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Complaint of a Prisoner in the Fleet 1463


1 Lines 15-16: But [except for them] no oath or declaration [of my worth to the king or the state] / Could be heard or taken down [in written form from such a supporter or reference] at any time

2 Nor [remembering] my showing kindness to them before

3 By chance by great wrong, and not because [you] deserve [it]

4 Not for the same thing (i.e., the offence) but [out] of a just sentence [for your sins generally]

5 But [act] as you would [if you] were before Him


1-119 The opening two sections of the poem seem to be modeled on the first few sections of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, in which he complains to Lady Philosophy about the particulars of his situation.

1-14 The poem opens, as many late medieval English poems do, with a description of nature that has a direct relationship to the situation in which the speaker finds himself; the opening to Chaucer's CT is the most famous of such prologues, but, unlike Chaucer, Ashby chooses not a spring song, but a scene of blustery early autumn, when the natural world appears to be dying, an appropriate metaphor for a year-long imprisonment. So also Lydgate's TG, whose introduction sets the scene in mid-December, and later, Henryson's introduction to the Testament of Cresseid.

9 a gret commaundment of a lord. We have no way of knowing who sent Ashby to prison. It may even have been the king himself, who was, of course, the greatest of all earthly lords.

15-16 Ashby's point is that no one has come forward to help him in his need; Christ and the Virgin Mary (line 14) are his only consolation.

21-22 houses . . . woodes. / Because of my draught and my bryngyng up. The mention of houses in the plural and large trees suggests that Ashby was a well-off man; that his training and upbringing caused his misfortune suggests that a motive of his enemies might have been not just his political allegiance but perhaps jealousy or greed.

22 The word draught here means upbringing, too, perhaps in these instances meaning the political climate in which he was raised, favoring and serving the Lancastrian over the Yorkist faction in the Wars of the Roses.

35 pacience. This is the first mention of a concept that will become a recurrent theme, tolling like a bell throughout the later lines of the poem. John Scattergood points out that the autobiographical and the devotional/homiletic modes meet and mingle in this part of the poem, pointing to the"four types of assaults on a man" against which Chaucer's Parson arrays"foure manere of paciences" ("The Virtue of Patience," pp. 271-72).

36-42 David Lawton quotes these lines, commenting on their similarity to Hoccleve's description of being shunned by fellow clerks of the Privy Seal after his illness: "It is all but a direct quotation from Hoccleve's account of his nervous breakdown in his Complaint. We can scarcely conclude that Ashby's disappointment in his friends is merely conventional, not autobiographical. We may feel compelled to acknowledge that both Hoccleve's lament and Ashby's are in some sense paradigmatic, an appropriate Boethian suffering relayed through the Moralia in Job; but we have no cause to doubt its authenticity" (p. 773).

41 werkes of mercy. The seven (corporal) works of mercy are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, harboring the stranger, visiting the sick, ministering to prisoners, and burying the dead. See Jeffrey, pp. 498-500.

44 unpayable det. Note that the debt is, at least in part, a result of the imprisonment, not the cause of it, since prisoners in the Fleet were often made to pay for their own maintenance.

50 At this point the speaker has reached the logical end of his train of thought. Now he must figure out who is ultimately to blame if he is to resolve the pain of the injustice he is suffering. He begins this exploration of his situation in the next stanza, beginning, as we so often do, with his childhood.

57-70 Ashby had been a clerk of the Office of the Signet, as he says here, for forty years; that is, the whole of the reign of Henry VI (from infancy) and his wife Margaret of Anjou. Here he points out that he had been one of the clerks who travelled with the king and queen even when they were abroad (when they took only a few of their most trusted clerks with them).

61 The duk of Gloucetre. Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was the brother of Henry V and the uncle of Henry VI, who became king at the age of only nine months when his father succumbed to dysentery on the battlefield in France. Gloucester shared the running of the kingdom during Henry's minority with his brother John, duke of Bedford, who was largely responsible for the conduct of the war in France, so it was natural that, as a clerk in the Signet Office, Ashby would have worked for him until Henry VI was old enough to be crowned king of England. A number of writers addressed works to Gloucester, including John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve.

