et us discuss the shape of medieval culture in Britain, combining the study of its languages with those of its literatures across space and time. It was Pan-European and was influenced by the Mediterranean through the continuing use of the Latin language and its alphabet adopted from the Phoenicians. It was also shaped by the oral telling and sharing of tales in the many vernacular languages, the Romance languages deriving from Latin in southern Europe and the Germanic languages in northern Europe. In the British Isles the earlier layers of Celtic and Pictish culture that had become Christian with a knowledge of Roman and Greek civilization were overrun by barbarian Jute and Anglo-Saxon invaders in the great migrations that swept across Europe. The long ships of the Vikings had a technological advantage militarily over the hide-covered round coracles of the Celts. An Anglo-Saxon scop ('shaper', poet) of tales treasured a word hoard of vocabulary and of history, of identity through memory. These invaders in turn became Christian and also, with the aid of Irish scholars, studied Biblical and Latin literature, among them Bede in Northumbria. That culture was then suppressed in 1066 by the French-speaking Normans ('Northmen'), themselves recent descendants of Vikings who had settled in Normandy (giving it its name), the Norman Conquest extending to Ireland as well as England. The story of the Conquest is compellingly told in embroidery by women and in Latin in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Germanic English was no longer a written language for some centuries and when it would re-emerge it would be half Romance French. The Song of Roland had been sung orally at the Battle of Hastings by the Norman jongleur Taillefer and its earliest manuscript is in Anglo-Norman French and still preserved at Oxford: The powerful Norman culture extended also to Sicily and to the Jerusalem Kingdom which was conquered by these 'Crusaders' in 1099.

The languages of the people who built Stonehenge, then of the Picts and of the Celts in Cornwall, are now extinct. The British Celtic language (Brittonic) is still spoken and written in Wales and in Brittany (next to Normandy in France); a related Celtic language (Goidelic) being spoken and written in Ireland and Scotland (Scotland being settled by the Irish, known as Scoti). We can see this continuing linguistic and literary heritage in the Carmina Gadelica of songs collected from the islands of Scotland in the past century: However, the centre of power about London and its Thames river displaced these earlier languages to the margins of the British Isles and Continent. To know what our English language was like before the 1066 Norman Conquest, we should instead look to Iceland and its saga literature where the Vikings preserved our tongue in its purity, their alphabet still combining Roman and Runic alphabets, even on their computer keyboards, and where through their voyages they knew all of the Old World, both Constantinople and Islam, and as well the New World, called by them, Vinland.

Fourteenth-Century Icelandic Manuscript, Jonsbok, Arni Magnusson Institute, Reykjavik, Iceland

We speak of 'Old English' (OE) before 1066, then call the mixed language that emerged in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries 'Middle English' (ME), to differentiate these from our Modern English (ModE). 

The mysterious monument of Stonehenge had preceded all these cultures and when it was discussed in Geoffrey of Monmouth, William Blake and Thomas Hardy it was erroneously attributed by them to the later Celtic Druids. Celts used Ogham, a phonetic alphabet of straight and slanted lines in number combinations. However, the Runes of our phonetic alphabet, travelled rapidly from Semitic Phoenicia along the trade routes and were in use amongst the Etruscans in Italy and as far north and west as Iceland, Greenland and Vinland. All these were memory retrieval systems. Like Ogham, Runes were typically inscribed on tombstones and on swords, on stone, metal and wood. We shall find the saint's legend, St Erkenwald, carefully discussing such arcane letters on a tomb and using the histories created by both Anglo-Saxon Bede and Celtic Geoffrey of Monmouth. The spread of literacy was closely linked with the Bible as a book written first on papyrus, then on parchment, the earlier scroll form using vegetable matter being replaced by the more handy codex or bound book written on prepared skins of animals. Irish monks collated the Latin Bible with Greek and Hebrew texts, their work being crowned by the Anglo-Saxon Codex Amiatinus, now in the Laurentian Library in Florence, having been brought to Italy by Bede's Abbot Ceolfrith. Other great Bibles of the period are the Irish Books of Durrow, Kells and Armagh, preceded by the Cathach, a Psalter; the Saint Chad Gospels, likely Welsh; the Anglo-Saxon Codex Aureus, captured by Vikings from Canterbury, then ransomed back, and now in Stockholm; and the Codex Barberinus in the Vatican Library. (See Monasteries stocked pagan as well as Christian books in their libraries, for instance Terence's Comedies and Roman histories, and also oversaw the writing down later of oral pagan texts, such as Beowulf. We hear of Caedmon, Abbess Hilda's cowherd at Whitby, chanting Biblical stories in Anglo-Saxon verse to a harp. We hear of the Norman minstrel Taillefer chanting the Song of Roland at the Battle of Hastings. Oblates, boys given to monasteries and educated there, sang liturgical drama in Latin Gregorian Chant. At the Peasants' Revolt lines from Piers Plowman were being sung. Medieval literary works are often by anonymous authors, or even generations of authors, oral and scribal.

The medieval English language was a melting pot, a rich chaos, of not only other languages but many regional dialects; so likewise was medieval English literature borrowed from everywhere. Just as literature flourished in oral forms in song as well as in writing as prose, so did it exist in visual forms, again in multitudes of styles, as well as in words. In the miracles celebrated in stained glass about the tomb of St Thomas Becket we witness Anglo-Saxon peasants, Norman nobility, and Celtic slaves, particularly in the story of the Norman Fitzeisulf family. Their Celtic nurse, Britonwy, dies of the plague, then their own Norman son is afflicted, while Anglo-Saxon Gimp the leper reminds them to make their promised offerings at the tomb for the boy's recovery. Britonwy would have kept her charge entertained with stories, like those in the Welsh and Arthurian Mabinogion. (See


Latin poetry had used measured non-rhyming lines but Celtic poetry, next adopted by the French from Brittany, then by Chaucer, delighted in rhyme in the vernacular. Rhyme similarly swept across Europe from the Celtic western islands in medieval Latin poetry. Instead, the native form of English verse in Beowulf and in Langland's Piers Plowman used alliteration, with lines whose stressed words begin with the same letter in three out of four instances before and after the caesura, the break in the middle of the line, typical also of Hebrew poetry and to be used again by Gerard Manly Hopkins. The poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, brilliantly combined both forms, rhyme and alliteration.

Scribal literature was produced in 'textual communities'. A textual community which bridged all these peoples and their languages did so through Latin and was to be found in the monasteries which flourished in the British Isles from Celtic Christianity, through Anglo-Saxon Christianity, and on through Norman Christianity, only ending when Henry VIII dissolved them. Architecturally, a monastery consisted of a church, against which was built the cloister, a square garden with a well at its centre, representing Paradise. Around the cloister would be a scriptorium for writing out books, a library for keeping them in, a dormitory for the monks to sleep in and a refectory for their meals, as well as store-rooms for grain and other produce, orchards for fruit trees, fishponds and fields for grain and cattle. Monasteries produced Bibles in Latin and liturgical texts also in that language, as well as commentaries and universal histories. To train oblates (boys given by their parents to monasteries) in Latin and Gregorian chant monastic communities used liturgical dramas in which they could act and sing. Monastic culture produced a literature deeply based on contemplative reading of the Bible. While for reading in the refectory it employed saints' 'legends' (legend=what is read), later collected in the Golden Legend. These hagiographical writings about saints are an amalgam of many cultures and their story forms, often on the order of Bruno Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment covering trauma abuse, and they lent a vicarious survival and psychiatric overcoming of what is insupportable with violent culture clashes. Because the canon of saints was cosmopolitan so also are these stories intensely multicultural. An example is Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale, whose Christian heroine, Constance, first marries an African Moslem ruler, then a pagan Northumbrian king.

The universities, offshoots of cathedral schools, belong likewise to the clerical world and shared in its literature, but were more one-sidedly intellectual from rigorous training in Aristotelian logic, lacking the humanistic aspects of monastic learning. Their curriculum was compartmentalized into the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, corresponding to our grammar schools), the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, corresponding to our secondary schools and universities) and the 'Queen of Sciences', Theology (corresponding to graduate school), and was related to the Guilds' formation of apprentice, journeyman, master, and doctor, reflected still in our degrees of bachelor and master of arts, and doctor of philosophy.

Monasteries defined the three divisions or 'estates' of society as being those who prayed (themselves, as Monks), those who fought (Knights), and those who labored (Ploughmen). The culture of those who fought, particularly the armoured knights who lived in crenellated moated stone castles, with drawbridges and portcullises, produced their own distinctive literature, preferring 'Romances' (what was translated from the Romance languages, such as French) and pseudo-genealogies about the Matter of Troy (Aeneas), the Matter of Britain (Arthur), the Matter of France (Charlemagne). Many of these pseudo-histories involved episodes of adultery, punished by death in the class that possessed property to be inherited by the legitimate children born to their wives, though the Church counselled mercy in such cases. The upbringing of the nobility was traumatic, a young boy being sent to a different family to be trained as a page, then becoming a squire, and finally a knight. Working people in the countryside and in the towns, agricultural labourers and merchants, knew of the monastic and courtly writings largely through oral means, peasants at the Revolt singing lines from Piers Plowman. Left out of the ideal paradigm are the merchants and townspeople, who came to emulate the nobility while at the same time seeking piety, hence their literature muddled the categories and produced such a rich kaleidoscope as is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Margery Kempe had Birgitta of Sweden's Revelationes and many other works of contemplative direction read to her by priests. Chaucer's Wife of Bat rebels at having to listen to her husband's misogynistic clerkly boks.

Books were written out by hand, each copy being different, often using alternating colours for capitals, such as red and blue, as a memory system, and sometimes illuminated miniatures, until the introduction of the printing press into England in the Tudor period. This umilta website uses the techniques of medieval manuscripts. The front (recto) and backs (verso) of pages are numbered as 'folios' or leaves. Old and Middle English used some letters derived partly from Runes that differ from our own: 'th' being thorn, written as  ; or as eth, ; while 'y', 'gh', yogh, was written as '3'; capital 'F' was 'ff'. Some words, which are useful to learn, are glossed. Modern spelling has changed and become standardized. Where words seem unfamiliar to the eye, try reading them aloud to hear, rather than see, what they are. Among the samples in this chapter you are exposed to the languages of the British Isles, Latin, Irish, Welsh, Italian, Anglo-French, Old English and Middle English. All these texts were typically read aloud and thus partake of both oral and scribal culture. Students can best enter into these textual worlds through similarly reading out loud the examples given here. We suggest you explore in your university's library the red-bound volumes in Latin and the facing page translations of the Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press, the green-bound volumes of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, published by Columbia University Press, and the brown-bound volumes of the Early English Text Society with the Alfred jewel (itself a bookmarker) stamped in gold on their covers. The EETS was initiated by Frederick James Furnivall in the nineteenth century in order to assist James Murray with his edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, demonstrating the development of the English language. This chapter's entries give the Early English Text Society Original Series (EETS), Supplementary Series, (EETS SS), and Extra Series (EETS ES) volume numbers. The great classics, Chaucer, Piers Plowman and Julian of Norwich, are published separately.

I have found in teaching that it is wise to give a structure of both space and time. I learned this from seeing how Japanese students travelling in Europe studied European culture, with newsprint books in their own language and a facing page in the language of the country through which they are travelling with maps and historical information about each, thus structuring their information gathering in situ spatially and temporally.

Space and Medieval British Culture:

As an exercise study the pilgrimages medieval women made. Print out these two maps and plot on the second one the pilgrimages of the following women who copied each other:

St Helena + 327, Constantine's mother (York, by land, Rome, by sea, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, by land, Sinai, by sea, Constantinople)
Egeria 381-384 (Spain, by sea, Sinai, by land, Jerusalem, by sea, Constantinople)
Saints Paula and Eustochium 385, Jerome's colleagues (Rome, by sea, Egypt, by land, Sinai, Jerusalem, Bethlehem)
Pega + 719, Guthlac's sister (Crowland, nr Cambridge, by land, Rome)
St Bridget 876, St Andrea's sister (Ireland, by land, Fiesole in Italy)
Guthrithyr 1000 (Iceland, by sea, Greenland, Vinland, Iceland, Rome, Iceland)
Margaret of Jerusalem 1155- (Jerusalem, by land, Beverley, Jerusalem, Turkey, Compostela, Rome, Normandy)
St Birgitta 1303-1373 (Finstad, near Uppsala, by land, Trondheim, Compostela, Arras, Alvastra, Rome, Naples, by sea, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Rome)
Margery Kempe 1373-1430 (Lynn, by land, Bologna, Venice, by sea, Jerusalem, by land, Bethlehem, by sea, Venice, by land, Assisi, Rome, Norwich, Bristol, Compostela, Bristol, Leicester, York, Lambeth, Lynn, Norwich, by sea, Bergen, Gdansk, by land, Aachen, Syon, Lynn)
Chaucer's fictional Wife of Bath, Canterbury Tales, General Prologue 565-466 (Bath, Rome, Bologna, Bath, Compostela, Cologne, Bath, Canterbury)




The map is based on a tracing of the Google shot. It can demonstrate the multicultural influences upon the British Isles and likewise the influence of the British Isles upon the globe in the Middle Ages.

