Poetic Statesmanship and the Politics of Patronage in the Early Tudor Court: Material Concerns of John Skelton’s Early Career as a Critical Context for the Interpretation of The Bowge of Courte[1]

Ray Siemens
University of Victoria

Ray Siemens. "Poetic Statesmanship and the Politics of Patronage in the Early Tudor Court: Material Concerns of John Skelton’s Early Career as a Critical Context for the Interpretation of The Bowge of Courte". Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2009-10) <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-1/siemskel.html>.

  1. Skelton’s Bowge of Courte is a document that has met with some divergence in critical opinion, in large part because of its inherent ambiguity. Some believe, for example, Skelton’s anti-court satire to be the textual representative of a now-lost early Tudor courtly entertainment;2 others, a larger group, hold that the Bowge is a verse satire that draws on the medieval tradition of the dream-vision. The form of the Bowge and its use of conventions leads to such disparate opinions, but a degree of the confusion must also be attributed to the interpretation of its subject matter — an act urged by the poet himself who, in the final rhyme-royal stanza, suggests that his audience consider the meaning of the dream-vision by re-casting its fictional events in corresponding terms of the contemporary world:
    I wolde therwith no man were myscontente
    Besechynge you that shall it see or rede
    In euery poynte to be indyfferente
    Syth all in substaunce of slumbrynge doth procede
    I wyll not saye it is mater indede
    But yet oftyme suche dremes be founde trewe
    Now constrewe ye what is the resydewe (533-9; emphasis mine)
    Given this, and given the nature of typical re-castings of the Bowge’s fictional contents, one might convincingly argue that the author-focussed context in which much criticism urges us to “constrewe” the Bowge’s “resydewe.”perpetuates the greatest degree of critical uncertainty.

  2. Such uncertainty, however, is rarely informed by the conditions of poetic production in which Skelton found himself during the period which led up to and included his work on the Bowge; though neglected, this context draws into question a number of the patterns of critical speculation regarding the “resydewe” of the Bowge.

    Patterns of Interpreting the ‘resydewe’ of Skelton’s Bowge

  3. While not specifically engaging the matter of the Bowge’s residue, an examination of the patterns governing such analysis is beneficial. A good number of interpretations, recent and older alike,3 find the Bowge to be a semi-autobiographical and personally-motivated satire of Henry VII’s court, or court life on the whole, wherein the actions of the first-person narrator, Drede, are analogous to Skelton’s own. There is, however, some difficulty with this type of interpretation. This difficulty becomes most apparent when one brings an autobiographical interpretation to the Bowge, when one begins the task of reasonably situating the Bowge within the personal circumstances of Skelton’s life. Few autobiographical interpretations are satisfying, and several leave the reader wondering if such a context can be reconstructed at all.

  4. On a general level, of course, the Bowge of Courte is an anti-court satire, a work often taken to examine court life in general and standard terms; moreover, the Bowge itself probably draws upon the author’s own experience of the English and foreign courts. From the general, though, critical interpretations quickly move to the more specific. The Bowge then can become an examination of the English court, at a particular moment in Skelton’s life. For example, because the author/narrator takes on the role of the ship-jumping character Drede, one might read that Skelton himself has “jumped ship” (or is, perhaps, considering doing so) at the time of writing the Bowge. To this end, we note that Skelton did leave direct court service ca. 1502-3 for the rectory of Diss and, as is widely assumed, did so with some dissatisfaction. This situation, however, does not correspond with the slim set of facts available for exploring the autobiographical nature of the Bowge; the latest possible date for its authorship is established with its first imprint by Wynkyn de Worde in 1499 (STC 22597; Sale 573), some three or four years before Skelton actually left court.

  5. Working with evidence of the printing date, and against the generally-held presumption that the date of composition is ca. 1498-9, it has been suggested that the Bowge might have been composed as early as some two decades prior to its first printing (ca. 1480).4 Associations, it is argued, relating to the physical setting of the Bowge — Harwich and, specifically, Powers’ Key — correspond with what can be historically reconstructed. Such an interpretation also strengthens a view of the relations between Skelton and the powerful Howard family.5 Much as this may be true, such details still do not provide a clearer frame of reference for the critic interested in an autobiographical interpretation because Skelton, as we are able to reconstruct, did not move in court circles until sometime shortly after his laureation at Oxford ca. 1488. Moreover, it is not at all certain that he was writing as early as 1480.6

  6. The generally-held date of composition, ca. 1498-9, is also a possibility.7 However, if we are to believe that the Bowge is a personally-motivated satire, direct or indirect, against the court of Henry VII, this date seems unsuitable as well. This date corresponds with a time in which Skelton was rewarded by powerful patrons.8 Such reward would not be in keeping with a court figure openly satirising the court in print, for Henry VII was not one to reward such subversion, nor would a satire of such a subversive nature be in keeping with Skelton’s poetic mission at the time.

  7. One can look for another date or set of circumstances that the Bowge might fit; alternatively, with the most probable dates and situations exhausted, one might also consider contemplating another biographical-literary version of its poet. While it has not been the pattern of recent scholarship to do so, this paper urges the latter course of action. Though we typically think of Skelton as a figure associated with the biting satire that is thought to have led to his residence in the sanctuary at Westminster,9 we tend to forget that Skelton was not such a figure for much of his early career. That he became a vicious satirist is clear — invective, personally-motivated or otherwise, is often considered Skelton’s chief literary attribute — but what is less acknowledged is that his early works overwhelmingly attest that his younger days are less characterised by the same type of outwardly-directed vituperation.

  8. We cannot know with any certainty the specific situation of the Bowge, but we do know that it was printed in 1499;10 moreover, what we can know with good certainty about Skelton is that elements of his early character, the character that produced the Bowge, are not the same as those chiefly associated with the later Skelton. When we critically consider the Bowge, then, we must keep in mind this less-common view of Skelton — a view formed as much by examining Skelton’s other early works as it is by looking beyond Skelton, solely, to his place in the literary milieu in which he initially wrote and, with gradual preferment, rose.

    Skelton, Laureate, and Poetic Statesmanship in the Early Tudor Court

  9. Skelton’s position in the later Henrician court, after the accession of Henry VIII and the displacement (and probably death) of fellow-poet Stephen Hawes, was that of Orator Regius.11 While Skelton’s role was somewhat similar in Henry VII’s court, his place in the earlier court was not so clearly defined. From his Oxford laureation, Skelton saw himself as poet laureate, albeit not in keeping with the general way the title was applied at the time; rather, he adopted the title in the sense that it was held by Petrarch and, closer to Skelton’s time, in the sense that it was practicably defined by the first and most prominent laureate in Henry VII’s employ: Bernard André.12 Skelton associated the honour with the monarchy rather than the universities, a connection suggested by the emphasis he gives to the fact that it was the king who presented him with this honour (Agenst Garnesche 80-5), by the explicit association of the title of laureate with propagandistic works of his early career, and by the overall place he sought for his own poetic works (at least those written before his departure for Diss) in the literary milieu of Henry VII’s court. “Laureate” was a title by which Skelton could define himself in relation to other poets, as well as to the early Tudor court upon which he and his contemporaries relied for their livelihood.

