JOHN SKELTON<1> is generally said to have been descended from the Skeltons of
[The following entry pertaining to a John Skelton was discovered by Mr. W. H. Black in the Public Record Office.]
23d Feb. 12 Edw. iv. . "Tribus subclericis, videlicet
There is, Mr. Black thinks, a possibility that Skelton had been employed, while a youth, as an under-clerk in the Receipt of the Exchequer; and he observes, that it would seem to have been a temporary occupation, as there is no trace of any person of that name among the admissions to offices in the Black Book.
The statement of his biographers, that he was educated at
"Alma parens O Cantabrigensis,
. . . .
. . . tibi quondam carus alumnus eram;"<4>
Consolatory Poem before A Replication &c.
adding in a marginal note, "Cantabrigia Skeltonidi laureato primam mammam eruditionis pientissime propinavit."<5> Hence it is probable that the poet was the "one Scheklton," who, according to Cole, became M. A. at
Of almost all Skelton's writings which have descended to our times, the first editions<7> have perished; and it is impossible to determine either at what period he commenced his career as a poet, or at what dates his various pieces were originally printed. That he was the author of many compositions which are no longer extant, we learn from the pompous enumeration of their titles in the Garland of Laurel.<8> The lines, Of the death of the noble prince, King Edward the Fourth. who deceased in 1483, were probably among his earliest attempts in verse.
In 1489 Skelton produced an elegy Upon the dolorous death and much lamentable chance of the most honorable Earl of Northumberland,<9> who was slain during a popular insurrection in
Skelton had acquired great reputation as a scholar, and had recently been laureated at Oxford,<12> when Caxton, in 1490, published The Book of Aeneados complied by Virgil,<13> in the Preface to which is the following passage: "But I pray master John Skelton, late created poet laureate in the university of Oxenford, to oversee and correct this said book, And t'address and expound where as shall be found fault to them that shall require it. For him I know for sufficient to expound and English every difficulty that is therin. For he hath late translated the epistles of Tully,<14> and the book of Diodorus Siculus,<15> and diverse other works out of Latin into English, not in rude and old langage, but in polished and ornate terms craftily, as he that hath read Virgil, Ovid, Tully, and all the other noble poets and orators, to me unknown: And also he hath read the ix. Muses and understand their musical sciences, and to whom of them each science is appropred. I suppose he hath drunken of
"A King to me mine habit gave:
At Oxford, the university,
Advanced I was to that degree;
By whole consent of their senate,
I was made poet laureate."
Fourth poem Against Garnesche
Our laureate, a few years after, was admitted ad eundem ("to the same")at
"Your sword ye swear, I ween,
So trenchant and so keen,
Shall kit both white and green
Your folly is too great
The King's colours to threat;"
Third poem Against Garnesche
from which we may infer that he wore, as laureate, a dress of white and green, or, perhaps, a white dress with a wreath of laurel. It was most probably on some part of the same habit that the word Calliope was embroidered in letters of silk and gold:
As ye may see,
Regent is she
Of poetes all,
Which gave to me
The high degree
Laureate to be
Of fame royal;
Whose name enrolled
With silk and gold
I dare be bold
Thus, for to wear" &c.
In the following passage Barclay perhaps glances at Skelton, with whom (as will afterwards be shown) he was on unfriendly terms;
"But of their writing though I ensue the rate,
No name I challenge of Poet Laureate:
That name unto them is meet and doth agree
Which writeth matters with curiosity.
Mine habit black accordeth not with green
Black betokeneth death as it is daily seen;
The green is pleasure, fresh lust and jollity;
These two in nature hath great diversity.
Then who would ascribe, except he were a fool,
The pleasaunt laurer unto the mourning cowl?"<19>
Warton has remarked, that some of Skelton's Latin verses, which are subscribed—"Haec laureatus Skeltonis, regius orator"—"Per Skeltonida laureatum, oratorem regium," ("Skelton the laureate, royal orator")—seem to have been written in the character of royal laureate;<20> and perhaps the expression "of fame royal" in Skelton's lines on Calliope, already cited, may be considered as strengthening this supposition. There would, indeed, be no doubt that Skelton was not only a poet laureated at the universities, but also poet laureate or court poet to Henry the Eighth, if the authenticity of the following statement were established; "la patente qui declare Skelton poète laureate d'Henry viii. est datée de la cinquième année de son règne, ce qui tomb en 1512 ou 1513:" so (after giving correctly the second entry concerning Skelton's laureation at Cambridge) writes the Abbé du Resnel in an essay already mentioned; having received, it would seem, both these statements concerning Skelton from Carte the historian, <21> who, while he communicated to Du Resnel one real document, was not likely to have forged another for the purpose of misleading the learned Frenchman. On this subject I can only add, that no proof has been discovered of Skelton's having enjoyed an annual salary from the crown in consequence of such an office.
The reader will have observed that in the first entry given above from the Cambridge Univ. Regist. Skelton is described as having been laureated not only at
"IN CLARISSIMI SCHELTONIS LOUANIENSIS POETAE LAUDES EPIGRAMMA.
Quum terra omnifero laetissima risit amictu,
Plena novo foetu quaelibet arbor erat;
Vertice purpurei vultus incepit honores
Extensis valvis pandere pulchra rosa;
Et segetum tenero sub cortice grana tumescent,
Flavescens curvat pendula spica caput.
