G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

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

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* Tobias III. 16, 17, which runs thus in the Douay version, " Thou
knowest, O Lord, that I never coveted a husband, and have kept my
soul clean from all lust. Never have I joined myself with them that
play : neither have I made myself partaker with them that walk in

574 A Medieval Garner.

full of default ? Therefore, right as the weeping that
men weepen oft in such play commonly is false, —
witnessing that they loven more the liking of their
body and all prosperity of the world than liking in God
and prosperity of virtue in the soul ; and therefore,
having more compassion of pain than of sin, they
falsely weepen for lacking of bodily prosperity more
than for lacking of ghostly, as doen damned men in
hell ; — right so oftentimes the converting that men
seemen to be converted by such playing is but feigned
holiness, worse than is other sin beforehand. For if
he were verily converted he should haten to see all such
vanity, as bidden the behests of God, albeit that of
such play he take occasion by the grace of God to flee sin
and to follow virtue. And, if men sayen here that if
this playing of miracles were sin, would God converten
men by the occasion of such playing ? hereto we
sayen that God doeth so for to commend His mercy to
us ; that we thinken entirely how good God is to us
that, while we be thinking against Him, doing idleness
and withstaying Him, He thinketh upon us good and
sendeth us His grace to fleen all such vanity. . . .
Therefore the priests that sayen themselves holy, and
busien them about such plays, be very hypocrites and
liars. (5) And hereby we answer to the fifth reason, saying
that very recreation is not unlawful occupying in false
works, but more ardently working greater works ; and
therefore such miracle-playing nor the sight of them
is no very recreation but false and worldly, as proven
the deeds of the fautours of such plays that yet never
tasten very sweetness in God, travailing so much
therein that their body would not sufficen to bearen
such a travail of the spirit ; but as men goeth from
virtue to virtue, so they go from lust unto lust, that
they more steadfastly dwellen in them ; and therefore
as this feigned recreation of playing of miracles is false
conceit, so is it double shrewdness, worse than though
they playen pure vanities. For now the people giveth
credence to many mingled leasings, for [the sake of]
other mingled truths, and maken weenen that to be
good which is full evil ; and so oftentimes less evil it
were to playen ribaldry than to playen such miracles.

Tricks of Trade. 575

Aiid if men axen what recreation men shoulden have
on the holiday after their holy contemplation in the
church, we sayen to them two things ; one, that if he
had throughly occupied himself in contemplation before,
neither would he ask that question nor have will to see
vanity ; another, we sayen that his recreation should
be in the works of mercy to his neighbour, and in
delighting him in all good communication with his
neighbour as before he delighted him in God, and in
all other needful works that reason and kind axen.
(6) And to the last reason we sayen that painting, if
it be very, without mingling of leasings, and not too
curious to much feeding men's wits, and not occasion
of maumetry to the people, they [the paintings] be but
as naked letters to a clerk to readen the truth. But
so be not miracles-playing, that be made more to
delighten men bodily than to be books to lewd men.
And therefore, if they be quick books, they be quick
books to shrewdness more than to goodness. Good men
therefore, seeing their time too short to occupyen them
in good earnest works, and seeing the day of the reckoning
nighen fast, and unknowing when they shall go hence,
fleen all such idleness, hasting that they weren with
their spouse Christ in the bliss of Heaven.

John Gower, Chaucer's friend, was probably a London merchant and
a country squire : the reader should consult G. C. Macaulay's admirable
essay on him in the Camhs. Hist. Eng. Lit., vol. II., chap. VI. His
poems are frankly satirical, but gain much force as evidence from his
frequent protest that he simply voices what the public is saying around
him. The two following extracts are from his Mirour de VOmme, ed.
Macaulay, hues 25,213 ft and 18,421 ff.

268.— -Cricks of Crane.

