08 June 2022, The Tablet

Geoffrey Chaucer sought reform not revolution

Chaucer drew on writers such as Petrarch and Boccaccio. Did he share their religious views?

Geoffrey Chaucer sought reform not revolution

The Merchant, left, the Friar and the Monk as from a mural by Ezra Winter at the Library of Congress in Washington
Photo courtesy the Tibrary of Congress


For all his lampooning of lustful friars and corrupt clerics, the author of The Canterbury Tales sought to reform the Church rather than revolutionise it

Geoffrey Chaucer: father of English literature, the first writer to be buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, author of The Canterbury Tales. So far, so thoroughly English. What is less well known is that Chaucer was deeply involved with Italy, visiting Genoa, Florence and Milan, and probably Pavia too.

His output – including the Tales – drew on the work of Italian authors such as Petrarch and Boccaccio. Chaucer almost certainly met them both – but did he share their religious views? Petrarch and Boccaccio were scathing about the state of the Church in the Middle Ages. For Petrarch, many of the clergy were guilty of lechery, hypocrisy, avarice and – not least – pride, while Boccaccio’s stories in The Decameron feature clerical misdemeanours such as the peddling of fake relics.


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