The Works of Vincent of Beauvais
Speculum Historiale (Douai version), beginning of book XXI, from manuscript London, British Library, Arundel 190, fol. 91v
Vincent of Beauvais is indisputably renowned for his great encyclopedic work, the Speculum Maius. This Greater Mirror was intended to consist of, in its final state, four parts or specula: the Speculum Naturale, describing natural history; the Speculum Doctrinale, which focusses on the arts and sciences; the Speculum Morale on virtues and vices; and, finally, the Speculum Historiale, which describes human history from Creation upto Vincent's own lifetime.
It took Vincent more than fifteen years to compile the Speculum Maius. During that period he produced three versions of the Speculum Naturale and even five versions of the Speculum Historiale. The Speculum Doctrinale he left uncompleted. And it is uncertain if Vincent ever wrote his text of the Speculum Morale, since no such text has been identified so far. The text with the name Speculum Morale that we know today, was made by a Franciscan compiler between 1310 and 1320.
The Speculum Historiale was the most popular part of the Speculum Maius during the later Middle Ages. To this popularity testify the more than 250 manuscript volumes that are known today, and the translations and adaptations into medieval vernacular languages. Manuscript volumes of the Speculum Naturale and Speculum Doctrinale are less numerous, which suggests a much lower popularity; those of the Speculum Morale are rare. A handwritten copy of the entire Speculum Maius was in fact an exceptional phenomenon; only two of such complete copies have been retrieved so far. These disproportions changed considerably with the introduction of the printing press. All three parts and also the apocryphal text of the Speculum Morale became available in printed form. After 1480, four editions of the Speculum Maius have been printed presenting the Speculum Naturale, Doctrinale and Historiale plus the apocryphal Speculum Morale. From these editions emerges the image of a monolithic unity of four parts that the Speculum Maius did not achieve in the manuscript age.
Vincent of Beauvais is also the author of a political compendium on the mores of princes, courtiers and all those who are involved in government and administration. Vincent compiled this work at the request of different members of the French royal family. Being too occupied, Vincent was able to complete only two of the four planned parts: the first part, the De morali principis institutione, deals with the origin of kingship, the purposes of directing a kingdom and how the king should apply his power; and the fourth book, the De eruditione filiorum nobilium, treats the intellectual and moral education of princes and princesses. Vincent also wrote a letter of consolation (Liber consolatorius) for King Louis, after the death of the crown prince in January 1260.
Vincent´s name is also attached to nine other works, mostly dealing with theological subjects. Undisputed is his authorship of the Liber gratiae and the Tractatus de sancta Trinitate, written before autumn 1257. For the other six works no firm evidence on Vincent´s authorship is available so far. Opposed to this, his authorship of four more theological works is disputed.