John Skelton Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

John Skelton’s life and poetry are closely bound up with the world of the Tudor court under Henry VII and Henry VIII. The first sure facts about his life have to do with the laureate degrees he received. Two years after the award from Oxford, Skelton received glowing praise in William Caxton’s preface to The Boke of Eneydos (1490). Caxton made clear his admiration for Skelton’s immense knowledge of Latin, his translations, and his ability to write in English. Thus, by about the age of thirty, Skelton was known as a scholar and poet. At about this time, he became officially connected with the court of Henry VII, writing occasional state poems and eventually becoming official tutor to Prince Henry, who was intended to become a priest. Skelton himself took holy orders in 1498.

In 1502, Henry’s older brother Arthur, the heir to the throne, died. Young Henry, now the next in line for the throne, no longer needed quite the same kind of instruction, and Skelton was sent from the court to be the rector of Diss, an area on the borders of Suffolk and Norfolk, ninety miles from London. It is uncertain how Skelton took this “exile.” On one hand, he clearly enjoyed the prestige of his royal connection. On the other, his first major poem, The Bowge of Court, written before his removal to Diss, established his recognition of the traditional problems of a courtier’s life, including battles with hypocrisy, deceit, flattery, and despair....

(The entire section is 506 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Skelton was born about 1460. The facts about his early life are few. He seems to have attended Cambridge University when quite young, but there is no record of his receiving a degree. When the noted printer William Caxton spoke of him in 1490, Skelton had already established his position as writer and scholar. He was “laureated” by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Louvain; the precise nature of this honor is still being debated.

He won royal favor for his accomplishment and was made tutor to Prince Henry, later King Henry VIII, about 1496. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1498. During this period Skelton struck up an acquaintance with the visiting Dutch scholar Erasmus, who later honored Skelton by calling him “England’s Homer.” His observations on the life around him inspired his satire on royal hangers-on, The Bowge of Court.

The death of Arthur, prince of Wales, in 1502 brought an abrupt end to Skelton’s career as tutor. While his gifts were considered suitable for the education of a future archbishop of Canterbury, they were apparently not what Henry VII thought fitting for the heir to the throne. Skelton was made rector of Diss in Norfolk, presumably as a reward for his services, and he lived there for several years, performing the duties of parish priest. It is reasonably conjectured that many of his poems were composed during this period, though during his life he was more known for his polemical...

(The entire section is 596 words.)