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It is probable too that he was confirmed in his office of comptroller, though the instrument has not been produced. In the 13th of Richard II. he appears to have been clerk of the works at Westminster, etc., and in the following year at Windsor. In the 17th of Richard II. the king granted him a new annuity of twenty pounds; in the 22d a pipe of wine. On the accession of Henry IV. his two grants of the annuity of twenty pounds and of the pipe of wine, were confirmed to him, with an additional grant of forty marks.
Thus it appears that Chaucer did not miss the profitable part of court patronage. He also reaped some of its honourable employments. Edward III, in the 46th year of his reign, appointed him, with two others, his envoy to Genoa, with the title of Scutifer noster, Our Squire. This great and able king, it is evident, regarded Chaucer as a good man of business, and that he proved himself so, is pretty well denoted by the chief grants of his life immediately following his return; namely, that of the pitcher of wine daily, the comptrollership of the customs of wool and wine in the port of London, and in the following year of the wardship of Sir Edmund Staplegate's heir, etc. At the heels of these grants, came also another embassy to France, with Sir Guichard d’Angle and Richard Stan, according to Froissart, to treat of a marriage between the Prince of Wales, afterwards Richard II, and a daughter of the French king. Other historians assert that the original object of his mission was to complain of some infringement of the truce concluded with France, and which was so well pushed by Chaucer and his colleagues, that it led to some overtures respecting the marriage. However that may be, it is evident that our poet's part in the transaction met with the royal approbation, for the old king dying, one of the first acts of the prince, on his accession, was to confirm his father's grants to him, with an additional one, as we have observed.
But Chaucer had also his share of life’s reverses. In the eleventh year of Richard II. he had the king's licence to surrender his two grants of twenty marks each, in favour of John Scalby. It is not really known why he surrendered those grants, but it is supposed that it was owing to his connexion
with the Lollard cause, and especially to his alliance with John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and John of Northampton. He was not only attached to the duke on account of their common interest in the reformed opinions, but he was married to a sister of Catherine Swynford, the duke's mistress, and afterwards wife. Chaucer, it seems, had exerted himself zealously to secure the re-election of John of Northampton as Lord Mayor of London. There is much mystery attached to the cause of the riot and its consequences which took place, but as this Comberton, or John of Northampton, was a zealous Wickliffite, the supposition that the disturbance arose from the violent opposition of the clergy to him, is very probable. Comberton was finally committed to prison, and Chaucer fled, first to Hainault, then to France, and lastly to Zealand. “ While in Zealand," says Mr. Chalmers," he maintained some of his countrymen, who had fled thither on the same account, by sharing the money he had brought with him, an act of liberality which soon exhausted his stock. In the meantime the partizans of his cause, whom he had left at home, contrived to make their
peace, not only without endeavouring to procure a pardon for him, but without aiding him in his exile, where he became greatly distressed for want of pecuniary supplies. Such ingratitude, we may suppose, gave him more uneasiness than the consequences of it; but it did not lessen his courage, as he soon ventured to return to England. On this he was discovered, and committed to the Tower, where, after being treated with great rigour, he was promised his pardon if he would disclose all he knew, and put it in the power of the government to restore the peace of the city. His former resolution appears now to have failed him ; or, perhaps, indignation at the ungrateful conduct of his associates, induced him to think disclosure a matter of indifference. It is certain that he complied with the terms offered; but we are not told what was the amount of his confession, or what the consequences were to others, or who they were that he informed against. We know only, that he obtained his liberty, and that an oppressive share of blame and obloquy followed. To alleviate his regret for this treatment, and partly to vindicate his own conduct, he now wrote The Testament of Love; and although this piece, from want of dates, and obscurity of style, is not sufficient to form a very satisfactory biographical document, it at least furnishes the preceding account of his exile and return."
This account is attended with its difficulties. Chalmers states this exile to have occurred about the 3d or 4th of Richard II; Tyrwhitt in the eleventh of that reign. One thing is certain; that if it occurred in the eleventh, the whole period of his exile and troubles lasted only two years, for in the 13th of Richard II. he was in great favour at court, and made clerk of the works at Westminster. Again, the two years during which he claimed protection from the king, are stated by Chalmers to be from the 2d of Richard, and by Tyrwhitt, quoting Rymer, are dated from the twenty-first of that reign. It appears, however, pretty certain that he was reduced to great pecuniary distress, and obliged to screen himself from the persecutions of his creditors under the royal grant of protection. There can be little doubt that Rymer is the correct authority, and that it occurred in the 21st of Richard. About the time of the termination of this grant of protection, he would see his protector also reduced to the need of protection himself; which he did not find, but was deposed, and succeeded by Henry IV, who confirmed to our poet the grants of the unfortunate monarch Richard.
