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Make We Merry More and Less

 | 
Jane Bliss
, 
Douglas Gray

Chapter 8

Satire

Texte intégral

  • 1 See Brewer, Medieval Comic Tales (2nd edn), p. xix: ‘Derision is a general attitude of hum (...)
  • 2 R. C. Elliott, in Encyclopedia Britannica.

Satire is a protean term.1 Together with its derivatives, it is one of the most heavily-worked literary designations and one of the most imprecise. The great English lexicographer Samuel Johnson defined satire as ‘a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured’, and more elaborate definitions are rarely more satisfactory. No strict definition can encompass the complexity of a word that signifies, on the one hand, a kind of literature… and, on the other, a mocking spirit or tone that manifests itself in many literary genres but can also enter into almost any kind of human communication. Whenever wit is employed to expose something foolish or vicious to criticism, there satire exists, whether it be in song or sermon, in painting or in political debate, on television or in the movies. In this sense satire is everywhere.2

  • 3 In Early Middle English Verse and Prose (number IX, commentary pp. 336–41). For ‘nith’, se (...)
  • 4 In Middle English Verse Romances, ed. Sands.
  • 5 In Selected Poems of Henryson and Dunbar, Bawcutt and Riddy, ‘Quhy Will Ye, Merchantys of (...)
  • 6 A letter from John Keats to George and Georgiana Keats, March 1819.

It certainly seems to be almost everywhere in medieval England. From this period, although much has been lost — or was never written down — there survives a mass of satirical writing, in both verse and prose. Alongside a tradition of popular satire there was of course a ‘learned’ one, rooted (remotely) in ancient classical satire and (more obviously) in that of the Old Testament prophets, their successors among the early fathers of the church, and the extensive and often brilliant satirical works in medieval Latin. This learned tradition in England includes writers like Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, and Dunbar and Skelton. The popular tradition, which overlaps and interacts with it, rarely has the wit or the precision shown by such writers: it prefers a direct, heavy blow, sometimes delivered ‘below the belt’. We seem to be in a world of homely taunts and stereotypes, mockery and invective. In its attempts to expose folly and vice it will employ ridicule and simple abuse. But it is a tradition not only vehement and aggressive, but also varied. The attitudes behind our examples show a remarkable range, from outright venom — sometimes close to the feared nith of earlier satire to a more relaxed and almost urbane attitude (as in The Land of Cokaygne),3 or in the high-spirited burlesque of the Tournament of Tottenham.4 Modern readers quickly become impatient with the general ‘complaints’ on the wickedness of the age, but we need to remember that such complaints could be telling and pointed if quoted in a particular context to an audience of receptive listeners. And if context is important, so is performance, whether in song or recitation or, visually, in the satirical ‘bills’ posted in public places. The simple, direct style of some pieces seems to bring us close to the style of the now lost satirical songs of the oral tradition, as we find it in the few fragments quoted by chroniclers. The popular flyting, an exchange of taunts, is known to us mainly through its appearance as a kind of courtly game in the writings of Dunbar and Skelton. But its oral antecedents could still be heard in medieval streets: Dunbar, addressing the merchants of Edinburgh, remarks that no one can pass through the city’s streets ‘for stink of haddockis and of scattis [skates], For cryis of carlingis [old women] and debbaittis [quarrels], For feusum [foul] flyttingis of defame’.5 It seems that Keats’s remark, that it was hateful to see quarrelling in the streets, but ‘the energies displayed are fine’, may have been as true of this period as it was of the eighteenth century.6

  • 7 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, no. 329 (and see note): Catesby, Ratcliffe, (...)

In this chapter I have attempted to present examples which have something of the strange energy of satire, both destructive and creative. We begin with an introductory group of ‘snatches’: poems referred to or quoted by chroniclers (the words of these are the nearest we can come to the actual words of the oral song). These songs seem to have been common. Our no. (ii) is a poem attributed to John Ball at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt, a poem related to the general laments on the wickedness of the contemporary world, like the common ‘Abuses of the Age’, and which also shows how these ‘general’ poems may be given a pointedness in a particular political context. No. (iii) introduces us to the writing of satirical or threatening bills which could be displayed on doors or gates. Sadly, the verses in question — ‘englische billes rymed in partie’ (perhaps a reference to the doggerel verse sometimes used) — have not survived. A well-known example, ‘The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel our Dog Rule all England under a Hog’, was fixed to the doors of St Pauls.7 There follows a group of poems on various wickednesses, culminating in London Lickpenny, a satirical journey around the streets and institutions of London by one who lacks money; and brief examples of medical and religious satire. Poems against Scots and Flemings bring us to verses directed at individuals, like the hated Suffolk. We end with examples of parody and burlesque, where high spirits rather than satirical venom seem to rule. If Chaucer’s Sir Thopas is a witty and elegant literary burlesque of popular romance, The Tournament of Tottenham gives us a more forthright and boisterous example.

A. Snatches: Popular Satire in Action

i)8

  • 8 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, no. 282; and Simple Forms, p. 202.
Maydenes of Engelande, sare may ye morne
For tyntº ye have uoure lemmans at
lost
Bannokes bornº Bannockburn
With hevalogh.
What wendeº the kyng of Engeland have thought
ygeteº Scotlande
With rombylogh.
taken

ii)9

  • 9 Part of a letter attributed to John Ball; see Historical Poems, ed. Robbins, no. 17 (John (...)
Now raygneth pride in price, º high esteem
Covetise is holden wise
Lechery without shame,
Gluttonie without blame,
Envye raygneth with reason,
And sloathº is taken in gret season.
  God doe booteº for nowe is time.
sloth
bring remedy

(iii) Scottish Derision10

  • 10 See Simple Forms, p. 207.

Longe beerdys hartles,
Paynted hoodys wytles,
Gay cotis graceles,
Makyth Englande thryfteles.

B. The Wickedness of the World

iv) Now the Bisson Leads the Blind [vv. 1–24]11

  • 11 This verse, from London, BL MS Harley 5396, is printed in Reliquiae Antiquae eds Wright an (...)
Fulfyllyd ys the profesy for ay
That Merlyn sayd and many on moº
more
Wysdam ys wel ny away,
No man may knowe hys frend fro foº
Now gyllorysº don gode men gye, º
Ryghtº gos redlesº all behynde,
foe
deceivers
justice
guide
without counsel
Truthe ys turnyd to trechery,
For now the bysomº ledys the blynde.
purblind
Now gloserysº full gayly they go.
Pore men be perusº of this land —
Sertes sum tymeº hyt was not so,
flatterers
peers
once
But sekyrº all this is synnys sondeº — surely dispensation
Now mayntenerysº those who inter fere in litigation
be made justysº justices
And lewdeº men rewle the lawe of kynde, º
Nobull men be holdyn wyse,
For now the bysom ledys the blynde… .
ignorant as by right

v) Where is Truth?12

  • 12 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, pp. 430–1, no. 186.
God be with trewthe qwerº he be —
I wold he were in this cuntre!
wherever
A man that shuldº of trewthe telle, would
With grete lordys he may not dwelle —
In trewe story, as klerkes telle,
Trewthe is put in low degree.º
God be with trewthe…
station
In ladyis chaumberys comit he not —
Ther dare trewthe settyn non fot; º
Thow he wolde, he may not
Comyn among the heye mene.º
God be with trewthe…
foot
noble company
With men of lawe he haght non spasº —
They loven trewthe in no plas, º
Me thinkit they han a rewly grace, º
That trewrthe is putº at swych degree.º
God be with trewthe…
hath no room
place
have sorry manners
placed
level, esteem
In holy cherche he may not sytte —
Fro man to man they shuln hym flytte; º
It rewit me sore, º in myn wytte —
Ofº trewthe I have grete pete,
God be with trewthe…
drive, pass on
it grieves me sorely
for
Relygiusº that shulde be good —
If trewthe cum ther I holde hym wood! º
They shuldyn hym ryndeº cote and hood,
And make hym bare for to fle.º
God be with trewthe…
those in religious orders
mad
tear from him
flee
A man that shulde of trewthe aspyre, º
He must sekyn esylieº
In the bosom of Marye.
For there he is forsothe.º
God be with trewthe… .
long for
quietly
truly

vi) Abuses of the Age13

  • 13 Ibid. no. 283.
Bissop lorles, º
Kyng redeles, º
Yung man rechles, º
without learning
lacking counsel
heedless
Old man witles,
Womman ssamles.º
shameless
I swer bi heven kyng
Thos beth five litherº thing,
evil

vii) Sir Penny is a Bold Knight14

  • 14 Ibid. pp. 441–2, no. 196.
  • 15 In this anthology, ‘go bet’ is glossed as ‘get on’.
Go bet, º Peny, go bet, go better15
For thou matº makyn bothe frynd and fo. may
Peny is an hardy knyght,
Peny is mekyl of myght,
Peny, of wrong he makyt right
In every cuntre qwer he goo.
Go bet, Peny…
Thow I have a man islaweº
And forfetyd the kynges lawe,
I shal fyndyn a man of lawe
Wil takyn myn peny and let me goo.
Go bet, Peny…
killed
And if I have to donº fer or ner things to do
And Peny be my massanger,
Than am I no thing in dwerº —
My cause shal be wel idoo, º
Go bet, Peny…
doubt
done
And if I have pens bothe good and fyn,
Men wyl byddyn me to the wyn —
‘That I have shal be thi [n]!’
Sekyrlyº thei wyl seyn so.
Go bet, Peny…
certainly
And quan I have non in myn purs,
Peny betº ne peny wers, º
Of me thei holdyn but lytil forsº —
‘He was a man; let hym goo.’
Go bet, Peny…
better
take little account
worse
  • 16 A shorter version is in The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, pp. 446–50, no. 200 (no (...)

1viii) London Lickpenny16

To London once my stepps I bent,
Where trouth in no wyse should be faynt,
To Westmynster-ward I forthwith went,
To a man of law to make compleynt.
I sayd, ‘For Marys love, that holy saynt,
Pyty the poore that wolde proceede! ’º
But for lack of mony I cold not spede.º
go to law
prosper
And as I thrust the preseº amonge,
By frowardº chaunce my hood was gone,
Yet for all that I stayd not longe,
crowd
evil
Tyll at the Kynges Benche I was come,
Before the Judge I kneled anon, º
And prayd hym for Gods sake to take heede —
But for lack of mony I myght not spede.
at once
Beneth them sat clarkes a gret rout, º
Which fast dyd wryte by one assent;
There stoode up one and cryed about,
‘Rychard, Robert, and John of Kent! ’
crowd
I wystº not well what this man ment;
He cryed so thyckeº there in dede —
But he that lackt mony myght not spede.
knew
quickly (indistinctly)
Unto the Common Placeº I yode thoo, º Common Pleas went then
Where sat one with a sylken hoode;
Dyd hym reverence for I ought to do so,
And told my case as well as I coolde.
How my goodes were defrauded me by falsehood
I gat not a mumº of his mouth for my meedº —
And for lack of mony I myght not spede.
.
word
reward
  • 17 The first of the daytime hours, about 6 am, and the second of the canonical hours (OED(...)
Unto the Rolls I gat me from thence,
Before thee clarkes of the Chauncerye
Where many I found earning of pence,
But none at all once regarded mee.
I gave them my playnt uppon my knee.
They liked it well, when they had it reade —
But lackyng mony I could not be sped.
In Westmynster Hall I found out one,
Which went in a long gown of raye, º
striped cloth
I crowched and kneled before hym anon —
For Maryes love, of helpe I hym praye.
‘I wot not what thou meanest, ’ gan he say;
To get me thence he dyd me bedeº —
For lack of mony I cold not speede.
order
Within this hall nether rych nor yett poor
Wold do for me ought, although I shold dye;
Which seing, I gat me out of the doore,
Where Flemynges began on me for to cry,
‘Master, what will you copenº or by?
Fyne felt hates, or spectacles to reede?º
Lay down your sylver, and here you may speede! ’
purchase
read
Then to Westmynster gate I presently went,
When the sonn was at hyghe pryme; º
Cookes to me they tooke good entent, º
Prime17
attention
And proffered me bread with ale and wyne,
Rybbs of befe, both fat and ful fineº
A fayre cloth they gan for to sprede —
But wantyng mony I might not speede.
thin
  • 18 London Stone stood in the middle of Cannon Street.
  • 19 Rushes were used as floor-covering.
Then unto London I dyd me hye,
Of all the land it beareth the pryse.º
‘Hot pescodes!’º one began to crye.
‘Strabery rype!’ and ‘cherryes in the ryse!’º
One bad me come nere and by some spyce;
Peper and safforne they gan me bedeº —
But for lack of mony I might not spede.
is pre-eminent
pea pods
on the branch
offer
Then to the Chepeº I gan me drawne,
Where mutch people I saw for to stand;
One ofred me velvet, sylke, and lawne; º
Another he taketh me by the hande,
‘Here is Parys thred, the finest in the land! ’
I never was used to such thynges in dede,
And wanting mony I myght not spede.
Cheapside
fine linen
Then went I forth by London stone,18
Throughout all Canwykeº Streete;
Drapers mutch cloth me offred anone;
Then comes one, cryed, ‘hot shepes feete!’
Candlewick
One cryde, ‘makerell!’; ‘ryshesº grene!’ another gan
greete.º
rushes19 shouted
On bad me by a hood to cover my head —
But for want of mony I myght not be sped.
Then I hyed ne into Estchepe, º
One cryes, ‘rybbs of befe, and many a pye! ’
Pewter pottes they clattered on a heape;
There was harpe, pype, and mynstrelsye.
Eastcheap
‘Yea, by cock! ’º ‘Nay, by cock! ’ some began crye;
Some songe of Jenken and Julyan for there mede —
But for lack of mony I might not spede.
by God
  • 20 Cornhill was noted for drapers and vendors of old clothing.
Then into Cornhyllº anon I yode,
Where was mutch stolen gere amonge;
I saw where hongeº myne owne hoode,
That I had lost amonge the thronge.
To by my own hood I thought it wronge —
I knew it well as I dyd my crede;
But for lack of mony I could not spede.
Cornhill20
was hanging
The taverner tooke me by the sleve,
‘Sir, ’ sayth he, ‘wyll you our wyne assay?’º
I answerd, ‘that can not mutch me greve;
A peny can do no more than it may.’
I drank a pynt, and for it dyd paye,
Yet sore ahungerd fron thence I yede,
And wanting mony I not spede.
try
Then hyed I me to Belyngsgate, º
And one cryed, ‘Hoo! Go we hence!’
I prayd a bargeman, for Gods sake,
That he wold spare me my expence.
‘Thou scapstº not here, ’ quod he, ‘under .ii. pence;
I lystº not yet bestow my almes-dede! ’
Thus, lackyng mony, I could not spede,
Billingsgate
wish
escape
Then I conveyed me into Kent,
For ofº the law wold Y meddle no more,
Because no man to me tooke enten.º
I dyght me to do as I dyd before.
Now Jesus that in Bethlem was bore,
Save London, and send trew lawyers there mede!
For whoso wants mony, with them shall not spede
with
paid attention

C. Particular Abuses and Wicked Deeds

  • 21 In The Middle Scots Poets, ed. Kinghorn; a note mentions the medieval belief that doves ha (...)

Medical and religious satire: although quack doctors and their remedies figure in popular drama, both medieval and later, English satirical poems on them have not survived in great numbers. We include one simple burlesque example. Here the more learned tradition produced one little masterpiece in Henryson’s Sum Practysis of Medecyne, a dazzling performance which unites the style of ‘flyting’ with a wonderfully wild sense of fantasy: the ‘remedies’ include ‘sevin sobbis of ane selche’ [seal] and ‘the lug of ane lempet’.21 The much more extensive surviving corpus of religious satire — Lollard attacks on the church, orthodox attacks on Lollards — also presents problems for an anthologist of popular literature, since many examples seem more learned and ‘literary’. We simply present two poems against friars.

ix) A Good Medicine for Sore Eyes22

  • 22 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, p. 474, no. 213.
For a man that is almost blynd:
La hym go barhedº all day ageyn the wynd
Tyll the soyneº be sette;
bare-headed
sun
At evyn wrap hym in a cloke
And put hym in a hows full of smoke,
And loke that every hol be well shet.º
shut
And whan hys eyen begyne to rope, º
Fyl hem full of brynston and sope.
And hyllº hym well and warme;
And yf he se not by the next moneº
As well at mydnyght as at none
I schall leseº my ryght arme.
water
cover
moon
lose

x) These Friars23

  • 23 A short version of this is in Medieval English Lyrics (ed. Davis), pp. 141–2, no. 59; the (...)

This poem is more lively than many anti-fraternal attacks, but it is sometimes obscure. The author seems to be thinking of wall-paintings in a church, such as are found in the large churches of the preaching friars.

