Chaucer's Official Life HTML version
Chaucer's Relation To Richard II
Certain recent investigations have suggested that Richard II and his consort Anne may
have been patrons of Chaucer. For this theory the most definite evidence is derived from
references to Queen Anne in several of the poems. The most obvious of these references
is that in Prologue to L. G. W., version F. 11. 496, 7; another is the one implied in Koch's
explanation for the writing of P. F.; and Professor Lowes finds two more in his
interpretations of a line in K. T. (M. L. N. XIX, 240.242) and of one in the Troilus. (2 p.
M. L. A. 32; 285 ff) Since this investigation has to do wholly with external evidences as
to Chaucer's life, it is not my business to deal with these references. I would merely point
out that they can derive no active support from the facts which we know about Chaucer's
life, for there is no exceptional feature of his career as an esquire which points toward
patronage by anyone. We have no right from the circumstances of his rewards and
appointments to suppose that Richard even knew that he was a poet, certainly none to
suppose that Richard enjoyed his poetry and patronized him because of it.
To be sure we have certain evidences of Richard II's interest in literature, especially the
well known stories of his suggestion to Gower that the poet write the Confessio Amantis,
his gift to Froissart for the latter's book of poems, and the payment entered in 1380 on the
Issue Roll of twenty-eight pounds for the Bible written in French, [Footnote: Devon's
translation, p. 213, is incorrect; the phrase in the document is "lingua gallica." Issues P.
301, mem. 16.] the Romance of the Rose and the Romances of Percevale and Gawayn.
But those are all; a careful reading of the Issue Roll for all the years of Richard's reign
has failed to turn up another entry which would indicate an interest in literature. It is to be
noted further that in the entire body of poems left to us by Chaucer but a few
unmistakable references to the queen occur, and none to the King. If Chaucer is
compared in this respect with his successors Hoccleve and Lydgate a marked difference
appears. In a single volume of Hoccleve before me [Footnote: Hoccleve's works I, E. E.
T. S. 1892.] occur three "balades" to Henry V, one to the Duke of York, one to the Duke
of Bedford, and one to the Lord Chancellor. Perhaps the striking contrast between this
and Chaucer's practice is due to different notions as to the function of poetry, perhaps to
some other cause, but it exists, and it causes one to feel that, in comparison with
Hoccleve at least, the internal evidences of patronage in Chaucer's poems are slight
indeed. Finally the fact that Chaucer was treated favourably by the government of Henry
IV would suggest that his personal relations with Richard II had not been very close.