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Osbern Bokenam Biography | Poet

Photo of Osbern Bokenam

BOKENAM, OSBERN (1393?-1447?), English author, was born, by his own account, on the 6th of October 1393. Dr Horstmann suggests that he may have been a native of Bokeham, now Bookham, in Surrey, and derived his name from the place. In a concluding note to his Lives of the Saints he is described as “a Suffolke man, frere Austyn of Stoke Clare.” He travelled in Italy on at least two occasions, and in 1445 was a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela. He wrote a series of thirteen legends of holy maidens and women. These are written chiefly in seven- and eight-lined stanzas, and nine of them are preceded by prologues. Bokenam was a follower of Chaucer and Lydgate, and doubtless had in mind Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women. His chief, but by no means his only, source was the Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine, archbishop of Genoa, whom he cites as “Januence.” The first of the legends, Vita Scae Margaretae, virginis et martiris, was written for his friend, Thomas Burgh, a Cambridge monk; others are dedicated to pious ladies who desired the history of their name-saints. The Arundel MS. 327 (British Museum) is a unique copy of Bokenam’s work; it was finished, according to the concluding note, in 1447, and presented by the scribe, Thomas Burgh, to a convent unnamed “that the nuns may remember him and his sister, Dame Betrice Burgh.” The poems were edited (1835) for the Roxburghe Club with the title Lyvys of Seyntys ..., and by Dr Carl Horstmann as Osbern Bokenams Legenden (Heilbronn, 1883), in E. Kölbing’s Altengl. Bibliothek, vol. i. Both editions include a dialogue written in Latin and English taken from Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum (ed. 1846, vol. vi. p. 1600); “this dialogue betwixt a Secular asking and a Frere answerynge at the grave of Dame Johan of Acres shewith the lyneal descent of the lordis of the honoure of Clare fro ... MCCXLVIII to ... MCCCLVI”. Bokenam wrote, as he tells us, plainly, in the Suffolk speech. He explains his lack of decoration on the plea that the finest flowers had been already plucked by Chaucer, Gower and Lydgate.

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