Sir Thomas More's use of Chaucer

Ryan, Francis XStudies in English Literature, 1500 - 1900Baltimore: Winter 1995. Vol. 35, Iss. 1;  pg. 1

Abstract (Article Summary)

Thomas More is located in an apotheosis of English poetic tradition with the first great poet of the English revival, Geoffrey Chaucer. More's use of Chaucer in his poetry is explored.

Full Text (7021   words)

Copyright Studies in English Literature c/o Rice University Winter 1995

Almost a century after Thomas More's death at Tower Hill, John Webster composed Monuments of Honor,(1) a description of the Merchant Taylors' celebration of John Gore's elevation to Lieutenant of the Royal Chamber, in which Webster recalls the festive erection of a Temple of Honor in St. Paul's Churchyard. At the pinnacle of the display sat Troynovant in the company of eminent cities of the Continent while beneath the urban personifications was gathered a constellation of famous English poets whom Troynovant identified as

Five learned Poets worthy men,
Who do eternize brave acts by their pen;
Chaucer, Gower, Lidgate, Moore and for our time
Sir Philip Sidney, glory of our clime,
These beyond death a fame to Monarckes give,
And these make Cities and Societies live.(2)

Even so long after his death, More is located in an apotheosis of English poetic tradition, coeternal, as it were, with the first great poet of the English revival, Chaucer. Webster's description of the Merchant Taylors' display would provide a tempting leap into a discussion of Chaucerian and early Renaissance intertextuality were it not that we know very little about More's use of Chaucer, which works of Chaucer More relied upon, in which works of More Chaucerian references are to be found, and the ways in which More, the Renaissance Humanist, incorporated and transformed the Chaucerian material.(3)

More certainly knew Chaucer; he quotes Chaucer by name on three occasions.(4) The editors of Yale's Complete Works of St. Thomas More have identified many probable and possible Chaucerian citations in their indices and introductions. Individual scholars have detected allusions to, or echoes of, Chaucer here and there in More's writings, but no one has attempted to assess More's allusions to Chaucer as a whole. A preliminary inspection of Chaucerian elements in More's entire work indicates that he uses Chaucerian references in clusters around the theme of authority and that he adopts Chaucer's Clerk's Tale as a subtext to his portraits of Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV, and Mistress 'Jane' Shore in The History of King Richard III.

Without a dedicated study of the textual correspondences between More's Chaucerian references and the various manuscripts and editions of Chaucer available to him, it is not possible to determine definitively whether More relied on a manuscript text or one of the early printed editions.(5) A number of printed editions of Chaucer's works were available to More during his lifetime. The pioneer printer of the English, William Caxton, had published Troilus and Criseyde, The House of Fame, two quartos containing the minor poems together with other short pieces, and two editions of The Canterbury Tales by 1483. As Beverly Boyd points out, Caxton's book was reprinted in 1492 by Richard Pynson, in 1498 by Wynkyn de Worde, and again by Pynson in 1526.(6) This continual demand throughout the period for Chaucer's works provides firm evidence from the shop for his popularity. Even though Caxton's edition provided the copy text for all editions of Chaucer contemporary with More, the possibility remains that More had access to manuscript versions for some or all of Chaucer.(7) For The Canterbury Tales, at least, Caxton took special care to provide the most reliable text available to him.(8) Whatever version of Chaucer might have been available to More and his contemporaries hardly qualifies the poet's enormous reputation in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. His younger colleagues acclaimed him as master, and those who came after him ornamented his reputation as one whose eloquence was peerless in English and the lodestar of the language. John Skelton, writing well within More's active period, recalls "maister Chaucer, that nobly enterprysyd / How that our englysshe myght fresshely be ameude."(9) Not long after his own day, More shared with Chaucer, the "English Homer,"(10) the heroic reputation of one who had elevated written English to an eminence equal with that of other European vernaculars. Roger Ascham in the 1550s advised his correspondent John Astley that Sir Thomas More, in that pamphlet of Richard the Third, doth in most part, I believe, of all these points so content all men, as, if the rest of our story of England were so done, we might well compare with France, or Italy, or Germany in that behalf.(11)

Given the Middle English poet's peerless reputation in More's lifetime, it is hardly surprising to see so many references to Chaucer's work detected by the editors of the Yale edition of More's works. Some of these are not precisely textual citations but possible echoes of Chaucerian motifs, themes, or phrases. Some may be allusions to matter derived from a source common to both More and Chaucer, such as proverbial material or the scriptures, with phrasing impossible to ascribe to Chaucer's influence alone. In evaluating More's reliance on Chaucer in particular instances (whether immediate or through the medium of intervening works), I have chosen to be more conservative than free in admitting for consideration here many of the items identified by the editors of the Yale edition and other scholars.

