Medieval Authors: Laurence Minot

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Laurence Minot is the first known poet of the Hundred Years War. Often dismissed as an unsophisticated jingoist, he has not received a great deal of scholarly interest; although the recent work of David Matthews and others is showing that he repays more thoughtful discussion. He wrote eleven poems on the subject of Edward III’s battles, which appear uniquely in London: British Library, MS. Cotton Galba E.ix, a fifteenth-century miscellany also containing Ywain and Gawain, The Prick of Conscience, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and shorter pieces, including another war poem, The Siege of Calais (c.1436), roughly added to the final flyleaf by a later hand.

The most recent edition of Minot’s poems was made by Richard H. Osberg for TEAMS in 1997, and is available online. This edtion has full introduction and notes and supersedes T.B. James and J. Simons’s edition, The Poems of Laurence Minot (Exeter, 1989).

About Minot himself, there is little to know. Records locate gentry families of the name ‘Minot’ in Yorkshire and Norfolk; the only references to a Laurence among them are to a ‘Laurence Mynotz’ who purchased land in Crécy Forest in 1320, and another ‘Loreng de Minguot’, whose overdue fees for the same land were remitted by Edward III in 1331 (see Samuel Moore, ‘Lawrence Minot’, Modern Language Notes, 35 (1920), 78-81, and Douglas Gray’s article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

If these refer to the poet, he was in France shortly before the outbreak of war, and was connected to Edward III’s court. The recently completed Soldier in Medieval England database does not give any records for a Laurence Minot, so we can conjecture that he was not a combatant (although it does record one John Minot, perhaps a relative, an archer who served under Sir Reginald de Cobham in 1387).

In a 2006 article in Florelegium, A.S.G. Edwards argued that the poems are not all the work of one author, but represent the efforts of a compiler with a special interest in Edward III’s battles . Minot names himself in only two of the poems, and as a series they vary considerably in style: some are in alliterative long lines, some in rhymed stanzas.

Prior to 1989, Minot had already received several editions: by Joseph Ritson (1795), Joseph Hall (1887) and Douglas Stedman (1917). These are especially interesting for what they tell us about Minot’s historical reputation before the twentieth century. Ritson held that Minot was ‘equal, if not superior, to any English poet before the sixteenth, or even, with very few exceptions, before the seventeenth, century’ (p. xiv), and Hall proclaimed that he was ‘the first to speak in the name of the English nation just awakened to a consciousness of its unity and strength’ (p. xiii). These accolades are ironic now that Minot has sunk into unfashionable obscurity: David Matthews observes that his ‘nationalism in full-throated cry’ has made him ‘possibly the most maligned poet of the fourteenth century’ (David Matthews, Writing to the King: Nation, Kingship and Literature in England, 1250-1350, (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 11, 152; see also David Matthews, ‘Laurence Minot, Edward III, and Nationalism’, Viator, 38:1 (2007), 269-288).

However, despite the decline in his critical popularity, and his undeniably brazen and thuggish agenda, Minot’s poetry repays more thoughtful analysis. He was arguably one of the first war poets of the Middle Ages, and he gives the lie to still frequently-rehearsed arguments that nationalism was at the earliest an early modern phenomenon.

List of extant works

Poems [edited by R. H. Osberg]

Joanna Bellis, August 2011
BNF MS Fr 2643
The English Army at Crecy, from Paris: BNF, MS. fr. 2643, fol. 165v (Jean Froissart, Chroniques).