Geoffrey Chaucer Chronology:
People, Places, and Politics

On this page you can find more information on various names, locations, and events (or as I put it: the people, places, and politics) mentioned in my Geoffrey Chaucer chronology. Entries in each section are alphabetized, so you can scroll down the page to find any item that interests you. Clicking on any name in the left-hand column below will take you to that entry's first appearance on the chronology website.

NOTE: I include people in the first section only under the following conditions: 1. Chaucer (or his wife) had a documented relationship and/or direct interactions with them, or 2. They are contemporary figures whom Chaucer references in his writings. Also note that the people listed here are not "literary figures" (with the exception of Chaucer's friend John Gower, the poet to whom I dedicate a separate website). The writers with whom Chaucer had relationships (directly, in the case of Usk or Deschamps, or more imaginatively, in the case of Dante and Petrarch) all have links on the main chronology page.

As I state on the chronology homepage, this is a continual work-in-progress, so I will make updates and add new links from time to time. If you see any omissions, errors, or inconsistencies, please contact me.


Anne of Bohemia

Anne of Bohemia
Daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (also known as Charles of Bohemia), Anne was born in 1366. She married King Richard II of England in 1382, and she soon became a popular Queen. Contemporary accounts depict her as a cultured, well-connected woman, and the love between Anne and Richard was genuine. Chaucer's work is sprinkled with references to Anne. Chaucer most likely wrote The Legend of Good Women at her request, and Troilus and Criseyde includes an oblique homage to the Queen ("Right as oure firste lettre is now an A," I.171). Indeed, a famous frontispiece to Troilus depicts Chaucer reading the work aloud to Anne and her court. For more information on medieval Prague and Anne's cultural milieu, see Anne's Bohemia by Alfred Thomas (University of Minnesota Press, 1998).

Duchess of Lancaster

Blanche Duchess of Lancaster
Born in 1341 or 1345, Blanche married John of Gaunt in 1359. Their union produced three children: Philippa, Elizabeth, and Henry (who later deposed Richard II to become King Henry IV of England). In 1368 Blanche died of the plague. Most likely at John's request, Chaucer wrote the beautiful dream-vision/elegy The Book of the Duchess to commemorate her. The poem includes many puns playing on the names of both Blanche ("goode faire White she het," 948) and her husband John, who was the Earl of Richmond and Duke of Lancaster ("A long castel with walles white,/Be Seynt Johan, on a ryche hil," 1318-9).

The Black Prince

Black Prince
Edward, commonly known as the Black Prince (due to the color of his battle armor), was the eldest son of King Edward III and the heir to his father's throne. Because he died in 1376--a year before his father--the crown went to the next in line, the Black Prince's son Richard (a product of his marriage to his cousin Joan of Kent). While the Black Prince was alive, he was revered as a great military figure. At the age of 16 he led the English Army at the Battle of Crecy; he was victorious at the Battle of Poitiers, and he even captured the French King, John (Jean) the Good. He also fought at the Battle of Najera alongside Pedro of Castille. In 1359, Chaucer participated in one of the Black Prince's military campaigns in France, serving in a company led by Lionel, Duke of Clarence (the Black Prince's brother).

Agnes Chaucer

Chaucer Arms
Born Agnes Copton (or Agnes de Copton), Geoffrey Chaucer's mother was the niece of the London moneyer Hamo de Copton. After the death of Hamo's son and heir Nicholas in 1349, Agnes became the heiress to Hamo's fortune. Since she was married to John Chaucer by this time, her husband gained the right to the properties formerly owned by Hamo. After her husband died in 1366, she married a man named Bartholomew Chappel. She died in 1381. See Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pg. 7.

Elizabeth Chaucer

Nun (Elizabeth Chaucer)
In addition to his sons Thomas and Lewis, Geoffrey Chaucer might have had a daughter named Elizabeth (probably born around 1364). In 1377, one "Elizabeth Chausier" entered into the convent of St. Helen's Priory in London. In 1381, she was made a nun of Barking Abbey, London. There is also a 1397 record of "Elizabeth Chausir" (identified in the document as a Barking nun) taking a vow of obedience to a new abbess. See Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pp. 146-7.

