Langlandian Economics in James Yonge’s Gouernaunce: Translation and Ethics in Fifteenth-Century Dublin
In 1423, the Anglo-Irish notary James Yonge was moved to Dublin Castle after a year’s incarceration at Trim. His imprisonment and eventual release occurred at the intersection of literature and politics: a supporter of James Butler, Fourth Earl of Ormond and a member of Ormond’s affinity, he had produced a translation of the Old French Segré de segrez that, in its support of the newly-fallen Ormond and opposition to his rival, John Talbot, perhaps not-so-covertly criticized English fiscal policy in Ireland. Yonge’s Gouernaunce of Prynces not only engages with advice literature but also, in its free adaptations of portions of the Secreta, translates princely advice into a mandate for honorable economic policy. Indeed, his discussion of franchise quietly owes as much to L’s exploration of Meed and harm done to the commons in PPl as it does to its more direct Old French source. This paper explores ‘Langlandian economics’ in the Gouernaunce, arguing that Yonge sees franchise as the intertwining of legitimate governance with proper economic policy: fair taxes, honoring of debts, and prompt payment of money owed. Yonge delineates the disastrous consequences of a lack of franchise through the figure of Stephen Scrope; his free reworking of Scrope’s career provides Yonge with an exemplum that illustrates the chaos attendant on fiscal mismanagement and the peace attendant on fiscal probity. More specifically, Yonge uses Scrope as a vehicle for his critique of the system of coign and livery by which the Anglo-Irish lords abused and impoverished their tenants – and, not coincidentally, probably made Yonge’s professional life far more difficult. Yonge’s attacks on coign and livery, and his insistence that those who engage in such practices do not possess legitimate authority, point to his belief that a leader’s legitimacy was tied, inextricably, to the legitimate circulation of capital; a ruler’s treuthe in the Gouernaunce, as it is in PPl, is constituted in and through his willingness not to burden his subjects unfairly.
New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall, ed. by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John Thompson and Sarah Baechle (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), pp. 251-270
Fox, Hilary E.