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King Edward and the Shepherd: Introduction

1 Hoccleve, Regiment of Princes, lines 2556–62.

2 William of Pagula, Mirror of King Edward III, p. 204.

3 Stones, “Folvilles of Ashby-Folville,” p. 130.

4 Stones, “Folvilles of Ashby-Folville,” pp. 118 and 120.

5 Ormrod, “For Arthur and St George,” p. 19.

6 Vale, Edward III and Chivalry, p. 48.

King Edward and the Shepherd is in Cambridge University Library, MS. Ff.5.48, fols. 48 v–56 v. The Tale of the Basin, from the current collection, also appears in this manuscript, and a discussion of the manuscript and its scribal language can be found in the introduction to that poem. The same hand, from Derbyshire, transcribed both poems.


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

1829. A Tale of King Edward and the Shepherd. Charles Henry Hartshorne, ed. Ancient Metrical Tales. London: W. Pickering. Pp. 35–80.

1930. King Edward and the Shepherd. Walter Hoyt French and Charles Brockway Hale, eds. Middle English Metrical Romances. New York: Prentice-Hall. Pp. 949–85.

1969. A Tale of King Edward and the Shepherd. Janay Y. Downing. “A Critical Edition of Cambridge University MS Ff. 5. 48.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington. Pp. 116–59.


King Edward and the Shepherd is NIMEV 988.

It is addressed by Thomas Cooke in volume 9 (1993) of the Manual, section 24 Tales [8], A Tale of King Edward and the Shepherd.


The dating of the poem hinges on its content. Close inspection of its allusions to members of the court reveals a depiction of its principals as they would have been in the period 1345–47: the younger Edward (b. 1330) still an adolescent “with the whene” (line 109), still too young to know everything as his father points out (lines 926–28) but a prince (he was made Prince of Wales in 1343, and was the only one of Edward’s sons ever to be styled a prince); the king’s second cousin Henry of Grosmont already earl of Lancaster (he inherited the earldom of Lancaster in 1345) but not yet a duke (he became one in 1351); John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, of an older generation, and an advisor bold enough to have faced down the angry king in Parliament, still living (he died at the end of June 1347); Sir Ralph of Stafford a valued retainer but not one of the “erles tweyne” mentioned in line 611. (He is called an “erle balde” at line 644, but given that he is distinguished from the earls earlier, and also not styled earl of Stafford, it seems to me probable that the appel­lation “earl” was a later alteration as the poem was retranscribed after his elevation to an earldom in 1351).

The poem is a graceful combination of requests for attention to the more serious domestic problems of the earlier part of Edward’s reign and a celebration of his reign. To take the latter first: the continuity and legitimacy of his kingship are repeatedly stressed by the insistence on the love that the previous (deposed and murdered) Edward bore to Joly Robyne (lines 104–06, 578–80), and honor continues to be paid to the previous Edward (line 884). Edward III’s interest in the well-being of his poor subjects is exemplified. He asks Adam’s opinion of the king (lines 50–51) and wants to know about the king’s men and their behavior (lines 58–59); he takes on the mission of getting the royal household’s debt to Adam paid back and refuses compensation (Adam’s suggestion that it wouldn’t hurt for Joly Robyne to spend some money on his clothing at lines 798–99 is amusing but also subtly flattering from the point of view of fiscal prudence, not usually Edward’s strong suit); and at the end of the poem is about to launch a protective strike against the robbers. (It is later claimed in Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, 1412, that Edward III “ofte” used to travel in plain clothes into the countryside and ask the people what they thought about the king.)1 Edward allows Adam’s poaching, is amused by his cheekiness, insists that his courtiers treat Adam well (lines 863–65), and resolves “Hit shalle hym meve al to gode” (line 1064), even though a squire suggests that his power is unlimited and he could have the peasant torn limb from limb (lines 1073–75). The moment when Adam finally takes off his hood is a delayed but satisfying recognition of Edward’s power.

But as would be appropriate to a Mirror for Princes, the poem makes clear that there are social abuses that need attention by the king. The court is accused of predatory behavior, and the accusation is substantiated at lines 782–88 where it is clear that the steward would not recognize Adam’s tally stick and repay the money owed him if it were not for Edward’s intervention. The Speculum Regis Edwardii III, or Mirror of Edward III (written by William of Pagula, an Oxford-trained theologian and a parish priest in Winkfield, a small village about five miles from Windsor) in the form of open letters to Edward dating from 1331 and 1332, had addressed the issue of purveyance for the king’s household, exactly where the king is vulnerable to criticism in King Edward and the Shepherd more than a decade later: “[M]en of your court . . . and various subordinates of your court . . . seize many goods by violence from the owners of those goods, namely they seize bread, beer, fowls, cocks, beans, oats and many other things, for which practically nothing is paid; and because of extortions of this kind, many poor people will not have what they need to sow their fields.”2 Worse still, a gang of robbers terrorizes Adam and his family, ousting husband and wife from their house and violating their daughter, though whether the latter is an instance of gang rape (as it seems to be at line 166) or of the daughter’s having a lover among them (as seems to be the case at line 597 and perhaps at line 830) is not clear, and perhaps simply not consistent. Outlaw gangs were a terrible problem in the England of the late 1320s and early 1330s, particularly the two most audacious gangs, the Folvilles and the Coterels, in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Rutland; a massive crackdown in 1332 proved ineffective, and the wars in Scotland and France were more successful in absorbing the gang members than the law was in capturing or convicting them. But in 1346 Eustace Folville “[took] the opportunity of the king’s going overseas to resort once more to violence.”3 Since Eustace was “the worst of the brothers . . . with five murders and a score of other felonies” alleged against him, including rape, his resumption of a life of violent crime was a concern, though he died of natural causes a year later.4

