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Sir Corneus


1 That is, “I do not need to ask anyone’s permission to be one.”


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Dictionary; ODNB: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

31-32 Yff any cokwold drynke of it, / Spyll he schuld withouten lette. The verbs are both subjunctive, and the tenses mixed. Modern agreement of the tenses would put “drynke” in the past.

52 The tabull dormonte, withoute lette. A seat at a table dormant or fixed table (as opposed to removable boards on trestles) would be comparatively a position of honor in the king’s hall.

59 Garlandes of wylos schuld be fette. A willow garland was symbolic of forsaken love, as in John Heywood’s “Ballad of the Green Willow.” See the introduction for further discussion of the symbols of cuckoldry.

74 The duke of Gloucester meant here may be Duke Humphrey (duke from 1414 to his death in 1447), who is remembered as an important scholar, having donated a large collection of books to Oxford University. More importantly to this context, however, both of his wives had complicated personal histories. The first, Jacqueline, countess of Hainault, declared her unhappy marriage to John IV, duke of Brabant, annulled so that she would be free to marry Humphrey, which she did secretly in 1422 or 1423. But her efforts to reclaim her territory in Hainault from her uncle led to her capture and imprisonment in 1425. In her absence, Humphrey had a sexual relationship with the beautiful Eleanor Cobham, her lady-in-waiting, and failed to send troops to Jacqueline’s rescue until 1427. The troops were unsuccessful. Once the pope declared in 1426 that Jacqueline’s marriage to her prior husband was still valid and confirmed again in 1428, after John IV died, that her marriage to Humphrey was therefore invalid, the duke of Gloucester married Eleanor Cobham. (By 1432 Jacqueline herself was married again, to Frank von Borselen.) Eleanor’s sexual and personal history was if anything more problematic than Jacqueline’s. Jacqueline, who technically was involved in an adulterous relationship with Humphrey himself while she was living in what she maintained to be marriage with him, appears to have been a woman more sinned against than sinning, and there is evidence that the English people liked and sympathized with her in her difficulties. Some women of London went in support of her to Parliament in 1428 and “handed letters to Gloucester, the two Archbishops and other lords there, censuring the duke for not taking steps to relieve his wife from her danger, and for leaving her unloved and forgotten in captivity, whilst he was living in adultery with another woman, ‘to the ruin of himself, the kingdom, and the marital bond’” (Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, p. 203). John Lydgate, who had written a poem celebrating the impending marriage of Humphrey and Jacqueline, wrote a sympathetic “Complaint for my Lady of Gloucester and Holland” — or perhaps it was another contemporary poet who did so. But Eleanor on the other hand was Humphrey’s mistress during his marriage to the unfortunate Jacqueline; then she was accused along with others of treasonable necromancy in the service of killing the king, Humphrey’s nephew Henry VI, to whose throne Humphrey was by then the heir. What she appears to have been guilty of is having the king’s horoscope cast to find out the likelihood of his death (which would make her queen of England), and she also admitted to using potions got from the Witch of Eye to enable her impregnation by the duke. The witch, Margery Jourdemayne, was burned. Eleanor was only forcibly divorced from Humphrey, compelled to do public penance, and imprisoned for the rest of her life. (See G. L. Harriss, “Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester (c.1400–1452),” ODNB). Despite the forced divorce, however, Humphrey’s political influence was hurt by Eleanor’s fall, and he died of a stroke about six years later, after being arrested (see G. L. Harriss, “Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390–1447),” ODNB).
The other possible references, if a real duke of Gloucester is being alluded to, are the earlier duke, Thomas of Woodstock (duke 1385–97), son of Edward III, murdered in prison in 1397 while awaiting trial for treason against his nephew Richard II, and the later one, Richard of Gloucester (duke 1461–83, at which point he took the throne from his young nephew Edward V, declaring him illegitimate; the boy and his brother soon thereafter disappeared, and Richard of Gloucester reigned as Richard III). Thomas of Woodstock, however sensa­tional his political machinations and subsequent death, was married to a woman of unremarkable sexual history, Eleanor de Bohun, who was married to him as a child, bore him five children, and entered a convent when he died. Richard of Gloucester was married to Anne Neville, a widowed princess of Wales, in 1472, and there were not as far as I know rumors of impropriety attached to her. All three dukes had many political enemies as well as admirers. But because of his relations with his two wives, Duke Humphrey seems the most likely referent in a poem about sexual scandal at court, and that being the case, a date for the poem after Jacqueline’s marriage to someone else was officially declared as valid (1426) would be the earliest likely one, and a date after the disgrace of Eleanor Cobham more likely. A date before there was another duke of Gloucester to confuse the reference (that is, before 1461) is also more likely. The duke of Gloucester in this poem never actually takes the test and tries to drink from the horn: he defers to Arthur and lets him go first, and once Arthur does so it is no longer of such interest to him whether the duke is a cuckold. And indeed it is not a cuckold that Duke Humphrey’s alliance with Jacqueline or enchantment with Eleanor would make him. It remains entirely possible that no particular duke of Gloucester is meant, and the title was used because there was no contemporary holder of the title to be offended.

