Geoffrey Chaucer

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London, United Kingdom
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Geoffrey Chaucer was the finest English poet of the Middle Ages, and is known as the “Father of English Literature.” He was also the first poet to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. Chaucer was a poet, philosopher, alchemist, and astronomer, among other things. He also worked as a bureaucrat, courtier, and diplomat in the civil service. When French and Latin were the major literary languages in England, he played a key role in establishing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English. Although it is unclear when he began writing, his first major poem, ‘The Book of the Duchess,’ was composed in December 1369 to honor the death of Blanche of Lancaster, King Henry IV’s mother. It’s noteworthy since it was written in Middle English rather than French, as was common at the time. Later writers dubbed him “the first finder of our language” since he continued writing in Middle English on numerous subjects with shifting tone and style. His greatest opus, ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ is his most famous work today.

Childhood and Adolescence

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, England, in 1343, most likely in his parents’ home on Thames Street, near the west bank of the Walbrook.

John Chaucer, Geoffrey Chaucer’s father, was a vintner who also served as the King’s butler’s deputy. His mother, Agnes nee Compton, came from a wealthy family and inherited from her uncle two dozen businesses in London.

John and Agnes Chaucer may have had a daughter called Katherine in addition to Geoffrey. According to Peter Ackroyd, Geoffrey Chaucer’s biographer, she later married a man named Simon Manning of Cobham. Katherine Swynford née (de) Roet, Chaucer’s sister-in-law, is not to be mistaken with her.

Chaucer is thought to have attended St. Paul’s Cathedral School, where he studied Latin and Greek. His writings reveal that he was well-versed in the works of both ancient and modern authors. He could also communicate in French.

Joining the Royal Service

The first record we find in Chaucer’s life is from 1357. He is described as a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster, wife of Prince Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence. He may have gotten this job because of his father’s connections.

Because Prince Lionel was King Edward III’s second surviving son, his position positioned him very near to the royal court, allowing him to form numerous vital relationships. The most important of these was his connection with John of Gaunt, King Edward III’s third surviving son.

Because they were of the same age group, Chaucer and John of Gaunt became fast friends. John of Gaunt would have a huge impact on Chaucer’s diplomatic career later in life.

Prince Lionel accompanied his father, King Edward III, on a failed expedition to France in 1359. Although he was still a teenager, Chaucer joined his master’s army as a member of the English army.

During the siege of Rheims in 1360, the opposing army captured Chaucer. The King secured his freedom by paying £16 as a ransom. The episode demonstrates that Chaucer had already made a name for himself at court, as the King would not have given such a large ransom otherwise.

Following the death of Elizabeth de Burgh in 1363, he was sent to Queen Philippa of Hainault, King Edward III’s consort. Philippa of Eltham, their newborn daughter, was his responsibility here. According to a 16th-century source, he also studied law during this time.

On the Throne of the King12

He often traveled to Spain, Flanders, and France on diplomatic missions from 1366 forward. The King of Navarre issued a certificate of safe conduct to enter Spain in the name of Geoffrey Chaucer and his friends on February 22, 1366. It may have been the first of many similar journeys.

Chaucer was entered into King Edward III’s royal court as a valet de chambre, yeoman, on June 20, 1367, and received a generous annuity. He was needed to perform a wide range of tasks and travel internationally as part of his job.

He was designated as King’s Esquires in 1368, which obliged him to dwell in the court and undertake crucial duties. In the same year, he traveled to Milan to attend Lionel of Antwerp’s wedding. He was transferred to France for military service the next year.

Possibly ‘The Book of the Duchess,’ Chaucer’s first significant poem, was written in December 1369. It was an elegy to Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s late wife, who died in September 1369, and was written in English. Poems in the English court were always written in French before it.

He traveled regularly to France, Flanders, and Italy in the 1370s. Between December 1372 and May 1373, he paid his first visit to Italy. He assisted in the establishment of an English port in Genoa and arranged a loan for King Edward III in Florence.

During this voyage to Italy, most academics assume he met either Petrarch or Boccaccio. It’s probable that they introduced him to Vigil’s and Dante’s medieval Italian poetry. Later in his career, he would incorporate their shapes and stories into his own work.

The success of Chaucer as a diplomat and a poet was not ignored. On St George’s Day (23 April), a day when artistic accomplishments were typically acknowledged, he received an unprecedented present from King Edward III of “a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life.”

He received his own, rent-free, house above the Aldgate on May 10, 1374. He was named comptroller of the customs and subsidies of wools, skins, and tanned hides for the Port of London a month later, on June 8, 1374, and held the office for twelve years.

He was granted two wardships in 1375, which gave him a comfortable income. He collected a large sum of money from a fine the next year. He and his wife continued to receive grants from the King and John of Gaunt throughout the process.

