Title Background

First to reckon Richard’: John But’s <i>Piers Plowman</i>

First to reckon Richard’: John But’s Piers Plowman

The affirmation of allegiance to Richard in the conclusion to the A text provided by John But is informed by an intense politicization of the discourse of loyalty and allegiance toward the end of Richard’s reign. The instruction “Furst to rekne Richard, kyng of _is rewme” is to be understood as enumerating Richard first (primus), or to recognize him as princeps (prince), a nomination partaking of a continental discourse of kingship in which the prince acknowledges no earthly authority, as opposed to the traditional English sense of the king as a feudal lord, a liege lord among liege lords. After the Merciless Parliament of 1388, Richard develops and promulgates this vocabulary of the king as princeps in order to claim the status of preeminent lawgiver. But’s use of this new vocabulary is at odds with the B and C texts, which reflect the more traditional English view of the “crowned king” as possessing conditional rather than absolute power. But’s attempt to associate the author of PPl with “all lordes _at louyn him [i.e., Richard] lely in herte” invests the author with the “literary livery” of allegiance to Richard, akin to those of his affinity who wore the badge of the white hart. The award of this badge of loyalty is staged as a response to the alternative, and disloyal, uses of the poem, most notably its appropriation by the rebels of 1381. In opposition to these “allegers,” But’s redaction of the poem gives it a particular “allegiance” through a strategy of suppressing the more politically sensitive B and C texts. Accordingly, the John But passus emphasizes propriety of silence, effecting a permanent closure of the poem, subjecting Will and PPl permanently to royal allegiance.


YLS 11 (1997): 49-66.


Scase, Wendy