91 erle. The poem is inconsistent about Gloucester’s title, whether duke or earl, although by the fifteenth century Gloucester was always a ducal title.

96 Here and at lines 107 and 204, a cuckold is identified as someone who has no gall: that is to say, someone who is so meek and mild as not to object to being cheated on.

116 Hath usyd the baskefysyke. From bask or baisk, “bitter,” and fisike or modern physic, “medicine.” In the sole other citation for this word in MED (under bask-fisik), the bitter treatment implied there too may be sexual intercourse: “Do alle youre men be war of the furst frutes and wyne, the whiche be right lustye ate the beginning and hynderyng to mennes hele; and so is a thing called basfysike.”

118 And oft thei have draw that draught. This is a metaphor taken from chess. “They have often made that move.”

119 To use wele the lecheres craft. This may be a pun on lecher and leecher (a physician).

170 Seynt Austyn. Perhaps the bishop of Hippo (354–430), but more likely the local St. Augustine (d. 604) who founded the Christian church in southern England and was the first archbishop of Canterbury.

186 To were a cokwoldes hate. Hoods were the usual symbols of cuckolds in the English Middle Ages. See the introduction for a discussion of the newer symbols the poem uses.

188 Sche changyd hyr colour lesse and mour. “Lesse and mour” is a tag useful in rhyming position, frequent in this poem, often meaning no more than “everybody” or “everything”; here it suggests that the queen’s blushes came and went.

190 gan is a marker of the past tense in this poem. The kyng gan hyr behold = the king beheld her, looked at her.

200–01 That cokwoldes schuld begynne the bord / And sytt hyest in the halle. That is, cuckolds are to take the most honorable position of all, where the king normally sits: at the head of the table on the dais.

207 The king gets the cuckolds to wash. Before eating, at least in gentry households and noble ones, those dining would customarily be brought water and towels with which to wash their hands. There is a hint here of being washed free of shame as the cuckolds are shown to be no worse than the king and raised to a much higher status at table than they are used to.

218 That man aught me gode loffe. This is an ambiguous line. It means “that man showed pure friendship for me” but also “that man was bound to render (or owed) friendly behavior to me.” In other words, Arthur is overtly acknowledging that his wife’s lover has done him a great favor by entertaining his wife, but in another interpretation, implying that his wife’s lover must have sworn allegiance to Arthur (yet has betrayed him).

241–49 This nine-line stanza is the one deviation from the standard stanzaic pattern of the poem. It is not noticeably weaker (or stronger) poetically than the other stanzas, though, and so may well be original. The filler “withouten les” (line 244) to rhyme with “kinges des” (line 245) is no worse than “vereament” to rhyme with “home he went” in the preceding stanza (lines 238–39), and “gle” (line 243, meaning “entertainment”) to rhyme with “gle” (line 249, meaning “instrumental music”) is very little worse than “ever one” (line 142, meaning “all the same”) to rhyme with “everychon” (line 143, meaning “each one”). As a variant on the regular pattern, the stanza might be taken to be bringing the poem to a satisfying conclusion, but its position in second-last place weakens that effect.
As George Shuffelton points out, though, Rate’s scribal practice is rolling revision as he transcribes (see Codex Ashmole 61, pp. 5–6); so the many empty fillers in the poem and this odd stanza form might be attributable to him.

247–49 That is, to bear that name whenever the story is performed, to a harp or other instrument.


title No title in MS, but compare lines 246–48.

14 MS reads: He hoouryd them both dey and nyght.

19 MS reads: Herkynges sires what I sey.

98 MS reads: And to the kyng these wordes spake. Emendation for rhyme.

149 MS reads: All these cokwold that her is in. The abbreviation for this is identical to that for these in this scribe’s work. Emendation for sense.

206 MS reads: The kyng causyd the the cokwoldes ychon. Emendation for sense.

233 MS reads: And thankyd god a C syth.

239 MS reads: Toke hys leve and home he wentet. The final –et may be by another hand.

248 MS reads: And manyd it after hys awne name. Emendation for sense.




















































All that wyll of solas lere,
Herkyns now and ye schall here,
And ye kane understond.
Of a bowrd I wyll you schew
That ys full gode and trew,
That fell sometyme in Ynglond.

  Kynge Arthour was of grete honour,
Of castelles and of many a toure,
And full wyde yknow.
A gode ensample I wyll you sey,
What chanse befell hym onne a dey:
Herkyn to my saw.

