Introduction to Margaret Tyler’s M T. to the Reader
The first part of the Mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood
Article mis en ligne le 27 juillet 2014 par Chantal Schutz
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by Sophie Chiari (LERMA, Aix-Marseille Université)

Diego Ortúñez’s Espejo de príncipes y cavalleros was first published in Spain in 1562. Like Amadis de Gaula, the 1508 chivalric romance written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, the story narrates the deeds and peregrinations of a valiant and virtuous knight. Curiously, the title-page of the original wrongly suggests that the book is the translation of a Latin chronicle, itself translated from the Greek, but this fool’s game is totally absent from the title-page ofthe English translation—a real one, this time—by Margaret Tyler, namely The first part of the Mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood. While in her preface, the translator of Ortúñez’s pseudo-translation puts forward the ancillary nature and the subservience of her task (“The invention, disposicion, trimming, and what else in this storie, is wholy an other mans, my part none therein but the translation”), she in fact vigorously reappropriates Ortúñez’s romance by substituting a feminine voice to its auctorial one. True, she occasionally intervenes in the narrative, especially on the topic of marriage (Bistué 155), but broadly speaking, her work of prose fiction accurately conveys the adventures of Trebation, Birana and their son, Rosicleer and Donzel del Febo, without substantial addition.

The first part of the Mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood Wherin is shewed the worthinesse of the Knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, sonnes to the great Emperour Trebatio, with the straunge loue of the beautifull Princesse Briana, and the valiaunt actes of other noble princes and knights was published in London in 1578, sixteen years after the publication of the source-text. As was often the case at the time, Tyler provides her readers with an incomplete translation, limited to the first book of the Spanish romance. The two following books were translated into English only a few years later, in 1583 and 1586, by R. P. [1] (either Robert Parry or Robert Parke), which shows, if need be, that prose fiction sold well, which not only encouraged Elizabethan writers to translate popular Continental romances but also to invent new ones.

Unfortunately, not much is known about Margaret Tyler’s life. She is mainly remembered today as the first English woman who translated a work of prose fiction and who, in a rather long preface, defended the place of women in literature and not just in devotional works, often seen as a refuge by female translators in quest of respectability in spite of their transgressive involvement in the predominantly masculine world of Renaissance letters. In England, one had indeed to wait until the year 1592 to see Mary Sidney translate something other than religious writings. The same year, the Countess of Pembroke published her verse translation of Antonius, a play originally written by the Catholic Robert Garnier, and Philippe de Mornay’s Discourse on Life and Death.

Of humble origins but nonetheless literate, Margaret Tyler probably meddled in her youth with the rising Elizabethan middle class, and her intimate knowledge of the Spanish tongue indicates that she must have been familiar with the world of the English merchants who traded with Spain out of necessity. In her preface, she suggests that she then became a servant in the household of the Howards, a prominent Catholic family, even though Howard’s second wife, who actually employed Tyler, was the only one of his three spouses to adhere to the Protestant faith. The fourth duke of Norfolk, the earlier Thomas Howard (1538-1572), had had complicated relationships with Elizabeth I. Involved in the Ridolphi plot—named so after King Philip II’s agent, Roberto Ridolphi, a Florentine banker who intended to invade England and put Mary Stuart on the throne—he was executed for treason in 1572.

It should thus come as no surprise that Margaret, who was already well advanced in years if one is to believe her preface (in which she says that she is of a “staied age”) [2] and who, as such, was sufficiently experienced to take limited risks, entirely devotes herself to a book written in Spanish and which neither deals with religion nor with political propaganda. In order to preserve her reputation, she shrewdly explains that the idea of rendering Espejo de príncipes y cavalleros into English was not her own but that it came from members of her entourage. Her disclaimer runs as follows : “[...] so was this peece of worke put upon me by others, and they which first counsailed me to fall to worke, tooke upon them also to bee my taskemasters and overseers, [...].” And it is as a faithful servant that she dedicates her work to Thomas Howard, the son of her now deceased employers, while she only briefly mentions in passing the Duke of Norfolk in her dedicatory epistle. According to Louise Schleiner, Tyler may have been one of the Howard family’s waiting-women in the 1560s. She may have married John Tyler, one of the Howards’ literate servants. In her will, written in June 1595 (the year of her death), there are a number of clues suggesting that she then worked for the Woodhouse and the Bacon families in the 1570s. She probably had a son, Robert, who inherited her property, and a daughter who later married a man called Ross.

