The Freiris of Berwik
THE FREIRIS OF BERWICK: FOOTNOTES
1 Though she was gorgeous, very elegantly dressed up, and showy
2 Lines 221-22: So that no appearance of a feast be seen here, / But [the appearance is that] we eat soberly
3 Then from the same [trough] wherein he thought he had been a long time
THE FREIRIS OF BERWICK: EXPLANATORY NOTES
Abbreviations: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; H: Henry Huntington Library, San Marino, California, Article 88850, printed at Aberdeen by Edward Raban; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS B: Bannatyne Manuscript, Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates’ 1.1.6; MS M: Maitland Folio Manuscript, Cambridge, Magdalene College, MS Pepys 2553; OE: Old English; OED: Oxford English Dictionary.
1-27 The poem opens in high rhetorical fashion, with this description of the fortified town of Berwick. But if the opening fits a rhetorical strategy for Latin texts described by Ernst Curtius, the description of the fortifications, R. D. S. Jack points out, belongs to fabliau. Curtius says, “The rules for eulogies of cities were developed in detail by late antique theory. The site had first to be treated, then the other excellencies of the city, and not least its significance in respect to the cultivation of the arts and sciences. In the Middle Ages this last topos is given an ecclesiastical turn” (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollingen Series, 36 [New York: Pantheon Books, 1953], p. 157). In this poem the description of the site beside the River Tweed and the description of the town are mixed in lines 1–23; the orders of friars living there are listed in lines 24–27. That the lines are a standard topos is made evident by the fact that they have nothing to do with the events of the poem, which take place well outside the town walls. The opening seems to have little relevance, as in his Prologue Chaucer’s Clerk says Petrarch’s description of the valley of the Po does at the beginning of his version of the tale of Griselda. But as Jack points out, “the Scottish author has used the impregnability of the walls and gates of Berwick (historically due to that town’s vulnerable position in border warfare) as an ironic counterpoint for the open walls and gates of Alesone’s house and person” (“Freiris of Berwik and Chaucerian Fabliau,” p. 146). Certainly the defenses are impressive: in lines 9–14, the town is walled and double-ditched; the castle has towers and turrets and battlements; the portcullises are designed so that if an attacking party slips in as far as the opening to the castle, the first attackers will be caught within the gate tower, between the lower portcullises and an inner gate.
1 into. The prepositions into and intill are used throughout with the meaning “in.”
2 the quhilk. The relative pronoun the quhilk is used throughout with the meaning “which” or “that.”
4 mony lordis hes bene. The form hes was used for the plural of have from the fifteenth century in Scotland.
24–26 The four orders of friars were, as the poem implies, the Jacobins or Dominicans, the Carmelites, the Hermit Friars of St. Augustine, and the Franciscans or Friars Minor. Berwick was the only town in Scotland to have all four orders (see Cowan, Medieval Religious Houses), and the fact is a testimony to the importance of the place in the later Middle Ages. See the introduction to The Freiris of Berwik for a discussion of why the poet calls the Jacobins white, and see note to line 126, below.
28 Fair May mornings are the conventional settings for romance, lyric, and allegory alike, a timing used here even though the action proper begins on a cold, wet evening.
34 silly freiris. Silly is used as a recurring epithet, carrying more or less ironic connotations of “holy” from the older form sely, and also meaning “pitiable” or “harmless.”
77 abbay. Friars did not live in abbeys; their dwellings were called cloisters,or simply houses, and later, convents. The poet here shows a lack of familiarity with the mendicant orders.
87 Bot in his absence I abusit his place. The general sense is clear enough, but not whether the goodwife means that Simon would think that she abused his manor by lodging the friars in it in his absence or whether she betrayed his role as husband by lodging friars in his absence.
116 I hecht to walk this nicht. “I vow to walk like a ghost tonight”? More likely, the l of walk simply indicates a long a, and the verb is wake (watch, stay awake) in a Scottish spelling.
