Terry Jones sheds light on his 'dark suppositions' about Chaucer's death

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The festival chroniclers who have been compiling a list of the week's most tenuous references to the Iraq war were celebrating yesterday after Terry Jones squeezed a "dodgy dossier" reference into his lecture on Chaucer.

The festival chroniclers who have been compiling a list of the week's most tenuous references to the Iraq war were celebrating yesterday after Terry Jones squeezed a "dodgy dossier" reference into his lecture on Chaucer.

The former Monty Python member is convinced that Chaucer was murdered by person or persons unknown, and set about persuading his audience with the most energetic performance of the week so far. It had pictures, it had detective work, it had silly voices and it had Jones leaping about the stage pretending to be a trampolining 14th-century violinist. If Jones had told us that Chaucer was a nun who had been spirited away by aliens, we would have been inclined to believe him.

"For years I've been harbouring these dark suppositions about Chaucer's demise," he confessed. "He just disappeared from the record in about 1400, which is odd because he wasn't a nobody. He was the clerk of the king's works, a friend of John of Gaunt and an inspector of drains and ditches." He was also supported by the "artsy fartsy" Richard II, who was allegedly done away with by Henry IV - an argument that formed the basis of Jones's presentation.

Much of Jones's argument was based on imagination and supposition, he admitted. "We don't know what happened [after Richard II arrested his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester], but we can guess," he said, striding around the stage making bugle noises and acting out the event as it was shown in a contemporary painting. "Historians don't like guessing, but I'm not a historian so I can do it."

But Jones is also a serious historian - who obviously thinks nothing of dropping in a few contemporary allusions. "One of the things you have to do when you want to get a war going is you have to prepare a dodgy dossier," he said. "And this papal bull [he showed a picture] was the dodgy dossier Henry and Bishop Arundel prepared when they wanted to get rid of Richard II." Arundel was such a toff nobody dared challenge him. Except ... look at these faces in this painting here." The audience wriggled with delight as Jones's "He's not the Messiah..." voice came to life before them. "Oooh, I don't know about this!" the faces were all whining.

Acting on a scholarly hunch, Jones has examined the famous Ellsmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales and found that two of its illuminations have been altered - and that the manuscript has been gnawed on by mice. Were the illustrations covered up to hide their satirical ridicule of the Church? Was it hidden in a basement after Arundel declared his war on heresy? Bush declared a war on terror; Arundel declared a war on heresy, explained Jones. "It's what you do when you didn't really win and everyone's saying, 'Ooooh, should he be in power, should he not be in power? I don't know about this!")

The audience was ready to be convinced, and Jones was running out of time. He reeled off quotations from Henry IV. He ran through his repertoire of silly voices. "It was the Bishop wot done it" he announced, to wild applause. "You'll have to buy the book to find out more."

Terry Jones is the author of 'Who Murdered Chaucer'


Confessions of the week Jamie Oliver: "My wife used to cook things and there'd be blatant things wrong. So I told her and she'd get right upset. So I've developed this new technique; it's called lying. Have you ever tried it?"

William Hague: "I've never really regretted becoming the leader of the Conservative Party. Someone had to do the night shift."

Gaffes of the week Pen Hadow, the explorer, won the affection of his audience by showing them a picture of a fluffy little Arctic bunny. Then immediately lost it by adding: "and it tasted great in the pot".

Jon Snow: "Women, women, women! God, we wouldn't be in this mess if women were in charge... Ah, but then, there was Margaret Thatcher."

Quotes of the week

BBC political editor Andrew Marr: "In my book, I call journalism a trade rather than a profession because a profession has standards."

Bea Campbell:

"The inexhaustible capacity of football to dominate the national horizon is absolutely spectacularly breathtaking." Almost as good as calling Britney Spears a 'counter-revolutionary'".

Sight of the week

Gyles Brandreth refusing to go on stage on Wednesday until he had dug a pink hairbrush from his suitcase and prettified himself.