SIR CORNEUS: FOOTNOTES
1 That is, “I do not need to ask anyone’s permission to be one.”
SIR CORNEUS: EXPLANATORY NOTES
Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
31-32 Yff any cokwold drynke of it, / Spyll he schuld withouten lette. The verbs are both subjunctive, and the tenses mixed. Modern agreement of the tenses would put “drynke” in the past.
52 The tabull dormonte, withoute lette. A seat at a table dormant or fixed table (as opposed to removable boards on trestles) would be comparatively a position of honor in the king’s hall.
59 Garlandes of wylos schuld be fette. A willow garland was symbolic of forsaken love, as in John Heywood’s “Ballad of the Green Willow.” See the introduction for further discussion of the symbols of cuckoldry.
74 The duke of Gloucester meant here may be Duke Humphrey (duke from 1414 to his death in 1447), who is remembered as an important scholar, having donated a large collection of books to Oxford University. More importantly to this context, however, both of his wives had complicated personal histories. The first, Jacqueline, countess of Hainault, declared her unhappy marriage to John IV, duke of Brabant, annulled so that she would be free to marry Humphrey, which she did secretly in 1422 or 1423. But her efforts to reclaim her territory in Hainault from her uncle led to her capture and imprisonment in 1425. In her absence, Humphrey had a sexual relationship with the beautiful Eleanor Cobham, her lady-in-waiting, and failed to send troops to Jacqueline’s rescue until 1427. The troops were unsuccessful. Once the pope declared in 1426 that Jacqueline’s marriage to her prior husband was still valid and confirmed again in 1428, after John IV died, that her marriage to Humphrey was therefore invalid, the duke of Gloucester married Eleanor Cobham. (By 1432 Jacqueline herself was married again, to Frank von Borselen.) Eleanor’s sexual and personal history was if anything more problematic than Jacqueline’s. Jacqueline, who technically was involved in an adulterous relationship with Humphrey himself while she was living in what she maintained to be marriage with him, appears to have been a woman more sinned against than sinning, and there is evidence that the English people liked and sympathized with her in her difficulties. Some women of London went in support of her to Parliament in 1428 and “handed letters to Gloucester, the two Archbishops and other lords there, censuring the duke for not taking steps to relieve his wife from her danger, and for leaving her unloved and forgotten in captivity, whilst he was living in adultery with another woman, ‘to the ruin of himself, the kingdom, and the marital bond’” (Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, p. 203). John Lydgate, who had written a poem celebrating the impending marriage of Humphrey and Jacqueline, wrote a sympathetic “Complaint for my Lady of Gloucester and Holland” — or perhaps it was another contemporary poet who did so. But Eleanor on the other hand was Humphrey’s mistress during his marriage to the unfortunate Jacqueline; then she was accused along with others of treasonable necromancy in the service of killing the king, Humphrey’s nephew Henry VI, to whose throne Humphrey was by then the heir. What she appears to have been guilty of is having the king’s horoscope cast to find out the likelihood of his death (which would make her queen of England), and she also admitted to using potions got from the Witch of Eye to enable her impregnation by the duke. The witch, Margery Jourdemayne, was burned. Eleanor was only forcibly divorced from Humphrey, compelled to do public penance, and imprisoned for the rest of her life. (See G. L. Harriss, “Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester (c.1400–1452),” ODNB). Despite the forced divorce, however, Humphrey’s political influence was hurt by Eleanor’s fall, and he died of a stroke about six years later, after being arrested (see G. L. Harriss, “Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390–1447),” ODNB).
The other possible references, if a real duke of Gloucester is being alluded to, are the earlier duke, Thomas of Woodstock (duke 1385–97), son of Edward III, murdered in prison in 1397 while awaiting trial for treason against his nephew Richard II, and the later one, Richard of Gloucester (duke 1461–83, at which point he took the throne from his young nephew Edward V, declaring him illegitimate; the boy and his brother soon thereafter disappeared, and Richard of Gloucester reigned as Richard III). Thomas of Woodstock, however sensational his political machinations and subsequent death, was married to a woman of unremarkable sexual history, Eleanor de Bohun, who was married to him as a child, bore him five children, and entered a convent when he died. Richard of Gloucester was married to Anne Neville, a widowed princess of Wales, in 1472, and there were not as far as I know rumors of impropriety attached to her. All three dukes had many political enemies as well as admirers. But because of his relations with his two wives, Duke Humphrey seems the most likely referent in a poem about sexual scandal at court, and that being the case, a date for the poem after Jacqueline’s marriage to someone else was officially declared as valid (1426) would be the earliest likely one, and a date after the disgrace of Eleanor Cobham more likely. A date before there was another duke of Gloucester to confuse the reference (that is, before 1461) is also more likely. The duke of Gloucester in this poem never actually takes the test and tries to drink from the horn: he defers to Arthur and lets him go first, and once Arthur does so it is no longer of such interest to him whether the duke is a cuckold. And indeed it is not a cuckold that Duke Humphrey’s alliance with Jacqueline or enchantment with Eleanor would make him. It remains entirely possible that no particular duke of Gloucester is meant, and the title was used because there was no contemporary holder of the title to be offended.
