Chaucer's Official Life HTML version

Some General Points
Although I have objected to some of the inferences drawn by others, nevertheless it
seems to me that from the facts viewed in their new relations, some legitimate inferences
may be drawn. In the first place it seems almost certain that by 1386 Chaucer held
considerable land in Kent. Every other man on the list of Justices of the Peace (with the
single possible exception of Topclyff) held fairly extensive lands in the county; all except
de Burley, Topclyff and Chaucer were of old Kentish families. De Burley's importance as
Constable of Dover (indeed he undoubtedly held the office of Justice ex officio) and
Topclyffs position as steward of the Archbishop of Canterbury counterbalanced the fact
that they were not of Kentish stock. What then of Chaucer? He surely must have held a
manor and lands of considerable value or he could never have been high enough in the
estimation of the landed proprietors to gain the Justiceship and even the membership to
Parliament. Now, he apparently did not receive this land by royal grant; consequently it
would appear that he must have had it by grant of some great noble or by purchase. In
any case we have no record to indicate what land he held or by what tenure he held it.
Again we do not know what Chaucer's income as controller of the customs amounted to.
It is apparent, however, that the returns from the office of controller of the greater custom
must have been very considerable. If the collectorship of the customs was not a profitable
office, it is impossible to see why such men as Walworth, Philipot, and Brembre should
have cared to hold it. That the twenty pounds which was their nominal salary was
anything like all that they received is unbelievable. To suppose that a man who could fit
out a fleet at his own expense and successfully campaign with it against a powerful
pirate, should allow himself to be annoyed by so paltry an office is absurd. Yet the office
was apparently not farmed, and so it seems likely that the income from fees was large and
attractive. [Footnote: The View of W. D. Chester: Chronicles of the Custom's Dept., p.
30.] To how great an extent Chaucer, aside from the ten pounds yearly that he received,
shared in the profits, we do not know. From the fact that the King in giving the collectors
and the controller extra rewards seems to have rated the latter at about a third of the
importance of the former, we might get some hint of the proportion in which he would
share in the fees.
Chaucerian scholars have laid great stress upon the grant of permission to Chaucer in
1385 to appoint a permanent deputy in his office in the greater customs. They have even
assumed that the L. G. W. was dedicated to the queen out of gratitude for her supposed
intercession with the king, and the consequent permission, and have used these
suppositions as evidence for dating L. G. W. Surely too much has been made of this
matter. Not only have we no evidence whatever to connect Queen Anne with the granting
of the deputyship; we do not have to assume any intercession with the king. [Footnote:
See forthcoming article: Chaucer and the Earl of Oxford, in Modern Philology.] We
know that esquires who were granted offices in the customs frequently did have deputies
in their offices; [Footnote: Of. cases of John de Herlyng, Helming Leget, John
Hermesthorpe et al.] probably leave to have a deputy could be had almost for the asking.