Of the Sodein Fal of Princes in Oure Dayes


ABBREVIATIONS: BL: British Library; FP: Lydgate, Fall of Princes;MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken; PPC: Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council;RP: Rotuli Parliamentorum.

Although Shirley’s headnote describes Of the Sodein Fal of Princes as “seven balades made by Daun Iohn Lydegate” and does not mention any performance context, internal evidence (“Beholde . . . Se howe . . . Se nowe . . . Lo here”) suggests that the verses were designed to accom­pany a visual display, possibly a tapestry or wall-painting (Hammond, “Two Tapestry Poems,” p. 11, and Gerould, “Legends of St. Wulfhad and St. Ruffin,” p. 323), a processional (Pearsall, John Lydgate, p. 180), or a mumming (Robbins, Secular Lyrics, p. 110, and Historical Poems, p. 342). Pearsall (John Lydgate, pp. 180–81) notes that the medieval technique of isolating figures in a series of “stills” that pass before the reader or viewer — common in glass- and panel-painting — was readily transferable to verbal narrative and can be found in various of Lydgate’s compositions including the mural-poem, The Dance of Death (in which Death addresses in turn thirty-five representatives of secular and religious society from pope to child), the Fall of Princes, and even parts of the Troy Book. Parry observes that genealogical pageants of this sort are common in Tudor and Stuart pageantry, as in the pageantry featuring six kings named Henry who welcomed Henry VII at York in 1486 or in the pageant alluded to in the “shew of eight Kings, and Banquo,” which greets Macbeth in Macbeth (“On the Continuity of English Civic Pageantry,” pp. 231–32).

The seven stanzas of Sodein Fal are an offshoot of Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium and represent a condensed updating of Lydgate’s Fall of Princes, extending that poem’s wheel-of-Fortune theme to contemporary English history, perhaps in imitation of Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale. While there is no descriptive headnote indicating provenance, the snapshot portraits of Edward II, Richard II, Charles VI of France, the duke of Orléans, Edward III’s son Thomas of Gloucester, John of Burgundy, and the duke of Ireland, who are brought low because of evil counsel, sickness possibly brought on by sorcery, lechery, murder, the failure of kin and alliances to offer protection, and divorce, would have had relevance for the young Henry VI (whom the council in 1428 had instructed the earl of Warwick to teach with historical exempla [PPC, 3:299]) or his uncle Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, who had com­missioned the Fall of Princes, divorced his first wife, and long been at odds with his brother and uncle over the governance of England. Schirmer (John Lydgate, p. 226) sees Sodein Fal as a kind of epilogue to the Fall of Princes, but notes that Lydgate’s adoption of a pro-Burgundian, anti-Armagnac attitude combined with a “comparatively immature” approach make it likely that Sodein Fal was written before the Fall of Princes. Mention of the death of Charles VI of France, who died in 1422, provides a terminus a quo for dating the poem.

Of the Sodein Fal of Princes survives in Trinity College Cambridge R.3.20, folios 359r–361r; Harley 2251, folio 254r–v; and Stow’s copy of R.3.20, Additional 29729, folios 169v–170r; R.3.20 is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:660–61), collated with the other two manuscripts. The poem has also been edited by Robbins, Historical Poems, pp. 174–75.

running titles: the fale of prynces / of the fal of prynces / the fal of prynces.

headnote Here folowen seven balades made by Daun John Lydegate of the sodeine fal of certain Princes of Fraunce and Englande nowe late in oure dayes.

1 Marginalia: Kyng Edwarde of Carnarvan. Edward II (1284–1327), king of England from 1307–27, was known as Edward of Carnarvon for his birthplace in Wales. Edward’s reliance on first Piers Gaveston and later the Despensers angered the barons, and in 1326–27 Edward’s queen, Isabella, forced the execution of the Despensers and Edward’s abdication. He was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, where he was probably murdered — according to some accounts by having a hot soldering iron thrust up his rectum so as to leave no trace of wounds and thus allowing his murderers to escape being charged with treason (see Stow, Annales, p. 227). Unlike the FP, which contains no modern examples of victims of Fortune’s wheel, Sodein Fal features seven contemporary men who were brought low. Lydgate’s great men fall because they bring it upon themselves, a vision of agency and morality that differs from Chaucer’s complex narrative of the role of personal responsibility in the downfalls described in the Monk’s Tale.

