MS Cotton Galba E.ix
The eleven extant poems attributed to Laurence Minot celebrate a sequence of English victories on the Scottish border and on the continent between 1333, the Battle of Halidon Hill, and the surrender of the French town of Guînes in 1352. The poems appear to have been written shortly after the events they commemorate; in 6.36, for instance, Minot boasts to the inhabitants of Tournai that King Edward will "breke yowre walles obout," not aware, apparently, that the siege was abruptly raised by Edward in September 1340. In the fifteenth-century manuscript in which the poems are copied, however, they are arranged as a continuous narrative "romance," connected by rubrics and linking stanzas. Other details, too - the title Duke of Lancaster for Henry of Derby in the poem on the naval victory at Sluys, 24 June 1340, a title not conferred until 1352 - suggest Minot may have revised the entire series shortly after completing the last poem in the sequence.
The eleven poems (1017 lines) survive in a single manuscript, Cotton Galba E.ix, a fifteenth-century miscellany that preserves other unique texts of Middle English poetry, the Arthurian romance Ywaine and Gawayne
and The Prophecy of the Six Kings to Follow King John
(The Prophecies of Merlin
) as well as three penitential pieces found elsewhere in the Cursor Mundi
and other poems more widely disseminated: The Sevyn Sages of Rome
, the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus
, and the Pricke of Conscience
. In this aggregate of romance narrative, political prophecy, and devotional material, with its notes on horses and inventory of linen, Cotton Galba E.ix resembles "household miscellanies" like National Library of Scotland Advocates MS 19.3.1 (perhaps owned by the Sherbrooke family) - single-volume libraries that provided information, devotional materials, and entertainment for the instruction and recreation of the family (Turville-Petre, "Some Medieval English Manuscripts," p. 140). The arrangement of the texts (one scribe was responsible for Ywaine and Gawayne
and The Sevyn Sages
, a second and third for the short poems on folios 48b through 52a, a fourth scribe for Minot's poems, the Gospel of Nicodemus
and the shorter penitential pieces, a fifth for the Pricke of Conscience
) suggests the "pamphlet" construction of similar manuscripts (Boffey and Thompson, p. 283). The name Richard Chawser, written out three times in a modern hand on the last folio, does not, unfortunately, connect the manuscript to Thomas Chaucer and the circle of early humanists, among them, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, with whom he was associated, but may be evidence of a sixteenth-century owner of the manuscript.
Cotton Galba E.ix is a large parchment folio 13 x 82 inches (the original parch-ment sheets fused onto newer vellum sheets) arranged in quires of twelve leaves each, the ends of the quires being indicated by catch-words. The manuscript is written in two columns to the page, 47-48 lines per column. The scribe responsible for copying Minot's poems into folios 52-57 (usually identified as the fourth of six hands in the MS) went on to copy at fol. 57b the Gospel of Nicodemus
, and at fol. 67a through fol. 75a, sections of the Cursor Mundi
, illustrating the process whereby older forms of instructional and devotional writings were reanimated and anthologized for a new generation of readers (Boffey and Thompson, p. 291). The hands and the manuscript have been variously dated; there seems now to be general agreement on the first quarter (Hall, p. ix) to the first half of the fifteenth century (Hulme, Gospel of Nicodemus
, p. xxii), nearly a hundred years after the Battle of Halidon Hill.
Although nearly all the major fourteenth-century alliterative poems survive only in fifteenth-century manuscripts (Doyle, p. 89), it might well be thought odd that a scribe should care to copy a set of poems describing battles nearly a century old. Wright ascribed the copy of the poems to the interest awakened in the exploits of Edward III by Henry V's successes in France (Pol. Poems,
I, xxii). Hall notes that The Prophecy of the Six Kings
, used by the Northern rebels against Henry IV, favors a date prior to the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, in which the conspirators were defeated, and he argues that the manuscript compiler would not have included the Prophecy
later than 1407, a date which marks Henry's decisive victory. On the other hand, specific meanings attached to political prophecy were short-lived. A case in point is the so-called Prophecy of John of Bridlington
, which in the reign of Edward III was accompanied by an explanatory commentary. In John Capgrave's chronicle, however, two lines are extracted and applied to the execution of Archbishop Scrope in 1404; the earlier interpretation is abandoned entirely (Wright, Pol. Poems,
Nor should a date later than 1407 for Cotton Galba E.ix be ruled out. Between 1420 and 1425, the child-king Henry VI's uncles, John, Duke of Bedford, in France and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in England, were actively campaigning to uphold the English claim in France. Bedford and Gloucester used both civic pageantry (the coronation of Henry VI in Paris and, on his return to England, the royal entry into London in 1432) as well as poetry (Calot's poem on the succession, posted in France and England) to maintain support for the war party (Osberg, "The Jesse Tree," p. 264). It is in this milieu that James and Simons argue for Minot's poems as dramatic propaganda:
In Henry V's reign, and even after Agincourt, the war party had needed such propaganda as "The Libelle of English Policye" to maintain military momentum. By 1425, despite Bedford's steady successes in France (before the tide turned at Orleans in 1429), and Humphrey's warlike posturings at home, a peace party was well established, led from the start of the reign by Cardinal Beaufort. Although we might not expect one of Gloucester's documents to have ended up in the Cotton collection, this avid collector and bibliophile might possibly have been original owner [sic] or might have commissioned Galba E.ix, including Minot, to strengthen the war party in increasingly difficult times. (p. 8)
Supporting evidence for a connection between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and MS Cotton Galba E.ix might be adduced in the addition to the manuscript after 1436 of the poem, "On the Siege of Calais, 1436" (the first seven lines appear on folio 3a; the full poem at 113b, 110b in the older foliation), which honors English valor in the face of French aggression. On the 19th of July, 1436, the Duke of Burgundy laid siege to the city; he was forced to raise it on July 25th:
The next morow, or yt was day,
Erly the duk fled oway,
And with hym they off Gant.
And after Bruges and Apres both
To folow after they wer not loth;
Thus kept they ther avaunt.
For they had very knowyng
Off the duk off Gloceturs cumyng,
Caleys to rescue.
Bycaus they bod not ther
In Flanders he soght hem fer and ner,
That ever may they yt rew.
(Wright, Pol. Poems, II, 156)
Ironically, the siege was raised not by Gloucester, who was unable to leave England for Calais until July 28, but by his arch-rival Edmund Beaufort. Gloucester did com-mand a chevauchÙe
or foray through Flanders in the early days of August, but the poem's partisan enthusiasm rather exaggerates the magnitude of the campaign.
