Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer | Quotes | Biography | Works | Canterbury Tales | Portraits | Posters | Essays | Links | Books | Discussion Forum



Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century


<- to Chaucer's Man of Law

The Man of Law's Portrait from the 'General Prologue'
The Man of Law
From the Ellesmere Manuscript

A SERGEANT OF THE LAWE, war and wys,
That often hadde been at the Parvys,
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was and of greet reverence;
He semed swich, his wordes weren so wise.
Justice he was ful often in Assise,
By patente and by pleyn commissioun:
For his science and for his heigh renoun.
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon;
So greet a purchasour was nowher noon.
Al was fee symple to hym in effect,
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle
That from the tyme of kyng William were falle;
Ther-to he koude endite and make a thyng,
Ther koude no wight pynchen at his writyng;
And every statut coude he pleyn by rote.
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote.
Girt with a ceint of silk with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.






[AJ Notes:]

309. Sergeant of the Law, a barrister of the highest order. For example, all judges
        of the Court of King's Bench and the Court of Common Pleas
        before the 19th century were Serjeants-at-law.
        war, careful; prudent.
310. Parvys, the Porch of St. Paul's Cathedral, where lawyers would meet.
312. Discreet, morally discerning.
        of greet reverence, highly respected.
313. semed swich, seemed such.
314. Justice... in Assise, a judge in Assize.
315. patente, royal patent; royal charter.
pleyn commissioun, full authority.
316. science, learning; knowledge.
        heigh renoun, high renown, i.e. excellent reputation.
317. fees and robes, monetary income and income in robes, i.e. items of clothing.
        many oon, many a one; several.
318. purchasour, buyer of land.
319. fee symple, fee simple; the most absolute possession of a title to a piece of real estate.
        The implication seems to be that even when the parcel of land he purchased was not
        fee simple, his skill as a lawyer would make it so in effect.
320. myghte nat been infect, could not be invalidated.
321. nas, ne was; was not.
323. In termes hadde he, he had written records.
        caas and doomes alle, all the cases and their judgments.
324. were falle, had befallen; had taken place.
325. Ther-to, in addition to which.
        endite and make a thyng, compose and draw up a document.
326. pynchen at, quibble with.
327. pleyn by rote, repeat by heart.
328. rood, rode.
        hoomly, homely; i.e., simply dressed.
        medlee cote, multicolored coat.
329. ceint, sash.
        barres smale, narrow stripes.


Pollard, Alfred W., ed. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Vol I.
London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907. 16-17.

Backto Chaucer's Man of Law
to the Canterbury Tales
Back to the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

Copyright ©1996-2012 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created on October 29, 1998 by Anniina Jokinen. Last updated on August 31, 2012.


Canterbury Tales Pages
Knight's Tale
Miller's Tale
Wife of Bath's Tale
Reeve's Tale
Cook's Tale
Friar's Tale
Man of Law's Tale
Parson's Tale
Nun's Priest's Tale
Pardoner's Tale
Prioress's Tale

Canterbury Tales Home

Chaucer Home

Medieval Resources

Luminarium | Encyclopedia | What's New | Letter from the Editor | Bookstore | Poster Store | Discussion Forums | Search