Kirsten Rusko: ABSTRACT: “Jus Ad Bellum: Slaughter as an act of penitence in 'Sir Gowther' ”

Sir Gowther presents the reader with a unique and troubling situation: what do you do when God tells you to break the 6th Commandment? The eccentric fifteenth-century romance follows the penitence of Gowther-son of the Devil, egregious sinner, and general menace to society. In this paper I will examine one of the most troubling elements of the romance: slaughtering Saracens as an act of penitence. The text seems to equate good knightly behaviour with good Christian behaviour. I will explore the ways in which the text conflates the social and religious imperatives into a hybrid morality that allows for intense aggression within a seemingly pacifist religion. In particular I will examine the socio-religious climate that gave birth to this bizarre form of repentance, as well as the effect of divine sanctioned violence on the text itself.