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Art. 24, Chaunter m’estoit: Introduction

ABBREVIATIONS: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CCC: Corpus Christi College (Cambridge); CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); IMEV Suppl.: Supplement to the Index of Middle English Verse (Robbins and Cutler); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

This Anglo-Norman song laments the death of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, slain at the Battle of Evesham in Worcestershire on Tuesday, August 4, 1265. The forces of Lord Edward, Henry III’s son, caught Montfort and his army by surprise, and there the baronial cause suffered a severe defeat. Comparing Montfort’s death to Thomas Becket’s martyrdom, the poet grieves for him and for the other slaughtered nobles, mentioning by name Montfort’s son Henry and Hugh Despenser, justice of England. As an ardent partisan of the extremist rebel side, the poet shows disdain for the Earl of Gloucester, who, in advocating for a more moderate baronial position, defected at Evesham. Aspin sets the likeliest time for the poem’s composition as 1267–68, that is, well after the battle. Shields argues persuasively, however, that it was written within just weeks of the defeat: the poem “is not so much a document seeking to influence the course of politics as a voice expressing popular reaction to an event of history which had intensely human interest” (pp. 205–06).

The scribe’s inclusion of this item after A Song of Lewes shows a formal plan for this portion of MS Harley 2253. The two poems work as a diptych, facing each other on verso and recto. It also exhibits an attentiveness to the events of the Second Barons’ War, particularly to Montfort as an illustrious man. The poem promotes arguments made in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to have Montfort canonized. This campaign was forwarded by a group of Franciscans who styled Montfort in death as a second Saint Thomas who fought for Holy Church against royal impieties. As the poet notes, Montfort was found wearing a hair shirt when he died, as was Beckett. Simon de Montfort’s name was brandished everywhere in the 1260s, and many did regard him as a saint.

In western England this attitude lingered well into the next century. To account for the Montfortian poems in MS Harley 2253, Turville-Petre notes that they must have “reflected the interests of the patrons and their circle. Any family of significance in the south-west midlands is certain to have been involved in some of the events described”; local families would have “taken sides in the battle of nearby Evesham,” and the attack on Gloucester “will not have displeased his rivals” (1996, p. 197). Parallel interests appear in MS Harley 978 (see explanatory note to art. 23). Among Montfort’s prominent adherents were the Franciscans Robert Grosseteste and Adam Marsh, as well as the Oxford chancellor Walter Cantilupe, who was the uncle of Thomas Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford. These are provocative associations in the context of MS Harley 2253.

Looking beyond the praise of Montfort, one senses, too, how the scribe wishes to issue a warning on earthly pride: he juxtaposes Montfort’s dramatic rise at Lewes (art. 23) with his sudden fall at Evesham. He then caps the Montfortian poems with epitaphs on vanity in three tongues, a universalizing touch that displays the Ludlow scribe’s moralistic sensibility (arts. 24a, 24a*, 24b). According to Carter Revard (by personal communication), the other extant copy of the poem, in Dublin, Trinity College, MS 347, is similarly situated next to a Wheel of Life diagram with an “ashes to ashes” reminder issued for the last stage of life. For further comments on this item and its pairings with other items, see Aspin, pp. 24–35; Scattergood 2000a, pp. 183–85; Jeffrey 2000, p. 263; Fein 2007, pp. 77–78; and Revard 2007, pp. 109–10. For background on Simon de Montfort, see A. Taylor 2002, pp. 122–23; Labarge; and Maddicott.

[Fol. 59r–v. ANL 84. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 6. Meter: Nine 18-line stanzas built of three 6-line units, with lines 13–18 repeated as refrain: 4a4a6b4c4c6b|4d4d6e4f4f6e| 4G4G6H4I4I6H (syllable counts somewhat irregular). Four-syllable lines have masculine rhymes; 6-syllable lines have feminine rhymes. Layout: No columns; three lines per manuscript line. The refrain is written out for stanzas 1, 7; elsewhere it is abbreviated and written on the right. The poem appears on a recto opposite A Song of Lewes, in diptych fashion. Editions: Wright 1839, pp. 125–27; Ritson 1877, pp. 13–16; Aspin, pp. 24–35 (no. 3). Other MS: Dublin, Trinity College, MS 347 (C.5.8), fols. 2v–3r (ed. Shields). Old French Versions: See ANL 84. Latin Analogue: See Aspin, p. 27. Translations: Wright 1839, pp. 125–27; Ritson 1877, pp. 16–19 (in verse, by George Ellis); Aspin, pp. 32–33.]

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