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Geoffrey Chaucer

 

(ca.1343-1400)

 

English poet, born in London between 1340 and 1345; died there, 25

October, 1400.

 

John Chaucer, a vintner and citizen of London, married Agnes, heiress of

one Hamo de Copton, the city moneyer, and owned the house in Upper

Thames Street, Dowgate Hill (a site covered now by the arrival platform

of Cannon Street Station), where his son Geoffrey was born. That his

birth was not in 1328, hitherto the accepted date, is fully proved

(Furnivall in The Academy, 8 Dec., 1888, 12 Dec., 1887).

 

John Chaucer was connected with the Court, and once saw Flanders in the

royal train. Geoffrey was educated well, but whether he was entered at

either university remains unknown. He figures by name from the year

1357, presumably in the capacity of a page, in the household books of

the Lady Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Prince Lionel, third son of King

Edward III (Bond in Fornightly Review, VI, 28 Aug., 1873). The lad

followed this prince to France, serving through the final and futile

Edwardian invasion, which ended in the Peace of Bretigny (1360), and was

taken prisoner at "Retters", identified by unwary biographers as Retiers

near Rennes, but by Skeat as Rethel near Reims, a place mentioned by

Froissart in his account of this very campaign. Thence Chaucer was

ransomed by the king, who, when the Lady Elizabeth died, took over her

page and later (1367) pensioned him for life. Chaucer was married before

1374; probably the Philippa Chaucer named in the queen's grant of 1366

was then Geoffrey Chaucer's wife (Lounsbury, Studies in Chaucer, I,

95-7). It seems clear that he could not have been happy in his marriage

(Hales in Dict. Nat. Biog., X, 157). He had two sons and a daughter, if

not other children. Gascoigne tells us that his contemporary, Thomas

Chaucer was the poet's son. This statement, long discredited, is now

fully endorsed by the best authorities (Hales in Athenaeum, 31 March,

1888; Skeat, ibid., 27 Jan.1900). Thomas Chaucer's mother was Philippa

Roet, daughter of Sir Paon or Payne de Roet Guienne king at arms. Roet

had another daughter, Catherine, widow of Sir Hugh Swynford, who was for

Gaunt's mistress and eventually his third wife. Thus Chaucer became the

brother-in-law of the great duke, who from 1368 onwards had been his

most powerful patron. Thomas Chaucer (b. about 1367; d. 1434), later of

Woodstock and Ewelme, became chief butler to four sovereign, as well as

Speaker of the House of Commons (in 1414). His sister Elizabeth (b.1365)

at sixteen entered Barking Abbey as a novice, John of Gaunt providing

fifty pounds as her religious dowry. Lewis Chaucer, the "litel sonne

Lowys", for whom the "Astrolale" was written, is supposed to have died

in childhood. From about his twenty-sixth year Chaucer was frequently

employed on important diplomatic missions; the year 1372-3 marks the

turning point of his literary life, for then he was sent to Italy;

circumstances make it extremely probable that either in Florence or at

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