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....
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