Thomas Usk

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Thomas Usk (died 4 March 1388) was appointed the under-sheriff of London by Richard II in 1387. His service in this role was brief and he was hanged in 1388.

A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Richard II of England King of England

Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward the Black Prince, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to King Edward III. Upon the death of his grandfather Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.


His Life

Born in London, Usk was a petty bureaucrat, scrivener, and author. The Westminster Chronicle records his inglorious death.

An important historical document for the reign of Richard II, the chronicle written at Westminster Abbey covers the years from 1381 to 1394.

Author of The Testament of Love and Contemporary of Chaucer

Born in London, he is the author of The Testament of Love, which was once thought to be by Geoffrey Chaucer. Usk was a Collector of Customs from 1381 to 1384, when Geoffrey Chaucer was the Comptroller of Customs. If they were not familiar with each other, Usk at least was familiar with Chaucer's poetry. In The Testament of Love, the god of Love praises "mine own true servant, the noble philosophical poet in English" who had written a poem on Troilus (i.e. Chaucer). [1]

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.

Troilus mythical prince of Troy in Greek mythology

Troilus is a legendary character associated with the story of the Trojan War. The first surviving reference to him is in Homer's Iliad, which some scholars theorize was composed by bards and sung in the late 9th or 8th century BC.


Usk had been servant to John Northampton when the latter was Lord Mayor of London from 1381 to 1383. In 1384, he was arrested and released in exchange for informing against Northampton, for he had no desire, he said, to be "a stinking martyr." This earned him the enmity of the Gloucester party. [1]

John Northampton was a reformist Lord Mayor of London in 1381 and 1382, during dissension in favor of reform of its Common Council in the early years of Richard II's reign. When the oligarchic leaders of London were able to engineer the overthrow of his faction, even the book of records of reform legislation was burned, known as the Jubilee book. The mob politics of such radical movements increased the uneasiness of the great about allowing popular participation in government.

The Lord Mayor of London is the City's mayor and the leader of the City of London Corporation. Within the City of London, the Lord Mayor is accorded precedence over all individuals except the sovereign and retains various traditional powers, rights and privileges, including the title and style The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London.

Gloucester City and Non-metropolitan district in England

Gloucester is a city and district in Gloucestershire, in the South West of England, of which it is the county town. Gloucester lies on the River Severn, between the Cotswolds to the east and the Forest of Dean to the west, 19 miles (31 km) east of Monmouth, 17.5 miles (28.2 km) east of Wales. It has the first traditional crossing point across the longest river in the country, modernised into multiple lanes, connecting Over, a place over the water hence the name of that village — southern counties of England for many decades have been linked by three very long, lower Severn crossings in the very south-west corner of Gloucestershire, quite close to Bristol and Avonmouth on the far side of which is the River Wye being the border of South Wales for several miles.

Imprisonment, appeal and execution

When Gloucester's party gained power through the Merciless Parliament Usk was prosecuted in 1388 and sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and beheaded, with his head put up over Newgate. [1]

Merciless Parliament

The Merciless Parliament was an English parliamentary session lasting from 3 February to 4 June 1388, at which many members of King Richard II's court were convicted of treason. The session was preceded by a period in which Richard's power was revoked and the kingdom placed under the regency of the Lords Appellant. Richard had launched an abortive military attempt to overthrow the Lords Appellant and negotiate peace with the kingdom of France so he could focus all his resources against his domestic enemies. The Lords Appellant counteracted the attempt and called the Parliamentary session to expose his attempts to make peace. Parliament reacted with hostility and convicted almost all of Richard's advisers of treason. Most were executed and a few exiled. Parliament was dissolved after violence broke out in Kent and the Duke of York and his allies began objecting to some executions. The term "merciless" was coined by Augustinian chronicler Henry Knighton.

Newgate ancient gate in the wall of the City of London

Newgate was one of the historic seven gates of the London Wall around the City of London and one of the six which date back to Roman times. From it, a Roman road led west to Silchester, Hampshire. Excavations in 1875, 1903 and 1909 revealed the Roman structure and showed that it consisted of a double roadway between two square flanking guardroom towers.

The Testament of Love is an allegorical prose work written in prison to seek aid. Walter Skeat found that the initial letters of the sections formed an acrostic saying, "MARGARET OF VIRTU HAVE MERCI ON TSKNVI." Properly decoded, the last word is "THINUSK," or "thin[e] Usk."

Allegory Literary device

As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

Walter William Skeat British etymologist

Walter William Skeat, FBA was the pre-eminent British philologist of his time. He was instrumental in developing the English language as a higher education subject in the United Kingdom.

Usk had been a Lollard, but he was brought back to the Roman Catholic Church while in prison. He was hanged at Tyburn in March 1388, and after his body was taken down it was decapitated after thirty strokes of the axe. [1]



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