|AUTHOR:||Brantley L. Bryant|
|TITLE:||"BY EXTORCIONS I LYVE": CHAUCER'S FRIAR'S TALE AND CORRUPT OFFICIALS|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 42 no2 180-95 2007|
Chaucer's Friar's Tale tells us more about the poet's own experience as a bureaucrat than its origin as a sermon exemplum and its grotesquely satirical aspects might suggest. The tale engages with a fourteenth-century discussion of the psychology and accountability of the intermediary officials who administrated royal, ecclesiastical, and manorial systems of justice and finance. The tale's lengthy initial description of the archdia-conal court is informed by this contemporary preoccupation, exploring the connections between the summoner and the institution he serves. The subsequent depiction of shoptalk between the tale's protagonist and his demonic interlocutor ventriloquizes an interpretation of corruption present in contemporary discourse, which excuses officials by attributing their extortionate behavior to the systems they serve -- an interpretation that the tale calls into question. The tale's examination of the work of officials, an addition original to Chaucer's treatment, likely owes much to the poet's own experience of the pressures of officialdom and his sensitivity to the way that officials were accused or excused in political discussion.
The exploration of officials in the tale is especially notable since it disrupts the flow of an otherwise well-aimed verbal assault. The Friar makes it clear that he will use his entry in the tale-telling contest to expose the Summoner's villainy, continuing a malicious exchange between the two that began in their asides to the Wife of Bath's Prologue and will culminate in the spectacularly scatological climax of the Summoner's Tale.(FN1) His choice of tale is well suited to this purpose; drawn from sermon exem-pla, the Friar's story tells of a despicably corrupt summoner whose unrepentant greed earns him the punishments of hell.(FN2) But the tale does not move particularly swiftly towards the summoner's comeuppance. The story begins with a lengthy description of its protagonist's role in the archdeacon's court, placing his crimes in a larger context of institutional corruption. The tale then narrates a long conversation between the summoner and the demonic bailiff that reveals the pressures and obligations of their offices. This lengthy "institutional prelude" takes up almost two-thirds of the tale's length to detail the summoner's position and character before the exemplary narrative kicks into gear.(FN3) H. Marshall Leicester has claimed that this "unusual" emphasis on the "initial stages" of the story allows the Friar to showcase his intellectual and social superiority to his opponent, but by examining the tale in the light of contemporary debates about officials, we can more fully round out our understanding of its curious bureaucratic digressions.
Both the ecclesiastical post of summoner and the middling positions Chaucer Filled were seen together, along with other more prominent offices such as sheriff and escheator, as especially prone to corruption. Thomas Hahn and Richard W. Kaeuper have definitively treated the Friar's Tales connections to criticism of ecclesiastical summoners, the agents of the archdiaconal court who administrated its discipline of day-to-day morality.(FN4) Hahn and Kaeuper note that the activities of the summoner in the tale closely match contemporary complaints about the rapacity of church courts, but they conclude their contextualization by noting that the Friar's Tale should also be understood within "an even broader context of contemporary criticism."(FN5)
The "broader context," to which Hahn and Kaeuper point, is the intense interest in official corruption of all kinds during this period, an interest that has left its traces in numerous satirical poems, parliamentary petitions, and legal enactments.(FN6) This discourse regularly targets a particular set of "problem officials": among them royal administrators such as sheriffs, escheators, and coroners, but also the low-level ecclesiastical officers in charge of the day-to-day observation of lay morals, especially the archdeacon's court and its summoners. Certainly, some criticisms of high-level ecclesiastics or religious orders are framed within specifically bounded genres that have little to do with the concern over corrupt officials in general -- the satirical description of orders of monks dedicated to unrestrained gluttony comes to mind. But summoners and other low-level church court officials appear regularly in legal and poetic texts along with the other usual suspects. The records of Edward Ill's 1341 inquest into corrupt officials (the fourteenth century's largest royally initiated examination of administrative graft) list investigations into the actions of corrupt summoners alongside those of lay officials.(FN7) Extortion by archdiaconal courts, including the corrupt activity of summoners, was discussed in parliamentary petitions, and was also policed as part of the anti-corruption duties of the Justices of the Peace.(FN8) A 1403 list of points of inquiry for JPs shows the perceived equivalence between extortionate lay officials and extortionate low-level ecclesiastical officials; one of the articles asks first about "all manner of extortions done by mayors, sheriffs, coroners, seneschals, constables, and other officials" and immediately thereafter, "also of extortions done by dean, officials, commissioners, and other officers" of the Christian courts.(FN9) William Langland's imagination of county corruption in Piers Plowman shows similar assumptions at work by including summoners in the crowd of shady characters attending the marriage of Lady Meed:
The "problem officials" of this period were identified by their modus operandi and their position as intermediaries in systems of justice and finance -- a position that was understood to make them both prone to, and suited for, abusing those systems -- rather than by their lay or church affiliation. No matter whether their masters were lords, church officials, or the king himself, their method was the same: "extortion," the extralegal use of a position of power for personal gain, often accompanied by violence or legal maintenance.(FN11) The Friar's Tale's audience, therefore, would clearly have seen this text's relation to the larger, and pressingly contemporary, issue of corrupt officials.
