Geoffrey Chaucer – c.1340 to 1400
Chaucer was a Medieval English poet whose work was remarkable for the diversity of subjects covering both serious and humorous topics.
He can be regarded as one of the founding figures of the modern English
language that we know today.
His father, John, was a wine merchant and perhaps through this, Geoffrey was
able to become a page for the Duke of Clarence when he was still just a boy.
It is clear that he was very intelligent and this enabled him to advance in the Court of Edward III. He went with his King to take part in the War with France, and was unfortunate to be taken prisoner by the French. His King, however, paid ransom for Geoffrey and he was released in 1360.
Around 1366, he married Philippa who was the sister of John Gaunt’s
wife. Gaunt was the fourth son of Edward III and held the Dukedom of Lancaster.
Chaucer held various official positions at the Court of Edward III and in
addition to his skill as a poet; he was also a courier, translator and civil servant.
In 1369, he wrote The Boke of the Duchesse, which is full of French
This poem was based on a French tradition, which uses a dream as a vehicle for love poetry, and it is believed that Chaucer composed this as a lament on the death of Blanche of Lancaster, John Gaunt’s first wife.
In 1372, his King sent him to Genoa and Florence where it is quite possible
he rubbed shoulders with the famous Italian poets, Boccaccio and Petrarch. It is believed that these two poets and also Dante were great influences on Chaucer’s work.
In 1374, Chaucer was appointed Controller of Customs for the port of London
and lived in a fine house above Aldgate.
In 1376, he was attached to the Embassies of France and Lombardy. He
was rewarded for his faithful service by being made a Knight of Kent and he sat in Parliament from that time.
Chaucer’s first great work was Troilus and Criseyde, which was completed
His wife died in 1387, but he still enjoyed the patronage of John of Gaunt
throughout his lifetime.
In April 1388, Chaucer embarked on a Pilgrimage to Canterbury to pay homage
to the martyr, St. Thomas ' Becket, who was Chancellor of England in 1155, and was a close friend
of Henry II. Henry made Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury with a view to obtaining more control over the church in England.
However, Becket’s loyalty was to the church and he was exiled for six years. When Becket eventually returned, he was still a thorn in the side of King Henry, and four misguided Knights, wishing to ingratiate themselves with the King, murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Henry did penance for this crime and Becket was acclaimed a martyr, being canonized in 1173.
The experiences Chaucer obtained from his Pilgrimage led to him writing his
most famous work, The Canterbury Tales in 1387. This was a huge project, which Chaucer never managed to complete.
However, it does give an incredible insight into Medieval England and can be rightly acclaimed as a classic.
The work was written using a dialect, which originates from the London area,
and went on to become the basis of modern English.
Around 1390, Chaucer became the Clerk of the King’s Works, and then in 1399
he became Deputy Forrester.
He died in 1400 and was buried in Westminster Abbey – quite an achievement
for the lowly son of a vintner.