And He Honoured Þat Hit Hade Euermore After’: The Influence of Richard II’s Livery System on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
M.A. Thesis, University of Florida (2003)
This study investigated the relationship between King Richard II’s manipulations of semiotics and the appearance of signs in the fourteenth-century text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Many critics have noted that the Gawain-poet presents conflicting responses to signs in the poem; I argue that these contradictory messages may be directly linked to the program of kingship under Richard II. The king’s use of livery (a signifying system which used icons, badges or emblems to denote feudal ties) encouraged allegiance among some subjects, but also excited fears about duplicitous, arbitrary signs and the corruption of their bearers.
I used the evidence offered by chronicles of British history to propose that Richard possessed an awareness of the power of icons and that he used them repeatedly to gain support or to assert his preeminence. Nevertheless, despite many successes at currying public favor through icons, when Richard II’s popularity decreased, the certainty of his rule was less and less assured; as the chroniclers explain, the king’s badges, once clear indicators of his authority, degenerated into ambiguous, or meaningless objects.