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Of Thes Frer Mynours


1 That have grown so proud, who once were humble

2 They lie about Saint Francis, on my father's soul

3 To disparage clerics [when they themselves] don't know their Creed

4 For this false, mistaken belief they shall pay dearly

5 I.e., They require only a fire for all of them to be burned

6 And may all those who help [the burning] prosper

7 The town is ransacked for good food for their mouths

8 Spacious are their dwellings and beautifully constructed

9 Murder and villainy have paid dearly for (the great houses)

10 [For sixpence they will] Slay your father and seduce your mother, and they will confess you


1 RHR thinks this poem alludes to Franciscan wall paintings rather than to "pageants and theatrical shows."

2 hauteyn, that. The manuscript features medial punctuation (caesura, indicated by a period stop) in many lines.

5 With an O and an I. The significance of these letters has not been adequately explained, but several suggestions have appeared (including the notion that the letters are a debased form of "Ho there! Hi!"). R. H. Robbins notes that there are fourteen other poems with a similar refrain (the so-called "O and I" poems), but Robbins did not know about the secular "love" lyric with this refrain formula. See D. C. Cox, "A New O-and-I Lyric and Its Provenance," Medium Ævum 54 (1985), 33-46. See also the several poems - concerning Jesus's birth and Crucifixion - printed by Heuser in Anglia, 27 (1904), 285-89. There are Middle English lyrics with other refrains marked by letters, including "When adam delf & eue span, spir, if þou wil spede" (Index § 3921 printed in RL XIV, pp. 96-97), which features an "E & I" refrain. The presence of "E & I" refrains tends to call into question the "Ho there! Hi!" explanation of the "O and I" refrain. Preste, Ne Monke, Ne Yit Chanoun adduces the letters C, A, I, and M (anagram for Abel's brother Cain) to attack the friars. Richard L. Greene explains the "o" and "i" as "with two strokes of the pen," that is, "very quickly and surely," after line 100 of Dante's Inferno 24 ("A Middle English Love Poem and the 'O-and-I' Refrain Phrase," Medium Ævum, 30 [1961], 170-75); and Joseph E. Grennen argues that "o" and "i" are "grammatological" - referring to the eschatological phrase in ictu oculi - rather than "purely idiophonic" ("The 'O and I' Refrain in Middle English Poems: A Grammatology of Judgment Day," Neophilologus 71 [1987], 614-25).

6 seyn. So MS, RHR, and Grennen; Wr, Heuser, Cook, and Krochalis and Peters seyn[t]; Davies Seint.

8 him. The pronoun in this line and in the next stanza refers to contemporary depictions of Saint Francis, who was compared with Christ. The author attacks what he regards as the idolatry of Francis along with the rise of friars to power and prominence.

12 thai. So MS, Wr, Heuser, Krochalis and Peters (þai); Davies thay. Cook, RHR, and Grennen emend to þat.

14 on him. So MS, Cook, and Heuser; Wr on hym. RHR, Davies, Grennen in him. For an illustration of St. Francis receiving the stigmata while Christ hovers above on the Cross (and as if on wings), see the reproduction from the Beaufort Hours (British Library MS Royal 2.A XVIII fol. 9v, fifteenth century) in Edward A. Armstrong, Saint Francis: Nature Mystic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), pl. 6.

17 still. So MS, RHR, Davies, and Grennen. Wr, Cook, Krochalis and Peters stille; Heuser stylle.

18 Armachan. Richard FitzRalph (d. 1360), archbishop of Armagh, who denounced mendicancy and fraternal poverty in De pauperie Salvatoris (On the Savior's poverty, 1356) and in Defensio curatorum (Defense of priests, 1357).

19 grey goun. Franciscan friars wore grey habits. See also line 32. As in line 8 the reference here is to Saint Francis himself.

26-27 a frere blede . . . woundes wyde. Saint Francis was said to have received the stigmata, and this was often represented in paintings and frescoes, notably by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel fresco, Santa Croce, Florence. (See also above, note to line 14.) RHR and Grennen read bled in line 26; Davies omits this stanza.

28 the pope mot abyde. A criticism often made against the friars was that they answered only to their Provincial and then the pope; hence they bypassed the ecclesiastical hierarchy observed by other religious institutions.

31-33 A cart . . . be brent. Condemned criminals stood in carts when they went off to hanging or burning. The poem's author applauds the vision of a greyfriar in a fiery cart since he wants nothing more than to see friars at the stake. These lines also allude - satirically and derisively - to the friars' claim to be the heirs of Elijah, whom God collected at the end of his life in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). Elijah, who appeared at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17), was expected to convert the Jews just before the Second Coming. For this other perspective on Elijah and the friars, see The Lanterne of Light 433 and note.

39 Wyde . . . wroght. For a satirical description of a spacious friary, see PPC lines 157-218.

[On the Minorites (1382)]

(British Library MS Cotton Cleopatra B.ii fol. 65v)

Of thes Frer Mynours me thenkes moch wonder,
That waxen are thus hauteyn, that som tyme weren under. 1
Among men of Holy Chirch thai maken mochel blonder;
Nou He that sytes us above, make ham sone to sonder.
   With an O and an I, thai praysen not Seynt Poule,
   Thai lyen on Seyn Fraunceys, by my fader soule. 2
First thai gabben on God, that all men may se,
When thai hangen him on hegh on a grene tre
With leves and with blossemes that bright are of ble,
That was never Goddes Son, by my leuté.
   With on O and an I, men wenen that thai wede,
   To carpe so of clergy, thai can not thair Crede. 3
Thai have done him on a croys fer up in the skye,
And festned on him wyenges, as he shuld flie.
This fals feyned byleve shal thai soure bye, 4
On that lovelych Lord so forto lye.
   With an O and an I, one sayd ful still,
   Armachan distroy ham, if it is Goddes will.
Ther comes one out of the skye in a grey goun,
As it were an hog-hyerd hyand to toun.
Thai have mo goddes then we, I say by Mahoun,
All men under ham, that ever beres croun.
   With an O and an I, why shuld thai not be shent?
   Ther wantes noght bot a fyre, that thai nere all brent! 5
Went I forther on my way in that same tyde,
Ther I sawe a frere blede in myddes of his syde,
Bothe in hondes and in fete had he woundes wyde,
To serve to that same frer, the pope mot abyde.
   With an O and an I, I wonder of thes dedes,
   To se a pope holde a dische whyl the frer bledes.
A cart was made al of fyre, as it shuld be;
A grey frer I sawe ther-inne, that best lyked me.
Wele I wote thai shal be brent, by my leauté.
God graunt me that grace that I may it se.
   With an O and an I, brent be thai all,
   And all that helpes therto, faire mot byfall! 6
Thai preche all of povert, bot that love thai noght,
For gode mete to thair mouthe the toun is thurgh soght. 7
Wyde are thair wonnynges and wonderfully wroght; 8
Murdre and horedome ful dere has it boght. 9
   With an O and an I, ffor sixe pens er thai fayle,
   Sle thi fadere, and jape thi modre, and thai wyl the assoile! 10
Minorites; (see note)
(see note)
cause great confusion
sits; them soon to disperse
(see note)
(see note)
sneer at; see
high; green tree; (see note)
suppose; rage
(see note)
placed; cross
wings as though; (see note)
(see note)
Richard Fitzralph; (see note)
habit; (see note)
swineherd hastening
them; wears a crown
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
pleased me
know; burned; faith
preach; poverty
(see note)

Go To Thou That Sellest the Worde of God

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