This article introduces two records that clarify the relationship between Geoffrey Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne. The new documents also demonstrate the relevance of a known Chaucer life-record that previously had not been associated with this case. Our findings offer a radically different understanding of the documentary evidence and establish that Chaucer and Chaumpaigne were not opponents but belonged to the same party in a legal dispute with Chaumpaigne’s former employer, Thomas Staundon, who had sued them both under the Statute of Laborers. Chaumpaigne’s quitclaims for Chaucer offered the most expedient legal path under the Statute of Laborers for both Chaucer and Chaumpaigne to demonstrate that she had left her employment with Staundon voluntarily, as opposed to being coerced or abducted (raptus), before commencing work for Chaucer.

Few medieval records have received as much attention from literary scholars as a group of documents dating from May to July 1380 that involve Geoffrey Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne, the daughter of a London baker. At the heart of this group of records is Chaumpaigne’s quitclaim of May 4, enrolled in the Close Rolls of the English Chancery, the royal government’s secretariat, releasing Chaucer from “all manner of actions related to my raptus” (“omnimodas acciones, tam de raptu meo”) (Fig. 1).1 The word raptus, which in legal contexts can denote “rape,” “abduction,” and much of the spectrum lying between these terms, has challenged Chaucer scholars ever since Frederick J. Furnivall announced this find in 1873.2 Furnivall was clearly inconvenienced by this find (“while I wish this record about Cecilia Chaumpaigne had not been on the Close Roll . . .”) because it forced him to respond to fellow Chaucerians’ probing questions about the nature of this document.3 What embarrassed Furnivall was that evidence of Chaucer’s apparent participation in a crime survived. To Furnivall, Chaumpaigne’s quitclaim appeared to be kompromat that could be used to tarnish Chaucer’s posthumous reputation and thus derail his own budding project of restoring the medieval poet’s standing under the auspices of The Chaucer Society, which Furnivall had founded in 1868.

FIG. 1

Kew, The National Archives, C 54/219, m.9 (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 1

Kew, The National Archives, C 54/219, m.9 (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

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The subsequent reception of this quitclaim, together with three further records of payments and quitclaims involving Chaumpaigne, Chaucer, Richard Goodchild, and John Grove, is well-known and extensively documented in the scholarship on this subject.4 The matter was given significant new impetus in 1993, when Christopher Cannon discovered a second quitclaim by Chaumpaigne, enrolled in a King’s Bench plea roll and dated May 7, 1380, only three days after the Close Rolls quitclaim.5 The sole difference between the two quitclaims is that the second version omits the crucial phrase de raptu meo. Cannon’s intervention injected new life into the dormant debate about Chaucer’s role, advancing discussions of the meaning of raptus and energizing foundational strands of Chaucer studies, in particular feminist scholarship.6 At the same time, historians have increasingly used the records of the central law courts to explore and understand the wider legal and historical contexts surrounding instances of raptus in the archival record, and to examine female experiences of justice and the law courts.7

This special issue of The Chaucer Review introduces two hitherto unknown King’s Bench records that clarify the relationship between Chaucer and Chaumpaigne, and establish the significance of the two Close Rolls and King’s Bench quitclaims issued by Chaumpaigne. Furthermore, the new documents demonstrate that a known Chaucer life-record, which previously had not been associated with this case, belongs to the dispute involving Chaucer and Chaumpaigne, raising the tally of relevant surviving documents to eight. The result of our findings situates these legal wrangles in the context of the Statute of Laborers,8 offering a radically different understanding of the relationship between the poet and the baker’s daughter. The two quitclaims had nothing to do with rape or abduction but offered a convenient way under the Statute of Laborers for Chaucer and Chaumpaigne to demonstrate (before the law) that she had left her former employer, Thomas Staundon [Stondon, Standoun, Standon, Staunton], voluntarily before commencing work for Chaucer, irrespective of whether procurement had been involved. This article on our findings is accompanied by responses written by Sarah Baechle, Carissa M. Harris, and Samantha Katz Seal. Rounding off our issue are Andrew Prescott’s biography of Chaumpaigne and an article on the importance of documentary archives for future scholarship on Chaucer and medieval English literature, written by Andrew Prescott and Euan Roger.


Our research began with a closer look at Chaumpaigne’s King’s Bench quitclaim of May 7, 1380—Kew, The National Archives (TNA), KB 27/477, rot. 58d—the record found by Cannon. Surprisingly, this particular document has never been reproduced in facsimile, neither in Cannon’s article nor in any of the subsequent discussions. Looking closely at this record (Fig. 2), two different anglicana hands seem to be distinguishable here. Hand A writes the first four lines just up to, though not including “hec verba” (these words) in line 4. Then, Hand B takes over for the rest of the entry. This second hand writes in an anglicana variant that is unusual for King’s Bench pleas, or for any other institutional Westminster setting, for that matter.9 The aspect is relatively upright, with noticeable splay without being angular. Perhaps most characteristic are the horizontal contraction and suspension lines that can extend over five characters and even entire words (“Iohanne,” line 10). Because this hand takes over at a crucial point, when Chaumpaigne’s own voice commences (“hec verba”), we surmised that this apparent scribal change carried some significance. Our suspicion was supported by the marginal remark “Scriptum” (a written record), which appears at this point in the document and signals that a second record—presumably Chaumpaigne’s lost original quitclaim—had been presented to the clerk.

FIG. 2

Kew. The National Archives, KB 27/477, rot. 58d. Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 2

Kew. The National Archives, KB 27/477, rot. 58d. Reproduced by permission.

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In 1379 and 1380, the chief clerk, or prothonotary, of the King’s Bench was Robert Isham.10 During his tenure he wrote the majority of the TNA, KB 27 rotulets, adding judgments to pleas entered on other clerks’ rotulets (as J. B. Post observed).11 Post identified that the hand, to our mind Hand A of the Chaumpaigne release (KB 27/577, rot. 58d), was one associated with Isham, and indeed the entry appears on a rotulet signed by him. We speculated whether the second hand, which we could not initially identify in a King’s Bench setting, was not perhaps that of Chaucer’s confidante or attorney, who had brought either the poet’s original quitclaim, or a copy of it, into the King’s Bench and ensured its satisfactory enrollment by the clerks, without the phrase de raptu meo. In other words, the hands in this crucial record seemed to us to point to Chaucer’s interest in controlling the narrative of any potential raptus allegation. We therefore tried to reconstruct the enrollment procedure in the Court of King’s Bench, trying to understand at what point in the process the individual rotulets would be compiled and bound into rolls, so as to retrace the steps required from court appearance and enrollment to producing and filing the completed rolls in subsequent law terms.

To shed light on our questions on this particular case and the workings of the court, we decided to examine other King’s Bench record classes for evidence on Chaucer and Chaumpaigne, and the workings of the court procedures, as well as consulting other plea roll entries written by Isham. From this, we established that Hand B, the one that struck us as unusual, is actually Isham’s engrossed hand, reserved for important material.12 In addition to settling the identity of the two hands in the King’s Bench quitclaim, however, our search of other King’s Bench files in pursuit of our questions was fruitful in ways we did not anticipate.


