24 September, 2022

Marriage Rights

When a tenant in chief, the people who held land directly from the king, died with his/her heir underage - under 21 if male, 14 if female and married, or 16 if female and unmarried - the king owned the rights to the heir's marriage. He either arranged the heir's marriage himself, or sold the rights to someone else. Men owned their own marriage rights when they came of age at 21

 When Theobald de Verdon died on [] July 1316, he left his three daughters from his first marriage to the late Maud Mortimer (d. 1312), and his second wife Elizabeth (de Clare) de Burgh was a month pregnant with his fourth daughter. On [], Edward II granted the marriage of Theobald's eldest daughter Joan (b. August 1303) to Sir William Montacute, who waited until Elizabeth de Burgh had given birth to her daughter Isabella de Verdon on 21 March 1317. If Isabella had been a boy, she would have become Theobald's sole heir from the moment of birth and would have disinherited Theobald's three living daughters, but as it was, the birth of a girl meant that Theobald's estate would be divided into four equal portions for his four daughters. In the knowledge that Joan de Verdon would inherit a quarter of the sizeable inheritance, William Montacute married her off to his eldest son John (b. c. late 1290s) on 28 April 1317, a few weeks after the birth of Joan's half-sister. If Joan had been disinherited by the birth of a half-brother, William would most probablyn not have 'wasted' her on his eldest son but would have married her off to another of his relatives, probably one of his younger sons or a nephew.

In March 1352, Thomas Staple of Southwark offered his 20-year-old ward John Amory of Leicestershire (b. November 1331) a choice between two brides: Alice Cleet of Berkshire or Isabel St Albans of Surrey. John 'utterly refused both, and of his own accord' married Alianor Baryngton instead. An inquiry found that Thomas Staple had lost £200 from John's marriage, and John acknowledged that he owed Thomas this amount. William Cantilupe or Cauntelo or Cantelewe was born in 1293. Sometime before 15 January 1314 when he was 20, his stepmother Eva, who owned the rights to his marriage, also offered him a choice between two brides: Joan, daughter of John de Grey, or Margaret, daughter of Robert de Strenle. William 'expressly answered and said that he would not have any woman to wife'. He was told to pay Eva the value of his marriage, and died at an unknown date after November 1320, having apparently never married.

18 September, 2022

Sir Geoffrey Luttrell and an Attack on Sempringham Priory, 1312

The Luttrell Psalter, now held in the British Library, is a gorgeous, lavishly illustrated manuscript dating to sometime between about 1320 and 1330, i.e. it was made either late in Edward II's reign or early in Edward III's, for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell. As well as commissioning one of the most stunning pieces of art to survive from medieval England, Geoffrey took part in a raid on Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire in 1312. Here's a post about it, with some information about Geoffrey and his family.
Sir Geoffrey Luttrell was born on 23 or 24 May 1276 early in Edward I's reign and died on 23 May 1345, his sixty-ninth birthday or the day before. He was granted the lands of his late father Robert Luttrell, who died shortly before 18 June 1297, on 3 November 1297 after he proved he was twenty-one. [1] The name was also spelt Loterel, Loterell, Louterel, Louterell, Lutterel or Lutterell, and the family held the manors of Irnham in Lincolnshire, Hooton Pagnell in Yorkshire, Saltby in Leicestershire, and Gamston and Bridgford in Nottinghamshire. Irnham was their chief manor. Geoffrey married Agnes Sutton, who died in 1340, and their son and heir was Andrew, Lord Luttrell, who was born around Easter (15 April) in 1313: he was 'aged 32 years and more at the feast of Easter last' in June 1345. Somewhat peculiarly, Pope John XXII granted Geoffrey Luttrell and Agnes Sutton a 'dispensation...to remain in the marriage which they contracted in ignorance that they were related in the third and fourth degrees' as late as October 1331, decades after they wed. [2] Like his father, Andrew Luttrell lived a long life and died on 6 September 1390 at the age of seventy-seven, having married firstly Beatrice Scrope, who appears in the Luttrell Psalter and was one of the daughters of Sir Geoffrey Scrope (c. 1285-1340), chief justice of the King's Bench, and secondly Hawise Despenser (b. 1344/45, d. 10 April 1414), mother of his son and heir Andrew the younger, born c. 1364. Hawise was a great-granddaughter of Hugh Despenser the Elder (1261-1326), earl of Winchester, via his younger son Philip Despenser (d. 1313). The Luttrell/Despenser wedding took place in 1363 in the castle of Bourne in Lincolnshire, held by the Despensers' cousin Blanche of Lancaster (d. 1380), dowager Lady Wake. [3] Andrew Luttrell was fifty when he married his second wife and not even seven when he married his first: he and Beatrice Scrope were wed by 22 February 1320, when they appear on record as 'Andrew son of the said Geoffrey [Luttrell] and Beatrice his wife'. [4] Beatrice Scrope Luttrell died childless sometime after 3 April 1345, when she was left ten marks (£6.66) in her father-in-law Geoffrey's will. It's a pity the will doesn't mention the gorgeous Psalter Geoffrey commissioned. EDITED TO ADD: 'Beatrice Luterelle' appears on the Close Roll on 18 October 1350, granted permission to travel to Rome on pilgrimage with four attendants. [5]

