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Lay le Freine


1 That is dishonor for both of them (both husband and wife)

2 That she will not nor she shall not (i.e., the midwife refuses to become an accomplice)

3 I would not weep for this kind of thing

4 To pretend to be a lay brother of that same religious order

5 I can provide for you better than you have here

6 That they were so, no one knew, / Except God alone, for truth I say



Abbreviations: E: Ellis; H: Holthausen; L: Laurin; S: Sands; V: Varnhagen; W: Wattie; Wb: Weber; Z: Zupitza.

1-22 These lines also appear in both fifteenth-century manuscripts of Sir Orfeo. Although they are a composite of material taken from various lais of Marie de France, they do not appear in her lais. See Guillaume, pp. 459-60. For notes on the prologue and its use with Sir Orfeo, see the notes for Orfeo, lines 1-38. Interestingly, the prologue, like the exordium to scholarly books, tells us its own form of who, what, where, how, and why. Who told the tales? The Breton kings (so although the text doesn't claim an author, it tries to underwrite its authority by claiming to have come from lays composed by kings). Where was the tale from? Breteyne and its courtly worlds. When? In olden times. How was the tale told? Kings heard of marvelous things, picked up a harp, and preserved those marvels in lays. What? Lays can tell of many things: war, woe, joy, happiness, treachery, guile, bawdiness, jokes, the fairy world, but most of all, of love. The introduction then focuses on its own specific subject, a fair "ensaumple" from long ago. For a discussion of authority, rhetoric, and prologues in theological and scholarly medieval texts (as well as their influence on literary forms), see A. J. Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988). Obviously, the Middle English lays are somewhat removed from court and university; still, the use of the extensive introduction is connected with the tradition of the prologue in other literary genres and venues.

1 The first line suggests a literate audience, stressing reading and writing, as does the word clerk in line 2, although much of the lay also stresses the oral transmission of the text (see, for example, lines 20-22, 25, 233-34, 334, 347-48, 408). The MS is blurred at the end of line 1. W emends this to read [ywri]te. I follow her reading.

8 This line highlights the ancient quality of the lay, an emphasis found frequently within the texts included in this volume, to establish authority. See Chaucer's short poem, "The Former Age."

11 thinges. MS: thingeth.

26 The ash tree as a symbol for the protagonist contrasts with the hazel tree symbol used for Le Freine's sister, Le Codre. Lee Ramsey, discussing Marie de France's version of the story, notes that the ash does not bear fruit and is used for Le Freine because she cannot give Guroun a legitimate heir, until her lineage is known [Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), p. 114]. Perhaps irony is intended, since the ash tree first bears the child in its branches (its fruit) and because Le Freine will turn out to be the prized wife. The differences in the connotations of the twins' names contributes to the problems of signs and human abilities to read them which forms a theme within the text. Where their bodies are so similar, their names artificially set them apart as opposites. The Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Symbols (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1949), vol 1, p. 80, connects the "ash" in Scandinavian mythology to the tree of the world, Yggdrasil; the gods ripped the Ash out of the ground and formed it into Ask, the first man. In English and Scottish folklore, the ash is said to have healing powers and its sap a protection against witchcraft. The magical qualities of the tree are also recorded in Pliny who claims that snakes will not crawl over leaves from an ash tree and that a rod made from the ash tree, if it draws a circle in the dirt around a snake, will confine it so that it dies of starvation. See note to line 342 below.

29 MS: knighteth. Wb, V, and W all substitute "s" as I have. The West Country is often associated with Wales and with the Celtic fairy world. Le Freine does not, however, contain miraculous events or objects; the only things close to magic are the ring and the robe, said in Wb's continuation to have been marvelous love tokens first given Le Freine's mother by her father (lines 397-98) and then passed on with the child as a kind of protection.

29-30 The first of many doubles in the narrative, the two knights and their two wives who are living joyfully until one wife, "envious," accuses the other of adultery.

42 The role of godparent was a serious one in the Middle Ages. See Joseph Lynch, Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), who found "more than three hundred references to baptismal kinship in Latin sources before A.D. 900" (p. 44) and who documents the rise of spiritual kinship and godsibbing throughout Western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

58 Giving gifts to the messenger who bears news of successful childbirth was common practice among the nobility in the late Middle Ages. Nicholas Orme, in his book From Childhood to Chivalry: The Education of the English Kings and Aristocracy 1066-1530 (London: Methuen, 1984), reports "On 15 July 1273, St. Edith's Day, the wife of Nicholas, baron of Stafford, gave birth to a son in their home. Her joyful husband wrote at once to ask Roger de Pywelisdon, who lived at a distance, to come . . . to be the boy's godfather and lift him from the font" (p. 1). Orme also reports that when Edward III received news of the birth of his first son, the Black Prince, he rewarded the messenger (a yeoman) a life pension of forty marks a year. When he received news about the birth of his second son, he gave that messenger £100; and when informed of John of Gaunt's birth, he awarded the three ladies who bore the news £200 (p. 2).