68 The image of Ashby "having pen and ink ever at his side" is very similar to the image of Chaucer with pencase (or"penner") hung around his neck (as in British Library MS Harley 4866) or held in his hand (the Harvard University, Houghton Library, portrait, used as the frontispiece for The Riverside Chaucer; or the Sloane portrait, National Portrait Gallery no. 532, among others) to signal his profession. For reproductions see Derek Pearsall's"Appendix I: The Chaucer Portraits," in his Life of Geoffrey Chaucer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), esp. pp. 286, 298-302.

83 Fortune. This is the only mention of Fortune in the poem. Ashby actually removes Fortune as the agent that stands between God and man, seeming to act capri-ciously but actually carrying out God's will. Instead he deals directly with the relationship between God and man and man's responsibility to accept God's will without hesitation if he is to find peace in this world.

84 welth. The modern reader might be excused for thinking that the author was obsessed with wealth, but welth means not only monetary possession but hap-piness, good fortune, and prosperity in the broadest sense.

85-91 Yef I had in youth suffred any payne . . . I may leve hens in quyet and rest. Boethius makes this argument to Lady Philosophy: if I had not had it so good, I would not be suffering so much now that I have lost everything. We are meant to see the flaw in this argument immediately.

106-07 One of Lady Philosophy's final lessons is that ill fortune is really good fortune, for it teaches endurance. See here lines 134-35 and 153. Of course all fortune is ultimately illusory in this scheme of things, as we see in lines 160-61.

120-26 With this opening apostrophe (O thow creature, line 120), the speaker takes on the role of Lady Philosophy, who tells Boethius that he has forgotten who he is (1.pr2 and pr6), that is, a creature (creation) of God.

145 As in the scrypture ys specyfyed. Bateson (p. 5) suggests Zacharias 13:9 and Jeremias 6:30 as the passages to which Ashby probably refers. With his rhymes on gloryfyed/specyfyed, Ashby is showing off his ability to write Latinate verse (see also lines 224-29, 275-78, etc.).

155-203 One measure of Ashby's skill as a poet is his ability to handle the rhyme-royal stanza. In these seven stanzas he balances a series of oppositions and contrasts in an everchanging pattern that maintains the reader's interest through their varying rhythms and rhymes. (This kind of discourse is common in late medieval verse but is more usually arranged in couplets.) The odd number of lines in a rhyme-royal stanza lends itself to the kind of complicated patterns Ashby creates. First he states the overall problem in the first two (unrhymed) lines of the stanza: who suffers more than the privileged who are brought low? Then he restates the problem in a pair of 1-line rhetorical questions (lines 157-60, balanced in the next stanza [lines 166-67] by two lines beginning"Yef . . ."). He then follows two 2-line problems with a 3-line problem (lines 169-75). In the next stanza, he reverses the disposition of the matter over the verse-lines, beginning with a 3-line problem that matches the closing problem of the previous stanza, following it with two 2-line pairs (lines 176-82). Finally, he opens a stanza (lines 183-89) with a pair of"Yef . . ." lines, then concludes with a generalization (Thus welth ebbeth and floweth as the flood, line 185), which introduces the medieval version of the old rhyme"As a rule a man's a fool / When it's hot he wants it cool" (lines 186-96). Nor is he yet done, for he adds one more stanza (lines 197-203) that divides 2/3/2-a new pattern.

173 weddyd without any stryf. This line and the following simply name another inexplicable juxtaposition of contrasts, the happiness of a peaceful marriage with the sorrow of childlessness, without suggesting that there is a cause-effect relation between them.

175 If you are childless, you will be talked about widely (mocked) behind your back (i.e., at markets and fairs). Fairs, which are markets, brought people together who exchanged gossip as well as money and goods. That said, the poet's choice of the word feyres might have arisen from his need for a rhyme.

