G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

A medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation online

. (page 16 of 61)
Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 16 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

There, again, laboured the ditchers with their shovels,
the hoe-men with their hoes, the pickers with their
pick-axes, the beaters with their wooden mallets, the
shavers with their shaving-irons, and the stone-layers

and r


long i




f orefi







some time at the Court of Vienna, but fell out of favour at the death of
his patron in 1198. For the next 20 years or more he took to the
profession of a wandering minstrel — perhaps he was the first nobleman
who ever did so. In 1203 we find him at the court of the Bishop of
Passau, where he receives clothes in the capacity of " singer," just as
Chaucer did from other patrons in that of page. At another time

Walther v. der Vogelweide. 173

he was at the Wartburg, where he knew Wolfram von Eschenbach and
perhaps St. EUzabeth. He was attached to the Emperors Philip of
Swabia, Otto of Brunswick, and Frederick II., from the last of whom
he received after many years a fief of liis own (1220), and was no longer
obUged to Uve from hand to mouth. The third of the pieces here
translated alludes to the Emperor's excommunication in 1227, as he was
on the point of starting for his crusade : Walther probably started
next year in the emperor's train, and died soon after his return in 1229.
He is certainly one of the greatest lyric poets of the Middle Ages ; and
his poems are so cheaply procurable, either in the original or in modern
German versions, that I subjoin these brief specimens in the hope of
tempting more readers to independent study.

73.— jFlomctjs ant) jFair LatiicjB!.

{So die bluomen uz dem grase dringent, L. 45, 37.)

[|N a May morning at daybreak, when the
blossoms crowd forth from the grass like
laughing faces in the merry sunshine, and
httle fowls sing the sweetest lays that their
hearts can find, what joy may then be com-
pared to this ? It is well half a kingdom of heaven !
Shall I confess what this is like ? Then I say what hath
oftentimes brought more still bliss to mine eyes, and
would bring it yet again, could I but see it.

When a noble lady, fair and clean, daintily clad,
daintily kempt and tired, moveth for pastime among a
crowd of folk, in courtly pride and with a courtly train,
looking round her now and again even as the sun
standeth in comparison with the stars — then let May
bring her best marvels, what hath she among them all
so enchanting as this lady's lovely shape, to gaze at
whom we turn our backs on all the flowers of sprmg ?

See here then, wdll ye know the truth ? — go we now
to May's bridal feast, for the merry month is come with
all her charms ! Look here on the fields and there on
the worshipful ladies, which may outshine the other,
and see whether I have not chosen the better part !
If, to my woe, any man should bid me choose ; if
indeed I must leave the one to cleave unto the other,
how straight and sheer should be my choice ! Lady
May, thou mightest be March for me, ere I would leave
my lady there !

174 A Medieval Garner.

74.~lLot)e atiD Dream*

{Nemt, frouwe, disen hranz, L. 74, 20.)

jfAKE, Lady, this garland": thus spake I to
a maid in fair attire : " then will you grace
the dance with these bright flowers in your
hair. Had I many jewels of price, by your
gracious leave all should be set on your
head ; mark my troth, that I mean it well.

" Lady, you are so comely clad that I rejoice to give
you my coronet, the best of all that I have. Flowers
know I many, white and red, that stand hard by on
yonder heath : so sweetly they spring, and so sweet
the birds sing, there shall we twain pluck them

She took that I offered her, even as a child that is
honoured ; her cheeks flushed red, as a rose in a bed of
lilies ; then her bright eyes were ashamed, yet she
sweetly bowed in greeting to me. This was my
guerdon ; if I had more reward, that I keep to mine
own heart.

* Blumen brechen, " to pluck flowers " was a time-honoured poetic
phrase for courting in the fields : cf. the first two stanzas of Walther's
Nightingale (Unter der Linden, L. 39, 11) : —

Under the linden

Amid the heather,
There where our place of resting was,
There might ye finden,

Fair together,
Broken flowers and broken grass
By the wood -side in a dale ;

Sweetly sang the nightingale.

To our field-meeting

Stole I at even ;
There was my true love come before !
So sweet was his greeting

(Lady of heaven !)
That I am blessed for ever more.

Kissed he me ? Yea, thousandfold !

See, my red lips are not yet cold.

Walther v. der Vogclweide. i75

Methought I had never greater bliss than this content
of mind. The blossoms from the trees fell all the while
around us on the grass ; lo ! then must I laugh aloud
for joy. Yet, even while I was so merry and so rich
in my dream, then the day dawned and I must needs
awake !