60 Ellis renders an envieous as "malicious."

68 S translates: "And broadcast the disgrace everywhere."

69-72 The idea that twins were a sign of adultery was a popular belief in the Middle Ages, though it was condemned as ignorant by others. See Genesis 38:24 ff., which makes the superstition despicable.

77-82 The curse of the unnamed, undifferentiated "women" on Le Freine's mother is fulfilled quickly. Such curses occur often in the Breton lay. See Guenevere's self-destructive curse in Launfal; Emaré's "curse" of infertility on her husband for abandoning his child and his wife; the fairy king's command or geis on Heurodis in Sir Orfeo, and the geis Dame Triamour places on Launfal.

80 Seven Names for God were recognized in medieval Christianity. In her Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols, 3 vols. (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962), vol. 2, pp. 1424-25, Gertrude Jobes mentions seven names for God which were particularly powerful in ancient Israel: "Adonai, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, El, Elohim, Shaddai, YHWH (in medieval Christianity, Jehovah), and Zebaot." Jobes writes, "In the Middle Ages, God sometimes was called The Seven."

91-92 Wb translates these lines as "I blame every woman as forbidden to speak harm of another." L reads bite as "bithe," meaning "is." V rejects both readings. H thinks bite is a scribal error for "be it" and translates: "may it be forbidden to each woman . . . ." W agrees with H. Jealousy was often depicted as a woman, as were gossip and envy. See the Romance of the Rose and its illuminations; see also notes to Emaré lines 535-40, and Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies I.10.5-7. In another work, Christine writes: "Envy derives straight from the pride engendered in creatures who forget their poor fragility and their evolution from nothing. Overbearing from false arrogance, the pride in their hearts makes them forget their misery and their vices and consider themselves worthy of great honors and possessions. Because every creature so frequently deceives herself, each tends to want to outshine her neighbor and to rise above her not only in virtue but in worldly estate, esteem or possessions." On slander, she writes, "A person of great courage never slanders her enemy, because malicious words are the weapons of people with little power. To use them is to admit cowardice . . . . An apt illustration of the folly of slander is the person who wanted to make war on the heavens and pointed his bow toward the clouds. The arrows fell back on his head and wounded him severely. Likewise as these . . . show, the slander a hateful person speaks against her adversary turns against the slanderer, wounding both soul and honor." A Medieval Woman's Mirror of Honor: The Treasury of the City of Ladies, trans. Charity Cannon Willard (New York: Persea, 1989), pp. 158, 163.

95-104 The mother lays out three options for herself. Each is stressed by the repetition of grammatical forms beginning with "or" then, in lines 105-14, she explains the reasoning which takes her to her decision to "sle" her child. This lengthy representation of the internal thoughts of a character is somewhat rare in the Breton Lay. The fourth path is proposed, in Weber's reconstruction, by a noble lady-in-waiting who suggests leaving the one twin at a convent far away (lines 128-34 below).

109 knaweleche. V: knaw lethe.

112 Leighster would specify a female liar.

114 In canon law, abandoning children carried consequences only if the abandonment was known and then only for the father. In the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, if a father gave up his child knowingly, he lost all legal control over the child (patria potestas). But on the issue of infanticide, the laws were much harsher, requiring penance (as the mother indicates here). The penance for infanticide, according to the Decretals, ranged from a lifetime of monastic living to a year of bread and water fasting. Secular regulations prohibited infanticide, although it appears to have been practiced; see Boswell, esp. pp. 322-427, and Shulamith Shahar, Childhood in the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 1990), esp. pp. 121-61. (For folklore, see Stith Thompson, pp. 300-95.)
We enjoin thee . . . that thou carry
This female bastard hence, and that thou bear it
To some remote and desert place, quite out
Of our dominions; and that there thou leave it,
Without more mercy, to its own protection
And favour of the climate.
See the echo in the falsified letter the mother-in-law writes which condemns Emaré and Segramour to the sea (Emaré, lines 587-97).