  • 24 Who do not know their Creed; this, and the Lord’s Prayer, were the two prayers that ev (...)
  • 25 This was Richard Fitzralph, who preached against mendicant abuses.
  • 26 ‘Saracens’ and other ‘pagans’ were thought to swear by Mahomet.
Of thes frer mynorsº me thenkes noch wonder,
That waxen areº thus hauteyn, º that som tyme were
under,
Minorites
are grown haughty
Among men of holy chirch thai maken mochel blonderº
Nou He that sytes us above, make hamº sone to sonder! º
With an O and an I, thai praysen not seynt Poule,
confusion
them scatter
Thai lyenº seyn Fraunceys, by my fader soule! tell lies about
First thai gabbenº on God that all men may se, mock
When thai hangen him on high on a grene tre,
With leves and with blossemes that bright are of ble, º
That was never Goddes son by my leute.º
With an O and an I, men wenenº that thai wede, º
To carpeº so of clergyº that can not thair crede.24
colour
faith
think go mad
prate learning
Thai have done him on a croysº fer up in the skye,
And festned in hym wyenges, º as he shuld flie.
This fals, feyned byleve shal thai soure bye, º
On that lovelych lord, so for to lye.
cross
wings
pay for dearly
With an O and an I, one sayd ful still, º
Armachanº distroy ham, if it is Goddes will.
quietly
Archbishop of Armagh25
Ther comes one out of the skye in a grey goun
As it were a hog-hyerdº hyandº to toun;
Thai have moº goddess then we, I say, by Mahoun,26
shepherd hurrying
more
All men under ham that ever beres croun, º
With an O and an I, why shuld thai not be shent?º
Ther wants noght bot a fyre that thai nereº all brent!
tonsure
destroyed
were not
Went I forther on my way in that same tyde, º
Ther I sawe a frere bled in myddes of his syde,
Bothe in hondes and in fete he had woundes wyde;
time
To serve to that same frer, the pope mot abyde.º must wait
With an O and an I, I wonder of thes dedes,
To se a pope holde a dische whyl the frer bledes.
A cart was made al of fyre, as it shuld be,
A gray frer I sawe therinne, that best liked me
Wele I wute thai shal be brent, by my leaute —
God graunt me that grace that I may it se.
With an O and an I, brent be thai all,
And all that helpes therto faire mot befall.º may it prosper
Thai preche all of povert, º but that love thai noght — poverty
For gode meteº to thair mouthe the toun is thurghsoght; º food searched
Wyde are thair wonnyngesº and wonderfully wroght —
Murdre and horedome ful dere has it boght.º
With an O and an I, for sixe pens, erº thai fayle,
dwellings
paid for
before
Sleº thi fadre and japeº thi modre, and thai wyl the kill seduce
assoille! º absolve

xi) Thou that Sellest the Word of God27

  • 27 In The Oxford Book of Medieval Verse, pp. 410–11, no. 171.
  • 28 In the Beginning was the Word, the opening of John’s Gospel.
Thou that sellest the worde of God
Be thou berfot, º be thou shod,
Cum nevere here;
bare-foot
In principio erat verbum28
Is the worde of God, all and sum, º
the whole of it
  • 29 This may be I Peter 5: 8–9 (not an epistle of Paul). The Bible was well known in the M (...)
That thou sellest, lewedº frere, ignorant
Hit is cursed symonie
Ether to selle or to bye
Any gostlyº thinge;
spiritual
Therfore, frere, go as thou come,
And hold the in thi hows at home
Tyl we the almisº brynge.
alms
Goddes lawe ye reverson, º
And mennes howsis ye persen, º
overthrow
get into
As Poul berith wittnes,29
As mydday develis goynge abowte,
For money lowleº ye lowte, º
Flatteringe boythe more and lesse.º
lowly
great and small
bow

D. Against Particular Groups or Individuals

Satirical verses against foreigners: a number have survived, mostly against Flemings and Scots. Those against the Scots are more numerous, and also more eloquent; and there are some sharp Scottish ripostes: Scots and English seem to have exchanged ‘males chansons’.

xii) Against the Rebellious Scots [1296]30

  • 30 In Pierre de Langtoft’s Chronicle, see note (on p. 391) to v. 156 (on p. 283); The Politic (...)
Tprutº Scot rivellingº (exclamation of contempt) rascal (lit. a rough boot)
With mikel mistiming
Crop thuº ut of kage.
you crept

xiii) A Scottish song against Edward I when he besieged Berwick31

  • 31 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, p. 58, no. 32 a.
Wenes kyng Edward, with his longe shankes
Forto wyn Berwik, al oure unthankes?º
against our wishes
Gas pikesº him!
And when he hath hit,
Gas dicheº him!
go pierce
dig

xiv) Black Agnes at the siege of Dunbar [1388]32

  • 32 From Andrew of Wyntoun’s Chronicle, viii, 4993 (ed. Amours; Laing’s edn. may also be consu (...)

2An English soldiers’ song recorded by a Scottish chronicler

… Off this ilk segeº in hethingº siege derision
The Ingllismen maid oft carping: º
‘I wowº to God, schoº beris hir weill,
The Scottis wenche with her ploddeill; º
For cum I airly, º cum I lait,
I fynde ay Annes at the gate!’
complaint
vow
band of ruffians
early
she

xv) The Execution of Sir Simon Fraser33

  • 33 This poem is found in London, BL MS Harley 2253; see The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, (...)

Sir Simon Fraser (or Frisell) was captured by the English at the battle of Methven or Kirkencliff (1306). He was taken to London and executed in that year. Perhaps the poem was written shortly after the execution, by a professional ballad-maker; it seems generally similar to the ‘news ballads’ found in later popular literature. [vv. 169–208]

