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Ercyldoun's Prophecy


1 When Bannockburn is strewn with men's bones

2 When men are led to market with ropes

3 When men give a fool twenty pounds for a pack-horse load of wheat


Headnote: "Thomas of Erceldoune, Scot and seer, said to King Alexander the following words, about King Edward who is now ruling, when he [Alexander] was still alive." Alexander = Alexander III of Scotland (1249-86); Edward = Edward II of England (r. 1307-27). Morris reads auestre for à nestre.

1 Kaernervam. Caernarvon, in northwestern Wales (Gwynedd), where Edward II was born as the first English Prince of Wales (Edward I's unsuccessful attempt to placate the Welsh). Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286 without leaving a male heir, which caused a crisis of succession in Scotland. Edward I defeated John Balliol in July 1296, annexed Scotland to England, and carried the Stone of Destiny from Scone to Westminster Abbey. Brandl puts quotation marks around lines 1-2, as if Thomas were speaking; 4a, in the voice of Alexander; and 5-10, as Thomas's reply.

2 That . . . ylcan. Trans.: "Who shall rule the outer islands each one." The line seems to refer to Alexander's hopes for retaining the kingship in his family (see note to line 1). I am indebted to Paul F. Schaffner and Hugh P. Campbell for help translating this line.

5 Banockesbourne. The Battle of Bannockburn, 21 June 1314, a great victory for the Scots, a crushing defeat for Edward II. See also Thomas of Erceldoune's Prophecy, note to line 9.

6-7 Hwan hares . . . levedes. See Thomas of Erceldoune's Prophecy, lines 4, 15. Morris: wenddeþ for weuddeth but with the note weddeþ?

9 Rokysburth. See Thomas of Erceldoune's Prophecy, note to line 7.

10 Hwan men . . . seme of hwete. This seems to be a variant on Thomas of Erceldoune's Prophecy, line 11. The idea in both instances is that a time will come when ordinary folk will strike impossibly bad bargains. Morris reads foln for folu. In his transcription for the EETS, Morris includes lines which I do not find on fol. 8v: "E. ssel. uordo. P. thor. vit and strengþe of al Mit. Er M. þri croked xl. alle bi hoked. Ssel diuerse an daunce þet neuir wes .y. mad. ine fronce."
(British Library MS Arundel 57 fol. 8v)
Thomas de Erseldoune, Escot et dysur, dit au rey Alisandre le paroles desuthdites,
du rey Edward ke ore est, kaunt yl fust à nestre.
To-nyght is boren a barn in Kaernervam,
That ssal wold the out ydlis ylcan.
The kyng Alesandre acsede,
Hwan sall that be? The menstral zede:
Hwan Banockesbourne is y-det myd mannis bonis; 1
Hwan hares kendleth in hertth-stanes;
Hwan laddes weuddeth levedes;
Hwan me ledeth men to selle wytth rapis; 2
Hwan Rokysburth is no burth;
Hwan men gyven an folu of twenti pound for an seme of hwete. 3
(see note)
born; child; Caernarvon; (see note)
shall rule all the outer islands; (see note)
When shall; minstrel said
(see note)
give birth; hearth-stones; (see note)
churls wed ladies
Roxburgh; city; (see note)
(see note)

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