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- Chaucer's Official Life - 1/16 -


CHAUCER'S OFFICIAL LIFE

BY

JAMES ROOT HULBERT

NOTE

In making reference to books and manuscripts, I have attempted to use abbreviations which seem, reasonably clear. Perhaps the least intelligible are C. R. which stands for Close Rolls, and L. R. which stands for Life Records of Chaucer (Chaucer Soc.) Wherever possible, I have referred to prints rather than to original manuscripts because the printed calendars are much more accessible. In a work which has involved the copying of innumerable references, many of which are to documents in the Public Record Office not available to me as I revise my copy, it is too much to expect that there should be no inaccuracies. Therefore, if the reader discovers erroneous references, I must ask his leniency.

For their courtesy and assistance in making books and documents accessible to me, I wish most heartily to thank J. A. Herbert, Esq., of the Manuscript Department, the British Museum, and Edward Salisbury, Esq., and Hubert Hall, Esq., of the Public Record Office. To my friend and colleague, Dr. Thomas A. Knott, of the University of Chicago, I am deeply indebted for his kindness in reading over parts of my manuscript and trying to make their style clearer and more readable. My greatest obligation, however, is to Professor John M. Manly, not only for encouragement and specific suggestions as to the handling of this subject, but for a training which has made possible whatever in my results may be considered of value.

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: Statement of the problem THE ESQUIRES OF THE KING'S HOUSEHOLD: Their Families Appointment Classification Services Rewards Marriage Careers of the Esquires of 1368 THE JUSTICES OF THE PEACE THE CUSTOMS SIR JOHN DE BURLEY SIR EDWARD DE BERKELEY SIR THOMAS DE PERCY SIR WILLIAM DE BEAUCHAMP RICHARD FORESTER HENRY SCOGAN OTO DE GRAUNSON BUKTON CHAUCER'S CAREER AND HIS RELATION TO JOHN OF GAUNT CHAUCER'S RELATION TO RICHARD II SOME GENERAL POINTS

INTRODUCTION

The researches of Sir Harris Nicolas, Dr. Furnivall, Mr. Selby and others have provided us with a considerable mass of detailed information regarding the life and career of Geoffrey Chaucer. Since the publication of Nicolas's biography of the poet prefixed to the Aldine edition of Chaucer's works in 1845, the old traditional biography of conjecture and inference, based often on mere probability or the contents of works erroneously ascribed to Chaucer, has disappeared and in its place has been developed an accurate biography based on facts. In the sixty-five years since Nicolas's time, however, a second tradition--connected in some way with fact, to be sure--has slowly grown up. Writers on Chaucer's life have not been content merely to state the facts revealed in the records, but, in their eagerness to get closer to Chaucer, have drawn many questionable inferences from those facts. Uncertain as to the exact significance of the various appointments which Chaucer held, his engagement in diplomatic missions and his annuities, biographers have thought it necessary to find an explanation for what they suppose to be remarkable favors, and have assumed--cautiously in the case of careful scholars but boldly in that of popular writers--that Chaucer owed every enhancement of his fortune to his "great patron" John of Gaunt. In greater or less degree this conception appears in every biography since Nicolas. Professor Minto in his Encyclopedia Britannica article [Footnote: Ed. Scribners 1878, vol. 5, p. 450.] says with regard to the year 1386: "that was an unfortunate year for him; his patron, John of Gaunt, lost his ascendancy at court, and a commission which sat to inquire into the abuses of the preceding administration superseded Chaucer in his two comptrollerships. The return of Lancaster to power in 1389 again brightened his prospects; he was appointed clerk of the King's works," etc.

Similarly, Dr. Ward in his life of Chaucer, after mentioning that Chaucer and John of Gaunt were of approximately the same age, writes: [Footnote: English Men of Letters. Harpers. 1879, p. 66.] "Nothing could, accordingly, be more natural than that a more or less intimate relationship should have formed itself between them. This relation, there is reason to believe, afterwards ripened on Chaucer's part into one of distinct political partisanship." With regard to the loss of the controllerships Dr. Ward writes: [Footnote: p. 104.] "The new administration (i.e. that of Gloucester and his allies) had as usual demanded its victims--and among their number was Chaucer.... The explanation usually given is that he fell as an adherent of John of Gaunt; perhaps a safer way of putting the matter would be to say that John of Gaunt was no longer in England to protect him." A little further on occurs the suggestion that Chaucer may have been removed because of "his previous official connection with Sir Nicholas Brembre, who, besides being hated in the city, had been accused of seeking to compass the deaths of the Duke and of some of his adherents." [Footnote: It is curious that Dr. Waul did not realize that Chaucer could not possibly have belonged to the parties of John of Gaunt and of Brembre.] Later, in connection with a discussion of Chaucer's probable attitude toward Wiclif, Dr. Ward writes: [Footnote: p. 134.] "Moreover, as has been seen, his long connexion with John of Gaunt is a well-established fact; and it has thence been concluded that Chaucer fully shared the opinions and tendencies represented by his patron."

