Bernard André O.S.A. (c. 1450 – c. 1521) was a colourful character, born in France but a figure not in French history but in English history. Historians have sometimes anglicised the spelling of his surname to Andreas.
His life involved the royal court of Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, being poet laureate of England and the royal historiographer, and having as fellow writers and fellow devotees of humanism Sir (later Saint) Thomas More and Erasmus of Rotterdam. Over a century previously, another French-educated Augustinian in England, Archbishop Robert Waldby (or Waldeby) O.S.A. (c. 1337 - 1397) was described as a courtier bishop for possibly carrying out more of the secular work of King Richard II than religious work of the Church and the Augustinian Order.
Images (above): The teenage Prince Arthur Tudor, whom Bernard André O.S.A. tutored in Latin for five years, and his bride, Catherine of Aragon. He died within half a year, and she went on to wed Authur's brother as the first wife of King Henry VIIISomewhat akin to this, therefore, Bernard André O.S.A. could be termed a courtier friar. Apparently he was a member of the large and long-established community of Austin Friars in London, but how often he was away from there is open to conjecture. The more so as a person whom the English Province of the Order had not paid to educate and train for priesthood (that was done locally by the Province of Toulouse), the English Province probably was not too concerned that Bernard was occupied within the royal circles rather than be available for general Augustinian assignment. The literary work and influence of André in monarchical circles was most likely not seen by the Order as doing it any harm.
Born in about 1450, André entered the Order of St Augustine in Toulouse and, although it has not been proven, it has often been written that he came from a distinguished family. Where André gained his mastership (doctorate) in both civil law and canon law (“doctor utriusque iuris” – “doctor of both laws”) is unknown, but he is listed as such in an Augustinian Register of the year 1514 in Rome. It would appear most likely that he had achieved his doctorate before going to England with Henry VII in 1485 at the age of thirty-five years.
In France at that time there was a re-awakened patriotic sentiment for France that had been prompted in the previous decades by the triumph and unjust execution of Joan of Arc (Jean d’Arc), who had an Augustinian chaplain in the person of Jean Pasquerel O.S.A.. In spite of this mood, André joined the English party of occupiers of French territory. He probably was won over this cause by Richard Fox, later the Bishop of Winchester, who unceasingly worked for the exiled Henry Tudor and obtained from King Charles VIII of France the 2,000 French mercenaries who accompanied him across to England to win hold of the English throne.
It seems that André first met Henry Tudor (later to be King Henry VII of England) when the latter had been living and studying in France. Possibly Henry became a patron of André the poet and songwriter in his court of musicians and poets at that time; André certainly was one when both of them moved to England. The partisanship of André for the Tudor cause was so fervent that he followed Henry to England. He did not witness Henry's victorious Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but did take part in the king's subsequent triumphant entry in London as King Henry VII, the beginning of the Tudor monarchy. His pro-English allegiance made his return to his homeland problematic and unwise, if not also impossible, and he never returned there.
In England, André found a teaching position (possibly at Cambridge) and because of his teaching began receiving from Henry VII on 24th November 1486 an annuity of ten marks “until he would be provided otherwise.” This pension remained in place for at least ten years, for in 1496 the treasurer and chamberlain of the Exchequer was instructed to pay him his ten marks for the current year in a single payment instead of five marks half yearly as usual. But, at length, church preferment came. On 4th April 1498 the bishop of Lincoln conferred upon him the hospital of St Leonard's, Bedford which he resigned the following year. On 31st December 1500 André was presented by the king a benefice from the parish of Guysnes near Calais (part of the Diocese of Canterbury), but that does not mean that he actually went there. Afterwards he obtained from the abbot of Glastonbury the living of Higham to which he was instituted on 21st October 1501. He resigned his last position in the beginning of 1505 and a pension of £24 a year was reserved for his benefit. In 1506 King Henry VII gave André one hundred shillings as a new year’s gift, probably on the occasion when André delivered a poetic eulogy to the King that, in the practice of the times, was so laudatory as to be unbelievable.