8 Marginalia: Kyng Richard the Seconde. Richard II (1367–1400) came to the throne in 1377 at the age of ten and ruled for twenty-two years before being deposed. While notable for its encouragement of a flourishing literary and artistic culture, Richard’s reign was marked by serious political difficulties, including the uprising known as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and various conflicts with the barons, which (after Richard confiscated the Lancastrian estates on the death of his uncle John of Gaunt in 1399) culminated in a military invasion led by the previously exiled duke of Hereford (Henry IV), who forced Richard’s abdication and impris­oned him in Pontefract Castle, where he died in 1400, probably from murder.

15 Marginalia: Kyng Charlles. Charles VI (1368–1422) was king of France from 1380 to 1422. He suffered from bouts of insanity that earned him the nickname “Charles the Mad” and left him unable to govern effectively. In 1420, he was forced to accept the Treaty of Troyes, which designated Henry V of England as his successor.

22 Marginalia: the Duc of Orlyence. Louis, duc d’Orléans (1372–1407), was the brother of Charles VI. After 1392, when Charles’ attacks of insanity began, Louis became involved in a struggle for influence with his uncle, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and with his cousin, John the Fearless; he was killed by John’s supporters in 1407. Louis was rumored to have had sexual relations with several noble women, including his sister-in-law, Isabella of Bavaria, wife of Charles VI (see Robbins, Historical Poems, p. 343, note to line 26).

27 Marginalia: i. Duc of Burgoigne John. See note to line 36 below.

29 Marginalia: Thomas Duc of Gloucestre. Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester and son of Edward III, was arrested for treason against Richard II in 1397, after being betrayed by the earl of Derby, and was sent under arrest to Calais. He could not be produced by his keeper, the earl of Nottingham, the next year, when his case was considered by Parliament, suggesting that he had been quietly mur­dered. Thomas falls in spite of his trouthe (line 32) and devotion to comune profit (line 35) because of Fortune’s unexpected blows.

36 Marginalia: John Duc of Bourgoyne. John the Fearless (1371–1419) was duke of Burgundy from 1404–19. He undertook a series of popular governmental reforms but his rivalry with supporters of Louis, duc d’Orléans, whom he had assassinated, led by 1411 to civil war between his side (the Burgundians) and the Armagnacs. While negotiating with the English invaders under Henry V and with the Dauphin (leader of the Armagnacs and later King Charles VII), John was assassinated.

37 douspiers. The twelve great peers of France consisted of six spiritual lords (the archbishop of Rheims and the bishops of Laon, Langres, Beauvais, Chalons, and Noyon) and six temporal lords (the dukes of Normandy, Burgundy, and Aquitaine, and the counts of Toulouse, Flanders, and Champagne). In romances the twelve peers were often taken as representing the bravest of knights; compare the tapestry cited in an inventory in 1423 (2 Henry VI) of goods owned by Henry V (RP, 4:214–41), described as “ung pece d’Aras, de xii duszeperes, saunz ore, qui comence en l’estorie ‘Diue vous doit’” (RP, 4:229).

43 Marginalia: The Duc of Yrland. Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford (1362–92), was one of Richard II’s favorites and was made duke of Ireland in 1386. In the Merciless Parliament of 1388, he was among the supporters of Richard who were accused of treason by the five Lords Appellant. Sentenced to death in 1388, he fled to Louvain and was killed by a boar in 1392 while hunting. De Vere was married to Philippa de Coucy, the king’s cousin, and had an affair with one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, Agnes de Launcekrona (see next note).

46 Marginalia: i. laumerrane. This marginal gloss (in BL MS Additional 29729: loomcerean) is an error for Launcecrona, which is described by Walsingham, Historia anglicana, 2:160, as a vulgar term: “et aliam duceret, quae cum Regina Anna venerat de Boemia, ut fertur, cujusdam sellarii filiam, ignobilem prorsus atque foedam; ob quam causam magna surrepsit occasion scandalorum: — cujus nomen erat, in vulgari idiomate ‘Launcecrona’” [“and took another woman, who had come with Queen Anne of Bohemia and who was said to be a saddler’s daughter, low-ranking and ugly; for which reason there was great occasion for scandal to spread: her name in the common idiom was ‘Launcecrona’”]. See Robbins, Historical Poems, pp. 343–44, note to line 46.


