Counsel and Rule in The Tale of King Arthur and Arthur and Lucius
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What do Arthur’s failures of kingship mean for the governance of his polity? The lack of effective executive authority from the king means that responsibility for the construction and preservation of the Arthurian polity falls on others with a stake in governance: Merlin, Guinevere, Morgan, Nenyve, and the Round Table knights. Since it is already clear that the alternative to Arthurian kingship is civil war, the political community in The Tale of King Arthur and Arthur and Lucius have little choice but to maintain Arthur’s position and stave off civil col- lapse. Counsel, always an intimate part of medieval governance, becomes crucial to the redefinition of Arthurian rule. In this chapter, I consider contemporary advice books as well as the practice of rule in fifteenth- century England to illuminate the quality and standard of advice-giving and advice-taking and the dynamics of rule in the Arthurian polity. Investigating “counsel” and “rule” as deeply connected common terms in the fifteenth-century political lexicon, I demonstrate that different possible models of rule emerge in these two tales. In Arthur and Lucius, Caxton’s Book V, I show that Malory offers the reader a successful model of counsel/council in which the Round Table knights, acting in accordance with the conventions of medieval advice books, rally around the king in support of a war of conquest producing a compelling picture of success- ful rule.
KeywordsRound Table Advice Book English Prose Female Power French Source
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