John Chaucer

Vintner Seal
John Chaucer, Geoffrey Chaucer's father, was a London vintner (wine merchant) by trade. John's father, Robert (Malin le) Chaucer, was also a London vintner, and his paternal grandfather Andrew de Dinnington was perhaps a taverner. In 1349 John acquired through his wife Agnes several properties in London that had belonged to her father. John's early life was tumultuous. In 1324 he was apparently abducted from his home by several relatives who conspired to marry him off to a cousin (all this had something to do with a family dispute over John's inheritance from his father Robert). For more details on John's life, see Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pp. 2-7.

Lewis Chaucer

Litel Lowys
Little is known about Geoffrey Chaucer's son Lewis. Chaucer addresses "litel Lowys my sone" in the Prologue to his Treatise on an Astrolabe, and there is also a written record of a payment made to Thomas and "Ludowicus" (Lewis) Chaucer for their services as "homines ad arma" (men at arms) at the royal castle of Carmathen in 1403. Other than that, there is not much to go on. See Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pp. 544-5.

Philippa Chaucer

Philippa Chaucer
Born Philippa Roet, Geoffrey Chaucer's wife was the second daughter of Paen (Payne) de Roet, a Flemish knight. Her elder sister was Katherine. As a young woman, Philippa served alongside her husband Geoffrey in various royal households. She began as a domicella (lady in waiting) in the Chamber of Queen Philippa and she later served under Constance of Castile. Some scholars (including Jesus Serrano Reyes) suggest Philippa may have died in Spain while accompanying Constance on a journey.

Thomas Chaucer

Thomas Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer's eldest son Thomas was born in 1367 and he appears a few times in the legal record. In 1396 a London citizen sued "Thoma[s] Chaucer...filiu[s] Galfridi Chaucer" to repay a certain debt he owed. In 1403 Thomas received payment (along with his brother Lewis) for his service as a man-at-arms. Thomas had a varied carrer. According to Crow and Olson, "he was not only a wealthy landed gentlman with large holdings" but he was also a public official who once served as a sheriff, a constable, a member of Parliament, and speaker of the House of Commons (Chaucer Life-Records, pg. 544). Thomas married Maud Burghersh in 1395 and their daughter Alice eventually became (through marriage) the Duchess of Suffolk.

Constance of Castile

Castile Banner
Daughter of Pedro of Castile, Constance (or Constanza) was born in 1354, and she married John of Gaunt in 1371. This was her first marriage and John's second, John's first wife Blanche having died in 1368. Chaucer's wife Philippa was a member of Constance's entourage (she entered into her service in 1372, and she may have died while accompanying her on a trip in Spain). Constance herself died in 1394 at Leicester Castle. Although nobody is sure, some now believe that the woman in the blue dress in this famous manuscript illustration is Constance; she is part of the courtly audience listening to Chaucer as he recites his poetry).

Edward III

Edward III
Ambitious, imposing (over six feet tall with long red hair) and successful in war, Edward was a popular king at the height of his reign. He ascended to the throne at age 15 and married Philippa of Hainault in 1328 (among their children were Edward, Lionel, and John), but it wasn't until 1330 that his reign truly began (he overthrew his mother and her lover Roger Mortimer, who had held power together). In 1337, Edward claimed his right to the French throne and launched the Hundred Years' War between England and France; he gained renown for his victories at the battles of Sluys (1340), Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). During his reign, Parliament was separated for the first time into the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and the merchant class grew in power. Edward also introduced new currency, systematized heraldric arms, and established the Order of the Garter. The latter part of Edward's reign saw the Black Death, and Edward died in 1377. (His ten-year-old grandson Richard II ascended to the throne after him.) Chaucer served Edward III in a variety of ways. In 1360, Chaucer was captured by the French while serving as a soldier; the King paid a ransom of 16 pounds for his release. In 1367, Chaucer became a squire in Edward's household, receiving an lifetime annuity of 20 pounds. At the Feast of the Garter in 1374, Edward granted Chaucer a daily pitcher of wine (a royal sign of special favor).

Countess of Ulster

Arms of Lionel Duke of Clarence
Elizabeth (Esabetta) de Burgh, the heiress to the Earl of Ulster, was born in 1332 and married Lionel, Duke of Clarence (the third son of King Edward III and Queen Philippa) in 1342. In 1357, Chaucer entered into Elizabeth's service as a page. In fact, the first time Chaucer appears in any legal record at all is in an Ulster household account listing various "purchaces of clothing for Chaucer...and others, together with gifts of money, beds, etc. to servants [who] brought letters or performed other services for the countess" (Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pg. 16). The Countess died in Dublin in 1363.