Texts from this period interested in corruption look for answers and explanations as part of their moralistic or reformist projects: they explore the relationship between the officials' character and the functioning of the systems they administrate. One prominent strand of this discourse blames the personal moral choices of officials for the widely perceived breakdown of economic and social order in this period. Corrupt officials' desire for "singular profit," according to these texts, is the genesis of misappropriated taxes, embezzled church funds, perverted justice, and disasters in foreign policy.(FN12) Attention to this facet of the discussion has led scholars to see fourteenth-century English conceptions of institutional functioning as highly moralized. Kaeuper claims that "Medieval men tended to see the need for reform in terms of a corruption of personal morality and were reluctant to believe in the importance of institutional change."(FN13) Christine Carpenter also comes to this conclusion, suggesting that the gentry of medieval England believed that "injustice is caused not by the legal system, but only by false men within it."(FN14) But the causal relationship between immorality and unjust administration was only one of the contemporary ways of analyzing corruption. Another clearly apparent line of thought in texts of this period explains corrupt behavior as a function of the financial or organizational imbalances of a bureaucracy itself, depicting officials as caught between the demands of their superiors, their own financial needs, and the expectations of the persons whom they supervise, discipline, or organize. This aspect of the discourse -- what I label the "systemic explanation" of corruption -- shows the attentiveness of late medieval English society to the effects of administrative arrangements on individual activity. It is also eminently available for exculpatory use. Drawing on fears of financial loss and disinheritance, texts can excuse officials by interpreting extortion and other abuses as the understandable reaction of individuals to financial hardship.
Chaucer's Friar's Tale explores the systemic explanation in its narrative: its beginning account of the summoner's activity carefully considers the interaction of institutional economy and personal morality, sharing the contemporary fascination with accounting for the roots of corruption. Notably, the tale first describes not the villainous summoner, but rather the archdeacon, his master, and the jurisdiction and procedures of his court. This order of presentation suggests that the summoner's position dictates his choice of victims and to some extent even his propensity for corruption itself. Although the Friar's description of the archdeacon is not overtly critical, in it we see the conditions that shape the summoner's rapacity and technique:
The Friar's quip that those charged by the archdeacon can escape no "pecunyal peyne" slyly depicts the archdiaconal court as a system of revenue collection. Moreover, the Friar's description of the archdeacon's powers explains the summoner's choice of victims and false charges. Although the Friar comprehensively lists the crimes that could be punished in archdiaconal courts, he emphasizes their prosecution of sexual sins; we are told first of all that the archdeacon punishes "forni-cacioun," and later that "certes, lecchours dide he grettest wo."(FN15) The Friar here ascribes some of the most notable abuses of this type of jus-lice not to the summoner, but to the court he serves; as Hahn and Kaeuper point out, the most common contemporary criticisms of these courts were their concentration on sexual activity and their willingness to receive "pecunyal peyne" in place of honest repentance and correction.(FN16) By characterizing the archdiaconal court as a place where money is charged for lechery, our narrator has already accounted for the practices of his tale's protagonist. The tale-summoner's keen ability to know "a sly lecchour,/Or an avowtier, or a paramour" better than a "dogge for the bowe" knows a wounded deer can be seen as an adaptation to the system that he serves (III 1369-72). The image of the hunting dog clarifies the summoner's role: vicious of his own nature, perhaps, but answering to the orders of a higher authority.(FN17) The Friar's repeated wording also stresses the connection of the official center of the operation to its criminal fringe: from the archdeacon, to the summoner, to the sordid network of informants that the summoner employs:
The archdeacon has the summoner "redy to his hond" just as the summoner has his spies "redy to his hond." Even though the archdeacon may not know of the summoner's spies, the implication is that of an institutional structure, beginning with the archdeacon's economic interests and evolving out in increasingly unsavory forms.(FN18)
The description of the archdeacon's court sets up the system's economic demand: lechers must be found and their "pecunyal peyne" collected. The Friar now moves on to describe how the summoner goes about this business, and here his criticism of the summoner's character is at its most plain and direct; nevertheless, the Friar's hostile emphasis on the summoner's self-interested gains is blended with sensitivity to the way that his behavior is shaped by the system he serves. Much of the Friar's description does, of course, paint the summoner as a villain fully in control of his extortions. We are clearly told that the summoner cheats the archdeacon, for "His maister knew nat alwey what he wan" and "His maister hadde but half his duetee" (III 1345, 1352). According to the Friar, both the summoner's shady techniques and his manipulative rendering of accounts make him a practitioner of "harlotrye" (III 1328) and a "theef" (III 1351). We also learn that the summoner "took hymself a greet profit" from his extortions (III 1344). And it would be hard to imagine a more direct ad hominem than the comparison to Judas in III 1350.