The literature of sovereignty in late medieval England
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines how some Middle English writers bring the conventions of estates literature together with an emerging and evolving “literature of sovereignty” and thereby identify the individual as both a political subject and a target of regulatory authority. In these texts, the estate becomes a metonymy for rather than a definition of one's obligations to the polity as a whole. For the authors considered, estates do no order the polity. Instead, order results from self-governance in accordance with a generalized Christian morality as expressed in the law of the realm, self-governance of the kind counseled in earlier Latin productions such as the Secretum Secretorum, Giles of Rome's De Regimine Principum and Henry Bracton's De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae. Ultimately, by removing the estate as a filter between self and realm, Middle English authors begin a radical transformation of the corporate metaphor. In the traditional medieval conception of the body politic, no single body marked as it is by its affiliation with a particular estate, can adequately represent the political whole; it can only represent that part of which it is itself a part, the head, heart, hands, etc. In a body politic unblemished by functional partitions, individual bodies become much more fungible, and the individual can more readily act as a representative of the whole. By enabling a new metaphorical relationship between the individual and society, medieval authors enabled new ways of thinking about political participation and the relationship between the governors and the governed.