Item 2, Right as a Ram's Horn


1 So that no man shall oppress children or townspeople


Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; EETS: Early English Text Society; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases.

Title No title or incipit. The poem is occasionally cited as “Rammeshorne,” “Ram’s Horn,” or “As Right as a Ram’s Horn,” but this is the title provided in Mac­Crack­en’s EETS edition, modernized for consistency.

6 Prudens setys all thingys beforne. Alternatively, the line may be understood as “Pru­dence sets all things before itself,” i.e., “Prudence considers everything.”

8 Conveyd by a lyne right as a rammys horne. The Middle English sense of “conveyed” has a range of meanings, including “directed,” “guided,” “carried on,” as well as “written.” “Right” is likewise multivalent: “just,” “true,” or, most pointedly here, “straight.” The refrain thus suggests at least two possible senses: that communal life follows a crooked or curved line (and thus has gone awry) or that the text preceding the refrain is as true as a ram’s horn is straight. The phrase “right as a ram’s horn” is itself proverbial; see Whiting R27.

9 wyll maynten non wrong. Though the word maynten may simply mean “support” here, it may also suggest a particular abuse. “Maintenance,” the support of a wide network of loosely affiliated retainers by means of payment and livery (gifts of clothing), was the subject of much complaint in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England (see line 11, “wyll maynten no falsyd”). The practice raised par­ticular concern when lords used their power to back their retainers in legal cases, even when retainers were suspected of gross abuses and violence. This kind of main­tenance could take the form of intimidating witnesses and bribing justices. For an overview of these and related problems, see Michael Hicks, Bastard Feudalism (Lon­don: Longman, 1995), pp. 110–36.

25 Out of this lond. This stanza lacks one line, possibly omitted inadvertently in the process of rewriting Lydgate’s stanza. Compare with lines 41–45 of Mac­Cracken’s edition of the usual version:
Owte of this londe — and elles God forbede! —
Owtlawed ben Feynynge and Falsenesse;
And Flatrie is fled, for verrai drede;
Riche and pore have chose hem to Sadnesse,
Women lefte Pride, and take hem to Mekenesse.
(Lydgate, The Minor Poems 2:463).
32 Crysten Cowrte ther correccions do spred. Ecclesiastical or consistory courts had jurisdiction over a wide range of matters, including marriage, adultery, and blasphemy. The portrait of Chaucer’s Summoner in the General Prologue and the predatory summoner of the Friar’s Tale are good introductions to the kinds of accusations made against these courts. See also Hahn and Kaeuper, “Text and Context: Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale.

35 Ther schall no pounde be ther penance. This line presumably connects to the follow­ing one, and suggests an idealized world in which summoners do not accept bribes (“no pounde”) and bring all sinners to the consistory courts, where they would be forced to make amends and do penance.

45 Questemonggers. “Questmongers” were the subject of frequent medieval com­plaints. The word refers to those who profit from legal inquests either by mak­ing false claims or by offering false witness in exchange for a bribe.

48 Mynstrels make men myrth for no mede. Complaints about minstrels and popular entertainers, though not widespread, are not uncommon. Two longer alliterative works, Piers Plowman and Winner and Wastour, include complaints about min­strels and their influence in courtly life, and there are similar cri­tiques in French literature. See, for an overview, A. Taylor, “Fragmentation, Corruption, and Minstrel Narration,” pp. 58–59.

60 Scribes and Fareseys. Lydgate’s original line reads “Eretikes” (heretics); one manu­script reads “ipocritis” (hypocrites). Presumably Rate has introduced this alter­ation, but his intended target is not entirely clear. The phrase may refer to clerical hypocrisy, a common enough subject of satire. Alternatively, these lines may follow Lydgate’s reference to Lollards, religious dissidents who attacked the practices of the established Church. Lollards criticized the Church’s considerable wealth, its reliance on images and theater, and the doctrine of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. Though calling Lollards “scribes and pharisees” does not seem to have been common, they were imagined to be particularly puritanical about blasphe­mous oaths and hypocritical in their displays of piety. For an instance of this depiction, and a likely source of Lydgate’s phrase in line 61, wedyd the cokyll clen oute of the corn, see the Man of Law’s Epilogue (CT I[A]1183). The phrase ulti­mately derives from the parable of the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24–30.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

11 Knyghthod. MS: Knyghod.

19 carpe of our. MS: carpe our.

