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“Oure Citee”: Illegality and Criminality in Fourteenth-Century London Thomas Carney Forkin Lady Margaret Hall Oxford University
Due to unfamiliarity with medieval English law, a modern reader may pass over a bevy of matters concerning legality and illegality in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Late medieval cities, including London, were rife with trade and business, affairs of the royal court, travelers, growing populations gradually recovering from the Black Death and recurrent outbreaks of plague, as well as the presence of countless criminals and reprobates. Through a close reading of the Cook’s Tales and several specimens included in the Tales that provide further description of Roger the Cook, placed alongside contemporary laws and statutes of the period, the modern reader is able to glimpse the more nefarious underworld of Chaucer’s London and how he incorporated the character of the city into his characters. The description Chaucer provides Roger the Cook in the General Prologue is at ﬁrst glance rather ﬂattering where the Cook’s culinary abilities are concerned: He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye, Maken Mortreux, and wel bake a pye. (I.383-84)1 Chaucer, not content to leave Roger characterized merely as a chef capable of diverse cooking methods, continues his description, But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me, That on his shyne a mormal hadde he. For blankmanger, that made he with the beste. (I.385-387) It is this suggestion that forces the reader to question what sanitary standards Roger maintains in his kitchen, if any. The modern reader who understands a mormal as simply a dry-scabbed ulcer; sore; an abscess,2 neglects the innuendo Chaucer has ascribed to Roger by inﬂicting him with this particular unsightly excrescence. It is
Essays in Medieval Studies 24 (2007), 31-41. © Illinois Medieval Association. Published electronically by Project Muse at http://muse.jhu.edu.
Kometh unkouth feveres. or in this case written. what is actually said. by living a life of glotonie & riotous excesse. and then seethe it again. what is implied. but what it left unsaid or. or any otherwise. & eas vendat Christianis. The Cook exempliﬁes that some of Chaucer’s most vivid characterization derives not from.32 Thomas Carney Forkin Lydgate’s use of the mormal that offers the best source of comparison to Chaucer’s.Goutes. It does not require a great stretch of imagination to envisage Roger dipping grimy hands into dishes intended for customers in order to sate his own gluttonous appetite. In the Falle of Princes Lydgate writes: Of glotonie & riotous excesse. horrible to the siht. thought to be a statute passed during the reign of Henry III.4 Knowing that one becomes afﬂicted with a mormal through glotonie & riotous excesse.. though not explicitly stated. goutes. The Judicium Pillorie.5 Item concerning Cooks. There are several legal issues raised by Chaucer’s description of Roger that the modern reader might easily pass over due to unfamiliarity with medieval English law. as Geoffrey of Vinsauf observed. As such. if any do seethe ﬂesh or ﬁsh with bread or water. and selling of food would govern his trade.3 Lydgate explicitly states that one will become afﬂicted with feveres. Chaucer assumed that his audience would take these sins as being implicit characteristics of the Cook. that is not wholesome for Man’s Body. ita quod debitam naturam amiserint.. preparation. si qui decoquant carnes vel pisces in pane vel in aqua vel alio modo non sanas corpori hõminis. or after that they have kept it so long that it loses its natural wholesomeness. ea recalefaciant & vendant: vel si quis emat carnes de Judeis. mormalles. Chaucer expects his audience to keep these imbalances of the humours in mind while reading the Cook’s Prologue where a further perspective into the character of Roger is afforded the reader. that the shop he keeps is in London. and sell it: [or if any do buy ﬂesh of Jews. vel postquam talia tenuerint. In Statutum de Pistoribus there exists a paragraph specifying the punishment for butchers who sell unwholesome ﬂesh.. very speciﬁc statues regulating the procuring.4325) and it is assumable.6 A sentence to the pillory for a speciﬁed period of time would have been the punishment for a cook found in violation of the aforesaid. more accurately. contains an article that identiﬁes several illegal practices cooks seem often to have engaged in: Item de Cocis. and mormalles. Roger is a “Cook of Londoun” (I. Note that the last clause of this passage extends the incremental consequences faced by butchers to include cooks: . and then sell it to Christians]. and maintained during Chaucer’s lifetime.
