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When Rome is Removed


1 Much strife and misery shall occur in Brutus's land (England)

2 Because of injuries from the strong heat shall hide its (the Lily's, i.e., the French) people, / Afterwards they themselves will quickly thrive and multiply in the winter

3 And then Wales shall rise up and assail other lands

4 Evil [fall] on strangers, if ever they shall rouse! / The Brut's blood shall waken and slaughter them with swords of steel

5 To the leopard shall belong - believe you nothing else

6 And shall rouse himself to battle at the river Humber

7 A paltry northern squall shall fade forever


This poem is found in three versions, with fragments quoted elsewhere, in eighteen manuscripts. Version A, which is the version printed here, is found in seven manuscripts, with fragments in five others. See RHR, p. 312. RHR suggests that "the original prophesy was apparently Scottish in sympathy; the Camb. text, however, changes the attitude to favor the English" (p. 314). The date of the original is probably c. 1375-80.

1 The opening line perhaps alludes to Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Prophesies of Merlin, where he foretells: "Religion shall be destroyed a second time and the sees of the primates will be moved to other places" (trans. Thorpe, p. 172). Certainly the tone of the opening lines is apocalyptic, and the "removal" of Rome to England more a curse than a blessing. ROMA is sometimes mocked in the later fourteenth century as an acrostic for greed: Radix omnia malorum avaritia; and English vernacular complaints often dispraise the Vatican's imperious avarice.

2 And the preste haffys the poppys power in hande. The implication seems to be that, given the backing of a corrupt Rome, the English priesthood will behave dictatorially as each priest, in that day, plays pope. It is remotely conceivable that some of the fifteenth-century versions of the prophecy used it against Lollardy, the sense of the opening lines implying that when the Vatican is ignored (removed), and each man is a priest and each priest a pope, then strife and sorrow ensue, the land becomes lawless, the Church disrespected, etc. The solution to the riddle depends upon how one understands it.

3 Betuix thre and sex. Between three and six: a reference to throws of the dice (a conventional way of announcing a prophecy). Some manuscripts of this prophecy, including BL Sloane 2578 (Haferkorn, p. 155), include diagrams of the dice. For an example of a poem "by the dice," see RHR, p. 120.

    wyll. So RHR; MS wyll~, Lumby wylle.

    whoso wyll understande. The poet enigmatically addresses those readers in the know, a characteristic device of prophetic satire. The effect is not unlike that of the Gospel writer of Mark who speaks of Jesus' parable of the sower as a deliberate obfuscation whereby those who know will, hearing, hear and, seeing, see, while those who don't understand will be excluded (Mark 4:9-12).

4 baret, from OFr barat = "strife," "contention," "fighting"; also "trouble," "sorrow." See, for example, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 21: "Bolde bredden þerinne, baret þat lofden" (ed. Tolkien and Gordon).

    Brutis lande. Brutus or Brut - great grandson of Aeneas - was the eponymous founder of Britain in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain and in later chronicle histories of England. See also the opening lines of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

5 When pryde. Here begins a version of a five-line lyric on the Abuses of the Age: "When pride is most in prise / And couetus most wise" (Index § 4006). Haferkorn renders the half-line as "an envye wyth couetyse." Wenzel, citing Index §§ 2356, 3133, 3943, 4005.5, 4006, and 4008, has identified these verses as a version of the "Type B" complaint lyric; and he tracks the thread to John Ball's Letter (Index § 1791). See Preachers, Poets, and the Early English Lyric, pp. 196-97.

6 haldin thar lyff. "? escape hanging" (RHR).

8 Bothte. Haferkorn omits.

9 Haferkorn and RHR insert a line - "Godis fleysh and his blode swore in hethinge" - which appears in all the other MSS. Lumby omits it from his transcription of the Cambridge MS.

10 Fully nynty ande nyne. Perhaps an oblique numerological allusion to the parable of the lost sheep, which the Church nowadays ignores, but which in the final year will be found (see Matt. 18:11-14; Luke 15:1-7).

    nocht one wone. Haferkorn glosses as "nothing further, nothing beyond that" (p. 119).

11 sorow . . . unsell. MS settande. Lumby reads settande as a present participle: "setting, waning, disappearing," with unsell as adjectival ("unhappy"), which may be correct. RHR reads sett as a past participle: "circumscribed."