For al is grete poer, º yet he wes ylaht: º power caught
Falsnesse and swykedomº al hit geth to naht.º treachery nought
Thoº he wes in Scotland, lutel wes ys thoht
Of the harde jugement that hym wes bysohtº
In stounde, º
He wes foure sitheº forsworeº
To the kyng ther bifore,
when
sought, demanded
time
times perjured
And that him brohte to grounde.º brought down
With feteres and with gyves ichotº he wes todrowe, º I know drawn
From the Tour of Londone, that monie myhte
knowe, º
In a curtel of burelº a selketheº wyse.
Ant a garland on ys heved of the newe guyse,
so that many be aware
tunic of sackcloth strange
Thurh Cheepe.º through Cheapside
Moni mon of Engelond
For to se Symond
Thidewardº con lepe.º thither did run
Thoº he com to galewes, furst he wes anhonge,
Al quicº byheveded, thah him thohteº longe.
when
living though it
seemed to him
Seththeº he wes yopened, isº bowels ybrend; º
The heved to Londone Brugge wes send
then his burnt
To shonde.º
So ich ever mote the: º
Sum whileº wendeº he
Ther lutel to stonde —
shame
may prosper
once expected
Heº rideth thourh the site, º as I telle may,
With gomen and wyth solas, º that wes here pay
To Londone Brugge hee nomeº the way —
they city
games and fun
they took
Mony wes the wyves chilº that theron loketh aº day, child by
And seide alas,
That he was boreº
And sovilliche forloreº
So feir monº as he was.
born
vilely undone
man
Nou stont the heved above the tubrugge, º
Faste bi Waleis, º soth forte sugge; º
After socour of Scotlond longe he mowe prye.º
And after help of Fraunce wet halt it to lye, º
Ich wene.º
Betere him were in Scotlond
With is ax in ys hond,
drawbridge
Wallace say
gaze
what profits it to lie
I think
To pleyen oº the grene. on

xvi) Revenge for Bannockburn34

  • 34 This is printed in Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose, ed. Sisam, pp. 152–3 (notes pp. 253 (...)

The Englishman Laurence Minot wrote a series of poems celebrating the deeds of Edward III against the Scots and his other enemies. This vigorous example is occasioned by the English victory at Halidon Hill (1333), which he sees as a triumphant revenge for the Scots’ defeat of the English by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn (1314). Minot sees the Scots as rough and boastful — and untrustworthy.

Skottes out of Berwik and of Abirdene,
At the Bannok burn war ye to kene; º
bold
Thare sloghº ye many sakles, º als it wes sene,
And now has king Edward wrokenº it, I wene,
It is wroken, I wene, wele wurth the while, º
War yit withº the Skottes, for thai er ful of gile.
slew innocent
avenged
happy the day!
still watch out for
Whare er ye, Skottes of saint Johnes toune?º
The bosteº of yowre baner es betin al doune;
Perth
pride
When ye bosting wll bede, º sir Edward es bouneº
For to kindle yow care and crak yowre crowne.
He has cracked yowre croune, wele wurth the while
Schame bitydeº the Skottes, for thai er ful of gile.
offer ready
 !
befall
Skottes of Striflinº war steren and stout, º
Of God ne of gude men had thai no dout; º
Stirling fierce and strong
fear
Nou have thai, the pelers, º prikedº obout,
Bot at the last sir Edward rifildº thaire rout.º
He has rifild thaire rout, wel wurth the while!
robbers
stripped
galloped
host
Bot ever er thai underº bot gaudesº and gile. underneath tricks
Rughfute riveling, º now kindels thi care, rough-footed rascal (with
brogues)
Berebagº with thi boste, thi bigingº es bare;
Fals wretche and forsworn, whider wiltou fare?
bag-carrier dwelling
Buskº the into Brig, º and abide thare.
Thare, wretche, saltou wonº and weryº the while;
Thi dwelling in Dondeº es doneº for thi gile.
hurry
live
Dundee
Bruges
curse
finished
The Skotte gase in Burghesº and betesº the stretes,
All thise Inglis men harmes he hetes, º
Fast makes he his moneº to men that he metes,
But foneº frendes he finds that his bale betes.º
Funeº betes his bale, wele wurth the while,
He uses all threting with gaudes and gile.
Bruges
promises
complaint
few
few
frequents
misery assuages
Bot many man thretes and spekes ful ill.
That sum tyme war better to be stane-still, º
The Skot in his wordes has wind for to spill, º
For at the kast Edward sall have al his will.
He had his will at Berwik, wele wurth the while,
silent as stone
waste
Skottes broght him the kayesº — bot getº for thaire gile. keys watch out

xvii) The Fall of Suffolk [1450]35

  • 35 Cited in Gray’s Later Medieval English Literature, p. 337; see Historical Poems, ed. Robbi (...)

Popular resentment at events in England and France had become centred on William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, ‘the Fox of the South’: he was blamed for the unpopular marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou, for recent defeats and losses in France, and for his suspected role in the death of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (1447). He was indicted and held in the Tower prior to banishment. The poem was written at this point, probably in February 1450. Later in 1450 he set out for France, but was intercepted and murdered. Another satirical poem ‘celebrates’ his death. The ‘fox’ poem makes some play with animal names and heraldic imagery: Talbot ‘our dog’, the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the great English generals (a talbot is a kind of hound); Jack Napes, a tame ape, suggested by Suffolk’s badge of clog and chain; John Beaumont, Constable of England, is ‘that gentill rache’ (hunting dog), and ‘beaumont’ was the name of a hound; ‘oure grete gandere’ is Duke Humphrey, whose badge was a swan.

  • 36 MED ‘don’, a dun horse; it cites a similar line to this one, meaning ‘horse and cart a (...)
Now is the fox drevinº to hole! Hoo to hym, hoo, hoo!
For andº he crepe out, he will yow alle undo,
Now ye han foundeº parfite, love well your game;
For and ye ren countre, º then be ye to blame.
driven
if
have discovered game
in the opposite direction
Sum of yow holdith with the fox and rennyth hare;
But he that tied Talbot our doge, evyll mote he fare!
For now we mys the black dog with the wide mouth,
For he wold have ronnen well at the fox of the south.
And all gooth backward, and don isº in the myre, is put, or stuck36
As they han deserved, so pay they ther hire.
Now is tyme of Lent; the fox is in the towre;
Therfore send hym Salesburyº to be his confessoure. Bishop Ayscough of
Salisbury
Many mo ther ben, and we kowd hem knowe, º
But wonº most begyn the daunce, and all com arowe, º
Loke that your hunteº blowe well thy chase; º
Butº he do well is part, I beshreweº is face!
This fox at Bury slowe oure grete gandere;
Therfore at Tyborn mony mon on hym wondere.
Jack Napes, with his clogge
Hath tied Talbot, oure gentill dogge,
Wherfore Beaumownt, that gentill rache,
make known
one in a line
huntsman pursuit
unless curse
Hath brought Jack Napiis in an evill cache.º pursuit
Be ware, al men, of that blame,
And namlyº ye of grete fame,
Spirituall and temperall, be ware of this,
Or els hit will not be well, iwis.
God save the kyng, and God forbade
That he suche apes any mo fede,
And of the perille that may befall
Be ware, dukes, erles, and barouns alle.
especially

