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Chaucer's Biography:


The following summary is based largely on "A Chaucer Chronology" in John H. Fisher's Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2nd edition, with some minor additions and abbreviations of my own. Records of plague outbreaks are taken from Singman and McLean's Daily Life in Chaucer's England. For more information, see "Chaucer in His Time," in pp. 956-960 of Fisher, which covers the material in greater detail, and a list of biographies at the bottom of this page. Text in black refers to general historical events. Text in red refers to events specific to Chaucer's life. Text in purple refers to Chaucer's writings. A more complete list of events for the years 1300-1400 can be found here.

1327 Edward III crowned king. He comes to power at age fourteen after a coup d'état takes place against his father, Edward II. (According to legend, Edward II was killed in a particularly gruesome manner while in prison.)
1328 Edward marries Philipa of Hainault. He is fifteen years old.
1330

Edward, the Black Prince, born as son of Edward IV.

Edward III assumes full royal authority.

1331 England at war with Scotland and Scotland's French allies.
1337-1453 The Hundred Years' War, a conflict between France and England.
1338-1339

England unsuccessfully attempts to invade northern France (First major military expedition of the Hundred Years' War, often considered the conflict's beginning).Geoffrey Chaucer's father (John Chaucer) participates in the company of Edward III.

1340-1343

(?) Probable birth of Geoffrey Chaucer between 1340 and 1343.

1340, birth of John of Gaunt. Edward III takes title, "King of France."

1346 Battle of Crecy
1347

Truce between England and France.

Plague arrives in Italy.

1348 Black Plague strikes England. The outbreak in 1348 marks the most devastating plague outbreak in recorded history for Britain, and deaths continue through 1350.
1351 Parliament passes the Statute of Laborers to keep down wages.
1353 Boccaccio writes the Decameron
1356 Battle of Poitiers
1357 First record of Geoffrey Chaucer. He works as a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster (wife of Prince Lionel). Philippa Pan (Chaucer's future wife) also in household.
1359 May (?): Chaucer attends wedding of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. Gaunt becomes Duke of Lancaster. November 3: Chaucer in French war in Prince Lionel's company.
1360

Chaucer captured by French soldiers. King Edward III contributes funding to help pay Chaucer's ransom.

Chaucer carries letters to England from Calais for Lionel, earl of Ulster.

Treaty of Bretigny ends the first phase of the Hundred Years' War.

1361

The Black Prince marries Joan of Kent. (?) Chaucer at Inns of Chancery.

(1361-1367): Chaucer works on Prior a Nostre Dame, Romaunt of the Rose, and early Complaints.

Outbreak of plague.

1362 First version of Piers Plowman, the first major literary work to be written in the English language since the Norman conquest.
1363

Death of Countess of Ulster (?) Philippa Pan, (Chaucer's future wife) enters service of Queen Philippa of Hainault.

(?) Chaucer at Inns of Court

1366

February 22-May 24: Chaucer travels to Spain under safe conduct.

(?) Chaucer marries Philippa?

1367

Edward, Prince of Wales leads an expedition to Spain in aid of Pedro the Cruel, the deposed King of Castile.

For the first time, the king addresses parliament in English rather than French.

Edward III grants to Chaucer, his "valet," an annuity of twenty marks for life.

1368

Death of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster. French war intensifies. Chaucer sent on mission in France.

(1368-1369) probable date of Chaucer's The Book of The Duchess.
Chaucer writes "Fragment A" of The Romaunt of the Rose.
Chaucer writes "The Complaint unto Pity" (?)
Chaucer writes "A Complaint to His Lady" (?)

1369

Chaucer in service as an esquire in the royal household. Chaucer attends Gaunt during his raid on Picardy (northern France). Queen Philippa dies.

Outbreak of Plague

(?) Philippa Chaucer possibly enters Gaunt's household as a lady in waiting.

Hostilities resume in the Hundred Years' War, marking the second major phase of military engagement.

1370

June 20-September 29: Chaucer running diplomatic errands in France for the King.

(?) Chaucer accompanies John of Gaunt in Aquitaine.

Edward the Black Prince sacks Limoges.

Gregory XI becomes Pope. He holds the Papal See until 1378.

1371 Gaunt marries Princess Costanza of Castile.
1372

Chaucer's sister-in-law, Katherine Swynford, bears a son to John of Gaunt. August 30: Philippa Chaucer granted an annuity of 10 pounds. December 1: Chaucer commissioned to establish an English seaport for Genoese trade. To this end for "other matters of the king's business," Chaucer leaves for Genoa, visits Florence. At this time, Boccaccio is in Florence and Petrarch is in Padua. Chaucer remains in Italy until the summer of the next year.

Chaucer's wife, Philippa, works in the household of John of Gaunt's wife.

(1372-1377) probable dates of The Parliament of Fowles, The Monk's tragedies, Anelida, and "St. Cecilia."

