Back to top

Lo, He That Can Be Cristes Clerc


1 Then my advice is, neither for lucre nor reward

2 [They] interpret it according to their own lights

3 To them neither spear nor shield are necessary

4 Should lament for what God never complained about


2 knottes of his Crede. Students learned the Apostles' Creed by memorizing words on knots on rosary beads. For the Apostles' Creed, see Piers the Plowman's Creed.

11 trouth. So RHR; Wr trouthe. I make no attempt here to record Wr's further interpretation of flourishes as final e's.

13 lolle. To speak in a mumble or in muffled tones; or to preach like a Lollard. RHR observes that in Latin poems the Lollards are compared with weeds (lolium). The Lollards were also known as "Lolleres," as in Chaucer's Man of Law's Epilogue: "'I smelle a Lollere in the wynd,' quod he" (II 1173). The word lollard may derive from the Dutch lollaert ("mumbler") and was perhaps deliberately confused with the English word lollere ("a lazy vagabond, fraudulent beggar" [MED s.v. lollere]), though Chaucer's line seems to have scatalogical connotations.

20 For fals . . . brent. A reference to the statute of 1401 (De haeretico comburendo) that authorized the burning of heretics for their beliefs.

24 lewede lust. Also lines 56 and 136. "Ignorant wishes" is perhaps too mild a gloss. "Stupid lechery" or "lecherous craving" might be more appropriate.

25-30 The implication is that Lollard knights slip away at night for secret Bible meetings when they should be sleeping or keeping military watch over the castle.

33 old castel. A reference to Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, with whom the Lollard insurrection of 1414 was chiefly associated.

57 don. So RHR; MS print unclear in this line. Wr, PPS, doun.

64 Under. Wr Unde[r]; RHR Under; MS Vnde.

85 saunz faile . . . saunz doute. Pretentious French phrases meaning, respectively, "without fail" and "without doubt."

105 He wor. So MS. Wr He wer; RHR Ho wor.

106 maad. So RHR; Wr mad. MS print unclear at this point.

116 That last . . . Kent. The Lollards went out of their way to critique the worship of images as blasphemous and idolatrous. They called these icons "dead images," as in the General Prologue to the Lollard Bible (probably of 1396):
Now men kneel, and pray, and offer fast to dead images, that have neither hunger nor cold; and despise, beat, and slay Christian men, made to the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity. What honour of God is this to kneel and offer to an image, made of sinful man's hands, and to despise and rob the image made of God's hands, that is, a Christian man, or a Christian woman? When men give not alms to poor needy men, but to dead images, or rich clerks, they rob poor men of their due portion, and needful sustenance assigned to them of God himself; and when such offerings to dead images rob poor men, they rob Jesus Christ.
As quoted in Margaret Aston, Lollards and Reformers, pp. 159-60. The specific reference here to a statue of St. James beheaded again and again in Kent has not been identified. In another place Aston writes, of image-worship: "It seems fairly safe to regard this as the commonest facet of one of the commonest (if not the commonest) of Lollard beliefs, and the view that it was idolatry to serve saints' images with pilgrimage or other acts of devotion secured wide support." See England's Iconoclasts, vol. 1: Laws Against Images (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), p. 105.

Thomas Hoccleve also was concerned that Lollard types should believe that ordinary Christians would worship the images themselves rather than Christ. See Scattergood, Politics, p. 255.
(British Library MS Cotton Vespasian B.xvi fols. 2v-3r)