  10. Court-based poetry at the time was supported by the system of patronage that existed under Henry VII. Maintaining Skelton, as well as literary figures such as the foreigners André, Pietro Carmeliano, and Giovanni Gigli, among others, this system made certain demands on its participants.13 André, a Frenchman, would act as Henry’s official historiographer and, later, tutor to Prince Arthur. Carmeliano and Gigli, both Italians, were Henry’s Latin secretaries. Skelton, after ca. 1494, was tutor to Prince Henry, also devising interludes and entertainments for the court and serving Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, personally. In addition to these duties, all were expected to produce works of political eulogy and regal magnification for the court.

  11. Royal literary patronage — being contingent on a poet’s ability to serve the court as orator, tutor, secretary, and so forth, as well as a propagandist — was largely dependent on one’s ability to participate in what is best described as poetic statesmanship. As laureate to Henry VII, Bernard André had participated in such statesmanship since Henry’s accession,14 commemorating the major events of the early reign: the victory at Bosworth, Elizabeth’s coronation, the birth of Prince Arthur, the murder of the Earl of Northumberland, and beyond.15 Moreover, André’s career, already established by the time of Skelton’s laureation, appears to have provided a model of successful poetic statesmanship for the newly-graduated poet with court ambitions.16

  12. Skelton, when wishing to enter court life ca. 1488, immediately and rightly embarked on projects similar to those of André. In that year, Skelton praised the king with his commemoration of the feast of Saint George at Windsor Castle (1488).17 In the following year, his Dolorus Dethe treated the Earl of Northumberland’s demise in the northern rebellion (1489). He also celebrated the creation of Arthur as the Prince of Wales (1489)18 and, later, that of Prince Henry as the Duke of York (1494).19 When the French ambassador Gaguin launched a poetic attack on Henry after an unsuccessful attempt at negotiating a treaty with England in 1489, Skelton was among the retinue of poets — André, Carmeliano, Gigli, and Cornelius Vitelli as well — who responded in kind.20 Some time later, Skelton commemorated the king’s suppression of the Cornish Uprising in a lost work which presumably parallelled André’s Douze Triomphes de Henry VII (1497).21

  13. By participating literarily in such acts of statesmanship, Skelton would eventually find a relatively secure place at court. Shortly after Skelton wrote verses for Prince Henry’s creation, he was appointed as his tutor (ca. 1494).22 While tutor, a term which lasted until sometime after Arthur’s death in 1502,23 Skelton received payments from the king (1497, 1498, 1502), enjoyed a fast rise in the clergy (1498), and was praised twice by Erasmus (1499).24 In fulfilment of the office of Prince Henry’s tutor, Skelton again followed the literary precedent set by André, who was Arthur’s tutor.25 Like André, Skelton authored and translated a number of didactic works: tracts relating to governing such as the Boke of Honourous Estate (1172; KY 25, L78), Royall Demenaunce (G 1174; KY 30, L108), Soueraynte (G 1191; KY 31, L111), and Speculum Principis (G 1226-32; KY 14, C50); ostensibly moral works like the Boke How Men Shulde Fle Synne (G 1173; KY 25, L76) and Lerne You to Dye When Ye Wyll;26 and others, including the Boke to Speke Well or Be Styll,27 the New Gramer in Englysshe (G 1182; KY 28, L99), and Good Advysement.28 Skelton’s Of Lovers Testamentis and of There Wanton Wyllis (ca. 1495)29 is of this time as well, and, from the same period in which the king made payments to Skelton, are his Diologgis of Ymagynacyon (ca. 1498),30 Of Mannes Lyfe the Peregrynacioun (ca. 1498),31 and, lastly, The Bowge of Courte (ca. 1498-9). In short, from the time of his appointment as tutor, Skelton completed didactic and moral works in fulfilment of that office at the same time as he participated in the poetic politics, the poetic statesmanship, expected of a court poet.32 But the Bowge, an anti-court satire, seems peculiarly out of place considering Skelton’s poetic mission at this time if we believe that its satiric matter is personally-motivated.

  14. Prior to his appointment as Henry’s tutor, there is precious little evidence upon which to establish Skelton’s exact place within the court, and even whether or not Henry VII was his chief benefactor. His honorary laureations from Cambridge and Louvain before 149333 may suggest the same royal favour that his Oxford laureation might, but no record of payment like that which exists for André’s entry into royal service as laureate is extant for Skelton. One might note that Caxton, in his preface to Eneydos (1490), praises Skelton for his poetic skills34 and for his capability as translator of the Diodorus and the now-lost Epystlys of Tulle (G 1185; KY 27, L88), but Caxton does not explicitly connect Skelton with the court as Erasmus would in 1499.35 Prior to 1494, verses presented at a number of formal occasions — the feast of Saint George, the Dolorus Dethe, the celebration of Arthur’s creation, the Recule ageinst Gaguyne, and the celebration of Prince Henry’s creation as Duke of York — certainly place Skelton in royal circles in some capacity. That said, the precise nature of that capacity cannot be re-constructed, but his presence in court circles without records confirming appointment suggest that Skelton was probably there in the hope of securing preferment from the crown such as that received by André and other court literati.

  15. What can be better re-constructed is the place in court that Skelton saw for himself, before and just after his laureation. With some necessary scrutiny, his early works are suggestive of his place and poetic mission — a mission that sees its expression up to and including the time the Bowge was written.

    The Material Concerns of the Diodorus

  16. It is clear from Skelton’s earliest properly-attributable work, the prose translation of the Bibliotheca Historica of Diodorus Siculus, that he looked chiefly to the court and, specifically, to the crown for support as he prepared to leave Oxford ca. 1488.36 In addition to the lost comedy Achademios,37 his translation was to satisfy requirements for his laureation. Within the Diodorus, Skelton presented himself to England, its humanists, and, specifically, to Henry VII, as one who understood the value of history to the monarchy and, at the same time, he explicated the place he saw for himself in the Tudor court. Skelton had seen the path to preferment — Henry had, in André, recently taken on a poet and historiographer — and, recognizing in part the criteria necessary for a post such as André had recently received, sought to show his ability in the same area. But, in addition to projecting the humanistic concerns one might expect in such a work, Skelton also projects the material concerns inherent in the young poet’s intended move from the halls of learning to those of court.

  17. As the Diodorus’ editors, Edwards and Salter, point out, Skelton did not translate Diodorus’ original history, which was written in Greek; rather, he translated the popular contemporary Latin translation of the work made by Poggio Bracciolini (ca. 1449).38 Traditionally dated ca. 1488,39 the extant witness of the Diodorus is a copy of Skelton’s manuscript and, in the copying of the original, much of the dedicatory material expected in works of this nature appears not to have been retained.40 That said, scribal corrections to the proem’s heading41 and to the first lines of the dedication point to Skelton’s original shaping of preliminary matter. Especially suggestive is one emendation to the dedication that alternates the phrase “Most reuerent Holy Fader,” which would suit Poggio’s dedicatee of Pope Nicholas V, with words more applicable to Skelton’s potential regal benefactor: “Most reuerent & myghty prynce.42

  18. Even in the absence of Skelton’s own dedicatory material, his appeal for support in the work is evident. In the first place, that Skelton would choose to translate such a text is itself telling. On the surface, the Diodorus is a history of countries and their rulers, and Skelton’s act of apparent classical translation — apparent in the sense that he did not work from the original Greek Diodorus, nor even attempt to establish this pretence — is a humanistic gesture of the type for which Poggio was noted.43 But humanism for Skelton was more a means to an end than a genuine commitment,44 and a humanistic translation of the Diodorus would be helpful in several ways for one interesting in securing royal patronage. The Diodorus was helpful because it already contained arguments which, when properly contextualised, would allow Skelton to draw upon, for his own purposes, the situations that inspired Diodorus and, even more so, Poggio. Diodorus’ project (ca. 50 BC) was to provide a full history for a world whose unification under the Roman empire seemed immanent, situating that singly-governed world in the context of the multitude of governors that preceded it (II: xix). Nicholas V (Tomaso Parentucelli), after emerging triumphant from a viciously-split contest for the papacy which saw the abdication of the antipope and an end to the schism within the church, became patron to Poggio for his translation of Diodorus’ work (Shepherd 433-5). Given this, it is worth noting that Skelton, living in an age which hoped it had witnessed the end of factious warring between the houses of York and Lancaster and had seen the unification of those factions in Henry VII’s marriage with Elizabeth, would provide the same history.

