Osbern Bokenam

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Osbern Bokenam (1393?–1464?) was an English Augustinian friar and poet.


Osbern Bokenam was born, according to his own account, on 6 October 1393. He may have been a native of Bokeham, now Bookham, in Surrey, or of Buckenham in Norfolk and derived his name from either place. In a concluding note to his Lives of the Saints, he is described as a "Suffolke man, frere Austyn of Stoke Clare" (friar at Clare Priory in Suffolk).[1] He travelled in Italy on at least two occasions, possibly living for a time in Venice and Rome, and in 1445 was a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.[2]

Bokenam 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 S[an]c[t]ae Margaretae, virginis et martyris, was written for his friend, Thomas Burgh, a Cambridge monk. Others are dedicated to pious ladies who desired the history of their name-saints.[2]

The Arundel MS. 327 (in the 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 an unnamed convent "that the nuns may remember him and his sister, Dame Betrice Burgh."[2]

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 Eugen Kölbing's Altengl. Bibliothek, vol. i. Both editions include a dialogue written in Latin and English taken from William Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum (ed. 1846, vol. vi, p. 1600); this is a dialogue between a "Secular asking and a Frere answerynge at the grave of Dame Johan of Acres shewith the lyneal descent of the lordis of the honore 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.[2]

In 2004 a manuscript copy of Bokenam's version of the Legenda Aurea was discovered in the library of Abbotsford House, Scotland. It had been purchased in 1809 by Sir Walter Scott and subsequently forgotten.[3]


  1. ^ Macpherson, Ewan. "Osbern Bokenham." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 28 Mar. 2013
  2. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bokenam, Osbern". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 156.
  3. ^ http://www.augnet.org/default.asp?ipageid=731


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