According to Chaucer’s biography on the Luminarium, “GEOFFREY CHAUCER, English poet. The name Chaucer, a French form of the Latin calcearius, a shoemaker, is found in London and the eastern counties as early as the second half of the 13th century. Some of the London Chaucers lived in Cordwainer Street, in the shoemakers’ quarter; several of them, however, were vintners, and among others the poet’s father John, and probably also his grandfather Robert. Legal pleadings inform us that in December 1324 John Chaucer was not much over twelve years old, and that he was still unmarried in 1328, the year which used to be considered that of Geoffrey’s birth. The poet was probably born from eight to twelve years later, since in 1386, when giving evidence in Sir Richard le Scrope’s suit against Sir Robert Grosvenor as to the right to bear certain arms, he was set down as “del age de xl ans et plus, armeez par xxvij ans.” At a later date, and probably at the time of the poet’s birth, his father lived in Thames Street, and had to wife a certain Agnes, niece of Hamo de Compton, whom we may regard as Geoffrey Chaucer’s mother.”
By 1357, Chaucer served in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster and wife of Lionel, Duke of Clarence. Notations in her household accounts show where she paid for Chaucer’s clothing and expenses. In 1359, Chaucer entered the war with France, spending time at “Retters,” (Rethel) near Reims, where he was taken prisoner and later ransomed by the government. King Edward III paid sixteen pounds toward the ransom in March 1360.
“…on the 10th of June 1367 Edward granted him a pension of twenty marks for his past and future services. A pension of ten marks had been granted by the king the previous September to a Philippa Chaucer for services to the queen as one of her “domicellae” or “damoiselles,” and it seems probable that at this date Chaucer was already married and this Philippa his wife, a conclusion which used to be resisted on the ground of allusions in his early poems to a hopeless love-affair, now reckoned part of his poetical outfit. Philippa is usually said to have been one of two daughters of a Sir Payne Roet, the other being Katherine, who after the death of her first husband, Sir Hugh de Swynford, in 1372, became governess to John of Gaunt’s children, and subsequently his mistress and (in 1396) his wife. It is possible that Philippa was sister to Sir Hugh and sister-in-law to Katherine. In either case the marriage helps to account for the favour subsequently shown to Chaucer by John of Gaunt.” (Luminarium)
Serving as a diplomat, Chaucer traveled to both France and Italy. Eventually, he was given a political appointment as customs controller and later made a justice. Later still, he became a Knight of the Shire. He died in 1400 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Chaucer’s works include…
Before 1372: Minor poems and the Book of the House of Fame, Anelida and Arcite. This is the period of the French influence.
1380-1386: The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Cressida, Boece, The Legend of Good Women, and minor poems. This is the period of Italian influence.
1387-1392: The early Canterbury Tales, and the Astrolobe.
1393-1400: The later Canterbury Tales, and minor poems.
Chaucer was one of the most musical of English poets. When read properly, his lines retain a fine melody even to the modern ear to which his language is unfamiliar. To read Chaucer properly, the following simple rules should be observed:
- Vowels should be pronounced as in modern European languages, especially the Teutonic. That is, the “a” as in “father”; the “i” as in “machine” or “this”; the “u” as in “full”; the “o” as in “dope” “ou” as in “ghoul.”
- An “e” at the end of a word is usually give full syllabic content.
- Chaucer’s favorite line is a five foot line which is accented as follows:
Whan thát Aprílle wíth his shóures sóote
This type of line is used uniformly throughout the Canterbury Tales.
Some selections from Chaucer’s works:
“The Former Age” – In the former age, men did not know of luxuries or riches. It was a period of blissfulness. Corn grew without ploughing and all lived simply, yet well. It was a wholesome innocent world.
Now Chaucer says: “For in our days nit but covetyse Doubleness, and treason and envy Poyson, manslaughter and mordre in sundry wise.”
“Truth” – Truth shall deliver all from ill. Be bold and honest and have no fear.
“Gentilesse” – True gentility is inborn; it cannot be passed down as a title.
“Lack of Steadfastnesse” – Contrast of former time and the present. The past age was stable and steadfast; the present is false and deceiving. Chaucer is keenly aware of the ills of the world in which he lives.
“Lenvoy of Chaucer to Scogan” – Scogan has scoffed at love. Chaucer ironically warns him of his great foolhardiness. He has caused Venus so to weep that her tears caused the floods of 1393.
“Complaint to his Empty Purse”
“I am so sorry, now that y be light
for certes, but ye make me heavy cheer.”
The Envoy pleads to the king (Henry IV) to remedy the emaciated condition of the poet’s purse.
Please take the time to read Chaucer’s Biography HERE.