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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XVIII. Political and Religious Verse to the Close of the Fifteenth Century—Final Words

§ 5. The Libel of English Policy

In 1436–7, was written one of the most important and remarkable of early English political poems, The Libel [or little book] of English Policy. The poem begins by “exhortynge alle Englande to kepe the see enviroun,” and it is an early example of the political insight which recognised that the natural source of the greatness of a small island lay on the sea; its inflence on later naval developments can scarce by doubted. English commercial relations with foreign nations are discussed by the anonymous author at considerable length; “the commodytees of Spayne and of Fflaunders,” and of many another community are reviewed, and oddly enough these things read in rime:

  • And lycorys, Syvyle oyle, and grayne,
  • Whyte Castelle sope, and wax, is not in vayne;
  • Iren, wolle, wadmole, gotefel, kydefel also,
  • Ffor poynt-makers fulle nedefulle be the ij.
  • The Irish question is well to the fore, and there is a Welsh question as well:

  • wyth alle your myghte take hede
  • To kepe Yrelond, that it be not loste;
  • Ffor it is a boterasse and a poste
  • Under England, and Wales another.
  • God forbede but each were othere brothere,
  • Of one ligeaunce dewe unto the kynge.
  • And then the author turns to discuss “the comodius stokfysshe of Yselonde” brought by the seamen that go out from Bristow and from Scarborowgh “unto the costes cold”; and he harks back to Calais and urges, in language which sounds strangely modern, that there be
  • set a governaunce,
  • Set many wittes wythoutene variaunce
  • To one accorde and unanimitè,
  • Put to god wylle for to kepe the see.
  • The ende of bataile is pease sikerlye,
  • And power causeth pease finally.