John Skelton: The Critical Heritage

By Anthony S. G.Edwards | Go to book overview

45.

‘DUBLIN UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE’ ON SKELTON

1866

This unsigned article titled A Satirical Laureate of the Sixteenth Century appeared in the ‘Dublin University Magazine’, LXVIII (1866), pp. 601-18. It has not proved possible to determine its authorship. The original footnotes have been deleted.

Swift sat in Rabelais’ easy chair; but there is another English satirist whose pantagruelistic tendencies were still more evident, who was a contemporary of the French humorist, and whose virulent attacks against the corruptions of the Church do not yield in coarseness and energy to Luther’s diatribes. John Skelton, Laureate, was the link between Chaucer and Surrey, Wolsey and Cranmer—the representative of the reformatory spirit of the first part of the sixteenth century. He wrote powerful invectives against the Church while Luther was still macerating himself in a convent cell; and he was an important agent in bringing about the English Reformation.

In Germany a monk stood against principalities and powers; but in England the evolution of the great change was still more curious and interesting. As Piers Ploughman had prophesied, the Crown alone could conquer the Church. And now was seen a young prince whose chief characteristic was an inexorable will; and it was by coming into collision with that will that the great hierarchy, which had cursed royal kings, was to fall, or to be absorbed by the crown. The King himself, had not in the early part of his reign, discerned the approach of this consumation, which More had foreseen; but he had often been offended by the pride and power of Churchmen, and was, accordingly, not inimical to attacks on the clergy. Without perceiving the results that would accrue from popularising a contempt of the hierarchy, he fostered Skelton’s vigorous satire. Monarch and poet were tacitly allied together against Wolsey; and by this action against the common enemy, unconscious and intermittent though it often was, the one built up the Church of England, the other imprinted to England satire the political character which it retained in Butler, Dryden, Swift.

Before Skelton the clergy had not been attacked in England under such stirring circumstances, or in so

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