Of the poet who names himself Laurence Minot in 5.1 and 7.20 nothing is known with any certainty, and internal evidence from the poems offers only generic hints as to his identity. The poems refer to events between 1333 and 1352, but Minot's presence at all the battles he describes seems doubtful - some poems sound like eyewitness reports, others are "the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time." Minot is quite muddled, for instance, about the French capture of the English cog Cristopher
, and he places Thomas de Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, at the Battle of Neville's Cross, although the Bishop was in France at the time. Collette concludes from the internal evidence of the poems that Minot was connected with military affairs in the reign of Edward III and that he was especially interested in events on the English-Scottish border (p. viii). Neither Minot's identity nor his purpose as poet can be definitively known, although the early opinions that he was a monk (Ritson) or a priest (Bierbaum) appear unfounded. The view urged by the Cambridge History of English Literature
and the Dictionary of National Biography
that Minot was "a professional gleeman, who earned his living by following the camp and entertaining soldiers with the recitation of their own heroic deeds" has been stoutly resisted by his editors, of whom Stedman may be the most partial: it is "extremely likely that he was a Court poet and favorite and not, as has been suggested, merely a vagrant bard following in the track of the English fighting power in France" (p. xi). Recent research on the cultural milieu of Edward III's court has altered somewhat the picture of a court unconcerned with literary and artistic patronage. Juliet Vale sums up this reversal of received opinion:
Similarly, the absence from this period of surviving illuminated manuscripts associated with the court and the apparent lack of documentary references have led historians to place Edward III, if not in an illiterate, at least in a bookless and artistically unaware milieu. The discovery of a royal library of at least one hundred and fifty volumes underlines the insecure foundations of such assumptions. It is clear, too, that the more important members of Edward's court - Philippa, Isabella and Henry of Lancaster - were also eager to surround themselves with objects of artistic and literary value and it is likely that they differed from other members of the court only in material resources, not in taste. (Vale, p. 56)
Following Vale's lead, James and Simons place Minot in the context of Edward's court, where "a sustained pattern of literary interest" suggests that Minot "should be seen as one amongst the increasingly large retinue of minor functionaries who thronged the later medieval courts and who decided to seek preferment through the production of laudatory poetry in a style which may have appealed to the king himself" (p. 10). Indeed, fresh scholarship has brought to the fore a host of careers in administration and the army enjoyed by lesser gentry from Cheshire and the adjoining counties, particularly with the patronage of Edward's son, the Black Prince, who was Earl of Chester (Bennett, p. 205). Had Minot come to the court or the army under such circumstances, we might well expect an occasional complimentary gesture toward his patron, especially since it was at the Battle of CrÙcy that the Prince's courage and chivalry first won him universal acclaim. It is a curious feature of Minot's poems, however, that they fail to mention Prince Edward, a silence singularly odd given the attention they devote to Philip's son, Sir John of France.
By the first quarter of the fifteenth century, at any rate, there is evidence that great magnates like the Duke of Bedford, regent of France, were employing clerk-poets to celebrate their fame, as Lydgate makes clear in his "prologue" to the translation of Laurence Calot's French poem on Henry VI's Title to the Crowns of England and France:
The noble, that worthi varioure,
Whiche may be callid a very conqueroure,
Who lyst considre and serche by and by
His grete emprise in ordre coriously,
And specially to encrece his glory,
Who list remembre the grete high victory
Which that he had in Vernoille in Perche,
Fulle notable in boke oute to serche,
In cronycles to be song and rad;
And this prince moste discrete and sad,
Hy lord of Bedford, of Fraunce the regent,
Was the first that did his entent,
By grete advys and ful hy prudence,
Thurugh his laboure and his diligence,
That made eeoche in cronycle fulle notable,
By the clerk which he knew moste able,
Renomed of wysdom and science
Worthie eke of fame and of credence.
(Wright, Pol. Poems, II, 132-33)
warrior [i.e., Bedford]
sung and read
James and Simons speculate about three candidates for Minot's literary patronage, Edward himself, Philippa of Hainault, patron of Minot's contemporary, Froissart, and finally, the old queen Isabella, in retirement at Castle Rising in Norfolk.
One historical document relating to a Laurence Mynotz may in fact lend credence to this last suggestion. Moore prints two documents of 1331 - the only record that has been found of a Laurence Minot roughly contemporary with the poems. These are Latin and French records of the purchase by Laurence Minot in 1320 of a piece (or perhaps more than one piece) of land in Cressy Forest, France, then in the possession of Queen Isabella and recording as well the remission in 1331 by Edward III, to whom the mortgage had passed, of a part of the balance still due.
Although it is by no means certain that the person so named is also the poet, the surname Minot is not a common one in the surviving public records in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Hall found traces of six (or perhaps seven) Minots, a number of whom appear to be related to one another; none bears the name Laurence. For the most part, the Minots in the fourteenth century were landed gentry connected with Yorkshire and Norfolk.
Most notable among these is a Sir John Minot associated with various properties in north Yorkshire, including the manor of Thresk. He obtained in 1333 a grant of free warren (a grant from the king for keeping animals) in Carlton, Calton, Hoton, and Skipton-upon-Swale. Sir John owned Carlton Minot (a township, village and parish about thirty-two kilometers northwest of York), the church of which was dedicated to St. Laurence. A person of some local importance, Sir John Minot was named in a return of 1324 as a knight of Yorkshire, and in 1327 he and William Darell were raising forces for Edward's Scottish expedition of that year. In 1338 he is again associated with William Darell, as a witness to a deed by which Darell founded a chantry in Elvedmere church.
Hall thinks that the John Mynyot, Esq., who was a deponent in the Scrope and Grosvenor trial was Sir John's son and heir. The Scrope and Grosvenor trial, at which Chaucer also gave evidence, concerned, as Pearsall says "the determination of a fine point of chivalric privilege," (Chaucer
, p. 202) and those who gave evidence were among the most celebrated men in England, an indication, perhaps, of the status of the Minot family at this time. In addition to the Yorkshire properties, which John Mynyot extended - he was in litigation, for instance, in 1345 and 1346 over the manor at Islebeck (Year Books
, R.S. 31, p. 392) - he held land at Bekering in Kent.
Another branch of the Yorkshire Minots is connected with Sir Roger Mynyot, who held land from Eggleston Abbey, near Barnard Castle, in the Wapentake of Gilling West (five kilometers north of Richmond) in 1284-85. Stedman prints notices of a deed by which Richard, son of Richard de Thormodby, gives to Roger Mynyot and Isolda his wife and John his son, and the heirs of Roger, an interest in an Ekelsby property. Roger is probably the person who was lord of a manor at Langale in 1285, held Thurning Manor in 1287, and whose son Jeffry and Catherine, Jeffry's wife, owned a town house in the parish of St. Stephen, Norwich, in 1316. It is worth pointing out that the cult of St. Laurence was well-established early in the north of England - in the seventh century King Oswiu of Northumbria received relics of the saint from Pope Vitalian, in the eighth century the infirmary chapel at Wearmouth was dedicated to him - and it continued to flourish; prior to the Reformation there were two hundred and twenty-eight churches and chapels dedicated to St. Laurence (The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
, p. 238).
There are records also of Michael Myniot, a prominent London merchant, and Thomas Mynot, "Notaire le Roi," who is probably to be identified with Thomas Minot, Archbishop of Dublin from 1363 to 1375. Interestingly, Thomas Minot was in Flanders on official business at the date of the capture of Guînes (1352).
