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Preste, Ne Monke, Ne Yit Chanoun


1 Give themselves so [wholeheartedly] to worship

2 They become so gaunt through lack of food

3 Because they have nothing with which to gain their living

4 "Where they are accustomed to go" (RHR)

5 He will receive [in return], before he departs [from the wife], / The worth of ten knives, so may I prosper

6 If they make "masteries" in your bedroom, / You shall be harmed by it

7 It was their lot to live wholly on begging


4 As done. The opening lines are ironic encomium. The author praises friars for the very qualities that are attacked in antifraternal literature: their alleged tepid devotion to religion (but their worship of money and food); their hypocrisy; and their avarice and self-indulgence. He drops the ironic pose in line 17 only to resume it sporadically (e.g., 21-22). RHR says: "The light tone of irony of the first six st. describing the contrast between precept and practice (compare lines 162-63) gives way to direct abuse, and the effectiveness of the poem is perhaps lessened by the sledgehammer blows against the friars' lechery and greed" (p. 334). In the manuscript lines 4 and 8 are offset and joined together with a line-rhyme indicator; and lines 9-10 and 11-12 of each stanza are executed as long lines. A large X is drawn over folio 63v and a partial X over fols. 64r and 64v.

18 neres. "Not kidneys, but the form with unhistoric -n used with the instead of a. Cf. No. 52, l. 38 (narse)" (RHR).

22 puttes ham doun. "So reduced by penance" (RHR citing Wr). The idea, ironically expressed, is that friars are weakened and humbled by their austerities.

24 trusse of toun. See OED s.v. Truss, signification 4: "To take oneself off, be off, go away, depart," citing Piers Plowman A 2.194 (as quoted in Kane's A-text): "[Liar] was nowhere welcome for his many talis, / Oueral yhuntid & yhote trusse" (lines 179-80 in Kane's numbering). Or, perhaps, with puns suggesting "when he shall bind up (truss) the paunch (the tun, i.e., his fat belly as he mounts the horse)."

27 two and two. Friars usually travelled in pairs, as does the friar of the Summoner's Tale, according to Christ's instructions to his disciples in Luke 10:1: "and he sent them two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself was to come." The original intent of travelling in pairs was for purposes of institutional discipline, but in antifraternal literature the additional friar is depicted as an accomplice in crime.

35 marcerye. "Textiles and small wares" (RHR). The author represents the friars as vagabond peddlars, hawking their wares rather than ministering to the needy. Wandering clerics - scholares vagi or vagantes of the alleged ordo vagorum - were frequent objects of attack in statute and poetry. See Helen Waddell, The Wandering Scholars, 7th ed. (New York: Holt, 1934), Appendix E.

37 purses, pynnes, and knyves. Chaucer's pilgrim Friar carries "knyves / And pynnes, for to yeven faire wyves" (I 233-34). The coincidence of language is striking. In the present lyric friars make husbands anxious, since mendicants "haunt" (line 40) their doorsteps.

38 wenches and wyves. Although the chief satiric thrust of this lyric is antifraternal, much of it, starting with this line but especially lines 77-84, is also antifeminist: against philandering wives. The social picture that emerges in the poem is that idle housewives abet vagabond friars in committing fornication while "the gode man is fro hame." See also Freers, Freers 23-25; Scattergood's discussion of the fifteenth-century "indecent fable" Lyarde (Lincoln Cathedral MS 91), in Politics, p. 245; and the fifteenth-century macaronic carol entitled The Friar and the Nun ("Ther was a frier of order gray"; Supplement § 3443.5), where the "wench" is a nun, and which concludes:
Thus the fryer lyke a prety man,
Ofte rokkyd the nunnys quoniam
In temptacionibus.
From The Oxford Book of Late Medieval Verse and Prose, ed. Douglas Gray (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 172.

40 till. Wr, Cook, and Krochalis and Peters read tille (and wille in line 44). I do not record further instances of final e readings.

45 If. So MS and RHR; Wr, Cook, and Krochalis and Peters if.

51 To reverce. "To turn back or trim (a garment) with some other material" (RHR).

52 ere. Cook glosses "plow (?)." The meaning may be "They err by following that (fashion)."