  Cokwoldes he lovyd, as I you plyght:
He honouryd them both dey and nyght
Yn all maner of thyng.
And as I rede in story,
He was kokwold, sykerly:
Forsothe, it is no lesyng.

  Herkynes, sires, what I sey:
Her may ye here solas and pley,
Yff ye wyll take gode hede.
Kyng Arthour had a bugyll-horn
That evermour stod hym beforn
Werso that ever he yede.

For when he was at the bord sete,
Anon the horne schuld be fette,
Therof that he myght drynke.
For myche crafte he couth therby,
And oftetymes the treuth he sey:
Non other couth he thynke.

Yff any cokwold drynke of it,
Spyll he schuld withouten lette:
Therfor thei wer not glade.
Gret dispyte thei had therby,
Because it dyde them vilony
And made them ofttymes sade.

When the kyng wold hafe solas,
The bugyll was fett into the plas,
To make solas and game.
And than changyd the cokwoldes chere.
The kyng them callyd, ferre and nere,
Lordynges, by ther name.

Than men myght se game inowghe,
When every cokwold on other leughe:
And yit thei schamyd sore.
Wherever the cokwoldes wer sought,
Befor the kyng thei were brought,
Both lesse and more.

  Kyng Arthour than, verament,
Ordeynd throw hys awne assent
(Ssoth as I yow sey)
The tabull dormonte, withoute lette,
Therat the cokwoldes wer ssette,
To have solas and pley.

For at the bord schuld be non other
Bot every cokwold and hys brother:
To tell treuth I must nedes.
And when the cokwoldes wer sette
Garlandes of wylos schuld be fette
And sett upon ther hedes.

  Of the best mete, withoute lesyng,
That stode on bord befor the kyng,
Both ferr and nere,
To the cokwoldes he sente anon,
And bad them be glad everychon,
For his sake make gode chere,

And seyd, “Lordynges, for your lyves,
Be never the wrother with your wyves,
For no maner of nede.
Of woman com duke and kyng;
I yow tell without lesyng,
Of them com owre manhed.”

  So it befell, serteynly,
The Duke of Gloseter com in hyghe
To the courte with full gret myght.
He was reseyved at the kynges palys
With mych honour and grete solas,
With lordes that were wele dyght.

With the kyng ther dyde he duell,
Bot how long I cannot tell:
Thereof knaw I non name.
Of Kyng Arthour a wonder case,
Frendes, herkyns how it was,
For now begynnes game.

  Uppon a dey, withouten lette,
The duke with the kyng was sette
At mete with mykell pride.
He lukyd abowte wonder faste:
Hys syght on every syde he caste
To them that sate besyde.

The kyng aspyed the erle anon
And fast he lowghe the erle upon
And bad he schuld be glad.
And yit for all hys grete honour,
Cokwold was Kyng Arthour,
Ne galle non he hade.

  So at the last, the duke he brayd,
And to the kyng these wordes sayd
(He myght no lenger forbere):
“Syr, what hath these men don
That syche garlondes thei were upon?
That skyll wold I lere.”

  The kyng seyd the erle to,
“Syr, non hurte thei have do,
For this was thrught a chans.
Sertes, thei be fre men all.
For non of them hath no gall,
Therfor this is ther penans.

“Ther wyves hath be merchandabull
And of ther ware compenabull:
Methinke it is non herme.
A man of lufe that wold them crave,
Hastely he schuld it have,
For thei couth not hym wern.

“All ther wyves, sykerlyke,
Hath usyd the baskefysyke
Whyll these men wer oute,
And oft thei have draw that draught,
To use wele the lecheres craft
With rubyng of ther toute.

“Syr,” he seyd, “now have I redd.
Ete we now and make us glad
And every man sle care.”
  The duke seyd to hym anon,
“Than be thei cokwoldes everychon?”
  The kyng seyd, “Hold thee there.”

  The kyng than after the erlys word
Send to the cokwoldes bord
(To make them mery among)
All maner of mynstralsy,
To glad the cokwoldes by and by
With herpe, fydell, and song,

And bad them, “Take no greffe,
Bot all with love and with ‘Leffe,’
Every man with other.”
  For after mete, without distans,
The cokwoldes schuld together danse,
Every man with hys brother.

Than began a nobull gamme:
The cokwoldes together samme
Befor the erle and the kyng.
In skerlet kyrtells ever one
The cokwoldes stodyn everychon
Redy unto the dansyng.

  Than seyd the kyng in hye,
“Go fyll my bugyll hastely,
And bryng it to my hond.
Y wyll asey with a gyne
All these cokwoldes that her be in;
To knaw them wyll I fonnd.”

  Than seyd the erle, “For charyté,
In what skyll, tell me,
A cokwold may I know?”
  To the erle the kyng ansuerd,
“Syr, be my hore berd,
Thou schall se within a throw.”