204 lyfe here ys but pilgremage. A reference to the common idea, borrowed ultimately from St. Augustine's City of God, that life on this earth is a journey toward one of two cities, the City of God, which is Heaven, or the city of the devil, Hell. Guillaume de Deguilleville wrote three long works based on this idea: The Pilgrimage of the Soul, The Pilgrimage of Human Life (or Man's Life), and The Pilgrimage of Jesus Christ. The first of these was hugely influential in the later Middle Ages all over Europe. Lydgate's translation of it may have been known to Ashby. Egeus in Chaucer's Knight's Tale also expresses this idea: "This world nys but a thurghfare ful of wo, / And we been pilgrymes, passynge to and fro" (CT I[A]2848-49).

222 a whele turnyng and mevyng. Fortune returns here briefly and indirectly in the form of her wheel.

239 Seynt John the Evangelist. The writer of the Gospel of John, often supposed to be Jesus' beloved disciple (see John 19:26). He is also traditionally identified with the writer of 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Apocalypse.

241 Seynt John Baptist. John the Baptist was the son of Mary's cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-80). He preached to the people concerning the coming of Jesus, and later baptized Him (Luke 3:1-38).

246 Job. The subject of the Old Testament book of Job, he was"tempted by God" at the suggestion of Satan. In order to prove that he would not renounce Him, God sent a series of calamities to Job, culminating in sores on his body and a group of friends who mocked him for his steadfastness in the face of suffering. We still speak of someone who has"the patience of Job."

270 maugré hys hed and hys maw. A proverbial expression that took many forms: maugre his visage, maugre his cheeks, etc. See Whiting M421.

271-73 This proverb (related to Whiting E169) derives ultimately from Ecclesiastes 3:1-15.

281-87 Here again Ashby shows his mastery of the rhyme-royal stanza. He balances blessyd (line 284) against wykkyd (line 287), while devoting the five middle lines to the good, alloting only one (the last) to the evil, and contrasting the two nicely in the closing couplet.

293 ryches cometh nat by labour. Here Ashby presents the flip side of his argument about injustice (and one not always heard): just as the poor and the weak are unjustly served, so are the wealthy and the powerful.

299-300 by pacience I may wyn batayle / Of my troubles and have the vyctory. The idea of patience as a weapon is foreign to modern thought, but it was a living idea for Milton in the seventeenth century and to writers in the fourteenth (e.g., William Langland) and in the fifteenth.

309 ff. Envoys are common in late medieval French and English poetry. An envoy might conclude a short poem such as a ballade, where it might be addressed to the lady to whom the lyric is addressed or to the lord of the puy or poetry contest in which it was presented. Longer poems also closed frequently with envoys, the best known probably being Chaucer's TC 5.1786:"Go, litel bok, go, litel myn tragedye." One of the closing rhetorical moves was often to ask the reader to correct what was defective in the work, as Ashby does in lines 328-29.

337-38 It is fairly unusual to find medieval poems that are signed and dated, though Charles d'Orléans did so, and John Gower, too, albeit by riddles. On the other hand, it is very common to end with a prayer. Scattergood suggests that the dating is a way of"seeking to ensure that he was not forgotten" (1993, p. 274).

344-50 The Explicit is remarkable in that it seems to depart from the message of the poem. If learning patience provides the way to overcome Fortune and reconcile oneself with God, it is difficult to see how prison can then be called a sepulture (line 344). It would appear that the lesson Ashby intends us to learn he has not yet completely internalized himself.

344 propurly. In this context it may mean simply"correctly" or"actually," but it may also have the further meaning"as I have experienced first hand" (see MED propreli[e, 1. [c]).


Abbreviations: MS: Cambridge, Trinity College MS R.3.19, fols. 41r-45v.

N.b.: Ferdinand Holthausen emended the text liberally to render the text more readable to his contemporaries. These emendations have not been listed in the textual notes.

Heading Prohemium Unius Prisonarij. Rubricated in MS.

1 MS: In right margin, written in a later hand: Written by George Asshby prisoner in the Fleet A.D. 1463.
At. MS: key letter but no initial.

8 MS: In right margin, rubricated: Nomen prisone.

21 woodes. wordes. Emended by Holthausen, with probable error marked in the notes by Bateson and Förster.

22 MS: In right margin, rubricated: Spoliacio Prisonarij.

25 MS: In right margin, rubricated: Nomen Prisonarij.

36 MS: In left margin, rubricated: Lamentacio prisonarij.

47 Without Goddes grace. We here agree with Förster's punctuation of this line, for logical reading's sake: the imprisonment itself occurred without God's grace (punctuating first half of the line to go with preceding line 47); its sooner ending will occur with God's grace, not without it (as would be the meaning without medial punctuation).

57 MS: In left margin, rubricated: Servicium prisonarij.

70 MS: This line appears at the beginning of the thirteenth stanza, just prior to line 85 on fol. 42r. Below and to the left of line 69 on fol. 41v is written a minuscule a to indicate the insertion point for the missing line, corresponding to a minuscule b to the left of the line on fol. 42r. That is, this stanza as written in the MS has only six lines and the thirteenth has eight lines. On possible explanations for this error, which are probably due to the change of copyists between folios, see Livingston.

85 See textual note to line 70, above.

92 thynketh. MS: thyg thynketh, with thyg marked for deletion.

95 noy. MS: nay.

99 nat. MS: na.

108 a soth. Förster and Holthausen read aseth, Bateman a feth.

120 MS: In left margin, rubricated in a frame, Ad sustinendum pacienciam in adversis.

183 be wele. MS: beseke (so emended as"be well" by all previous editors, for sense).

277 conforme. MS: the m has an extra minim.






































































Prohemium Unius Prisonarij

At the ende of somere, when wynter began,
And trees, herbes, and flowres dyd fade,
Blosteryng and blowyng, the gret wyndes than
Threw doune the frutes with whyche they were lade,
Levyng theym sone bare of that whyche they hade,
Afore Myghelmas, that tyme of season,
I was commyttyd geynst ryght and reason,

Into a pryson, whos name the Flete hight,
By a gret commaundment of a lord
To whom I must obey for hys gret myght
Though I cannat therto sadly acord;
Yet I must hyt for a lesson record,
Theryn abydyng without help singlere
Sauf of God and Hys blessyd modyr there.

But oth or other declaracion1
Coude at no season be herd ne takyn,
By no prayer ne exhortacion,
But of all pité and grace forsakyn,
Myne enemyes on me awakyn,
Takyng awey hors, money, and goodes,
Pullyng myn houses downe and gret woodes.

Because of my draught and my bryngyng up
I have suffryd thys and other spoylyng,
Nat levyng me worth a dyssh neyther cup
Of as moche as myght com to theyre handlyng,
Puttyng on me many fals lesyng
Whyche I must suffyr and bere on my ruge
Tyll the trouth discussyd hath God or the juge.

George Asshby ys my name, that ys greved
By emprysonment a hoole yere and more,
Knowyng no meane there to be releved,
Whyche grevyth myn hert hevyly and sore,
Takyng hyt for my chastysement and lore,
Besechyng God I may take my dysease
In dew pacience oure lord God to please.

Oon thyng among other greveth me sore,
That myn old acqueintaunce disdeyned me
To vysyte - though I have doon to theym more
Kyndnes - forgetyng me, and let me be,
Ne yevyng me comfort, ne wold me se,
Ne the werkes of mercy remembryng,
Ne my kyndnes to theym before shewyng2

The grettest peyne that I suffyr of all
Ys that I am put to unpayable det,
Lykly to be therfore a wrechyd thrall
For the enprisonment that I am in set
Without Goddes grace, woll hyt sonner let!
Whereopon to God I clepe, call, and cry
To help me out of det or I dy.

