Back to top

The Boy and the Mantle


1 Lines 11–12: He would have thought it shameful not to be conversant with courtesy


Abbreviation: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales.

1–2 In the third day of May / To Carleile did come. The third of May is a recurrent date in Chaucer’s writing: the third night of May is when Palamon breaks prison and escapes to the woods where he fights Arcite (CT I[A]1462–63), the third day of May is the day on which Chauntecleer falls to (but escapes) the fox ( CT VII[B2]3187–91), and it is the inauspicious opening day of Book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde (2.56). The Boy and the Mantle may be simply following Chaucer in making May 3 a dangerous date for the servants of Venus or may be following directly whatever tradition Chaucer himself followed (assuming that Chaucer’s use of the date was not a merely personal reference, a wedding anniversary or the like). An article by Alfred Kellogg and Robert C. Cox, “Chaucer’s May 3 and Its Contexts,” reports the various reasons that have been suggested for Chaucer’s choice of that particular date. Among the most useful of the explanations suggested is D. W. Robertson, Jr.’s, that May 3 is the date of St. Helena’s Invention of the Cross and consequent casting down of the idol of Venus (“Chaucerian Tragedy,” p. 19). May 3 was also the last day of the Roman feast of Floralia; as described in Ovid’s Fasti, Book 5, it was a sexually uninhi­bited public celebration of fertility, exactly what we would expect the prudish boy with the mantle to disapprove of.
Carlisle is a setting for Arthur’s court in some medieval works: The Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne, for example, or a couple of occasions in Malory’s Morte Darthur, of most relevance here the catastrophic open accusation of Lancelot’s adultery with Guenever and his entrapment in her chamber. The opening lines are thus an economical evocation of prior English literary history.
In the analogues in which a time is specified it is Pentecost (Le Lai du cor , Le Livre de Carados, Le Mantel mautaillié, and Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s Lanzelet). That feast day, above all others, was one on which Arthur conventionally would not eat until some great adventure had befallen.

24 Betweene two nutshells. In the analogues, the mantle usually emerges from a magically small container.

44 Ill itt did her beseeme. Blue was the color of truth, chastity, and loyalty, and was commonly associated with the Virgin Mary (see Ferguson, Signs and Symbols, p. 272).

53 walker. The walker or fuller compressed cloth (sometimes by trampling) and cleaned it after it was woven.

57–60 Guenever is expressing a deliberately shocking preference: to live in the uncivilized forest without any comforts, luxuries, or honors rather than to stay in Arthur’s court and be humiliated as she has been.

82 Pattering ore a creede. The knight is reciting a formula of Christian beliefs, probably the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, both of which were learned by laypeople in England in the Middle Ages.

100 And bade her come in. As in some of the analogues (Le Mantel mautaillié and Ulrich von Zatzikhoven’s Lanzelet), the successful lady is not present while the others are trying the mantle.

152 Looking over a dore. The door is evidently a half door.


title The MS reads: Boy and Mantle. The title and the initial “In” (which appears in the margin) were both added after the MS was bound, since they leave a mirror image trace on the opposite leaf.

7 MS reads: With brauches and ringes.

18 MS reads: I hett you all heate. Emendation for rhyme and sense.

21 MS reads: He plucked out of his potewer.

24 MS reads: Betweene 2 nutshells.

28 MS reads: Shapen as itt is alreadye. The MS line fits the stanza form badly and makes little sense: the mantle changes its shape to fit its wearer, hence the appropriateness of the subjunctive be.

32 MS reads: Began to care for his wiffe. Emendation for rhyme.

34 MS reads: To the mantle shee her biled. Emendation for sense and rhyme.

41 MS reads: One while was itt gaule. Emendation for sense and rhyme.

43 MS reads: Another while was itt wadded. Emendation for sense (other terms in the stanza are color terms).

72 MS reads: All aboue the buttockes. Emendation for rhyme. Toute was a fourteenth- and fifteenth-century word for the rump.

84 MS reads: 20 marks to his meede.

86 MS reads: willignglye.

136 MS reads: That maketh herselfe soe cleare. Emendation for rhyme.

151 MS reads: A litle boy stoode. Emended for sense.

151–58 The lines are evidently corrupted. Percy adds lines after 152 (both in the MS’s margin and in his edition), to complement lines 150–51 and make a stanza with them:
And there as he was looking
He was ware of a wyld bore
156 MS reads: Fast thither that he ran. Emendation for sense.

163 MS reads: Some rubbed their knies. Emendation for sense.

169 MS reads: All their knies edges. Emendation for sense.

170 MS reads: Turned backe againe. Emendation for rhyme.








































In the third day of May
To Carleile did come
A kind curteous child
That cold much of wisdome.

A kirtle and a mantle
This child had uppon,
With brouches and ringes
Full richelye bedone.

He had a sute of silke
About his middle drawne.
Without he cold of curtesye
He thought itt much shame.1

  “God speed thee, King Arthur,
Sitting att thy meate,
And the goodly Queene Guenever —
I canott her forgett.

“I tell you, lordes in this hall,
I hett you all heed:
Excepte you be the more surer,
Is you for to dread.”

  He plucked out of his potener
(And longer wold not dwell),
He pulled forth a pretty mantle
Betweene two nutshells.

  “Have thou here, King Arthure,
Have thou heere of mee.
Give itt to thy comely queene
Shapen as itt bee.