LL men know that of our bounden duty we
must preach to vices for their amendment.
. . . The good are good, the evil are evil ;
if therefore we preach to the dishonest, the
honest man need take no heed thereof ;
for each shall have reward or blame according to his
work. Sooth to say, there is a difference betwixt the

57^ A Medieval Garner.

merchant whose thoughts are set on deceit, and him
whose day is spent in honest work ; both labour alike
for gain, but one would sort ill with the other. There
is one merchant in these days whose name is on most
men's tongues : Trick is his name, and guile his nature :
though thou seek from the East to the going out of the
West, there is no city or good town where Trick doth
not amass his ill-gotten wealth. Trick at Bordeaux,
Trick at Seville, Trick at Paris buys and sells ; he hath
his ships and his crowd of servants, and of the choicest
riches Trick hath ten times more than other folk. Trick
at Florence and Venice hath his counting-house and his
freedom of the city, nor less at Bruges and Ghent ; to
his rule, too, hath the noble city on the Thames bowed
herself, which Brutus founded in old days, but which
Trick stands now in the way to confound, fleecing his
neighbours of their goods : for all means are alike to
him whether before or behind ; he foUoweth straight
after his own lucre, and thinketh scorn of the common
good. ... In the mercer's trade also doth Trick, of
his cunning, practise often divers guiles. . . . Birds of
that feather never want a tongue, and Trick is more
clamorous than any sparrowhawk : when he seeth
strange folk, then shalt thou see him pluck and draw
them by the sleeve, calling and crying : " Come,"
quoth he, " come in without demur ! Beds, kerchiefs,
and ostrich feathers — sandals, satins, and stuffs from
oversea — come, I will show you all. What d'ye lack ?
Come buy, ye need go no further, for here is the best of
all the street. ..." Sometimes Trick is a draper . . .
men tell us, (and I believe it) that whatsoever is dark
by nature hateth and avoideth the light : wherefore
when I see the draper in his house, methinks he hath
no clear conscience. Dark is the window where he
bargaineth with thee, and scarce canst thou tell the
green from the blue ; dark too are his ways, none may
trust his word for the price of his goods. Darkly will
he set thee his cloth at double price, and clinch it with
an oath ; darkly thus will he beguile thee all the worse,
for he would persuade that he hath done thee a friend-
ship, wherein he hath the more cozened thee, saying

Tricks of Trade.


that he hath given thee the stuff at cost price to get
thy further custom ; but the measure and the market
price will tell thee afterwards another tale. . . .
Wouldst thou have closer knowledge of Trick the
Taverner ? thou shalt know him by his piment, his
claree, and his new j'^pocras, that help to fatten his
purse when our City dames come tripping at dawn to
the tavern as readily as to minster or to market. Then


From Viollet-le-Duc's Diet, de V Architecture, n, 239.


57 8 A Medieval Garner.

doth Trick make good profit ; for be sure that they will
try every vintage in turn, so it be not mere vinegar. Then
will Trick persuade them that they may have Vernage,
Greek wine and Malvesie if they will but wait ; the
better to cajole them of their money, he will tell them
of divers sorts — wines of Crete, Ribole and Roumania,
of Provence and Monterosso ; so he boasteth to sell
Riviera and Muscadel from his cellar, but he hath not
a third part of all these ; he nameth them but for
fashion's sake, that he may the better entice these
dames to drink. Trust me, he will draw them ten
sorts of wine from one barrel, when once he can get
them seated in his chairs. Then will he say, " Dear
ladies, Mesdames, make good cheer, drink freely your
good pleasure, for we have leisure enough ! " Then
hath Trick his heart's desire, when he hath such cham-
berers who know how to cheat their husbands ; little
doth he care whether they be thieves or no, so that he
but make his profit of them. Better than any master
of magic. Trick knoweth all the arts of the wine-trade ;
all its subtilties and its guile. He is crafty to counter-
feit Rhine wine with the French vintage ; nay, even
such as never grew but by Thames shore, even such
will he brisk up and disguise, and baptize it for good
Rhenish in the pitcher : so quaintly can he dissemble,
that no man is so cautious but Trick will trick him in
the end. And if he be evil in the matter of wine, still
more evil is he in that of ale, by common repute. I
say not this for the French, but for Englishmen, for
those who drink daily at the alehouse ; and in especial
for the poor small folk who have not a farthing in the
world but what they earn with the sweat of their brow,
and who all cry aloud with one voice that the ale-seller
is no courteous wight.

The Court of Rome. 579

269.— at), Con0tantine!

^ HE author will now speak 'partly of the estate of
I such as govern this world, and firstly of the

Court of Rome.

