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Art. 80, Talent me prent de rymer e de geste fere: 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); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); 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 poem is a song of political complaint voiced by a man exiled from society. He claims that he has been falsely accused and made an outlaw as a result of the articles of Trailbaston, a series of fourteenth-century statutes enacted and strenuously enforced to raise funds needed for the crown’s military campaigns. The speaker names four men — Martin, Knoville, Spigurnel, and Belflour (lines 33–36) — who were four of the five justices assigned to the southwestern counties of England from April 1305 to February 1307. Consequently, the poem can be dated with precision and placed in the same region as the Harley manuscript. The author, if we may understand him to be writing autobiographically, must have lived under the jurisdiction of these justices. The two named as pious (Martin and Knoville) were local men, and they are accorded a degree of respect. The two named as cruel (Spigurnel and Belflour) were from outside the area (Aspin, pp. 67–68). Revard (2005c, pp. 152-53) hypothesizes that the author was William of Billebury, chamberlain to Maud Mortimer, the ancestor of a possible patron of the Ludlow scribe.

The speaker has fled to the greenwood — that is, the forest of Belregard — to escape prison, and there he finds protective shelter and solace. Passing references to archery and a band of outlaws establish the song in the larger body of outlaw lore that precedes the popular Robin Hood ballads of succeeding centuries. Elsewhere, the Ludlow scribe is responsible for the sole copy of an important outlaw romance, Fouke le Fitz Waryn, in London, BL MS Royal 12.C.12 (ed. Hathaway et al.). The stated means of publication for Trailbaston is as a bill thrown into the highway (lines 97–100), a desperate way to issue a plea of innocence and lodge a political complaint. Scase sees in Trailbaston an instance of literature framed as legal plaint (2007, p. 173), a category in which other Harley poems might be set, for example, Song of the Husbandman and Satire on the Retinues of the Great (arts. 31, 88).

For discussions of Trailbaston, see Aspin, pp. 67–68; Dobson and Taylor, pp. 250–51; Green 1999, pp 171–73; Scattergood 2000a, pp. 185–88; Revard 2000b, pp. 75–76 (on the contemporary relevance of the poem in the year 1341), and 2005c, pp. 151–55; and Scase 2007, pp. 42–48, 173.

[Fols. 113vb–114v. ANL 93. Långfors, p. 400. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quires: 12–13 (fol. 114 opens quire 13). Meter: Twenty-five monorhymed quatrains. Each line has ten to fifteen syllables. Two lines are lost from stanza 16. Layout: Begins in a wide right column and finishes with no columns. Editions: Wright 1839, pp. 231–36; Ritson 1877, pp. 19–24; Aspin, pp. 67–78 (no. 7). Other MSS: None. Translations: Wright 1839, pp. 231–36; Aspin, pp. 73–76; Dobson and Taylor, pp. 250–54; Revard 2005c, pp. 151–64.]

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