Geoffrey Chaucer was the first major writer in English Literatureâ€”
mostly because he was the first author to write in the English
language. During the Middle Ages, churchmen wrote in Latin, the
language of the church. Other important writers wrote in French,
which had been the language of the court since William the
Conqueror invaded England in 1066. English was only spoken by
the illiterate lower class.
Chaucer was born in London in 1343 to a family of winemakers.
He had an active public life, serving as a bureaucrat, soldier,
courtier and diplomat. His many jobs exposed him to a variety of
people from all levels of English society.
During the Hundred Yearsâ€™ War, Chaucer was captured in the
Siege of Rheims. King Edward III contributed to his ransom. He
married Philippa de Roet, lady-in-waiting to the queen, and they
had four children.
King Edward granted him a pension as a yeoman. He later became
an esquire. But despite his career, Chaucer continued to write
throughout his life. His first poem, Book of the Duchesse, was
written on the death of Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt, a
powerful figure in Medieval England and a relative of Chaucer's
wife. The poem was written in couplets of two rhyming lines of eight
Sent as an emissary to Italy to deal with matters of trade, where he
was introduced to the poetry of Boccaccio and Boethius. Chaucer
translated Boethiusâ€™ Consolations of Philosophy into English
and borrowed from Italian style and forms.
When he became Controller of Customs for the Port of London, he
and Philippa were given a lease for life on the house above the gate
of Aldgate. They lived there for the next 12 years.
Chaucer was sent to France as part of a peace delegation. His time
in France and his contact with French literature inspired him to
translate The Romance of the Rose, a French courtly love poem.
He also wrote Troilus and Criseyde.
When Richard I became king, he confirmed Chaucerâ€™s offices
and pensions, sending him to France to arrange a marriage between
Richard and the French kingâ€™s daughter.
The next 12-15 years were devoted to writing as Chaucer served
as justice of the peace and member of Parliament for Kent. During
this time, he worked on his epic Canterbury Tales, the story of a
group of pilgrims on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket at
Canterbury Cathedral. During this time, Philippa died, and
Chaucer became clerk of the kingâ€™s works, organizing the kingâ
€™s building projects.
When he retired on a pension, he leased a house near Westminster
Abbey. Upon his death in 1400, he was buried in the Abbey, in
what was later known as the Poetâ€™s Corner.
An eclectic website about Women, Christianity, History,
Culture and the Arts--and anything else that comes to mind.