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Radical Historiography: Langland, Trevisa, and the Polychronicon Emily Steiner University of Pennsylvania ‘‘Take3 hire landes, ye lordes, and lete3 hem lyue by dymes’’ —Piers Plowman B 15.5641 The 1370s at queen’s college, Oxford, were heady years in academic life, especially for the intellectual circle that might have included the likes of Nicholas Hereford, William Middleworth, John Trevisa, and John Wyclif.2 We imagine these scholars pondering dominion , contemplating translation, and angling for the kind of patron who could extend academic life to practical politics.3 The evidence for such a circle may lie in the transmission of shared ideas and texts. David Fowler Versions of this essay were delivered at the University of Pennsylvania Borders seminar , the Delaware Valley Medieval Association, and the Yale English Department Medieval-Renaissance seminar. I thank Frank Grady, Ralph Hanna III, Steven Justice, Sarah McNamer, Maura Nolan, Lee Patterson, and an anonymous reader for their helpful comments on earlier drafts and Cristina Pangilinan for her invaluable research assistance . 1 All citations of the Piers Plowman B-text are to Piers Plowman: The B Version, ed. George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson (London: Athlone Press, 1975). Subsequent citations will follow the quotation in the main text with passus and line numbers. 2 Hereford, Middleworth, and Trevisa were admitted there between 1369 and 1372, after Trevisa and Middleworth had been expelled from Exeter College. Middleworth, in 1369, had also been expelled from Canterbury College because of his ties to Wyclif. Wyclif rented a room in Queen’s from 1374 to 1381. For a description of Wycliffite Oxford and the scholars who may or may not have been associated with it, see David C. Fowler, The Life and Times of John Trevisa, Medieval Scholar (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), pp. 221–30; and Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 394–95. 3 On Berkeley’s patronage of Trevisa, see note 31 below. For Gaunt’s patronage of Wyclif, see John Dahmus, The Prosecution of John Wyclif (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952); K. B. McFarlane, Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); Peter McNiven, Heresy and Politics in the Reign of Henry IV: The Burning of John Badby (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1987), pp. 19–21; and Steven Justice, ‘‘Lollardy ,’’ in David Wallace, ed., The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 663–64, 670–73. PAGE 171 171 ................. 11491$ $CH6 11-01-10 14:01:42 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER maintains that Trevisa’s ties to Wyclif are evidenced by his translation of Ranulph Higden’s Latin universal history, the Polychronicon (1330s– 60s).4 Between 1377 and 1380, Trevisa and other scholars left Queen’s, taking with them a number of books and liturgical objects, including a copy of the Polychronicon. According to Fowler, the theft of the Polychronicon connects Trevisa at once to biblical translation at Oxford in the late 1370s and to Trevisa’s translation of Higden a decade later.5 The significance of the stolen Polychronicon, however, is not limited to identifying the members of a coterie or establishing links between controversial thought and vernacular translation. As Anne Hudson has shown, Fowler’s Polychronicon evidence is circumstantial at best: Trevisa possibly knew Wyclif at Queen’s; a decade or so later he translated the Polychronicon, among other Latin works; the ‘‘collaborative Wycliffite enterprise’’ of translating the Bible probably took place later than 1377, after Trevisa had left Queen’s.6 But Fowler was surely hinting at other questions when he called Higden ‘‘Wyclif’s favorite historian’’: what exactly would it mean for a medieval writer to have a favorite historian, and what does the reception of a chronicle have to do with its capacity to represent ideas that it does not explicitly support?7 In this essay I 4 For a survey of arguments about biblical authorship, see Hudson, The Premature Reformation, pp. 238–47. The only medieval evidence that Trevisa translated the Bible is Caxton’s attribution in his preface to the Polychronicon, which John Bale influentially repeats in his Catalogue of Illustrious British Writers (1557). For Bale, the value of medieval...


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