E. Parody and Burlesque

Two examples of verse satire which make good use of the extensive and deep-rooted tradition.

xviii) The Land of Cokaygne37

  • 37 In Early Middle English Verse and Prose; see also Gray’s From the Norman Conquest pp. 352– (...)

This Early Middle English poem, with its witty combination of antimonastic satire and parody of the delights of the Eathly Paradise, manages to create a glorious vision of a comic utopia; and the (monastic) world upside down. [vv. 51–166]

  • 38 An aromatic root (see OED).
… Ther is a wel fair abbei
Of white monkes and of grei;
Ther beth bowrisº and halles —
Al of pasteisº beth the walles,
Of fleis, º of fisse, and rich met, º
The likfullistº that man mai et,
Flurenº cakes beth the schinglesº alle
Of cherche, cloister, boure, and halle;
chambers
pasties
meat
most delightful
of flour
food
shingles
The pinnesº beth fat podingesº —
Rich met to princes and kings.
fastening pegs sausages
Manº mai therof et inoghº one enough
Al with right and noght with wogh; º wrong
Al is commune to yung and old,
To stoute and sterne, mek and bold.
Ther is a cloister, fair and light,
Brod and lang, of sembli sight; º
The pilers of that cloister alle
handsome appearan ce
Beth iturned ofº cristale,
With har basº and capitale
Of grene jaspeº and rede corale.
In the praerº is a tre,
Swithe likfulº for to se —
shaped from
their base
jasper
meadow
very pleasant
The roteº is gingevirº and galingale,38
The siounsº beth al sedwaleº
Trie macesº beth the flure,
The rind canelº of swet odur,
root
shoots
excellent mace
bark cinnamon
ginger
zedoary
The frute gilofreº of gode smakke; º
Of cucubesº ther is no lakke.
Ther beth rosis of rede ble, º
And the lilie likfulº forto se
That falowethº never dai no night
This aghtº be a swet sight,
Ther beth .iiii. willisº in the abbey,
clove
cubebs
colour
delightful
withers
ought
wells
taste
Of treacleº and halwei, º
Of baumº and ek piementº…
[There are precious stones, and many birds.]
… Ther beth briddes mani and faleº…
The gees irostidº on the spitte
medicine
balm
numerous
roasted
healing water
also spiced wine
Fleesº to that abbey, God hit wot, º
And gredith, º ‘Gees, al hote! al hot! ’
Hiº bringeth garlek, grete plente,
The best idightº that man mai se.
fly
call out
they
prepared
knows it
The leverokes, º that beth cuth, º
Lightith adunº to manis muth,
larks
down
esteemed
Idight in stu, º ful swatheº wel, cooked in a pot very
Pudridº with gilofre and canel.
Nis no spechº of no drink;
powdered
nothing is said of
Ak takeº inogh withute swinkº…
… The yung monkes euchº dai
Aftiir metº goth to plai;
Nis ther hauk no fuleº so swifte
but taken labour
each
food
hawk nor bird
Bettir fleingº be the lifte, º
Than the monkes heigh of modeº
With harº slevis and har hode.
Whan the abbot seeth ham flee, º
That he holt forº moch glee; º
Ak natheles, º al ther amang, º
flying through the air
in high spirits
their
sees them fly
regards as amusement
but nevertheless in the midst of
it all
He biddith ham light to evesang.º
The monkes lightith noght adun,
come down to evensong
Ac furreº fleeth in o randun.º
Whan the abbot him iseeth
That is monkes fram him fleeth,
but further headlong
He takith a maidin of the routeº
And turnith up har white toute, º
And betith the tabursº with is hond
To make is monkes light to lond.
Whan is monkes that iseeth,
To the maid dun hi fleeth.
And goth the wench al abute
crowd
bottom
as a drum
And thakkethº al hir white toute.
And sith aftir her swinkeº
Wendith meklich hom to drink,
And goth to har collacione
A wel fair processione.
Another abbei is therbi —
Forsoth, a gret fair nunnerie,
pat
their toil
Upº a river of swet milke,
Whar is gret plente of silk.º
Whan the someris dai is hote,
The yung nunnes takith a bote
upon
such
And doth ham forthin that river,
Both with oris and with stere.º
Whan hi beth furº fram the abbei
Hi makith ham naked forto plei.
And lepith dune into the brimmeº
And doth ham sleilichº forto swimme.
The yung monkes that hi seeth, º
Hi doth ham upº and forth hi fleeth,
And cummith to the nunnes anon, º
And euch monke him taketh on, º
And snellichº berith forth har prei
To the mochil greiº abbei,
And techith the nunnes an oreisunº
With jambleveº up and doun… .
oars and rudder
far
water
skilfully
see them
get up
quickly
one
quickly
large grey
prayer
legs raised

xix) The Tournament of Tottenham39

  • 39 In Middle English Verse Romances. Sands has modernized the spelling slightly, compared wit (...)