Tliis hath she wrought in me, that all this summer
long I must look well-nigh all maidens in the eyes ; thus
perchance might I find mine own, and then my care
were gone ! What if she pace this very dance ? Ladies,
of your gracious kindness raise the chaplets on your
brows. — Alas, would that I could see her under some
garland !

75.— a aXHorlD (^rotoiing: ©ID.

{Ouwe tvar sint verswunden alliu miniu jar ? L. 124, 1.)

]]LAS ! whither then are all my years fled ?
Hath this life of mine been but a dream,
or is it true ? That which I ever held for
truth, was it naught all this while ? then
have I slept this many a year, and knew it
not myself ! Now am I awakened, and all is far and
strange, yea though it were heretofore more homely to
me than my two hands. Land and folk, where I was
nurtured from my childhood up, are become as unknown
to me as were it all a He ! They that were my play-
fellows are waxen dull and old ; tilled is the fallow field,
felled is the forest ; but that the water floweth as it
flowed of yore, then methinks my mishap would be
sore indeed. Many a man is slow to greet me, whom
once I knew right well ; the world on all sides is full
of ungrace. When now I think on many a joyous day
that is passed from me as the stroke passeth when men
smite the sea, then evermore alas !

Alas ! how miserably thrive the young folk, whose
minds once felt no rue ! In these days they know
naught but care ; alas ! why go they thus ? Whither-
soever I turn in the world, no man is merry ; dancing,
singing, are all perished for sorrow ; never saw Christian

176 A Medieval Garner.

folk so wretched a year. Mark now how the wimple
sitteth on the noble lady, and how the haughty knights
go clad in village weeds ! Unsoft letters are come to
us from Rome ; we have license to mourn, but our joy
is taken clean awaj^ That wringeth my heart so sore
(for of old we lived in peace) that I must now choose
weeping for my laughter that was of yore. The very
fowls of the air are troubled by our lamentations ;
what wonder if I myself am in despair ? Why speak
I thus Hke a fool in my bitter wrath ? Whoso foUoweth
after present bHss hath lost the joys of heaven for
evermore, alas !

Alas ! how vainly have we spent ourselves upon the
sweets of earth ! I see the bitter gall floating amidst
the honey. Fair is the world to outward show, white
and gTeen and red, yet inwardly she is black of hue,
and dismal as death. He whom she hath seduced,
let him look now to his comfort, for great trespass may
be atoned by little penance. Think thereon, ye
knights, for this is your concern, ye who bear gUttering
helms and many a hard ring of steel, and stout shields
withal and hallowed blades. Would God that I too
were worthy of this victory ! for then Avould I, poor
and needy as I am, earn a rich reward. I mean not
fiefs or barons' gold, but I myself would bear an ever-
lasting crowTi, such as any soldier might win with his
good spear. If I might once go this dear journey over
sea, then would I thenceforth sing O joy ! and never
more Alas !

The so-called Lanercost Chronicle, from which Extracts 76-86 are
taken, was not written at the monastery of that name, as earlier anti-
quaries supposed, but by a Grey Friar, probably of Carlisle. It extends
in its original form to 1307, but is partly based on older materials. Like
nearly all compilations by the early friars, it is full of picturesque
anecdotes and human touches. It was edited for the Maitland Club by
Father Stevenson in 1839. A translation of the greater part of it by
Sir Herbert Maxwell is now appearing in the Scottish Historical Review ;
though not always accurate, it is very readable and interesting.

King Arthur. i77

76.-3 Oision of i^ing actbur.

(p. 23, A.D. 1216).

