Five Fascinating Facts about John Skelton
Interesting trivia about the Tudor poet
1. John Skelton was King Henry VIII’s Poet Laureate. Although the role of Poet Laureate only came into being officially in the late seventeenth century, when John Dryden was appointed King Charles II’s Poet Laureate in 1668, John Skelton (c. 1463-1529) held the same post in all but name, some 150 years earlier during the reign of Henry VIII. He was, if you will, English literature’s first de facto Poet Laureate – that is, he held the office in fact if not in name.
2. Skelton was also highly praised by Erasmus, leading humanist scholar of Europe. The Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus called Skelton ‘that light and glory of English letters’. William Caxton – the first person to print books written in English – complimented him for his ‘polysshed and ornate termes’.
3. However, perhaps the greatest admirer of John Skelton was … John Skelton. In A ryght delectable treatyse upon a goodly garlande or chapelet of laurell, Skelton welcomes himself – sorry, is welcomed by the great luminaries of English poetry John Gower, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Lydgate – into the ‘Court of Fame’.
4. Skelton wrote in a wide range of genres, but a great deal of his poetry has been lost. Many of Skelton’s moral tracts and conduct guides, such as How to Speak Well or Be Still, have been consigned to oblivion, as has his The Ballad of the Mustard Tart and (on quite a different tarty theme) his erotic poem Repete of the Recule of Rosmundis bowre.
5. Skelton invented his own style of poetic metre, which bears his name. ‘Skeltonic’ is a tumbling, headlong style of poetry that is used in Skelton’s comic poems, such as Colin Clout. Recently, a team of scholars sought to bring Skelton’s poetry to a wider audience with this video of Skelton’s poem ‘Speke Parott’ – the video ended up going viral and introducing many people to this less widely studied poet.
If you enjoyed these John Skelton facts, you can continue to explore the world of medieval literature with our pick of the best medieval books everyone should read.