A merry burlesque of a chivalric event, played out by humble locals rather than by armed knights. [vv. 1–90]

Of alle these kene conqueroures to carpe it were kynde,
Off feleº feghtyng folk ferlyº we fynde. fierce
The tournament of Totenham have we in mynde —
It were harme sich hardynesse were holdyn behynde.
wondrously
In story as we rede
Of Hawkyn, of Harry,
Off Tymkyn, of Tyrry.
Off theym that were dughtyº
And hardy in dede.
valiant
Hit befell in Totenham on a dere day,
Ther was made a schartyngº be the hy way —
Thider com alle the men of tho contray.
festival
Of Hyssylton, of Hygate, and of Hakenay.
And alle the swete swynkers.º
Ther heppedº Hawkyn,
Ther dawnsed Dawkyn.
  Ther trumpedº Tomkyn,
And alle were trewe drynkers.
toilers
hopped
trumpeted
Tyl the day was gon and evesong past,
That thay shuld rekyn ther skot and ther counts caste
Perkyn the potter into the pressº past crowd
And seid, ‘Rondol the refe, º a doghter thou hast,
reeve
Tyb thi dere,
Therfor wytº wold I,
Whych of all this bachelery
Were best worthy
know
To wed her to his fere.’º consort
Upsterte thos gadelyngysº with ther lang staves
And sayd, ‘Rondol the refe, Lo, this lad raves!
Baldely amang us thy doghter he craves,
And we er richer men than he, and more godº haves
Of catel and corn.’
Then sayd Perkyn to Tybbe, ‘I have hyghtº
That I schal be always redy in my right
If that it schulkd be thys dat sevenyght
Or ellis yet to morn.’
fellows
property
promised
Then seid Randolfe the refe, ‘Ever be he waryd, º
That about thys carping lenger wold be taryed,
I wold not my doghter that sche were myscaryed,
cursed
But at her most worschypº I wold she were maryed,
Therfor a tournament schal begyn
Thys day sevenyght.
With a flayle for to fight.
And he that ys of most myght
honour
Schal broukeº hur with wynne.º enjoy pleasure
Whoso berys hym best in the tournament,
Hym shal be granted the greº be the common assent,
For to wynne my doghter with dughtyness of dent, º
And Coppeld my brodeº henne, was broght out of Kent,
prize
blows
brood
And my donnydº cow.
For no spens wyl I spare,
For no catell wyl I care,
He schal have my gray mare,
And my spottyd sowe.’
dun
Ther was many a bold lad ther bodyes to bede;
Than thay toke thayre leve, and hamward thei yede, º
went
And alle the woke afterward thay graythed ther wede, º
Tyll it come to the day that thay suld do ther dede.
prepared their equipment
Thay armed ham in mattes;
Thay set on ther nollys, º
For to kepe ther pollys, º
Gode blake bollysº
For batryngº of battes;
heads
guard their heads
bowls
against battering

They sewed tham in schepe skynnes, for they suld not brest,

And ilkon toke a black hatte instead of a crest.
A harrow brodº as a fanne abouneº on ther brest,
And a flayle in ther hande, for to fight prest.º
broad
ready
above
Furth gone thay fare.
Ther was kyd mekylº fors,
shown great
Who schuld best fend his cors.º
He that had no gode hors,
He gat hym a mare.
defend his body
Sych another gadryng have I not sene oft,
When all the gret company come rydand to the croft:
Tyb on a gray mare was set upon loft
On a sekº full of feerysº for she shuld syt soft, sack
And led hur to the gap —
feathers
Forther wold not Tyb then
For crying of al the men,
Tyl scho had hur gode brode hen
Set in hur lap.
A gay gyrdyl Tyb had on, borwed for the monys, º
And a garland on hur hed ful of rounde bones.
And a broche on hur brest, ful of saferº stones,
for the occasion
sapphire
  • 40 The Holy Rood was worked in, as well.

Wyth the haly rude tokening was wrethyn for tho nonys.40
No catel was ther spared.
When joly Gyb saw hure hare,
He gyrd so hus gray mere

That she lete a faucon-fareº
At the rerewarde.º
fart
at the back end
  • 41 This was an immensely popular chanson de geste (c. 1312) by Jacques de Longuyon of Lorrain (...)

[The company proceeds to make vows, one after the other in the manner of Charlemagne’s knights in Voeux du Paon.41 vv. 145–71]

When thay had ther othes made, furth gan they hyeº
With flayles and hornes and trumpes mad of tre.º
Ther were all the bachelerys of that contre,
Thay were dyght in aray as thamselfe wold be —
hasten
wood
  • 42 For breaking up clods.
Thayr baner was full bright
Of an pled raton fell, º
The cheveroneº of a ploo mellº
And the schadow of a bell,
Quartered with the mone light.
rat skin
chevron
plough mallet42
I wot it ys no childer game whan thay togedyr met,
When ich freke in the feld on his felayº bet,
And layd on styfly — for nothyng wold thay let,
And faght ferly fast, tyl ther horses swet.
And fewe wordys spoken.
fellow

Ther were flayles al to-slatred,
Ther were scheldys al to-flatred,
Bollys and dyschis al to-schatred,
And many hedys brokyn.

  • 43 Probably here being used as shields.
Ther was clynkyng of cart sadellys and clattiryng of conn
Of fele frekis in the feld brokyn were ther fannesº
Of sum were the hedys brokyn, of sum the brayn panes.
es, º canes
winnowing shovels43
And yll ware thay beseyn orº they went thens,
Wuth swyppyng of swepyllys.º
The boyes were so wery for-fught, º
That thay might not fight mare oloft.
But creped then about in the croft,
As thay were crokid crypils.
before
striking of flail-ends
fought to a standstill

[vv. 190–214] Perkyn turnyd hym about in that ych thrange,
Among thos wery boyes he wrest and he wrang,
When he saw Tirry away with Tyb fang,
And wold have lad hir away with a luf song,

And after hym ran
And of hys hors he hym droghº
And gaf hym of hys flayle inogh.
pulled
‘We, te-he, ’ quod Tyb, and lughº
‘Ye ar a dughty man!’
laughed
  • 44 With lit straw, flax, and rush-lights.

