Geoffrey Chaucer.

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il ^ompfcte <Bbit\on of (JOorfte





LlXr.D., LL.D., FII.D., M.A,
Elrington and Bci'Morth Professor of Anglo-Saxon
in the Unhcrsity of C amtridge















Introduction ; — rxni:

Life of Chaucer xii

Writings op Chaucer and Early Editions xvi

Brief Account or the Grammau, Metre, Versification, and Pronun-
ciation ............ xviii

RoMAUNT or THE EosE : Fragment A ......... i

,, ., Fragment B iS

,, ., Fragment C 59

The Minor Poems ; —

L An A. B. C 79

II. The Compleynte unto Pite 81

III. The Book of the Duchesse 83

rV^. The Compleynt of Mars 97

V. T4ic Parlement of FoiUes loi

VI. A Compleint to his Lady . . . . . . . .111

VII. Anelida and Arcite 113

Vm. Chancers Wordes nnto Adam 118

IX. The Former Age . ii8

X. Fortune . . . 119

XI. Merciles Beaute . ... . . . . .121

XII. To Kosemounde : A Balade ui

XIII. Triith 121

■ XIV. Gentilesse ij«-

XV. Lak of StedfasfEesse .123

XVI. Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan 123

XVII. Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton . 114

XVIII. The Complej-nt of Venus 125

XIX. The Compleint of ChaucA to his Empty Purse .... 126

XX. Proverbs 126

XXI. Against Women Unconstant 127

XXII. An Amorous Compleint (Compleint Damours) . . . .127

XXIII. A Balade of Compleynt .129

XXIV. Womanly Noblesse .......... 129




Troilus and Crisetde ....


. 20(}

The Hous ok Fame ............. ^26

The Legend op Good Women .......... .H9

A Treatise on the Astrolabe

The Caxterburt Tales : —

Group A. Tho Prolo^c .

The Knightes Tale .
The Miller's Prologue
The Milleres Tale .
• The Keeve's Prologue
, The Reves Tale

The Cook's Prologue
The Cokes Tale



4,'^ 7


Group B. Introduction to the Man of Law's Prologue ....

The Prologue of the Mannes Tale of Lawe

The Tale of the Man of Lawe .,.,..•

The Shipman's Prologue

The Shipmaiines Tale • •

The Prioress's Prologue

The Prioresses Tale

Prologue to Sir Thopas

Sir Thopas . . . ■ .

Prologue to Melibeus .......•■

The Tale of Melibeus

The Monk's Prologue

The Monkes Tale : — Lucifer. Adam. Sampson. HercuUs.
Nabugodonosor. Balthasar. Gisnobia. De Petro rege
Ispannio. De Petro Eege de Cipro. De Barnabo de Lum-
bardia. De Hngelino. Nero. De Oloferno. De Eege
Antliioeho. De Alexandro. De lulio Cesare. Cresus

The Prologue of the Noime Trcstcs Tale

The Nonne Preestes Tale

Epilogue to the Nonne Preestes Tale

Group C. The Phisiciens Tale

Tlio Prologiie fif the Pardonoros Tale
Tlic Pardoneres Tale , , ,






CorxUnte. ix


GitoiP D. The Wife of Bath's Prologiae 565

The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe 576

The Friar's Prologue 5S1

The Freres Tale 582

The Somnour's Prologue ' 587

The Somnours Tale 588

Gkol'p E. The Clerk's PrologiTe . 596

The ClerkesTale 597

The Merchant's Prologiie 612

The Marchantes Tale 613

Epilogiie to the Marchantes Tale ....... 627

Group F. The Squieres Talc . ^ 628

The Wordes of the Franklin 636

The Franklin's Prologue ....... 637

The Frankeleyns Tale 637

Group G. The Seconde Nonnes Tale 649

The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue 657

The Chanouns Yemannes Tale . 659

Group H. The Manciple's Prologue 669

The Maunciples Tale 670

Group I. The Parson's Prologue 674

The Persones Tale 675

Appekdix : Variations and Emendations . . ... ... 719

Glossary to Chaucer's Works 1

Glossary to Fragmests B and C of the Komaunt of the IIose ... -133




G-EOFFRET Chaucer was born in London, about 1340 (not 1328. as was formerly
said). His father was John Chaucer, citizen and vintner of London, and his
mother's n.ame was Agnes. His grandfather was Eobert Chaucer, of Ipswich and
London, who married a widow named Maria Heyroun, witli a son Thomas Heyrouu.
John Chaucer's house stood in Upper Thames Street, beside Walbrook, just where
that street is now crossed by the South-Eastern Railway from Cannon-street
Station. Here it was that the poet spent his earliest days, and in an interesting
passage in his Pardoneres Tale (lines 549-572), he incidentally displays his knowledge
of various wines and the waj'S of mixing them together.

