By Dan Spencer
In 1415 Donnington Castle was purchased by Thomas Chaucer, son of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
He was a very wealthy landowner who held a number of offices for the House of Lancaster in the course of his career and served as speaker of the House of Commons in the parliaments of 1407, 1410, 1411, November 1414 and May 1421. In 1415 he was appointed as chief butler for the expedition and was therefore responsible for procuring provisions for the army. After the death of Henry V, Chaucer entered the service of Henry Beaufort, uncle of Henry VI.
Thomas died at Ewelme on 18 November 1434 and was buried in the chancel of the parish church where he is commemorated, with his wife, by a brass on a tomb chest commissioned in their memory by their daughter, Alice whose own elaborate tomb can be found in the same church.
In 1415, Thomas Chaucer’s retinue consisted of himself, 11 men-at-arms and 36 archers. His retinue of 47 men embarked without a leader, for he was taken ill, and obliged to stay at home. He may well have had a lucky escape, unlike his son-in-law, Sir John Phelip, who died at Harfleur, leaving a widow of just 11 years old. Beside Sir John, two esquires and six ‘valetti’, who may have been either servants or archers, fell ill at Harfleur and were among those given licence to return to England. Unfortunately, the surviving documents cannot tell us how many of these men fought at the battle and no details are known of their further service.
Donnington Castle was built by Sir Richard Abberbury in the late fourteenth century, with a licence to crenellate granted by Richard II in 1386. In the late fifteenth century the castle was confiscated to the crown by Henry VII, on the attainment of Edmund de la Pole. The castle was later held by the Royalists during the English Civil War, after which it was ‘slighted’ by order of Parliament to render it indefensible. The site is now owned and managed by English Heritage.
This information came from Charles Oman, Castles (London: Great Western Railway, 1926) and Carole Rawcliffe, ‘Chaucer, Thomas (c.1367–1434)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5192, accessed 30 Sept 2014]
Photographs of Donnington Castle were taken by Dan Spencer