Art and Political Thought in Medieval England

A new book by Dr Laura Slater, postdoctoral research fellow on the Faculty’s ERC-funded ‘Music and Late Medieval European Courtly Cultures’ research project (MALMECC), has just been published. Art and Political Thought in Medieval England c. 1150-1350 appears with Boydell and Brewer.

Laura’s book explores how power and political society were imagined, represented and reflected on in medieval English art. It offers a new assessment of the role of images in medieval political thought and a new interpretation of English political culture.

Starting with an examination of the writings of late twelfth-century courtier clerics such as John of Salisbury, her study outlines their new vision of English political life as a heightened religious drama: an imaginative universe of crusading struggles against royal tyranny, and defence unto death and holy martyrdom in the cause of the liberties and salvation of the English people. Visual images were key to the development and expression of these ideas. Discussing the vivid pictorial metaphors used in contemporary political treatises, she highlights their interaction with public decorative schemas in English great churches (stained glass, wall painting, liturgical furniture such as the choir screen), more private devotional texts and imagery (illustrated saints’ lives, Apocalypse manuscripts, psalters and books of hours) and a range of other visual sources, including seal imagery and illustrated chronicles. Exploring events such as the Thomas Becket conflict, the making of Magna Carta, the Barons’ War and the deposition of Edward II, her monograph provides new perspectives on the political role of art, especially in reshaping basic assumptions and expectations about government and political society in medieval England.