What may I do? To whom shall I compleyn
Or shew my trouble or myne hevynes,
Beyng in pryson wrongfully, certeyn?
But with dylygence and gret besynes
I beseche God of Hys gret worthynes
Me to guyde and rewle to Hys most plesaunce
And of my wrong to have humble suffraunce.

I gan remembre and revolve in mynde
My bryngyng up from chyldhod hedyrto
In the hyghest court that I coude fynd
With the kyng, quene, and theyre uncle also,
The duk of Gloucetre, God hem rest do!
With whom I have be cherysshed ryght well
In all that was to me nedefull every dell,

Wrytyng to theyre sygnet full fourty yere
As well beyond the see as on thys syde,
Doyng my servyce as well there as here,
Nat sparyng for to go ne for to ryde,
Havyng pen and inke evyr at my syde,
As truly as I coude to theyre entent
Redy to acomplysshe theyre commandment.

And in theyr servyce I spendyd all my youth,
And now in pryson throwen in myn age
Havyng of me no pyté ne routh,
Revylyng me with unfyttyng langage
As thaugh I were neyther wytty ne sage
Whyche grevyd me sore and was gretly sad
To be in povert and of goodes bad

That before was well in goodes and rest
And no man was ayenst me dysplesyd,
And all my dayes was among the best.
And so no creature me dyseasyd
But at all tymes with me were pleasyd,
Thaugh Fortune lyst make me ryght sory,
Shewyng that thys welth ys transytory.

Yef I had in youth suffred any payne
By lake of goodes or takyng hardnes,
I myght the better from tene me refreyne
And take my fall the better in swetnes.
God for Hys hyghe grace and gret worthynes
Counseyll me in my trobyll for the best,
That I may leve hens in quyet and rest.

Now me thynketh well, yef I had ben evyr
In prosperyté and in worldly joy
And theryn to have abydyn levyr
Then to have tastyd of thys peynfull noy -
I cast me nat to be neyther styll ne coy,
But say as me thynketh in verray soth -
To have chaungyd my lyf I had be loth,

And my wrechydnes nat to know evyn
So well as by Goddes grace I shall,
And the best lyfe take and the wors levyn
In consyderall that I am mortall,
And so to obey Hym that ys eternall
And to chaung my lyf to God greable
Both in pacyence and in feyth stable.

Knowyng in serteyn that my punysshyng
Ys other whyle for my soule profytable,
For a soth in Goddes vengeance ceasyng
Unto Goddes plesure ryght acceptable,
By meke pacyence to vertu able,
Wherfore punysshment ys other whyle good
As well to low degré as to hygh blode.

I thynke to wryte of trouble rehersall,
How hyt may be takyn in pacyence,
Procedyng theryn for myn acquytall,
Though I have no termes of eloquence
With that I may conclude perfyte sentence,
Wherfore I counseyll aftyrwordes thyse
Every man to be lernyd on thys wyse:

O thow creature, of nature ryght noght,
Remembre thysylf, thy lyf, thy demert,
Yef thow to pryson or trouble be broght,
Haply by gret wrong, and nat of desert,3
Suffryng injury and ryght peynfull smert.
Kepe pacience and wyte hyt thyne offence
Nat for that sylf thyng but of just sentence.4

Or peraventure thow mayst ryghtfully
Come to trouble or tribulacion;
Yet I counseyll thee suffyr hyt wylfully,
Without fenyng or simulacion,
Nat thee exaltyng by elacion.
And thus pacience may thee well preserve
From gostly sorow, yef thow thys observe.

And so, by proces of suffraunce long,
Thow mayst atteyne to verrey knowlege
Of thy demeryt, and vengeance prolong
By thy lamentyng and prayer mekeleche,
And so at last comfort have trewleche
As well here as hense, by Goddes hyghe grace,
And peraventure within lytyll space.

And as precyous gold ys thorough puryd
By foull metall, led, and claryfyed,
Ryght so ys the sowle by trowbyll curyd
And by humble prose hygh gloryfyed,
As in the scrypture ys specyfyed.
So for soules helth hyt ys a gret grace
To have here trouble rather then solace.

What ys trouble or trybulacyon,
Vexed wrongfully, or worldly disease,
Lyvyng here without consolacion,
But callyng of God hymself for to please?
Wherfore hyt ys best, for thy soules ease,
Rather of trouble be mery and glad
Than therof be grogyng, hevy, and sad.

Who may have more hevynes and sorow
Then to be welthy and aftyr nedefull?
Furst to be ryche, aftyr redy to borow?
Furst prosperous and aftyr carefull?
Who ys more comfortable and joyfull?
Then take the world in pacyence and worth,
Suffryng hit to com and goo playnly forth.

Set thee nevyr thy full wyll here
In worldly joy and in felycyté,
For all dayes, thow mayst both see and here
In all thy lyfe there ys contraryté:
Yef thow be ryche, thow hast adversyté.
Yef thow have a feyre wyfe and gret plenté,
Moche sorow peraventure ys sent thee.

Yef thow lak a wyfe, to thy freelté
Ryght thoutfull thow art, carfull and pensyf.
Yef thow lyve aftyr censualyté,
That ys acursyd and unthryfty lyf.
Yef thow be weddyd without any stryf,
Thow lakkest chyldren to be thyne heyres,
Lesyng thy name in market and feyres.

Yef thow have chyldren ryght plenteuously,
Haply suche may be theyre governaunce
That they woll dysplese ryght grevously.
Yef thow be set in holy observaunce,
Peraventure thow hast no temperaunce.
Yef thow be set in temporalyté,
Thy lust ys in spyrytualyté.

Yef thow be wele, haply thow lackest good.
Yef thow have good, thow suffrest gret sekenes.
Thus welth ebbeth and floweth as the flood:
Never welthy but som maner dystres,
Nevyr so mery but som hevynes.
Oon thyng lakkyng aftyr thyne apetyte,
Nat all thynges beyng in plesaunt plite.

Yef thow be forth at large out of pryson,
Thow mayst have sorow ynowgh and gret wrong.
Yef thow be ryght welthy for the seson,
Many pluckers-at thow mayst have and strong.
Prosperyté here shall never endure long;
So evyr whyle thow art on erth lyvyng,
Som maner thyng lakketh to thy plesyng.

Wenest thow to have here perfeccion
Of worldly joy, comfort, and delyces?
Nay, bettyr ys sharp persecucion
For thy synnes, offenses, and vyces,
Kepyng pacience without malyces,
Puttyng thy wyll to Goddes volunté,
So thy spyryt may best in quyet be.

Thynke that thy lyfe here ys but pilgremage
Towardes the Hygh Place celestiall;
Wherfore for any trouble or damage
Preve nat thysylf lewde and eke bestiall,
Syth thow mayst be in Hevyn menyall
Servaunt thorough thy tryumphall victory
By mekenes and werkes merytory.

Thow canst nat be so pryvé ne secret
But God ys there present and knoweth all thyng;
Therfore be evyr wytty and dyscret,
Nat for to do ne say Hym dysplesyng,
But as thow woldest before Hym beyng.5
So by mekenes take all thyng for the best
What that God sendeth, trouble or unrest.

Thynke that worldes welth and felycyté
Ys nat evermore in oon abydyng,
But transitory ys prosperyté,
And no certeynté whyle thow art lyvyng,
But evyr as a whele turnyng and mevyng,
Knowyng for certayn that thow art mortall
And never in thys world verray rest have shall.

Wytnes of oure Lord all-myghty Jhesu,
Suffryng reproves and vexacion
Thowgh He were clennest in lyf and vertu,
Yet no man suffred suche trybulacion;
And all was for oure alther salvacion,
Yevyng us example for to take trouble
In worth, syth He hath suffred the double.