but when this evidence is considered in light of the Cook’s Prologue. but that he uses spices to mask bland. one can with . secundo convictus paciatur judiciūm Pillorie. or simply bad. also.7 A butcher that selleth swines ﬂesh meazled.9 Much of this is speculative.“Oure Citee”: Illegality and Criminality in Fourteenth-Century London Carnifex qui vendit carnes porcinas supersennuatas. And in this manner shall it be done of all that offend in like case. For lacke of money I might not spede. or that buyeth ﬂesh of the Jews and selleth the same unto Christians.381. Pepar and saffron they gan me bede. the material above examining the mormal and Roger’s use of spices will demonstrate that Chaucer intended the audience to view his Cook as being entirely inviolate of the laws and statutes governing sanitary and ethical business practice. which may further the evidence against Roger. Roger cannot be condemned under any of these laws by the mere speculative and highly circumstantial evidence we might infer from Chaucer’s description of him in the General Prologue. ﬂavour and the multifarious bad odours emanating from the food in his shop and. postquam primo covictus fuerit graviter amercietur. and the fourth time he shall forswear the town. However. Chaucer wrote that Roger uses two spices. It is tempting to suppose that Chaucer does not couple the Cook with the potent and exotic spices to demonstrate Roger’s reﬁned tastes or his fascination for imports. poudre.marchant tart and galyngale. it is worth mentioning one ﬁnal observation of what appears a rather curious repetition by Chaucer. London Lickpenny. and that he could competently create dishes of mortreux and blankmanger (I. vel carnes de morina. At the very least. tercio incarceretur & redimatur. vel emit carnes a Judeis et vendit Christianis. 387). 33 Certainly. after he shall be convicted thereof. Perhaps Chaucer used these dishes because they included ingredients that might have been quite fascinating and exotic to medieval Londoners―spices. or ﬂesh dead of the murrain. quarto abjuret villam. and the third time he shall be imprisoned and make ﬁne. provides evidence that spices were quite a fascination in London. grayns. the odours produced by his mormal. if not something of a novelty: One bad me come nere and by some spice. he shall be grievously amerced. & hoc judiciūm ﬁat de cocis transgredientibus.8 The anonymous narrator lists several other items one would ﬁnd on offer in a typical London market—including his own stolen hood—giving the modern reader another perspective into the London underworld. the mormal being gangrenous rather than cancerous. Clove. an anonymous poem of the early ﬁfteenth century. 384. for the ﬁrst time. and ﬂowre of rise. the second time he shall suffer judgement of the pillory.
does awareness of the statutes quoted above change one’s perception of the ‘humour’ in a character who would sell stale meats and ﬁshes to unsuspecting Londoners (though one may speculate that Londoners were in fact quite suspicious of the many city cooks)? In this practice.4346-52) A cursory reading of these lines may lend support to what is frequently described as jocund or lighthearted dialogue. Roger might be any cook of fourteenth-century London. Yet.31-45) the Manciple cites Roger for drunkenness and the cook then falls from his horse [IX (H) 48]. Of many a pilgrym hastow Cristes curs. That they han eten with thy stubbel goos. However. Roger’s foisting of stale and tainted food upon his London customers cannot be viewed as simply another element contributing to comedic one-dimensionality. And many a Jakke of Dovere hastow soold That hath been twies hoot and twies coold. for cokkes bones. captures a stratum that is lost to many modern readers when they read about Roger the Cook . is at his core a licentiate as is revealed by the Host who says in the Manciple’s Prologue: See how he nappeth! See how. during the reign of Richard II. Ordinances show that medieval cook-shops were oft cited for serving foods unﬁt for consumption. diplomats. That Chaucer knew the court. barristers. like the outwardly appealing yet inwardly putrid pasties he sells. to justly make such accusations of illegal business practices and drunkenness against Roger it would do well to present several further specimens of evidence.10 However. An ordinance dating from 1379. with meschaunce? (IX. one can assume that when Chaucer describes his Cook as violating various statutes and ordinances he assumes that his audience possesses at least a cursory familiarity with the laws and punishments against such behaviour. Such an interpretation neglects recognition of Chaucer’s genius for observance of London life and her inhabitants and the actual ways in which the city functioned. For of thy percely yet they fare the wors. and had personal involvement with the King’s Bench is undeniable and. with a view to such an understanding of Chaucer within his own context. especially gluttony.34 Thomas Carney Forkin reasonable surety acknowledge that Chaucer has afﬂicted Roger with the mormal in order to note the Cook’s penchant towards self-indulgence. For in thy shoppe is many a ﬂye loos.9-11). Harry Bailly makes some poignant accusations against Roger: For many a pastee hastow laten blood. Even if one maintains that Chaucer intends to compliment Roger by listing numerous cooking terms to impress the audience. That he wol falle fro his hors atones! Is that a cook of Londound. In the Cook’s Prologue. (I . A few lines later (IX. then it still may be shown that Roger.
