Back to top

Dane Hew, the Munk of Leicestre


2 An abbay of munks of great renown. Historically, there was an abbey of Augustinian canons in Leicester (living under a rule, like monks, but in holy orders as priests). They were attached to the church of St. Mary of the Fields (Sancte Marie de Pratis) in Leicester. It was an extraordinarily wealthy establishment, valued at over 960 pounds at the time of the dissolution in 1539. Records of the bishop’s visitation to St. Mary’s in 1440 survive (see A. H. Thompson, ed., Visitations of Religious Houses in the Diocese of Lincoln, Canterbury and York Series, vol. 24 [London: Canterbury and York Society, 1919], 2:206–17). At many abbeys or churches there were grievous complaints of sexual licentiousness among the monks or canons, but (according to the records of the bishop’s visit) St. Mary’s was not among them, at least in 1440, despite Dane Hew’s flouting of the rule of chastity. Although it uses the vocabulary of monasticism (abbot, abbey, monk rather than dean, church, canon), the poem does seem to be about a canon, since Hew swears by his priesthood at line 81 and is called a “false preest” at line 105, and he lives in a town rather than the countryside, where monasteries were built in relative isolation.

6 His name was Dane Hew, so have I blis. “His name was Dan Hew, as I hope to have the joy of heaven.” Dan was a courtesy title used for monks and other learned men; ultimately it comes from the Latin word dominus.

12 by my hood. A very mild assertion of the truth of what is being said.

36 Twenty nobles of good money. A noble was a gold coin worth half a mark, or six shil­lings and eight pence.

44 so mot I thee. “As I hope to prosper.”

45 Wilt thou me a cuckolds hood give? Hoods and hats were readily visible signs of status and occupation (for example, physicians’ hoods, cardinals’ hats). The cuckold’s hood (or as in Sir Corneus, line 186, his hat) is an imaginary sign of shame, like the horns referred to by Renaissance writers.

47 sweet Saint John. The probable reference is to St. John, the apostle said to be particularly loved by Christ in the account in the Gospel of John; medieval tradition considered John the apostle, John the evangelist, and John the author of the book of Revelation to be the same person. But there were many other saints named John, including John the Baptist.

70 so God me speed. “as I hope God will give me success.”

92 But the tayler out of the chest anon. A verb of motion is understood.

150 Why keepest thou not thy service truely? “Why are you not performing your canonical duties properly?” Dane Hew is absent when he should be available with his brethren for the performance of the services at the canonical hours of the church day.

163–64 ye have . . . suspended this place. By killing a man inside the precincts of the monastery, the abbot has profaned it and caused it to be unfit for worship until it is cleared by the Church. But as the conversation goes on to reveal, their concern is for public knowledge and open condemnation, not for the act of profanation, which they hope to conceal.

188 And to his wife began to say. “And to his wife the tailor began to say.” The speaker is not specified, but such switches of subject are common in Middle English.

195 polax. A poleaxe was a weapon used for close-up fighting, with a shaft for handle and a head that was either hammer or axe-blade on one side and a point on the other.

214 And in the mildam ye shall him cast. The milldam is the body of deep water above a dam, used for running a mill wheel.

252 And there they hanged Dane Hew for store. The thieves hanged Dane Hew where the bacon had been stored as food for the winter.

262 by cocks bones. A euphemistic form of “by God’s bones.” It is perhaps not by chance that the wife swears by “cocks bones” when talking of the lecherous Dane Hew. See the note to The Tale of the Basin, line 208.


Abbreviation: J: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Article S.Seld.d.45(6), printed by John Alde.

Title Dane Hew, Munk of Leicestre. No title appears at the head of the text. The first page of the chapbook reads: Heere beginneth a mery Iest of Dane Hew Munk of Leicestre, and how he was foure times slain and once hanged.

18 And if she would not say him nay. J: And if she would not to say him nay. Emendation for sense.

152 But no woord than Dane Hew answered indeed. J: But no woord that Dane Hew answered indeed. Emendation for sense.

162 “Sir,” quoth the abbots man, “ye have doon il. J: Sir quoth the abbots an ye have doon il. Emendation for sense.

169 “Yes,” quoth the abbot, “forty shillings thou shalt have. J: Yes quoth the abbot xl shillings thou shalt haue.

210 “Sir,” she said, “so mote I go. J: Sir she said so mote go. Emendation for sense.

