Friar Daw's Reply: Introduction

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Friar Daw's Reply: Introduction

FDR, an alliterative poem in 932 lines, answers JU in a point-for-point rebuttal. It exists in a unique manuscript, Bodleian MS Digby 41 (mid-fifteenth century book hand), which was extensively altered by correctors; and in two modern editions, those of Thomas Wright for the Rolls Series (1861) and of P. L. Heyworth (1968 with JU and UR), the standard edition. Although W. W. Skeat did not edit FDR, he provided copious references to its arguments in the Explanatory Notes to JU, thereby helping to document the connections between the two works. FDR has traditionally been dated in the early fifteenth century (Wright and Skeat thought about 1402), but Heyworth has offered a later date, about 1419-20. Wright, Skeat, and Heyworth base their datings on internal allusions, specifically to the hanging of friars in 1402 (Wright, Skeat) and to reference to taxation and sorcery (Heyworth).

The explicit to FDR identifies the author as "Iohannes Walssingham" (after line 933); and the narrator, also known as Friar Daw Topias, mentions that he was once a manciple at Merton Hall, Oxford (726), where he "lernede Latyn bi roote of clerkes" (727). Scholars have not been able to confirm that there was a John Walsingham, author, at Oxford during the relevant time, let alone a John Walsingham, friar and manciple, at Merton College. However, Thomas Walsingham, monk and noted historian of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (and of other historical events, in Historia Anglicana and the Chronicles of St. Albans), was associated with Oxford, was anti-Lollard, and was still alive in 1422. The best answer to the authorship question is that Daw/Walsingham cannot be identified with any confidence.

Because of its close relationship with JU and UR, FDR has usually been taken seriously as a fraternal answer to a Lollard work, with UR in turn as a Lollard retort to the mendicant poem. But it is possible that the trio of works, although by different authors, should be considered together as generally anticlerical - that they undermine one another much as each fraternal order discredits the others in PPC. The name "Daw" is an obvious pseudonym, like "Jack Upland" or "Piers Plowman." Taken together with "Jack," however, "Daw" suggests the chattering or jangling of a noisy bird, the jackdaw. Friar Daw wages a tit for tat verbal skirmish with his antagonist, "Jack," but is sometimes reduced to defending himself by saying, for example, "Ther we piken but seely pans [from the poor and rich], thi secte pikith poundis" (327). Daw damns his fraternal order with faint praise when he claims that they do not wear the very finest of clothing (353-57): Jack must blame the wearer rather than the institution. He does not deny that he wears a "grete hood," a "wide cope," or a "knottide girdil"; instead, he attacks Upland for his tippet, "as longe as a stremer" (360). Daw is a master of the ineffective tu quoque, as when he says that there may be a multitude of friars but there are even more priests (824-28). Moreover, Daw's characterization of himself as being "lewid as a leke" (45) or as not knowing an "a" from a windmill or a "b" from a bull's foot (212-13) seems to go beyond the conventional modesty topos of other writers; he does "Upland's" work for him in those lines. As a result, both Upland and Daw are undercut. The model for the sequences JU and FDR, or FDR and UR would be Chaucer's tales of the Friar and Summoner, neither of them normative. In any event, "Friar Daw Topias" should probably be regarded as a fictional literary character and not, as Skeat says, "a Dominican" or, as Heyworth would have it, a member of the London Blackfriars. There was precedent for this kind of persona-narrator, since the author of The Friar's Answer (St. John's Coll. Cambridge MS 195; HP XIV & XV, pp. 166-68) to The Layman's Complaint is no more a friar than is the author of The Friar's Tale. Penn Szittya has suggested "the possibility of pairing in the poetry of the fraternal controversies" (The Antifraternal Tradition, p. 197), which seems entirely likely in the case of JU and FDR.

On the other hand, if FDR was indeed written by a friar in response to JU there is certainly precedent for mendicant embroilment in similar controversy. In 1356-57 Richard FitzRalph, Bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, delivered a series of antifraternal sermons in London, and the four principal fraternal orders - Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Austins - responded with an Appellacio delivered to FitzRalph's London home by Friar John of Arderne, prior of the London Austins. Although FitzRalph was conveniently not at home, or not responding to the friar's knock, he condemned friars in another sermon two days later at St. Paul's Cross while at the same time refuting the charges lodged against him by Friar John and the London mendicants. At the Papal Court in Avignon, 1357, FitzRalph defended himself against fraternal accusations by reading aloud his Defensio curatorum and by demanding that friars be stripped of their privileges, a demand summarized in a formal Libellus (little book of charges). The friars replied with their own Libellus, which contained their countercharges against FitzRalph; and each party responded to the other's Libellus with Allegaciones and Exceptiones. This climate of acrimonious debate, with charge and countercharge, resembles the literary atmosphere of JU, FDR, followed by UR.