(FN19) On the other hand, the last lines of this section suggest that although the summoner is responsible for the how of his corruption, he may not be so responsible for the why: "And for that [that is, lechery charges] was the fruyt of al his rente,/Therfore on it he sette al his entente" (III 1373-74). These last lines acknowledge that the exactions the summoner takes provide him with the main revenue, "fruyt," for the "rente" he passes on to the archdeacon. Although "rente" could simply mean income, it can also mean money passed on to a higher authority.(FN20) The use of terms such as "rente" and "duetee" evokes the precarious position of the summoner as an intermediate official, balancing his income with what he passes on to his master, the man of "heigh degree."(FN21) The rhyming doubling of the summoner's own volition, or "entente," with the economic requirements of his office, or "rente," proposes a complex model of corruption: affecting and affected by an official's personal choice, prompted and guided by the pressures of an institution.(FN22)
The complexity of the institutional portrayal of the summoner stands in sharp contrast to the brief introductions of the known sources and analogues to the tale.(FN23) From its origin in twelfth-century poems and exempla collections to its later vernacular appearances, the story of the "devil and the advocate" in most cases narrates the punishment of an independently evil figure whose institutional affiliation is incidental, if mentioned at all. These analogues convey moral lessons about avoiding avarice, pitying the poor, and shunning the devil's tricks -- making Chaucer's interest in the practice and theory of corruption a striking addition. The earliest analogue, from the mid-thirteenth century, features a judge whose villainy is both an a priori fact and a striking hyperbole: he has "no equal either in sinfulness or in wealth."(FN24) Its moral is that it is "unwise business to have anything to do with the devil." Contemporary to this tale is an exemplum that features a similarly one-dimensional villain: an "advocatus," the head administrator of a church estate (not a lawyer), who is "without any pity... fearing neither God nor the devil.... avaricious beyond measure."(FN25) The fourteenth-century English analogues to the tale also vilify the central character and make his institutional identity a sidenote to his repugnant immorality. An exemplum from an early fourteenth-century collection, for example, describes its protagonist, a lawyer, as an "exploiter of the poor and plunderer of their goods."(FN26) The only trace of an interest in the intermediary role of officials comes from an early fifteenth-century sermon by Robert Rypon, but this version quite straightforwardly characterizes its protagonist as driven by avarice. In Rypon's version, the villain who meets with the devil is a bailiff, "who in collecting the rents of his lord was excessively greedy (nimis cupidus) and eager for his own profit (lucro propria), being less sparing to the poor in particular."(FN27) Although the protagonist in this case is an intermediary in an economic system, Rypon's telling of the tale depicts the enterprise of collecting revenues as unproblemati-cally collaborative. Rypon's demon asks the bailiff-protagonist, "Do you wish to gain for yourself and for your lord as much as you can, and to receive whatever they might wish to give you?," and the bailiff responds, "So I wish..."(FN28) The dialogue between the bailiff and the devil in Rypon's story mentions the bailiffs subordinate position but gives no hint of the pressures of the intermediary official -- stuck between a master's expectations and personal needs -- that we see in the Friar's Tale.
But if the concerns of Chaucer's analogues seem quite different from those of his tale, contemporary discussions of officialdom offer moments of resonance and correspondence. Concern with the difficult positions of intermediary officials is a repeated topic in the commune petitions presented by the parliamentary commons to the king and lords on behalf of the realm. These petitions tend to exploit the exculpatory potential of the systemic explanation; several of them cite instances of corruption not in order to beg for punishment of the officers involved, but to complain about the imbalances of the financial systems they serve.(FN29) They draw attention to the plight of officials, viewing corrupt behavior not as the sign of an evil soul but rather as an understandable reaction to institutional pressure.(FN30) A petition from 1371 complains that sheriffs cannot collect the revenue they are expected to hand over to the king because various county sources of income have been given away. Nevertheless, the sheriffs are charged the full amount
to the very great damage and disinheritance of the sheriffs and their heirs, and occasioning and perpetuating the extortions (en occasion et maintenance des extortions) made by the said sheriffs and their officers in relation to the levy of such [funds].(FN31)
This petition depicts extortion as impersonally "occasioned" and "perpetuated" by the imbalanced economy of the revenue-gathering system. Not only does the petition refrain from mentioning any excessive greed or "singular profit" on the part of sheriffs; it completely denies them agency in the mailer. A 1384 petition on the same topic displays even more clearly the opinion that extortions are an expected response to financial need. It asks the king to make allowance for the revenue sources sheriffs have lost,
for otherwise, many sheriffs will be destroyed and impoverished forever, and the commons of the said counties greatly harmed and oppressed by the said sheriffs attempting to reduce their loss in the matter.(FN32)
This petition gives equal prominence to the damages done to sheriffs and those done to the people of the counties -- the extortioners are victims as much as their prey -- and it very clearly claims that the exactions of the sheriffs are done to "reduce their loss" from holding an office. Even more succinct is a petition from the parliament of October 1399 that similarly asks the king to look into county finance, for