Richard II succeeded King Edward III after his death in June 1377. Chaucer’s comptrollership and annuities were both confirmed by the new King. Furthermore, the stipend of ‘one gallon of wine each day was turned into a monetary grant on April 18, 1378.

He left for Milan on May 28, 1378, for military reasons, and stayed there until September 19 of the same year. ‘Hous of Fame,’ another of his significant compositions, is said to have been written around the 1370s, demonstrating his growing talent as a poet.

The 1380s started off badly for Chaucer. He was charged with ‘the raptus’ of Cecilia Champaign on 4 May 1380, according to legal documents. While some academics have interpreted raptus to signify rape or molestation, the case was quickly handled, preserving his reputation.

He was named comptroller of the petty customs for wine and other merchandise in 1382 while continuing to serve as a comptroller of service. He held these positions until 1386.

Getting out of London

He moved to Kent in 1385, while still the comptroller of customs and service, and was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Kent in the month of October. He had prepared for deputies to take over his duties at the comptrollers’ offices by that time.

Geoffrey Chaucer, according to most academics, foresaw the political upheaval that was to come and made plans to leave London. His wife’s terrible health, which led to her death in 1387, may have also impacted his decision.

He was made Knight of the Shire for Kent in August 1386, and he attended Parliament in that capacity in October. His London home was rented to another man in the following month, and his successors as comptrollers of customs and service were announced in December.

When King Richard lost control of the country in 1386, Chaucer, too, fell from grace. He was reappointed Justice of the Peace for Kent in 1387, although he was not returned to Parliament. Furthermore, his wife’s pensions were halted after her death, causing significant hardship.

In 1388, he was compelled to surrender his royal pension for a lump sum payment due to a succession of debt suits. Many of his acquaintances in the royal court were executed in the same year, inflicting considerable sadness.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Chaucer wrote a huge number of works, some of which were of outstanding quality, between 1381 and 1388. Surprisingly, none of them alluded to the current political instability, leading to the conclusion that Chaucer focused on writing to divert his attention away from the horrible situation.

‘Troilus and Criseyde,’ ‘The Parlement of Foules,’ ‘The Legend of Good Women,’ and ‘The Canterbury Tales’ are regarded to be among the important works he created during this time. His magnum opus is the piece mentioned above.

A Previous Years

When King Richard II recovered authority in May 1389, the political situation improved. Chaucer was named Clerk of the King’s Works on July 12, 1389, a position he held until June 1391.

As Clerk of the King’s Works, he was in charge of royal building maintenance, including extensive repairs to Westminster Palace, St. George’s Chapel, and Windsor Castle. At the same time, he was named Keeper of the Lodge at Feckenham’s King’s Park.

Chaucer was robbed numerous times while performing his duties in 1390. He was also beaten up at one point. He requested a transfer sometime in September but continued to work until June 17th, 1391. He was named Deputy Forester in the royal forest of Petherton Park five days later, on June 22, 1391.

In 1394, King Richard II awarded him a twenty-pound annual stipend. At the same time, beginning in 1395, he began to form a strong friendship with the Earl of Derby, John of Gaunt’s son.

The Earl of Derby has crowned King Henry IV of England on September 30, 1399. On December 24, 1399, he confirmed his predecessor’s grant to Chaucer, as well as added an additional annuity. Chaucer rented a cottage in the garden of Westminster Abbey in December.

The most recent information we have regarding Chaucer indicates that he was paid on June 5, 1400. It is unknown what happened to him after that.

Geoffrey’s Major Projects

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s unfinished masterpiece, is his most famous work. It is a collection of 24 Middle English stories totaling approximately 17,000 words written between 1386 and 1389. It is a scathing depiction of English society at the time, written primarily in rhyme.

Despite the fact that ‘The Canterbury Tales’ is more well-known, some commentators believe that ‘Troilus and Criseyde,’ set against the backdrop of the Trojan War,’ is his best work. It is thought to be the source of the phrase “All good things must come to an end,” as it was completed in the mid-1380s.

Personal History and Legacy

Geoffrey Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, Sir Gilles de Roet’s daughter, in 1366. She was one of Queen Philippa of Hainault’s ladies-in-waiting. Both of them had previously worked for the Countess of Ulster. Their wedding is thought to have been planned by Queen Philippa.

Elizabeth, Thomas, Agnes, and Lewis were the couple’s four known offspring. Thomas Chaucer was the most famous of them all, and he served as head butler to four kings. He was also Speaker of the House of Commons and a British envoy to France. The Royal prerogative nominated Elizabeth as a nun, possibly in Barking Abbey.

Geoffrey Chaucer died on October 25, 1400, according to a plaque on his grave. He was laid to rest at West Minister’s Abbey, which was an unusual honor for a commoner.

His remains were moved to a more beautiful grave in 1556, in a location that became known as Poets’ Corner. As a result, he was the first writer to be laid to rest in the Poet’s Corner.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s surname is derived from the French word chasseur, which means “shoemaker.”

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