Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer Chaucer was born about 1340 in London. His father was John Chaucer, citizen & vintner of London, his mother Agnes. Geoffrey's grandfather was RobertChaucerofIpswich & London who married a widow Mari Heyroun with a son Thomas Heyroun.#  His grandfather may be John le Chaucer of London mentioned by the London annalist in 1302.5  John Chaucer's house stood in upper Thames Street beside Wallbook, an open sewer in those times, where today a tunnelled drain is crossed by a railway from Cannon Street railway station. John Chaucer was in attendance on Edward III in 1338. This led to Geoffrey's employment  with the king's court as a page in the Duke Lionel and Princess Elizabeth's household [Duke of Clarence - Edward was the first king to give dukedoms to his family which was a Normandy-French tradition]  In 1357, accounts show articles were purchased for Geoffrey when he was about seventeen years of age. In 1359 at the age of about nineteen, he was present at Queen Isabella's funeral as a page in Lionel's  household. Isabella's body was interred at Newgate priory with the heart of her husband Edward II.1 Isabella's heart however was buried at Castle Rising, Norfolk, perhaps a sign that Edward the II could have her body but never her heart. In the same year he joined Edward III's army when France was invaded, where he was taken prisoner. In May 1360 The Peace of Bretigny was declared near Chartres. Chaucer was given his liberty in March when Edward paid £16  towards his ransom. # Thomas Heyroun married the heiress Maud Berghersh.

                       "Contributions for Ransoms Made by the King, 12 January to 7 July 1360"
           Date               Person         Amount
13 December 1359. Sir William de Graunson, [Grandis(s)on] knight of Burgundy- father of Alice, Countess of Salisbury £20 
12 January 1360. Richard Stury, King's Esquire. £50 
12 January 1360. George, Countess of Ulster's valet. £10 
12 January 1360. John Parker, Queen Isabella's valet. £9 12/-
31 January 1360. John de York, king's carter and his seven fellows. £12 
3 February 1360. Richard de Barton and William de Pull, poultry purveyors. £10 
29 Feruary 1360. John de Champain, chaplain. £8 
 1 March 1360. Geoffrey Chaucer. £16 
 8 April 1360. Geoffrey Hacking and Thomas de Staines, Queen Isabella's valetti. £16 
 8 April 1360. Richard Dulle, archer. 40/- 
 7 July 1360. John Smart, Master of the Smiths. £4 

In 1367 Chaucer was given a life pension for being a valet of the king's household but Duke Lionel died in 1368 and Chaucer then transferred his services to John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster.

                            One of the strongholds of John of Gaunt - Tutbury Castle with the bridge over the River Dove and the priory church, about 1832

1369 was the year of the third Great Pestilence. John of Gaunt's wife, Blanche of Lancaster died at the age of 29, this was commemorated in "The Death of Blaunche the Duchess". Blanche 'Plantagenet' was the granddaughter of the third earl of Lancaster and brought the vast  wealth of the Lancastrian line to Gaunt. Yet despite marriages of convenience being the way to aquire heiresses wealth, Gaunt seems to have truly mourned at the loss of his first wife, for he was buried with her in an elaborate tomb in St. Paul's Cathedral, but which was destroyed by fire in 1666.
1370-3 December 1372 Geoffrey travelled to Genoa, Pisa, and Florence on the king's service for 11 months
1370-1386 Chaucer had returned to London. These visits to Italy influenced his writings.
1374 April 23rd St. Georges Day-  Chaucer was granted a pitcher of wine daily to be received from the king's butler.
1374 10th May Chaucer leased a house at Aldgate but released it to a friend in October 1386.
Seal of the Westminster Wool Staple. 1374, June 8th Chaucer was made comptroller of the Customs and Subsidy of Wools, Skins and Leather for the Port of London.  On the 13thJune 1374 Chaucer was given a life pension of £10 from  John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster  and his mother Queen Philippa.  Chaucers wife, also named Philippa, was one of the ladies in Queen Philippa's chamber on 12th September 1366 and is also known to have been a damsel to Constanza of Castile, John of Gaunt's Spanish wife. Constanza was the sister to Isabella who married Edmund de Langley, John of Gaunt's younger brother. Supposedly one of Chaucer's poems is dedicated to Constanza. Philippa Chaucer was the sister to [K]Catherine Swynford [nee Roet] the third wife of John of Gaunt, the surname Roet is a Flemish one. Katherine Swynford was the governess of Constanza's and John's children and later John's wife.Edward III died on 21st June 1377 from then on Geoffrey was employed in the court of both Richard II and Henry IV. By 1386 Chaucer had been elected a knight for the shire of Kent in the Parliament held at Westminster. Geoffrey Chaucer's son, Thomas Chaucer, was also elected a knight. Thomas like his father became a well known courtier and also a Parliamentarian, he may have fought at the Battle of Agincourt. A brass in memory of  Thomas and his wife, Matilda, of 1436 appears in the church at Ewline, Oxon. Chaucer's grand-daughter, Alice, married the Duke of Suffolk, she died in 1475.

Geoffrey was employed on secret business by King Richard II in 1398 being issued with a letter of his protection. In October of the same year Geoffrey was given by King Richard an annual grant of £20 and wine from the Port of London, these grants were repeated under King Edward IV.3 Certainly Richard II's court was one of the most refined in Europe, more like a French court, opulent and decadent with 10,000 persons engaged, 3000 being kitchen staff or 'servitors' and 300 chamberlains and ladies of the court. A fitting goldfish bowl for Chaucer to garner his observations about all levels of society.

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William de Montague
John of Gaunt
The Knightes Tale [a film review]

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1. Weir, Alison. Queen Isabella, 2007, pp. 385-386.
2. Crow, Martin, M., & Olson, Clre, C., Chaucer Life-Records, Oxford, 1966.
3. Holland, Bernard. The Hollands of Lancashire. London, 1917. pp. 86-87.
4. Skeat, W. W. ed, The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer,  O.U.P. 1915.

5. Stubbs, William. Annales Londonieses, 1882, pp. 127-128. [Original research and speculation]

A Canterbury Tale A cult 1944 film loosely based upon the variety of pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. An excellent display of the Kent countryside and Canterbury in 1944 after the bombing of 1940 the final scenes displaying barrage balloons 

Copyright © Tim Midgley, January 2002, internal links revised 3rd August 2023.