Saintsbury, George. “Chaucer,” in The Cambridge History of English Literature, 2: The End of The Middle Ages, eds. A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller. Cambridge, 1908. 159.
One enigmatical incident remains—to wit, that in May 1380, one Cecilia de Chaumpaigne gave Chaucer a release de raptu meo. There is, however, no probability that there was anything in this case more romantic or more shocking than one of the attempts to kidnap a ward of property and marry him or her to somebody in whom the kidnapper was interested—attempts of which, curiously enough, Chaucer’s own father is known to have been nearly the victim. Otherwise, “there is namore to seyn,” so far as true history goes.
Plucknett, T. F. T. “Chaucer’s Escapade.” Law Quarterly Review 64 (1948): 33–36.
Rape is a brutal crime and implies a degree of depravity which should make us cautious in fixing such a charge. There is really no evidence for it. That he seduced Cecilia we may well believe; that she was angry with him, and still more with herself, is extremely probable. She may have honestly thought that because it all happened against her better judgment, that therefore it was without her consent. Her scandalized family would naturally treat that as an irrebuttable presumption. But there is nothing to suggest that Cecilia could have convicted Chaucer of felony.
Brewer, D. S. Chaucer, 3rd edition. London: Longmans,1973. 40.
Raptus may mean abduction of the kind of which Chaucer’s father was the victim, or it may mean rape in the modern sense. Chaucer may have been guilty of either or both, though the latter seems unimaginable. All we can say is that whatever tangled story lies behind this curious document it impeded neither Chaucer’s career nor the regard of his friends.
Gardner, John. The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. 251-2, 253.
It seems possible, if not downright likely, that into his busy schedule of 1379 or ’80 Chaucer managed to fit at least one pretty wench. On May 1, 1380 (Chaucer must have relished the symbolism), he was released by Cecily Champain, or Cecilia Chaumpaigne, daughter of William Champain, baker (he had died in 1360), and his wife Agnes, from a charge of raptus…Most Chaucerians, on the general principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty—and in this case we will probably never get proof—have inclined to think Chaucer was more or less innocent, that is, that at worst he was somehow involved in an attempted abduction of some young person, perhaps to make an advantageous marriage….But there are reasons for taking a darker—or perhaps more cheerful—view…
But the fact that Lewis was almost certainly not Cecily’s son is no proof that Chaucer, now forty years old, rich and powerful, more often away from his wife on business for the king than not, never slipped into bed with a pretty and soft baker’s daughter.
Howard, Donald R. Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World. New York: Dutton, 1987. 317, 319.
It is reasonable to suppose some seductions or affairs in his early years, perhaps many. He may have had an intimate relationship with Cecily and she may, when things went wrong, have threatened to accuse him of rape. Or in the heat of passion or exasperation he may indeed have raped her. Whatever the mitigating circumstances there were, Chaucer did not want the matter to go further: in the law of his day, the accused was not allowed to testify in his own behalf, so there was a grave risk that the whole truth, whatever it was, would not emerge. Hence he settled: “rape” was allowed to be named in the release but what it cost him was kept silent…
Cecily’s stepmother was a famous courtesan with few scruples and an excellent head for business; if they were on good terms, Cecily may have learned a trick or two from her stepmother.
Pearsall, Derek. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. 137.
It is not out of the question that raptus is a technical term for some offence such as abduction, but the more obvious conclusion seems the more likely one: the charge referred to in the document of release is indeed one of rape. Beyond that, all is speculation. That Chaucer was guilty of something is clear from the care he took to secure immunity from prosecution, but it need not have been rape…The strongest likelihood, in my opinion, is that Cecily threatened to bring a charge of rape in order to force Chaucer into some compensatory settlement and that she then cooperated in the legal release. The actual offence for which she sought compensation is not necessarily the offence named in the charge that she used for leverage and did not press: there are many things that it might more probably have been than violent physical rape, including neglect and the betrayal of promises by the man or some unilateral decision on his part to terminate an affair that he regarded as over but which the woman, in retrospect, regard as a physical violation.