In More's writings, there are fifteen distinct, probable Chaucerian references from The Canterbury Tales (besides the Clerk 's Tale, which will be considered in connection with Richard III ), three from Troilus and Criseyde, one from An ABC, and one less probable citation from The Parliament of Fowles. No Chaucerian allusions or references have been indicated by the editors of the Translations of Lucian (CW, 3), the Responsio ad Lutherum (CW, 5.1 and 5.2), and De Tristitia Christi (CW, 14.1) and its devotional companions. The absence might be most readily explained by the nature of these works. The Translations offered only the most limited opportunity for any Middle English graft on the classical source. The polemical Responsio was composed for an international audience with some awareness of the theological issues in dispute and offered little justification for citation of a popular English author. The subject matter and private nature of the serious meditations of De Tristitia and the other devotional works would render most of Chaucer quite alien. The precisely worded legal debate with Christopher St. German represented in The Apology of Sir Thomas More (CW, 9) and The Debellation of Salem and Bizance (CW, 10) would seem to provide no felicitous home for the poet either. Such speculation upon reasons for the lacunae ought to be qualified since borrowings from Chaucer are to be found both in More's Latin writings and in his weightier speculations. Language and subject matter ought to be embraced circumspectly as the ultimate criteria explaining the absence.

More's explicit citations of Chaucer center about a theme of authority. Twice in The Dialogue Concerning Heresies, within the debate about the value of pilgrimages and the veneration of the saints, More has the religiously wavering Messenger quote with approval Chaucer's unscrupulous Pardoner's description of false relics,(12) "For what reuerent honoure is there dayly done ... to some olde rotten bone y sup t was happely some tyme as Chaucer sayth a bone of some holy Iewes shepe."(13) The Riverside Chaucer renders the source as,

Thanne have I in latoun a sholder-boon
Whiche that was of an hooly Jewes sheep.(14)

Caroline F. E. Spurgeon notes the precocious annexation of Chaucer by the early Protestants as a precursor of their opinions about the Church of Rome because of his satiric treatment of the religious orders of his day.(15) Here More, by placing the fourteenth-century criticism in the mouth of the Messenger whose allegiance to the old faith is at least alloyed, deflects the criticism by giving it voice and a source. His orthodox narrator disarms the attack of the tentatively questioning young Messenger against traditional forms of devotion and at the same time recovers the authoritative voice of Chaucer by anticipating the use of the poet by the reformers, beating them to the punch, as it were.

In Margaret Roper's letter to Lady Alice Alington (August 1534), Chaucer and his Troilus and Criseyde, which far outweighed any of the poet's other works in the Renaissance as "a 'source' and as a precedent, as well as in the numerical total of posthumous allusions to Chaucer,"(16) is cited in a more complexly woven appeal to authority. More's hand in the composition of this letter, in part if not all, seems to be agreed upon.(17) Margaret relates the conversation with her imperiled father in the Tower and her despair at her inability to convince him to conform to the Act of Succession:

He smyled vpon me and said: "how now doughter Marget? What how mother Eue? Where is your mind now? sit not musing with some serpent in your brest, vpon some newe perswasion, to offer father Adam the apple yet once againe?" "In good faith, Father, " quod I, "I can no ferther goe, but am (as I trow Cresede saith in Chauser) comen to Dulcarnon, euen at my wittes ende."(18)

Margaret alludes to Troilus and Criseyde (3.929-31) in which Criseyde cries out at her predicament as Pandarus insistently urges upon her reasons to justify her consent to the nocturnal tryst with her beloved Troilus. The full speech of Criseyde shows how Margaret is invested with the role of the suffering heroine struggling between two earnestly desired goods, her beloved and the path of honor:

Criseyde answerde, "As wisly God at reste
My soule brynge, as me is for hym wo!
And em, iwis, fayn wolde I don the beste,
If that ich hadde grace to do so;
But whether that ye dwelle or for hym go,
I am, til God me bettre mynde sende,
At dulcarnoun, right at my wittes end."(19)

Assuming the mask of Criseyde, Margaret becomes a pathetic heroine manipulated by cunning forces whose purposes are opaque to her. Her predicament becomes all the more pronounced by the association with Chaucer's heroine, and the pathos of her father's situation is emphasized by association with the authority of this rendering of the tragic legend set in the age of heroes. Margaret's ability to quote an authoritative author, and her presumed comprehension of an obscure reference to Euclid, also quietly recall More's own interest in educating the women of his household.(20)

Between explicit references to Chaucer and echoes of varying degrees of clarity are those instances in which More adopts an image or phrase almost certainly from Chaucer's works and redirects it according to the relative purposes of the specific work in which it is resettled. Often enough those "redirections" occur in clusters with other allusions, thus strengthening the probability that they are taken directly from Chaucer rather than filtered through the medium of one or more intervening authors.

