The known details of Geoffrey Chaucer's life are sketchy at best. He was born in London to vintner John Chaucer sometime between 1340-1344.
The next we hear of young Geoffrey is in 1357 as a page in the household of Prince Lionel. He then served with the army of Edward III in France, and was captured and ransomed. Sometime in the mid-1360s Chaucer married Philippa Roet, lady in waiting to Queen Philippa.
His first literary works appear in this period, notably the Book of the Duchess (1369), an allegory lamenting the death of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt.
Several diplomatic journeys to Italy exposed Chaucer to Roman classical literature, and he produced several translations and his best work, Troilus and Criseyde, which has been called one of the finest love poems in the English language. In this work Chaucer popularized the seven line stanza known as the rhyme royal.
Chaucer held a variety of posts at King Edward's court, culminating in his appointment as clerk of the king's works (1389-1391).
Around 1387 Chaucer began his master work, The Canterbury Tales. This lengthy poem, which weighs in at an impressive 17,000 lines, was never finished. It tells the tale of a group of pilgrims journeying from London to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. To pass the time on their trip, they tell each other stories.
The stories themselves are not always as impressive as is Chaucer's ability to vividly portray a broad cross-section of English society, its foibles, fancies, and attitudes. The Canterbury Tales are by turns bawdy, humorous, and preaching, and the characters come alive.
Prior to Chaucer's time (with the notable exception of William Langland's Vision of Piers the Plowman), literary works were written in Latin. Chaucer is rightly remembered as the first major author to popularize the use of English in literature.
Geoffrey Chaucer died on October 25, 1400, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.