Chaucer's Career

(or what we think we know about it).

[N.B.: all historical information probably relates to a single Geoffrey Chaucer who was born about 1340, was associated with John of Gaunt, and died sometime in 1400. Speculations about "periods" in Chaucer-the-author's work are founded primarily on the assumed identity of this man with the historical Chaucer.]

Major Figures in Chaucer's Lifetime:

Edward III (1312-77), 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] banishes mother, Queen Isabella, and executes her reputed lover, Roger de Mortimer; wages early battles of Hundred Years' War w/ France in contest for French throne and Norman fiefdoms; succeeded by son, Richard II.

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]).

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 (John's mistress since 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) who translated the Bible into English and was a religious reformer later declared a heretic [Cf. Lollardy].

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), born to wealthy London wine merchants and grew up near docks of Vintry Ward, probably on Thames Street in a neighborhood which included Gascon, Italian, and Flemish families; by early 'teens was page in the court of Countess of Ulster, wife of Prince Lionel, the king's third son; 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," Guienne King of Arms (Herald of Acquitaine); ?1360-1368? squire in Edward III's household, may have traveled as royal messenger in France, Netherlands, France, Italy; ?1368? may have represented Prince Lionel in marriage negotiations with the Visconti family, rulers of Milan; 1372-3 represented Edward III in negotiations to open port of Genoa to English merchants [Petrarch & Boccaccio still living: did GC meet either?]; 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 Henry IV (see Shakespeare, 1, 2, Henry IV); 1400 died and buried in Westminster Cathedral, the first in "Poet's Corner."

Chaucer's Literary Life:

"The French Period" (? to around 1372)--influenced by Guillaume de Machaut, Froissart, Jean de Meun, Eustache Deschampes, etc.

---c. 1360s?, The Romaunt of the Rose, a translation of de Meun's Roman de la rose (itself a 1280 continuation of the work left incomplete at the death of Guillaume de Lorris c. 1237), the first 4000 lines of de Lorris's allegory of Love, stopping before de Meun's satire on women and love.

---probably 1369, The Book of the Duchess

---1372-80 Short poems, esp. balades in the French courtly style like "Gentillesse" and Trouthe," and some Canterbury Tales (2Nun, Monk).

"The Italian Period" (1372-85)--influenced by Boethius, Boccaccio, Alighieri, Petrarca, etc.

---c.1379 The Hous of Fame

---1373-85? Boece, a translation of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy)

---1380-82 The Parlement of Foules

[2nd or 1st Italian Journey--first clearly indicated by surviving documents]

---1382-85 Troilus and Criseyde, a transformation of Boccaccio's Il Filostrato (5704 lines become 8239 lines) with additional matter from Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie. CT: First version of Knight's Tale, later Balades.

"The English Period" (1382-1400)--influenced by English mystics and John Gower, etc.

---1382-1400 CT: General Prologue, most of the other tales with endlinks and prologues, the "Retraccioun," and the "Envoys" to Scogan and Bukton. Perhaps some revisions in the Troilus and other earlier poems.