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Geoffrey Chaucer

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Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1345 - 1400) was a 14th century English poet, known as the father of English poetry. Even in today's society, his works continue to touch the hearts of many people. He is most famous for his creativity in writing The Canterbury Tales.

ChaucerOnHorse

Image of Chaucer from an early manuscript of The Canterbury Tales. The manuscript is now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Chronology of Chaucer's life

  • 1327 - 1377: Reign of King Edward III.
  • Early 1340s: Geoffrey Chaucer is born in London, England, to John and Agnes Chaucer, John was a vitner (wine merchant) by profession.
  • 1357: Around the age of 14, Geoffrey Chaucer becomes a page in the household of Elizabeth, countess of Ulster, and her husband Lionel, the second son of Edward III. This marks the beginning of his career as a courtier.
  • 1359 - 1360: Chaucer serves as a soldier in the retinue of Lionel at the siege of Reims (one of the battles of the Hundred Year's War). He is taken prisoner and released on ransom. He later returns to France to participate in peace negotiations.
  • 1360 - 1365: Not much is known about Chaucer's life during this period. It is believed that he continued to serve in the household of Prince Lionel. Chaucer may also have studied law at the Inns of Cout in preparation for his later service to the crowm as a diplomat.
Ford Madox Brown - Chaucer at the court of Edward III - Google Art Project

Chaucer at the Court of Edward III 19th century oil painting by Ford Madox Brown.

  • 1365/6: Chaucer marries Philippa, daughter of Paon de Roet. Philippa serves in the household of Edward III's queen, also named Philippa. Chaucer may, at that point, be serving as an esquire in the household of Edward III.
  • 1366: John Chaucer dies, Agnes remarries.
  • February - May, 1366: Chaucer participates in a diplomatic mission to Spain.
  • June 1367: Chaucer granted an annuity of twenty marks as an esquire in the household of Edward III.
  • 1367: Thomas Chaucer, the first son of Geoffrey and Philippa, is born. Chaucer makes two diplomatic journeys to Milan, Italy.
  • Late 1360s: Chaucer has begun his translation of the Roman de la Rose.
  • 1368: Blanche, duchess of Lancaster dies, and Chaucer writes The Book of the Duchess within one year of her death.
  • 1370: Chaucer travels to continental Europe, possibly on a diplomatic mission concerning the war with France.
  • 1372: Philippa Chaucer receives an annuity of ten pounds from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the third son of Edward III.
  • December 1372 - May 1373: Chaucer travels to Genoa and Florence, Italy, to participate in trade negotiations and diplomatic correspndence. His poetry will be heavily influenced by his encounters with the work of Italian writers such as Dante, Petarch and Boccaccio.
  • 1374: Edward III grants Chaucer a pitcher of wine a day for life and a lifetime lease, rent-free, for a house situated above Algate, one of the gates in London's city wall. This same year Chaucer is also appointed to the office of Controller of Customs (export taxes) on wools, hides and skins for the port of London, and receives a lifetime annuity of ten pounds form John of Gaunt.
  • 1376 - 1377: Chaucer travels to France on several occasions, serving on commissions to negotiate for peace. A deputy is appointed to fulfill his duties in the customs.
  • 1377 - 1399: Reign of King Richard II.
  • Late 1370s: Chaucer composes Anelida and Arcite (unfinished).
  • March - April 1378: King Richard confirms Chaucer's annuities and offices. The pitcher of wine a day is converted to an annuity of twenty marks.
  • May - September 1378: Chaucer travels to Italy on diplomatic business. The House of Fame is probably completed by this time.
  • May 1380: Chaucer released by Cecily Champaign from any legal action regarding her "raptus" (could mean rape or abdution).
The Knight - Ellesmere Chaucer

Illustration of the Knight from a 15th century manuscript of The Canterbury Tales.