12 Than. So MS and Lumby (Þan); RHR Þen.

    hir. So MS and Lumby; RHR her. Haferkorn reads: And sone Dame Fortun wyth here whele / Shall turne [all] vp that ere was down. All other manuscripts, except for the Cambridge MS, read wyth for turne.

15 I follow Haferkorn and RHR in placing a break between lines 15 and 16, although the MS contains no such division; nor does Lumby make a break. Haferkorn assigns formal divisions to lines 1-15 (I), 16-51 (II), 52-59 (III), 60-66 (IV), 68-73 (V). Beginning line 15 the poet reproduces material known as The Prophecy of Bede. Prophecies were attached to the name of Bede the Venerable as well as to Merlin, Thomas the Rymer, and Thomas of Erceldoune. See "The Prophecie of Beid" (inc. "Betwixt the chiefe of Summer & the said Winter"), in The Whole Prophecies of Scotland, England, France, Ireland and Denmarke (Edinburgh: A. Hart, 1617 [STC 17842]), pp. A5r-A6v; and The Prophisies of Rymour, Beid, and Marlyng, Appendix II of The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune, ed. James A. H. Murray, EETS o.s. 61 (London: Trübner, 1875), pp. 52-61, especially lines 445-end. Murray's edition is a collation of versions in BL MS Lansdowne 762 and Bodleian MS Rawlinson C. 813. I am indebted to George H. Brown for help with The Prophecy of Bede.

17 And everyche . . . werk. Haferkorn: And all euerwic londe ernystly [shall] be wrocht.

18 Nazareth noy well awhile. RHR quotes Haferkorn: "Christus in anger will turn away and let the evil in the world have its course for a time." Most MSS read newly for noy well. awhile. MS A while.

19 the Lilly so lele. ? France, which was Scotland's ally through much of the mid- to later-fourteenth century.

20-21 Perhaps the point is that the Lily (France) goes into hiding as the French suffer from English attacks in the summer, but replenishes itself (hime) during the winter.

    ledis. Haferkorn leuys.

21 at sped. Haferkorn to spred.

22 All the Flowris in the Fyrth. "In May, 1385, Jean de Vienne, Admiral of France, arrived in the Forth with ships of war, arms and plate armour, fifty thousand francs and 'all the flower of chivalry"' (John Prebble, The Lion in the North [London: Secker and Warburg, 1971], p. 129). The point may be that the Scots follow the French (the Lily) in their policies against the English oppressors.

23 Tatcalders . . . Carioun. Tatalders (Cadwallader, d. 689), profligate last king of Britain in Geoffrey's History of the Kings of Britain. The Anglo-Saxons defeated him, and he fled to Brittany; when he longed to regain his lost kingdom, an angelic voice forbade him to return. Cariown (Conan, or Conanus Meridiadocus) struggled to become king of Britain after the death of his uncle, Octavius, and defeated Maximianus in battle. Later he conquered the Franks in Brittany, ruling in Armorica. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophecies of Merlin include this prediction: "Cadwallader shall summon Conanus and shall make an alliance with Albany. Then the foreigners shall be slaughtered and the rivers will run with blood" (trans. Thorpe, p. 175). On this, see Rupert Taylor, The Political Prophecy in England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1911), pp. 44-45. For the b half-line Haferkorn reads: on Kynon the nobyll.

24 and wrethe other landis. Haferkorn: and worshipe here londes.

25 And erth . . . wyne. Haferkorn: [And] inheryt in-to Albany at here own wyll.

27 wakyne. So MS and RHR; Lumby waykne.

28 that lande. Haferkorn: this londe.

