Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Turner, Joseph

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Rabin, Andrew

Committee Member

Rabin, Andrew

Committee Member

Boehm, Beth

Committee Member

Loveridge, Jordan

Author's Keywords

medieval rhetoric; mirror for princes; John Gower; John of Salisbury; John Lydgate


This dissertation examines how medieval authors defined rhetoric and depicted rhetorical practice in medieval English Fürstenspiegel. It begins by analyzing how the field of medieval rhetorical historiography has overlooked the Fürstenspiegel as a rhetorical genre due to its overt reliance on meta-rhetorical handbook genres as the objects of its analysis. This dissertation challenges traditional narratives that positions medieval rhetoric as a primarily academic discipline divorced from political practice by engaging in horizontal reading practices that examine the broader culture of medieval rhetorical practice alongside the definitions of rhetoric found in medieval English Fürstenspiegel. In so doing, this dissertation argues that the rhetorical theory contained in the Fürstenspiegel tradition represent novel adaptations to classical rhetorical theory that are designed to accommodate the constraints of the shifting medieval political landscape as the Aristotelian tradition was recovered. After establishing the relevance of the Fürstenspiegel as a rhetorical genre in Chapter One, the dissertation provides three cases studies on John of Salisbury, John Gower, and John Lydgate that demonstrate how the rhetorical theories communicated in their Fürstenspiegel were responsive to particular cultural moments and resonated with contemporary political practices. Chapter Two analyzes how John of Salisbury positions rhetorical knowledge as necessary for the development of higher-order learning in the individual and compares the interpretive and inventive practices that John advocates in the Metalogicon and Policraticus with emerging methodologies for determining the truth of testimony and contingent situations in contemporary English jurisprudence. Chapter Three explores how John Gower’s elevation of rhetoric to an epistemological category establishes a political paradigm in which a sovereign’s rhetorical efficacy is measured against his habituation to virtue, a paradigm that is challenged by Richard II’s attempt to canonize Edward II. Finally, Chapter Four traces the development of rhetoric as a legitimated discipline within the king’s household and details how John Lydgate leverages the professionalization of rhetoric to create a political system in which rhetorical intervention is achieved through rhetorical stylistics. In Chapter Five, the dissertation concludes by explaining how these case studies affect the field of medieval rhetorical historiography.