Vix Cancri tropicos aestus lustravit anhelans
Pythius, et Nemeae vertit ad ora ferae,
Vesper soils equos oriens dum clausit Olympo,
Agmina stellarum surgere cuncta jubet:
Hic primo aspiceres ut Cynthia vecta sereno
Extulerat surgens cornua clara polo;
Inde Hydram cernas, stravit quam clava trinodis
Alcidae, nitidis emicuisse comis;
Tum<23> Procyon subiit, praepes Lepus, hinc Jovis ales,
Arctos, et Engonasus, sidus et Eridani;
Ignivomis retinet radiis quae stellifer orbis
(Quid multis remorer?) sidera cuncta micant.
Nutat Atlanteum convexum pondus, ocellis
Dum lustro haec aegris, vergit et oceano.
Tum furtim alma quies repens mihi membra soporat,
Curaque Lethaeo flumine mersa jacet:
O mihi quam placidis Icelos tulit aurea somnis
Somnia, musiphilis non caritura fide!
Nuncia percelebris Polyhymnia blanda salutans
Me Clarii ut visam numina sacra citat.
Ut sequar hanc laetus, mihi visus amoena vireta
Et nemorum umbrosos praeteriisse sinus:
Scilicet haec montes monstraverat inter eundum
Et fontes Musae quos coluere sacros;
Castalios latices, Aganippidos atque Medusei
Vidimus alipedis flumina rupta pede;
Antra him Libethri monstrat Pimpleidos undas,
Post vada Cephisi, Phocidos atque lacus;
Nubifer assurgit mons Pierus atque Cithaeron,
Gryneumque nemus dehinc Heliconque sacer:
Inde et Parnasi bifidi secreta subimus,
Tota ubi Mnemosynes sancta propago manet.
Turba pudica novem dulce hic cecinere sororum;
Delius in medio plectra chelynque sonat:
Aurifluis laudat modulis monumenta suorum
Vatum, quos dignos censet honore poli:
De quo certarunt Salamin, Cumae, vel Athenae,
Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, primus Homerus erat;
Laudat et Orpheum, domuit qui voce leones,
Eurydicen Stygiis qui rapuitque rogis;
Antiquum meminit Musaeum Eumolpide natum,
Te nec Aristophanes Euripidesque tacet;
Vel canit illustrem genuit quem Teia tellus,
Quemque fovit dulci Coa camena sinu;
Deinde cothurnatum celebrem dat laude Sophoclem,
Et quam Lesbides pavit amore Phaon;
AEschylus, Amphion, Thespis nec honore carebant,
Pindarus, Alcaeus, quem tuleratque Paros;
Sunt alii plures genuit quos terra Pelasga,
Daphnaeum cecinit quos meruisse decus:
Tersa Latinorum dehinc multa poemata texit,
Laude nec Argivis inferiora probat;
Insignem tollit ter vatem, cui dedit Andes
Cunas urbs, clarum Parthenopaea taphum;
Blanda Corinna, tui Ponto religatus amore,
Sulmoni natus Naso secundus erat;
Inde nitore fluens lyricus genere Appulus ille
Qui Latiis primus mordica metra tulit;
Statius AEacidem sequitur Thebaida pingens,
Emathio hinc scribens praelia gesta solo;
Cui Verona parens lathe mollis seriptor amorum,
Tu nec in obscuro, culte Tibulle, lates;
Haud reticendus erat cui patria Bilbilis, atque
Persius hinc mordax crimina spurca notans;
Eximius pallet vel Seneca luce tragoedus,
Comicus et Latii bellica praeda ducis;
Laudat et hinc alios quos saecula prisca fovebant;
Hos omnes longum iam meminisse foret.
Tum<24> Smintheus, paulo spirans, ait, ecce, sorores,
Qum clausa oceano terra Britanna nitet!
Oxoniam claram Pataraea ut regna videtis,
Aut Tenedos, Delos, qua mea fama viret:
Nonne fluunt istic nitidae Permessidos undae,
Istic et Aoniae sunt juga visa mihi?
Alma fovet vates nobis haec terra ministros,
Inter quos Schelton jure canendus adest:
Numina nostra colit; canit hic vel carmina cedro
Digna, Palatinis et socianda sacris;
Grande decus nobis addunt sua scripta, linenda
Auratis, digna ut posteritate, notis;
Laudiflua excurrit serie sua culta poesis,
Certatim palmam lectaque verba petunt;
Ora lepore fluunt, sicuti dives Tagus auro,
Aut pressa Hyblaeis dulcia mella favis;
Rhetoricus sermo riguo fecundior horto,
Pulchrior est multo puniceisque rosis,
Unda limpidior, Parioque politior albo,
Splendidior vitro, candidiorque nive,
Mitior Alcinois pomis, fragrantior ipso
Thureque Pantheo, gratior et violis;
Vincit te, suavi Demosthene, uncit Ulyxim
Eloquio, atque senem quem tulit ipse Pylos;
Ad fera bella trahat verbis, nequiit quod Atrides
Aut Brisis, rigidum te licet, AEacides;
Tantum eius verbis tribuit Suadela Venusque
Et Charites, animas quolibet ille ut agat,
Vel Lacedaemonios quo Tyrtaeus pede claudo
Pieriis vincens martia tela modis,
Magnus Alexander quo belliger actus ab illa
Maeonii vatis grandisonante tuba;
Gratia tanta suis virtusque est diva camenis,
Ut revocet manes ex Acheronte citos;
Leniat hic plectro vel pectora saeva leonum,
Hic strepitu condat moenia vasta lyrae;
Omnimodos animi possit depellere morbos,
Vel Niobes luctus Heliadumque truces;
Reprimat hic rabidi Saulis sedetque furores,
Inter delphinas alter Arion erit;
Ire Cupidineos quovis hic cogat amores,
Atque diu assuetos hic abolere queat;
Auspice me tripodas sentit, me inflante calores
Concipit aethereos, mystica diva canit;
Stellarum cursus, naturam vasti et Olympi,
Aeris et vires hic aperire potest,
Vel quid cunctiparens gremio tellus fovet almo
Gurgite quid teneat velivolumque mare;
Monstratur digito phoenice ut rarior uno,
Ecce virum de quo splendida fama volat!
