Geoffrey Chaucer Additional Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

For a medieval poet, much is known about Geoffrey Chaucer’s life, his association with the English court, his diplomatic activity on the Continent, and his public appointments. He was born in the early 1340’s, the son of John Chaucer, a London wine merchant. He spent time in the military, serving with the English forces in France, where he was captured in 1359; he was ransomed in 1360. Around 1366, he married Philippa Roet and probably fathered two sons. He served the crown most of his life. Originally (c. 1357), he was connected to the household of Princess Elizabeth, who was married to Prince Lionel, the son of King Edward III. He also served another son of the king, John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster, who later married Chaucer’s sister-in-law, Katherine Swynford. Chaucer’s public service survived the death of Edward III and the tumultuous reign and deposition of Richard II. It included numerous diplomatic missions to the Continent, his appointment as controller of customs and subsidy for the port of London (1374-1386), his service as a justice of the peace and member of Parliament for Kent (1386), his demanding duties as clerk of the King’s Works (1389-1391), and, finally, his appointment after 1391 as deputy forester of North Petherton royal forest in Somerset. Chaucer lived in London, Greenwich, and Calais, the French port then controlled by the English. In 1399, he leased a house in the garden of Westminster Abbey. He probably died on October 25, 1400, and was buried in the nearby abbey, the first of a long line of English authors to rest in the Poets’ Corner.

These biographical details provide little evidence of Chaucer’s position as a poet, although in a general way they do cast light on his poetry. Chaucer’s association with courtly circles must have provided both the inspiration for and the occasion...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Household records seem to indicate that as a boy, Geoffrey Chaucer served as a page for the Countess of Ulster, wife of Edward III’s son Lionel, Duke of Clarence. Chaucer undoubtedly learned French and Latin as a youth, to which languages he later added Italian. Well versed in both science and pseudoscience, Chaucer was familiar with physics, medicine, astronomy, and alchemy. Spending most of his life in government service, he made many trips abroad on diplomatic missions and served at home in such important capacities as Comptroller of Customs for the Port of London, Justice of the Peace for the County of Kent, and Clerk of the King’s Works, a position that made him responsible for the maintenance of certain public structures. He married Philippa de Roet, probably in 1367, and he may have had two daughters and two sons, although there is speculation concerning the paternity of some of those children believed to have been Chaucer’s. Since Chaucer’s career was his service to the monarchy, his poetry was evidently an avocation which did not afford him a living.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

While historians have been able to reconstruct much about the life of Geoffrey Chaucer (CHAW-sur) from the 493 documents, mostly office records, that mention him, these documents cast light only on the public life of a prominent civil servant; not one refers to him as an author. That is not to say that he was not recognized or appreciated as a poet by his contemporaries: In Chaucer’s day, poetry was considered to be a leisure pastime of talented men, a valuable skill, but not in itself a career. Chaucer, too, probably thought of himself primarily in terms of his public duties rather than his poetry.

The exact date and even year of Chaucer’s birth are unknown; the year 1340 has become traditionally accepted, but 1343 may be a more accurate guess. He was probably born in London, where his parents, John and Agnes, held property. His father was a prosperous wine merchant with business ties to the court of King Edward III.

Despite his middle-class origins, he was to have a distinguished public career as a courtier, soldier, diplomat, and civil servant. No records of his early childhood or schooling have survived, but in 1357 Chaucer received an appointment to serve as a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, countess of Ulster and wife of Edward III’s son Lionel, duke of Clarence. Chaucer apparently went along with Prince Lionel’s forces when England invaded France in 1359, was captured by the French, and then ransomed in 1360.

No direct evidence survives concerning Chaucer’s activities between 1360 and 1366, but Thomas Speght, who edited Chaucer’s works in 1598, claimed to have seen records establishing that Chaucer was studying among the lawyers of the Inner Temple, one of the four great Inns of Court. As expensive academies for the sons of rich or noble families, the inns were more convenient than the universities for a grounding in common law because of their proximity to the law courts in Westminster and also because common law was studied in three languages, English, French, and Latin, at a time when only Latin was used at the universities. A period of study at one of the inns would account for the training in record keeping and legal procedures that would have been considered prerequisite for many of the posts that Chaucer later held.

In 1366 he married Philippa de Roet, a woman well above his own social class, the daughter of a knight and sister of Katherine Swynford. (Swynford was to become the mistress and eventually the third wife of Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, who would become one of the most powerful men in England.) About 1367, Chaucer began working as a member of the household of Edward III and was soon advanced from the status of yeoman to that of esquire (just below a knight). He apparently had no specific duties and may have been valuable to the household in part for his storytelling abilities. He was engaged in four diplomatic missions to France between 1366 and 1370, and an extended mission to Italy in 1372 and 1373. In 1374, having been made...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Geoffrey Chaucer was recognized even in his own time as one of the greatest of English poets and is now regarded as the foremost writer in English literature before the time of William Shakespeare. The outstanding characterisics of Chaucer’s work include its diversity—covering a spectrum of genres extending from pious saints’ lives to bawdy fabliaux, from romance to tragedy—and its consistently humorous quality, allowing Chaucer to combine the serious treatment of moral and philosophical questions with a pervasively comic and entertaining style. His masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, has proven to be one of the truly inexhaustible classics of world literature, appealing in new ways to each new generation of readers.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Geoffrey Chaucer (CHAW-sur), one of the greatest of English writers, made his living as a civil servant and composed poetry as an avocation. His career, however, contributed to his literary growth. He was born into a prosperous family and reared in London. His father, a wine importer, was able to find him a position (in 1357 or earlier) as a page boy in the household of King Edward III’s daughter-in-law, Elizabeth of Ulster. From this period on, despite the political uncertainties of the age, Chaucer enjoyed the uninterrupted favor of the members of the courts of, successively, Edward, Richard II, and Henry IV, both as a man of business and as a poet.

Chaucer served as a soldier in France in the campaigns of the...

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(Poetry for Students)

Geoffrey Chaucer came from a financially secure family that owned ample wine vineyards but held no title, and so from birth he was limited in...

(The entire section is 482 words.)