  19. Skelton’s Diodorus, moreover, was made available at a time when the king was himself showing that he held the subject of history in some regard, even if only for its use as propaganda.45 Skelton’s translation of Diodorus’ work — a retrospective of exemplary rulers, organised as a series of accounts and presented with some moral overtones — presented a view of history suitable to the tastes of the king, as well as a vernacular model of the history that was particularly well-suited to Henrician apologetics.46 Offering England’s humanists a useful history, and its propagandists a suitable model of history, the Diodorus could also be used to draw implicit comparisons between the glorious Rome of antiquity, the more contemporary and unified church, and the newly-united England, as well as between the emperor of Diodorus’ Rome, Pope Nicholas V, and Henry VII. In such an offering, and in such implicit comparisons, Skelton was also putting himself forward to Henry VII in the same role that Poggio served Nicholas.

  20. Arguments toward the same end are more explicit in the translated document itself. Initially, Skelton’s concern for support is found subtly in the emphasis placed in Diodorus’ work (and Poggio’s translation of it) on the value of historians and writers to the princes they serve. But, while the untainted sense of the original provides good arguments for the royal sustenance of those who would work with the matter of history,47 Skelton’s main argument is found in the amplifications he made in his translation of Poggio’s text.

  21. Skelton’s translation recognisably anticipates his preferred situation after laureation. Of course, acts of translation are concurrently acts of interpretation, but Poggio’s text at times appears little more than a starting point for Skelton’s meditations. The best explanation of Skelton’s style of translation, which especially in the later books consists essentially of embellishment and expansion with a focus on issues close at hand to the poet, is provided by Skelton’s biographer, Maurice Pollet, who notes that Skelton’s translation suggests that he “had to pave his way to court” (12).

  22. Skelton, seeking advancement in court, uses the Diodorus to promote his cause. Discussion of the muse Thalia, who illustrates poetic commendation, speaks overtly to Skelton’s skills and their value:48
    Dame Thalia the thirde her name is assigned, whiche denomynacion representeth the commendacion of poetes immortaly registred, whiche they haue pourchaced by merytis of their famous lytterature, whos names so contynued by season of yeris passyngly moche enlengthed, alleway more & more enverdured they be with new reportes fresshe and grene perdurably growynge in the solacyous / virydary & most lusty herber of Dame Memorye. (359)
    Following quickly upon this, Skelton notes the placement he desires upon graduation, and the figure from whom he expects to receive this appointment. In his amplification of Poggio’s thoughts on the muse Erato, Poggio’s brief statement becomes the following:49

    The sixte is Dame Erato, whiche, thurgh her bounteous promocion, hir scolers and discyples brungeth vnto so noble auaunsement that whan she hath enryched theym with the gloryous tresour of connynge & wysedom, they shal stande in fauour of ryal princis, and so atteyne vnto the spiritual rowme of prelacye or other temporal promocion . . . (359)
    Skelton himself, whose cunning and wisdom would be proven in this document and by his coming laureation,50 wished to stand in the favour of his royal prince and to receive noble advancement, preferably office of prelate or an equivalent post in the temporal prelacy, the court.

  23. The argument for a prelacy has its roots much earlier in the work, in a conversation between King Darius of Egypt and his chief minister, who is referred to as “Archebisshop of the prelacye” (82). Skelton adapts the conversation to show that written history immortalises those who pursue noble deeds.51 The original recounts a story in which Darius wishes to erect a statue of himself before that of Sesoösis. After the chief priest objects, Darius vows that, once he has lived the same number of years as Sesoösis, he will again ask an assembly of priests to judge whether or not he is worthy to have his statue in that place (Diodorus 205). Skelton follows the story to the point of Darius’ vow but gives the king additional words. In Skelton’s rendition, the king asks the Archbishop to
    . . . brynge forth in wrytynge alle such royall fayttes as he wrought whilis his lyf enduryd, for that shold be his very ground wherupon he myght arrette hym-self to exemplefye fayttes of royall courage. (82)
    By the time of Skelton’s work on the Diodorus, Henry VII had completed great deeds; his panegyrists had been quick to accentuate this from the earliest days of his reign. Henry, moreover, had also already appointed one laureate, André, to capture and praise his past (and, presumably, future) exploits. Though André was not a prelate, as the word itself relates to religious office, one condition of André’s appointment clarifies Skelton’s argument in the Diodorus: André’s secular living was a precursor to a clerical one, for he was to receive an annuity from the king until such a time as the church would grant him of a similar magnitude.52 By appealing to the king for a prelacy or similar secular position,53 Skelton urges an appointment with sustenance similar to André’s.

  24. Proving facility with the language of learning, showing an understanding of the art of translation, and demonstrating a keen awareness of the place of history in Tudor poetic propaganda (the last of which would be key to regal preferment), the Diodorus placed Skelton in the circle of André, Gigli, and Carmeliano in terms of intellectual capability. However, it appears not to have produced the result wished by Skelton. While Caxton would praise it, Skelton’s Diodorus did not secure him a prelacy, nor a position like that obtained by historiographer/chronicler Polydore Vergil some years later. Skelton did not supplant André, nor did he join him in predominantly historical endeavours. The Diodorus did probably help to speed his entry into Tudor service and surely worked toward his placement as tutor some six years after its completion, but the body of writings coming immediately after his laureation suggests that the material argument of the Diodorus was not received such that Skelton’s need for a beneficent patron was removed.

  25. With his appointment ca. 1494 as tutor, though, and surely by the time of his 1498-9 payments and praises, Skelton no longer had such a need. The secure nature of the patronage that he received at the time of the Bowge’s printing — a far cry from that which he appears to have had as he translated (and projected his material concerns in) the Diodorus — is reflected in the silence regarding personal material needs in the Bowge. That said, the Diodorus reflects one aspect of the poet’s quest for the “bowge,” the “courtly rations,” necessary for the sustenance that he would later write about in satiric terms.

