Geoffrey Chaucer was born somewhere between 1342 and 1343 and died in 1400. His parents came from some wealth, and his father, John Chaucer, was a successful wine merchant or ‘vintner’ in London where Chaucer was born. It is anachronistic to describe Chaucer as ‘middle class’ but the phrase still gives a sense of his social position and the extent to which it was a foundation for his success. It is not clear how Chaucer learned to read and write, but it is likely that his father had to pay for a tutor, since the only schools in existence at the time were for boys destined for the clergy. His father’s prosperity and social position also seemed to help him find a place for his son as a courtier in the households of the lesser nobility and then, eventually, and the court of the king.

Chaucer is first visible in the historical record as a page in the household of the Countess of Ulster, who later became the Duchess of Clarence, wife of Lionel, son of Edward III. In the duchess’s household accounts for 1357 we learn that she bought him some clothes, namely a short cloak, a pair of shoes, and some checkered red and black britches. Chaucer’s duties as a page would have included making beds, running errands, and carrying candles.