The following is a unique record describing the detection. the ﬁrst time. judgment. It also demonstrates that the unethical actions of London’s cooks were endemic. are ﬁned wholesale year after year for breaking every by-law that concerned their business”. an ordinance such as this would not be passed due to the foul actions of one or two rogue cooks. London Chaucer would have known. The record is a vivid testament deserving nearly full citation: On the eighth day of May . and certain of the alderman [of London] and showed to them two .— In the ﬁrst place—that no one of the said trade shall bake rabbits in pasties for sale. tanners. and of going etc. in deceit of the people. and grynde. and the third time. at the will of the Mayor. summoning. The ordinance reads: Because that the pastelers (pastie/pie bakers) of the city of London have heretofore baked in pasties—rabbits. 4d.. like Roger. daily violating the victual laws. geese. to the use of the Chamber. and punishment of one John Welburgham who was. 6s.. one can assume that a signiﬁcant number of “criminal cooks” thrived in London.[ﬁve citizens] of the county of Somerset came before the Mayor. to the use of the Chamber and of going bodily to prison. sheriffs. if found guilty thereof. ordinances. and garbage (entrails)11. and also have baked beef in pasties and sold the same for venison. a problem that David Wallace classiﬁed as “a common practice that warranted civic attention. in deceit of the people. 20s.. therefore. expresses the same disenchantment one senses in the aforementioned ordinance: Thise cookes.”14 Based on the information presented above. and passages all serve as powerful evidence to the grave problem of sanitary food control faced by medieval Londoners.. after dinner. it is ordered and assented to. not beﬁtting and sometimes stinking.. to the use of the Chamber. The Pardoner. 8d. a rascal himself. poulterers. by assent of the four master pastelers and at their prayer. “Fishmongers. and streyne. etc. a cook. And turnen substaunce into accident To fulﬁlle al thy likerous talent! (VI.“Oure Citee”: Illegality and Criminality in Fourteenth-Century London in the Canterbury Tales. 15 It may be tempting for the modern reader to write off laws and ordinances concerning victuals as being nearly unenforceable and assume that offenders went unpunished. cooks. how they stampe. or rather illegal. 13s. but the London Letter Books record quite a different story.538-540)13 These statutes.12 35 This ordinance presents the modern reader with a specimen of the legal. and of going etc. on pain of paying. the second time.
