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John the Blind Audelay, Poems and Carols (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 302): Introduction


1 See especially Hanna’s chapter “Presenting Chaucer as Author,” in Pursuing History, pp. 174–94. For other statements on medieval authorship and authority, see Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship; and Machan’s chapter “Authority,” in Textual Criticism, pp. 93–135. Our view of Chaucer’s relation to his scribe — perhaps identifiable as Adam Pinkhurst — is now much more historically nuanced as a result of the exacting paleographical research of Mooney, “Chaucer’s Scribe.”

2 Hanna, Pursuing History, p. 175.

3 Edwards, “Fifteenth-Century Middle English Verse Author Collections,” p. 102; for Edwards’s discussion of Audelay, see p. 105. Attention has been paid in recent years to clarifying how medieval anthologies differ from miscellanies. On this question, see, e.g., S. Nichols and Wenzel, The Whole Book; Lerer, “Medieval English Literature and the Idea of the Anthology”; and Fein, Studies in the Harley Manuscript.

4 Edwards, “Fifteenth-Century Middle English Verse Author Collections,” p. 103.

5 See Fein, “John Audelay and His Book.”

6 He follows this template five times in The Counsel of Conscience. The other instances are The Remedy of Nine Virtues, lines 77–89, Visiting the Sick and Consoling the Needy, lines 378–90, The Vision of Saint Paul, lines 353–65, and Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience, lines 495–507, and he crafts variations of it elsewhere.

7 For delineation of the division of scribal labor, see the explanatory notes on each text.

8 Fein, “Good Ends,” p. 98n3.

9 Lines 1–5, my translation. See Peacock, Instructions for Parish Priests by John Myrc, p. 1.

10 Peacock, Instructions for Parish Priests by John Myrc, pp. 59–60.

11 Bennett, “John Audley: Some New Evidence” and “John Audelay: Life Records.”

12 See Meyer-Lee, “Vatic Penitent,” pp. 54–85.

13 It is impossible to say how far Audelay’s influence or fame extended beyond the abbey walls. Evidence in the book suggests that Audelay cultivated a persona as blind prophet and public penitent. See Fein, “Good Ends,” pp. 101–03.

14 Robbins, Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Centuries, p. 108. See also the explanatory note for King Henry VI, lines 63–64. A later date for this carol would also pertain to the entire carol collection, for it is a composed set.

15 See explanatory notes to Marcolf and Solomon, lines 242, 501, and 503.

16 This possibility is suggested by Pickering in “Make-Up,” pp. 120, 131–32.

17 Fein, “Death and the Colophon in the Audelay Manuscript.”

18 Pickering, “Make-Up,” p. 114.

19 See also Virtues of the Mass, line 3 (and explanatory note). “Sawlehele” is the title applied to the Vernon MS by its compiler; see explanatory note to Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience, line 105.

20 See explanatory notes to Marcolf and Solomon, lines 131–43, 501, 678–88, and to Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience, lines 248–60; and Fein, “Good Ends,” p. 100n9.

21 Two other manuscripts that appear to contain pastoral agendas similar to Audelay’s The Counsel of Conscience are London, British Library MS Harley 3954 and Cambridge University Library MS Ii.4.9.

22 The interesting poem Marcolf and Solomon has often been seen as belonging to the Piers Plowman tradition because of, for example, the appearance of Mede the Maiden and some apparent verbal echoes; see the explanatory notes to Marcolf and Solomon, lines 490–95, 705, and 937–43. On the Langland and Audelay connection, see especially Green, “Marcolf the Fool and Blind John Audelay”; Simpson, “Saving Satire after Arundel’s Constitutions”; Pearsall, “Audelay’s Marcolf and Solomon and the Langlandian Tradition”; and Green, “Langland and Audelay.”

23 Ker, Facsimile of British Museum MS. Harley 2253, p. x.

24Nolo mortem peccatoris” (“I desire not the death of the wicked,” Ezechiel 33:11). On Audelay’s frequent use of this biblical passage, compare True Living, line 128; Marcolf and Solomon, line 790; Our Lord’s Epistle on Sunday, line 115; and the explicit to The Vision of Saint Paul. It may hold a contemporary resonance in regard to correction of Lollards, for it occurs in a confession of heresy made by a Suffolk priest in 1429, as cited in Shinners and Dohar, eds., Pastors and the Care of Souls in Medieval England, p. 280.

25 This is one of many instances where Audelay makes spiritual reference to blindness; see Fein, “Good Ends,” p. 101, n. 11.

26 It may be that Audelay planned or executed a series of salutations for female saints in this meter, and that these two poems are the only remaining vestige of that plan. The meter resembles that used for Marcolf and Solomon; see explanatory notes to Salutation to Saint Winifred.

27 Fein, “John Audelay and His Book,” pp. 4, 12–13.

28 Greene, The Early English Carols. See explanatory notes to Seven Deadly Sins, Day of the Nativity, Day of the Lord’s Circumcision, Day of Epiphany, Jesus Flower of Jesse’s Tree, and Joys of Mary.

29 There are signs of similar circumstances in the copying of Chastity for Mary’s Love and Gabriel’s Salutation to the Virgin. See the explanatory notes for each poem.

30 The carols that show signs of construction from stanzas in True Living are: Ten Commandments, Seven Works of Mercy, Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, Four Estates, and Chastity of Wives. See the explanatory notes to these carols.

31 Jacobus de Voragine, Golden Legend, 1:49–50.

32 The modern choral adaptations may be found in: Stevens, Mediaeval Carols, pp. 8–9 (no. 11) and p. 20 (no. 27); and Hoddinott (composer), “Carols, op. 38,” in Audelay, "What Tidings?" Other arrangements appear in the British Library catalogue, but I have not examined them: Oldroyd, “The Flower of Jesse”; Rutter, “There Is a Flower”; and Lloyd, “The Fairest Flower.” I am aware of the following three sound recordings: The Elizabethan Singers, Carols of Today; New York Pro Musica Antiqua, English Medieval Carols and Christmas Music; and Oxford Camerata, Medieval Carols.

33 Salter praises this carol for its “warmth of feeling for the innocence of a child — an emotion more unusual in [Audelay’s] age than we might think possible” (Fourteenth-Century English Poetry, p. 17).

34 Woolf, English Religious Lyric, p. 297.

35 In the art-edition of this poem created by Loyd Haberly in 1926, the artist develops a visual theme of Mary and Jesus as the conjoined flower of salvation progressively unfurled in Christian narrative (Alia Cantalena de Sancta Maria by John Awdlay).

36 Hirsh, Medieval Lyric, p. 193.

37 Woolf, English Religious Lyric, p. 335; see also pp. 7, 387–88.

38 Even though Audelay seems here to be acting more as a cleric who culls disparate materials than as a writer of new compositions, these four items are a fully integrated part of his well-ordered anthology. It is therefore regrettable that Audelay’s Early English Text Society editor, Ella Keats Whiting, passed over the prose works entirely (Poems of John Audelay). Their omission from the only prior edition of Audelay’s works purporting to be complete has left Audelay’s crucial closing pattern entirely obscured from view until now.

39 Fein, “Life and Death, Reader and Page.”

40 The two poems appear to be related compositions, and some of the Latin headings in Audelay’s Conclusion repeat exact phrases found in the Finito libro colophon; see the translations that open this Introduction.

41 Fein, “Good Ends,” pp. 101–09.

The book is finished. Praise and glory be to Christ. The book is called The Counsel of Conscience, thus is it named, or The Ladder of Heaven and the Life of Eternal Salvation. This book was composed by John Audelay, chaplain, who was blind and deaf in his affliction, to the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ and to serve as a model for others in the monastery of Haughmond. In the year 1426 A.D. May God be propitious to his soul. (Finito libro colophon; MS Douce 302, fol. 22vb; translated from Latin.)

Whose end is good, is himself entirely good. The book is finished. Praise and glory be to Christ. No man remove this book, nor cut out any leaf, for I tell you, sirs, it would be a sacrilege! Be accursed in this deed, truly! If you wish to have any copy, ask permission, and you shall have [it], to pray for him especially who made it to save your souls, John the Blind Audelay. He was the first priest of Lord Lestrange [assigned] to this chantry, here in this place, who made this book by God’s grace — deaf, sick, blind, as he lay. May God be propitious to his soul. (Audelay’s Conclusion, lines 40–52, MS Douce 302, fol. 34ra–b; translated from Latin and Middle English.)
Almost everything known about John the Blind Audelay, capellanus, is contained in the medieval book edited here, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 302. The passages quoted above conclude two of its sections. They highlight a prominent feature of the book, that is, how often it is stamped with the name of Audelay, as if to preserve his worldly memory and insure prayers for his soul’s salvation. But such recurrent passages, taken as contemporary comments, are not without ambiguity. Does the closing benediction — “Cuius anime propicietur Deus” (May God be propitious to his soul) — indicate that Audelay was already dead when the scribe wrote it? Or is Audelay himself directing the scribe’s actions and overseeing this commemorative performance on his own behalf? The answer would seem to be the latter, that Audelay is still alive and close at hand, because the Middle English portion of the second passage (rendered above in roman font) is composed in Audelay’s favored 13-line stanza and dotted with his distinctive tags of moral admonition (“I tell you, sirs, . . . truly!”). At the same time, the portrait of John the Blind Audelay drawn in this stanza is set eerily in past tense, as if the poet were imagining himself as already a dead man lying supine on his deathbed (“He was . . . he lay”).

The persistent naming of John the Blind Audelay in MS Douce 302 works overall to make the book identifiable as an anthology of the collected works of an early fifteenth-century poet. Poets in medieval England were virtually never broadcast by name in the way seen here. This aspect of the Audelay manuscript represents something different and novel, and it begs for an explanation, especially since most poetry of the period comes wrapped in blank papers, that is, without any degree of scribal attribution or authorial self-naming. The creator of the Audelay manuscript clearly relishes self-ascription. Audelay’s name appears sixteen times on thirty-five vellum leaves, fourteen of those instances in Middle English verse and two in Latin prose (in the colophon cited at the head of this introduction and the incipit of a poem honoring Saint Bridget). The instances in Latin might have been provided by a scribe, but, considering the general manner of the book, we may safely assume that they too belong with the poet’s overt agenda of declaring his name from the leaves of a book. The development of what has been called “the author collection” is a subject of some interest as literary scholars seek to know how the sense of an “author” as an entity of authorized authority — that is, as a named writer whose works would merit an anthology — gradually came into being in England sometime during the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. The evidence varies, of course, as one examines the various manuscripts containing the attributed and nonattributed works of different writers — Chaucer, Hoccleve, Lydgate, Gower, Langland, the anonymous works of Cotton Nero A.x. — and it differs according to the criteria one chooses. One may, for example, examine an author’s own statements. When in the lyric “Adam Scriveyn” Chaucer puts a curse upon the scribe who would miswrite his words, he asserts as an author that his precise words do matter.1 In Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer pens another plea that his words not be altered:
And for ther is so gret diversite
In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge,
So prey I God that non myswrite the,
Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge. (V.1793–96)
Ralph Hanna calls Chaucer’s “awareness of the ways he might be misunderstood” both “fastidious” and “prescient,”2 for it little agrees with the way medieval texts were typically reproduced with some indifference to textual variation.