the sheriffs of the counties of the realm are charged with the ancient farm of the counties, where a great part of their profits are often given to lords and other lieges, so that they are not able to pay the king without committing extortion in the counties.(FN33)
These petitions show an explanation of corruption repeatedly circulating in parliamentary discussions that sees extortion as systemic, not related to one's moral character. They articulate the view that it is permissible for an official to stoop to corruption in order to avoid financial ruin. Creating their own narratives of the causes and manifestations of corrupt behavior, these petitions manage to turn the misdeeds of sheriffs -- officials drawn from the same classes as those who attended parliament -- into pleas for easing their financial burden.(FN34)
The dialogue exchanged between the tale's summoner and the demonic bailiff explains corruption similarly. The moment of shoptalk Chaucer gives us between the mortal and the supernatural extortionist shows them eagerly embracing the claim that corrupt behavior is a consequence of institutional economy rather than the result of a vicious nature. The summoner and the bailiff characterize themselves as underpaid and overworked officials who turn to extortion to survive. The bailiff begins by noting that his extortion supports him since his wages cannot:
The demonic bailiffs explanation that he would not be able to cover his "dispence" (living expenses) without extortion voices the claim, also found in the parliamentary petitions, that extortion is a necessary and preferable alternative to financial ruin. The summoner replies with a similar explanation for his corruption, although his acknowledged glee in taking anything not nailed down suggests a certain contentedness with the arrangement:
Earlier the narrator considered the interactions of the summoner's morals and the system he served, but here the characters explicitly point to the difficulty of their official positions to explain their actions: "Nere myn extorcioun, I myghte nat lyven." The tale asks us to consider the lack of agency of the summoner and the demonic bailiff, their position as intermediaries in systems of financial collection and legal administration.
Of course, although the summoner and the demon straightforwardly explain their corruption, the audience of the tale cannot be so easily taken in. Both the summoner and the demon are pretending to be bailiffs, which makes their statements suspect -- not to mention that one of them is grossly corrupt and the other is from hell. Paradoxically, the fiend's claims about extortion might stand up to more scrutiny than the summoner's. Critics have noted that the demonic bailiff, as an instrument of justice, stays within the boundaries set for him, providing a foil for the transgressive summoner.(FN35) We might read the demon's explanation of his job not as a deception, but rather as an accurate depiction of his role as an intermediary in the infernal economy. The summoner's claim might also be factually accurate within the context of the tale and of the contemporary understandings we have seen about the position of officials -- indeed, his claim that he could not live without extortion echoes the Friar's assessment that the summoner's exactions were the "fruyt of al his rente." Bui although the summoner's statement might be true to some degree, the self-serving nature of his claim is exposed when he shows himself willing to manipulate the systemic explanation in the tale's climax. Assuming, perhaps, that by disguising his motivations he will make his extortion more effective, the summoner tells the innocent widow whom he is trying to swindle:
Since we know that the summoner has invented the charges against the woman -- he admits to the demon that "of hire knowe I no vice" (III 1578) -- we can assume that he is about to collect part of the profit that does not go to his master. Here, his protestation of financial hardship and lack of agency rings as absurdly false as his charges of lechery against a chaste widow.(FN36)
Chaucer's relatively well-documented career allows us to place the Friar's Tale in the context of his own institutional experiences. In turns both a monitor of extortion and the holder of positions liable to exert it, Chaucer was likely to have been conversant in the array of contemporary languages used to excoriate or exculpate corrupt officials. Though Chaucer's urban origins, his fee-and annuity-based (rather than land-based) income, and his extensive early employment by royal households set him apart from the county gentry of the middle strata who most frequently served in the problematic official positions of sheriff, escheator, coroner, and the like, Chaucer must nevertheless have known much about the lot of middling officials.(FN37) As comptroller of customs from 1374 to 1386, he monitored the customs accounts and was answerable to the exchequer.(FN38) His position as the supervisor to the customs collectors, many of whom were merchant oligarchs -- and one of whom, Richard Lyons, was perhaps the most prominent target of corruption accusations in the 1376 Good Parliament -- no doubt made him familiar with the gray area between harmful corruption and the expected perquisites of office.(FN39) As Derek Pearsall suggests, Chaucer's customs job, though it did not require "outright venality," likely "demanded... acquiescence in doubtful practice, the perpetual turning of a blind eye."(FN40) Chaucer was indirectly accused of corruption himself. In the parliament of 1386, at which Chaucer famously served as MP for Kent, one of the commune petitions attacked customs officials who, like Chaucer, owed their positions to royal appointment. The petition complains that customs officials use their positions to "perpetrate great oppressions and extortions against the people," accusing Chaucer of the very abuse that the summoner of his tale commits.(FN41) In the same year that he was accused indirectly of extortion, Chaucer was monitoring it himself. He had been appointed a Justice of the Peace for Kent in 1385 and may have continued in the position until 1389 -- likely investigating corruption on a local level.(FN42) Later, as clerk of king's works from 1389 to 1391, Chaucer was again the surveyed instead of the surveyor.(FN43) As an official in charge of administration, wage payment, and purveyance of materials for building projects, Chaucer was closely monitored by the exchequer. This office was financially draining in a way that brings to mind the complaints of "streite" and "smale" wages from the tale; Chaucer's exchequer accounts reveal that he often had to contribute his own money during times of need.(FN44)