The majority of probable citations of Chaucerian material cluster around the figure of authority in a different manner. They consist of two different types, both of which invest More's writing with the stability and the authority of tradition. First, certain phrases and lines are not sufficiently extended, making it difficult to identify them as indubitable quotations from Chaucer solely upon the basis of verbal parallels. In the Heresies, which provides two of the indubitable Chaucerian citations, a number of probable references congregate whose identification is all the stronger for the presence of the explicit citations in the same work. The narrator describes to his distant friend a speech of the young Messenger, "The more pyte by my fayth quod youre frende that euer loue was synne,"(21) which strongly echoes the Wife of Bath's mitigating exclamation in her Prologue, "Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars therinne. / Allas, allas! That evere loue was synne."(22) Also in the Heresies stands a diptych of borrowings from the Squire's Tale, taken from the same passage in Chaucer, but scattered oddly throughout More's text. In the first instance, More remarks to the Messenger that the seemingly impossible has often proved to be fact, as with the world's roundness. He then wonders, "Who wold wene it possyble that glasse were made of ferne rotys?"(23) In the tale, people wonder at the strange gifts brought by the anonymous knight. The Squire relates that a number of them explained the wondrous in terms of nature:

But nathelees somme seiden that it was
Wonder to make of fern-asshen glas,
And yet nys glas nat lyk asshen of fern.(24)

Four chapters deeper into the first book of Heresies, More has his Messenger observe that propinquity brings apathy, if not contempt, "None other surely but that the acquaytaunce and dayly beholdynge takyth away the wonderyng / as we nothynge wonder at the ebbynge and flowynge of the see or the Thamys because we dayly se it."(25) Again we find in the Squire's Tale, immediately following the Chaucerian passage just noted,

As soore wondren somme on cause of thonder
On ebbe, on flood, on gossomer and on myst
And alle thyng til that the cause is wyst.(26)

The imitations here and elsewhere in the Heresies seem close enough to merit attribution to Chaucer but the language is not close enough to suggest more than that. As Alistair Fox observes, "More's imaginative recollection was operating at a subliminal level" and "these Chaucerian echoes are probably details from one source that are being fused with details from other sources."(27) Here and in other echoes of The Canterbury Tales More's comic irony has been strengthened by the authority of Chaucer's own wry observations on the perplexities of the human condition.

This ironic vein of allusion is not limited to the Heresies nor even to More's English writings. Chaucer's sense of the incongruous detail appeals greatly to More, who adopts it and sharpens the irony into sarcastic detail in places. The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales praises the minimal skills of the Cook while tempering the reader's agreement with the subtle warning:

But greet harm was it as it thoughte me,
That on his shyne a mormal hadde he.(28)

The focus on the disease is narrowed tightly and the sarcasm sharpened in The Answer to a Poisoned Book as More folds an allusion to the scrofulous pilgrim Cook into his predominant image of the Masker's reforms as nothing but a disguised supper of poisoned victuals, "It was yet so sore abhorred among all honest men, y sup t both hym selfe & all his secte were fayne to seke some plasters of false gloses, to hele y sup e foule marmole of theyr skabbed shynnys, that they hadde gotten by that texte of theyr false fayth alone."(29) More later focuses the allusion by calling the Masker "Colyn coke,"(30) again reclaiming Chaucer for the old religion and preempting his co-option by the reformers, and recovering authentic English tradition as a foundation for his own religious and political position.

More's unconscious recollection of Chaucerian images and characters continues through his works. In The supplication of Souls, he has his souls appeal to the example of Judas Maccabaeus, who ordered prayers in the temple for the dead. While the pilgrim Chaucer calls the Maccabee "Goddes knyght,"(31) More's poor souls enlarge the title of their scriptural vindicator to "the greate good and godly valyaunt capytayne of goddys people."(32) The citation of Chaucer not only invests More's argument for the efficacy of prayers for the dead with the authority of indigenous tradition but also recovers the authority of the Books of Maccabees, considered by the reformers as apocryphal and by the Catholics as canonical.

More even carries his recollections of Chaucer over into his original composition in Latin. The participants in the dialogue of Utopia retire to Peter Giles's garden, seat themselves on a bench of turves and begin their discussions, "ibique in horto considentes in scamno cespitibus herbeis constrato, confabulamur."(33) Chaucer includes this type of organic "bench of turues fayr and grene" in both the Merchant's Tale(34) and The Legend of Good Women.(35)