Sir John Hawkwood

Sir John Hawkwood
Also known as Giovanni Acuto, Sir John Hawkwood (born in 1320 and died in 1394) was the captain of English mercenaries operating in Italy during Chaucer's day. A member of the Compagnia Bianca (the White Company, known for its shiny armor), Hawkwood gained notoriety for leading night raids and his men were greatly feared (and admired, by some). Instead of remaining loyal to any particular ruler, Hawkwood gave his services to anyone who paid him enough. Chaucer met with Hawkwood and the Milan despot Bernabo Visconti during a trip to Lombardy in 1378, although the exact purpose of the mission remains uncertain. For more on Sir John Hawkwood, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 33-40.

Henry IV

Henry IV
Henry Bolingbroke was born in 1367 and he was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster. In 1387 Henry and a number of barons rebelled against Richard II, whose reign was growing increasingly unpopular. Calling themselves the Lords Appellant, the nobles held a parliament ordering the execution or banishment of many loyal to the King. Richard regained control in 1389, and in 1397 he banished Henry to France. Upon John of Gaunt's death in 1399, Richard seized Henry's inheritance. Henry promptly returned to England while Richard was away in Ireland, and upon Richard's return he claimed his rightful inheritance and demanded that the King abdicate. Richard gave in, and Henry was crowned King with Parliament's support. "The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse," Geoffrey's witty and politically-savvy plea for money, ends with high praise for the new King: "O conquerour of Brutus Albyon,/Which that by lyne and free eleccion/Been verray kyng, this song to yow I sende" (22-4).

Joan of Kent

Joan of Kent
Joan of Kent was also known as Joan Plantaganet, the Princess of Wales, or "the Fair Maid of Kent." In 1361 she married the Black Prince (her cousin) and in 1367 she gave birth to the boy who would become King Richard II. As the mother of the young monarch, Joan was a very influential figure in early part of Richard's reign. According to tradition, Joan was the extremely beautiful woman who was the inspiration behind Edward III's Order of the Garter. Chaucer may have had some personal interaction with Joan during his lifetime (many believe that a famous manuscript illustration depicts her sitting in the audience as Chaucer reads his poetry). In any case, Chaucer received mourning garments (including 3.5 ells of black cloth) for her funeral in 1385.

John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt
At the height of his carreer, John of Gaunt essentially ruled England. He was at one point the most wealthy man in England and, second to Richard II, the most powerful. John, the fourth son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, was born in Ghent (Flanders) in 1340. In 1359 he married Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster and acquired the title of Duke of Lancaster. Blanche died in 1368. He married Constance (daughter of the recently-killed Pedro of Castile) in 1371 and thereby gained a claim to the title of King of Castile and Leon (a claim he unsuccessfully pursued). During his marriage to Constance, he took a mistress, Katherine Swynford, and many years after Constance's death John married her. Through this third marriage, John became brother-in-law to Geoffrey Chaucer's wife (Katherine's sister Philippa had married Geoffrey many years before). John was Geoffrey's patron throughout much of the poet's career. He most likely had Chaucer write The Book of the Duchess in honor of Blanche. In 1369, Chaucer served in John's army in France, and in 1374 John granted Chaucer a lifetime annuity of 10 pounds. John died in 1399 and his son Henry (a product of his first marriage) became King.

Pedro of Castile

Pedro the Cruel
Also known as Peter the Cruel, this Castilian king had a reputation for ruthlessness. When his nobles rebelled against him, he began to build alliances with important English royals. He fought alongside the Black Prince at the Battle of Najera in 1367, and his daughter Constance married John of Gaunt (albeit two years after Pedro's death). In 1369 Pedro was killed by his illegitimate half-brother, Henry (Enrique) of Trastamara. As Chaucer writes in The Monk's Tale: "O noble, O worthy Petro, glorie of Spayne...Thy bastard brother made the[e] to flee....Thou were bitraysed and lad unto his tente,/Where as he with his owene hand slowe thee,/Succedynge in thy regne and in thy rente" (2375-82). For more on this stanza, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford, 1997), pp. 314-5.

Philippa of Hainault

Philippa of Hainault
Philippa of Hainault married King Edward III in 1328, and among their 12 children were Edward (the Black Prince), Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and John of Gaunt. She was known as a kind and tender woman, and she sometimes acted as Regent when Edward was away on the Continent. Chaucer's wife Philippa served for many years in the Queen's household, and Geoffrey received mourning clothing upon the monarch's death in 1369. Although Chaucer never explicitly mentions the Queen in his works, Chaucer might have known of her intercession with King Edward at Calais in 1347 (according to French chronicler Jean Froissart, she begged him to spare the lives of six burghers whom he had intended to execute); this incident could have been the model for an episode in The Knight's Tale (Queen Ypolita pleads to Duke Theseus to spare two knights).

Duke of Clarence

Arms of Lionel Duke of Clarence
Also known as Lionel of Antwerp, the third son of King Edward III and Queen Philippa was born in 1338. He married Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, in 1342. In 1357, Chaucer became a page in Lionel's household, and in 1359 he served under Lionel in one of the Black Prince's military campaigns in France. In 1360, Lionel paid Chaucer for running a mission to Calais (he had carried some letters from France to England). Elizabeth died in 1363, and in 1368 Lionel married Violante, the niece of the Milan despot Bernabo Visconti. Their wedding was an elaborate occasion attended by many important political figures. Lionel died that same year in Alba Pompeia, Piedmont (Italy).

Richard II

Richard II
In 1377 Richard, son of the Black Prince, came to the throne at the age of ten (upon the death of his grandfather Edward III). Richard's mother Joan of Kent was an influential figure in his early years. The first major crisis of his reign was the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and the young monarch met the challenge: He managed to calm the mob at Smithfield, showing remarkable bravery and self-control. Richard was an avid patron of the arts (click the image on the left to see the Wilton Diptych) and both he and his wife Anne were patrons of Chuacer's work (see this famous manuscript illustration of Chaucer reading aloud to their court). From 1378 onward, Richard also gave Chaucer a 20 pound annuity. It was also during Richard's reign that Chaucer served in a variety of public offices: He was a diplomat, Controller of Customs, and Clerk of the King's Works. Richard's reign took a turn after the death of his beloved wife Anne in 1394; he became absolutist, arbitrarily violent, and (by some accounts) tyrannical. In 1396 Richard married Isabella of Valois (6 years old at the time) who, according to tradition, cried and screamed the entire journey from France to England. Their marriage produced no children. In 1399, Richard was finally deposed by Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) and some historians say Richard was murdered at Pontefract Castle in 1400.

Katherine Swynford

Arms of Katherine Roet
The woman most commonly known as Katherine Swynford was the elder sister of Chaucer's wife Philippa. Born Katherine Roet (c. 1350), she was the eldest daughter of Paen (Payne) de Roet. Sometime around 1366, she married an English knight Hugh Swynford. After Hugh's death, she entered the household of John of Gaunt, where she acted as a governess for John's two daughters by his first wife Blanche. Eventually Katherine became John's mistress, and it was not until many years after the death of John's second wife Constance that she finally got to marry him. Katherine died in 1403. Judy Perry has a website devoted to Katherine's life.

Bernabo Visconti

Bernabo Visconti
Known to history as a cruel despot and tyrant, Bernabo Visconti was born in 1363 and grew to become the ruler of Milan. He was a member of the Visconti family, a group of wealthy absolutist rulers known for orchestrating poisonings, tortures, and assassinations. In The Monk's Tale, Chaucer writes of the "grete Barnabo Viscounte [of Melan]...God of delit, and scourge of Lumbardye" (2399-400). In 1378, Chaucer traveled to Lombardy to meet with Bernabo and his son-in-law Sir John Hawkwood (the captain of English mercenaries in Italy), but the objective of the meeting is unknown. Bernabo was ultimately murdered by his nephew in 1385. For more on the Visconti, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford, 1997), pp. 39-45, 319-229.


