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 John Skelton

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John Skelton

  • Birth c.1460
  • Death 21 Jun 1529
  • Burial Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
  • Memorial ID 13047

Poet. Arguably the greatest English poet of his time. In his satirical and humorous verse he took on the abuses of the church and the nobility, while also providing unvarnished looks at life among common men. His breathless signature style - blocks of short, irregular, consecutively rhymed lines - is known as Skeltonic meter. The popular expressions "By hook or by crook" and "I smell a rat" were coined by him. Little is known of Skelton's early life. He was probably born in Norfolk and studied at Oxford, where he was awarded the academic title Poet Laureate, a distinction later given him by Louvain and Cambridge Universities. From 1488 he was associated with the royal court in London and served as tutor to Henry VIII, then a young prince, for five years. The controversy following the publication of his satire "The Book of Court" (1499) sent him fleeing north. Ordained a priest in 1498, he became pastor at Diss in Norfolk, but the presence of his wife and child antagonized the parishoners and led to his dismissal in 1511. He then returned to the London court. Skelton's outspokeness made him many enemies, notably Cardinal Wolsey, whom he attacked in the poems "Speak, Parrot" (c. 1520) and "Why Come Ye Not to Court?" (c. 1522). Around 1524 he was finally forced to seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, where he lived as a virtual prisoner until his death. Skelton is credited with helping transform medieval English into modern English. He wrote in the vernacular of his day instead of Latin or French, and was among the first of his countrymen to avail himself of the newly introduced printing press, giving him a wider audience than was previously possible. His famous works include "Philip Sparrow" (c. 1500), a gently comic lament for a young girl's pet sparrow, killed by a cat; "Ware the Hawk" (c. 1505), about a priest who prefers hunting to religion; the picaresque "The Tunnying of Elynour Rummying"; the morality play "Magnificence"; "Colin Clout" (c. 1519), a savage satire of the church as viewed by a vagabond; and "A Garland of Laurel" (1523), a self-congratulatory account of his "Laureate" status, rather ironically dedicated to Wolsey. Skelton's output remained popular for over a century after his death and influenced such later authors as Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson. Renewed interest in his poetry was sparked in the 1930s by Robert Graves and W.H. Auden.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 18 Oct 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 13047
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John Skelton (c.1460–21 Jun 1529), Find A Grave Memorial no. 13047, citing St Margaret Churchyard, Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .