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MS. 18,632. These leaves are fragments of a Household Account, for the years 1356 to 1359, of Elizabeth, wife of Prince Lionel, third son of Edward III; and they contain, besides other things, entries of—(1) in April, 1357, ‘An entire suit of clothes, consisting of a paltock' (or short cloak), 'a pair of red and black breeches, with shoes, provided for Geoffrey Chaucerc;' (2) on May 20, 1357, an article of dress, of which the name is lost by a defect in the leaf, purchased for Geoffrey Chaucer in London; (3) in December of the same year, a donation of 35. 6d. to Geoffrey Chaucer, for necessaries.'
The most important record as to Chaucer is his own statement, in a deposition made by him at Westminster in October 1386, at the famous trial between Richard Lord Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor, when the poet stated that he was forty years of age and upwards, and had already borne arms for twenty-seven years.
If then we take Chaucer's “forty years and upwards' as fortysix, we fix the date of his birth at 1340; and this would make him seventeen years old when he was in Prince Lionel's household, probably as a page, as the sums paid for his dress, and given to him, are a good deal lower than those allotted to other members of the household. This date would also make Chaucer nineteen when, doubtless in the retinue of Prince Lionel, he joined Edward the Third's army, which invaded France in the autumn of 1359, and was taken prisoner in that country, as he himself informs us.
Against this date of 1340 as that of the poet's birth is to be set the traditional, but groundless, date of 1328, or thereabout.
According to the inscription on his tomb, erected to his memory in 1556 by Nicholas Brigham, Chaucer died in the year 1400; and whether he had passed the ripe age of three score and ten (on the 1328 date of his birth), or attained to that of three score (on the 1340 date), he would be justly entitled to the
c At a cost of 7s. (of which the paltock was 4s.), equal to about 51. of our present money.
epithets old and reverent, applied to him by his contemporaries Gower and Occleved,
Whether Chaucer studied at Oxford or at Cambridge, whether he was educated for the Bar or the Church, we have now no means of determining; but his position in Prince Lionel's household would, says Mr. Bond, have given him “the benefit of society of the highest refinement, in personal attendance on a young and spirited prince of the blood. He would have had his imagination fed by scenes of the most brilliant court festivitiesf, rendered more imposing by the splendid triumphs with which they were connected; and he would have had the advantage of royal patrons in the early exercise of his genius.' He would have been helped in “perfecting that gift which so transcendently distinguishes him from the versifiers of his time—refinement of expression in his own language'-a gift which his first poems show as well as his last. It is quite certain that Chaucer was a diligent student, and a man of the most extensive learning. “The acquaintance he possessed with the classics, with divinity, with astronomy, with so much as was then known of chemistry, and indeed with every other branch of the scholastic learning of the age, proves that his education had been particularly attended to g.'
For what is known of the latter half of Chaucer's life we are
d Leland says that Chaucer 'lived to the period of grey hairs, and at length found old age his greatest disease.' In Occieve's portrait of the poet he is represented with grey hair and beard.
e In one of the poems ascribed to him, The Court of Love, Chaucer is supposed to make reference to his residence at Cambridge
• My name?
Of Cambrige clerke.'
? That most splendid entertainment given by Edward III (in 1358) to the royal personages then in England—including the King of France, the Queen of Scotland, the King of Cyprus, and the sister of the captive King of France, and Edward's own mother, the almost forgotten Queen Isabella---at what was ever after called the Great Feast of St. George.' Chaucer was probably also present, with Prince Lionel, at the wedding of John of Gaunt and Lady Blanche of Lancaster at Reading, and at the famous joustings subsequently held at London in honour of the event.
8 Life of Chaucer by Sir H. Nicolas.
indebted to public records still in existence ", in which the poet appears in close connection with the court, and as the recipient of royal favours.
Chaucer's military career commenced, as we have seen, in the year 1359, at which time he must have joined Edward the Third's army, which invaded France in the beginning of November of that year. After ineffectually besieging Rheims the English army laid siege to Paris (1360), when at length, suffering from famine and fatigue, Edward made peace at Bretigny near Chartres. This treaty, called the Great Peace,' was ratified in the following October, and King John was set at liberty. In this expedition Chaucer was made prisoner, and most probably obtained his release after the ratification of the treaty.
We have no means of ascertaining how he spent the next six years of his life, as we have no further record of his history until 1367. In this year the first notice of the poet occurs on the Issue Rolls of the Exchequer, where a pension of 20 marks i for life was granted by the king to Chaucer as one of the 'valets of the king's chamber;' or, as the office was sometimes called, valet of the king's household,' in consideration of former and future services.
