Title Background

Patient Politics in <i>Piers Plowman</i>

Patient Politics in Piers Plowman

This essay explores the significance of the virtue of patience not in terms of “patient-poverty” but rather patience as foreign policy, which can in turn, as Conscience effectively declares in B.13.207-08, “amend all the woe in the world.” This patience is associated with God the father, who withholds his vengeance upon sinful humanity ” as shown in the poem, Patience, and in “mirrors for princes,” such as Chaucer’s Melibee and Hoccleve’s Regiment. Yet rather than only endorsing restraint, L’s “treatment of a patient foreign policy focuses on how we should initiate peace with our enemies.” Patience is the first to offer such a policy, which has historical significance: “Although England immediately began to try to acquire more French and Flemish ports to act as “barbicans of the realm” this in response to France’s attack on England in 1377 and France’s subsequent rearming in 1378″ “Patience seems to be suggesting that the best guardian of the realm is to be in peace and charity with her enemies.” This all bears on lines B.13.152-56, which Galloway had exposed as a riddle and then had solved: among other things, we can see these lines as potentially referring to the end of the Treaty of Bruges in 1375, which expired on a Wednesday (see 13.155), and to the death of Edward III, who started this war, dying on a Saturday (see 13.154). In the C revision, the references to English foreign policy are more explicit. Patience wants a truce with France. Furthermore, in speeches by the Doctor in passus 13 and Anima in passus 15, it is clear that war with France is not L’s only concern: there are also the enacted or proposed Crusades, such as Despenser’s. “For L, patience with the French and with the Clementists would be an infinitely preferable policy ” one that might ensure peace which such debacles as the Despenser Crusade clearly did not. Here he coincides with some Wycliffite writers, who also claim that the involvement of the Church in such warfare is against patience and charity.”


YLS 15 (2001): 99-108

Cross Reference



Baldwin, Anna