This first, and some would say greatest, poet of the English language stands before the gateway of the early modern age. He lived at a time when the elite languages of former conquerors, French and Latin, were both giving way to English - no longer just the vernacular of the common people, but increasingly the language of the court, the law, and of literature. Richard West weaves a fascinating picture of this extraordinary man, whose character has puzzled lovers of his comic masterpiece, "The Canterbury Tales". How did he remain so apparently cheerful and serene, through one of the cruellest eras of history? As a child he survived the Black Death, later he fought in France during the Hundred Years War, served as a diplomat in Italy, and became an MP at the angry beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, the Peasants' Revolt and the overthrow of Richard II.