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Meanings and Uses of Raptus in Chaucer's Time Henry Ansgar Kelly University ofCalifornia, Los Angeles Tquestion of Geoffrey Chaum's connection with the ,aptu, of Cecily Champain has greatly interested literary historians since the matter first came to light in the 1870s. A recent breakthrough in the discussions came with Christopher Cannon's discovery of a new and dif­ ferent version of a release that Champain made to Chaucer on the same day, May 1, 1380.1 I wish to review some of Cannon's findings here and to offer further considerations, especially on the various ranges of mean­ ings that were given to the term raptus in fourteenth-century England, in the hopes of throwing additional light on the episode and clarifying or expanding its hermeneutic possibilities. Professor Cannon informs me that many readers of his article have come to the mistaken conclusion that he has proved that Chaucer sex­ ually violated Cecily Champain. His actual conclusion is only that Champain released Chaucer from a charge ofsexual violation. I will con­ clude below that Cannon is probably correct, even though his argument may have to be qualified to some extent, especially with regard to the meaning of raptus in legal settings. As we will see, the term was used to mean not only sexual rape but also abduction, short for "ravishing and abducting," sometimes in circumstances where there is no possibility of sexual implications, as when referring to the kidnapping of a male heir. After reviewing the Champain releases and considering various in­ terpretations of raptus, we will discuss ways in which charges of raptus were employed, sometimes for different purposes. That is, we will see 1 Christopher Cannon, "Raptus in the Chaumpaigne Release and a Newly Discovered Document Concerning the Life of Geoffrey Chaucer," Speculum 68 (1993): 74-94. I am grateful to Professor Cannon (recently my colleague at UCLA) for discussing all aspects of the case with me and for helping me in various ways, including dealing with the Public Record Office at a distance. I am also grateful to Brigette Bedos-Rezak, Paul Brand, and Charles Donahue, Jr., for their very helpful advice on this study. 101 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER instances in which sexual violation or abduction, with or without forced sex, was alleged without any basis in fact, but simply in order to get other grievances, real ones, into court. On the other side, we will see that when there was a factual basis to the raptus charge, a fictitious charge of another kind was sometimes brought against the culprit, no­ tably that ofassault, regularlycharacterized as a savage beating that left the victim barely clinging to life. We will be particularly interested in the options that various kinds of females (underage wards, mature wards, those who owned their own marriage-rights, married women, widows) had in acting against men who wronged them. My objective is not to come to any definitive solutions, which is not yet possible with the present gaps in our knowledge, but to move the discussion forward and to call for further research in the abundant un­ studied archives of the law, following Cannon's admirable example. I. Cecily With and Without Raptus meus First let us summarize the bare facts ofthe Champain-Chaucer case and some oftheir implications. On May 4, 1380, Cecily Champain, identi­ fying herself as "late the daughter of William Champain and his wife Agnes" ("filia quondam2 Willelmi Chaumpaigne et Agnetis uxoris ejus"), came to Chancery to enroll a document (scriptum) stating that on May 1 she released Geoffrey Chaucer from all actions concerning her "rape" (raptus) and any other cause. Besides this copy ofthe release, three other documents seemingly connected with the episode have long been known; they too are enrollment copies, this time from the court of the mayor of London, and, to accept Theodore Plucknett's interpretation, they deal with friends ofChaucer who helped to finance a monetary set­ tlement to Champain. OnJune 28, 1380, the cutler Richard Goodchild and the armorer John Grove released Chaucer from all actions of law that they had against him, and on the same day Champain similarly re­ leased Goodchild and Grove from all actions...


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