3.  A Template for the Candidate

3.1. The Dates of the Nero A.x Manuscript and the Gawain-Poet

The date of the composition of the poems of the Nero A.x manuscript has usually been thought to be in the last decades of the fourteenth century, and although there has been at least one attempt to date the works to 1350-1360 this cannot be said to be generally accepted.  A date of about 1380-1400 is perhaps the most acceptable.  If we accept that the Gawain-Poet was writing in the last two decades of the fourteenth century, then, bearing in mind that the poems are very definitely the product of a mature talent, we can infer that the Gawain-Poet was no more than 50 years of age in 1380 and no less than 20 at 1400.  Given these restrictions we can place the birth date of the Gawain-Poet at no earlier than 1330 and no later than 1380.  If he had a long life (80 years,) he might have lived into the range 1410-1460.  The Nero manuscript, which is thought to be a copy, has been dated to around 1400, with a possible error margin of perhaps of plus or minus 10 years,[5] and always assuming that it was in fact made in England, suggests that the latest possible date for the composition of the last of the poems was somewhat prior to 1410.  If we relax the assumption that the copying was done in England, and allow that a north western scribe might be abroad in exile (and several years behind the times,) the manuscript copy might very reasonably date as late as 1410-1415, with composition in 1380-1410.

James Cottrell accompanied Edmund of Langley, Earl of Cambridge, and later the first Duke of York, on his expedition to Spain and Portugal in 1381, in the role of “general” (when he must have been at least 20 years of age) according to Soares Cotrim (see Appendix B.)  Returning later with John of Gaunt in late 1386, and ready for promotion to the very responsible position, which he filled for almost 30 years, before taking a new post as Monteiro-Mór, which he held “for many years”, we might very reasonably infer that he could not have been more than about 25-26 in 1386, and was thus born about 1360.[6]  The dates for James Cottrell accord well with the dating derived from the manuscript.  The probability is that the Gawain-Poet was born about 1360, and was capable of producing mature work in the period 1380-1410.

[5] As far as I know no-one has made any serious attempt at estimating the error margins of the date of 1400.  Dating the manuscript to some time in the period 1390-1410, i.e plus or minus 10 years, seems to be the best accuracy we can claim if it was produced in the region claimed by McIntosh.

[6] At the time Philippa of Lancaster and James Cottrell arrived in Portugal (late 1386), Lisbon had been firmly established as the capital of the country for 130 years, and was the location of the royal household.  Following Philippa's marriage to João in February 1387 James Cottrell held the position of Mordomo-Mór to queen Philippa in Lisbon for almost 30 years until her death in 1415, after which he moved to Tomar as the Monteiro-Mór of Philippa's fourth son, the Infante Dom Henrique, who took up the appointment of the (lay) Governor of the Order of Christ.  James lived in the house of Dom Henrique within the castle of Tomar until his retirement to a country estate at Eyreira.  This would put him in his fifties when he moved to Tomar where he lived “many years” prior to his retirement to Eyreira, possibly around 1425-30.  Allowing a few years at Eyreira, this would set his death at around 1435-1340 at an age of about 75-80.  Thus we can, with some confidence, set his life span to 1360-1435.