115-20 Because women assisted one another in childbirth, no one else, apparently, knows that the mother has delivered twins. For an actual case of the closeness that could develop between classes of women around childbirth, see the case of Agnes of Saleby, a barren woman who, to save her dying husband's estate from falling into his brother's hands, feigned pregnancy and birth. She allegedly did this under the tutelage of a poor woman who gave her own daughter, Grace, to be Agnes's "daughter." The case is recorded by Adam of Eynsham in his life of Hugh of Lincoln, Magna vita Sancti Hugonis, ed. Decima L. Douie and David Hugh Farmer, 2 vols., (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1961/62), vol. II, Ch. 5. The account is described quite thoroughly by Paulette L'Hermite-Leclerq, "The Feudal Order," in A History of Women in the West II. Silences of the Middle Ages, ed. Christine Klapisch-Zuber (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 204-12.

121-33 These lines are missing from the MS. They were reconstructed by Wb and have commonly been included in modern editions of the lay. Wb's reconstruction is modelled on Marie de France's Lai le Fresne (lines 99-115).

137-8 The richly embroidered cloth never is described; however, the token has great power. Like Emaré's robe, it will accompany Le Freine everywhere she goes and will serve to solidify her identity. Also like the cloth in Emaré, this one is from Constantinople.

137-44 The baudekine and the ring become the tokens which precipitate the recognition scene at the end of the poem. Examining Talmudic regulations regarding abandoned children, Boswell writes, "Foundlings have limited marriage rights - i.e., cannot marry into the highest four genealogical classes . . . because their parents cannot be known and there is some danger of incest . . . . Yet a foundling was exempt from these restrictions if the mode of his or her abandonment offered evidence of parental concern, suggesting that a good family had given him or her up under duress: if he was found circumcised; with limbs set; massaged with oil and powdered, wearing beads, a tablet or an amulet, suspended from a tree out of reach of animals, left in a synagogue, in moving water, or near a public thoroughfare. The absence of such attentions would be indications that the child's parents did not care about him, or possibly that he was of undesirable ancestry . . ." (p. 151). The Christian tradition reiterated aspects of the Hebraic; so, for example, the Synod of Nimes in 1252 guaranteed that abandoned children who died near a church would be buried in sanctified ground unless "written evidence or some other sign should indicate that an abandoned child found dead had not been baptized." Le Freine's mother wants it known that the baby comes from "riche kende," and the maid who abandons the baby puts her in the hollow of an ash tree right next to the "chirche dore." Interestingly, Le Freine is not baptized before she is abandoned. See Boswell, pp. 322-94.

138 MS: fram.

142 MS: pilt. This is followed by Wb and V; E reads "plit" and glosses the word as "plaited, twisted." The manuscript, pilt, violates the rhyme scheme.

155 An ampersand has been inserted in MS.

159 MS: steete; Wb and V emend to strete.

167 MS: he.

174 W suggests, "the repetition of bi hir is probably an error."

197 MS: betven.

200 MS: his has been inserted.

224 The abbess gives Le Freine a certain amount of protection by claiming she is her "kinswoman." Boswell cites the German Schwabenspiegel, a civil code: "If any father or mother abandons a child, and someone else picks it up and rears it and feeds it until it is old enough to serve, it should serve the one who saved its life. And if the father or mother should wish to reclaim . . . they must first repay whatever cost [the finder] incurred . . ."(p. 326). However, finders who raised children as servants were the only ones who exerted parental powers over the child. A finder who raised the child as her own kin or as freeborn did not acquire legal rights over the child (p. 327).

231 V and E read freyns as "freyn" and read her "name." Wb and Z believe freyns means "freynsch," or "French."

233 A deleted thorn is visible before le. Lay has been rendered as day in Wb.

237-38 eld may be either a noun alongside "winter" or an adjective where "winter" is governed by "of."

241 manhed is rendered as "consanguinity" in E, and L agrees. W notes that there is little to support this reading, citing the NED (s.v. manhead). The MED cites this line from Le Freine in its entry for "manhed" under the first meaning listed which is "human condition, nature, or form."

260 joliflich. MS: Iolifich.

267 swithe. MS: swhe. This spelling is followed by Wb and V who read this as "so"; E and Z emend to "swithe," a reading W also prefers.

280 V: y lovi (I love); E: I-lovi (beloved); Wb: y-lovi (beloved). W writes, "It is easiest to suppose that a "d" has been forgotten and to read ylouid, meaning well-beloved in a virtuous way."

295 E: swich; Wb: swithe; V: swi-Þorn-e. The letters "c" and "t" are identical in MS. W prefers swiche which is also the reading by Z.

