The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer

The great English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, was born in 1342. When he was around fifteen years of age, he managed to gain a position as page to the Countess of Ulster, serving mainly as a servant and messenger. Two years later, in 1359, Chaucer was sent to fight in the long-running Hundred Years War between England and France. He was quickly captured by the French near Rheims, but King Edward III (the Countess of Ulster’s father-in-law) paid the poet’s ransom in 1360.

Literature Chaucer encountered in France may have ignited the poet’s literary interests. He started simple, translating the medieval French classic, the Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose), into English. Besides French and English, Geoffrey Chaucer was also known to understand Italian and Latin. Religion was another field of interest for the poet, and he could quote freely from Christian texts that were both canonical and apocryphal.

Eventually, Geoffrey Chaucer was promoted from his position as a page to the countess of Ulster to be a valet to the king of England. Around the same time he received his position as valet (in 1367), Chaucer also married his wife, Philippa de Roet, the sister-in-law of Chaucer’s greatest patron, John of Gaunt. Chaucer continued to ascend in rank, becoming Comptroller of customs and subsidies in 1374, and was then promoted to Comptroller of petty customs. Chaucer was next appointed as Justice of the Peace for the region of Kent in 1385, and became a Knight of the Shire (for Kent) in 1386.

Chaucer likely began his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, around 1386, an ambitious epic poem in which he planned to include thirty pilgrims telling four stories, each. By the time he died in 1400, he unfortunately had only completed tales for twenty-four pilgrims. In addition to The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer also wrote The Book of the Duchess, ABC of the Virgin, House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde, and The Legend of the Saints of Cupid.

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