In the first instance, a search was undertaken among the extant Recorda files (TNA, series KB 145) for 1379–80, in order to ascertain whether an additional copy of the quitclaim had been produced and retained among the court’s own records in the process of its enrollment. The Recorda files—each of which was in fact made up of two discrete bundles of records, a main file and a subsidiary Precepta Recordorum file, attached together with a catgut thong—are annual files containing records of proceedings in inferior courts, and other more miscellaneous material, returned into the King’s Bench as the superior court.13 No evidence of any such copy was located within the main Recorda file (KB 145/3/3/1), which, while damaged, appeared to be relatively complete.14 A search through the subsidiary Precepta Recordorum file—originally attached to its larger companion file but since separated—was more successful, however, unearthing striking new evidence relating to the case, which provides new considerations for our understanding of the Easter 1380 quitclaim. The Precepta Recordorum files primarily consist of miscellaneous process documents—including royal pardons, writs, and warrants—that accumulated in the offices of the King’s Bench as a byproduct of the many legal processes that underpinned the functioning of the law courts over the course of each year. Among the records for 3 Richard II (June 22, 1379–June 21, 1380) is a document dated April 9, 1380 (the first day of the Easter law term), a warrant in which Cecily Chaumpaigne appointed two attorneys, Stephen Falle and Edmund Herryng, to act on her behalf in the Court of King’s Bench (KB 145/3/3/2). The two men were appointed to answer a charge brought not by Chaucer, but by one Thomas Staundon, a charge brought under the Statute and Ordinance of Laborers (1349/51). According to the warrant of attorneys, it was alleged that Chaumpaigne had been employed in Staundon’s service, but had left before the terms of that service, without license, a charge that Chaumpaigne was now preparing to answer. The attorneys were received and authorized by Chaucer’s colleague—and former mayor of London—John Philipot, although they were not recorded in the relevant rotulets of the King’s Bench plea roll (Figs. 34).15

FIG. 3

Kew, The National Archives, KB 145/3/3/2 (front). Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 3

Kew, The National Archives, KB 145/3/3/2 (front). Reproduced by permission.

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FIG. 4

Kew, The National Archives, KB 145/3/3/2 (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 4

Kew, The National Archives, KB 145/3/3/2 (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

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Staundon’s name is known to scholars of Chaucer’s life-records, although the nature of the two men’s interactions has remained obscure to date. In the attorney rotulets of the King’s Bench plea roll for Michaelmas term 1379, Chaucer was recorded as appointing the attorney Stephen del Falle to answer charges brought against him by Thomas Staundon, described in the entry as “contemptus et transgressionis” (trespass and contempt) (Fig. 5).16 While the editors of the Chaucer life-records expended great efforts to identify Staundon and the exact nature of the offense that Chaucer had been accused of, in the absence of any further proceedings noted in the plea rolls, their enquiries were ultimately inconclusive. This is, perhaps, not surprising, given that at the time of the publication of Crow and Olson’s volume (and indeed prior to that date) many of the records of the Court of King’s Bench were not available for examination, a fact that is noted in several footnotes through the Chaucer Life-Records. That Chaumpaigne and Chaucer were both recorded as appointing attorneys in the King’s Bench against Staundon in the months between Michaelmas term 1379 and Easter 1380, one of whom (Falle) acted on behalf of both parties, was the first indication that the established narrative regarding the Chaumpaigne quitclaim required reconsideration, as did the nature of the accusations being made. It also changed the known time frame of events. If the two cases were connected—and it seemed likely that they were—then it must follow that whatever had occurred between Chaumpaigne and Chaucer had taken place prior to Michaelmas 1379, rather than in the first months of 1380. While only a minor change in relation to the known chronology, this new dating, and the confirmation that an action (or actions) had been brought in King’s Bench—as Cannon’s 1993 discovery had hinted—presented new opportunities for further documents among the court’s extant archive to be identified.

FIG. 5

Kew, The National Archives, KB 27/475, attorney rot. 1 (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 5

Kew, The National Archives, KB 27/475, attorney rot. 1 (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

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Any legal action proceeding in the King’s Bench (and indeed across the central law courts more generally) was initiated by an original writ out of the royal Chancery. By the fourteenth century, the forms of these writs and actions were generally well defined, and writs were issued out of the writing office of the Chancery by royal officials at the request of the plaintiff (after the usual fees had been paid). The writ was issued to the sheriffs of the relevant county, commanding them to take pledges or sureties from defendants that they would appear in the royal courts on a specific set of dates in a specific law term known as “return days.”17 If the defendants did not appear, or the sheriffs could not (or would not) find means to ensure their appearance at Westminster, then a series of judicial writs would be issued by the court itself, to try and summon the defendant to appear. The writs that were issued from both the Chancery and the courts themselves were “returnable,” in that the sheriffs to whom they were addressed were required to return the writ to the court, with an endorsement of the actions they had taken in response to the writ.18 The returned writs were then recorded in the court’s own archives—bundles of writs each year—for future consultation as a case progressed, and they are now known as the Brevia files (TNA, series KB 136).19 The series was not accessible to Chaucer’s early biographers and as a consequence has never been examined in search of new life-records, despite Chaucer’s many interactions with the central law courts and the potential for new material to be identified.

The exact date on which Chaucer appointed Falle to act on his behalf is uncertain, the only evidence for the appointment being its enrollment on the attorney rotulets of the Michaelmas 1379 plea roll, and the return day appointed to Chaucer could therefore have been any of the eight that made up the term. Returns for all eight days, however, are extant, and are contained within two Brevia files.20 Upon consulting both files, the original writ brought by Staundon was identified among the writs of the morrow of Martinmas (November 12–17, 1379) and is dated October 16, 1379 (Figs. 67).21 The writ brought an action by Thomas Staundon against both Geoffrey Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne under the Statute of Laborers. The statute and related ordinance, enacted in response to the economic difficulties that emerged after the outbreak of the second plague pandemic—better known as the Black Death—that first struck England in 1348, were designed to provide new labor regulations in a restricted labor market, to combat rising wages, and to prevent the poaching of servants from employment on the promise of more generous terms.22 The statute thus contained several related clauses: all able-bodied men and women were commanded to accept service if offered them at the rate of pre-1348 wages; excessively high wages were not to be offered; servants were forbidden to leave their masters within the term of their contracts without reasonable cause or permission, and new masters were forbidden to retain servants who had left in such fashion.23 It is upon the latter clause that Staundon’s action was founded. He claims that “the aforesaid Geoffrey admitted and retained Cecily Champayn, formerly the servant of the aforesaid Thomas, in his service at London, who has departed from the same service before the end of the agreed term, without reasonable cause of license of Thomas himself, into the service of the said Geoffrey.” Furthermore, “although he himself [Chaucer] had been requested to restore the aforesaid Cecily to the same Thomas,” he had not done so. Staundon claims that the loss of Chaumpaigne’s service had led to the “grievous loss of the said Thomas,” and is against the form of the ordinance and thus in contempt of the Crown. As the location of both places of service was London, the writ was directed to the sheriffs of the city, charging them to take pledges from both Chaucer and Chaumpaigne that they would appear before the Court of King’s Bench on the morrow of Martinmas to answer Staundon’s charges against them. Such charges were not uncommon. A brief survey of the Brevia files for Michaelmas 1379, and for Hilary, Easter, and Trinity 1380, produced twenty-three writs brought under the Statute of Laborers for the City of London alone.24

FIG. 6

Kew, The National Archives, KB 136/5/3/1/2 (morrow of Martinmas, London) (front). Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 6

Kew, The National Archives, KB 136/5/3/1/2 (morrow of Martinmas, London) (front). Reproduced by permission.

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FIG. 7

Kew, The National Archives, KB 136/5/3/1/2 (morrow of Martinmas, London) (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

FIG. 7

Kew, The National Archives, KB 136/5/3/1/2 (morrow of Martinmas, London) (dorse). Reproduced by permission.