Aldgate (London)

Fishmonger Seal
Chaucer resided above the gate of Aldgate from 1374 to 1386. Rolls and deeds from Chaucer's day indicate that a wide variety of people lived and worked in this neighborhood of London, including "fishmongers, butchers, potters, bakers, chandlers, goldbeaters, goldsmiths...vintners, saddlers...brewers, hatters, spurriers, cooks, janitors...armourers, tapicers...merchants, moneyers, clerks, mediciners, and chaplains" (Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pg. 147). In times of crisis the atmosphere here was often tense. At certain points in the Hundred Years' War, for instance, soldiers guarded Aldgate and kept a curfew. When the Peasants' Revolt broke out in 1381, rebels broke into London's city walls through Aldgate--an alderman had opened the gate (Crow and Olson, pp. 146-7).


Great Seal of Calais
The coastal town of Calais, located across the English Channel in what is now northwestern France, actully belonged to England during Chaucer's lifetime. During the Hundred Years' War, the English laid siege to the city. The siege began in September 1346 and was long and harsh. In its eleventh month, Edward III offered to spare the inhabitants of Calais if six of its most respected citizens would hand over the keys to the town and surrender to him. When the six burghers arrived at the English camp, Edward's wife Philippa begged him to have mercy and he gave in. The burghers were allowed to return to the city unharmed and the siege ended. Edward then exiled the town's citizens and repopulated it with English people. For years Calais was an "English island" on the Continent, serving as the origin for English forays into French territory. In 1360, Chaucer traveled to Calais (carrying letters back to England for Prince Lionel); he also might have passed through Calais on one of his many trips to the Continent. Calais was ultimately taken back by the French in 1558. For more on Calais see David Wallace, Premodern Places (Blackwell, 2004), Chapter 1.


Dartmouth Seal
Located in what is present-day Devon in the southwestern corner of England, Dartmouth was an important seaport town and trading center in Chaucer's day. Sailors and merchants often came through Dartmouth on their way back and forth from journeys abroad. In the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer hints at the rivalry between sailors and merchants. The Shipman "of Dertemouthe" has stolen "many a draughte of wyn" while merchants lay asleep in his ship (398-9, 396-7). The Merchant, in turn, wants the sea protected from piracy: "He wolde the see were kept for anythyng" (276). Chaucer himself traveled to Dartmouth in 1373 to return a tarit (ship) back to its master (a merchant from Genoa).


Bruges Seal
Flanders (Vlaanderen in Dutch) is a region of the Northern Europe that is now part of present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. During the late Middle Ages, it was one of the most commercialized regions on the Continent, with major trade centers in Antwerp, Bruges (Brugge), Ghent (Gent), and Ypres (Ieper). The region had an especially strong cloth and textile industry; these towns imported wool from other areas and wove the raw material into a variety of goods for trade abroad. Chaucer traveled to Flanders sometime between 1377 and 1381, and his work abounds with references to the region. In the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, for instance, the Merchant sports "a Flaundryssh bever hat" (272), and the Wife of Bath "hadde swich an haunt of clooth-makyng" that she "passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt" (447-8). The Pardoner's Tale is set in "Flaundres," and the merchant of the Shipman's Tale goes to "Brugges" on a business trip. Many Flemish immigrants in London were weavers, and Chaucer (as a customs official for the city) oversaw the export tax on wool. For more on Flanders see David Wallace, Premodern Places (Blackwell, 2004), Chapter 2.


Gold Florin
Often called the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence (Firenze in Italian) was a prosperous and powerful city in Chaucer's day; its own gold currency the florin (click the image on the left) was used in transactions across Europe. The city had a strong republican (that is, anti-aristocratic) ethos. In 1345, for instance, the city's ciompi (wool combers) went on strike and in 1348 they rebelled against aristocratic rule. The Florentine vision of government contrasted that of Lombardy, where absolutist regimes consolidated power in the will of a single militaristic ruler. Chaucer visited Florence in 1372 (to negotiate a loan for King Edward III) and he went to Lombardy in 1378. For more on Chaucer's visits to Florence and Lombardy (and how Italy informed his writing), see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford, 1997), pp. 9-64.


Genoese Bankers
Genoa (Genova in Italian, Zena in Genoese) is seaport town located in what is now Northern Italy. In the fourteenth century, it was a powerful independent republic. The Genoese were avid seafarers, traders, and merchants (click the image on the left for more information) and they had colonies in Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Black Sea. The republic also possesssed the entire island of Corsica. In 1372, Chaucer traveled to Genoa to discuss setting up a seaport in England for the use of Genoese merchants. The Genoese also controlled the Mediterranean slave trade, and in 1373 Chaucer was sent to Dartmouth to deliver a Genoese ship back to its master (a Genoese merchant). For more on the Genoa and the slave trade, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford, 1997), pp. 20-2; see also his most recent work, Premodern Places (Blackwell, 2004), Chapter 4.