Ergo decus nostrum quo fulget honorque, sorores,
Heroas laudes accumulate viro;
Laudes accumulent Satyri, juga densa Lycaei,
Pindi, vel Rhodopes, Maenala quique colunt;
Ingeminent plausus Dryades facilesque Napaeae,
Oreadum celebris turba et Hamadryadum;
Biandisonum vatem, vos Oceanitidesque atque
Naiades, innumeris tollite praeconiis;
AEterno vireat quo vos celebravit honore,
Illius ac astris fama perennis eat:
Nunc maduere satis vestro, nunc prata liquore
Flumina, Pierides, sistite, Phoebus ait.
Sat cecinisse tuum sit, mi Schelton, tibi laudi
Haec Whitintonum: culte poeta, vale.
Ex capitalibus hexametrorum litteris solerter compositis emergit hoc distichon;
Qua Whitintonus canit ad laudes tibi, Schelton,
Anglorum natum gloria, sume libens."<25>
The following verses are transcribed from a MS. (in the collection of the late Mr. B. H. Bright,) consisting of Hymni, &c., by Picus Mirandula:—
"Pici Mirandulae Carmen Extemporale.
Quid tibi facundum nostra in praeconia fontem
Sterna vates, Skelton, dignissime lauro,
Nos neque Pieridum celebramus antra sororum,
Forte nec Aonio
Ebibimus natum ditantes ora liquores.
At tibi Apollo chelym [sic]
Auratam dedit, et vocalia plectra sorores;
Inque tuis labiis
Dulcior Hyblaeo residet suadela liquore:
Sed tibi Calliope
Infudit totam: tu carmine vincis olorem;
Cedit et ipse tibi
Ultro porrecta cithara Rhodopeius Orpheus:
Tu modulante lyra
Et mulcere feras et duras ducere quercus,
Tu potes et rapidos
Flexanimis fidibus fluviorum sistere cursus;
Flectere saxa potes.
Graecia Maeonio quantum debebat Homero,
Tantum Skeltoni iam sed debere fatetur
Terra Britanna suo:
Primus in hanc Latio deduxit ab orbe Camenas;
Primus hic edocuit
Exculte pureque loqui: te principe, Skelton,
Anglia nil metuat
Vel cum Romanis versa certare poetis.
Vive valeque diu!
Another laudatory notice of Skelton by a contemporary writer will not here be out of place;
"To all ancient poets, little book, submit thee,
Whilom flowering in eloquence facundious,
And to all other which present now be;
First to master Chaucer and Ludgate sententious,
Also to pregnant Barkley now being religious,
To inventive Skelton and poet laureate;
Pray them all of pardon both early and late."<26>
Skelton frequently styles himself "orator regius;"<27> but the nature of the office from which he derived the title is not, I believe, understood. The lines in which, as we have just seen, Whittington so lavishly praises his "rhetoricus sermo," allude most probably to his performances in the capacity of royal orator.
In 1498 Skelton took holy orders. The days on which, during that year, he was ordained successively subdeacon, deacon, and priest, are ascertained by the following entries:
"In ecclesia conventuali domus sive hospitalis sancti Thome martiris de Acon civitatis
"[In cathedra sancti Pauli
Johannes Skelton poet [sic] laureatus Lond. dioc. ad titulum Mon. de Graciis iuxta turrim
"In ecclesia conventuali hospitalis beat Marie de Elsing per Thomam Rothlucensem episcopum ix die mensis Iunii M. Johannes Skelton poeta lureatus [sic]
When Arthur, the eldest son of Henry the Seventh, was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, in 1489,<29> Skelton celebrated the event in a composition (probably poetical) called Prince Arthur's Creation,<30> of which the title alone remains; and when Prince Henry, afterwards Henry the Eighth, was created Duke of York, in 1494,<31> he was hailed by our author in some Latin verses—Carmen ad principem, quando insignitus erat ducis Ebor. titulo, ("A poem to the prince, when he was honoured with the title of Duke of York")—a copy of which (not to be found at present) was once among the MSS. in the Library of Lincoln Cathedral, having been seen by Tanner, who cites the initial words,-"Si quid habes, mea Musa." "If you have this, my Muse") <32>
As at the last mentioned date Prince Henry was a mere infant, there can be no doubt that the care of his education had not yet been intrusted to our poet. It must have been several years after 1494 that Skelton was appointed tutor to that prince,—an appointment which affords a striking proof of the high opinion entertained of his talents and learning, as well as of the respectability of his character. He has himself recorded in his that he held this important situation:
"The honor of
In dignity royal that doth excel:
Note and mark well this parcel;
I gave him drink of the sugared well
Of Helicon's waters crystalline,
Acquainting him with the Muses nine.
