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The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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54. Geoffrey Chaucer

The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born in ca. 1342 AD (give or take a few years). London is generally believed to have been his birth-place. Historians are uncertain about the exact date of his birth. Geoffrey had well-to-do parents. They were John Chaucer and Agnes Copton; they owned several buildings in the vintage quarter in London.

Little is known about Geoffrey's school career. He seems to have learnt some Latin and Greek. His knowledge and accomplishments went far beyond the common standard of his day.

Out of school he was a page in the household of the Countess of Ulster. In the course of time Chaucer became a knight of the shire for Kent and soon received courtly favour that were independent of his genius.

After Chaucer became a member of the king's household, he was sent on diplomatic errands throughout Europe. In this service he gradually learnt what made it possible to write The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer died in 1400 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Poet's Corner there.

Timeline Selections

1357The earliest known document in which Geoffrey Chaucer is named is a household account book kept for the Countess of Ulster (June 1356 - April 1359). The account book mentions purchases for Geoffrey Chaucer in April 1357: a short jacket, a pair of red and black hose (stockings) and a pair of shoes.
1359In September 1359 King Edward and his sons were invading France with a large expeditionary force. Prince Lionel went into the king's army and Chaucer served in the retinue of Lionel in the war in France.
1360Chaucer is captured by the French at the siege of Reims. In March 1360, he is ransomed for 16 pounds. In October 1360 peace negotiations were arranged at Calais. Prince Lionel paid Chaucer for carrying letters from Calais to England. These diplomatic errands and messenger services were the first of many journeys.
1365-1366Chaucer marries Philippa Roet ofthe Queen's household.
1366Chaucer travels to Spain.
1367Chaucer serves as an esquire in the household of Edward III. Chaucer is first recorded as a member of the royal household on 20 June 1367 when he is granted a royal annuity for life of 20 pounds. Chaucer's son, Thomas, is born.
c. 1367-1370Chaucer does translation work, and writes poems in French and English. Many of them are lost. He also writes about the death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster.
1369Chaucer travels to Northern France and serves in the army of John of Gaunt.
1370Chaucer travels to the Continent (France, probably) on the King's service, and he once again serves with the army in France.
c. 1372-1377Chaucer writes the poems later adapted as the Second Nun's Tale and the Monk's Tale in The Canterbury Tales.
1372Chaucer travels to Italy on a diplomatic mission. He goes to Genoa to establish an English port for Genoese trade and to Florence to negotiate a loan for the King, and returns to England before the end of November 1373.
1374Chaucer is appointed Controller of the Customs for hides, skins and wool in the port of London; he is granted a lease on a dwelling above Aldgate. The King also grants "our beloved squire" a pitcher of wine daily.
1375Both Chaucer and the French knight and poet Otho de Graunson receive grants from John of Gaunt.
1376-1377Several journeys to France and Flanders to negotiate for peace and the marriage of Richard with a French princess.
1378Chaucer travels to Italy Milan on a diplomatic mission. Richard II confirms Edwars III's annuity of 20 pounds and establishes a second annuity of 20 pounds.
c. 1378-1381Chaucer writes Saint Cecelia, The House of Fame, Anelida and Arcite and Palamon and Arcite, later adapted as the Knight's Tale. Returning from Lombardy early in 1379, Chaucer seems to have been again sent abroad.
1380Accused, and acquited of the 'raptus' of Cecily Champain. Cecily Champain (Chaumpaigne) signs a document releasing Chaucer from all actions in the case of her rape or abduction ("de raptu meo").
1380Chaucer's second son, Lewis, is born. Chaucer writes The Parliament of Fowls.
1385Chaucer is granted a permanent deputy in the Customs.
1385-1389Chaucer serves as Justice of the Peace for Kent.
1386Chaucer becomes a Member of Parliament for Kent. He retains his pensions.
1386Chaucer writes The Legend of Good Women. Some parts have been written earlier and the prologue is revised later.
1387His wife dies.
1387-1392Chaucer begins The Canterbury Tales.
1389Chaucer is appointed clerk of the Works at Westminster, Tower of London, and other royal estates. In this position he supervises many craftsmen and much property.
1390Chaucer is robbed of horse, goods, 20 pounds, 6 shillings, 8 pence at Hatcham (Surrey). The robbers are caught, tried and convicted.
1391Chaucer is robbed twice. Robbers take away 10 pounds at Westminster and 9 pounds and 43 pence at Hatcham. [The number of robberies - one or three - is uncertain, though.]
1391Chaucer retires from Clerkship of the King's works. In June 1391 he is appointed Deputy Forester of the Royal Forest of North Petherton, Somerset - a responsible position, demanding skill in handling money and men.
1392-1395He writes most of The Canterbury Tales, probably including "The Marriage Group"
1395Chaucer's son Thomas marries the heiress Maud Burghersh. By this marriage Thomas gets great estates in Oxfordshire and elsewhere; and he figures prominently in the second rank of courtiers for many years.
1396-1400Chaucer writes the latest of The Canterbury Tales, probably including The Nun's Priest's Tale, The Canon's Yeoman's tale (though parts probably earlier), and The Parson's Tale and several short poems, including Scogan, and Bukton.
1398Fortune began again to smile: Chaucer is granted a tun (252 gallons) of wine a year by the king, and next year grants follow.
1400Chaucer writes The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse and dies on 25 October. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
ca. 1550Nicholas Brigham of Oxford erected Chaucer's tomb. Inscription from it: "Geoffrey Chaucer, bard, and famous mother of poetry, is buried in this sacred ground."

About Chaucer

Chaucer was familiar with the Italian language.

When disengaged from public affairs, his time was entirely spent in study and reading.

His reading was deep and extensive.

He was a candid critic, a steadfast friend, and pious.

What Did Chaucer Look Like?

He was "of a middle stature,"

The latter part of his life inclinable to be fat and corpulent

His face was fleshy, his features just and regular

His forehead broad and smooth; his eyes inclining usually to the ground,

His whole face full of liveliness and easy sweetness.

He had a mixture of the gay, the modest, and the grave, it is said.

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