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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

Author Information

A Short List of the Principal Dates in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Life

There is a controversy regarding the exact year in which Chaucer was born. The only source of information of his life is primarily the records pertaining to his career as a courtier and a civil servant. In 1386 when testifying at a trial Chaucer declared that he was around forty years or more. Accordingly his year of birth can be placed anywhere between 1340 to 1345.

• 1340 - 1345 Chaucer was born in London, in the Vintry.
• 1357 Page to the Countess of Ulster.
• 1359 Taken captive while on a military expedition to France.
• 1360 Released on ransom and returned to England.
• 1366 Married Philippa Roet, a Lady in waiting to the queen.
• 1367 Served Edward III as a Valet.
• 1368 Went abroad as a Diplomat.
• 1369 Sent to Italy to negotiate a commercial treaty.
• 1374 Becomes Controller of Customs at the Port of London.
• 1378 Sent to Italy as a diplomat.
• 1379 Became Controller of Petty Customs, London.
• 1380 Became Justice of Peace for Kent.
• 1381 Became Knight of the Shire for Kent.
• 1382 Chaucer’s wife Philippa Roet died.
• 1384 Started receiving pension from Richard II due to strained financial conditions.
• 1385 Granted an annual hogshead of wine from the King.
• 1386 Pension increased by Henry IV.
• 1389 Became Clerk of the King’s Works.
• 1400 Died on October 25 and buried in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.


A Brief Look at the Chief Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

1. Early Works :
The Book of the Duchess
The House of Fame
The Parliament of Fowls

2.Middle Works:
Troilus and Criseyde
The Legend of Good Women

3.Late Works:
The Canterbury Tales

A Brief Overview of Chaucer’s Life

Chaucer was probably born sometime between 1340 and 1345 and led a varied career as a courtier, diplomat and civil servant under Kings Edward III and Richard II. Thus his vocation brought him into contact with people from different walks of life and social hierarchies and provided him with many opportunities to make an insightful observation of the entire medieval society.

Chaucer was the son of a wealthy London wine merchant and his mother was Agnes de Compton, a lady at Court. It is probable that Chaucer attended the Latin grammar school of St. Paul’s Cathedral and later studied law at the Inns of Court.

In 1357 he became page to the Countess of Ulster, Elizabeth, the wife of Prince Lionel, third son of Edward III. Here he learned the ways of the court and made the acquaintance of great men like John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Edward III’s fourth son. He also learned how to use arms as a page. Chaucer was sent to France on an invitation. However he was captured and released for ransom in1360. No information is available on his life till 1366.

In 1366 Chaucer married Philippa Roet, a lady in waiting to the queen. There is no way of finding out whether this marriage was entered into for love or for other reasons. By 1367 Chaucer became esquire to Edward III. In 1370 Chaucer was sent abroad as a diplomat for negotiations. He served as Controller of Customs for London from 1374 to 1386. In 1386 Chaucer moved from his London residence to the countryside probably to Greenwich. He then moved to Kent when he was appointed a Justice of Peace and then Knight of the Shire. However in the very same year Richard II stripped Chaucer of all his appointments when his patron, John of Gaunt, left on a military expedition against Spain. This created financial difficulties for Chaucer. But his offices were restored on John of Gaunt’s return to England in 1389.

He was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works from 1389 to 1391 and was chiefly responsible for the maintenance of royal buildings and parks. During the course of his checkered career as a civil servant Chaucer traveled on several diplomatic missions to France, one to Spain in 1366, and two to Italy from 1372 to 1373 and in 1378 where he discovered the works of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. These works served to widen and enrich Chaucer’s literary resources.

In the last years of his life Chaucer received a pension from the king and lived reasonably comfortably. He leased a house within the area of Westminster Abbey. He died on 25 October 1400 and was buried in the Abbey in what is now known as the Poet’s Corner.

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