30 Libert. Leopard, symbol of England in this poem. Lions have long been associated with England in English heraldry: "Gules, three lions passant-gardant in pale, Or" (Julian Franklyn, Shield and Crest: An Account of the Art and Science of Heraldry [New York: Sterling, 1960], p. 90). This device can be seen in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century depictions of royalty. But the lions of English heraldry have sometimes been identified as leopards: lion-léopardé. Edward III minted gold coins in 1344 called "gold leopards" (leopardi auri). See Franklyn, Shield and Crest, pp. 90-91; Gerard J. Brault, Early Blazon: Heraldic Terminology in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries with Special Reference to Arthurian Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), s.v. lion passant (pp. 231-32); Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson, The Oxford Guide to Heraldry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), Appendix A: "The Royal Arms of Great Britain," pp. 187-89. The royal banner, including fleurs-de-lys and lions passant-gardant in alternating panels, appears in depictions of Richard II's career (Froissart's Chroniques, British Library MS Royal 18 E.1, fol. 175r). For another leopard (=Edward, Duke of York), see "When the cocke in the Northe," line 13 (RHR, p. 115). Referring to The Cock in the North, Rupert Taylor says: "The hero is clearly the Lion. In other predictive poems of this same collection the Lion is invariably used as a heraldic symbol for the King of Scotland." Later on Taylor observes: "The Lion was used for several generations of Scottish Kings. When it was found necessary to distinguish it from other lions, it was called the Red Lion, as in the Rymour Prophecy in The Whole Prophecy. Similarly, though less frequently, the Leopard was used for the English Kings, perhaps only for the first three Edwards" (The Political Prophecy in England, p. 76, note 53, pp. 113-14). In The Prophecy of John of Bridlington (mid-fourteenth century) occurs the following gloss to the sixth chapter: "Conjunget flores deliciarum, scilicet armorum Franciae, cum leopardis regni Angliae. . . . Et illi flores deliciarum conjuncti cum leopardis demonstrant annos posteriores guerrarum, scilicet quod erunt magna bella et multa annis sequentibus inter Anglicos et Gallicos" (Wright, PPS 1:148). In medieval symbolism generally the leopard represents "sin, cruelty, the Devil, and the Antichrist" (leopard in malo; see George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art [New York: Oxford University Press, 1954], p. 21); but the leopard was often interchanged with the lion in heraldry as a noble, royal beast. The Lyone (line 31), or Scotland, will be subservient to the Leopard, or England. Geoffrey's Prophecies of Merlin forecasts the following: "The Lion of Justice shall come next, and at its roar the towers of Gaul shall shake and the island Dragons tremble. In the days of this Lion gold shall be squeezed from the lily-flower and the nettle, and silver shall flow from the hoofs of lowing cattle" (trans. Thrope, p. 174). I am indebted to Steven C. Perkins for help with this reference. Haferkorn reads lyly for Libert.

31 The Lyone. In the MS there is a word scratched out after Lyone; Lumby includes ellipses after bestis. For this line Haferkorn reads: The lyon, leder of all [and] lord of all this bestys.

32 Libert. Haferkorn lyly.

34 stopsonys. So MS. Lumby and RHR emend to stepsonys (also in line 44). For the b half-line Haferkorn reads: stordy of hem-sylf.

35 The Leoperde . . . for ever. Haferkorn: They shall be steryde a stounde and sterte vp at onys, / Son strike down the bestys and strye hem for euer.

36-37 He sall . . . to the ende. The sense here is difficult. Haferkorn: They shall kyndely kerue that Criste hath forbede, / And thus [shall] thos dere dryue in-to the ende. The sense of the Cambridge manuscript seems opposite to this, however, where he (the Leopard) condemns them (the stepsons) "as Christ has bidden him to do, / And thus Christ [or perhaps the leopard] shall drive them down, even to the end." The point of this apocalyptic vision seems to cast Christ in the role of judge rather than as a pacifier, who destroys the stepsons (border people who are neither English or Scottish?), perhaps as Christ condemns the Laodicians in Apocalypse 3:14-19.

38 thai. The stepsons.

    nor the Libert lelle. Haferkorn: ne the lyon.

39 And thai . . . hardé. Haferkorn: Ffor they shull hold to the herte.

41 Wytht that . . . louse. Haferkorn: But they shull lyghtly be lowsyd.

45 unbrokyne. Haferkorn: [brykyll].

46 gete. RHR's emendation; Lumby [gather].

48 fawle. So RHR; MS and Lumby fawlo. For this line Haferkorn reads: But all shall faile at the freke traystys. It is possible that fawle = falewen, "fade," "grow pale," as in the frequent moral refrain "al sal falewi þi grene." See English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century, ed. Carleton Brown (Oxford: Clarendon, 1932), p. 17, and Brown's Glossary s.v. falewi.