226 That their sack there down they laid. J: That the sack there down they laid. Emendation for sense.

287 For,” she said, “as ye wel knowe. J: Fo (she said) as ye wel knowe.



































































   In olde time there was in Lecester town
An abbay of munks of great renown,
As ye shall now after heer.
But amongst them all was one there
That passed all his brethern, iwis:
His name was Dane Hew, so have I blis.
This munk was yung and lusty
And to fair women he had a fansy,
And for them he laid great wait indeed.
   In Leicester dwelled a tayler, I reed,
Which wedded a woman fair and good.
They looved eche other, by my hood,
Seven yeer and somwhat more.
Dane Hew looved this taylers wife sore
And thought alway in his minde
When he might her alone finde,
And how he might her assay,
And if she would not say him nay.
   Upon a day he said, “Fair woman free,
Without I have my pleasure of thee
I am like to go from my wit.”
   “Sir,” she said, “I have many a shrewd fit
Of my husband every day.”
   “Dame,” he said, “say not nay.
My pleasure I must have of thee
Whatsoever that it cost mee.”
   She answered and said, “If it must needs be,
Come tomorow unto me,
For then my husband rideth out of the town.
And then to your wil I wil be bown,
And then we may make good game.
And if ye come not, ye be to blame.
But Dane Hew, first tel thou me
What that my rewarde shal be.”
   “Dame,” he said, “by my fay,
Twenty nobles of good money,
For we wil make good cheer this day.”
And so they kist and went their way.
   The tayler came home at even tho,
Like as he was wunt to doo,
And his wife tolde him all and some
How Dane Hew in the morning would come,
And what her meed of him should be.
   “What! Dame, thou art mad, so mot I thee.
Wilt thou me a cuckolds hood give?
That should me shrewdly greeve.”
   “Nay, sir,” she said, “by sweet Saint John,
I wil keep myself a good woman
And get thee money also, iwis.
For he hath made therof a promisse,
Tomorow earely heer to be:
I know wel he will not fail me.
And I shall lock you in the chest
That ye out of the way may be mist.
And when Dane Hew commeth hether early,
About five of the clock truely —
For at that time his houre is set
To come hether then without any let —
Then I shall you call ful lightly.
Look that ye come unto me quickly.”
   And when the day began to appeer in the morning,
Dane Hew came thitherwarde fast renning:
He thought that he had past his houre.
Then softly he knocked at the taylers door.
   She rose up and bad him come neer,
And said, “Sir, welcome be ye heer.”
   “Good morow,” he said, “gentle mistris;
Now tel me where your husband is,
That we may be sure indeed.”
   “Sir,” she said, “so God me speed,
He is foorth of the town
And wil not come home til after noon.”
   With that Dane Hew was wel content,
And lightly in armes he did her hent
And thought to have had good game.
   “Sir,” she said, “let be for shame.
For I wil knowe first what I shall have:
For when I have it I wil it not crave.
Give me twenty nobles first,
And doo with me then what ye list.”
   “By my preesthood,” quoth he than,
“Thou shalt have in golde and silver anon;
Thou shalt no longer crave it of me.
Lo, my mistresse, where they be.”
And in her lap he it threw.
   “Gramercy,” she said unto Dane Hew.
   Dane Hew thought this wife to assay.
   “Abide, sir,” she said, “til I have laid it away,”
For so she thought it should be best.
With that she opened then a chest.
   Then Dane Hew thought to have had her alone,
But the tayler out of the chest anon,
And said, “Sir Munk, if thou wilt stand,
I shall give thee a stroke with my brand
That thou shalt have but little lust unto my wife.”
And lightly without any more strife
He hit Dane Hew upon the hed
That he fel down stark dead.
   Thus was he first slain indeed.
   “Alas,” then said his wife, “with an evil speed
Have ye slain this munk so soone?
Whither now shall we run or gone?”
   “There is no remedy,” then said he,
“Without thou give good counsail to me
To convay this false preest out of the way,
That no man speak of it ne say
That I have killed him or slain,
Or els that we have doon it in vain.”
   “Yea, sir,” she said, “let him abide
Til it be soon in the eventide;
Then shall we him wel convay,
For ye shall beare him into the abbay
And set him straight up by the wall,
And come your way foorthwithall.”
   The abbot sought him all about,
For he heard say that he was out,
And was very angry with him indeed,
And would never rest, so God me speed,