Below, the brass of Andrew, Lord Luttrell (1313-90) in St Andrew's Church, Irnham, Lincolnshire.

Below, Sir Geoffrey Luttrell on horseback in one of the Luttrell Psalter's gorgeous illustrations, with his wife Agnes Sutton and their daughter-in-law Beatrice Scrope, Andrew's first wife.

The Luttrells' Lincolnshire manor of Irnham lies about ten miles from Sempringham Priory, which was founded by St Gilbert of Sempringham (d. 1189) and was the first house of his Gilbertine Order. One of Sempringham's residents in 1312 was Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn (d. 1337), then aged thirty, daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, prince of Wales and Eleanor de Montfort, and a second cousin of Edward II (they were both great-grandchildren of King John). Edward granted Gwenllian, whose name usually appears in English records as 'Wenthlian(e)', an allowance of twenty pounds a year for life. [6] Another nun of Sempringham was Geoffrey Luttrell's daughter Isabella, Andrew's sister, and in 1322 Edward II sent his niece Margaret de Clare to live there for a while, with a number of attendants, after her second husband Sir Hugh Audley took part in the Contrariant rebellion.

Below, the church of Sempringham Priory; pics taken by me during a visit in 2019. The priory was closed down in 1538 during the Dissolution.

The memorial to Gwenllian at Sempringham, in Welsh and English.

The first evidence that a raid had taken place on Sempringham Priory appears in an entry on the Patent Roll dated 27 July 1312, a time when Edward II was dealing with the aftermath of Piers Gaveston's death on 19 June, and while Queen Isabella was pregnant with Edward III. The king gave a commission of oyer et terminer to three men 'on the information of H. de Bello Monte', i.e. Sir Henry de Beaumont, a French-born kinsman of Edward II who was an important landowner in Lincolnshire; he owned Folkingham Castle and the manor of Heckington, among others. According to the commission, the prior of Sempringham had complained that 'Geoffrey Luterel of Irnham', Edmund Coleville, John son of John Gobaud, Roger Birthorpe and his brothers John and Thomas, John Graveneye, Willaim Pleseleie and John Hunte, and unnamed others, 'broke his doors and walls at Semplyngham, co. Lincoln, and carried away his goods, and assaulted Thomas Hougate and John Irnham, his fellow canons, and also certain of his men and servants'. Another entry on the Patent Roll dated 7 September 1312 relates to a retaliatory attack: John, prior of Sempringham, Thomas Hougate and John Irnham, and ten named other men, attacked Roger Birthorpe's home at Birthorpe. They broke into his park and stole some of his animals, 'carried away his goods' and assaulted three of his servants. [7] 

