Date of Completion
medieval, treason, Middle Ages, England, Anglo-Norman
Field of Study
Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is an analysis of the manner in which the concept of treason might be directed against England’s sovereign. It covers the period of time from the Battle of Lewes in 1264 through the deposition of Richard II in 1399. In this period, political theory was balanced between, on the one hand, the king’s sacral, uncontested authority and, on the other, the right and responsibility of the king’s great magnates to advise and correct him. While the institution of monarchy was never challenged, the idea that the king’s person could be separated from his anointed role developed momentum. Specifically, holding the king himself accountable for the state of the realm was gaining in theoretical and practical strength, as may be observed in the shifting of the barons’ focus from forcing Henry III to accept certain restrictions on his prerogatives, to forcing Edward II to abdicate the throne, to finally, the outright deposition of Richard III.
At this same time, a literature of opposition emerged. This “unofficial” literature provides insight into the powerful forces that were seething beneath the “official” royal culture, offering a glimpse of the ideas in play which would eventually lead to a kingdom-wide ratification of a monarch’s deposition. In the Latin Carmen de Bello Lewensi, the author juxtaposes the faithfulness of Earl Simon de Montfort with Henry III’s own lamentable character, and offers a treatise on proper governance. In the Anglo-Norman poem, Des Grantz Géanz, the poet suggests that Edward II has failed his kingdom, and cautions that his son, Edward, who had just succeeded him, must look to the good of the kingdom if he is to reign successfully. Finally, in the Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the author describes a world where nobility of character matters little in the context of a corrupt monarchy.
Shafer, Laura, ""By what hate or by what spite?": Treason in Three Insular Poems, 1264-1399"" (2017). Doctoral Dissertations. 1393.