Thus thay tugged and rugged tyl yt was nere nyght,
Alle the wyves of Totenham come to se that syght,
With wyspys and kexis and ryschys ther light,44
To fech hom ther husbandes, that were tham trouth-plight,

And sum broght gret harwesº
Ther husbandes hom for to fech;
sledges
Sum on dores and sum on hech, º
Sum on hyrdyllys and sum on crech, º
And sum on welebaraws.
gratings
crutch
  • 45 Gray presents most of this text, breaking off at v. 214 (it ends at v. 234).
They gaderyd Perkyn about everych syde
And grant hym ther the gre, º the moreº was his pride.
Tyb and he with gret myrthe homward can they ride,
And were al nyght togedyr tyl the morn tide,
prize greater
And thay in fereº assent:
So wele his nedys he has sped,
That dere Tyb he had wed…
together
[And there is a rich feast… ]45

Notes

1 See Brewer, Medieval Comic Tales (2nd edn), p. xix: ‘Derision is a general attitude of humorous, superior contempt, very characteristic of medieval humour’; therefore it is a better concept than ‘satire’ in this context. See also Gray’s chapter Satire in Simple Forms.

2 R. C. Elliott, in Encyclopedia Britannica.

3 In Early Middle English Verse and Prose (number IX, commentary pp. 336–41). For ‘nith’, see Simple Forms pp. 195–6.

4 In Middle English Verse Romances, ed. Sands.

5 In Selected Poems of Henryson and Dunbar, Bawcutt and Riddy, ‘Quhy Will Ye, Merchantys of Renoun’, pp. 161–4.

6 A letter from John Keats to George and Georgiana Keats, March 1819.

7 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, no. 329 (and see note): Catesby, Ratcliffe, and Lovell were among Richard III’s supporters.

8 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, no. 282; and Simple Forms, p. 202.

9 Part of a letter attributed to John Ball; see Historical Poems, ed. Robbins, no. 17 (John Ball’s Letters, I; 1381), p. 54. See also Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose, pp. 160–1 (and notes) for another part of the letter.

10 See Simple Forms, p. 207.

11 This verse, from London, BL MS Harley 5396, is printed in Reliquiae Antiquae eds Wright and Halliwell-Phillipps (vol. II), p. 238 ff.

12 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, pp. 430–1, no. 186.

13 Ibid. no. 283.

14 Ibid. pp. 441–2, no. 196.

15 In this anthology, ‘go bet’ is glossed as ‘get on’.

16 A shorter version is in The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, pp. 446–50, no. 200 (note p. 595).

17 The first of the daytime hours, about 6 am, and the second of the canonical hours (OED).

18 London Stone stood in the middle of Cannon Street.

19 Rushes were used as floor-covering.

20 Cornhill was noted for drapers and vendors of old clothing.

21 In The Middle Scots Poets, ed. Kinghorn; a note mentions the medieval belief that doves had no gall (see Animal Tales, above).

22 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, p. 474, no. 213.

23 A short version of this is in Medieval English Lyrics (ed. Davis), pp. 141–2, no. 59; the note (p. 331) says it is frankly rather puzzling. See also Historical Poems, ed. Robbins (no. 66, on the Minorites).

24 Who do not know their Creed; this, and the Lord’s Prayer, were the two prayers that everybody was expected to know by heart.

25 This was Richard Fitzralph, who preached against mendicant abuses.

26 ‘Saracens’ and other ‘pagans’ were thought to swear by Mahomet.

27 In The Oxford Book of Medieval Verse, pp. 410–11, no. 171.

28 In the Beginning was the Word, the opening of John’s Gospel.

29 This may be I Peter 5: 8–9 (not an epistle of Paul). The Bible was well known in the Middle Ages, but Bible books and authors were often confused. The ‘noonday devil’ was the sin of sloth, ‘the destruction that wasteth at noonday’ (Ps. 91: 6 in the Authorized Version, Ps. 90 in the Latin and Douay bibles).

30 In Pierre de Langtoft’s Chronicle, see note (on p. 391) to v. 156 (on p. 283); The Political Songs of England, ed. Wright.

31 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, p. 58, no. 32 a.

32 From Andrew of Wyntoun’s Chronicle, viii, 4993 (ed. Amours; Laing’s edn. may also be consulted). Several versions of vv. 3–6 in the present extract are cited in DIMEV, no. 2298 (IMEV 1377); none matches this extract exactly. See also Wilson, ‘More Lost Literature’, p. 44; and Flood, Prophecy, Politics and Place, p. 129; DIMEV’s reference to Wilson’s (1952) book incorrectly gives p. 231; it is in fact p. 213. Agnes successfully defended her castle against the English in the absence of her husband.

33 This poem is found in London, BL MS Harley 2253; see The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, vol. 2, ed. and trans. Fein et al, article 25.

34 This is printed in Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose, ed. Sisam, pp. 152–3 (notes pp. 253–4).

35 Cited in Gray’s Later Medieval English Literature, p. 337; see Historical Poems, ed. Robbins, no. 75.

36 MED ‘don’, a dun horse; it cites a similar line to this one, meaning ‘horse and cart are in the mire’, but neither is likely in this context (this poem is not cited). It may refer to a game which involved pulling on a log.

37 In Early Middle English Verse and Prose; see also Gray’s From the Norman Conquest pp. 352–5. Bennett describes it as the first fully comic poem in our literature (Middle English Literature, pp. 14–17).

38 An aromatic root (see OED).

39 In Middle English Verse Romances. Sands has modernized the spelling slightly, compared with the version presented here.

40 The Holy Rood was worked in, as well.

41 This was an immensely popular chanson de geste (c. 1312) by Jacques de Longuyon of Lorraine.

42 For breaking up clods.

43 Probably here being used as shields.

44 With lit straw, flax, and rush-lights.

45 Gray presents most of this text, breaking off at v. 214 (it ends at v. 234).

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