It cometh thee well me to remorde,
That creancer<33> was to thy sovereign lord:
It pleaseth that noble prince royal
Me as his master for to call
In his learning primordial."
Fourth poem Against Garnesche
And in another poem he informs us that he composed a treatise for the edification of his royal pupil:
"The Duke of York's creancer when Skelton was,
Now Henry the viii. King of England,
A treatise he devised and brought it to pass,
Called Speculum Principis, to bear in his hand,
Therin to read; and to understand
All the demeanour of princely estate,
To be our King, of God preordinate."<34>
Garland of Laurel v. 1228
The Speculum Principis has perished: we are unable to determine whether it was the same work as that entitled Methodos Skeltonidis laureati, sc. Praecepta quaedam moralia Henrico principi, postea Henr. viii, missa. Dat. apud Eltham A.D. MDI., which in Tanner's days<35> was extant (mutilated at the beginning) among the MSS. in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, but which (like the Latin verses mentioned in a preceding page) has since been allowed to wander away from that ill-guarded collection.
When Prince Henry was a boy of nine years old, Erasmus dedicated to him an ode De Laudibus Britanniae, Regisque Henricus Septimus ac Regiorum Liberorum. The Dedication contains the following memorable encomium on Skelton; "Et haec quidem interea tamquam ludicra munuscula tuae pueritiae dicavimus, uberiora largituri ubi tua virtus una cum aetate accrescens uberiorem carminum materiam suppeditabit. Ad quod equidem te adhortarer, nisi et ipse jamdudum sponte tua velis remisque (ut aiunt) eo tenderest et domi haberes Skeltonum, unum Britannicarum literarum lumen ac decus, qui tua studia possit, non solum accendere, sed etiam consummare;"<36> and in the Ode are these lines;
"Iam puer Henricus, genitoris nomine laetus,
Monstrante fonteis vate Skelton sacros,
Palladias teneris meditatur ab unguibus arteis."<37>
The circumstances which led to the production of this Ode are related by Erasmus in the following curious passage: "Is erat labor tridui, et tamen labor, quod iam annos aliquot nec legeram nec scripseram ullum carmen. Id partim pudor a nobis extorsit, partim dolor. Pertraxerat me Thomas Morus,<38> qui tum me in praedio Montjoii<39> agentem inviserat, ut animi causa in proximum vicum<40> expatiaremur. Nam illic educabantur omnes liberi regii, uno Arcturo excepto, qui tum erat natu Maximus. Ubi ventum est in aulam, convenit tota pompa, non solum domus illius, verum etiam Montjoiicae. Stabat in medio Henricus annos natus novem, iam tum indolem quondam regiam prae se ferens, h. e. animi celsitudinem cum singulari quadam humanitate conjunctam. A dextris erat Margareta, undecim ferme annos nata, qua post nupsit Jacobo Scotorum Regi. A sinistris, Maria lusitans annos nata quatuor. Nam Edmondus adhuc infans, in ulnis gestabatur. Morus cum Arnoldo sodali salutato puero Henrico, quo rege nunc floret Britannia, nescio quid scriptorum obtulit. Ego, quoniam hujusmodi nihil expectabam, nihil habens quod exhiberem, pollicitus sum aliquo pacto meum ergo ipsum studium aliquando declaraturum. Interim subirascebar Moro, quod non praemonuisset; et eo magis, quod puer Epistolio inter prandendum ad me misso, meum calamum provocaret. Abii domum, ac vel invitis Musis, cum quibus iam longum fuerat divortium, Carmen intro tridum absolvi. Sic et ultus sum dolorem meum et pudorem sarsi."<41>
The mother of Henry the Seventh, the Countess of Richmond and Derby, is well known to have used her utmost exertions for the advancement of literature; she herself translated some pieces from the French; and, under her patronage, several works (chiefly works of piety) were rendered into English by the most competent scholars of the time. It is to her, I apprehend, that Skelton alludes in the following passage of the Garland of Laurel, where he mentions one of his lost performances;
"Of my Lady's grace at the contemplation,
Out of French into English prose,
Of Man's Life the Peregrination,
He did translate, interpret, and disclose."
Garland of Laurel v 1221.
