A Brief History Lesson…Category: canterbury-tales
Geoffrey Chaucer was born into a family of vintners, probably somewhere near Ipswich, probably in 1343. In his 57ish years he lived as a page, courtier, diplomat, bureaucrat, member of parliament and, most notably, one of the foremost philosopher poets of his day; a busy man.
Of all his works, it is his unfinished book, ‘The Canterbury Tales’, started in 1380, for which he is best remembered. The Canterbury Tales is essentially a collection of short stories, both traditional and original, set within a ‘frame’ story of a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury and the shrine of Thomas à Becket (“who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”) During the Middle ages pilgrimages were both an important part of a Christian’s religious observance and, for much of the population, the only time they were allowed a holiday. In Chaucer’s day the working classes were largely bound to the land where they lived and would need the permission of their lord to venture outside of their shire. The average Englishman could live and die without every journeying more than a few days from their home.
Pilgrimages were the exception. People of all classes would come together from the four corners of the country to form travelling bands, (safety in numbers as bandits would often attack pilgrims to rob them of the alms and other offerings they carried). For most, these journeys were once in a lifetime adventures and, as we see in the tales, social laws regarding status were relaxed or even ignored as Knight rode with Miller, Yeoman with Nun and yet were pilgrims all.