Chaucer and C14 Political History

Major Figures in Chaucer's Lifetime:

Edward III (1312-1377, reigned 1327-77), King of England during Chaucer's boyhood; son of Edward II (deposed by Roger de Mortimer in the struggle between the Earl of Lancaster and EII's court favorites, Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser [see Marlowe's Edward II]).  In 1327 [at age 15] Edward banished his mother, Queen Isabella, and executed her reputed lover, Roger de Mortimer; waged the early battles of Hundred Years' War w/ France in contest for French throne and Norman fiefdoms.  By c.. 1340, when Chaucer may have been born, Edward III was a revered successful warrior-king.  He ruled England during Chaucer's boyhood and, in early 1360, contributed 16 toward Chaucer's ransom from the French, who captured him as he served Edward in the siege of Reims.  After successfully fathering perhaps too many heirs to the throne, he came under the influence of his mistress, Alice Perrers.  Upon his death, at 64, he was succeeded by his infant grandson, Richard II.  During Richard's minority, his uncle John, duke of Lancaster, ruled in his stead as "regent."

Five sons (Edward [Black Prince], Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall; Lionel, Duke of Clarence; John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; Edmund, Duke of York; Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester [murdered at Calais, 1397]).

Richard II (1367-1400, reigned 1377-1400), King of England during Chaucer's adult life; son of Edward III's eldest son, Edward Prince of Wales (AKA the Black Prince).  Richard's inheritance of the throne when he was ten set up a dangerous power struggle as he matured and sought friends who would support him when he came of age to claim actual power from his hated uncle, John of Gaunt.  In 1381, Richard successfully ended the Peasants' Revolt by negotiating with a mob which had stormed London, killing the mayor and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Aided by his younger allies, Simon Burley, Michael de la Pole, and Robert de Vere, Richard was increasingly active in government, though he alienated Parliament by demanding huge tax increases to prosecute the war to regain the French territories.  In 1387, while John of Gaunt was in Spain fighting (unsuccessfully) to maintain his right to the throne of Castile, Richard's allies overreached and were captured by "the Lords Appellant," a group of John's noble allies who "appealed" or charged the young men with treasonously misleading the king.  The duke of Gloucester and the earls of Nottingham, Derby, Arundel, and Warwick, led their "menies" or private armies to capture, try, and either banish or execute the king's allies.  When Richard came of age in 1389, he made peace with Parliament with lenient tax policies, and in 1397, he moved against the Lords Appellant, ordering the execution of Gloucester and Arundel, and exiling Warwick.  In 1398, Richard exiled John of Gaunt's heir, Henry Bolingbroke, as part of a thinly disguised attempt to reduce the duchy of Lancaster's enormous power.  In 1399, motivated by a desire to strike back at this increase in centralized royal authority, Henry (Henry IV, "Prince Hal"'s father) returned to lead an army of nobles and their retainers to defeat and imprison Richard.   Richard was murdered in prison a year later.

1337-1453 Hundred Years' War: 1340 naval victory at Sluys establishes English control of Channel shipping; 1348-49 Plague Years; 1356 Black Prince captures King of France and Dauphin (heir) at Poitiers (later ransomed); 1361 & 1369 Plague Years; 1376 Black Prince dies and is buried beside Beckett @ Canterbury; Edward III oversaw division of Parliament into Lords and Commons; in 1371 E3 ruled ecclesiastics unfit for state office.

John of Gaunt (1340-1399), Duke of Lancaster, Earl of Richmond, King of Castile and Leon [Sept. 1378], 4th son of William III by mistress, Alice Perrers; married to Blanche (d. 1369), Constantine of Castile (1378), and Kathryn Swynford (mistress c. 1376, married 1396); Regent during minority of Richard II; opposed by Black Prince until Edward's death in 1376; protector of John Wyclif (c.1320-1384), a translator of the Bible into English and a religious reformer later declared a heretic [Cf. Lollardy].


Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), page in the court of Countess of Ulster, wife of Prince Lionel; 1359 captured in France; 1360 ransomed w/ from Edward III; 1366 marries Philippa Pan, sister of Kathryn Swynford, daughter of Sir Gilles de Roet, styled "Paon," the Guienne King of Arms (Herald of Acquitaine); ?1360-1368? squire in Edward III's household, may have traveled France, Netherlands, France, Italy; 1374 Customs Controller; 1385 Justice of the Peace in Kent; 1389 Clerk of the King's Works (supervised construction); 1390 robbed of King's payroll; 1395 in service of Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt's son and later king Henry IV (see Shakespeare, 1, 2, Henry IV); 1400 died and buried in Westminster Cathedral, the first in "Poet's Corner."   To see a list of his poetic works arranged in a plausible but not definitive order of composition, click here


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