Chaucer: Ackroyd's Brief Lives
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In the first in a new series of brief biographies, bestselling author Peter Ackroyd brilliantly evokes the medieval world of England and provides an incomparable introduction to the great poet’s works.
Geoffrey Chaucer, who died in 1400, lived a surprisingly eventful life. He served with the Duke of Clarence and with Edward III, and in 1359 was taken prisoner in France and ransomed. Through his wife, Philippa, he gained the patronage of John of Gaunt, which helped him carve out a career at Court. His posts included Controller of Customs at the Port of London, Knight of the Shire for Kent, and King's Forester. He went on numerous adventurous diplomatic missions to France and Italy. Yet he was also indicted for rape, sued for debt, and captured in battle.
He began to write in the 1360s, and is now known as the father of English poetry. His Troilus and Criseyde is the first example of modern English literature, and his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, the forerunner of the English novel, dominated the last part of his life.
In his lively style, Peter Ackroyd, one of the most acclaimed biographers and novelists writing today, brings us an eye-opening portrait, rich in drama and colorful historical detail, of a prolific, multifaceted genius.
of his mother allowed him to “quitclaim” the property, but he was no doubt happy to do so in the shadow of contemporaneous events. The rebels had conceived a particular hatred for those foreign merchants in the city who were favoured by the crown and by the tax collectors. On the day after their incursion into London they besieged thirty-five Flemings who were taking refuge in the church of St. Martin in the Vintry, and removed them by force; it will be remembered that this was the church beside
it seems to have had some private, as well as public, significance. Its principal theme lies in the need to reach the home and haven of “Philiosophie” as a way of forgetting the uncertain delights of “the blynde goddesse Fortune”; the text was written while Boethius, the servant of a sixth-century king, lay awaiting death in a prison cell. It has all the force and bitterness of private sorrow within it. Only by embracing the serene precepts of philosophy is it possible to escape “the swyftnesse
walls and ditches beside the Thames, on what might be described as his home stretch between Woolwich and Greenwich. In the summer of that year Chaucer also began work on building scaffolds and barriers for a great joust which at the king’s command was to be held, at the beginning of October, in Smithfield to celebrate the newly established peace with France. It was a lavish affair preceded by the knights riding in procession, led “by cheynes of gold” held by the ladies of the Garter whom Chaucer
have encountered groups of them at all times of the day. The “General Prologue” introduces a variety of pilgrims, including Chaucer and the Host of the gathering, who are really to be numbered according to the diversity of their professions and social status. The description of the salacious Wife of Bath precedes that of the holy Parson, that of the Shipman comes before the Doctor of Physick. In medieval fashion they are at once highly individualised and typically representative. That is why the
generally travelling under the protection of the king. There is a third possibility, and one more intriguing since it takes him out of the immediate context of court service. One of Chaucer’s sixteenth-century biographers and editors, Thomas Speght, believed that Chaucer had been enrolled for the study of law at the Inner Temple in London and that “manye yeres since, master Buckley did see a recorde in the same howse, where Geffrye Chaucer was fined two shillinges for beatinge a Fransiscane