49 RHR: "Apparently corrupt (sely = insignificant). Other MSS. full, fell. Compare Whole Prophecie ('Merling saies in his booke'): 'And an fellowne flaw shall fall soone after.' Also Geoffrey of Monmouth, HRB vii: 'Tunc exsurget in illum aquilo; et flores quos zephyrus procreavit eripiet."' Haferkorn reads: A fell northryn flaw shall fadyn hem for euer.

50 Herafter. So MS (Heraft~) and Lumby; RHR Hereafter.

51 The Barge . . . sonkyne. Trans. "The Church is ready to sink." RHR, after Lumby, emends MS sonkyne to senkyne and comments: "Other MSS. syr Bariona . . . bounde to be sonkyn. The barge of Simon Peter, the son of John (Matt. 16.17; John 1.42), i.e., the Church." For Bar-Jona the MS, Lumby, and RHR read bariona. Christ says: "Beatus es Simon Bar Iona" (Matt. 16.17). Lumby explains: "'The barge of Barjona' is 'the vessel of the Papacy"' (Glossary).

52 Secularis. Apparently laymen rather than secular clergy.

53 ennoyntyd. So MS and Lumby; RHR ennoynted.

55 And . . . haldis. Trans. "And those who hold the power believe they own the title of truth." trouth. So MS and Lumby; RHR trouthe.

61 sute. So RHR (preserving the alliteration); MS and Lumby fute.

63 RHR comments: "Five texts read R, one V, one VII, and the others 2 (i.e., 1382). Haferkorn (p. 129) suggests the Arabic '2' was read as a medium length 'r.' As the prophecy was recopied, other years were substituted, e.g., 1387, 1482, 1535. The B version is dated 1480, although Haferkorn thinks this best preserves the original Scottish prophecy. A late variant of C is dated 1642." The Cambridge text seems to indicate 1382 or 1385. Lumby in a marginal note reads "one thousand three hundred and eighty-R."

64 understande. So RHR; MS and Lumby under.

65 Merlyne . . . his bokis. A reference to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophecies of Merlin in his History of the Kings of Britain and the prophetic tradition deriving from it.

66 Berwyk. Berwick-upon-Tweed, an important border town. Berwick surrendered to England in 1333, after the battle of Halidon Hill, when Edward Balliol, supported by Edward III of England, defeated David Bruce. In the 1380s the English-Scottish wars began at Berwick. The wars arose when James, Earl of Douglas opposed Robert II, Richard II's choice for king of Scotland. Richard and John of Gaunt invaded Scotland in 1385, but they were defeated by the Scots and their French allies. But in the summer of 1388 Henry Hotspur and the English forces defeated the Scots and killed the Douglas at the battle of Otterburn. Henry VI of England ceded Berwick to Scotland in 1461; and in 1463 a long truce was established between the kingdoms.

67 fande. Lumby in a marginal note paraphrases lines 66-71: "Berwick! Be glad of these words that Bede found; thou shalt be true to thy king, the Lion, for ever." RHR suggests the translation "devised" for fande (Glossary).

68 trew. So MS and Lumby; RHR trewe.

69 releve. Haferkorn be-left.

71 be leffe. So MS and RHR; Lumby beleff, Haferkorn be-leue.
(Cambridge Univ. MS Kk.1.5 [IV] fols. 33r-34r)