Time and the British Isles:

43 A.D. Roman Invasion of Britain. Celtic and Latin languages.
410 Romans leave Britain.
449 Jute Invasion of Britain by Hengist and Horsa. Anglo-Saxon and Latin languages.
V/VI C? King Arthur.
625 Sutton Hoo Ship Burial of King Readwald.
930-1798 The Althing (parliament) held at Thingvellir in Viking Iceland annually.
1000 Althing at Thingvellyr converts unanimously to Christianity.
Circa 1000 Guthrithyr sails from Iceland to Greenland and Vinland (America) giving birth to a son there, returns to Iceland to be an anchoress, then journeys to Rome as a pilgrim. From her five bishops descend.
995-1035 King Canute, half-Viking, half-Slav (Polish), King of England, Denmark, Norway and part of Sweden.
1013-42 England ruled by Danes imposing the Danelaw and the Danegelt.
1003-1066 King Edward the Confessor, son of Queen Emma (wife of King Canute), by a previous marriage.
1066 Battle of Hastings, Norman Conquest, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. French and Latin languages.
1095 First Crusade
1099 Crusaders' Conquest of Jerusalem
1103-1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket, murdered, Canterbury Cathedral
1154-1189 King Henry II
1155 Birth of Margaret of Jerusalem
1157-99 Richard I
1187 Seige of Jerusalem
1220 Thomas Becket's Translation from Crypt to Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral
1291 Fall of Acre, Loss of Crusaders' Jerusalem Kingdom
1312-1377 King Edward III

1337-1453 Hundred Years War between France and England. English, French and Latin languages.
1342 Birgitta of Sweden's Vision, at Arras on Compostela Pilgrimage, of St Dionysius for Peace between Kings of France and England
1348 Black Death
1330-1376 Edward, the Black Prince, Tomb beside Thomas Becket's in Canterbury Cathedral.
1373 Death in Rome, following Jerusalem Pilgrim, of Birgitta of Sweden
1376-1399 King Richard II
1381 Peasants' Revolt
1382 Blackfriars 'Earthquake' Council condemning John Wyclif.
1383 Coronation of Richard II and Queen Anne of Bohemia.
1384 Death of John Wyclif at Lutterworth Parsonage
1391 Canonization of Saint Birgitta of Sweden
1398 Henry Bolingbroke exiled by Richard II
1399-1416 Coronation of Henry Bolingbroke as King Henry IV
1399-1400 Abdication and Murder of Richard II.
1401 De Haeretico Comburendo, Act to burn Lollard heretics at the stake
1405 Henry IV has Archbishop of York Richard le Scrope executed for treason
1406-1424 King James I of Scotland prisoner of Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI of England
1408 Archbishop Arundel's Constitutions forbids translation of Bible into English, etc.
1410 Archbishop Arundel authorizes Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Life of Jesus Christ
1413 Sir John Oldcastle, Lollard, escapes from Tower of London
1415 Battle of Agincourt, Henry IV founds Brigittine Syon Abbey, dies in Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey
1416-1422 King Henry V
1416 Henry V lays foundation stone of Syon Abbey
1417 Sir John Oldcastle recaptured and executed.
1422-71 Henry VI
1455-1487 Wars of the Roses (Civil War in England between the Houses of York and Lancaster)
1485 Henry VII marries Margaret of York
1538-1551 Henry VIII's Destruction of Becket's Tomb, Dissolution of the Monasteries

Literary Chronology (The ordinal phonetic Phoenician alphabet is not temporal, therefore the encyclopaedic entries that follow are preceded by the sequential ordering in which these texts were written and these people lived):

Boethius (480-524)
St Brendan  (circa 530)
Cathach (VI-VII C)
Book of Durrow (late VII C)
Arculf and Adamnan (late VII C,-704)
Whitby Abbey; Abbess Hilda (657-680) and Caedmon
'Dream of the Rood' on Ruthwell Cross (circa 710)
Codex Amiatinus
Bede, History of the English Church and People (673-735)
Book of Durrow (VII C)
Saint Chad Gospels
Lindisfarne Gospels (early VIII C)
Codex Aureus
(mid VIII C)
Barberini Gospels (late VIII C)
Book of Kells (circa 800)
Book of Armagh
(IX C)
Icelandic Sagas (930-1030, written down XII-XIV Cs)
Voyage of Bran (700-900)
King Alfred (849-899)
Beowulf (VIII-X C)
Anglo-Saxon Riddles, Exeter Book (X C)
'Dream of the Rood', Vercelli Manuscript (late X C)
Chanson de Roland (1066-XII C)
Bayeux Tapestry (1077)
Marie de France (late XII C)
Voyage of St Brendan

St Patrick's Purgatory (445-XII C)
Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain (1100-1155)
Christina of Markyate (1095-1155)
Margaret of Jerusalem and Thomas de Froidmont (1155-  )
Ancrene Wisse
and Katherine Group, after 1214
Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-1166)
Guernes de Pont Saint Maxence (circa 1174)
Nigel Wireker, Speculum Stultorum (circa 1170-1200)
La3amon, Brut (XIII C)
Mirks Festial (XIV C)
Roman de la Rose (-1305)
Marguerite Porete (1310)
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Auchinleck Manuscript (1330s)
Guillaume de Deguileville, Pilgrimage of the Life of Man (1330-1355)
Richard Rolle (1290-1349)
Luttrell Psalter (early XIV C)
Mabinogion (written down circa 1350)
Sir John de Mandeville, Travels (1357-1371)
Wynnere and Wastoure
William Flete leaves Cambridge for Siena (1359)
John Whiterig (-1371)
King Richard II (1367-1400)
John Wyclif (1320s-1384)
Cloud of Unknowing (later XIV C)
Birgitta of Sweden, Revelationes (1303-1373)
Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)
Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
Adam Easton (-1397)
Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love (circa 1342-1416)
Walter Hilton, Ladder of Perfection (-1396)
William Langland, Piers Plowman (1360-1399)
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and possibly St Erkenwald) Poet (late XIV C)
Thomas Usk (executed 1388)
John Gower (1330-1408)
Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Life of Jesus Christ (-1424)
Amherst Manuscript (1413-1430s)
Thomas Hoccleve (1368-1450)
Christine de Pizan (1365-1430)
John Lydgate (1371-1450)
Margery Kempe, Book (1373-1438)
Corpus Christi Plays (1377-late XVI C)
James I of Scotland, Kingis Quair (1394-1437)
Sir Thomas Malory (1405-1471)
Syon Abbey (1415-)
Ellesmere Manuscript (early XV C)
Robert Thornton Manuscript (XV C) 
Paston Letters (1422-1509)
Promptorium Parvulorum (1440)
Scottish Chaucerians: Robert Henryson (1425-1520), William Dunbar (1460-1530)

We suggest going through this list on a second reading of this Handbook, backwards through time, from the more recent to the more ancient, from the most to the least familiar, reading its relevant texts, to study the development of the English language and of its use of other languages and cultures. Likewise, it helps to read the Bible in parallel text with its Old English interlinear to the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Wyclif Middle English translation beside the Latin Vulgate text. James Joyce in the 'Oxen of the Sun' chapter to Ulysses, gave a similar nine centuries' survey of the English language and its literature, beginning with Anglo-Saxon lyrics, such as 'The Wanderer', that had been translated by his friend Ezra Pound, and going on, by way of Malory, Blake, and others, up to American speech.

Adam Easton: A Benedictine monk of Norwich who taught Hebrew at Oxford, translating the whole Bible from that language, and deeply versed in Pseudo-Dionysius and the Victorines. He wrote in defense of Pope Urban VI the Liber Defensorium Potestatis Ecclesiasticorum, for which he was made Cardinal of England, having the basilica of St Cecilia in Trastevere, but he was then imprisoned by the Pope and tortured in a dungeon. He effected Birgitta of Sweden's canonization in 1391, with a document he wrote supporting women's prophetic writings, such as her Revelationes, having prayed to her for his release, and he worked closely with the editor of her text, Hermit Bishop Alfonso of Jan. He was present in Norwich with the manuscript of Birgitta's Revelationes at the time Julian was composing the Long Text of her Showing in which the Revelationes is quoted. He may have edited Julian's Long Text. He may also have written the Liber Regalis for Richard II and Anne of Bohemia's 1383 double Coronation. Likewise, he could be the unknown author of the Cloud of Unknowing, for he was noted to have written now lost texts in the vernacular of spiritual direction, as well as his Latin works. (See

Adamnan, Arculf's Voyage: Bishop Arculf from Gaul was shipwrecked on Iona on his way home from pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Abbot Adamnan, who died in 704, carefully recorded all he had to say about the Holy Places, including in the Latin account architectural drawings of the church in and about Jerusalem. Bede in turn used this account in his History of the English Church and People, which came to be translated into Old English.

Aelred of Rievaulx: A Cistercian monk in Yorkshire, Aelred (1109-66) wrote Latin treatises on friendship between men and one for his sister, whose name we do not know, on how to be an anchoress, called De Institutione Inclusarum. This treatise influenced the Ancrene Wisse, Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich. EETS 287, p. 1, edits its translation into Middle English in a medieval manuscript:

Here begynneth a tretys that is a rule and a forme of lyuynge perteyning to a recluse.
Why suche solitary lyf was ordeyned of fadirs in the olde tyme.
Suster, thou hast ofte axed of me a forme of lyuyng accordyng to thyn estat, inasmuche as thou art enclosed.

[Here begins a treatise that is a rule and a form of living for a recluse.
Why such solitary living was ordered by the Fathers in ancient times.
Sister, you have often asked me for a form of living according to your state, because you are enclosed.

Alfred: Anglo-Saxon King Alfred (849-899) succeeded in gaining a certain amount of freedom for his Christian people against the conquering non-Christian Danes, and he translated three works into Old English, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Gregory's Pastoral Care and Orosius' Geography. His biography is given in Bede's History of the English Church and People. His bookmark is known as the 'Alfred Jewel', now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, and its image is used on the covers of the Early English Text Society volumes. The manuscript of his translation of Boethius, British Library Cotton Otho, was very badly damaged in the fire of 1731. EETS 45, 50, 79, EETS SS 6. We present its Old English here, Walter J. Sedgefield, ed., King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon Version of Boethius, Consolatione Philosophiae, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899, p. 1; trans. Kevin S. Kiernan, 'Alfred the Great's Burnt Boethius', The Iconic Page in Manuscript, Print, and Digital Culture, ed. George Bornstein and Theresa Tinkle, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998, 7-32.

AELFRED KUNING waes wealhstod isse bec, 7 hie of boclaedene on englisc wende, swa hio nu is gedon. Hwilum he sette word be worde, hwilum andgit of andgite, swa swa he hit a sweotolost 7 andgitfullicast gereccan mihte for am mistlicum 7 manigfealdum weoruldbisgum e hine oft aeger ge on mode ge on lichoman bisgodan. a bisgu us sint swie earforime e on his dagum on a ricu becoman e he underfangen haefde, 7 eah a as boc haefde geleornode 7 of laedene to engliscum spelle gewende, 7 geworhte hi eft to leoe, swa swa heo nu gedon is.

[King Alfred was translator of this book, and turned it from book-Latin into English, as it is now done. Sometimes he set word by word, sometimes sense out of sense, as he might most clearly and intelligibly present it, for the various and manifold worldly business that often consumed him in both mind and body. These busy cares are for us very difficult to number that in his time happened in those kingdoms which he had inherited. And yet when he had learned this book and translated it from Latin to English prose, he again reworked it for verse, just as it is now done.]

Alliterative Morte Arthure: Using Geoffrey of Monmouth and La3amon's Brut, and used in turn as a source by Sir Thomas Malory, this poet writes both about the Arthurian past and makes it a 'Distant Mirror' for his own time, creating a quasi-epic work. The English won the Battle of Agincourt because of their use of the long bow made from yew, these trees being protected in the realm for this purpose and planted in graveyards. The text is found in the fifteenth-century Robert Thornton Manuscript. EETS 8, p. 62, lines 2095-2100:

Thane bowmene of Bretayne brothely ther-aftyre
Bekerde with bregaundez of ferre in tha laundez,
With flonez fleterede thay flitt fulle frescly ther frekez,
ffichens with fetheris thurghe the fyne maylez;
Siche flyttynge es foule that so the flesche derys,
That flowe o ferrome in flawnkkes of stedez.

[Then the British archers fiercely fought with foreign brigands in that land, with fletched arrows they shot the men, piercing with feathers through their fine mail; such shooting is foul that hurts the flesh so much, that flies far into the flanks of steeds.]

Amherst Manuscript, British Library Additional 37,790: A compilation written for a woman contemplative, which includes works by Richard Rolle, Marguerite Porete, Julian of Norwich, Jan van Ruusbroec, Henry Suso and others, written out by the same scribe who writes out Guillaume de Deguileville, St John's College, Cambridge, G.21, and Mechtild of Hackeborn's Book of Ghostly Grace, British Library, Egerton 2006, all in Middle English. Julian's Short Text Showing in it is dated 1413. (See This excerpt from Jan van Ruusbroec's Sparkling Stone, written first in Flemish, ('ende ic sal hem gheven', spreect hi, 'een blinckende steenken, ende in dien steenken eenen nuwen name ghescreven, die niemen en weet dan diene ontfeet'), then translated into Latin as De perfectione filiorum Dei by Ruusbroec's disciple, van Jordaens, which is translated again into Middle English and is here transcribed from its version in the Amherst Manuscript, folio 117 verso:

There may no man entere the sayde exercyse be cunnynge ffor contemplatyfe lyfe may nou3t be tau3t oone be anoþere bot where as god whiche es verrey trowthe manyfestys hym selfe in spirit. er all necessaries moste plentevously are lerned and that is that the spirit says in the Apochalips vincenti says he schalle gyffe hym a litil white stone and in it a newe name the whiche no man knowes but who that takys it. This litel stone promysed to a victorious man it is called .Calcalus. for the litelnes erof. ffor 3yf alle a man trede it with his fete 3it he is not hurte erwith.

[No one can enter the said exercise through learning, as the contemplative life may not be taught by one to another except where God, who is very truth, manifests himself in the Spirit. There all that is necessary is most fully learned and as the Spirit says in Apocalypse 20, he shall give him a little white stone and in it a new name which no one knows except he who takes it. This little stone promised to a victorious man is called 'Calculus', because of its littleness. Because if a man tread on it with his feet he is not hurt by it.]

Anchoress: A large medieval Latin and English literature consisted of writings giving advice to anchoresses, women who lived in solitude, usually beside a church in its graveyard, having a 'room of their own'. Among these are Aelred of Rievaulx's De Institutione Inclusarum, the Ancrene Wisse, Walter Hilton's Ladder of Perfection, the Cloud of Unknowing, while Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love is a work written by an anchoress.

Ancrene Wisse (Ancrene Riwle) and the Katherine Group: A series of ten religious prose works written in Middle English in the West Midlands in the early thirteenth century. The longest and most popular is Ancrene Wisse, a guide for anchoresses on both external observances and the spiritual life, which survives in seventeen manuscripts, and was translated into Latin and (twice) into French. The Early English Text Society carefully edited these texts in Latin, French and English from the many manuscripts, indicative of their popularity, then and now. For Ancrene Wisse/ Riwle EETS 216, 219, 225, 229, 232, 240, 249 (J.R.R. Tolkien's edition of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 402), 252, 267, 274, 310, 325, 326; Katherine Group, The Wohunge of ure Lauerd, EETS 241; Facsimile, MS Bodley 34, St Katherine, St Juliana, Hali Meihad, Sawles Warde, EETS 247. The Ancrene Wisse has now been definitively edited by Bella Millett and Richard Dance (2 vols., EETS 325, 326, 2005-6), and translated by Bella Millett for Exeter University Press (2009). The Group as a whole has been translated by Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson, Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1991). Spuse=spouse, bride, wife. Trans. and ed. Bella Millet, Early English Text E-Editions:

Recti diligunt te. 4 'Lauerd', sei Godes spuse to hire deore[wu]re spus, 'e rihte luuie e.' eo beo rihte e 5 l[i]uie efter riwle. Ant 3e, mine leoue sustren, habbe[] moni dei icrauet on me [e]fter ri[wl]e. 6 Monie cunne riwle beo; ah twa beo bimong alle et Ich chulle speoken of urh ower bone, 7 wi Godes grace. 

[The upright love you. 'Lord', says the bride of God to her beloved bridegroom, 'the upright love you.' The upright are those who live according to a rule. And you, my dear sisters, have been asking me for a long time for a rule. There are many kinds of rule; but there are two in particular that I will discuss because of your request, with God's grace.]

Compare and contrast the texts written by men for women, Ancrene Wisse, Walter Hilton, Ladder of Perfection, and/or the Cloud of Unknowing.