He amply demonstrated his ability to praise the victorious monarch in florid, extemporaneous verse at the important moments of the reign, such as the royal marriage, the birth of children, and battlefield victories. This new year’s gift to André was repeated annually by Henry VII and subsequently by Henry VIII “to Master Barnard the blind poet” until at least the year 1521, which was probably the year that André died. He possessed an extraordinary knowledge of the Roman and Greek classics, and was one of the early humanists in England. About 1495 André was appointed as Latin tutor of the ten-year-old Prince Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales and the first son of King Henry VII. André was then tutoring the person next in line for the English throne.
For the pre-adolescent Arthur’s instruction André composed a great number of tracts on grammar and rhetoric. He trained the prince so well that one marvels at the great number of classical authors this precocious prince had studied. Arthur's younger brother Henry, later to become King Henry VIII (born in 1491), may have participated in some of the later of these instructions. André's tutorship had ended in 1499 with Arthur’s impending marriage. On 12th May 1499 André was a witness to the marriage of the fifteen-year-old prince’s marriage by proxy to Catherine of Aragon, at Bewdley in Worcestershire.
Arthur had been betrothed to Catherine since the age of two as part of the Treaty of Medina del Campo; he began writing regularly to her in Latin from the age of thirteen, and it can be presumed that Bernard André as Arthur’s tutor in Latin had some involvement with these letters. The letters were more polite than passionate. Catherine did not write Latin, hence her replies were translated into that language by her tutors. The couple first met on 4th November 1501, and the new groom died five months later at the age of fifteen years on 2nd April 1502. Catherine later wed Arthur’s younger brother (and five years her junior) soon after his coronation as King Henry VIII and, imprisoned by the king when he re-married, died in isolation on 7th January 1536.
After the tutorship of Prince Arthur Tudor by André ended, Henry VII named André as the royal historiographer, a position that had first been established at his father's court in Burgundy. André spent the next two years writing The Life of Henry VII, a biography of his employer. He left the task unfinished soon after the death of Prince Arthur on 2nd April 1502, an event that devastated him personally and shattered his professional goals.
André definitely was physically blind before the end of his productive period as a writer and poet, and may even have been blind when he landed in England. He often referred to his blindness as a reason that he could not search for additional sources of information, but never stated that he had been blind from birth. His own comment that he was consoled by the fact that Homer also was blind might cause a smile, but the fact that he could not himself see the less-than-desired quality of the resulting manuscripts (or the spelling!) as he dictated his sentences to scribes has not caused later scholars to be amused.
Images (above:left to right): Thomas More, King Henry VIII, his father King Henry VII, and Erasmus.
Being a humanist himself and highly respected by his fellow-literati, it is the more regrettable that Desiderius Erasmus chose to become his deadly enemy. The fault lay clearly with Erasmus. When he came to England in 1511 he sought in vain for lodgings in London. Ammonius, the king's secretary, approached André, who generously mediated some rooms for him in London's Austin Friars. Erasmus clearly understood that the rent for his rooms had to be paid, because they constituted part of the London monastery's hotel business. Nevertheless he was furious when the bill of 20 (30) nobles was presented to him, and ever afterwards was contemptuous of André.
He even continued to give vent to his spite long after Andre's death. Highly self-opinionated about the gift of his outstanding talent to humanity, Erasmus was well-known for living off his friends and took affront at and resented as insulting his being asked to pay his bills. The Augustinian Order itself felt no obligation towards Erasmus, this man who had not only ridiculed its descent from St Augustine and rejected the authenticity of his Rule but also showed an utter contempt for all monastic life.
Before this falling out with André, Erasmus thought quite well of him, and wrote in Latin verse an introduction to André’s extensive Commentary on St Augustine's De civitate dei (“City of God”). Hereunder is an English translation of it:
Doctor Augustine, famous, author on Holy Scripture,
Your city [of God] was previously hidden in a dense fog.
Behold ! Toiling a great many nights Bernard
By his lucid explanations has unraveled all,
So that it can clearly be grasped.