297-99 Le Freine's movements from one "world" to another happen in secrecy. Just as she was illicitly taken away from the childbed and abandoned in the tree, so here, she is illicitly taken from the convent to live as Guroun's mistress.

311-18 On the issue of class and its role here, see Harriet E. Hudson, "Construction of Class, Family, and Gender in Some Middle English Popular Romances," in Britton J. Harwood and Gillian R. Overing, eds., Class and Gender in Early English Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), pp. 76-94. Hudson focuses on Sir Eglamour of Artois, Torrent of Portengale, Paris and Vienne, and The Squire of Low Degree, all late medieval romances. Compare the pressure placed on Arthur to marry at the beginning of Sir Launfal. Notice that Holy Chirche does not uphold consensual rights and instead supports a legitimate, arranged marriage of class solidarity. N.b. the Pope's dispensation granted to Syr Artyus in Emaré, lines 230-240.

327-34 The laws of consanguinity would identify Guroun's marriage to Le Freine's sister as an act of incest. Much written discussion surrounding the issue of abandoned children stresses the possibility that incest can result because bloodlines are not known. See the charts of consanguinity regularly appended to the Decretum. See also James Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Georges Duby, Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-Century France, trans. Elborg Forster (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978). For a medieval audience, the threat of incest in Le Freine remains potential right up until Guroun's marriage to Le Codre is annulled. This also explains why the narrator reacts so emotionally at this point in the narrative and why the text emphasizes that the two are sisters, twins, with one father and one mother.

330 MS: tvinnes.

341-end Fol. 263 is cut out. The initial letters in the first column are left here and there. V provides these on pp. 422-33 in a footnote. Wb provided these lines in an imaginative re-creation of Middle English translated directly from Marie de France's lay.

342 If "Le Freine," the "ash tree," holds significance, so does "Le Codre," the "hazel tree." The sisters' names both derive from trees found in Celtic mythology. A tree frequently appears at the junction of two worlds - the human and the fairy Otherworld. See the discussion in Marie-Thérèse Brouland, Sir Orfeo: le substrat celtique du lai breton anglais (Paris: Didier Erudition, 1990), pp. 58-69. In the Lai du Chevrefeuille (lines 51-54), hazel (le Coudrier) is the wood Tristan uses to send his message to Yseut. See also notes to line 26 above.

345-46 The irony of these lines is clear given the fact that the two women are twins.

349 Whereas the narrative began with a celebration of new birth, the final social gathering celebrates a wedding, stressing the circularity and mirroring that is common in medieval romance.

355-58 The mother's empathetic response may suggest her preconscious reaction to the servant who will turn out to be her own daughter, but it may also show us a reformed mother. Where years before she could remain detached from her newborn and unempathetic, she now finds herself imagining or experiencing Le Freine's internal experience. The three lines also continue the pattern of presenting the most poignant emotions of the protagonist through another character's eyes or through the narrator's voice.

362 Since Le Codre and Le Freine are twin sisters, Le Freine's belief that the "spousaile bed" is too shabby for "a may so bright" takes a reflexive turn. Without knowing it, when she values Le Codre and finds her deserving of the baudekyn, she values herself. The doubling here provides potentialities for psychological readings.

365 The origin of the cloth is mentioned a number of times, each time a partial truth, as no character knows the full story. See lines 137-38, 143-44, 190-94, 211-18, 241-49, 299-300, and 364-66. This information is followed by more, in lines 377, 379-84, 397-98. The last piece of information about the cloth is saved for lines 397-98 when we learn that the cloth was a gift of love, a "love-tokening," Le Freine's father had given to her mother. The cloth, like Le Freine, has a story which is not fully known, even to the audience, until the very last lines of the text, so where we know the tangle of human relationships that converge in the marriage bower, we don't know the full story of the cloth until the end of the poem. See Emaré for another text with a close connection between a beautiful cloth and the destiny and identity of the heroine.

