John Skelton


'Vales Pierius'


John Skelton is buried in St Margaret's Church, next to Westminster Abbey, London, England. (Also buried here is Sir Walter Ralegh.)

Little is know about Skelton's early life - however he certainly studied at Oxford University where gained a Laureate - a kind of degree in rhetoric. He was also created a Laureate by Cambridge and Louvain Universities.

In 1488 he entered the court of Henry VII where he remained  for most of the next 40 years. He was the tutor to Henry VIII for five years and also wrote a satire of court life entitled Bowge of Courte  which was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1499.

In the early 1500s he left court to take up a post as rector of St Mary's Church Diss, Norfolk. However he scandalised his parishioners by flaunting his wife and child and in 1511 he was dismissed and returned to court life in London.

St. Margaret's Church

John Skelton

His other famous works include: Colin Clout (1521) which annoyed Cardinal Wolsey, Phyllyp Sparrow - the lament of a Norwich schoolgirl for her pet bird killed by a cat and Ballade of the Scottysshe Kynge a celebration of the victory at Flodden.

Due to the emergence of the printing press (invented by William Caxton) Skelton was able to get his work to a much wider audience than had previously been possible. He also helped to transform medieval English into modern English. The expressions: 'By hook or by crook' and 'I smell a rat' come from Skelton.

The term Skeltonic Verse - is now used to describe poetry (like his) that employs short lines with rapid, tumbling rhymes. Some people have compared Skelton's poetry to modern rap.

His work  was a big  influence upon Edmund Spenser and Samuel Butler.  The modern poet Robert Graves was also a  great admirer.

Her lothely lere
Is nothynge clere,
But ugly of chere,
Droupy and drowsy,
Scurvy and lowsy;
Her face all bowsy,
Comely crynkled,
Woundersly wrynkled,
Lyke a rost pygges eare,
Brystled wyth here.

From The Tunnying of Elynour Rummyng

Read more of Skelton's poems






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