Archbishop Thomas Arundel: Archbishop, also Chancellor, Arundel was the leader in suppressing the Lollard movement about John Wyclif, whose supporters had included Queen Anne of Bohemia and Richard II's uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Arundel forbade the translating of the Bible into the English language and forbade laypeople, especially women, to teach theology. At this time, English literature switched from its former learned contemplative theology to more authoritarian simplistic texts such as that by Prior Nicholas Love of Mount Grace Charterhouse, the Mirror of the Life of Jesus Christ, translating the thirteenth-century Pseudo-Bonaventure work written for Clarissan nuns. (See These are Arundel's Constitutions published in 1408 throughout his Archdiocese of Canterbury:

I. Quod nullus praedicet absque licentia, nisi persona fuerit in jure privilegiata.
II. De poena admittentium praedicare absque literis.

III. Quod praedicator conformet se auditorio, aliter puniatur.
IV. De poena temere disputantium de sacramento altaris, et aliis sacramentis, contra determinationem ecclesiae.
V. Ne magistri in artibus vel grammatica intromittant se de sacramentis pueros suos instruendo.

VI. Ne quis librum, vel tractatum aliquem Jo. Wycliff legat, antequam examinetur.
VII. Ne quis texta S. scripturae transferat in linguam Anglicanam.

VIII. Quod ne quis conclusiones, propositiones, bonis moribus adversantes, asserat.
IX. Ut nullus disputet de articulis per ecclesiam determinatis, nisi ad verum intellectum habendum.
X. Quod nullus capellanus celebret in provincia Cant. absque literis testimonialibus.
XI. Quod in universitate Oxon. fiat inquisitio quolibet mense, per principales.
XII. De poena contra facientium, et infringentium statuta praemissa.
XIII. De modo procedendi in casibus praenotatis, et articulis memoratis.

[I. That no one can preach without a licence. II. On the punishment for those preaching without a licence. III. That the preacher must conform or be punished. IV. Of the penalties for preaching on the sacraments of the altar and other sacraments against the Church's teaching. V. That no teacher with only an MA or BA instruct children about the sacraments. VI. That no book or treatise of John Wyclif may be read, before it is examined. VII. That no text of Holy Scripture may be translated into English. VIII. That no one join those opposed to these conclusions, propositions and good customs. IX. That no one may question the Articles Holy Church determines. X. That no chaplain may celebrate in the Canterbury Archdiocese without testimonial letters. XI. That at the University of Oxford an inquisition should be held each month concerning these principles. XII. Of the penalties for countering these. XIII. Of the procedures to be followed in such cases.]

Arthurian Literature, 'Matter of Britain': Celtic King of Britain, largely legendary but a figure of great use in political literature, his story being known throughout Europe and in the Crusaders' Jerusalem Kingdom, though it was ignored by the Anglo-Saxons, apart from La3amon in his Brut. It is likely that the cycle was popularized by Breton minstrels singing the legend to Norman lords in England, Sicily and Jerusalem. Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, Alliterative Morte Arthure, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Malory. Castle literature.

Auchinleck Manuscript: National Library of Scotland, Advocates Manuscript 19.2.1, is a compilation of many early Middle English texts written out in an Anglo-Norman nuns' convent. It contains saints' legends, jumbled together with St Patrick's Purgatory of the Vision of the Knight Owain, and romances of Guy of Warwick, Sir Degare, Amis and Amiloun, Floris and Blancheflur, Sir Bevis of Hamtoun, Arthur and Merlin, Lay le freine, King Alisaunder, Sir Tristram, Sir Orfeo, King Richard the Lion Heart, Horn Child, together with Lives of the Virgin, lists of Norman barons, 'Sayings of St Bernard', and a poem on the 'Evil Times of Edward II', as well as a prayer composed at his death, thus dating this manuscript. Some of the texts are a mixture of Middle English and Norman French.

Bayeux Tapestry: The Bayeux Tapestry recounts, in embroidery on linen carried out by women with images and Latin text, the historical event of the Battle of Hastings at the Norman Conquest of England, significant also for its enduring change to the English language, making it half-French.

Compare and contrast the Song of Roland with the Bayeux Tapestry.

Bede: The Venerable Bede (673-735), monk at the monasteries of Wearmouth Jarrow, had access to the library of Cassiodorus brought to Northumbria by the Abbot Ceolfrith and was associated with the massive project of creating the Codex Amiatinus, the most authoritative surviving Vulgate Bible. He wrote an Ecclesiastical History of the English People in Latin which came to be translated into Old English, including its story of the Abbess Hilda's ploughman, Caedmon, singing in oral formulaic alliterative verse about the Creation of the World by God.EETS 95, 96, 110, 111.

Nu we sculon herigean     heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte     ond his modgeanc,
weorc wuldorfaeder,     swa he wundra gehwaes,
ece drihten,     or onstealde.
heofon to hrofe,     halig scyppend;
a middangeard     moncynnes weard,
He aerest sceop      eor
an bearnum
ece drihten,     aefter teode
firum foldan,     frea aelmihtig.

[Now we must praise   the Protector of the heavenly kingdom,
the might of the Measurer     and His mind's purpose,
the work of the Father of Glory,     as He for each of the wonders,
the eternal Lord,      established a beginning

He shaped first    for the sons of the Earth
heaven as a roof,     the Holy Maker;
then the Middle-World,     mankind's Guardian,
the eternal Lord,      made afterwards
solid ground for men,     the almighty Lord.]

Beowulf: This Viking epic poem in Old English alliterative verse exists in a unique manuscript in the British Library, Cotton Vitellius A.15. In this passage 'hronrade', 'whale road', is a kenning or riddle for 'sea'. Paired with Beowulf in that manuscript is the Judith, indicating that it is created in a Christian context, albeit a martial one, likely responding to the Danelaw, when part of England was conquered by Vikings from Denmark to whom the English were forced to pay tribute, the 'Danegelt'. It would be sung to a harp in its oral forms, the scop ('shaper', bard) beginning with 'Hwaet!' EETS 77, 245, Facsimile of British Library Manuscript Cotton Vitellius A xv; Beowulf and Judith, ed. Elliott van Kirk Dobbie, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records IV, New York: Columbia University Press, 1953; trans. E. Talbot Donaldson, New York: Norton, 1966, p. 1:

Oft Scyld Scefing    sceaena reatum,

monegum maegum,    meodosetla ofteah,

egsode eorlas.    Syan aerest wear          

feasceaft funden,    he aes frofre gebad,

weox under wolcnum,    weormyndum ah,

oaet him aeghwylc    ara ymbsittendra

ofer hronrade    hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. aet waes god cyning!

[Often Scyld Scefing took mead-benches away from enemy bands, from many tribes, terrified their nobles – after the time that he was first found helpless. He lived to find comfort for that, became great under the skies, prospered in honors until every one of those who lived about him, across the whale-road, had to obey him, pay him tribute. That was a good king.]

Compare Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.

Bible: The huge Codex Amiatinus, now in the Laurentian Library in Florence, was produced by Ceolfrith and Bede at Wearmouth-Jarrow, then was accompanied by Ceolfrith to be given to the Pope. Under the influence of learned Irish scholars its Psalterium is Jerome's second and better translation from the Hebrew. It is still the single most authoritative Jerome Vulgate Bible we have. The related manuscript, the Lindisfarne Gospels, has an Anglo-Saxon interlinear to its text. Chaucer would mention in his Man of Law's Tale such an ancient Bible, 'A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles' (II.666). Other such Bibles were produced in Ireland and England. Interestingly these great Bibles use splendid Celtic interlaced 'Carpet Pages', from Islamic influence. Later, Adam Easton would also seek to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew into Latin, while John Wyclif and his followers translated it from the Latin Vulgate into Middle English. Archbishop Arundel then forbade translations of the Bible. (See

Birgitta of Sweden: A Swedish noblewoman, Birgitta was governess to King Magnus and the mother of eight children. Initially, Bishop Hemming of Abo was her ambassador to the Kings of France and England and Magister Mathias, who had studied Hebrew under Nicholas of Lyra in Paris and who translated the Bible from that language into Swedish for her, was her spiritual director. On her husband's death at Alvastra, following their pilgrimages together to and from Compostela, Birgitta established a monastery in the King's Castle of Vadstena, then journeyed to Rome during the year of the Black Death she had prophesied, in which Christ would come as Ploughman. This vision informs Piers Plowman. She worked with ecclesiasts in Sweden and in Italy, producing the many-volumed Revelationes which she sent to the Kings of England and France and to other heads of state, pleading for peace in Europe. She died in 1373 following her return from pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Her Revelationes were lectured on at Oxford by Richard Lavenham, Richard II's confessor and exist in many manuscripts in Latin and in Middle English in England and Scotland. Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love quotes Birgitta of Sweden's Revelations and Margery Kempe listens to her Revelations being read, then imitates her pilgrimages and her book writing. King Henry V founded the double monastery, Brigittine Syon, in 1415 following the Battle of Agincourt, where texts by Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Birgitta of Sweden, were preserved and copied, by nuns and monks, some of these being printed for the general public. St Catherine of Siena, Orcherd of Syon and the liturgical handbooks for the Syon Sisters, Myroure of oure Ladye, have been edited by EETS 258, EETS ES 19. spouse=bride, wife; wende=believed. Birgitta's Revelations translated into Middle English, EETS 178, 291. (See EETS 178 (Princeton University, Garrett Collection Manuscript), p. 1:

Owr lorde Ihesu Cryst tellyth seynte Birgitte why he chesyth hyr to be hys spovse, and how as a spowse she awyth to aray hyr and be redy to hym.

'I am maker of heuen and erth and see and of all thynges that bene in hem. I am . . . not as goddys of stones or of golde, as some tyme was seyde, ne mony goddys, as then was wende'.

[Our Lord Jesus Christ told St Birgitta why he chose her to be his bride, and how as a bride she should array herself and be ready for him.

'I am maker of heaven and earth and of all things in them. I am . . . not as gods of stone or of gold, as was once said, nor of many gods, as was then believed.]

Another manuscript of the Revelationes, British Library, Harley 4800, fol.107, gives the account of her vision which became her Book of Questions, in which she sees Jesus and Mary answer all the theological doubts of a monk (Magister Mathias) upon a ladder stretching between earth and heaven (demyns=judges, letted=stopped; meyne=followers, retainers; wyttys=senses):

As she rode on a day towarde a Castel wyth moche meyne that was cleped Watzthen . . . she reysed up her mynde and made her prayeres to God. And anoon she was ravisshed yn spyrit and went forthe as she had ben oute of her self reysed from the wyttes of her body and yn a dremyns or a masynes, yn contemplacion yn her mynde. Then she sawe yn spirit a laddre sett on e erthe wereof the ovyr ende touched heven. She sawe our lorde Ihu Cryst sytt yn a wonder throone as a juge demyns. At whose feete stode mayden mary.

And after this the lady kepte thys hoole booke wel yn mynde and in thys same revelation she reyshed to the Castel. And than they that wer aboute her toke the brydel of her horse and begane to meeve her. And whan she was awaked oute of that ravysshyng she turned to her self and was sory that she was letted of that swetnes that she was yn. e whych booke of questyons effectually dwelled stylle yn her herte and in her mynde as though yt had be graven yn stone. Soone aftyr she wrote thys booke yn her owne tonge the whych booke her confessour translated yn to latin as he was wonte to do to thys books of her Revelations.

[As she rode one day toward a castle called Vadstena with a great entourage . . . she raised up her mind and prayed to God. And soon she was ravished in spirit and went forth as if outside of her self, raised above the senses of her body as if in a dream or wonderment, in contemplation in her mind. Then she saw in spirit a ladder set on the earth with one end touching heaven. She saw our Lord Jesus Christ sit on a wonderful throne as if a Judge. At whose feet stood the Virgin Mary.

And after this the lady kept this whole book in her mind and in this same revelation she reached the castle. And then those about her took the bridle of her horse and tried to move her. And when she was woken from that ravishing, she turned to her self and was sorry she was stopped from that sweetness she had been in. The Book of Questions remained still in her heart and in her mind as though it had been graven on stone. Soon after this she wrote this book in her own language, which book her confessor translated into Latin as he customarily did with these books of her Revelationes.]

Compare and contrast Birgitta of Sweden and Margery Kempe.

Giovanni Boccaccio: Giovanni Boccaccio's Filostrato in Italian was translated, and improved,  by Geoffrey Chaucer as Troilus and Criseyde, his Decameron in Italian influenced Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in Middle English. His Lives of Famous Women was translated into Tudor English by Henry Parker, Lord Morley. EETS 205, 214.

Boethius, Consolation of Philosphy: Written in Latin, with the full knowledge of Aristotle and Plato, by a learned Late Roman statesman, imprisoned and awaiting execution, this work was translated into Old English by King Alfred, into Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer and into Elizabethan English by Queen Elizabeth I. Its manuscripts are often profusely illuminated with allegorical figures used also by the Roman de la Rose miniaturists and others. Boethius was used in medieval psychotherapy as an argument against depression, the 'wanting of will' as Julian of Norwich calls it, or 'wanhope', which is despair, the antidote being a responsible reasonable freedom of will. (See EETS 113, 170, Extra Series 5. Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, ed and trans. S.J. Tester, Harvard University Press, 1978, Loeb Classical Library 74, V.ii, p. 390-391; Geoffrey Chaucer, 'Boece', in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987, p. 458:

            Quare quibus in ipsis inest ratio, inest etiam volendi nolendique libertas.

    'Yis', quod sche, 'ther is liberte of fre wil, ne ther ne was nevere no nature of resoun that it ne hadde liberte of fre wil.'

            [And therefore those who have in themselves reason have also in them freedom to will or not to will.]

Carmina Gadelica/ Ortha nan Gaidheal: In the nineteenth century the folkorist Alexander Carmichael collected the oral sung prayers in Goidelic Scots from the Western Isles off Scotland, such as the Hebrides, and from the Highlands. They had been sung so for nearly two thousand years and are blessings, like those in Judaism, covering every activity, fishing, spinning, weaving, lullabys, going to sleep, washing hands. (See

Dia liom a laighe
Dia liom ag eirigh,
Dia liom anns gach rath soluis,
Is gun mi rath son as aonais,
   Gun aon rath as aonais.
[God with me lying down
God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
Nor I a ray of joy without Him,
   Nor one ray without Him.]