The village of Birthorpe is just two miles from Sempringham Priory and also two miles from Folkingham, chief manor of Edward II's kinsman Sir Henry de Beaumont who reported the attack on the priory, and the other men named as taking part in the raid on Sempringham were also local. Sir Edmund Coleville (25 January 1288 - shortly before 16 March 1316) was the lord of Castle Bytham sixteen miles from Sempringham Priory. I'm unfamiliar with the Gobaud family, though Guy Gubaud, who was most probably the older brother of 'John son of John Gobaud', died not long before 8 May 1314 and left property in Lincolnshire to his thirteen-year-old son. Guy's father John died in 1310. [8]

As well as the information on the Patent Roll, a petition still exists in the National Archives which appears to date to shortly after Edward II's downfall in 1327. [9] It was presented by Roger Birthorpe. The prior of Sempringham in 1312, called simply 'John' on the Patent Roll, is now named as John Camelton, and Roger Birthorpe claimed that he had lawfully taken some of the prior's cattle to settle a dispute between them. Roger went on to say that he had gathered 'other great lords and good men' of the locality, including Geoffrey Luttrell, Edmund Coleville, and Guy Gubaud, apparently an error for Guy's younger brother John. The lords, supposedly, went to Sempringham to have a reasonable conversation with the prior, but he maliciously broke down his own doors to make it look like the lords had done it, and raised the hue and cry against them. 

Below, part of Roger Birthorpe's petition of 1327, with Geoffrey Luttrell's name.

Roger Birthorpe also stated that the prior of Sempringham had the support of 'Sir Hugh Despenser and his sisters, ladies in the said priory' (Mons' Hughe le Despenser et ses seors dames en la dite priorie) in this matter. He didn't specify whether he meant Hugh the Elder (born in 1261 and in his early fifties in 1312) or his son Hugh the Younger, who was twenty-four or so, though at this stage in Edward II's reign, the name Hugh Despenser used on its own inevitably meant Hugh the Elder. Hugh the Younger had four sisters, but the eldest two, Alina and Isabella, were married in 1312 and were definitely not nuns of Sempringham, and the youngest two, Margaret and Elizabeth, seem too young to be involved, as they were almost certainly born in the second half of the 1290s or at the beginning of the 1300s. Hugh the Elder also had several sisters or half-sisters, daughters of his father Hugh Despenser, justiciar of England, killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265 fighting with Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. One (half?-)sister, Eleanor (d. 1328), was the mother of Sir Hugh de Courtenay of Okehampton (1276-1340) and grandmother of Hugh de Courtenay, earl of Devon (1303-77), and another, Joan, married Sir Thomas Furnival (d. 1332). It's certainly possible that Hugh Despenser the justiciar (d. 1265) had other daughters who became nuns at Sempringham. Hugh Despenser the Younger's third daughter Eleanor did end up as a nun of Sempringham, but that was much later, and 1312 was a few years before she was even born.

Mons' Hughe le Despenser in Roger Birthorpe's petition.

It's impossible to tell whether the alleged involvement of one of the Hugh Despensers and his sisters in the whole affair is true, or whether the name was added to the petition after the Despensers' downfall and executions in 1326 to give it more weight. In 1327, at the start of Edward III's reign and during the regency of his mother Isabella, numerous petitions were issued against the two Despensers. Most of them were true; some were probably not. The Despensers were, however, connected to the Luttrell family and to the county of Lincolnshire in some ways. On 5 August 1309, a clerk named John Elleker who had abducted Geoffrey Luttrell's young daughter Elizabeth, Andrew's older sister - Andrew wasn't even born in 1309 - was pardoned at the behest of Hugh Despenser, almost certainly the Elder. [10] Hugh Despenser the Elder's second son Philip (b. c. 1292/94, d. 1313) married the Lincolnshire heiress Margaret Goushill or Gousell (1294-1349) before 29 June 1308, probably not too long before. [11] Philip and Margaret's granddaughter Hawise Despenser (1344/45-1414) was the decades-younger second wife of Andrew Luttrell, as noted above, and this cadet branch of the Despenser family were firmly Lincolnshire-based for generations. On 17 May 1313, Edward II granted the fines due from John Graveneye, one of the men who attacked Sempringham Priory who was 'convicted...of diverse trespasses committed by him and others against the prior of Sempyngham' to Sir John Haudlo, a long-term adherent of Hugh Despenser the Elder, 'on the information of H. le Despenser'. [12]