Jenna Mead, emphasizing the sheer amount of time Chaucer spent in bureaucratic office, has recently asked "what might it mean to propose a 'bureaucratic Chaucer'?"(FN45) Standing in the way of such an analysis, Mead explains, is our relative lack of knowledge about medieval bureaucracy, the "problematic absence of a theorized model of the bureaucrat in medieval governance"; scholars risk anachronism, Mead notes, by projecting modern ideas of the task of a "civil servant" onto the work of a fourteenth-century customs comptroller or clerk of the king's works. As one corrective, Mead suggests we pay closer attention to the kinds of bureaucratic subject created by the documents collected as the Chaucer life-records. Another way of focusing our examination on a "bureaucratic Chaucer" is to examine his poetic engagement with late medieval conceptions of officials and their labor, effectively his engagement with perceptions and depictions of his own labor. Ethan Knapp has argued that the financial instability and petitionary textuality associated with a burgeoning bureaucratic class are reflected in Thomas Hoccleve's construction of an intricately deferred autobiographical voice.(FN46) Adopting a similar strategy, this essay's reading of the Friar's Tale stresses the influence on the tale of a contemporary idea of the official as a figure in danger of financial or spiritual damage, constantly reconciling the financial demands of a superior with personal needs. As monitor of corruption, Chaucer would have had ample opportunity to observe how these dilemmas played out, while as a functionary himself, he would have keenly felt institutional pressures. Tellingly, Chaucer's exploration of the experience of officials in this tale is more intricate than John Gower's discussion of an analogous economic situation. Independently wealthy and unfamiliar with the kinds of intermediary office in which Chaucer served, Gower issues a direct, damning attack on sheriffs who point to the financial difficulties of their office as excuses for corrupt behavior.(FN47) In his Mirrour de L'Omme, Gower flady rejects the exculpatory rhetoric we have seen in the petitions and in Chaucer's tale:
And yet sheriffs are heard to say that they cannot avoid loss in their office without hurting their conscience. No doubt they speak truth but they are not so foolishly scrupulous... that for this they give up wrong and malice, in which they always try to avoid losses. For they care not for conscience and justice, provided they can keep avarice in their office. (24853-64)(FN48)
The consciousness in the Friar's Tale of the pressures placed on intermediaries in financial systems would also invite consideration with the other instances of officers and administrators in Chaucer's poetry. The Manciple's clever skimming and the Reeve's careful "rekenynge" also suggest moments ripe for analysis in the context of Chaucer's imagination of officials (I 567-622).
The Friar's Tales nuanced treatment of the pressures and temptations of officialdom, original to Chaucer's tale, expands its narrative power and its social voice. Onto a source story of the moral failure of one individual, Chaucer grafts a richer and more contemporarily invested examination of the experience of officials that both complicates and is questioned by the lessons about avarice and divine justice that remain latent in its exemplum form. The tale explores the effects of institutional pressure on the summoner's behavior. It also shows the summoner and bailiff, in delusion or self-interest, excusing themselves by blaming their place in the system. But the larger are of the tale, from the Friar's reminder that the summoner is no better than a "theef," to the summoner's callous and self-serving appropriation of the explanation in his con game, to his eventual damnation, all cast doubts about the truth-value of the systemic explanation. The tale suggests that the damaging effects of extortion and corruption cannot be excused even by an appeal to the very real economic needs that may occasion them.
by Brantley L. Bryant
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, California (brantley. bryant@sonoma. edu)
Earlier versions of this essay received generous readings from Paul Strohm, Susan Crane, and the Columbia University Medieval Guild. I am indebted to the audiences who heard previous versions oT this paper at the 30th Annual Villanova International Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Conference in October 2005, and the New York Inter-University Doctoral Consortium Colloquium in April 2006, as well as to the suggestions of The Chaucer Revient's anonymous readers. All mistakes, of course, remain my own.
al the riche retenaunce that regneth with the False
Were boden to the bridale on bothe two sides,
Of aile manere of men, the meene and the riche.
As sisours and somonours, sherreves and hire clerkes.
Bedelles and baillifs and brocours of chaffare,
Forgoers and vitaillers and vokettes of the Arches.
(B.2.54-56, 59-61 )(FN10)
Whilom ther was dwellynge in my contree
An erchedeken, a man of heigh degree,
That boldely dide execucioun
In punysshynge of fornicacioun,
Of wicchecraft, and eek of bawderye,
Of diffamacioun, and avowtrye,
Of chirche reves, and of testamentz,
Of contractes and of lakke of sacramentz,
Of usure, and of symonye also.
But certes, lecchours dide he grettest wo;
They sholde syngen if that they were hent;
And smale tytheres weren foule yshent,
If any persoun wolde upon hem pleyne.
Ther myghte asterte hym no pecunyal peyne.
Thanne hadde he [the archdeacon], thurgh his
Power to doon on hem correccioun.
