Madame Meed: Fauvel Isabella, Isabella, and the French Circumstances of Piers Plowman
This essay is part of the forum on ‘Langland and the French Tradition’, edited by R. D. Perry and Elizaveta Strakhov. This essay returns to the uses of the Roman de Fauvel in PPl, in order to show the unusual depth of L’s engagement with that poem and Fauvel‘s close association with Isabella of France, Edward II’s much-maligned widow — and in turn to claim that the figure of Meed begins in part as a topical satire on Isabella herself. No copy of Fauvel is definitively known to be from England, and no other English poem used the work besides PPl, raising the question of just how and with what associations L took up Fauvel. Isabella was directly involved both with the original political context of Fauvel and with the near-adaptations of Fauvel that are known to have come to England. Associations of Fauvel with her would have been likely whether the poet had only general knowledge of her or more specific contacts, which would have been the case if he is from the Essex Rokele family as seems increasingly plausible. Galloway traces the literary and historical reputation of Isabella through a series of stages that have not been previously assembled, then measures that against more direct evidence of her resolutely pro-French patronage and cultural agenda in the areas of Essex and London to which the poet was probably connected. For all of these topical associations, however, Galloway argues that neither Meed nor Fauvel is simply a topical figure, and the process of revision of PPl included increasing distance from any one topical meaning. PPl itself first dates not from Isabella’s life, but from shortly after her death, thus fulfilling Leaute’s instructions (added in B) to write satire only after scandalous news is widely known. Meed herself comes to embody ‘topicality’ as such, and her presence challenges Conscience to define a more abstract ethics in response.