Roger Birthorpe also stated in his petition that because of the 'great malice' of John Camelton, prior of Sempringham, he had to leave England altogether and move to Ireland, and was declared an outlaw. Furthermore, his manor of Birthorpe, worth £40 a year, was granted to Sir Henry de Beaumont. There is evidence that Birthorpe did indeed pass to Henry (d. 1340) and his son and heir John de Beaumont (d. 1342), though isn't listed in their inquisitions post mortem. [13]

It's often difficult to get to grips with these local feuds and to figure out what was really going on, or to determine who, if anyone, was more at fault or was the more injured party. Another feud that I've always found amusing took place in Essex a few decades later, between Maud de Vere née Ufford (1345/46-1413), dowager countess of Oxford, and the prior of Earls Colne. Yes, another prior. The prior claimed that the countess had him assaulted and imprisoned, and dragged him around Essex 'shamefully clad'. Maud countered that the prior and his men besieged her in her home in the village of Earls Colne, and 'threatened her with arson and other evils'. [14] The raid on Sempringham Priory in the summer of 1312, and the prior's revenge attack on one of the perpetrators - the one who lived closest to the priory, coincidentally or not - is all too typical of the era, and the real interest of this one lies in the involvement of the man who commissioned the Luttrell Psalter. And to finish, just one last thing about this attack on Sempringham Priory. It presumably took place not long before 27 July 1312, when it's first mentioned in the chancery rolls. Andrew Luttrell was said in 1345 to have been born around Easter 1313, and as Easter Sunday fell on 15 April in 1313, Geoffrey Luttrell and Agnes Sutton must have conceived him around the time of the raid.


1) CCR 1296-1302, p. 70; CFR 1272-1307, p. 387; CIPM 1291-1300, no. 406; CIPM 1336-46, no. 589.
2) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-41, p. 368.
3)  Early Lincoln Wills, ed. Alfred Gibbon, pp. 18-19, 56-7, 99; CIPM 1384-92, nos. 1008-9; CIPM 1392-99, nos. 1062-63; CIPM 1413-18, nos. 154-56; CIPM 1418-22, nos. 30-32.
4) CPR 1317-21, p. 424.
5)  Early Lincoln Wills, pp. 18-19; CCR 1349-54, pp. 271-2; TNA, SC 8/246/12265.
6) Calendar of Memoranda Rolls Michaelmas 1326-Michaelmas 1327, no. 2160.
7) CPR 1307-13, pp. 530, 533, 584, 598.
8) CIPM 1307-17, nos. 157, 473, 592; CFR 1307-19, pp. 72, 74, 199.
9) TNA, SC 8/34/1671, and see Joyce Coleman, 'New Evidence about Sir Geoffrey Luttrell's Raid on Sempringham Priory, 1312', British Library Journal, 25 (1999), pp. 103-28.
10) CPR 1307-13, p. 181.
11) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 275.
12) CPR 1307-13, p. 584.
13) CCR 1343-46, pp. 201, 321; CIM 1308-48, no. 1835; CIPM 1336-46, nos. 271, 381.
14) CPR 1399-1401, pp. 414-15, 519.

11 September, 2022

Book Giveaway: Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England

My new book Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England is out now! It's part of a series on sex and sexuality from Pen&Sword that includes Tudor England, Stuart Britain, and Victorian Britain.

I have TWO free copies to give away to readers! You can live anywhere in the world, as long as you have a postal address I can send the book to. Please contact me with your email address or some other means of getting in touch with you, so I can notify the winners. To enter the draw, do one of the following: leave a comment here on the blog; comment or message me on my Edward II Facebook page or comment on my Twitter page; email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo(dot)com; or if we're friends on Facebook or follow each other on Twitter, you can message me there. Best of luck! Deadline is midnight BST on Sunday 25 September. And please remember, if you leave a comment on the blog, give me an email address or some other way of contacting you. If I can't contact you, I have no way of telling you that you've won!

