Chaucer’s Italy

Richard Owen

‘Very readable and well-paced – covers an amazing amount of ground.’ ­­
Marion Turner, author of Chaucer: A European Life

‘A fascinating insight into Chaucer’s world.’
Mary Hollingsworth, author of Princes of the Renaissance

‘Richard Owen performs the remarkable feat of showing us Italy through Chaucer’s eyes. It’s a wonderful evocation of the vibrant intellectual, commercial, and cross-cultural exchanges at the height of the Middle Ages – and the perfect read for a getaway break to Florence, Genoa, or Milan.’
Ross King, author of The Bookseller of Florence

‘Inherently interesting, deftly written, impressively organised and presented.’
Midwest Book Review


Geoffrey Chaucer might be considered the quintessential English writer, but he drew much of his inspiration and material from Italy. In fact, without the tremendous influence of Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio (among others), the author of The Canterbury Tales might never have assumed his place as the ‘father’ of English literature.

Nevertheless, Richard Owen’s Chaucer’s Italy begins in London, where the poet dealt with Italian merchants in his roles as court diplomat and customs official. Next Owen takes us, via Chaucer’s capture at the siege of Rheims, to his involvement in arranging the marriage of King Edward III’s son Lionel in Milan and his missions to Genoa and Florence. By scrutinising his encounters with Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the mercenary knight John Hawkwood – and with vividly evocative descriptions of the Arezzo, Padua, Florence, Certaldo, and Milan that Chaucer would have encountered – Owen reveals the deep influence of Italy’s people and towns on Chaucer’s poems and stories.

Much writing on Chaucer depicts a misleadingly parochial figure, but as Owen’s enlightening short study of Chaucer’s Italian years makes clear, the poet’s life was internationally eventful. The consequences have made the English canon what it is today.

Richard Owen was The Times Rome correspondent for fifteen years. He was previously the paper’s correspondent in Moscow, Brussels, and Jerusalem. Owen has written several works of non-fiction, including Crisis in the Kremlin and, with Haus, Lady Chatterley’s Villa, DH Lawrence in Italy and Hemingway in Italy.

Read Richard’s piece on Chaucer and religion in the Tablet.

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