The canterbury tales, p.91
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.91

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  209 limitour: In contrast to monks, who lived off the income from the monastery’s lands, and who were normally confined to the monastic enclosure, friars lived off the proceeds of their begging and travelled around to solicit and collect donations, also preaching and hearing confessions. In the fourteenth century, each convent of friars was assigned by its order a specific territory within whose limits certain of its members, called ‘limitours’, were permitted to beg on behalf of the convent. See A. Williams, SP, 57 (1960), 463–78.

  210 ordres foure: The four orders of friars were the Franciscans or Minorites, Dominicans or Jacobites, Carmelites and Augustinians.

  218 As GP 223–32 suggest, considerable profits could be made from hearing confessions, since the penitent might make a charitable donation by way of reparation (and if dying, might leave the convent a bequest). Parish priests thus viewed with indignant disapproval the practice of confessing to a friar rather than to themselves, and there was considerable friction between the two groups (see Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 47–50). The conflict was to some extent controlled by a papal bull of 1300 which stipulated that friars must be licensed to hear confessions (usually within the ‘limitation’ of their convent) by the bishop or archbishop of their diocese (Williams, SP, 57 (1960), 470–73). The licence would give the friar no more power than that of a priest or curate – that is, he could not grant absolution in certain types of case which were reserved for the bishop – unless the bishop also granted him a penitential commission; Huberd’s boast that he has more power than a curate implies that he lays claim to such a commission (ibid., pp. 475–7).

  224 pitaunce: This term applied both to additional dishes of food served at meals in religious houses and to the donation or bequest that paid for such dishes (see MED, s.v.).

  233–4 Friars could take advantage of their peripatetic life to act as pedlars; see Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 42–3, for contemporary references to the practice.

  236–7 rote: The rota was a ‘triangular zither with strings on both sides of the soundbox’ (see Page, Voices and Instruments, p. 123, with a picture). According to his biographer Thomas of Celano, St Francis used to sing God’s praises while going through the motions of fiddle-playing with a stick over his left arm (Habig, St Francis, ‘Second Life’, ch. 90, p. 467). The so-called ‘Legend of Perugia’ relates that he taught his followers to sing in praise of God after preaching a sermon, and to announce themselves to the audience as ‘jongleurs of God’ (ibid., p. 1022; also in The Writings of Leo, Rufino and Angelo, Companions of St Francis, ed. and tr. R. B. Brooke (Oxford, corr. edn 1990), pp. 166–7). Chaucer’s Friar is more like a worldly ‘jongleur’ (minstrel/entertainer) than a spiritual one (see Mann, Estates Satire, p. 45).

  252a–b These two lines are absent from El but present in Hg; it is difficult to see who could have written them except Chaucer, and they may have been accidentally omitted (see Kane, p. 227). Donaldson suggests that repetition (in his hous/in his haunt) prompted eyeskip (Medieval Studies in Honor of Lillian Herlands Hornstein, ed. J. B. Bessinger, Jr, and R. R. Raymo (New York, 1976), pp. 99–110, at p. 104). Williams (SP, 57 (1960), 477–8) points out that it was not usual for friars to pay for their begging rights, and suggests Chaucer may have cancelled the lines on finding that he had misunderstood the system on which begging territories were assigned.

  254 In principio: ‘In the beginning’. These are the opening words of St John’s Gospel, the first fourteen verses of which were recited as a devotional text, which friars used as a blessing on entering a house.

  256 This proverbial expression (cf. Fri 1451, and see Mann, Estates Satire, p. 46) seems to mean that the Friar’s gains ‘on the side’ were worth more than his regular income from donations. The suggestion that ‘rente’ here is equivalent to the ‘ferme’ in line 252a (i.e., an outgoing payment made by the Friar) is implausible, since Chaucer generally uses ‘rente’ to mean ‘income’. The same phrase is used in the Romance of the Rose (11536, tr. Horgan, p. 178) by the hypocrite False-Seeming, an important influence on Chaucer’s portrait of the Friar; see Mann, Estates Satire, p. 49.

  258 A ‘love-day’ was a meeting for the private settlement of a dispute, whether it had previously been taken to court or not. False-Seeming also arbitrates in quarrels (‘je faz pes’; RR 11650, tr. Horgan, p. 180). As arbitrator, the Friar would have the opportunity to curry favour with the rich and powerful, and also to take bribes; see J. W. Bennett, Speculum, 33 (1958), 351–70.

