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London Lickpenny


1 Do you think I will perform an act of charity for you? / Here no man gets away with paying less than twopence

2 And God grant reward to the souls of every true lawyer


2 trouthe. So MS; Hammond, Holthausen truthe.

5 Marys. MS maris.

6 procede. Bring legal proceedings, litigate.

7 I would gyve sylvar. MS reads I would gyve money sylvar. The scribe may have anticipated money in line 8. my purs is faynt. For this language about purses and money, see Chaucer's humorous short lyric "The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse," with its considerable word-play on "heavy" and "light."

10 my hode was gonn, that is, stolen. See lines 99-100. The hood in this sense is a covering for the head worn under a hat.

12 kyngs benche. "One of the three superior courts of common law (the other two being the Exchequer and the Court of Common Pleas)." "The King's Bench was concerned primarily with criminal law; the Court of Common Pleas, with civil actions." See Alford, Glossary, s.v. Bench and Kinges Bench, and Alford's citations from Piers Plowman. Of the courts in Westminster, Hammond quotes from Stow's Survey of London: "At the entry on the right hand the common place [i.e. Common Pleas], where ciuill matters are to be pleaded, especially such as touch lands or contracts; at the vpper end of the Hall, on the right hand or Southest corner, the king's bench, where pleas of the Crowne haue their hearing; and on the left hand or Southwest corner sitteth the Lord Chancellor, accompanied with the master of the Rowles and other men . . . called maisters of the Chauncerie." She comments: "This last-named court [Chancery] handled all cases relating to revenue, and the King's Bench and Common Pleas, as Stow says, took cognizance respectively of trespasses against the King's peace and of disputes between private persons" (English Verse, p. 476).

20 Richard . . . Kent. Apparently clerks are calling names for impending court cases. The "one of Kent" might be the Kentish countryman.

25 the Comon Place. "Held at Westminster, the Court of Common Pleas had jurisdiction over civil actions brought by one subject against another, all real actions, and the decisions of local and manorial courts; it was inferior to the Court of King's Bench, since error lay from it to that court" (Alford, Glossary, s.v. Commune Court).

26 a sylken houde. Worn by sergeants at law. Alford quotes from Piers Plowman: "Shal no sergeant for þat seruice were a silk howue, / Ne no pelure in his panelon for pledynge at þe barre" (B.3.295; Glossary s.v. Sergeaunt II).

31 would not . . . mouthe. Wouldn't even say "mum"; i.e., said nothing.

34 Chauncerie. This court functioned as a court of appeals, "moderating the rigour of the common law, and giving relief in cases where there was no remedy in the common-law courts" (OED).

35 qui tollis. Apparently a legal formula by which clerks would summon claimants to the bar. Hammond suggests: "Thou who hast a grievance, present it."

42 gowne of ray. "Ray, a striped cloth, was much worn by lawyers" (Hammond).

49 In all Westminstar Hall. MS In all westminstallr hall. The scribe seems to have anticipated the -all of hall.

51 Flemings grete woon. A great abundance of Flemings. For this signification of woon, see OED s.v. Wone sb.3 (obsolete and poetic) II.3, 4. Stow or his copy-text rewrites this passage to: "which seing, I gat me out of the doore / where flemynge began on me for to cry" (lines 45-46 of Hammond's edition of Harley 367). The Flemings were introduced into England to help increase the wool trade, and a number of them emigrated to England, bringing with them their expertise in cloth-making. But English laborers resented the competition from the Flemings, and many Flemings were killed during the Great Rising of 1381.

54 felt hatts. These words also appear in the margin of the MS.

65 In to London. "Our countryman crossed Long Ditch after leaving Westminster Hall by the Gate, walked by White Hall along the Strand, entered the City through Ludgate, and passed along Fleet Street to St. Paul's and the west end of Cheapside" (Hammond).

73 Chepe. The ward of Cheap, one of the great market areas of medieval London. In 1319 Cheap contained "mercers, pepperers, fishmongers, cheesemongers, bakers, poulterers, and cordwainers" (D. W. Robertson, Chaucer's London [New York: Wiley, 1968], p. 23). This Cheap in the west, near the Shambles and Newgate, should be distinguished from Eastcheap, which the narrator also visits (see lines 89-96). The word chepe appears in the margin of the MS.

74 sawe. MS saywe.

76 umple. "A fine kind of linen stuff" (OED s.v. Umple); "Fine gauze or lawn" (Hammond). Earliest OED citation = mid-fifteenth century. Stow or copy-text rewrites to: "here is parys thred the fynest in the land" (line 68 of Hammond's edition of Harley 367).

