The Birth of Merlin
THE BIRTH OF MERLIN: FOOTNOTES2 plesier, pleasure.
3 sien, saw (had seen).
4 What . . . this, Who . . . that.
5 ne nought, nor anything; nought, not.
6 ne trowed not, did not believe.
10 wende, thought; be, been.
12 yeden, went.
13 semblant, appearance.
15 tharldome, servitude; disese, suffering.
17 tham, those (them); bereve, deprive.
19 yef, if.
21 mynystres, ministers; thowh, even though.
22 never so many, i.e., very many; werkes, i.e., sins.
25 yede, went; assaied, tested.
30 beraffte, taken away.
31 hem1, them; gete, place; hem2, themselves; hem3, themselves.
32 tho, those.
33 that were they, were those.
36 Hym, Himself; rather, quicker.
38 [maystrie], mastery (power).
40 on, one.
41 trowe, believe.
42 soche oon, such a one.
43 be that, by that means.
45 gete, beget.
50 wende, thought.
51 engine, plan.
55 sye, saw; yede, went.
56 creaunce, beliefs.
57 doell, grief (dole).
60 comyn woman, prostitute.
64 feire, fear.
65 Yef, If.
73 repairethe, resorts.
74 comberauncis, troubles; thee, yourself.
76 arysist, arise.
78 bye, redeem.
82 engynes, devices.
86 myscheved, harmed.
91 cowde, could.
92 lese that, lose what; lerned, taught; lesse than, unless.
95 grete hepe, large group.
100-101 bar hir on honde, claimed falsely.
101 paramours, as a lover.
103 tother, other.
105 aschaped, escaped.
113 foryete that, forgotten what.
118 concayved, conceived.
119 here, herself.
119-20 is me befalle, has befallen me.
125 over all, everywhere.
130 espleyted, completed.
135 fill, fell; seche, seek.
140 all . . . ende, from beginning to end.
142 hir3, herself.
144 ne, nor; no, any.
149 that, what.
150 absoyle, absolve.
151 enjoyne thee, assign you; lyest veryly, truly lie.
160 leve, believe.
161 yef, if.
162 noon, anything.
166 very, true.
167 that fill, what befell.
169 with that, so that.
171 enjoyned, ordered.
172 assoiled, absolved.
177 betaught, committed.
182 abode, abided.
184 be, by.
186 than, therefore (then).
188 my witynge, with my knowledge.
190 but that, because.
191 moste, must.
193 abaisshed, disconcerted.
195 clatered, chattered
196 bewté, beauty; seth, since.
199 quyk, living.
203 strongeleche, greatly; oure, hour.
204 syker, certain.
205 gabbynge, falsehood.
207 well, will.
210 wite, know.
217 clepid, called; hem, them.
221 shell, shall.
226 in gode warde, under guard.
229 chelde, child.
231 rede, advice.
234 mysteré, matters; hale upe, haul up.
238 have wetynge, know.
240 engyne, cunning.
241 kynde, nature.
242 folily, foolishly; be, by; modir, mother.
243 fhir put, placed herself.
244 lese that, lose what.
249 parte, side.
253 more roughe, hairier.
254 sough, saw; sayned her, crossed herself.
256 don, down.
258 will, wish.
263 durste, dared to.
268 hens, hence.
278 aferid that as, was so startled that.
280 wenden, thought.
281 shrike, shriek.
283 heire, hear.
285 cherishid, embraced.
286 cowde, could; mo, more.
287 Manace, Threaten.
288 fayn wolde she, much she desired.
291 lyen, lie.
294 demaundes, questions.
299 Tho, Then; clepeden, called.
300 insomoche, with the result.
302 bailé, bailiff.
307 lowgh, laughed.
309 weke, week.
318 connynge, knowledgable.
320 martire, torment.
322 aresoned, addressed.
327 smok, smock.
332 wherthourgh, by which means.
334 drough, drew.
342 avouterye besyde, adultery against.
344 Freinde, Ask.
346 wetynge, knowing.
347 sedd, saw; sygh, saw.
355 quyte, free.
357 knoheth, knows.
358 censt ought, can anything.
359 be, about.
360 thove, allow.
361 inngendure, engendering.
362 wrath, angry.
363 reserwed, saved.
366 pletere, pleading.
371 Yef, If; mystrowe, disbelieve.
375 quyt, reprieved.
378 person, parson.
387 lowgh, laughed.
393 assaide, tested.
395 that, what.
399 shrewed, sinful.
401 yove, given.
404 here engynes, their deceits; holde of hem, retain of them; conne, know.
405 shole, shall.
406 digne, worthy.
408 i-be, been; leve, believe.
410 tho, those.
411 hem, themselves.
415 ne mowe thee hynder, can not hinder you.
416 volenté, desires.
420 mystered, needed.
423 fynyshment, ending.
426 here, their.
434 entended aboute, attended to.
436 to seche, to be sought.
439 partyes, districts.