27 eld. MS: held.

28 mekenes. MS: menes.

36 Sumoners. MS: Symoners.

41 overpresse. MS: overpursse.

45 Questemonggers. MS: Questmerggers.

52 when. MS: whem.
there at. MS: there as.

54 felyschyp. MS: felyschyd.

57 How Vertues over Vyces. MS: Hod Vyces on Vertues.
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Item 2, Right as a Ram's Horn

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Thus Ryghtwysnes do now procede,
And sytyht lyke a gay emprece.
Law hath lorn all maner of mede,
And settyht up Treuth als hyghe as God is.
Gode Feyth hath outelauwed all doubylnes,
And Prudens setys all thingys beforne,
Kepyng the ordour of perfyte stabulnes,
Conveyd by a lyne ryght as a rammys horne.

Princes of custom, thei wyll maynten non wrong,
And Prelatys lyve in holynes.
Knyghthod wyll maynten no falsyd among,
And Prestehode hath refused all ryches.
And Relygion of verrye holynes
With perfyte lernyng up beth borne.
Envy in cloyster hath non entres,
Conveyed by a lyne ryght as a rammys horn.

Merchandys of lucre thei take non hede,
And Usry lyth fetered in destres.
To carpe of our werke of Womanhede,
Thei have banesched away all strangenes.
Servantys doth allway there bysenes
That of the dey non owre be lorn;
With suete and traveyll thei pute awey Idelnes,
Conveyd by a lyne . . .

Out of this lond — els God forbede —
Is baneschyd Symonye and Falsed also.
Yonge and eld hathe takyn sadnes them to.
Women hath loste pride and take them to mekenes,
Whos pacyens is gode both at even and morn;
Ther tonges hath no talent to schrewdnes,
Conveyed by a lyn . . .

Crysten Cowrte ther correccions do spred,
More for soule helth than for symony, as I gesse;
Right schall be reseyved withouten any mede.
Ther schall no pounde be ther penance,
And Sumoners wyll sofere no synne in ther offyce;
Thei travell for the treuth, ther clothes be torne,
Ther may no mede make them hold ther pece,
Conveyd by a lyn . . .

Schyrifes of chyres, thei take so gode hede
That babys and burges schall no man overpresse,1
Nor thei wyll not endyte a man for any mede,
Bot Ryche Men be mersyfull to more and lesse.
Leders of the law, thei have refusyd ryches,
Questemonggers on bokys, thei wyll not be forsuorn;
Thes men perchas tham heven expresse,
Conveyd by a lyn . . .

Mynstrels make men myrth for no mede,
Bot for soule helth to sette men in sadnes.
Treuly thei do ther almys dede
To the pore pepull that lyves in destres,
And when thei mete togeder, there at festys es,
The more the meryer; therfor thei wyll not mourne.
When thei feyle felyschyp, than be thei in hevynes,
Conveyd by a lyn . . .

Princes, remembyr you, and prudently take hede
How Vertues over Vyces is wexen a duches.
Owre Feyth holdys not bot byleve in his Crede;
The Ryght Beleve he beryth wytnes,
The Scribes and Fareseys hath left ther frewardnes
And wedyd the cokyll clen oute of the corn.
Thus be we governed, for soth as I gesse,
Conveyed by lyn . . .
Righteousness; (see note)
sits; empress
forfeited; bribe
governs above all else; (see note)
Directed by (written by); (see note)

support no one in the wrong; (see note)
Prelates (churchmen)
falsehood; (t-note)

is supported

Merchants; no heed
Usury; fettered in distress
      To speak of the work of our women; (t-note)
banished; novelty

[So] that; no hour is lost
sweat and labor

[that it be] else (otherwise); (see note)
Simony and Falsehood
seriousness unto themselves; (t-note)

inclination to shrewishness

Ecclesiastical courts; discipline; (see note)
souls’ health
received; bribe
(i.e., no bribe; see note); (see note)
allow; (t-note)

Sheriffs of shires
indict; reward

False witnesses; (see note); (t-note)
earn for themselves heaven directly

give men entertainment; (see note)
soul’s health; seriousness

ease (joy); (t-note)

lack company; sadness; (t-note)

has become a duchess; (t-note)
holds nothing but

Pharisees; obstinacy; (see note)
weeded the cockle (tares)

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