A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England

A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England

A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England

A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes: The Yale Law School New Statutes of England

Synopsis

This seminal study addresses one of the most beautifully decorated 15th-century copies of the New Statutes of England, uncovering how the manuscript's unique interweaving of legal, religious, and literary discourses frames the reader's perception of the work. Taking internal and external evidence into account, Rosemarie McGerr suggests that the manuscript was made for Prince Edward of Lancaster, transforming a legal reference work into a book of instruction in kingship, as well as a means of celebrating the Lancastrians' rightful claim to the English throne during the Wars of the Roses. A Lancastrian Mirror for Princes also explores the role played by the manuscript as a commentary on royal justice and grace for its later owners and offers modern readers a fascinating example of the long-lasting influence of medieval manuscripts on subsequent readers.

Excerpt

In the portrait of the “Sergeant of the Lawe” in the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the narrator includes the information that this pilgrim can cite every statute from memory – an impressive professional credential, to be sure – yet the irony of the passage might make us wonder what this accomplishment really means. We might expect that knowledge of all the statutes would increase a lawyer’s ability to solve a particular legal problem; but we might also wonder how knowledge of all of the statutes might shape a person’s understanding of the relationship of the English monarchy and Parliament, as well as the history of particular laws and the concepts of justice that laws reflect. From the hundreds of medieval English statutes manuscripts that survive, we know that English lawyers often owned copies of the statutes; yet we also know that a growing number of readers in late medieval England who were not lawyers also owned copies of statute books. and we might ask, “Why?” a collection of medieval statutes may not seem like a very exciting kind of book to read; but a medieval manuscript of statutes may tell a very interesting tale. When the text begins with a narrative justifying an English prince’s removal of his father from the throne, we begin to recognize that a statute book might serve many purposes. Some of what engages us when we read such a manuscript, however, comes in the margins of the central text – spaces where visual and verbal texts bring “other” voices into dialogue with the voices of the central text. Painted images, marginal comments, or ownership inscriptions may all come into play with the statutes, creating allusions to contemporary history, literature, or religious thought and revealing the cultural value the manuscript’s earlier readers found within its covers.

I first came across the Yale Law School manuscript of the New Statutes of England or Nova statuta Angliae when I was searching for manuscripts made . . .

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