Mancini’s ‘De occupatione regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium’

Livia Visser-Fuchs

Lille, Bibliothèque municipale manuscrit
Godefroy 022, p. 1.

Dominic or Domenico Mancini, the author of the text that is now called De occupatione regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium, ‘How Richard III took the kingdom of England’, was an Italian cleric living in France in the late fifteenth century.

Mancini was a man of considerable learning with several religious and moral treatises in Latin verse to his name. Throughout his life he mingled and corresponded with the leading intellectuals and statesmen of his day, such as the historian Robert Gaguin, who was his neighbour in Paris; Angelo Cato or Catho, archbishop of Vienne, astrologer and patron of the historian Philippe de Comines; Guillaume de Rochefort, lawyer and chancellor of France; Erasmus of Rotterdam, the famous humanist; and Johann of Trittenheim, a polymath in the service of the German emperor.

            Mancini was about fifty years old when he visited England and became an accidental eyewitness to the dramatic events following the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483. What he remembered of his weeks in London he later wrote down with the heading Dominici Mancini de occupatione regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium ad Angelum Catonem presulem Viennensium Libellus incipit, ‘Here begins the little book by Dominic Mancini about the taking of the kingdom of England by Richard III, dedicated to Angelo Cato, Bishop of Vienne’. The text survives in a unique, sixteenth-century copy in the Bibliothèque municipale at Lille; its contents remained unknown to modern scholars until it was discovered by C.A.J. Armstrong in the 1950s; he edited the text with an introduction and an English translation.

It is not known why or for how long Mancini was in England, only that he left it shortly before Richard’s coronation on 6 July 1483. He finished writing his account on 1 December 1483, claiming it was put on paper at the request of Angelo Cato, who had heard the story several times, found it interesting, and wished to present it to his patron, Federico, Duke of Otranto. The book is carefully laid out, starting with a discussion of the situation at the time of Edward IV’s death and the reasons why Richard of Gloucester decided to take the throne. The characters of some of the protagonists are discussed to explain their personal motives, but relatively little is said about Richard himself. In the description of the main events Mancini’s account agrees with other sources, showing for example that rumours of the death of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ started very early. The author appears to be free of personal prejudice, setting out to report the truth as he saw it; he wrote in the knowledge that Richard’s coup had been successful, but without the animus of later commentators writing after Richard’s downfall. Mancini probably knew no English, but there must have been many willing informants among the clergy and merchants of London, fluent in French, Italian, or Latin; the only one mentioned is John Argentine (d. 1508), physician to the young Edward V.

The value of Mancini’s factual information is marred by ignorance of English customs and institutions, and a strong tendency to imitate classical authors both in images and language. For example, his excessive praise of the cleverness and learning of Edward IV’s natural successor, thirteen-year-old Edward V, is very much standard fare in classical and medieval princely biographies. His report must have been of interest to French readers like Cato and Gaguin, who were concerned about the minority of their own king, Charles VIII of France, also just thirteen years old, and to men eager to discuss the proper education of princes generally, such as Erasmus and Thomas More, and perhaps the text was adapted to find favour with such readers; there is no evidence that De occupatione became widely known. Mancini’s own lack of prejudice left his story open to very different interpretations by modern commentators and even the English translation by Armstrong – which does indeed seem to be slightly slanted against Richard III at times – has given rise to controversy. Armstrong’s introduction and his transcription and edition of the text are, however, beyond reproach and serious commentators merely have to turn to the original Latin – and if necessary to the actual manuscript.

Images of all folios of the manuscript, Lille, Bibliothèque municipale, manuscrit Godefroy 129 (God. 022) can be found here.

See also Dominic Mancini, The Usurpation of Richard III, edited, translated and with an introduction by C.A.J. Armstrong, Oxford 1969, reprinted Gloucester 1984.