Title Background

Giving Each His Due: Langland Gower, Gower, and the Question of Equity

Giving Each His Due: Langland Gower, Gower, and the Question of Equity

This essay argues that L and Gower do not use equity strictly as a relaxation of the law or as an expression of mercy. Instead, the tendency for both poets is to link equity to the careful administration of the law. Equity is in fact associated with Ulpian’s definition of Justice, which suggests that Justice means to ‘give to each his due’. The aim of justice is to treat all equally before the law, with consistency and fairness. In developing this thesis, the essay looks at equity in the English courts and at the conflicting aphorisms about equity current in the fourteenth century. It examines various passages on equitable justice in the Confessio Amantis (particularly in book 7) and in PPl, including the definition of the Spirit of Justice in B passus 19 and the administration of justice in passus 4. The essay argues (against various traditional interpretations) that L does not create a radical contrast between the corruption of the common law and the equity of the king’s chancery justice. Instead, both L and Gower appeal to the king to correct injustice, not necessarily by seeking new remedies, but by applying the existing law equally and consistently. The essay concludes with some thoughts about the implications all of this has for L’s and Gower’s views on the question of kingly sovereignty.  (CVD)


JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 108 (2008), 310-35.


Van Dijk, Conrad