The Age of Chaucer 1340(CA)-1400
Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) • War with France • Based on possible ascension to French throne. • With death of Charles IV of France, no direct male heirs existed. • Dispute over the throne between: • Philip VI of Valois (cousin of Charles IV) • the daughters of Charles IV • Edward III of England (grandson of Philip of IV of France)
Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) • Tension augmented by complicated landholdings and fealty of British monarchs. • Beginning with William I of England (the Conqueror), British monarchs held land in France and were required to swear fealty to the Kings of France. • Because they had holdings in France, they also controlled a significant portion of France over time. • Henry II (1154-1189) held Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Nantes, Aquitaine and parts of Brittany.
Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) • Edward III of England (1327-1377) • Ruled at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War • His mother and grandmother were both daughters of kings of France. • Claimed a right to the French throne as a direct male descendent after the death of Charles IV of France.
Later Kings of Hundred Years’ War • Continued into rule of Richard II (1377-1399) • Last ruler of Chaucer’s lifetime and of the House of Plantagenet • Henry IV (1399-1413) • First of the House of Lancaster (branch of the House of Plantagenet through John of Gaunt) • Henry V (1413-1422) • Henry VI (1422-1461) • Briefly ruled France • Suffered from insanity, which led to the War of the Roses and eventual rise of the House of York
Religious Influences • Church Power in the Middle Ages • Primary landowners in Britain • Had the ability to levy taxes and influence the creation of secular laws and impose Church laws. • Saint Thomas à Becket Controversy • Henry II (1154-1189) and relationship with the Catholic Church • Named his friend Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury, despite qualifications and concerns of his advisors • After instatement, Becket changed his allegiance and lifestyle, which led to conflict with Henry II and Becket’s martyrdom.
The Crusades (1095-1291) • Begun by Pope Urban II to re-take Jerusalem (“The Holy Land”) from Muslims and Jews, who also have religious claims to the city. • Pope Gregory VII’s Just War Doctrine: justified war, based on persecution of Christians in Jerusalem. • This justification was expanded on by Pope Urban II, who urged rich and poor to take up the holy cause. He expressed that this was God’s work, and as a result all who fought would be granted full forgiveness of sins and those who died in battle would be granted immediate entry to Heaven. (Speech at the Council of Clermont).
The Crusades (1095-1291) • Role as pilgrimage: the crusaders not only fought for God, but used this as a pilgrimage to advance their faith. • During this time, pilgrimages were an important showing of faith, one that increased through the association with the Crusades. • Rich and poor were expected to complete pilgrimages in accordance with their abilities. There were smaller pilgrimages within countries and regions, i.e. the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury.
Cultural Influences • The “Black Death” • Outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in Europe in 1347, which resulted in a great loss of life across the continent. • It hit Britain in 1349 and resulted in the death of about one third of the population. • Everyone was susceptible, but the lower classes suffered the greatest losses in terms of numbers. This is probably due to the poorer living conditions and greater exposure to rats and fleas.
Effects of the Black Death • The Decline of the Feudal System • Growth of the Middle Class and increased social mobility due to large loss of life. • Serfs move to estates and towns. • Increase of violence and interest in violence • Because of the large numbers of lives lost, people became desensitized. • Art and literature frequently mirror society, so it reflects this coarse outlook, both in humor and content.
Career • Poet patronized by royalty • Prince John of Gaunt • Son of Edward III • Uncle of Richard II • Father of Henry IV • His wife’s sister became John of Gaunt’s third wife. • Family was intertwined with the royal family. • Primary careers • Lawyer • Comptroller for the port of London • Diplomat, traveled extensively in France and Italy. • Member of the Parliament of Kent • Wrote in addition to other work.
Literary Significance • “The Father of English Literature” • The Canterbury Tales feature almost every type of Medieval narrative • Development of Language • Wrote in Middle English • Extensive writing led to standard language, which developed into Modern English
The Canterbury Tales • Cross-section of Medieval British society. • Tales told by members of clergy, nobility, working class, knights, men and women.
The Frame Story • Influenced by Boccacio and the Italian Renaissance • Traveled to Italy in career as diplomat • Italian Renaissance begins ca. 1300, and its influence spreads north into the rest of Europe. • The Decameron – written by Boccaccio (1351), collection of stories told by young nobles who flee an outburst of the plague in Florence and are encamped at a country villa. • Story that allows for telling of other stories or tales within the plot. • Chaucer originally planned to write 120 tales for his Canterbury Tales, but died after writing only 24.
The Canterbury Tales: The General Prologue Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour, Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne, And smale foweles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open ye (so priketh hem Nature in hir corages), Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; And specially from every shires ende Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for to seke, That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. General Prologue in Middle English