04 September, 2022

The Abduction of John Chaucer, 1324

The poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London around 1342/44 as the son of John Chaucer and Agnes Copton, and the Chaucers were a family of vintners and taverners in London and Ipswich. In 1324 during Edward II's reign, Geoffrey's then underage father John was abducted by his aunt, who tried to force him to marry her daughter, John's own cousin; here's a post about it. We know quite a bit about this event thanks in large part to Chaucer scholars, who over the decades have done brilliant work digging out every last reference to Geoffrey and his family in medieval documents. The King's Bench record of John Chaucer's abduction is printed in English translation in Life-Records of Chaucer, Parts I to IV (1900), pp. ix-x, 141-4, with more information in Calendar of Close Rolls 1330-33, pp. 90-91, 93-4, Letter-Books of London, vol. E, pp. 218-19, 226, 237, 239-40, and The National Archives SC 8/169/8432. This is a petition from Geoffrey Stace, one of John Chaucer's abductors (and in fact his uncle by marriage), which is also printed in the second volume of Rotuli Parliamentorum, p. 14, in the original Anglo-Norman.

This post might get really confusing, especially as some of the people involved had the same names, so here's a list of the important people:

Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, b. c. 1342/44.
John Chaucer, b. c. 1309/12, Geoffrey's father.
Mary Chaucer, died before 1349, John's mother, Geoffrey's grandmother.
Robert Chaucer aka Robert Malyn or Robert of Ipswich or Robert of Dynyngton, d. c. 1315, Mary's second husband, John's father, Geoffrey's grandfather.
Richard Chaucer, d. 1349, Mary's third husband, John's stepfather, Geoffrey's step-grandfather.
Thomas Heyron, d. 1349, Mary's son from her first marriage, John Chaucer's older half-brother, Geoffrey Chaucer's uncle, Richard Chaucer's other stepson.
Agnes Westhale, formerly Malyn, Robert Chaucer/Malyn's sister and John Chaucer's aunt, resident in Ipswich.
Joan Westhale, Agnes's daughter from her first marriage to Walter Westhale, cousin and putative wife of John Chaucer.
Geoffrey Stace, Agnes Westhale's second husband, Joan Westhale's stepfather, John Chaucer's uncle.
Thomas Stace, a relative of Geoffrey Stace, either his father, brother or a son from a previous marriage.
Sir Geoffrey Scrope, 1285-1340, chief justice of the King's Bench.

Geoffrey Chaucer's paternal grandparents were Robert Chaucer, a vintner or taverner who moved from Ipswich to London and died before 29 October 1315, and Mary, who as a widow married Richard Chaucer. [1] Richard Chaucer was either a relative of Robert Chaucer or perhaps merely someone who confusingly shared his name, and to make it even more confusing, last names were often still very fluid in this era, and Geoffrey's grandfather Robert Chaucer was also sometimes called Robert Malyn, Robert of Ipswich, or Robert of Dynyngton. Richard Chaucer was the third husband of Robert's widow Mary; she had been married to another man named John Heyron (d. early 1300s) before she wed Robert Chaucer, the poet's grandfather, and had a son called Thomas Heyron or Heroun or Hayron or Heyroun, older half-brother of Geoffrey's father John Chaucer. Thomas's will of 7 April 1349 mentions 'John le Chaucer, my brother', and his and John's stepfather Richard Chaucer made his own will just five days later on 12 April 1349, which was Easter Sunday. [2] It seems highly likely that both men were victims of the Black Death, then raging in London, and Thomas had died in the five days between making his own will and being mentioned in his stepfather's: Richard left money for prayers to be said for the souls of his late wife Mary and her late son 'Thomas Heyroun'. John Chaucer, his wife Agnes Copton and their son Geoffrey Chaucer all survived the plague, and imagine how much poorer English literature would be if the child Geoffrey had been, like his uncle and step-grandfather, one of the untold tens of thousands of Londoners who succumbed (see the last chapter of my book London: A Fourteenth-Century City and Its People for more information on some of the many victims).

