Later Career

Chaucer gave up his position as Controller in 1384 and we then find him outside London, in Kent, in 1385. This seems to have represented a retreat in the face of substantial political turmoil for much of the royal household and therefore for Chaucer’s patrons. There may be some registration of this fact in the Prologue to the Legends of Good Women, which Chaucer probably wrote about this time, since it finds a tyrannical king, furious with Chaucer, insisting he do his bidding. That bidding was the writing of the Legends themselves, although they seem to have represented an odd artistic dead end for Chaucer, since he never finished them. Their larger form—in which one narrative generates others—did, however, amount to a creative watershed, and so it seems that Chaucer, now without obvious employment, at the age of 44, planned out and began his most ambitious poem, the series of framed narratives we call The Canterbury Tales, which, had he completed it, would have comprised 144 tales.

Chaucer clearly thought it safe to return to London in 1389 when he was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works, a better paid appointment than the Controllership, and in 1391 he became Deputy Forester of the royal forest at North Petherton in Somerset.

No one knows when he put his finishing touches on the Canterbury Tales—but he probably continued to work on them until his death which is conventionally dated to October 25, 1400, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, his grave marked the first of those gathered into what has become known as Poet’s Corner. Others buried there include John Dryden, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Sheridan, and Thomas Hardy.