Itt shall never become that wiffe
That hath once done amisse.”
  Then every in the kings court
Began to care for his.

  Forth came Dame Guenever;
To the mantle shee brayd.
The ladye, shee was newfangle,
But yett shee was affrayd.

When shee had taken the mantle,
Shee sttode as shee had beene madd.
It was from the top to the toe
As sheeres had itt shread.

One while was itt goule,
Another while was itt greene;
Another while was itt watchet:
Ill itt did her beseeme.

Another while was it blacke
And bore the worst hue.
  “By my troth,” quoth King Arthur,
“I think thou be not true.”

  Shee threw downe the mantle
That bright was of blee.
Fast with a rudd redd
To her chamber can shee flee.

She curst the weaver and the walker
That clothe that had wrought,
And bade a vengeance on his crowne
That hither hath itt brought.

  “I had rather be in a wood
Under a greene tree
Then in King Arthurs court
Shamed for to bee.”

  Kay called forth his ladye
And bade her come neere,
Saies, “Madam, and thou be guiltye,
I pray thee hold thee there.”

  Forth came his ladye
Shortlye and anon;
Boldlye to the mantle
Then is shee gone.

When shee had tane the mantle
And cast it her about,
Then was shee bare
All above the toute.

Then every knight
That was in the kinges court
Talked, lauged, and showted
Full oft att that sport.

Shee threw downe the mantle
That bright was of blee.
Fast with a red rudd
To her chamber can shee flee.

  Forth came an old knight
Pattering ore a creede,
And he proferred to this litle boy
Twenty marks to his meede,

And all the time of the Christmasse
Willinglye to feede,
Forwhy this mantle might
Doe his wiffe some need.

  When shee had tane the mantle
Of cloth that was made
Shee had no more left on her
But a tassell and a threed.
Then every knight in the kings court
Bade evill might shee speed.

Shee threw downe the mantle
That bright was of blee,
And fast with a redd rudd
To her chamber can shee flee.

  Craddocke called forth his ladye
And bade her come in,
Saith, “Winne this mantle, ladye,
With a little dinne.

“Winne this mantle, ladye,
And it shal be thine,
If thou never did amisse
Since thou wast mine.”

  Forth came Craddockes ladye
Shortlye and anon,
But boldlye to the mantle
Then is shee gone.

When shee had tane the mantle
And cast itt her about,
Upp att her great toe
Itt began to crinkle and crowt.
  Shee said, “Bowe downe, mantle,
And shame me not for nought.

“Once I did amisse,
I tell you certainlye,
When I kist Craddockes mouth
Under a greene tree,
When I kist Craddockes mouth
Before he marryed mee.”

  When shee had her shreeven
And her sines shee had tolde,
The mantle stoode about her
Right as shee wold,

Seemelye of coulour,
Glittering like gold.
Then every knight in Arthurs court
Did her behold.

  Then spake Dame Guenever
To Arthur our king:
“She hath tane yonder mantle
Not with wright but with wronge.

“See you not yonder woman
That maketh herselfe soe cleane:
I have seene tane out of her bedd
Of men fiveteene,

“Preists, clarkes, and wedded men
From her bydeene;
Yett shee taketh the mantle
And maketh herselfe cleane.”

  Then spake the litle boy
That kept the mantle in hold;
Sayes, “King, chasten thy wiffe.
Of her words shee is to bold.

“Shee is a bitch and a witch
And a whore bold.
King, in thine owne hall
Thou art a cuchold.”

  The litle boy stoode
Looking over a dore.
He was ware of a wyld bore
Wold have werryed a man.
He pulld forth a woodkniffe:
Fast thither than he ran.
He brought in the bores head
And quitted him like a man.

He brought in the bores head

And was wonderous bold.
He said there was never a cucholds kniffe
Carve itt that cold.

  Some rubbed their knives
Uppon a whetstone;
Some threw them under the table
And said they had none.

King Arthur and the child
Stood looking them upon:
All their knives edges
Turned backe anon.

  Craddocke had a litle knive
Of iron and of steele:
He britled the bores head
Wonderous weele,
That every knight in the kings court
Had a morssell.

  The litle boy had a horne
Of red gold that ronge.
He said there was noe cuckolde
“Shall drinke of my horne
But he shold itt sheede
Either behind or beforne.”

  Some shedd on their shoulder,
And some on their knee:
He that cold not hitt his mouth
Put it in his eye,
And he that was a cuckold,
Every man might him see.

  Craddoccke wan the horne
And the bores head;
His ladye wan the mantle
Unto her meede.
Everye such a lovely ladye,
God send her well to speede.

(see note); (t-note)





order; (t-note)
Unless; secure
you should be afraid

pouch; (t-note)

(see note); (t-note)

Here, take [this]

However it may be shaped; (t-note)

suit a wife

every [man]
be uneasy about; (t-note)

For; grabbed; (t-note)

As if; shredded

red; (t-note)

light blue; (t-note)
suit; (see note)


fuller; (see note)
who had made

(see note)

stay there

at once


rump; (t-note)



Repeatedly reciting; (see note)

as recompense; (t-note)

Willingly to feed [him]; (t-note)
Supply his wife with something she needed

Prayed she would come to grief

(see note)

Without any fuss



Just as she wanted

Who pretends to be so virtuous; (t-note)

one after another


(see note)

[That] would, made war upon


acquitted himself




cut up

in front


As; reward

grant her success

The End

Go To Kings and Commoners: Introduction