Bokenham, Osbern (DNB00)

BOKENHAM or BOKENAM, OSBERN (1383–1447?), poet in the Suffolk dialect, was born, according to his own statement, on 6 Oct. 1393. His birthplace was near 'an old pryory of blake canons,' which may be identified with Bokenham — the modern Old Buckenham — Norfolk, famous at one time for its Augustinian priory. He spent five years in early life at Venice, and was subsequently a frequent pilgrim to Rome and to other parts of Italy. He specially mentions a pilgrimage to Monte Fiasko ('Mownt Flask'). His permanent home was in the Augustinian convent of Stoke Clare, Suffolk, of which he was a professed member. He was a man of wide reading, familiar with Ovid, Cicero, Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate, besides many theological authors. He was intimate with ladies of high rank, and, in accordance with their suggestion, he drew up in English a series of thirteen poems commemorating the lives of twelve holy women and of the 11,000 virgins. With the legends he incorporated much autobiographical detail. Bokenham's work is preserved in the British Museum among the Arundel MSS. (No. 327). Its colophon runs 'Translaytyd into englys be a doctor of dyuinite clepyd Osbern Bokenam [a suffolke man], frere austyn of the conuent of Stokclare [and was doon wrytyn in Cantbryge by hys . . . ffrere Thomas Burgh]. The yere of our lord a thousand foure hundryth seuyn & fourty, etc' Bokenham in the prologue to his first poem — on St. Margaret — which he began on 6 Sept. 1443, states that he wrote at the request of his friend Thomas Burgh of Cambridge, the transcriber of the Arundel MS., and begged him to conceal the authorship. The poem on St. Anne is inscribed to Katherine Denston, wife of John Denston; that on St. Magdalena, begun in 1445, to Isabel Bourchier, countess d'Eu, sister of the Duke of York; that on St. Elizabeth to Elisabeth Vere, countess of Oxford, with all of whom Bokenam was on terms of intimacy. Bokenham's chief authority is the 'Legenda Aurea' of Jacobus a Voragine, archbishop of Genoa, whom he freely quotes as Januense, i.e. Genuensis. For the story of St. Agnes Bokenam depended on Ambrose's version of the legend (cf. Ambos. Opp, v. Epist. lib. iv. cp. 34). Bokenham writes 'after the language of Suthfolke speche,' and his versification consists at times of ten-syllabled rhyming couplets, at times of the ottava rima, and at times of seven-lined alternately rhyrmed stanzas. His book is a very valuable specimen of the Suffolk dialect of the fifteenth century. It has been twice printed: (1) for the Roxburghe Club in 1835, in black letter, at the expense of Lord Clive; and (2) by C. Horstmann, at Heilbronn in 1833, as the first volume of Dr. Eugen Kölbing's 'Altenglische Bibliothek.' The second edition adheres to the Arundel MS. more carefully than the first, and is far richer in critical apparatus; but there is little to justify Horstmann's suggestion that Bookham, Surrey, was Bokenham's native place.

Bokenham is also credited on internal evidence with the authorship of 'This Dialogue betwix a Seculer asking and a Frere answering at the grave of Dame John of Acres, shewith the lyneal descent of the lordis of the honoure of Clare fro the tyme of the fundation of the Freeris in the same honoure, the yere of our Lord mccxlviii, unto the first day of May, the yere mcclvi.,' printed in Dugdale's 'Monasticon Anglicanum,' vi. 1600. The dialogue is given in both English and Latin verse, and the former very closely resembles some passages in the 'Lyvys of the Seyntys.' Bokenham apparently died during 1447, the year in which Thomas Burgh completed his transcription of the poems.

[The Lyvys of Seyntys, printed for the Roxburghe Club, 1835; Bokenam's Legenden, herausgegeben von C. Horstmann, Heilbronn, 1883; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Dugdale's Monast. Angl. vi. 1600.]

S. L. L.