Page images


VOL. 1.



Geoffrey CHAUCER, according to his own account, was born in London, and the year 1328 is generally assigned as the date of his birth. The name is Norman, and, according to Francis Thynne, the antiquarian, is one of those, on the roll of Battle Abbey, which came in with William the Conqueror'. It is uncertain at which of the

1 Vide Thynne's animadversions on Speght's edition of Chau. cer, in the Rev. H. Todd's Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer, p. 18. Thynne calls in question Speght's supposition of Chaucer being the son of a vintner, which Mr. Godwin, in his Life of Chaucer, has adopted. Respecting the arms of the poet, Thynne (who was a herald) farther remarks to Speght, " you set down that some heralds are of opinion that he did not descend from any great house, whiche they gather by his armes: it is a slender conjecture; for as honourable howses and of as great antiquytye have borne as mean armes as Chaucer, and yet Chaucer's armes are not so mean eyther for colour, chardge, or particion, as some will make them.” If indeed the fact of Chaucer's residence in the Temple could be proved, instead of resting on mere rumour, it would be tolerable evid of his high birth and fortune ; for only young men of that description were anciently admitted to VOL. I.

B 2

universities he studied. Warton and others, who allege that it was at Oxford, adduce no proof of their assertion; and the signature of Philogenet of Cambridge, which the poet himself assumes in one of his early pieces, as it was fictitious in the name, might be equally so in the place; although it leaves it rather to be conjectured that the latter university had the honour of his education.

The precise time at which he first attracted the notice of his munificent patrons, Edward IIl. and John of Gaunt, cannot be ascertained; but if his poem, entitled The Dreme, be rightly supposed to be an epithalamium on the nuptials of the latter prince with Blanche heiress of Lancaster, he must have enjoyed the court patronage in his thirty-first year. The same poem contains an allusion to the poet's own attachment to a lady at court, whom he afterwards married. She was maid of honour to Philippa, queen of Edward III. and a younger sister of Catherine Swinford', who was first the mistress, and ultimately the wife of John of Gaunt.

the inns of court. But unfortunately for the claims of the Inner Temple to the honour of Chaucer's residence, Mr. Thynne declares “ it most certaine to be gathered by cyrcumstances of recordes, that the lawyers were not of the Temple till the latter parte of the reygne of Edw. III. at which tyme Chaucer was a grave manne, holden in greate credyt, and employed in embassye.”

i Catherine was the widow Sir John Swinford, and daughter of Payne de Rouet, king at arms to the province of Guienne. It appears from other evidence, however, that Chaucer's wife's name was Philippa Pykard. Mr. Tyrwhitt explains the circumstance of the sisters having different names, by supposing that the father and his eldest daughter Catherine might bear the name of De Rouet, from some estate in their possession; while the family name Pykard was retained by the younger daughter Philippa, who was Chaucer's wife.

By this connexion Chaucer acquired the powerful support of the Lancastrian family; and during his life his fortune fluctuated with theirs. Tradition has assigned to him a lodge, near the royal abode of Woodstock, by the park gate, where it is probable that he composed some of his early works ; and there are passages in these which strikingly coincide with the scenery of his supposed habitation. There is also reason to presume that he accompanied his warlike monarch to France in the year 1359; and from the record of his evidence in a military court, which has been lately discovered, we find that he gave testimony to a fact which he witnessed in that kingdom in the capacity of a soldier. But the expedition of that year, which ended in the peace of Bretigné, gave little opportunity of seeing military service; and he certainly never resumed the profession of arms.

In the year 1367 he received from Edward III, a pension of twenty marks per annum, a sum which in those times might probably be equivalent to two or three hundred pounds at the present day. In the patent for this annuity he is styled by the king

« PreviousContinue »