395 Wb has covent.

399 The knight's courtesy is consistent throughout the poem. Just as he rejoiced in the births of his friend's sons, here he accepts and rejoices in the reunion with a long-lost daughter.
We redeth oft and findeth ywrite -   
And this clerkes wele it wite -
Layes that ben in harping
Ben yfounde of ferli thing.
Sum bethe of wer and sum of wo,
And sum of joie and mirthe also,
And sum of trecherie and of gile,
Of old aventours that fel while;   
And sum of bourdes and ribaudy,
And mani ther beth of fairy.
Of al thinges that men seth,   
Mest o love for sothe thai beth.
In Breteyne bi hold time
This layes were wrought, so seith this rime.
When kinges might our yhere
Of ani mervailes that ther were,
Thai token an harp in gle and game,
And maked a lay and gaf it name.
Now of this aventours that weren yfalle,
Y can tel sum ac nought alle.
Ac herkneth lordinges, sothe to sain,
Ichil you telle Lay le Frayn.
   Bifel a cas in Breteyne
Whereof was made Lay le Frain.
In Ingliche for to tellen ywis
Of an asche for sothe it is;   
On ensaumple fair with alle
That sum time was bifalle.
In the west cuntré woned tuay knightes,   
And loved hem wele in al rightes;
Riche men in her best liif,
And aither of hem hadde wedded wiif.
That o knight made his levedi milde
That sche was wonder gret with childe.
And when hir time was comen tho,
She was deliverd out of wo.
The knight thonked God almight,
And cleped his messanger an hight.
"Go," he seyd, "to mi neighebour swithe,
And say y gret him fele sithe,
And pray him that he com to me,
And say he schal mi gossibbe be."   
The messanger goth, and hath nought forgete,
And fint the knight at his mete.
And fair he gret in the halle
The lord, the levedi, the meyné alle.
And seththen on knes doun him sett,
And the Lord ful fair he gret:
"He bad that thou schust to him te,
And for love his gossibbe be."
"Is his levedi deliverd with sounde?"
"Ya, sir, ythonked be God the stounde."
"And whether a maidenchild other a knave?"
"Tuay sones, sir, God hem save."
The knight therof was glad and blithe,
And thonked Godes sond swithe,
And graunted his erand in al thing,
And gaf him a palfray for his tiding.   
   Than was the levedi of the hous
A proude dame and an envieous,   
Hokerfulliche missegging,
Squeymous and eke scorning.
To ich woman sche hadde envie;
Sche spac this wordes of felonie:
"Ich have wonder, thou messanger,
Who was thi lordes conseiler,
To teche him about to send
And telle schame in ich an ende,   
That his wiif hath to childer ybore.   
Wele may ich man wite therfore
That tuay men hir han hadde in bour;
That is hir bothe deshonour." 1
   The messanger was sore aschamed;
The knight himself was sore agramed,
And rebouked his levedy
To speke ani woman vilaynie.
And ich woman therof might here   
Curssed hir alle yfere,
And bisought God in heven
For His holy name seven   
That yif hye ever ani child schuld abide
A wers aventour hir schuld bitide.
   Sone therafter bifel a cas
That hirself with child was.
When God wild, sche was unbounde
And deliverd al with sounde.
To maidenchilder sche hadde ybore.
When hye it wist, wo hir was therefore.
"Allas," sche seyd, "that this hap come!
Ich have ygoven min owen dome.
Forboden bite ich woman   
To speken ani other harm opon.
Falsliche another y gan deme;
The selve happe is on me sene.
Allas," sche seyd, "that y was born!   
Withouten ende icham forlorn.
Or ich mot siggen sikerly
That tuay men han yly me by;
Or ich mot sigge in al mi liif
That y bileighe mi neghbours wiif;
Or ich mot - that God it schilde! -
Help to sle min owhen child.
On of this thre thinges ich mot nede
Sigge other don in dede.
"Yif ich say ich hadde a bileman,
Than ich leighe meselve opon;
And eke thai wil that me se
Held me wer than comoun be.
And yif ich knaweleche to ich man   
That ich leighe the levedi opon,
Than ich worth of old and yong
Behold leighster and fals of tong.   
Yete me is best take mi chaunce,
And sle mi childe, and do penaunce."   
Hir midwiif hye cleped hir to:   
"Anon," sche seyd, "this child fordo.
And ever say thou wher thou go
That ich have o child and namo."
The midwiif answerd thurchout al
That hye nil, no hye ne schal. 2
[The levedi hadde a maiden fre,   
Who ther ynurtured hade ybe,
And fostered fair ful mony a yere;
Sche saw her kepe this sori chere,
And wepe, and syke, and crye, "Alas!"
And thoghte to helpen her in this cas.
And thus sche spake, this maiden ying,
"So n'olde y wepen for no kind thing: 3
