Mirror, mirror: Princely hermeneutics, practical constitutionalism, and the genres of the English Fürstenspiegel

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The "mirror for princes" or Fürstenspiegel challenges us to understand how this ostensibly practical and political genre of writing was understood in contemporary contexts, given the ubiquity and variability of its forms over time. This article posits the importance of mirror-texts as constitutional writings, especially in the English fifteenth century. It investigates aspects of Fürstenspiegel texts relating to their accretive and "sedimented" qualities, a term that has been used for genre analysis by Fredric Jameson. It explicates the self-representations of mirror-texts as didactic guides that try to educate and to constitute a prince, especially in the works of Thomas Hoccleve and John Fortescue, where the prince is ideologically understood not just as an individual but as a self-authorizing embodiment of the basic principles of law. The analysis concludes by suggesting the broader significance of mirrortexts as a politically foundational genre of sovereignty, both for the times in which they were written and for the historical discourses of constitutionalism that have come down to the present day.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-54
Number of pages20
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© W. S. Maney & Son Ltd 2015.


  • Constitutionalism
  • De regimine
  • Fredric Jameson
  • Fürstenspiegel
  • Genre
  • Giorgio Agamben
  • Mirrors for princes
  • Sir John Fortescue
  • Thomas Hoccleve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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