Mirrors for princes (Latin: specula principum), or mirrors of princes, form a literary genre – in the loose sense of the word – of political writing during the Early Middle Ages, Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and are part of the broader speculum or mirror literature genre. They occur most frequently 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. Authors often composed such "mirrors" at the accession of a new king, when a young and inexperienced ruler was about to come to power. One could view them as a species of self-help book – a sort of proto-study of leadership before the concept of a "leader" became more generalised than the concept of a monarchical head-of-state.
One of the earliest works was written by Sedulius Scottus (fl. 840–860), the Irish poet associated with the "Pangur Bán" gloss poem (c. 9th century). Possibly the best known European "mirror" is The Prince (c. 1513) by Machiavelli, although this was not a typical example. Some further examples are listed below.
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Greek and Roman
- Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus
- Isocrates, To Nicocles and Evagoras
- Philodemus, The Good King According to Homer
- Dio Chrysostom, The First Discourse on Kingship and The Second Discourse on Kingship and The Third Discourse on Kingship and The Fourth Discourse on Kingship
- Seneca, De Clementia
- Cicero, De Officiis
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.
- Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu Chinese philosopher (Can be interpreted as a mystical text, philosophical text, or political treatise on rulership)
- Zizhi Tongjian or Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance by Sima Guang
- Mencius – Non moral advice to the ruler contains debate with the Agriculturalist the first known Socialist group who advocated a Classless society
- Han Fei Zi – Legalist text advice to the ruler and the art of statecraft
Western European texts
Early Middle Ages
- Augustine of Hippo, City of God V.24, "The true felicity of Christian Emperors."
- Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks which warns against internal strife.
- De duodecim abusivis saeculi, 'On the twelve abuses of the world' (7th 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.
- 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.
- 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'. 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
- Stephen I of Hungary, Admonitions (1010s), written for his son and heir presumptive Saint Emeric.
- John of Salisbury, Policraticus 'Statesman's Book' (1159).
- Godfrey of Viterbo, Speculum regum (cca 1183), dedicated to his Staufian imperial patrons, father Frederick Barbarossa and son Henry VI.
- Pseudo-Plutarch, Institutio Traiani (first quoted in John of Salisbury's Policraticus)
- Gerald of Wales, Liber de Principis instructione (c. 1193) and De instructione principis.
- Konungs skuggsjá or Speculum regale, Norwegian 13th-century treatise originally written for King Magnús lagabœtir.
- Vincent of Beauvais, De Eruditione Filiorum Nobilium 'The Education of Noble Children' (c. 1250)
- Guibert of Tournai, De Modo Addiscendi 'The Method of Learning' (c. 1260)
- Thomas Aquinas, De Regno (c. 1260), often conflated with the De Regimine Principum of Ptolemy of Lucca
- William Peraldus, De Eruditione Principum 'On the Education of Princes' (c. 1265), formerly attributed to Thomas Aquinas.
- Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Tresor (1266), written for Charles of Anjou.
- Giles of Rome, De Regimine Principum 'On the Rule of Princes' (1277 x 1279), written for Philip the Fair.
- William of Pagula, Speculum regis, written for Edward III of England (c. 1331)
- Don Juan Manuel, Tales of Count Lucanor (1335)
- Alvarus Pelagius, Speculum regum (1340s), written for Alfonso XI of Castile.
- The III Consideracions Right Necesserye to the Good Governaunce of a Prince (c. 1350), a translation of a French treatise from 1347, intended for King John II of France.
- Evrart de Trémaugon, Le songe du verger (1376).
- Christine de Pizan, Epistre Othea a Hector (c. 1400), Livre du corps de policie (1407), Livre de la paix (between 1412 and 1414).
- Thomas Occleve, De Regimine Principum (early 1410s) written for Henry V of England.
- John of Ireland, The Meroure of Wysedome, (1490) written for James IV of Scotland.
- Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier.
- Antonio de Guevara, Relox de príncipes (1529), inspired by and dedicated to Charles V, a bestseller of its times, translated during the 16th Century to English, Latin, Italian, German, French and Dutch.
- Machiavelli, Il Principe (c. 1513, published in 1532).
- Erasmus, Institutio principis Christiani 'Education of a Christian Prince' (1516), written as advice to King Charles of Spain (the later Charles V).
- John Skelton, Speculum principis, lost work written for the then future Henry VIII. A copy of this treatise, which may not be entirely the same as that presented to Henry, resides with the British Museum.
- Johann Damgaard, Alithia (1597), written for the young Danish monarch King Christian IV.
- George Buchanan, De iure regni apud Scotos (1579), a work in the form of a Socratic dialogue on ideal kingship dedicated to the young James VI of Scotland
- Juan de Mariana, De rege et regis institutione (Toledo, 1598); The King and the Education of the King, translated by George Albert Moore, Country Dollar Press (1948).
- James VI of Scotland, wrote Basilikon Doron as a gift to his eldest son.
- Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene, De regno, 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 the Macedonian, Admonitory chapters I and II to his son emperor Leo VI the Wise
- Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, De Administrando Imperio, a domestic and foreign policy manual for the use of Constantine's son and successor, the Emperor Romanos II.
- Kekaumenos, Strategikon (1075/1078), 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-century poem Spaneas or Didaskalia Parainetike, modelled on the Isocratean Ad Demonicum
- Nikephoros Blemmydes, Andrias Basilikos (Lat. Regia statua, "Statue of a King"), written for Theodore II Laskaris, the future Nicaean emperor
- Thomas Magistros, La regalita.
- Manuel II Palaiologos, Paideia Regia.