He hadde a somonour redy to his hond;
This false theef, this somonour, quod the Frere,
Hadde alwey bawdes redy to his hond;
As any hauk to lure in Engelond...
(III 1319-21, 1338-40)
"My wages been ful streite and ful smale.
My lord is hard to me and daungerous,
And myn office is ful laborous,
And therfore by extorcions I lyve.
For sothe, I take al that men wol me yive.
Algate, by sleyghte or by violence,
Fro veer to yeer I wynne al my dispence."
"I spare nat to taken, God it woot,
But if it be to hevy or to hoot.
What I may gete in conseil prively,
No maner conscience of that have I.
Nere myn extorcioun, I myghte nat lyven,
Ne of swiche japes wol I nat be shryven.
Stomak ne conscience ne knowe I noon."
"pay anon -- lat se --
Twelf pens to me, and I wol thee acquite.
I shal no profit ban therby but lite;
My maister hath the profit and nat I."
1. My thoughts on the relation of tale to teller and of the relation of the tale's overlong beginning to its end are indebted to H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., "'No Vileyn's Word': Social Context and Performance in Chaucer's Friar's Tale," Chaucer Review 17 (1982): 21-39. For clarity, 1 capitalize "Summoner" and "Friar" when I refer to the pilgrimage characters, and refer to the summoner of Fr T in lower-case. All Chancer references are to The Riverside Chancer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987).
2. Leicester, "No Vileyn's Word," 24.
3. Leicester, "No Vileyn's Word," 25. FrT in the Riverside runs for 364 lines (1301-1664). The initial description and conversation take up 235 of those lines (1301-1535).
4. Thomas Hahn and Richard W. Kaeuper, "Text and Context: Chaucer's Friar's Tale," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 5 (1983): 67-101. For historical background, see also Louis A. Haselmeyer, "The Apparitor and Chaucer's Summoner," Speculum 12 (1937): 43-57; and Jean Scammell "The Rural Chapter in England from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century," English Historical Review 86 (1971): 1-21.
5. Hahn and Kaeuper, "Text and Context," 89.
6. For general background on corrupt officials in this period, see Helen Jewell, "'Piers Plowman' -- A Poem of Crisis," in John Taylor and Wendy Childs, eds., Politics and. Crisis in Fourteenth-Century England (Gloucester, 1990), 59-80; and Richard W. Kaeuper, War, justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Eater Middle Ages (Oxford, 1988), 270-315.
7. Hahn and Kaeuper, "Text and Context," 83-84; and Bernard William McLane, ed., The 1341 Royal Inquest in Lincolnshire (Suffolk, 1988), xxvii-xxix (entries 764-66, 815-16).
8. Unless otherwise noted, all citations and translations from the parliament rolls come from The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. C. Given-Wilson et al., CD-ROM, Scholarly Digital Editions (Leicester, 2005) (hereafter PRME). The parliaments 1 cite are translated, edited, and introduced by Mark Ormrod (1337-77); Geoffrey Martin (1377-79); Chris Given-Wilson (1380-1421). For ease oF reference, 1 will cite the old Roluli parliamentorum volume, page, and item numbers, which are also available for reference in the CD-ROM edition. See PRME III.43.46 for a 1378 petition that specifically mentions the depredations of summoners, and 111.163.54 for a petition about the ecclesiastical courts in general. The 1378 petition is cited in both Haselmeyer, "Apparitor," and Hahn and Kaeuper, "Text and Context." For the jurisdiction of the justices of the peace over ecclesiastical extortion, see Bertha H. Putnam, ed., Proceedings Before the Justices of the Peace in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centimes (London, 1938), xlvi.
9. Putnam, ed., Proceedings, 14 (translation mine). "Item vous enqueues de louts maniers extorcions faicles sibien par Maieurs viconts bailiffs Couronnours Seneschals Conestables Eschetours et aultres officiers.... Et auxi des extorsions faictes par Deans Officialx Commissaires el aultres officiers..." The question about ecclesiastical extortion specifically asks about overcharging for the proving of wills, one of a summoner's special duties.
10. A. V. C. Schmidt, ed., The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Critical Edition of the B-Text, 2nd edn. (London, 1995), 29. On summoners in Pieis Plowman, see Hahn and Kaeuper, "Text and Context," 88-89.
11. See MED, on-line edition, s.v. exlorcioun n., and Anglo-Norman Dictionary, on-line edition, s.v. extorsion. For the MED, see http://els.umdl.umich.edu/m/med/; for the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, see http://www.anglo-norman.net/.
12. The language of singular profil can be seen at work in the following parliamentary passages: With relation to justice and officials in particular, see 11.141.38 (1343); 11.260.38 (1354); 11.286.14 (1365); 11.296.13 (1368); 11.335.80 (1376). With relation to trade and commodities, see 11.202.13 (1348); 11.230.40 (1351); 11.270.19 (1362); 11.277.23 (1363); II.300.13 (1369); II.335.81 (1376); III.323.53 (1394). On misappropriation of royal funds, see II.323.15 (1376); II.323.17 (1376); III.216.6 (1386); III.242 (1388 appeal, article four). See also 11.233.47 (1351) and III.82.37 (1380). A good example of the use of the language of singular profil in poetry appears in the Digby 102 poems: J. Kail, ed., Twenty-Six Political and Other Poems (Including 'Petty job') From the Oxford MSS Digby 102 and Douce 322, EETS o.s. 124 (New York, 1904), poems I, V, XIV, XVI, and XXI.
