Dane Hew, the Munk of Leicestre: Introduction

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Dane Hew, the Munk of Leicestre: Introduction

from: Ten Bourdes  2013


Dane Hew is article S.Seld.D.45(6) in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Its printer, John Alde, has not dated it. According to Arber’s Stationers’ Register, Alde (Alday or Aldee in the Register) printed books between 1560 and 1584 and so those dates can be taken as the earliest and latest possible dates for that edition (see Arber, Transcript of the Registers). The RSTC estimates “1560?”

Dane Hew belongs to a group of twenty-six chapbooks, formerly bound together while in the collection of John Selden (1584–1654). Of the twenty-six in Selden’s collection, many are medieval stories that have been revised to fit the chapbook format and to modernize the language for a sixteenth-century audience, for example, Kynge Richarde cuer du lyon (published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1528) and Syr Bevis of Hampton (published by Thomas East around 1582).

The first page of Dane Hew is headed “Heere beginneth a / mery Iest of Dane Hew Munk of Lei- / cestre, and how he was foure times slain / and once hanged.” The rest of the page is taken up with a large woodcut (12.5 by 9.5 cm) divided into five compartments, each with a picture of one of the slayings or the hanging. The bottom picture, which represents the jousting scene, is twice as wide as the others.

The colophon reads “Imprinted at Lon / don at the long Shop adioyning onto Saint Mildreds Churche in the / Pultrie, by John Alde.”


Dane Hew appears in the following early or informative editions:

1812. Heere beginneth a mery Iest of Dane Hew Munk of Leicestre, and how he was foure times slain and once hanged. J[oseph] H[aslewood], ed. In The British Bibliographer, ed. Sir Egerton Brydges and Joseph Haslewood. London: R. Triphook. 2:593–601.

1829. Heere beginneth a mery Iest of Dane Hew Munk of Leicestre, and how he was foure times slain and once hanged. Charles Henry Hartshorne, ed. Ancient Metrical Tales. London: W. Pickering. Pp. 316–29.

1866. A Mery Jest of Dane Hew Munk of Leicestre. William Carew Hazlitt, ed. Remains of the Early Popular Poetry of England. London: John Russell Smith. 3:130–46.

1985. Dane Hew, Munk of Leicestre. Melissa M. Furrow, ed. Ten Fifteenth-Century Comic Poems. New York: Garland. Pp. 155–74.


Dane Hew is not listed in NIMEV.

It is addressed by Thomas Cooke in volume 9 (1992) of the Manual, section 24 Tales [23], Dane Hew, Munk of Leicestre.

It is number 13257 in RSTC.

The motif “the corpse killed five times” is listed in ATU as 1537.


The meter of this poem is exceptionally ragged. The rhymed couplet format is a simple one, but lines range from six syllables (“He is foorth of the town,” line 71) to thirteen (“And when the day began to appeer in the morning,” line 61), and no accentual pattern is easily picked out. The rhyming, even with allowance made for variant and dialectal forms of words, still takes a great deal of license: anon/bacon (lines 229–30), lusty/fansy (7–8), houre/door (63–64), town/noon (71–72), him/time (179–80), and so on.

Any attempt to pin down the date of the composition of the poem by the state of its language is confounded by inconsistencies. For example, the form thore for there is in rhyming position at line 224 with sore. It is last cited in OED in 1470. But on the other hand, the word vow in line 164 is earliest cited by OED in the sense used in the poem in 1593. (Further analysis of the language of the poem is in my earlier edition, pp. 160–62.)

A hypothesis that accounts for both the awkward poetry and chronologically inconsistent language in the poem is that Dane Hew as we have it is a sixteenth-century printer’s-shop modernization of a fifteenth-century poem. This conjecture gains support from the fact that a similar fate befell Jack and His Stepdame, which as The Friar and the Boy was modernized between printed version D (1584–89) and printed version A (1617), both printed by John Alde’s son Edward. The Friar and the Boy (1584–89) is another one of the chapbooks in Selden’s collection. But the modernization of Dane Hew is inept. Sometimes archaic forms are left, particularly where required by the rhyme, like thore; sometimes alterations destroy the rhyme and the metrical coherence. A priori, the first two lines of the poem give the best clues as to its time and date of composition:
In olde time ther was in Lecester town
An abbay of munks of gret renown . . .
On the face of them, these lines might put the composition of the poem well after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and would suggest that the poet was writing in or near Leicester. But as the introduction to The Freiris of Berwik argues, that poem was not written in Berwick, and there is no real reason to believe this poem had to come from Leicester. Perhaps a nearby rival town of comparable importance, such as Nottingham or Lincoln, is a possibility for its origins. And if we accept the hypothesis that the poem was revised, it would be the revision that places the abbey in the past.

There is little reliable dialectal information left in the poem as we have it, but the rhyme sore/thore at lines 223–24 is likely to preserve the poet’s usage. Thore and variant spellings with the vowel o are forms used for there in a restricted area of the North and Midlands of England: LALME lists Yorkshire, its North and West Riding, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire, and northern Middle English (unspecified) as places in which these forms occur. The rhyme first/list at lines 79–80 suggests forms such as frist or even fist for first; such forms are found in the Midlands and North but overlap with the thore forms in Yorkshire, its North and West Riding, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, and northern Middle English (unspecified). These locations provide a field of possibilities for the origin of the poem.

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