About the Author
Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1340 to a middle-class merchant family. In his early career, he served at court as a page and then as a soldier. It is well known that he was captured in 1360 at the Siege of Rheims (in the Hundred Years War). In 1366 he was married to Philippa de Roet, a lady-in-waiting to Philippa of Hainault, Queen Consort to Edward III, and together the Chaucers had four children, Thomas, Elizabeth, Agnes, and Lewis (to whom Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe is addressed). Though he was entrusted with several diplomatic missions to France and Italy, much of his career through the 1380s was as Controller of the Customs House in the London, a position of great responsibility in the bustling port city. He served as a civil servant in various capacities throughout his life, including one term in Parliament. He died in 1400 and was buried at Westminster Abbey, the first person buried in Poets’ Corner. Chaucer’s first major composition was Book of the Duchess, a sort of memorial of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, for her widower John of Gaunt, the brother of Edward III and uncle of Richard II. He also seems to have translated early in his career Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and Jean de Meun and Guillaume de Lorris’ Romance of the Rose, both of which were very influential in Chaucer’s own poetry. Chaucer’s career continued with Parliament of Fowls, the first Valentine’s Day poem in English in which birds gather to choose their mates; The House of Fame, a literary investigation of fame, rumor, and reputation; The Legend of Good Women, a collection of legends, or quasi-saints’ lives of women from classical antiquity, retold by the fictional Chaucer as penance for defaming women in his Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer had reached full maturity as a poet in Troilus and Criseyde, perhaps the first novel in the English language. Chaucer’s best-known work and the culmination of his career, The Canterbury Tales, is a collection of tales told by twenty-five pilgrims on their way from the outskirts of London to Canterbury.