Jack Upland: Introduction

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Jack Upland: Introduction

JU is a Wycliffite prose treatise against friars written in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. It survives in two manuscripts, British Library MS Harley 6641 (fifteenth century), and Cambridge University Library MS Ff. vi. 2 (sixteenth century), and in a black-letter edition of about 1536 (the John Gough edition, of which two copies are extant: at Caius College, Cambridge, and at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California). There are also modern editions by Thomas Wright (1861) and Walter W. Skeat (1897), although neither edition is based on the manuscripts. Wright based his text on Thomas Speght's second edition of Chaucer (1602), and he printed his text in half-lines; Skeat based his text on the Gough edition collated with Speght. The standard edition, based on the Harley MS, is edited by P. L. Heyworth (1968). Heyworth's version differs considerably from Skeat's, which lacks material in Heyworth's edition but which also contains text that Heyworth omits.

The prose treatise has inevitably been closely linked with two other works: FDR, an alliterative poem of 932 lines which answers JU; and UR, an antifraternal alliterative poem of 392 lines. Heyworth dates JU to about 1390, FDR to about 1419-20 based on internal allusions, and UR to about 1450 when, according to Heyworth, the holograph manuscript was executed. Skeat, on the other hand, dated all three works to 1402. JU was answered twice: by the anonymous author of FDR and by William Woodford, OFM, in his Responsiones ad quaestiones LXV (Bodley MS 703, fols. 41-57) - a work that dates perhaps from the end of the fourteenth century. If Woodford counted sixty-five points raised by Upland, Skeat in his edition counted sixty-four. JU was also translated into Latin; and it influenced the Wycliffite sermon known as Vae octuplex (the eight-fold woes from Matthew 23), which has been dated to not before 1411.

JU has affinities with PPC in that both works construct a portrait of friars as devious, hypocritical, greedy, simoniacal, unchristian, undisciplined, and clannish; both expose them as disobedient and disloyal to legal authorities, and lovers of luxury. Most of these charges have their origins in the bitter struggles between the secular masters and mendicant faculties at the University of Paris in the thirteenth century, and especially in William of St. Amour's De periculis novissimorum temporum ("On the dangers of the latemost times"). This work, which influenced Jean de Meun, charged that friars were none other than the false prophets and pseudoapostles of Matthew 23 and the "many antichrists" of 1 John 2.

JU differs from PPC in that it tells no actual story; it represents no drama. "Jack Upland," a voice or persona for a rustic type who must decry the times, merely quarrels with an unnamed friar, whom he denounces through a sequence of rhetorical questions, such as, "Frere, if Cristis rule is moost perfight [perfect], whi rulist thou thee not theraftir?" The obvious implication is that this friar, and by extension the fraternal genre, neglects Christ's rules together with the Gospel. Despite the inherent drama of Upland's denunciations, the friar never responds. At the end of the treatise, the author, in Upland's voice, invites the friar to "Go now forth," question his fellow clerks, study Christ's law, and "geve Jacke an answere." This challenge was accepted by Woodford and the anonymous author of FDR.

Upland's point of departure for his antifraternal inquisitions is the idea of Antichrist, the antagonist of Christ and the Gospel. For Upland, as for many other antifraternal authors, the mendicant orders offered prima facie evidence that the forces of Antichrist had arrived. John Wyclif and especially his Lollard followers attacked the established clergy, including friars, as the army of Antichrist. Sometimes anticlerical writers identified the Pope, or the antipope, as Antichrist; sometimes they regarded the hordes of simoniac clerics, and particularly avaricious friars, as a collective Antichrist or the "many antichrists" of 1 John. Sometimes "Antichrist" as a term could designate Satan, the one who would war with God after being released from bondage (Revelations 20.7); more generally, it signified the "devil's work" in the world's latter days. Wycliffites preferred the term's traditional ambiguity.

JU is written in a prose that alliterates often enough to have caused Wright to print the treatise as verse. Heyworth, who correctly prints the work as prose, says that JU "has suffered from Wright's conviction that it is in alliterative verse" (p. 28), but he overstates the case when he says that only three passages "can lay any claim to verse form . . . ; the rest is prose and unequivocally prosaic" (p. 28). It would be more useful to say that the author regularly alliterates, but not according to recognized principles of late medieval English verse. In the following sentence alliteration occurs on m and s: "Thei marren many matins and massis with-out devossioun, and herto sacramentis schulen be soolde or els gete no man noon; and lest thei schulden studie in Goddis lawe he hath ordeyned hem to studie in othere dyvers lawis for the more wynnynge." One could, I suppose, break up this prose into long lines; but it is better to regard it as interesting prose which imitates some techniques of traditional alliterative verse. The latter was often seen as a fit vehicle for satire and complaint, as in PPC and PlT. Nor is it surprising that the respective authors of FDR and UR chose alliterative poetry as their genre of response to JU (which in any case they might have interpreted as alliterative poetry rather than as alliterating prose).

This edition is based on P. L. Heyworth's standard edition (abbreviated PLH) and checked against the manuscript versions: Harley 6641 (abbreviated H) and Ff. vi. 2 (abbreviated C). Of the two MSS I give preference to H's readings over C's in most instances; and I have sometimes restored readings of H which PLH rejected. I have also consulted Skeat's edition (abbreviated Sk), especially his notes, but his (Gough) text is unreliable as a witness to the medieval author's original. I rely on PLH for most readings and even for paragraphing; but my line numbers differ from PLH's.

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Manuscripts and Black-Letter Edition

British Library MS Harley 6641 [abbrev. H].

Cambridge University Library MS Ff. vi. 2 [abbrev. C].

Iack vp Lande. Ihon Gough, c. 1536.

Modern Printed Editions

Wright, Thomas, ed. Jacke Upland. In Political Poems and Songs Relating to English
History. Rolls Series 14. Vol. 1. London: Longmans, Green, 1861.

Skeat, Walter W., ed. Jack Upland. In The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Vol. 7: Chaucerian and Other Pieces. Oxford: Clarendon, 1897.

Heyworth, P. L., ed. Jack Upland. In Jack Upland, Friar Daw's Reply, and Upland's Rejoinder. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968. See also Review by Rossell Hope Robbins, Notes and Queries 215 (1970), 266-67, on the dating of JU, FDR, and UR.

General Studies

Coleman, Janet. Medieval Readers and Writers 1350-1400. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

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

Kendall, Ritchie D. The Drama of Dissent: The Radical Poetry of Non Conformity, 1380-1590. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Peck, Russell A. "Social Conscience and the Poets." Social Unrest in the Late Middle Ages. Ed. Francis X. Newman. Binghamton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1986. Pp. 113-48.

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


Heyworth, P. L. "The Earliest Black-Letter Editions of Jack Upland." Huntington Library Quarterly, 30 (1967), 307-14.

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


Peck, Russell A. Chaucer's Romaunt of the Rose and Boece, Treatise on the Astrolabe, Equatorie of the Planetis, Lost Works and Chaucerian Apocrypha. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1988. Pp. 245 ff. See index.

Robbins, Rossell Hope. "XIII. Poems Dealing with Contemporary Conditions" in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, vol. 5. New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1975. Pp. 1449-50; 1678.