A second great vein of reliance is to be seen in proverbial materials with bloodlines back to Chaucer that vary in immediacy and purity. Father John Cavanaugh stresses the oral stratum beneath More's texts by recalling that the introduction of printing into England only within a year of More's birth prohibited printed texts from having any significant influence on More's education, which we might presume was vestigially oral. The respectful reliance of this educational system upon proverbial wisdom was enormous.(36) Over 800 English proverbs have been isolated by Cavanaugh in More's writings. A number of the proverbs are cited again and again in as many as seven different works.(37) Yet determining the lineage of any given proverb is problematic. The first recorded instance of an apothegm or proverb cannot be identified necessarily with the author who creates written work. Even if the matter began with the author of the original citation, the trace becomes complicated as the saying is included in subsequent works. Even if Chaucer had created a saying which became popular enough to be included in the works of his successors, who is to say what work More had read or from whom he might have heard the saying in the market, court, or hall? Nevertheless, it seems clear that More was very fond of proverbial material. These proverbs carry the weight of tradition and authority for him, "A poetic expression of the realistic findings of common sense ratified, usually, by common usage."(38) For More, the lived experience of the commonweal, whether civil or ecclesial, speaks with a supernatural authority. Ultimately, the divine protection of More's faith rests upon the consensus fidelium, the collected wisdom of the Catholic Church throughout the world and the ages, an experience that is audible and visible in the life of the Christian people.(39) Proverbs in More's work represent a popular voice of this tradition that has sensed the complex realities of life and consolidated an articulation of the different lives to which people are called. When allied to the name and status of Chaucer, these proverbs fortify More's idea of tradition with a certain subtle nationalist appeal to the authentic literary experience of the English.

The proverbial material in More is immense indeed, and the proverbs which he might have mined from Chaucer are too many to reiterate in this essay. Several instances, however, see well as examples. To increase the probability of dependence upon Chaucer, I have selected only those proverbs that either are cited only in Chaucer and then in More or, with less assurance of genealogical purity, those which are cited as beginning with Chaucer and are employed by intervening authors before More's usage.(40)

Those proverbs which are found only in Chaucer and then again in More can be found in More's English poems, one in A Mery Gest How A Sergeaunt Wolde Lerne to be A Frere and another in his Fortune Verses, both apparently written in his youth.(41) Having gained entrance disguised as an Austin friar to the rooms of the youthful debtor, the sergeant in Mery Gest attempts to arrest the youth only to fall into a free-ranging fistfight. Down the stairway,

They roll and rumble,
They turne and tumble,
As pygges do in a poke.(42)

Chaucer's Reeve gleefully describes the donnybrook between the miller and the clerk Aleyn who has become too familiar with the miller's daughter, "They walwe as doon two piggis in a poke."(43) Whiting offers this sentence from Chaucer and the next citation is from More.(44) The Squire's Tale provides another niche for the Chaucerian nugget that also appears in More's Fortune Verses. In Chaucer, the people wonder at the gentle courser magically transformed into brass and futilely offer different rational explanations for the event:

Diverse folk diversely they demed;
As many heddes, as manye wittes ther been.(45)

More renders the phrase, transformed, in an analogous situation to describe the myriad requests made of fickle Fortune, who is as divers as the prayers made to her: "Lo thus ye see diuers heddes, diuers wittes."(46)

A single instance sufficiently illustrates how More uses material that seems to originate with Chaucer but is shared by subsequent authors. Describing the stratagems of the Utopians to supersede the natural fear among some of their warriors in battle, Hythloday recalls in Utopia, "Ita suorum pudor, hostis in manibus, atque adempta fugae spes, timorem obruunt, & saepe extrema neeessitas in uirtutem uertitur."(47) "To make virtue of necessity" is a saying that Whiting first detects in Chaucer, who uses it in Troilus and Criseyde, the Knight's Tale, and the Squire's Tale.(48) The proverb then occurs in Hoccleve, Lydgate, Bokenham, Capgrave, and Henryson before More includes it.(49) The triple use in Chaucer indicates that Chaucer relished the line and its sentiment a great deal. The number of intervening citations complicates the matter. The continued use of the proverb after Chaucer may suggest Chaucer and the others derived the phrase from an unrecorded antecedent and independent source. Nonetheless the proverbial quality invests the tactics of the Utopians with the mantle of traditional wisdom, confirming their insights into human nature.

A proverb here and a loose quotation there in More's works provide only a brief glimpse into a Renaissance reception of Middle English literature. A more extensive investigation of Chaucer would reveal more of the adaptations and transformations of the native literary heritage reworked by this Renaissance politician and scholar. It is through the portraits of Edward's queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and Mistress Shore in The History of Richard III, that More's most extensive and most profound use of Chaucer occurs. This gleaning is not to be found in specific textual relationships, but in More's adoption and adaptation of the Griselde figure from the Clerk 's Tale in order to provide gender and character foils for Richard, who, the reverse of the Wizard of Oz, was a good king but a very bad man. The subtext of virtuous Griselde's laudable obedience to her tyrannous husband is vigorously refashioned under the hand of More. The figure of Griselde, which stands behind More's two women, is transfigured in order to highlight the futility of the women's heroic resistance in the face of a popular inertia manipulated by aristocratic cunning. This motif lends itself to More's location of tyranny's origin in the apathy of the people.(50) Only Daniel Kinney remarks on the similarities between Richard III and the Clerk's Tale and the resemblance between More's women and Griselde.(51)

