2007 Archive Edition - See the Archive Notice on the Project Homepage for more information.
An English poet and bureaucrat, Chaucer is remembered for his Canterbury Tales, the amusements of travellers on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas à Becket. Scholars praise him for his realistic depiction of lay spirituality and for establishing English as a literary language. Some churchmen have suggested he was a heretic but have not proved it.
Born c. 1343/44, Chaucer was the son of London vintner and served as page to Elizabeth de Burgh, countess of Ulster, and in some capacity under Lionel, third son of Edward III. Chaucer fought in France and was ransomed from the French in 1359/60. John of Gaunt became his patron, and Chaucer entered royal service during the reign of Richard II. Chaucer married c. 1366 Philippa Roet, the sister of his patron's third wife. From c. 1368-c. 1378, Chaucer travelled on diplomatic missions and became acquainted with writers in France and Italy. His early works show French influence, while his later works show Italian. The Canterbury Tales is thought to owe much to Boccaccio. Chaucer retired from government work in 1385 and lived in Kent, which he represented in Parliament for one term. Four years after retiring, he was appointed Clerk of the King's Work, and he died in London, possibly of the plague, in 1400. His burial in Westminster Abbey was an unusual honor for a commoner.
In addition to writing verse in English, Chaucer translated Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy and wrote a Treatise on the Astrolabe. Little is known about Chaucer's formal education; his writing reflects familiarity with the significant works of classical antiquity and of the Renaissance.
Karen Rae Keck
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