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CHAUCER was, like Spenser, Ben Jonson, Milton, etc., a Londoner born and breda. In his Release of his right to his father's former house in Thames-street, London, to one Henry Herbury, the poet describes himself as son of John Chaucer, citizen and vintner of London (City Hustings Roll, 110, 5 Ric. II, membrane 2). His mother was no doubt Agnes Chaucer, who is described in another Roll as the wife of John Chaucer in 1349. Chaucer's grandfather was Robert Chaucer, of Ipswich and London, who married a widow, Maria Heyroun, with a son Thomas Heyroun. (Her third husband was Richard Chaucer, a London vintner.) This Thomas Heyroun left his land to be sold by his brother (that is, brother of the half-blood) John Chaucer, the poet's father. As John Chaucer's house in Thames-street was by Walbrook-a stream flowing from Finsbury Moor-it must have been near the spot where the South Eastern Railway (from Cannon street) now crosses Thames-street. There, on Thames bank, the poet spent his earliest days; there for twelve and a half years later, 1374-1386, he did his daily work in the Custom House, after his marriage and settling down in his rooms at Aldgate. Near there he must have gone to school. Out of school and after play, the boy would probably sometimes help his father in his wineshop and cellar, and fill citizens' pots with the wine they required.
Young men in Chaucer's time finished their education either at the University, or in some nobleman's house as pages. Chaucer's father (John) was in attendance on Edward III and his queen Philippa in their expedition to Flanders and Cologne in 1338 (Rymer, v. 51); and to the father's connection with the court, the son no doubt owed his training and first appointment.
The first records of the name of Geoffrey Chaucer are on two parchment leaves, fragments of a Household Account,
a The Testament of Love, which names London as the birthplace of its writer, contains internal evidence that it was not the poet's work.
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 Chaucer b;' (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.' That this Geoffrey Chaucer was the poet is almost certain. But the next and very important record as to Chaucer is quite certain. It heads 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. The Council-clerk then entered Chaucerno doubt by the poet's own authority-as forty years of age and upwards, and as having 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 used to be set the traditional date of 1328. But the Petition of Geffrey Stace in 1328-see Rolls of Parliament, ii. 14-expressly states that John Chaucer (the poet's father, whom Stace and his confederates had forcibly carried off from London in December 1324) was then still unmarried,' unkore dismarie,' and living with his mother Maria, and his stepfather Richard Chaucer. Moreover, the Coram-Rege Roll of Trinity Term, 5 Edward III, A.D. 1331, shows no plea by Geffrey Stace that John Chaucer
b At a cost of 75. (of which the paltock was 4s.), equal to about 5l. of our present money.
had then married the Joan de Esthalle whom they tried to marry him to in 1324.) Chaucer's position in Prince Lionel's household would, says Mr. Bond, have given himộthe 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 festivities o, 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 d'
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 on March 1, 1360, Edward III paid 161. towards Chaucer's ransom; 135. 4d. less than he gave another man for a horse.
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.
d Life of Chaucer by Sir H. Nicolas; see Chaucer, ed. Morris, i. 4.
We have no means of ascertaining how he spent the next six years of his life, except from hints in our official records and the poet's own works. In 1367 the first notice of the poet occurs on the Issue Rolls of the Exchequer, when a pension of 20 marks 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. This pension for 'former' services as well as future, leaves little doubt that Chaucer entered the king's household soon after his return to England. In this service the poet, then probably twenty-one, seems to have fallen desperately and hopelessly in love, probably with a lady above him in rank, who rejected him. His earliest original poem, his Compleynte to Pite (pity), which may have been written about 1367, after his rejection by his lady-love, tells us that for many years he dared not speak his feelings towards her, and when at last he did so, he found Pity dead in her heart; but still he pleads pathetically with her for her love, and declares that, though she still refuses it, and he desires only death, he will love her alone till that death comes 8. See also his Minor Poems, ed. Skeat, pp. 213-7.
• 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.
! A mark was 135. 4d. of our money, but the buying power of money was at least ten times greater than at present. In 1350 the average price of a horse was 185. 4d.; of an ox il. 45. 6d.; of a cow 175. 2d.; of a sheep 25.6d.; of a goose gd.; of a hen ad.; of a day's labour in husbandry 3d. In Oxford, in 1310, wheat was ios. a quarter; in December 75. 8d.; and in October, 1311, 45. rod.
& The old supposition that the Philippa' whom Chaucer married was 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, was founded on heraldic grounds. The Roet arms were adopted by Thomas Chaucer. Then Thomas Chaucer was made (without the slightest evidence) Geoffrey's son, and Philippa Roet was then made Geoffrey's wife. Chaucer's wife Philippa was one of the ladies in attendance on Queen Philippa, and in 1366 a pension of 10 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.