Catherine of Siena, The Orcherd of Syon: Catherine of Siena, who died before reaching the age of 25 and who was illiterate, dictated the Dialogo in Italian to her secretaries. A manuscript translating it was found at Brigittine Syon Abbey and it was early printed as The Orcherd of Syon. A related Syon Abbey publication is The Myrroure of Oure Lady. The Orcherd of Syon opens with a preface describing the orchard at Syon Abbey in Richmond which the Brigittine nuns walked and contemplated. We should imagine them in their Clarissan (Franciscan) grey habits and their black veils with white crown and cross on them intersected with five red roundels for Christ's wounds that Birgitta, in a vision, had designed for them as they read about the Dominican tertiary Catherine of Siena, herself garbed in white and black. clepe=call, gost=spirit, oned=united. (See, EETS 258, pp. 1,18:

            e reuelaciouns of oure Lord to his chosen mayde, Kateryn of Sene.

    is book of reuelaciouns as for 3oure goostly cumfort to 3ou I clepe it a fruytful orcherd. This orcherd by Goddis grace my wil is to deuyde into seuene parties, and ech party into fyue chapitres, as 3e mowe se and rede in þe kalender folowynge.

    In is orchard, whanne 3e wolen be conforted, 3e mowe walke and se boe fruyt and herbis. And albeit at sum fruyt or herbis seeme to summe scharpe, hard, or bitter, 3it to purgynge of e soule ei ben ful speedful and profitable, whanne ei ben discreetly take and resceyued by counceil. Therefore, religiouse sustren, in is goostli orchard at resonable tyme ordeyned, I wole at 3e disporte 3ou & walke aboute where 3e wolen wi 3oure mynde & resoun, in what aleye 3ou lyke, and namely ere 3e sauouren best, as 3e ben disposid. 3e mowe chese if 3e wole of xxxv aleyes where 3e wolen walke, at is to seye, of xxxv chapitres, o tyme in oon, anoir tyme in anoir. But first my counceil is clerely to assaye & serche e hool orchard, and taste of sich fruyt and herbis reasonably aftir 3oure affeccioun, & what 3ou like best, afterward chewe it wel & ete ereof for heele of 3oure soule.

[The Revelations of our Lord to his chosen virgin, Catherine of Siena.

    I call this book of Revelations for your spiritual strengthening a fruitful orchard. This orchard by the grace of God I intend to divide into seven parts, and each part into five chapters, as you may see and read in the Table of Contents following.

    In this orchard, when you want to be comforted, you may walk and see both fruit and herbs. And though some fruit or herbs seem to some of you sharp, hard or bitter, yet for the purging of the soul they are very useful and profitable, when they are taken moderately and according to caution. Therefore, cloistered Sisters, in this spiritual orchard I would have you play and walk about at the reasonable ordained times and walk about where you will with your mind and reason, in what alley you like, and mostly which seems to you best, as you choose. You may choose, if you will, the whole of the thirty-five alleys where you will walk, that is say, of the thirty-five chapters, one time in one, one time in another. But first my advice is to try and search the whole orchard, and taste of such fruit and herbs reasonably after your desire, and what you like best, then chew it well and eat of it for the health of your soul.]

And here folowe e first chapitre of is boke, whiche is how3 e soule of is maiden was oned to God, and how3 sche made iiii peticiouns to oure Lord in at time of contemplacioun, and of e answere of God; and of miche oer doctrine, as it is specified in e kalender before.

Capitulum primum

    A soule at is reised vp wi heuenli and gostli desires and affecciouns to e worship of God and to e hele of mannes soule, and wi a grete desire langoure, vertuousli inhabited bi a space of a long time, ful bisily labore in gostli exercise, and mekeli abide in her inward biholdinge to knowe herself, to at entent onli at sche my3t better knowe in herself e goodness of God; for as sche wel fele bi grace at after at knowing e loue at loueth is knytt and ioyned wi a loue to at at is loued, and forse and bisie her to loue and folowe at knowinge, and wi continuel exercise inhabite hir wi sofastnes.

[And here follows the first chapter of this book, which is how the soul of this virgin was oned to God and how she made four petitions to our Lord in that time of contemplation and of God’s answer; and of much other teaching, as shown in the Table of Contents.

First Chapter

    A soul that is raised up with heavenly and spiritual desires and affection to the worship of God and to the health of man's soul, and with a great desire languishes, virtuously inhabited for a long time, very busily labours in spiritual exercise, and meekly abides in her inward seeing to know herself, only so that she might know better in herself God's goodness. For as she feels by grace that after that knowing the love that loves is knit and joined with a love to that which is loved, and forces and busies herself to love and follow that knowing and with continual exercise steadfastly dwells in her.]

Cattle Raid of Cooley/ Tain bo Cualgne: Ireland's great epic, in which King Aillil acquires the White Bull of Connaught, so his Queen, Mebd, strives to acquire his equal, the Brown Bull of Cooley, acquiring him from Daire, and of the great warrior Cuchulain.

Chanson de Roland and the 'Matter of France': The Song of Roland was being sung by Taillefer at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Its Anglo-Norman manuscript is not in France but in Oxford's Bodleian Library, having earlier being owned by the Oseney Abbey Chaucer mentions in his Reeve's Tale. Its propaganda against Saracen culture is not warranted by the historical facts. Charlemagne journeyed to Spain as an ally of the Muslims, Haroun al Raschid sent him the gift of an elephant, which, when it died, had its tusks turned into the Olifant and chess pieces, the rear guard with 'Hrolandus' was attacked not by Saracens but by European Gascons. Its hero 'Hrolandus', 'Roland', 'Orlando', is from Brittany and thus 'British', in a Norman poem. His bosom friend Oliver is echoed in the Olifant that is sounded too late to bring Charlemagne back to their aid. The 'Matter of France', as Wace called it, would continue to reverberate throughout Europe and especially in Norman regions such as Sicily, where it is still used pictorially on Sicilian carts and enacted by puppets, and in the Crusaders' Jerusalem Kingdom, though it was less popular in England. It was to produce further masterworks, such as Boiardo's Orlando Furioso and Ariosto's Orlando Inamorato, which in turn influenced Spencer's Faerie Queene. Unlike the Iliad, which celebrates and admires the enemy, the crusading propaganda of the Chanson de Roland, LXXXIX. 1015, categorically states that:

 Paien unt tort e Chrestien unt dreit.

 [Pagans are wrong, Christians are right!] 

(See Compare the Chanson de Roland and the Bayeux Tapestry.

Charlemagne Literature, 'Matter of France': Song of Roland; Wace. A major topic in France, Scandinavia, Italy, but not popular in England due to its constant state of war with its neighbor, France.  Castle literature.

Geoffrey Chaucer: Chaucer's context is courtly and diplomatic. He served as a page in noble households, had access to French and later Italian books, in the latter of which were presented scenes and tales of life amongst the labouring classes, for instance, in Boccaccio's use of Terence's Comedies and Apuleius' Golden Ass, and in Sercambi's Novelle pilgrim tellers and tales. He translated Boethius and the Roman de la Rose. His earlier works are The Book of the Duchess, The Legend of Good Women, Troilus and Criseyde, a scientific Treatise on the Astrolabe (EETS ES 16), written for his little son Louis. His magnum opus is the unfinished Canterbury Tales, which combines fabliaux, saints' legends, beast fables, romances, told by men and women, and he ends it all with a penitential treatise, shaped as a sermon told by a Wycliffite Parson. Middle English has second person singular form, thou (thow), thee (the), thine, where we use a second person plural form, you, yours.This passage is from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde V, lines 1793-1799, in Chaucer, ed. Benson, p. 584, written in 'rhyme royal' stanzas, so-called because James I of Scotland when a prisoner of the English, would adopt them for his Kingis Quair:     

And for ther is so gret diversite
In Englissh and in wrytyng of oure tonge,
So prey I God that non myswrite the,
Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge;
And red wherso thow be, or elles songe,
That thow be understonde, God I biseche!
But yet to purpose of my rather speche:

[And because there is such instableness
In English and in writing our tongue,
I pray God that no one falsely write you,
Nor spoil your meter for lack of language;
And that wherever you are read, or sung,
You be understood, I pray God.
But now to return to my former speech.]           

Christina of Markyate: Christina became an anchoress, then foundress of the nuns of St Albans. The St Albans Psalter is associated with her, likewise an unfinished vita in Latin which includes snatches of vernacular English. The Life of Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth Century Recluse, ed. and trans. C.H. Talbot, Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1998, pp. 106, 110-111:

            letare mecum. ait anglico sermone. myn sunendaege dohter

            ['Rejoice with me', he said in English, 'my Sunday daughter'.]

Procidensque ad terram deorsum, uno intuitu vidit immensum mundum. At ante omnia cellam Rogeri oratoriumque eius respiciebat, quod nimis candidum at que nitidum sub se positum apparebat. Et dixit: utinam detur michi locus iste ad habitandum.
[And falling downwards to the ground, she saw in one flash the whole wide world. But above all else she turned her eyes towards Roger's cell and chapel, which she saw beneath her, shining brilliantly, and she said 'I wish to have that place to dwell in'.]

Compare and contrast the Life of Christina of Markyate with the Ancrene Wisse or with Hilton's Ladder of Perfection.

Christine de Pizan: Daughter of an Italian astrologer at the French court, this brilliant woman writer had had the run of the King's library when a child, and wrote books counselling kings and nobles, queens and ordinary women how to conduct their lives. Le Chemin de Longs Estudes is a feminist version of Dante's Commedia and Virgil's Aeneid where Christine is guided by the Sybil into the knowledge of all things. She oversaw the production of her most beautifully illuminated manuscripts with images showing herself as writing them. Though France and England were at war against each other, her son was page to the Earl of Salisbury and her books were treasured and translated into English. Among them The Book of Fayttes of Armes and of Chyualrye and the Epistle of Othea, EETS 189, 264.

Cloud of Unknowing Author: Deeply influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius and the Victorines, this author wrote treatises of spiritual direction, including Deonise Hid Diunite, which have been assumed to be addressed to a young Carthusian laybrother of 24 lacking Latin. However, from the constant use of gender-sensitive language throughout and from the use of scriptural examples centred on women, these texts could equally as well have been written for a young woman solitary of 24, who is clearly proficient in contemplation but who also suffers from ill health, both mentally and physically. This passage from Deonise Hid Divinite translates the invocation to the Trinity in Pseudo-Dionysius' Mystica Theologia. The 13th century Victorine manuscript, giving a most beautiful gold-leafed capital T to the invocation, is at Cambridge University and had been owned by the Benedictine Adam Easton. The use of this Neoplatonist's writings at St Denis in France, is largely responsible for the ending of Romanesque and the starting of Gothic architecture.
=called; sovereyn=highest; vnbigonne=without beginning; vngropable=intangible. (See EETS 218, 231, p. 2, lines 14-24:


            e Prolog upon e Translation of Deonise Hid Diuinite

    is writyng at next folowe is e Inglische of a book at Seynte Denys wrote vnto Thimothe, e whiche is clepid in Latyn tonge Mistica Theologia. Of e whiche book, for-i at it is mad minde in e 70 chapter of a book wretin before (e whiche is clepid Þe Cloude of Vnknowing) how at Denis sentence wol cleerli afferme al at is wretyn in at same book: erfore, in translacioun of it, I haue not onliche folowed e nakid lettre of e text, bot for to declare e hardnes of it, I haue moche folowed e sentence of e Abbot of Seinte Victore, a noble & a wori expositour of is same book.

                        is is Seinte Deonise Preier

    ou vnbigonne & euerlastyng Wysdome, e whiche in iself arte e souereyn-substancyal Firstheed, e souereyn Goddesse, & e souereyn Good, e inliche beholder of e godliche maad wisdome of Cristen men: I beseche ee for to drawe us up in an acordyng abilnes to e souereyn-vnknowen and e souereyn-schinyng hei3t of i derke inspirid spekynges, where alle e pryue thinges of deuinytee ben kouerid and hid vnder e souereyn-schinyng derknes of wisest silence, makyng e souereyn-clerest souereynly for to schine priuely in e derkyst; and e whiche is - in a maner at is alweys inuisible & vngropable - souereynli fulfillyng wi ful fayre cleertees alle oo soules at ben not hauyng i3en of mynde.

[The Prologue to the Translation of Dionysius' Hidden God

    This writing that follows is the Englishing of a book that St Denis wrote to Timothy, titled in Latin Mystica Theologia. Therefore, concerning which book, because it is mentioned in the 70th chapter of a book I wrote earler (which is titled The Cloud of Unknowing) that Denis' writing would clear affirm all that is written in that same book, in translating it I have not only followed the naked letter of the text, but because it is difficult, I have given the explanation of the Abbot of St Victor, a noble and worthy expositor of this same book.

                       This is St Denis' Prayer

    O eternal and everlasting Wisdom, who are in yourself the highest substantial Prime, the highest Goddess and the highest Good, the inward beholder of the spiritual wisdom of Christian men, I beg you to draw us up in like capacity to the highest unknown and greatest shining height of the dark inspired speakings, where all the secret things of divinity are covered and hid under the greatest shining darkness of wisest silence, making the highest clearness greatly to shine secretly in the darkest, and which is in a way always invisible and unfelt, highly fulfilling with most beautiful clearness all those souls who lack the eyes of the mind-]

Compare and contrast the Cloud of Unknowing and Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love.

Confession Manuals: The adoption of Aristotelian taxonomies in universities encouraged priests trained there to categorize and discuss the 'Seven Deadly Sins', Pride, Avarice, Lechery, Envy, Greed, Sloth (acedie or depression), which required being confessed before a good death. These lists occur also in other literary texts, such as Piers Plowman.

Contemplative Literature: Aelred of Rievaulx, Ancrene Wisse, Walter Hilton, Ladder of Perfection, Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love, Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ. Cloister literature.

Corpus Christi and Other Plays: In the later Middle Ages it became customary at York, Chester, and other places for the trade guilds of lay people to perform the Bible in Middle English, particularly at the newly established Eucharistic feast of Corpus Christi, each guild being responsible for a particular narration acted out to audiences of townspeople. Of these the Towneley Manuscript contains some of the finest plays, clearly influenced by the Comedies of Terence. At the Reformation the play books were called in for censorship and the play cycles, for want of their texts, died out. EETS SS 1, 3, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, EETS ES 70, 71, 91, 104, 115, 120. In Celtic-speaking Cornwall we have evidence of an outdoors Roman-type theatre in the round being used for a vast production of the Bible. While a touring company used similar outdoor theatres in the round for the Castle of Perseverance, Wisdom and Mankind plays in the Macro Manuscript, EETS 262. The shepherds complain of social injustice in 'The Second Shepherds' Play', The Towneley Plays EETS ES 71, pp. 116-117, lines 10-27; EETS SS 13:

Bot we sely shepardes/ that walkys on the moore,
In fayth we are nere handys/ outt of the doore,
No wonder as it standys/ if we be poore,
ffor the tylthe of our landys/ lyys falow as the floore,

     As ye ken
We ar so hamyd,
ffor-taxed and ramyd,
We ar mayde hand tamyd,

     With thyse gentlery men.

[But we innocent shepherds who walk on the moors
Truly we sre nearly out of the door
No wonder, thus, that we be poor,
For the harvest from our land lies fallow as the floor.

    As you know
We are so oppressed,
Taxed and bullied,
We are made tame

     By these gentlemen.]