John Chaucer, the poet's father, was in attendance on Edward HI. in 1338, and
this connexion with the court led to his son's employment there, some years after-
wards, as a page in the household of Elizabeth, wife of Lionel, dvike of Clarence, the
third son of Edward IIL In the hoiTsehold accounts of this princess, mention is
made of various articles of clothing and other necessaries purchased for • Geoffrey
Chaucer ' in April, May, and December, 1357, when he was about seventeen years old.
In 1359, he joined the army of Edward III. when that king invaded France, and was
there taken prisoner. In May, 1360, the peace of Bretigny (near Chartresi was
concluded between the French and English kings. Chaucer had been set at liberty
in March, when Edward paid 16I. towards his ransom.

1367. We can only conjecture the manner in which he spent his life from hints
given lis in his own works, and from various notices of him in official records. To
consider the latter first, we find, from the Issue Rolls of the Exchequer, that a life-
pension of 20 marks was granted by the king to Chaucer in 1367, in consideration of
his ser%-ices, as being one of the valets of the king's household. During 1368 and
part of 1369 he was in London, and received his pension in person. In October,
1368, his patron. Prince Lionel, died, and it appears that Chaucer's services were
consequently transferred to the next brother, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster.

1369. In the autumn of 1369, the year of the third great pestilence of Edward's
reign, Blanche, the first wife of John of Gaunt, died at the early age of twenty-nine.
Chaucer did honour to her memory in one of his earliest poems, entitled ' The
Deth of Blaunche the Duchesse.'

1370-1373. From 1370 to 1386, Chaucer was attached to the court, and employed
in frequent diplomatic services.

In December, 1372, being employed in the king's service, he left England for
Genoa, Pisa, and Florence, and remained in Italy for nearly eleven months, but

xii 3w^^o^wctton.

we again find him iu London on November 32, 1373. This visit of his to Italy is of
great importance, as it exercised a marked influence on his writings, and enables us
to understand the development of his genius.

1374. His conduct during this mission to Italy met with the full approval of the
king, who, on tlie celebration of the great festival at Windsor on St. George's day
(April 23) in 1374, granted our poet a pitcher of wine daily, to be received from the
king's butler. On May 10 of the same year, Chaucer took a lease of a house in
Aldgate, for the term of his life, from the Corporation of London ; but he aftervvarda
gave it up to a friend in October, 1386 ; and it is probable that he had ceased to
reside in it for a year or more previously. On June 8, 1374, he was appointed to the
important office of Comptroller of the Customs and Subsidy of Wools, Skins, and
Leather, for the port of London ; and a few days later (June 13) received a life-
pension of 10?. from the dulce of Lancaster for the good service rendered )>y him and
his wife Philippa to the said Duke, to his consort, and to his mother the Queen.
This is the first mention of Philippa Chaucer as Geoffrey's wife, though a Philippa
Chaucer is mentioned as one of the Ladies of the Chamber to Queen Philippa, on
September 12, 1366, and subsequently. It has been conjectured that Chaucer was
not married till 1374, and that he married a relative, or at least some one bearing
the same name as himself ; but this supposition is needless and improbable ; there
is no reason why the Philii)pa Chaucer mentioned in 13O6 may not have been already
married to the poet, who was then at least 26 years of age.

1375. In 1375 his income was increased by receiving from the Crown (November 8)
the custody of the lands and person of one Edmond Staplegate, of Kent. This he
retained for three years, during which he received 104/. ; together with some smaller
sums from another source.

1376. On July 12, 1376, the king granted Chaucer the sum of -fil. 4s. 6d., being the
value of a fine paid by one John Kent for shipping wool without paying the duty
thereon. Towards the end of this year. Sir John Burley and Geoffrey Chaucer were
employed upon some secret service, for which the latter received 61. 138. 4d.

1377. In February, 1377, Chaucer was employed on a secret mission to Flanders,
and received for it, in all, the sum of 30^. In April he was sent to France, to treat
for peace with king Charles V. ; for this service he received, in all, the sum of
48?. :3«. 4d. On Jime 21, king Edward III. died, and was succeeded by his giandson,
Bichard II.