Dr. Ward's treatment is cautious and careful compared to that of Prof. Henry Morley in his "English Writers." For example, the latter writes: [Footnote: Vol. 5, p. 98.] "Lionel lived till 1368, but we shall find that in and after 1358 Chaucer's relations are with John of Gaunt, and the entries in the household of the Countess Elizabeth might imply no more than that Chaucer, page to John of Gaunt, was detached for service of the Countess upon her coming to London." A few pages further on [Footnote: p. 103.]in the same volume occurs a paragraph on the life of John of Gaunt glossed "Chaucer's Patron." With regard to the grants of a pitcher of wine daily, and the two controllerships, Professor Morley writes: [Footnote: p. 107.] "These successive gifts Chaucer owed to John of Gaunt, who, in this last period of his father's reign, took active part in the administration." And again, [Footnote: p. 109.] "John of Gaunt had administered affairs of government. It was he, therefore, who had so freely used the power of the crown to bestow marks of favour upon Chaucer." [Footnote: p. 110.] "It was his patron the Duke, therefore, who, towards the end of 1376, joined Chaucer with Sir John Burley, in some secret service of which the nature is not known." [Footnote: Studies in Chaucer, vol. I, pp. 81-82.]

Finally, after mentioning Chaucer's being "discharged" from his controllerships, Morley writes: [Footnote: p. 243.] "During all this time Chaucer's patron John of Gaunt was away with an army in Portugal."

Such absolute certainty and boldness of statement as Professor Morley's is scarcely found again in reputable writers on Chaucer. Professor Lounsbury in his life of Chaucer implies rather cautiously that Chaucer lost his places in the Customs because of John of Gaunt's absence from the country, and as the result of an investigation of the customs. Mr. Jusserand in his Literary History of England writes: [Footnote: Eng. trans., 1894, p. 312.] "For having remained faithful to his protectors, the King and John of Gaunt, Chaucer, was looked upon with ill favour by the men then in power, of whom Gloucester was the head, lost his places and fell into want." F. J. Snell in his Age of Chaucer has similar statements, almost as bold as those of Professor Morley. [Footnote: p. 131.] "John of Gaunt was the poet's life-long friend and patron." [Footnote: p. 149.] "Chaucer was now an established favourite of John of Gaunt, through whose influence apparently he was accorded this desirable post" (i. e., the first controllership.) Most remarkable of all: [Footnote: p. 230.] "Outwardly, much depended on the ascendancy of John of Lancaster. If the Duke of Lancaster prospered, Chaucer prospered with him. When the Duke of Gloucester was uppermost, the poet's sky was over cast, and he had hard work to keep himself afloat."

The last quotations which I shall give on this point are from Skeat's life of Chaucer prefixed to the single volume edition of the poet's works in the Oxford series: [Footnote: p. XIII.] "As the duke of Gloucester was ill disposed towards his brother John, it is probable that we can thus account for the fact that, in December of this year, Chaucer was dismissed from both his offices, of Comptroller of Wool and Comptroller of Petty Customs, others being appointed in his place. This sudden and great loss reduced the poet from comparative wealth to poverty; he was compelled to raise money upon his pensions, which were assigned to John Scalby on May 1, 1388." On the same page: "1389. On May 3, Richard II suddenly took the government into his own hands. John of Gaunt returned to England soon afterwards, and effected an outward reconciliation between the King and the Duke of Gloucester. The Lancastrian party was now once more in power, and Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the King's Works," etc.

Closely connected with the question of Chaucer's relations with John of Gaunt, and indeed fundamental to it--as the constant reference in the foregoing extracts to the grants which Chaucer held would indicate--is the problem of the significance of Chaucer's annuities, offices, and diplomatic missions. Extracts from two writers on Chaucer's life will show how this problem has been treated. Professor Hales in his D. N. B. article [Footnote: 1 Vol. 10, p. 157.] says of the first pension from the King: "This pension, it will be noticed, is given for good service done ... The pension is separate from his pay as a 'valettus' and must refer to some different service." Similarly Professor Lounsbury in his Studies in Chaucer writes: [Footnote: 2 Vol. 1, p. 61.] "It is from the statement in this document about services already rendered that the inference is drawn that during these years he had been in close connection with the court." In regard to the grant of the wardship of Edward Staplegate, he says: [Footnote: 3 idem, p. 65.] "This was a common method of rewarding favourites of the crown. In the roll which contains this grant it is said to be conferred upon our beloved esquire." By way of comment on the grant of a pitcher of wine daily, he


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