Published in Revue Historique, 658, 2011/2. See http://www.cairn.info/resume.php?ID_ARTICLE=RHIS_112_0243
The alchemical works of Thomas Norton (The Ordinal of Alchemy) and George Ripley (The Compound of Alchemy) are two of the most important testimonies of the popularity of alchemy in England, in the second half of the fifteenth- century. Nevertheless, they generally have been studied only for their pseudo-scientific content, and very much depreciated. However, their writers address, especially in their prologues, some important questions on literature, language and knowledge, and also on the prince and the relations of power in the society. Their choice to transmit a discipline located at the junction of science and art (in the medieval sense of the term) and characterized by secrecy, in a poetical form and in an accessible vernacular language, raises, indeed, many interrogations. It points to the facts that the established boundaries between literary and scientific texts are not always pertinent; that in the second half of the fifteenth-century, English has indeed became a language of transmission of knowledge. Overall, these alchemical treatises in verse contribute to the formation of a lay culture marked by its English identity. At the same time, they are an invitation to think about the multiplicity and the complexity of contemporary conceptions of knowledge – even with regards to a specific type of knowledge, alchemy. Finally, the political aspects of these texts are important: both Norton, and more openly, Ripley, want to help to transform the prince, who must be actor and object of this change, to improve the governance of the country. This is all the more necessary in a political society destabilized by the Wars of the Roses.