• David R. Carlson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Chaucer was the police, not in an attenuated or metaphoric sense: in the better part of his mature employments, he was an official of the repressive apparatus of state. Before that, he was a lackey, in domestic personal service. As a poet, he was both, police officer and domestic servant, in differing ratios, in differing poems, at differing times in his literary career. Still, his poetic work complemented and carried through to the realm of culture the other work he did, and this quality of his poetry, being a straightforwardly homologous reflection in the cultural sphere of his practical work in personal and state service, made his place in literary history. Chaucer’s jobs determined his literary-historical role, in other words, his work in service and discipline shaping his work in literature, and it in its turn determining his reception. Chaucer was made “the father of English poetry” not because he was a good poet, though he was. There were other good poets. Chaucer was made the father of English poetry because he was servile, doing useful work serving dominant social interests, materially and ideologically, in both his poetic and other employments.


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  1. 1.
    For the brawl, see Lister M. Matheson, “Chaucer’s Ancestry: Historical and Philological Re-Assessments,” Chaucer Review 25 (1991): esp. 179–81. Other information on Chaucer’s ancestry is collected in Chaucer Life-Records, ed. Martin M. Crow and Clair C Olson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1966)—henceforth, abbreviated CLR—pp. 1–8, and on his children, pp. 541–46. On the career of the especially distinguished Thomas,Google Scholar
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    For Lyons’s career, I rely chiefly on A. R. Myers, “The Wealth of Richard Lyons,” in Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, ed. T.A. Sandquist and M. R. Powicke (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), pp. 301–29, and, for the parliamentary attack on him, Holmes, The Good Parliament, pp. 69–90 and 100–18. In perhaps his most surreal piece of writing, “Chaucer the Patriot,” Philological Quarterly 25 (1946): 278, Kuhl put something about relations between Chaucer and “that arch-embezzler” Lyons.Google Scholar
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    Robert S. Hoyt, “Royal Taxation and the Growth of the Realm in Mediaeval England,” Speculum 25 (1950): 45–46, continuing: “This was simply a propaganda program of exalting the monarchy combined with a propaganda program designed to convince the already established communities of cities and boroughs, of the shires, and of the royal demesnes, that they were effective and interested parts of a larger community of the realm; that they were vitally concerned with and therefore partly responsible for the common utility or welfare of the realm which was the highest duty of the king to preserve; and finally that this concern and responsibility obligated them without question to contribute in accordance with their means sufficient aid that the king might maintain the ‘estate of the realm’ and the ‘estate of the people.’” Cf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The quotations here and following (with parenthetical line-references) are from the “Against the King’s Taxes,” ed. and trans. Aspin, Anglo-Norman Political Songs, pp. 105–115. There is analysis of the poem in Janet Coleman, English Literature in History 1350–1400 (London: Hutchinson, 1981), pp. 79–84.Google Scholar
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    The quotations are from Parliament of Fowls 491–495 and 501. For its date, a matter of considerable uncertainly but most likely between ca. 1373 and 1385, see Alistair J. Minnis, in Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), pp. 256–61.Google Scholar
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  103. best is E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (London: Allen Lane, 1975), though for a different viewGoogle Scholar
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  106. Pearsall, “Chaucer’s Tomb: The Politics of Reburial,” Medium Aevum 64 (1995): 52–56;Google Scholar
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