    Extra-regal Patronage, and the Concerns of Skelton’s Dolorus Dethe

  26. In spite of critical conjecture that he was attached solely to the court immediately following his laureation, Skelton’s position at court just after the Diodorus is difficult to establish. His position appears to have remained such that he continued to seek support from, and benefit from the patronage of, a number of benefactors, including Henry VII but not restricted exclusively to him. The verses in Skelton’s Garlande of Laurel that celebrate women associated ca. 1492 with the Howard family, and the Garlande’s setting at Sheriff Hutton (the castle at which Thomas Howard resided at that time), provide one set of clues toward establishing Skelton’s extra-regal patronage in his early years as a court poet.54 This association would last well into Henry VIII’s reign, but the support that led to the composition of these verses may have begun shortly after the completion of the Diodorus. The ca. 1488 date of origin in Skelton’s personal calendar, which roughly coincides with his taking leave of Oxford, also coincides with the release of Thomas Howard (the Earl of Surrey and later Duke of Norfolk) from the tower late in that year to put down the northern uprising. This uprising resulted in the murder that is the occasion for Skelton’s Dolorus Dethe and Muche Lamentable Chaunce of the Mooste Honorable Erle of Northumberlande. As well, Skelton’s setting of works in Howard houses and his versified flattery of more than one generation of Howard ladies testify to that family’s support of Skelton’s early career, possibly such that the rejuvenation of the Howard family fortunes (ca. 1489) connects with Skelton’s gradual rise in court circles.55

  27. Strong or weak as it may have been, Skelton’s service to the Howards was certainly simultaneous with that to Henry VII. But Skelton associated with more northern families than the Howards, for his response to the murder of Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, in a tax revolt in 1489 — the very event that would lead to Henry VII’s appointment to the north of the once-disgraced Thomas Howard — suggests further connections. In writing the Dolorus Dethe, Skelton was acting like André as a Tudor apologist, much as he did in his other poems of the same time. However, in doing so, Skelton sought to set himself apart from other apologists in a manner that would have attracted attention at court as well as in the Percy household. Like the Diodorus, the Dolorus Dethe is a work which documents the material concerns of its author at the time of its composition.

  28. Although both Skelton and André wrote responses to this event,56 Skelton differentiated his work significantly, writing in a very dissimilar style and basing his response to the event on very different grounds. While André’s poem is a brief work containing 12 stanzas of four lines each, Skelton’s is comparatively longer, 217 lines (excluding prefatory and following matter), making up 31 stanzas of rhyme royal. André presented his work in Latin; Skelton found his voice in English, bracing his poem at either end with lines of Latin. Their differing approaches to the event on the surface also reflect their individual relations to the court in 1489. André, a continentally-trained cleric who was imported to England from France, was already receiving a generous annual pension. Skelton, born and trained an Englishman, was still seeking an adequate court living. While he would later fashion himself to be at the pinnacle of court poets writing in English,57 at the time of writing the Dolorus Dethe he was seeking royal favour, and the court lacked a poet working in this tradition.58 Skelton’s use of English and employment of rhyme royal in the Dolorus Dethe, thus, was itself part of a larger strategy to gain recognition at court as an English poet59 (a strategy that also saw his participation in the tradition of the vernacular lyric).60 Skelton was offering the native flavour lacking in the court poetry of the early part of Henry’s reign while upholding the standards of poetic statesmanship, an innovation that brought both valuable material and pro-Tudor sentiments to the vernacular.

  29. Certainly, Skelton’s choice of language and form would draw attention to his work, but the gulf between Skelton and André’s pieces is deeper: the distinction carries also into the matter and tone of each poet’s work. André glosses the event superficially and appears relatively untroubled by the uprising and the murder, whereas Skelton probes more deeply into the event and presents aspects of it in a Lydgate-like moral discourse.61 André’s work is a standard court poem, a conventional victory ode wherein the speaker presents a detached, court-centred view of the event, and ultimately praises the king. Skelton, however, deals with the event itself; he apologises for his plainness both in exposing the bare truth of the matter and in using rude English and unpolished rhetoric.62 While André thus chose to put an expected polish on the event, Skelton’s purpose was different.63 Skelton’s words acknowledge the incident and act as a vehicle by which others might know of the nature of the deed. The Dolorus Dethe looks to the moral centre of the situation, criticizing those who deserted the Earl and examining the bond between the people and their lord. Notably, at the same time it offers Skelton’s services to the new head of the family that had suffered the loss.

  30. Skelton, unlike Henry’s historian André in many ways in his treatment of the event, was also connected personally with the north64 and — as is suggested by his display of knowledge regarding the Northumberland household in the poem — was quite familiar with the people affected by the tragedy; André, lacking similar ties to the land and, seemingly, the same familiarity with the personalities, was less equipped to present a work with those concerns at the centre. As such, Skelton is able to intimate personal concern while presenting an explicit offer of service.65 This becomes evident when we consider that the poem eulogises the Earl in an address to his young successor, Henry Algernon Percy, and also to a member of the Percy household, William Rukshaw.66 At the time of the Earl’s death and the poem’s composition, however, Henry Algernon Percy (but a boy, at 11 years of age) was not old enough to assume control of the household; with the death of his father, Percy became a ward of the king. Percy’s wardship would lessen the potential impact of a direct appeal by Skelton and, while a plea to Percy in a propagandistic court poem could be construed as a petition to the king for royal appointment to the Percy household, Henry VII’s involvement with his wards generally did not run in this direction. The situation, though, does help explain the concluding address to Rukshaw.67 Skelton’s address to Rukshaw — who was at Cambridge at the same time as Skelton (ca. 1480) and who, after leaving Cambridge that year, had found immediate employment in the Percy household68 — draws upon this previous intimacy. By addressing a man who had been in the service of the Percies for nearly a decade, Skelton was appealing to an influential member of the household, one who might be of best assistance to him.

  31. In lamenting the death of the Earl, Skelton was, thus, doing more that fulfilling his duty as propagandist for Henry VII and vying for a stronger position in the Henrician court as a uniquely English poet. By addressing the young Percy through the event, with direct and indirect appeals,69 his poem is a personal solicitation, a vehicle for Skelton’s potential advancement — be it a monetary reward for the eulogy, or the longer association with the Percy household that is suggested by other works and circumstances.70

  32. The extra-regal support provided to Skelton by the Howards and the Percies would, like Skelton’s own acts of Tudor apologetics, attract notice of the kind that could work towards a more secure court appointment. He would continue to write state-oriented and propagandistic works after the Dolorus Dethe, though never in the same concentration as that of the several year period beginning with the completion of the Diodorus. Moreover, while he would ultimately receive a stable court appointment as tutor to prince Henry, this would occur roughly six years after the completion of the Diodorus, after writing verses in praise of the prince at his creation as Duke of York. But the position as tutor itself — in addition to reflecting his status as laureate, his intellectual standing in the milieu of Henry’s early court, and his perseverance in seeking a generous royal appointment — is not solely an indication of Skelton’s deserved embrace by the king. The position also reflects further extra-regal patronage: that of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.71

  33. Skelton’s placement as tutor was not explicitly a regal appointment, because Margaret, not Henry, was charged with the education of the younger prince.72 In Henry’s 1497 payment to Skelton, as is often noted, the document refers to Skelton as the “kinges moder poete.” Certainly, his works of a more pious nature are suggestive of his association with this patroness. “Uppon a Deedmans Hed,” one of the lyrics in Agaynste a Comely Coystrowne (ca. 1495), may have been written at the occasion of a token provided by Margaret shortly after Skelton’s appointment (Kinney 82). Skelton would also translate Guilleville’s La Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine for her73 and write an epitaph for her at Westminster. Skelton probably also wrote the “Prayer to the Father of Heaven” (ca. 1487)74 and adapted “Wofully Araid” (ca. 1495) for Margaret.75 Concurrent with the patronage of the Howards, the Percies, and the king, Margaret’s influence on Skelton’s position, moreover, is evident after his first departure from court circles, for she would provide him his living at Diss.76

    Concerns of Patronage, Acts of Poetic Statesmanship, and the Bowge

  34. What emerges from such a consideration of Skelton’s early works — one which looks to the conditions of poetic production in the early Tudor court, the acts of poetic statesmanship integral to the role of court poet (and “laureate,” as Skelton viewed the title), and the multiple ends that Skelton sought in his two major early works (the Diodorus and the Dolorus Dethe) — is, clearly, that there is an autobiographical context for many of his works. This context is, however, not the same as that of the later Skelton, the Orator Regius to Henry VIII who directly satirised the court in his interlude Magnificence and scolded Wolsey in his Why Come Ye Nat To Courte, and others. Rather, the earlier context reflects the personal material concerns of a poet operating within the system of regal and extra-regal patronage that existed in the earliest years of the Tudor era.