A significant feature of FDR and UR (but not JU) is their reliance on Latin scriptural quotations to bolster the arguments in alliterative verse. The technique derives from Piers Plowman in which the biblical quotations are fundamental to the poem's fabric and idea. Langland presupposes a scripturally-literate audience for his poem, whereas Daw/Walsingham adduces biblical texts as if his antagonist, "Jakke Uplond," were only slightly acquainted with them. Indeed, he constantly accuses "Jakke" of not being properly "grounded" in God's law (the Ten Commandments) or in Christ's law (the Gospels), by which he means that Upland's doctrine and form of living cannot be endorsed in Scripture. At the same time he tries hard to document that the fraternal form of living conforms to Christian models as articulated in the New and Old Testaments.

Daw/Walsingham also has a gift for figurative, colorful language and for proverbial expressions. Attempting to explain the mystery of the Eucharist, he accuses Upland and the Wycliffites of misunderstanding the host as a mere sign or symbol, "As we clepen Crist a stoon, a lomb, and a lioun, / And noon of these is Crist, but oonli in figure" (849-50). He also meditates on the number two when he replies to Upland's attack on how friars travel in pairs. He explains the number mystically, "more for the mysterie includid in the noumbre" (784), citing the two Mosaic tablets, the two cherubims in the Temple, and the two in the tabernacle (786-87). Glossing the pit that opens when the fifth angel blows his trumpet (Revelations 9), Daw applies figurative exegesis:

The smorthering smoke is your dymme doctrine,
That flieth out from the flawmes of the develis malice,
That troublith and blindith the iyen of mannis resoun. (175-78) He speaks of how Christ and Lollards are far apart with recourse to proverbs found in Chaucer: "On old Englis it is seid `unkissid is unknowun,' / And many men speken of Robyn Hood and shotte nevere in his bowe" (232-33); and he invites Upland to keep on telling falsehoods with the adage, "For who is oonis suspect, he is half honged" (600).

FDR has seldom been praised as literature. J. P. Oakden has characterized the poem's alliteration as "so corrupt and crude that the usual investigation is quite impossible." The author does not write in the "classical" alliterative long line, it is true; and some lines appear to have little or no alliteration while others seem to contain heavy alliteration, as in these two lines: "How ech man shal be knowun oonli bi his werkes" (115), and "Shending the sacramentis, salve to oure soris" (120). But on occasions the author manages lively semi-alliterating verse, as in these lines where Daw accuses the Lollards of being the hypocrites of Matthew 23:
Who tythith bot ye the anet and the mente,
Sterching your faces to be holden holi,
Blaunchid graves ful of dede bones,
Wandrynge wedercokkes with every wynd waginge? (121-24)
If JU is prose with considerable alliteration for rhetorical effect, FDR is alliterative verse with a number of prosaic passages - or passages in which the alliteration is realized only imperfectly.

The text is based on the edition of P. L. Heyworth and is checked against a microfilm copy of Bodleian MS Digby 41 (abbreviated D) and against Wright's text (abbreviated Wr). My debt to Heyworth's excellent edition will be evident both in the text and the notes, for I have adopted many of his emendations and glosses. I often credit Heyworth in my notes (= PLH), but on other occasions - especially when the corrector is involved - I silently include PLH's emendation or reading. In the footnotes I indicate how the author responds to specific passages in JU (identified by line numbers). For a detailed comparison of the parallel passages (statement and reply) in JU, FDR, and UR, see PLH's edition page 173: Appendix. Scriptural quotations are from the Douai-Rheims version.

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Oxford University Bodleian MS Digby 41, fol. 2.

Modern Editions

Wright, Thomas, ed. The Reply of Friar Daw Topias, with Jack Upland's Rejoinder. In Political Poems and Songs Relating to English History. Rolls Series 14. Vol. 2. London: Longman, Green, 1861.

Heyworth, P. L., ed. Friar Daw's Reply. In Jack Upland, Friar Daw's Reply, and Upland's Rejoinder. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.


Aston, Margaret. Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion. London: Hambledon Press, 1984.

Hudson, Anne. "`No newe thyng': The Printing of Medieval Texts in the Early Reformation Period." In Middle English Studies Presented to Norman Davis in Honour of his Seventieth Birthday. Ed. Douglas Gray and E. G. Stanley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Pp. 153-74.

_____. The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

Oakden, J. P. Alliterative Poetry in Middle English. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1980.

Szittya, Penn. The Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Utley, F. L. "How Judicare Came in the Creed." Mediaeval Studies, 8 (1946), 303-09.


Robbins, Rossell Hope. "XIII. Poems Dealing with Contemporary Conditions" in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500, vol. 5. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1975. Pp. 1450, 1678-79.