EEING that we here mention Peter des Roches,
Bishop of Winchester, I will set down that
which I have heard from my elders. This
man, vain-hearted and worldly, as is too
customary among our bishops, once as-
sembled his huntsmen according to custom, and repaired
to one of his church forests for the chase of wild beasts,
when he should have taken his pleasure in the solace
of men's souls. When therefore the beaters were scat-
tered apart throughout the wood, it came to pass that
the Bishop went by a certain glade wherein he found
a fair new mansion that he had never seen before. He
marvelled at its beauty, and hastened to see it, wonder-
ing sore who might be its builder. As he drew near,
there came to meet him certain marvellously clad
attendants, who forthwith invited him to come with-
out delay to the banquet of their king, who even now
awaited him. He hesitated and excused himself,
saying that he had with him no garment fit for a bishop
to sit down to meat in ; but they, laying a proper
mantle upon his shoulders, brought this guest to the
king's presence, before whom he made obeisance. He
was set at this great prince's right hand, where the
more delicate dishes and drinks were ministered unto
him. Yet he was not so stupefied but that he asked
the king, among the rest who sat at meat, who he was
and whence he had come thither ; who confessed
himself to be Arthur, once lord of the whole realm of
Britain. Peter, clapping his hands for joy, asked
whether he were among the saved ; to whom the king
made answer : "In truth, I await God's great mercy."
Then said the Bishop : " Who, my lord, will believe
me when I tell how I have to-day seen and spoken with
King Arthur ? " " Close thine hand ! " quoth the
king ; and he closed it. Then said he : " Open ! "
and from the open hand there flew forth a butterfly.
Then said Arthur : " All thy life long shalt thou have

1 78 A Medieval Garner.

this memorial of me, that, at whatsoever season of the
year thou wouldst fly one of these insects, thou mayest
do thus and thou shalt have it [in thy hand]." Which
blessing became in process of time so notorious that
men often begged a butterfly of him for his benediction ;
and many called him the Bishop of the Butterfly. What
Arthur's soul, yet mortal, intended hereby to teach, let
him perpend who can guess better than I.

77.— a IRopal If3cmesi0.

(p. 48, A.D. 1241).

N this same year, Alexander [II.] King of
the Scots had a son, whom he called after his
own name, born of his second wife, Marie de
Coucy, whom he had brought from bej^ond
the seas. And because, though it be good
to keep close the secret of a king, yet it is honourable
to publish God's works abroad, therefore I will briefly
touch upon a noteworthy event which came to pass
at that boy's birth. We know how it is written, " God
will not despise the supplication of the fatherless, nor
the widow when she poureth out her complaint."
This I record because, when the said King Alexander
had prepared his departure from Edinburgh Castle,
where he had stayed for a whfle, then as he rode through
his borough there met him an old woman, the widow
of a certain burgher ; who, drawing nigh to the king's
bridle, held out to him a handful of wooden tallies,
crying, " Behold, my lord king, I who was once rich
and am now sunken in poverty have received the
whole revenues of my possessions in these tallies,
which thy servants have given me again and again for
food to thine household, and which I now give up to
thee ; only beseeching thee to pay me for the one hen
wherein I thought myself rich until yester-morn,
when thy vassals tore her from me ; pay me that alone,
for I scorn the rest of my losses." Then the king,
flushed with shame, replied, " Lady, they shall be well
paid unto thee ; bear for the present with this debt and

A Royal Nemesis. 179

that debt." With that he spurred his horse, but she
followed after him with this grievous curse : " The
God of heaven," quoth she, " grant thee the same joy
in thine only-begotten son, as I had yesterday when I
saw my hen with her neck wrung." At which the
prince in terror stretched out his open hands to heaven,
saying : "0 God, I beseech thee for my part that Thou
pay no heed to her prayers." The Almighty, to Whom
each side had cried for judgment, deferred in His
patience to inflict the imprecated curse ; yet He who
saith / will repay, after a long interval of respite, ful-
filled it more clearly than daylight.* Thus, as saith
the Scripture, " Do not the tears run down the widow's
cheeks ; and is not her cry against him that causeth
them to fall."

* The editor's or scribe's interpretatum should obviously be impre-
catum. The fulfikiient is described in the next piece.

78.— Deatf) of aieranDer IM,

(p. 115).

'N the course of this year (1285-6) a sudden
death removed Alexander King of Scotland,
after a reign of 36 years and 9 months. He
departed this world on the 19th day of March,
on a Monday night, on the eve of St. Cuth-
bert, Bishop and Confessor, the liberties and boundaries
of whose see he and his vassals had harried for the last
three years. . . . Moreover, all that year and through-
out that province a boding word was current among
the Scots, that on that day would be the day of judg-
ment ; whereat many feared but some scoffed. More-
over, in the December next preceding, under the sign
of Capricorn, men heard terrible thunder and saw
lightning, which in wise men's judgment foreboded the
fall of princes, wherefore he was warned to beware ;
but all these bodings, with many more, availed not to
teach him, so that God punished him through his own
sins. For his wont was to spare for neither time nor
tempest, for perils of waters nor for rugged cliffs ; but

i8o A Medieval Garner.