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The writ was sent to the sheriffs of London, William Baret and John Heylesdon, to take sureties and pledges from all involved parties, before returning the writ to the King’s Bench clerks with details of what they had done. The endorsement states that Staundon had provided the names of two pledges to prosecute (standing surety that he would proceed with his action), Richard Kymbel and William Cofrer, while Chaucer also provided two pledges, Ralph Strode and William Mymms,25 that he would appear in the court on his assigned return day. The sheriffs reported that Chaumpaigne had nothing within their bailiwick that could be pledged for her appearance (“nichil habet”), stating that she did not have property or substantial goods within the City of London that could have been taken as surety for her appearance in court.26 Chaucer’s association with Strode, the Common Pleader of the City of London with whom he stood surety for John Hend in 1381—and a man he described as “philosophical Strode” in his dedication to Troilus and Criseyde (V, 1857)—has long been known.27 That he acted as surety for Chaucer himself, however, deepens our understanding of the connection between the two men, while the identity of Chaucer’s second surety, William Mymms, and his relationship with the poet remain subjects for further study. With the original writ directed to the sheriffs of London, sureties found for Chaucer and Staundon (but not for Chaumpaigne), and a return day set for the defendants to answer the charges against them, all parties now proceeded to prepare their legal positions.28 While originally summoned to appear on the morrow of Martinmas, however, the case was postponed, first to Hilary and then to Easter term, when Chaumpaigne appointed her attorneys.29

As the action brought by Staundon was ultimately never prosecuted, no details of Chaumpaigne’s service, or the transfer of her service from Staundon to Chaucer, were ever recorded in the plea rolls. A brief consideration of the legal proceedings, however, provides new context for the later quitclaims of May 1380, allowing us to provide new answers to the question of Chaumpaigne’s raptus. If we accept the basic premise behind Staundon’s accusation—that Cecily Chaumpaigne had moved from his service to Chaucer’s service—there are three possible scenarios in which such a transfer might have occurred: a) that she was physically abducted out of Staundon’s service; b) that she was tempted or procured out of Staundon’s service into Chaucer’s; or c) that Chaumpaigne left her first service of her own accord, and subsequently entered Chaucer’s service. We benefit from briefly considering the legal routes available to Staundon in each instance. It is also worth noting that Chaucer’s appointment of his attorney to answer an action of “trespass and contempt” does not necessarily suggest physical violence or procurement, or indeed the common law action of trespass. Actions on the Ordinance of Laborers regularly reached the royal law courts throughout the fourteenth century “in the guise of trespass,” as Sir John Baker has described such cases, even if many were eventually joined on the covenant (i.e., that they came down to a single legal question of whether a contract between the two parties had been formed and/or broken).30 William McGovern Jr. has also noted the variety of terms in the year books by which lawyers themselves described writs founded on the Statute of Laborers, including: “a writ on the Statute of Laborers”; “trespass on the Statute of Laborers”; “trespass”; and, on one occasion, “covenant on the Statute of Laborers.”31 Descriptions of actions under the Statute of Laborers recorded in the plea rolls could also change during the course of prosecution. An action brought in 1379 by one Richard Leycestre, the vicar of Sutton in Kent, for example, against Robert Peny for leaving his service without license, was initially recorded in the plea roll as an action under the statute. The same action was recorded in later mesne process (in the same plea roll) simply as “trespass and contempt.”32

With the discovery of the original writ against Chaucer and Chaumpaigne, it is clear that the action that Staundon brought against them was on the Statute of Laborers, not trespass at the common law. Had Chaucer physically taken Chaumpaigne out of Staundon’s service, he would have been liable to an action of trespass vi et armis (with force and arms) as well as an action under the Statute of Laborers. An example of proceedings in which such a course was pursued (and one that is known to scholars of the life-records) can be found in actions brought in the Court of Common Pleas by Maria Alconbury against Matilda Nemeg and John de Colayne in 1388, in which Chaucer acted as surety.33 Colayne, it was claimed, had broken into Alconbury’s close at London, taken goods worth 100s, and abducted her servant—Nemeg—out of Alconbury’s service vi et armis before the end of the same service. Alconbury therefore brought an action against Nemeg under the Statute of Laborers, and a simultaneous action of trespass vi et armis against Colayne. A second example concerns the aforementioned vicar, Richard Leycestre, who pursued an action under the statute in 1379 against one William Golde (at the same time as his action against Peny), for having left his service without license. He simultaneously pursued William atte Stoke, another local vicar, for trespass vi et armis, on account of having assaulted and injured Golde, so that Leycestre lost his service for an unspecified length of time.34 No such vi et armis clause is found among the charges brought against Chaucer, indicating that if Staundon suspected him of any such action, he deliberately chose to pursue an action under the statute rather than under the older form of action. While we cannot entirely rule out the possibility of a physical abduction, the lack of any vi et armis claim or an action under the common law suggests that such an accusation was not pursued.

The question of procurement, however, is less clear-cut. It is clear from the extant year book debates of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, summarized and analyzed by Bertha H. Putnam and G. H. Jones, that issues of procurement were debated fiercely by the justices, particularly whether plaintiffs should pursue charges of procurement under the common law (as trespass) or under the Statute of Laborers.35 Both sides of the debate had their supporters, and as late as 1410 the matter had yet to be resolved (it would not be until 1469, when it was deemed that an action of trespass could be brought in cases of procurement). It was a legal grey area, in which actions could be brought under the statute in instances of procurement, and potentially also under the common law, although with little guarantee that they would be upheld in court. Pursuing such a prosecution under the Statute of Laborers was thus the safer course of action, as the employment of a departed servant (who had left without permission) was in itself against the statute, regardless of the means of departure. In the final scenario, in which Chaumpaigne had left Staundon’s service of her own volition and then joined Chaucer’s, the only possible action against the poet was under the Statute of Laborers, as no charges could be brought under the common law (even if actions under the statute were often referred to as “trespass and contempt” or in the “guise of trespass”). Indeed, a common defense offered against charges under the statute was that of masters who had found servants unemployed and destitute, and who were therefore not only compelled to take them into their service by a sense of charity, but also under the terms of the statute, which required low-status individuals to be bound in service.36

How then can we reconcile an action under the Statute of Laborers with the quitclaim between Chaucer and Chaumpaigne that followed? Having established that the context for the Close Roll release was not an action brought by Chaumpaigne against Chaucer, but rather an action brought by Staundon against both Chaumpaigne and Chaucer, a radically different reading of raptus becomes possible. Produced less than a month after Chaumpaigne had appointed her attorneys in King’s Bench, on May 1, 1380, and enrolled on the back of the Close Roll in the royal Chancery a few days later, the quitclaim can in fact be seen as a convenient means of countering certain actions (or potential further actions) brought by Staundon.37 If we read raptus as representing the physical act of Chaumpaigne leaving Staundon’s service—using the language of “abduction” to represent a physical transfer from one household to another—the quitclaim has a further legal utility. By stating that Chaucer is released from all actions, or future actions, relating to her departure, the quitclaim frees Chaucer from any legal involvement with Chaumpaigne’s departure from Staundon’s service, and effectively acts as a statement that she left of her own accord, or through the involvement of others. At a stroke, the quitclaim removed any means for Staundon to pursue allegations of procurement against Chaucer, as he could now no longer be linked to Chaumpaigne’s departure from service, but could be accused only of retaining her after she had departed. Both Chaucer and Chaumpaigne remained liable to charges under the Statute of Laborers—the very act of admitting and retaining a servant who owed service to another was illegal under the statute—but had mitigated two of Staundon’s possible accusations and had secured protection from any future trespass charges. That the quitclaim was required in the first instance may suggest that Chaucer (or his agents) had indeed procured Chaumpaigne out of Staundon’s service, possibly with the promise of better wages, and was preparing to counter such charges brought by Staundon. The language of the quitclaim, and the use of raptus, insinuates that something had taken place in the events surrounding Chaumpaigne’s departure from service, and as we have seen, the lack of a vi et armis action suggests that there was not necessarily a physical abduction. In the context of ongoing legal debates around whether procurement could be classed as trespass, it is no stretch of the imagination to see the use of raptus as relating to a servant being tempted or procured out of service (with the connotations of trespass and the language of abduction sitting implicitly behind the phrasing).38