Cinque Port City Seal
From 1385 to 1389, Chaucer served as Justice of the Peace for the County of Kent (in the southeastern corner of England); he gave up his residence at Aldgate in 1386 and probably relocated to Kent, where he also served as a knight of the shire (i.e., a member of parliament). Life in this area might not have been as busy as it was in urban London, but the region was not without importance. In Chaucer's day, a group of towns along what is now the Kent coastline was often King Edward III's first defense against foreign raids and invasions. Click the image on the left for more information.


Visconti-Patroned Art
In 1378, Chaucer traveled to Lombardy (a region of what is now northern Italy) on a diplomatic mission. He met with Bernabo Visconti, the despot of Milan (the capital of the present-day province of Lombardy). In Chaucer's day, this region of Italy was well-known for its absoultst rulers. In the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, Chaucer comments on the notoriety of Lombard tyrants: "This shulde a ryghtwys lord han in his thought,/And not been lyk tyraunts of Lumbardye,/That usen wilfulhed and tyrannye" (G-Text, 353-5). Chaucer's Clerk's Tale and Merchant's Tale both take place in "Lumbardye." For more on Chaucer and Lombardy, see David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity (Stanford, 1997), pp. 9-64, 261-98.


Gold Noble of Edward III
Chaucer came from a family of London vintners (wine merchants), and from 1374 to 1386 he resided above Aldgate, a mercantile neighborhood of the city. In his role as the Controller of Customs for London, Chaucer monitored the export tax (customs) on sheepskin, leather, and wool. As the Clerk of the King's Works, he oversaw construction projects, including repairs at the Tower of London. Chaucer's urban, mercantile background informs many of his works. In The Miller's Tale, for instance, Chaucer compares the shining of a woman's face to a coin newly minted in the Tower of London (click the coin on the left for more). The Cook's Tale--a lewd story about an unruly apprentice--takes place "in oure citee" (i.e., London). For more on medieval London, see Chaucer and the City, ed. Ardis Butterfield (Boydell & Brewer, 2006).


Spanish Dinero
Not very much is known about Chaucer's travels in Spain. In 1955 Suzanne Honore-Duverge unearthed a document, dated May 1366, in which the King of Navarre granted safe conduct for Geoffrey Chaucer, English esquire ("Geffroy de Chauserre escuier englois") to visit Spain (see Crow and Olson, Chaucer Life-Records, pp. 64-6). Jesus Serrano Reyes has an entire website devoted to the relationship between Chaucer and Spain. The website contains articles pointing out numerous references to Spain and Spanish literature in Chaucer's writing. It is interesting to note that the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, and Philippa Chaucer all had some sort of connection to Spain as well (either through Pedro of Castile or Constance of Castile).

Westminster Abbey

Chaucer Tomb
Built in the eleventh century, Westminster Abbey has served an important function in London life for many years. William the Conqueror was the first English monarch to be crowned in the Abbey, and coronations of English monarchs have taken place there ever since. As Clerk of the King's Works, Chaucer oversaw various construction projects at Westminster Palace; a year before his death he was granted a tenament in the garden of Lady Chapel (at the Abbey itself). When Chaucer died in 1400, he was laid to rest in the Abbey. Over the years the area around Chaucer's tomb came to be known as Poets' Corner; many other famous writers and literary figures have since been laid to rest there.


Battle of Crecy

Battle of Crecy
One of the pivotal combats in the Hundred Years' War took place on August 26, 1346, at Crecy (in what is now northern France). In this battle, the English forces (led by the Black Prince) were greatly outnumbered by their opponents (French knights and Genoese mercenaries). However, the English defeated their foes through the use of a new "secret weapon," the longbow. Compared to the conventional crossbows the French and the Genoese were using, the English longbows had a greater range and a more rapid rate of fire. As the French and Genoese forces charged, the English were able to rain volleys of arrows upon them. For a more detailed account of the battle, see this excerpt from Jean Froissart's Chronicles.