Thus thay refe vs oure rest/ oure lady theym wary!
These men that ar lord fest/ thay cause the ploghe tary.
That men say is for the best/ we fynde it contrary;
Thus ar husbandys opprest/ in pointe to myscary,

      On lyfe.
Thus hold thay vs hunder,
Thus thay bring vs in blonder;
It were greatte wonder,

      And euer shuld we thryfe.

[Thus they take from our rest, Our Lady curse them!
These men that are linked to lords, make the plough tarry.
That men say is for the best, we find it contrary;
Thus are householders oppressed, in point to miscarry

      Of life.
Thus they hold us under,
Thus they bring us to blunder
It were great wonder

      That ever we should thrive.]

Take a liturgical drama in Latin and compare it with a matching Corpus Christi play in Middle English. Or take the speeches by the shepherds in this play and compare them with the arguments in Wynnere and Wastoure or Piers Plowman concerning subsistence farming.

Dante Alighieri: Geoffrey Chaucer, Adam Easton and Julian of Norwich all display knowledge of the Italian and/or Latin writings of Dante Alighieri.  heryen=praise; tryne=triple: wemmelees= spotless, wone=dwell. (See La Commedia secondo l'antica vulgata, ed. Giorgio Petrocchi, Milan: Mondadori, 1967, Paradiso XXXIII, 1-9.

'Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
umile e alta pi che creatura,
termine fisso d'etterno consiglio

tu se' colei che l'umana natura
nobilitasti s, che'l suo fattore
non disdegn di farsi sua fattura.
[Virgin Mother, daughter of your son,
Humble and higher than any creature,
Fixed end of eternal counsel
You are she who so ennobled
Human nature that the Creator
Did not disdain to be made your creation.]

, ed. Benson, Second Nun's Prologue,  VIII (G), p. 262, lines 36-49:

Thow Mayde and Mooder, doghter of thy Sone,
Thow welle of mercy, synful soules cure,
In whom that God for bountee chees to wone,
Thow humble, and heigh over every creature,
Thow nobledest so ferforth oure nature,
That no desdeyn the Makere hadde of kynde
His Sone in blood and flessh to clothe and wynde.

[You Maid and Mother, daughter of your Son,
You well of mercy, sinful souls' cure,
In whom God chose for honour to dwell,
You, humble and high over all creatures,
You ennoble so our nature,

That the Creator did not disdain of nature
His Son in blood and flesh to cloth and garb.]

Withinne the cloister blisful of thy sydis
Took mannes shap the eterneel love and pees,
That of the tryne compass lord and gyde is,
Whom erthe and see and hevene out of relees
Ay heryen, and thou, Virgine, wemmelees,
Baar of thy body  and dweltest mayden pure
The Creatour of every creature.

[Within the blissful cloister of your side,
Eternal love and peace took man's form,
That of the three circles is lord and guide
Whom earth and sea and heaven unceasingly
All praise, and you, Virgin, spotless,
Bare of your body and remain pure virgin

The Creator of all creatures.]

Double Monasteries with both men and women under an Abbess: Anglo-Saxon seventh-century Whitby, Northumbria; Brigittine fifteenth century Syon, London. Both places had fine libraries and produced a rich literature, conversant with classic and contemplative learning.

'Dream of the Rood', Ruthwell Cross, the Vercelli Manuscript, the Exeter Riddles: The 'Dream of the Rood' first appears in runes on a stone missionary cross in the Pictish area of Scotland to which Ceolfrith had sent stonemasons and missionaries, then in a parchment manuscript left behind by a pilgrim at Vercelli in Italy. The poem is not unlike the Anglo-Saxon riddles which say 'I saw' and 'I am', the answers being such objects as crosses and Bibles, Exeter Book EETS 104, 194; Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records III. 'Hlaflord', 'bread giver', 'loaf giver', a kenning for one's ruler. (See The Vercelli Book, ed. George Philip Krapp, New York: Columbia University Press, 1931, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 2, pp. 61-65, lines 39-66; trans. adapted from Michael Alexander, The Earliest English Poems, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966, pp. 107-108; Ruthwell Cross Runes shared with Vercelli text are shown in red:       

Ongyrede hine a geong haele,    (aet waes god aelmihtig),
strang ond stimod.    Gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on manigra gesyh
e,    a he wolde mancyn lysan.
Bifode ic a me se beorn ymbclypte.    Ne dorste ic hwaere bugan to eoran,
feallan to foldan sceatum,    ac ic sceolde faeste standan.
Rod waes ic araered.    Ahof ic ricne cyning,

heofona hlaford,     hyldan me ne dorste.
Þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan naeglum.    On me syndon a dolg gesiene,
opene inwidhlemmas.    Ne dorste ic hira naenigum sce
Bysmeredon hie unc butu aetgaedere.    Eall ic waes mid blode bestemed,
begoten of aes guman sidan,    sian he haefde his gast onsended.
Feala ic on
am beorge    gebiden haebbe
ra wyrda.    Geseah ic weruda god
earle enian. ystro haefdon
bewrigen mid wolcnum    wealdendes hraew,
scirne sciman,    sceadu for
wann under wolcnum.    Weop eal gesceaft,
don cyninges fyll.    Crist waes on rode.
ere aer fuse    feorran cwoman
am aeelinge.    Ic aet eall beheold.
Sare ic waes mid sorgum gedrefed,    hnag ic hwae
re am secgum to handa,
mod elne mycle.    Genamon hie aer almihtigne god,
ahofon hine of
am hefian wite.    Forleton me a hilderincas
standan steame bedrifenne;    eall ic waes mid straelum forwundod.

Aledon hie aer limwerigne,    gestodon him aet his lices heafdum,
beheoldon hie
aeae heofenes dryhten,    ond he hine aer hwile reste,
mee aefter am miclan gewinne.    Ongunnon him a moldern wyrcan
beornas on banan gesyhe. . . .

[Then the young warrior, Almighty God, ungirded himself,
eagerly mounted the Cross, in the sight of many.
He would set free mankind.
I shook when his arms embraced me, but I durst not bow to ground,
Stoop to Earth's surface . Stand fast I must.
I was reared up, a rood . I held the King, Heaven's lord, I dared not bow.
They drove me through with dark nails: on me are the wounds
Wide-mouthed hate dents. I durst not harm any of them.
They mocked us together . I was all wet with blood
Sprung from the Man's side . after he sent forth his soul.
Many wry wierds I underwent . up on that hilltop;
Saw the Lord of Hosts stretched out stark .
Darkness shrouded the King's corpse.
A shade went out wan under cloud pall . All creation wept,
Keened the King's death . Christ was on the Cross.
But there quickly came from afar . many to the Prince.
All that I beheld had grown weak with grief . yet with glad will bent then
Meek to those men's hands . yielded Almighty God.
They lifted Him down from the leaden pain . left me, the commanders
Standing in blood sweat. I was sorely smitten with sorrow
Wounded with shafts. Limb-weary they laid him down.
They stood at his head. They looked on him there.]

Ruthwell Cross

Compare and contrast the 'Dream of the Rood' in runes on the Ruthwell Cross with the same poem in the Vercelli manuscript on parchment. Compare and contrast the 'Dream of the Rood' with the Exeter Riddles. Compare and contrast the Cross visions in this poem and in Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love.

Dream Visions: Dream vision narratives are given in Bede, St Patrick's Purgatory, Christina of Markyate, Dante, Birgitta, Chaucer, Christine de Pizan, Wynnere and Wastoure, Piers Plowman, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, John Lydgate. Cloister and Town literature.

Ellesmere Manuscript: This magnificent illuminated manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, now at the Huntington Museum, San Marino, California, is one of the two major witnesses to Chaucer's text, the other being the Hengwrt Chaucer, in the National Library of Wales.

Fall of Troy, 'Matter of Troy': Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde; Henryson, Testament of Criseyd, Lydgate, Troy Book, based on Boccaccio, Guido da Colonna, particularly used by English writers because of the statements in Histories that London was New Troy, Trinovantium. In this way Trojan stories were seen as a 'Distant Mirroring' of their own moment in time, the Cambridge Corpus Christi College Manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde illuminates Chaucer as preaching on Troilus to Richard II surrounded by his court, from a pulpit structure. Castle literature.

William Flete: A Cambridge scholar who became an Augustine Hermit at Lecceto and Catherine of Siena's director, his Remedies against Temptations is quoted by Julian of Norwich in the Showing of Love. Remedies against Temptations, ed. Eric Colledge and Noel Chadwick, Archivio Italiano per la Storia della Piet 5 (Rome, 1968). (See

Amd if it so be at 3e have consentid and fallen in ony temptacion, beth sory, and crieth god mercy erof, and beth not discomforted erfore. enke wel on the grete mercy of god, how he forgaf Dauid his grete synnes, and Petir and Maudeleyn, and not only hem but also alle tho at haue be or mow be and schulen ben contrite for here synnes and cryen god mercy.

[And if it is that you have consented and fallen into any temptation, be sorry and ask God for mercy, and do not be uneasy. Think well on the great mercy of God, how he forgave David his great sins, and Peter and Magdalen, and not only them but also all that have been or may be or shall be contrite for their sins and ask for God's mercy.]

Somtyme the feelynge of swetnesse and of comfort is with drawen from a man, for ellis he schulde waxen proud and presumptuouse, or necgligent and recheles in vertues; and erfore it is withdrawen for the beste to helthe of his soule. And also hardenesse and scharpnesse sent to a creature is ful profitable to the soule, for Seynt Augustyn seyth us in techynge of vs alle, at e manere of god is, at quan a man is feble and newly turned to hym, to 3eue hym pees and swetnesse, and soo to stable hym in his lawe and loue; but quan he is stabled and sadly set and grounded in loue, an suffereth he hym to be al to trauailed for twoo skylles. Oon is to preue hym, and to crowne hym e more hy3e in the blisse of heuene, and another is to purge hym of his synnes in this world that he in no wyse be longe from hym in e tother worlde.

[Sometimes the feeling of sweetness and of comfort is withdrawn from a man, lest he become proud and presumptious, or negligent and careless in virtue; and therefore it is withdrawn for the health of his soul. And also hardness and sharpness sent to a creature is very profitable to a soul, for St Augustine said thus to teach us all, that God’s custom is, when a man is weak and newly turned to him, to give him peace and sweetness, and so to ground him in his law and his love, but when he is stable and eriously set and grounded in love, that he lets him be tried for two reasons. One is to prove him, and to crown him with more bliss in heaven, and another is to purge him of his sins in the world that he in no way will be far from him in the other world.]

Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain: Written in Latin by a Welshman giving the Celtic history of Britain, including the story of Arthur, this work influenced many works in Middle English.

John Gower: John Gower wrote in Latin, in French, and in English, the Confessio Amantis, modelled on the Roman de la Rose. EETS ES 81, 82.

Guernes de Pont St Maxence, La Vie de St Thomas Becket: Monk narrates life of martyr in French verses from altar steps in Canterbury Cathedral.

Guillaume de Deguileville, The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man: Influenced by the Roman de la Rose, a Cistercian monk creates a lengthy three part vision poem of the Pilgrimage of Man, of the Soul, and of Jesus Christ. Translated into Middle English it is written out by the same scribe as who writes out the Amherst Manuscript with Julian of Norwich and Marguerite Porete's works as well as another manuscript containing Mechtild of Hackeborn's Book of Ghostly Grace. EETS 77, 83, 92, 288, 292, EETS ES 77, 83, 92.

Guillaume de Lorris, Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose: The first part of the Roman de la Rose is a courtly allegory, its second part is considerably more coarse and realistic. Written in the Loire region in French, it is a dream vision of a Lover and his Rosebud, its text being filled up with debates by its various characters. Many of its manuscripts are superbly illuminated. Chaucer both translated it and adapted it to his own purposes.

Henry IV: Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, conquered England from Richard II, being crowned Henry IV. He often lived abroad in exile and many of his exploits echo those of Chaucer's Knight. He had vowed a Crusade to recapture Jerusalem, but died instead from leprosy contracted on his pilgrimages in Westminster Abbey's Jerusalem Chamber. Unlike his father he opposed Lollardy, seeing it as a threat to the State as well as to the Church, Lollards being executed as both traitors and heretics.

Heraldry: With the use of the stirrup allowing for knights to fight on horseback in full armour, their identities were distinguished by their heraldic crests on their helmets, their arms on their shields, and their mottoes or war cries, these clusters known as armorial bearings, or coat of arms, the descriptions using Norman French terms rather than English ones for the colors, 'argent, or, gules, azure, vert, sable, tawny, sanguine', etc. Heraldry is important in Arthurian texts, where it is anachronistic, as the pre-Beowulfian Arthurian warriors would have actually fought in hand to hand combat on foot. For instance, in the Bayeux Tapestry we see the Saxons under Harold fighting as foot soldiers against the Norman cavalry under William, the horses being brought over in the long ships. Heralds functioned as umpires in tournaments and still regulate armorial bearings.

Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection: Written in two parts the Ladder of Perfection begins with spiritual advice to an Anchoress. It repeatedly uses the Pilgrim's Prayer, 'I have nought, I am nought, I seek nought but sweet Jesus in Jerusalem', to be used again by Dom Augustine Baker in Holy Wisdom, his book of spiritual direction for English nuns in exile, the descendants of St Thomas More, in the seventeenth century. (See

                                                                                                          ' I. am no3t .I. haf
   no3t. nou3t .I. seke ne coveite bot e luf of ihesu '
British Library, Harley 6579, fol. 88v.

Histories: Caesar, Gildas, Chronicles, Bede, Wace, La3amon, Geoffrey of Monmouth, taking their form largely from the Bible and from Eusebius' History of the Church. Cloister and Castle literature.

Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes: Chaucer's friend and bureaucratic colleague, Hoccleve wrote The Regiment of Princes for Henry V, then still Prince Hal. He also translated Christine de Pizan. EETS 313, EETS SS 19, EETS ES 61, 72, 73.

James I of Scotland, The Kingis Quair: A prisoner of the English, spending time in the Tower of London, King James I of Scotland composed an allegory in seven line Chaucerian stanzas, known from its use by this king as 'rhyme royal'. The dream vision is based on Boethius, and Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale', is written in Middle Scots (Anglian) dialect, and is titled The Kingis Quair ('The King's Book').

Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love: An anchoress of St Julian's Church in Norwich, she wrote several versions of the Showing of Love which survive in manuscripts at Westminster, the Paris Bibliothque Nationale, and the British Library. The Short Text in the Amherst Manuscript, which dates itself 1413, has been thought to be earlier, composed soon after 1373, though its self-censorship is typical of texts written during the period of Lollard persecution by Archbishop Chancellor Arundel. The Long Text in the Paris and Sloane Manuscripts is divided into chapters, the Sloane providing comments in the style of the Brigittine Revelationes, written by her editor. She translates directly from the Hebrew Bible into Middle English, before the King James Bible did so, and may have been a Norwich Jewish conversa. It is likely that Adam Easton, who effected Birgitta of Sweden's canonization as a saint and who had taught Hebrew at Oxford, was her editor for the Long Text. All versions of Julian's text present the contemplation of the Virgin and the vision of the hazelnut in the palm of Julian's hand. Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love , ed. Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P. and Julia Bolton Holloway, Florence: SISMEL, 2001. (See Transcription from Westminster Cathedral Manuscript, folio 74.

