Geoffrey Chaucer


Chaucer is famous primarily for the Canterbury Tales, an unfinished masterpiece that was foundational in establishing the English language as one of literature and learning. At the time Chaucer lived, most scholars and literary men wrote in Latin or French. This meant that their works could only be enjoyed by learned men, and could not be understood by common men and women. Because Chaucer's work was written in English, and was also very entertaining, and involved characters that were quite familiar to all sorts of people, his work became quite popular and well known. It is notable not only for its elegant wording, but also because it included wonderful insights into human nature, and was often fairly humorous. The language Chaucer used is now fairly hard to understand, because the English language has changed so much over time, but when he wrote it, it was quite accessible to common people, and they enjoyed it very much.

Chaucer was born into a good family and from an early age served as a page and servant to English nobles. He fought in Edward III's wars against France, and for much of his life was patronized by John of Gaunt, the wealthiest and most powerful noble of his age. Chaucer spent some time in Italy and became familiar with the works of the early renaissance writers. Some of the stories in the Canturbury tales are similar to those published a few decades earlier by Italian writers.

Chaucer did not begin writing The Canterbury Tales until late in his life. It is a collection of stories told by a group of interesting characters, including a knight, a yeoman, a nun, a clerk, a lawyer, a wife, and several others, who are traveling together to visit the tomb of Saint Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. It was not completed at the time of his death, but even so, is one of the great classics of English literature.

Key events during the life of Geoffrey Chaucer:

Birth of Chaucer
Page in the home of a noblewoman.
  Fought for Edward III in France
Wrote a eulogy for the wife of John of Gaunt.
Traveled to Italy, became acquainted with Italian authors.
Held several 'civil servant' positions in London.
Started work on The Canterbury Tales
Death of Chaucer

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Poets and Statesmen  in  Back Matter  by  books/lord/westminster/_back.html
Chaucer—Bread and Milk for Children  in  English Literature for Boys and Girls  by  H. E. Marshall
Geoffrey Chaucer  in  Great Englishmen  by  M. B. Synge

Book Links
Chaucer Story Book  by  E. M. Tappan

Image Links

It is a company of pilgrims such as this that Chaucer paints for us, he himself being of the company.
 in English Literature for Boys and Girls

 in Great Englishmen

Short Biography
Duke of Clarence Royal family member, and early patron of Chaucer.
Edward III Reigned for nearly 50 years. Invaded France, and won the Battles of Crecy and Calias.
Jean Froissart Famous historian of mediaeval France, especially regarding the Hundred Years War. Served as secretary to Philippa of Hainault.
Francesco Petrarch Renaissance poet and writer who republished and popularized many Roman and Greek classics.
John of Gaunt Third son of Edward III, and father of Henry Bolingbroke. Extremely influential 14th century noble.