Battle of Najera

Battle of Najera
Also known as the Battle of Navarette (located in present-day Spain), this conflict took place in Februrary of 1367. In this battle, the Black Prince and his brother John of Gaunt joined forces with Pedro of Castille against Henry of Trastamara and his allies. Pedro, the King of Castile and Leon, had been deposed by Henry (his illegitimate half-brother). Pedro went to England to seek support for regaining his kingdom, and the Black Prince (apparently angered that anyone would dare depose a monarch) joined forces with him. The English soldiers' longbows proved superior to their opponents' crossbows (as they had in the Battle of Crecy), and Henry's forces were defeated. Pedro regained the crown after this battle, but only for a while; Henry killed him in 1369.

Battle of Poitiers

Battle of Poitiers
On September 19, 1356, a major turning point in the Hundred Years' War occured during a clash between French and English troops at Poitiers (in central France): The Black Prince, leader of the English forces, captured the French King John (Jean) and took him hostage. The English Army had been laying waste to the land, and French forces decided to attack them in order to prevent any further damage. However, the English archers proved a formidable challenge to the French and in the ensuing confusion of battle the French King was isolated and intercepted. King John remained in captivity in England and ultimately died there in 1364. You can find a more detailed account of the battle in the Chronicles of Jean Froissart.

Battle of Sluys

Battle of Sluys
King Edward III personally commanded the English forces at this sea battle, which took place off the coast of Sluys (Ecluse, in French) on June 24, 1340. According to some sources, the English were greatly outnumbered; by the time the battle ended, almost the entire French fleet was destroyed. This naval victory--the first major one for English in the Hundred Years' War--not only increased the King's popularity, but it also secured England's control of the Channel for years to come. Edward commemorated his victory at Sluys by introducing a new form of currency into England: the gold noble.

The Hundred
Years' War
(1337 - 1453)

Hundred Years' War (Sluys)
The Hundred Years' War (which actually lasted 116 years) was a series of armed conflicts between England and France over a variety of issues: England's land holdings on the Continent, the control of the lucrative wool trade of Flanders, and (ultimately) Edward III's claim to the French throne through his mother Isabella. The war began in 1337 when Edward formally announced his claim to the French throne. During the early years of the war, Edward gained control over the English Channel, won the Battle of Sluys (1340), and (along with the Black Prince) emerged victorious at the battles of Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). Edward also captured Calais, which remained in England's possession until 1558. Around 1360, English power on the Continent began to fade and there were intermittent periods of peace; in 1453 England ended its pursuit of its claims in France. To read more about the war, see these excerpts from the Chronicles of Jean Froissart.

The Peasants' Revolt

Peasants' Revolt
A variety of factors led to the rebellion known as the Peasants' Revolt (or the English Rising): high taxation due to the Hundred Years' War with France, the unpopular nature of Richard II's government, simmering tensions between lords and peasants, and laborers' unmet demands for higher wages in the wake of the Black Death. Open rebellion finally broke out in the summer of 1381 after the government imposed a new poll tax. In the revolt, thousands of rebels (mostly from Essex and Kent) swarmed to London, executing the Archbishop of Canterbury and destroying the palaces of unpopular officials. The young King Richard II met the mob at Smithfield and calmed them down--even after the Mayor of London had slain their leader Wat Tyler--by agreeing to meet many of their demands (one of them being the abolition of serfdom altogether). After the rioters dispersed, Richard went back on his word. For variety of perspectives on these events, see some medieval accounts of the uprising.


The Black Death
(1348 - 1350)

Death Scene
The Black Death was an outbreak of the bubonic plague that devastated Europe in the fourteenth century. Scholars estimate that the epidemic killed a third of the European population. The plague first reached England in 1348 and it brought drastic changes to society. Because the plague had greatly decreased the population, laborers found that they were in great demand; thus they moved around more freely in search of better wages. Historians often list the Black Death as one contributing factor to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Although the cultural impact of the disease was huge, Chaucer never directly mentioned the Black Death in his work. Nonetheless, a description of a plague in The Pardoner's Tale comes close: "a privee theef men clepeth Deeth,/That in this contree al the peple sleeth...hath a thousand slayn this pestilence" (675-9).

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Last Updated: 22 December 2007