Geoffrey Chaucer was born between 1340 and 1345, probably in London. His father was a prosperous wine merchant. We do not know any details of his early life and education.
In 1357, he was a page to Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, wife of Edward III’s third son. Chaucer was captured by the French during the Brittany expedition of 1359, but was ransomed by the king. Edward III later sent him on diplomatic missions to France, Genoa and Florence. His travels exposed him to the work of authors such as Dante, Boccaccio and Froissart.
Around 1366, Chaucer married Philippa Roet, a lady-in-waiting in the queen’s household. They are thought to have had three or four children. Philippa’s sister, Katherine Swynford, later became the third wife of John of Gaunt, the king’s fourth son and Chaucer’s patron.
In 1374, Chaucer was appointed comptroller of the lucrative London customs. In 1386, he was elected member of parliament for Kent, and he also served as a justice of the peace. In 1389, he was made clerk of the king’s works, overseeing royal building projects. He held a number of other royal posts, serving both Edward III and his successor Richard II.
Chaucer’s first major work was ‘The Book of the Duchess’, an elegy for the first wife of his patron John of Gaunt. Other works include ‘Parlement of Foules’, ‘The Legend of Good Women’ and ‘Troilus and Criseyde’. In 1387, he began his most famous work, ‘The Canterbury Tales’, in which a diverse group of people recount stories to pass the time on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.
Chaucer disappears from the historical record in 1400, and is thought to have died soon after. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.