126 And ane blak freir he wes. The poet is confused about the orders of friars and the colors normally associated with them. The Black Friars were the Jacobins; but Allane and Robert are Jacobins, and the poet calls them White Friars. Friar Johine is probably meant to be a Franciscan, since Jacobins and Franciscans were archenemies. Franciscans were known as Gray Friars, and it was the Carmelites who were White Friars. But for this poet, Allane and Robert are Jacobins and White Friars, and Johine is a Black Friar. See the introduction to the poem for further discussion of this confusion.
127 He governit alhaill the abbacy. Again, the terminology is wrong: friars were not governed by abbots.
149–50 The burde scho cuverit with clath of costly greyne; / Hir napry aboif wes woundir weill besene. The term burde has caused confusion in MS B and also in H, where it is taken to refer to a table the goodwife is covering in the bedroom. But later (line 187) she covers one in the hall, in preparation for the supper. Here the burde was probably originally meant as an embroidered ornamental strip of cloth that the goodwife is putting on herself; see MED bord(e) and DOST burd(e) n². MS M reads:
and of ane burde of silk richt costlie greinBut instead of a silk scarf of very costly green material, the tissue well provided with silver, the goodwife is in version B dealing with a table that she covered with cloth of costly green material; her table linen above was very well appointed.
hir tusche wes with silwer weill besene
158 Gascone wyne. Gascony was the wine-growing area on the continent that belonged to England until 1453 and had well-established trade with the British Isles.
160 breid of mane. I.e., pandemain, fine bread made of white wheat flour.
184 Scho rownis than ane pistill in his eir. Compare Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale, CT III(D)1021 (“Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere”). But in The Wife of Bath’s Tale, the term pistel has only the sense “narration”; here, in the context of line 183, it also carries suggestions of the epistle as part of the divine service, with the goodwife as reader and Friar Johine as prelate.
185 makand melody. Compare the sexual implications of the term melodie in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale, CT I(A)3652 and 3306.
206 yone troich. The trough is a kneading trough, stored upside down, probably to keep it clean, and kept on the floor in a corner. As described in the lines that follow, it is amply big enough to hide a man if it held a boll of flour when they baked, given that a boll is a measure equivalent to six imperial bushels. The perplexity is, what did they do with all that bread? While the household undoubtedly runs on more than the sporadic income from innkeeping, there is no other indication that they are running a commercial bakery. And there is some indication that they are not: Friar Johine brings a loaf of wheat bread when he comes to supper (line 160). But this is probably not a detail that is thought through, and the point is simply that there is a very big trough tucked away in the shadows, handy for the friar to hide under.
216 Ga cloiss yone burd and tak away the chyre. Literally “Go close yonder board”; probably the table is a board on trestles, and it is to be dismantled and put away. “Chyre” is probably the chair on which John has been sitting, and certainly the spelling in H, chayre, suggests that understanding.
246 and tak thee all thy hyre. “And receive a good recompense”?
278 So God haif part of me. Roughly, “As I hope for God to have an interest in me.”
287 be sweit Sanct Jame. The St. James sworn by here is probably one of the apostles, James the son of Zebedee. But the choice of saints in this instance probably has most to do with the convenience of the rhyme on Jame (a usual medieval form of the name), especially in Scottish and northern dialect where it can rhyme on words like hame (for home).
292 The phrase doun the trop implies a distinctively Scottish meaning of trap: “b. A ladder or stair giving access to a trap-door” (Dictionary of the Scottish Language, trap n.1). But the term applies in this poem more generally to “a ladder or moveable flight of steps leading to a loft or the like” ( OED, trap n.3), if “the like” is understood to include the entry to the house, as at line 535.
297 He is allone in the sense that his wife has refused to sit and eat with him.
330 R. D. S. Jack comments on the “wry depiction of the necromantic art, its practices and vocabulary, although there is no equivalent for this in the French analogue. It is connected with madness in the Scots story (‘he granit and he glowrit as he wer woid’), as was astrology in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale (‘this man is falle, with his astromye, in some woodnesse’).” See “Freiris of Berwik and Chaucerian Fabliau,” p. 149.
