Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Geoffrey Chaucer

On 12 July 1389, Chaucer was appointed the clerk of the king's works, to Richard II.

In October 1386, in a law-suit between two noblemen over a coat of arms, one of the witnesses was described in the curious French of English law-courts as " Geffray Chaucere, Esquier, del age de xl. ans et plus, armeez par xxvii. ans." This is the most positive information we possess as to the date of the poet's birth, and doubt may even be expressed as to its reliability, because the ages of the other witnesses were set down most inaccurately in the document. On the face of it, however, his recent biographers, after checking this indication by the known facts of his life, are agreed to fix the date of his birth about the year 1340, rather earlier than later. This places him in the generation of Froissart and Eustache Deschamps, and makes him a contemporary of Charles V., King of France, of the children of Edward III., King of England, and in particular of that John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, his patron, the dates of whose birth and death thus correspond with his very nearly.

He was probably born in London, in Thames Street, a road which is parallel to the river and where his father owned a house and tavern. Nothing of any special account is known about his ancestors. The name, however, tells us much. Chaucer is the French "chaussier," which means shoemaker or rather hosier. This nickname used as a surname reveals in all probability a French origin on the father's side.

Moreover, the Christian name of the poet's grandfather was Robert, and'the name of Geoffrey given to the poet had been introduced and popularised in England by the Angevin dynasty with which it frequently occurs.

Geoffrey ChaucerTitle: Geoffrey Chaucer. Author: Émile Legouis. Translated by Louis Lailavoix. Publisher: J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1913. Original from Princeton University. Digitized: Dec 5, 2008. Length: 220 pages. Subjects" Poets, English.

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The Chaucers, however, were hosiers no longer in the fourteenth century. For two generations at least they had belonged to the guild of " vintners " in the city. In 1310 Geoffrey's grandfather, Robert, had been made a collector for the port of London of the newly established customs on wine agreed to by the merchants of Aquitaine. As to his father, John, he seems to have been a prosperous vintner with friends at court. On the 12th of June 1338, "before crossing the sea in the retinue of Edward III., who was going on an expedition to Flanders, he obtained some letters of protection rendering his property exempt from all suits in his absence. In 1348 he was appointed deputy to the king's butler in the port of Southampton. He died in 1366. We know that his wife's name was Agnes, and that she was related to a certain Hamo de Compton. She displayed as much haste as the Wife of Bath, and married again soon after her husband's death. But it is not certain that John Chaucer was only married once, nor that this Agnes was the poet's mother.

TEXT CREDIT: Geoffrey Chaucer By Émile Legouis.

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