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The Mariner in fourteenth-century England

Lambert, Craig; Ayton, Andrew


Craig Lambert

Andrew Ayton


The Shipman is among the most colourful, and yet enigmatic, of the Canterbury pilgrims who rub shoulders in Geoffrey Chaucer's exuberantly drawn group portrait of the middling ranks of late fourteenth-century English society. The vivid character sketch assigned to him is surely connected with the poet's personal experience during the 1370s and 1380s, which took him – no doubt significantly – to Dartmouth to arrange the release of an unjustly arrested Genoese vessel and, as a customs official, brought him into direct contact with shipmasters and mariners on the London quayside. Here, he would have recognized, was a world that could plausibly yield a plain-speaking man of action with an eventful life story, which, in terms of its combination of professionalism, adventure and questionable conduct, could make the Shipman a worthy maritime counterpart to the Knight, as acutely observed yet as interpretatively complex. But what, above all, would have been evident to Chaucer as a much travelled man of public affairs was that his group of Canterbury pilgrims would be incomplete without the inclusion of an old salt. For the shipboard community – a social and occupational pyramid of seafarers in which men like the Shipman occupied the upper levels – played a role in the life of the realm that was both distinctive and fundamentally important. Such men guided and manned the vessels that conducted England's maritime trade, long-distance and coastal; they fished the seas from inshore waters to Dogger Bank and (a little later) Iceland; and they transported the armies, supplies and envoys that were the lifeblood of the crown's martial and diplomatic endeavours.


Lambert, C., & Ayton, A. (2012). The Mariner in fourteenth-century England. Fourteenth Century England VII (153-176). Cambridge University Press

Publication Date 2012
Deposit Date Dec 19, 2014
Journal Fourteenth Century England VII
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Pages 153-176
Book Title Fourteenth Century England VII
ISBN 978-1-84383-721-3
Public URL
Publisher URL