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

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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.

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1 The Yale New Statutes Manuscript and Medieval English Statute Books: Similarities and Differences

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The Yale Law School manuscript of the Nova statuta Angliae (Goldman Library MS MssG +St11 no.1) contains almost four hundred leaves, so it offers many margins and centers for readers to explore. Modern readers coming to a manuscript copy of a medieval text discover the complexity and the potential to empower that the reading process offered in earlier times: letter forms and abbreviations in handmade books could be ambiguous, words might be rearranged or missing, and authorship could be uncertain; but medieval readers could select what texts, decoration, and illustrations were put into new manuscript books, and medieval readers often added to or removed texts or images from their books over time. Examining the layout and content of the text and decoration in a medieval manuscript, as well as the structure of the manuscript as a whole and the relationship of its components to other manuscripts, can help modern readers understand when, where, and for whom a medieval manuscript was made, as well as the process by which the texts within the manuscript were read. As Malcolm Parkes and Ian Doyle have argued, “Layout and decoration [in a medieval manuscript] function like punctuation: they are part of the presentation of a text which facilitates its use by a reader” (Parkes and Doyle 1978, 169). In this chapter, we will examine what evidence the Yale Nova statuta manuscript offers about when and where it was made, who made it, and how the parts of the manuscript construct several frames for its presentation of English law.1 We will also consider its relationship with developments in the history of medieval English statutes manuscripts. In the process, we will begin to see how the Yale manuscript transforms the New Statutes of England into a Lancastrian mirror for princes.

 

2 Royal Portraits and Royal Arms: The Iconography of the Yale New Statutes Manuscript

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Our comparison of the Yale Law School manuscript of the New Statutes of England with other English statutes manuscripts shows that two important features distinguish it from other surviving copies of this text: its inclusion of Margaret of Anjou’s coat of arms in its border decoration (plates 1–3) and the iconography of its representations of the kings of England in the historiated initials (plates 1–6). In this chapter, we will explore the ways in which these features of the visual texts in the manuscript create frames for the verbal texts in the manuscript. Though the visual texts in the manuscript might seem entirely marginal to the significance of the verbal texts, the visual and verbal texts intertwine in important ways. First, the historiated initials are letters that contain pictures, so they participate in both the verbal and visual texts. The letters that introduce the kings whose reigns are the temporal frames for the statutes become visual frames for representations of these kings. As visual and verbal texts, historiated initials serve as hybrids, liminal spaces linking different forms of textuality; and, in this manuscript, the historiated initials become spaces to explore different perspectives on artistic and legal representation, as well as different perspectives on defining kingship, justice, and grace. In addition, the marginal decoration on the leaves with historiated initials features coats of arms that represent people who are discussed within the verbal texts, so that the visual texts of the margins echo the verbal texts of the statutes. The coats of arms in the marginal decoration also comment on the images of power found within the statutes, which are overwhelmingly associated with men: by pairing the coat of arms of a queen with the arms of the king of England, the marginal decoration that frames the statutes reminds readers of the roles that queens have played and might still play in England’s legal history. The visual frames in the Yale Law School manuscript also help construct its commentary on the relationship of kingship, queenship, justice, and grace by linking the verbal texts of the manuscript to iconographic traditions that were current in England in the middle of the fifteenth century and were sometimes used for political purposes. Reading the historiated initials and border decoration in the Yale manuscript across discourses reveals much about how the visual texts of this manuscript help transform a record of English statutes and legal procedures into a Lancastrian mirror for princes.

 