by night or day, even as the humour took him, he
would sometimes change his guise, and often ride with
a single companion to visit, in no way of honour,
matrons or nuns, maidens or widows. Wherefore,
on this same day whereon the judgment hung over
him, yet he knew it not, so grievous a tempest burst
upon the land that to me and many other men it
seemed too bitter to uncover our faces against the
north wind, the rain, and the snow. On this day, in
his high Maidens' Castle [of Edinburgh], with a great
throng of barons, he held a council concerning the
answer to be given to the king's messengers of England,
who on the third day were to come to Norham, bringing
with them Thomas of Galloway, whose deliverance from
prison was then demanded by John de Baliol the
younger. When dinner-time was come, then the
king's brow cleared amid the meat and drink, and he
sent a present of fresh lampreys to one of his barons,
bidding him through the squire that brought it to
feast merrily, and remember that this day was the day
of judgment. He, with many thanks, answered jest-
ingly to his lord : "If to-day be the day of judgment,
then shall we soon rise with full bellies ! " When the
long feast was ended, and night began to fall, then
neither the foul weather nor the lords' persuasion
could withhold the king from hastening forth to the
Queen's Ferry, there to visit his new bride, daughter
to the Count of Dreux, Yolette by name, whom he had
brought shortly before this from beyond the sea, to
his own woe and the eternal affliction of the whole
country ; for she dwelt then at Kinghorn, and (as
many tell) before her espousal she had taken the veil
beyond the sea in a convent of nuns, but had looked
backwards from the plough through feminine fickleness
and ambition for the crown. When the king came to
the hamlet by the ferry-side, the master of the boats
overtook him and warned him of his peril, and would
have persuaded him to return. " Fearest thou then,"
quoth the king, " to stay with me ? " " God forbid,"
quoth he, " for it is just and fitting that I should go
with thy father's son to the death." So the king came

Will o' the Griskin. i8i

in black darkness to the town of Inverkennan, with
only three squires in his train ; when the master of his
salt-pans, a married man of that towTi, knew his voice
and cried : " Lord, what do you here at such a time
and in this darkness ? Oftentimes have I warned you
that your night journeys would have an evil issue ;
now therefore tarry with me, where we will provide you
with honourable lodging and all that you need until
morning light." " Nay," said the king, and laughed ;
" we have no need of thy lodging ; but lend me two of
thy servants to go on foot and show us the way."
When therefore they had gone some two miles forward,
then both these and those lost the way, save only that
the horses, by natural instinct, knew the trodden path.
While they thus straggled apart, and he last, though
the squires followed the right way, yet the king (to
speak briefly) fell from his horse into Sisera's sleep,
and thus bade farewell to his kingdom.* In token
whereof we may cite that proverb of Solomon's, " Woe
to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not
another to help him up." He lieth alone at Dunferm-
line, in a grave on the south side of the presbytery.
While therefore we saw the multitude bewailing not
only his sudden death but also the destitution of his
kingdom, those alone suffered no tears to wet their
cheeks who had clung most closely to his friendship
and his benefits while yet he lived.

* The text seems a little corrupt here, but the main sense is plain
enough. Alexander, as we know from other sources, fell down the cliff
and broke his neck.

79.— GHill of ttje (Griskin.

(p. 51, A.D. 1244).

jBOUT this time, as I think, there thus grew
up in France, from small beginnings, a man
of substance and of worthy memory. There
lived in Norfolk a simple countryman who
had many children, among whom he specially
loved a little boy named William, for whom he set
aside a pigling and the profits thereof, in order that

1 82 A Medieval Garner.

grown to manhood, he might provide for himself with-
out burdening his parents, wheresoever Fortune might
favour him. The boy followed his father's bidding ;
and, leaving his fatherland, he hastened to France
with naught else in his purse but the profits of that pig ;
for at home his playfellows were wont to call him the
Boy of the Griskin. Now it came to pass, amidst the
miseries and evils of those folk, he so advanced himself
as to espouse an honourable matron, the widow of a
man of some substance ; with whom he had wealth
and honour and a household of servants. This he did ;
and, being a man of diligence in all his works, he
profited much, and was oftentimes summoned to
business councils by the king and his great men. From
henceforward, even as this honest man grew in sub-
stance, so did the fickle favour of the people grow with
him ; and, lest he should find his prosperity as false
and perilous as adversity, he caused a most comely
chamber to be built and painted within according to
his own choice ; whereof he committed the key to
none save unto his own care, nor suffered any other,
not even his wife, to enter therein. It was his wont,
whensoever he returned from the courts of the great,
forthwith to neglect all other business and enter into
this secret chamber, wherein he would stay as long as
he desired, and return in melancholy mood to his
family. In process of time, as this custom became
inveterate, all were amazed and agape to know what
this might mean that they saw ; wherefore, having
taken counsel, they called all his friends together
to solicit this wise man for the reason of his so
strange behaviour in this chamber. At last, besieged
and importuned by their complaints, he unlocked
the door and called them all together to see his
secret, the monument of his poverty thus set forth.
Amid other ornaments of this chamber, he had caused
a pigling to be painted and a little boy holding him by
a string ; above whose heads was written, in the English
tongue —