But this o child wol I of-bare
And in a covent leve it yare.
Ne schalt thou be aschamed at al;
And whoso findeth this childe smal,
By Mary, blissful quene above,
May help it for Godes love."
The levedi graunted anon therto,
And wold wele that it were ydo.
Sche toke a riche baudekine   
That hir lord brought from Costentine   
And lapped the litel maiden therin,
And toke a ring of gold fin,
And on hir right arm it knitt,
With a lace of silke therin plit;   
And whoso hir founde schuld have in mende
That it were comen of riche kende.
   The maide toke the child hir mide
And stale oway in an eventide,
And passed over a wild heth.
Thurch feld and thurch wode hye geth
Al the winterlong night -
The weder was clere, the mone was light -
So that hye com bi a forest side;
Sche wax al weri and gan abide.
Sone after sche gan herk
Cokkes crowe and houndes berk.
Sche aros and thider wold.   
Ner and nere sche gan bihold.
Walles and hous fele hye seighe,
A chirche with stepel fair and heighe.
Than nas ther noither strete no toun,   
Bot an hous of religioun,
An order of nonnes wele ydight
To servy God bothe day and night.
The maiden abod no lengore,
Bot yede hir to the chirche dore,
And on knes sche sat adoun,
And seyd wepeand her orisoun:
"O Lord," she seyd, "Jesu Crist,   
That sinful man bedes herst,
Underfong this present,
And help this seli innocent
That it mot ycristned be,
For Marie love, thi moder fre."
   Hye loked up and bi hir seighe
An asche bi hir fair and heighe,   
Wele ybowed, of michel priis;
The bodi was holow as mani on is.
Therin sche leyd the child for cold,
In the pel as it was bifold,
And blisced it with al hir might.
With that it gan to dawe light.
The foules up and song on bough,
And acremen yede to the plough.
The maiden turned ogain anon,
And toke the waye he hadde er gon.
   The porter of the abbay aros,
And dede his ofice in the clos,
Rong the belles and taperes light,
Leyd forth bokes and al redi dight.
The chirche dore he undede,
And seighe anon in the stede
The pel liggen in the tre,
And thought wele that it might be
That theves hadde yrobbed sumwhare,
And gon ther forth and lete it thare.
Therto he yede and it unwond,
And the maidenchild therin he fond.
He tok it up betwen his hond,   
And thonked Jesu Cristes sond;
And hom to his hous he it brought,
And tok it his douhter and hir bisought   
That hye schuld kepe it as sche can,
For sche was melche and couthe theran.
Sche bad it souke and it nold,
For it was neighe ded for cold.
   Anon fer sche alight
And warmed it wele aplight.
Sche gaf it souke opon hir barm,
And sethen laid it to slepe warm.
And when the masse was ydon,
The porter to the abbesse com ful son
"Madame, what rede ye of this thing?
Today right in the morning,
Sone after the first stounde,
A litel maidenchild ich founde
In the holwe assche ther out,
And a pel him about.
A ring of gold also was there.
Hou it com thider y not nere."
The abbesse was awonderd of this thing.
"Go," hye seyd, "on heighing,
And feche it hider, y pray the.
It is welcom to God and to me.
Ichil it help as y can
And sigge it is mi kinswoman."   
The porter anon it gan forth bring
With the pal and with the ring.
The abbesse lete clepe a prest anon,
And lete it cristin in funston.
And for it was in an asche yfounde,
Sche cleped it Frain in that stounde.
(The Freyns of the "asche" is a freyn   
After the language of Breteyn;
Forthe Le Frein men clepeth this lay   
More than Asche in ich cuntray).
   This Frein thrived fram yer to yer.
The abbesse nece men wend it were.
The abbesse hir gan teche and beld.   
Bi that hye was of twelve winter eld,
In al Inglond ther nas non
A fairer maiden than hye was on.
And when hye couthe ought of manhed,   
Hye bad the abbesse hir wis and rede
Whiche were her kin, on or other,
Fader or moder, soster or brother.
The abbesse hir in conseyl toke,
To tellen hir hye nought forsoke,
Hou hye was founden in al thing,
And tok hir the cloth and the ring,
And bad hir kepe it in that stede;
And ther whiles sche lived so sche dede.
   Than was ther in that cuntré
A riche knight of lond and fe,
Proud and yong and jolive,
And had nought yete ywedded wive.
He was stout, of gret renoun,
And was ycleped Sir Guroun.
He herd praise that maiden fre,
And seyd he wald hir se.
He dight him in the way anon,
And joliflich thider he come;   
And bad his man sigge verrament
He schuld toward a turnament.
The abbesse and the nonnes alle
Fair him gret in the gest halle,
And damisel Freyn, so hende of mouth,