assumed that his audience would know the consequences for Roger’s breaches of the victual laws. . Whereupon.17 Would Chaucer’s audience. and still did warrant it. knowing full well the laws governing medieval London. a cook in Bredstret.. Wherefore it was awarded.” and David Wallace feels that Harry Bailly is merely joking at the Cook’s expense when he accuses him of selling inferior and stale pies. unlike so many others.36 Thomas Carney Forkin pieces of cooked ﬁsh commonly called ‘congre’. which he acknowledged he had received for the ﬁsh aforesaid. he said that he did sell to the said complainants the said ﬁsh so cooked.neighbours of the said cook. rotten and stinking.. Muriel Bowden was of the opinion that a modern audience is able to safely distance itself from the “offensive person and decaying foods” of Roger. and not putrid. a member many Londoners were forced to deal with on a daily basis? I suspect the latter of these two possibilities.. a conclusion is imperative as to whether or not Roger was indubitably guilty of breeching any of the laws concerned with victuals.. Finally. the audience is fortunate to be told how the dialogue and accusations between Roger and Harry are to be understood. having seen persons chained or tied to the pillory for such offenses as Welburgham’s rotten ﬁsh. and this he demanded to be proved in such manner as the Court should think proper etc.who said upon their oath. at noon on the same day. and that he should also have the punishment of the pillory for one hour of the day. Still. and which the said cook warranted to them to be good and wholesome for man. not a modern audience. that the said John Welburgham should repay to the said complainants six pence. the said Mayor caused to be summoned [twelve] reputable men. was a drunkard and libertine who hazarded poisoning Londoners for the sake of proﬁt and deserved strict punishment under the arm of the law?18 Would the portrayal have been a vivid and humorous caricature or might it have been a slightly too accurate reﬂection of one of the constituting members of London’s underworld. And hereupon the said John Welburgham was immediately sent for.16 An example as such puts into perspective the humor that is so often attributed to Chaucer’s description of Roger the Cook and makes the modern reader realize that Chaucer. and. would the reality of the portrait have led to the conclusion that Roger de Ware of London. and that the said ﬁsh should then be burnt beneath him. that one can be “fascinated by the reality of a vivid portrait. and unwholesome for man. which they had bought of John Welburgham. and unwholesome for man. being questioned thereon. and that he warranted it unto them as being good and wholesome. the neat problem of whether or not Roger actually did sell unwholesome foodstuffs remains. In this instance. have been “fascinated” and amused by Roger or. Cook. stinking. that the said pieces of ﬁsh were rotten.
4354-55) The counter: 37 “Thou seist ful sooth. it would certainly be a ﬁtting prequel to Roger’s later years. admitted culpability for the crimes Harry accuses him of perpetrating (I. included such expectations . by self-admission. perhaps the story. These four lines have long been held as a dialogue in which Harry was acting as peacekeeper. “in oure citee” (I. “by my fey! But ‘sooth pley.1450).” quod Roger.4419-20). know that an apprenticeship lasted seven years during which the apprentice had to live up to certain codes of conduct and regulation and.20 However.” they were nonetheless truthful—and Roger has unwittingly admitted his guilt. one must acknowledge that the Cook himself has unwittingly confessed culpability for his breaches of the victual laws. A man may seye ful sooth in game and pley. be nat wroth for game. demonstrated marked rhetorical ability. or dwelled at some point. a role he was probably quite practiced in as a taverner and innkeeper.“Oure Citee”: Illegality and Criminality in Fourteenth-Century London as truth. without even thinking. If Harry has said “ful sooth. of the young reprobate is a bit autobiographical. (I.4365). However. Roger has. and disport” (I.” or is he saying that all Harry has said about his less than appetizing cooking is true? Based on the sequential nature of the dialogue it seems that Roger is only agreeing with Harry in that “A man may seye ful sooth in game and play. the “playing” has ended poorly for Roger. quaad pley.4346-52). In essence. (I. much in line with his role of host and judge. When Roger admits that Harry’s comment is said “ful sooth” he is not only saying that the wisdom of the adage is true. on a linguistic technicality. that “compeer” who “lovede dys. As the worthy victualler whom Perkyn was in the service of is not an accurate reﬂection of Roger. however. then even though the accusations were “in game and pley. a scalawag chef is an interesting end of the Cook’s Prologue and an apropos transition introducing Perkyn Revelour.” is he citing the truthfulness of the Host’s quip that “A man may seye ful sooth in game and pley. The Chamberlain’s Devout Instructions to Apprentices (c. When Roger says to Harry “Thou seist ful sooth. and revel. a medieval Londoner would.’ as the Flemyng seith. Harry is by no means attempting an apology.” he is merely acknowledging the validity of the adage. Recognition that this citizen and “master” cook of London is. For one. Harry has acted the part of a prosecuting lawyer and tricked Roger into admitting his guilt. he also acknowledges that what the adage is in defense of is true. or fragment of a story. From only ﬁve or six words a medieval audience would have added a contextual richness that a modern audience can only grasp at. at the termination of which he would become a master of his craft or trade. Chaucer’s expository lines introducing Perkyn Revelour identify him as “A prentys” who dwells. He has.” as Roger stated. Harry says to Roger: But yet I pray thee.4353-57)19 Though Harry might have cast his aspersions at Roger in jest.
