4.14. The Authorship of St. Erkenwald

The Gawain-Poet has occasionally been proposed as the author of St. Erkenwald[20] [SAVAGE56].   The poem has been related to the revival of the saint in London in 1386, and Elizabeth Salter [SALTER83] (pp.74-76) maps the poem to London where the shrine of St. Erkenwald is in Old St. Pauls, “Þe metropol and þe Mayster-toun hit euermore has bene” (l.26).  Salter says “It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the poet and intended audience were not only interested in, but intimately familiar with London”, to which we would add “in Englond” (l.1).  Turville-Petre [TURPET89] (p.101) believes that “The poem cannot be precisely dated.  The suggestion that it may be associated with the Bishop of London's attempt in 1386 to re-establish the cult of St. Erkenmwald is not conclusive”.  Despite the obvious localisation, the poem was written in a dialect closely similar to that in the Nero A.x manuscript, and one can only assume that it was written by a man from the north west who was resident in London, probably in the 1380s.  On the whole though, I think it is safe to say that current opinion generally disfavours the attribution to the Gawain-Poet on the grounds of lack of any real evidence. [ANDREW97] (p.26-28).

James Cottrell would almost certainly have been in London in 1386 prior to his departure for Portugal.  Probably he had been there since his return in 1382 from the 1381 expedition to Portugal.  At least he was in the right place at the right time to see the rise of the cult of Saint Erkenwald.  Pearl is certainly a mature work, hardly a first attempt, and if the identity of the Gawain-Poet is confirmed as James Cottrell then perhaps we need to re-open the question of the authorship of St. Erkenwald

[20] Quotations from St. Erkenwald are taken from the anthology by Thorlac Turville-Petre [TURPET89].