When in Chapter 21 of The Prince Niccolò Machiavelli considered ‘How a prince must act to win honour’, he began with the statement, ‘Nothing brings a prince more prestige than great campaigns and striking demonstrations of his personal abilities.’1 Here, in associating honour with reputation and warlike behaviour, Machiavelli was articulating the early sixteenth-century concept of aristocratic honour and partially explaining the prevalence of war in the first half of that century. Henry VIII, however, did not take Machiavelli’s realpolitik examination of Italian Renaissance politics as his model. Instead, his thinking about honour and reputation was influenced by late-medieval works of romance and books on chivalry, which were circulating the English court in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In these writings honour was won through adherence to a strict code of conduct built around martial virtues, while war was represented as the opportunity and arena for the acquisition of honour. In the Boke of St Albans for example, first printed in 1486, qualities of fortitude, prudence, wisdom and steadfastness, as they were displayed in battle, were described as the hallmarks of a gentleman deserving of honour. Ramón Lull’s Book of the Order of Chivalry (translated by William Caxton) laid down a code of honour related especially to warfare, which was as binding on a prince as on any other knight.
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