Gower's "Speculum Iudicis": Judicial Corruption in Book VI of the "Vox Clamantis."

Meindl, Robert J.

Gower's "Speculum Iudicis": Judicial Corruption in Book VI of the "Vox Clamantis."

Meindl, Robert J. "Gower's 'Speculum Iudicis': Judicial Corruption in Book VI of the 'Vox Clamantis'." In Russell A. Peck and R. F. Yeager, eds. John Gower: Others and the Self. Publications of the John Gower Society XI (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2017), pp. 260-82.

The title phrase "Speculum Iudicis" or "Mirror/Guidebook for Judges" is a take-off on the well-known genre "speculum principis/regis," the "mirror/guidebook for kings" (261 n.4), especially fitting as the judge is a stand-in for the king, who represents God (262). Meindl focuses his analysis on VC VI, Chapters 4 and 5 (VI.249-418), both concerned with the moral failings of English judges. Throughout these chapters, Gower condemns the entire judiciary for allowing "lex" (mere human law) to subvert "ius," the true justice that "lex" is meant to serve (262). Chapter 4 excoriates the judges from their earliest training as eager for bribes, thus making it impossible for the poor to receive justice; instead, justice must be unlocked with a golden key. These judges are willing prey to indirect forms of influence available only to the rich, known as "laboring" and "maintenance"; the royal treasury suffers thereby, while corrupt judges prosper (265-74). Chapter 5 addresses the judges directly, in a series of "commonplaces" borrowed from "De Vita Monachorum" (276): you scheme to steal your neighbors' land; rapacious on earth, you are losing treasure in heaven; you will find yourselves harshly judged and eternally suffering in hell--this last has an interesting parallel passage in the thirteenth century English law book cited by Meindl as "Bracton" (279). As explained by Gower (VC VI.179-80), the only hope for reform of a corrupt judge is the personal forum of his conscience: "Given his [Gower's] insistence everywhere on individual responsibility, we could hardly expect anything else" (280, 281). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Vox Clamantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations