John friar Lacy.

A Middle English treatise on the Ten Commandments; online

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A Middle English Treatise on
the Ten Commandments










(Sift TUnxbiVBit^ yivtss





A Middle English Treatise on
the Ten Commandments











111 the deed of gift of his book to Roger Stonysdale, one of the

chuntry priests of St. Nicholas' Church at Newcastle-upou-Tyne

(p. 9), the scribe calls it "hoc primarium." In

I. contents Lacy's "primarium" agrees with the

The Prymer. service book commonly known as the Prymer.
Mr. Littelhales ^ gives the following table of con-
tents for the Prymer, the one met with in a large number of Mss.
examined by him : 1) Hours of the Blessed Virgin, 2) Seven
Penitential Psalms, 3) Fifteen Gradual Psalms, 4) Litany, 5) Office
cf the Dead, 6) Commendations. This matter the Prymer invariably
contains. In addition to these offices, many copies of the Prymer
have various other devotions and forms of religious instruction not
included in the original plan of the book. There is no absolute
uniformity regulating what this matter shall be, but it is usually those
things which the Church thought it incumbent upon the laity to
know : the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins, the
Seven Sacraments, etc. to which there are often added tracts on
various subjects. In the "primarium" described here the added
matter, except the translation of St. Jerome's Epistle Ad Demetria-
dem, is that commonly found in the Prymers.

Later the Prymer came to be not so much a book of monastic
devotion as a book of religious instruction for the people — "the
prayer book of the educated laity." ' The compiler of this Primarium
was not, however, making a service book for the use of the people.

^ For a description of the ms. see pp. 5-7.

■•' The Frymer, or Lay Folks Mass Book, Pt. II, pp. xxxix, EETS. Cf.
Maskell, Mon. Put. Fed. Angl. 18iG, III; Littelhales, H., T he Frymer of the Lay
Feople in the Middle Atjes. For a summary of the bibliography of the Prymer cf.
Brown, C. F., Modem Fhilology, III, p. 481, note.

* The Prymer was early translated into English for the benefit of those who did
not understand Latin. Cf. Swete, H. , Services and Service Books, pp. 112-113;
Brown, he. cit., p. 48L



iv James Finch Royster

He compiled it for his own use, (fo!. 101 b., p. 9), "and aftur to
othur in exitynge hem to devocion and preyers to god," and wills it
to a chantry priest of his own town to be kejDt perpetually in St.
Nicholas' Church.

The Primarium was begun as early as 1420 and completed, at
the latest, by the year 1434. On fol. 16 b., col. 1, there is a half
page miniature of one imprisoned praying to the
II. The Date. Virgin ; the prisoner holds a flowing scroll contain-
ing writing, the greater part of which has been
erased; under this scroll is the date M.CCCCXX. On fol. 1 ("in
fronte codicis") we find, "Anno domini mileshno. CCCC mo
xxxiiij." The year 1434 may rightly be taken as the extreme date
for the completion of the MS. The composition may well have
extended over a period of fourteen years.

Friar John Lacy, a member of the order of Friars Preachers,

dwelling at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the first half of the 15th century

was the compiler of the Primarium. This much

III. information concerning the writer the manuscript

The Scribe. itself gives us : On fol. 1 he speaks of himself as

' ' lohannis lacy anachorite de ordine fratrum pre-

dicatorum noui Castri super Tynam" ; on fol. 101 as "frere Ion

lacy Anchor, and Reclused in }'e new castel upon tynde " ; on fol.

16 b., we find " x]>e lacy " ; at the bottom of fol. 17, " Lacy scripsit

et llluniinat^' ; and on fol. 151, the name " Lacy."

To these meagre items of biography I am able to add nothing of
consequence.^ Mr. Welford* notes that " a John Lac}^ is mentioned

' There is no mention of John Lacy in the series of articles on the Black Friars
in England in the Reliquary, 76-89 ; in the Arckeological Journal, 1880-1884 ;
Quetif and Echard, Scriptores ordinis praedicatorum ; Brand's History of Newcastle ;
Tanner's Bibliolhtca ; Jocher's Allgemeincs Gelehrter Lexicon ; Bale's Index ; or in
any of the books of tlie kind available. Miss L. Toulmin Smith has kindly
aided me in my search for any notice of this mediaeval penman — unfortunately
without result. Miss Smith informs me that a certain John Lacy held an office
in tlie port of London in 1423. Clearly this is another man. The name Lacy
was a common one, especially in the North of England.

^ Arch. AeL, series lir, 80. Cf. also Welford, Newcastle and Gateshead, I, 292.

\ A Middle English Treatise on the Ten Commandments v

in a deed of January 2nd, 1432 as one of the executors of tlie will of
Eichard Clederhowe " of Newcastle. The identification of this John
Lacy with the John Lacy of the Prymer is not excluded by the fact
that he was at the same time a Dominican Friar and the testator of a
will, for the probation of wills fell within the jurisdiction of the
ecclesiastical courts, and was one of the powers of the church tribunal
against which the people at this time most loudly complained.' This
bare piece of information does not, however, aid us in determining-
how far Lacy resembled the Friar of Chaucer's Prologue, or in
allowing us to judge whether he was one who deserved the strictures
passed upon the Friars by the author, or authors, of Piers the Plow-
man. There is no evidence to inform us whether or not he was a
typical member of his order, who made his way over his circuit
granting absolution for "a pair of old shoes and a dinner," who
knew how to cozen the women and make himself " biloved and
famulier .... with frankelyns over-al in his contree. "

The indications in the MS. that John Lacy copied the Treatise on

THE Ten Commandments into his Primarium rather than composed

it are many.^ Every page gives evidence of errors

IV. made in copying and corrections inserted in re-

Authorship. vision. No other version of the same treatment of

the ten commandments exists in Middle English,

so far as I know, and no original from which Lacy copied has yet been

printed. There can be, under the circumstances, no speculation as to

the identity of the author. Any well meaning priest might have

written the treatise."

^ Trevelyan, G. M., England in the Age of Wycliffe, p. 112.

2 For instance : p. 9, 11. 21, 22, 24 ; p. 11, 1. 35 ; p. 14, 1. 2 ; p. 19, 1. 10 ; p.
24, 1. 10 ; p. 25, 1. 28 ; p. 32, 11. 1, 28, etc. For a description of the MS. see
pp. 5-7.

'Without being terupted into an effort to reconstruct the original or to assign
different parts of the composition to the author and to the scribe, I am inclined to
believe that the scribe added the story of the unforgiving slandered woman (p. 12)
to his original. In the first place, the position of the narrative suggests this
possibility. It comes at the end of the ''prologus" and is separated from the
discussion of the first commandment by two lines of Latin, a convenient place for
tlie insertion of original matter. There is no correction of or addition to the text
in the column in which this narrative stands. The spirit and vividness with

vi James Finch Royster

Tracts on the Decalogue, contaiuiDg a systematized condemnation

of all sins, with directions for righteous living,^ were an exceedingly

popular form of the clerical literature of the Mid-

V. die Ages. In the Sermon of Dan Jon Gaytryge "^

The Treatise we read : " pe Imv to knawe God Alm3'ghty,

ON THE Ten }>at principally may be schewed in theis sexe
Commandments, thynges " — the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the
Seven Works of Mercy, the Seven Deadly Sins, the
Seven Virtues, and the Fourteen Points of Faith. During the years
when Lacy was compiling his Pryraer, " when the Wycliffite move-
ment was at death grips with the Catholic church," discourses upon
any other subjects but those mentioned above were forbidden by the

The exposition in these treatises invariably takes this form. There
is a prologue * — of varying length — concerning the origin of the
commandments, showing why they should be kept. The command-
ments follow in order. Under each commandment are mentioned the
manifold ways in which this particular mandate of God is broken, —
the various forms of sin especially condemned by this commandment.
The discourse concludes with an exhortation, or a threat, to keep the
laws of God. In all of the Middle English expositions of the com-
mandments I have been able to examine, the same plan is followed.
Both the subject matter and the form are the common property of
mediaeval religious literature, and have their ultimate source in Holy
Writ and the writings of the Fathers. The phrasing became stereo-
typed and the expression formalized.

which the story is told is wanting in the rest of the composition. That a copier
or translator felt at perfect liberty to insert exempla of his own into his original is
shown in the treatment to which Robert of Brunne subjected William of "VVadding-
ton's Maimel des Pechez. Crane, Exempla of Jacques dc Vih-y, cites the examples
of Bernadius of Milan in his Jlosarium i^ermonum praedicnhilum, and Gottsclialk
Hollem in his Sermones super Epktolas Pciuli.

' " Bokes wliiche shcwe us tlie way of godly lyvynge, and soulys helth." —
Barclay, Ship uf FooU. For a Reformation comjilaint as to the excessive number
of such books cf. Gau, Kingdom of Heuine, p. 3, ST.S

" Perry, Religious Pieces, p. 2, EETS.

^Treveleyan, loc. cit., p. 127, quoting Wilkins, iir, 59 and Gibson, I, 382-4.

* Cf. , for instance, Hugo of St. Victor, De Sacramenlis. Migne, Pat. Lat., cxi/.

A Middle English Treatise on the Ten Commandments vii

In neither subject matter nor form does this treatise depart from the

conventional mode of treatment. Every thought, and almost every

phrase, can be paralleled by passages from other

VI. Source. theological discourses. But the relation between
this version and any other tract on the Ten
Commandments known to me is not close enough, by a great deal, to
lead to a conclusion that this treatise is a copy of any Middle
English tract so far published ; nor do I know of any Latin original
which can be held responsible. Rather than a slavish copy it seems
to be a free rendering, in conventional form and style, of matter
common to theological literature. The fashion is consistently followed
throughout. The text is thoroughly supplied with reference and
quotation from the Bible and the Fathers to indicate the sources of
the material.

A separate tract on the Seven Deadly Sins, or any detailed treat-
ment of them, is lacking. These sins are, however, enumerated under
a separate heading in the same way that the Ten
VII. Commandments, the Five Wits, the Seven Deeds of

The Seven Mercy, etc. are catalogued (fol. 126 b.). It may

Deadly Sins, have been the intention of the scribe to let this list
serve as an index for other tracts to follow. At
the end of these lists there is a break in the MS. ; but the translation
of St. Jerome's Epistle is taken up in the next section.

Earlier, in the Treatise on the Ten Commandments, the
Seven Deadly Sins personified are introduced in company with those
who break the Sabbath by drinking, gambling, and other sins of
gluttony. A merry party of gluttons and "wasters of mens susti-
nance " is assembled for pleasure. The Seven Deadly Sins enter and
make inerry with the company. Each sin is in his usual habit.
Pride is a boaster and hypocrite ; Covetousness, full of oaths, causes
each one to beguile the other ; Lechery relates ribald stories ;
Gluttony, the ' ' Stuard ' ' of the household, will allow no one to go
home until he is fully satisfied with food and drink ; Sloth, the
" Marchel " of the hall, bringing Idleness with him, keeps the cup
always full; Wrath, the "Tresureer," having Envy in his com-

viii James Finch Royster

pany, makes up tlie accounts and warns tliem all that no one shall
speak Avell of his neighbor.'

In the books of medieval theological writers the Seven Deadly Sins
had been made to assume almost every conceivable allegorical shape ;
they had been personified under almost every form that can be thought
of.' From the days of Prudentius the battle between the Vices and
the Virtues had been raging.^ A very common form which this
strife-allegory assumed is that of a castle inhabited and defended by
the Virtues, and attacked by the Seven Deadly Sius.^ A closely
related form of the allegory is that found in the earlier Sowles Warde
and in the Abbey of the Holy Ghosts In the Abbey a religious house
is built on Conscience, erected by Obedience and Mercy, and founded
upon Patience and Strength ; the Holy Ghost is the Visitor ; Wisdom
and Discretion, Penance and Temperance are the officers. A tyrant
of the land stormed the Abbey and put his four daughters— Envy,
Pride, Grucching, and Evil-Thinking — into possession. But their
rule was brief, for the Visitor soon came and expelled the usurpers.

While we do not have the allegory in the Treatise on the Ten
Commandments completely worked out, there is enough of it to
suggest that the writer had in mind a reversed form of the " household

1 For a neatly tabulated survey of the conventional characteristics of the Seven
Deadly Sins see Mile. Fowler, Um Source Francaise da Poemes de Gower, Menton,
1905, pp. 58 ff.

^Cf. Triggs, O. L., Assembly of Gods, pp. Ixix fi". To his list of the occurrences
of the Seven Deadly Sins in Middle English literature may be added these
examples : Townley Mysteries, 377, 306, 331 ; Digby Plays, 66 ; Englische
Studien, ix, 43 ; Perry, Religious Pieces, 77 ; Cursor Mundi, v, 1524 ;
Beltquice. Antiquice, 136, 280 ; William of Shoreham, 98, 28, 102, 107 ;
R. of Bruime, I, 105 ; Myro, Parish Priests, 31 ; Dunbar, Dance of Seven Deadly
Sins ; Lydgate, Temple of Glas, 20 ; Chester Plays, 207 ; Vernon MS., i, 243. For
Latin tracts on the Seven Deadly Sins see Append, ad S. Augustinum, Migne,
XL; Vitiis octo, S. Eutropius, Migne, Lxxx, 9; Vit. octo Princip., Aldhelmus,
Lxxxix, 28 ; Vit. el Virlutibus, Rabanus Mauras, Migne, cxii ; Vit. et Virt.,
Hugo of S. Victor, Migne, clxxvi, 525 ; Petrus Cantor, I\Iigne, ccv, 44.

=*Cf. Neilson, W. A., "Origins and Sources of the Court of Love," Harvard
Studies and Notes, Vol. vi, p. 19. Triggs, loc. cii., pp. IxiiifT.

^Cf. the "Castle of Perseverance"; Grosseteste's " Castle of Love" ; Neil-
son, loc. cit., eh. III, passim.

s Perry, Relig. Pieee.^, pp. 48 ff., EETS.

A Middle English Treatise on the Ten Commandments ix

allegory." Taking the place of the House of God, or the Castle of
Love, as the residence of the Virtues, is the Tavern, the stonghold of
the Vices. Of this household the Seven Deadly Sins are the rightful
officers : Gluttony, the " Stuard " ; Sloth, the "Marchel" ; Wrath,
the "Tresureer." But the strife motive is lacking; there are no
forces opposed to the Vices.

To the mind of the devout man of religion of the time there could
be no fitter castle of wickedness than the tavern. By the Church it
was considered the home and breeding-place of all sin.^ Among the
theological writers it is often characterized as the ''devil's school-
house." Don INIichel,^ following his source,^ says :

" pe tauerne ys pe scole of |'e dyeule huere his deciples studieth.
and his ojene chapele J'er huer me dej' his seruese. and ]>er huer he
make)' his miracles zuiche ase behoue]> to ]'e dyeule. At cherche kan
god his uirtues sseawy. and do his miracles. ]'e blynde : to lijte. ]>e
crokede : to rijte. yelde ]>e wyttes of ]'e wode. ])e speche : to l^e dombe.
]>e hierj'e : to ])e dyaue. Ac ]'e dyeuel de]' al ayenward ine ])e tauerne.
Vor huanne }'e glotoun ge]> in to \>e tauerne ha ge)' oprijt. huanne he
com]) a-yen : he ne he|> uot j'et him moje sostyeni ne here. Huawne he
]>er-in ge]' : he y-zyc]' and y-her]' and spec]^ wel and onderstant. huan
ho com}) ayen : he he]) al })is uorlore as ])e ilke ])et ne he}) wyt ne scele
ne ouderstondinge. Zuyche bye]) ]'e miracles ]>et ])e dyeuel make}).
And huet lessouns })er he ret. AUe uelfe he tek]> ]>er. glotounye.
lecherie. zuerie. uorzuerie. lyeje. miszigge. reneye god. euele telle,
contacky. and to ueele o])er manyeres of zennes. ]>er arise]) })e cheastes.
])e strifs. })e raansla5])es. ])er me tek}) to stele : and to hongi. })e tauerne
is a dich to ])ieues. and ])e dyeules castel uor to werri god an his
hal^en. and ]>o ])et ])e tauernes sustyene}) : bye}) uelajes of alle ])e
zennen ])et bye}) y-do ine hare tauernes. and uor zo])e yef me ham zede
o})er dede asemoche ssame to hire uader o])er to hare moder. o])er to
hare gromes. as me dep to hire uader of heuene. and to oure Iheuedy.
and to })e haljen of paradis. mochel hi wolden ham wre})i. and o])er
red hi wolden do ])er to })anue hi dop. ' '