Two pieces of circumstantial evidence serve to link Laurence Minot to the Yorkshire family. First are the stylistic features of alliteration and stanza linking (see Introduction: Minot and the Alliterative Style) associated almost exclusively with Northern and North-west Midlands poems. Second is the dedication by Sir John Minot of a church in Carlton Minot to St. Laurence. While the dialect of the poems seems to be mid-Lincolnshire, some of its features are distinctly Northern, as Hall notes (chief features include the use of sal
, of ger
, the ending of the present indicative plural in -es
, the present participle in -and
, the past participle in -en,
and the use of at
with the infinitive; the vocabulary, too, has many Northern words). Hall infers that the poet lived on the border between the East-Midlands and the North, suggesting that Minot perhaps belonged to the Norfolk branch of the Minot family, as more recently has Turville-Petre, who infers that Laurence Minot "probably came from Lincolnshire," ("Some Medieval English Manuscripts," p. 129). It is possible then that Laurence Minot was neither an itinerant balladeer nor a court poet (whether minor functionary or favorite of the king) but rather a gentleman-poet of the kind described in the late fifteenth-century Scotish Feilde
He was a gentilman, by Jesu, that this Jest made,
which said but as ye see, for soth, and no other.
At Baguley that burne his biding place had.
His auncetors of old time haue yerded their longe
before William conquerour this Countrey Inhabited.
(Baird, pp. 16-17)
In 1515, Henry Legh was owner of Baguley Hall (near Manchester) and it is likely that he, one of his four younger brothers or his son was the author of Scotish Feilde
(Baird, p. vii). Other fifteenth-century gentlemen-poets in the Cheshire-Lincolnshire area include Sir Humphrey Brereton of Malpas and Sir Humphrey Newton of Pownall. In Yorkshire, Robert Thornton seems to have been a member of the minor Yorkshire gentry (Thompson, p. 3). Sir Henry Hudson, rector of Spofford, was called on by the York city council to write verses honoring Richard III in l483 and again in 1486 to have the "making and directing of the shew" for Henry VII's entry into the city (Johnston, REED: York
, Vol. I, p. 138). All these men are well-versed in the alliterative mode, and Sir Humphrey Newton in particular writes much rhymed alliterative verse in a style the earliest exemplars of which survive from Stanlow Abbey, Cheshire, from the 1270's (Pickering, p. 157). It is clear Newton had read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
as well (Robbins, "Gawain Epigone," p. 361). The poetry of these fifteenth-century gentlemen and others, such as John Quixley (another Yorkshire man), Gilbert Banester, and Peter Idley, might suggest that in the fourteenth century "the country squire or town gentleman" (Robbins, "Poems of Humphrey Newton," p. 123) might also have composed lyrics of similar style and interest (Pearsall, Old English and Middle English
, p. 226). Perhaps Minot should be thought of, at least in his youth, as a versifying esquire like the knight's son in Chaucer, who "koude songes make and wel endite" (CT 1[A]95).
Minot and Political Poetry
Whether a minstrel in the king's army, a favorite in the king's court, or a versifying member of the Northern minor gentry, Laurence Minot wrote poems whose content and style mark their difference from the popular ballads of his contemporaries, as Collette's comparison of Minot's poem on the Battle of Neville's Cross with Child ballad 159, "The Battle of Durham Field," makes clear. Collette concludes that Minot's poem lacks the distinguishing characteristics of the ballad, "detailed conversation, narration, and action, as well as a sense of immediacy" (p. xxvi). James and Simons argue rather for romance poems as the models for Minot:
the experience of reading Minot would have been analogous to the experience of reading a short romance, divided into fitts, with appropriate features and generic markers and satisfying the expectations which romances generally fulfilled. The text is thus far from a collection of isolated celebrations but an attempt to unify disparate experiences over a lengthy period through the deployment of an easily recognisable and currently fashionable literary mode. Above all we find an image of patriotic heroism and foreign villainy, an image reflected not in a mirror of chronicle but in a mirror of chivalric romance. (p. 13)
It is inviting to think of Minot's poems as steeped in the conventions and generic expectations of romance poetry, linked to a literary tradition whose continuum extends from the alliterative Siege of Jerusalem
at one extreme to Chaucer's satiric Sir Thopas at the other. Do Minot's poems, however, exhibit the characteristic features of romance? Minot's description of a sea battle provides an interesting test case.
On 30 August 1350, off Winchelsea, King Edward won a significant naval encoun-ter against the Castilian fleet under the command of Charles de la Cerda, a battle known as Les Espagnols-sur-mer
(poem 10). In the Alliterative Morte Arthure
, "the Spaniards" who leap overboard at line 3700 have also been thought to allude to the sea-battle off Winchelsea (Finlayson, p. 627; the description of the battle occupies lines 3591-3711 of the Alliterative Morte Arthure
). A comparison of these two accounts with that of Chaucer's description of a naval engagement between Octavian and Anthony reveals much about general medieval naval tactics and the conventions of the romance topos
Fro the waggand wind out of the west rises,
Brothly bessomes with birr in bernes sailes,
Wether bringes on borde burlich cogges, 1
Whiles the biling and the beme bristes in sonder;
So stoutly the fore-stern on the stam hittes
That stockes of the steer-borde strikes in peces!
By then cogge upon cogge, crayers and other,
Castes crepers on-cross, als to the craft longes;
Then was hed-ropes hewen, that held up the mastes;
There was contek full keen and cracking of shippes!
Grete cogges of kemp crashes in sonder!
Many cabane cleved, cables destroyed,
Knightes and keen men killed the bernes!
Kidd castels were corven, with all their keen wepen,
Castels full comlich that coloured were fair!
Up ties edgeling they ochen there-after;
With the swing of the sword sways the mastes,
Over-falles in the first frekes and other;
Many freke in the fore-ship fey is beleved!
Then brothly they beker with bustous tackle;
Brushes boldly on borde brenyed knightes, 2
Out of botes on borde, was busked with stones,
Bete down of the best, bristes the hatches;
Some gomes through-gird with godes of iron,
Gomes gaylich cledde englaimes wepenes;
Archers of England full egerly shootes,
Hittes through the hard steel full hertly dintes!
Soon ochen in holly the hethen knightes,
Hurt through the hard steel, hele they never!
Then they fall to the fight, foines with speres,
All the frekkest on front that to the fight longes,
And ilkon freshly fraistes their strenghes,
War to fight in the fleet with their fell wepenes.
Thus they delt that day, thir dubbed knightes,
Til all the Danes were dede and in the deep throwen!
Then Bretons brothly with brandes they hewen;
Lepes in upon loft lordlich bernes;
When ledes of out-landes lepen in waters,
All our lordes on loud laughen at ones!
By then speres were sprongen, spalded shippes,
Spanioles speedily sprented over-bordes;
All the keen men of kemp, knightes and other,
Killed are cold-dede and casten over-bordes;
Their swyers swiftly has the swet leved;
Hethen hevand on hatch in thir hawe rises,
Sinkand in the salt se seven hundreth at ones!
(Alliterative Morte Arthure, lines 3660-3705)
Suddenly sweeps; force
planks; starboard side
ship; small ships
grappling hooks across
mast-stays; edgewise; hack
i.e., first blow
fight; powerful equipment
Men; clad make slimy
completely cut down
to fight the battle
through the air
aniards; leaped overboard
young men; lifeblood
heaving; these gray waves
Considerably condensed, Chaucer's description nonetheless exhibits similar rhetorical tropes and a comparable grasp of naval tactics:
And in the se it happede hem to mete.