The question of ascription may also be approached from the other end; that is, instead of thinking about authorial authentication before the accidents of production, one may examine manuscripts for clues as to how an “anthologizing” impulse came to be exhibited by compilers or scribes, with works variously attached to the names of their creators. From this angle, the concept of Chaucer as an author to be named and collected in one place was not as transparently simple as one might think. In the first decades after Chaucer’s death, the idea does not seem, in A. S. G. Edwards’s wry phrase, “to have commended itself readily to posterity.”3 Given the scarcity of direct attributions to Chaucer and the frequent mixing in of Chaucerian and non-Chaucerian texts, Edwards concludes that “closed authorial collections of Chaucer’s works seem atypical: the more general anthologizing tendency was to mingle his own works with those of the emergent Chaucerian tradition, linking him with Hoccleve, Clanvowe, Ros, and particularly Lydgate.”4

Against the backdrop of an emergent English literary tradition, the contents of MS Douce 302, the Audelay manuscript, might seem inconsequential. Yet, in assessing how literary authorship was perceived and how books contributed to a budding culture of vernacular canonicity, one must acknowledge the exceptional status that MS Douce 302 holds among author collections of its day. Produced at a time when the authority of English writers was still in flux, the Audelay manuscript stands at counterpoint to the prevailing trend to treat attributions casually. As a book that ascribes texts with insistence to a contemporary English author, it becomes a living account of what authority and authorship meant in a localized, datable setting in medieval England.

There are, moreover, many other reasons for scholars of medieval English poetry to read John Audelay’s book. His idiosyncratic devotional tastes, interesting personal life history, and declared political affiliations — loyalty to king, upholder of estates, anxiety over heresy — make him worthy of careful study beside his better-known contemporaries, for example, John Lydgate, Thomas Hoccleve, and Margery Kempe, all of whom are objects of recent renewed attention.5 Of particular note: MS Douce 302 preserves Audelay’s own alliterative Marcolf and Solomon, a poem thought to be descended from Langland’s Piers Plowman, though the nature of that relationship still requires better definition and better historical-geographical situating. The Audelay manuscript also contains unique copies of other alliterative poems of the ornate style seen in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Pistel of Swete Susan. These pieces are Paternoster and Three Dead Kings, both set at the end of the book. Whether or not they are Audelay’s own compositions, they seem certain to be his own selections, arranged in his anthology at a deliberate point for a decisive purpose, that is, a sober meditation upon endings and death. Furthermore, to judge from the range of verse styles in his book, Audelay was an aficionado of metrical variety and musical form. In this regard, Audelay deserves keener recognition for his ordered collection of twenty-five carols — not only because a sequence of this kind is rare but also because several individual carols rank high among all medieval verse of this type. Audelay displays a persistent habit of sequencing materials in generic and devotionally affective ways. His is a pious sensibility delicately honed by reverence for liturgy and by an awe of God (and his saints) worshiped by ritual. This aesthetic is perhaps most evident in Audelay’s salutations sequence, where he is working in a genre little recognized for its artistic capabilities, and never before noted for its sequential possibilities. That Audelay’s poetry can awaken us to new poetic sensitivities in medieval devotional verse is reason enough to bring him into the ambit of canonical fifteenth-century English poets. The autobiographical element in many MS Douce 302 items is most poignantly featured in the important poems Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience and Audelay’s Conclusion. These works provide revealing hints of a contrition-wracked soul moved to make open declarations of himself as penitent chaplain, instructor of soulehele, and divinely inspired author. In signing his verse, Audelay patents a trademark stanza that blends penitential modesty with egotistical assertion.6 A typical version appears in Our Lord’s Epistle on Sunday:
Mervel ye noght of this makyng —
Fore I me excuse, hit is not I.
Fore this of Godis oun wrytyng
That he send doun fro heven on hye,
Fore I couth never bot he foly.
He hath me chastist for my levyng;
I thonke my God, my Grace, treuly,
Of his gracious vesetyng.
             Beware, serys, I you pray,
       Fore I mad this with good entent,
       Fore hit is Cristis comawndment;
       Prays for me that beth present —
             My name hit is the Blynd Awdlay. (lines 196–208; italics added)

excuse myself
this [work is created] by; own

high folly
chastised; living

visiting [with affliction]


In this stanza Audelay denies that he is the true maker of the content. It is instead derived from an inspired source — God, or (in other versions) Anselm, Paul, or the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, the stanza always ends with an emphasis upon the poetic maker’s name, “the Blynd Awdlay,” after a statement that he, Audelay (with an emphatic “I”), did make the verse with “good entent.”