According to Churchyard, Skelton was "seldom out of prince's grace:"<42> yet among the Acts, Orders, and Decrees made by the King and his Counsel, remaining amongst the Records of the Court, now commonly called the Court of Requests, we find, under anno 17. Henry vii.; "10 Junii apud
(Easter term, 17. Henry vii.) "Johanne Skelton vidue de regard. Domini Regis—iij.li. vj.s. viij.d." <45>
It has been already shewn that Skelton took holy orders in 1498.<46> How soon after that period he became rector of Diss in Norfolk, or what portion of his life was spent there in the exercise of his duties, cannot be ascertained. He certainly resided there in 1504 and 1511,<47> and, as it would seem from some of his compositions,<48> in 1506, 1507 and 1513; in the year of his decease he was, at least nominally, the rector of Diss.<49>
We are told<50> that for keeping, under the title of a concubine, a woman whom he had secretly married, Skelton was called to account, and suspended from his ministerial functions by his diocesan, the bloody-minded and impure Richard Nykke (or Nix),<51> at the instigation of the friars, chiefly the Dominicans, whom the poet had severely handled in his writings. It is said, too, that by this woman he had several children, and that on his death-bed he declared that he conscientiously regarded her as his wife, but that such had been his cowardliness, that he chose rather to confess adultery (concubinage) than what was then reckoned more criminal in an ecclesiastic—marriage.
It has been supposed that Skelton was curate of Trumpington near
"Auctore Skelton, rectore de Dis.
Finis, &c. Apud Trumpinton scriptum<53> per Curatum eiusdem, quinto die Januarii Anne Domini, secundum computat.
Epitaph For John Clarke And Adam Udersall
But the meaning evidently is, that the curate of Trumpington had written out the verses composed by the rector of Diss; and that the former had borrowed them from the latter for the purpose of transcription, is rendered probable by two lines which occur soon after among some minor pieces of our author;
"Hanc volo transcribas, transcriptam moxque remittas
Pagellam; quia sunt qui mea scripta sciunt,"<55>
Anthony Wood affirms that "at Disse and in the diocese" Skelton "was esteemed more fit for the stage than the pew or pulpit."<56> It is at least certain that anecdotes of the irregularity of his life, of his buffoonery as a preacher, &c. &c. were current long after his decease, and gave rise to that tissue of extravagant figments which was put together for the amusement of the vulgar, and entitled the Merry Tales of Skelton.<57>
Churchyard informs us that Skelton's "talk was as he wrote;"<58> and in this propensity to satire, as well in conversation as in writing, originated perhaps those quarrels with Garnesche, Barclay, Gaguin, and Lily, which I have now to notice.
As the four poems Against Garnesche were composed "by the King's most noble commandment," we may conclude that the monarch found amusement in the angry rhymes with which Skelton overwhelmed his opponent. Garnesche it appears, was the challenger in this contest;<59> and it is to be regretted that his verses have perished, because in all probability they would have thrown some light on the private history of Skelton. The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy <60> bears a considerable resemblance to the verses against Garnesche; but the two Scottish poets are supposed to have carried on a sportive warfare of rude raillery, while a real animosity seems to have existed between our author and his adversary.<61> At the time of this quarrel (the exact date of which cannot be determined) Christopher Garnesche was gentleman usher to Henry the Eighth, and dignified with knighthood;<62> and (if Skelton may be credited) had risen from the performance of very menial offices to the station which he then occupied. As he had no claims on the remembrance of posterity, little is known concerning him; but since we have evidence that his services were called for on more than one occasion of importance, he must have been a person of considerable note. He is twice incidentally mentioned in connection with the royal sisters of Henry the Eighth. In 1514, when the Princess Mary embarked for
(Easter Term, 18 Hen. vii.) "Cristofero Garneys de regardo de denariis per Johannem Crawford et al. per manue. for.<65>—xl. li."
(i. e. in reward out of moneys forfeited by John Crawford and another upon bail-bond,)
(1st Henry viii.) "Item to Cristopher Garnesche for the King's offering at S. Edward's shrine the next day after the Coronation<66>—vj. s. viij. d."
(Easter Term, 1-2 Henry viii.)"Cristofero Garneys uni generosorum hostiariorum regis de annuitate sua durante regis beneplacito per annum—x. li.
Eidem Cristofero de foedo suo ad xx. li. per annum pro termino vite sue— xx. li." <67>
and we find that afterwards by letters patent dated 21st May, 7th Henry viii., in consideration of his services the King granted him an annuity of thirty pounds for life, payable half-yearly at the Exchequer.<68>
(11th Henry viii.) "Item to Sir Christopher Garnesche knight upon a warrant for the hire of his house at
(20th Henry viii.) "Cristofero Garnyshe militi de annuitate sua ad xxx l. per breve currens Rec. den. pro festo Michaelis ult. pret. viz. pro uno anno integro per manes Ricardi Alen<71>
see above: this entry is several times repeated, and occurs for the last time in 26th Henry viii.<72>
The following extracts, collected by Mr. D. E. Davy in
"Sir Christopher Garnesche, knt., whom I suppose to be the person who was the object of Skelton's satire, was the second son of Edmund Garnesche, esq. of Beccles, who was the second son of Peter Garnesche, esq. of Beccles, whose eldest son, Thomas, was of Kenton. He, 'Sir Christopher,' was janitor of
In a window of the chapel in the north aisle of St. Peter's
'A description of the Standards borne in the field by Peers and Knights in the reign of Hen. Eighth, from a MS. in the
'Standards, temp. H. viii. Hari. MS. 4632. Sir Xr'ofer Garnesche. Blue. The device, on a wreath Argent and Gules, an arm erased, grasping a scimitar, Proper. —Motto, "Oublere ne dois."' Collect. Topog. vol. iii. p. 64.
