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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
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.
A Brief Look at the Chief Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
1. Early Works :
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.