The passages naming John the Blind Audelay are copied by both of Audelay’s two scribes, indicating that they were knowledgeable accomplices in a program to preserve the chaplain-poet’s name for posterity. Taking close notice of their shared labor helps to elucidate another ambiguity that hovers about the book’s biographical passages. How can it be that Audelay “made” this book if he was, as he often attests, deaf and blind? Scholars agree that this book, MS Douce 302, is the very codex referred to by Audelay when he writes that he “made this bok by Goddus grace, / Deeff, sick, blynd” (Audelay’s Conclusion, line 51). Thus the book itself serves as witness to the conditions of authorial production, and it may even betray signs of the writing process itself. Although Audelay tells readers repeatedly that he suffers disabilities of hearing and sight, it is inconceivable that he was both wholly blind and wholly deaf during the process of making the book. He would have been, however, very much dependent on his two scribes, and completion of the project probably required a blended process of copying from exemplars, reading aloud, and correcting both by dictation and by reference to written papers. Ultimately, then, the codicological side of the Audelay manuscript is about observing the joint operations of three men who transformed Audelay’s collected works into a physical book. They are:
First, Audelay himself, a secular chaplain retired to a chantry priesthood at Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire, who planned and directed production of an anthology consisting of texts he had authored in the broadest medieval sense of authorship — that is, created from scratch, or translated, or paraphrased, or borrowed, or recombined in pastiche, or arranged in meaningful sequences.

Second, Scribe A, probably a monk at Haughmond, who executed Audelay’s basic plan, copying all but the last two texts in Audelay’s prescribed order, but leaving spaces for most of the titles (incipits) and endings (explicits), and occasionally leaving gaps where his copy was defective. Scribe A copied virtually all the signatures that occur within Audelay’s verse compositions, so we know that he had direct access to Audelay’s conceptual plan (that is, the living poet) and Audelay’s papers.

Third, Scribe B, probably another monk at Haughmond, who had the subsequent oversight task of putting in the finishing touches. He added — in red ink — incipits, explicits, textual pointers, small initials, and instructional couplets composed in tones that sound exactly like Audelay. He also added — in blue and red ink — large initials and top-of-column numerals, providing a visual ordinatio. Scribe B completed several texts left in a tentative state by Scribe A, proofread and corrected the entire book, and extended the length of the book by adding the two final items. He redacted the biographical passages cited above and put in other passages featuring Audelay’s name. Thus Scribe B also had direct access to Audelay and his papers.7
In overall design, MS Douce 302 consists of four genre-based mini-anthologies, each with its own internal arrangement in planned sequence. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the original book does not survive. The greatest loss occurs at the front, where up to nineteen folios are gone.8 Noting how insistently are recorded John the Blind Audelay’s authorship, mission, and moral example in MS Douce 302, we may safely guess that the lost portions held yet more ascriptions to Audelay. While it is fruitless to speculate about the genres or texts that might have figured among Audelay’s lost writings, it does seem likely that the original book included a table of contents keyed to Scribe B’s numerals and a preface (or opening rubric) meant to emphasize the prevailing presence of Blind Audelay as pastoral author. An influential contemporary book may have been John Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests, written a bit earlier at neighboring Lilleshall Abbey, also an Augustinian house, and no doubt circulating actively among clerical communities in Shropshire when Audelay’s book was made. Mirk’s verse Instructions for Parish Priests opens in the following manner: “God says himself, as we find written, that when the blind lead the blind, into the ditch they both fall, for they do not see where to go; so now do priests go by day.”9 Audelay adopts the stance of the blind man leading the blind, but rightly led by God’s illuminating light, while he continues in the manner of Mirk to correct the priesthood, as well as chastise lapses among the other eccesiastical orders and the laity. In stating his own mission, Audelay deploys the theological figure of the Book as the Word. In the last poem of the manuscript, Audelay’s Conclusion, the poet asserts that the now-complete book conveys “my wyl and my wrytyng” (line 33) while it bears spiritual similitude to “the bok of lyfe in hevun blys” (line 19). Ending upon another note evocative of Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests, the poet then asks for prayers on his behalf and bequeaths the book to future readers for their spiritual benefit.10

Almost all of what we know about John the Blind Audelay is contained within the boards of MS Douce 302. We are fortunate, though, to have one life-record for Audelay that is external to the manuscript. A court document from London, dated April 1417, enumerates the members of Lord Richard Lestrange’s retinue and includes the name of his chaplain, John Audelay.11 This detail matches the information found in Audelay’s Conclusion. From the circumstances of this record, we gain a glimpse of Audelay’s earlier life as a secular cleric who traveled routinely to the capital in company with his patron. In this instance, the London stay had a tragic outcome, with Lestrange committing and being arraigned for a high crime: inciting a violent brawl in a London parish church, St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, on Easter Sunday, with a knight severely wounded and an innocent parishioner killed. For this violation of God’s house on its most sacred day, Lestrange was jailed in the Tower and then ordered to do penance in the streets of London, walking barefoot and in a plain shift with his wife beside him, and followed by his retinue — including, presumably, his chaplain — from St. Dunstan’s to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The notoriety and shame of this public spectacle certainly dealt a blow to Lestrange, whose reputation in posterity rests on little else, and it must also have set an indelible blot upon the conscience of John Audelay, Lestrange’s spiritual advisor. Since the discovery in 1982 of Audelay’s part in this well-known scandal, most scholars accept that Audelay’s penitential cast bears the scars of this episode of spiritual and social trauma. Its effect on Audelay seems evident in his incessant expressions of contrition and penance, as well as in his oft-repeated conviction that his ailments are visitations from God, signs of divine punishment now and hoped-for mercy later.