91 erle. The poem is inconsistent about Gloucester’s title, whether duke or earl, although by the fifteenth century Gloucester was always a ducal title.
96 Here and at lines 107 and 204, a cuckold is identified as someone who has no gall: that is to say, someone who is so meek and mild as not to object to being cheated on.
116 Hath usyd the baskefysyke. From bask or baisk, “bitter,” and fisike or modern physic, “medicine.” In the sole other citation for this word in MED (under bask-fisik), the bitter treatment implied there too may be sexual intercourse: “Do alle youre men be war of the furst frutes and wyne, the whiche be right lustye ate the beginning and hynderyng to mennes hele; and so is a thing called basfysike.”
118 And oft thei have draw that draught. This is a metaphor taken from chess. “They have often made that move.”
119 To use wele the lecheres craft. This may be a pun on lecher and leecher (a physician).
170 Seynt Austyn. Perhaps the bishop of Hippo (354–430), but more likely the local St. Augustine (d. 604) who founded the Christian church in southern England and was the first archbishop of Canterbury.
186 To were a cokwoldes hate. Hoods were the usual symbols of cuckolds in the English Middle Ages. See the introduction for a discussion of the newer symbols the poem uses.
188 Sche changyd hyr colour lesse and mour. “Lesse and mour” is a tag useful in rhyming position, frequent in this poem, often meaning no more than “everybody” or “everything”; here it suggests that the queen’s blushes came and went.
190 gan is a marker of the past tense in this poem. The kyng gan hyr behold = the king beheld her, looked at her.
200–01 That cokwoldes schuld begynne the bord / And sytt hyest in the halle. That is, cuckolds are to take the most honorable position of all, where the king normally sits: at the head of the table on the dais.
207 The king gets the cuckolds to wash. Before eating, at least in gentry households and noble ones, those dining would customarily be brought water and towels with which to wash their hands. There is a hint here of being washed free of shame as the cuckolds are shown to be no worse than the king and raised to a much higher status at table than they are used to.
218 That man aught me gode loffe. This is an ambiguous line. It means “that man showed pure friendship for me” but also “that man was bound to render (or owed) friendly behavior to me.” In other words, Arthur is overtly acknowledging that his wife’s lover has done him a great favor by entertaining his wife, but in another interpretation, implying that his wife’s lover must have sworn allegiance to Arthur (yet has betrayed him).
241–49 This nine-line stanza is the one deviation from the standard stanzaic pattern of the poem. It is not noticeably weaker (or stronger) poetically than the other stanzas, though, and so may well be original. The filler “withouten les” (line 244) to rhyme with “kinges des” (line 245) is no worse than “vereament” to rhyme with “home he went” in the preceding stanza (lines 238–39), and “gle” (line 243, meaning “entertainment”) to rhyme with “gle” (line 249, meaning “instrumental music”) is very little worse than “ever one” (line 142, meaning “all the same”) to rhyme with “everychon” (line 143, meaning “each one”). As a variant on the regular pattern, the stanza might be taken to be bringing the poem to a satisfying conclusion, but its position in second-last place weakens that effect.
As George Shuffelton points out, though, Rate’s scribal practice is rolling revision as he transcribes (see Codex Ashmole 61, pp. 5–6); so the many empty fillers in the poem and this odd stanza form might be attributable to him.
247–49 That is, to bear that name whenever the story is performed, to a harp or other instrument.
SIR CORNEUS: TEXTUAL NOTES
title No title in MS, but compare lines 246–48.
14 MS reads: He hoouryd them both dey and nyght.
19 MS reads: Herkynges sires what I sey.
98 MS reads: And to the kyng these wordes spake. Emendation for rhyme.
149 MS reads: All these cokwold that her is in. The abbreviation for this is identical to that for these in this scribe’s work. Emendation for sense.
206 MS reads: The kyng causyd the the cokwoldes ychon. Emendation for sense.
233 MS reads: And thankyd god a C syth.
239 MS reads: Toke hys leve and home he wentet. The final –et may be by another hand.
248 MS reads: And manyd it after hys awne name. Emendation for sense.
Go To The Boy and the Mantle: Introduction