Gret him faire as hye wele couthe;
And swithe wele he gan devise   
Her semblaunt and her gentrise,
Her lovesum eighen, her rode so bright,
And comced to love hir anon right,
And thought hou he might take on
To have hir to his leman.
He thought, "Yif ich com hir to
More than ichave ydo,
The abbesse wil souchy gile
And voide hir in a litel while."
He compast another enchesoun:
To be brother of that religioun. 4
"Madame," he seyd to the abbesse,
"Y lovi wele in al godenisse,   
Ichil give on and other,
Londes and rentes, to bicom your brother,
That ye schul ever fare the bet
When y com to have recet."
At few wordes thai ben at on.
He graythes him and forth is gon.
Oft he come bi day and night
To speke with that maiden bright.
So that with his fair bihest,
And with his gloseing atte lest,
Hye graunted him to don his wille
When he wil, loude and stille.
"Leman," he seyd, "thou most lat be
The abbesse, thi nece, and go with me.
For icham riche, of swich pouwere,   
The finde bet than thou hast here." 5
The maiden grant, and to him trist,   
And stale oway that no man wist.
With hir tok hye no thing
Bot hir pel and hir ring.
   When the abbesse gan aspie
That hye was with the knight owy,
Sche made morning in hir thought,
And hir biment and gained nought.
So long sche was in his castel
That al his meyné loved hir wel.
To riche and pouer sche gan hir dresse,
That al hir loved, more and lesse.
And thus sche lad with him hir liif
Right as sche hadde ben his wedded wiif.
   His knightes com and to him speke,   
And Holy Chirche comandeth eke,
Sum lordes douhter for to take,
And his leman al forsake;
And seyd him were wel more feir
In wedlok to geten him an air
Than lede his liif with swiche on
Of was kin he knewe non.
And seyd, "Here bisides is a knight
That hath a douhter fair and bright
That schal bere his hiritage;
Taketh hir in mariage!"
Loth him was that dede to do,
Ac atte last he graunt therto.
   The forward was ymaked aright,
And were at on, and treuthe plight.
Allas, that he no hadde ywite,   
Er the forward were ysmite
That hye and his leman also
Sostren were and twinnes to!   
Of o fader bigeten thai were,
Of o moder born yfere.
That hye so ware nist non,
For soth y say, bot God alon. 6
   The newe bride was grayd with alle
And brought hom to the lordes halle.
Hir fader com with hir, also
The levedi, hir moder, and other mo.
The bischop of the lond withouten fail
Com to do the spusseayl.
[That maiden bird in bour bright,   
Le Codre sche was yhight.   
And ther the guestes had gamen and gle,
And sayd to Sir Guroun joyfully:
"Fairer maiden nas never seen,   
Better than Ash is Hazle y ween!"
(For in Romaunce Le Frain "ash" is,
And Le Codre "hazle," y-wis.)
   A gret fest than gan they hold   
With gle and pleasaunce manifold.
And mo than al servauntes, the maid,
Yhight Le Frain, as servant sped.
Albe her herte wel nigh tobroke,
No word of pride ne grame she spoke.
The levedi marked her simple chere,   
And gan to love her, wonder dere.
Scant could sche feel more pine or reuth
War it hir owen childe in sooth.
Than to the bour the damsel sped,
Whar graithed was the spousaile bed;
Sche demed it was ful foully dight,
And yll besemed a may so bright;   
So to her coffer quick she cam,
And her riche baudekyn out nam,
Which from the abbesse sche had got;   
Fayrer mantel nas ther not;
And deftly on the bed it layd;
Her lord would thus be well apayd.
Le Codre and her mother, thare,
Ynsame unto the bour gan fare,
But whan the levedi that mantyll seighe,
Sche wel neighe swoned oway.
The chamberleynt sche cleped tho,
But he wist of it no mo.
Then came that hendi maid Le Frain,
And the levedi gan to her sain,
And asked whose mantyll it ware.
Then answered that maiden fair:
"It is mine without lesing;
Y had it together with this ringe.
Myne aunte tolde me a ferli cas
Hou in this mantyll yfold I was,
And hadde upon mine arm this ring,
Whanne I was ysent to norysching."
   Then was the levedi astonied sore:
"Fair child! My doughter, y the bore!"
Sche swoned and was wel neighe ded,
And lay sikeand on that bed.
Her husbond was fet tho,
And sche told him al her wo,
Hou of her neighbour sche had missayn,
For sche was delyvered of childre twain;
And hou to children herself sche bore;
"And that o child I of sent thore,
In a convent yfostered to be;   
And this is sche, our doughter free;
And this is the mantyll, and this the ring
You gaf me of yore as a love-tokening."
   The knight kissed his daughter hende   