Such are the few prominent facts of Chaucer's public life. Where, during his abode in London, he took up his residence, we have no knowledge. During the troubles of the court, and during his own, he is said to have retreated to his favourite Woodstock. This house he had engaged originally, because the court was then much at Woodstock, and he was obliged to be in constant attendance on the king. It became his favourite abode. It was a square stone house near the park gate, and long retained the name of Chaucer's House. Many of the rural descriptions in his works have been traced to this favourite scene of his walks and studies. Every trace of it has been long swept away. The other residence which has acquired fame from connexion with Chaucer, is Donnington Castle, in Berkshire. Tyrwhitt doubts whether it ever really belonged to him. If it did, he says, it could not have been till after the 16th of Richard II, for at that time it was
in the possession of Sir Richard Abberbury. He observes that we have no proof of such purchase, and he doubts whether the situation of his affairs admitted of such a purchase. It was five years, however, after this time when these affairs compelled him to seek the king's protection. There are traditions of his having settled all his lands on his son Thomas, for whom he had procured a rich wife. Again, it is true, it is denied that Thomas Chaucer son, or that it is known that he had any son but Lewis, said to be born twenty years after his marriage. So dubious is every step in this history. Yet tradition asserts Thomas Chaucer to have been his eldest son. It is known that Donnington Castle was for many years in the hands of this Thomas Chaucer; and may it not have been the fact, that the purchase of Donnington Park, and the settlement of it on his son, must, together with a diminished income from the change of some of his affairs, have been the source of his embarrassments ? It is certain that at one time his emoluments were great; he speaks of himself as “once glorified in worldly wellfulnesse, and having suche goods in welthe as makin men riche.” He was in a fair way to make a fortune, and plant a family of rank and substance. He was married to the sister of the favourite mistress and subsequent wife of the powerful and liberal John of Gaunt: had the favour of the king, Edward III, and his wife that of the noble queen Philippa, one of whose maids of honour she had been. Every thing promised prosperity; the promise was confirmed on the accession of Richard II, but soon, as we have seen, the scene changed. He was involved in the troubles of the times; compelled to sacrifice his offices, and obliged to fly to foreign countries. He then complained, in his Testament of Love, "of being berafte out of dignitie of office, in which he made a gatheringe of worldly godes.”
Notwithstanding all this cloud of uncertainty, the belief will always prevail that Donnington was the residence of Chaucer. Evelyn tells us, that there was an oak in the park which tradition asserted to have been planted by Chaucer, and which was still called Chaucer's Oak. As his house at Woodstock is gone, so his castle here is a mere ruin. It is generally supposed to be at Woodstock that he wrote his Canterbury Tales, where he
also is said to have written his Treatise on the Astrolabe, for the use of his son Lewis; yet if, as asserted, he was upwards of sixty when he commenced the Canterbury Tales, he may
have been in possession also of Donnington, during part of the time that he was writing his great poem. But everything concerning these particulars is wrapt in the mists of five hundred years. The only branch of his family that he mentions by name is his son Louis. The very name of his wife is a secret. “ Historians," says Tyrwhitt, “though they own themselves totally ignorant of the christian name of his wife, are all agreed that her surname was Rouet, the same with that of her father and eldest sister, Catherine Swynford.” How Rouet and Swynford can be the same surname, Tyrwhitt does not tell us. Spite of this, the commentators have pored into the list of nine Dunicella, of the queen Philippa, to whom the king had granted annuities, and finding no Rouet there, have been resolved to fix as the future wife of Chaucer, one Philippa Pykard whom they did find. These are all rash peerings into the dark. As no damsel of the name of Rouet was found, the natural conclusion is that she was already married to Chaucer.
Of Donnington Castle in its present state a few more words may be acceptable, and this is the account we find given by Mr. Britton, in the Beauties of England and Wales. “ Donnington Castle rears its lofty head above the remains of the venerable oaks that once surrounded it, on an eminence north-east of Donnington Grove, and nearly opposite to the village of Speen, now Newbury. It was formerly a place of much importance, and by commanding the western road, gave to its possessors a considerable degree of authority. When it was originally built is uncertain, but from a manuscript preserved in the Cottonian Library, it appears that it belonged to Walter Abberbury, who paid C. shillings for it to the king. ... Hither, about 1397, in the 70th year of his age, Geoffrey Chaucer, who had purchased it, retired. Alice, his grandaughter, conveyed it by marriage to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.” In this line, and therefore in the descendants of Chaucer, it continued till the reign of Henry VII, when, by the treasonable practices of the owner, it was escheated to the crown. In the Civil Wars it was