442 Bretons, Britons (i.e., the British, not the Bretons).
THE BIRTH OF MERLIN: NOTES
The Birth of Merlin
[Fols. 1r-8r (line 10)]
Geoffrey of Monmouth is the first medieval writer to provide an account of Merlin's conception and birth. In The History of the Kings of Britain Geoffrey offers a relatively brief recounting of the impregnation of Merlin's virtuous human mother by an invisible incubus demon (Thorpe, pp. 167-68). Wace, in his Roman de Brut, adds little to Geoffrey's narrative. "The Birth of Merlin," however, follows the French Vulgate version by developing this basic story much further and providing a specific rationale for the begetting of Merlin that is absent from Geoffrey's work. The motif of a great consultation among the fiends occurs in several places in medieval and Renaissance literature, the most famous of which is in Book II of John Milton's Paradise Lost; in ME literature there is the poem "The Devils' Parliament," which depicts the devils' consternation over the Virgin Birth. Here the fiends have been thrown into confusion by Christ's recent Harrowing of Hell, during which he releases the Old Testament patriarchs from Satan's bondage. Plotting revenge, the devils decide to father a fiendish child -- a kind of antichrist -- by producing a "virgin birth" of their own. The result of their plan is the boy Merlin. But the devils' revenge goes awry, due to the basic goodness of Merlin's mother and the timely advice of a holy hermit named Blase.
2 Adam and Eve and other. A reference to the Harrowing of Hell, in which Christ, following the Crucificion, descended into Hell and released the Old Testament patriarchs from Satan's hellish prison. Although this event is not described in the New Testament, it was well-known in the Middle Ages, principally from the account in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (See M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993]). Plays on the liberation of the patriarchs are prominent in the English mystery cycles, and references to the Harrowing of Hell are common in English medieval literature -- compare the lyric "Adam lay i-bounden" -- and it is described in some detail in works such as in Piers Plowman (B.18 and C.20) and Death and
Liffe (lines 388-430).
4-17 The he here clearly refers to God, but I have left it without capital because the devil, in his confusion, has no idea of who the intruder might be.the prophetes. The speaker is referring to the Old Testament prophets whose messianic prophecies foretold the birth of Christ, e.g., Isaiah 11:10 and Jeremiah 23:5-6.
10 the synners of Adam and Eve. The descendants of Adam and Eve, who have been born in sin.
11-12 the synners of Adam and Eve. The descendants of Adam and Eve, who have been born in sin.waisshen in a water. The speaker is referring to baptism, one of the most important of the seven sacraments for medieval Christians.we yede and assaied Hym. A reference to the tempting of Christ in the wilderness, depicted in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.
18 waisshen in a water. The speaker is referring to the Old Testament prophets whose messianic prophecies foretold the birth of Christ, e.g., Isaiah 11:10 and Jeremiah 23:5-6.
25 we yede and assaied Hym. A reference to the tempting of Christ in the wilderness, depicted in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.
Summary For the text of the summary, see EETS 10, pp. 3-7.
60 a comyn woman. A prostitute. The plight of the two sisters may seem somewhat curious, since the one guilty of fornication is executed while the one who turns to prostitution is spared. But this accords with medieval law, which often condoned open prostitution but condemned women caught out in covert acts of immorality, which might endanger purity of lineage and inheritance.
73 grete ire or wrath. As the holy man points out, people who succumb to the sin of wrath offer the devil an easy avenue into their hearts. In Chaucer's The Parson's Tale, for example, wrath is said to chase the Holy Spirit out of a person's soul and to put in its place the likeness of the devil (CT X.543-45).Indeed, as the passage in The Parson's Tale indicates, "Ire is a ful greet pleasaunce to the devel." The second part of the holy man's advice -- that she always sleep in the presence of a light -- proves to be just as crucial as his advice to avoid anger, for the devil loves darkness.
112-113 grete sorowe and grete ire at hir herte. This phrase suggests that she is about to fall into the sin of despair, which the fiend believes will place her owte of Goddes grace (line 114).
234 knewe of soche mysteré. These knowledgeable women, presumably, are especially skilled as midwives.
261 cristened Merlyn. The suggestion that Merlin was given the name of his grandfather, his mother's father, is also found in some of the OF MSS and in Lovelich's Merlin; but it is not commonplace in later Arthurian tradition.
Summary Based on EETS 10, pp. 18-21.
367 Than [Merlin] toke the juge apart. This little episode offers the first demonstration of Merlin's remarkable knowledge and prophetic powers.
421 Joseph Abaramathie. Joseph of Arimathea, from Matthew 27:57, one of
Jesus's dedicated followers, and a figure who became especially important in medieval works focusing on the Grail Legend. As will be seen below, Joseph was the first "Grail Keeper" in along line of men entrusted with this most holy object.
422 Pieron, and of othir felowes. This refers to the earliest group of men who
were closely associated with the Grail in the segment of the story known as The History of the Grail. Pieron is probably Petrus (not St. Peter, Jesus's Disciple), and the othir felowes might include men such as Alain le Gros and Bron.
443 Maister Martyn. The alleged translator of a book from Latin into the vernacular, describing the early kings of the Britons. He is referred to in only a few of the OF MSS; in Lovelich's Merlin (lines 1667-74) he is called "Martyn de Bewre," and he is said to have translated "the Story of the Brwttes book" (i.e., Brutus's book) "From latyn into Romaunce" (i.e., French). Both the book and its translator are obscure.
