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God Spede the Plough


1 And our payment shall be with [the beating] of a stick

2 Thus are we fleeced, we may not choose


1 As I me walked. "This line is omitted in its right place; but is written perpendicularly on the inner margin of the leaf, with a guide-line to shew its position" (Sk).

10-88 And said. The husbandman's testimony takes up 79 lines of the poem. The narrator is merely a witness to the testimony.

11-12 lande, claye. The corner of the leaf is torn away; lande and claye are Sk's conjectures based on the rhyme words.

22 growe. MS groweth. Sk observes that groweth and plough (line 24) do not rhyme; he suggests the word might have been grewe, which comes closer to rhyme.

33 the fiftene. "Fifteenth, a tax amounting to a fifteenth of one's property" (Sk).

ease. MS eases.

37 bayllys and bedellis. Bailiffs and beadles. See Song of the Husbandman note to line 15.

43 To buye the kyngis. I adopt Sk's conjecture about this portion of the line. The corner of the leaf is torn away. Sk comments: "The words within square brackets are conjectural, and were suggested by the fact recorded in Piers Plowman, that getting pardon for a bribe even from a King is not altogether a thing unknown . . . ." Words are also lacking at the beginning of lines 40, 41, and 42. I adopt Sk's likely readings of I, Than come[th, and What gret.

45 clerkes of saint John Frary. Clerks of the friary of St. John. "There was one such in Clerkenwell" (Sk).

49-55 graye Freres . . . blak Freres. Graye Freres = Franciscans (Minorites); white Freres = Carmelites; Freres Augustynes = Austins or Augustinians; blak Freres = Dominicans or Jacobins. Sk comments: "On fol. 9b of this very Lansdowne MS. we find the following. "Fratres London. Whitefreres in fletestrete, Carmelitarum. Blak freres within ludgate, predicatorum vel Jacob: Greye freres within newgate, Minorum. Augusteyn freres by saint Antonyes, Augustinencium. Crowched freres, Fratres sancte Crucis."

58 poore Observauntes. Sk: "'Observants, a branch of the Franciscan order, otherwise called Recollects.' Imperial Dict." However, Phillippe Yates, OFM, notes that Recollects began in the late sixteenth century and were separate from Observaunts.

69 the grenewex. "Greenwax was used for estreats [copies of court fines, for use in prosecution] delivered to the sheriffs out of the king's exchequer. These estreats were under the seal of that court, made in green wax. See Blount's Law Dictionary" (Sk). See also Song of the Husbandman, lines 38 and 55 and notes.

74 Scala celi or "Ladder of heaven": the name of a chapel in Rome. "It derives its name from a vision of St. Bernard's, who, while celebrating a funereal mass, saw the souls for whom he was praying going up to heaven by a ladder" (Sk). In the anticlerical context of this poem, Scala celi is ironic.

77 tipped-staves. "Tipstaves, constables. So called from their bearing a staff tipped with metal" (Sk). Marshalse = Marshalsea court and prison.

93 God. MS Gog here and in line 96.

(British Library MS Lansdowne 762, fols. 5r-6v)

A processe or an exortation to tendre the chargis of the true husbondys

As I me walked over feldis wide
When men began to ere and to sowe,
I behelde husbondys howe faste they hide,
With their bestis and plowes all on a rowe.
I stode and behelde the bestis well drawe
To ere the londe that was so tough;
Than to an husbond I sed this sawe,
"I pray to God, spede wele the plough."
The husbondys helde up harte and hande,
And said, "That is nedefull for to praye,
For all the yere we labour with the lande,
With many a comberous clot of claye,
To mayntayn this worlde yf that we maye,
By downe and by dale and many a slough.
Therfore it is nedefull for to saye,
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"And so shulde of right the parson praye,
That hath the tithe shefe of the londe;
For our sarvauntys we moste nedis paye,
Or ellys ful still the plough maye stonde.
Than cometh the clerk anon at hande,
To have a shef of corne there it growe,
And the sexten somwhate in his hande.
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"The kyngis purviours also they come,
To have whete and otys at the kyngis nede;
And over that befe and mutton,
And butter and pulleyn, so God me spede!
And to the kyngis courte we moste it lede,
And our payment shal be a styk of a bough;
And yet we moste speke faire for drede. 1
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"To paye the fiftene ayenst our ease,
Beside the lordys rente of our londe --
Thus be we shepe shorne, we may not chese, 2
And yet it is full lytell understonde.
Than bayllys and bedellis woll put to their hande
In enquestis to doo us sorwe inough,
But yf we quite right wele the londe;
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"Than cometh prisoners and sheweth their nede,
What gret sorowe in prison theye drye.
'To buye the kyngis pardon we most take hede';
For man and beste they woll take money.
Than cometh the clerkes of Saint John Frary,
And rede in their bokis mennyis namyis inough.
And all they live by husbondrye --
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"Then comme the graye Freres and make their mone,
And call for money our soulis to save;
Then comme the white Freres and begyn to grone,
Whete or barley they woll fayne have;
Then commeth the Freres Augustynes and begynneth to crave
Corne or chese, for they have not inough;
Then commeth the blak Freres which wolde fayne have.
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"And yet, amongest other, we may not forgete
The poore Observauntes that been so holy.
They muste amongis us have corne or mete;
They teche us alwaye to fle from foly,
And live in vertue full devowtely,
Preching dayly sermondys inough
With good examples full graciously.
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"Than cometh the sompner to have som rente,
And ellis he woll teche us a newe lore,
Saying we have lefte behynde unproved som testament,
And so he woll make us lese moche more.
Then commeth the grenewex which greveth us sore,
With ronnyng in reragis it doth us sorowe inough,
And after, we knowe nother why ne where-fore:
'I praye to God, spede wel the plough.'
"Then commeth prestis that goth to Rome
For to have silver to singe at Scala celi.
Than commeth clerkys of Oxford and make their mone,
To her scole hire they most have money.
Then commeth the tipped-staves for the Marshalse,
And saye they have prisoners mo than inough;
Then commeth the mynstrellis to make us gle --
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'
"At London also yf we woll plete,
We shal not be spared, good chepe nor dere.
Our man of lawe may not be forgete,
But he moste have money every quartere;
And somme comme begging with the kyngis charter,
And saye, bisshoppis have graunted ther-to pardon inough;
And wymen commeth weping on the same maner.
'I praye to God, spede wele the plough.'"
And than I thanked this good husbond,
And prayed God the plough to spede,
And all tho that laboreth with the londe,
And them that helpeth them with worde or dede.
God give them grace such life to lede,
That in their concience maye be mery inough,
And heven blisse to be their mede,
And ever I praye, "God spede the plough."
broad fields; (see note)
farmers; hastened
said these words
may the plow prosper
(see note)
year; (see note)
clot of dirt
where it grew; (see note)
more than that beef
amiably; fear
(see note)
little understood
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
men's names
complaint; (see note)
among other [things]
(see note)
wheat; food
(see note)
neither; nor why
(see note)
For their
(see note)
minstrels; entertainment
lawyer; forgotten
(see note)
heaven's; reward

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