'The names of the Englishmen which were sent in Ambassade to the French King, before the Queens Landing, and other Gentlemen in their Company.'— Sir Christopher Garnesche (inter al.).— Leland's Collect. vol. ii. p. 704.
In the Atheneum for July 18, 1840, p. 572, there is a long letter, dated 'at Morpeth, the xxviij day of December,' and signed 'C. Garneys,' whom the editor supposes to have been one of the medical attendants sent by the King, upon the illness of Queen Margaret: it was more probably [certainly, See above] Sir Christ. Garnesche, knt.
Sir Christopher was knighted at
Bale mentions among the writings of Alexander Barclay a piece "against Skelton."<73> It has not come down to us; but the extant works of Barclay bear testimony to the hearty dislike with which he regarded our author. At the conclusion of The Ship of Fools is this contemptuous notice of one of Skelton's most celebrated poems;
"Hold me excused, for why my will is good
Men to induce unto virtue and goodness;
I write no jest ne tale of Robin Hood,
Nor sow no sparkles ne seed of viciousness;
Wise men love virtue, wild people wantonness,
It longeth not to my science nor cunning,
For Philip the Sparow the Dirige to sing:"<74>
a sneer to which Skelton most probably alludes, when, enumerating his own productions in the Garland of Laurel, he mentions,
"Of Philip Sparrow the lamentable fate,
The doleful destiny, and the careful chance,
Devised by Skelton after the funeral rate;
Yet some there be therewith that take grievance,
And grudge thereat with frowning countenance;
But what of that? hard it is to please all men;
Who list amend it, let him set to his pen."
Garland of Laurel v. 1254
That a portion of the following passage in Barclay's Fourth Egloge was levelled at Skelton, appears highly probable;
"Another thing yet is greatly more damnable:
Of rascal poets yet is a shameful rabble,
Which void of wisdom presumeth to indite,
Though they have scantly the cunning of a snite;
And to what vices that princes most intend,
Those dare these fools solemnize and commend.
Then is he decked as Poet laureate,
When stinking Thais made him her graduate:
When Muses rested, she did her season note,
And she with Bacchus her camous<75> did promote.
Such rascal dramas, promoted by Thais,
Bacchus, Licoris, or yet by Testalis,
Or by such other new forged Muses nine,
Think in their minds for to have wit divine;
They laud their verses, they boast, they vaunt and jet,
Though all their cunning be scantly worth a pet:
If they have smelled the arts trivial,
They count them Poets high and heroical.
Such is their folly, so foolishly they dote,
Thinking that none can their plain error note:
Yet be they foolish, void of honesty,
Nothing seasoned with spice of gravity,
Void of pleasure, void of eloquence,
With many words, and fruitless of sentence
Unapt to learn, disdaining to be taught,
Their private pleasure in snare hath them so caught;
And worst yet of all, they count them excellent,
Though they be fruitless, rash and improvident.
To such ambages who doth their mind incline,
They count all other as private of doctrine,
And that the faults which be in them alone,
Also be common in other men each one." <76>
In the Garland of Laurel we are told by Skelton, that among the famous writers of all ages and nations, whom he beheld in his vision, was
"a friar of
That frowned on me full angrily and pale;"
Garland of Laurel v. 374
and in the catalogue of his own writings which is subsequently given in the same poem, he mentions a piece which he had composed against this personage, "The Recule against Gaguin of the French nation." Garland of Laurel v. 1187.
Robert Gaguin was minister-general of the Maturines, and enjoyed great reputation for abilities and learning.<77> He wrote various works; the most important of which is his Compendium supra Francorum Gestis from the time of Pharamond to the author's age. In 1490 he was sent by Charles the Eighth as ambassador to
That Skelton composed certain Latin verses against the celebrated grammarian William Lilly, we are informed by Bale,<78> who has preserved the initial words, viz.
"Urgeor impulsus tibi, Lilli, retundere:"<79>
and that Lily repaid our poet in kind, we have the following proof;
"Lilli Hendecasyllabi in Scheltonum eius carmina calumniantem.
"Quid me, Scheltone, fronte sic aperta
Carpis, vipereo potens veneno?
Quid versus trutina meos iniqua
Libras? dicere vera num licebit?
Doctrinae tibi dum parare famam
Et doctus fieri studes poeta,
Doctrinam nec habes, nec es poeta."<80>
It would seem that Skelton occasionally repented of the severity of his compositions, and longed to recall them; for in the Garland of Laurel, after many of them have been enumerated, we meet with the following curious passage;
"Item Apollo that whirlèd up his chair,
That made some to snurr and snuff in the wind;
It made them to skip, to stamp, and to stare,
Which, if they be happy, have cause to beware
In rhyming and railing with him for to mell
For dread that he learn them their A, B, C, to spell.
With that I stood up, half suddenly afraid;
Supplying to Fame, I besought her grace,
And that it would please her, full tenderly I prayed,
Out of her books Apollo to rase.
Nay, sir, she said, what so in this place
Of our noble court is once spoken out,
It must needs after run all the world about.
God wot, these words made me full sad;
And when that I saw it would no better be,
But that my petition would not be had,
What should I do but take it in gree?
For, by Jupiter and his high majesty,
I did what I could to scrape out the scrolls,
Apollo to rase out of her ragman rolls."
