The Canterbury Tales Project (see also Geoffrey Chaucer)

Back to The Squire/The Yeoman/The Prioress

The Yeoman's Portrait

101: A yeman hadde he and servantz namo
102: At that tyme, for hym liste ride so,
103: And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
104: A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene,
105: Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
106: (wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:
107: His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)
108: And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
109: A not heed hadde he, with a broun visage.
110: Of wodecraft wel koude he al the usage.
111: Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,
112: And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
113: And on that oother syde a gay daggere
114: Harneised wel and sharp as point of spere;
115: A cristopher on his brest of silver sheene.
116: An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene;
117: A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.

The yeoman is third character introduced, and, like the squire before him, he is closely linked, both through association in time of war and social deference, to the knight, his master. The yeoman is not, however, a mere servant - he is freeborn and thus has many rights under the feudal system that a slave would not.

The yeoman plays many roles. He is the knight's only servant (a fact which demonstrates beyond doubt his master's unpretentious nature) and so has to act as a footman, scout, and forester. It is at this last that he is most skilled. His garb, all of green, marks him as a prototype Robin Hood-type figure, as do his 'peacock-flighted arrows', which he maintains in an ever-ready state of sharpness.

The yeoman is the appropriate conclusion to the first band of pilgrims, completing a trio of men who, with the possible exception of the squire, are, although secularly minded, possessed of a devotion to duty and their tasks that rivals that of the ordained members of their company.

Modern English translation from

A yeoman had he, nor more servants, no,
At that time, for he chose to travel so;
And he was clad in coat and hood of green.
A sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen
Under his belt he bore right carefully
(Well could he keep his tackle yeomanly:
His arrows had no draggled feathers low),
And in his hand he bore a mighty bow.
A cropped head had he and a sun-browned face.
Of woodcraft knew he all the useful ways.
Upon his arm he bore a bracer gay,
And at one side a sword and buckler, yea,
And at the other side a dagger bright,
Well sheathed and sharp as spear point in the light;
On breast a Christopher of silver sheen.
He bore a horn in baldric all of green;
A forester he truly was, I guess.