Dunn 2011 Ravishment

Title Information

Author: Caroline Dunn

Title: The Language of Ravishment in Medieval England

Subtitle: -

Journal: Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies

Volume: 86

Issue: 1

Year: March 2011

Pages: 79-116

ISSN: 0038-7134 – Find a Library: WordCat | eISSN: 2040-8072 – Find a Library: WordCat

Language: English

Keywords: 13th Century, 14th Century, 15th Century | English History | Cases: Offenders / Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Malory; Cases: Victims / Cecilia Chaumpaigne, Joan Smith

Full Text

Link: Cambridge Journals Online [Restricted Access]

Link: JSTOR [Restricted Access]

Additional Information

Author: Caroline Dunn, Department of History, Clemson University


»Two pillars of medieval English literature, Chaucer and Malory, stand accused by posterity as criminals, yet scholars remain perplexed about the nature of their crimes over five centuries later. Some convict them of the heinous offense of sexually assaulting a woman against her will, while others believe them guilty of no more than seduction or consensual sex. The allegation against Malory has even been reframed to portray him as a knight in shining armor rescuing a damsel (or wife) in distress; thus instead of seizing a woman in order to rape her, this author of Arthurian legends "stole" Joan Smith away from her abusive husband when Joan departed with Malory consensually. Keen to illuminate the personal lives of the authors whose Canterbury Tales, Morte Darthur, and other works opened up the world of the Middle Ages for posterity, contemporary researchers have seized upon medieval English legal sources to clarify these authors' own stories. The crime in which Chaucer and Malory have been implicated, of seizing a woman, confounds those historians and literary scholars seeking to explore these authors' late-medieval milieu because the word most frequently employed to record the misdeed is one of the most ambiguous legal terms in medieval England, and indeed Europe. When an individual seized (Latin rapuit) a woman or stood accused of her seizure (raptus), the term's multivalent connotations mean that the offense might conform to either or both of our modern legal categories of rape and abduction.« (Source: Speculum)

»Discusses the vocabulary used by royal justices and scribes when they recorded incidents of sexual assault, abduction and seduction«. (Source: International Medieval Bibliography)


  1. Raptus in Medieval England (p. 87)
  2. Rapuit et Abduxit (p. 93)
  3. Prosecuting Abduction without Raptus (p. 103)
  4. Prosecuting Sexual Assault without Raptus (p. 106)
  5. Conclusions (p. 113)

Wikipedia: Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Malory

Added:June 21, 2014 | Last updated: June 21, 2014