Oftimes, and to the bisschop wende:
And he undid the mariage strate,
And weddid Sir Guroun alsgate
To Le Frain, his leman, so fair and hend.
With them Le Codre away did wend,
And sone was spousyd with game and gle,
To a gentle knight of that countré.
Thus ends the lay of tho maidens bright,
Le Frain and Le Codre yhight.]
read; written; (see note)
scholars; know
Some are of war
adventures; happened once; (see note)
jokes; ribaldry
the Otherworld
(see note)
Most of; in truth
Brittany in olden times
These; made
anywhere hear
took; minstrelsy
have happened
but not all
But listen
I will
Befell; event
In English; certainly
ash tree; (see note)
An example
country; lived two; (see note)
each other
their prime
either; had
one; lady
wondrously great
called; in haste
I greet; many times
godparent [of my children]; (see note)
not forgotten
finds; table
then; knees; himself
should; come
was it; or
Two sons; them
God's mercy quickly
gave; palfrey; news; (see note)
lady; (see note)
Maliciously slandering
Disdainful; also scorning
spoke these; malice
shame everywhere; (see note)
two children born; (see note)
Well; each; know
two; she has had; bed
sorely ashamed
rebuked; lady
each; who might have heard; (see note)
all together
By; seven names; (see note)
if she; bear
worse; she; experience
Soon; it happened
willed; relieved
Two girls
she; knew, woe
given myself; doom
be it for any; (see note)
harm of any other
Falsely; did judge
same event; in me seen
(see note)
Forever I am lost
Either; must surely say
two; have lain
must say; life
lied about
must; prevent
slay; own
One; I needs must
Say or do
second lover
lie about myself
acknowledge; each; (see note)
lied about the lady
shall be by
Thought a liar; tongue; (see note)
slay; (see note)
quickly summoned; (see note)
always; wherever
one; no more
to all this
noble; (see note)
nurtured had been
many a year
sad countenance
decided to
one; will; carry away
convent leave; quickly
wished indeed; done
embroidered cloth; (see note)
Constantinople; (see note)
wrapped; little
silk; entwined; (see note)
she; noble kin
stole; evening
Through field; wood; went
weather; moon
became; weary
hark (hear)
would go; (see note)
Nearer and nearer
many; she saw
(see note)
nuns; called
tarried; longer
went; door
weeping; prayer
(see note)
Who; hears prayers of
may christened
Mary's; mother
(see note)
branched; great excellence
body; many a one
robe; enfolded
farmers went
back soon
she had formerly gone
prayers; vestry
made ready everything
robe lying
went; unwound
hands; (see note)
gave; (see note)
she; care for; knew how
with milk; knew about nursing
suck; would not
nearly dead
fire; lit
[the babe]well at once
gave; bosom
went immediately
advise you about
don't know
she; in haste
bring it here
I will
say; my; (see note)
had it christened at the font
because; ash tree
named; occasion (time)
French; (see note)
Therefore; (see note)
kinswoman (niece); thought
bring up; (see note)
By the time she; old
was not at all
she; one
knew about human nature; (see note)
bade; instruct; advise
she was not forsaken
discovered; precise detail
with land and income
full of life
would; see
set himself
gaily; (see note)
bade; say truly
nuns all
Graciously; guest
Greeted; well knew
quickly; did discern; (see note)
appearance; breeding
lovely eyes; complexion; clear
to [be] his lover
I have to do
suspect guile
remove; an instant
composed; strategy
love you; goodness; (see note)
I shall; one
Lands; rents; become
With; agreed
gets himself ready
flattery at last
She; do his desire
such power; (see note)
acceded; trusted; (see note)
stole; knew
took; nothing
She spoke so with rich and poor
all loved her, both high and low
as if
(see note)
told; [it] would be; proper
lead; such a one
Of whose; not one
here nearby
bear; heritage
Reluctant; deed
But; agreed
agreement; properly
accorded; pledged
had no knowledge; (see note)
Before; agreement; struck
she (his bride); lover
Sisters; (see note)
one; begotten
made ready
many others
(see note)
called; (see note)
merriment; glee
(see note)
I know
feast; (see note)
Although; heart
The mother noticed; (see note)
very dearly
Scarcely; pain; compassion
readied; wedding
thought; poorly made
ill-befitted a maiden; (see note)
brocaded cloth withdrew
(see note)
Together; to go
chamberlain; called then
knew; nothing
lady did; speak
marvelous thing
very astonished
fetched then
sent off
(see note)
eagerly; (see note)

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