Bishop Courtenay, of noble birth and well connected, but very much a churchman, rather than a politician. However, following the death of Archbishop Sudbury in the Peasant's Revolt he became Archbishop of Canterbury and, very briefly, chancellor.
Topcliff had been appointed in 1364, on account of his 'faithfulness and industry', as steward to the archbishop of Canterbury. (CPR 1364-7 p. 58) Between 1366 and the late thirteen-eighties he was almost continuously on the Kentish commissions of the peace, and often on special commissions in connexion with the liberty of Christchurch. In January 1380 he and Sir David Hanmer, a serjeant-at-law, were charged 'to enquire touching false coinages... of the king's moneys and seals, to find the engines used and to arrest those engaged therein'. Topcliff would have had to do with con- ducting the investigation and Hanmer with pronouncing the verdict on his evidence. This commission may be worth mentioning because Chaucer almost certainly knew Topcliff, and no satisfactory literary source has been found for the extremely detailed knowledge of the ways of alchemists which the poet displays in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale. He may have learned something about the subject from the archbishop's steward. A writ of April 1385 names Topcliff as a bailiff of Canterbury. His home at Maidstone was burned by Thomas atte Raven and his followers during the Peasants' Revolt, but in 1382 he received 'licence, at the supplication of William de Courtenay, archbishop of Canterbury... to crenellate and fortify a small "place " called " Shoford " in the parish of Maidstone, lately levelled by the insurgents'. He had no professional legal standing, but qualified as a commissioner of the peace for Kent, in the class of 'the most worthy', because he was steward to one of the county's greatest land- owners, the archbishop of Canterbury. (Galway)
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