3 The Queen and the Lancastrian Cause: The Yale New Statutes Manuscript and Margaret of Anjou

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The appearance of Margaret of Anjou’s arms in the border decoration of three leaves in the Yale Law School manuscript of the Nova statuta Angliae (plates 1–3) is undeniable evidence that the manuscript was commissioned by a supporter of the Lancastrian monarchy who chose to link Henry VI’s queen to England’s legal history. While nothing in the manuscript indicates that it was made for presentation to Margaret herself, a close connection with the queen and her circle of supporters does explain the manuscript’s unique features. As we have seen from our examination of the manuscript’s historiated initials and border decoration, the manuscript creates a visual frame for the legal texts it contains – a frame that shapes the reader’s perceptions of the legal texts of the manuscript and links the Lancastrian line of kings, especially Henry VI, to King David, the primary medieval model of just kingship. The Yale Law School Nova statuta therefore inscribes in its record of English laws a political statement that parallels other examples of Lancastrian discourse in defense of Henry VI, and the form that this political statement takes is particularly well suited to Margaret of Anjou’s need for indirect methods to undermine the authority of those who questioned the legitimacy of Henry VI’s rule. For the reader of the manuscript, the appearance of Margaret’s arms in the border decoration of the first leaf of the statutes text also has important implications for constructing the role of English queens in preparing heirs to the throne to become just rulers, especially when justice needs to be restored to the realm: the preamble to the first statute in the collection gives an account of the unusual “transfer” of royal power from Edward II to Edward III in 1326–27, with the aid of his mother Queen Isabelle, and this account depicts Edward III and the queen as instruments of divine grace. Several other texts from the 1440s and 1450s also depict Margaret of Anjou as a representative of God’s grace who brings peace and justice to England, which suggests that this association was part of Lancastrian discourse and that the parallel between the situations of Queen Isabelle and Queen Margaret might well be recognized by readers of the Nova statuta Angliae. Margaret’s “presence” in the margins of the Yale Law School manuscript, as well as within its central text, might thus be read as a metaphor for her ambiguous role in the defense of the Lancastrian monarchy – officially marginal, yet in many ways at the center, as a voice for a king who was either literally or figuratively absent after his illness in August 1453 and for a prince who was either literally or figuratively absented by the Lancastrians’ foes after his birth in October 1453.

 

4 Educating the Prince: The Yale New Statutes Manuscript and Lancastrian Mirrors for Princes

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Decorated with the arms of both of Edward of Lancaster’s parents, offering portraits of his royal English forebears, and including the introductory treatises and index to the statutes, the Yale Nova statuta Angliae would have been a particularly appropriate copy of the Statutes of the Realm for the young prince. There is also evidence to suggest that members of the Lancastrian court close to Prince Edward expected he would have access to a copy of the Nova statuta Angliae for study. To begin with, the texts that we know were written to advise the prince suggest that learning about the laws of England is central to good kingship. Some of these mirrors for princes make reference to specific statutes, which the prince could consult if he had a copy of the Nova statuta in his possession. Even more important is the fact that one of the works of advice written for Prince Edward makes direct reference to the prince’s need to own a personal copy of the statutes for study, in order to become the kind of king who carries out the ideals of kingship inscribed in the Bible. According to this argument, one might well consider the Nova statuta itself a mirror for princes – especially in the form found in the Yale Law School manuscript, with its portraits of English kings and support texts. Reading the Yale Nova statuta Angliae in the context of Lancastrian mirrors for princes makes clear that this manuscript indeed has much in common with other forms of instruction in kingship associated with the Lancastrian court in the middle of the fifteenth century.

 

5 “Grace Be Our Guide”: The Cultural Significance of a Medieval Law Book

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All indications are that the Yale New Statutes manuscript was still in production when the Lancastrian line of kings came to an end in May 1471. Only with the death of Henry VI would a scribe who was working on a statutes manuscript for a Lancastrian owner enter the rubric on fol. 356v: “Expliciunt Statuta Regis Henrici Sexti” (“Here end the statutes of King Henry the Sixth”). The manuscript’s survival after the defeat of the Lancastrian cause is testimony to its evolving significance as an historical artifact, as well as legal resource, after 1471. Unless parts of the original manuscript are missing, work appears to have ceased before the end of the statutes for 7 Edward IV, though the decoration of these quires is complete. Whether or not the Yale manuscript was made to be a gift for Prince Edward, it probably became an orphan in May 1471, since so many of those who had fought for the Lancastrian cause had perished. Yet, unlike the Lancastrian survivors who were forced to recant their support for Henry VI in order to receive pardons, the Yale manuscript’s Lancastrian loyalties remain intact. Somehow, the manuscript passed into the hands of owners who preserved Margaret’s coat of arms and the critical portrayal of Edward IV – elements that made possession of the manuscript potentially dangerous until public veneration of Henry VI as a martyr grew so widespread that Richard III had the deposed king’s body moved to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and Richard’s successor, Henry VII, sought to have Henry VI declared a saint. An unknown owner of the manuscript after 1483 added an incomplete gathering of statutes from the end of Edward IV’s reign and beginning of Richard III’s in a less formal hand and format (see plates 16–18). Nevertheless, the inscriptions added to the Yale manuscript over the following two centuries offer insights into who owned the manuscript and how it was read. In particular, the Middle English inscriptions on two folios offer evidence of reader engagement with the manuscript’s construction of justice and grace. Though printed copies of the New Statutes of England became available by the late fifteenth century, this manuscript continued to be used as a legal reference work and an historical document. From inscriptions, we learn that two women owned the manuscript, while other owners included eminent men, some trained in the law, some with appointments in royal service, and some who served in Parliament. The codex was transmitted as a personal gift for several generations, after which it was sold to private collectors of rare books and finally purchased for the collection of rare books and manuscripts now housed in Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Library, making it more readily available for academic research and public display.

