WILL, INHERITANCE, POSSESSION AND THE KING: THEORIES OF REDEMPTION AND CANON AND KING'S LAW IN "PIERS PLOWMAN" (ENGLAND)

LOUISE M BISHOP, Fordham University

Abstract

This dissertation presents Langland's poetic exploration of society and man's Redemption against the background of law, both canon and king's. Langland acknowledges law's pervasive nature while decrying its contemporary division. His solution to that division lies in the absolute hegemony of the king, a tenet he can find in canon sources as well as an important common law source, Bracton's On the Laws and Customs of England. To depict the possibility of a combined legal system headed by the king, Langland places the marriage of Lady Meed at the king's court, although in England as on the continent marriage was a concern of the spiritual courts. Lady Meed's abuses of the canon legal system are satirized to show that system's corruption and inefficiency, while the king's decisions, aided by Conscience's advice, conform to contemporary law and emphasize England's need for a strong king.^ Once Langland deals with England's canon law, he focuses on the legal issues of intentionality, possession, and inheritance, especially in relation to the question of land ownership, because land matters were, in English law uniquely, recognized only in the king's courts. The theory of intentionality, "will," also provides evidence of the foundational unity of canon and king's law, since the judgment of will is vital to each. And the historical nature not only of land possession in the question of title but of English law itself, in its preservation of its Anglo-Saxon inheritance, leads to a parallel of the history of English law with Christian history. The ius gentium, the primitive law of possession, is identified with vengeance and Anglo-Saxon law.^ All of these concerns--the corruption of canon law; the legal niceties of will, possession, and inheritance; the ius gentium and Anglo-Saxon law--reach their culmination in Passus XVIII, where two legal theories of the Redemption supply the necessary legal framework to portray the Passion and the Harrowing as the ultimate legal achievements. Hence, from Incarnation to Redemption, ancient courts to contemporary, precedent to legal principle, Irenaeus's ransom theory to Anselm's theory of satisfaction, Piers Plowman includes and emphasizes the diversity of legal history as a metaphor for redemptive history and the centrality of law--God's law--to all human experience. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Medieval

Recommended Citation

BISHOP, LOUISE M, "WILL, INHERITANCE, POSSESSION AND THE KING: THEORIES OF REDEMPTION AND CANON AND KING'S LAW IN "PIERS PLOWMAN" (ENGLAND)" (1984). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8506317.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8506317

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