Gower’s Trentham manuscript allows us to think about pre-modern disabilities in three ways. First, because it encourages Henry IV to restore the body politic disabled by Richard II, we can see the manuscript as presenting itself as a prosthesis able to compensate, even cure, Henry’s illegitimate claims to the throne. Here, disability is a condition that needs to be eradicated at best, repaired at least.

Second, because the Trentham manuscript reports Gower’s blindness, we can examine how it registers that disability. As “Henrici quarti primus” makes clear, Gower’s disability allows him to assert his own legitimacy as king’s advisor. Here, disability is a means by which Gower asserts his authority.

Finally, because the manuscript duplicates poems found elsewhere in markedly substantially versions, we can query how editorial decisions have marked it as a deformed text. Here, apparent disability disappears when digitizing eliminates the need for editorial choices.


This essay owes its merits to many interlocutors and readers: Jonathan Hsy, Steve Larocco, Georgiana Donavin, Eve Salisbury, Joe Stadolnik, Accessus’s readers, and students in my Spring 2013 graduate course, Medieval Literature and the Disabled Social Body. Mike Shea, as always, provided the requisite carry-out dinners and a sharp blue pencil.