And in is he shewed me a lytil
e quantite of a hasyl
nott . lyeng in
e pawme of
my hand as it had semed . and
it was as rownde as eny ball.
I loked
er upon wt e eye of
my vnderstondyng . and I
ought what may is be, and
it was answered generally thus.
It is all
at is made.

[And in this he showed me a little
thing the quantity of a hazel
nut, lying in the palm of
my hand as it seemed, and
it was as round as any ball.
I looked on it with the eye of
my understanding, and I
thought, 'What may this be?' And
it was answered generally thus,
'It is all that is made.']

Compare Julian's Showing with Margery's Book on their conversation with each other.

Margery Kempe and her Book: The daughter of John Brunham, Mayor of Lynn, Margery married, and like Birgitta of Sweden she bore many children, and went on far-flung pilgrimages. Like St Catherine of Siena she was illiterate, needing priests to read books to her and she dictated her Book to these authority figures, though the first version was likely written down by her daughter-in-law from Gdansk, familiar with Birgitta's similar book. At one point Margery is accused of being Sir John Oldcastle's daughter and is nearly burnt at the stake. She describes visiting Julian of Norwich and her account of their conversation is as if we had an electronic recording of their conversation. Chaucer has his Wife of Bath make the same pilgrimages as does Margery Kempe, but without her piety. ankres=anchoress, recluse; bodyn=commanded; dalyawns=lingering delight; wetyn=know. EETS 212; transcription from Butler Bowden Manuscript, British Library, Additional 61,823, folio 21,

& an sche was bodyn be owyr lord . for to gon to an ankres in e same Cyte whych hyte Dame Jelyan. & so sche dede & schewyd hir e grace at god put in hir sowle of compunccyon contricyon swetnesse & devocyon compassyon with holy meditacyon & hy contemplacyon . & ful many holy speches & dalyawns, t owyr Lord spak to hir sowle. And many wondirful reuelacyons whech sche schewyd to e ankres to wetyn yf er were any deceyte in hem, for e ankres was expert in swech thynges & good cownsel cowd 3euyn.

   [And then she was told by our Lord to go to an anchoress in the same city who was called Dame Julian, and so she did and 
   showed her by the grace that God put in her soul of compunction, contrition, sweetness and devotion, compassion with holy
   meditation and high contemplation, and very many holy speeches and dalliance that our Lord spoke in her soul, and many
   wonderful revelations which she showed to the anchoress to know if there were any deceit in them, for the anchoress was
   expert in such things and could give good counsel.]

William Langland, Piers Plowman: The alliterative pilgrim vision poem, Piers Plowman, is said to be written by William Langland and is set in Malvern, Westminster and London. It exists in three versions, the A, B, and C versions, which Jill Mann has argued should be reversed, the C and A versions being Langland's later response to Archbishop Arundel's censorship of Lollard teachings, the B version reflecting the original Lollard text, which was being chanted at the Peasants Revolt. In its allegory Will, as sinning Everyman, has a vision of Christ as Piers the Plowman, who begins as a Moses figure giving the Law, then becomes a Christ as Samaritan, finally as a failing Piers or Peter, the Church at the Schism betraying Christ. Birgitta of Sweden had prophesied that Christ would come as Plowman and plough Christendom under with the Black Death. ferly=marvel; sweyued= sounded; wonyth=dwell. William Langland, The Vision of Piers the Plowman, ed. Walter W. Skeat, London: Oxford University Press, 1886, I,2; trans. J.F. Goodrich, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959, B Text, p. 63;

In a somer seson . whan soft was the sonne,
I shope me in shroudes . as I a shepe were,
In habite as an heremite . vnholy of workes,
Went wyde in this world . wondres to here,
Ac on a May mornynge . on Maluerne hulles
Me byfel a ferly . of fairy me thou3te;
I was wery forwandred . and went me to reste
Vnder a brode banke . bi a bornes side,
And as I lay and lened . and loked in the wateres,
I slombred in a slepyng . it sweyued so merye.
   Thanne gan I to meten . a merueilous sweuene,
That I was in a wildernesse . wist I neuer where,
As I bihelde in-to the est . an heigh to the sonne,
I seigh a toure on a toft . trielich ymaked;
A depe dale binethe . a dongeon there-inne,
With depe dyches and derke . and dredful of sight.
A faire felde ful of folke . fonde I there bytwene,
Of alle maner of men . the mene and the riche,
Worchyng and wandryng . as the world asketh.

[One summer season, when the sun was warm, I rigged myself out in shaggy woollen clothes, like a sheep; and in the garb of an easy-living hermit I set out to roam far and wide through the world, hoping to hear of marvels. But on a morning in May, among the Malvern Hills, a strange thing happened to me, as though by magic. For I was tired out by my wanderings, and as I lay down to rest under a broad bank by the side of a stream, and leaned over gazing into the water, it sounded so pleasant that I fell asleep.

And I dreamt a marvellous dream: I was in a wilderness, I could not tell where, and looking Eastwards I saw a tower high up against the sun, and splendidly built on top of a hill; and far beneath it was a great gulf, with a dungeon in it, surrounded by deep, dark pits, dreadful to see. But between the tower and the gulf I saw a smooth plain, thronged with all kinds of people, high and low together, moving busily about their worldly affairs.]

C Text, p 234; trans. Goodrich, p. 298:

The most needy aren oure neighebores . and we nyme good hede,
As prisones in puttes . and poure folke in cotes,
Charged with children . and chef lordes rente,
That thei with spynnynge may spare . spenen hit in hous-hyre,
Bothe in mylk and in mele . to make with papelotes,
To a-glotye with here gurles . that greden after fode.
Al-so hem-selue . suffren muche hunger,
And wo in winter-tyme . with wakynge a nyghtes
To ryse to the ruel . to rocke the cradel,
Both to karde and to kembe . to clouten and to wasche,
To rubbe and to rely . russhes to pilie,
That reuthe is to rede . other in ryme shewe
The wo of these women . that wonyth in cotes.

[The poorest folk are our neighbours, if we look about us - the prisoners in dungeons and the poor in their hovels, overburdened with children, and rack-rented by landlords. For whatever they save by spinning they spend on rent, or on milk and oatmeal to make gruel and fill the bellies of their children who clamour for food. And they themselves are often famished with hunger, and wretched with the miseries of winter - cold, sleepless nights, when they get up to rock the cradle cramped in a corner, and rise before dawn to card and comb the wool, to wash and scrub and mend, and wind yarn and peel rushes for their rushlights. - The miseries of these women who dwell in hovels are too pitiful to read, or describe in verse.]

Compare Wynnere and Wastoure and the opening scenes of Piers Plowman.

La3amon, Brut: La3amon, half Anglo-Saxon and half Celt, presents the Celtic history of Britain in Anglo-Saxon alliterating verse. deor=wild animal. This powerful inverted simile expresses and simultaneously denies war trauma in describing drowned knights in their armour as dead fish (Homer, Virgil and Milton often compare war trauma to peaceful agriculture, but never turn their similes inside out in this way, see; EETS 250, 277; La3amon's Brut, ed. Sir Frederic Madden, Society of Antiquities of London, 1847, lines 21323-30:

3urstendaei wes Baldulf; cnihten alre baldest.
nu he stant on hulle; & Auene bi-halde
hu lige
i an straeme; stelene fisces.
mid sweorde bi-georede; heore sund is awemmed.
heore scalen wleote
; swulc gold-fa3e sceldes.
er fleote heore spiten; swulc hit spaeren weoren.
is beo seolcue ing; isi3en to issen londe.
swulche deor an hulle; swulche fisces in waelle. 

[Yesterday was Baldulf of all knights
boldest, but now he stands on the hill, and sees the Avon, how
the steel fishes lie in the stream! Armed with sword, their life is
destroyed; their scales float like gold-dyed shields; there float
their fins, as if it were spears. These are marvellous things come to
this land; such beasts on the hill, such fishes in the stream!]

Liturgical Drama: These dramas in Latin and Gregorian chant were performed in Benedictine abbey churches and cathedrals in England and across Europe on the liturgical days of their action, partly to teach the young oblates in play their Gospel and Gregorian Chant. The costuming would have made use of the abbeys' liturgical vestments and, in the case below, of the garb of a pilgrim who had perhaps died at there while on his journey to or from Rome, Compostela or Jerusalem. The Regularis Concordia describes such a liturgical performance at Winchester Abbey at Easter, while at the same time suggesting that these detracted from the seriousness of the monks' lives of contemplation. They influence Piers Plowman and other works. EETS SS1 gives related non-cycle plays and fragments. This excerpt, complete with staging directions, is from the Officium Peregrinorum in the Fleury Manuscript, Orlans 201, perhaps originating from Winchester, and which also gives the music for the oblates acting the play to chant. Text, which students can perform, Julia Bolton Holloway, The Pilgrim and the Book: A Study of Dante, Langland and Chaucer, Berne: Peter Lang, 1992, pp. 28-55:

Illis hec cantantibus 'Jesu, nostro redemptio, amor et desiderium', accedat quidam alius in similitudinem Domini peram cum longa palma gestans bene ad modum peregrini paratus, pilleum in capite habens hacla vestitus et tunica nudus pedes, latenterque eos retro sequator eos, finitisque versibus. Veniat eis: Qui sunt hii sermones quos offertis ad invicem ambulantes et estis tristes, Alleluja. Alter autem ex duobus converso vultu ad eum dicat: Tu solus peregrinus es in Ierusalem et non cognovisti que facta sunt in illa his diebus, Alleluja. Cui Peregrinus: Que? Ambo discipulis: De Iesu Nazareno qui fuit vir propheta potens in opere et sermone coram deo et omni populo. Quo modo tradiderunt eum summi sacerdotes et principes nostri in dampnacione mortis et crucifixerunt eum et super omna tercia dies est quod hec facta sunt, Alleluja. His dictis Peregrinus gravi voce quasi eos increpando, cantare incipiat: O stulti et tardi corde ad credendum in omnibus que locuti sunt prophete, Alleluja. Nonne sic opportuit pati Christum et intrare ub gloriam suam, Alleluja.

[While they are singing 'Jesus, our redeemer, love and desire', another approaches in the likeness of the Lord with a scrip and carrying a long palm, dressed well in the manner of pilgrims, having a hat on his head, dressed in a sheepskin cloak and tunic, with bare feet, following them from behind; these verses finished, he comes to them: What are these things you speak of together as you walk and are sad. Alleluia! The other of the two, turning his face, says to him. You surely must be a stranger in Jerusalem not to know what has been done there in these days? Alleluia! To whom the Pilgrim: What? Both Disciples: Of Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, powerful in deed and word in the heart of God and all the people. Who was betrayed by our high priest and princes, and condemned to death, and they crucified him, and moreover it is now the third day since these things were done. Alleluia! This having been said, the Pilgrim in a stern voice, as if to scold them, begins to sing: O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have said. Is it not right that Christ should suffer and enter into his glory. Alleluia!]

Lollardy: Wyclif's Lollard disciples believed the Bible should be accessible in English, speaking of our 'Even Christians', a term Julian also uses, and they disliked having to perform compulsory pilgrimages, preferring to worship Christ, not a wooden cross with a carved painted image on it. Their sermons, treatises and the Wycliffite Bible are in fine manuscripts, lacking images or ornamentation, accurately transcribed and collated with each other and written on good vellum. Many of these manuscripts in England were destroyed first by the anti-Lollard actions of the combined Church and State, threatened by their appeal to Gospel equality, then by the anti-Catholic actions of the Church and State at the Reformation. However, a similar movement grew up in Bohemia, from which Queen Anne came, centred upon Jan Hus, which acquired these texts, now to be found at Charles University in Prague. Town literature.

Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: The Carthusian Prior at Mount Grace Charterhouse in Yorkshire translated an Italian Franciscan work encouraging lay people’s pious devotion through the affective contemplation of episodes in the Virgin Mary's life, akin to the Dominican use of the Rosary which tells the story of the Gospel affectively through Mary's eye-witnessing. Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ was authorized by Archbishop Thomas Arundel as a means of countering the Lollard movement amongst the laity which sought access to the text of the Bible itself.

Luttrell Psalter: The British Library's Luttrell Psalter Manuscript is richly illuminated with scenes of East Anglian agriculture and culture. The grotesque faces of the peasants may well derive from the actors' masks in Terence manuscripts. Used with the Promptorium Parvulorum (the earliest Latin-English dictionary, written for schoolchildren in Lynn and including their games) it can present the context for Chaucer, Langland, Julian, Margery and the Corpus Christi Plays.

John Lydgate: John Lydgate, Benedictine monk at St Albans Abbey, was a prolific writer of verse, including using King James I of Scotland's 'rhyme royal'. He copied Chaucer, including creating a continuation to the unfinished Canterbury Tales. He wrote ceremonial pieces for such events of kings' visits, revised saints' legends and dream visions, and rewrote classical stories about Troy and Thebes. EETS 192, EETS ES 60, 66, 69, 80, 84, 89, 97, 106, 107, 108, 121, 122, 123, 124, 124, 126.

Lyric Verse: Rhyme had been a characteristic of the Celts, the Irish, the Welsh, the Breton, but not of the Anglo-Saxons. Irish monks had scribbled rhyming lyrics on the edges of their Latin manuscripts, for instance the one about Pangur Ban, the monk's white cat chasing mice while his master chases scholarly references, or the one about journeying on pilgrimage and finding only the king who is sought if he has travelled with them. However, these language groups shared themes such as exile in their poetry.

Here is a later Welsh lyric, a penillion to be sung to a harp, in our British, not English language (H.I. Bell, The Development of Welsh Poetry, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), p. 9:

            Gwynt ar fr a haul ar fynydd,
            Cerrig llwydion yn lle coedydd,
            A gwylanod yn lle dynion,
            Och, Dduw, sut na thorrai ‘nghalon?

            [Wind on sea and sun on mountain,
            Gray stones instead of woods,
            And seagulls instead of men;
            O God, why does my heart not break?]

Franciscan Friars inherited from their Founder, St Francis of Assisi, the idea of creating spiritual lyrics in the vernacular, in rhyme, and composed to the same tunes as were secular love songs. Generally these are anonymous but often are exceedingly fine, such as this punning lyric where rode=face, Cross:

Nou goth sonne under wode;
Me rewes, Marie,
i faire rode.
Nou gooth sonne under tre;
Me rewes, Marie,
i sone and e.

[Now sets the sun under the wood,
I sorrow, Mary, for thy fair face/cross.
Now goes the sun under the tree;
I sorrow, Mary, for your Son and you.]