13. Kaeuper, War, justice, and Public Order, 314.
14. Christine Carpenter, "Law, Justice, and Landowners in Late Medieval England," Law and History Review 1 (1983): 205-37, at 232.
15. Hahn and Kaeuper note that The description of the archdeacon's jurisdiction in III 1304-13 accurately reflects the case in fourteenth-century England ("Text and Context," 72-73).
16. Hahn and Kaeuper, "Text and Context," 86-91. The attack on archdeacons' overemphasis on lechery and acceptance of monetary fines in lieu of actual correction was part of a long tradition of venality satire, as John A. Yunck points out in The Lineage of Lady Meed (Notre Dame, Ind., 1963), 258-60. John Cower makes the same charge in his section on archdiaconal courts in the Mironr de l'Omme, lines 20089-208 (G. C. Macaulay, ed., The Complete Works of John Cower, 4 vols. [Oxford, 1899], 1:226-28).
17. The image of a "dogge for the bowe" is echoed in a later description of a lord's servant, Damyan in MerT: "And eek to Januarie he gooth as lowe/As evere dide a dogge for the bowe" (IV 2013-14). The image of a hunting dog appears to have been used elsewhere to suggest rapacious retainers. G. R. Owsl observes that the sermon author Bromyard says of malicious servants "no hounds were ever readier for the chace [sic]... than are these to do whatever their great lord bids them, if he should want to beat or spoil or kill anyone" (Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England [Cambridge U.K., 1933], 325).
18. On this passage, see Daniel T Kline, "'Myne by right': Oath Making and Intent in The Friar's Tale," Philological Quarterly 77 (1998): 271-93, at 273-75. In contrast with my reading, Kline emphasizes the contrast between the archdeacon-summoner "vertical" relationship and the summoner-informants "horizontal" relationship.
19. Judas was a common figure of comparison in attacks on ecclesiastical venality; see Yunck, Lineage, 34-35, 101-2, and passim.
20. MED, on-line edition, s.v. rente n.
21. Leicester notes that these lines allow the Friar to link the summoner's "deplorable activities" to his "hand-to-mouth existence" ("No Vileyn's Word," 25).
22. "Entente" and "rente" will rhyme twice more in the tale (III 1389-90, 1451-52); see Kline, "Myne by right," 278-79.
23. Analogues are discussed, and several edited and translated, by Peter Nicholson, in Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel, eds., Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, 2 vols. (Cambridge, U.K., 2002, 2005), 1:87-99. Archer Taylor gives several later analogues to the tale in Germanic languages, and none appears to contain the level or type of detail about corruption found in Chaucer's tale ("The Devil and the Advocate," PMLA 36 : 35-59).
24. David Blamires, trans., "The Judge and the Devil," in Derek Brewer, ed., Medieval Comic. Tales, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, U.K., 1996), 95-97.
25. Caesarius of Heisterbach, "Of an Administrator Who Was Carried Off Alive Wben He Was on His Way to Collect His Fees," ed. and trans. Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux (Indianapolis, 1971), 362-65, at 363.
26. "Erat vir quidam, senescallus et placitator, pauperum calumpniator et bonorum huiusmodi spoliator..." (Nicholson, ed., "A Story about a Wicked Seneschal," in Sources and Analogues, 1:94-97, at 94-95).
27. "Sicut narratur de quodam ballivo cuiusdam, qui colligendo firmas eius domini fuit nimis ctipidtis lucro proprio et interims, presertim pauperibus minus parcens" (Nicholson, ed., "A Greedy Bailiff," in Sources and Analogues, 1:96-99, at 96-97).
28. "Cui ille, 'Visne lucrari tibi et domino tuo quam polissimus et recipere quicquid voluerint tibi dare?' Respondit ballivus, 'Ita volo'" (Nicholson, ed., "A Greedy Bailiff," in Sources and Analogues, 1:96-97).
29. For commune petitions, see G. L. Harriss, King, Parliament, and Public Finance in Medieval England to 1369 (Oxford, 1975), 358-75; J. R. Maddicott, "Parliament and the Constituencies" in R. G. Davies and J. H. Denton, eds. The. English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester, 1981), 61-87; W. M. Ormrod, "On -- and OIT -- the Record: The Rolls of Parliament 1337-1377," in Linda Clark, ed., Parchment and People: Parliament in the Middle Ages (Edinburgh, 2004), 39-56; and Doris Rayner, "The Forms and Machinery of the 'Commune Petition' in the Fourteenth Century," English Historical Review 56 (1941): 198-233, 549-70.
