G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

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

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every rotten reason that they can find, and set them
forth solemnly to the shew, though five of those reasons
be not worth a fig. For they begin as far as our first
father Adam, and shew us that his wife and he fell out
of Paradise with desire of knoAvledge and cunning. Now
if this would serve, it must from the knowledge and
study of scripture drive every man, priest and other,
lest it drive all out of Paradise. Then say they that
God taught His disciples many things apart, because
the people should not hear it, and therefore they would
the people should not now be suffered to read all. Yet
they say further that it is hard to translate the scripture
out of one tongue into another, and specially, they say,

7o8 A Medieval Garner.

into ours, which they call a tongue vulgar and bar-
barous. But of all thing specially they say that
scripture is the food of the soul, and that the common
people be as infants that must be fed but with milk
and pap ; and if we have any stronger meat it must be
champed afore by the nurse, and so put into the babe's
mouth. But methinks, though they make us all
infants, they shall find many a shrewd brain among us
that can perceive chalk from cheese well enough, and
if they would once take us our meat in our own hand
we be not so evil toothed but that within a while they
shall see us champ it ourselves as well as they. For
let them call us young babes an they will, yet by God
they shall, for all that, well find in some of us that an
old knave is no child." " Surely," quoth I, " such
things as ye speak is the thing that, as I somewhat said
before, putteth good folk in fear to suffer the scripture
in our English tongue ; not for the reading and receiv-
ing, but for the busy champing thereof, and for much
meddling with such parts thereof as least will agree
with their capacities. . . . Finally methinketh that
the Constitution Provincial,* of which we spake right
now, hath determined this question already ; for when
the clergy therein agreed that the English Bibles should
remain which were translated before Wycliffe's days,
they consequently did agree that to have the Bible in
English was none hurt. And in that they forbade any
new translation to be read till it were approved by the
bishops, it appeareth well thereby that their intent was
that the bishop should approve it if he found it faultless,
and also of reason amend it where it were faulty ; but
if [i.e. unless] the man were an heretic that made it,
or the faults such and so many as it were more easy to
make it all new than mend it, as it happed for both
points in the translation of Tyndale. Now, if so be
that it would haply be thought not a thing meetly to
be adventured to set all on a flush at once, and dash
rashly out Holy Scripture in every lewd fellow's teeth,

* Abp. Arundel's constitution of 1408, forbidding as heretical^'all
unauthorized translations or portions of the Bible, but making no
provision for any authorized translation.

The Half-Closed Bible. 709

yet thinketh me there might such a moderation be
taken therein, as neither good virtuous lay folk should
lack it, nor rude and rash brains abuse it. For it
might be with diligence well and truly translated by
some good catholic and well-learned man, or by divers
dividing the labour among them, and after conferring
thoii' several parties together each with other. And
after that might the work be allowed and approved by
the Ordinaries, and by their authorities so put into
print, as all the copies should come whole unto the
bishop's hand ; which he may after his discretion and
wisdom deliver to such as he perceiveth honest, sad,
and vntuous, with a good monition and fatherly counsel
to use it reverently with humble heart and lowly mind,
rather seeking therein occasion of devotion than of
despicion ; and providing as much as may be, that the
book be after the decease of the party brought again
and reverently restored unto the Ordinary ; so that, as
near as may be devised, no man have it but of the
Ordinary's hand, and by him thought and reputed for
such as shall be likely to use it to God's honour and
merit of his own soul. Among whom if any be proved
after to have abused it, then the use thereof to be for-
bidden him, either for ever or till he be waxen wiser.
. . . We find also among the Jews, though all their
whole Bible was written in their vulgar tongue, and
those books thereof wherein their laws were written
were usual in every man's hands, as things that God
would have commonly known, repeated, and kept in
remembrance ; yet were there again certain parts
thereof which the common people of the Jews of old
time, both of reverence and for the difficulty, did
forbear to meddle with. But now, sith the veil of the
temple is broken asunder that divided among the Jews
the people from the sight of the secrets, and that God
had sent His Holy Spirit to be assistant with His whole
church to teach all necessary truth, though it may
therefore be the better suffered that no part of Holy
Scripture were kept out of honest laymen's hands, yet
would I that no part thereof should come in theirs
which to their o\mi harm (and haply their neighbour's