1378. In January, Chaucer seems to have been employed in France. Soon after-
wards, he was again sent to Italy, from May 28 to September 19, being employed on
a mission to Lomliardy, to treat with Bernabo Visconti, duke of Milan ; to whose
death (in 1385) the poet alludes in his Menkes Tale (11. 3589-3596), where he describes
liim as —

' Of Melan grete Barnabo Viscounte,
God of delyt, and scourge of Lumbardye.'

Before leaving England on this business, Chaucer appointed his friend John
Gower, the poet, as one of his agents to represent him in his absence.

1380. By deed of May i, 1380, one Cecilia Chaumpayne released Chaucer from
a charge which she had brought against him, ' de raptu meo.' We have no
means of ascertaining either tlie nature of the charge, or the circumstances of
the case.

1382. We liave seen that Chaucer had been appointed Comptroller of the Wool

JStfc of £6au(cr.


Customs in 1374. Whilst still retaining this office, he was now also appointed
Comptroller of the Petty Customs (May 8, i.?8j,\

1385. In February, 1385, he was allowed the great privilege of nominating a per-
manent deputy to perform his duties as Comptroller, It is highly probable that lie
owed this favour to ' the good queen Anne,' first wife of king Richard II. ; for, in
the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, probably written during this period of
his newly-acquired freedom from irksome duties, he expresses himself most grate-
fully towards her.

If we may trust the description of his house and garden in the Prologue to the
Legend of Gowl Women, probably composed in the spring of 1385, it would appear
that he was then living in the country, and had already given up his house over the
city gate at Aldgate to Richard Forster, who obtained a formal lease of it from the
Corporation of London in October, 1386. We learn incidentallj', from a note to the
Envoy to Scogan, 1, 45, that he was living at Greenwich at the time when he wrote
that poem (probably in 1393). And it is highly probable that Chaucer's residence at
Greenwich extended from 1385 to the end of 1399, when he took a new house at
Westminster, This supposition agrees well with various hints that we obtain from
other notices. Thus, in 1390, he was appointed (with five others) to superintend the
repairing of the banks of the Thames between Woolwich and Greenwich. In the
same year he was robbed at Hatcham (as we shall see below), which is near Deptford
and Greenwich, And we find the singular reference in the Canterbury Tales
(A 3907), where the Host suddenly exclaims — ' Lo ! Grenewich, ther many a shrewe
is inne ' ; which looks like a sly insinuation, on tl^,e Host's part, that Greenwich at
that time contained many ' shrews ' or rascals. Few places would serve better
than Greenwicli for frequent observation of Canterbury pilgrims.

1386. In this year Chaucer was elected a knight of the shire for Kent, in the
Parliament held at Westminster. In August, his patron John of Gaunt went to
Spain ; and during his absence, his brother Thomas, duke of Gloucester, contrived
to deprive the king of all power, by appointing a regency of eleven persons, himself
being at the head of them. As the duke of Gloucester was ill disposed towards his
brother John, it is probable that we can thus account for the fact that, in
December of this year, Chaucer was dismissed from both his offices, of Comp-
troller of Wool and Comptroller of Petty Customs, others being appointed in his
place. This sudden and great loss reduced the poet from comparative wealth to
poverty ; he was compelled to raise money upon his pensions, which were assigned
to .John Scalby on May i, 1388.

In October of this year (1386), there was a famous trial between Richard Lord
Scrope and Sir Thomas Grosvenor, during which Chaucer deposed that he was
'forty years of age and upwards, and had borne arms for twenty-seven years.'
He was, in fact, about forty-six ,vears old, having been born, as said above, about
1340. Moreover, it is probable that he first bore arms in 1359, when he went with
the invading army to France. This exactl.y tallies with his own statement.

1387- In this year died Chaucer's wife, Philippa ; to this loss he alludes in his
Envoy to Bukton. It must have been about this time that he was composing
portions of his greatest poem, the Canterbury Tales.

1389. On May 3, Richard II. suddenly took the government into his own hands,
John of Gaunt returned to England soon afterwards, and effected an outward recon-
ciliation between the king and the duke of Gloucester. The Lancastrian party was

xiv 3wftofeucfton.

now once more in power, and Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the King's Works at
Westminster on Julj- u, at a salary of 2s. a day (more than il. of our present money,
at the least).

1390. In this year, Chaucer was also appointed Clerk of the Works at
St. George's Chapel at Windsor, and was put on a Commission to repair the
banks of the Thames between Woolwich and Greenwich. In a writ, dated July i
in this j-ear, he was allowed the costs of putting up scaffolds in Smithfield for the
King and Queen to view the tournament which had taken place there in May.
This helps to explain the minute account of the method of conducting a tourna-
ment which we meet with in the Knight's Tale. In the preceding month he had
been appointed, by the Earl of March, joint Forester (with Richard Brittle) of
North Petherton Park in Somerset. In September, he was twice robbed of some of
'the king's money ; once, at Westminster, of lol. ; and again, near the ' foule ok '
(foul oak) at Hatcham, Surrey, of 9?. 3s. 8d. ; but the repayment of these sums was
forgiven him.