To speak of these Prelates who are as it
were ambassadors of God, with the clergy
appertaining to them, these are become advocates of
Sin to plead in law against the Soul ; moreover, to
speak of Kings, they so rob their people daily that all
men complain, both high and low. And if we go on to
speak of men of law and merchants, I see peril in all

I firmly believe that the authority of him who is
Head of Holy Church under God, if he govern himself
by right, is set above all others ; but nowadays that
ordinance is changed ; for that which was once Humility
is now Pride, and we see how the largess of old times
is now turned to covetise. Whether Chastity dwell
there nowadays or no, I know not whether it be for me
to say ; wherefore I hold my peace on that matter.
Whatsoever I think to write here is not of mine own self,
for it is the murmur, the complaint, the voice and the
cry of all Christian folk. What they all say I unsay
not : — that the Court of Rome is ruled in our days by
simony of gold and silver, so that the poor man's cause
shall never be heard for all his clamour : he who
bringeth no gifts thither shall never meet with justice
or charitable mercy. . . . By papal law it is established
that thou shalt not espouse thy cousin, and other cases
are forbidden more than I will here relate ; and they
say that whosoever doth these things hath done mortal
sin. Then I would have thee ask whether, for the gold
that thou shalt give them, thou mayest find mercy at
that Court ? Assuredly, if thou doest thus, the purse
that thou shalt bear will make the Pope thy friend.
But if it be so mortal a sin as they say, why then are
they willing to grant a dispensation for it beforehand ?

580 A Medieval Garner.

For the God of Heaven, who is more upright than the
Pope, cannot do so ; on the contrary, I know well that
it would be vain to beg God's leave to break to-morrcw
the law and precept which He hath established ; but
the Pope of Rome, if my purse be full of gold, will be
more courteous and complaisant to me. " The fowler,"
(quoth he) " the wider he stretches his nets, the sooner
are the birds caught ; so likewise the more divers sins
we have imposed by Our decrees, the sooner will ye
be found transgressing, and much more will ye be
subject to Our power. For such sins may be redeemed
in Our court for money ; and We will that Our table
may be all the heavier laden with meat. Our stables
the more crowded with great palfreys. . . . Render to
Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is
God's : but We would fain have both, for We bear the
estate of both in this world. We have God's full power,
wherefore We Ourselves desire to receive outright such
part of His possessions, as that none shall take his share
with Us, unless We may surely see that it shall be
repaid to Us twofold. So do We make God Our profit,
as to leave naught of all the gold that We can get,
neither great nor small ; for prelates and cowled monks,
curates and vicars, are so subject to Us, that they dare
not gainsay Our will. They must render gold at Our
pleasure without murmuring, or their sanctuary shall
be interdicted by Our decree. But We now bear
Caesar's office, from whom We have inherited the city
of Rome, where it is Our will to take due tribute from
all folk ; nay, the very Jew in his degree, and the
common prostitute, shall not be quit of their pay-
ment ;* thus have We found what Caesar in his days
forgot, that vices are current for ready money. I trow
that, when Constantine first gave to the Pope of Rome
full possession of earthly power, the King of Glory in

The medieval Popes nearly always protected the Jews ; but con-
temporaries relate this only with indignation, for it was a highly profit-
able pohcy, commending itself to money-loving and far-sighted rulers
of every kind but scandahzing all their subjects. Gower is not the only
satirist to point out that prostitutes enjoyed the same toleration in
Rome as Jews, and for a similar consideration.

The Court of Rome. 581

his foresight bade a celestial voice cry aloud from the
heights of heaven, saying that the condition of Holy
Church, with all her priests, would never be so good
and Cliristian as that of their forefathers had been, for
the venom that must needs grow from these their
earthly possessions."