53-54 vaire . . . gryse . . . bugee . . . byse. Different kinds of fur: respectively, grey, squirrel fur; another grey fur; lamb's skin (budge); a dark fur, perhaps brown. A fifteenth-century Franciscan rule states: "Also the bretherne as well as the susters shall haue no furres but of lame skynnes and purses of lether and gerdillis wtoute eny silke & none other, All other vayne araye of the worlde layde aparte after the holsome councell of the prince of the apostels." The Thirde Order of Seynt Franceys for the Brethren and Susters of the Order of Penitentis, in A Fifteenth-Century Courtesy Book and Two Fifteenth-Century Franciscan Rules, ed. R. W. Chambers and Walter W. Seton, EETS o.s. 148 (London: Oxford University Press, 1914), p. 49.

56 bagges. The friar of Chaucer's Summoner's Tale travels with another friar and a "sturdy harlot" who carries "a sak" for winnings (III 1754-55). The "bagges" of the present lyric and the "sak" of the Summoner's Tale symbolize the proverbial avarice of the mendicants. Chapter 6 of the Franciscan Rule begins: Fratres nihil sibi approprient, nec domum, nec locum, nec aliquam rem (Brothers shall own nothing of their own, not a house, not a place, nor anything else.)

61 Trantes. Trentals: thirty masses for the dead in purgatory, sung for a fee. RHR reads many iape for MS many a iape (Wr and Krochalis and Peters many a jape).

68 Then. So MS; Cook emends to As.

73 Ich. So MS and RHR; Wr, Cook, and Krochalis and Peters Iche.

76 Nauther loude ne still. "A poetic cliché" (RHR). But here it has the special meaning of neither open nor private confession; that is, one should never reveal secrets to friars, whether in casual conversation or in secret confessionals. In the MS for drede of makyng wo was lined out and the above line inserted.

81 lymitour. A fraternal limiter was a friar licensed to beg within a designated jurisdiction. Friar Huberd of Chaucer's General Prologue was a "lymytour" (I.209). Limiters were often singled out as the most dangerous clerics since they were alleged to prey upon the unwary.

83 maystries. The primary signification of this word is "sexual conquests" (masteries), but there is also a quibble on maistrye, domination or upper hand. RHR glosses maystries as "trick[s]." The word is ironic in this context since the friars were criticized for wanting to be called "masters" (according to the antifraternal reading of Matt. 23:7). In the present lyric friars are all too "masterful." Krochalis and Peters read hour for bour (= error in transcription).

92 two at ones. The sexual capacities and potency of vagabond clerics were legendary. See Harry Bailly's admiration for the pilgrim Monk, an outrider.

96-97 In the manuscript there is a gap of three centimeters between lines 96 and 97.

108 ordre. So MS and RHR; Wr and Krochalis and Peters order.

110 frere Carmes come of a k. The best-known section of this poem concerns the cryptogram, which spells out the name KAIM, or Cain, if arranged in the poem's order: K (Carmelites), A (Austins or Augustinians), I (Jacobins or Dominicans), M (Minorites or Franciscans). The ideology harks back to the story of Cain's separation from the fellowship of Adam and to the lineage from Cain, the "bad seed" (see Gen. 4). Antifraternal writers connected Cain's exile and vagabond life in the land of Nod with the friars' mendicant existence. For other examples of Cain in antifraternal verse, see PPC 486 and 559; JU 70; FDR 105; Scattergood, Politics, p. 238 (on Mum and the Sothsegger lines 501-04). Margaret Aston has emphasized Wyclif's influence in the promulgation of CAIM as an explanation of fraternal origins. See "'Caim's Castles': Poverty, Politics, and Disendowment," The Church, Politics and Patronage in the Fifteenth Century, ed. Barrie Dobson (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984), pp. 45-81.

120 such throng. For another vision of a plenitude of friars, see The Summoner's Prologue III.1691-98. The friars have a special "nest" in "the develes ers."

126 shal. So MS, Wr, and Krochalis and Peters. RHR shall.

127 Templers. RHR: "The Templars had been disbanded and their properties sequestered by Edward II, on orders of the Papacy, starting in 1309." The poem's author links the fraternal order of Knights Templar with the mendicant orders, suggesting they will experience a similar fate.

133-41 dredful thing . . . annuels. Alludes to the practice of hiring others to perform anniversary masses (annuels) for which one is responsible. See also PPC 414, and FDR 505 and note.

143 possessioners were beneficed or endowed clergy who were allowed to have possessions. Fraternal rules prohibited the owning of property. See Alford, Glossary, s.v. Possessioner, Possession.