[The Birth of Merlin]
Full wrothe and angry was the Devell, whan that oure Lorde hadde ben in helle
and had take oute Adam and Eve and other at his plesier. And whan the fendes
sien that, they hadden right grete feer and gret merveile. Thei assembleden togedir
and seiden: "What is he this thus us supprisith and distroyeth, in so moche that
oure strengthes ne nought ellis that we have may nought withholde hym, nor again
hym stonde in no diffence but that he doth all that hym lyketh? We ne trowed not
that eny man myght be bore of woman but that he sholde ben oures; and he that
thus us distroyeth, how is he born in whom we knewe non erthely delyte?"
Than ansuerde anothir fende and seide, "He this hath distroyed, that which we
wende sholde have be mooste oure availe. Remembre ye not how the prophetes
seiden how that God shulde come into erthe for to save the synners of Adam and
Eve, and we yeden bysily aboute theym that so seiden, and dide them moste turment
of eny othir pepill; and it semed by their semblant that it greved hem but litill or
nought, but they comforted hem that weren synners, and seide that oon sholde
come which sholde delyver hem out of tharldome and disese?
"So longe have thei spoken of hym that now is he comen and hath taken from us
tham that non othir ne myght us bereve. Ye knoweth well that he maketh hem to
ben waisshen in a water in the name of the Fader, Sone, and Holy Goste; and after
that have we no powre upon them but yef they do turne agein to us by theire evell
werkis. In this wise hath He putt down oure power, and yet moreover, for [He]
hath his mynystres lefte in erthe that dayly hem saveth from us, thowh theyhave
don never so many of oure werkes, yef they will repent and forsake their
myslyvinge, and do as they teche hem that ben for the grete love He hadde to man
and gret tendirnesse, whan for to save man He wolde come down in to erthe to be
born of a woman. And we yede and assaied Hym in alle the maners that we cowden,
and when we hadde [assaied] Hym, and we dyd that [synne] nought fynde in
Hym; yet wolde He dye for to save man, ful moche lovede He man, when He
[wolde] suffer so grete peyne for to have hym agein, and to take hym from oure
power. Thanne moche oughte we for to laboure with grete besynesse to gete agayn
that He hath us beraffte in soche wyse, that they may not repente ne speke with
hem that myght gete hem pardon, and turne hem agayn from oure power."
In this maner the fendes helden a gret conseill and seide that tho that hadde
greved hem moste that were they that tolde tydinges of His comyng in to erthe:
"And they have don us gret damage and hynderyng, and the more they tolde of
His comyng, the more we dide hem anger and disese; and as us semeth, He hasted
Hym the rather to come for to delyver them from our daunger. [But] how myght
we have a man of oure kynde that myght speke and have oure connynge and
[maystrie] worke, and have the knowleche as we have of things that be don and
seide, and of thynges that be past, and that he myght be in erthe conversant with
these other? For witeth it wele that soche on myght moche helpe us to begile His
pepill, like as the prophetes begiled us and tolden that we trowe never myght have
ben. In the same wise sholde soche oon telle alle thynges that were don and saide,
both of that is passed and of thynges that is to come, and be that sholde He be
bileved of moche peple." Than thei ansuerde alle, and seiden that wele hadde he
sped that soche a man myght gete, for he sholde be long beleved of all thinges that
Than ansuerde anothir fende and seide, "I have power for to sowe seede in
woman and make her conceyve, and I have oon that doth all that ever I wille."
And thus undirtoke he this enterprise, to gete a man that sholde do their werkes
after their alle entente. Full grete foles were thei whan they wende that oure Lorde
sholde have no knowynge of their ordenaunce and engine. Thus they departed
from this conseille and were assented to this conclusion; and this feende that toke
this enterprise ne taried not, but in al the haste that he myght, he come theras this
woman was that wrought all his wille.
[Summary. The woman over whom the fiend has such power is married to a rich man,
and they have a son and three daughters. To achieve his end, the fiend makes the rich
man's animals die, strangles the man's son, and causes the wife to commit suicide. Grief-
stricken, the rich man dies, whereupon the fiend sets about to corrupt the daughters. One
of them commits fornication, for which she is executed, and another becomes a prostitute.
But the eldest daughter withstands the fiend's tempting and seeks a holy hermit's advice.
Fols. 1v (line 9)-3r (line 4).]
And when the elder mayden sye that hir suster was thus gon, she yede anoon to
the holy man that hadde taught hir the right creaunce, full hevy and pensif, makynge
grete doell and sorow. And when this gode man sye her so pensif, he hadde grete
pitee and seyde to hir, "Blesse thee and comaunde thee to God, for I se thee gretly
affraied." And she ansuerde, "I have grete cause, for I have loste my suster, that is
become a comyn woman."
And when the gode man herde this he was gretly astonyd and seide, "The feende
is full besy abowte yow, which will not cesse till he have disseyved thee, but God
be thyn helpe." "A sir," quod she, "how may I kepe me from his disceytis? For
ther is no thynge that I have so grete feire of as that he sholde have over me eny
power." Quod the holy man, "Yef thow wilte do after my counsell, he shall never
disceyve thee." "Certeyn," quod she, "I will gladly do your counsell."