710 A Medieval Garner.

too) would handle it over-homely, and be too bold and
busy therewith. And also though Holy Scripture be,
as ye said whilere, a medicine for him that is sick and
food for him that is whole, yet (sith there is many a body
sore soul-sick that taketh himself for whole, and in
Holy Scripture is an whole feast of so much divers
viand, that, after the affection and state of sundry
stomachs, one may take harm by the selfsame that
shall do another good, and sick folk often have such a
corrupt tallage in their taste that they most like the
meat that is most unwholesome for them,) it were not
therefore, as methinketh, unreasonable that the Ordi-
nary, whom God hath in the diocese appointed for the
chief physician, to discern between the whole and the
sick and between disease and disease, should after His
wisdom and discretion appoint everybody their part as
he should perceive to be good and wholesome for them.
And therefore, as he should not fail to find many a man
to whom he might commit all the whole, so (to say the
truth) I can see none harm therein, though he should
commit unto some man the gospel of Matthew, Mark,
or Luke, whom he should yet forbid the gospel of St.
John, and suffer some to read the Acts of the Apostles,
whom he would not suffer to meddle with the Apoca-
lypse. Many were there, I think, that should take much
profit by St. Paul's Epistle ad Ephesios, wherein he
giveth good counsel to every kind of people, and yet
should find little fruit for their understanding in his
Epistle ad Romanos, containing such high difficulties
as very few learned men can very well attain. And in
like wise would it be in divers other parts of the Bible,
as well in the Old Testament as the New ; so that, as I
say, though the bishop might unto some layman betake
and commit with good advice and instruction the
whole Bible to read, yet might he to some man well
and with reason restraia the reading of some part, and
from some busybody the meddling with any part at
all, more than he shall hear in sermons set out and
declared unto him, and in likewise to take the Bible
away from such folk again, as be proved by their
blind presumption to abuse the occasion of their profit

The Half-Closed Bible. 711

unto their o\vn hurt and harm. And thus may the
bishop order the scripture in our hands, with as good
reason as the father doth by his discretion appoint which
of his children may for his sadness keep a knife to cut his
meat, and which shall for his wantonness have his knife
taken from him for cutting of his fingers. And thus
am I bold, without prejudice of other men's judgment,
to show you my mind in this matter, how the Scripture
might without great peril and not without great profit
be brought into our tongue and taken to lay men and
women both, not yet meaning thereby but that the
whole Bible might for my mind be suffered to be
spread abroad in English ; but, if that were so much
doubted that perchance all might thereby be letted,
then would I rather have used such moderation as I
speak of, or some such other as w^iser men can better
devise. Howbeit, upon that I read late in the Epistle
that the King's Higliness translated into English of his
own, which His Grace made in Latin, answering to the
letter of Luther, my mind giveth me that His Majesty
is of his blessed zeal so minded to move this matter
unto the prelates of the clergy, among whom I have
perceived some of the greatest and of the best of their
own minds well inclinable thereto already, that we lay-
people shall in this matter, ere long time pass, except
the fault be found in ourselves, be well and fully satis-
fied and content." " In good faith," quoth he, *' that
will in my mind be very well done ; and now am I for
my mind in all this matter fully content and satisfied."
" Well," quoth I, " then will we to dinner, and the
remnant will we finish after dinner." And therewith
we went to meat.

UEB^ ■

712 A Medieval Garner.

329.— jfeminine ipertjcrsitp.

(p. 1187. Anthony Speaks).