145 Tham felle. Impersonal construction: it fell to them, it was their task.

151 service. "Particular ritual services paid for by the recipient, the offertories going to the administering priest." FitzRalph bitterly censured the incursion of friars into priestly offices such as this in Defensio curatorum.

152 And that. So MS (&that); Wr, RHR, Krochalis and Peters That. The ampersand is partly obscured by the rhyme-link line.

155 frers shall annuel prestes bycome. Friars could and did stand in for secular priests as annuelers, those who sang anniversary masses for a fee. Chaucer describes the pilgrim Parson, a parish priest, as "nat a mercenarye"; and he will not run off to London to seek a chaunterie or a job singing anniversary masses for the dead.

171 Of twelve monethes. Because the customary period of the novitiate lasted a year, and because he left the order before his novitiate was completed - before he was "professed" in the order (see 174) - the narrator claims not to be an apostate. The issue of apostasy was important in the bitter debates between secular and regular clergy. See JU 97-102, and Alford, Glossary, s.v. Apostata. The narrator of Prestes, Ne Monkes avers that he did not steal away from the order but that he went his way openly and "in syght of many men" (line 176).

[The Orders of Cain (1382)]

(British Library MS Cotton Cleopatra B.ii fols. 63v-65r)

Preste, ne monke, ne yit chanoun,
Ne no man of religioun,
Gyfen hem so to devocioun 1
   As done thes holy frers.
For summe gyven ham to chyvalry
Somme to riote and ribaudery;
Bot ffrers gyven ham to grete study,
   And to grete prayers.
       Who-so kepes thair reule al,
           Bothe in worde and dede,
       I am ful siker that he shal
           Have heven blis to mede.
Men may se by thair contynaunce
That thai are men of grete penaunce,
And also that thair sustynaunce
   Simple is and wayke.
I have lyved now fourty yers,
And fatter men about the neres
Yit sawe I never than are these frers,
   In contreys ther thai rayke.
      Meteles so megre are thai made, 2
         And penaunce so puttes ham doun,
      That ichone is an hors-lade
         When he shall trusse of toun.
Allas, that ever it shuld be so,
Suche clerkes as thai about shuld go,
Fro toun to toun by two and two,
   To seke thair sustynaunce!
By God that al this world wan,
He that that ordre first bygan,
Me thynk certes it was a man
   Of simple ordynaunce.
      For thai have noght to lyve by, 3
         Thai wandren here and there,
      And dele with dyvers marcerye,
         Right as thai pedlers were.
Thai dele with purses, pynnes, and knyves,
With gyrdles, gloves for wenches and wyves;
Bot ever bacward the husband thryves
   Ther thai are haunted till. 4
For when the gode man is fro hame,
And the frere comes to oure dame,
He spares nauther for synne ne shame
   That he ne dos his will.
      If thai no helpe of houswyves had,
         Whan husbandes are not inne,
      The freres welfare were ful bad,
         For thai shuld brewe ful thynne.
Somme frers beren pelure aboute,
For grete ladys and wenches stoute,
To reverce with thair clothes withoute -
   Al after that, thai ere -
For somme vaire, and somme gryse,
For somme bugee and for somme byse.
And also many a dyvers spyse
   In bagges about thai bere.
      Al that for women is plesand
         Ful redy certes have thai.
      But lytel gyfe thai the husband
         That for al shal pay.
Trantes thai can and many a jape;
For somme can with a pound of sape
Gete him a kyrtelle and a cape,
   And somwhat els therto.
Wherto shuld I othes swere?
Ther is no pedler that pak can bere
That half so dere can sell his gere
   Then a frer can do.
      For if he gife a wyfe a knyfe
         That cost bot penys two,
      Worthe ten knyves, so mot I thryfe,
         He wyl have er he go. 5
Ich man that here shal lede his life,
That has a faire doghter or a wyfe,
Be war that no frer ham shryfe,
   Nauther loude ne still.
Thof women seme of hert ful stable,
With faire byhest and with fable
That can make thair hertes chaungeable
   And thair likynges fulfille.
      Be war ay with the lymitour,
         And with his felawe bathe;
      And thai make maystries in thi bour,
         It shal turne the to scathe. 6
Were I am a man that hous helde,
If any woman with me dwelde,
Ther is no frer bot he were gelde
   Shuld com with-in my wones.
For may he til a woman wynne
In priveyté, he wyl not blynne