  261 maister: That is, one who had been awarded a master’s degree at a university. The friars seem to have prided themselves on their learning, and the title ‘master’ is repeatedly and pointedly applied to them throughout CT; see Fri 1300, 1337, Sum 1781, 1800, 1836, 2184–8 (and n.), and cf. Langland’s reference to friars as ‘maistres’, PPl Prol.62. See Mann, Estates Satire, p. 39.

  263 presse: Riverside’s note glosses this as ‘casting mold’ (referring to the bell rather than the semicope), but the MED does not attest this sense of the word.

  271 mottelee: See Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 86–9.

  272 Flaundrissh bevere hat: The Merchant has evidently purchased his hat while travelling on business. Trading relations between England and Flanders were very close in the fourteenth century, despite sporadic bans on imports or exports imposed by rulers for political reasons. See Barron, ‘England and the Low Countries’, pp. 1–7, and, for more detailed treatment, V. Harding in the same volume, pp. 153–68.

  276–7 Middleburgh was an important port on the coast of Flanders, situated close to the marketing and banking centre of Bruges in Flanders; from 1384 to 1388 it was the staple (authorized export centre) for English wool. The harbour afforded by the estuary of the river Orwell lay directly across the Channel from it on the coast of Suffolk, not far from Ipswich, which was also a wool-trading town. See the map facing p. 1 of Barron, ‘England and the Low Countries’. The Merchant would have been concerned that this important trade route was kept free from molestation by pirates and raiders (T. A. Knott, PQ, 1 (1922), 1–16). Chaucer’s work as Controller of Customs brought him into direct contact with the wool trade (Life-Records, pp. 148–270).

  278 sheeldes: According to K. S. Cahn, SAC, 2 (1980), 81–119, at p. 85, this is not a reference to the French écu, but a nominal unit of exchange used in Flanders, and the Merchant is manipulating currency exchange as a way of borrowing money. However, Peter Spufford (personal communication) disagrees with this suggestion, not least because the money of account used in Flanders would be the Flemish groot. The simplest explanation of this line is that it refers to the Flemish écu (see n. to Sh 330–33); if the Merchant is an exporter of (say) wool, as his concern with the trade route to the wool staple suggests, he will have been paid for his wool with écus, and over time will have amassed considerable amounts of this currency in Flanders; rather than shipping the money home in cash form (a risky enterprise), he makes a paper agreement to ‘sell’ (i.e., exchange) these écus to a Flemish merchant who imports goods into England and has a corresponding surplus of pounds sterling which he needs converting into his local currency. As today, the art of this transaction is to execute it at a time when the exchange rate is favourable.

  286 logik: The study of Aristotelian philosophy formed a major part of the medieval university curriculum (see G. Leff, Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (New York, 1968), pp. 119–46). For an assessment of Chaucer’s knowledge of Oxford and Cambridge, the two medieval English universities, see Bennett.

  291–2 The Clerk has not been lucky enough to acquire a post as priest of a parish (‘benefice’), but he has not taken the route followed by many more worldly clerics who sought employment on the administrative staff of the king or a great lord (cf. PPl Prol.92–9). See Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 82–3.

  294 Books were very costly items in the fourteenth century, so that twenty books would constitute an impressive collection.

  296 sautrye: A stringed instrument sim
ilar to a zither (see Page, Voices and Instruments, pp. 113, 122–3). Nicholas in the Miller’s Tale (3213, 3305) is one of the more worldly clerks who are fond of such musical instruments.

  297–8 Chaucer punningly refers to the mythical ‘philosopher’s stone’, which alchemists believed would turn base metals into gold; although a philosopher, the Clerk has no benefits from this magical stone.

  301–2 Medieval university students were usually funded by their relatives; in return they were expected to pray for them (Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 81–2).

  309 Serjeants at Law were a select group of barristers practising in the king’s courts; they had the exclusive right to plead cases in the Court of Common Pleas, the principal court in England. They were persons of high status in fourteenth-century England. See J. H. Baker, The Order of Serjeants at Law (London, 1984), pp. 3–107.

  310 The ‘Parvis’ is a name given to a part of St Paul’s Cathedral where lawyers customarily consulted with their clients; ‘it may have meant the colonnaded north aisle as well as the yard’ (Baker, Serjeants at Law, p. 103).

  314 The assizes were county courts which were held at regular intervals for the hearing of civil cases; the itinerant justices who presided over them were appointed for fixed periods by royal commission (W. S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law, 7th edn, 17 vols. (London, 1956–72), I, 275–85).

  315 patente: The word means ‘open’, and is applied to public documents which were left open for general inspection, with the seal appended from the bottom, instead of being folded over and closed with the seal, as was the case with documents of a private and individual nature. The ‘patente’ here is a letter of appointment from the king.

  plein commissioun: ‘Full authority’; that is, there were no restrictions on the kind of cases the Serjeant was authorized to deal with.

  317 Baker (Serjeants at Law, pp. 25–6) explains this line as meaning that the Serjeant ‘was retained permanently by many clients for annuities of money and robes’.

  319 fee simple: The holding of landed property could be subject to an entail which would oblige the holder to bequeath it to a designated heir and would also prevent him from selling it or otherwise disposing of it as he wished. The Serjeant manages to gain unrestricted rights over all the property he purchases.

  324 King William: William the Conqueror (1066–87). Under the Norman kings, English law was extensively remodelled and transformed (see Pollock and Maitland, I, 79–110). This is why the Conquest is treated as synonymous with the beginning of legal records, but Chaucer’s claim for the Serjeant’s knowledge is obvious hyperbole.

  326 pinche at: Manly suggested that this might be a punning allusion to Thomas Pinchbek, a serjeant of law contemporary with Chaucer (New Light, pp. 151–7); for Chaucer’s contacts with Pinchbek and other lawyers, see W. F. Bolton, MP, 84 (1987), 401–7. However, the phrase ‘pinche at’ seems to have been part of Chaucer’s normal lexicon (cf. Mcp 74 and Chaucer’s ‘Fortune’ 57), and its use here may simply be coincidental.

  328 The Serjeant’s ‘medlee coote’ seems to be an early example of the striped, parti-coloured robe which had become the usual dress of serjeants of law by the fifteenth century (Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 112–21, and Baker, Serjeants at Law, pp. 73–7). For some contemporary pictures of serjeants wearing this robe, see W. N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley, A History of Legal Dress in Europe until the End of the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1963), Frontispiece and Plates 11–12, and Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, Colour Plate III. It is surprising that Chaucer does not mention the white coif which was the most distinctive part of a serjeant’s dress; it is clearly shown in the Ellesmere miniature depicting the Serjeant.

  331 FRANKELEIN: Etymologically, the term ‘franklin’ meant ‘a man of free birth’ (as opposed to a serf). The infrequent appearance of the term in historical records makes it difficult to define the exact social status it denoted in fourteenth-century England; H. Specht (Chaucer’s Franklin in the Canterbury Tales (Copenhagen, 1981)) argued that Chaucer’s Franklin was a member of the gentry, whereas N. Saul (MÆ, 52 (1983), 10–26) sees him as a parvenu. For a summary of contributions to the dispute, see E. Mauer Sembler, ch. 12 in Chaucer’s Pilgrims. An Historical Guide to the Pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales, ed. L. C. Lambdin and R. T. Lambdin (Westport, CT, and London, 1996). However, Saul does not disagree with R. H. Hilton’s comment that ‘the description of [the Franklin’s] social and political role, as well as of his way of life, puts him firmly among the county gentry’ (The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1975), p. 25). The various offices that he has held carried high status in county society (Saul, pp. 16–20). Cf. n. to GP 360.

  333 complexioun: According to medieval medical theory, the human body was an amalgamation of four ‘humours’ or bodily fluids: blood (hot and moist), phlegm (cold and moist), choler (hot and dry); melancholy (cold and dry). The preponderance of one or other of these humours determined a person’s ‘complexioun’ and thus their physical and personal characteristics. See Grant, Source Book, pp. 701–2, 705, 717–19, and Rawcliffe, Medicine, pp. 33–7. The Franklin’s ‘complexioun’ is sanguine – that is, dominated by blood; this would give him a ruddy colouring and a cheerful and generous disposition.

  334 sop in win: A piece of bread dipped in wine was a normal medieval breakfast; cf. Mch 1843.

  336–8 Epicurus: A Greek philosopher who held pleasure to be the highest good, and who was therefore associated in the popular mind with sensual indulgence, although he himself defined ‘pleasure’ rather as an untroubled and independent mental serenity, to be achieved by withdrawal from the world.

  353 table dormaunt: Medieval dining tables were usually trestle tables, which were taken down after the meal in order to clear space in the hall for other activities. The Franklin has a table with a fixed frame, always ready for a meal.

