And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelonde, to Canterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seeke,
That them hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Chaucer’s Prologue

It is generally believed that Geoffrey Chaucer was born in the early 1340s, as in October 1386 he testified in the trial of Scrope v Grosvenor, claiming to be “forty and more” years old at the time. However, neither his exact place nor year of birth are known. Brought up in a family of prosperous wool and wine merchants, Chaucer has become one of England’s most famous poets. He is best known for The Canterbury Tales, which he wrote in the last decade of his life. The Tales are a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury to visit the Shrine of Thomas Becket.

However, despite the title, the loquacious pilgrims arrive in the village of Harbledown on the outskirts of Canterbury (Woot ye nat where ther stant a litel toun/ Which that ycleped is Bobbe-up-and-doun/Under the Blee, in Caunterbury Weye?- The Manciple’s Prologue), and it is only in a later 15th century work Tale of Beryn by an unknown author that the pilgrims actually reach Canterbury.

Whether Chaucer visited Canterbury himself is uncertain, although Robert Foreville believes that Chaucer may have visited during the 150-year jubilee of Becket’s reburial (known as his translation) in the Trinity Chapel. In the Tale of Beryn the pilgrims stay at the Cheker of Hope, on the corner of the High Street and Mercery Lane, which is the inn where Christopher Marlowe over a century later attacked William Corkine with a staff and dagger.

Chaucer’s interest in Kent dates back to around 1375. In 1385 he was given permission to employ deputies for the roles of controllers of wool and petty customs for the London port, perhaps because of his involvement in Kent. He was named a “member of the commission of the peace” on the 12th of October of the same year, as such he likely already had financial commitments in the area by this time, the role was renewed in 1386 . In October 1386 he was elected “Knight of the Shire” to represent Kent in the ‘Wonderful Parliament’ from 1 October to 18 November 1386. He was also a Justice of the Peace until 1389 dealing with crimes related to trespassing, ambushes and weights and measures violations and witnessed documents at Woolwich in May 1393.

After Chaucer resigned from his role as “Clerk of the King’s Works” in 1391, he seems to have had some financial problems. His retirement in Kent could have provided access to different resources as well as distancing him from any reaction from the king for having quit his royal appointment.


Foreville, Raymonde. (1958) “Le jubilé de Saint Thomas Becket dans la perspective des indulgences médiévales.” Le jubilé de saint Thomas Becket, du XIIIe au XVe siècle, 1220-1470, étude et documents. Paris: S.E.V.P.E.N, 21-36.
Gray, D. “Geoffrey Chacuer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
Sanderlin, S. “Chaucer and Ricardian Politics.” The Chaucer Review, vol. 22, no. 3, 1988, pp. 171–184. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25094045. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.