The Plowman as Hero
The theory of Dominion and Grace (originally formulated in Aegidius Romanus’s De Ecclesiastica Potestate, 1302), which denies lordship and power to those in sin, helps to account for the unlikely powers of leadership assumed in the poem by Piers, an agricultural peasant. Piers’s introduction into the poem (B.5.538-48) establishes that he is in the state of grace; he confirms his determination to remain sinless (6.229); and in his assimilation with Christ he is given supreme leadership powers (15.211-12; 18.189-91). His dominion is acknowledged by his goodness as a Christian, sometimes even through a Wycliffite formulation that deliberately contrasts the imperfection of a traditional ruler (e.g., a pope, as in 19.431-33) with the justice of Piers’s right to authority.
Heroes and Heroines in Medieval English Literature: A Festschrift Presented to André Crépin on the Occasion of His Sixty-fifth Birthday. Ed. Leo Carruthers. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994. 97-103.
Dolan, T. P.