30. PRME II.305.25. The petition enlarges on the wording of the section of the 1328 Statute of Northampton, to which it refers, to emphasize the damage to sheriffs. The statute notes that sheriffs pay the full amount of the farm despite alienated regions: "a g [ra]nt damage du poeple & desh [eri] lance de viscountes & de lour heirs," Statutes of the Realm, 259-60 (2 Ed. III, c. xii). The petition places the sheriffs first in the list of the aggrieved, and includes the additional wording explaining corruption.
31. PRME II.305.25: "et nient contreesteanl lieles severances failz, les viscontz desdilz countees sont chargez del entier ferme rendre put les ditz counlees si avant corne devant la dite severance ensi faite, a tresgrant damage et desherilance des viscontz et lour heirs, et en occasion et meintenance des extorcions faire par les dilz viscontz et lour ministres entour le lever de tielles entiers fermes."
32. PRME III.174.25: "ou autrement pluseurs viscontz serrant deslruitz et empoveris-sez pur touz jours, et les communes des dites counlees grantement endamagez et oppressez par les ditz viscontz, en abreggemenl de lour perde en celle partie."
33. PRME III. 434.107: "lez viscontz des contees deyns le roialme soient chargez ove l'ancien ferme des counlees, ou graunde parcelle de lour profitz sont donez diversement a seignours et autres lieges, issint q'ils ne purront paier au roy sanz extorsioun faire en lez countees."
34. Indeed, in many cases the position of MP was a stepping-stone to that of sheriff, or vice versa. On class, parliament, and office-holding, see Nigel Saul, Knights and Esquires: The Gloucestershire Gentry in the Fourteenth Century (Oxford, 1981), 113-18.
35. This is the interpretation of Hahn and Kaeuper, "Text and Context," 94-99. See also Leicester, "No Vileyn's Word," 30.
36. Leicester, "No Vileyn's Word," 31.
37. On Chaucer's social posilion, see Paul Strohm, Social Chaucer (Cambridge, Mass., 1994), 10-13.
38. David R. Carlson, Chaucer's fobs (New York, 2004), 5-15. Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography (Oxford, 1994), 94-102. For documents relating to Chaucer's customs work, see Marlin M. Crow and Clair C. Olson, eds., Chaucer Life-Records (Oxford, 1966), 148-270.
39. On Lyons, see George Holmes, The Good Parliament (Oxford, 1975), 101-4, 108-26.
40. Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 100; Carlson, Chaucer's fobs, 12-13; Strohm, Social Chaucer, 29; and Joseph Allan Hornsby, Chancer and the Law (Norman, Okla., 1988), 22-23.
41. PRME III.223.32: "Item, priont les communes: qe toutz les contrerollours es pones du roiaume qe ont lour offices a terme de vie du grant le roi, a cause q'ils font grauntz oppressions et extorcions a poeple en lour offices, soient repellez el adnullez; el qe nulle tiel office soil grannie a terme de vie en temps avenir" (discussed in Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 204; and Strohm, Social Chaucer, 37).
42. Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 205-7; and Carlson, Chaucer's fobs, 15-26. Although Carlson suggests that the commission on which Chaucer served did not discipline "most extortions," and emphasizes the discipline of the JPs on the lower classes, it is nevertheless likely that Chaucer was involved in the discipline of the extortionate practices of his own class. Carlson draws on Rosamond Sillem's "Commissions of the Peace, 1380-1485," Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 10 (1932): 81-104. However, Putnam's 1938 research in Proceedings before the Justices of the Peace indicates thal although the JPs powers were curtailed between 1382 and 1389, precisely when Chaucer served, they still examined extortions. Although evidence is highly fragmentary, a commission for a 1385 Southampton JP session, in the post-1382 "seriously curtail [ed]" form, still lists "extortion" as an item for inquiry.
43. Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 210-14; and Carlson, Chaucer's Jobs, 26-31.
44. See particularly Carlson, Chaucer's Jobs, 28; and Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 213-14.
45. Jenna Mead, "Chaucer and the Subject of Bureaucracy," Exemplaria 19 (2007), http://www.english.ufl.edu/exemplaria/SD/Mead.pdf, 3.
46. Ethan Knapp, The Bureaucratic Muse: Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England (University Park, Pa., 2001), esp. 17-44.
47. Robert Epstein, "London, Soulhwark, Westminster: Gower's Urban Contexts," in Siân Echard, ed., A Companion to Gomer (Cambridge, U.K., 2004), 43-60, at 46-48.
48. Burton Wilson, trans., Mirour de L'Omme, rev. Nancy Wilson Van Baak (East Lansing, Mich., 1992), 326. "El nepourqant om puet o"ir / Visconte dire q'eschu"ir / Ne ptiel la perle en son office, / Ou autrement I'esluet blemir / Sa conscience; el sanz faillir / Voir disl, mais il n'est pas si nice, / Comment que l'aime se chevice, / Q'il laisl pour ce tort ou malice, / Dont quierl sa perle ades fuir: / Car conscience ne justice / Ne cure, maisq'il l'avarice / De son office puet tenir" (Macaulay, ed., The Complete Works of John Cower, 1:274-75).