book in the third decade of the twenty-first century, printed by a non-sectarian publisher, wherein a chapter is "dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven; Anne of Bohemia, queen of England and daughter to a Holy Roman Emperor; and Geoffrey Chaucer, Esquire" (214). That said, all three figures play a prominent role in a new book which proclaims itself as the first of its kind in "this particular area of Chaucer studies" (8).

Practically everybody knows that King Richard II of England married the teenage daughter of the famed Holy Roman Emperor and king of Bohemia, Charles IV, in 1382. The monastic writer of The Westminster Chronicle recorded that the Czech princess cost the king a great sum for what amounted to a "small piece of meat" (35).

Scholars of the period, especially those interested in John Wyclif, Lollardy and Hussitica have long been motivated to explore the relations that subsequently arose between the historic Czech lands and the realm of England. Anne's brother was Sigismund who was the notorious bête noire of religious reformers aligned directly or indirectly with Jan Hus. It is equally well-known that Anne possessed a unique Bible, one that featured the text in Czech, German and Latin. Could she read all three? Moreover, it was suggested by Archbishop Thomas Arundel, no less, that Anne also had parts of the New Testament in English. Most impressive for a fifteen-year-old in any age.

The present volume has the compelling attributes of drawing upon established scholarship, archival research, and a bevy of scholars from both the Anglophone and Czech world; evenly divided with seven from each, including the editors. The contributors include Michael J. Bennett, Julia Boffey, Venetia Bridges, Jan Dienstbier, Lucie Doležalová, A.S.G. Edwards, Lenka Panusková, Klára Petříková, Marek Suchý, Michael Van Dussen, David Wallace, and Helena Znojemská.

The link holding the volume together is Geoffrey Chaucer, his work, influence, but perhaps more accurately simply the broader age in which he flourished. The Czechs might have some reservation about the late fourteenth-century being defined by a foreigner perhaps as much as the French resent the body of water dividing modern France and England being described as the "English Channel."

The volume represents a conscious multidisciplinary approach and between its covers one discovers literature, art history, politics, history, religious studies and more besides. This is a solid strength. The editors have endeavoured to stress the values of Luxembourg court culture (which shaped Charles IV and his daughter Anne), linguistic versatility (especially Czech, English, Latin, German and French), and the advantages of transcending staid academic categories. As the editors admit, the book grew out of a modern cultural exchange.

The age of Chaucer and the royal marriage coalesce in this collection to form pillars upon which to build an understanding of national connections linking the Kingdom of Bohemia and England. Chaucer went abroad but never visited Bohemia. Anne left Prague in 1381 never to return. Their lives left deep footprints. Whilst occurring earlier, there is no mention of the ravages caused in England by famine and plague. Instead, the chapters tell a tale of triumph and influence. Chaucer is considered the greatest poet of his time and the spirit of Anne is thought to be embedded not only in the Canterbury Tales, but also in the Legend of Good Women, the Parliament of Fowls, and the epic poem Troilus and Criseyde, set against the siege of Troy.

The volume consists of eleven chapters grouped under three headings: "Lines of Communication", "Cultural Analogues", and "Rethinking Queen Anne". The essays are of high quality and suggestive of further research. They are well-documented, a general bibliography spans 28 pages, and the contributions by Jan Dienstbier, on the image of the tapster, and Lenka Panusková, on late fourteenth-century painting, feature six and seven illustrations respectively.

Major or significant themes under the aforementioned headings include English animus towards Czechs, manuscript production in Bohemia, Michael Van Dussen's judiciously discreet evaluation of Richard Rolle in Bohemia, the place of outsiders, the role and perception of women, along with the meaning and function of visual images ranging from misericords to wall paintings to illuminations to diptychs.

David Wallace suggests that Queen Anne assumed the role of mediatrix almost from the time of her arrival in England noting her intercession to the king on behalf of the revolting peasants, citizens of Shrewsbury, inhabitants of London and others. The bellicosity of King Richard's later years, the violence that buffeted the realm and the eventual deposition of the king may all have been ameliorated by the intercessions of the Czech queen but by the time Richard was deposed, Anne had been dead five years having succumbed at age 28. Richard's memory was distorted by Shakespeare and while he may not have been insane, he had challenges. Many regarded him as unfit for the throne and recorded opinion declared he was best confined to the toilet.

The book further underscores the difficulty, if not impossibility, of forging a persuasive relationship between Chaucer and Bohemia. Notwithstanding that challenge, the editors and contributors suggest that Bohemia remains a largely unexplored context for understanding the work of Chaucer. The thesis does not persuade absolutely but it is brave to essay an argument that might turn out to be, after all, more fruitful than imagined at first blush. It is true, that in the later fourteenth century, cultural exchange between the "coasts of Bohemia" and "Anglorum terra" reached an unprecedented level.

Likewise, it is possible to make too much out of Anne's marriage to Richard. Traditional historians will be sceptical of some of the arguments and may prefer straight historical interpretations rather than analyses steeped in literary criticism or theoretical frameworks. The critique is misplaced when levelled against a book prepared mainly by specialists in English and literature. Still, this collection is a reminder that history is filled with shadows that continue to hide from us so much of the past. One suspects this handsomely presented volume will inspire additional research and equally probing hypotheses.

Thomas Fudge