Mirrors for princes  

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Niccolò Machiavelli (Detail of 1500 portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito)
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Niccolò Machiavelli (Detail of 1500 portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
speculum literature

The Mirrors for princes refer to a genre - in the loose sense of the word - of political writing during the Early Middle Ages, Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They are best known in the form of textbooks which directly instruct kings or lesser rulers on certain aspects of rule and behaviour, but in a broader sense, the term is also used to cover histories or literary works aimed at creating images of kings for imitation or avoidance. They were often composed at the accession of a new king, when a young and inexperienced ruler was about to come to power. They could be viewed as a species of self-help book. Possibly the best known (European) "mirror" is Il Principe (c. 1513) by Machiavelli. Some further examples are listed below:

Contents

Classical texts

Western European texts

Early Middle Ages

  • De duodecim abusivis saeculi, 'On the twelve abuses of the world' (seventh century), a Hiberno-Irish treatise by an anonymous author sometimes referred to as Pseudo-Cyprian. This work, though not a 'mirror for princes' per se, was to be of great influence on the development of the 'genre' as it took place on the Continent.

Carolingian texts. Notable examples of Carolingian textbooks for kings, counts and other laymen include:

Irish texts

  • see De duodecim abusivis saeculi above. The vernacular mirrors differ from most texts mentioned here in that the ones who are described as giving and receiving advice are commonly legendary figures.
  • Audacht Morainn ('The Testament of Morand'), written c. 700, an Old Irish text which has been called a forerunner of the 'mirrors for princes'.<ref>Rob Meens. "Politics, mirrors of princes and the Bible: sins, kings and the well-being of the realm." Early Medieval Europe 7.3 (1998): 352</ref> The legendary wise judge Morand is said to have sent advice to Feradach Find Fechtnach when the latter was about to be made King of Tara.
  • Tecosca Cormaic, 'The Instructions of Cormac', in which the speaker Cormac mac Airt is made to instruct his son Cairbre Lifechair about a variety of matters.
  • Bríatharthecosc Con Culainn 'The precept-instruction of Cúchulainn' (interpolated in Serglige Con Culainn), addressed to Lugaid Réoderg.
  • Tecosc Cuscraid 'The instruction of Cuscraid'
  • Senbríathra Fithail 'The ancient precepts of Fíthal'
  • Briathra Flainn Fína 'The Sayings of Flann Fína'

High and Late Middle Ages

Renaissance

note. "lost work" In the Channel4 documentary (06Apr2009) "Henry VIII: Mind Of A Tyrant" Dr. Richard Starkey was shown quoting a few stanzas from the book (or a copy.)

Histories and biographies

Byzantine texts

Islamic texts

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mirrors for princes" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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