cursing. John Scattergood has observed.” is a potentially charged insight into those entering regulated professions during the fourteenth century.11). swearing. That Chaucer is calling attention to a craft that repeatedly ﬂaunted numerous London statutes may be evinced in the Host’s enquiry to the Cook when his state of inebriation is detected in the Manciple’s Prologue. being “diligent and faithful in a master’s service during the tenure of apprenticeship. Perkyn Revelour. and rascals so often overlooked in history books. further contribute. a cook. far short of the expectations set by the various statutes and ordinances governing the profession. “And of a craft of vitailliers was hee” (I. and drunkenness. to revealing Chaucer’s consciousness of London’s underworld and of her inhabitants. Indeed. if this question were taken as anything but sarcastic. which contains a decided note of sarcasm: “Is that cook of Londoun. ﬁguratively and literally.21 A juxtaposition of the scant ﬁfty-eight lines of the Cook’s Tale with the document just quoted show the reader that Perkyn Revelour went beyond the boundaries of mere reveling. Chaucer’s all too acute eye for observation was focused not only on the pomp and circumstance of court and clergy. which likely included many cooks and apprentices. Perkyn Revelour was for a time an apprentice to a victualler. especially Roger. The habits attributed to him―his love of taverns. but also on the underlings. his womanizing. indeed more than any other tale. his preference for dancing and singing to work. particularly one who shirks the duties of apprenticeship in favor of being a “dissipated urban wastrel. Roger the Cook demonstrates that a fully-ﬂedged master victualler. It would be rather contrary to what had previously been established as the Host’s contempt for London cooks. that Chaucer constructs “a character who breaks every precept.4366). quite rightly.”23 For now it is sufﬁcient to say that the Cook’s Tale and its protagonist. .” reading the covenants of indenture. Perkyn’s crimes and misdemeanors. the poverty which causes him to resort to theft and his consequent suffering at the hands of the law―all mark him out as the typical dissipated urban wastrel.38 Thomas Carney Forkin as serving God. merit speciﬁc consequence under fourteenth-century English law. As John Scattergood has observed: Perkyn Revelour corresponds both in his highly signiﬁcant surname and in his character as an identiﬁable literary type. his dicing. tramps. can and did fall. with meschaunce?” (IX. it seems that Harry Bailly is probably used to observing drunken crowds.22 Chaucer’s use of a London apprentice.” amongst several other speciﬁcities. avoiding all evil company and “all manner of gaming. several of which have been identiﬁed above. who resists being incorporated into the city ethos and uses what opportunities his lifestyle affords him for personal pleasures of an immoral and sometimes criminal sort.
p. 188. p.” which. under the same penalty. 686. Riley notes that: “Giblets are probably included under this uninviting term” (p. is not only disparaging cooks. Also. under the same penalty. 438). that no one shall bake beef in a pasty for sale and sell it as venison. Geoffrey of Vinsauf. of the cooks of such lords. Also. halves of geese. Robert E. Statues. p.. Kuhn (Ann Arbor.” Statutes of the Realm. The Middle English Dictionary also cites a passage from Chauliac attesting to the fetid odour of the mormal: “The mormale or dede apple. vol I (London. A. The ordinance continues by stating: “Also. Lewis and Sherman M. the body and blood of Christ (the substance) became the communion during transubstantiation (the accident). or quarters of geese for sale. p. Muriel Bowden.1255. In Memorials of London and London Life in the XIIIth. that no one of the said trade shall buy of any cook of Bread Street or at the hostels of the great lords. Margaret Finims (Toronto. 438). 203. Riley. According to traditional beliefs on the sacrament of the Eucharist. Riverside Chaucer includes a note that a mormal was probably gangrenous rather than cancerous.when that it is noght elles but a stynkynge and drye scabbe” (p. 686.46-47. & trans. Poetria Nova.“Oure Citee”: Illegality and Criminality in Fourteenth-Century London Notes 1 2 3 4 39 All citations to Chaucer are from The Riverside Chaucer.814. Quoted in Middle English Dictionary. cooks’ dishes 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 . Larry D. Rossell Hope Robbins (New York. any garbage from capons. speaking from a religious frame of reference. 1967). 1967). but has also furthered the insult by making a derogatory analogy to transubstantiation. touches upon this idea of “revealing through concealing. Falle of Princes. A Commentary on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales 2nd ed. Luders. p. throughout. like the Eucharist.is generally cured as the scabbe. (New York. ed.. that no one of the said trade shall bake either whole geese in a pasty. XIVth. 1868). cxvi). 3rd. no. p. fol. Thus. 686). ed. 7. hens. ed. 1959). As is commonly known. Henry Thomas Riley (London. 1810). and XVth Centuries. a gangrenous wound can produce most intolerable odours. on the pain aforesaid” (p. 202. “London Lickpenny” in Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries. or geese to bake in pasty and sell. ed. See the whole of Geoffrey’s section titled “Ordering the Material. Translation mine. See entry “mormal” in Middle English Dictionary. ed. 438 (referring to London Letter-Book H. & trans. The Pardoner. ed. 50. 1987). pp. Benson. 1956-) p. ed. Memorials of London and London Life. (Boston.