  35. While Skelton received some recognition for his Diodorus — and may have been rewarded to some degree for his works immediately following which commemorated, eulogised, and responded to important events in the court — Skelton’s early career saw him vying in the Diodorus, the Dolorus Dethe, and other works for necessary extra-regal patronage and increased regal recognition. Even when granted that recognition, in the form of the support and attention given to the tutor to a potential heir to the throne, Skelton does not turn to the invective we associate with him from his time at Diss and beyond. Rather, he continued his participation in acts of poetic statesmanship and added to them also the production of didactic and moralistic materials: the Boke of Honourous Estate, Royall Demenaunce, Soueraynte, the Boke How Men Shulde Fle Synne, Lerne You to Dye When Ye Wyll, the Boke to Speke Well or Be Styll, the New Gramer in Englysshe, Good Advysement, and Speculum Principis,77 among others, the majority of which are accepted to follow the printing of the Bowge. He had written some satire before the Bowge — consider, for example here, the lyric “Of all nacyons vnder the heuyn” of his Agaynste a Comely Coystrowne — but this was satire that was put in terms favorable to the court; in the case of “Of all nacyons vnder the heuyn,” the target of Skelton’s satiric canon was painted with the negative identities of political traitor, pretender to the throne, and others.

  36. Skelton’s invective, then, had not by the time of his composition of the Bowge turned on the court, nor was it (in that form) the dominant mode of his writing. As noted earlier, the time it is typically and most sensibly thought that Skelton produced the Bowge (ca. 1498-9) is the same time in which he received promotion (from subdeacon, to deacon, to priest) in the church, two generous payments from the king, and praise from Erasmus; it is also the time in which his literary projects specifically looked toward pleasing the crown, the Diologgis of Ymagynacyon and the Tratyse of Triumphis of the Rede Rose among them. It was, in short, a time during which Skelton saw the fruition of his long labour, a time during which the concerns for stable patronage put forward in his early work had been clearly and positively satisfied.

  37. Given this context, the Bowge does not appear at all to be an autobiographically-influenced, specifically English, and personally-motivated anti-court satire. Akin to most other works of Skelton’s early career, the Bowge reflects the material concerns of his position. Unlike those of the Diodorus and the Dolorus Dethe, however, those concerns are implicit in presentation, unified in focus, and inherently reflective of an adherence to court preferences and interests — chief among them those associated with expectations of poetic statesmanship and the requirements of patronage — that would dominate his works after his appointment as tutor. As such, we can expect the Bowge to be more of a general satire, adhering to conventions of the dream-vision and interpreting those of the morality, perhaps containing specific allusions (the “resydewe”) to a foreign court that now are lost on contemporary readers78 but, just as probably, interpreting temporally-fashionable elements of works such as the Ship of Fools for the edification and the pleasure of the court, while providing a general anti-court satire and drawing attention in a conventional way to the traditional allusive operation of the dream-vision.

  38. Appendix 1: Early Works Mentioned79

Works Cited


1 I wish to thank the Killam Trust for its generous support during the time in which the final version of this paper was written and revised, Mark Vessey for his helpful comments upon an earlier draft of this paper and his contributions to it (the least of which involved assistance with Poggio’s Diodorus), and Stephen Reimer and the EMLS readers for their very helpful comments on the penultimate draft of this work.

2 For arguments that the Bowge may be representative of a dramatic performance see, for example, Winser and Kozikowski (“Lydgate, Machiavelli, and More”). Such non-dramatic texts extant as representative of dramatic entertainments are not uncommon. Contemporary to Skelton, and involving an institution (the Chapel Royal) and a figure (Cornish) that were quite familiar to Skelton, consider William Cornish’s lyric “Yow and I and amyas” (BL Add. MS 31,922 45v-46r) which, by its allegorised characters and their interaction, appears to be directly associated with the Schatew Vert court pageant-disguising held 5 March 1522 (see Strietberger [112-4], L&P Henry VIII [III[ii] 1558-9], PRO SP 1/29 [228v-37r], and Hall [631-2]).

3 The earliest, expressed in print, may be that of the unattributed review of Dyce’s edition of Skelton (Anonymous, “[Review]” 111); aspects of this interpretation have (with varying emphases and strengths) been carried forward from H. Edwards’ early biography (61-5), to that of Nelson (79-81), to that of Pollet (37-8), to Alistair Fox’s recent “John Skelton and The Bowge of Courte: Self-analysis and Discovery” (Politics 24-36), to name several. Walker (“John Skelton” 5 ff.) discusses Skelton and the court itself, and Griffiths (56 ff.) provides an excellent recent engagement.

4 The astrological preface given to the Bowge suggests three dates, as Tucker argues (“Setting” 172): 19 September 1486 (which is discarded), 12 September 1499 (discarded because the composition date appears to be too close to the 1499 printing date), and 11 September 1480 (which Tucker favours); see also Brownlow.

5 See Tucker’s works and those of Brownlow (esp. [ed.] Book of the Laurel 214-31, 232-8) for summaries of the arguments for the Howard connections shown by the Garlande of Laurel and the Bowge; see also Kinney (191-4). Skelton’s relationship with the Howards has, however, come under more recent scrutiny by Walker (Skelton 5-34).

6 If Skelton’s authorship of the poem “Of the Deth of the Noble Prynce Kynge Edwarde the Forth” (ca. 1483) could be rightly established, it would be more believable that Skelton was already writing works such as the Bowge at this early date (see Kinsman and Yonge [16, D53]).

7 As noted above, 12 September 1499 is one of the possible dates given by the Bowge’s astrological preface (Tucker “Setting” 172).

8 Skelton received payments from the king (1497, 1498, 1502): the 1497 payment, of 66s. 8d., was given to “my lady the kinges moder poete” on 3-4 December 1497 (refer to PRO MS E101 [414/16] and H. Edwards [Skelton 288]); in 1498, Henry VII gave Skelton a payment after attending Skelton’s mass (PRO MS E101 [412/16; November 11-16, 1498], and Nelson [71]); as schoolmaster, Skelton received two payments (1502; see PRO MS E101 [415/3] and H. Edwards [Skelton 288-9]). He also enjoyed a fast rise in the clergy (1498), being ordained as subdeacon in March 1498, rising to deacon in April of that year, and to priest in the month of June; such a rise, not unprecedented in figures who were well-connected, does suggest favour (see Nelson [71] and, for a discussion of Skelton as Prince Henry’s chaplain in 1500, see Kinney [34]).