Lo, he that can be Cristes clerc,
And knowe the knottes of his Crede,
Now may se a wonder werke,
Of harde happes to take goud heede.
   The dome of dethe is hevy drede
      For hym that wol not mercy crie.
   Than is my rede, for mucke ne mede, 1
      That no man melle of Lollardrye.
I sey for meself, yut wist I never
But now late what hit shuld be;
And by my trouth I have wel lever
No more kyn than my a, b, c.
   To lolle so hie in suyche degré,
      Hit is no perfit profecie;
   Sauf seker sample to the and me
      To be war of Lollardie.
The game is noght to lolle so hie,
Ther fete failen fondement;
And yut is a moch folie
For fals beleve to ben brent.
   Ther the Bibell is al myswent
      To jangle of Job or Jeremye,
   That construen hit after her entent 2
      For lewde lust of Lollardie.
Hit is unkyndly for a knight,
That shuld a kynges castel kepe,
To bable the Bibel day and night
In restyng tyme when he shuld slepe;
   And carefoly awey to crepe,
      For alle the chief of chivalrie:
   Wel aught hym to waile and wepe,
      That suyche lust hath in Lollardie.
An old castel, and not repaired,
With wast walles and wowes wide,
The wages ben ful yvel wared
With suich a capitayn to abide,
   That rereth riot for to ride
      Agayns the kynge and his clergie,
   With privé payne and pore pride.
      Ther is a poynt of Lollardie.
For many a man withyn a while
Shal aby his gult ful sore;
So fele gostes to begile
Hym aught to rue evermore.
   For his sorowe shal he never restore
      That he venemed with envye;
   But ban the burthe that he was of bore,
      Or ever had lust in Lollardie.
Every shepe that shuld be fed in felde,
And kepte fro wolfes in her folde,
Hem nedeth nether spere ne shulde, 3
Ne in no castel to be withholde.
   For ther the pasture is ful colde
      In somer seson when hit is drie;
   And namely when the soyle is solde,
      For lewde lust of Lollardie.
An old castel draw al don,
Hit is ful hard to rere hit newe,
With suyche a congregacion
That cast hem to be untrewe.
   When beggers mow nether bake ne brewe,
      Ne have wherwith to borrow ne bie,
   Than mot riot robbe or reve,
      Under the colour of Lollardie.
That castel is not for a kynge
Ther the walles ben overthrowe;
And yut wel wors abidynge
Whan the captayn away is flowe,
   And forsake spere and bowe,
      To crepe fro knighthode into clergie,
   Ther is a bitter blast yblowe,
      To be bawde of Lollardie.
I trowe ther be no knight alyve
That wold have don so open a shame,
For that crafte to studi or strive:
Hit is no gentel mannes game.
   But if hym lust to have a name
      Of pelour under ipocrasie,
   And that wer a foule defame
      To have suyche lose of Lollardie.
And, pardé, lolle thei never so longe,
Yut wol lawe make hem lowte.
God wol not suffre hem be so stronge
To bryng her purpos so abowte,
   With saunz faile and saunz doute,
      To rere riot and robberie.
   By reson thei shul not long route,
      While the taile is docked of Lollardie.
Of the hede hit is las charge,
Whan Grace wol not be his gide;
Ne suffre hym for to lepe at large,
But hevely his hede to hide.
   Where shuld he other route or ride
      Agayns the chief of chivalrie,
   Not hardi in no place to abide,
      For alle the sekte of Lollardie.
A God! what unkyndly gost
Shuld greve that God grucched nought. 4
Thes Lollardes that lothen ymages most
With mannes handes made and wrought,
   And pilgrimages to be sought,
      Thei seien hit is but mawmentrie.
   He that this lose first up brought,
      Had gret lust in Lollardie.
Ho wor ful lewde that wolde byleve
In figure maad of stok or ston;
Yut fourme shuld we none repreve,
Nether of Marie ne of Jon,
   Petre, Poule, ne other none
      Canonised by clergie;
   Than the seyntes everychon
      Be litel holde to Lollardie.
And namly James among hem alle
For he twyes had turnement;
Moch mischaunse mot him befalle
That last beheded hym in Kent,
   And alle that were of that assent.
      To Crist of heven I clepe and crie,
Send hem the same jugement,
      And alle the sekte of Lollardie.
For that vengans agayns kynde
Was a poynt of cowardyse;
And namly suych on to bete or bynde
That might not stand, set, ne rise.
   What dome wolde ye hym devyse
      By lawe of armes or gentrie,
   But serve hym in the same wise,
      And alle the sekte of Lollardie.
When falsnes faileth frele folie,
Pride wol preseyn sone amonge;
Than willerdome with old envy
Can none other way but wronge.
   For synne and shame with sorowe strong,
      So overset with avutrie,
   That fals beleve is fayn to fonge
      The lewde lust of Lollardie.
And under colour of suiche lollynge,
To shape sodeyn surreccion
Agaynst oure liege lord kynge,
With fals ymaginacion.
   And for that corsed conclusion,
      By dome of knighthode and clergie,
   Now turneth to confusion
      The sory sekte of Lollardie.
For Holy Writ berith witnes,
He that fals is to his kyng,
That shamful deth and hard distres
Shal be his dome at his endynge.
   Than double deth for suyche lollynge
      Is hevy, when we shul hennes hye.
   Now, Lord, that madest of nought all thinge,
      Defende us all fro Lollardie.
(see note)
see; wondrous
misfortunes; good
judgment of death is a sober fear
meddle in
speak for myself, yet knew
recently; [Lollardy]
would rather; (see note)
know about it than
mumble (see note)
A safe, sure example to you and me
preach so pretentiously
Where feet lack foundation
yet; great folly
(see note)
erroneous (gone astray)
talk about
ignorant wishes (desire); (see note)
unnatural; (see note)
Despite; authority
Indeed he ought
such craving
(see note)
ruined; walls
Who raised
That's what Lollardy leads to
pay for; sins
many spirits
He should
What; poisoned
curse the day that he was born
Before he
sheep; field
protected from
especially; polluted
drags everything down; (see note)
requires them
disguise; (see note)
yet; is in store
a pimp
robber; hypocrisy
loss because of
bow (humble them)
(see note)
wander about
less serious
its guide
Nor allow him to roam around at liberty
bold; remain
unnatural spirit
evil report
They would be utterly stupid who; (see note)
wood; (see note)
Yet the idea of the image; censure
Nonetheless; everyone
Great misfortune might befall him
(see note)
frail folly
press in
glad to seize upon
sudden insurrection
leave earth

Go To Man Be Ware and Be No Fool

Return To The Tale of Contents