1391. This is the date given by Chaucer to his prose Treatise on the Astrolabe,
which he compiled for the use of his ' little son ' Lewis, of whom nothing more
is known ; and it is supposed that he died at an early age. At this time, for some
unknown reason, the poet unfortunately lost his appointment as Clerk of the Works.

1394. In February of this year, Chaucer received a grant from the king of 3ol.
a year for life ; nevertheless, he seems to have been in want of money, as we find
him making applications for the advancement of monej' from his pension.

1398. In this year or the preceding, Chaucer was made sole Forester of North
Petherton Park, instead of joint Forester, as in 1-190. In the Easter Term, he was
sued for a debt of 14?. is. iid. In October, the king granted him a tun of wine
yearly, for his life-time.

1399. On September 30, Henry IV. became king of England, and Chaucer ad-
dressed to him a complaint regarding his poverty, called a ' Compleynt to his Purs,'
in response to which, only four days afterwards, Henry granted that the poet's
pension of twenty marks (13?. 6s. Sd.) should be doubled, in addition to the 20I,
a year which had been granted to him in 1394.

On Christmas eve of this year, Chaucer took a long lease of a house in the garden
of the Chapel of St. Mary, Westminster ; this house stood near the spot now occupied
by King Henry the Seventh's Chapel. The lease is in the Muniment Room of
Westminster Abbey (Historical MSS. Commission, i. 95).

1400. The traditional date of Chaucer's death is October 25, 1400 ; in the second
year of Henry IV. His death doubtless took place in his newly-acquired house at
Westminster ; and he attained to the age of about sixty years. Of his family,
nothing is known. His ' little son ' Lewis probably died young ; and there is no
evidence earlier than the reign of Henry VI. that the Thomas Chaucer whose
great-grandson, .John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was declared heir to the throne
by his uncle, Richard III., in 1484, was Chaucer's son. As Thomas Chancer was
u man of great wealth, and of some mark, we should have expected to find early
and undoubted evidence as to his parentage. We find, however, that Thomas*

• Gascoigne, who wrote a Theological Dictionary, and died in 1458, refers to the poet
in these words : — ' Fuit idem Chawsenis pater Thomae Chawserus, armigeri, qui
Thomas sepelitur in Nuhelm iuxta Oxoniam.' Gascoigne wus in a position to know
the truth, since he was Chancellor of Oxford, and Thomas Chaucer had held the

character of C^auuv. xv

manor of Ewelme, at no great distance, till his death in 1434. If this information
be correct, it then hecomes highly probable that Chaucer's wife Philippa was
Philippa Roet, sister of the Katharine de Roet of Hainault, who married Sir John
Swynford, and alterwards became the mistress, and in 1396 the third wife of John
of Gaunt. Tliis has been inferred from the fact that Thomas Chaucer's arms
contain three wheels, supposed to represent the name of Roet; since the Old
French roet means ' a little wheel.' Those who accept this inference see good
reasons for explaining the I'avours extended to Chaucer both by John of Gaunt
himself and his son King Henry IV.