1 Chaucer's Friar, however, " knew the tavernes wel in every toun." ProL, 240.
^A-^enbiteof Inicit, pp. 56-7, EETS. Cf. Jusserand, J. J., English Wayfaring
Life, pp. 130 ff. Cf. Chaucer's " develes temple," Pardoners Tale, 8.
'Fowler, loe. cit., p. 96.

X James Finch Royster

The anonymous author of Jacob's Well^ speaks thus of the tavern :
'"pe tauerue is welle of glotonye, for it may be clepyd ]>e develys
scolehous & \e devyls chapel for there liis dycyples stondyen &
syngen bothe day & nyjt."

Robert Crawley, writing more than a hundred and fifty year< later,
continues the condemnation : ■

"And then such as lone not

to hear theyr fautes tolde,
By the minister that readeth

the new Testament and olde
do turne into the alehouse

and let the church go."

The sins appear in the following order : Pride, Covetousness,
Lechery, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, and Envy. This sequence differs
from that found in Chaucer, Gower, Aien. of Lnvit, Gregory, or from
that in Augustine. All agree, however, in placing Pride first in the

Only a limited use is made of exempla for illustrating the les.sons
taught. We find but five tales. Three of these are versions of

widely-scattered stories, one is related on the
VIII. Exempla. authority of oral transmission, and another is said

to be taken from an autlior whom I have not
succeeded in identifying- The sources indicated by the writer are :
Vitae Patrum, Gregory's Dialogues, and " Vincencius in Gesti^
Anglorum." *

]. (p. 12.) A young man slandered a young woman. She bore
him such resentment for his evil speech that .^he would not forgive
him, even when at the point of death she was strongly urged and
threatened by the priest. She died without the holy sacrament. Her
spirit afterwards appeared to the man who had slandered her, while
he was tethering his horse, and told him that she had been damned

1 p. 1-17, EETS.

' Worhs of Robert Crawley, ed. Cowper, p. 89, "Of .\lohouses," EETS.
3 Of. Triggs, loc. ril., p. Ixxii.

' Cf. Bale's Iiidcz, p. ol-l. Tiie title there recorded, Gesla Anyiorum, I have
l)ecn able to trace no furllier.

A Middle Englwh Treatise on the Ten Commandments xi

for his sake, but that he still had time while alive to obtain forgive-
ness and mercy. There was no remedy for her. The priest was sent
for to conjure her to some " dry place." The spirit disappeared.

The tale is related upon the authority of an acquaintance, a man of
"perfection and credens." This indication of source may, or may
not, be true. We must give it consideration when we remember that
it was a common custom among the exempla v/riters to add stories of
local tradition and sometimes of local haj)penings to their collections.^
Furthermore, we should bear in mind the fact that the scribe
acknowledges that he has read the other stories, and that search after
parallels for this one has been in vain. On the other hand, it should
not be forgotten that it was a convention to relate a story on the
authority of oral transmission in order to make it more realistic, and
to give it a readier acceptance.^

The separate parts of which the story is made up are stock motives.
The moral, which is to show the virtue of the shrift and the peril of
dying unabsolved, can be illustrated by innumerable exempla.'^ The
appearance of the spirit of one who died unconfessed to warn others is,
of course, a commonplace. The handling of the slander motive is
unusual. Generally the slanderer is punished.

