England's Empty Throne


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Usurpation and the Language of Legitimation, 1399-1422

Paul Strohm

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After the dethronement and subsequent murder of Richard II, the usurping Lancastrian dynasty faced an exceptional challenge. Interrupting a long period of Plantagenet rule, Henry IV and Henry V needed not only to establish physical possession of the English throne, but to occupy it symbolically as well. In this boldly revisionary book, Paul Strohm provides a new account of the Lancastrian revolution and its aftermath. Integrating techniques of literary and historical analysis, he explores the new dynasty`s quest for legitimacy and the importance of symbolic activity to the making of kingship.

Strohm reveals the Lancastrian monarchs as masters of outward display, persuasively "performing" their kingship in a variety of novel ceremonies. Henry IV is crowned with a newly discovered coronation oil. The murdered Richard II is elaborately reburied. Opinion is courted and deceived with invented chronicles, false prophecies, and bogus genealogies. Opponents of the new regime are subject to new varieties of trial and punishment. Far-reaching Lancastrian experiments in domination include the proscription of prophecy, the enlistment of poetry, the use of spies and hired informers, and, most ambitiously, the redefinition of treason to cover not only overt deeds but also things said and even thought. Strohm`s account of the Lancastrian quest for legitimacy and the uses of symbolic power illuminates—indeed recasts—our understanding of a period of unprecedented political upheaval.

Paul Strohm is J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University.

England’s Empty Throne is an important addition to a growing field of scholarship by a writer who cannot be ignored by any historian of the fifteenth century.”—Gustavo P. Secchi, Albion

“Strohm’s best book to date, a liberating perspective on this remarkable chapter of English cultural history, and a pleasure to read.”—Charles Blyth, Speculum—A Journal of Medieval Studies

"Literary scholars and historians alike should read this eminently readable and provocative study. Strongly recommended."—Choice

"England’s Empty Throne provides a vital reconsideration of the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V and a sophisticated approach to the study of political ideology. . . . Strohm provides historians with an example of how the time-honoured method of 'close reading,’ informed by the insights of recent critical theory, can brilliantly illuminate our understanding of how people in the past thought and acted."—Shannon MsSheffrey, Canadian Journal of History

"Strohm’s book has challenged me to think deeply about these issues, and to read both theory and history through new perspectives. For readers willing to pursue similar theoretical adventures, England’s Empty Throne is full of rich rewards."—Michelle Warren, Medieval Review

ISBN: 9780300198706
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
5 b/w illus.