  355 sessions: That is, legal sessions, over which the Franklin will have presided as justice of the peace (see Holdsworth, History of English Law, I, 285–98), or possibly as lord of the manor (cf. Sum 2162).

  356–9 knight of the shire: A Member of Parliament, elected by the county court (R. C. Palmer, The County Courts of Medieval England 1150–1350 (Princeton, NJ, 1982), pp. 293–4). The offices of sheriff (see Palmer, ch. 2), justice of the peace and knight of the shire were posts frequently and routinely held by the class of country gentry to which the Franklin belonged (Specht, Chaucer’s Franklin, pp. 124–34). Chaucer himself was both justice of the peace (in Kent, 1385–9), and knight of the shire (for Kent, in 1386); see Life-Records, pp. 348–63 and 364–9, and also M. Galway, MLR, 36 (1941), 1–36.

  countour: MED lists this quotation under sense 1a, ‘An accountant; esp. an official who oversees the collecting and auditing of taxes for a shire, a kingdom, etc.’ See C. Johnson, The English Government at Work, 1327–1336, vol. II, ed. W. A. Morris and J. R. Strayer (Cambridge, MA, 1947), pp. 201–7. However, the word also denoted ‘A pleader in court, a lawyer’ (MED 1c; cf. P. Brand, The Origins of the English Legal Profession (Oxford, 1992), p. 94), and N. Saul (MÆ, 52 (1983), p. 19) thinks that the Franklin may have been a pleader in a county court (see R. C. Palmer, English Historical Review, 91 (1976), 776–801). If so, that might explain why he rides in company with the Serjeant of Law.

  357–8 anlaas … gipser: Funerary effigies of medieval men show that this combination of a short sword and a purse hanging from one’s belt was conventional (Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, Plates 10–12; Saul, MÆ, 52 (1983), p. 20).

  360 vavasour: A term applied to landowners who ‘held a recognized though modest place at the bottom of the feudal aristocratic hierarchy’ (R. J. Pearcy, ChauR, 8 (1973), 33–59, at p. 33). In romance literature the vavassor is associated with generous hospitality and old-world values (ibid.). See also P. R. Coss, Social Relations and Ideas: Essays in Honour of R. H. Hilton, ed. T. H. Aston and others (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 109–50.

  363 liveree: Each fraternity (see next n.) had a distinctive livery, cons
isting of hood and gown, which was worn at the annual feast of the guild’s patron saint and on other special occasions (G. Unwin, The Gilds and Companies of London, 4th edn (London, 1963), pp. 123, 189–92).

  364 fraternitee: Since the Guildsmen all belong to different trades, it is not easy to identify the fraternity to which they belong with a craft guild, and it has been proposed that it was one of the parish fraternities which provided financial support to their members in times of illness or poverty while they were alive, and paid for their funerals and the singing of masses for their souls when they were dead (see A. Fullerton, MLN, 61 (1946), 515–23, and T. J. Garbáty, JEGP, 59 (1960), 691–709). However, this leaves unexplained the Guildsmen’s hopes of becoming aldermen (GP 372), since ‘the Aldermancy of later fourteenth century London was the preserve of a rich and influential oligarchy whose members were drawn from a few gilds at most, and none of the gilds Chaucer refers to provided aldermen during the period’ (P. Goodall, MÆ, 50 (1981), 284–92, at p. 284). J. W. McCutchan therefore proposed that they were members of the Drapers’ Fraternity, a politically active and influential guild which admitted members of other crafts (PMLA, 74 (1959), 313–17), while B. J. Harwood (RES, n.s. 39 (1988), 413–17) – more plausibly – suggested that the Guildsmen are honorary members of a craft guild, such as the tailors’ fraternity of St John the Baptist, which admitted to such honorary membership tradesmen from the lesser companies, and afforded them contact with the members of the greater companies from which the aldermanic class was drawn. For more recent research on the Tailors, see M. Davies, ‘The Tailors of London and their Guild c. 1300–1500’, Oxford DPhil dissertation (1994). Another possibility mentioned by Caroline Barron (personal communication) is that the Guildsmen were not Londoners at all; if they lived in a provincial town, they would have had a much greater chance of becoming aldermen. Cf. J. Simpson, in England in the Fourteenth Century, ed. N. Rogers (Stamford, 1993), pp. 109–27, at p. 116, n. 15.

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