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The King and the Hermit: Introduction

1 See my earlier edition, Ten Fifteenth-Century Comic Poems (pp. 241–42), for more detailed analysis of these rhymes.


The King and the Hermit appears on fols. 157 r–161 v of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61. The poem is incomplete. As we have it, its last line appears at the bottom of fol. 161v, and the following leaf of the manuscript, the last one, is blank. See the introduction to Sir Corneus in the current collection for a discussion of the scribe Rate and the Leicestershire origins of the language of the manuscript. It should be noted that Rate uses abbreviations frequently and flexibly: a raised u can mean ou, ur, even nour, or just r; a raised a can mean ra or just a. He uses the grapheme y for both thorn and the vowel, sometimes distinguishing the vowel by an accent mark. I have represented his consonantal y with th.


The King and the Hermit appears, with different names as noted below, in the following early or otherwise useful editions:

1814. The Kyng and the Hermyt. [J.J.] C[oneybeare], ed. In The British Bibliographer, ed. Sir Egerton Brydges and Joseph Haslewood. Volume 4. London: R. Triphook. Pp. 81–95.

1829. The Kyng and the Hermyt. Charles Henry Hartshorne, ed. Ancient Metrical Tales. London: W. Pickering. Pp. 293–315.

1864. The Kyng and the Hermyt. William Carew Hazlitt, ed. Remains of the Early Popular Poetry of England. London: John Russell Smith. 1:11–34.

1905. König Eduard und der Einsiedler: eine mittelenglische Ballade. Albert Kurz, ed. Dissertation, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Erlangen: von Junge und Sohn.

1985. The King and the Hermit. Melissa M. Furrow, ed. Ten Fifteenth-Century Comic Poems. New York: Garland. Pp. 237–69.

2008. King Edward and the Hermit. George Shuffelton, ed. Codex Ashmole 61: A Compilation of Popular Middle English Verse. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications. Pp. 401–13.


The King and the Hermit is NIMEV 1764.

It is addressed by Thomas Cooke in volume 9 (1993) of the Manual, section 24 Tales [15], The King and the Hermit.


The dating of the poem is difficult. It is close kin to King Edward and the Shepherd, notably in its use of the drinking game; it is probably later than that poem and is obviously earlier than the manuscript, which has been dated around 1500. Unlike King Edward and the Shepherd, The King and the Hermit does not have specific topical references, at least not ones that are evident at this distance. Line 13, “Yt befelle be god Edwerd deys,” inasmuch as it implies that there is no possibility of confusion with the current monarch, also implies a date between 1377 (the death of Edward III) and 1461 (the accession of Edward IV), or conceivably after the death of Edward IV in 1483. The language of the poem is consonant with a time between these dates but does not help to make the dating more precise.

Given its language, the poem must be either from the North or from the northern Midlands. It is clearly from within the northern area where Old English or Old Norse long a can be retained as long a in Middle English (LALME, Q47). These sets of rhymes must all be on long a for the poet: skath/bothe (lines 244–45); gate/late/state/hate (lines 444, 447, 450, 453); sore/were/ther/fare (lines 516, 519, 522, 525); and name/home (lines 448–49).1

The vocabulary of the poem, too, reflects a northerly origin: hopys (in the sense “suppose” at lines 412, 418), hyng (line 261), hend (as plural of hand, line 415), at (for that, line 71), trayst (line 88), leyke (line 367), spyre (line 446), and bos (line 277). I have emended the beginning of line 277 to “Us bos” from “Bo be,” and I think that emendation is correct since bos is not a form of behoves that is attested from Leicestershire and it is likely to have confused Rate, a Leicestershire scribe. If bos is what the poet wrote, then the field of origin for the poem is further restricted: LALME (Q80) attests bos in one manuscript from each of Derby and Lincolnshire and bose and bous as minority forms (used less than a third of the time by each of two scribes), one from the West Riding of Yorkshire and the other from Lancashire.

The stanza of The King and the Hermit is the twelve-line tail-rhyme stanza familiar from some contemporary romances: aabccbddbeeb, with the longer lines usually having four stresses and the shorter lines three. In one instance, an apparently undamaged stanza has only nine lines (lines 121–29). In another, the rhyme scheme is apparently aabccbddeffe (lines 430–41), but the sequence sene/bene/thre/be can be normalized if the first two infinitives are read without an -ne ending. In general this poet is comparatively precise in his rhyming. The rhyme huntyng/tyme (lines 208–09) is a rare exception, and as such may be suspected of being a corruption. But at lines 400–01, the rhyme yate/therate depends on an artificial lengthening of the short a of at under stress, and the rhymes hale/stale/schall (lines 468, 471, 474) probably depend on a similar lengthening in schall.

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