The Spectral Advocate in John Gower's Trentham Manuscript.

Barrington, Candace

The Spectral Advocate in John Gower's Trentham Manuscript.

Barrington, Candace. "The Spectral Advocate in John Gower's Trentham Manuscript." In Theorizing Legal Personhood in Late Medieval England. Ed. Boboc, Andreea D. Medieval Law and Its Practice . Leiden: Brill, 2015, pp. 94-118. ISBN 9789004284647

By "spectral advocate" Barrington means that in London, British Library Additional MS 59495 (olim Trentham) Gower demonstrably but surreptitiously (hence "spectral") structures some of the poems according to formulae acquired in his legal training in order to support Henry IV's usurpation. Like Arthur Bahr, whose essay "Reading Codicological Form in John Gower's Trentham Manuscript" (reviewed in JGN 31.1), argued for reading the tri-lingual collection as a coherently planned entity, Barrington sees BL Add. MS 59495 as purposefully organized around what she calls "legal gestures" which are "particularly prominent at four points in the manuscript when the royal audience is addressed: the English 'In Praise of Peace,' the Latin 'Rex Celi Deus,' the Anglo-French dedicatory verse bookending Cinkante Balades, and the Latin explicit 'Henrici quarti primus'" (more commonly called 'Quicquid homo scribat' or In fine). When examined sequentially, they reveal Gower's legal strategy for defending and supporting Henry IV" (103). "In Praise of Peace" she finds developing "an accumulation of common law gestures that advocates for Henry's right to rule" without having to address directly the great difficulty that Henry seized the throne militarily, i.e., illegally (103). Underlying 'Rex celi Deus' on the other hand is the canon law practice of "the libel (libellus)" in which "after naming the plaintiff, defendant, and judge, the libel breaks into three sections: 'the grounds the plaintiff alleged in his lawsuit, . . . the remedy he sought to obtain,' and a section reserving 'the plaintiff's right to amend, withdraw, or enlarge any of the proceeding statements.' The 'libellus,' as canon-law advocates were advised, succinctly stated the plaintiff's case and avoided excessive verbiage in order not to introduce accidentally material that might be used by the defendant . . . . All in all, the process at the bishop's level could be swift, short, and not at all complicated" (107). In the Cinkante Balades, four lines in the poem "O Gentile Engleterre" are found to "invite us to compare their processes to the civil-law Court of Chivalry (and its access to wager by battle) and the ability to resort to wager of law." After Richard's humiliating exile of Henry, "the lines then acquit Henry of his shame by the only legal means available, the compurgator's oath" (110). In "the final Latin verse, 'Henrici quarti primus' ["Quicquid homo scribat"] . . . Gower's Latin again appropriates the language of legal documents; however, its procedural gesture veers from the verbal toward the visual: the manuscript's rubrication of the initial 'H' is the most ornate in the collection, transforming the majuscule into a crowned Henry, creating a visual corollary to the case the manuscript has been arguing all along. Additionally, the rubrication is so striking that it creates the effect of a royal seal, an image 'embellished even the humblest writ'" (113). BL Add. MS 59495, she concludes, is thus "full of praise for noble King Henry, the poems ultimately celebrate the adroitness with which a nimble man-of-law might make his client's case, no matter how overwhelming the odds might be, and no matter how many years have passes since he forsook the public spaces of the courts" (114] ). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 34.2.]


Gower Subjects
Manuscripts and Textual Studies
Cinkante Balades
In Praise of Peace
Minor Latin Poetry