ABBREVIATIONS: A: Additional 29729 (Stow’s copy of R.3.20); H: Harley 2251; M: MacCracken’s 1934 edition; T: Trinity R.3.20, copy text for all of the disguisings and mummings except Bishopswood, and for Bycorne and Chychevache, the Procession of Corpus Christi, and Of the Sodein Fall of Princes.

headnote Omitted in H; A includes same marginalia as in T.
folowen. A reads foloweth.

15 In the margin of A next to stanza three: Kynge Charlles (M: Charlle).

23 M’s note to this line is confusing; H follows T’s reading.

25 yong hert thought. M emends to yonge herte thoughte; A follows T’s reading.

27 assent. M emends to assente.

28 he in Parys. H reads he in parice; A reads themferys.

31 was. T and A read it was.

33 that. H reads and that.

42 th’Ermynakes. H reads the Armynakes.

44 he ledde. M claims H reads he edde, but it actually reads he ledde.

46 i. laumerrane (in margin). Omitted in H; A reads loomcerean.

49 banned. A reads bourned; M claims H reads dlanned, but it actually reads banned.
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Of the Sodein Fal of Princes in Oure Dayes

  [Here folowen seven balades made by Daun John Lydegate of the sodeine fal of certain Princes of Fraunce and Englande nowe late in oure dayes. (see note); (t-note)










Beholde this gret prynce Edwarde the Secounde,
Which of divers landes lord was and kyng,
But so governed was he, nowe, understonde,
By suche as caused foule his undoying,
For trewly to telle yowe withoute lesing,
He was deposed by al the rewmes assent,
In prisoun murdred with a broche in his foundament.

Se howe Richard, of Albyon the kyng,
Which in his tyme ryche and glorious was,
Sacred with abyt, with corone, and with ring,
Yit fel his fortune so, and eke his cas,
That yvel counseyle rewled him so, elas!
For mystreting lordes of his monarchye,
He feyne was to resigne and in prysone dye.

Lo Charles, of noble Fraunce the kyng,
Taken with seknesse and maladye,
Which left him never unto his eonding,
Were it of nature or by sorcerye,
Unable he was for to governe or guye
His reaume, which caused such discencyon,
That fallen it is to gret destruccion.

So nowe this lusty Duc of Orlyaunce,
Which floured in Parys in chivallerie,
Brother to Charles, the kyng of Fraunce:
His yong hert thought never to dye,
But for he used the synne of lecherye,
His cosin to assent was ful fayene,
That he in Parys was murdred and foule slayne.

Of Edward the Thridde Thomas his sone,
Of Gloucestre Duc, Constable of England,
Which to love trouth was ever his wone,
Yet notwithstonding his entent of trouthe,
He murdred was at Caleys, that was routhe,
And he to God and man moste acceptable,
And to the comune profit moste favorable.

Lo here this Eorlle and Duc of Burgoyne bothe,
Oon of the douspiers and deen of Fraunce,
Howe fortune gan his prosparité to loothe,
And made him putte his lyf in suche balance
That him n’avayled kyn nor allyaunce,
That for his mourder he mortherd was and slayne,
Of whos deth th’Ermynakes were fayne.

This Duc of Yrland, of England Chaumburleyn.
Which in plesaunce so he ledde his lyf,
Tyl fortune of his welth hade disdeyn,
That causeles he parted was frome his wyf,
Which grounde was of gret debate and stryf,
And his destruccion, if I shal not lye,
For banned he was, and did in meschef dye.
(see note)

poker; rectum

(see note)


was obliged to

(see note); (t-note)


realm; strife

(see note)
flourished; (t-note)

glad; (see note); (t-note)

(see note)

custom; (t-note)

a pity; (t-note)

(see note)
One; twelve peers; dean; (see note)

That neither kinfolk nor alliances could help him
(i.e., of Louis, duke of Orléans)
the Armagnacs; happy; (t-note)

(see note)
pleasure; (t-note)

without just cause; (see note); (t-note)
Which was ground for

affliction; (t-note)


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