The date of birth of John Chaucer, son and heir of Robert Chaucer aka Robert Malyn, is uncertain. The King's Bench record of John's abduction says that he had reached the age of twelve by December 1324 when it took place, and furthermore that 'he is underage, to wit, under fourteen years' in the Hilary term of the King's Bench in Edward II's nineteenth regnal year, i.e. January to March 1326. A letter from Edward III dated 16 December 1330 (see below), however, states that John Chaucer is 'now of full age', and 'of full age' when applied to a male usually meant twenty-one, which would indicate that John was born before 16 December 1309. On the other hand, John's aunt and uncle who abducted him gave as their justification the fact that in Ipswich, the custom was that an heir was deemed 'of full age' at the end of his twelfth year. At any rate, John was still a young child when his father died in or before October 1315 and in his thirties when his son Geoffrey the poet was born sometime in the early 1340s. His mother's first husband John Heyron was still alive in 1302, and Mary married Robert Chaucer/Malyn in or before January 1305. [3] John Chaucer was old enough to take part as a mounted man-at-arms with his half-brother Thomas Heyron in the disastrous Scottish campaign of the summer of 1327, when the young Edward III came close to being captured by Scottish forces, and was one of the men named as taking part in an attack and robbery on the abbot of Bury St Edmunds at the abbot's manor of Chevington, 30 miles from Ipswich, on 17 October 1328. [4] This might imply that John was in his late teens rather than about fifteen or sixteen in 1327/28, but who knows.

After his father Robert's death, John Chaucer was in the custody of his mother Mary and her third husband Richard Chaucer, not simply because she was his mother but in accordance with the medieval custom that, if possible, an underage heir should be given into the care of his nearest blood relative to whom his inheritance could not descend after his death. John had an aunt called Agnes, or Anneis(e) as contemporary records spell her name, the sister of Robert Chaucer/Malyn. Unlike her brother, who moved to London, Agnes remained in their native Ipswich ('Gippewiz' in fourteenth-century spelling), and married firstly Walter ('Wautier') Westhale or Westhall and secondly Geoffrey ('Geffrei') Stace. Agnes and Walter had a daughter called Joan ('Johane') Westhale, first cousin of John ('Johan') Chaucer. Basically, the abduction was to do with a tavern and property in and around Ipswich which was John Chaucer's inheritance, and his aunt's wish to keep it in the family.

Agnes argued that as her nephew John had reached (or passed) the age of twelve, was able to 'reckon and measure' and was therefore sui juris, i.e. was of legal capacity to act on his own behalf, he ought not to be in anyone's wardship. She and her associates - her second husband Geoffrey Stace, a man named Thomas Stace, and a servant called Lawrence Geffreyesman Stace - abducted John during the night of Monday 3 December 1324 ('the Monday next before St Nicholas, 18 Edward II'), from Mary and Richard Chaucer's home. This was located in the London ward of Cordwainer Street, probably on Watling Street. John Chaucer's abduction is described in contemporary records as a 'ravishment', ravis(s)ement in medieval French; the verb ravir meant to seize or take by force, and was used by Lord Berkeley in the summer of 1327 when the former king Edward II was temporarily removed from his custody by the Dunheved gang. Originally it was believed that Agnes and Geoffrey Stace had forcibly married John Chaucer to Agnes's daughter Joan Westhale, John's cousin, though later it was shown that they had not (qils avoient ravi le dit heire mes ne mie mariee). Thomas Stace must have been a relative of Geoffrey Stace, perhaps his father, brother or son, and I found several references to a Thomas Stace from Ipswich who appears on record between 1296 and 1317. Geoffrey Stace was named as the son of Thomas Stace in 1317, so possibly the Thomas Stace who aided the abduction of John Chaucer in 1324 was Geoffrey's father, though Geoffrey might have had a brother or son with the same name. [5]

At some point, John Chaucer was restored to his mother and stepfather, though I don't know when, or whether he was taken to Ipswich in December 1324 by his aunt and uncle, or what became of his cousin and putative wife Joan Westhale. As is so often the case, the records that we have raise more questions than they answer, and the whole intriguing situation remains rather murky. If John Chaucer had married his cousin Joan Westhale, he wouldn't have been able to marry Agnes Copton a few years later unless Joan died in the meantime, and Geoffrey Chaucer would never have been born.  I haven't been able to discover a single thing about Joan Westhale except for this case. Marriage between first cousins was most unusual in the fourteenth century, and would certainly have required a papal dispensation for consanguinity.