Not a few Middle English lyrics play with the tension of sexuality in the Spring, and Lent's simultaneous mandatory abstinence from sexuality, for example: 'Lenten is comen with love to toun', and the text and music in British Library Manuscript Harley 978, of 'Sing, Cuckoo', a motet sung in Middle English and Latin simultaneously celebrating Nature and Christ, for which we have the music as well as the words, written out by a monk at Reading Abbey.

Explore lyrics from the British Isles: Latin, Irish, Welsh, Old English, Middle English.

Mabinogion: The Welsh cycle of the Mabinogion gives Celtic tradition, also present in the Arthurian cycles. It divides itself into four 'Branches', each named after a character in its opening tales, 'Pwyll', 'Branwen', 'Manawydan' and 'Math'. The 'Peredur' gives: 'On the bank of the river he saw a tall tree: from roots to crown one half was aflame and the other green with leaves'. The earliest surviving manuscript, writing down these oral tales, is called the 'White Book of Rhydderch', the complete version is in the 'Red Book of Hergerst'. The title appears to refer to a boy's education., which may be the theme of the Pryderi son of Pwyll cycle in the four Branches.

Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Arthure: Sir Thomas Malory, while in prison for most unknightly deeds during the violence and social breakdown of the Wars of the Roses, passed the time by writing in Tudor English the matter of Arthur inherited from the Celts, creating of these stories an endless chain of romances leading up to the final tragedy of Arthur. Pellaron=pilgrim. Facsimile of Winchester Malory, EETS SS 4. Malory, Works, ed. Eugene Vinaver, London: Oxford University Press, 1954, p. 482:

Whan La Beale Alys sawe hym juste so well, she thought hym a passyng goodly knyght on horsebacke. And than she lepe oute of hir pavylyon and toke sir Alysaundir by the brydyll, and thus she seyde:
   'Fayre knight! Of thy knyghthode, shew me thy vysage'.
   'That dare I well', seyde sir Alysaundir, 'shew my vysage'.
And than he put of his helme, and whan she sawe his vysage she seyde,
   'A, swete Fadir Jesu! The I muste love, and never othir'
   'Than shewe me youre vysage', seyde he.
And anone she unwymnpled her, and whan he sawe her he seyde,
   'A, Lord Jesu! Here have I founde my love and my lady! And therefore, fayre lady, I promise you to be youre knyght, and none other that beryth the lyff'
   'Now, jantyll knighte', seyde she, 'tell me youre name'.
   'Madame, my name is sir Alysaundir le Orphelyne'.
   'A, sir', seyde she, 'syth ye lyst to know my name, wyte you well my name is Alys la Beale Pellaron. And whan we be more at our hartys ease, bothe ye and I shall telle of what blood we be com'.
So there was grete love betwyxt them.

Sir John de Mandeville, Travels: Sir John de Mandeville, an Anglo-Norman knight from St Albans, wrote a travel book into which he put all other travel books to which he had access. He says of Othello's monsters, the 'anthropophagi and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulder', that these he has not seen, while discussing as eyewitness, monkeys, bamboo and bananas. He describes coming to the coast of China and desiring to take ship across that Ocean to return home, but the Franciscans with him, instead, insist on a land journey back across Asia to Europe. He wrote in Anglo-Norman and his account was quickly and often translated into Middle English. EETS 153, 154, 253, 269, 319. This is from EETS 154, ed. P. Hamelius, 1919, p. 3:

I John Mandevylle knight all be it I be not worthi that was born in Englond, in the town of seynt Albones & passed the see in the yeer of oure lord jhesu crist M ccc & xxij in the day of seynt Michel & hiderto have ben longe tyme over the see and have seyn & gon thorgh manye dyverse londes & many provynces & kyngdomes & jles And have passed thorghout Turkye Ermonye the lityll & the grete thorgh Tartarye Percye Surrye Arabye Egypt the high & the lowe thorgh Lybye Caldee & a grete partie of Ethipe thorgh Amazoyne Inde the lasse & the more a gret partie & thorgh out many othere jles that ben abouten Inde where dwellen many diverse folk & of diverse maneres & lawes and of diverse schappes of men . . . to visite the holy citee of Ierusalem & the holy places that are thereaboute . . . I schall tell the weye that thei schull holden . . . For I have often tymes passed & ryden that way with gode company of many lordes, god be thonked.

[I, John Mandeville, Knight, although I am not worthy, was born in England in the town of St Albans and crossed the sea in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1322 on St Michael’s feastday and have been a long time abroad and have seen and gone through many diverse countries and many provinces and kingdoms and islands. Ad I have gone through Turkey, Armenia the less and the great, through Tartary, Persia, Syria, Arabia, upper and lower Egypt, through Lybia and Iraq and a great part of Ethiopia, through the Amazon, India the less and the great and throughout many other islands that are about India where many diverse people dwell and of different manners and laws and of different shapes of men . . . . to visit the holy city of Jerusalem and the Holy Places that are around there . . . . I shall tell the way that they should travel . . . . For I have often passed and ridden that way with a good company of many lords, God be thanked.]

Margaret of Jerusalem: Her story is published only in Latin and French: Bibliothque des Croisades, ed. Jean-Franois Michaud (Paris: Ducollet, 1829), III.569-575, but deserves to be known in the English-speaking world. She was born in Jerusalem in 1155 to her parents on pilgrimage there from Beverley in Yorkshire. (See

Mox et concipior, Anglorum gente relicta,
Ierusalem tendit sanctus uterque parens.
His onerosa comes materno deferor alvo.
Post menses aliquot, urbs sacra finit iter,
Et dum vota pater pia solvit nascor ibidem . . .

['When I was conceived', she says, 'my pious parents left England on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I was carried there in my mother's womb. After several months of pilgrimage we arrived in Palestine, and I was born there, while my parents were in the process of fulfilling their vow'.]

Her brother, Thomas, whom she raised when they were left orphans, was Thomas Becket's colleague and became a monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Froidmont. Later, Margaret returned to Jerusalem, and fought in the siege by Saladin with a cookpot on her head, next making her way back to Christendom, passing through many dangers until she came to her brother's Cistercian monastery in France. He wrote a poem in Latin about all her adventures, including this episode, demonstrating both literacy and tolerance, where a Muslim Turk seizes her Psalter, then gives it back to her.

Haud procul aspicio sylvam; sylvaeque sub ora
State Parthus, psalmos vi rapit ille meos.
Tristis discedo; sed cum longius essem
Me vocat: et pedibus volvitur ille meis.
Poenitet et facti valde, redditque libellum.
Sed tamen devotus barbarus unde mihi?

['Not far away', she said, 'I saw a forest: I saw a Turk at the edge of the wood who came and snatched away my Psalter. I went away very sorrowfully; but when I had gone a distance, he called to me; he threw himself at my feet; he repented of his violence; he gave me back my book. What had caused this barbarian to submit himself to me?']

Marie de France, Lais: In England in the twelfth century, likely at court, Marie de France wrote Breton lais, short poems, some of which are Arthurian, the manuscripts which survive being in Anglo-Norman. Dante speaks of lais in connection with the lovers, Paolo and Francesca, in Inferno V,  and Chaucer copies the form in the Franklin's Tale.

Mirk's Festial: A Middle English compilation of sermons written by John Mirk to be preached on the Feast Days for Saints, which often incorporate stories, including those of pilgrims. EETS ES 96.

Paston Letters
: Letters written by a large and powerful merchant family in East Anglia demonstrate the roles men and women could play in late medieval English society. EETS SS 20, 21, 22.

St Patrick's Purgatory
: Pilgrimage, dream vision text translated from Norman French from an Irish account into Middle English. EETS 298.

Pearl Poet: It is thought that the Pearl Poet also wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as they are found together in the same manuscript and both are of such excellence that it is held one person wrote both poems. The author appears to be lay but deeply versed in theology, blending this playfully with the disparate world of court and castle. Similarly, the equally brilliant St Erkenwald is attributed to this anonymous author.
Opening of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with its origin myths, alliterative lines, then Celtic rhyming five-line 'bob and wheel'. This Arthurian romance humorously recounts the failure of its young hero in the beheading game. biges=builds; bur3e=city; kynde=kindred; neuens=names; teldes=dwellings; skete hat3 skyfted=quickly alternated; trammes=trammels; tulk=man; wynne=joy. Facsimile of British Library Manuscript Cotton Nero A.x., containing Pearl, Cleanness, Patience and Sir Gawain, EETS 162; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, EETS 210, p. 1, 1-19; trans. adapted from John Gardner, The Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970, p.  223:

en e sege & e assaut wat3 sesed at Troye,
e borz brittened & brent to bronde3 & aske3,
e tulk at e trammes of tresoun er wro3t
Watz tried for his tricherie,
e trewest on erthe.
Hit watz Ennias
e athel & his highe kynde
at sien depreced prouinces, & patrounes bicome
Welne3e of al
e wele in e west iles,
Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swy
With gret bobbaunce
at bur3e he biges vpon fyrst,
& neuenes hit his aune nome, as hit now hat;
Ticius to Tuskan, & teldes bigynnes;

Langaberde in Lumbardie lytes vp homes;
& fer ouer e French flod Felix Brutus
On mony bonkkes ful brode Bretayn he sette3,
                        With wynne;
            Where were & wrake & wonder
Bi sye3 hat3 wont er-inne,
Oft boe blysse & blunder        
            Ful skete hat3 skyfted synne.

[After the siege and assault was ended at Troy,
The battlements breached and burnt to brands and ashes,
Antenor, he who the trammels of treason there wrought,
Was well known for his wrongs – the worst yet on earth.
Aeneas the noble it was and his kingly kinsmen
That afterward conquered kingdoms and came to be lords
Of well-nigh all the wealth of the Western Isles;
For royal Romulus to Rome rushed swiftly
And with great splendour established that first of all cities
And named it with his own name, as we now know it;
And Ticius to Tuscany went and built there his towers;
And Longbeard in Lombardy lifted up houses;
And far over the French flood Felix Brutus
On the slopes of many broad hills established Britain
                        With joy,
Where war and wrack and wonder
Have sometimes since held sway,
And now bliss, now blunder,
Spins like dark and day.]

The Pearl uses not only alliteration but also a most intricate rhyme scheme, as well as the last word of each of its 101 12-line stanzas being echoed in the first line of the next, to speak of a vision of Jerusalem in which the poet and his dead daughter dialogue on consolation. Pearl, ed. E.V. Gordon, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1953, p. 1, lines 1-12; trans. John Gardner, p. 95:

Perle, plesaunte to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere,
Oute of orient, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.
So rounde, so reken in vche araye,
So small, so smo
e her syde3 were,
Quere-so-euer I jugged gemme3 gaye,
I sette hyr sengeley in synglere
Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
ur3 gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
at pryuy perle wythouten spot.

[Pearl, pleasing as a prince's pay,
So chastely buckled in gold, so pure,
In all the East, I boldly say,
I never found her precious peer;
So light, so priceless her array,
So small her sides, so smooth they were,
Wherever I judged fine jewelry
I found her supreme and singular.
Alas! I lost that pearl in an arbour;
Through the grass to the ground she shot;
And robbed of what was mine, I mourned
My own prized pearl without a spot.]

Discuss the Apocalypse and the Pearl poem. Discuss Richard II and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Francesco Petrarca: Italian writer, whose tale of Griselda is used by Boccaccio in the Decameron and by Chaucer in the Clerk's Tale of the Canterbury Tales. His sonnets are also echoed in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.

Discuss the figure of Griselda in Petrarca, Boccaccio and Chaucer.

Pilgrim and Travel Literature: Adamnam, Arculf's Voyage, Orosius, 'Elena', 'Andreas', Guthrithyr, Icelandic Sagas, Old English lyrics, 'The Wanderer', 'The Seafarer', the Irish Voyage of Bran, Voyage of St Brendan, St Patrick's Purgatory, Margaret of Jerusalem, Mandeville, Travels, Birgitta of Sweden, Revelationes, Margery Kempe, Book. Using ships and horses or on foot, medieval people could travel extensively, participating in different cultures. Langland's Piers Plowman and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales satirize pilgrimage. Cloister and Castle literature. See map giving women's pilgrimages, in which later women, like Birgitta and Margery Kempe, imitate Saints Helen and Paula. (See

Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls: Marguerite Porete first had her book burned at Valenciennes, then she herself was burned at the stake in Paris in 1310 for it. Nevertheless, this book of contemplative Pseudo-Dionysan theology was preserved anonymously and it exists in Middle English translations in three manuscripts, one of which, the Amherst Manuscript in the British Library, also contains the Short Text of Julian's Showing, Jan van Ruusbroec's Sparkling Stone, an extract from Henry Suso's Horologium Sapientiae and various writings by Richard Rolle.

Promptorium Parvulorum: The first Latin-English Dictionary, its title meaning a 'store room for children', written by a recluse in Margery Kempe's Lynn, this work is given in Julian's and Margery's dialect and includes much information on the games medieval schoolboys played and on their intimate household details. Both he and Julian likely taught young boys their alphabet and their Latin. EETS ES 102. (See

Luttrell Psalter, fol. 70v

                                   Detail, Brunetto Latino, Li Livres dou Tresor, St Petersburg Manuscript, fol. 13v

EETS ES 102, column 14.

            Apsy: Alfabetum, -i; neut. 2 decl: Abecedarium, -i.
            Apsy lerner, or he
at lernyth his apsy; Alphabeticus, -i: Abecadarius, -ij

            ABC: Alphabet, neuter, 2nd declension; Abecadarius
            ABC learner, or he who is learning his ABC: Alphabeticus, Abecedarius

Public Executions: Books could be burnt, also their writers (Marguerite Porete). Lollards were executed as heretics to the Church by burning. Margery Kempes Lollard chaplain William Sawtre was first defrocked successively of all his priestly orders, then burnt. Margery Kempe is herself frequently threatened with execution by burning as a heretic. Those declared traitors to the State, such as Sir Thomas Usk, were hung, drawn and quartered. These methods could be combined, heresy being equated with treason. Lollard Sir John Oldcastle was burnt, 'gallows and all'.  A high-ranking personage, such as the Archbishop of York Richard le Scrope who opposed King Henry IV, would be beheaded by a sword. Exile and pilgrimage, as with Henry Bolingbroke, were also used. Less horrendous but still serving as a deterrent was the humiliating pillorying of a fishmonger in the market place with his rotten fish tied beneath his nose. The intent of such public executions, exiles and punishments was to induce trauma and obedience in the populace.

Richard II (1367-1400): He became king as a boy when his grandfather Edward II died, his own father, the Black Prince, being already buried in a magnificent tomb beside St Thomas Becket's shrine. As a youngster Richard II showed great courage during the Peasants' Revolt, then became unpopular. He was married first to Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, in a magnificent double coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey designed by Cardinal Adam Easton at the Pope's bidding. Anne, deeply beloved by the people, died of the Black Death at Sheen. Richard's second wife was to the child bride Isabelle, Princess of France. There were no children born to either marriage. Richard's male favorites corrupted the realm, resulting in conspiracies against him, and Richard had his uncle the Duke of Gloucester murdered for participating in them. Eventually Richard II was forced to abdicate, dying in prison, Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt's son, succeeding to the throne as Henry IV. An intensive Bolingbroke propaganda campaign worsened Richard's fame. See Terry Jones, Who Murdered Chaucer?