Garland of Laurel v. 1471
The piece which commenced with the words "Apollo that whirlèd up his chair," and which gave such high displeasure to some of Skelton's contemporaries, has long ago perished,—in spite of Fame's refusal to erase it from her books!
The title-page of the Garland of Laurel, ed. 1523, sets forth that it was "studiously devised at
From a passage in the poem just mentioned, we may presume that Skelton used sometimes to reside at the ancient college of the Bonhommes at Ashridge; <83>
"Of the Bonhommes of Ashridge beside Berkhamstead,
That goodly place to Skelton most kind,
Where the sank royal is, Christ's blood so red,
Wherupon he metrefied after his mind;
A pleasanter place than Ashridge is, hard were to find," &c.
Garland of Laurel v. 1461
That Skelton once enjoyed the patronage of Wolsey, at whose desire he occasionally exercised his pen, and from whose powerful influence he expected preferment in the church, we learn from the following passages in his works:
"Honorificatissimo, amplisssmo, longeque reverendissimo in Christo patri, ac domino, domino Thomas, &c. tituli sanctae sacrosanctae Romanae ecclesiae presbytero, Cardinali meritissimo, et apostolicae sedis legato, a latereque legato superillustri, &c. Skeltonis laureatus, ora. reg., humillimum dicit obsequium cum omni debita reverentia, tanto tamque magnifico digna principe sacerdotum, totiusque justitia; aequabilissimo moderatore, necnon praesentis opusculi fautore excellentissimo, &c., ad cujus auspicatissimam contemplationem, sub memorabili prelo gloriosae immortalitatis, praesens pagella felicitatur, &c." A Replication, &c. <84>
"Ad serenissimam Majestatem Regiam, pariter cum Domino Cardinali, Legato a latere honorificatissimo, &c. Garland of Laurel v. 1587 <85>
Perge, liber, celebrem pronus regem venerare
Henricum octavum, resonans sua praemia laudis.
Cardineum dominum pariter venerando salutes,
Legatum a latere, et fiat memor ipse precare
Prebendae, quam promisit mihi credere quondam,
Meque suum referas pignus sperare salutis
Inter spemque metum.
Garland of Laurel v. 1590 <86>
'Tween hope and dread
My life I leed,
But of my speed
Howebeit I read
Both word and deed
Should be agreed
Or else, &c."
"To my Lord Cardinal's right noble grace, &c.
Garland of Laurel v 1600
Go, little quire, apace,
In most humble wise,
Before his noble Grace,
That caused you to devise
This little enterprise
And him most lowly pray,
In his mind to comprise
Those words his grace did say
Of an amice gray.
Ie foy enterment en sa bone grace."<87>
The Doughty Duke of Albany v 524
We also find that Skelton "gave to my lord Cardinal" The Book of Three Fools.
What were the circumstances which afterwards alienated the poet from his powerful patron, cannot now be discovered: we only know that Skelton assailed the full-blown pride of Wolsey with a boldness which is astonishing, and with a fierceness of invective which has seldom been surpassed. Perhaps it would have been better for the poet's memory, if the passages just quoted had never reached us; but nothing unfavourable to his character ought to be hastily inferred from the alteration in his feelings towards Wolsey while the cause of their quarrel is buried in obscurity. The provocation must have been extraordinary, which transformed the humble client of the Cardinal into his "dearest foe."
We are told by Francis Thynne, that Wolsey was his father's "old enemy, for many causes, but mostly for that my father had furthered Skelton to publish his Colyn Cloute against the Cardinal, the most part of which Book was compiled in my father's house at Erith in
The bull appointing Wolsey and Campeggio to be legates a latere jointly, is dated July 27th, 1518, that appointing Wolsey to be sole Legate a latere 10th June, 1519;<89> and from the first two passages which I have cited above (see above) we ascertain the fact, that Wolsey continued to be the patron of Skelton for at least some time after he had been invested with the dignity of papal legate. If the third passage cited above (p. liv. ) (see above) "Go little quaire, apace," &c. really belong to the poem The Doughty Duke of Albany to which it is appended in Marshe's ed. of Skelton's Works, 1568, our author must have been soliciting Wolsey for preferment as late as November 1523: but his most direct satire on the Cardinal, Why come ye not to Court, was evidently composed anterior to that period; and his Speak, Parrot (which would require the scolia of a Tzetzes to render it intelligible) contains seeming allusions to events of a still earlier date. The probability (or rather certainty) is, that the L'Envoy, "Go, little quaire," &c. has no connexion with the poem on the Duke of Albany: in Marshe's volume the various pieces are thrown together without any attempt at arrangement; and it ought to be particularly noticed that between the poem against Albany and the L'Envoy in question, another L'Envoy is interposed.<90> Wolsey might have forgiven the allusions made to him in Colyn Cloute; but it would be absurd to imagine that, in 1523, he continued to patronize the man who had written Why come ye not to Court.