HERE was here in Buda in king Ladislaus'
days a good poor honest man's wife. This
woman was so fiendish that the devil,
perceiving her nature, put her in the mind
that she should anger her husband so sore
that she might give him occasion to kill her, and then
should he be hanged for her. Vincent. This was a
strange temptation indeed. What the devil should
she be the better then ? Anthony. Nothing but that
it eased her shrewd stomach before, to think that her
husband should be hanged after. And peradventure
if you look about the world and consider it well, you
shall find more such stomachs than a few. Have you
never heard no furious body plainly say, that to see
some such man have a mischief, he would with good
will be content to lie as long in hell as God lieth in
heaven ? Vincent. Forsooth and some such have I
heard of. Anthony. This mind of his was not much
less mad than hers, but rather haply the more mad of
the twain ; for the woman peradventure did not cast
so far peril therein. But to tell you now to what good
pass her charitable purpose came. As her husband
(the man was a carpenter) stood hewing with his chip-
axe upon a piece of timber, she began after her old
guise so to revile him that the man waxed wroth at
last, and bade her get her in, or he would lay the helve
of his axe about her back, and said also that it were
little sin even with the axe-head to chop off that
unhappy head of hers, that carried such an ungracious
tongue therein. At that word the devil took his time,
and whetted her tongue against her teeth. And when
it was well sharped she sware to him in very fierce
anger, " By the mass, villain husband, I would thou
wouldest : here lieth mine head, lo ! " (and therewith
down she laid her head upon the same timber log) *' if
thou smite it not off, I beshrew thy villainous heart ! "

Feminine Perversity. 7 1 3

With that likewise, as the devil stood at her elbow, so
stood (as I heard say) his good angel at his, and gave
him ghostly courage, and bade him be bold and do it.
And so the good man up with his chip-axe, and at a
chop chopped off her head indeed. There were stand-
ing other folk by, which had a good sport to hear her
chide, but little they looked for this chance, till it was
done ere they could let it. They said they heard her
tongue babble in her head and call villain, villain !
twice after that the head was from the body. At the
least wise afterwards unto the king thus they reported
all, except only one, and that was a woman, and she
said that she heard it not. Vincent. Forsooth, this
was a wonderful work. What came, uncle, of the man ?
Anthony. The king gave him his pardon. Vincent.
Verily, he might in conscience do no less. Anthony.
But then was it farther almost at another point, that
there should have been a statute made, that in such
case, there should never after pardon be granted, but
the truth being able to be proved, none husband
should need any pardon, but should have leave by the
law to follow the example of the carpenter, and do the
same. Vincent. How happed it, uncle, that that good
law was left unmade ? Anthony. How happed it ?
as it happeth, Cousin, that many more be left unmade
as well as it, and within a little as good as it too, both
here and in other countries, and sometimes some
worse made in their stead. But, as they say, the let
of that law was the Queen's grace (God forgive her
soul) ! It was the greatest thing, I ween, good lady,
that she had to answer for when she died. For surely,
save for that one thing, she was a full blessed woman.
But letting now the law pass, this temptation in procur-
ing her own death was unto this carpenter's wife no
tribulation at all, as far as ever men could perceive.
For it liked her well to think thereon, and she even
longed therefore. And therefore if she had before told
vou or me her mind, and that she would so fain bring
it so to pass, we could have had none occasion to
comfort her as one that were in tribulation. But,
marry ! counsel her (as I told you before) we might to

714 A Medieval Garner.

refrain and amend that malicious devilish mind.
Vincent. Verily that is truth. But such as are well
willing to do any purpose that is so shameful, will
never tell their mind to no body for very shame.
Anthony. Son, men will not indeed. And yet are
there some again that, be their intent never so shame-
ful, find some yet whom their heart serveth them to
make of their counsel therein. Some of my folk here
can tell you that, no longer ago than even yesterday,
one that came out of Vienna showed us among other
talking that a rich widow (but I forgat to ask him
where it happened) having all her life an high proud
mind and a fell, as those two virtues are wont alway
to keep company together, was at debate with another
neighbour of hers in the town. And on a time she made
of her counsel a poor neighbour of hers, whom she
thought for money she might induce to follow her mind.
With him she secretly brake, and offered him ten ducats
for his labour, to do so much for her as in a morning
earty to come to her house, and with an axe, unknown,
privily strike off her head ; and when he had so done,
then convey the bloody axe into the house of him with
whom she was at debate, in some such manner wise as
it might be thought that he had murdered her for
malice, and then she thought she should be taken for a
martyr. And yet had she further devised, that another
sum of money should after be sent to Rome, and there
should be means made to the Pope that she might in all
haste be canonized. This poor man promised, but
intended not to perform it ; howbeit, when he deferred
it, she provided the axe herself, and he appointed with
her the morning when he should come and do it ; and
thereupon into her house he came. But then set he
such other folk as he would should know her frantic
fantasy, in such place appointed as they might well
hear her and him talk together. And after that he had
talked with her thereof what he would, so much as he
thought was enough, he made her lie down, and took
up the axe in his own hand, and with the other hand
he felt the edge, and found a fault that it was not sharp,
and that therefore he would in no wise do it till he had

