Deposition of Geoffrey Chaucer, Esquire (1386)

This is the closest we have to an autobiographical statement (aside from a few lines in the House of Fame) from Geoffrey Chaucer. He recounts his brief military career and reveals himself as charmingly inquisitive – noting the arms of Scrope and determined to find out their implications. Such a person could well have bustled about the inn at Southwark, inquiring into the doings of each of the nine and twenty pilgrims.

GEOFFREY CHAUCER, Esquire, of the age of forty and upwards, armed twenty-seven years, being asked whether the arms, Azure, a bend Or, belonged to Sir Richard Scope, said yes, for he saw him so armed in France before the town of Retters, and Sir Henry Scrope armed in the same arms with a white label, and with banner; and the said Sir Richard armed in the entire arms, and so during the whole expedition, until the said Geoffrey was taken.

Being asked how he knew that the arms appertained to Sir Richard said, that he had heard old knights and esquires say that they had had continual possession of the said arms; and that he had seen them displayed on banners, glass, paintings, and vestments, and commonly called the arms of Scrope.

Being asked whether he had ever heard of any interruption or challenge made by Sir Robert Grosvenor or his ancestors, said no, but that he was once in Friday Street, London, and walking through the street, he observed a new sign hanging out with these arms thereon, and inquired 'what inn that was that had hung out these arms of Scrope?'

And one answered him, saying, 'They are not hung out, Sir, for the arms of Scrope, nor painted there for those arms, but they are painted and put there by a Knight of the county of Chester, called Sir Robert Grosvenor;' and that was the first time that he ever heard speak of Sir Robert Grosvenor, or his ancestors, or of any one bearing the name of Grosvenor.

[The arms of Geoffrey Chaucer are considered to have been, Per pale Argent and Gules, a bend counterchanged: Crest, a unicorn's head issuing from a ducal coronet; which arms were also borne at one period by Thomas Chaucer [Geoffrey's son], but he afterwards relinquished them and assumed Gules, three Katherine wheels Or, though it would seem that he retained his crest, for the feet of his effigy on his monument rest on a unicorn couchant. -- Nichol's note; no crest is shown on the painting of Chaucer in the Houghton.]

The text is from The Controversy between Sir Richard Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor in the Court of Chivalry A.D. MCCCLXXXV-MCCCXC, ed. Sir N. Harris Nicholas. London. 1832. pp. 411-12 [paragraphing added and a slight change in punctuation has been made].