Until Dane Hew that he had found,
And bad his man to seek him round
About the place, and to him say
That he come “speak with me straightway.”
   Foorth went his man til at the last,
Beeing abrode, his eye he cast
Aside where he Dane Hew did see,
And unto him then straight went he.
And thinking him to be alive
He said, “Dane Hew, so mut I thrive,
I have sought you and mervel how
That I could not finde you til now.”
   Dane Hew stood as stil as he that could not tel
What he should say. No more he did, good nor il.
   With that the abbots man said with good intent,
“Sir, ye must come to my lord, or els you be shent.”
When Dane Hew answered never a dele
He thought he would aske some counsail;
Then to the abbot he gan him hye.
   “I pray you, my lord, come by and by
And see where Dane Hew stands straight by the wall,
And wil not answere, whatsoever I call,
And he stareth and looketh upon one place
Like a man that is out of grace,
And one woord he wil not speak for me.”
   “Get me a staf,” quoth the abbot, “and I shall see
And if he shall not unto me answere.”
   Then when the abbot came there
And saw him stand upright by the wall,
He then to him began to call
And said, “Thou false bribour, thou shalt aby.
Why keepest thou not thy service truely?
Come hether,” he said, “with an evil speed.”
   But no woord than Dane Hew answered indeed.
   “What, whoreson!” quoth the abbot. “Why spekest not thou?
Speak, or els I make God a vow
I wil give thee such a stroke upon thy head
That I shall make thee to fall down dead.”
   And with that he gave him such a rap
That he fel down at that clap.
   Thus was he the second time slain,
And yet he wroght them much more pain,
As ye shall afterwarde heer ful wel.
   “Sir,” quoth the abbots man, “ye have doon il,
For ye have slain Dane Hew now
And suspended this place, I make God a vow.”
   “What remedy?” quod the abbot than.
   “Yes,” quoth his man, “by sweet Saint John,
If ye would me a good rewarde give,
That I may be the better while that I live.”
   “Yes,” quoth the abbot, “forty shillings thou shalt have
And if thou can mine honor save.”
   “My lord, I tel you, so mot I thee,
Unto such a taylers house haunted he
To woo his prety wife certain,
And thither I shall him bring again,
And there upright I shall him set
That no man shall it knowe or wit.
And then every man wil sain
That the tayler hath him slain,
For he was very angry with him
That he came to his wife so oft time.”
   Of his counsail he was wel appaid.
And his man took up Dane Hew that braid
And set him at the taylers door anon
And ran home as fast as he might gone.
   The tayler and his wife were in bed
And of Dane Hew were sore afraid
Lest that he would them bewray,
And to his wife began to say,
“All this night I have dreamed of this false caitife,
That he came to our door,” quoth he to his wife.
   “Jesus,” quoth his wife, “what man be ye
That of a dead man so sore afraid ye be?
For me thought that you did him slo.”
   With that the tayler to the door gan go,
And a polax in his hand,
And saw the munk by the door stand,
Whereof he was sore afraid.
And stil he stood and no woord said
Til he spake unto his wife:
“Dame, now have I lost my life
Without I kil him first of all.”
Foorth he took his polax or mall
And hit Dane Hew upon the head
That he fel down stark dead.
   And thus was Dane Hew three times slain,
And yet he wrought him a train.
   “Alas,” quoth the taylers wife,
“This caitife dooth us much strife.”
   “Dame,” he said, “what shall we now doo?”
   “Sir,” she said, “so mote I go,
The munk in a corner ye shall lay
Til tomorow before the day.
Then in a sack ye shall him thrast
And in the mildam ye shall him cast.
I counsail it you for the best, surely.”
   So the tayler thought to doo, truely.
In the morning he took Dane Hew in a sack
And laid him lightly upon his back.
Unto the mildam he gan him hye,
And there two theeves he did espye
That fro the mil came as fast as they might.
But when of the tayler they had a sight
They were abashed very sore,
For they had thought the miller had come thore,
For of him they were sore afraid,
That their sack there down they laid
And went a little aside, I cannot tel where.
And with that the tayler saw the sack lye there;
Then he looked therin anon
And he saw it was ful of bacon.
Dane Hew then he laid down there
And so the bacon away did beare
Til he came home. And that was true.
   The theeves took up the sack with Dane Hew
And went their way til they came home.
   One of the theeves said to his wife anon,