Because Tyler is bold enough to translate work coming from Spain and imbued with Catholicism, and because she dares to address the issue of courtly love, her preface has often been regarded as a feminist manifesto. On top of that, The first part of the Mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood features a female knight, Claridiana, whose mother is said to be no other than the pagan goddess Diana who was then officially regarded as one of the tutelary images representing Queen Elizabeth herself. With such a tricky topic, Tyler’s book, including her spirited preface, was thus regarded as quite unconventional at the time. Indeed, secular narratives with bossy heroines and obedient heroes were not really the cup of tea of the patriarchal society of early modern England. Such potentially erotic prose fiction could only be written, and translated, by men. To make things worse, chivalric romances like Tyler’s Mirrour often depicted titillating cross-dressing episodes which did not alleviate the deep-seated anxieties of an essentially male readership thus more or less obliged to reflect upon the fluctuating boundaries of gender identity. Fortunately, Tyler set her heart on a deeply moralizing piece of work which includes scenes of transvestism the better to criticize them. This, of course, helps us understand why, she decided, after all, to translate Ortúñez’s Espejo de príncipes y cavalleros and to revitalize its contents.

The preface to The first part of the Mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood can be regarded a subtle rhetorical exercise testifying to the cleverness of a translator who wanted to subvert the conventions of her time, and also perhaps to her personal desire to defend her work while trying to protect herself behind the alleged responsibility of those who read and supervised her translation. The truth is that Tyler probably felt amused and nervous at the same time. Her sometimes slightly awkward style proves sufficiently vivid to appeal to the reader and the images which she skilfully uses draw on well-known clichés found in almost all the translators’ prefaces of the period. Some metaphors are more eloquent than others simply because they are less frequently used. For example, Tyler sees translation as an act of hospitality, which amounts to giving her book a prestige similar to that the translated work : “[...] my part none therein but the translation, as it were onely in giving entertainment to a straunger, before this time unacquainted with our countrie guise.” This tends to demonstrate that, if Tyler welcomes Ortúñez, her main objective consists in erasing his name so as to emphasize her own English version of his narrative.

The preface is actually based on a simple premise, according to which, like their male counterparts, educated women, could prove excellent patrons as well as open-minded and reliable readers (“And if men may and do bestow such of their travailes upon Gentlewomen, then may we women read such of their workes as they dedicate unto us, and if wee may read them, why not farther wade in them to the search of a truth”). As a matter of fact, their role in the transmission of knowledge was generally a passive one because men took centre stage and regarded learning as a male privilege. As far as Tyler is concerned, she claims an active part in this very field and she does not hesitate to put her initials—if not her full name—on the frontispiece of her translation, as though she refused total anonymity and wanted to make herself quite visible. In other words, she intends to be heard as a feminine voice, which may also explain why does not even once mention the name of the original author (“this Spaniard”) in a preface which is obviously meant to glorify the target-text rather than the source-one, as the latter was dangerously associated with Catholic Spain. It would be misleading, however, to reduce Tyler’s intentions to a quest for fame and honour. She remains clear-sighted, and one of her chief objectives ‘simply’ consists in creating a community of women writers, translators, readers and patrons in order to promote the fair sex in a world too often ruled by men’s imperatives.

