Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 10.djvu/173

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Chaucer
Chaucer
165

by marrying again.' Still he commends the 'Wyf of Bathe' — i.e. the prologue to her tale — to his friends' reading. But these lines 'were written sotfte years after his wife died, and their raillery must not be taken too seriously. However, Chaucer's troubles did ^ not seem to have prostrated him. In or about 1388, in April, the famous pilgrimage to Canterbury took place, for there can be little doubt that in the prologue to the 'Canterbury Tales' he is referring to an actual pilgrimage. If it took place m April 1388, it was just before he sold his pensions, so that he must have spent at the Tabard and on the road to Canterbury some of the last coins he had to spend.

For a while the sky cleared for him in the summer of 1389. It is probably a mistake to connect the improvement in his fortunes, as is commonly done, with the return of John of Gaunt from Spain. In fact, John of Gaunt did not return till November, whereas Chaucer received a new appointment in July. The improvement is really to be connected with the king's reassertion of his authority. In May the king freed himself from the council that for some two and a half years had so closely controlled him, and the party at whose instance Chaucer had been ousted from the customs ceased to have power. But he was not restored to his old places. We presume that those who succeeded him in 1386 were appointed for life ; and there appears to have been a genuine dissatisfaction witli the way in which he had performed the duties of the comptrollerships. He was now appointed clerk of the king's works at the palace of Westminster, Tower of London, castle of Berkhampstead, the king's manors of Kennington, Eltham, Clarendon, Sheen, Byfleet, Childeni Langley, and Feckenham ; also at the royal lodge at Hatherburgh in the New Forest, at the lodges in the parks of Clarendon, Childem Langley, and Feckenham, and at the mews for the king's falcons at Charing Cross. His duties are minutely stated in the patent. Fortunately for the poet, he was permitted to execute them by deputy. In July 1390 he was ordered to procure workmen and materials for the repair of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and also made a member of a commission to repair the Thames banks between Woolwich and Greenwich. In January 1391 he nominated John Elmhurst to be his deputy in the clerkship. Then came trouble again. In September we find one John Gedney holding the place that has been given to Chaucer. Of the cause of this supersession nothing whatever is known. It certainly looks as if Chaucer did not succeed as a man of business. But another place was found for him about the same time. In 14 Richard II (1390-1) Richard Brittle and 'Gefferey' Chaucer were appointed by Roger Mortimer, earl of March, foresters of North Petherton Park, Somersetshire, and in 21 Richard II (1397-8) Alienora, Roger Mortimer's wife, reappointed Chaucer sole forester. Roger Mortimer, it will be remembered, was the grandson of the Duchess of Clarence, to whose husband's household the poet was attached in youth (Collinson, Somersetshire, iii. 62; Mr. Selby, in Athen. 20 Nov. 1886).

One incident of his personal life at this time is preserved. On Tuesday, 9 Sept. 1390, he was 'feloniously despoiled' twice in one day, at Westminster of 10/. by one Richard Brerelay, and at Hatcham of 9l. 3s. 6d. by that same Brerelay, along with three others. Probably enough Chaucer was going from Westminster to Eltham. It was at the 'fowle' oak at 'Hacchesham,' a little to the west of New Cross, that he fell among thieves the second time. The writ, dated Eltham, 6 Jan. 1391, discharging him for repayment, speaks of the whole robbery as perpetrated at 'le fowle ok.' It adds that his horse was also taken from him 'et autres moebles' (see Mr. Walford D. Selby's Robberies of Chaucer, Chaucer Soc. 2nd ser. No. 12).

He had now for some two years and a half to subsist as well as he could on John of Gaunt's pension of 10l., his salary as forester, and whatever wages, if any, he received as the king's esquire. It is not till 1394 that he obtained from King Richard a grant of 20l. for life. That, even with this addition, it went hard with him, may be justly concluded from his frequent anticipation of the pavments due every half-year — at Easter and Michaelmas. Thus: 1 April 1395 he procures an advance of 10l., 25 June 10l., 9 Sept. 1l. 6s. 8d., 27 Nov. 8l. 6s. 8d. So on 1 March 1396 the balance he had to receive was only 1l. 13s. 4d. Yet 30l. would be equivalent to some 400l. of our money. From 1391 to 1399 Chaucer seems to have had much pecuniary difficulty. In 1397, when he was reappointed forester of North Petherton, we find him having 5l. advanced in July, and in August 6l. In May 4388 letters of protection were issued to the effect that whereas the king had appointed his beloved esquire Geotfrey Cliaucer to perform various arduous and urgent duties in divers parts of the realms of England, and the said Geoffrey, fearing that he might be impeded in the execution thereof by certain enemies of his by means of various suits, had prayed the king to assist him therein, therefore the king took the said Geoffrey, his tenants, and property into his special protection, forbidding him for two whole years to be