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Queer times: Richard II in the poems and chronicles of late

Richard II in the 1390sQueer times: Richard II in the poems and chronicles of late fourteenth-century England

Sylvia Federico

Medium Ævum: Vol. 79 Issue 1 (2010)

Abstract

The article focuses on the representation of deviant sexual behavior in 14th-century English poetry and other chronicles. The portrayal of King of England Richard II as a rebellious youth, which is interpreted as perverse and lacking manliness, and the propaganda needed to offset this perception are discussed. Historical information is given about the political culture and power of the church. The murder of Edward II after being accused of sodomy by the Bishop of Hereford is mentioned.

For those authors charged with explaining the Lancastrian usurpation of the throne in 1399, Richard II deserved to be deposed. He was said by these writers to be tyrannical, extravagant, mercurial, foppish, and alternatingly wilful or spineless–characteristics that have largely persisted in the historical and popular imagination ever since. These same writers often used language laced with innuendo to suggest that the king had strange, perverse habits, and was perhaps homosexual. The author of the Vita Ricardi Secundi, for instance, writing after the deposition, notes the king’s blond hair, feminine aspect, and stuttering, lisping speech (‘facies alba et rotunda et feminia … lingua breuis et balbuciens’). He continues that Richard was prodigal in his gifts and extravagant in his entertainments and dress (‘in dandis prodigus, in conuiuiis et indumentis ultra modum splendidus’), and finally notes suggestively that the king often stayed up all night drinking with his friends and indulging in other ‘excesses that are not to be named’ (‘mane totam noctem in potacionibus et aliis non dicendis’). (1) Most famously, Adam of Usk, who sat on the committee charged with determining how the removal of the king ought legally to proceed, refers in his Chronicle to Richard’s ‘sodomies’ (‘sodomidica’) in listing the reasons for the deposition. (2)

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