Having ruled out any legal actions of trespass or procurement, and with the quitclaim now acting as proof (whether true or otherwise) that Chaucer had not been involved in Chaumpaigne’s departure from service, the remaining charges under the statute were relatively simple for both Chaucer and Chaumpaigne to defend.39 Agreements for service were, at this time, not based on formal written contracts, and the terms of such service could be argued or simply denied. As Putnam has demonstrated, issue could often be taken on mere questions of fact—permission to depart, difference of dates of contract, lack of payment, denial of retention or of departure—several of which could potentially have been argued by Chaucer and Chaumpaigne.40 The very language of the action that describes departure—“without reasonable cause”—demonstrates the subjectivity of such unwritten agreements.41 What was reasonable to one might not be reasonable to another. The question of damages—should Chaucer or Chaumpaigne be found liable—is difficult to assess. As Putnam demonstrates, any fines or penalties imposed under the act varied depending on the circumstances of each case, and could be as low as a few pennies or as high as £10. By the 1370s, it is clear that plaintiffs were generally claiming higher levels of damages, even if these occasionally appear to have been inflated figures which might then be mitigated down by the court. Emberind Lyndeseye, for example, who brought an action under the statute in 1380 against a London fuller, William Umfrey, for leaving his service, claimed £40 in damages. While the court found Umfrey guilty of the alleged charges, after assessment of the circumstances he was fined the considerably smaller sum of 6s. 8d.42 Two cases relating to female servants from the time of the Staundon dispute, both instances of housemaids (“ancille domus”) leaving service, are perhaps illustrative of the potential damages Chaucer and Chaumpaigne might have found themselves liable to (even factoring in the fact that such damages might be inflated). In Bedfordshire in Trinity term 1380, Roger Skinner was attached to appear before King’s Bench to answer a charge of retaining one “Agnes that was Simons servant Ferrour,” who had left the service of the same Simon Ferrour at Risely the previous Michaelmas.43 Ferrour claimed £10 in damages. In Northamptonshire the previous year, Henry Plomer of Northampton had been attached to answer a plea that he had taken into his service a housemaid by the name of Sarra Bayons from the service of one John Tunstall.44 Damages were claimed at £40. In other cases, we find sums of 40s, 20 marks, and other similar sums being claimed. Even if these amounts did not represent the actual damages incurred, or the actual amounts paid to successful plaintiffs, the large sums in dispute perhaps explain why Chaucer might have gone to the trouble of securing a release against any further accusations.

Three days after the quitclaim was enrolled in Chancery, it was enrolled a second time as a memorandum in the records of the King’s Bench itself. As Cannon correctly notes in his 1993 discovery, the language of the second enrollment differs from the first, most notably in the absence of the phrase de raptu meo, releasing Chaucer instead from all “felonies, trespasses, accounts, debts, and any other actions whatsoever that I [Chaumpaigne] ever have had.”45 For Cannon, the change in language represented “a deliberate revision, a revision, moreover, that had as its main effect the elimination of the noun raptus from the language of release,” with the revised version enrolled in the records of the King’s Bench to ensure that this version was the more accessible of the two copies.46 In the context of the newly identified documents, a simpler solution presents itself. The quitclaim was enrolled by Isham in the plea roll of the King’s Bench specifically to counter Staundon’s pending action in the same court. This was a process that Chaucer and Chaumpaigne’s attorneys, who would have been well versed in the complex legal procedures and processes that governed the court, were well placed to facilitate, particularly as they were also Isham’s colleagues. At the same time, the language was subtly altered to match the language of the court, and of the action being brought against Chaucer and Chaumpaigne. As we have seen, actions under the Statute of Laborers frequently used the language of “trespass” in accusations brought before the court, and it was thus convenient to frame the King’s Bench enrollment within the language of trespass, and the legal terminology of the court.

In order to establish the means by which this change occurred, it is worth briefly reflecting here on the voice and circumstance of enrollment presented in both copies of the quitclaim. In both the Close Roll and King’s Bench enrollments, the release is recorded as having been presented or acknowledged by Chaumpaigne herself. The Close Roll notes that “quod predicta Cecilia venit in Cancellaria Regis apud Westmonasterium . . . et recognovit scriptum predictum” (that the aforesaid Cecilia came into the King’s Chancery at Westminster . . . and has acknowledged the aforesaid writing), while the plea roll memorandum states that Chaumpaigne appeared “coram domino Rege in propria persona . . . et profert hic in curia quoddam scriptum” (before the Lord King in her own person . . . and put forward here in the court a certain written document). We should take both statements with caution. While the King’s Bench had originally sat regularly in the presence of the king himself (coram rege), by Chaucer’s time this was no longer the case. The royal presence, as noted in the language of enrollments, was instead symbolic, indicating that proceedings occurred in the presence of the king’s officials and justices rather than the king himself, yet the formulaic (fictional) record of events continued.

A second fiction is identifiable in the description of Chaumpaigne’s presentment of the quitclaim to the court. Reading the King’s Bench memorandum literally, we might suggest that Chaumpaigne appears before the court in open session and asks for the quitclaim to be enrolled, with the document duly copied into the official record. That she was present in person (“in propria persona”) may have been true, but much of the day-to-day business of the royal courts was not transacted in open court, but instead in the offices of the clerks and attorneys themselves, many of which were not even in Westminster.47 It was here that procedural material including memoranda, writs, and plea roll rotulets were copied, written, and enrolled by the clerks, and where the legal business of the attorneys was transacted. The formulaic language of enrollment of the royal law courts was symbolic—Chaumpaigne was appearing before the institution of the court and its officials, after all—but disguises the practical arrangements that sat behind enrollment.

As Cannon notes, the nature of enrollment as a legal act often obscures the circumstances behind the creating of documents such as the Close Roll release, a legal instrument with a specific purpose.48 In the absence of the original 1380 quitclaim, we cannot say with certainty what language was used, although a comparison of the two enrollments in light of the new documents is instructive. In both enrollments, the release is recorded in Chaumpaigne’s own voice (“I, Cecily Chaumpaigne”), reflecting that of the original (now lost) document, captured within the official record. The circumstances, however, are subtly different. The enrollment of a personal document on the dorse of a Close Roll membrane was an act intended, first and foremost, to ensure its security. Private documents could easily be lost, damaged, or stolen, but, as official royal records, the rolls of the Chancery offered secure means for long-term storage and preservation of an individual’s personal archive (for a fee). There was little need for the Crown or its officials to consider, or to take an interest in, personal documents such as an agreement between two private individuals, beyond the need to certify that it was verified by all parties involved (i.e., that it was a legitimate legal document). Nor was an enrolled entry likely to be consulted unless there was a reason to do so.49 It seems likely, therefore, that the Close Roll entry bears a closer comparison to the text of the original quitclaim, which was then acknowledged by Chaumpaigne in the Chancery offices, than to the later enrollment. It represents the closest that we can get to Chaumpaigne’s own voice without having the original document, with the phrase de raptu meo capturing some of her personal involvement in the events surrounding the transfer from Staundon’s service into Chaucer’s.