André probably died in 1521 or shortly thereafter, and was buried in Austin Friars Church, London. His fame as an author appears to have been considerable in his own day. Less than a dozen of his works are still extant, some totally and some only partially. This is a small fraction of the amount that André is known to have written. Besides his historical writings and his extensive Commentary on St. Augustine's Civitas Dei (“City of God”), André is mentioned as the author of a collection of three books of hymns for the entire church year, and a life of St Andrew the Apostle. He is said to be the author of a sermon on St Dominic that still exists in manuscript form in Rome.
In order to judge properly the historical writings of Bernard André, it must be kept in mind that he was blind and could not observe events with his own eyes, nor does he seem to have found the needed official help which would have enabled him to make his Annals a complete record, though the facts he reported are accurate. He was poet and historiographer but the poet often prevailed, which seems to have pleased both Henries. The Court wanted to be entertained and preferred flattery to exact contemporary history. André even wrote songs for social gatherings, and for the wedding celebration in 1514 of Marie, a daughter of Henry VII.
His verses written either in Latin or French - but never in English - are full of classical allusions such as were so dear to the heart of humanists. He was writing in Latin and French as late as 1520, which shows that the introduction of the English language into literature was a gradual process over numerous generations.
Image (above): Prince Arthur Tudor, painted near the time of his wedding at the age of fifteen years. Arthur holds a white gillyflower, a symbol of purity and betrothal. It is the only contemporary portrait of Arthur and numerous copies were based upon it. This was painted soon after Bernard André had completed five years as Arthur's Latin tutor.
The so-called Father of English Literature, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), for example, had been a groundbreaker in the English-language literary movement over 120 years previously, and the fellow Augustinians to André, Osbern Bokenham O.S.A. (1392/93 – 1467) and John Capgrave O.S.A. (1393 – 1464) were writing in English as well as Latin in the period when André had been an infant in France. The literary peak of Chaucer occurred in the fourteenth century, that of Bokenham and Capgrave in the fifteenth century, and that of André early in the sixteenth century.
Of these four authors, André could be classified as the one most humanist in his literary style and expression. This is particularly true of his Twelve Triumphs of Henry VII wherein he compares the king's political achievements to the labors of Hercules. André, again the poet more than the historian, does likewise in his Life of Henry VII, which is full of verses, oratory and panegyric, but more sparse on history. Steeped in classical literature and familiar with all the tropes of the ancient biographical tradition, André filled his account with classical allusions, invented speeches, and historical set pieces.
Even with its poetical flair and language, the extant historical writings of Bernard André enjoy the unique historiographic position of being the only strictly contemporary record of the reign of King Henry VII. The work dramatizes the dynastic shift that resulted from Henry Tudor’s seizure of the English throne at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and the death in battle of Henry’s opponent, King Richard III. André had little interest in historical “facts,” and when he was uncertain about details, he simply left open space in the manuscript for later completion that, unfortunately, did not happen.
He focused instead on the nobility of Henry VII’s lineage, the moral character of key figures, and the hidden workings of history. André’s account thus reflects the impact of new humanist models on English historiography. It is the first extended argument for Henry’s legitimate claims to the English crown. The Life of Henry VII by André occupies an important place in the literary tradition of treatments of Richard III, begun by André, continued by Thomas More, and brought to its classic expression by William Shakespeare.
André did demonstrate elsewhere, however, that he possessed the gift of being a good chronicler; this is evident from his Annals of the Twenty Third Year (1507/8) which are so full of interesting matter (also for the history of the Order of St Augustine) that similar records for all other years would have made him the outstanding chronicler of the period. Annals for 1500 plus commentaries to Terence, Pliny, Vergil, Gellius and Statius are listed as having been written, but are now lost – so too his History of Henry VIII.
The Annals of the twentieth (1504/5) and twenty-third years of the reign of Henry VIII are the only ones to have survived. The Annals of the Twentieth Year were written just after the year was completed and, although not a particularly eventful twelve months for Henry VIII, the work nevertheless reveals quite objectively the condition of the nation and the esteem in which Henry was held by the different powers in Europe.
It was a time of tranquillity both inside England and on the Continent, for through Henry’s mediation even the kings of France and Spain had agreed to peace, and their bloody struggle for the Kingdom of Naples had been set aside for a while. The settled state in England had allowed Henry, with the consent of Parliament, to relax the severity of former attainders. André may have written at greater length had he not been forced to depart London in haste for fear of a recurrence of the plague.
