Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born circa 1340 in London, England. In 1357 he became a
public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster. He continued to work as a public servant to
the British court throughout his lifetime. The Canterbury Tales became his best known and
most acclaimed work. He died October 25, 1400 of in London, England and was the first to
be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.
Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born circa 1340, most likely at his parents’ house on Thames
Street in London, England. Chaucer’s family was of the bourgeois class. They descended
from an affluent family who made their money in the London wine trade. According to some
sources, Chaucer’s father, John, carried on the family wine business.
Geoffrey Chaucer is believed to have attended the St. Paul’s Cathedral School, where he
probably first became acquainted with the influential writing of Virgil and Ovid.
In 1357, Chaucer became a public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster, the Duke of Clarence’s wife. Chaucer was paid a small stipend—enough to pay for his food and clothing. In 1359, the teenage Chaucer went off to fight in The Hundred Years’ War in France. At Rethel he was captured for ransom. Thanks to Chaucer’s royal connections, King Edward III helped pay his ransom. After Chaucer’s release, he joined the Royal Service, traveling throughout France, Spain and Italy on diplomatic missions throughout the early to mid-1360s. For his services, King Edward granted Chaucer a pension of 20 marks.
In 1366 Chaucer married Philippa Roet. Philippa was Sir Payne Roet’s daughter, and the marriage conveniently helped further Chaucer’s career in the English court.
By 1368 King Edward III had made Chaucer one of his esquires. When the queen died in 1369, it served to strengthen Philippa’s position and subsequently Chaucer’s as well. In 1370 he went abroad again and fulfilled diplomatic missions in Florence and Genoa through 1373, familiarizing himself with the work of Italian poets Dante and Petrarch along the way. By the time he returned, he and Philippa were prospering, Chaucer had helped establish an English port in Genoa, and was rewarded by being appointed Comptroller of Customs, a lucrative position. Meanwhile Philippa and Chaucer were granted generous pensions by the Duke of Gaunt.
In 1377 and 1388 Chaucer engaged in yet more diplomatic missions, with the objectives of finding a French wife for Richard II and securing military aid in Italy. Busy with his duties, Chaucer had little time to devote to writing poetry, his true passion. In 1385 he petitioned for temporary leave. For the next four years he lived in Kent but worked as a Justice of the Peace and later a Parliament member, rather than focusing on his writing.
When Philippa passed away in 1387, Chaucer stopped sharing in her royal annuities and suffered financial hardship. He needed to keep working in public service in order to earn a living and pay off his growing accumulation of debt.