The circumstances of the second enrollment, however, demonstrate how the language of the law courts might have altered what was copied into the plea roll. As we have seen, the appointment of Stephen Falle and Edmund Herryng in Easter 1380 ensured that Chaumpaigne’s interactions with the court were navigated through her attorneys, themselves filacers of the court. We have also seen that the enrolled King’s Bench quitclaim was copied from a written document (“Scriptum”), and that much of the regular writing business of the court was undertaken in the offices of clerks and attorneys. It is thus likely that the actual process of enrollment involved multiple stages, with the text to be enrolled passing from Chaumpaigne to her attorneys, and then to Isham for enrollment. While the King’s Bench enrollment claims to represent Chaumpaigne’s own voice, it should instead be viewed through the lens of her attorneys and the clerks of the court—in other words, as a third-person account. Whether the enrollment was made from a copy of the quitclaim (made by the attorneys before the contents were passed to their colleague) or whether it was made directly from the original document itself is unclear, although it is entirely plausible that a copy was made. At some point in this process, the text was revised, with the reference to de raptu meo removed.

To the lawyers and clerks of King’s Bench, the phrase was redundant. In covering all “felonies, trespasses, accounts, debts and any other actions whatsoever,” the quitclaim released Chaucer from charges of raptus in all forms. And if we consider that the King’s Bench quitclaim presents a third-person voice (that of the attorneys and clerks of the court), there was no need to include Chaumpaigne’s experiences in the formal legal enrollment against Staundon’s charges. Cannon inadvertently got to the heart of the matter when he states that “if Chaucer did in fact seek this revision, it need not have been part of any sort of subterfuge, since the substitutions that were made did not really change the legal function of the document in any way. . . . They may well have been made with Cecily Chaumpaigne’s full complicity.”50 The revision standardized the language of the quitclaim into a form that was familiar to the officers of the court—a form that consequentially resembles the all-encompassing terms of a general pardon—and transposed it into the formulaic language of the royal courts, the language of trespass and felony. Indeed, considering the reliance of the common law courts on precedent and standardized forms of language (as encompassed in the registers of writs that set out the standard text of each legal action), and the dangers that could accompany any deviation from these set forms and phrases, it is questionable whether Falle, Herryng, or Isham gave much thought to the change of terminology in the Chaumpaigne release. The phrase de raptu meo was unnecessary in the eyes of the court, and, as such, there was no need to include it in the legal enrollment intended solely to allay Staundon’s actions against Chaucer and Chaumpaigne.

At an unknown date in Easter 1380—after April 9 and likely after the King’s Bench enrollment of May 7—Staundon withdrew his action. A later addition at the top of the original writ states that it was “non prosecutum” (not prosecuted), indicating that Staundon had ceased to pursue Chaucer and Chaumpaigne.51 It is not clear whether a settlement was made out of court, whether Staundon backed down in the face of Chaucer and Chaumpaigne’s defense, or whether the accusations had simply been unfounded in the first place. It also remains unclear how the later releases between Richard Goodchild, John Grove, Chaumpaigne, and Chaucer fit within the newly established narrative, although some tentative suggestions can be offered here in the context of the Statute of Laborers. As first noted by Reginald Sharpe in The Athenaeum, two further quitclaims were recorded on June 28, 1380, and acknowledged on June 30, 1380, alongside a recognizance of debt dated July 2, 1380.52 By these documents, enrolled on the Plea and Memoranda rolls of the City of London, Richard Goodchild, cutler, and John Grove, armorer, released Chaucer of all actions of law they might have, while Chaumpaigne simultaneously released Goodchild and Grove of any actions she might have against them. Four days later, a note was made on the same roll that Grove owed Chaumpaigne £10, payable at Michaelmas, a sum that was later paid. It has generally been suggested that these entries note a wrapping-up of secondary proceedings related to those of Easter 1380, a statement that appears to hold true in the light of the new documentary evidence.

That the Goodchild and Grove quitclaims were enrolled in the London court records is, in the first instance, instructive, and may indicate that the releases related to secondary litigation in the city’s law courts. Plaintiffs could, and did, sue across multiple courts in order to try to ensure their case was heard, or to try and force a defendant to settle out of court. The overlap between competing legal jurisdictions and the multiple options available to the medieval litigant offered a wide range of ways in which an individual might seek justice. As we have seen, the enrollment of the Chaumpaigne quitclaim in the plea rolls of the King’s Bench was specifically designed to counter an action brought in that court, and it is likely that the London enrollments were intended to counter actions in the same way.53 Indeed, if we consider that, after 1321, actions of covenant (contract disputes) could only be brought before the royal courts if written evidence of a contract could be presented (not in the case of informal contracts disputed under the Statute of Laborers), a secondary legal action by Staundon in the London courts makes legal sense.54 Such actions, after 1321, could still be brought before the Mayor of London’s court, and the releases of June and July 1380 may represent an attempt to pursue Chaumpaigne for a breach of her (informal) contract of service. It is also plausible that the two releases were related to events in the aftermath of Chaumpaigne’s move from Staundon’s service to Chaucer’s. Under the Statute of Laborers, a master who found their servant in the county could order them to return to their service, and if they found the said servant in the street, they could seize them. As Putnam noted, under the ordinance, “the master has a right to re-capture the servant . . . if he chance to come across his fugitive servant anywhere, he can carry him off bodily, but it is assumed though nowhere explicitly stated, that to accomplish this end he cannot employ violence against the second master.”55 Had Staundon sent associates to attempt to abduct and reclaim Chaumpaigne from Chaucer’s service, possibly facing resistance from the poet? In such a circumstance, one can see how the quitclaims might have arisen, with Chaumpaigne taking an action against the two men for her abduction, and Grove and Goodchild taking an action against Chaucer for any resistance. The £10 debt may thus indicate damages claimed by Chaumpaigne; as we have seen, such a sum would fit with general damages claimed in cases involving the Statute of Laborers. Alternatively, it is possible that the two men were involved in some sort of intermediary capacity in Chaumpaigne’s move out of Staundon’s service, although no evidence of any such involvement is hinted at in the original writ brought by Staundon. In either scenario, the role of the two men appears to be as accessories to the events of 1379–80, rather than as primary actors.

The newly identified King’s Bench records provide a new context that clarifies the relationship between Geoffrey Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne, and that requires us to reconsider the established narratives and chronologies related to Chaumpaigne’s 1380 raptus. A new chronology of events is included here (Appendix 1), alongside full transcriptions and translations of the known Chaumpaigne records (Appendix 2) and a calendar of Chaucer life-records discovered since the publication of Crow and Olson’s census (Appendix 3). They demonstrate that: a) Chaucer and Chaumpaigne were not rival parties in a legal dispute, but instead codefendants against a third party, Thomas Staundon; b) the accusations brought against Chaucer and Chaumpaigne were not charges of rape, nor were they likely charges of abduction, but instead a labor dispute under the Statute of Laborers; and c) the quitclaims of Easter 1380 represented a legal strategy by Chaucer and Chaumpaigne, in which the language of the releases was framed and formulated within existing legal frameworks. They also demonstrate the exciting potential for new life-records to come to light among the relatively unexplored masses of legal records that underpinned the work and administration of the medieval central law courts, collections that can shed new light on old evidence.