The best introduction to the history of the 15th and 16th centuries
would be to compile a catena of passages in which churchmen of
the five preceding centuries express their despair of their own times.
Such a catena would fill a whole volume of this size : for in the Middle
Ages pessimism is not confined to a Carlyle and a Ruskin here and
there ; it is the prevaiUng tone of all, or practically all, who pause to
pass any judgment on the world around them. Mr. C. F. G. Masterman,
M.P., reviewing my From St. Francis to Dante in the Speaker, deplored
that I had quoted so much from writers who took a dark view of their
own generation. I replied by challenging him to name a few medieval
writers who express any more hopeful \aew ; no such name was
suggested. Yet the recognition of medieval facts is absolutely essential
to the comprehension not only of the Reformation period but of our
own age ; Mr. Masterman's Condition of England and Dr. Gairdner's
Lollardy and the Reformation, with all their ability and learning, are
\'itiated by a false perspective of history. In spite of all that is sordid
and depressing in our own age, in spite of all the wickedness and unrest
that were let loose by the great rehgious revolution of the 16th century,
it must still be borne in mind that the past had been even worse ; and
that, if we face the facts of the Middle Ages as frankly as we are often
compelled to face those of our own time, we shall recognize man as an
improving animal — or, in other words, we shall see that God was not
mistaken in judging His creation to be good. A few examples will here
suffice ; but these few at least are necessary to mark the significance of
the epoch which gave birth to the modern world. The most damning
complaints of all, as to the general immorality of the clergy, are omitted
as much as possible here because I have already emphasized them suffi-
ciently elsewhere.

Pope Gregory X. held an ecumenical Council in 1274 for the reform
of Christendom. As a prehminary, he wisely requested some of the
most distinguished churchmen of the time to send in a formal statement
of matters requiring correction. Two of these have survived, (i) by
Humbert de Romans, Minister General of the Dominicans (Labbe-
Mansi, Concilia XXIV. 109 fE.), and (ii) by the Bishop of Ohniitz
(Raynaldus, Anyiales, 1273, § vi.). Both give substantially the same
picture ; I quote briefly from the former as the greater man and the
more explicit writer.

582 A Medieval Garner.

270.— a programme of IReform.

5]ITH regard to divine service, it would seem
wise to enact that men should not be
compelled to keep new feast-days beyond
the authority of the Roman Church ; and
that, except on the greater holy-days,
instituted by the Church, men should be permitted to
work after divine service, both because sins are the
more multiplied on holy-days at the bidding of wicked
sloth, in taverns, dances, and brothels ; and also
because the work-days are scarce enough now for the
poor to earn their daily bread . . . Fourthly, that
divine service should be so abbreviated that it might
be said and heard from end to end, and devoutly.
Fifthly, that in great churches there should be a
sufficient number of clerics at every service . . .

In the parishes, the first thing blamable seems to be
that some are too poor for any good parson to take.
Secondly, the rich parishes are given to such as will
not or cannot reside. Thirdly, vicars are put in, not
of the best, but of the cheapest who will do the work.
Fourthly, they are not given for God's sake to the best,
but to unworthy men, sometimes for money from hand
to hand, or for promises, or for services done. Fifthly,
that [clergy] of evil fame are not corrected, but are
oftentimes suffered to sin freely for the sake of bribes.
Sixthly, some manual should be written for the instruc-
tion of the ignorant and unlearned in the duties of their
office, seeing that they know not the Scriptures. As
to the common run of the clergy, many of them are
possessed with gluttony, lechery, vainglory, wasteful-
ness, idleness, and many other evils, which should be
corrected for the scandal that they give to the laity.
Pardoners defile the church with lies and filthiness,
and render it a laughing-stock. Secondly, they bribe
the prelates, who therefore suffer them to say whatso-
ever they will. Thirdly, in their briefs or cartels they
lyingly feign so many indulgences, and expound them





Programmes of Reform, 583

so ill, that scarce any man believeth. Fourthly, they
gain much money, j'-et send little to headquarters ;
and they deceive the people with false relics.

In 1311, Clement V. pursued the same policy for his Ecumenical
Council of Vienne. The reports of two distinguished bishops have
survived : (i) Guillaume le Maire of Angers {Melanges Historiques.
Choix de Documeyits, torn. II. , 1877), and (ii) Guillaume Durand of Mende
{Tractatus de Modo Generalis Concilii habendi, Paris, 1671). Both are
very lengthy documents, and most unflattering on every page.

271.— a ^cconD,

(Le. Maire, p. 477).