Feminine Perversity. 7 ^ 5

grounden it sharp ; he could not else, he said, for pity,
it would put her to so much pain. And so, full sore
against her will, for that time she kept her head still.
But because she would no more suffer any more deceive
her so and food her forth with delays, ere it was very
long after, she hung herself [with] her own hands.
Vincent. Forsooth, here was a tragical story, whereof T
never heard the like. Anthony. Forsooth, the party
that told it me sware that he knew it for a truth ; and
himself is, I promise you, such as I reckon for right
honest and of substantial truth.

Now here she letted not, as shameful a mind as she
had, to make one of her counsel yet ; and yet, as I
remember, another too, whom she trusted with the
money that should procure her canonization. And
here I wot well, that her temptation came not of fear
but of high malice and pride. But then was she so
glad in the pleasant device thereof, that, as I showed
you, she took it for no tribulation, and therefore com-
forting of her could have no place ; but if men should
anything give her toward her help it must have been,
as I told you, good counsel. And therefore, as I said,
this kind of temptation to a man's own destruction,
which requireth counsel, and is out of tribulation, was
out of our matter, that is to treat of comfort in tribula-

Jean de Bourdigne, whose Chronicle of Anjou ends in 1529, is well
characterized by Quatrebarbes in his preface to the only modern edition
(Angers, 1842, p. LXVII.). " His double character of priest and
nobleman comes out in every page. He has the same hatred for the
enemies of the Faith and of France— the rnonstre lutherique, the Burgun-
dians, and the English. Bourdigne is the last writer of the Middle Ages.
... His Chronicle, a faithful echo of ancient customs, has appeared to
us the most precious historical document concerning our province."
In reading these annals we see before our eyes the passing of the Middle
Ages, and are ready to understand those wars of Religion which devas-
tated France in the next generation.

7 1 6 A Medieval Garner.

330.— ^bplock in protjence.

(Vol. II, p. 237 ; shortly after the death of Charles the Bold, a.d. 1477).

HE good prince Rene of Anjou, king of
Sicily, after having taken leave of his
nephew king Louis in his town of Lyon,
as you have already heard, returned to
Provence. Now it befel that, while he was
in the town of Aix, in his said County of Provence,
there were then in that town several Jews his tribu-
taries, men of great substance and fat merchants, one
of whom at the Devil's instigation uttered several
injurious words against the honour of the glorious
Virgin Mary ; which came to the ears of this devout
and religious king of Sicily, who caused the blasphemer
to be taken and clapped into prison. Then, a few
days afterwards, he sent unto him several doctors of
theology, men of great learning and good conscience,
to preach to him and move him from his evil speech.
Which doctors by lively and evident reasons proved
unto him the error of all that he had said, and
admonished him well to repent and unsay those false
propositions which he had wished to maintain. But
the poor -wretch was so obstinate that he would never
repent for all that could be said unto him. Moreover,
what is worse, while continuing his evil speech he
heaped error upon error, and uttered yet more villainies
and insults than before. When therefore King Rene
learned his obstinacy, he was sore displeased, and com-
manded his chancellor to try the Jew in form of
law and do him good justice, saying that he would have
no other man know of this matter but the chancellor,
for fear lest (if any other took cognizance thereof) the
other Jews, who were rich and wealthy, should suborn
him by gifts and bribes.

The chancellor, after due form of trial, seeing the
enormity of the case, condemned the obstinate merchant
to be stripped stark naked upon a scaffold set up in
front of his own house, and there to be flayed alive.