Our discovery will have a wide range of implications for Chaucer scholarship. Most immediately, the new records clarify the meaning of a handful of Chaucer life-records that have monopolized critical attention. And while the material further cements the litigiousness of late medieval Londoners and the surprisingly long reach of the Statute of Laborers, more significantly for Chaucerians, these records once more challenge our models of biographical criticism and the increasingly outmoded constructions of anti-intentionalism in which we continue to operate as medievalists.56 If Chaucer’s tangible anxiety of influence is anything to go by—whether searchingly in the House of Fame or ingeniously through his Retraction—he cared deeply about the reception of his writings, and, through them, his autobiographical persona.57 Any adjustment to his biography matters for the reception of his poetry as it reflects and refracts his biological self. At the same time, the new evidence does not remove the validity of arguments grounded in reader-response positions. Rather than worshiping authorial “genius” and succumbing to the fallacy of the intentional fallacy, it is the constant negotiation between authorial objectives and autonomous critical interpretations that generates the semantic energy behind so much creative literature.

Because the raptus discussion in the context of the Chaumpaigne quitclaims has transformed literary scholarship on sexuality, masculinity, and the representation of women, we thought it imperative to contextualize our findings in a manner that will do justice to the significant body of feminist scholarship on Chaucer. The new records will not undo the countless advances feminist colleagues have made in our field. On the contrary, the history of the recovery of these documents is part and parcel of the fabric of modern Chaucer scholarship: the incompleteness of our knowledge of this case thus far was a fortuitous circumstance because it has given our field the opportunity for the last thirty years, since the publication of Cannon’s milestone article, to imagine Chaucer’s guilt and therefore to tease out its countless ramifications for reading late medieval literature, English or otherwise. Rape culture was real, creating an environment in which, according to Anastasia Powell and Nicola Henry, “sexual violence is tolerated, accepted, eroticised, minimised and trivialized.”58 Chaucer and his contemporaries lived their lives in its shadow. No amount of new life-records will ever change that.

We have therefore invited three leading feminist Chaucerians—Sarah Baechle, Carissa Harris, and Samantha Katz Seal—to think through some of the implications of the new evidence for our field. In her response article, Baechle notes that feminist theorists writing about assault often stress a structural approach that focuses not (just) on singular iterations of trauma, but on discourses that enable assault. The new documents offer us a chance to escape the individual-centered approaches to rape in Chaucer’s work and take a structuralist one instead: his work still allows the readings feminist Chaucerians have found, but we can perhaps finally start to talk not about whether Chaucer raped Chaumpaigne (or any woman), but rather about how he participated in hegemonic discourses that shaped the lives of all women.

Harris reflects on the often invisible fate of medieval servant women and, more broadly, the meaning of the word endure, both in the context of medieval rape culture and, generally, in premodern culture. In her response article, she examines the implications for women, especially socially disadvantaged women, of having to endure in a culture dominated by male sexual violence. Samantha Katz Seal turns her attention to medievalist scholars to question how medievalists crave (and therefore craft) the biographies of poets like Chaucer to reflect their own ethics. Romantic ideations become more fascinating, perhaps, when there is such a dramatic change in the biography. Crucially, Seal remarks saliently that the new documents will not change the course charted by feminist scholarship to expose the shortcomings of the late medieval hegemonic order.

Taken together, the three responses offer a number of possible and, we believe, important paths for future scholarship on Chaucer and sexual politics in medieval literature. Our findings and the responses gathered here are united at an inflection point in Chaucer studies, where a generational shift in feminist criticism coincides with a renewed interest in the archival realities underpinning medieval literature. We hope that our consultative effort could be considered one model for sharing significant documentary discoveries in a collaborative spirit.



Kew, The National Archives (TNA), C 54/219 m. 9d.


[F. J. Furnivall, “Mr Furnivall’s Chaucer Gleanings This Week”], The Athenaeum 2405 (November 29, 1873): 698–99. Furnivall subsequently printed and discussed this document in Frederick J. Furnivall, Trial-Forewords to My “Parallel-Text Edition of Chaucer’s Minor Poems” for the Chaucer Society (London, 1871–73), 136–44. For the history of the discovery and reception of the first four records connecting Chaucer with Chaumpaigne, see Christopher Cannon, “Raptus in the Chaumpaigne Release and a Newly Discovered Document Concerning the Life of Geoffrey Chaucer,” Speculum 68 (1993): 74–94, at 74–76.


Furnivall, Trial-Forewords, 136–44, at 143. See also Thomas A. Prendergast and Stephanie Trigg, 30 Great Myths about Chaucer (Hoboken NJ, 2020), 65–70.


Cannon, “Raptus.” Anna Waymack offers a helpful summary and timeline, online at: http://chaumpaigne.org.


TNA, KB 27/477, rot. 58d; and Cannon, “Raptus.”


Cannon, “Raptus”; Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Meanings and Uses of Raptus in Chaucer’s Time,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 20 (1998): 101–65; Susan S. Morrison, “The Use of Biography in Medieval Literary Criticism: The Case of Geoffrey Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne,” Chaucer Review 34 (1999): 69–86; Elizabeth Robertson, “Public Bodies and Psychic Domains: Rape, Consent, and Female Subjectivity in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde,” in Elizabeth Robertson and Christine M. Rose, eds., Representing Rape in Medieval and Early Modern Literature (New York, 2001), 281–310; Christopher Cannon, “Chaucer and Rape: Uncertainty’s Certainties,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 22 (2000): 67–92 (repr. in Robertson and M. Rose, eds., Representing Rape, 255–79); Richard Firth Green, “Cecily Champain v. Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Look at an Old Dispute,” in Robert S. Sturges, ed., Law and Sovereignty in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Turnhout, 2011), 261–85; Anna Waymack, “Teaching de raptu meo: Chaucer, Chaumpaigne, and Consent in the Classroom,” Medieval Feminist Forum 53 (2017): 150–75; Samantha Katz Seal and Nicole Sidhu, “New Feminist Approaches to Chaucer: Introduction,” Chaucer Review 54 (2019): 224–29; Sebastian Sobecki, “Wards and Widows: Troilus and Criseyde and New Documents on Chaucer’s Life,” ELH 86 (2019): 413–40; Candace Barrington, “Geoffrey Chaucer,” in Candace Barrington and Sebastian Sobecki, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Law and Literature (Cambridge UK, 2019), 135–47; Lindsey E. Jones, “Chaucer’s Denial of Response for Rape Victims,” M.A. thesis, Texas State University (San Marcos, 2020); Sarah Baechle and Carissa M. Harris, “The Ethical Challenge of Chaucerian Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century,” Chaucer Review 56 (2021): 311–21; Mary C. Flannery, “Good Fun: Cecily Chaumpaigne and the Ethics of Chaucerian Obscenity,” Chaucer Review 56 (2021): 360–77; and Clare Davidson, “Chaucerian Guilt and the Treatise on the Astrolabe,” Chaucer Review 56 (2021): 341–59. Although published before Cannon’s discovery, Carolyn Dinshaw’s Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison, 1989) remains a foundational study for feminist scholarship on Chaucer.


