Thus endeth the prologue of this book named. Cord’yal

Chrzanowski 1479cCordyal, the most popular escatology work of the late Middle Ages, is a treatise on the four last things: death, judgment, hell, and heaven. It is attributed to Gerard van Vlierderhoven, a monastic official in Utrecht, who wrote it between 1380 and 1396. The book was translated into German, Dutch, French, English, and Spanish and appeared in some 75 incunable editions. The first French translation, by Jean Miélot in 1455, was printed by William Caxton, the first printer of English books, in Bruges in late 1475 or early 1476. It was the source for the first English translation, made by Anthony Woodville, the second Earl Rivers and Lord Scales.

Woodville possibly first met Caxton in Bruges in 1469. He was sent there on a diplomatic mission by King Edward IV, his brother-in-law. Woodville’s father was raised from baron to the first Earl Rivers after the secret marriage of his daughter Elizabeth to Edward in 1464. Anthony, a brave knight, married the daughter of Lord Scales in 1462 and assumed that title on the death of his father-in-law two years later. As described by Caxton in the epilogue of Cordyal, Anthony Woodville was also a pious man. He took overseas pilgrimages after the deaths of his father and brother (beheaded after the battle of Edgecote in 1469), his mother in 1472, and his wife in 1473. Woodville would later be beheaded at the behest of Richard III on June 25, 1483.

Caxton’s first large publication after setting up his press in Westminster in 1477 was the History of Jason, which was commissioned by Woodville. Caxton had translated the book into English while in Bruges, likely at the time he had printed Raoul Lefèvre’s original in French. Caxton printed two other works under Woodville’s patronage: Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers in 1477 and Cordyal in 1479. Both were translated from French by Woodville. Caxton proudly mentions in the epilogue of Cordyal that it took him only seven weeks to print the book after delivery of the manuscript.

Only eleven other copies are recorded. The present example lacks the first blank, the first leaf is likely from another copy, and the eight leaves of the third quire are in facsimile. It is among the tallest existing Caxtons; no other book was printed on larger paper and the leaves have not been shortened. The missing quire was removed to complete the Ashburnham copy now at the Pierpont Morgan Library, which is in its original binding.

Chrzanowski 1479c *

STC 5758

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