345 Get Symon wit. To get wit is a phrase meaning “to obtain information.” See OED wit n. 11c.
deir doing. The general sense is clear enough, though it is not clear whether deir represents the poetic adjective from OE déor, meaning “severe, grievous,” or whether it represents the ordinary adjective dear from OE déore, in some ironic sense.
358 fra hand. A Scottish phrase meaning “at once” (DOST hand n 8.b.).
361 it wes no variance. There is no discrepancy between the food and drink in the cupboard and what Friar Robert is now claiming to have conjured into it. The plovers in line 360 have not been mentioned before, but they are not meant as an exception.
368 sanyt hir. Alesone crosses herself for protection from the magic that must have produced all this food out of nowhere.
369–73 Alesone’s apparent amazement and enthusiastic admiration for Friar Robert’s holiness and truth constitute her acceptance of a tacit deal with him: his story keeps any blame off Alesone, and she is agreeing to go along with his version of events and give him credit for supernatural powers. If he exposes her now, he will expose himself as a fraud at the same time.
394 playit cop-owt. To play cop-out meant to drain the cup. See OED cop, n.1, 1.b. The phrase is attested by DOST from Dunbar’s poems (c. 1500) to Robert Sempill’s (1583).
396 the freir. Presumably freir is singular for the sake of the rhyme.
404 upun this flure. The term floor is used oddly in this poem, as if it were a location within the room rather than underlying the entire area (see also lines 478, 483, 493, and 547). Probably there is a raised wooden floor at one end of the room, a dais on which the table would be set. Later we learn that the room is not at ground level but that there is an external flight of stairs leading to the entry door; so there must be a floor of some kind, not just beaten earth, throughout the room. But the term floor seems to apply only to the dais.
414 That he had witt of all hir purveance, to. Alesone is concerned that Robert knows not only that the food exists but also about her preparations to entertain Friar Johine.
471 habeit blak. The fiend naturally wears black rather than the white of harmless spirits because a black habit shows his evil nature: Robert’s dig at the Black Friars and therefore Johine.
474 To hald yow cloiss and still at my devyiss. The raising of demons was thought to be perilous. If the conjurer stepped out of his charmed circle, or said the wrong thing, he could be seized. Simon is to remain still and silent until ordered to move.
486 maister. The term of respect could imply several things: that Robert is the leader in this enterprise, that Robert is an expert in necromancy, or that Robert has a Master’s degree, probably in Divinity.
500 Hurlybass (MS M Hurlbasie, H Hurls-baigs) is the demon’s name. The only other citation of Hurlbasie in DOST is from William Dunbar, as “a fanciful term of endearment” (“My belly huddrun, my swete hurle bawsy; Dunb. lxxv. 38”). Hurl- is probably from the verb, with the meaning “hurtle”; -basie probably represents bausy, adjective, likely meaning “large and clumsy”; the compound Bausy Broun was used, also by Dunbar, as a fiend’s name. See DOST bausy adj: “Than all the feyndis lewche, . . . Blak Belly and Bawsy . . . Brown; Dunb. xxvi.30”). DOST cites from The Poems of William Dunbar, ed. John Small, Scottish Text Society, first series, 5 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood for STS, 1893), but the contemporary reader can more easily find the poems in John Conlee’s edition, William Dunbar: The Complete Works (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004). “My swete hurle bawsy” is in 72, In a Secret Place [Ye brek my hart, my bony ane], and Bausy Brown in 77, The Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins.
508–10 Bot draw thy handis boith into thy sleif, / And pull thy cowll doun owttour thy face. / Thow may thank God that thow gettis sic a grace. Friar Robert pretends to be protecting his companions from the sight of any part of the horrible fiend that is Friar Johine. The cowl was a hooded cloak worn by monks; here it is imagined as being part of the friar’s habit. Friar Johine may well thank God he is getting such a grace from Friar Robert: he has the opportunity to escape from Symon without being recognized.
