The textual history of The Book of the Duchess challenges many spurious traditions encouraged by the apparently disordered state of Chaucer’s texts on his death. The lack of contemporary references casts doubt on whether the poem was circulated in the fourteenth century or commissioned by John of Gaunt as an elegy for his wife. The first witnesses, in three mid-fifteenth-century manuscripts, contain substantial lacunae, ‘resolved’ in Thynne’s printed edition of 1532. This article examines Bodleian MS Fairfax 16, which bears the arms of John Stanley of Hooton, a leading court functionary from a rising family. It argues that the selection of texts in that MS reflects Stanley’s contact with a cultural milieu centred on the Duke of Suffolk, while the inclusion of The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame may result from Suffolk’s wife Alice Chaucer making available material from her grandfather’s personal papers.
Simon Meecham-Jones has lectured for the English Faculty, University of Cambridge in medieval literature and the history of the English language. From 2008 to 2014 he also held a part-time research fellowship at Swansea University. He has researched and published on Chaucer and Gower, twelfth-century Latin lyrics, medieval language contact (particularly code-switching), and the representation of Wales and the Welsh people in medieval literature. He edited (with Ruth Kennedy) Writers of the Reign of Henry II (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) and Authority and Subjugation in Writing of Medieval Wales (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). He is currently completing a study entitled Chaucer and Imagination.