cxxxvii]).G. cxli]). a woman named Alice. I. G. ccxxiv]).” Medieval Crime and Social Control. 114.” and was duly forced to drink a draught of the same and have the remainder poured on his head (Riley.” Chaucer’s England: Literature in Historical Context. John Penrose was convicted of selling wine which was “unsound and unwholesome for man. so that six of the said ‘ﬁxed’ quarts would not make one proper gallon of ale. (1349). intending to make the bread weigh more. Chaucer and his England.” not through the skill of the practitioner. the Law and the Ambiguous Space of Medieval London Taverns. Chaucer and His England (London. Damaging Roger’s reputation further is the suggestion that his knowledge of the Flemish proverb might have been the result of frequenting brothels. fol. wife of Robert de Caustone. p. then. Coulton observed that: “The fact that the Cook knows some Flemish. Barbara Hanawalt (Minneapolis. A Commentary on the General Prologue. of course. Hanawalt. In 1364. does not mean that he is a friend of Flemings. 319 [citing London Letter-Book G. 498 [citing London Letter-Book H. p. Wallace. was convicted of selling ale in a quart measure in the bottom of which was placed an inch and a half of pitch.. etc. 71. “Chaucer and the Absent City. In 1387. pp. Riley. which regulates the selling of victuals at reasonable prices and the penalties for selling otherwise. Flemish women are commonly cited as having partaken of this occupation. see: Barbara A. Coulton. He might. p. since many London prostitutes were of Flemish origin.40 Thomas Carney Forkin come about by “accident. 70. 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 . G. the reason for his punishment being publicly proclaimed (Riley. Alice was also forced to undergo the punishment of the pillory. For an excellent discussion of the medieval innkeeper as mediator in quarrels. see: Statutes of the Realm. 307-308 Anno 23 Edwardi. cxlv). have learned the language in a brothel. Several other cases demonstrate that not only were the crimes of characters such as Roger the Cook a problem for London. to which was tied in the sight of the common people one half of the same false measure (Riley. Robert Porter was convicted for inserting a piece of iron in a penny loaf of bread. pp. see especially pp. 1992). “Chaucer and the Absent City. vol. p. 189. 204-24. p. Memorials. see especially Article VI. ed. was put in the pillory for an hour and the loaf and iron were hung about his head. Memorials. III. 464 (citing London LetterBook H. pp. “The Host. Memorials of London and London Life. arguments. 1963). 318-319 [citing London Letter-Book G.” Coulton. p. Barbara Hanawalt & David Wallace. p. 70.G. fol. For information on the regulation of prices for all persons involved in the selling of victuals. Wallace. Memorials.” p. fol. but also that perpetrators were given due justice: In 1364. eds. 217-19. fol. Bowden.
23 .” Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales. Scattergood. Reading the Past: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature. 2003). (Cambridge. John Scattergood. “Perkyn Revelour and the Cook’s Tale. 185. vol. p.“Oure Citee”: Illegality and Criminality in Fourteenth-Century London 21 22 41 John Scattergood. ed.I. “The Cook’s Tale. 190. “Perkyn.” Reading. rprt. John Scattergood (Dublin.” Chaucer Review 19 (1984): 14-23. 84. p. 1996). p.