Up goth the trompe, and for to shoute and shete,
And peynen hem to sette on with the sunne.
With grysely soun out goth the grete gonne,
And heterly they hurtelen al atones,
And from the top doun come the grete stones.
In goth the grapenel, so ful of crokes;
Among the ropes renne the sherynge-hokes.
In with the polax preseth he and he;
Byhynde the mast begynnyth he to fle,
And out ageyn, and dryveth hym overbord;
He styngeth hym upon his speres ord;
He rent the seyl with hokes lyke a sithe;
He bryngeth the cuppe and biddeth hem be blythe;
He poureth pesen upon the haches slidere;
With pottes ful of lyme they gon togidere;
And thus the longe day in fyght they spende . . . .
(The Legend of Good Women, lines 634-50)
attack with sun behind them
great cannon is fired
hooks to cut rigging
peas; slippery deck planks
Chaucer's sea-battle begins with trumpets (compare "Brawndeste brown stele, braggede in trompes," Alliterative Morte Arthure
, line 3657), and at least two of the maneuvers, grappling the enemy ship and cutting its rigging, are recommended by Vegetius (Allmand, p. 127). By way of contrast, Minot's poem on Les Espagnols-sur-mer
offers not a single detail of the actual encounter between the English and Castilian fleets, and the generic markers of romance or the topos
of naval battle are entirely wanting:
I wald noght spare for to speke, . wist I to spede,
of wight men with wapin . and worthly in wede
that now er driven to dale . and ded all thaire dede.
Thai sail in the see gronde . fissches to fede.
Fele fissches thai fede . for all thaire grete fare;
it was in the waniand . that thai come thare.
Thai sailed furth in the Swin . in a somers tyde,
with trompes and taburns . and mekill other pride. . . .
When thai sailed westward, . tho wight men in were,
thaire hurdis, thaire ankers . hanged thai on here.
Wight men of the west . neghed tham nerr
and gert tham snaper in the snare - . might thai no ferr.
Fer might thai noght flit, . bot thare most thai fine,
and that thai bifore reved . than most thai tyne.
hope to succeed
strong; weapons; armor
grave; dead; deeds
depths of the sea
waning of the moon (an unhappy hour)
trumpets and drums; great
those strong; war
approached nearer and nearer
made; stumble; get away
flee; die (come to an end)
what; plundered; perish
Unlike the conventional romance sea-battle, Minot's verse lacks concrete detail (with the exception of "hurdis" [the wooden bulwark on a ship to protect a crew in battle] and "ankers," technical naval vocabulary is absent, and only the alliterative collocation "trompes and taburns" signals the romance battle topos
), and the engagement itself becomes in Minot's hands merely an occasion to taunt Julius Boccanera, Genoese admiral of the Castilian fleet. In style and tone, Minot's account resembles the account of the Battle of Sluys in the Latin "Invective Against the French":
Anglia regna, mundi rosa, flos sine spina,
Mel sine sentina, vicisti bella marina.
Francigenae naves ut aves in rete ruerunt,
Sanguine fluxerunt, lectis caruere suaves.
Anglicus ecce rogus Francos facit hogges et koghes,
Disperiunt, saliunt, dissipiunt, fugiunt.
Chaan seme Chanaan regem pacis fugientem,
Edward Carnarivan dat morti se perimentem.
Dic pos cy pes cy fidei, probitatis, honoris;
Dic pour est ny tremor, error, et arra doloris;
Dic pos cy pes cy, cecidit flos Francigenarum,
Demisit nos cy rex inclitus Angligenarum.
(Wright, Pol. Poems, I, 35-36)
[Kingdom of England, rose of the world, flower without thorn,
honey without sediment, you have won the war at sea.
The French ships flew headlong like birds into the snare -
They streamed with blood - choice, pleasant beds. 3
Behold! The English have made a funeral pyre of the French;
They scatter, they leap about, they disperse, they flee.
Offspring of Chanaan, Chaan was slain by
Edward Carnarvon whom he was attacking.
Tell how few here showed fidelity, probity, or honor.
Tell of dread, bungling, and the promise of mourning.
Tell how here the flower of France fell.
Here the renowned King of England defeated us.]
The Marian typology here associated with England and earlier in the poem with Edward's genealogy (Est Judaeorum Christus rex sub vice matris, / Ergo Francorum rex fiat aper vice matris
[Christ is King of the Jews by succession to his mother. Therefore, let the boar become King of France by succeeding his mother." tr. James and Simons, p. 92]) becomes a standard feature of Lancastrian propaganda, finding its most conspicuous expression in the entry of Henry VI into London in 1432 in the Jesse Tree pageant, which paired the descent of Henry from St. Louis and St. Edward through a woman with the matrilineal descent of Christ. Minot's poems are less obvious than the pageant, but a special relationship between Edward III and the Blessed Virgin Mother is certainly hinted at in lines like "And Mari moder of mercy fre, / save oure king and his menye" (4.10-11) and "Mari, have minde of thi man A thou whote wham I mene. / Lady, think what I mene - " (11.4-6).
It was widely believed, of course, that victory in battle was a direct manifestation of the divine will, and Minot's frequent invocations of God, Mary, and the Holy Ghost are the reverse coin of his fervid patriotism and his vilification of the Scots and French - a testimony to the righteousness of Edward's cause. Not yet had general weariness with the war or the clerical pacifism associated with Wycliff and with Lollards like William Swynderby made themselves felt. Edward laid claim to the crown of France in 1337 and formally assumed the title of King of France in January of 1340. For Minot, the unbroken string of victories at home and abroad was validation of the justice of Edward's claim.
Latin verse, too, offers stylistic parallels, particularly alliteration and stanza-linking, with Minot's, as in this passage from "Poem on the Scottish Wars from the Time of Edward I":
Veniet rex Angliae manu non occulta,
Multa super Priamo rogitans, super Hectore multa.
Multa sibi cumulat mala gens superba,
Anglicos ad praelia provocans acerba;
Verbera cum venient, tunc cessabunt verba:
Cum totum fecisse putas, latet anguis in herba.
["Non latebite," inquiunt, "nobis luce Phoebus;
Per nos ruent Anglici simul hiis diebus,
Nullus pervilibus percel speciebus." (?)
Ludit in humanis divina potentia rebus.
O Die potentia! te pro tuis peto!
Anglis in auxilium veni vultu laeto!
Regis causam judicas, gratiam praebeto:
Tu sine principio non vincere falsa jubeto.]
(Wright, Pol. Songs, p. 172)
[The King of England will come with open force,
inquiring much about Priam and much about Hector.-
The proud people raise a heap of evils for themselves,
provoking the English to the bitter contest;
words will cease, when the blows come;
though you think you have finished entirely, there is a snake concealed in the grass.-
["The sun," they say, "will not be concealed from us with his light;
the time is come when the English will all fall by our hands;
no one . . . . . "
The Divine power plays with the prospects of men. -
O power of God! I petition thee in favour of thy people!
come with a propitious countenance to the aid of the English;
judge the king's cause, and give him grace:
thou who art without beginning, do not let falseness triumph.]]