 

Plates appear after page 140.

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1. New Haven, Yale Law School, Goldman Library MssG +St11 no.1, fol. 55r

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

2. New Haven, Yale Law School, Goldman Library MssG +St11 no.1, fol. 139r

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

3. New Haven, Yale Law School, Goldman Library MssG +St11 no.1, fol. 198r

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

4. New Haven, Yale Law School, Goldman Library MssG +St11 no.1, fol. 235v

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

5. New Haven, Yale Law School, Goldman Library MssG +St11 no.1, fol. 261r

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

6. New Haven, Yale Law School, Goldman Library MssG +St11 no.1, fol. 358r

 

Appendix 1: Chronology of Events

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1321

Parliament persuades Edward II to exile his favorite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and Hugh’s father, Hugh Despenser the Elder

1322

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, is executed for leading a baronial uprising against Edward II
The Despensers return to England

1326

Queen Isabelle raises an army in France, invades England, and defeats the Despensers
Edward II is captured and imprisoned; both Despensers are executed

1327

Edward II is forced to abdicate the throne and is later murdered in prison
Edward II’s eldest son becomes Edward III
Parliament annuls Thomas of Lancaster’s conviction for treason

1330

Edward III’s first son, Edward of Woodstock, is born

1362

Edward III’s fourth son, John of Gaunt, becomes Duke of Lancaster

1376

Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, dies and his son Richard becomes Prince of Wales

1377

Edward III dies and his grandson becomes King Richard II at age ten

 

Appendix 2: Codicological Description of New Haven, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library MssG +St11 no. 1

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STRUCTURE

This manuscript has 392 vellum leaves, approximately 180 mm by 250 mm in size. Small holes appear in a few leaves (e.g., fols. 100 and 116). Truncated decoration in the outer and top margins of several leaves resulted from trimming during preparation for binding (plates 1 and 2). One paper pastedown appears at the front of the codex (plate 22). One paper flyleaf and a paper pastedown appear at the end of the codex. Modern pencil leaf numbers appear in the upper-right corners on 389 of the leaves, with 3 leaves missing numbers (between leaves 37 and 38, 64 and 65, and 282 and 283). The leaves of the manuscript are organized into 50 quires with the following structure: 1(1+8), 2(8) –42(8), 43(4-1), 44(8)–49(8), 50(6+2). In the final quire, fols. 383 and 389 are tipped in.

PREPARATION OF THE PAGE

Pricking for ruling remains visible in the bottom of fols. 2–9 (plates 7 and 8), the top of fol. 343 (plate 14), and the top and side margins of fols. 382–89 (plates 16–18). Most leaves during the statutes text show light brown ink ruling for a single column of text, with additional ruling for running heads in the top margin and ruling for regnal year notations in the outer margins (plates 10–13). Pencil ruling for the same layout appears on fols. 222r–224v and 246r– 253v. The rulings appear slightly closer together on fols. 230–237. Similar light ink ruling appears during the treatises and subject index that precede the statutes proper (plates 7–9). During the subject index to the statutes, there are also vertical rulings for the subject headings. Up through fol. 381v, the text block is ruled for 38 lines; thereafter, the ruling is darker and less regular, with the number of lines of text varying from 34 to 38 (plates 16–18).

 

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