From Lawmen to Plowmen: Anglo-Saxon Legal Tradition and the School of Langland

From Lawmen to Plowmen: Anglo-Saxon Legal Tradition and the School of Langland

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By Stephen Yeager
Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2014
World Rights
280 Pages
ISBN 9781442643475
Published Oct 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $65.00    $48.75
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442696174
Published Nov 2014
Online discount: 25%
Full purchase $65.00

The reappearance of alliterative verse in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries remains one of the most puzzling issues in the literary history of medieval England. In From Lawmen to Plowmen, Stephen M. Yeager offers a fresh, insightful explanation for the alliterative structure of William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the flourishing of alliterative verse satires in late medieval England by observing the similarities between these satires and the legal-homiletical literature of the Anglo-Saxon era.

Unlike Old English alliterative poetry, Anglo-Saxon legal texts and documents continued to be studied long after the Norman Conquest. By comparing Anglo-Saxon charters, sermons, and law codes with Langland’s Piers Plowman and similar poems, Yeager demonstrates that this legal and homiletical literature had an influential afterlife in the fourteenth-century poetry of William Langland and his imitators. His conclusions establish a new genealogy for medieval England’s vernacular literary tradition and offer a new way of approaching one of Middle English’s literary classics.

Stephen M. Yeager is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Concordia University.




Chapter 1
From Written Record to Memory: A Brief History of Anglo-Saxon Legal-Homiletic Discourse

Chapter 2
Leges Cnuti, Sermones Lupi: Homily, Law, and the Legacy of Wulfstan

Chapter 3
Ecclesiastical Anglo-Saxonism in Thirteenth-Century Worcester:The First Worcester Fragment and The Proverbs of Alfred

Chapter 4
Laȝamon’s Brut: Law, Literature, and the Chronicle-Poem

Chapter 5
Defining the Piers Plowman Tradition

Chapter 6
Documents, Dreams and the Langlandian Legacy in Mum and the Sothsegger



From Lawmen to Plowmen is an original, fresh approach to one of the large mysteries in medieval English literary studies: the relationship between the alliterative poetry of the late Middle Ages and Anglo-Saxon alliterative literature. Written and researched with confident expertise, Stephen Yeager’s book will provoke important discussions about literary history and periodization in medieval English literary studies.”

Andrew Scheil, Department of English, University of Minnesota

“Yeager has an interesting and innovative thesis that sheds a great deal of light on the possible connection between Old English legal-homiletic writing and Middle English alliterative verse.”

Joyce Lionarons, Department of English, Ursinus College

‘Yeager’s literary-historical argument is powerful and marches on firmly to the fifteenth-century poems of the Piers Plowmen… It convincingly demonstrates the durability of certain Anglo-Saxon attitudes as they were annealed in the distinction of style.’

Christopher Cannon, Modern Philology, vol 113:03:2016

‘This is an innovative, textually grounded inquiry into the connections between Old and Middle English literature.’

M.B. Busbee, Choice Magazine vol 52:11:2015