Recent prominent examples have included (but are not limited to): Gwen Seabourne, Imprisoning Medieval Women: The Non-judicial Confinement and Abduction of Women in England, c. 1170–1509 (Farnham, 2011); Caroline Dunn, Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction, and Adultery, 1100–1500 (Cambridge UK, 2013); Shannon McSheffrey and Julia Pope, “Ravishment, Legal Narratives and Chivalric Culture in Fifteenth-Century England,” Journal of British Studies 48 (2009): 818–36, at 822–24; Deborah Youngs, “Reading Ravishment: Gender and ‘Will’ Power in Early Tudor Star Chamber, 1500–50,” in K. J. Kesselring and Natalie Mears, eds., Star Chamber Matters: An Early Modern Court and Its Records (London, 2021), 41–60; as well as the collected essays in Bronach Kane and Fiona Williamson, eds., Women, Agency and the Law, 1300–1700 (Abingdon, 2013); and the special issue “Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice in Britain, 1300–1700,” Journal of British Studies 58.4 (2019).


The Ordinance of Laborers (1349) and the Statute of Laborers (1351) are here taken together as connected pieces of legislation. The statute of 1351 supplemented the ordinance of 1349, in which year Parliament was unable to meet due to the Black Death. Throughout this article, we will use “Statute of Laborers” and “the statute” to refer to both measures. For a discussion of the difference between the ordinance and the statute, see Bertha H. Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 13491359 (New York, 1908), 2, 13–14, 174–79.


The King’s Bench plea rolls, TNA, KB 27, are written only in anglicana. See Sebastian Sobecki, “Communities of Practice: Thomas Hoccleve, London Clerks, and Literary Production,” Journal of the Early Book Society 24 (2021): 51–106, at 63; and Sebastian Sobecki, “The Handwriting of Fifteenth-Century Signet Clerks and the King’s French Secretaries,” in Margaret Connolly, Holly James-Maddocks, and Derek Pearsall, eds., Scribal Cultures in Late Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Linne R. Mooney (Woodbridge, 2022), 82–124, at 124.


J. B. Post, “King’s Bench Clerks in the Reign of Richard II,” Historical Research 47, no. 116 (1974): 150–63.


Post, “King’s Bench Clerks,” 153.


Isham uses his engrossed hand, Hand B, in positions of significance, such as in TNA, KB 27/475, rot. 79, another membrane signed “Isham,” online at: http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT4/R2/KB27no475/aKB27no475fronts/IMG_0158.htm; and in TNA, KB 27/476, rot. 30, online at: http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT2/R2/KB27no476/aKB27no476fronts/IMG_0403.htm. But perhaps the best example for Isham switching to his engrossing hand occurs in the following example, where, after “hec verba,” he changes script tiers, just as he does in the May 7, 1380 Chaumpaigne release: TNA, KB 27/475, rot. 62d, online at: http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT4/R2/KB27no475/bKB27no475dorses/IMG_0381.htm.


While the two files were originally attached together, most of the thongs have since become damaged, and the connection between the files lost. Where this has occurred, the two files are now catalogued separately in TNA, KB 145. Detailed descriptions of the context, provenance, and archival history of all the King’s Bench records series can be found in TNA’s online catalogue series descriptions.


The original thong, on which the records were originally strung, has been damaged at some point in the document’s history and has not been replaced. It is therefore technically possible that material will have been lost from the file before its preservation, although from a broad visual inspection this does not appear to be the case. The file can currently be viewed only under supervision by conservators at TNA.


That Chaumpaigne’s attorneys were not recorded in the plea roll was not unusual. A brief overview survey of the rolls indicates that many attorneys were not recorded in this way. The actual process behind the appointment and approval of attorneys in this period is opaque, beyond the recording of some (but not all) attorneys in the plea rolls, and deserves greater study. It is likely that, in Chaumpaigne’s case, Philipot’s receiving of the attorneys followed a similar process to that undertaken in the Chancery and Common Pleas, where authority to receive attorneys, among other responsibilities, might be delegated by the Crown to local individuals of good standing by writ of dedimus potestatum. Throughout the Recorda and Precepta Recordorum files, other similar warrants of attorney from the period include examples of individuals such as abbots receiving attorneys in the same way, and both the language and types of individuals receiving delegated authority in this way in the dedimus potestatum files are similar to the warrants of attorney. It is likely that a further examination of the unsorted King’s Bench warrant files in TNA, KB 150 (which do not survive for the fourteenth century) will reveal new light on the process of appointments.


TNA, KB 27/475, attorney rot. 1d. The attorney is named as both “Stephen Falle” and “Stephen del Falle” throughout the entries. He was a filacer of the court (one of the clerks charged with writing, filing, and enrolling the many writs issued out of the court, and occasionally entering pleadings), who regularly acted as an attorney, including for the mayor and commonality of London (as in the entry following his appointment by Chaucer). For the officers of the court and the role of the filacers, see Marjorie Blatcher, The Court of King’s Bench 14501550: A Study in Self-Help (London, 1978); and Margaret Hastings, The Court of Common Pleas in Fifteenth Century England: A Study of Legal Administration and Procedure (Ithaca NY, 1947). While Hastings focuses on the Court of Common Pleas, the two central royal courts followed similar procedures under the common law. For more on the records and processes of the King’s Bench, see the various introductions to the Selden Society’s publications of select cases: G. O. Sayles, Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench, 7 vols. (London, 1936–71).


Each “return day” was not, in fact, a single day, but a period of up to six days in which a defendant was required to appear. The name of each return day was taken from the day on which this period started, or the preceding day when based on the feasts of Easter and Trinity. A full list of return days can be found in C. R. Cheney, ed., A Handbook of Dates: For Students of British History, rev. Michael Jones (Cambridge UK, 2000), 98–104.


An excellent overview of the procedures followed in the royal law courts can be found in Hastings, The Court of Common Pleas, 157–69.


The series contains a combination of original and judicial writs, returned into the plea side of the Court of King’s Bench. Those from the crown side of the court are found in the Brevia Regis files (TNA, KB 37).


The full eight return days for Michaelmas term are extant. The octave, quindene, three weeks, and one month of Michaelmas are contained within TNA, KB 136/5/3/1/1; and the morrow of All Souls, and morrow, octave, and quindene of Martinmas, within TNA, KB 136/5/3/1/2. For more on these return days, see Cheney, A Handbook of Dates, 98–105.


TNA, KB 136/5/3/1/2 (morrow of Martinmas, London). That Chaucer was in London around the date the writ was issued is clear from the fact that he collected his Exchequer annuity “per manus proprias” (by his own hand) at Westminster two days later, on October 18, and again on December 9, 1379, alongside other rewards for his service at the Customs House. See TNA, E 403/475, mm. 2, 9; and Martin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records (Oxford, 1966), 308, 316–18.


The second plague pandemic was the second of three historic pandemics caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis and would affect England until the seventeenth century with semi-regular outbreaks of variable severity. The first plague pandemic had occurred in the sixth to eighth centuries, and the third would take place in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 71–72.


There were eight writs returned during Michaelmas term, five in Hilary, three in Easter, and seven in Trinity: TNA, KB 136/5/3/1/1; KB 136/5/3/1/2; KB 136/5/3/2/1; KB 136/5/3/2/2; KB 136/5/3/3/1; KB 136/5/3/3/2; KB 136/5/3/4/1; and KB 136/5/3/4/2.


This is a likely reconstruction of William’s surname, but it is heavily abbreviated and other readings may be possible. The surname of one of Staundon’s surety, William Cofrer, may indicate that our Staundon can be linked with the citizen and cofferer Thomas Staundon identified in Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 341. Such an identification, however, remains highly tentative.