The following anecdote is subjoined from Hall: "And in this season [15 Henry viii.] the Cardinal by his power legantine dissolved the Convocation at Paul's, called by the Archbishop of Canterbury [Warham,] and called him and all the clergy to his convocation to Westminster, which was never seen before in England, wherof Master Skelton, a merry Poet, wrote,
"Gentle Paul, lay down thy sweard,
For Peter of
From the vengeance of the Cardinal,<92> who had sent out officers to apprehend him, Skelton took sanctuary at
Joannes Skeltonus, vates Pierius, hic situs est.<95>
Concerning the personal appearance of Skelton we are left in ignorance; for the portraits which are prefixed to the old editions of several of his poems must certainly not be received as authentic representations of the author.<96>
The chief satirical productions of Skelton (and the bent of his genius was decidedly towards satire) are The Bowge of Court, Colyn Cloute, and Why come ye not to Court.—In the first of these, an allegorical poem of considerable invention, he introduces a series of characters delineated with a boldness and discrimination which no preceding poet had displayed since the days of Chaucer, and which none of his contemporaries (with the sole exception of the brilliant Dunbar) were able to attain: the merit of those personifications has been allowed even by Warton, whose ample critique on Skelton deals but little in praise;<97> and I am somewhat surprised that Mr. D'Israeli, who has lately come forward as the warm eulogist of our author,<98> should have passed over The Bowge of Court without the slightest notice.— Colyn Cloute is a general satire on the corruptions of the Church, the friars and the bishops being attacked alike unsparingly; nor, when Skelton himself pronounced of this piece that "though his rhyme be ragged, it hath in it some pith," (Colyn Cloute v. 54) did he overrate its vigour and its weighty truth: Colyn Cloute not only shows that fearlessness which on all occasions distinguished him, but evinces a superiority to the prejudices of his age, in assailing abuses, which, if manifest to his more enlightened contemporaries, few at least had as yet presumed to censure.—In Why come ye not to Court the satire is entirely personal, and aimed at the all-powerful minister to whom the author had once humbly sued for preferment. While throughout this remarkable poem, Skelton either overlooks or denies the better qualities, the commanding talents, and the great attainments of Wolsey, and even ungenerously taunts him with the meanness of his origin; he fails not to attack his character and conduct in those particulars against which a satirist might justly declaim, and with the certainty that invectives so directed would find an echo among the people. The regal pomp and luxury of the Cardinal, his insatiate ambition, his insolent bearing at the council-board, his inaccessibility to suitors, &c. &c. are dwelt on with an intensity of scornful bitterness, and occasionally give rise to vivid descriptions which history assures us are but little exaggerated. Some readers may perhaps object, that in this poem the satire of Skelton too much resembles the "oyster-knife that hacks and hews," to which that of Pope was so unfairly likened<99>; but all must confess that he wields his weapon with prodigious force and skill; and we know that Wolsey writhed under the wounds which it inflicted.
When Catullus bewailed the death of Lesbia's bird, he confined himself to eighteen lines and truly golden lines; but Skelton, while lamenting for the sparrow that was "slain at Carrow," has engrafted on the subject so many far-sought. and whimsical embellishments, that his epicede is really what the old editions term it,—"a book." Phillip Sparrow exhibits such fertility and delicacy of fancy, such graceful sportiveness, and such ease of expression, that it might well be characterized by Coleridge as "an exquisite and original poem."<100>
In The Tunning of Elynour Rumming, which would seem to have been one of Skelton's most popular performances, we have a specimen of his talent for the low burlesque;—a description of a real ale-wife, and of the various gossips who keep thronging to her for liquor, as if under the influence of a spell. If few compositions of the kind have more coarseness or extravagance, there are few which have greater animation or a richer humour.
The Garland of Laurel, one of Skelton's longest and most elaborate pieces, cannot also be reckoned among his best. It contains, however, several passages of no mean beauty, which show that he possessed powers for the higher kind of poetry, if he had chosen to exercise them; and is interspersed with some lyrical addresses to the ladies who weave his chaplet, which are very happily versified. In one respect the Garland of Laurel stands without a parallel: the history of literature affords no second example of a poet having deliberately written sixteen hundred lines in honour of himself.
Skelton is to be regarded as one of the fathers of the English drama. His Interlude of Virtue<101> and his Comedy called Achademios<102> have perished: so perhaps has his Necromancer;<103> but his Magnificence is still extant. To those who carry their acquaintance with our early play-wrights no farther back than the period of Peele, Greene, and Marlowe, this "goodly interlude" by Skelton will doubtless appear heavy and inartificial its superiority, however, to the similar efforts of his contemporaries, is, I apprehend, unquestionable.<104> If our author did not invent the metre which he uses in the greater portion of his writings, and which is now known by the name Skeltonical, he was certainly the first who adopted it in poems of any length; and he employed it with a skill, which, after he had rendered it popular, was beyond the reach of his numerous imitators. "The Skeltonical short verse," observes Mr. D'Israeli, speaking of Skelton's own productions, "contracted into five or six, and even four syllables, is wild and airy. In the quick returning rhymes, the playfulness of the diction, and the pungency of new words, usually ludicrous, often expressive, and sometimes felicitous, there is a stirring spirit which will be best felt in an audible reading. The velocity of his verse has a carol of its own. The chimes ring in the ear, and the thoughts are flung about like coruscations."<105>
Skelton has been frequently termed a Macaronic poet, but it may be doubted if with strict propriety; for the passages in which he introduces snatches of Latin and French are thinly scattered through his works. "This anomalous and motley mode of versification," says Warton, "is I believe supposed to be peculiar to our author. I am not, however, quite certain that it originated with Skelton." <106> He ought to have been "quite certain" that it did not.<107>