Collette points out that Minot's poem on the Battle of Neville's Cross is very close to a contemporary Latin poem on the same subject, even to the metaphor of flowers that have fallen:
Si valeas paleas, Valoyes, dimitte timorem;
In campis maneas, pareas, ostende vigorem.
Flos es, flore cares, in campis viribus ares,
Mane techel fares, lepus es, lynx, non leo pares.
Francia flos florum, caput olim nobiliorum,
Jam contra mores leopardus tollit honores.
Subpedito florem, rapio florentis honorem,
Flos fueram, formido feram cum jubare veram.
(Wright, Pol. Poems, I, 40) [If you are worth anything, Valois, put aside fear. Stay in the field, be obedient, display your energy. You are the flower, you have lost the flower, your strength has dried up; Mane, Techel, Phares. You are a horse, a lynx: you do not look like a lion. France is the flower of flowers, the capital once of those of nobler birth. Now, against his nature, the leopard carries off the honours. I supply the flower, I seize the glory of him that prospers. Once I was the flower; now I fear the real beast with its splendour. Tr. James and Simons, p. 96]
In addition to Latin political poems, Minot's poetry does bear comparison with a number of English homiletic and satiric poems, notably those found in MS Harley 2253, "Erthe fro erthe" and "Weping haueth myn wonges wet," as well as poems also called, often loosely, "political" like "The Song of the Husbandman" and "Satire on the Consistory Courts," but which are perhaps better understood as "estates satire" (Kane, p. 82). Turville-Petre notes too that the "Lament for Sir John Berkeley" has close stylistic affinities to Minot's poems ("Some Medieval English Manuscripts," p. 129). The clearest parallels, however, are to battle descriptions in "The Flemish Insurrection" (MS Harley 2253), a poem about events of 1302:
this frenshe come to flaundres so liht so the hare,
er hit were mydnyht hit fel hem to care;
hue were laht by the net so bryd is in snare, 4
with rouncin & with stede.
the flemmisshe hem dabbeth o the het bare;
hue nolden take for huem raunsoun ne ware;
hue doddeth of huere heuedes, fare so hit fare,
Ant thare-to haueth hue nede.
(Robbins, Hist. Poems, p. 12)
as nimble as
they would not
cut off their heads
Another Harley poem recounting events of 1306, "The Execution of Sir Simon Fraser," also seems to anticipate themes in Minot - the "fals foreward," the pride of the Scots brought low, the severity of battle:
To the kyng edward hii fasten huere fay;
fals wes here foreward so forst is in may,
that sonne from the southward wypeth away:
Moni proud scot ther-of mene may
Nes neuer scot-lond
with dunt of monnes hond
allinge aboht so duere.
(Robbins, Hist. Poems, p. 15)
they; their faith
their promise, frost
blow (dint); man's
wholly paid for so dearly
The poem's final stanza too offers themes to be heard again in Minot's poems - the linkage of Scots perfidy with French encouragement, the poet's derision of England's enemies ("tprot" as an exclamation of contempt), and the power of Edward I (he of the "longe shonkes") to subdue his enemies:
the traytours of scotlond token hem to rede,
the barouns of engelond to brynge to dede;
Charles of fraunce, so moni mon tolde,
with myht & with streynthe hem helpe wolde,
Tprot, scot, for thi strif!
hang up thyn hachet ant thi knyf,
whil him lasteth the lyf
with the longe shonkes.
(Robbins, Hist. Poems, p. 21)
many men said
Thanks to him!
Finally, Minot's poems share certain narrative techniques with partisan, political poems in Latin, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English, techniques like sudden jumps in time and abrupt changes of subject (Kendrick, p. 187). The opening of the poem on the Battle of Neville's Cross, for instance, may refer to the Battle at Dupplin Moor, in which Edward Balliol and "the Disinherited" defeated the Scots on 12 August 1332, although the poem leaps abruptly to 17 November 1346 after the fifth line. Kendrick notes that such abrupt changes "are fairly common in medieval political verse because the poet uses the juxtaposition of present and past events to suggest analogies that he then uses to imply criticism of his opponents" (p. 187). Another technique of political poetry, the practice of alluding to earlier political poems (Scattergood, pp. 163-64), occurs in Minot's poems as well; in 6.3 and 7.2 Minot alludes to The Prophecy of the Six Kings to follow King John
, the prophecy of Merlin, in which Edward III is identified as the boar and the lion.
As late as 1415, poets continued to celebrate English victories in France in a poetry whose style has clear affinities with Minot's. The famous Carol of Agincourt, preserved because a scribe, wearied of transforming alliterative poetry into prose chronicle, finally just copied out the end of the poem, demonstrates many of the hallmarks of Minot's style - alliteration, the denomination of Henry V as "oure lord the kynge," generalized battle description, God's help in victory:
Stedes ther stumbelyd in that stownde,
that stod stere stuffed under stele;
With gronyng grete thei felle to grownde,
Here sydes federed whan thei gone fele. 5
Owre lord the kynge he foght ryght wele,
Scharpliche on hem his spere he spent,
Many on seke he made that sele,
Thorow myght of god omnipotent.
(Robbins, Hist. Poems, pp. 75-76)
sick person; made well [by killing him]
Its ironic deprecation of the enemy, its plain language and heavy alliteration attest to the continued vigor of alliterative battle poetry in an age otherwise dominated by aureate rhyme royal.
Minot and the Alliterative Style
As the dates of the battles (1333-52) he commemorates suggest, Laurence Minot must have been nearly a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, but no one today is likely to subscribe to the view of him put forward by his first editor, Joseph Ritson:
one may venture to assert that, in point of ease, harmony, and variety of versification, as well as general perspicuity of style, Laurence Minot, is, perhaps, equal, if not superior, to any English poet before the sixteenth, or even, with very few exceptions, before the seventeenth century. (p. xiii)
In fact, modern readers are more likely to connect Minot with the unflattering portrait of court poets found in the Prologue to Wynnere and Wastoure
Bot now a childe appon chere, withowtten chyn-wedys,
That never wroghte thurgh witt thies wordes togedire,
Fro he can jangle als a jaye and japes telle,
He schall be levede and lovede and lett of a while
Wele more than the man that made it hymselven. 6
knows how to; jokes
believed; esteemed for
composed the poem
In most contemporary surveys of medieval English literature, Minot's poems enjoy at best passing notice: "Indeed, one reason for Minot's unpopularity with his critics is his fierce, sardonic nationalism, noticeable in his unwavering prejudice against the Scottish-French alliance." That he "can jangle als a jaye," however, nearly always invites comment: "Abundant alliteration was a snare to any transitional poet with Minot's journalistic cast of mind, which reveals itself in trite phrases and a want of feeling for heroic simile and metaphor" (Partridge, p. 293).
