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The Importance of Lay Readers and Lay Book Owners by the End of the 14th Century

Circa 1300

In the image on the left: King Louis IX. (Saint Louis) visits Vincent de Beauvais as he is writing the Speculum historiale. In the image on the right Jean de Vignay is visited by Queen Johanna (wife of Philip VI) for whom he is translates Vincent's work into French. Bibliothèque nationale de France.

"By the beginning of the fourteenth century the text of Vegetius, in addition to being used as a manual for military fortification by Edward I of England [Edward Longshanks] (1272-1307), was extracted for the preachers' manual compiled by Thomas of Ireland (before 1 July 1306), moralized by medieval preachers, and translated into French by Jean de Vignay.

"This last is a reflection of the increasing importance, at the end of the thirteenth century and in the course of the fourteenth, of an audience of lay readers (or at least of lay book-owners). Growing urbanization, increased literacy, and an overall improvement in the economy—the general lot of western Europe since the twelfth century—ultimately produced a class of country nobility and urban courtiers who patronized bookshops, artists, and translators such as de Vignay. Through the work of such book producers, the deeds of Alexander and the Caesars became as much a part of the noble household as the sermon from the pulpit" (Rouse, The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 49).

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