I shall insert here as a joke a certain anecdote made known to me by Sir Robert of Roberstone, one of the King of Scotland's knights, which at my request he related before many trustworthy persons. The said noble gentleman owned a town in Annandale, in the diocese of Glasgow, which he let in farm to the inhabitants thereof. These people, waxing lewd through their wealth and giving way to wantonness, on leaving the tavern used to violate each other's wives or seduce each other's daughters, and by such practice would frequently replenish the archdeacon's purse, and, by repeating the offence, they were almost continually upon his roll. But when the landlord required the rent of his farm, they either pled poverty or besought delay. That kindly and just man said to them -- 'Why should you not pay me my annual rent, any less than my other tenants? If [the land] is let to you at too dear a rent, I can reduce it; if you are unable to cultivate it, give it back to me.'
'No, my lord,' quoth a comical fellow among them with loud laugh, none of these things which you mention is really the cause; but our incontinence is so great, and it exhausts us so much, that it re-acts both upon us and upon you our lord.'
Thereupon the landlord said -- 'I make this law among you that any man who commits adultery shall relinquish my land forthwith.'
Taking alarm at this and deterred by the penalty, they refrained from illicit intercourse, applied themselves to labour and agriculture and began to make money unexpectedly, although day by day their names disappeared from the Archdeacon's list. And when he [the Archdeacon] enquired one day why he did not find the men of that village [entered] in his list, it was explained to him what the landlord had laid down as a law for them. He was indignant at this, and, meeting the knight upon the road one day, exclaimed with a haughty countenance -- 'Pray, Sir Robert, who has appointed you either Archdeacon or official?'
Sir Robert denied [that he was either one or other], whereupon the Archdeacon replied -- 'Undoubtedly you exercise that office when you coerce your tenants by penal laws.'-- 'I made a rule about my lands, not about offences,' said Sir Robert; 'but you absorbed the rents of my farms [in exactions] for the discharge of crimes. I perceive that so long as you can fill your purse, it does not concern you who gets the souls!'
After this the assessor of crimes and lover of transgressors held his peace.
Back to Geoffrey Chaucer Page | (Or use your browser's back button to return to the previous page.)