One thing we do know is that Mary and Richard Chaucer asked for damages of £300 and were awarded £250, a massive sum in an age when £5 was a normal yearly income. Geoffrey Stace sent a petition to the king in the late 1320s or 1330, complaining that the lands of John Chaucer's inheritance were only worth £1 per year and that therefore £250 was an ureasonably excessive amount. Incidentally, the Second Statute of Westminster in 1285 set the punishment for abducting a child (whether male or female) whose marriage belonged to someone else at two years' imprisonment, as long as the person restored the child still unmarried, or paid what the marriage was worth. Otherwise, the punishment was either life imprisonment or abjuration of the realm, i.e. permanent exile from England. [6] It was taken very seriously. John's stepfather and guardian Richard Chaucer, and John's older half-brother Thomas Heyron, apparently exacted revenge on Geoffrey Stace and Agnes after the abduction. They travelled from London to Ipswich, a distance of about 70 miles, and stole goods worth £40 from Agnes Westhale/Stace's house, or so the indignant Agnes claimed in 1325. [7] John Chaucer was around twelve or fifteen in 1324/25, and his Heyron half-brother, given that his father died sometime around 1303/04, must have been in his early twenties or older. There is much evidence that the two half-brothers were very close and often acted together.

On 16 December 1330, eighteen-year-old Edward III - who had recently taken control of his own kingdom from his mother Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer - sent a letter to Sir Geoffrey Scrope, one of the chief justices of the King's Bench and ancestor of the Scropes of Masham (Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, executed by Henry V in 1415 after the Southampton Plot and mentioned by Shakespeare in his play about Henry, was Sir Geoffrey Scrope's great-grandson). The letter, stating that John Chaucer was now 'of full age', is printed in the Calendar of Close Rolls 1330-33, pp. 90-91, and was almost certainly a response to Geoffrey Stace's petition. Geoffrey Stace had been detained in the Marshalsea prison in London because of his 'trespass against the king's peace', as well as being held liable for the massive sum of £250, and Edward ordered his release. The Letter-Books of London (vol. E, pp. 218-19, 226, 237, 239-40) show that several inquisitions were held in the city in 1328, one of which was to determine whether Geoffrey Stace, his relative Thomas Stace and his servant Lawrence had committed perjury, and the whole thing dragged on for several years, as often happened in medieval court cases (and the delay in this one was worsened by the dramatic events of 1326/27 when Edward II was forced to abdicate in favour of his son). The 16th of December 1330 was six years and thirteen days after John Chaucer's abduction had taken place.

A few years after his abduction by his aunt and uncle, John Chaucer married Agnes Copton, and they became the parents of Geoffrey Chaucer. I wonder if it's a coincidence that Geoffrey bore the same name as his father's uncle Geoffrey Stace, or if the latter was his great-nephew's godfather and John Chaucer was doing his best to bury the hatchet. Geoffrey Stace was still alive in February 1344, and Geoffrey Chaucer had probably been born by then. [8]

Below, part of a petition sent by Geoffrey Stace, to which Edward III responded in December 1330, and in the second pic, part of the petition printed in Rotuli Parliamentorum.


1) Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, p. 318.
2) Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London, vol. 1, pp. 544, 590. Thomas Heyron's will of 1349 does not mention any children, so he appears to have been the last of the line.
3) Vincent B. Redstone and Lilian J. Redstone, 'The Heyrons of London: A Study in the Social Origins of Geoffrey Chaucer', Speculum, 12 (1937), p. 185.
4)  'The Heyrons of London', pp. 186-9; Calendar of Select Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London, vol. 1, 1323-1364, p. 73 note 14. At this stage of his life, John was often identified as 'John Chaucer, brother of Thomas Heyron'.
5) CCR 1313-18, pp. 271, 289, 483; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-21, p. 689; Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, vol. 2, nos. A3586, A3638
6) Statutes of the Realm, vol. 1, pp. 88-9.
7) 'Heyrons of London', pp. 185-6.
8) CCR 1343-46, pp. 107, 347.