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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Chaucer|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Doubleday Publishing|
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Chaucer grew up, and found his true place, in what he called "our citee." He was born, in the phrase of Oscar Wilde, into the purple of London commerce. He did not need to rise through his own individual effort because his position in urban society was comfortable and assured.
His paternal grandparents had come from Ipswich to London, part of that steady influx into the city from the Midlands and East Anglia; London had become the vortex for mercantile activity. His grandfather, Robert le Chaucer, was a mercer who like his grandson eventually entered the king's service; there was a strong affinity between trade and the court. He was also known as Robert Malyn, the surname meaning "astute." That was another characteristic he bequeathed to his famous scion. The derivation of "Chaucer" is more uncertain. It may come from chauffecire, to seal with hot wax in the manner of a clerk, but it is more likely to derive from chaussier or shoemaker and hosier. But this in itself has little to do with Chaucer's family—Robert le Chaucer acquired his name from his quondam master, a mercer named John le Chaucer who was killed in the course of a brawl.
The poet's father, John Chaucer, was a successful and influential vintner, or wine merchant, who also entered royal service; he was part of Edward III's abortive expedition against Scotland in 1327, and eventually became deputy butler to the king's household. In his early youth he was kidnapped by some agents for his aunt and forcibly removed to Ipswich, to take part in a marriage advantageous to that lady, but the aunt was sued and despatched to the Marshalse