It appears to have been at the discretion of the sheriffs to decide what constituted property, goods, and chattels worth distraining, while defendants could also ensure their goods to a third party so that they had no goods by which they could be attached, as an example from the fifteenth-century Paston Letters suggests (Hastings, The Court of Common Pleas, 212).


Rodney Delasanta, “Chaucer and Strode,” Chaucer Review 26 (1991): 205–18; J. D. North, “Strode, Ralph (d. 1387),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 284; and Stephen A. Barney, in The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987), 1058 (note to Tr, V, 1856–59).


At this stage—on account of the fact that the sheriffs recorded her as “nichil habet”—a judicial writ of capias would normally have been issued to the sheriffs of London to ensure Chaumpaigne’s appearance before the court. No further details of the proceedings against either party were enrolled on the plea rolls, or can be found in the TNA, KB 136 writ bundles for this term, although such absences are not uncommon among the records of this period.


While much work has been undertaken on the work of the King’s Bench and its clerks, many of the exact mechanics of the court process remain obscure. The postponement of proceedings in the central law courts, however, was not unusual and could be brought about by a number of factors, including illness, agreements between the parties (or their attorneys), or simply an unwillingness of civic officials to pursue those who did not appear on their specified day. Indeed, the many procedural steps that had to occur before an individual was outlawed meant that defendants often had plenty of time to consider their options after the initial charges had been laid against them. It is likely that Falle’s position as a filacer of the court, as well as an attorney (alongside his colleague Herryng), helped to facilitate a postponement for proceedings against both Chaumpaigne and Chaucer. As in the first postponement, no mesne process was recorded in the plea roll, or among the writ bundles, although one would expect that a further writ of capias sicut prius should have been issued to the sheriffs when Chaumpaigne did not appear in Hilary. It is also possible that the case was only postponed once. By the middle of the thirteenth century, adjournments often specified the eighth return day following as the new date for defendants to appear, although the length of adjournments was flexible. If this time frame was followed in Chaucer and Chaumpaigne’s instance, they would have been required to appear on the quindene of Easter, the day on which Chaumpaigne appointed her attorneys (Cheney, A Handbook of Dates, 98–105). Several examples of the mesne process procedures that were followed in the common law courts can be found in Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 384–401. No essoin roll (TNA, series KB 121), where officially excused absences from court were recorded, is known to survive for 1379–80. It is possible that Chaucer was overseas on royal business; he is known to have undertaken a journey to discuss the king’s marriage at an unknown date between 1377 and 1381. However, as he was present at Westminster in December 1379, this seems unlikely.


Sir John Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 5th edn. (Oxford, 2019), 354.


William M. McGovern Jr., “The Enforcement of Informal Contracts in the Later Middle Ages,” California Law Review 59 (1971): 1145–93, at 1148.


TNA, KB 27/473, rots. 19, 55, online at: http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT4/R2/KB27no473/aKB27no473fronts/IMG_0040.htm; http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT4/R2/KB27no473/aKB27no473fronts/IMG_0117.htm. We thank Andrew Prescott for drawing our attention to these entries, and others, concerning the Statute of Laborers.


TNA, CP 40/511, rots. 333, 531, 531d, attorney rot. 8d; and Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 289–93. The summary of the actions brought against Colayne, (Chaucer Life-Records, 291), does not include the phrase vi et armis, but it clearly appears in the plea roll CP 40/511, rot. 333, online at: http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT6/R2/CP40no511/511_0739.htm. Alconbury’s appointment of her attorney describes the action against Nemeg as “trespass and contempt,” and that against Colayne as “trespass,” and notes that they were initiated by separate writs. See CP 40/511, attorney rot. 8d, online at: http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT6/R2/CP40no511/511_1415.htm.


G. H. Jones, “Per Quod Servitium Amisit,” Law Quarterly Review 74 (1958): 39–58, esp. 39–45; and Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 195. Both Putnam and Jones cite the discussion in the year books; see Year Book 11 Henry IV, fol. 23, plea 46, online at: https://www.bu.edu/phpbin/lawyearbooks/display.php?id=16025.


Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 197–99.


TNA, C 54/219, m. 9d.


It is also possible, however, that Chaucer was simply seeking to gain legally-binding confirmation of Chaumpaigne’s willing departure from service.


It is, of course, impossible to rule out an act of physical or sexual violence in the events that took place around Chaumpaigne’s move from Staundon’s service to Chaucer’s, or the possibility that she was coerced into agreeing to a release against her will. It is clear from the newly discovered evidence, however, that the release was produced in response to an accusation made by Staundon against the codefendants, not by Chaumpaigne against Chaucer.


Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 187, 189–214.


Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 193–94.


Cannon, “Raptus,” 89–94.


Cannon, “Raptus,” 92–93.


A description of the equivalent offices of the Common Pleas and how they might have functioned can be found in Hastings, The Court of Common Pleas, 37–42. Several of these offices were located in churches to the west of the city, including at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where a justice of the Common Pleas rented an office (for himself and his clerks) in 1456, and where several filacers of the court were known to have lived. See Euan C. Roger, “Blakberd’s Treasure: A Study in Fifteenth Century Administration at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London,” in Linda Clark, ed., The Fifteenth Century XIII: Exploring the Evidence: Commemoration, Administration and the Economy (Woodbridge, 2014), 81–108. In the “Great Revolt” of 1381, it was recorded that Simon Lichefelde, a clerk of the Common Pleas, had been keeping official documents at the church of New Temple, while other fourteenth-century filacers were recorded at the churches of St. Alban, Wodestrete, and St. Peter the Little. In 1384, it was noted that four writ bundles from the Common Pleas had been damaged by a leaking ceiling in St. Bartholomew’s Priory and had become unreadable as a consequence, indicating that the central court records were also stored outside Westminster on occasion (TNA, C 66/317 m. 15, C 54/224, m. 15d).


Cannon, “Raptus,” 74.


For Cannon, writing in the context of the release as a response to Chaumpaigne (“Raptus,” 91–94), the requirement for the enrolled release to be accessible was necessary for Chaucer to clear his name. In the light of the new findings presented here, we can largely discount this element of his argument.


Cannon, “Raptus,” 93.


TNA, KB 136/5/3/1/2 (morrow of Martinmas, London).


[Reginald Sharpe, “Chaucer’s ‘Raptus’ of Cecily Chaumpaigne”], The Athenaeum 3642 (August 14, 1897), 226; and Crow and Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records, 344–45. See London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLA/024/01/02/024, rot. 5d.


Unfortunately, the subsidiary medieval records of the London courts do not survive in bulk, as they do for the royal courts, and it is unlikely that any unenrolled material is extant.


Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 339–41.


Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statute of Labourers, 195–96.


See the discussion of intentionalism and the study of medieval literature in Sebastian Sobecki, “The Author’s Three Bodies: Codicological Intentionalism and the Medieval Text,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, forthcoming.


On the thin membrane between medieval authors and their literary selves, see Sebastian Sobecki, Last Words: The Public Self and the Social Author in Late Medieval England (Oxford, 2019), 1–18.


Anastasia Powell and Nicola Henry, “Framing Sexual Violence Prevention: What Does It Mean to Challenge a Rape Culture?,” in Nicola Henry and Anastasia Powell, eds., Preventing Sexual Violence: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Overcoming a Rape Culture (New York, 2014), 1–21, at 2. See also Carissa Harris’s response article in this issue.

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