9 See Nelson (120-2) and Pollet (112-3); it may have been that he required actual sanctuary, or that he simply wished the proximity that these lodgings would have provided him.

10 While no manuscript is extant, it can be assumed (as per Saunders and others) that the work would have had some currency prior to printing.

11 Skelton would use the title of Orator Regius first in “Calliope” (ca. 1512), which he wrote after being granted that title by Henry VIII in a patent which is now lost; see Dyce for a discussion of the evidence of that patent (I: xv).

12 For discussions of Skelton and laureation, see Meyer-Lee (174-8; 205-19), Griffiths (19 ff.), H. Edwards (Skelton 34-6), Pollet (10-1), Nelson (40-7), and others. André, in his original grant of 1486, is referred to as Poet Laureate; see Gairdner (ix).

13 For a discussion of literary figures in the early Tudor court with reference to structures of patronage, see Nelson (4-39), Fox (Politics 11-24), Greene (168-202), and Kipling. For André in particular, refer to Carlson (“Royal Tutors”) and Gairdner; for Skelton, see Walker (“John Skelton”), Carlson (“Royal Tutors”), H. L. R. Edwards, Pollet, Carpenter, and Nelson.

14 See Carlson’s essays on patronage strategies in the early Tudor court — especially with reference to Alberici, Carmeliano, André (English Humanistic Books 20-101) — and Fox’s discussions of patronage with reference to Skelton, Barclay, and Hawes (Politics 9-72); see also Anglo (Spectacle) and Walker (Skelton). Note also that Henry VII made the office of royal librarian part of his household, and thereafter exercised a direct influence over literary production in the early Tudor court; see Kipling (121).

15 For further discussion of André’s work, see Gairdner as well as Nelson (25, 239-42 ) and, on the relation of Skelton’s work to that of the other court poets, see Nelson (23-9).

16 To a lesser degree, so did other literary figures who found a place at Henry VII’s court provide a model. Of Skelton and André, Walker has noted that “If there was a true King’s Orator at the court of Henry VII, that man was Bernard André, not John Skelton” (Skelton 43); while this assessment runs contrary to that expressed by most Skelton biographers, it does concur with what little evidence is available for the reconstruction of Skelton’s first period of favour in the Tudor court, from his Oxford laureation to his dismissal as prince Henry’s tutor (see Walker’s chapter entitled “The Court Career of John Skelton, King’s Orator” [Skelton 35-52]). Walker (“John Skelton” 8–9) provides a concise survey of Skelton’s early career.

17 Kinsman and Yonge find this attribution to be doubtful (18, D57), but see Asmole, Order of the Garter (1672; 594); it is reprinted in Dyce’s edition (87-8).

18 “Prince Arturis Creacyoun.” See the Garlande (1178) and Kinsman and Yonge (30, L105). From here on, citations to such works will be abbreviated to the form (G x; KY x, x).

19 “Epigramma ad tanti principis maiestatem”; attached to Speculum Principis, see the Garlande (1226-1232), KY (15, C51) and Salter (36-7).

20 “Recule Ageinst Gaguyne” (G 1187; KY 30, L106). See also H. Edwards (“Gaguin”), Nelson (26), Pollet (19-20), and, for new speculation about the occasion of the poem, see Carlson (“Latin Writings” 109-12).

21 André’s poem is reprinted and translated by Gairdner (133-53; 307-27). In the Garlande (1224-6), Skelton refers to this poem as the “Tratyse of the Triumphis of the Rede Rose”; a marginal note identifies its subject as the “bellum Cornubiense” (KY 31, L113).

22 I give the dating of Skelton’s appointment based on scholarly consensus; see Nelson (73) and Salter (36-7). Certainly, he was secure at court by ca. 1495, when Cornish set his lyrics, such as “Manerly Margery Mylk and Ale,” to music (Fayrfax MS, BL Add. MS 5,465 96v-99r) and Skelton responded to the attack of a court musician in Agaynste a Comely Coystrowne.

23 Skelton’s last appearance as tutor is at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth in 1503; see PRO MS LC 2/1 (72v), and Kinney (34).

24 Records for these events are noted above. His praise from Erasmus appears in a letter to Henry VIII — “Skeltonum, vnum Brittanicarum litterarum lumen ac decus” (Erasmus I: 241) — and in verse — “Te principe Skelton / Anglia nil metuat / Vel cum Romanis versu certare poetis” (“Carmen Extemporale,” BL MS Egerton 1651 6v-7r); see A. Edwards (43-6).

25 André produced a large number of didactic works; see Gairdner for a list of André’s works, as well as Nelson (239-42).

26 (G 1175; KY 31, L112). Probably a translation of Gerson’s Ars Moriendi, of which there were 5 early translations ca. 1490-1506 (STC 789-793); Caxton printed two of these, one in 1490 and one in 1491.

27 (G 1175; KY 25, L79). Possibly this is a translation of Albertanus de Brescia’s Tractatus de Doctrina Dicendi et Tacendi (ca. 1260) by way of L’art et science de bien parler et de soy taire (ca. 1500). Skelton uses this proverbial saying, and notes it as such, in the first lyric of Agaynste a Comely Coystrowne (64).

28 (G 1186; KY 25, L77). A Replycacion gives its subject as “heuenly inspyracion / In laureate creacyon” (360-1, 372-3).

29 (G 1496; KY 29, L101). Possibly it is a translation of Ovid’s Heroides.

30 This is presumed to be a translation of the French Imaginacion de Vraye Noblesse, itself presented to the king in 1496 by the royal librarian (G 1180; KY 26-7, L86). For conjecture on the Imaginacion (BL MS Royal 19 C. vii), see H. Edwards (Skelton 58). For the reflection of the vrai noblesse theme in Medwall’s interlude Fulgens and Lucres (ca. 1496), see Siemens (31).

31 Presumed to be a translation of Guilleville’s La Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine (G 1219-22; KY 29-30, L103). Lydgate had translated in verse Gallope’s The Pylgremage of the Sowle, printed by Caxton (1483), and Hendred had translated the same in prose (printed by Pynson in 1508).

32 Though often overlooked in the later twentieth century, Skelton wrote lyrics chiefly in the English courtly tradition during this time as well.

33 See Grace Book (54) for the record which certifies that Skelton held the degree of laureate at Cambridge, and had been previously granted that award at Oxford and overseas, presumably Louvain; also, see Nelson (63).

34 Perhaps Caxton also shows an awareness in his praise of the Dolorus Dethe. His comment “I suppose he hath dronken of Elyccons well” (A2) may be a commonplace statement of praise in this case, but may also be in reference to the last lines of the second stanza of that poem: “to the for help I kall, / Myne homely rudnes and drighnes to expelle / With the freshe waters of Elyconys welle” (12-4).

35 However, considering that the Eneydos was dedicated to Prince Arthur, Caxton’s praise of Skelton’s scholarship and poetic prowess does at least intimate that Skelton was a figure recognised, and possibly held in high regard, by those at court. Caxton also announces Skelton’s Oxford laureation. For André’s record, refer to Gairdner (ix); for a reprinting of Caxton’s preface, see A. Edwards (42).

36 See Pollet (11) and Nelson (42 ff.), among others, for the nature of Skelton’s association with Oxford, and for a discussion of his Cambridge education as well.

