Thomas Usk, a contemporary of Chaucer, was a figure of political and literary importance who became involved in the tempestuous politics of late fourteenth-century London. In 1384 he took part in John Northampton’s agitations against the mayor of London and was imprisoned. While in custody, he had an apparent conversion experience and wrote a detailed accusation against Northampton and his followers. Shortly thereafter, while still in custody, he wrote The Testament of Love, which contains an allegorical apologia for his change of heart, a meditation on the fickle nature of worldly fortune and an exploration of the relationship between grace and free will. Usk was eventually freed and briefly enjoyed the favour of King Richard II. However, he was arrested along with others of Richard’s party in December 1388 by order of the Lords Appellant. After a one-day trial, the Merciless Parliament convicted him of treason on 4 March 1388 and he was executed on the same day.
Thomas Usk’s Testament of Love is an interesting document that presents many challenges to the reader. While it has been over a hundred years since Walter Skeat’s edition of the text, there has been much recent scholarly activity in this area. Gary Shawver’s critical edition of Testament is based on John F. Leyerle’s work on the text, and reflects modern knowledge of the period, as well as containing new insights into the source of Usk’s material. As Usk’s work survives in only one witness, namely Thynne’s 1532 print edition, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer, Professor Shawver provides a text that is as faithful as possible to this witness in a form that modern readers and scholars of Chaucer’s works can understand.