If the representatives of the stronger sex have the possibility to dedicate their literary productions, and more specifically prose fiction works, to influent female patrons, then women should be able to read and write such types of book, Tyler challengingly asserts, all the more so as they are endowed with a strong sense of intellectual rigour allowing them to work fastidiously. So, by implying that men, for their part, rely on their imagination to create inventive narratives (“The invention, disposicion, trimming, and what else in this storie, is wholy an other mans”), she actually reverses gender roles.

One clearly sees here that the preface is not simply used as a weapon. It also function as a shield enabling the translator to pass herself off as an innocent and naïve victim, while she knows full well that she bypasses the tacit rules of early modern translation by Englishing Ortúñez’s Espejo de príncipes y cavalleros. But her biting sense of irony can be felt right from the very beginning of the book, in her dedicatory epistle, where she poses as a fragile woman needing the protection of someone as powerful as Thomas Howard in order to ward off infamy and jealousy (“lesse fere the assalt of the envious”, A2v). In the preface proper, the reader is made to realize that translation is not only a serious activity whose merits are far more important than those of the literary trifles penned by renowned authors, while it also prevents women to lead an idle life, idleness being the mother of all vices. This twofold argument was already that of Richard Hyrde who, in his 1526 introduction to Margaret More Roper’s Devout Treatise Upon Paster Noster (a translation of Erasmus’sPrecatio Dominica), observed that a female translator could not be considered a threat to society because, when a woman translates, she keeps her mind busy : “women abyde moost at home occupied ever with some good or necessary busyness” (quoted in Moncrief 54). Tyler thus relied on the enlightened opinion of some learned men of her time to put on an air of respectability in spite of her otherwise rather impertinent stance. Like a wounded but proud soldier encouraging his comrades to go on fighting, she acknowledges that, by translating foreign literature, she actually serves other people’s interest : “They take wages onely to incite others, though themselves have privie maymes, and are therby recurelesse.” Such crude images reveal a highly gendered rhetoric and a degree of fascination with cross-dressing. When Margaret Tyler takes up her pen, she cannot help comparing herself implicitly to a man whose virility has been weakened by his “privie maymes,” but who remains valorous enough to reassert his commitment to his country. Moreover, by affirming herself as a man, she adamantly refuses to tackle the issues of purely religious writings, contrary to what most women did at the time, because devotional literature, generally regarded as more important than entertaining narratives, is simply not up her alley. In this particular perspective, Tyler is clearly a precursor. After her, other women will express their anger at being confined to liturgy. Anne Lok is a case is point. Here is what she writes in her 1590 translation of Jean Taffin’s Of the markes of the children of God :

Euerie one in his calling is bound to doo somewhat to the furtherance of the holie building ; but because great things by reason of my sex I may not coo, and that which I may, I ought to coo, I have according to my duetie, brought my poore basket of stones to the strengthening of the walls of that Jerusalem, whereof (by grace) wee are all both Citizens and members. (sig. A3v-4, quoted by Hannay, paragraph 6)

In her dedicatory epistle, Lok seems to regret the restrictions imposed on her sex, and she finds herself forced to follow the conventions. By translating the religious writings of a French Calvinist author, she respects the tacit prohibitions of men regarding literature. By contrast, Tyler will not be intimidated by anyone requiring her to translate pious texts : “But amongst all my ill willers, some I hope are not so straight that they would enforce me necessarily either not to write or to write of divinitie.” This refusal to deal with “divinitie,” as she puts it, is emphasized in a marginal note, “That you may not write of divinitie,” which, on the face of it, may appear as a further provocation. It would seem then that Margaret Tyler is so fond of literature that she would refuse to translate a text as a result of simple duty. In fact, this marginal note is less a provocation than a cautious measure of protection. Tyler wrote at a time when it was better to seem uninterested or incompetent in religious affairs rather than pose as a Catholic follower. It should not be forgotten that her story was drawn from a book originally written by a Catholic writer, and the fact that her translation was printed means that it was bound to circulate among a vast readership generally hostile to Catholic Spain. The defeat of the Spanish Armada, in 1588, would soon prove a decisive episode in Elizabeth’s reign, and fierce anti-Spanish feelings were already widespread in England. Incidentally, even though The first part of the Mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood was published twice before 1588, it was also reprinted in 1599, which suggests that Tyler’s defence and justification were found credible enough by the authorities and, as such, they seem to have proved rather efficient.