While hyperbolic, Ritson's comments are worth a second glance, for they underline features of Minot's poetry too long neglected - the variety and ingenuity of Minot's prosody. As "a Southren man," Chaucer's Parson claims he "kan nat geeste 'rum, ram, ruf,' by lettre" (CT X[I]43), a line whose unhappy effect has been to polarize, however unconsciously, the treatment of alliterative long line verse (Northern, Francophobic, provincial) and accentual-syllabic verse (courtly, urban, Ricardian). Minot is the only fourteenth-century poet known to us whose poems are comfortably composed in both styles. It should be noted that the metrical principles of Minot's rhymed long lines (see poems 2, 5, 9, 10, and 11, frequently referred to as "alliterative long line") do not conform to the rules of the unrhymed long-line poems of the Alliterative Revival (see Cable and Duggan); their tumbling rhythms do resemble, however, those of the Harley lyrics (see Osberg "Alliterative Technique," pp. 143-45).
Traditional Alliterative Vocabulary
Minot's poems employ the vocabulary of traditional alliterative collocations, many of which they share with the rhyming romances and poems of the Alliterative Revival, as a number of editors following Hall have suggested: "In Minot, who is certainly early fourteenth-century, there are similar stock phrases - 'wight in wede,' 'suth for to say,' 'loud or still,' 'fers and fell,' 'mirth on mold.' The absence of any large body of earlier thirteenth-century ballads, in which the conventions could have been worked out, is puzzling" (Robbins, Hist. Poems,
p. xxxiv). 7
Examination of Minot's collocations reveals, however, that they owe no special debt to the distinctive vocabulary of alliterative long-line poems or rhyming romances; Minot's alliterative vocabulary has more in common with the language of the York plays and Middle English lyrics than it does with that of Wynnere and Wastoure
or The Siege of Jerusalem
The eleven poems contain three hundred twenty-four alliterative collocations, a few more than half of which (one hundred sixty-seven) are unique to these poems, for instance "biging bare," 7.123; "brenis bright," 6.3; "diner was dight," 11.22; "letherin ledderr," 11.19; "met on the more," 9.4, and so on.
Of the one hundred fifty-seven collocations found in other poems (the recurring phrases), forty-four (28%) survive from Old English poetry and prose or from Early Middle English poetry (see Oakden and Fifield). These are the alliterative commonplaces, "bute [bote] of all my bale," 1.4; "king with croune," 7.170; "suth to say," 3.71; "trey and tene," 6.2; "werldes wele," 8.16, and may be found in the poems of Chaucer and Gower as well. Forty-seven additional collocations (30% of the recurring phrases) are shared with the rhyming romances and poems of the Alliterative Revival, phrases like "bale betes," 2.28; "knightes kene," 4.52; "crakked many a crowne," 1.59; and "mekill might," 7.12. It is misleading to think on the basis of these shared phrases, however, that Minot is writing in the tradition of the rhyming romances or poems of the Alliterative Revival, for only nine of these phrases (5% of the recurring phrases) are to be found elsewhere exclusively in the rhyming romances and poems of the Alliterative Revival. These nine collocations are identified in the Notes.
On the other hand, sixty-four of the collocations (40% of the recurring phrases) occur elsewhere only in the Middle English lyrics and the York plays, collocations like "bargan dere thai boght," 7.64 ["this bargan sall be bought," York Plays
9 (Noah and his Wife): line 126]; "care es cumen," 8.8 ["oure cares ar comen," York Plays
6 (Adam and Eve driven from Eden): line 46]; "cant and kene," 7.107 ["cant and kene" York Plays
22 (Temptation of Jesus): line 184], or "done thaire daunce," 1.66 ["that daunce is done," York Plays
19 (Massacre of the Innocents): line 96]. These collocations have likewise been identified in the Notes. It should be observed that half of the collocations shared between Minot's poems and the rhyming romances also occur in the York plays and the lyrics; in all, one hundred thirty-one of the one hundred fifty-seven recurring alliterative phrases (83%) are to be found in the plays and the lyrics. This is not a vocabulary much employed by Chaucer or Gower (some twenty-eight of the collocations also occur in Chaucer and Gower; these are the most traditional and widely occurring of the collocations and coincide, for the most part, with those phrases surviving from Old and Early Middle English poetry); it is the vocabulary of a popular poet writing in a tradition of lyric alliterative composition, a poet whose audience must have been one much like that assembled for the Corpus Christi plays, one not exclusively courtly or learned but composed of all stations and estates.
Minot's Prosody (Meter)
Minot's poems are written in the accentual-syllabic tradition of most Middle English lyric poetry. The line is generally composed of homomorphic alliterative half lines either with predominantly one unstressed syllable between stresses corresponding to the major lexical stress (meter A; poems 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8) or with mostly two or three unstressed syllables between stresses (meter B; poems 2, 5, 9, 10, 11, a group which also shares a common stanza form). The contours of the half-lines conform to phrases and small grammatical units; in the following examples, alliteration also distinguishes the half-lines [s=strong stress; w=weak stress; S=stressed alliterative figure]:
Oure king was cumen, trewly to tell (3.11) wSwSw SwwS
princes and pople ald and yong (3.19) SwwSw sws
thai soght the stremis fer and wide (3.73) wSwSw sws
Thai faght ful fast both day and night (3.103) wSwS wsws
suld he schew ful mekill might (7.12) SwS wSwS
grant him grace of the Haly Gaste (4.8) Sws wwswS
he has crakked yowre croune, wele worth the while (2.11) wwSwwS wSwS
Rughfute riveling, now kindels thi care (2.19) SwSw wSwwS
and have Normondes inogh to leve on his lare (5.9) wwSwwS wSwwS
with mani mody man that thoght for to thrive (5.42) wwwSwS wSwwS
was comen into Cagent cantly and kene (5.64) wSwwwSw SwwS
when he was met on the more A with mekill mischance (9.4) wwwSwwS wSwws
At the West Minster hall A suld his stedes stonde (9.11) wwswws wwSwS
bot with schipherd staves A fand he his fill (9.20) wwSwSw SwwS
thai robbed and thai reved A and held that thai hent (9.24) wSwwSw wSwwS
Thare was sir David A so dughty in his dede (9.39) swwSw wSwwwS
Thai sail in the see gronde A fissches to fede (10.4) wSwwSw SwwS
Ye broght out of Bretayne A yowre custom with care (10.25) wSwwSw wSwwS
Both the lely and the lipard A suld geder on a grene (11.3) wwSwwwSw wSwwwS
Thare gretes thi gestes A and wendes with wo (11.29) wSwwSw wSwwS
Alliteration is principally decorative, coinciding frequently but not inevitably with the major lexical stresses of the phrase. Although half lines are often linked by alliteration, Minot sometimes subordinates lexical stress and alliteration to the requirements of ictus (stress) elevation.
