Chaucer's early years



Chaucer was clearly well educated, possibly first at the excellent school attached to St Paul’s Cathedral. From knowledge of the general curriculum there and the evidence of his writing, quite a lot can be deduced about his early education:

  • He obviously had excellent knowledge of French and Latin and close familiarity with Latin authors including Ovid and Virgil
  • His schooling laid a basis of a wide knowledge of contemporary mathematics, information about the world, history and science
  • He would have been well versed in knowledge of the Christian faith and of ethical conduct, seen as the most important component of educationIt is likely that he could read Italian as well.
More on Chaucer's Italian: He would not have learnt Italian at school but perhaps his father’s contacts in the wine trade led to a knowledge of Italian by both father and son. Undoubtedly, Chaucer’s Italian would have improved during his travels in that area.     

Training in a princely household

Chaucer’s teenage years included the training given to a page in a princely household:
  • Military skills, riding and fighting
  • Gentlemanly attitudes and principles
  • Arts: singing, composition of poetry, music, dancing
  • Bureaucratic expertise, administration, assisting with the complex organization of royal events and government.

Intellectual life

Chaucer lived in London:
  • The city had many leading religious houses and places of learning
  • There was a cosmopolitan population of merchants, clerics and people attached to princely households and the court
  • Chaucer worked in princely households with fine libraries. He mentions owning forty books himself in The Legend of Good Women.
  • Chaucer had an extraordinary range of knowledge, including some of the latest ideas about theology, science, astronomy, mathematics and history. He clearly had a voracious enthusiasm for new ideas and for engaging with contemporary intellectual, religious and political debates. 
  • His friends included foremost intellectuals such as the philosopher Ralph Strode of Oxford.
Chaucer is typical of a change in intellectual life. In the late fourteenth century, it became increasingly common for lay men and women to be able:
  • To read (to varying degrees)
  • To acquire learning
  • To hold administrative positions.
All these experiences had been previously far more associated with monks and friars, not laymen.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.