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Art. 90, When man as mad a kyng of a capped man: 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).

The Prophecy of Thomas of Erceldoune delivers oracular pronouncements as incontrovertible truths. They are uttered in gnomic English, much like the proverbs of Hending (art. 89) that precede it, and like Earth upon Earth (art. 24b). In putting voice to Anglo-Scottish conflicts, it is comparable to The Execution of Sir Simon Fraser (art. 25). The prophetic signs for when the Scottish war will end form a cryptic list — amid real place-names — of inconclusive vagaries and impossible conditions. A French rubric heads the item, naming it as Thomas of Erceldoune’s response to the Countess of Dunbar. Thomas was a thirteenth-century Scots poet and seer whose name attaches to several prophecies. This text is the earliest and one of the shortest. Its sympathies lie (maybe oddly for Thomas) with the English. The Countess of Dunbar has been identified as Black Agnes, sister of Robert the Stewart, who defended Dunbar Castle in 1337 or, alternatively, as Marjory, who surrendered the castle in 1296. The date of the poem therefore cannot be determined, though different dates between 1296 and 1337 have been proposed.

Metrically, the item is often classified as alliterative poetry, but it is more properly prose — in fact, the only English prose in the Ludlow scribe’s share of the manuscript. (Elsewhere, there are the paint recipes [arts. 10–17] copied by Scribe C.) Some lines can be scanned as alliterative long lines, but most cannot, and many fail in full alliteration. Each item in the list begins with an incantatory “When,” helping to build its impressive, authoritative tone. According to McSparran, The Prophecy is the “most linguistically eccentric and untypical text” among the book’s English items (p. 396).

For commentary on the works of Thomas of Erceldoune and on this specific Harley item, see J. A. H. Murray (with a translation on p. lxxxvi); Robbins 1975, MWME 5:1524–28; Turville-Petre 1989, pp. 36–37, and 1996, pp. 195–97; J. M. Dean, pp. 4–5, 19–21; Scattergood 2000a, pp. 177–78; McSparran, pp. 396–99; and Flood.

[Fol. 127rb–va. MWME 5:1525 [288]. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 14. Layout: Double columns. Editions: J. A. H. Murray, pp. xviii–xix; Brandl and Zippel, pp. 133–34; Robbins 1959, p. 29 (no. 8); Turville–Petre 1989, pp. 36–37; J. M. Dean, p. 11; Flood, pp. 11–27. Other MS: London, BL MS Arundel 57, fol. 8v (ed. Wright and Halliwell, 1:30.)]

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