There is no space here for exhibiting fully the revelation of Chaucer's character
as expressed bj' numerous passages in his works. Wo easily recognise in them
a man of cheerful and genial nature, ^vith great powers of originality, fall of
freshness and humour, a keen observer of men, and at the same time an en-
thvisiastic and untiring student of books. He tells a story excellently and sets his
characters before its with dramatic clearness ; and he lias also an exquisite ear for
music and pays great attention to the melodious flow of his verse. Except in his
prose talcs, ho frequently affects, in his Canterbury Tales, an air of simplicity
which sits iipon him gracefully enough. In his PrologiK to Sir Tliopas, he describes
himself as a ' large,' i.e. a somewhat corpiilent man, and no 'poppet' to embrace,
that is, not slender in the waist ; as liaving an ' elvish ' or abstracted look, often
staring on the ground ' as if he would find a hare,' and ' doing no dalliance ' to any
man, i. e. not entering briskly into casual conversation. His numerous references
and quotations show that he was deeply read in aU medieval learning, and weU
acquainted with Latin, French (both of England and of the continent), and Italian,
besitles being a master of the East-midland dialect of English. . A passage in tlie
Reves Tale imitates some of the pecviliarities of the Northumbrian dialect with
much fidelity. On the other hand, he occasionally introduces forms into his poems
that are peculiarly Kentish ; owing, as I am inclined to suggest, to his residence
for some years at Greenwich. In his Hmis of Fame, he tells us how he had 'set his
wit to make books, songs, and ditties in rime,' and often ' made his head ache at
night with writing in his study.' For, when he had done his official work for the
day, and ' made his reckonings,' he used to go home and become wholly absorbe<l
in his books, ' hearing neither this nor that ' ; and, ' in stead of rest and new
things ' (recreation), he used ' to sit at a book, as dumb as a stone, till his look was
dased ' ; and thus did he ' live as a hermit, though (unlilce a hermit) his abstinence
was but little.' So great (as he tells us in the Prologue to The Legend of Good
Women) was his love of nature, that, ' when the month of May is come, and I hear
the birds sing, and see the flowers springing up, farewell then to my book and
to iny devotion ' to reading. In many passages he insists on the value of the
purity of womanhood and the nobility of manhood, taking the latter to be de-
pendent upon good feeling and covirtesy. As he says in The Wife of Bath's Tale,
' the man who is always the most virtuous, and most endeavours to be constant in
the performance of gentle deeds, is to be taken to be the greatest gentleman.
Christ desires that we should derive our gentleness from Him, and not from our
ancestors, however rich.'

xvi 3w^*^o^uction.


Other notices of Chaucer must be gathered from his writings and from what we
know alK)ut them. It is advisable to date his various works, where possible, as well
as we can, jind to consider the result.

Chaucer's works fall (as shewn by Ten Brink) into three periods. During the first
of these, he imitated French models, particularly the famous and very long poem
entitled Le Roman de la Rose, of which, as he himself tells us. he made a translation.
It so happens that there exist what are apparently two, but are really three
fragments of translations of two different parts of this poem ; they are foiind
in a MS. at Glasgow, written out about a. d. 1430-40, and in the early printed
editions. Theee three fragments, marked A, B, C in the present volume, appear to
be by different hands ; and only the first of them can be reconciled with Chaucer's
usual diction and grammar. We must regretfully infer that the major part of
Chaucer's own translation is irrecoverably lost. The poems of this First Period were
written before he set out on his Italian travels in 137J, and there is no trace in them
of any Italian influence.

The poems of the Second Period (1373-1384) clearly shew the inflixence of Italian
literature, especially of Dante's Divina Commedia, and of Boccaccio's poems entitled
II Teseide and II Filostrato. Curiously enough, there is nothing to shew that
Chaucer was acquainted, at first-hand, with Boccaccio's Decamorone.

The poems of the Third Period are chiefly remarkable for a larger share of
originality, and are considered as beginning with the Legend of Good Women, the
first poem in which the poet employed what is now kno>vii as the ' heroic ' couplet,
which he adapted from Guillaume de Machault.

The following list is arranged, conjecturaUy, in chronological order.

Origenes upon the Maudeleyne {lost).

Book of the Leoun (lost).

Ceys and Alcioun ; afterwards (probably) partly preserved in the Book of the

The Romaunt of the Rose. (Fragment A (11. 1-1705) is all that can fairly be
claimed as Chaucer's work. Fragment B is written in a dialect approximating to
that of Lincolnshire. The author of Fragment C, like that of B, remains unknown.)

A. B. C. — Minor Poems, I.

1369. Book of the Duehesse. — M. P. III.

Lj-f of St. Cecyle (afterwards adapted to become the Second Nonnes Tale).

Monkes Tale (parts of) ; lines 3365-3652 clearly belong to a later period.

About 1372-3. Clerkes Tale ; except E 995-1008, and the Envoy.

Palamon and Arcite ; of which some scraps are preserved in other poems. It was
also used as the basis of the Knightes Tale.

Compleint to his Lady. — M. P. VI.

An Amorous Compleint, made at Windsor. — M. P. XXII.

Womanly Noblesse.— M. P. XXIV.

Compleint unto Pite.— M. P. II.

Anelida and Arcite (containing ten stanzas from Palamon). — M. P. VII.

The Tale of Melibeus (in its original form) ; partly translated from Albertano of

The Persones Tale (in its original form) ; partly translated from Frere Ijorens.

(Bliittono of C^Auccv. .wii

Of the Wretched Engendring of Mankind ; mentioned in the Legend, Text A, 1. 414 ;
and partly preserved in scraps occurring in the Man of Lawes Tale, B 99-121, 421-7,

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