13 Pages

Aldgate Tower

EVEN in the 14th century a man's house was more truly his castle in England than in any country of equal population; and Chaucer was particularly fortunate in having secured a city castle for his house. The records show that such leases were commonly granted by the authorities to men of influence and good position in the City; in 1367 the Black Prince specially begged the Mayor that Thomas de Kent might have Cripplegate; and we have curious evidence of the keen competition for Aldgate. The Mayor and Aldermen granted to Chaucer in 1374 "the whole dwelling-house above Aldgate Gate, with the chambers thereon built and a certain cellar beneath the said gate, on the eastern side thereof, together with all its appurtenances, for the lifetime of the said Geoffrey." There was no rent, though of course Chaucer had to keep it in repair; in an earlier lease of 1354, the tenant had paid I3S. 4d. a year besides repairs. The City promised to keep no prisoners in the tower during Chaucer's tenancy,* but

naturally stipulated that they might take possession of their gate when necessary for the defence of the City. In 1386, as we have already seen and shall see more fully hereafter, there was a scare of invasion so serious that the authorities can scarcely have failed to take the gates into their own hands for a while. Though this need not necessarily have ended Chaucer's tenancy altogether, yet he must in fact have given it up then, if not earlier; and a Common Council meeting held on October 4 resolved to grant no such leases in future II by reason of divers damages that have befallen the said city, through grants made to many persons, as well of the Gates and the dwelling-houses above them, as of the gardens and vacant places adjoining the walls, gates, and fosses of the said city, whereby great and divers mischiefs may readily hereafter ensue." Yet on the vel)' lled day (and this is our first notice of the end of Chaucer's tenancy) a fresh lease of Aldgate tower and house was granted to Chaucer's friend Richard Forster by another friend of the poet's, Nicholas Brembre, who was then Mayor. This may very likely have been a pre-arranged job among the three friends; but the flagrant violation of the law may well seem startling even to those who have realized the frequent contrasts between medieval theory and medieval practice; and after this we are quite prepared for Riley's footnote, "Within a very short period after this enactment was made, it came to be utterly disregarded." * The whole transaction, however, shows clearly that the Aldgate lodging was considered a prize in its way.