he gaf gude confort on that plaine (1.83) wSwsw sws
Thai fand the galay men grete wane (3.93) wswsw sws
and folk for ferd war fast fleand (7.90) wSwS wSws
Minot also promotes pronouns, prepositions, even occasionally copulas to ictus:
of tham that war so stout on stede (1.54) wsws wSwS
ogaines him with scheld and spere (1.14) wsws wSwS
On Filip Valas fast cri thai (1.69) wswsw sws
Jhesu for Thi woundes five (1.91) sws wsws
that in that land than had no pere (3.14) wsws wsws
and the galaies men also (3.51) swswsws
both in yren and in stele (3.102) swsw sws
in Fraunce and in Flandres both (3.6) wS w?s wSws
Another difficulty in Minot's prosody, raised in line 3.6 above, regards the treatment of inflections, particularly the genitive singular in monosyllabic nouns, -es
, in plurals, -is
, and, most vexed, final -e
. It is clear Minot relies on inflected verbs, -es
for medial unstressed syllables in many lines:
Listens now and leves me (3.117) Sws wSws
Thai hoved still opon the flode (3.121) wsws wsws
and reved pouer men thaire gude (3.122) wswsw sws
thus have ye wonnen werldes wele (8.16) wswSw SwS
and so too plural inflections:
Now God that es of mightes
maste (4.7) wsws wSwS
and with knightes
kene (4.52) wsw swSwS In some instances, "Furth he ferd into France" (4.19), for example, it is clear the scribe has rendered the disyllable "fered" as a monosyllable or in 7.18, "for a nobill prince sake," that the possessive suffix has been elided. Such syncope is not, however, unusual. In 6.15, "The harmes that ye have hent," harmes
is probably monosyllabic in a trimeter line as is dintes
in 6.34, "of dintes ye may yow dowte." Harmes
is disyllabic in 6.43, "Yowre harmes cumes at hand"; moreover, Minot does not rigorously avoid double unstressed syllables in meter A:
than likid him no langer to lig (7.80) wSws wSwwS
over that water er thai went (7.82) SwwSw SwS
for to fell of the Frankisch men (7.86) SwS wwSws
Even when syncope is assumed, "kayes of the toun to him er gifen" (8.88), double unstressed syllables between stresses occur. In short, it is impossible to say precisely under what conditions syncope may be invoked; in meter A, however, generally no more than two unaccented syllables are permitted between stresses.
Likewise, final -e
in meter A is apparently an unstressed syllable when required:
that it mun be ful dere boght (3.119) wsws wsws
Than the riche floure de lice (4.25) swsw sws
a stede to umstride (4.69) wSwswS
of a grete clerk that Merlin hight (7.2) wwsws wsws
hende God that heried hell (7.34) Sws wSwwS
Franche men put tham to pine (7.77) sws SwwS
Occasionally, before a following vowel where elision normally occurs, final -e
cannot be sounded, giving rise to a so-called clashing stress:
ax and with b
ent (7.84) wSs wwSwS
As might be expected, clashing stress in meter A is rare; usually, the scribe has failed to provide etymological final -e
for dern[e] dedes that done me dere (1.10) wSwSw wSwS
of wild[e] Scottes and alls of tame (1.60) wsws wsws
the fals[e] folk of Normundy (7.72) wSwS wsws
With bent[e] bowes thai war ful bolde (7.85) wSwS wswS
There is some indication, however, that in first half-lines in meter A Minot allows a type of rising-falling rhythm, x/\x:
for to help Scotland gan thai hye (1.22) wwSsw swS
on the Erle MorrÙ and other ma (1.42) wwSSw wSwS
that wist both of wele and wo (3.52) wSs wSwS
The right aire of that cuntrÙ (4.28) wss wsws
A similar feature of Minot's metrics is the so-called "broken-backed line," in which a caesura separates two strong stresses mid-line:
faght wele on that flude - faire mot him fall (5.78) SwwwS SwwS
Wight men of the west A neghed tham nerr (10.15) SwwwS SwwS
all thise Inglis men harmes he hetes (2.26) wwSws SwwS
bot galay men war so many (3.105) wswS swSw
that Inglis men wex all wery (3.106) wsws SwSw
Two hundreth and mo schippes on the sandes (5.71) wswws SwwS
had oure Inglis men won with thaire handes (5.72) wwSws swwS
A hallmark of unrhymed alliterative long line verse, clashing stress in second half-lines seems not to occur with any frequency in Minot's poems. It is instructive that the only indisputable evidence for a clashing stress in the second half-line in Minot's poetry is in meter A:
e did fell his grete o
kes (4.62) wSws wsS
There is little evidence in either meter A or meter B that clashing stress in the second half-line is metrical:
with erles and barons and many kene knight (5.26) wswsw wwwSS?
bot fone frendes he findes that his bale betes (2.28) wwSwwS wwSSw?
In both these lines, however, final -e
may be sounded, wwwSwS, wwSwS. In fact, Minot's metrics seem more like those of the alliterative poems of MS Harley 2253 than like those of the unrhymed alliterative long line poems, as do his stanza forms.
The variety of Minot's metrical effects is mirrored in the heterogeneity of his stanza forms, especially those poems composed in meter A:
1. 92 lines in eight-line stanzas, abababab with stanza linking
3. 126 lines in couplets
4. 96 lines in six-line tail-rhymed stanzas, aa4
6. a flyting in six three-stress eight-line stanzas, abababab, followed by three eleven-line stanzas, ababababcac, the first c rhyme being a bob line.
7. 173 lines in eight-line stanzas rhymed ababbcbc with stanza linking. The four introductory stanzas are in a different form, two six-line stanzas rhymed aabbcc alternating with two eight-line stanzas rhymed aabbccbb.
8. 96 lines in eight-line stanzas rhymed ababbcbc with stanza linking, the form used in poem 7.
Despite some variations (due perhaps to revisions), the poems in meter B all exhibit the same stanza form:
2. 30 lines in six-line stanzas, aaaabb with linking between the frons (aaaa) and cauda (bb).
5. 88 lines in various stanza forms; predominant is the six-line stanza found in poem 2, aaaabb with linking between the frons and the cauda, (7 stanzas). There are as well three monorhyming stanzas of six lines, five of four lines, and one stanza of eight lines, aaaaaabb with linking between frons and cauda.
9. 66 lines in various stanza forms. Predominating is the six-line stanza aaaabb with linking between the frons and cauda (5 stanzas). There are two eight-line stanzas aaaaaabb with stanza linking between frons and cauda, two mono rhymed four-line stanzas, and two six-line monorhymed stanzas, one of which has linking between the fourth and fifth line.
10. 30 lines in six-line stanzas rhymed aaaabb with linking between the frons and cauda.
11. 40 lines in six-line stanzas rhymed aaaabb with linking between the frons and cauda.
Minot's alliterative phrase "hunt als hund dose hare" (8.21) occurs only in one other extant poem, the "Song of the Husbandman" (c. 1300) from MS Harley 2253:
thus the grene wax us greveth under gore,
that me us honteth ase hound doth the hare.
he us hontethe ase hound hare doth on hulle;
seththe y tek to the lond such tene me wes taht.
