The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales


Geoffrey Chaucer was born about the year 1340; the exact date is not known. His father, John, and his grandfather, Robert, had associations with the wine trade and, more tenuously, with the Court. John was Deputy Butler to the King at Southampton in 1348. Geoffrey Chaucer's mother is believed to have been Agnes de Copton, niece of an official at the Mint. They lived in London in the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Vintry, reasonably well-to-do but in a humbler walk of life than that to be adorned so capably by their brilliant son.

It is thought that Chaucer was sent for his early schooling to St. Paul's Almonry. From there he went on to be a page in the household of the Countess of Ulster, later Duchess of Clarence, wife of Lionel the third son of Edward III. The first mention of Geoffrey Chaucer's existence is in her household accounts for 1357. She had bought him a short cloak, a pair of shoes, and some parti-coloured red and black breeches.

To be page in a family of such eminence was a coveted position. His duties as a page included making beds, carrying candles, and running errands. He would there have acquired the finest education in good manners, a matter of great importance not only in his career as a courtier but also in his career as a poet. No English poet has so mannerly an approach to his reader.

As a page he would wait on the greatest in the land. One of these was the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt; throughout his life he was Chaucer's most faithful patron and protector.

In 1359 Chaucer was sent abroad, a soldier in the egg, on one of those intermittent forays into France that made up so large a part of the Hundred Years' War. He was taken prisoner near Rheims and ransomed in the following year; the King himself contributed towards his ransom. Well-trained and intelligent pages did not grow on every bush.

It is not known for certain when Chaucer began to write poetry, but it is reasonable to believe that it was on his return from France. The elegance of French poetry and its thrilling doctrines . . .

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