More's Elizabeth Woodville is no meek, retiring figure. After Edward's death she suspects betrayal and orders immediate action. Gathering up the younger prince, she flees to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. When the Cardinal arrives to convince the queen to halt her preparations and surrender her son, she rejects his arguments and takes her son and entourage into the safety of the abbey.(52) Richard's arguments against the traditional rights of sanctuary reveal his tyranny, and the specifically antifeminist elements of his position highlight the infamy of his intention. When Richard has to impugn the queen's character and subvert the defenses of all women,(53) he is Chaucer's Walter diminished and blackened. Without cause Walter mistrusts the virtue and subservience of his wife, prompting Chaucer's Clerk to comment disapprovingly,

He hadde assayed hire ynogh bifore,
And foond hire evere good; what neded it
Hire for to tempte, and alwey moore and moore,
Though som men preise it for a subtil wit?
But as for me, I seye that yvele it sit
To assaye a wyf whan that is no nede,
And putten hire in angwyssh and in drede.(54)

When the queen is convinced of the futility of further resistance to the will of the Protector, the parallels with Griselde sharpen. Griselde surrenders her child,

With ful sad face, and gan the child to blisse,
And lulled it, and after gan it kisse.
And thus she seyde in hire benigne voys,
"Fareweel my child! I shal thee nevere see.
Bur sith I thee have marked with the croys
Of Thilke Fader -- blessed moote he be!"(55)

More recovers this pathos for Woodville as she, with words and gestures close to those of Griselde, commits the young duke to the keeping of the Protector: "Farewel, my own swete sonne; god send you good keping, let me kis you ones yet ere you goe, for God knoweth when we shal kis togither agayne. And therewith she kissed him & blessed him, turned her back and wept and went her way."(56)

More highlights Richard's transparent motives in persecuting 'Jane' Shore, the merry serial mistress of Edward IV and Hastings. The accusations of witchcraft and sedition lodged against her gain no credibility among the people of London. The charge of adultery earns no whispers of horror, since her misdeeds were so obvious that "al y sup e world wist was true, & that natheles euery man laughed at to here it then so sodainly so highly taken, y sup t she was nought of her body."(57) Despite Shore's blotched character, she shines in contrast to the transparent hypocrisy of Richard. Griselde's wisdom is lauded by the Clerk in words that More will ironically apply to the transparently mendacious Richard:

So wise and rype wordes hadde she,
And juggementz of so great equitee,
That she from hevene sent was, as men wende,
Peple to save and every wrong t'amende.(58)

More sharply remarks of Richard's intentions that they are not so pure as Richard would have them be received. For the sake of comparison, the English and the Latin versions are placed in parallel columns:

And for thys cause (as a goodly continent Prince clene & fautles of himself, sent oute of heauen into this vicious world for the amendement of mens maners) he caused the bishop of London to put her to open penance, going before the crosse in procession vpon a sonday with a taper in her hand.(59)

Sed Protector / vt pius Purusque Princeps e celo in miserum hunc delapsus orbem corrigendis mortalium moribus / adegit / vti in Diui Pauli templo magna celebritate senatu Londinensi prodeunte supplicatum / ipsa nudipes et gestato cereo insignis (qui mos est illic publice penitentium) crucem et psallentium chorum anteiret.(60)

More has taken the figure of Griselde, with whose virtues he had previously invested Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and wrenched it into a new, more malicious configuration by means of his ironic inversion. Then he turns about again, for the sake of highlighting the contrast, and continues his application of Griselde's courageous behavior to the seemingly less virtuous Shore. When Walter expels Griselde penniless and in shame,

Biforn the folk hirselven strepeth she,
And in hir smok, with heed and foot al bare,
Toward hir fadre hous forth is she fare.
The folk hire folwe, wepynge in hir weye,
And Fortune ay they cursen as they goon;
But she fro wepyng kepte hire eyen dreye,
Ne in this tyme word ne spak she noon.(61)

Shore is given no such paternal refuge with which to relieve her shame, yet even in the public penance for her publicly owned sins, she gains the sympathy of the onlookers. She enters the public procession garbed like Griselde, "in countenance & pace demure so womanly, & albeit she were out of al array saue her kyrtle only" with the result that "her great shame wan her much praise."(62) The people remember her wicked way of life as an aristocratic concubine, "yet pitied thei more her penance, then reioyced therin, when thei considred that y sup e protector procured it, more of a corrupt intent then ani vertuous affeccion."(63)