The known facts about the life of John the Blind Audelay may be set out in brief space. In the 1410s and 1420s he was chaplain to Lord Lestrange of Knockin, Shropshire, and after a secular career in service to his patron, dishonorably marked by the shame of 1417, he was appointed priest of the family chantry at nearby Haughmond Abbey, an Augustinian house. Audelay calls himself the “furst prest” of the chantry, so his appointment would seem to have been part of its initial endowment by Lestrange. Audelay need not have taken orders as a monk to have been made one of the Haughmond community. His residence there would have been a means by which Lestrange could provide him with a secure retirement after years of active service. At the same time, Lestrange was purchasing the ongoing strength of the chaplain’s prayers for the welfare of his own soul and those of family members, living and deceased. Audelay’s role as chantry priest would have been to pray a specified number of times for certain individuals, by name, on an ongoing quotidian basis. In this regard, the preoccupation with naming that occurs in the Audelay manuscript is exceptionally pertinent to Audelay’s daily existence.12

The making of the Audelay manuscript occurred during this period of Audelay’s life, but parts of its contents, perhaps whole sections, were probably composed years before, when Audelay’s vocation was as the master of religious instruction and devout entertainment (that is, the singing of pious songs) within a secular household. One can see such materials in each of its four parts — the quasi-liturgical sequences of prayers and indulgences in the acephalous penitential The Counsel of Conscience; the veneration of female saints and an interest in their vitae in the Salutations; the convivial Carols, some of which are directed to women and seem meant for singing in a hall; and the Meditative Close, the part most congruent with the codicological project of making a multi-section book that ends well, which is comprised of narrative, instructional, and allegorical texts that seem to target those in secular life. Even as we may perceive the shades of this original audience, the book that survives declares another group of readers. The Finito libro colophon asserts that the first section was compiled “to serve as a model for others in the monastery of Haughmond.” So to understand the reception of Audelay’s works, we must imagine different audiences in different phases of Audelay’s life: the secular nobles of Audelay’s active career with Lord Lestrange; the monks who surround him in his later life, when he devotes himself to the anthologizing project; and perhaps, too, an ongoing reception by laity (such as Lestrange) who visit the chantry and know about Audelay by past association, present reputation, or both.13 The year 1426, the only exact date found written in the folios of MS Douce 302, appears in the Finito libro colophon, at a point two-thirds of the way into the manuscript, and it refers only to The Counsel of Conscience. The date does not necessarily designate, therefore, the year of the making of the whole manuscript or its textual elements. The copying of texts into MS Douce 302, during which The Counsel of Conscience was teamed with other works, could have occurred later than 1426. For example, it is plausible that Audelay’s King Henry VI was written after 1426; if it was composed in celebration of the young king’s coronation, as Rossell Hope Robbins assumes, then its date would be 1429 or 1431.14 On the other hand, Marcolf and Solomon (the second work found in the manuscript) is usually ascribed a much earlier date, that is, probably before 1414, because it seems to reflect the political climate prior to the Oldcastle uprising.15 Numerous poems by Audelay, especially the carols, contain borrowings from True Living (the first piece in MS Douce 302), so it may be that this item is the oldest work in the book, and that the lost works copied before it were older still.16 The internal dating questions are thus complex, and the best we may do at this point in our knowledge is assign an approximate range for the manuscript itself, c. 1426–31, because the colophon date tells us neither the date of the book’s creation nor the year of Audelay’s death. There is, moreover, evidence that the process for ending the book was a drawn-out one, occurring three separate times: first, when Scribe A finished his copy; then later, when Scribe B appended a Latin moral poem; and finally, when Scribe B inscribed the last poem — the poet’s address to the reader. This sequence of endings suggests a poet who, living beyond the book’s original conception, takes a continuing interest in its closing formulation.17


The long colophon on fol. 22v gives the first section of Audelay’s anthology a dual title: The Counsel of Conscience or The Ladder of Heaven and the Life of Eternal Salvation. These two titles suggest the purpose of this first Audelay “book.” The chaplain Audelay urges readers to cleanse their souls through contrition and confession, to submit humbly to priestly counsel based in the teachings of Holy Church, and to advance steadily toward heaven through a well-governed life of good deeds. The two titles (the second one abridged to The Ladder of Heaven) also appear in the last work of The Counsel of Conscience, Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience (lines 417–18). While we thus know exactly where The Counsel of Conscience ends, we cannot be sure, as Oliver Pickering has pointed out, just where it begins.18 The dual title does, however, characterize all the contents that survive before the colophon, with an explicit theme of soulehele being raised as early as Marcolf and Solomon (lines 526, 798) and mentioned again in Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience (line 105).19

The Counsel of Conscience seems a miscellaneous mix of texts because the genres contained in it vary a good deal: prayer and Passion meditation, instructions on the mass and tenets of the faith, salutation, pious exhortation, truth-telling voiced by God himself, and even a semi-satiric admonition of the ecclesiastical orders. The poem of the last type is Audelay’s Marcolf and Solomon, which is famously written in an alliterative style evocative of Piers Plowman. Yet all works found in The Counsel of Conscience commonly preach with insistence about penance, and they deliver this message in Audelay’s distinctive tones. Many texts are based on models (Latin or English) that exist elsewhere, but still they are transmuted into Audelay’s idiosyncratic voice. Taken together, the works in The Counsel of Conscience provide a representative sampling of the variety of texts of popular devotion promulgated for lay use in fifteenth-century England, and they are far too centered on the veneration of saints, belief in indulgences, and orthodox pastoral practice to invite any sustainable charge of Lollardy, which Audelay nonetheless earnestly denies.20

