We have seen that James Cottrell fulfils most, if not all, of the requirements of the Gawain-Poet. We have definitely not proved that James Cottrell was the Gawain-Poet, only that the likelihood of anyone meeting all the requirements is so extremely low, that finding anyone else meeting them to the extent that James Cottrell does is highly improbable. We have tried to distinguish between direct evidence about the life of James Cottrell (“what has been”) and possibilities (“what might have been”.) We have also tried to distinguish between the 10 requirements that we have classified as essential and the remaining 23 which add to our confidence or test the attribution. We believe we have identified a template of 10 necessary requirements which any candidate for the role of the Gawain-Poet must fulfil, we have shown that there is direct evidence that James Cottrell fulfils all but one of them (with a very strong possibility that he also fulfils that one as well,) and that the probability of anyone fulfilling all those 9 requirements by chance is extremely low (probably considerably more than 85 to 1 against.) On the basis of the evidence above we feel justified in proposing the hypothesis that Gawain-Poet was in fact James Cottrell.
The choice of which requirements are to be deemed necessary is obviously subjective to some extent. I do not think anyone would disagree that the Gawain-Poet was an educated man (but not necessarily a university graduate), but many might question the inclusion of an association with the bustle of ports and storms at sea amongst the essential requirements. We feel that James Cottrell meets so many of the requirements, both necessary and supportive, that any rearrangement of priorities will have little effect on the overall conclusion.
The distinction between direct evidence and inference is not always completely clear, and some judgement is required. For example, although we have direct evidence that James Cottrell was appointed Monteiro-Mór, we have no direct evidence that James Cottrell ever took part in the activity of hunting. We judge his appointment as Monteiro-Mór to be direct evidence for knowledge of the hunt. Similarly, we have no direct evidence that James Cottrell ever received any education at all, that he knew latin and the Vulgate bible extremely well, or that he was familiar with Dante etc. We do, however, feel that we can infer some evidence of education from his position in the royal household, his role in tutoring the young princes and his access to the royal library (itself a further inference from his position in the household). In this case we do not claim direct evidence for an education, see Section 3.
Again we must stress that all the evidence accumulated is circumstantial in its relevance to the identification of the Gawain-Poet. It is direct evidence only with relevance to the life of James Cottrell in Portugal. If we are prepared to put our trust in anagrams and the couplet then we do have two items of direct evidence linking James Cottrell to the Nero A.x manuscript…the name Bertilak is an anagram of Bi Katrel, and if the couplet added to the first page following Sir Gawain and the Green Knight prior to the illustration relates to the death of Philippa, then this is dated at 1415.
Perhaps the most obvious and exciting prediction of the hypothesis that James Cottrell was the Gawain-Poet is that evidence might exist in the records of the royal household at the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon and at the Order of Christ. It was probably from records in the Torre do Tombo that Soares compiled his manuscript Appendix B. If we were to find references to the poetic activities of James Cottrell in the records accumulated and maintained by Fernão Lopes, this would constitute direct proof. If we fail to find such records, however, we cannot say that we have to discard the hypothesis: historical records do have an unfortunate habit of disappearing. Nevertheless we believe the hypothesis is strong enough to merit a search for evidence in Portugal.
Similarly it is possible that the records maintained by John of Gaunt's household might yield some more information about James Cottrell, his inclusion in the retinue of John of Gaunt on the 1386 expedition, his residence in the household, possibly even some indication of literary proclivities. However, it is clear that Soares was guilty of some exaggeration of the noble origins of his family when he claimed that James Cottrell was “born in London, and a member of one of the most important families in England”
James Cottrell was possibly related to the John Cat, an esquire in the household of Edward III at the same time (1368-9) as Chaucer (who is listed as an esquire of the lesser degree.) It would be interesting to follow up on this John Cat and his family.
We believe that we have presented an extremely strong case that James Cottrell was the Gawain-Poet. If this is accepted, not only do we know the name of the Gawain-Poet, but we also know a great deal about his life and his experiences which are reflected in his poetry.
Based upon the proposition that James Cottrell was the Gawain-Poet we have proposed dates for the poems in the period 1387-1403. The ordering of the poems in the Nero A.x manuscript is the order in which they were written. Speculatively we have noted that the likely date of St. Erkenwald is also compatible with this ordering, and that the addition of the couplet above the second illustration to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight might have been 1415.
Finally we have briefly and inconclusively considered the authorship of St. Erkenwald: James Cottrell was in London at the time of the revival of the legend of St. Erkenwald, and his family had strong links with the Elizabeth Booth of Dunham Massey whose name appears in that manuscript.
© 2005-2007 Ron Catterall