Shore's wife, though she has not earned the love of the people of London with her unseemly affairs, is nonetheless described favorably as one who could both read and write, who was not so much beautiful as witty, and "nether mute nor ful of bable," altogether a pleasant choice for a royal mistress,(64) not unlike the gracious wife of Walter:

So discreet and fair of eloquence,
So benigne and so digne of reverence.(65)

Rather than parley her position of influence into monetary gain, Mistress Shore cajoles the king more toward deeds of compassion than strictest justice; she obtains pardon for those out of favor and those "that had highly offended."(63) Again, the similarities to Griselde are striking, for Griselde,

The commune profit koude she redresse.
Ther nas discord, rancour, ne hevynesse
In al that land that she ne koude apese,
And wisely brynge hem alle in reste and ese.(67)

More's women are bolstered with the same Chaucerian authority as his proverbial borrowings and his explicit citations of the poet. Firmly set in a culture that had its roots in the vestiges of a society that derived most of its learning from oral compositions, More resorts to an authority that also has its roots deeply set in an oral culture. As one intent on using the vernacular as well as scholarly Latin, More could well recollect, consciously at times for his polemic and political purposes and for artistic contrast, the first acknowledged master of the English language.


1 John Webster, Monuments of honor. Derived from remarkable antiquity, and celebrated in London. At the confirmation of John Gore [as Lord Mayor], published by N. Okes, 1624, STC 25175. This work survives in a solitary copy owned by the Huntington Library. Caroline F. E. Spurgeon notes this reference in her Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (1357-1900), 3 pts., Chaucer Society Second Series 48 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner for the Chaucer Society, 1914), 1:199. I am indebted to Dr. Clarence H. Miller of Saint Louis University for the suggestion of this area of research and for his encouragement.

2 Webster, sig. B1.

3 Some large part of the spadework has been done for parts of More's writings and for selected sightings of Chaucer in More's writings. The indices of The Compete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. Clarence H. Miller, 14 vols. (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1963-) are invaluable to a study of More's use of Chaucer (hereafter cited as CW followed by the appropriate volume number). An eminent example of such an essay for individual works is Alistair Fox's essay on The Dialogue Concerning Heresies, "'Thomas More's Dialogue and the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury: 'Good Mother Wit' and Creative Imitation," in Familiar Colloquy: Essays Presented to Arthur Edward Barker, ed. Patricia Bruckmann (Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1978), pp. 15-24.

4 The citations of Chaucer by name can be found in More's A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CW, 6.1:98, lines 14-5, and p. 217, line 22, and in Margaret Roper's letter to Lady Alice Alington in The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More, ed. Elizabeth Frances Rogers (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1947), pp. 507-32; p. 529, line 564. The question of More's influence in the composition of his daughter's letter will be dealt with at length later in this essay.

5 Precise information on More's education at St. Anthony's school, in Morton's household, at Oxford, or at the Inns of Court might reveal further sources of his knowledge of Chaucer, as would information about his father's library or his own. Unfortunately we lack these inventories. Richard Marius notes that John More owned a Latin manuscript of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. This may indicate that the house had an interest in popular or, more likely, national literature, but since the elder More used the blank leaves at the end for memoranda about the births of his children, the esteem which the work itself was awarded is not easily judged (Thomas More: A Biography [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985], p. 7). R. W. Chambers, in On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and His School (EETS, o.s. 191a [London: Humphry Milford for Oxford Univ. Press, 1932], p. cxxiii), maintains that if there were texts other than law books in the Cripplegate house, we might expect by analogy with works bequeathed in wills that many of the books would have been those of the mystics Rolle or Hilton.

6 For the complex history of Caxton's Chaucers, the reader might rely on Beverly Boyd's "William Caxton (1422?-1491)," in Editing Chaucer: The Great Tradition, ed. Paul G. Ruggiers (Norman OK: Pilgrim Books, 1984), pp. 13-34. Boyd indicates that Caxton's shop tended to modernize spelling though "in no case do we possess Caxton's copy-text for his Chaucers, or any of the source manuscripts from which transcripts may have been made for his printed editions of Chaucer" (p. 20). Boyd also notes that Caxton's first edition of The Canterbury Tales (1478) relies on the b-text manuscript while the second edition (1483) switches to the a-text to supply omissions from the first edition and to delete spurious lines (pp. 23-4).

I suspect that Pynson's 1526 edition and Thynne's 1532 volumes come too late to bear much weight in the present discussion; this remains only a suspicion founded upon the dates and not demonstrated from a close inspection of the texts.

