Geoffrey Chaucer
annon
³...I think some of Chaucer belongs to his time and that much of that
time is dead, extinct, and never to be made alive again. What was
alive in it, lives through him...²
--John Masefield

Geoffrey Chaucerıs world was the Europe of the fourteenth century.

It was neither rich or poor, happy nor sad. Rather, it was the
intermingling of these, a mixture of splendor and poverty, displaying
both worldly desire and spiritual purity. Chaucerıs travels through
it, mostly on ³the Kingıs business,² or civil service, shaped his
writing, offering the readers of today a brief glimpse into the world
in which he lived.

Chaucer lived from approximately AD 1340 to 1400. The world in which
he lived was not one of peace or stability. Born the son of a London
vintner, he remained a Londoner for most of the rest of his life,
leaving the city only on ³the Kingıs business².

The city of London was thus Chaucerıs environment for most of his
life. Aside from brief visits into other countries or areas of

England, he remained in the city, and itıs affects on his writing was
immense.

London of that time was not the London of today. It was a walled
city, guarded against invasion, but long enough time had passed since
such a threat had approached that the defenses had loosened. Houses
perched upon the walls, and Chaucer in fact, lived for a time in a
house built over Aldgate, (one of the gates of the city).

London was a city less than three-quarters of a square mile in size:

It ran east and west along the Thames less than one and a half miles,
and extended northwards less than half a mile. Over 20,000 people
were packed into this small area; the diversity of the inhabitants was
overwhelming. Londoners ranged from wealthy to impoverished, from
small to large, from shoemaker to blacksmith to minstrel to priest.

The city was thus fairly close. Stone building mingled with tile,
wood, and thatch. While the major streets were fairly wide, small
shops and stands often spread out into the road, effectively narrowing
it by up to half itıs width. London Bridge (the only bridge in the
city) was home to a multitude of homes and shops, perched on top of
the span to conserve space.

Waste was disposed of simply. It was emptied out the windows into
the alley or street and slaughtering was done in he streets as well,
with scraps being tossed underfoot. Hogs were often used to keep the
streets clean, but were assisted by wild dogs and scavenger birds.

Open sewers ran through the streets and into the Thames.

Most of the rest of Chaucerıs life was open at the courts of the king
of England. Here a startling change was apparent. The filth of the
streets disappeared, to be replaced by the splendor so often
associated with royalty.

The royal court of England was home to many in Chaucerıs time.

Courtiers, pages, knights, nobles, princes, and of course the King and

Queen. Chaucer rose through the ranks of the kingıs men, experiencing
all aspects of court life. He was a page, squire, court-bard,
counselor and finally courtier to various monarchs.

Many kings rose an fell in his lifetime. Chaucer began his life in
the kingıs service in the reign of Edward III, and performed his
service a long while. He was important enough to Edward that he was
personally ransomed after being captured by the French in the war
between Edward and Charles, an honor usually reserved for nobles.

By 1378 Edward III had died, and Chaucer was the man of Richard II.

The country was caught up in a political battle between the nobles of

Gloucester and Lancaster. The actions of these two nobles sent

Chaucer reeling , his world constantly changing about him.

The only stable item in Chaucerıs world was religion. The
institution of religion, the church, was quite prominent and visible.

Cathedrals dotted the cities of the world, and even the smallest town
had a church.

The glory of the Church may even have outshone that of the royal
court. Cathedrals were brilliant with magnificent carvings, statues
of precious metals murals, holy artifacts, and many other gleaming
treasures. Even the smallest church was home to some splendor. The
glory of the church, and the power it put forth over the population
made it a major political power of the time.

Chaucer was born in the early 1340ıs. Very little is known about the
first stage of his life. However, two items are fairly certain. It
appears that Chaucer was the son of a London vintner and