Mirrors for princes

The mirrors for princes (Latin: specula principum or rather, principum specula, German: Fürstenspiegel) refer to a genre – in the loose sense of the word – of political writing during the Early Middle Ages, Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They are best known in the form of textbooks which directly instruct kings or lesser rulers on certain aspects of rule and behaviour, but in a broader sense, the term is also used to cover histories or literary works aimed at creating images of kings for imitation or avoidance. They were often composed at the accession of a new king, when a young and inexperienced ruler was about to come to power. They could be viewed as a species of self-help book. Possibly the best known (European) "mirror" is Il Principe (c. 1513) by Machiavelli, although this was not a typical example. Some further examples are listed below:


Classical texts

Greek and Roman

Eusebius of Caesarea's Life of Constantine may be a mirror for princes. This text's precise genre, audience, and aims has, however, been a subject of scholarly controversy.


Western European texts

Early Middle Ages

  • Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks which warns against internal strife.
  • De duodecim abusivis saeculi, 'On the twelve abuses of the world' (seventh century), a Hiberno-Irish treatise by an anonymous author sometimes referred to as Pseudo-Cyprian. This work, though not a 'mirror for princes' per se, was to be of great influence on the development of the 'genre' as it took place on the Continent.
  • Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People specifically states that the purpose of the study of history is to present examples for either imitation or avoidance.

Carolingian texts. Notable examples of Carolingian textbooks for kings, counts and other laymen include:

  • Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Via regia (813), arguably the first true European mirror for princes, dedicated to Louis the Pious, when king of Aquitania.
  • Einhard's Vita Karoli which idolises Charlemagne's reign as something for other rulers to aspire to.
  • Jonas of Orléans, De Institutione Regia (c. 831), written for Pepin I of Aquitaine, apparently on the basis of a council at Orléans.[1]
  • Agobard of Lyons, his letters.
  • Sedulius Scottus, De rectoribus christianis 'On Christian rulers' (c. 855-9), addressed to King Lothar II of Lotharingia.
  • Hincmar of Reims, De regis persona 'The Person of the King'
  • Hincmar of Reims, De Ordine Palatii 'On the management of the palace' (882), which sets out the moral duties of a king and includes an account of the organisation of the palace.
  • Jonas of Orléans, De Institutione Laicali (818 x 828), (originally) written for Count Matfrid of Orléans.
  • Paulinus of Aquileia, Liber exhortationis (795), for Count Heiric of Friuli.
  • Alcuin, De virtutibus et vitiis (c. 799–800), written for Count Wido of Brittany.
  • Dhuoda, Liber manualis, written for her son William.

Irish texts

  • see De duodecim abusivis saeculi above. The vernacular mirrors differ from most texts mentioned here in that the ones who are described as giving and receiving advice are commonly legendary figures.
  • Audacht Morainn ('The Testament of Morand'), written c. 700, an Old Irish text which has been called a forerunner of the 'mirrors for princes'.[2] The legendary wise judge Morand is said to have sent advice to Feradach Find Fechtnach when the latter was about to be made King of Tara.
  • Tecosca Cormaic, 'The Instructions of Cormac', in which the speaker Cormac mac Airt is made to instruct his son Cairbre Lifechair about a variety of matters.
  • Bríatharthecosc Con Culainn 'The precept-instruction of Cúchulainn' (interpolated in Serglige Con Culainn), addressed to Lugaid Réoderg.
  • Tecosc Cuscraid 'The instruction of Cuscraid'
  • Senbríathra Fithail 'The ancient precepts of Fíthal'
  • Briathra Flainn Fína 'The Sayings of Flann Fína'

High and Late Middle Ages


Byzantine texts

  • Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene, speech delivered to emperor Arcadius.
  • Agapetus the deacon, speech delivered to emperor Justinian I.
  • Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople, letter addressed to Boris I of Bulgaria.
  • Basil I Macedon, Admonitory chapters I and II to his son emperor Leo VI the wise
  • Kekaumenos, Strategikon (1075 x 1078), in particular the last two sections.
  • Archbishop Theophylact of Ohrid, Paideia Basilike (Lat. Institutio Regia) (c. 1088), addressed to his pupil Constantine Doukas, son of Emperor Michael VII Doukas.
  • The 12th-c. poem Spaneas or Didaskalia Parainetike, modeled on the Isocratean Ad Demonicum
  • Nicephorus Blemmydes, Andrias Basilikos (Lat. Regia statua) 'Statue of a King', written for pupil Theodore II Lascaris, the emperor who lived in exile at Nicaea.
  • Thomas Magistros, La regalita.
  • Manuell II Palaiologus, Paideia Regia.
  • Patriarch Anthony IV, letter to Vasily I of Moscow (1393).
  • Poucheniye (Instruction) of Vladmir Monomakh to his children (1120s).

Slavonic texts

Neagoe Basarab (1512-1521),'The teachings of Neagoe Basarab to his son Theodosie', one of the earliest literary works of Wallachia

Islamic texts

See also


  1. ^ A. Dubreucq (ed.), Jonas d'Orléans, Le métier du roi (De institutione regia). Sources Chrétiennes 407. Paris, 1995. pp. 45–9.
  2. ^ Rob Meens. "Politics, mirrors of princes and the Bible: sins, kings and the well-being of the realm." Early Medieval Europe 7.3 (1998): 352
  3. ^ M. Pinto de Mencses (ed.). Espelho dos Reis por Alvaro Pais. Lisbon, 1955.
  4. ^ Jean-Philippe Genet (ed.). Four English Political Tracts of the Later Middle Ages Camden Society, 4th ser. 18 (1977). 177-9.
  5. ^ Salter, F.M. "Skelton's Speculum Principis" Speculum 9 (1934): 25–37
  6. ^ Olden-Jørgensen, Sebastian (ed.). Alithia. Et dansk fyrstespejl til Christian IV. UJDS-Studier 14. Copenhagen, 2003.
  7. ^ Dunlop, D.M. (tr.). Fusul al-Madani: Aphorisms of the Statesman. University of Cambridge Oriental Publications. Cambridge, 1961.
  8. ^ Meisami, Julie Scott (tr.). Sea of Precious Virtues. Salt Lake City, 1991.
  9. ^ Sajida Sultana Alvi. Advice on the art of governance. An Indo-Islamic Mirror for Princes. State University of New York Press. 1989.

Further reading

  • Anton, H.H. Fürstenspiegel und Herrscherethos in der Karolingerzeit. Bonner Historische Forschungen 32. Bonn, 1968.
  • Konstantinos D.S. Paidas, He thematike ton byzantinon "katoptron hegemonos" tes proimes kai meses byzantines periodoy(398-1085). Symbole sten politike theoria ton Byzantinon, Athens 2005.
  • Konstantinos D.S. Paidas, Ta byzantina "katoptra hegemonos" tes ysteres periodoy (1254-1403). Ekfraseis toy byzantinoy basilikou ideodous, Athens 2006.
  • Lambton, Ann K.S. "Islamic Mirrors for Princes." In: eadem, Theory and Practice in Medieval Persian Government. London. 1980. VI: 419–442.
  • Smith, Roland M. "The Speculum Principum in Early Irish Literature." Speculum 2 (1927): 411–45.

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