Audelay’s Counsel of Conscience contains, furthermore, several internal symmetries and recurrent interests, which are evident particularly in its frequent evocations of Passion imagery to be paired with thoughts of reverent things grouped by mystical number, especially the number seven: seven bleedings, seven words on the cross, seven hours of the cross, often to be blended penitentially with thoughts of the seven deadly sins, seven works of mercy, and so on. Many prayers and devotions are grouped in quasi-liturgical sequences, with Audelay poised as the chaplain who leads a congregation or an individual congregant. Study of the many analogues and sources, as well as manuscript indicators, show that he ranged un-self-consciously among a variety of compositional methods: translation from Latin to foster lay understanding; free borrowings from other works and free elaborations; imaginative metrical restylings, with a real preference for a distinctive 13-line stanza; knowledge of many literary types, such as refrain poems and dream visions; original sequencings that mix old hymns and devotions with fresh instructions and prayers; authorial signposts and marginal asides to readers; and so on.21

The unity of The Counsel of Conscience rests in its persistent method of instruction on how to gain indulgence for one’s sin. The book is in essence a handbook for the remission of sins, with sinfulness understood as a specific quantity of willfully evil deeds and thoughts counted against one’s soul. Thus, penitential acts are needed to reduce the tally, which will come to account when God affixes to each soul its final judgment. Audelay offers ways to avoid hell, where there is no respite from pain other than the mercy offered on Sundays, as explained in The Vision of Saint Paul. Hopeful that his readers will heed his warning and escape hell’s tortures, Audelay offers additional advice on how, in this life, one may reduce one’s term of agony in purgatory and thus hasten the way to heaven. Audelay’s guidelines are literal and detailed, and they are based not only on Church teaching but on the authority of exemplary churchmen who have offered such counsel through pious writings or specific prayers that would smooth the way. Thus Audelay’s emphasis upon words and authority comes about not for the same reason that Chaucer asks readers and scribes to respect his exact text, but because one is to pray certain words in certain ways in order to receive a specific quantity of remission. Sometimes the instructions are general, sometimes particularized, but they are ever-present in the collected texts of The Counsel of Conscience, and always the goal is clear and literal. In the first two works — the acephalous True Living (line 122) and the alliterative Marcolf and Solomon (line 39) — we are told to please God and to keep his commandments (i.e., follow his Word) to receive remission of sins.22 Then in the third work, The Remedy of Nine Virtues, the ventriloquized voice of Christ counsels us to use our free will wisely and to depend upon the assembled saints of heaven to pray for us:
Yif thou fall, aryse anon,
And call to me with contricion;
Then my moder and sayntis uchon
       Wil fore thee pray. (lines 34–37)
Mary and the heavenly body of saints live in Audelay’s poem, and they await the call to pray effectively to save souls.
The remaining texts of The Counsel of Conscience assert by authority of a named holy presence that such-and-such action or prayer will grant him who is truly penitent an indulgence, which is said to be offered by ultimate authority of God. The first is a prayer on Christ’s blood, requesting remission of sins: the reader is told to say this prayer every day and worship every wound of Christ in order to gain a place in heaven; should he teach it to another, his salvation will be secure (Seven Bleedings of Christ, lines 110–39). Next is the Prayer on Christ’s Passion; he who says this prayer every day will gain remission of sins (lines 37–42). Then appears The Psalter of the Passion, a sequence of Latin prayers with English instructions that explain how its recitation brings remission of sins. The first of these prayers, the Latin hymn Anima Christi sanctifica me, was indulgenced at Avignon in 1330 by Pope John XXII.23 The pious reader is told to follow this petition with another prayer, then an Ave, and then a third prayer recited with one’s rosary beads, followed by the Creed and a last prayer in Latin prose provided by Audelay.

After the prayer sequence Audelay asks a devout reader to commemorate the seven words uttered by Christ on the cross, which serve mystically to allow the seven deadly sins to be remitted (Seven Words of Christ on the Cross, lines 1–12). Each holy utterance becomes the focal point for a two-stanza meditation, in which, after it is cited, it is then appended to a petition on behalf of the reader. For example, Christ’s words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) lead to a petition that God forgive the petitioner’s enemies (lines 13–24). Finally, in order to worship properly these seven words, the petitioner is to say seven Paternosters and seven Aves (lines 99–100). And, just as Christ granted remission to his tormentors, Audelay tells us, “Well is he who will worship devoutly these words every day, for he shall have plain remission” (lines 109–14).

Audelay’s overriding concern for remission of sins based in God’s authoritative grace continues to dictate the next sequence, Devotions at the Levation of Christ’s Body, which contains instructions, a salutation, and prayers in English and Latin. This text prepares a worshipper to venerate appropriately, in mind and gesture, the moment at which the host is raised in the mass. Upon the enactment of this holy event, an early reader (not one of the scribes) highlights the word “assencion” by drawing in the right margin a sleeved hand pointing upward at the word, which also marks the center of Audelay’s poem (Salutation to Christ’s Body, line 26). The next of Audelay’s texts is a verse sermon, Virtues of the Mass, which follows logically the Levation sequence. In Virtues of the Mass Audelay names Saints Bernard, Bede, Augustine, and Gregory as authorities on the mass, and he offers an amusing, well-disseminated exemplum — here told as an anecdote of Augustine and Gregory — on the evils of gossip during the holy service (lines 298–342). To this lengthy poem on the benefits of the mass, which is also found in variant form in the Vernon Manuscript, Audelay adds his own ending, in which he tells the reader how to gain protection throughout the work week by praying during the service in a specific manner: pray for oneself, for one’s parents and kin, for the weather, and for peace; then say three Paternosters to Christ, five to God, and seven to the Holy Ghost for one’s seven deadly sins; then say ten more for the breaking of the Ten Commandments; and, finally, for having heard this sermon, the reader will gain, according to Saint Gregory, one hundred days of pardon (lines 352–414).