  • 1380: Chaucer's son Lewis is born. The Parliament of Fowls, probably written for the occasion of King Richard's engagement to Anne of Bohemia, is completed during the year-long negotiations preceding the official engagement on May3, 1381. Chaucer may also have been working on "Palamon and Arcite", which was to become "The Knight's Tale" of The Canterbury Tales.
  • 1381: Chaucer's mother, Agnes, dies.
  • Early 1380s: Chaucer probably begins working on Troilus and Criseyde, his longest single poem, in addition to embarking on his tradition of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.
  • 1382: Chaucer is appointed Controller of Petty Customs on wine and other merchandise in the port of London, in addition to the position he already held as controller of wool, hides and skins.
  • 1385: Chaucer is appointed justice of the peace in Kent and moves to Greenwich, southeast of London.
  • October 1386: Chaucer testifies in the Scrope-Grosvenor trial, which incidentally provides us with information regarding his age.
  • October - November 1386: Chaucer elected Member of Parliament for Kent and serves at one session, the "Wonderful Parliament" where the political opposition launches its attempts to curb the king's power.
  • October - December 1386: Chaucer gives up his lease on the house over Algate and resigns from the customs. He has probably begun work on The legend of Good Women and The Canterbury Tales.
  • 1387: Philippa Chaucer dies
  • 1388: Some of Chaucer's friends and acquaintances are executed by order of the "Merciless Parliament" because of their partisian activities on behalf of King Richard, whose power is on the wane.
  • 1389: Richard II declares himself independent of the protectorship and takes on the full powers of kingship. He appoints Chaucer as Clerk of the King's Works, an important administrative office.
  • 1390: Chaucer is assigned a royal commission for the repair of walls and ditches after a flood. Twice this year he is robbed of public funds by highwaymen.
  • 1391:  Chaucer resigns from his post as Clerk of the King's Works. Chaucer writes the Treatise on the Astrolabe for his 11-year-old son Lewis, and continues working on The Canterbury Tales.
  • 1394: Queen Anne dies. Chaucer is granted an annuity of twenty pounds by King Richard.
  • 1395/6: Chaucer is given a costly gown by Henry, Earl of Derby, who will soon become King Henry IV.
Geoffrey Chaucer (17th century)

17th century depiction of Geoffrey Chaucer.

  • 1396: In the short poem, "Envoy to Bukton," Chaucer indicates a disparaging attitude toward marriage.
  • December 1397: Chaucer recieves a royal grant of a tun (a large cask) of wine per year.
  • February 1399: John of Gaunt dies
  • 1399 - 1413: Reign of King Henry IV.
  • December 1399: Chaucer takes a long-term lease on a house near Westminister Abbey in London. His poem "The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse," addressed to Henry IV, suggests his financial situation is not good. Within a short time, Henry IV renews payment of Chaucer's annuities, increasing them by forty marks.
  • 1400: Chaucer dies and is buried at Westminister Abbey. He is later moved to the portion of the abbey now known as Poet's Corner.

List of works (in chronological order)

Major works

Chaucer Troilus frontispiece

Illustration from a 16th century edition of Troilus and Criseyde which depicts Chaucer reading his work.

Short poems

Chaucer1721

Title page of a 1721 edition of the works of Chaucer.

  • An ABC
  • The Complaint unto Pity
  • A Complaint to His Lady
  • The Complaint of Mars
  • The Complaint of Venus
  • To Rosemounde
  • Womanly Noblesse
  • Chaucer's Words Unto Adam, His Own Scriveyn
  • The Former Age
  • Fortune
  • Truth
  • Gentiless
  • Lak of Stedfastnesse
  • Lenvoy de Chaucer a' Scogan
  • Lenvoy de Chaucer a' Bukton
  • The Complaint of Chaucer the His Purse
  • Proverbs

Poems of uncertain authorship (probably Chaucer's)

  • Against Women Unconstant
  • Complaynt d' Amours
  • Merciless Beauty
  • A Balade of Complaint

Chaucer's influence

Chaucer's works have influenced many other writers. In a movie called A Knight's Tale (2001), which takes its name and a few elements from The Canterbury Tales a fictional Geoffrey Chaucer appears.

References

  • Rossignol, Rosalyn (1999), Chaucer A to Z, The Essential Reference to his Life and Works, Facts on File, Inc. New York, NY.

External links

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