II. (p. 15.) The second story is related in fewer than fifty words.
A Jew was saved from the power of wicked spirits by making the sign
of the cross.

^Cf. Jacques de Vitry, ed. C. F. Crane (Folk Lore Soc), Introduction, pp.
Ixvii, Ixviii, Ixxii, xcvi. Gregory, in his Dialogues, is very careful to strengthen
the authority of his anecdotes by citing the authority of those who were eye-
witnesses, if he himself did not see them. Kobert of Brunne vouches for the
authenticity of his stories as follows :

"Meruels, some as y fonde wrytyn,
And other that have be seyn & wetyn ;
Non ben thare-yn, more ne lesse
But that y-founde wryte, or had wytnesse."

^ In the Niederlandische Sagen (ed. Wolf, p. 54) , a comparatively late collection,
the brother-in-law of the knight, the chief person in the story, is cited as
authority. But the same tale had been told by Caesarius of Heisterbach.
Examples of this kind can be piled up almost indefinitelj'.

* To cite only one or two examples, cf. Jacob's Well, pp. 21, 183 ; Bede, Hist.
Eccle., y, xiii. In a large number of instances the Virgin appears and intercedes.

xii James Finch Royster

The source is plainly stated to be Gregory's Dialogues. It is found
in Bk. Ill, ch. 7 (Migne, Pat. Lat., lxxvii, col. 229). Gregory
relates tlie incident in the following manner : A certain bishop,
Andreas of Fulda, an old man full of virtue and good deeds, became
tempted by a holy woman who was dwelling in his house. A Jew
passing through this city was unable to find a lodging for the night,
and made his bed in a temple of Apollo. Fearing the sacredness of
the place, he decided to protect himself by making the sign of the
cross, though, in I'eality, he held its power as little. In the middle of
the night he woke and saw a strange sight. An assembly of evil
spirits was being questioned by their master as to the wicked deeds
they had been doing. One related that he had poisoned the mind of
Bishop i^udreas for the holy woman. Suddenly the spirits were
ordered by their master to seek about the temple to find one who did
not belong to their oi'der. They soon came upon the Jew, but the
sign of the cross was upon him. The devils retired, saying, ' ' Vae,
Vae, vas vacuum et sigiiatuin.''' The Jew ran to the bishop and told
him what he had seen. He became a Christian, and the bishop put
away the woman.

The same tale is found in .7. de Vit. (cxxxi), El Libra de las
Ene.vemplos (xxi), Alph. of T. (ccxxviii) and in Hand. Synne
(Rox. Club), p. 124.

In El Lib. de los Enx., there are two versions of the story ; these
are practically the same, except that the second one is considerably
fuller in detail. The first version, following faithfully Gregory,
concludes: "Ella manera desta inquisicion brevement la dice San
Gregorio ; mas piiedese saber mas larganient por un enexmplo que
se ley en las Yidas de los santos Padres." However, nothing new is

The story has taken on additions in Handhjng Synne, while
Jacques de Vitry has cut it to a considerable extent. It is faithfully
reproduced in An Alphabet of Tales. Odo of Cheriton (no. 182)
also relates this story. For further bibliography, cf J. de Yit. (ed.
Crane), pp. 189-90.

III. (p. 18. ) A clerk was greatly devoted to the Virgin, but he
was accustomed to use vicious oaths. Our Lady, nevertheless, prayed

A Middle English Treatise on the Ten Commandments


to her Son that he might be saved. One clay she appeared before the
clerk as he was in his devotions, with her child in her arms. His
eyes were hanging on his cheeks, his arms and bones were broken, his
flesh was rent, and his heart was torn out of his body. The clerk
inquired of her who had thus mangled her Child. He was told that
he was one of those who had thus injured him. She disappeared.

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