- Patriarch Antony IV of Constantinople, letter to Vasily I of Moscow (1393).
- Poucheniye (Instruction) of Vladmir Monomakh to his children (1120s).
- Ibn Arabi, Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom (At-Tadbidrat al-ilahiyyah fi islah al-mamlakat al-insaniyyah)
- Abd al-Hamid al-Katib, letter to Abdallah son of the Umayyad caliph Marwan II (c. 750)
- Ibn al-Muqaffa, Kalila wa Dimna (c. 750)
- Abu Yahya ibn al-Batriq (d. 815) Sirr al-Asrar (سر الأسرار) 'Secretum Secretorum'
- Al-Farabi (c. 872–950), Fusul al-Madani 'Aphorisms of a Statesman'
- Abu'l-Qasim al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Maghribi (981–1027), Kitab fi'l-si'yasa
- Al-Mubashshir ibn Fatik (fl.1053, Damascus), Mukhtār al-Hikam wa-Maḥāsin al-Kalim (مختار الحكم ومحاسن الكلم) 'Selected Maxims and Aphorisms'
- Nizam al-Mulk, Siyāset-nāmeh 'Book of Government' (c. 1090) (Persian)
- Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), Nasihat al-muluk 'Counsel to Princes' (Persian)
- Qabus nama (1082) – a Persian example of the genre
- Yusuf Balasaghuni, Kutadgu Bilig (11th century)
- At-Turtushi, Siraj al-Muluk 'The Lamp of Kings' (c. 1121)
- Ibn Ẓafar al-Ṣiqillī's Sulwan al-Muta' fi 'udwan al-atba 'Consolation for the Ruler during the Hostility of Subjects'; published in English (1852) as, Solwān; or Waters Of Comfort
- Bahr Al-Fava'id 'Sea of (Precious) Virtues', compiled in the 12th century.
- Muhammad al-Baqir Najm-I Sani, Mau‘izah-i Jahangiri 'Admonition of Jahāngír' or 'Advice on the art of governance' (1612 x 1613).
- Saadi's Gulistan, with first chapter on "The manners of kings" (13th century, Persian).
- Hussain Vaiz Kashifi's Aklhaq i Muhsini (composed in Persian AH 900/AD 1495), translated into English as "The Morals Of The Beneficent" in the mid 19th century by Henry George Keene
- Neagoe Basarab (1512–1521), The teachings of Neagoe Basarab to his son Theodosie, one of the earliest literary works in Wallachia
In popular culture
- Mirrors For Princes is the name of a 2010 cinematic work by Lior Shamriz. Parts of the text were based on the Instructions of Shuruppak and other Sumerian literature.
Wilson, Suze; Cummings, Stephen; Jackson, Brad; Proctor-Thomson, Sarah (2017). Revitalising Leadership: Putting Theory and Practice into Context. Routledge Studies in Leadership Research. Routledge. ISBN 9781317418122. Retrieved 2017-10-22.
Monarchy was then the most common form of governance in Europe, and the truth about leadership could be found in a genre of books known as 'mirrors for princes' [...].
- A. Dubreucq (ed.), Jonas d'Orléans, Le métier du roi (De institutione regia). Sources Chrétiennes 407. Paris, 1995. pp. 45–9.
- 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
- Kelly, Fergus (ed.). Audacht Morainn. ISBN 0901282677.
- Ireland, Colin A., ed. (1999). Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria: An Edition of Bríathra Flainn Fhína Maic Ossu. ISBN 0866982477.
- M. Pinto de Mencses (ed.). Espelho dos Reis por Alvaro Pais. Lisbon, 1955.
- Jean-Philippe Genet (ed.). Four English Political Tracts of the Later Middle Ages Camden Society, 4th ser. 18 (1977). 177-9.
- Salter, F.M. "Skelton's Speculum Principis" Speculum 9 (1934): 25–37
- Olden-Jørgensen, Sebastian (ed.). Alithia. Et dansk fyrstespejl til Christian IV. UJDS-Studier 14. Copenhagen, 2003.
- Dunlop, D.M. (tr.). Fusul al-Madani: Aphorisms of the Statesman. University of Cambridge Oriental Publications. Cambridge, 1961.
- Bosworth, C.E. (1998). "al-Maghribī, al-Ḥusayn ibnʿAlī". In Meisami, Julie Scott; Starkey, Paul (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, Volume 2: L–Z, Chronological Tables, Index. Routledge. p. 488. ISBN 0-415-18572-6.
- Michele Amari (1852) Solwān; or Waters Of Comfort by Ibn Zafer, vol.1.
- Michele Amari (1852) Solwān; or Waters Of Comfort by Ibn Zafer, vol.2
- Meisami, Julie Scott (tr.). Sea of Precious Virtues. Salt Lake City, 1991.
- Sajida Sultana Alvi. Advice on the art of governance. An Indo-Islamic Mirror for Princes. State University of New York Press. 1989.
- "Mirrors For Princes (2010): Torino Film Festival".
- Anton, H.H. Fürstenspiegel und Herrscherethos in der Karolingerzeit. Bonner Historische Forschungen 32. Bonn, 1968.
- Anton, H.H. "Fürstenspiegel (Königsspiegel) des frühen und hohen Mittelalters: Ein Editionsprojekt an der Universität Trier"
- Finotti, Fabio (ed.), "I volti del principe". Venezia: Marsilio, 2018.
- Handy, Amber. "The Specula principum in northwestern Europe, A.D. 650-900 : the evolution of a new ethical rule". Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Notre Dame, 2011. Notre Dame, Ind. : University of Notre Dame, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2015. Univ. of Notre Dame Online theses & dissertations
- 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.