7 This essay will employ The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987) for the quotations of Chaucer. Caxton's editions for The Canterbury Tales (STC 5083) and Troilus and Criseyde (STC 5094) have been consulted selectively in case of any significant deviation in a text More possibly knew. The modern reader reads a different poet from the Chaucer of the English Renaissance, because many early editors attributed to Chaucer a large number of spurious prose and verse works. While this gradual conflation of the poetry began before 1500, adding 21,000 lines to the medieval canon, Caxton's text remains substantially authentic. He did, however, print two non-Chaucerian lyrics with the genuine minor poems in his Parliament of Fowles, entitled The Temple of Bras (1477). For a more extended discussion of additions to the Chaucer canon, Alice S. Miskimin's The Renaissance Chaucer (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 227-8, 241-6, offers a valuable discussion.

8 In his "Prohemye" to the second edition in 1483 (STC 5083, sigs. A2 and A2 sup v ), Caxton stresses his desire to correct the embarrassing errors of the first edition by acquiring a more reliable copy text when an anonymous gentleman informed him that a more reliable text was available:

Thenne he sayde he knewe a book whyche hys fader hade and moche louyde that was very true / and accodynge unto hys own first book by hym made / ande sayde more yf I wolde enprynte it agayn he wolde gete me the same book for a copye ... To whom I said / in caas that he coude gete me such a book trewe ande correcte / yet I wold ones endeuoyre me to enprynte it agayn / for to satysfye thauctour / where as to fore by ygnourau[n]ce I erryde in hurtyng ande dyffamynge his book in dyuerce places in settynge som[m]e thynges that he neuer sayde ne made / ande leuynge out many thynges that he made whych ben requysite to ben sette in it ... by whyche I haue correctede my book.

(sig. A2 sup v )

Boyd (p. 33) qualifies Caxton's skills as an exegete even of his own time and suggests that evidence of his active editorial work resides in only his second edition of The Canterbury Tales and his House of Fame.

9 John Skelton, A riyght delectable Tratyse upon a goodly Garloande or Chapelet of Laurell, in John Skelton: The Complete English Poems, ed. John Scattergood (London: Penguin Books, 1983), lines 388-9, noted in Spurgeon, 1:74. Chaucer's reputation can be traced through the references and allusions listed in her work (1:14-81).

10 This title comes from the dedicatory letter to Henry VIII written by Sir Brian Tuke for Thynne's 1532 edition of Chaucer's works (Miskimin, p. 241).

11 Quoted in Chambers, p. cxx.

12 Spurgeon, 1:xix-xxi.

13 Heresies, CW, 6.1:98, lines 12-5; also "And therfore is it lykely some where a bone worshypped for a relyke of some holy saynt / that was peraduenture a bone as Chaucer saythe of some holy Iewes shepe" (p. 217, lines 20-3). With these explicit citations ought to be included a parallel reference from The Answer to a Poisoned Book:

But now good chrysten readers, they that wolde at the counsayle of

this euyll chrysten caytyfe, cast of all suche maner thynges as all good

chrysten peple haue euer taken for good, and now neyther crepe to

the crosse, nor set by any halowed thynge, dispyse pylgrymages, and

set holy sayntes at nought, no more reuerence theyr images than an

horse of wax, nor reken theyr relykes any better than shelys bonys.

(CW, 11:187, lines 22-9, emphasis added)

14 Pardoner's Prologue, lines 350-1.

15 Spurgeon, 1:xix-xxi.

16 Miskimin, p. 169. She also refers to Spurgeon (1:xxv-vii, and Appendix A, 3:1-77),while noting that Spurgeon's counts were immediately challenged.

17 Chambers (p. clxii) seems inclined to divide authorship of the letter: "The speeches of More are absolute More; and the speeches of Margaret are absolute Margaret." Louis L. Martz, on the other hand, judges that "one ends up with very little doubt that this letter is primarily [More's] own composition," that "Its art seems to be all the father's," and concludes that "This letter is a prime example of More's art of improvisation, his art of exploration" (Thomas More: The Search for the Inner Man [New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1990], pp. 58-9).

18 Rogers. p. 529, lines 559-65, emphasis added.

19 Troilus and Criseyde, 3.925-31.

20 While recognizing that formal education for More meant facility in Greek and Latin, the elements of geometry, the elevated matter of Troy, and the sophisticated play of emotions tend to surround the speaker with an aura of some learning. The allusion to Euclid is to the forty-seventh proposition of his geometry, the Pythagorean proposition, and hence a term for perplexity or difficulty. See Riverside's note to 3.931 of Troilus and Criseyde.