Wille Gris, Wille Gris,

Thinche cwat you was, and qwat you es !

Monastic Wizards.


Which may be confirmed by that saying of St. Gregory :
" We can then keep our present state well, when we
never neglect to consider what we were."

80.— Monastic caii^arns*

(p. 85, A.D. 12G8).

jET the reader remember, for the safeguarding
of unpolluted faith in God, that during the
ravages of that cattle-plague which men call
Ui Lungessouth in Loudon^ this year, certain
beastly fellows with the dress, but not the
mind, of cloisterers taught the ignorant countryfollv
to make fire by the rubbing of sticks and to set up an
image of Priapus, and by these means to succour the
cattle. Which when a certain Cistercian lay-brother
had done at Fenton, before the hall hearth, and had
sprinkled the animals with holy water mingled with
filthy matters of his own invention, and when the lord
of the manor was rebuked by a certain faithful Christian
for the invention of such idolatry, then he pleaded in
his own defence that all this had been done in his
absence and without his knowledge, adding : " And
know that, whereas until this month of June other
men's beasts were sick and ailing, while mine were
ever hale ; yet now I lose two or three daily, so that
few are left to till my fields."

On p. 109 tlie chronicler records a far worse instance of the same
Priapus-worship, in which the parish priest of Inverkeithing used to
muster his parishioners to dance with him round the idol. It ma}"
be found in full in the Scottish Historical Revieiv, vol. vi., p. 177.

81.— Cbc arci)Deacon'0 IPucse.

(p. 99, A.D. 1276).

WILL here insert, for mirth's sake also, a
certain piece of evidence which I learned
through Lord Robert of Roberstone, knight of
the king of Scotland, and which he repeated
before many trustworthy witnesses at my
instance. That nobleman had a manor in Annandale,
in the diocese of Glasgow, that was let out on farm to

184 A Medieval Garner.

the peasants ; who, being dissolute by reason of their
wealth, and waxing wanton after their visits to the
tavern, commonly sinned in adultery or incontinence,
and thus frequently filled the archdeacon's purse ;
for their relapses kept them almost perpetually on his
roll. When therefore the lord of the manor demanded
the rent due for the lands, they either pleaded their
poverty or besought a respite ; to whom this kindly
and just man said : " Why do ye, more than all my
other tenants, fail to pay your yearly rent ? If it be
too dear, I may lessen it ; but if ye cannot till it,
return it to me." Then one made answer jeering and
laughing aloud, " Nay, my lord, the cause is not as
thou sayest ; but our frequent incontinence maketh
us so poor that it falleth both upon ourselves and upon
thee our lord." He therefore made answer : "I make
this law among you, that, whosoever shall thus sin in
future, he shall quit my manor forthwith." The
peasants, terrified at this strict penalty, amended their
transgressions, busied themselves with field-labour,
and waxed beyond all expectation in wealth, while
they decreased from day to day in the Archdeacon's
roll. When therefore one day he enquired why he
found no man of that manor upon his roll, then they
told him what manner of law the lord had made ;
whereat he was moved to indignation and, meeting the
knight on the road, he asked with lofty brow : " Who,
my lord Robert, hath constituted thee Archdeacon or
Official ? " " Nay, no man," quoth the lord. " Yet,"
replied he, *'thou dost exercise such an office, in restrain-
ing thy tenants by penal statutes." " Nay," quoth
the knight ; "for the statute that I have made is of
mine own land and not of men's sins ; but thou, with
thy ransom for sin, hast sucked out the revenues of my
farms ; and now I see that thou wouldst reck little who
should take the souls, if only thou couldst ever fill thy
purse." With such words he silenced this exactor of
crimes and lover of transgressions.

Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 16 of 61)