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Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tales Unfinished

Chaucer continued work on The Canterbury Tales through a number of changes in his personal and professional life. In 1385, he was made a Justice of the Peace in Kent, where he had moved from London. The following year, after resigning from his job at the Port of London, he became a member of Parliament representing Kent. In 1387, his wife Philippa died of causes unknown to history. In 1389, Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the King's Works, a job akin to chief overseer for all royal building projects. In this capacity, he oversaw construction jobs at the Tower of London, Westminster Palace, Windsor Castle, and St. George's Chapel.

Records show that, in 1390, Chaucer was robbed of his horse and other possessions during an attack serious enough to have injured him. Possibly because of this attack, he resigned from his post as Clerk of the King's Works in 1391 and immediately took another civil service job as Deputy Forester for the royal forest of North Petherton. It is not clear when Chaucer retired from the position. By 1394, his annual pension of 20 pounds was entered into the royal record, and Chaucer appeared to be enjoying the life of a retired civil servant. He set aside The Canterbury Tales sometime in the late 1390s. In 1399, he took out a 53-year lease on a new home near Westminster Abbey.

That lease turned out to be about 52 years too long. Chaucer died on 25 October 1400 of causes now lost to history. Because of his role as Clerk of the King's Works, Chaucer was entitled to burial in Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death, Chaucer's status as the author of The Canterbury Tales was subordinate to his role as a loyal servant of the court.

Within a century or so, that had changed. In 1556, Chaucer's tomb was moved to the South Transept of the Abbey. As memorials to other famous English writers joined him, the area would become known as Poet's Corner. The memorials of many famous poets were placed there over the years - T.S. Eliot, John Milton, William Shakespeare. They all owe a debt to Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet who was the first.

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