Thomas Speght

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Thomas Speght (died 1621) was an English schoolmaster and editor of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Geoffrey Chaucer English poet

Geoffrey Chaucer was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages, he is best known for The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer has been styled the "Father of English literature" and was the first writer buried in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.



He was from a Yorkshire family, and matriculated as a sizar of Peterhouse, Cambridge in 1566, graduating B.A. in 1570, and M.A. in 1573. At Cambridge he was supported by a scholarship from Lady Mildred Cecil. He went to London, and became a schoolmaster. [1] [2] [3]

Yorkshire Historic county of Northern England

Yorkshire, formally known as the County of York, is a historic county of Northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Due to its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform. Throughout these changes, Yorkshire has continued to be recognised as a geographical territory and cultural region. The name is familiar and well understood across the United Kingdom and is in common use in the media and the military, and also features in the titles of current areas of civil administration such as North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire.

At Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Cambridge, a sizar is an undergraduate who receives some form of assistance such as meals, lower fees or lodging during his or her period of study, in some cases in return for doing a defined job.

Peterhouse, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Peterhouse is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. It is the oldest college of the university, having been founded in 1284 by Hugo de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, and granted its charter by King Edward I. Today, Peterhouse has 254 undergraduates, 116 full-time graduate students and 54 fellows. The official name of Peterhouse does not include "college", although "Peterhouse College" is often seen in public.

According to the epitaph on the tomb of his son Lawrence, Speght as schoolmaster was a "paragon". [1]


In 1598 Speght edited the works of Chaucer. He had the assistance of John Stow the chronicler, and built on Stow's Chaucer edition of 1561. He included a glossary, and an influential biography of Chaucer, as well as annotations. He included works now not associated with Chaucer. [3]

John Stow 16th-century English historian and antiquarian

John Stow was an English historian and antiquarian. He is remembered for his various chronicles of English history, published from 1565 onwards under such titles as The Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles, The Chronicles of England, and The Annales of England; but particularly for his Survey of London. A. L. Rowse has described him as "one of the best historians of that age; indefatigable in the trouble he took, thorough and conscientious, accurate – above all things devoted to truth".

Glossary Alphabetical list of terms relevant to a certain field of study or action

A glossary, also known as a vocabulary or clavis, is an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms. Traditionally, a glossary appears at the end of a book and includes terms within that book that are either newly introduced, uncommon, or specialized. While glossaries are most commonly associated with non-fiction books, in some cases, fiction novels may come with a glossary for unfamiliar terms.

First Chaucer edition (1598)

The full title of his edition ran: The Workes of our Antient and learned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer, newly Printed. In this Impression you shall find these Additions: (1) His Portraiture and Progenie Shewed. (2) His Life collected. (3) Argument to euery Booke gathered. (4) Old and Obscure Words explained. (5) Authors by him cited declared. (6) Difficulties opened. (7) Two Bookes of his neuer before printed (i.e. his Dreame and The Floure and the Leafe ), published London, folio 1598. [1]

The Floure and the Leafe is an anonymous Middle English allegorical poem in 595 lines of rhyme royal, written around 1470. During the 17th, 18th, and most of the 19th century it was mistakenly believed to be the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, and was generally considered to be one of his finest poems. The name of the author is not known but the poem presents itself as the work of a woman, and some critics are inclined to take this at face value. The poet was certainly well-read, there being a number of echoes of earlier writers in the poem, including Geoffrey Chaucer, John Lydgate, John Gower, Andreas Capellanus, Guillaume de Lorris, Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, Eustache Deschamps, Christine de Pizan, and the authors of the "Lai du Trot" and the Kingis Quair.

The volume was dedicated to Sir Robert Cecil. Some copies were published by George Bishop, and others by Thomas Wight. A prefatory letter, addressed to the editor in 1597, by Francis Beaumont (d. 1624) of West Goscote, Leicestershire, supplied "a judicious apology for the supposed levities of Chaucer". Neither the Dreame nor The Floure and the Leafe is now thought to be connected to Chaucer. [1]

West Goscote was a hundred of Leicestershire, that arose from the division of the ancient Goscote hundred into two. It covers the north west of the county, an area broadly corresponding to the western part of Charnwood district along with North West Leicestershire.

Second Chaucer edition (1602)

Meanwhile Francis Thynne, whose father William Thynne had published a 1532 edition of Chaucer, was preparing notes for a commentary on the poet's works. On the publication of Speght's edition, Thynne abandoned his project and criticised Speght's performance in a long manuscript letter of Animadversions addressed to Speght and dedicated to Sir Thomas Egerton. The manuscript went to the Bridgwater library, was first printed in 1810 by Henry John Todd in his Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer (pp. 1–83), and was reprinted for the Early English Text Society in 1865 (new edit. 1875). When a reprint of Speght's edition of Chaucer was called for in 1602, he used Thynne's assistance, acknowledged in the preface, with also notes and corrections supplied by John Stow. [1]

The second edition bore the title: The Workes of our Ancient and learned English Poet Geoffrey Chaucer newly printed. To that which was done in the former Impression thus much is now added: (1) In the life of Chaucer many things inserted. (2) The whole Worke by old Copies reformed. (3) Sentences and Prouerbes noted. (4) The Signification of the old and obscure words prooued. (5) The Latine and French not Englished by Chaucer translated. (6) The Treatise called Jacke Vpland against Friers: and Chaucer's A.B.C. called La Prière de nostre Dame, at this Impression added, published London, folio 1602. [1]

The volume was again dedicated to Sir Robert Cecil. The Treatise called Jacke Vpland is not by Chaucer, but Chaucer's A B C is a genuine work. A later edition, with John Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, appeared in 1687. [1]

Other works

Speght also contributed Latin commendatory verses to Abraham Fleming's Panoplie of Epistles (1576) and to John Baret's Alvearie (1580).


Speght married Anne, whose surname may have been Hill, and they had a family of at least 11, with three sons and eight daughters. They lived near Cripplegate, in a house by the chapel of St James in the Wall, where Speght taught. [3] This house and school were surveyed in 1612 by Ralph Treswell, as the property belonged to the Clothworkers' Company. [4]

Speght's son Laurence accompanied Sir Paul Pindar on his embassy to Constantinople, and was on 10 March 1639 granted in reversion the office of surveyor-general of the customs. He was buried at Clopton, Northamptonshire. [1] Humfrey Dyson (died 1633) the book collector married one of the daughters. [3]

Rachel Speght the poet, daughter of the Calvinist cleric James Speght, may have been a relation; [5] James Speght, D.D., of Christ's College, Cambridge (son of John Speght of Horbury, Yorkshire), published in 1613 A briefe demonstration who have and of the certainty of their salvation that have the spirit of Christ. [1] Thomas Speght's will mentions a brother James, who has been identified tentatively with the cleric. [3]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Lee, Sidney, ed. (1898). "Speght, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 53. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. "Speght, Thomas (SPT566T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Matthews, David. "Speght, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26098.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. J Schofield, The London Surveys of Ralph Treswell, London Topographical Society 135 (1987), 97-9.
  5. Lewalski, Barbara K. "Speght, Rachel". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/45825.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1898). "Speght, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography . 53. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

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