The occasion of Parlement of Foules was the marriage of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Since the convocation of the birds in the story takes place in the spring, it is possible that in selecting Valentine’s Day—the day on which lovers traditionally choose mates—Geoffrey Chaucer was referring not to the customary date of February 14 but to May 3, the date of Richard and Anne’s betrothal. This was also the feast day of Saint Valentine of Genoa. Although this saint was generally known only in the vicinity of his hometown, Chaucer had visited Genoa and may have heard his name. While the poem primarily celebrates the royal nuptials, it seems to serve a secondary function. Through the contention of the birds, Chaucer very subtly and gently questions the wisdom of certain practices and ideologies among the nobility.
In 1376, Chaucer, an emissary for the royal family, traveled to France to negotiate a marriage contract between King Richard (then ten years of age) and Marie, the five-year-old daughter of King Charles V of France. By means of this alliance, England hoped to end the Hundred Years’ War that had raged between the two countries. Unfortunately, Marie died suddenly in 1377; nevertheless, England resumed negotiations the following year, proposing that Charles’s younger daughter, Isabel, be the bride. When Isabel also died, a proposal was made for the hand of Catherine, Charles’s one remaining daughter, who was then...
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