What suffred Mary, the quene of Hevyn,
Most pure, most clennyst, without any syn,
Claryfyed from the synnys sevyn?
Ever to plese Jhesu she wold nat blyn,
How be hyt that feare and tene she was in,
Mornyng, sorowyng, evyr in drede
To opteyne the love of Jhesu and hyr mede.

What sey ye of Seynt John the Evangelist,
Of many martyrs and eke confessours,
Of holy vyrgyns and Seynt John Baptist,
That here in thys lyfe suffred many shours,
Nat desyryng therof worldly succours,
Refusyng all worldly joy and plesaunce,
And all trowble for God take in sufferaunce?

Of Job to suffyr take thow example,
Whyche pacyently suffred hys gret smert.
Who had in thys world of losse more ample?
Yet for Goddes sake he plesyd in hert
With hys trowbelous hurt, put out in desert
As fowle, vyle, abhomynable, and wreche,
Takyng hyt in gre, and therof nold reche.

And so to procede in the pacience
Of seyntes and make therof rehersall,
That suffred trowbyll without resystence,
They be infynyte to be wretyn all:
Hyt suffyseth to touche the principall
To thy lernyng and informacion
To be of pacyent condicion.

Ryght so kyng, quene, duke, prynce, and emperoures,
Erle, baron, lord, knyght, and many squyers
Bysshop, abbot, pryour, and conquerours,
And many gret estates and rewlours,
Clerkes, marchauntes, and eke counseylours
Have be put in trouble and gret grevaunce
For theyre soules helth by humble sufferaunce.

Was there ever lord so gret and so sure,
Or any gret clerk lernyd in the law
That may nat fall in the snare and in the lure
Of trouble, maugré hys hed and hys maw?
Wherfore hyt may be a lawdabyll saw,
Every man worshyp God in hys season,
Accordyng to hys law, trouth, and reason.

Every man may take example and hede
By suche men of good disposicion,
And by lernyd men that can teche and rede,
To conforme hym to lyk affeccion,
To have of pacience perfeccion,
To take trouble in worth and in gre
As other men have do in liberté.

In conclusion, of the verrey trouth,
Every man other favoure and socoure
And of hys trouble have pyté and routh,
And the blessyd men helpe and eke honoure,
Doyng youre dylygence and peynfull laboure
The vertuous pepyll for to cherysshe,
Suffryng the wykkyd rather to perysshe.

That all pacience, riches, and science
Com oonly of God and noon othere
Hyt may be provyd by experience,
As oon ryche, another pore hys brothere:
The ryche slepeth, the pore laboreth undere,
So that ryches cometh nat by labour
Oonly, but to hym that God lyst shew favour.

And syth all thynges com of Jhesu
And nothyng without Hym may avayle,
I beseche Hym, so full of vertu,
To guyde me, rule me, and counsayle,
That by pacience I may wyn batayle
Of my troubles and have the vyctory,
Thorough my symple werkes merytory.

And with humylyté and soburnes,
With fervent love and feythfull reverence,
I beseche Thee God, of Thy worthynes,
Yeve me grace, comfort, and assistence,
Good wyll, good werkes, good thought, and eloquence,
With love, charyté, and feyth, Thee to please,
That I may dwell in Hevyn at myn ease. Amen.

Goo forth, lytyll boke, mekely, without rous,
To folk troubelyd and vexed grevously,
Steryng theym by thy counseil vertuous
To kepe pacience thereyn joyously,
Redyng thys tretyse forth seryously,
By the whyche they shall fynde grace as I suppose
To comfortable entent and purpose.

Besechyng all folk, though I am no clerk,
For to undyrstand that I nat presume
To take opon me labour of thys werk
For worldly glory and thank to assume,
But vertu to encrese and lewdnes consume,
And namely to take trowble in suffraunce,
Paciently for deservyd penaunce.