The poem, then, is clearly set in the 1345–47 period, but of course the events of the poem could not have actually happened, not least because, of the five great lords named in the poem, four were overseas, triumphant leaders in the French war: Edward himself, his son the prince, and to a lesser degree Sir Ralph Stafford at Crécy and Calais; Henry of Lancaster in Aquitaine and at Poitiers. With their return to England in October 1347 we can imagine a suitable occasion for the performance of the poem to the court at Windsor, as part of the “round of court festivities that continued through the winter [of 1347–48] and on into the spring of and summer of 1348.”5 It is very much a Windsor poem and thus fits well with Edward’s revived interest in his birthplace Windsor Castle in the 1340s as a significant royal dwelling. Despite its criticisms of the state of the realm, the poem is complimentary to Edward: Joly Robyne disavows the predatory practices of the court purveyors (lines 37–39) and speaks at length about the innocence of the king (lines 133–44). His apparently poor subject is nevertheless a reassuringly rich subject, and a decidedly nonsubmissive one. Adam has faith that the king would permit him to retaliate against the predators if approached properly (lines 836–38); Edward goes one better and proposes to send out a strike force (lines 840–50). It also takes cachet from, and in return gives it back to, the great lords named by memorializing them in a poem: the prince, the earl of Lancaster, Sir Ralph of Stafford, and in a graceful remembrance, the venerable earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, who had recently died. The poem is unlikely to have been composed much later than 1348, given the degree of specificity of the poet’s knowledge of the king’s household and the events of the period. At any rate the arrival in England of the plague and the death of Edward and Queen Philippa’s infant son in the summer of 1348 meant that the latter half of the year was a sadder time without opportunities for festive performance at court.

Who was the poet, and how unusual was he? He appears to be an exceptionally early instance of an English poet writing at least one piece for the royal court, and writing in English to boot. Edward III was keenly aware of the value of managing culture and used tournaments and games at his court to bolster its prestige. He is not known as a literary patron, but Juliet Vale’s Edward III and Chivalry makes clear that the records that would show such patronage were not kept.6 Henry of Lancaster is remembered in part for his Livre des Seintz Medicines, a devotional treatise in Anglo-French; so poetry was not necessarily undervalued among even Edward’s greatest nobles. Other English poetry of the period — specifically, Laurence Minot’s celebrations of Edward’s victories and the debate poem Wynnere and Wastoure — are suitable in one way or another for court performance. Sophisticated belles lettres were still normally in French, but early 1348 would have been a particularly satisfying time to be writing in English after the defeat of the French enemy at Crécy and Calais. It is probable that we have lost most evidence that there were earlier poets than Chaucer and Gower who had court connections and wrote occasionally for the royal court or its members.

The language of the poem suggests that, despite the northernisms in the manuscript, the poet originated in East Anglia. The salient points from LALME are the following:
The rhyme of thou wylt/sitt at lines 530–31. Forms of wilt without -l- are to be found in a small area, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk. See County Dictionary, p. 44.This tiny detail is consonant with other more pervasive features of the poet’s language.

But problematically, the rhyme set ware/mare/are/care at lines 63, 66, 69, 72 implies that words originating in Old English long a (more, ore) continue to be pronounced with an a rather than an o. And this feature is seen recurrently, as in the rhyme Ya!/ga at lines 821–22. This feature is usually and strongly associated with the North, but LALME does show one instance of its occurrence in Norfolk as a minority form. See County Dictionary, p. 85. Note that the rhyme set soore/thore/hore/more at lines 171, 174, 177, 180, because hore comes from Old English horh, implies an o pronunciation for sore and more (both from Old English long a), the more usual pronunciation for East Anglia.
Two other features of the poet’s language are consonant with an East Anglian origin, and not with a northern one:
1. The rhyme set Adam/thedame/came/man at lines 1033, 1036, 1039, 1042 implies an /a/ in the past tense of the verb come (as opposed to usual northern /o/).

2. Another recurring feature is apparent rhymes on -ynde and -ende
          mynde/wende/kynde/frende 255, 258, 261, 264
          ende/Berafrynde/kynde/hende 361, 364, 367, 370
          frende/kynde 389–90
          hynde/Berafrynde/wende/unkynde 505, 508, 511, 514
          frynde/ende/wende/fende 865, 868, 871, 874
          ende/berafrynde 968–69

In other words, descendants of Old English -y- (mynd, 3ecynde) rhyme with descendants of Old English -e- (wendan, ende, 3ehende) and of Old English -éo- (féond, fréond). All of these are exact rhymes for the poet on -end. Forms with -e- for kind and mind are attested for (among other eastern areas) Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, County Dictionary, pp. 204–05.
Metrically, the poem is in the common twelve-line tail rhyme stanza, aabccbddbeeb, with the usual four stresses in the couplets and three in the b lines. It is accentual rather than accentual-syllabic, and it is a form to be heard in contemporary Middle English romances. Occasionally the rhyme scheme breaks down (e.g., filled/begynne, lines 455–56; sawe/lawe/sale/bale, lines 1081, 1084, 1087, 1090), but rarely enough to suggest loss and scribal conjecture rather than the poet’s lack of resourcefulness. Usually the prosody is competent.

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