N many parts of the kingdom of France there
has groAvn up an irreligious custom — nay
rather, an abominable abuse — namely that,
on Sundays and other principal holydays
dedicated to the Majesty of the IMost High,
whereupon Christian folk should cease from servile
work, come to church, spend their time in divine
service, and receive the food of the word of God which
they need so sorely, from prelates and others who
have commission to preach — on such days they keep
markets and fairs, pleas and assizes. Whence it
cometh to pass that the faithful, savouring more of
the flesh than of the spirit, leave the church and her
services, and flock to such places, where they pursue
their trades or their lawsuits. Wherefore on those holy
days, whereon God should above all be worshipped,
the Devil is worshipped instead ; churches stand
empty ; law-courts, taverns and workshops ring with
quarrels, tumults, blasphemies ; perjuries and crimes
of almost every kind are there perpetrated. From
this it followeth that God's law, the articles of faith,
the other things pertaining to the Christian religion
and the salvation of souls are almost utterly ignored
by the faithful : God is blasphemed, the Devil is
revered, souls perish, the Catholic Faith is wounded ;
wherefore it is most needful to apply some salutary
remedy to so great an error and abuse.


A Medieval Garner.

272.— a CbitD.

(Durand, p. 133).

HAT none feast within the Churches, nor
hold lawcourts therein ; and that the gilds
wherein both clergy and layfolk swill
together [se ingurgitant] be abolished : and
that whatsoever is there spent be given to
. . . (296) The whole church might be
if the Church of Rome would begin by

the poor

removing evil examples from itself, and then gradually
from the prelates and the rest : by which evil examples
men are scandalized, and the whole people are as it
were infected, and (as Esaias saith) they that rule
over them suffer God's name to be blasphemed for
this . . . (300) To the same effect are these defraud-
ings of alms, this restriction of hospitality, the diminu-
tion of ecclesiastics deputed to divine service, and the
wandering abroad of prelates and parish priests who
flee from their cities or their parishes on feast-days
and other church solemnities . . . For in all lands
whereunto the sound of the apostles hath gone forth,
the holy Church of God, and especially the most holy
church of Rome, is in evil repute ; and all cry and
publish it abroad that within her bosom all men, from
the greatest even unto the least, have set their hearts
upon covetousness. For, since covetousness is grown
in the churches, as it grew in the Roman empire, the
law hath perished from the priest, and the seeing of
visions from the prophets, as Jerome saith . . . (309)
That the whole Christian folk take from the clergy
pernicious examples of the sin of gluttony is clear and
notorious, since the said clergy feast more luxuriously
and splendidly, and with more dishes, than kings and
princes . . . (316) The sin of sloth and negligence is
most deeply rooted in God's holy church, and all
Christian folk take an evil example therefrom. For
there are few among the clergy who are not called,
or who could not be called, negligent in the offices
which pertain to them, and for which stipends or

Programmes of Reform. 585

church benefices were founded . . . (318) The negli-
gence of learning and the plague of ignorance might be
remedied ; ... in the conferring of all sacred Orders
and ecclesiastical ministries enquiry should be made
whether the candidate be of mature age, steadfast
morals, and knowledge of letters . . . (319) We might
remedy the neglect of learning among parish clergy if
we obeyed the Council of Toledo, wherein it was decreed
that, when a priest is ordained to a parish, he should
receive from his bishop an official booklet, containing
all that pertaineth to the cure of souls, in order that
such clergy may be instructed before they approach
their appointed parishes, lest they offend through
ignorance of Holy Scripture . . . (325) Let the first
[clerical] tonsure be conferred upon no man unless he
laiow how to read and chant competently . . . (326)
And if all were certain that they could not otherwise
come among the clergy, then all would strive better
to leam, and their parents and kinsfolk to provide for
them [in the schools] : especially if they were certain
that they could not attain to ecclesiastical benefices
unless they had sufficient learning ; from which study
and laborious attention they are now discouraged,
seeing how by the favour of the authorities, of their
parents, and of rich folk, young men insufficient and
illiterate are unduly preferred to those who surpass
them in literature and merit, through the disordered
ambition of rectors and prelates ; and it would be
better for the Lord's priesthood and clergy to have a
few sufficient ministers who might worthily perform
God's work than to have many and innumerable of
the unprofitable sort ; who, according to St. Clement,
brmg a grievous burden and confusion upon God's holy

Church (329) There is also a manifest negligence

concerning the cure of souls herein, that the Roman
Church giveth dispensations to many, without evident
necessity or utility, that they may hold a plurality
of cures of souls, and that they shall not be bound to
reside personally for any very long time ; and men
with such cures of souls — nay, even prelates — are
detained for long times at the Roman Court, and in

586 A Medieval Garner.

divers manners absent themselves from the churches
committed to them and to their care . . . (330) This

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