Albany and the poets: John Stuart, Duke of Albany, and the transfer of ideas between Scotland and the continent, 1509-1536

Bryony Coombs

Abstract: John Stuart, Duke of Albany was born in France, but acted as Regent of Scotland from 1514 until 1524. From 1518, he also cultivated his ties of kinship to the Italian Medici family. Albany was, furthermore, noteworthy for his love of visual splendour and magnificence. In France, he was an astute patron of the visual arts, commissioning manuscripts, and grand architectural projects, such as the Sainte-Chapelle at Vic-le-Comte in the Auvergne. Albany’s main architectural achievement in Scotland was the fortification of his principal residence, Dunbar Castle, in the form of a great artillery blockhouse: perhaps the first such structure to have been built in the British Isles. This paper outlines Albany’s patronage of the literary arts in relation to his career and his cultural endeavours, both artistic and architectural. It is argued that Albany used his contacts with literary figures in France to bolster his career and to influence opinion; in so doing, he acted as an important conduit for the transfer of knowledge and ideas between Scotland, France, and Italy in the early sixteenth century.

Pierre Gringore's Abus du Monde for James IV, c.1509

In an inventory of the library at Château Mirefleur, taken in 1560 for Catherine de Medici, is the following entry: ‘Plus ung livre nomme Les abus du monde couvert de velours noir’ (‘Also a book named the abuses of the world covered in black velvet’).1 In a later inventory of Catherine’s books, this time taken in Paris, the book is listed again as ‘Ung autre livre couvert de velours noir escrit à la main sur vélin, intitulé les Abus du monde’ (‘Another book covered in black velvet written by hand on vellum, entitled the Abuses of the world’).2 In the Pierpont Morgan Library, catalogued as MS M. 42, is a lavishly-illuminated copy of Pierre Gringore’s c.1509 text Les abus du monde.3 This is the only version of this text to survive in manuscript form, and thus a tentative connection may be drawn between this manuscript and the inventory entries noted above. The Pierpont Morgan manuscript contains a finely-illuminated title page bearing the royal arms of Scotland and was evidently commissioned as a gift for James IV.4 The manuscript in Catherine de Medici’slibrary at Mirefleur was likely directly inherited from her uncle and tutor, John Stuart, Duke of Albany, the previous resident at this chateau, and thus it appears likely that the manuscript was commissioned by Albany as a gift for James IV c. 1509. But rather than travelling to Scotland, the work remained in his collection inherited in 1536 by Catherine.5 This manuscript and its connection to Albany is interesting for the information it provides regarding Albany’s ties to Scotland in the period prior to his regency. It suggests, moreover, that Albany was actively involved during this early phase of his career in commissioning literary material with a political purpose, relating to Franco-Scottish diplomacy.

John Stuart, Duke of Albany, was bom in the Auvergne in 1482. He was the only son of Alexander Stuart, the younger brother of Kingjames III of Scotland and entered the court of Charles VIII at a young age, likely in 1494.6 During Albany’s early career, he played a distinguished role in Louis XII’s Italian campaigns, which resulted in the conquest of Milan and the recapture of Naples. The 17-year-old duke was among the French nobles who then accompanied their king when he triumphantly entered Milan. In 1501, Albany took part in a crusade to the eastern Mediterranean and distinguished himself in an attack on the Aegean island of Mytilene.' In the following year, Albany was appointed captain of 100 lances des ordonnanees du roi garrisoned at Bordeaux, and in 1503, he returned to campaigning in Italy. When Louis invaded Italy again in 1507, Albany was present in the army, preceding the king when the latter entered Genoa on 28 April.8 These activities show him to be a figure of Scottish descent, who spent the majority of his life in Continental Europe and who cultivated a strong network of contacts spanning Scotland, France, and Italy.

Albany was thus closely involved in Louis XII’s military exploits in Italy and also had an interest in crusades, having participated in one himself. He undertook, furthermore, during this early stage in his career, various diplomatic tasks on behalf of Scotland. In 1511, for example, James IV was so troubled by the state ofEurope and the dissension between the Pope and the French king that he asked Albany to do all he could to help bring about a reconciliation.9 Albany was, therefore, personally involved in continental military and diplomatic activity that was of great interest to James IV and which was dealt with in the propagandic text Les Abus du monde. Although, in the end, Albany and James IV never actually met, Albany appears to have been so eager to meet his royal Scottish cousin during this period that he briefly entertained the idea of going to Scotland in disguise.10

A principal concern for Louis XII in the early sixteenth century was the defence of his interests in Lombardy. Numerous territorial skirmishes erupted during this period, the most severe culminating in a full-scale conflict with Louis and his allies confronting the republic of Venice. Running closely alongside Louis’ military activities was a forceful literary propaganda machine involving poets and writers both directly employed by the court and working outside of the courtly milieu.11 Cardinal Georges d’Amboise, acting for Louis XII, and Margaret of Austria, representing her father, Maximilian, met for negotiations in Cambrai in November and December 1508. With the traditional pretext of a crusade against the Turks as the desired final outcome, an alliance was sealed known as the Treaty or League of

Cambrai: binding together Louis XII and Emperor Maximilian. The real aim of the treaty was to tackle the issue of Venice. Other rulers were encouraged to join the venture with Ferdinand of Aragon, Pope Julius II, and Alfonso, duke of Ferrara, seizing upon the opportunity to regain territories lost to Venice.

It is within this political context that MS M. 42 must be examined. On folio 49r is an illumination, which elucidates in visual terms the political complexities involved in the Treaty of Cambrai (Figure 8.1). On an island sits a lion, representing Venice, being pierced by black and white quills, which are being shot

Jean Coene IV, A visual satire on the League of Cambrai, Pierre Gringore, Abus du Monde. Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M 42, fol. 49r. (© The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA)

FIGURE 8.1 Jean Coene IV, A visual satire on the League of Cambrai, Pierre Gringore, Abus du Monde. Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M 42, fol. 49r. (© The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA).

from a porcupine, who represents Louis XII. To the left hovers the two-headed imperial eagle, while at the bottom is an oak tree, representing Julius II, and two barking dogs, representing Ferdinand of Aragon. The encroachment of the league on Venice is suggested by two ships approaching the lion’s island. The text, furthermore, emphasises the active role taken by Louis XII in this affair and the notion that he was acting under God’s protection. On folio 44v, furthermore, God is shown appearing to the three estates holding a crowned heart encircled by the collar of St Michael. The image refers to Proverbs 21:1, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord’.12 In the context of Franco-Scottish relations, it appears likely that the manuscript was intended to be understood as an incitement to join Louis’ cause, or at the very least, to lend distant support to his aims. In this respect, the manuscript was likely a propagandic instrument commissioned to encourage James IV to side with the French king in his expansionist ambitions in Italy.13

Although this text appears to have never reached the Scottish king, Albany’s intention is clear; to present Gringore’s work as a finely-produced and lavishly-illuminated manuscript, with the intention of persuading James IV to lend support to Louis XII’s territorial ambitions in Italy. This is the first of a number of instances throughout Albany’s career where he used his contacts with literary and artistic figures to further personal and political objectives.14

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