Qwhen Rome is removyde into Inglande,
And the preste haffys the poppys power in hande,
Betuix thre and sex - whoso wyll understande -
Mekyll baret ande bale shall fall in Brutis lande. 1
When pryde is most in price, ande wyt is in covatyse,
Lychory is ryffe, and theffis has haldin thar lyff,
Holy Chirche is awlesse, and justicis ar lawlesse,
Bothte knychtis and knawys clede in on clething,
Be the yheris of Cryst, comyn and gone,
Fully nynty ande nyne (nocht one wone):
Then shall sorow be sett ande unsell,
Than shall Dame Fortowne turne hir whell.
Scho sall turne up that ar was doune,
And than sall leawté ber the crowne.
Betweyne the cheyff of the somer and the sad winter,
For the heycht of the heyte happyne sall wer;
And everyche lorde shall austernly werk.
Then shall Nazareth noy well awhile;
And the Lilly so lele wytht lovelyche flouris
For harmes of the hardé heyte sall hillyne his ledis,
Syne speyde hime at sped, and spawne in the wynter. 8
All the Flowris in the Fyrth sall folow hime one.
Tatcalders sall call on Carioun the noyus,
And than sall worthe up Wallys and wrethe othir landis, 3
And erth on tyll Albany, if thai may wyne.
Herme wnto alienys, anever thai sall wakyne!
The Bruttis blude sall thame wakyne and bryttne wyth brandis of stell: 4
Ther sall no bastarde blode abyde in that lande.
Then Albanattus the kene, kynde kynge offe erthe,
Unto the Libert shall leng - leve yhe non othir. 5
The Lyone, leder of bestis,
Shall lowte to the Libert and long hume wytht,
And shall stere hume at stryff be stremis of Humber. 6
The stopsonys of the Lyonne, steryt up at ones,
The Leoperde sall thame stryke doune, and stroy thame for ever.
He sall thame kenly kersse, as Cryst has hume bydyne,
And thus He sall thame doune dryff, ewyne to the ende.
For thai luf nocht the Lylly nor the Libert lelle,
And thai halde to the hardé, happyn as it may,
Ay to the tayle of somyr tyne hir lappis.
Wytht that sall a Libert be louse, when thai lest weyne.
Ane Egle of the est, ande ane aventruse byrde,
Shall fande flowrys to fange in that fyrste sesoun;
Sterte to the stopsonys, stryke thame doune to-gether,
To bynde bandis unbrokyne that salbe furthe broucht.
He sall hime garlandis gete of the gay flowrys
At in that sesoune spredis so fayre.
And all sall fawle the foulke that the freke strykis;
A sely northyrune flaw sall fadyne for ever. 7
Herafter on othir syde sorow sall ryse,
The Barge of Bar-Jona bowne to the sonkyne,
Secularis sall set thame in spiritual clothis
And occupy thar offices, ennoyntyd as thai war.
Thar tonsurys tak wytht turnamentis inowe,
And trow tytyll of trouth that the strenth haldis.
That salbe tene for to tell the tende of thar sorow
That sall ourdryff the date doune to the boke.
This most betyde in the time - throw yhe forsuthe -
Qwhen A B C may sett hume to wryte.
Anon efter M1, evene to rewlle,
Tre CCC in a sute semblyt to-gether,
Ande syne, efter ane l, as the lyne askis,
Tris X ande ane R enterly folowande:
This is the dolorouse date - understande yhe the glose -
Wheroff whyll Merlyne melys in his bokis.
Busk ye wyell, Berwyk, be blyth of this wordis,
That Sant Bede fande in his buk of the byg bergh.
The trew towne upon Twede wytht towrys fayre!
Thow sall releve to thi keng, that is the kende eyr.
Ande othir burghys abowte, wytht thar brade wall,
Sall wytht the Lyoune be leffe ande longe for-ever.
When; England; (see note)
priest has; pope's; (see note)
Between three and six; (see note)
(see note)
held most dear; (see note)
Lechery; widespread; thieves; (see note)
knaves; the same dress; (see note)
By; years; (see note)
nothing further; (see note)
sorrow and unhappiness subside; (see note)
Fortune; wheel; (see note)
She shall; before
uprightness wield power
height; depths of; (see note)
promise; heat; war
every; harshly; (see note)
suffer; (see note)
loyal with lovely flowers; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
it (the Lily) alone; (see note)
Cadwalader; Conan the troublesome; (see note)
(see note)
spur on Scotland; succeed; (see note)
Evil befall
(see note)
(see note)
Albanact; bold; natural; of
(see note)
(see note)
bow; leopard; belong to him; (see note)
stepsons; lion; stirred up; (see note)
destroy them; (see note)
boldly condemn; bid him; (see note)
force down; even
love; Lily; loyal Leopard; (see note)
adhere; brave; (see note)
destroy their clothing
With; loosed; least think; (see note)
Eagle; daring bird
discover; gather
Attack; stepsons
shall be; (see note)
(see note)
fall; folk; warrior; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
Laymen; (see note)
as if they were; (see note)
title; power; (see note)
shall be grief; tithe
delay; period
happen; eye
one thousand; to measure level
Three hundreds; group assembled; (see note)
afterwards; fifty; requires
Three tens; without exception; (see note)
you; (see note)
speaks; (see note)
Prepare; well; glad; these; (see note)
conceived; book; (see note)
(Berwick-upon-Tweed); (see note)
natural heir; (see note)
happy; belong; (see note)

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