Sacra Jura: Literature, law, and piety in the era of Magna Carta

Jennifer Jahner, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines the literatures of political complaint and pastoral care in thirteenth-century England, demonstrating how the languages of legal reformation and spiritual correction, intrinsic to royal and diocesan statutes as well as complaint verse and preachers’ aids, shape late medieval notions of political community. The project focuses specifically on the multilingual verses of the Second Barons’ War, a civil conflict that divided England in the 1260s even as it promulgated a rhetoric of justice, communal integrity, and nativist privilege. By turning to the multilingual textual environments that preserve these verses, the dissertation shows how the vision of sacred communitas associated with later works like William Langland’s Piers Plowman emerges over a century earlier, in a political discourse poised at the intersection of secular and religious reform movements. In tracing how this rhetoric partakes in the violence of civil war, the project seeks to complicate the ideals of the “community of the realm” by examining their underpinnings in battles for legal enfranchisement and jurisdictional autonomy. ^ The first chapter establishes the methodology of the dissertation by examining the advent of the “political song” in the antiquarian practices of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, showing how the editing of these verses shapes understandings of their historical content and poetic form. Chapter Two explores the interaction between religious and secular reform through the literature devoted to the leader of the Second Baron’s Revolt, Simon de Montfort. In fashioning the earl as a secular crusader, the chapter argues, these texts configure the res publica as a similarly disciplined body, modeled on the violence of the chivalric hero and the rigor of the reformist churchman. The third chapter considers questions of jurisdiction and lordship from the perspective of pastoral reform, using Robert Grosseteste’s Chasteau d’Amour to extend the previous chapter’s discussion of ethics, property rights, and just rule. The Middle English debate poem The Owl and the Nightingale serves as the focus of the final chapter. Examining Oxford, Jesus College, MS 29, the chapter suggests that the poem and its manuscript environs highlight the balance of nature and art that stands at the heart of medieval conceptions of political virtue. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Medieval|History, European|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Jahner, Jennifer, "Sacra Jura: Literature, law, and piety in the era of Magna Carta" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3509076.