37 (G 1184-5; KY 24, L71). See Nelson (49, 139) and H. Edwards (Skelton 34, 168) for discussion of these works’ fulfilment of the degree of laureate ca. 1488.

38See Griffiths (38 ff.) for a recent, important engagement. Poggio’s work could have been available to Skelton in print (1472, 1476, 1481) and manuscript form (1485); Salter and Edwards do not state what exemplar Skelton used (xvii). An early English humanist, John Free (see Balliol MS 124), had worked with the Latin Diodorus ca. 1464, but Skelton was the first to render it into English. There is a tradition which supports the claim that Poggio stole Free’s work (Diodorus xx-xxi), but Skelton refers solely to Poggio, who had completed his translation by 1449.

39 Corpus Christi MS 275. Watermarks on the paper date from 1486 and 1487 (xi-xv); see also KY (xxi; 14-5, C50). Skelton’s Diodorus must have been completed and circulating by 1490 for it to have received Caxton’s praise. Its owner in the early sixteenth century, Robert Pen, was a gentleman of the Chapel under both Henry VII and Henry VIII; Skelton’s relation with the Chapel can also be seen in the connection between himself and Cornish, who set Skelton’s lyrics ca. 1495.

40 Such material might be especially expected in a work of this kind by Skelton when one considers the generous dedicatory matter surrounding the roughly contemporary Dolorus Dethe; the dedicatory material of the Dolorus Dethe is discussed below. In the extant copy of the Diodorus, one might also expect that some of the dedicatory material would have appeared at its conclusion, but our witness is incomplete, ending half way through the fifth book (Skelton’s reference to the Diodorus in the Garlande is to six books [xi; 1498]).

41 From “Prohemye of Poggio” to “Interpretatio Skeltoni poetae Laureati” (1 fn.).

42 (1 fn.). Scribal emendations to this manuscript, though not rare, occur to the same extent in only one other place of the manuscript (381). In this latter case, an attempt has been made to erase the majority of words in a passage which explains the situation surrounding the origins of the minotaur; possibly, the erasure was made on moral grounds.

43 See Skelton’s comments on Poggio in the Garlande (372-3). Nelson discusses the Diodorus, in part, as a humanistic work (47), and comments on Skelton’s method of rhetorical elaboration (52); see, as well, H. Edwards (24-6), the introduction to the edition of Salter and Edwards (II: xxxiv ff.), and Gordon (82-101), but also Fox (Reassessing 12-3), Carlson (“Latin Writings” 7-12), and Scattergood (288 ff.).

44 “Humanism was only one among other literary modes available for Skelton to try out as approaches to the various literary projects he took on in the course of a career characterised by alteration” (Carlson, “Latin Writings” 11). As Carlson notes, further, for transitional figures such as Skelton it is “useful to think in terms of humanistic gestures — manifestations, intermittent perhaps, of the characteristic humanist desire to return ad fontes” (English Humanistic Books 5). Of Skelton and humanism in particular, Fox notes that “to all appearances he seems the exemplary English humanist” (Reassessing 12), but continues that his “major works, however, tell another story” (13).

45 In addition to André, at roughly the same time Carmeliano was also working with the matter of history, albeit contemporary English history, in his narrative “Suasoria læticiæ pro sublatis bellis ciuilibus et Arthuro principe nato epistola” (BL Add. MS 33,736); this work contextualises the birth of Arthur, which itself is posited as a rebirth of the original king who unified the land.

46 Notably, such a model as Skelton presents in the Diodorus would be adhered to in the English histories of André, Polydore Vergil, and, ultimately, Edward Hall and his vernacular followers. Note also that Skelton’s work includes a translation of Diodorus’ rendition of the twelve triumphs of Hercules, which would become the basis of André’s later work commemorating the first twelve years of Henry’s reign.

47 For example, Poggio’s discussion of the operations of the court of Egyptian kings provides good matter for Skelton, who wished to show his potential value in Henry’s court and the living that would be suitable for one with his skills:

For they supposid it was not syttynge that they shold lacke suffycyent lyuynge that were mynystris and seruyturis of the wele in commyn, for they were alleway in euery mater of grauyte callyd vnto counseyll, expownynge vnto the prynces thynges to come . . . More-ouer they recyted the gestis & fayttes of former pryncis in theyr bokis of sacred cronycles of recorde, wherby theyr kynges myght haue notyce & vnderstondynge what thyngis were most expedyent for theym to ensiewe. (100)

48 The source in Poggio reads “Thaliam quod in longum tempus poetarum laus parta uirescat” (XLVIIIr).

49 Poggio reads “Erato quod docti homines ab hominibus amentur” (XLVIIIr). Pollet notes that the Erato passage was “clearly inspired by a wish to attract notice at court” (12); here, he continues, Skelton voices “an undisguised ambition to find favour with the king” (12). Nelson found Skelton exalting his trade and pleading for patronage (64).

50 Skelton may also be playing with the words “laureate.” The translation of nine words of Poggio — “Qui tamen omnes historiæ munere laude sempiterna celebrati sunt” (XLVv) — presents, in a much-expanded form, material toward Skelton’s goal of royal placement; of regents, he states that

. . . alle in nombre be acquyted of their moche vertuous and notable guydynge with historyous monumentis of remembraunce intermynable; whos famous names inscrybed be, with laureate lettres inviolably euermore to endure, emonge the celestial senatours entronanysed & crowned with the contynuel enverdured laureate leues of victoryous tryumphe in the gloryous cyte of fame. (342)

Laureations in Skelton’s day were rare but were possessed by other poets already in Henry’s service, such as André and Carmeliano (Carmeliano also refers to himself as such [BL MS Royal 12 A xxix]). Skelton’s equal title, presumably soon to be obtained, would place him in their intellectual company and render him fit for services such as they were already providing.

51 Skelton raises this point early on, representing the immortalisation of history in terms of a court of fame:

. . . the noble fayttes of vertue be inmortally registred in the Courte of Fame specially whan the bounte of mater historyal cometh in place & is admytted to make reporte. (7)

Skelton would later carry the idea of the ‘court of fame’ into the Garlande in order to immortalise himself.

52 This would occur, for André, more than a decade later.

53 Skelton may also be using the idea of “prelacy” as being synonymous with “advancement” or “preferment,” as it sometimes was; again, the exemplar was André.

54 See Tucker (“Ladies”), who also states that the relationship of Skelton and the Howards will be the subject of a future book (Life 74). This relationship, however, has come under more recent scrutiny by Walker (Skelton 5-34). See Tucker’s works and those of Brownlow (esp. [ed.] Book of the Laurel 214-31, 232-8) for summaries of the arguments for the Howard connections shown by the Garlande and Bowge; see also Kinney (191-4). Carlson summarises the arguments surrounding the stages of composition for the Garlande (“Latin Writings” 102-9). Tucker argues that Thomas Howard’s first wife, Elizabeth Tylney, was patroness to Skelton (Life 9). Scattergood (276 ff.) most recently connects the work and its connection to the Percy Household.

55 This, after Thomas assumed Henry Percy’s place as Lieutenant of the North, as Tucker has suggested (19).

56 André laments the event in his “De Northumbrorum comitis nece” (Gairdner, 48-9).

57 Skelton’s reverence for vernacular poets of the past, especially those of England, is seen in the situation of the Garlande (386-99); see also Phyllyp Sparowe (784-813) and elsewhere. He notes that he is differentiated from those poets by his possession of the laurel.