All in all, if in her preface the translator pretends to apologize for getting involved in secular literature, she, in fact, seems to enjoy the resistance and opposition which her enterprise was to provoke and which was due as much to her sex and her respectable age as to her social status : she was not an aristocrat. This, however, mainly appears in her dedication but is not mentioned in the preface. To conclude, if Tyler relentlessly points to her own weaknesses only to turn them into a form of strength, she takes pleasure in deriding the arguments of her enemies and, in the end, she feels confident enough to thank the gentle reader for the approval which he (or she !) will not fail to give her.


Bistué, Belén. “The Task(s) of the Translator(s) : Multiplicity as Problem in Renaissance European Thought”, Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 48, Issue 2, 2011, pp. 139-164.

Boro, Joyce. “Introduction” to Margaret Tyler, Mirror of Princely Deeds and Knighthood, London, The Modern Humanities research Association, Tudor and Stuart translations, vol. 11, 2014, pp. 1-36.

Hannay, Margaret P. “Constructing a City of Ladies”, Shakespeare Studies 25 (1997), pp. 76-87.

Lok, Anne, trans. Of the markes of the children of God, and of their comforts in afflictions, To the faithfull of the Low Countrie. By John Taffin. Overseene againe and augmented by the Author, and translated out of French by Anne [Lok] Prowse. London, 1590.

Loughlin, Marie, Sandra Bell and Patricia Brace, The Broadview Anthology of Sixteenth-Century Poetry and Prose, Ontario, Broadview Press, 2011, pp. 428-32.

Moncrief, Kathryn M., and Kathryn Read McPherson, Performing Pedagogy in Early Modern England:Gender, Instruction and Performance, Surrey, Ashgate, 2011.

Ortúñez de Calahorra, Diego, Espejo de príncipes y cavalleros,vol. 1, ed. Daniel Eisenberg, Madrid, Espasa-Calpe, 1975.

Roper, Margaret (trad.), A deuoute treatise vpon the Pater noster, made fyrst in latyn by the moost famous doctour mayster Erasmus Roterodamus, and turned into englishe by a yo[n]ge vertuous and well lerned gentylwoman of xix. yere of age, Preface by Richard Hyrde, London, 1531, STC (2nd ed.), 10477.5.

Schleiner, Louiser, “Margaret Tyler, Translator and Waiting Woman”, English Language Notes, 29/3 (1992), pp. 1-8.

———, “Tyler, Margaret (fl. 1558—1578)” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, Date accessed : 2 April 2013]

Uman, Deborah and Belén Bistué, “Translation as Collaborative Authorship : Margaret Tyler’s The Mirrour of Princely Deedes and Knighthood”, Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 44 Issue 3, 2007, pp. 298-323.

Notes :

[1] See The second part of the first booke of the Myrrour of knighthood : in which is prosecuted the illustrious déedes of the knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, sonnes vnto the Emperour Trebatio of Greece : with the valyant deedes of armes of sundrie worthie knightes verie delightfull to bee read, and nothing hurtfull to bee regarded. Now newly translated out of Spanish into our vulgar tongue by R.P, STC (2nd ed.) n° 18862 (the translation is that of the second book, and not that of the second part of the first book as the title suggests) ; and The third part of the first booke, of the Mirrour of knighthood. vvherein is set forth the worthie deedes of the knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, both sonnes vnto the Emperour of Grecia : with the valiant deedes of armes of sundry worthie knights. Verie delightfull to the reader. Newly translated out of Spanish into English by R.P, STC (2nd ed.) n° 18864 (similarly, the translation is actually that of the third book, and not that of the third part of the first book).

[2] This may account for the archaisms Tyler employs in her text (Boro 6).

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