Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Chaucer's First Boss

A page at work
Lionel, the son of King Edward III of England and Queen Philippa, was born in Antwerp in Flanders in 1338 during the start of the Hundred Years War. He was betrothed at the age of three to the nine-year-old Elizabeth de Burgh, sole heiress to the Earl of Ulster. They were married in 1355, and Lionel became the Earl of Ulster.

An earl's household is a grand one, especially if he's also a son of the king. His wife, if she is the Countess of Ulster, also has a great household with many servants. Into Elizabeth's household, from 1356 to 1359, came a young boy named Geoffrey. His father, vintner John Chaucer, had actually accompanied Lionel's parents on the Flanders trip on which Lionel was born, and had been put in charge of the king's wine imports in Southampton. These connections gave him the chance to place his son in service to the aristocracy, which could open doors for future careers, including that of a knight.

A boy could become a page at the age of seven. Pages would learn to serve at table, carry messages or perform small daily tasks. They might care for the household's clothing. They were also likely to engage in military training against the day when they might become a knight or soldier.

In 1359, Geoffrey Chaucer was taken from the Countess of Ulster and put under Lionel in order to add to the troops that Lionel would command during that phase of the Hundred Years War. There was, however, one link to the Countess of Ulster later in his life: Chaucer married Philippa Roet, who started as a lady-in-waiting in the household of the Countess of Ulster.

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