“Dame, look what is in that sack, I thee pray,
For there is good bacon, by my fay;
Therfore make us good cheer lightly.”
   The wife ran to the sack quickly,
And when she had the sack unbound
The dead munck therein she found.
Then she cryed “Out!” and said “Alas!
I see heer a mervailous case
That ye have slain Dane Hew so soon.
Hanged shall ye be if it be knowen.”
   “Nay, good, dame,” said they again to her,
“For it hath been the false miller.”
   Then they took Dane Hew again
And brought him to the mil certain
Where they did steale the bacon before.
And there they hanged Dane Hew for store.
   Thus was he once hanged indeed.
And the theeves ran home as fast as they could speed.
   The millers wife rose on the morning erly
And lightly made herself redy
To fetch some bacon at the last.
But when she looked up she was agast
That she saw the munk hang there.
She cryed out and put them all in fere,
And said, “Heer is a chaunce for the nones,
For heer hangeth the false munk, by cocks bones,
That hath been so lecherous many a day
And with mens wives used to play.
Now somebody hath quit his meed ful wel —
I trow it was the devil of hell —
And our bacon is stolne away.
This I call a shrewd play.
I wot not what we shall this winter eate.”
   “What, wife,” quoth the miller, “ye must all this forget,
And give me some good counsail, I pray,
How we shall this munk convay
And privily of him we may be quit.”
   “Sir,” she said, “that shall you lightly wit.
Lay him in a corner til it be night
And we shall convay him or it be daylight.
The abbot hath a close heer beside;
Therein he hath a good horse untide.
Go and fetch him home at night
And bring him unto me straight,
And we shall set him thereupon indeed,
And binde him fast, so God me speed,
And give him a long pole in his hand
Like as he would his enmies withstand,
And under his arme we wil it thrust
Like as he would fiercely just.
   For,” she said, “as ye wel knowe,
The abbot hath a mare, gentle and lowe,
Which ambleth wel and trotteth in no wise.
But in the morning when the abbot dooth rise
He commaundeth his mare to him to be brought,
For to see his workmen, if they lack ought,
And upon the mare he rideth, as I you tel,
For to see and all things be wel.
And when this horse seeth this mare anon,
Unto her he wil lightly run or gone.”
   When the miller this understood
He thought his wives counsail was good,
And held him wel therwith content,
And ran for the horse verament.
And when he the horse had fet at the last
Dane Hew upon his back he cast
And bound him to the horse ful sure
That he might the better indure
To ride as fast as they might ren.
Now shall ye knowe how the miller did then:
He tooke the horse by the brydle anon —
And Dane Hew sitting theron —
And brought him that of the mare he had a sight.
Then the horse ran ful right.
   The abbot looked a little him beside
And saw that Dane Hew towarde him gan ride,
And was almoste out of his minde for feare
When he saw Dane Hew come so neere.
   He cryed, “Help, for the loove of the Trinité,
For I see wel that Dane Hew avenged wil be.
Alas! I am but a dead man.”
And with that from his mare he ran.
  The abbots men ran on Dane Hew quickly
And gave him many strokes lightly
With clubs and staves many one.
They cast him to the earth anone;
So they killed him once again.
   Thus was he once hanged and foure times slain,
And buried at the last, as it was best.
I pray God send us all good rest.
(see note)

brothers, certainly
Master Hugh; (see note)

lurked in ambush

(see note)

very much

have intercourse with
If; (t-note)
likely to go out of my mind
vigorous romp


gold coins; (see note)

in the evening then
Just as; accustomed
the whole story

(see note)
(see note)
(see note)




(see note)
out of


beg for

you please

Thank you
expected to; grope

(see note)
stand still

bad luck

remove secretly

early in the evening


outside the monastery

as I hope to

not a bit

he hurried
right away


vagabond; pay
(see note)
blast you; (t-note)


(see note)
i.e., there is no remedy


a certain; frequented

find out


[the tailor]; (see note)

it seemed to me that you slew him

(see note)


still; played a trick on him

causes; trouble

as I hope to be able to walk; (t-note)

milldam; (see note)



a good meal quickly

“Oh no!”

in storage; (see note)

bad luck for sure
(see note)

paid him back

dirty trick

be rid
quickly find out

enclosed field

As if

not at all


very satisfied with it


in a straight line

Go To The Freiris of Berwik: Introduction