We do not know how long Chaucer remained in the household of the Countess of Ulster

A letter from Gerald Morgan:

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 11:15 pm
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 6:37 am
Letter to the editor

Much to my surprise and indeed pleasure the scholarly debate on Chaucer has now moved from the pages of the Chaucer Review to the pages of the Belfast News Letter, a welcome relief for many perhaps from discussions of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

I am grateful to Micheal O’Cathail for the courtesy of his reply to my earlier letter on this subject (‘Chaucer’s profound influence on the English people instilled a sense of deep pride and separateness in them,’ April 15, see link below).

The question of the whereabouts of Chaucer in the key years of 1360-1366 must remain a matter of intense speculation for us all. I make a few brief comments if Imay be spared the indulgence of readers of the Belfast News Letter.

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1. Chaucer’s wife Philippa de Roet was the sister of Katherine Swynford, the mistress of John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of Edward III. Chaucer’s first original poem, The Book of the Duchess (c.1368) is an elegy on the death of Gaunt’s first wife, Blanche of Lancaster. By this time Chaucer was in the household of the king himself. How long he remained in the household of the Countess of Ulster after 1360 we simply do not know.

2. Chaucer may be regarded as the father of English poetry by Matthew Arnold, but English is a great literary language long before the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The author of Beowulf (? c,680-700), the first European epic poem in the vernacular, is the father (or possibly the mother) of English Literature. Beowulf belongs to English culture in much the same way as The Book of Kells belongs to Irish culture. Indeed Langland was writing a great poem, Piers Plowman, possibly in Worcester of Gloucester, in the native English alliterative tradition of Beowulf in the years immediately before Chaucer.

I cannot accept the view that the language of Beowulf and Piers Plowman, as also of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c.1380) was ‘a somewhat rough language with few literary pretensions’.

English nationhood is rooted in Aethelstan’s victory over the Scots and the irish from Dublin at Brunanburh in 937.

Finally I do not see Chaucer’s poetry as rejecting in any way the Aristotelianism of Scholastic philosophers such as Aquinas.

Gerald Morgan, Dublin 4

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