Richard Rolle: Rolle chose as a young man to quit university and become a hermit having, his sister, who thought him mad, make his clothes. As a contemplative he composed many texts, both in Middle English and in Latin, often writing these to Margaret Kirkeby, a Cistercian contemplative nun who would inherit his hermitage as anchoress. He is similar to Henry Suso and to John of the Cross, leaping into song from the midst of prose. He died at Hampole in 1349 and his women followers sought his canonization. In the Amherst Manuscript some of Rolle's Latin writings are translated by Richard Misyn, Carmelite Prior of Lincoln, into Middle English for Margaret Heslyngton. gost=spirit; hele=wellness; jangle=chat; lare=lore, learning; lere=learn; melle=speak; um=surrounds. EETS 20, 106, 293, p. 41:

Gostly gladnesse in Ihesu, and ioy in hert, with swetnesse in soule of e sauour of heuyn in hope, is helth in to hele, and my lyf lendeth in loue, and lightsomnes vmlappeth my thoght. I dred nat at me may wirch wo, so myche I wot of wele. Hit ware no wonder if dethe ware dere, at I myght se hym at I seke; but now hit lengthes fro me, and me behoueth to lyve here til he wil me lese. List and lere of is lare, and e shal nat myslike. Loue maketh me to melle, and ioy maketh me jangle. Loke ou lede i life in lightsomnes; and heuynesse, hold hit away. Sorynesse let nat sit with the, bot in gladnes in God euermore make ou i glee.

[Ghostly gladness in Jesus, and joy in heart, with sweetness in soul of the taste of Heaven in hope, is health into healing, and my life lends to love and lightly surrounds my thought. I fear not that I may work woe, so much I know of weal. It would be no wonder if death were dear, that I might see him whom I seek; but this is now distanced from me, and I must live here until he will loose me. Listen and learn of this teaching, and you shall not dislike it. Love makes me to speak, and joy makes me voluble. Look that you live your life lightly, and hold heaviness away. Let not sorrow sit with you, but in gladness in God ever more joy.]

Romances: Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Arthurian, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The word 'Romance' comes from what is told or written in the languages derived from Latin or 'Roman', and were stories generally about love and adventure. There are romances in Irish, in Icelandic and in other vernacular languages not derived from Latin. Castle and Town literature.

Sagas and Eddas: Icelandic Sagas present historical accounts of events connected with the Viking settlers of Iceland and include those about the Scottish Orkney and Shetland Isles as well as those about the settling of Greenland and Vineland (America) and those recounting the pilgrimage to Jorsalaborg (Jerusalem). Icelandic chronicles mention the presence of Christian Irish hermits with bells and books on Iceland as preceding the pagan Vikings. In the year 1000 the Althing at Thingvellyr, Iceland's republican, democratic parliament, voted unanimously to convert to Christianity. The oral sagas were transmitted into writing and their history thus preserved for posterity. Iceland's conversion and this profound love of book-learning could have been due to the presence of Christian slaves captured on raids in Ireland. Aspects of 'The Dream of the Rood' and of Beowulf are closely related to Icelandic and Finnish material such as the Hávamál.

Saints' Legends: Lives of the saints in the Vercelli Manuscript (St Helen, St Andrew), Katherine Group (St Katherine, St Margaret), Golden Legend (all the saints), Guernes de Pont St Maxence (St Thomas Becket), St Erkenwald (Bede's St Earconwald). Cloister, Castle and Town literature.

The Scottish Chaucerians: King James I of Scotland, who had been imprisoned by the English and educated by them, was the initiator of the school, using 'Rhyme royal' in his Kingis Quair. Other Scottish Chaucerians include Robert Henryson, author of the Boethian and Chaucerian Testament of Creseid, and William Dunbar, author of the Golden Targe and other works. They are Lowland Scots from the area around Edinburgh, who were Anglian settlers, not Celtic Highlanders and Islanders. Robert Henryson describes preparing to write his Testament of Cresseid, in a cold Scottish Lent, ed. Bruce Dickens, London: Faber and Faber, 1925, p. 7:

  I mend the fyre and beikit me about,
  Than tuik ane drink my spreitis to comfort
  And armit me weill fra the cauld thairout.
  To cut the winter nicht and mak it schort
  I tuik ane Quair and left all uther sport,
  Writtin be worthie Chaucer glorious
  Of fair Cresseid, and worthie Troylus.

[I mend the fire and warm myself
Then take a drink to comfort my spirits
And arm me well from the cold about.
To cut the winter night and make it short
I take a Book and left all other sport,
Written by worthy Chaucer glorious
Of fair Cresseid and worthy Troilus.]

Compare and contrast Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Henryson's Testament of Creseid. Create a similar dream vision poem from the fiction of falling asleep over a book.

Sermon Literature: Sermons that could be preached are given in the Vercelli Manuscript, Mirk's Festial, William Langland's Piers Plowman, Chaucer's Parson's Sermon in the Canterbury Tales, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Lollards. Cloister and Town literature.

Social Awareness Literature: Wynnere and Wastoure, Piers Plowman, Wyclif, Lollard texts, Second Shepherds' Play. University, Town and Field literature.

Texts by and/or for Women: 'Wife's Lament', Mechtild of Hackeborn, Ancrene Wisse and Katherine Group, Aelred of Rievaulx, Christina of Markyate, Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, Marguerite Porete, Cloud of Unknowing, Walter Hilton, Ladder of Perfection, Julian of Norwich, Amherst Manuscript, Margery Kempe, Christine de Pizan, Syon Abbey. (See Castle and Cloister literature.

Three Estates: Literature for the Cloister, Monks, Nuns, Hermits, Anchoresses (Monk); Literature for Court and Castle (Knight); Literature for Town and Village (Plowman).

Tristram: Figure in the Arthurian cycle, associated with Cornwall and Ireland. His adultery with King Mark's Queen Iseult parallels that of Lancelot for King Arthur's Queen Guinevere.

Universities: These came into being in twelfth century Oxford and Cambridge, adopted the Greco-Arabic model which excluded women, and emphasized Aristotelian taxonomies, while living with stress between 'town and gown'. For literature featuring them see Nigel Wireker, Chaucer's 'Miller's Tale', 'Reeve's Tale', 'Franklin's Tale', 'Wife of Bath's Tale'. (See

Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love: While in Newgate Prison, awaiting his 1388 execution by hanging, drawing and quartering, Usk wrote the Testament of Love, a prose allegory, modelling it on Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, similarly written while awaiting execution. The work, addressed in an acrostic, which includes the author's name, to a 'Margaret' or pearl, borrows from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Knight's Tale. It is also a paradigm for King James I of Scotland's similar book written while a prisoner of the English, The Kingis Quair.

Vercelli Manuscript: An Anglo-Saxon or Irish monk left behind at Vercelli, perhaps because he died there, a manuscript that contains sermons and poems in Old English related to pilgrimage, including the Andreas, the Elene and the 'Dream of the Rood'. Sermons, EETS 300; Poems, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 2. (See Dream of the Rood,

Voyage of Bran: A mystical Irish text, closely related to figures in 'Branwen Daughter of Llr' in the Mabinogion, of a voyage to the Otherworld, told in verse and prose, part pagan, part Christian. The Irish also freely translated into their language classical Greek texts such as the Odyssey (Meirud Ulisse Mac Laertes), unknown in this period in England. Verse and prose mixed together tell the story of Bran being encouraged by a woman bringing a branch of apple blossom to his palace, to set sail over the seas. The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal to the Land of the Living, ed. and trans. Kuno Mayer. London: David Nutt, 1895.

Crib dind abaill a hEmain
Dofed samail do guthaib,
gsci findarggait fora,
abrait glano co in-blthaib.

[A branch of the apple-tree from Emain
I bring, like those one knows;
Twigs of white silver are on it,
Crystal brows with blossoms.] 

Voyage of St Brendan
: The Saints' Legend of St Brendan, who journeys from island to island in the Atlantic and of his adventures and miracles. Perhaps a Christianizing of the Voyage of Bran? Popular throughout Europe, these literary voyages prompted Dante's Commedia and Columbus' voyage to America.
Compare and contrast the Voyage of Bran and the Voyage of St Brendan.

Wars of the Roses
: England, in the fifteenth century, was torn apart by the struggle for the crown of the Lancastrian and York dynasties, not to be reconciled until the marriage between them wrought by the Tudors. Unlike the rich literature of the fourteenth century, the fifteenth century produces little that is notable in the English language apart from Malory and the Scottish Chaucerians.

John Whiterig
: A Benedictine from Durham, educated at Oxford with Adam Easton, he then became a hermit on Farne Island, writing contemplative treatises in Latin, which Julian uses in her Showing, and a Life of St Cuthbert. John Whiterig, Christ Crucified and Other Meditations, ed. David Hugh Farmer, trans. Dame Frideswide Sandeman OSB, Gracewing, 1994. (See

        Chapter 5, folio 8:

Aliud nolo triticum nisi temetipsum: da michi ergo teipsum, et cetere tolle tibi. Quid enim michi est in celo, et quid plus quam te optaui super terram? Certe quicquid est preter te non michi sufficit preter te, nec est munus apud te quod tantum desidero sicut te. Si ergo uelis replere in bonis desiderium meum, nichil aliud michi des nisi temetipsum. Non enim coram te cupiditas mea placeret si aliquid aliud, quod tu non es, plus quam te optaret.

[I wish for no other wheat but thee: give me thyself, and the rest take for thyself. For what have I in heaven, and what have I desired more than thee on earth? Whatever there is besides thee does not satisfy me without thee, nor hast thou any gift to bestow which I desire so much as thee. If therefore thou hast a mind to satisfy my desire with good things, give me nought but thyself. For my desire would not be pleasing in thy sight, if I longed for something other than thee more than thee.]

Julian of Norwich, Prayer, Showing of Love, Westminster Manuscript, folios 75 verso-76:

God for
i goodnes 3eue vnto me thy selfe: for ou art I nough to me. & I may no thing aske at is lesse. at may be full wurshypp to thee. And yf I aske enythyng at is lesse. Euer me wantith but only in e I haue all.

od for your goodness give to me yourself. For you are enough to me. And I may ask nothing that is less, that may be full worthy of you. And if I ask anything that is less, ever I shall want, but only in you I have all.

Nigel Wireker,
Speculum Stultorum: A beast fable written in Latin verse, whose hero is a donkey, satirizing education, by a contemporary of Thomas Becket. Used by Chaucer in the Nuns' Priest's Tale of The Canterbury Tales.
Compare the Speculum Stultorum and Chaucer's Nuns' Priest's Tale.

John Wyclif
: An Oxford University Professor of Theology, his desire for worker priests, proficient in Biblical scholarship and able to communicate with the people in the spirit of the Gospel, which they translated into English, sparked a revolution in England, the Peasants' Revolt. Wyclif was supported by Richard II's Queen, Anne of Bohemia, and by John, Duke of Gaunt, the king's uncle. He was attacked by the Benedictine Adam Easton of Norwich and condemned at the Earthquake Council at Blackfriars, London. He died at Lutterworth Parsonage in 1384. Wyclif's followers were condemned as Lollards and heretics, many being burned to death at the stake. Margery Kempe is at risk of such a condemnation and execution as she travels about England during the various Lollard Revolts associated with the figure of Sir John Oldcastle. Chaucer's ideal Parson is possibly a Wyclif figure. EETS 74; Lollard texts include Dives and Pauper EETS 275, 280, 323, Sermons EETS 294, 301, 317.
Discuss John Wyclif's Gospel ideals in the figures of Langland's Piers the Plowman and Chaucer's Parson.

Wynnere and Wastoure
: A splendid though unfinished alliterative vision poem in which 'Wynnere', the folk who toil to produce, and 'Wastoure', the consuming class, debate with each other. It is a political allegory set in the time of Edward II and his son, the Black Prince, and makes use of the 'Honi soit qui mal y pense', 'Shame to him who evil thinks', of the Order of the Garter, used also at the ending of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

besantes=coins, Byzantine coins; hathell=man; hethyng=shame. EETS 297; Age of Chaucer, ed. Boris Ford, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965, p. 317:

And als I prayed for the pese . till the prynce come,
For he was worthiere in witt . than any wy ells
For to ridde and to rede . and to rewlyn the wrothe
That aythere here appon hethe . had un-till othere.
At the creste of a clyffe . a caban was rerede,
Alle rayled with rede . the rofe and the sydes,
With Inglisse besantes full brighte . betyn of golde,
And ichone gaily umby-gone . with garters of Inde,
And iche a gartare of golde . gerede full riche.
Then were thies wordes in the webbe . warped of he,
Paynted of plunket, . and poyntes by-twene,
That were fourmed full fayre . appon freshe lettres,
And alle was it one sawe, . appon Inglisse tonge
Hethyng have the hathell . that any harme thynkes.

[And I prayed for peace, until the prince come,
For he was worthier in wit than any other man
To govern and advise and to rule the wrathful
That were on the heath, each against the other.
At the top of a cliff, a pavilion was raised,
All striped in red, both its roof and its sides,
With bright English coins, beaten from gold.
And each one surrounded with an Indian garter,
And each a garter of gold, richly woven.
These were the words in the web, worked above them,
Painted with blue, and with points in between,
That were beautifully formed, with fresh letters,
And all with one phrase in the English language,

'Shame to him who evil thinks'.]


The medieval literature of the British Isles is profoundly multi-cultural, using many languages and dialects, genres and forms, both oral and scribal, and also it shamelessly borrows from Pan-European literatures, particularly from France and from Italy, from Rome, from Greece. In this literature women have a voice as well as do men. There are great spiritual depths, there is much playfulness. As you study these writers and these texts, make them come alive to yourself, listen to their different languages and dialects, and to their music, see their manuscripts' miniatures, and imagine these ancient and most beautiful books on parchment and paper, with their illuminations, as like our modern computer videos and I-pod tunes, of stories told to you across time and space, a word-hoard given to you which you, too, can shape into the literature read in centuries to come.



Medieval Women's Pilgrimages. Key: Helena of York, Rome, Sinai, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Constantinople; Egeria of Spain, Sinai, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Constantinople, copying Helena's pilgrimages, travelling, Bible in hand, the Vetus Latina before Jerome's Vulgate, to the places of the Bible; Paula and Eustochium of Rome, Jerusalem and Bethlehem; Guthrithyr of Iceland, Vinland and Rome; Bridget of Ireland and Sasso; Margaret of Jerusalem, Beverley, Froidmont; Birgitta of Sweden, Compostela, Rome, Jerusalem, Bethelehem; Margery Kempe of Lynne, Compostela, Rome, Jerusalem, Bethelehem

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