The bugull was brought the kyng to hond.
  Than seyd the kyng, “I understond,
Thys horne that ye here se,
Ther is no cokwold fer ne nere
Hereof to drynke hath no power,
As wyde as Crystianté,

“Bot he schall spyll on every syde.
For any cas that may betyde,
Schall non therof avanse.”
And yit for all hys grete honour,
Hymselfe noble Kyng Arthour
Hath forteynd syche a chans.

  “Syr Erle,” he seyd, “take and begyn.”
He seyd, “Nay, be Seynt Austyn:
That wer to me vylony.
Not for all a reme to wyn
Befor you I schuld begyn,
For honour of my curtassy.”

  Kyng Arthour, ther he toke the horn
And dyde as he was wont beforn,
Bot ther was yit gon a gyle.
Bot he wend to have dronke of the best.
Bot sone he spyllyd on hys brest,
Within a lytell whyle.

  The cokwoldes lokyd yche on other
And thought the kyng was ther awne brother,
And glad thei wer of that:
“He hath us scornyd many a tyme
And now he is a cokwold fyne,
To were a cokwoldes hate.”

  The quene was therof schamyd sore.
Sche changyd hyr colour lesse and mour,
And wold have ben awey.
Therwith the kyng gan hyr behold,
And seyd he schuld never be so bold
The soth agene to sey.

  “Cokwoldes no mour I wyll repreve,
For I ame one, and aske no leve,1
For all my rentes and londys.
Lordynges all, now may ye know
That I may dance in the cokwold row
And take you by the handes.”

  Than seyd thei all at a word
That cokwoldes schuld begynne the bord
And sytt hyest in the halle.
“Go we, lordinges, all samme,
And dance to make us gle and gamme,
For cokwoldes have no galle.”

  And after that, sone anon,
The kyng causyd the cokwoldes ychon
To wesch, withouten les.
For ought that ever may betyde,
He sett them by hys awne syde,
Up at the hyghe dese.

  The kyng hymselff a garlond fette:
Uppon hys hede he it sette,
For it myght be non other,
And seyd, “Lordynges, sykerly,
We be all of a freyry:
Y ame your awne brother.

“Be Jhesu Cryst that is aboffe,
That man aught me gode loffe
That ley by my quene.
Y wer worthy hym to honour,
Both in castell and in towre,
With rede skerlyt and grene.

“For he me helpyd when I was forth,
To cher my wyfe and make her myrth,
For women lovys wele pley.
And therfor, sirys, have ye no dowte
Bot many schall dance in the cokwoldes rowte,
Both by nyght and dey.

“And therfor, lordynges, take no care.
Make we mery: for nothing spare,
All brether in one rowte.”
  Than the cokwoldes wer full blythe,
And thankyd God a hundred syth,
For soth withouten doute.

  Every cokwold seyd to other,
“Kyng Arthour is owr awne brother:
Therfor we may be blyth.”
  The Erle of Glowsytour, vereament,
Toke hys leve and home he went,
And thankyd the kyng fele sythe.

Kyng Arthour left at Skarlyon
With hys cokwoldes everychon
And made both gamm and gle.
  A knyght ther was, withouten les,
That servyd at the kinges des:
Syr Corneus hyght he.
He made this gest in hys gamm,
And namyd it after hys awne name,
Yn herpyng or other gle.

  And after, nobull Kyng Arthour
Lyved and dyghed with honour,
As many hath don senne,
Both cokwoldes and other mo.
God gyff us grace that we may go
To hevyn. Amen, amen.
want to learn about entertainment; (t-note)
funny story; show

happened once

widely known


Cuckolds; assure


Here; jest

wild-ox horn

Wheresoever; went

Immediately; fetched

he could [do] much cunning by means of it

(see note)




felt shame painfully

those of low rank and high

Ordered; own
fixed table, without delay; (see note)

willow; (see note)

[Some] of; food; lying

each one


From; came


in a hurry; (see note)


By; dressed

I cannot name the length of time


great pomp
very earnestly

espied; (see note)

spirit to resist injury; (see note)

broke into speech


through a mischance


companionable [with their commodities]

[Whatever] man; love; beg


(see note)

made that move; (see note)



drown his sorrows

I.e., Hold your tongue

right away

Suffer; grief
fondness; Friend



tunics of rich cloth all the same
each one

in haste

test; device
identify; try

By; reason

by; gray

Throughout the Christian world


happened; mischance

That would disgrace me

But yet there happened a trick

wear; hat

(see note)

look at; (see note)

To speak against [i.e., deny] the truth


at once
(see note)


wash, truly; (see note)

high dais

there could be no other way about it

(see note)

I am obliged

With rich clothing in red and green

away from home

brothers; group

times; (t-note)

many times

stayed; Caerleon; (see note)

was named
story as a joke; (see note)
instrumental music



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