1373 May 23: Chaucer in London. (?) Birth of Thomas Chaucer. July 13 Gaunt goes to French wars, leading a new English invasion.
1374 April 10: Gaunt returns from French wars. He takes control of the government while Edward III shows signs of increasing senility. The Black Prince falls ill. April 23: Chaucer receives a royal grant of a pitcher of wine daily. May 10: Chaucer leases Aldgate house and sets up housekeeping. June 8: Chaucer made Comptroller of Wool Customs and Subsidy for the Port of London (a lucrative and powerful position). June 13: Geoffrey and Philippa receive 10 pound annuity from Gaunt.
1375

Outbreak of Plague.

Truce of Bruges temporarily ends hostilities between England and France.

Death of Boccaccio.

1376

Edward the Black Prince calls the Good Parliament to convene. The Good Parliament introduces many long overdue reforms of government.

Chaucer's early trips to France on diplomatic missions negotiating for peace.

Death of Edward the Black Prince at age 45. Chaucer on mission to Calais.

Parliament impeaches royal servants belonging to the faction of John of Gaunt, the king's fourth son.

The Civil Dominion published by Oxford don, John Wycliffe, calling for reforms in the church.

1377

Death of Edward III, accession of his grandson Richard II, still only 11 years old.

Poll tax levied.

The papacy returns to Rome from Avignon, where it had resided since 1309.

Pope Gregtory XI condemns the doctrines of John Wycliffe. The Lollard movement grows.

Chaucer goes to France and Flanders on the king's secret business. He assists at negotiations at Montreuil-sur-Mer for peace. He later participates in negotiations for the marriage of Prince Richard.

1378

February 17, April 30: Chaucer on missions in France concerning peace treaty and marriage of Richard. He also probably travels to Italy (Milan) on diplomatic missions. John Gower and Richard Forester have Chaucer's power of attorney while he travels abroad.

June 22: death of Edward III and accession of his grandson, Richard II, age 10. Government controlled by John of Gaunt.

The Great Schism: Pope Gregory XI dies. The French-dominated College of Cardinals is intimidated by the Roman mob into choosing an Italian candidate, Pope Urban VI, as head of the church. Urban upsets the cardinals, who declare him deposed, and elect a Frenchman, Clement VII. Clement sets up papal court in Avignon, but Urban continues holding court in Rome. England, Scandinavia, Germany, and northern Italy support the Roman Pope. France, Scotland, Naples, Sicily, and the kingdoms in Spain support the French Pope. This schism will remain unreconciled until a truce in 1409 and reunion in 1417.

(1378-1381) probable dates of The House of Fame, Boece, Boethian balades, Anelida and Arcite.

1380

May 1: Chaucer released from suit for "raptus" of Cecily Champain. Cecily signs a document releasing Chaucer from all actions "in the case of my rape" (de raptu meo). (Raptus may or may not refer to rape, kidnapping, or inappropriate seizure).

John Wycliffe, an advocate of religious reform, is ordered to stop his teaching at Oxford.

(?) Birth of Lewis Chaucer, Chaucer's second son.

(1380-82) Chaucer writes The Parliament of Fowls.

1381

Wat Tyler's Peasant Revolt. Rebels pass under Chaucer's residence at Aldgate en route to confront the king. June 19: deed of Geoffrey Chaucer, son of John Chaucer, vintner of London, quitclaiming his father's house.

Chaucer receives a gift of twenty-two pounds from Richard II for his diplomatic service in France.

Death of Chaucer's mother, Agnes.

1382

Richard II marries Anne of Bohemia.

John Wycliffe and his Lollard followers complete the first full English translation of the Bible--a later version follows in 1388..

(1382-1386) Chaucer write Troilus and Criseyde, Legend of Good Women

1383 Chaucer signs his first loan against his annuity. (First sign of financial troubles?)
1384 John Wycliffe dies.
1385

Richard II and his uncle, John of Gaunt, undertake a fruitless military campaign in Scotland.

Eustache Deschamps sends Chaucer a poem lauding Chaucer as a "great translator, noble Geoffrey Chaucer."

October 12: Chaucer appointed justice of the peace in Kent. Political struggle between Gaunt and his brother, Thomas of Woodstock. September: death of Joan of Kent.

1386

Justice of peace reaffirmed. February 19: Philippa admitted to fraternity of Lincoln Cathedral. August: Chaucer elected to parliament as Knight of the Shire for Kent.

John of Gaunt leads an expensive and unsuccessful military expedition to Spain in an effort to win the crown of Castile, which he claims by right of marriage to his second wife. He is eventually beaten in 1388.

Thomas Usk, author of The Testament of Love, praises Chaucer as a poet of love and philosophy.

October 5: Aldgate house rented to Richard Forester.

October 15: Scrope-Grosvenor trial. Chaucer is a witness.

