Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, 3.1 (Fall 2013): 84-88.
Popular critical opinion favors reading the pilgrim Knyght of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as the representative of the idealized chivalric knight; however, the pilgrim Knyght bears the hallmark of the early professional soldier that began to evolve as early as the eleventh century. Both Chaucer’s experiences as a soldier plus his exposure to English troops seem likely sources for this portrait of the professional warrior. A soldier himself, Chaucer too had fought in “his lordes werre” (The Canterbury Tales li. 3, 24) in King Edward III’s siege near Reims (December to January 1359-60), only to be captured and briefly imprisoned by King John of France.
Chaucer probably admired the Black Prince, Edward III, who had distinguished himself in battle and become a national hero (Bisson 134), as well as other soldiers such as Sir Hugh Calvely, one of the period’s most important military figures and a one-time crusader in John Gaunt’s unsuccessful military campaign circa 1386. As a former soldier and the king’s comptroller, Chaucer also understood that a king’s war was an expensive enterprise. As comptroller of the export tax for Edward III, he accounted for the wool taxes that not only paid for government expenses and subsidized the royal court but also made possible Edward’s costly wars in the 1340s and 1350s and military attacks in the 1370s and 1380s.