58 While Greene finds that Skelton “in common with his foreign colleagues . . . preferred to write his formal political verse in Latin rather than English” (193), this does not appear true of his earlier work which is extant, especially if one considers the possibility of Skelton’s authorship of Edward IV’s elegy; see KY (16, D53).

59 Greene also suggests that Skelton’s choice of language in some of his works, including the Dolorus Dethe, was intended to draw attention to himself (194).

60 It is significant to note Skelton’s interest in the English lyric, which is reflected in works such as “Manerly Margery Mylk and Ale,” those contained in Agaynste a Comely Coystrowne and Divers Balettys and Dyties Solacyous, and, possibly, those which he mentions in the Garlande: “The Balade . . . of the Mustarde Tarte” (1241-7; KY 24, L75), “A Devoute Prayer to Moyses Hornis” (1381; KY 26, L85), “The Murnyng of the Mapely Rote” (1377; KY 28, L97), and “The Vmblis of Venyson” (1240-4; KY 31, L114); perhaps his work How Iollas Lovyd goodly Phillis is in the same vein (G 1497; KY 27, L92). Like his use of English in court poetry, this represents an aspect of English literary tradition in which the predominantly foreign court poets which Henry VII engaged in the production of propagandistic materials did not participate. Skelton, however, was able to write in that mode and, apparently, to embrace the “familiar poetic role,” as Spearing calls it (235), of the courtly maker. Skelton, thus, defines the role of a court poet in a fashion more English than they were able.

61The Dolorus Dethe, as has been asserted by H. Edwards (Skelton 24) is closely modelled on Vinsauf’s lament for Richard I, which Chaucer also used in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. “Of the Deth of the Noble Prynce Kynge Edwarde the Forth” (ca. 1483), a school-of-Lydgate poem which has been attributed to Skelton, contains similar moral overtones; specifically of interest is the attention it draws to the moral basis of relationship of the king and his people, tonal echoes of which are found in the Dolorus Dethe. See KY (16, D53), who outline the arguments for and against the attribution of Edward’s elegy but question Skelton’s authorship of it; also, refer to Brownlow (18-9), who supports Skelton’s authorship. Lloyd discusses both poems as they relate to Skelton’s early poetic development (25-8); see also Gordon (46-8). Griffiths (24) most recently discusses the strategy of the work.

62 “What, shuld I flatter? What, shulde I glose or paynt?” (41); “Mi wordis unpullysht be nakide and playne, / Of aureat poems they want ellumynyge; / Bot by them to knoulege ye may attayne / Of this lordis dethe and of his murdrynge “ (127-30).

63 As Pollet notes, “André, a foreigner, took his stand on the level of official rhetoric, which was his trade. John Skelton, an Englishman, took his stand on the level of moral action, which he considered to be his mission” (16).

64 On these connections, see Pollet (6 ff.), among others.

65 “Ad libitum cuius ipse paratus ero” (8). This offer of service may have been received by Percy in the form of a presentation copy of the poem, as would be consistent with contemporary habits of court writers and their dedicatee. The idea of a presentation copy is suggested by the earliest text of the poem, a highly ornamented copy made by Percy several decades after the date of the event (ca. 1516-23; BL MS Royal 18.D.II 165r-166v); that the text had significant import to the Earl is confirmed by the occurrence of its copying and the copy’s elaborate script and ornamentation. Carlson reprints the final leaf of the poem from this manuscript (“Latin Writings” 27); see also KY (6-7, C18).

66 For Skelton’s possible relationship with Rukshaw, see Pollet (7, 10, 207-8), among others.

67 “Accipe nunc demum, doctor celeberrime Rukshaw, / Carmina, de calamo que cecidere meo” (222-3).

68 See Pollet (10) and H. Edwards (Skelton 32).

69 In addition to what has been discussed above, note also that Skelton at times in the poem assumes the role of educator, one who could be perhaps of service to the young Percy. Further, lines within the poem that echo the initial pledge of service — Skelton reminds Percy to “remembre thyn astate” (162-3) and of those who served under the father, that “with hym enterteyned / In fee” (184-5) — may also suggest that Skelton was urging a continuance of family patronage under the new head of the household.

70 A more formal association with the Percies is itself suggested by Skelton’s lost drama, Pajauntis that were played in Joyows Garde (see Garlande [1383]; possibly, this work is related to Castell Aungell [G 1387; KY 25, L81]), a work which complimented the Percies by its setting in a castle they owned, and by the report that the walls of the Percy castle at Leconfield were adorned with verses by Skelton (see Pollet [8, 208]; as well, in Skelton’s later work Magnificence, he mentions Cumberland, the site of another Percy castle [1075-6]).

71 Some recent historians have shyly avoided this link. Jones and Underwood do not discuss the relations of Skelton and Margaret in the least, while Simon attempts to downplay their connection, stating that “Margaret engaged as one of [prince Henry’s] tutors John Skelton, the poet laureate and a cleric, whose cynical and often lewd verses were unknown to the pious Margaret” (126).

72 As such, Skelton’s regular income as tutor probably came from Margaret’s household (Nelson 71, 74). Both the poet and matriarch had ties with northern England, Skelton by birth and relationships with the Howards and Percies and Margaret by her choice of association (Pollet 8-9). It was probably Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester and chaplain and confessor to Margaret, who brought Skelton to her attention (H. Edwards, Skelton 56), though it is not unlikely that she was familiar with Skelton’s earlier works of a humanist nature, such as the Diodorus, for she proved a good patron for such work. André and Gigli dedicated writings to her (Nelson 22), as did Skelton.

73 See Pollet (9, 31) and Henry’s payment of 1497 to “my lady the kinges moder poete,” which Carpenter suggests is a reward for this work (20).

74 In BL ADD MS 20,059 (100v-101r). It appears attributed to Skelton in Certayne Bookes (c. 1545); see KY (17, D54, and 50, 52, 63).

75 Garlande (1418-9); KY (32-3, L118). This lyric is in the Fayrfax MS, the same manuscript as “Manerly Margery,” and is once set by Cornish (Stevens 369-70) and once by Browne (Stevens 372). Dyce attributes it to Skelton (I: 141-3).

76 See Kinney (33) and H. Edwards (Skelton 78), among others.

77 These works are noted in more detail, above. Skelton would use this work, after the death of Henry VII, in plea reminiscent of those found in the Diodorus and the Dolorus Dethe, to secure favour in the court of Henry VIII.

78 Considering the female ruler of the ship, one might think of that of the lowlands, ruled by the oft-depicted venomous Margaret of Burgundy. Margaret of Burgundy (Edward IV's sister), who supported pretenders to Henry VII's throne and, thus, attempted to destabilise the early Tudor government from outside. Represented by Hall, Margaret is given the attributes of a serpent: she "wrought all the wayes possible how to sucke [Henry VII's] bloud and compasse his destruction as the principal head of her aduerse parte & contrary faccion"; she is shown to be "full of poyson" (430) and likened to a "vyper that is ready to burste with superfluyte of poyson" (430, 462).

79 This list includes those works, roughly up to the date of Skelton’s departure for Diss, that are plausible; see Kinsman and Yonge. Dates are approximate, as per scholarly consensus.

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© 2010-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).