Gower Bibliography

Chaucer's 'To His Purse': Begging, or Begging Off?

Yeager, R.F. "Chaucer's 'To His Purse': Begging, or Begging Off?" Viator 36 (2005), pp. 373-414. ISSN 0083-5897


Yeager uses both Gower's and Christine de Pisan's relations with the newly crowned King Henry IV to help set the context for a re-examination of the occasion and purpose of Chaucer’s "To His Purse." Though she evidently did respond to Henry's solicitation of her by presenting him with a poem (perhaps the Epistre d’Othéa), Christine provides the model for one not all that impressed with Henry and, once her son was free from his captivity, not feeling any special obligation to support the king’s pretensions. Gower, of course, enthusiastically subscribed to the Lancastrian justification of Henry's usurpation, producing within a short period of time the short Latin poems of the so-called "laureate group," the Latin Cronica Tripertita, and the Middle English "In Praise of Peace." Yeager revisits the chronology of these in order to determine which might have been known to Chaucer. "Rex Celi Deus," he suggests, probably predates Henry’s coronation; "O recolende" is the most likely candidate for presentation at the time of the coronation; and "H. aquile pullus," with its reference to the oil used to sanctify the coronation, probably dates from shortly later. The Cronica Tripertita, with its allusion to Richard II's death, cannot have been finished before the early months of 1400. The Cronica, which Yeager describes as "the Latin Gower at nearly highest volume" (404), serves the propaganda needs that the shorter Latin poems, in their brevity and learnedness, do not, and it also sets into relief Chaucer’s very different response to the appeal for justification from the king. Early in his essay, Yeager argues that "To His Purse" could well have been written with Richard in mind rather than Henry, and he chooses 1393 and 1398 as times when poet might have had special need to remind the king of his obligations. He also argues that there is no evidence that Chaucer had unusual pecuniary needs in 1400, and that examined closely, the envoy that Chaucer provided in addressing the poem to Henry could be read as undermining rather than supporting the publicly offered justification of Henry’s right to the throne. In that respect, Chaucer's omission of any reference to the will of God in Henry's accession, very much a part of Gower's claims for the king, takes on a special significance. But Chaucer's poem is also much shorter and clearly less serious than both Christine's and Gower's offerings, and in Yeager's view, that fact in itself constitutes a near dismissal: "Under pressure to write something for Henry, [Chaucer's] decision to send a 'begging poem' was a literary choice with a political motive, both courageous and not a little reckless, in either case heavily ironic: he would present the usurper with his desired 'new song,' written 'al of the new jest,' just as desired – in a minstrel's voice, as verses on command, in exchange for pay" (412). And while not naming God, the last two lines of the envoy may in fact invoke him, Yeager suggests, if we read them as a separate sentence, not addressed to the king but to Chaucer's hopes from a different, higher source: "And ye that mowen alle oure harmes amende, / Have mynde upon my supplicacion." [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 25.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
In Praise of Peace
Minor Latin Poetry
Biography of Gower
Cronica Tripertita

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