(Robbins, Hist. Poems, pp. 8-9)
Such stanza-linking, found in Minot's poems 1, 4, 7, and 8 (concatenation) is a feature of much Northern alliterative verse, particularly six rhyming romances: Sir Perceval of Galles
, The Awntyrs of Arthur
, Sir Degrevant
, The Avowynge of Arthur
, Sir Tristrem
, and Thomas of Erceldoune
(Medary, p. 244). It is also to be found in Pearl
, "A Ballad of the Scottish Wars," and in a number of poems from MS Harley 2253 in addition to "The Song of the Husbandman": "Middelerd for mon wes mad" (Brook, #2); "Weping haueth myn wonges wet" (Brook, #6); "In a fryht as y con fare fremede," (Brook, #8); "A wayle whyt ase whalles bon" (Brook, #9); "Hee Louerd, thou here my bone" (Brook, #13); "Wynter wakeneth al my care" (Brook, #17); as well as occasional stanza-linking in "Ase y me rod this ender day" (Brook, #27), and "God, that all this myhtes may" (Brook, #29). There is as well in MS Harley 2253 a long Latin poem in alliterative monorhyming quatrains with stanza-linking, composed soon after 1298, perhaps at Alnwick ("Poem on the Scottish Wars from the time of Edward I," Wright, Pol. Songs
, p. 160), and a thirteenth-century Latin poem written near Durham, which exhibits both alliteration and stanza-linking (Hall, pp. 112-20). The Scottish alliterative poems, The Buke of the Howlat
, Rauf Coilear
and The Pistel of Swete Susan
share a common stanza form (found also in The Awntyrs
and "The Song of the Husbandman") and some stanza linking. The Susan
stanza is also to be found in Somer Soneday
, which links both stanzas and the frons and cauda of individual stanzas by iteration. Stanza-linking in the alliterative York plays, at least one of which, 46: "The Appearance of Our Lady to Thomas," shares the stanza-form of the Scottish poems, is fairly consistent as well; in 40: "The Travellers to Emmaus" linking is perfect throughout.
Whatever its origin, whether of French, Latin, Welsh, or of native provenance, concatenation belongs almost exclusively to Northern poetry where it occurs in connection with alliteration. It makes its earliest appearance in English in popular songs of the late thirteenth century, popular songs like "The Song of the Husbandman" which may well have provided Minot models for composition.
In addition to stanza-linking, Minot's poems also exhibit the somewhat less common feature of iteration, verbal repetition linking one rhyming section of the stanza (frons) to a shorter "tail" section (cauda). In The Awntyrs
, the eighth verse is linked to the ninth by iteration, but otherwise this technique is not to be found in the rhyming romances. In the poems of MS Harley 2253, however, iteration plays a role, not only in a complex stanza like that of the "Satire on the Consistory Courts" (Robbins, #6), whose tail-rhyme frons aa4
is linked to the cauda ffgggf3
by repetition, but also in stanzas similar to Minot's, as for instance "Ichot a burde in a bour" (Brook, #3), aaaaaaaa bb with linking between lines 8 and 9, and "Weping haueth myn wonges wet" (Brook, #6), rhyming abababab cdcd with linking between lines 8 and 9. Iteration is also found in "Middelerd for mon wes mad" (Brook, #2), rhyming abababab cbc, again with linking between lines 8 and 9. All of Minot's poems in meter B exhibit iteration between the monorhyming frons and the cauda.
Such devices as alliteration, concatenation, and iteration have often been taken as evidence for minstrel composition, evidence, that is, of a native, popular tradition. Nonetheless, the effects achieved by Minot in "The Battle of Bannockburn," for instance, which combines an incremental refrain "wele wurth the while . . . for thai er ful of gile," with iteration between the fourth and fifth line of each stanza and concatenation between each stanza, are not less practiced, less decorative or less artful than are the devices of "equivoque" and "retrograde" employed by Machaut in the ballade "Douce dame, vo maniere jolie," in which the final word in the line provides a syllable for the first word in the succeeding line:
Douce dame, vo maniere jolie
Lie en amours mon cuer et mon desir
Desiramment, si que, sans tricherie,
Chierie adÈs en serez, sans partir.
Partir vaut miex que d'autre souvenir
Venir peüst en moy, qui en ardure
Durement vif et humblement l'endure.
Dure À moy seul, de tous biens assevie,
Vie d'onneur plaisant À maintenir
Tenir m'estuet dou tout en vo baillie
Liement, et, pour joie desservir,
Servir vous vueil et mes maus conjoir.
Joïr n'espoir, helas! et sans laidure
Durement vif et humblement l'endure.
[Sweet lady, your pretty ways bind in love my heart and my desire desiringly, so that you will always be held dear for them without trickery, completely. (Even) parting is worth more than the thought of another can produce in me, who while burning live painfully and endure it humbly.
Hard to me alone, lady replete with all good, I must lead a life of honour happily, pleasant to maintain, wholly in your power, and to merit joy I wish to serve you and with you take pleasure in my sufferings. I have no hope of having joy, alas! and without offending, I live painfully and endure it humbly.]
(Wimsatt, pp. 16-17)
Certain of these characteristics can of course be paralleled elsewhere in what may be termed clerkly or "art" poetry in Latin:
Petre, piis plausibus pro petra punito,
Plaudat prÛsens populus pectore polito;
Petrus pater pauperum purus prÛdicator
Petram plebi prÛdicat pacis propagator. . . .
(Wright and Halliwell, II, 20)
[Peter, with purified hearts the people here give reverent praise for the Rock once slain. Father to the poor, spotless preacher, sower of peace - Peter proclaims the Rock to the people.]
Or in Anglo-Norman, "The Wisdom of Lady Desmonia," for instance:
Soule su, simple, e saunz solas,
seignury me somount sojouner;
Si suppris sei de moun solas,
sages se deit soul solacer.
(Wright and Halliwell, II, 256)
[Should I suffer alone, free and without solace, his lordship bids me to remain. When I am deprived of my solace, wisdom itself teaches the solace of solitude.]
Or in English as well:
Love havith me broght in lither thoght.
thoght ic ab to blinne:
blinne to thench hit is for noght;
Noght is love of sinne.
Sinne me havith in care ibroght.
broght in mochil un-winne:
Winne to weld ic had i-thoght
Thoght is that ic am inne.
In me is care. how i ssal fare
fare ic wol and funde.
Fare ic with outen are
ar i be broght to grunde.
(Furnivall, pp. 22-23)
This is not to argue, of course, that Minot is imitating French courtly verse - the fervid nationalism which leads him to assail those Scots who affect French manners, "Ful few find ye yowre frende / For all yowre Frankis fare" (6.19-20) would, one suspects, engender a similar opinion regarding French lyric poetry. Some critics link Minot's verse with the rudimentary alliterative line to be found, for instance, in the monorhymed quatrains of MS Harley 2253, "Of rybaudz y ryme ant rede o my rolle," or in Richard Rolle's Ego dormio
, "Robes and ritches rotes in dike / Prowde payntyng slakes into sorrow" (Pickering, p. 178), but it is the alliterative Harley lyrics, with their concatenation, iteration, complex stanza forms, and alliteration of stressed syllables - techniques quite different from those of Machaut and Deschamps, as Wimsatt has shown (p. 45) - whose prosody seems closest to Minot's. These are techiques also shared with a constellation of longer narrative poems like The Pistel of Swete Susan
and some of the York plays - poems which share with Minot a common fund of alliterative collocations. Minot's stylistic range is limited and its effects are largely decorative. When Chaucer turns to write battle poetry, as in the Knight's Tale, however, one hears in the sudden density of alliteration and monosyllabic rhymes the echoes of that tradition of war songs within which Minot works.
Go To The Poems of Laurence Minot 1333-1352
Cotton Galba E.ix
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