« PreviousContinue »
and reverent, applied to him by his contemporaries Gower and Occleve c.
Whether Chaucer studied at Oxford or at Cambridged, whether he was educated for the Bar or the Church, we have now no means of determining. Nor do we even know when or what he studied, or how long his education was carried on; but it is quite certain that he 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; and his attainments render it impossible to believe that he quitted college at the early period at which persons destined for a military life usually began their career. It was not then the custom for men to pursue learning for its own sake; and the most natural manner of accounting for the extent of Chaucer's acquirements is to suppose that he was educated for a learned profession. The knowledge he displays of divinity would make it more likely that he was intended for the Church than for the Bar, were it not that the writings of the Fathers were generally read by all classes of students "."
For what is known of the latter half of Chaucer's life we are indebted to public records still in existence f, in which the poet appears in close connection with the court, and as the recipient of royal favours.
Leland says that Chaucer lived to the period of grey hairs, and at length found old age his greatest disease.' In Occleve's portrait of the poet he is represented with grey hair and beard.
d In one of his early poems, The Court of Love, Chaucer is supposed to make reference to his residence at Cambridge
Philogenet I cald am, fer and nere,
Leland thinks that Chaucer studied at both Universities.
e Life of Chaucer by Sir H. Nicolas.
f 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.
The first important record of 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 we find that the poet had already borne arms for twenty-seven years. His military career therefore did not commence until 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 twenty marks 5 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 Philippah, 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.
8 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. 4s. 6d. ; of a cow 17s. 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 Ios. a quarter; in December 7s. 8d., and in October 1311, 4s. 10d.
h 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 i.
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 1st of December received the sum of 637. 13s. 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 .
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
And goodë fairë white she hete (was called),.
That was my lady name righte.
She was therto bothe faire and bryghte,
She hadde not hir name wronge.'
(Boke of the Duchesse, ll. 947-950.) * 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 butler1. 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 m, 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 1047.; and (on Dec. 8) the custody of five 'solidates' of rent 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 67. 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 o, 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 P. 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 Bernard Visconti, Lord
1 This was commuted in 1378 for a yearly payment of 20 marks. m In July 1376 Chaucer, as Comptroller of Wool Customs, received from the king the sum of 71l. 4s. 6d., being the fine paid by John Kent of London for shipping wool to Dordrecht without having paid the duty thereon.
n A solidate of land was as much land (probably an acre) as was worth is. • Chaucer received for this service 10l. on Feb. 17, and 20l. on the 11th of April.
P Chaucer received 261. 13s. 4d. on April 30, as part payment for this service, and in 1381 (March) he was paid an additional sum of 227.
of Milan, and Sir John Hawkwood, 'on certain affairs touching When Chaucer set out on this one of his trustees to appear
the expediting the king's war 9.' embassy he appointed Gower as for him in the courts in case of any legal proceedings being instituted against him during his absence г.
During the next three years Chaucer received his pension as usual. On the 8th of May, 1382, he was made Comptroller of the Petty Customs, retaining at the same time his office of Comptroller of the Wool Customs. These emoluments he continued to hold for the next four years, and was allowed the privilege of nominating a deputy, so that he had leisure to devote himself to his great work, the Canterbury Tales, which was not written till after 1386.
In 1386 Chaucer was elected a knight of the shire for Kent, in the Parliament held at Westminster. John of Gaunt was abroad at this time; and the Duke of Gloucester, at the head of the government, was most likely not well disposed towards the relative and protégé of his brother, with whom he was now
a Chaucer was absent on this service until the end of the year, but was not paid till 1380, when he received 561. 13s. 4d.
This circumstance proves the existence of an intimate friendship between the two poets. Chaucer dedicated his Troilus and Criseyde to Gower; and the latter poet, in the Confessio Amantis (Book vii.), makes Venus speak of Chaucer as follows:
'And grete wel Chaucer, when ye mete,
As my disciple and my poete,
Above alle other, I am most holde (beholden).