About the same time, or perhaps a little earlier, he married Philippaj, supposed to be the daughter of Sir Paon de Roet (a native of Hainault and King of Arms of Guienne) and sister to Katherine, widow of Sir Hugh Swynford, successively governess, mistress, and wife to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
h Issue Rolls of the Exchequer and the Tower Rolls. The details here are from Sir H. Nicolas' Life of Chaucer, prefixed to Chaucer's poetical works in the Aldine series of the Poets.
i A mark was 13s. 4d. of our money, but the buying power of money was nearly ten times greater than at present. In 1350 the average price of a horse was 18s. 4d.; of an ox il. 45. 6d.; of a cow 175. 2d.; of a sheep 2s. 6d.; of a goose 9d.; of a hen 2d.; of a day's labour in husbandry 3d. In Oxford, in 1310, wheat was jos. a quarter ; in December 7s. 8d., and in October 1311, 45. rod.
Philippa was one of the ladies in attendance on Queen Philippa, and in 1366 a pension of ten marks was granted to her. After the death of the queen she appears to have been attached to the court of Constance of Castile, second wife of John of Gaunt.
During the years 1368 and 1369, Chaucer was in London, and received his pension in person.
In 1369 the death of Queen Philippa took place, and, two or three months later, Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt, died at the age of twenty-nine. Chaucer did honour to the memory of his patron's wife in a funeral poem entitled the Boke of the Duchesse k.
In the course of the next ten years (1370-1380) the poet was attached to the court and employed in no less than seven diplomatic services. In 1370 he was abroad in the king's service, and received letters of protection, to be in force from June till Michaelmas. Two years after this (Nov. 12, 1372) Chaucer was joined in a commission with two citizens of Genoa to treat with the doge, citizens and merchants of Genoa, for the choice of an English port where the Genoese might form a commercial establishment. He appears to have left England before the end of the year, having on the ist of December received the sum of 631. 135. 4d. in aid of his expenses. He remained in Italy near twelve months, and went on the king's service to Florence as well as to Genoa. His return to England must have taken place before the 22nd of Nov. 1373, as on this day he received his pension in person 1.
This was Chaucer's first important mission. It was no doubt skilfully executed, and gave entire satisfaction to the king, who on the 23rd of April, 1374, on the celebration of the feast of St. George at Windsor, made him a grant of a pitcher of wine
k • And goodë fairë white she hete (was called),
That was my lady namë righte.
(Boke of the Duchesse, 11. 9+7-950.) 1 In this embassy Chaucer is supposed to have made acquaintanceship with Petrarch, who was at Arqua, two miles from Padua, in 1373, from January till September, and to have learned from him the tale of the patient Griselda. But the old biographers of Chaucer are not to be trusted in this matter. Petrarch did not translate this tale from Boccaccio's Decameron into Latin until the end of Sept. 1373, after Chaucer's return, and his death occurred the next year (July 1374). It is the Clerk of Oxenford, and not Chaucer, that asserts that he learned the tale of 'a worthy clerk' at Padua, • Fraunces Petrarch, the laureate poete.'
daily, to be received in the port of London from the hands of the king's butler m. About six weeks later, on the 8th of June, he was appointed Comptroller of the Customs and Subsidy of Wools, Skins and Leather, in the Port of London », and on the 13th of the same month he received a pension of 10l. for life from the Duke of Lancaster.
In 1375 Chaucer's income was augmented by receiving from the crown (Nov. 8) the custody of the lands and person of Edmond Staplegate of Kent, which he retained for three years, during which time he received as wardship and marriage fee the sum of 1041.; and (on Dec. 8) the custody of five solidates' of rento in Soles in Kent. Toward the end of 1376 Sir John Burley and Chaucer were employed in some secret service, the nature of which is not known. On the 23rd of the same month the poet received 61. 135. 4d. and Burley twice that sum for the work upon which they had been employed.
In February, 1377, the last year of Edward's reign, the poet was associated with Sir Thomas Percy (afterward Earl of Worcester) in a secret mission to Flanders P, and was shortly afterwards (April) joined with Sir Guichard d'Angle (afterwards Earl of Huntingdon) and Sir Richard Sturry to treat of peace with Charles V, and to negotiate a secret treaty for the marriage of Richard, Prince of Wales, with Mary, daughter of the king of France 4. In 1378 Richard II succeeded to the throne, and Chaucer appears to have been reappointed one of the king's esquires. In the middle of January he was again sent to France to treat for a marriage of Richard with the daughter of the king of France. On his return he was employed in a new mission to Lombardy, along with Sir Edward Berkeley, to treat with
m This was commuted in 1378 for a yearly payment of 20 marks.
n In July 1376 Chaucer, as Comptroller of Wool Customs, received from the king the sum of 711. 4s. 6d., being the fine paid by John Kent of London for shipping wool to Dordrecht without having paid the duty thereon.
• A solidate of land was as much land (probably an acre) as was worth is. p Chaucer received for this service vol. on Feb. 17, and 2ol. on April 11.
q Chaucer received 261. 135. 4d. on April 30, as part payment for this service, and in 1381 (March) he was paid an additional sum of 221.