Also undyr protestacion
That I wyll nat kepe presumptuosly
Any erroure or feynyd opinion,
But me to theym conforme graciously
That of hygh connyng have plenteuously,
Besechyng theym my defaut to correct
Yef any be, and nat to me hyt to arect.

But my dylygence and good wyll to accept
Into theyre favour, support, and goodnesse,
And in no maner me therof except,
Though I have offendyd in my lewdnesse,
Unadvised and nat of wylfulnesse,
Kepyng evermore vertuous entent
With discrecion that God hath me sent.

Wretyn in pryson in oure Lordes date
A thowsand, foure hundryd, syxty and thre,
Thus occupying me thys was my fate,
Besechyng Thee, oure Lord God in Trynyté,
To take my makyng in plesure and gre,
And therto have mannys benyvolence
To Thyne owne preysyng, laude, and reverence. Amen.

Pryson propurly ys a sepulture
Of lyvyng men with strong lokkes thereon,
Fortyfyed without any rupture,
Of synners a gret castigacion,
Of feythfull frendes a probacion,
Of fre liberté a sharp abstinence,
Lackyng volunté for theyre dew penaunce.

(see note); (t-note)

Michaelmas (29 September)

is called; (t-note)
(see note)

seriously agree

without any help

(see note)

neither . . . nor

awakened against me

(see note); (t-note)

training; upbringing; (see note); (t-note)
leaving; nor a cup
bear on my back
Until the truth; judge

whole year
means from which

and teaching
due; (see note)

One; (see note); (t-note)
visit [in prison]

giving; nor would see me
(see note)

debt; (see note)
slave (servant)

end; (t-note)
appeal, call [out]
debt ere (before)

(see note)

activity (endeavor)

greatest pleasure

(see note); (t-note)

(i.e., Duke Humphrey); (see note)
By whom; been valued
in everything

(i.e., in France)

to walk [to them] nor
(see note)

pity nor ruth
clever nor wise
and [I] was very sad
poverty; poor in goods



very unhappy; (see note)
happiness; (see note)

If; (see note); (t-note)
enduring difficulty
with sweet disposition

live henceforth

if I had always been; (t-note)

to have preferred to stay
suffering (annoyance); (t-note)
very truth


worst leave


for certain; (see note)
For truly; (t-note)

able to be virtuous

[an] account

With which

in this way

by your nature worth nothing; (see note); (t-note)
lack of merit

impute it [to] your


feigning or playing a part
raising yourself up in arrogance

spiritual; if

long suffering
sin, and delay [God's] vengeance
perhaps; time

purified throughout
cured (cleansed)

(see note)


grudging, sorrowful

(see note)
Than; afterwards

full of care

Allowing; steadily

every day; hear

by chance

mortality (subject to sinfulness)
Very solicitous
contention; (see note)
Losing; fairs; (see note)

(a career in the Church)
a temporal career [outside the Church]

in good health; wealth; (t-note)

condition [at once]


Do you expect

God's will
at peace

(see note)

Do not show yourself [to be]
[a] menial

meritorious works

private (concealed)

always prudent
[anything] displeasing [to] Him



And [there is]
wheel; (see note)



Giving; to consider
As having merit

seven [deadly] sins
However much; suffering
Mourning; fear
obtain; reward

(see note)
(see note)

(see note)
Who; pain

he [was] pleased

and wretched
with good will; would not mind it

give an account

main examples
For your


in spite of; face; (see note)
saying; (see note)
in his time


maintain himself in similar desire; (t-note)
perfect patience
worthily and willingly

(see note)
offers support and assistance
hard work

wealth, and knowledge

under [the rich]
(see note)
chooses [to] show

may be done

(see note)

humble; meritorious



boasting; (see note)


consoling intent

to look for thanks
ignorance destroy
with forbearance

will be obedient to those
wisdom have abundance
blame me for it

on purpose

(i.e., 1463); (see note)

good will

actually; tomb; (see note)


[the] will; due

Go to Complaint of a Prisoner against Fortune Introduction
Go to Complaint of a Prisoner against Fortune Text