Blood and vellum: Albany's promotion of the Boulogne and d'Auvergne lineage

As noted above, twelve years after Albany commissioned the Hague Manuscript in 1518, he appears to have ordered several copies of this work with the intention of gifting them to illustrious figures.5'' In 1530, Albany was appointed French ambassador in Rome. He was, as we have seen, highly regarded in papal circles at this time. The gift of a finely-illuminated genealogical manuscript to the Pope, demonstrating the prestige of both Catherine’s and his own, illustrious lineage, no doubt played its part in this.

There is, furthermore, a second group of manuscripts, which must be considered in relation to these negotiations. Gustave Cohen wrote a text in 1944 on a manuscript in New York entitled La généalogie des contes de Boulongne. Cohen attributed the work to Geoffrey Tory principally on the evidence of a colophon in the manuscript which reads: ‘NE PLUS NE MOINS 1531’; the motto being close to Tory’s motto of‘Non Plus’. He argued that the manuscript was commissioned by the French king, Francis I, of Tory, for presentation to Catherine in this year.60 Knowing what we do about Albany acting as chief negotiator for the king, and of Albany’s commission of genealogical material relating to the House of Boulogne previously, we can propose that the patron of this work was in fact Albany. There are two further examples of this text that survive, both apparently copies after the New York version; these are found in BnF fr 4653, fols 19r-25r, and at the back of BnF fr 20209, fols 77r-84v.61 This last example is the same manuscript that includes a copy of the Hague manuscript, which we have determined Albany intended for the la Guesle family. This strongly supports the hypothesis that this group of genealogies were also commissioned by Albany in relation to his diplomatic duties in Italy at this time. The purpose of the work being propagandistic material designed to heighten the fame and prestige of both his lineage and that of Catherine de Medici. The fine copy described by Cohen was in all likelihood a gift from Albany to Catherine in 1531, designed to heighten her awareness of her illustrious French heritage. Indeed, in the inventory of Catherine’s library in Paris of 1589, we find listed with the aforementioned Abus du monde manuscript, ‘Ung autre livre couvert de cuir rouge ou est descrite la généalogie des comtes de Boulongne’ — likely the same manuscript consulted by Cohen in New York. We also find another text next to it listed as ‘Ung autre livre couvert de cuir de Levant vert escrit à la main intitulé ¡’Origine et succession des comtes de Boulongne'.b2

The attribution of the work, moreover, to Geoffrey Tory on the strength of a similarity between the motto ‘NE PLUS NE MOINS’ and his motto ‘Non plus’ must be questioned. The great benefit in drawing together Albany’s literary patronage in this paper is that previously unseen connections become clear. If we return to 1515 and Macé de Villbresme’s work addressed to Albany, we can recall that he added an anagram of his name and his poetic device ‘PLUS QUE MOINS’ to the end of his work. Cohen noted in relation to the colophon in the New York manuscript that ‘there is no parallel [...] in contemporary scribal colophons’.63 Yet, here is a direct parallel in a work also addressed to Albany who was likely involved in the production of both works. It must be considered, therefore, whether this motto relates more to the patron, Albany, than to the author.64

The transfer of ideas in this instance was from France to Italy and performed an important diplomatic and political role, enhancing the prestige of Catherine de Medici’s French bloodline in her own eyes, that of the papacy, and other Italian nobles. In this example, Albany used literary material as luxurious gifts, in order that they might function as propaganda designed to serve his diplomatic and political aims and, furthermore, to bolster his own reputation.


John Stuart, Duke of Albany, was a figure who acted throughout his life as a highly influential conduit for the transfer of ideas between elite, royal, and papal circles in Scotland, France, and Italy. He was unusual for the powerful positions he held in all three countries. He is also noteworthy for his evident understanding of the power and agency of visual and literary material in the service of his diplomatic, military, and political endeavours. Commissions of such material were not peripheral to what was occurring, but integral: such works acted as active agents in shaping his career. We can, therefore, trace the development of his career through the cultural connections and enterprises he was involved in.

While this present discussion is not exhaustive, it does, however, offer the opportunity to explore Albany’s impressive engagement with visual and literary material throughout his life, and to draw parallels between historiographic details with his literary, artistic, and architectural commissions. This allows us to see how Albany manipulated such material to bolster his position, influence opinions, and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and ideas between countries. It also allows us to speculate on how he was perceived as an important source of intelligence for various parties.

Albany acted as a conduit for the transfer of ideas and knowledge not only from France to Scotland, but also from Scotland to France, France to Italy, Italy to Scotland, and indeed from Scotland to Italy. The importance of studying individual figures in this way is that it allows us to see, in a very specific manner, how ideas spread. Through such work, we can replace sweeping generalisations regarding ideas emerging from France and Italy and eventually reaching Scotland, with specific examples of how such a cultural transfer occurred and how, most importantly, it also flowed in the opposite direction.

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