Saving the Appearances: Chaucer’s ‘Purse’ and the Fabrication of the Lancastrian Claim

Saving the Appearances: Chaucer’s ‘Purse’ and the Fabrication of the Lancastrian Claim

By Paul Strohm

Chapter 4 of Hochon’s Arrow: The Social Imagination of Fourteenth-Century Texts (Princeton University Press, 1992)

Introduction: The aura of inevitability still surrounding Henry IV’s seizure of the throne in 1399 results in part from our own lingering captivation by the Lancastrian genius for manipulating public opinion. Recent studies, especially Caroline Barron’s “Deposition of Richard II,” have suggested that Henry IV’s triumph was neither as inevitable nor as secure as has commonly been supposed. Yet in the years and months before Henry’s accession the Lancastrians generated a blizzard of bogus genealogy, false prophecy, anti-Ricardian fabrication, and novel ceremonial, punctuated by deft employment of the emergent English vernacular in parliamentary and other unprecedented contexts. So thorough was this campaign that it virtually crowded out non-Lancastrian discourse in the crucial autumn months leading to Henry’s accession, and it continued to function with undiminished energy to efface non- Lancastrian accounts once Henry was on the throne. The success of this prototypical propaganda machine was so great that its products gained a self-perpetuating momentum, pervading the symbolic and discursive environment within which subsequent works—including Chaucer’s “To His Purse”—were composed.

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