532–33 “[Simon] was so fierce, he fell over the sack and cracked open his head on the mustard stone.” As elsewhere in the poem, domestic objects are prominent: the stone beside the trough, the sack (of grain waiting to be ground?), and a mustard stone, which may be the same as the stone mentioned above, or more likely is a smaller one, since mustard would be pounded or ground in much smaller quantities than grain.
534–37 Johine goes over some upper stairs and misses the movable steps, or trap, below them, falling into a broad patch of mud. This makes sense if one imagines a landing outside the door, then a few fixed stairs running partway down the side of the building, followed by a ladder that can be drawn up, very roughly like a modern fire escape. As instructed, Johine rushes out through the door and goes “our” the stair, straight out and over the edge rather than turning to maneuver down the ladder. Retractable stairs would be a useful means of discouraging small raiding parties from taking a lonely dwelling on the outskirts of one of the most hotly contested places on the Scots/English border.
541–42 The wall around the house is an outer ring of defense, with the mire serving as a rudimentary moat between the wall and the building. The wall is made of dry stones, that is to say, more or less flat stones fitted on top of each other without mortar. Note that at line 153, after nightfall, Johine has to knock at the gate to gain admittance, and Simon too has to have the gate opened from within to admit him at line 242. Yet the desperate Johine manages to scramble over the wall to escape.
THE FREIRIS OF BERWICK: TEXTUAL NOTES
Abbreviations: DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; H: Henry Huntington Library, San Marino, California, Article 88850, printed at Aberdeen by Edward Raban; MS B: Bannatyne Manuscript, Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates’ 1.1.6; MS M: Maitland Folio Manuscript, Cambridge, Magdalene College, MS Pepys 2553.
title No title appears at the head of the text. The first page reads: Heir begynnis The Freiris of Berwik.
3–4 The lines are in reverse order in MS B.
25 MS B reads: The carmeleitis and the monkis eik. But the context clearly calls for the naming of the other two orders of friars in this line. The wording Augustinianis, and als the Minouris eik is supplied from MS M. Metrically, “Augustinianis” would need to be pronounced as “Austins,” a usual pronunciation.
45 MS B reads: As thay wer cumand towart the tovne
50 MS B reads: sume gud
88 MS B reads: keip fra sic cace. The pronoun and its spelling are supplied from H.
94 MS B reads: ar
113 MS B often reads trop, a Scottish spelling for trap. But note the rhyme trap / hap at lines 535–36. See DOST trap n .1
135 MS B reads: cuning.
142 The version in MS M has four additional lines following line 142:
scho said till it and softlie at scho leucht200 MS B reads: this.
he did nocht ill that fand yow half aneuche
and or I sleip I think ye salbe pleisit
your appetyt and myn sall both be easit
204 MS B reads: allace
228 MS B reads: the
255 MS B original “belyth” corrected to “belyve.”
260 MS B reads: Said the gudwyf devill inthe tim
276 MS B reads: Curfiw wes yo rung and closit wes thair yait.
305 MS B reads: Freir robert said quhat drinkis wald ye haif craif.
312 MS B reads: ever
320 Missing in MS B; supplied from MS M.
321 MS B reads: to mak ane sport and than the freir vpstart. This version provides the missing rhyme for line 319 (on parte), but leaves line 322 without a rhyme for gais.
322 MS B reads: f
351 MS B reads: deliuverlie.
353 MS B reads: oppinit it.
384 MS B reads: suddanly maid.
390 MS B reads: ffor I haif riddin ane
413–14 And ay disparit in hart was scho / That he had witt of all hir purveance to. This is a problematic couplet, metrically defective. MS M has no equivalent lines, and H has the following lines instead: And in her heart shee did despare lyke-wyse / That they did eate her Dainties in that guyse. There may well have been damage to a common source manuscript at this point.
472 MS B repeats line 470: Ye sall him se in liknes of a freir. Line supplied from MS M.
496 MS B omits the verb; turnit is supplied from MS M.
500 MS B reads: ha how Hurlybass I now I coniure the.
512 MS B reads: and
555 MS B reads: Yone freir hes maid me thussgait say. The words feynd had maid me in effray supplied from MS M.
556 MS B reads: the
561 MS B reads: Bot
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