21 CW, 6.1:287 lines 3-4, emphasis added.

22 The Wife of Bath's Prologue, lines 613-4, emphasis added.

23 CW, 6.1:66 lines 22-3, emphasis added; identified by Fox, p. 18.

24 The Squire's Tale lines 253-5.

25 CW, 6.1:80, lines 1-4, emphasis added; identified by Fox, p. 18.

26 The Squire's Tale, lines 258-60.

27 Fox, p. 18.

28 The Canterbury Tales, The General Prologue, lines 385-6.

29 CW, 11:119 lines 25-9.

30 CW, 11:220, line 6.

31 Tale of Melibee, line 1657.

32 Utopia, CW, 7:181, lines 13-4.

33 UtoPia, CW, 4:50, lines 24-5, emphasis added.

34 Merchant's Tale, line 2235.

35 Text G, lines 95-8:

For derknesse of the nyght, of which she dredde,

Hom to my hous ful swiftly I me spedde,

And in a lytel herber that I have,

Ybenched nawe with turves fresshe ygrave.

The OED entry for bench does not offer an instance of this usage for this form.

36 John Cavanaugh, "The Use of Proverbs and Sententiae for Rhetorical Amplification in the Writings of Saint Thomas More," diss., Saint Louis Univ., 1970, pp. 102-3.

37 Cavanaugh, pp. 322-93, 346.

38 Fox, p. 22.

39 For More's understanding of the weight of tradition, see Brian Gogan's The Common Corps of Christendom: Ecclesiological Themes in the Writings of Sir Thomas More (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1982).

40 For the proverbs and their use, I have employed Bartlett Jere Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly before 1500, collab. Helen Wescott Whiting (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1968). Subsequent citations will be to Whiting and the proverbial enumeration employed by this text.

41 For the English verses, I rely on the 1557 Rastell edition of The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght, sometyme Lorde Chauncellour of England, wrytten by him in the Englysh tonge. 1557, facs., 2 vols., intro. J. Wilson (London: Scolar Press, 1978), vol. 1, although I have consulted Anthony Edward's unpublished manuscript for the Yale CW of the English poems.

42 Wilson, sig. 2 sup v ; Edward's text has "Lykke pygges in a poke" (text, p. 25, line 373).

43 Reeve's Tale, line 4278.

44 Whiting, P190.

45 Squire's Tale, lines 202-3.

46 Wilson, sig. C5 sup r ; Edward's text, p. 29, line 138.

47 CW, 4:208, lines 28-30, emphasis added.

48 Respectively 4.1586-7; lines 3041-2; lines 591-3.

49 Whiting, V43.

50 In citing Richard III, all references to the Latin history are from the Historia Rieharda Tertii (CW; 15:315-485) since it provides the recently discovered, more authoritative text. For the English work, Richard Sylvester's Richard III is used (CW 2:1-93). Citations are according to the volume number of the respective work. For women in More, and the women of Richard III in particular, the reader would valuably consult Lee Cullen Khanna, "No Less Real Than Ideal: Images of Women in More's Work," Moreana 14, 55-6 (December 1977): 35-51; James L. Harner, "The Place of 'Shore's Wife' in More's The History of King Richard III," Moreana 19, 74 (June 1982): 69-76; Esther Yael Beith-Halahmi, Angel Fayre or Strumpet Lewd: Jane Shore as an Example of Erring Beauty in Sixteenth-Century Literature, 2 vols., Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 26 (Salzburg: Universitat Salzburg, 1974), 1:59.

51 CW; 15:544, 578, 619-23, 629.

52 CW; 2:20-1.

53 Khanna, p. 41; CW, 2:23-7.

54 Clerk's Tale, lines 456-62.

55 Clerk's Tale, lines 552-7.

56 CW, 2:42, lines 8-12. The Latin reads: "Statimque in puerulum versa / 'Vale charissime' inquit 'filj / superi tibi curatores adhibeant / immo ipsi curam habeant. Matrem semel saltem amplectere atque exosculare digrediens / incertus an idem vnquam licebit denuo.' Simul os admouit ori / cruce eum lustrata auertit sese / lachrimansque a plorante dicessit" (CW 15:396, lines 5-10).

57 CW, 2:54 lines 22-4.

58 Clerk's Tale, lines 438-41, emphasis added.

59 CW, 2:54, lines 24-8, emphasis added.

60 CW, 15:424, lines 8-13, emphasis added.

61 Clerk's Tale, lines 894-900.

62 CW: 2:54 lines 30-1; 2:55, lines 1-2.

63 CW, 2:55, lines 4-7.

64 CW, 2:56, line 4. The Latin reads: "Nec tamen pulchritudine quemquam eque atque comitate quadam dextra illicibili suauitate conuiuendi capiebat / vtpote lepido ac festiuo ingenio / docta hactenus vt legere suam linguam et scribere vtcunque posset / serendi colloqui haud rudis / neque silentio rustico nec immodica loquacitate notabilis" (CW, 15:428, lines 4-8).

65 Clerk's Tale, lines 410-1.

66 CW, 2:56, line 18.

67 Clerk's Tale, lines 431-4.

Francis X. Ryan, a Jesuit of Campion Hall, is a D. Phil. student in the English Faculty of the University of Oxford.