Er he a childe put hir with-inne -
   And perchaunce two at ones!
      Thof he loure under his hode,
         With semblaunt quaynte and mylde,
      If thou him trust, or dos him gode,
         By God, thou art bygylde.
Thai say that thai distroye synne,
And thai mayntene men moste ther-inne;
For had a man slayn al his kynne,
   Go shryve him at a frere,
And for lesse then a payre of shone
He wyl assoil him, clene and sone,
And say the synne that he has done
   His saule shal never dere.
      It semes sothe that men sayne of hame
         In many dyvers londe,
      That that caytyfe cursed Cayme
         First this ordre fonde.
Nou se the sothe whedre it be swa,
That frere Carmes come of a k,
The frer Austynes come of a,
   Frer Iacobynes of i,
Of M comen the frer Menours.
Thus grounded Caym thes four ordours,
That fillen the world ful of errours
   And of ypocrisy.
      Alle wyckednes that men can tell
         Regnes ham among;
      There shal no saule have rowme in hell,
         Of frers ther is such throng.
Thai travele yerne and bysily
To brynge doun the clergye;
Thai speken therof ay vilany,
   And therof thai done wrong.
Whoso lyves oght many yers
Shall se that it shal fall of frers
As it dyd of the Templers
   That wonned here us among.
      For thai held no religioun
         Bot lyved after lykyng;
      Thai were distroyed and broght adoun
         Thurgh ordynaunce of the kyng.
Thes frers haunten a dredful thing,
That never shal come to gode endyng:
O frer for eght or nyen shal synge,
   For ten or for elleven.
And when his terme is fully gone,
Conscience then has he none,
That he ne dar take of ychone
   Markes sixe or seven.
      Suche annuels has made thes frers
         So wely and so gay,
      That ther may no possessioners
         Mayntene thair array.
Tham felle to lyve al on purchace 7
Of almes geten fro place to place;
And for all that tham holpen has
   Shuld thai pray and syng.
Bot now this londe so negh soght is
That unnethe may prestes seculers
Gete any service for thes frers.
   And that is wondre thing.
      This is a quaynt custome
         Ordeyned ham among,
      That frers shal annuel prestes bycome
         And so-gates selle ther song.
Ful wysely can thai preche and say,
Bot as thai preche, no thing do thai.
I was a frere ful many a day,
   Therfor the sothe I wate.
Bot when I sawe that thair lyvyng
Acordyd not to thair prechyng,
Of I cast my frer clothing
   And wyghtly went my gate.
      Other leve ne toke I none
         Fro ham when I went,
      Bot toke ham to the devel ychone,
         The priour and the covent.
Out of the ordre thof I be gone,
Apostata ne am I none;
Of twelve monethes me wanted one,
   And odde days nyen or ten.
Away to wende I made me boun,
Or tyme come of professioun,
I went my way thurghout the toun
   In syght of many men.
      Lord God that with paynes ill
         Mankynde boght so dere,
      Let never man after me have will
         For to make him frere.
do; friars; (see note)
devote themselves; chivalry
debauchery; coarse jesting
Whoever observes their entire rule
heaven's bliss as reward
buttocks; (see note)
where; wander about
(see note)
each one; horse load
leave town; (see note)
in pairs; (see note)
I think for sure
rule of life
merchandise; (see note)
(see note)
belts; (see note)
(see note)
Until he accomplishes
(see note)
fare poorly
carry rich fur
(see note)
are; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
to; pleasing
Trentals; tricks; (see note)
something; in the bargain
Why; swear oaths
peddlar; pack
profitably; wares
(see note)
only twopence
Each; (see note)
confess them
(see note)
Though; heart
(see note)
companion also
(see note)
a householder
unless; castrated
to; gain access
(see note)
Though; look sad
countenance genteel
do good for him
duped; (see note)
absolve; fully
soul; harm
true; them
wretch; Cain
established; (see note)
Now observe; truth whether
(see note)
reigns among them
soul; room
(see note)
labor eagerly
Whoever lives for any length of time
befall; (see note)
(see note)
who lived
according to their desires
practice; (see note)
One; eight; nine
each one
(see note)
match; dress
(see note)
alms gathered
for those who have helped them
on account of; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
in this manner
preach; talk
I know the truth
quickly; way
each one
I'm not an apostate
(see note)
the will
to become

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