"Than," quod he, "belevest thow not in the Fadir, Sone, and Holy Goste, and
that these thre persones be oon God in Trynité, and that God com down in to
erthe, and becom man for the redempcion of mannes sowle, of hem that in Hym
stadfastly beleve, and kepe His comaundmentis?" And she seide, "Right as ye
sey, I beleve. And so, veryly, I pray to God be my socoure and helpe." "Now
then," quod he, "I pray thee and comaunde that thow kepe thee fro fallynge into
grete ire or wrath, for in that the feende repairethe moste, bothe in man and woman,
namly, when they be in grete ire and comberauncis. That thow haste yelde thee in
the graces of oure Lord and alle seyntis; and at alle tymes [when] thow goist to
bedde or arysist, blisse thee in the name of the Fader, Sone, and Holy Goste, and
make upon thee in the name of the crosse, on the whiche He suffred His passion to
bye us fro the peynes of helle. And yef thow do thus, thow shalt have no drede of
the feendes power. And where that thow slepest on nyght, loke that thow have
lyght, for the devell hatyth all clerenesse and lyght, and gladly will not com there."
Thus taught the holy man the mayden, which hadde grete drede of the develes
engynes. And so she returned hom ageyn to her house, full stabill in the feith, and
full humble to God, and to the pore peple which comen unto hir and seiden:
"Trewly, it is no wonder though ye be gretely affraied of the turment that is falle
of youre fader, and of youre moder, and youre broder and sustres, that thus be
myscheved; but now taketh gode counsell and be of gode comfort, for ye ar right
ryche and have grete herytage. Wherfore every worthy man will be glad to have
yow." And she ansuerde ageyne and seide, "Oure Lorde kepe me in His servyse,
as He knoweth it is grete nede."
Thus endured she wele two yere, that the feende myght never begyle her, ne
never myght make her do evell werke. And he sye wele that he ne cowde not make
her lese that the holy man hadde hir lerned, lesse than she were made wroth. Than
made he hir suster come on a Saterday, at even, to do hir more turment and anger,
to loke yef he might gete hir in that manere. And when hir suster com, it was fer
withynne nyght, and she brought with her a grete hepe of harlotys. And when she
sye her suster so com, she was angry and seide unto here, "Feire suster," quod
she, "as longe as ye caste yow to lede soche lyf, ye ought not to come in this place,
for ye make me have grete blame, wherof I have lityll nede."
And she ansuerde ageyne, as a woman that the feende was withynne, and seyde
that she wolde yet do worse, and seide that she was more evell than she, and bar
hir on honde that she loved the holy man paramours, and yef it were knowen the
trouth, that she [was] worthy to be distroid. And when her suster herde this, she
griped her be the shulders and put hir owt at the dore. And the tother, to avenge
hir, made the harlotys that come with her to kache hir suster and bete hir right
evellé. So with grete peyne she aschaped fro them and fledde into hir chamber
and shet her dore and barred hit from her and the harlottis that were come with
And she abode in her chamber alone, and leyde her down on her bedde all
clothed and wepte tendirly for sorowe. And when the devell sye that she was
angry and sole by herself, and that it was derke, he was gladde. And she remembred
the myschef of hir fader and moder and brother and susters, and sore wepte when
she hadde thought on all parteis. And so ther was grete sorowe and grete ire at hir
herte. And when the feende sye that she hadde foryete that the holy man hadde
taught her, he thought that she stode owte of Goddes grace, and of her maister.
"And now myght I well put oure man in hir."
And this feende that hadde power to make woman conceyve was all redy and
lay by hir while she was slepynge.
And when she hadde concayved she awaked, and in her wakyng she thought on
the holy man, and therwith she blissed here and seide, "Seynt Mary, what is me
befalle, for I am disceyved sith I leyde me here. Now gracyouse Lady, pray unto
[thi dere] sone that He have mercy upon me, and diffende my body fro turment of
the enmy." And than she [aros, and sought aboute] after hym that sholde have
done that dede, for she wende to have founde hym [therynne, and she ran to the]
dore and fonde it shet in the same maner as she hadde barred it herself. And than
she sought over all in her [chamber], but nought cowde she fynde. Than she demed
that it was the enmy that so hadde her begiled; and than she made full grete sorowe
and cryde moche upon oure Lord, prayinge Hym that He wolde not suffer her to
be shamed here in this worlde.
And anoon as it was day, the feende ledde away this othir suster, for she hadde
fully espleyted his purpos. And when they were alle passed, she com owte of hir
chamber sorowfull and pensif and called after her servaunt, and anoon sente after
two women. And when they were come, anoon she wente to hir confessour. And
the gode man sye her comynge; he seide, "Thow hast som grete nede, for I se thee
gretely affraied." And she answerde, "I ought wele to be affrayed, for it betyde to
me that never fill to [eny] woman saf oonly to me. And therfore I come to seche
youre counseill, for I have herde yow saye that ther was nevere creature that dede
so grete offence that yef he were confessed and repentant, that he wolde resceyve
penance for his trespasse, that he sholde anoon have foryevenesse. Sir, I have
synned, and wete ye wele I am disceyved be the devell."
Than she tolde how hire suster com to hir howse, and all, gynnynge and ende,
as ye have herde, and how she fill on slepe [on her] bedde, and hir dore shette and
barred, and how hir grete [sorowe made hir] foryete to blisse hir. And quod she,
"When I awoke, I fonde me diffoulde and my maidenhede loste. Sir, I sought
thourgh my chamber and fonde my dor shet, ne I cowde fynde no lyvinge creature
that eny suche [thynge myght] have don to me. For in [this] wyse I have sinned,
wherfore I crye God mercy, and yow, and that I may have soche penance that I
lese not the lif everlastynge."