79 hewre. MED reads this word as an error for hewve, houve, houwe (from OE h_fe): "A headdress; esp. a close-fitting cap or coif." See MED s.v. houve (a). The word herwe appears in the left margin of the MS.

81 London Stone. The so-called "London Stone," or part of it, was built into the wall of St. Swithin's church. It originally might have been a Roman milliarium stone, or milestone, which measured distances. John V. Morris's map of fourteenth-century London on p. 14 of Chaucer's London designates the "London Stone" as landmark no. 29.

82 Canywike strete, or Candlewick Street, one of the wards of the city (near Walbrook), which contained "chandlers, weavers, and drapers" (Robertson, Chaucer's London, p. 41). For the location, consult the detailed fold-out "Sketch Map of London in the Time of the Peasants' Revolt, 1381," in Ruth Bird, The Turbulent London of Richard II (London: Longman, 1949), following p. 156. This is based on a map by M. B. Honeybourne.

83 Drapers deal in cloth and other fabrics.

89 Estchepe. East Cheap, between Candlewick Street and Tower Street, contained "butcher's stalls, the shops of turners and basketmakers, and some cookshops" (Robertson, Chaucer's London, p. 59).

93 "Ye by Cokke!" "Nay by Cokke!'' "Yes, by God!" "No, by God!" Cokke = euphemism for God, as in the Host's oath in Chaucer's Manciple's Prologue: "see how, for cokkes bones, / That he wol falle fro his hors atones!" (CT IX.9-10).

94 Jenken and Julian. "Evidently a song or songs by itinerant beggars" (Hammond).

97 Cornhill. Another great market ward of medieval London, which contained a great variety of merchants as well as more transient populations. Robertson lists the following as for sale in Cornhill: "laces, points, bows, caps, light coats, purses, hats, spurs, gaming-tables, paternosters, pen-cases, boxwood combs, pepper mills, thread, girdles, paper, and parchment" (Chaucer's London, p. 48). The narrator of the C text of Piers Plowman claims he lives in Cornhill as well as in the north country (passus 11).

100 in Westminstar. Hammond surmises that these words might be gloss (scribal or editorial) that has been worked into the text.

113 Byllingesgate. Billingsgate, one of the city gates (between Botolph's Wharf and the Wool Quay), and the fish market there, which was notorious for its bustle, noise, and abusive language.

118 on the my almes-dede. MS on the my no almes dede. The superscript no is in a different hand.

(British Library MS Harley 542 fols. 102r-104r)

