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  1. Chaucer is next found occupying a post which has not often
  2. been held by men gifted with his peculiar genius -- that of a
  3. county member. The contest between the Dukes of Gloucester
  4. and Lancaster, and their adherents, for the control of the
  5. Government, was coming to a crisis; and when the recluse and
  6. studious Chaucer was induced to offer himself to the electors of
  7. Kent as one of the knights of their shire -- where presumably he
  8. held property -- we may suppose that it was with the view of
  9. supporting his patron's cause in the impending conflict. The
  10. Parliament in which the poet sat assembled at Westminster on
  11. the 1st of October, and was dissolved on the 1st of November,
  12. 1386. Lancaster was fighting and intriguing abroad, absorbed in
  13. the affairs of his Castilian succession; Gloucester and his friends
  14. at home had everything their own way; the Earl of Suffolk was
  15. dismissed from the woolsack, and impeached by the Commons;
  16. and although Richard at first stood out courageously for the
  17. friends of his uncle Lancaster, he was constrained, by the refusal
  18. of supplies, to consent to the proceedings of Gloucester. A
  19. commission was wrung from him, under protest, appointing
  20. Gloucester, Arundel, and twelve other Peers and prelates, a
  21. permanent council to inquire into the condition of all the public
  22. departments, the courts of law, and the royal household, with
  23. absolute powers of redress and dismissal. We need not ascribe
  24. to Chaucer's Parliamentary exertions in his patron's behalf, nor
  25. to any malpractices in his official conduct, the fact that he was
  26. among the earliest victims of the commission.<9>  In December
  27. 1386, he was dismissed from both his offices in the port of
  28. London; but he retained his pensions, and drew them regularly
  29. twice a year at the Exchequer until 1388. In 1387, Chaucer's
  30. political reverses were aggravated by a severe domestic
  31. calamity: his wife died, and with her died the pension which had
  32. been settled on her by Queen Philippa in 1366, and confirmed to
  33. her at Richard's accession in 1377.  The change made in
  34. Chaucer's pecuniary position, by the loss of his offices and his
  35. wife's pension, must have been very great. It would appear that
  36. during his prosperous times he had lived in a style quite equal to
  37. his income, and had no ample resources against a season of
  38. reverse; for, on the 1st of May 1388, less than a year and a half
  39. after being dismissed from the Customs, he was constrained to
  40. assign his pensions, by surrender in Chancery, to one John
  41. Scalby.  In May 1389, Richard II., now of age, abruptly
  42. resumed the reins of government, which, for more than two
  43. years, had been ably but cruelly managed by Gloucester. The
  44. friends of Lancaster were once more supreme in the royal
  45. councils, and Chaucer speedily profited by the change. On the
  46. 12th of July he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works at the
  47. Palace of Westminster, the Tower, the royal manors of
  48. Kennington, Eltham, Clarendon, Sheen, Byfleet, Childern
  49. Langley, and Feckenham, the castle of Berkhamstead, the royal
  50. lodge of Hathenburgh in the New Forest, the lodges in the
  51. parks of Clarendon, Childern Langley, and Feckenham, and the
  52. mews for the King's falcons at Charing Cross; he received a
  53. salary of two shillings per day, and was allowed to perform the
  54. duties by deputy. For some reason unknown, Chaucer held this
  55. lucrative office <10> little more than two years, quitting it
  56. before the 16th of September 1391, at which date it had passed
  57. into the hands of one John Gedney. The next two years and a
  58. half are a blank, so far as authentic records are concerned;
  59. Chaucer is supposed to have passed them in retirement,
  60. probably devoting them principally to the composition of The
  61. Canterbury Tales. In February 1394, the King conferred upon
  62. him a grant of L20 a year for life; but he seems to have had no
  63. other source of income, and to have become embarrassed by
  64. debt, for frequent memoranda of small advances on his pension
  65. show that his circumstances were, in comparison, greatly
  66. reduced.  Things appear to have grown worse and worse with
  67. the poet; for in May 1398 he was compelled to obtain from the
  68. King letters of protection against arrest, extending over a term
  69. of two years. Not for the first time, it is true -- for similar
  70. documents had been issued at the beginning of Richard's reign;
  71. but at that time Chaucer's missions abroad, and his responsible
  72. duties in the port of London, may have furnished reasons for
  73. securing him against annoyance or frivolous prosecution, which
  74. were wholly wanting at the later date.  In 1398, fortune began
  75. again to smile upon him; he received a royal grant of a tun of
  76. wine annually, the value being about L4. Next year, Richard II
  77. having been deposed by the son of John of Gaunt <11>  --
  78. Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster -- the new King, four
  79. days after hits accession, bestowed on Chaucer a grant of forty
  80. marks (L26, 13s. 4d.) per annum, in addition to the pension of
  81. L20 conferred by Richard II. in 1394.  But the poet, now
  82. seventy-one years of age, and probably broken down by the
  83. reverses of the past few years, was not destined long to enjoy
  84. his renewed prosperity.  On Christmas Eve of 1399, he entered
  85. on the possession of a house in the garden of the Chapel of the
  86. Blessed Mary of Westminster -- near to the present site of
  87. Henry VII.'s Chapel -- having obtained a lease from Robert
  88. Hermodesworth, a monk of the adjacent convent, for fifty-three
  89. years, at the annual rent of four marks (L2, 13s. 4d.) Until the
  90. 1st of March 1400, Chaucer drew his pensions in person; then
  91. they were received for him by another hand; and on the 25th of
  92. October, in the same year, he died, at the age of seventy-two.
  93. The only lights thrown by his poems on his closing days are
  94. furnished in the little ballad called "Good Counsel of Chaucer,"
  95. -- which, though said to have been written when "upon his
  96. death-bed lying in his great anguish, "breathes the very spirit of
  97. courage, resignation, and philosophic calm; and by the
  98. "Retractation" at the end of The Canterbury Tales, which, if it
  99. was not foisted in by monkish transcribers, may be supposed the
  100. effect of Chaucer's regrets and self-reproaches on that solemn
  101. review of his life-work which the close approach of death
  102. compelled. The poet was buried in Westminster Abbey; <12>
  103. and not many years after his death a slab was  placed on a pillar
  104. near his grave, bearing the lines, taken from an epitaph or
  105. eulogy made by Stephanus Surigonus of Milan, at the request of
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