Shylock in Provence. 7 1 7

Which sentence was forthwith published with sound
of trumpet ; and the crier proclaimed that this justice
should be done after dinner on this same day. When
therefore the other Jews of the city heard the horrible
form of death whereby their companion was doomed
to die, then were they m great doubt and trouble.
Wherefore they held a council and set forth all means
that could possibly be found to save him ; nor could
they find better than the counsel of one of the elders
of the synagogue, who said unto them : " Sirs, the
best means that I can see to save our brother from
death is this ; that the king of Sicily (as I have heard)
hath at this time no great abundance of money ;
wherefore I counsel that we beseech him to pardon our
fellow, and that for this request we present him twenty
thousand florins, with a thousand or twelve hundred
more to each of his three or four priviest and most
familiar counsellors, that we may thus bend his pur-
pose." Which counsel seemed most excellent to the
Jews : wherefore they chose out some dozen of the
most honourable from among them, and sent them on
this business to the king of Sicily. These men, by gifts
and promises, compassed their entry to the King and
had leave to speak with him. When therefore they
had done obeisance before him, they besought him to
pardon their fellow and grant him his life ; for which
pardon they offered him 20,000 florins.

The good king, moved to indignation by this request
of the Jews, left them without answer ; and, entering
into a closet where were five or six of his most familiar
servants, he said to them with a smile : " What think
ye, gallants ? it lieth in my choice to have twenty
thousand florins, which I have even now refused."
Then he told them how the Jews had offered him so
much to save their fellow's life ; after which, he asked
their counsel. And all the lords there present (who,
perchance, were already corrupted with bribes) coun-
selled that he should take the florins and let the mis-
creant go to the devil. " How ? " quoth the good
king : "ye would then that I should overlook the
insults which by this traitor have been said concerning

7 1 8 A Medieval Garner.

the mother of God, and that I should sell the punish-
ment thereof ! Certes, if this were so, I should then be
an evil doer of justice, which shall never be. And
albeit for the present I have certain most urgent
business, to bring which to an end I have sore need of
such a sum, yet would I rather have lost ten times as
much than that my good Lady should not be avenged.
God grant that no man say of me, nor no man write
in chronicle, that under my governance so heinous a
crime remained unpunished ! "

When the virtuous king had thus spoken, then the
rest knew well that they must hold their peace, for to
speak would be but lost labour. But it chanced that
one among them had a somewhat more lively wit than
the rest, who said unto the king : " Sir, these Jews
are evil miscreants, and have well deserved a great fine
in that they have been so bold as to pray for the revoca-
tion of your just sentence, seeing especially that their
fellow hath so well deserved death. Wherefore I pray
you that it be your pleasure to command me to answer
for you, and to avow whatsoever I shall say ; and I
hope, with God's help, so to work that you shall be
well pleased." " Yea in truth," said the king, " I
grant it you, saving only that my doom already given
shall be executed." " Sire," replied the gentleman,
" that shall be done, trust me well." Then he sent an
usher to tell the Jews (who were in the hall, awaiting
the answer to their request) that the king was sending
a gentleman of his chamber to declare unto them the
finding of his Council. Within a brief space after this
message, this gentleman came among them and began
to look austerely upon them, saying thus : " Fair
sirs, our lord the king and his noble Council
cannot sufficiently marvel at the presumptuous temerity
which hath moved you to petition him for the pardon
of so execrable a crime as this of your fellow's, seeing
that yourselves (by the conventions which stand
between you and the Christian folk of this land) should
have punished it ; for it is laid down, in the law which
suffereth you to dwell among Christian folk, that none
of you should speak evil of our lord Jesus Christ nor

Shylock in Provence. 7 1 9

of His glorious Mother. And, notwithstanding that ye
have been duly advertised of the false and injurious
words which yon fellow hath said of this matter, yet
ye, though aiders and abettors in his crime, have had
the hardihood to beseech a pardon for him, and have
sought to corrupt the King's justice by bribes. Where-
fore, in order that for all time to come no man among
you may again be so presumptuous as to make or
solicit such unlawful and importunate requests, there-
fore the king and his Council have judged irrevocably
and sentenced that ye yourselves should flay this male-
factor, the first royal sentence remaining still in full
force and vigour. Wherefore I signify this doom unto

Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 60 of 61)