The holy man lestned well to all hir confession, but he yaf no grete credence to
that she seide, for he herde never before of no soche thynge. And therfore he
seyde unto hir, quod he, "Thow art full of the devell. How sholde I absoyle thee or
enjoyne thee penance for thynges which I wene thow lyest veryly, for never was
ther woman that loste her maydenhede but she wiste by whom and how; or at the
leste, that she myght fele the man that dyde the dede. And thow woldiste make me
bileve this merveyle that thow seyest in this wyse is thee befalle!" And she
ansuerde, "So, verily, God be my socoure in my moste nede, as I have seide trouth."
The holy man seide, "Yef it be so as thow haste seyde unto me, it shall verily be
knowe bothe to thee and to me withynne shorte tyme. Thow haste broken the
obedyence that I comaunded thee; therfore I charge thee in penaunce that alle the
Saterdayes while thow lyvest that thow ete no mete but ones on the day. And as
touchynge the lecherye that thow hast tolde--wherof I can not leve thee--thow
oughtest to have penaunce all thy lyftyme, yef thow wil take soche as I shall the
enjoyne." And she answerde, "Ye can not charge me with noon but I will gladly
Than seyde the holy man, "Thou comest to have counseill of Holy Church, and
to the mercy of oure Lorde Jhesu Criste, that bought us with His precyouse blode
and with His bitter deth. And [thow] haste very repentaunce of herte, like as thow
seyest with thy mouth, and forsakeste all lechery and synne, saf oonly that fill in
thi slepynge, fro the whiche no creature may kepe hym clene."
And she graunted hym, with that he wolde be hir plegge before God that she
sholde be saved, and that she were not dampned for that synne. She toke hir soche
penaunce as he enjoyned her with gode will, sore wepynge as she that was very
repentante. And this gode man assoiled hir and yaf hir his blissynge, and sette hir
ageyne in the love of God in his beste manere; and brought her to the haly water
and made her to drynke in the name of the Fader, Sone, and Holy Goste; and caste
of the same water upon her and badde hir to thynke wele on that he hadde charged
her with. "And alle tymes, when thow haste eny nede, come to me ageyn." And
than he betaught hir to God. And so he put in her penaunce alle her gode dedes and
almesse and prayers that she sholde do.
And so returned this damsell in to her howse, and ledde full holy lyf. And when
the devell sye that he hadde loste her in soche manere that he wiste not what she
dede ne what she seyde, he was wroth and angry.
Thus longe she abode that the seed myght no lenger ben hidde whiche she hadde
in hir body, so that her wombe gan to waxen grete, that the peple aperceyved wele
that she was with chylde. And they that were hyr frendes axeden hir be whom it
was. And she ansuerde, so God be hir helpe, she wiste not be whom it was. Quod
they, "How may this be? Have ye than hadde so many men that ye knowe not who
is the fader?" And she ansuerde, "God lete me have delyveraunce yef ever man,
my witynge, hadde to do with me in soche maner." And they that this herden
blessed them for merveyle, and seyde that it myght never be so, neythir of hir ne
of noon other --"but that ye hope to excuse hym so that hathdon the dede. But
truly, grete pité it is of you, for as soone as the juges knowe therof, ye moste be
When she herde this she was sore abaisshed and seyde, "So veryly God make
my soule safe, as I sawe hym never that hath don me this, ne never I hym knewe."
And the women that her herde speke helde her for a foole and untrewe, and clatered
it aboute, and seyden certeynly that hir bewté was foulé spente, seth it was loste in
soche manere. And when she herde this, she remembred on hir confessour, and
com to hym, and tolde as the wymen hadden seide. The gode man sye that she was
grete with quyk childe, and merveiled gretly, and axed hir yef she hadde wele
holden hir penaunce. "Sir," quod she, "ye, withoute fayle."
Quod he, "Befill yowe never this merveyle saf ones?" "Certes, sir," quod she,
"never before ne after." And when the gode man herde this, he merveyled
strongeleche, and sette the oure and the nyght in writynge, like as she hadde tolde
hym, and seide, "Be ye right syker, when this chelde shal be born, I shall well
knowe yef ye have made eny gabbynge, and I have very trust in God that yef it be
as ye have seide, ye shall not be deed therfore. But ye may wele have grete feer,
for as soone as the juges knowe therof, they well make yow to be take for covetyse
of youre londes and herytage, and do justice upon yow. But when ye be taken,
sende me worde, and I shall come to helpe yow and comforte in all that I may.
And wite well that God shall helpe yow, yef ye be soche as ye sey." And then he
seide, "Goth hom to youre howse and have no drede. And loke ye, be of gode
counfort and good lyvynge, for that ledith man and woman to gode endynge."
And so she departed and come to hir owne house and ledde holyly hir lif, till
the juges made hir to be taken and brought hir before them. And anon as she was
arested, she lete sende after the gode ermyte that hadde alwey ben her counfort.
And he cam in all the haste that he myght. And when he was comen, he fonde that
the juges hedde brought hir byfore them. The justyces clepid hym to hem, and
told hym the ansuere that she hadde seide hem, [that] she hadde never knowynge
of mannes company. "And trowe ye," quod thei, "that eny woman myght have
childe withoute mannes company?"
The gode man ansuerid and seide, "I shell not sey all that I thynke, but thus
moche I sey unto yow: yef ye will do my counsell, ye shall not put hir to jugement
while she is with childe, till that she be deliverd, for the childe hath no deth de-
served." The juges seiden, "We shall do as ye counsele."
Quod the holy ermyte, "Yef ye do by my counsele, ye shall put hir in a stronge
tour in gode warde, wher she shall have no power over hirself; and with hir ye
shall put two women for to helpe hir at hir delyveraunce when tyme is, in soche
maner that thei may not come oute no more. And thus shell she be lefte till she
have chelde, and let hir aftar be kepte tyll she be stronge to goo by herself. And
then yef ye se none other thyng be her than ye se now, than do the justice as ye
seme right. Thus shall ye do now be my rede, and yef ye do othirwise, I may no
more." And even as the good man devised, they dede.
And so she was shet in a stronge tour, and with her two women, the wiseste that
they knewe of soche mysteré, and made hem a wyndowe to hale upe that hem
ought to have. When this was don, the gode man spake to hem benethe on the
grounde withoute, and seyde to the damsell, "When thow haste childe," quod he,
"make it to be baptiseth as soone as thow mayste. And when thow shalte be brought
oute ageyn to jugement, lete me have wetynge."
In this wyse abode they stille in the tour a grete while, til that she was delyvered
of a sone, as God wolde. And when he was born it hadde the engyne and the witt
of a feende, after the kynde of hym that begate hym. But the devell wrought so
folily that our Lorde toke it to His owne use, be the very repentaunce of the modir,
that hir put in the mercy and ordenaunce of God and holicherche, and hilde wele
the doctryne of His mynystres. And therfore, oure Lorde wolde not lese that shulde
be His. And ther the devell was disseyved of his purpos, that he hadde ordeyned
that childe to have his art and witte to knowe alle thynges don and seide, bothe
that were paste and that were to come. And oure Lorde, that alle thynges knoweth,
[when He] sye the repentaunce of the moder and that it was not her will that was
so befellen, He wolde have hym on His parte; nevertheles, He yaf hym fre choys
to do what he wolde, for yef he wolde he myght yelde God His parte, unto the
fende his also.
Thus was this childe born, of whom the wemen were sore afeerde, for they sye
hym more roughe than other childeren that they had seyn. And so they shewed [it]
to the moder, and when she it sough, she sayned her and sayd, "This childe maketh
me to have grete feer." Quod the wemen, "So doth it to us." Quoth the moder,
"Lete it be let don owte at the wyndowe that it may be baptysed." And they dyd
"What shalbe his name?" "I will," quod she, "that it have name after my fader."
Then they let it down by a corde owte at the wyndowe of the tour, and cherged
hem that weren benethe that it shulde be baptysed and named after the gode man
that was fader of the modre; and so it was. And so was it cristened Merlyn, and
was delyvered to the women upe to the wyndowe to the moder, and ther was none
othir women that durste norishe it but the moder, for it was so grysly to syght, and
therfore was the moder suffred to norishe it tell it was ten monthes of age. And
than it semed two yere age or more. And whan it was twelve monthes of age the
wemen seide to the modre, "Dame, we will no lenger be here in this case from
oure frendes. We will gone owte, for we have be here longe tyme."
Then quod she, "As sone as ye departe from hens shall I be brought to jugement."
Quod they, "We may no more be hereynne, and therfore we ne may no more do
therto." Then she wepte and cryde hem mercy, praynge hem to abyde a while, and
they graunted hir. And as they lened lokynge oute at the wyndowe theras she
were sore wepynge, [she] toke the child in her armes sayinge, "Feyre sone, for
youre sake shall I suffir the deth, and I have it not deserved. For ther is noon, saf
oonly God, that knowith the trowthe. And I may not be byleved, wherfore I most
with grete wronge be put to deth."
And as she made this lamentacion, the chelde gan to beholde hir and seyde,
"Moder," quod he, "be not dismayed, for ye shull never be juged to deth for my
cause." And when the moder herde this ansuere, she aferid that as she sodenly
made a sprynge, the childe fill oute of hir arme and cryde. The wemen that were
at the wyndowe wenden that she hadde ben aboute to kylle the childe, andsodeynly
axed hir, "Whi made the childe this shrike? Wilt thow slen it?" And she ansuerde,
"I thought it never, but it was for a merveyle that it seide unto me." Quod she, "It
seyde I sholde never be deed for hym." Than quod thei, "We shull heire hym sey
Than they toke the childe and cherishid it, prayinge [it] to speke to hem. But
for ought they cowde do, thei myght gete of hym no mo wordes, till on a tyme the
modir seyde to the wemen, quod she, "Manace me and sey I shalbe brente," for
fayn wolde she that the wemen herde it speke. The wemen seyde to the moder,
"Truly, it is grete damage and pité that youre fayre body shalbe brent for so foule
a creature. Better it were that he hadde never be born."
"Certes," quod he, "falsly ye lyen, and that hath my moder made yow to sey."
And when they herde this they were sore abaisshed and seiden, "Certes, this is no
childe, but it is a devell who myght this have knowen that he hath seide." Than
they axed hym many demaundes, but he wolde speke no more, saf he seide, "Let
me be, and beth in pes, for ye ben more synfull than is my moder." And when they
hadde herde this they hadden grete merveyle and seide, "This may not be kepte
counseill, ne it ought not to be, and therfore we will telle it to the peple benethe
Tho wente they unto the wyndowe and clepeden to the peple and tolde them
this merveyle of the childe, insomoche that these tydinges com to the juges; and
thei hadde therof grete merveile, and seide it was tyme to do justice upon the
moder. Thei sente to the bailé that withynne forty dayes she sholde be brought
before them to have her jugement. When the moder of Merlyn knewe that hir day
was come, she hadde grete feer and sente worde to the gode hermyte, hir confessour.
Thus she abode eight dayes or more, till the tyme com that she sholde be brent.
Whan she remembred hir on hir deth she made grete lamentacion for grete drede.
The childe wente aboute in the tour and sye his moder wepynge, and he lowgh
and was mery. The wemen that this beheilde seide, "Thow thynkest full lityll on
thi moders grete sorowe, that this weke for thee shall be brente."
To this worde ansuerde the childe, "Feire moder, be not afeirde, for while I leve
shall noon be so hardy to putt yow to deth, saf oonly God that is Almyghty."
When the wemen herde this they seiden, "This childe shall ben a wise man and a
And when the day com that was sette, the wemen were taken oute of the tour,
and she bar hir sone in hir armes. The juges were come and toke the two women in
counseill, and axed yef it were trewe that the childe hadde seyde soche wordes.
And they seiden like as they hadden herde. And the juges seiden he moste be
connynge of moche thynge, yef he shulde save his moder. And the gode hermyte
was come to conforte the moder. And oon of [the] juges seide to hir, "Dame,
make yow redy, for ye moste suffir this martire of deth." And she ansuerde, prayinge
she myght speke with hir confessour; and they yaf hir lycence. And they entred
into a chamber and lefte hir childe withoute, and the peple aresoned it with many
questyons, but he yaf noon ansuere.
The moder spake with hir confessour, pitosly wepynge. And when she hadde
seyde all that she wolde, the gode man axed yef hir childe spake, and she seyde,
"Ye." "Certes," quod the gode man, "therof shall come merveiles."
Than thei come oute before the juges. The damsell was in hir smok, with a
mantill abouten hir, and fonde hir son withoute the chamber, and toke him in her
armes and stod still. And the juges examyned hyr: "Who was the fader of the
childe?" And she ansuerde, "I knowe well I go to my deth, and so God have
mercy and pyté on my soule, as I never knewe the fader, ne never hym saugh, ne
never erthely man hadde I of knowleche, wherthourgh I sholde have childe." The
juges seide, "We may never bileve that this be trewe that thow seiste."
Than the juges drough hem apart and cleped these othir wemen and seide,
"Dames, befill it ever to yow or to eny othir woman that ye herde of speke, that
myght have childe withowte carnall knowynge of man?" And those seyde,
"Withoute manes feliship myght no woman have chylde." Than the juge turned to
this damesell and tolde how those wemen hadde seide: "and, therfore, it is grete
reson that we do justice upon yow."
Then Merlyn sprong oute of his mother's armes angrye, and seide to the juge,
"It is not right that she be deed, for she hath it not deserved. And yef other shulde
be don justice upon all tho that don avouterye besyde ther housbands, many there
were werthy to be brent. And as touchynge this that is putte on my moder, she is
nothynge gilty. Freinde of that gode man yef ye charge hym to say the trouthe."
Then the juges examyned the gode hermyte yef it were so, and he seide "Ye,"
as by his wetynge; and he told hem how she was begiled in her slepe, and that
"she never sedd him that dide the deed, ne I never hym sygh, wherfore al that
aperteyneth to God I take upon me for hir. Nevertheles, I herde never of no soche
merveyle, safe only of this."
Than seide the child, "Ye have the houre and the tyme writen that I was ynne
conceyved, and therby may you knowe yef my mother sey troath." The gode man
ansuerde, "Thow seist soth, ne I wot not how thow myght knowe this." Than were
the women cleped which tolde the hour of the childes berthe, and so was the gode
mannes writyng fonde trewe. And the juge seide, "For al that, she sholde not go
Than wrathed the childe and seide, "I know better my fader than thou doste
thyn, and thy moder wiste beter whom is thy fader than my moder knoheth mynne."
Than wrathed the juge and seide, "Yef thow censt ought say of my moder, sey on."
Quoth the child, "I cowde sey so moche be thy moder that she hath beter deserved
the deth then hath my moder therfore, yef that thove me. Leet my moder be in pese
that natht knoweth of that thow puttest on hir in thy inngendure."
Tho gan the juge to be right wrath and seyd, "Yef thow canste do so, then haste
reserwed thy moder fro brennynge, but wyt thow well, yef thow canste not prewe
this upon hir, I shall brenne bothe thee and thy moder togedere." "That shall never
be while I lyfe," quoth Merlyn, "that thow shall have no powre overene my moder."
This was Merlyne's pletere for his moder.
[Summary. Merlin tells the judge that he knows his own father better than the
judge knows his. Angered by the implications of Merlin's assertion, the judge summons his own
mother, and in a private chamber asks her if her husband is really his father. She assures
him that he is; but when Merlin offers a detailed account of the judge's having been fa-
thered by a parson, the astonished mother admits that this is so. Fols. 6v (line 1)--7r (line 20) .]
Than [Merlin] toke the juge apart and said, "Thi moder will anoon go telle hym
that thee bygat all that I have seide, and when he hereth this, he will fle for feer of
thee. And the devell, whom he hath ever servid, shalle lede hym to a water ther to
drowne hymself. And so mayste thow prove that I knowe thynges that be to come."