December 4: Adam Yardley appointed controller of customs. Chaucer stripped of his position by King Richard II while John of Gaunt was on a military foray in Spain. Chaucer is not restored to an important post until his benefactor's return.

(1386-1387) Canterbury General Prologue, early tales, Knight, Part VII

1387 Last recorded payment of an annuity to Philippa Chaucer.
1388

May 1: Chaucer surrenders his royal annuities to John Scalby of Lincolnshire.

Scottish Parliament at Otterburn.

The Lords Appellant and Parliament impeach several of King Richard II's favorite courtiers. These include close supporters of the king such as Thomas Usk, one of Chaucer's "disciples" in literature.

(1388-1390) probable date of Chaucer's fabliaux (Miller, Reeve)

1389

Richard II assumes power as an adult at age 22. Chaucer appointed Clerk of the King's Works (his pay rises to more than thirty pounds a year). He is responsible for construction at Westminster, the Tower of London, and several castles and manors. The job appointment coincides with Gaunt's return from Spain.

Boniface IX becomes Pope at Rome.

1390

Chaucer commissioned to repair Saint George's chapel, Windsor; oversees repairs on the lower Thames sewers and conduits between Woolwich and Greenwich; instructed to build bleachers for jousts at Smithfield, etc.

Chaucer robbed of horsse, goods, and a considerable amount of money at Hacham in Surrey--and possibly robbed again a month or two later.

Chaucer appointed deputy forester of the Royal Forest of North Petherton, Somerset (possibly does not begin his forestry duties until retiring from his position of Clerk of the Works.

Outbreak of Plague.

(1390-1394) probable dates of Chaucer's "marriage group" of tales: Wife of Bath, Friar, Summoner, Merchant, Clerk, Franklin, and the Astrolabe and Equatorie.

1391 June 17: a new Clerk of the Works is appointed in Chaucer's position. Chaucer appointed deputy forester of the Royal Forest of North Petherton, Somerset.
1391-92 Chaucer probably
1393

Chaucer granted a gift of ten pounds from Richard for services rendered "for good services [. . .] "in this year now present."

Chaucer probably makes revisions and additions to A Treatise on the Astrolabe.

1394

Richard II campaigns in Ireland. He returns to England in 1395.

Death of Queen Anne.

Chaucer granted a new annuity of 20 pounds for life.

1395 Richard marries Isabella of France. Chaucer's son Thomas marries heiress Maud Burghersh.
1396

John of Gaunt marries longtime mistress, Katherine Swynford.

Richard II marries Isabella of France. Isabella is seven years old.

(1396-1399) probable dates of Balades to Scogan, Bukton, probable dates of "The Nun's Priest's Tale," the final version of "The Canon Yeoman's Tale," and "The Parson's Tale."

1398

Financial woes. Chaucer borrows against his annuity; action for debt against Chaucer. The King provides letters of protection from these debts.

Richard II begins policy of absolute rule.

Richard II's final gift to Chaucer is a "tonel" (252 gallons) of wine a year for life.

1399

Richard II overthrown. Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) lands in Yorkshire with 40 followers, and soon has 60,000 supporters. He takes control of government and is promptly "elected"regent.

Death of John of Gaunt.

October 13: on his coronation day, Henry confirms and doubles Chaucer's annuity (now forty marks). December 24: Chaucer signs a 53 lease for tenement in the garden of the Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

1400

Richard II, the deposed English king, is murdered in his prison at Pontefract Castle.

Owen Glyndwr proclaims himself Prince of Wales and rebels against England.

September 29: Last record of Chaucer: He signs a receipt for a tun of wine delivered to him.

Outbreak of Plague.

1556 Chaucer's tomb erected in Westminster Abbey, the first poet of "the Poets' Corner," where other famous British poets will continue to be buried through the 1830s. The date on the tombstone is October 25, 1400.
1598 Thomas Speght prints a version of Chaucer's Works aimed at Protestant readers. His biography of Chaucer includes an account stating that Chaucer was fined for beating up a friar on Fleet Street.

 

Some Select Chaucer Biographies:

Baugh, Albert C. "Chaucer the Man." In Companion to Chaucer Studies. Ed. Beryl Rowland. rev. ed. NY: Oxford UP, 1979.

Brewer, Derek. Chaucer and His World. NY: Dodd, Mead, 1977.

Crow, Martin M., and Clair C. Olson, eds. Chaucer Life-Records From Materials Compiled by John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, with the Assistance of Lilian J. Redstone and Others. Oxford, Clarendon 1966.

Gardner, John Champlin. The Life and Times of Chaucer. NY: Knopf, 1976. (Use with caution!)

Howard, Donald R. Chaucer: His Life, His World, His Works. NY: Dutton, 1987.

Hulbert, James R. Chaucer's Official Life. Menasha, WI, 1912.

Kern, Alfred. The Ancestry of Chaucer. Baltimore, MD, 1906.

 

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