In London there I was bent,
I saw my-selfe, where trouthe shuld be ateynte;
Fast to Westminstar-ward I went
To a man of lawe, to make my complaynt.
I sayd, "For Marys love, that holy seynt,
Have pity on the powre, that would procede.
I would gyve sylvar, but my purs is faynt."
For lacke of money, I may not spede.
As I thrast thrughe-out the thronge
Amonge them all, my hode was gonn;
Netheles I let not longe,
To kyngs benche tyll I come.
Byfore a juge I kneled anon;
I prayd hym for Gods sake he would take hede.
Full rewfully to hym I gan make my mone;
For lacke of money I may not spede.
Benethe hym sat clerks, a great rowt;
Fast they writen by one assent.
There stode up one, and cryed round about,
"Richard, Robert, and one of Kent!"
I wist not wele what he ment
He cried so thike there in dede;
There were stronge theves shamed and shent,
But they that lacked money mowght not spede.
Unto the Comon Place I yowde thoo
Where sat one with a sylken houde.
I dyd hym reverence as me ought to do;
I tolde hym my case, as well as I coude,
And seyd all my goods, by nowrd and by sowde,
I am defraudyd with great falshed;
He would not geve me a momme of his mouthe.
For lake of money, I may not spede.
Then I went me unto the Rollis
Before the clerks of the Chauncerie.
There were many qui tollis,
But I herd no man speke of me.
Before them I knelyd upon my kne,
Shewyd them myne evidence and they began to reade.
They seyde trewer things might there nevar be,
But for lacke of money I may not spede.
In Westminster Hall I found one
Went in a longe gowne of ray.
I crowched, I kneled before them anon;
For Marys love, of helpe I gan them pray.
As he had be wrothe, he voyded away
Bakward, his hand he gan me byd.
"I wot not what thou menest," gan he say.
"Ley downe sylvar, or here thow may not spede."
In all Westminstar Hall I could find nevar a one
That for me would do, thowghe I shuld dye.
Without the dores were Flemings grete woon;
Upon me fast they gan to cry
And sayd, "Mastar, what will ye copen or by --
Fine felt hatts, spectacles for to rede?"
Of this gay gere, a great cause why
For lake of money I might not spede.
Then to Westminster gate I went
When the sone was at highe prime.
Cokes to me, they toke good entent,
Called me nere, for to dyne,
And proferyd me good brede, ale, and wyne.
A fayre clothe they began to sprede,
Rybbes of befe, bothe fat and fine;
But for lacke of money I might not spede.
In to London I gan me hy;
Of all the lond it bearethe the prise.
"Hot pescods!" one gan cry,
"Strabery rype, and chery in the ryse!"
One bad me come nere and by some spice;
Pepar and saffron they gan me bede,
Clove, grayns, and flowre of rise.
For lacke of money I might not spede.
Then into Chepe I gan me drawne,
Where I sawe stond moche people.
One bad me come nere, and by fine cloth of lawne,
Paris thred, coton, and umple.
I seyde there-upon I could no skyle,
I am not wont there-to in dede.
One bad me by an hewre, my hed to hele:
For lake of money I might not spede.
Then went I forth by London Stone
Thrwghe-out all Canywike strete.
Drapers to me they called anon;
Grete chepe of clothe, they gan me hete;
Then come there one, and cried "Hot shepes fete!"
"Risshes faire and grene," an othar began to grete;
Both melwell and makarell I gan mete,
But for lacke of money I myght not spede.
Then I hied me into Estchepe.
One cried, "Ribes of befe, and many a pie!"
Pewtar potts they clatteryd on a heape.
Ther was harpe, pipe and sawtry.
"Ye by Cokke!" "Nay by Cokke!" some began to cry;
Some sange of Jenken and Julian, to get themselvs mede.
Full fayne I wold hadd of that mynstralsie,
But for lacke of money I cowld not spede.
Into Cornhill anon I yode
Where is moche stolne gere amonge.
I saw wher henge myne owne hode
That I had lost in Westminstar amonge the throng.
Then I beheld it with lokes full longe;
I kenned it as well as I dyd my Crede.
To be myne owne hode agayne, me thought it wrong,
But for lacke of money I might not spede.
Then came the taverner, and toke my by the sleve,
And seyd, "Ser, a pint of wyn would yow assay?"
"Syr," quod I, "it may not greve;
For a peny may do no more then it may."
I dranke a pint, and therefore gan pay;
Sore a-hungred away I yede;
For well London Lykke-peny for ones and eye,
For lake of money I may not spede.
Then I hyed me to Byllingesgate,
And cried "Wagge, wagge yow hens!"
I praye a barge man, for Gods sake,
That they would spare me myn expens.
He sayde, "Ryse up, man, and get the hens.
What wenist thow I will do on the my almes-dede?
Here skapethe no man, by-nethe ij. pens!" 1
For lacke of money I myght not spede.
Then I conveyed me into Kent,
For of the law would I medle no more;
By-caus no man to me would take entent,
I dight me to the plowe, even as I ded before.
Jhesus save London, that in Bethelem was bore,
And every trew man of law, God graunt hym souls med; 2
And they that be othar, God theyr state restore: --
For he that lackethe money, with them he shall not spede!
Explicit London Likke-peny
where; hastening
achieved; (see note)
Mary's; (see note)
poor; litigate; (see note)
silver; light; (see note)
pushed; crowd
head-covering; gone; (see note)
did not hesitate
Until I came to the king's bench; (see note)
common agreement
(see note)
powerful thieves; ruined
Court of Common Pleas; went then; (see note)
hood; (see note)
north, south
give; mum; (see note)
court of Rolls
Chancery; (see note)
(see note)
striped cloth; (see note)
he offered me
know not
(see note)
Outside; large group of Flemings; (see note)
barter or buy
(see note)
beautiful stuff
nine o'clock
hasten; (see note)
is the best
Strawberry; branch
Cheapside; went; (see note)
(see note)
fine gauze; (see note)
knew nothing about it
buy a cap; cover; (see note)
(see note)
Candlewick; (see note)
(see note)
bargains in cloth; offer
sheeps' feet
Rushes; another
mulvel (cod)
hastened; Eastcheap; (see note)
(see note)
reward; (see note)
went; (see note)
stolen goods
hung; hood
(see note)
recognized; Creed
it cannot hurt
for once and for all
Billingsgate; (see note)
Move; hence
(see note)
betook myself
meddle (in)
set myself

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