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).
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.
Imprisonment, appeal and execution
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."
According to The Westminster Chronicle, Usk was hanged, and after his body was taken down it was decapitated after thirty strokes of the axe.
Hanged at Tyburne in March 1388.
- The Testament of Love Ed. by R. Allen Shoaf. TEAMS Middle English Text Series.
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