Annals of the Twenty-Third Year (1507/8) was completed with less haste. It gives with precision a complete chronicle of the twelve months of Henry’s reign, supplying the exact date of occurrence of each incident of events great and small, unobscured by any attempt to suggest their political significance or degree of importance. It notes, for example, the stormy weather of December 1507 and the extraordinary mildness of January 1508, and the news of Sophia’s victory over the Turks.
As poet laureate (which was granted as a literary title, and not an academic one) he dedicated each New Year a congratulatory poem to the reigning monarch. Those of 1515 and 1521 to Henry VIII are extant, and one for 1518, although now lost, is known to have existed. The Invocatio glorifying the Battle of Flodden (1513) exists in private possession. Some sermons and hymns of André for the whole church year have been lost, but parts of his extensive Commentary on St. Augustine's Civitate Dei have been preserved. It was written by at least three scribes (Remember that, being blind, André could not put pen to paper himself). Of the 24 Books of the City of God, only the commentary by André on Books 11-19 is extant.
He began writing his a massive Commentary on Augustine’s City of God in 1496, when he began employment as the tutor of Prionce Henry Tudor. He planned to treat one Book of Augustine’s De Civitate Dei per year, and intended that his commentary be an important contribution to humanist scholarship. Instead, it appeared that, even though reportedly he completed it (although not all Books of it are any longer extant), his interest in the project waned in the face of other tasks that gripped his attention more.
Some earlier Augustinian chroniclers credited André with engaging King Henry VIII in his theological controversy with Martin Luther and claimed him as the real author of the Assertio Septem Sacramentorum ("Defence of the Seven Sacraments"), while others ascribe the work to Bishop (Saint) John Fisher. The latter is more probable, because theology was not the field of study of Bernard André. The older humanist circle around Henry VII essentially comprised of persons who had accompanied him back to England after his exile and humanist education in France, i.e., Continental Europeans who Henry had invited to England, Erasmus included. A younger circle of humanists gathered around Henry VII, and this included Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More. (André was fifteen years’ older than Erasmus, and twenty-eight years’ older than Thomas More).
André composed his Hymni Christiana ("Christian Hymns") with St Thomas More's advice, and both he and Erasmus graced its publication in 1517 with commendatory epigrams, even if they possibly intended their praise to be hollow, or even sarcastic. Such an attitude by Erasmus would not have been surprising, but was unusual for Thomas More. These younger humanists retained an outward appearance of friendship with the older scholars, but dropped the mask when they gained the upper hand under Henry VIII. Usually it is stated that the Renaissance in England began with the Erasmus-More circle. It would be more correct to say that it reached its height under these gifted men, but stood on a foundation laid by Bernard André and other older scholars.
In all, André wrote about sixty known works, all of them in Latin and most of them now lost. The leading humanist among the Austin Friars of his day, André was neglected by the Reformers, who gave attention to the ex-Augustinian Robert Barnes.Some sources it is stated that the appointment of Bernard André by King Henry VII was the first-ever time the title of Poet Laureate was officially granted in England.
Bernard André, A little bit of wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Andr%C3%A9
Bernard André. From a Catholic Encyclopedia. http://catholicism.academic.ru/13079/Bernard_Andre
Works of Bernard André on the Internet. Thanks to Google’s electronic scanning of old texts, a number of works by André can be read on the Internet; at least the commentaries about them are in English. http://www.archive.org/details/lesdouzetriomph00andrgoog
For further reading The English Austin Friars 1249 – 1538 by Francis Roth O.S.A. (Augustinian Historical Institute, New York: 1966).
The Life of Henry VII by Bernard André. Translated and Introduced by Daniel Hobbins. The first English translation, 2011. With introduction, bibliography, index. Approx. 165 pages. Hardcover ISBN 978-1-59910-188-0. Paperback ISBN 978-1-59910-189-7. E-Book ISBN 978-1-59910-190-3. http://www.italicapress.com/index337.html AN4304