"Yef this be so," quod the juge, "never shall I mystrowe thee."
Thus departed this counsell and come before the peple, and the juge seide well
he hadde delyvered his moder fro brennynge be gode reson: "And be it well knowe
to yow alle that never was seyen so wyse a man." And they ansuerde, "Blessed be
oure Lorde that she is quyt fro the deth."
Thus delyverid Merlyn his moder, and [he] abode with the juge. And the juge
sent thre men with his moder to witte yef it were trewe that the childe hadde
seyde. And anoon as the juges moder was com hom, she tolde the person the
merveyle that she hadde herde. And when [he] herde that, he was so astonyed that
he kowde ansuere no worde, supposynge that anoon as the juge were come, he
wolde sle hym. And so he spedde hym oute of the town till he com to a ryver, and
seyde to hymself that better it were ther to drowne hymself than the juge sholde
hym shamfully do hym to deth before the peple. Thus ledde hym the devell that
he hadde served, that he hadde lepte into the ryver and drowned hymself. And
that saw they that were sent with the lady.
And when they were returned, they told the juge, and hadde grete merveyle,
and seyde unto Merlyn this thynge. And Merlyn lowgh. "I pray thee," quod he,
"tellith to Blase, my moder's confessour." The juge tolde the gode man the
merveyle that was befalle of the person. Than wente Merlyn and his moder and
Blase and the juge whereas they liked.
This Blase was a nobill clerk and subtile, and herde Merlyn speke sotilly as of
his age, as he that was but two yere olde and an half, and he merveylede gretely
whereof his grete wytte myght come. And he assaide Merlyn in many maners.
And Merlyn seyde, "The more thow assayest me, the more shalt thow fynde. But
do and beleve that I shall sey, and I shall lyghtly teche thee to have the love of
Jhesu Cryste and the lyf everlastynge."
Blase ansuerde, "I have herde thee sey, and I leve well that thow art the sone of
the devell. Wherfore I doute thee sore, lest thow me disceyve and begyle." "Hit is
a custome," quod Merlyn, "that alle shrewed hertys gon in alle their afferes, as
well the evell as the gode, even as thow hast herde me sey that I was conceyved of
the devell. So haste thow herde me sey that God hath yove me mynde to knowe
thynges that be to come. And wyte thow well that it is Godes will that I sholde
knowe it, for He wolde that the devell sholde lese his part in me. But I have not
loste the knowynge of here engynes, but I holde of hem that I ought to conne. But
they ne shole therby take profyte, for they have fro henesforth loste ther travayle,
for they put me in so digne a vessell, the whiche ne ought not to be theirs. But yef
they hadden putt me in an evell woman, I sholde have hadde no power to have
knowen what God hadde i-be. Therfore, leve that I sey unto thee. And I shall telle
thee soche thynges that thow woldest trowe no creature myght sey unto thee. And
therfore make a boke, and alle tho thate this boke shul se sholde the rather kepe
hem from synne."
Blase ansuerde and seide, "The boke I will gladly make, but I conjure thee in
the name of the Fader, Sone, and Holy Goste that thow have no power me to
begyle, ne to make me do soche thynge that God sholde with [me] be displesed."
"Alle these thynges," quod Merlyn, "ne mowe thee hynder in body ne in sowle,
for never shall I make thee do thynge that shal be ageyn the volenté of oure Lord
Jhesu Cryste." "Than sey what thow wilt, and fro hensforth I will do it gladly."
Quod he, "Gete ynke and parchemyn and all that longeth to writynge, and than I
will telle thee."
Blase sought all that hym mystered to write with, and when he was all redy,
Merlyn began to telle the lovynge of Jhesus Criste, and of Joseph Abaramathie,
like as thei hadden ben of the slayn; and of Pieron, and of othir felowes like as
they weren departed; and the fynyshment of Joseph and of alle other. And after he
tolde hym that whan alle thise thynges were don, how the develles toke theire
counseile of that they hadde loste their power that they were wonte to have over
man and woman. And how the prophetes hadden hyndred here purpos, and how
they were acorded to purchase a man that sholde have their witte and mynde to
disceyve the peple. "And thow hast herde be my moder, and also be other, the
travayle that they hadden to begete me. But through theire foly they alle loste their
Thus devised Merlyn this boke and made Blase to write it, which hadde therof
so grete merveile that he wolde not telle it to no persone, and alwey hym thought
that his tales weren gode, and therfore he herkened hem gladly. In the menetyme
that they entended aboute this mater, come Merlyn to Blase and seyde, "Thow
moste have grete traveyle aboute the makynge, and so shall I have moche more."
And Blase axed, "How?" Merlyn seyde, "I shall be sente after to seche oute of the
weste, and they that shull come to seche me have graunted their lorde that they
shull me sle. But whan thei come and here me speke, they shull have no will me
to sle. And I shall go with hem. And thow shalt go into that partyes where they be
that have the Holy Vessell. And ever hereafter shall thy boke gladly be herde.
And he that will know the lyf of kynges whiche were in the Grete Bretayne be-
fore that Cristendom come, beholde The Story of Bretons, that is a boke that
Maister Martyn traunslated oute of Latyn. But heire resteth this matere."