From this point on in The Counsel of Conscience, the ascriptions to the authority of holy men multiply. In the prayer sequence For Remission of Sins, Audelay prefaces the Prayer of General Confession (given in English) with an explanation of how it is part of an indulgence granted by Saint Gregory, for which one is granted 14,000 years of pardon, with more years added by other bishops (Saint Gregory’s Indulgence, lines 1–10). Here Audelay instructs one to say five Paternosters and five Aves, and then to say the prayer kneeling where it is painted on the wall. The next work, Visiting the Sick and Consoling the Needy, which Audelay attributes to Saint Anselm as he renders it in his own idiomatic 13-line stanza, is a consolation for those afflicted by God for their sins, preaching that Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas are exemplars of God’s mercy extended to sinners. Its basic message is to prepare for “soden deth” (line 395). Next comes a sequence that Audelay calls, interestingly, Blind Audelay’s English Passion, in which the central work is Pope John’s Passion of Our Lord, which offers three hundred days of remission (line 5). According to Audelay, Pope John made this meditation three days before he died. After reading it devoutly, one should say five Paternosters in worship of the Passion, then five Aves kneeling in reverence of the five wounds, and finally the Creed, to order to obtain the promised remission (line 119). After meditation upon the Passion comes (as with Seven Words of Christ on the Cross following The Psalter of the Passion) a meditation on a mnemonic seven holy things. This time the focus is upon the Seven Hours of the Cross, which offers a prayer that the reader’s sins be remitted should he keep this text devoutly in mind (lines 77–90).

The next two works, Our Lord’s Epistle on Sunday and The Vision of Saint Paul, are translations by Audelay of Latin texts that are frequently paired in other manuscripts. Audelay also juxtaposes them purposefully, rendering both in his favored 13-line stanza. In a rubric supplied by Scribe A, Our Lord’s Epistle on Sunday is said to be originally transmitted through Saint Peter, bishop of Gaza. The Sunday Letter reveals a truth sworn to by all the saints, written as it was by Christ’s own fingers, and it grants remission (line 172). This item connects readily to the one that follows it, The Vision of Saint Paul, where the opening lines declare that it was on a Sunday that Paul and the Archangel Michael traveled together to view the pains of souls in hell (lines 1–6). Although Christ declares that there is no remission in hell, this dictum will be mercifully alleviated after the visit of Saint Paul: the souls of hell are now to be offered relief on Sundays (lines 296–300). This highly visual narrative poem, which paints starkly the sufferings of sinners in hell as viewed by an astonished Paul, closes with one of Audelay’s many signature stanzas. Here Audelay attributes authorship of the poem to God, through the witness of Paul:
Mervel ye not of this makyng —
Y me excuse, hit is not I.

Thus Mychael lad Powle, be Goddis bedyng,
To se in hel the turmentré,
Fore I couth never bot hy foly.
God hath me chastyst fore my levyng;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
                     Thus counsels youe the Blynd Audlay. (lines 353–58, 365)


And now comes the closing movement of The Counsel of Conscience. Audelay ends this long book at the front of MS Douce 302 with a last sequence of two poems and a colophon, to which his second scribe assigns the heading The Lord’s Mercy (“De misericordia Domini”). The topic of God’s grace allows a smooth transition out of the visionary climax featured in the last poem, closing the book with the hoped-for soulehele. The first poem in this final sequence, God’s Address to Sinful Men, returns the authorial voice to God, as in The Remedy of Nine Virtues and Our Lord’s Epistle on Sunday. In 8-line stanzas with a Latin refrain,24 God issues stern warnings to mankind while continuously offering remission in return for heartfelt contrition. The next poem, Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience, makes the subject personal. The chaplain composes this work in his own voice, with a first-person, prophetic-sounding “I,” and in his own trademark 13-line stanza. The poem even bears a hint of dream-vision framing in the third stanza
Fore as I lay seke, in my dremyng,
Methoght a mon to me con say:
“Let be thi slouth and thi slomeryng!
Have mynd on God both nyght and day!” (lines 27–30)
It seemed to me; did say

paired with the penultimate stanza (lines 482–94), which begins “As I lay seke in my langure.”

In Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience Audelay betrays a personal hope that his visitation from God — that is, his being struck with blindness — is something that may associate him with Saint Paul,25 give him license to speak truth, and ultimately lead to his redemption:
And take record of the apostil Poule
That Crist callid to grace and his mercé,
Fore so I hope he hath done me
And geven me wil, wit, tyme, and space,
Throgh the Holé Gost, blynd, def to be,
And say this wordis throgh his gret grace. (lines 16-21)    

Audelay harbors a belief that his words may acquire an authoritative power akin to those of the apostle. Finally, this last poem in The Counsel of Conscience closes with another signature stanza, this one attributing the written words to the Holy Ghost:
Mervel ye not of this makyng,
Fore I me excuse — hit is not I;
This was the Holé Gost wercheng,
That sayd these wordis so faythfully,
Fore I quoth never bot hye foly.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
             Beware, seris, I youe pray,
       Fore I mad this with good entent,
       In the reverens of God Omnipotent.
       Prays fore me that beth present —
             My name is Jon the Blynd Awdlay. (lines 495–99, 503–07)
excuse myself
Holy Ghost’s making

I [myself] say; high folly

[those] who are

Audelay closes the book by attributing, again, the primary creative act to a higher authority — either the Deity or one with sainted proximity to the Deity — while he then turns around and claims the secondary act as his own. Audelay’s modest form of “makyng,” we might glean, refers mainly to actions of translating and metering, and seldom in his mind to any claim of original content.


The salutation section directs the worship of Audelay and his pious readers toward five holy figures: the Virgin Mary, three women saints (Bridget, Winifred, and Anne), and eventually God himself, whose image is mediated by the agency of another woman, Saint Veronica. The final approach to God is by means of an image of the Holy Face as preserved upon the Vernicle. These salutations provide the words by which to honor and invoke saints, summoning them by name, as in the first one to Mary:
Hayle, Maré, to thee I say,
Hayle, ful of grace, God is with thee.
Hale, blessid mot thou be, thou swete may.
      (Salutation to Jesus for Mary’s Love, lines 1–3)   

may; virgin
The poems in this section seem sometimes to be directed at a faithful congregation, as when Scribe A inserts the word “Oremus” (Let us pray) and Scribe B adds “collecte” (together) before each of the three prayers in Latin prose. Yet the drawing of God’s face upon the Veronica Shroud that occurs at the end of the salutations is expressly bookish in constructing a meditative site for a person practicing his quiet devotions. The act of reading piously and privately, as figured by a book of devotional verse, and the coherent religious logic of the sequence itself, punctuated with clerical instructions, suggest that Audelay envisions his salutations as bringing comfort and spiritual well-being to individual users.

The salutations devoted to the worship of Mary lead off the section in a way that suggests that the mother of God is to be seen as the primary intercessory figure for the whole section. The word by which to hail her, “Ave,” is essentially synonymous with the genre itself, and Gabriel’s utterance of this word to the Virgin — in the Annunciation — is the prototypical salutation, the word that prefaced incarnation of the Word. Interestingly, this section becomes a kind of dialogue with the Virgin. The first incipit invites this dialogue by asking the reader not to pass by, but to pause and say “Ave.” Then (in the same incipit) the Virgin herself speaks to the reader, pronouncing, with a delicate pun on ave (hail) and a ve (without woe), the rewards that accrue to those who salute her: “May they always be without woe who to me say ‘Ave.’” The Marian section then moves from salutation and prayer into a healing meditation upon the Virgin’s five joys, then another salutation to Mary, a delicate lyric translation of the Latin hymn Angelus ad Virginem (voiced by Gabriel), and finally, continuing the biblical reference to Luke 1, a version of the Song of the Magnificat (voiced, of course, by Mary) in refrain stanzas. Thus the Marian salutations operate as a chorus of modulated voices in praise of Mary, with even Mary herself participating, as if in conversation with the medieval person who says “Ave.”

The first of the salutations to Mary has an astonishing structure by which it encloses an embedded salutation to Jesus as Redeemer. The poem assumes a form in imitation of Mary’s pregnancy, as if it were a statue of the Virgin that can be opened to reveal the Blessed Child within. This first salutation, which begins in seeming address to Mary alone, reveals itself to be actually an address to Jesus through Mary and her five joys, and it movingly dramatizes the impossibility for an Englishman of orthodox faith to approach God without a mediating presence (a stance much challenged by Lollards). In this internal salutation to Mary’s Son, the verse reiterates the name of Jesus for some seventy lines: “O Jhesu, fore these Joys Fyve, / O Jhesu, thi moder had of thee” (Salutation to Jesus for Mary’s Love, lines 91–92), and so on. Moreover, during this worship in direct address to Jesus, Audelay’s professed hope for the sight of God’s face at Doomsday (lines 150–51) anticipates the way he will close his salutations section.

After this well-integrated cluster of Marian salutations come the poems dedicated to Saints Bridget, Winifred, and Anne, female saints who are each venerated for the miraculous healing powers associated with their sanctity. Bridget of Sweden was canonized as saint in 1391. Audelay’s salutation to her bears significant historical witness to the founding of the Bridgettine order in England, which resulted in the establishment of Syon Abbey by Henry V’s royal decree in 1415. In the poem Audelay compliments “gracious Kyng Herré” for this noble promotion of the faith in England (lines 136–48), and elsewhere, in his carol King Henry VI, there also surfaces the chaplain’s patriotic desire to praise the reigning Lancastrian monarchy. The Salutation to Saint Bridget narrates the saint’s vita at some length, and it stands alone without accompanying apparatus, while the salutations to Winifred and Anne are set within devotional sequences that include prayers to the saintly women.

The Winifred devotion is actually a double salutation for there are two poems to honor her, one in carol form (the only carol outside the carols section of the manuscript) and one in a 9-line stanza that is identical to that used by Audelay in his lengthy Salutation to Saint Bridget.26 Two Latin prayers, one in verse, one in prose, conclude the devotion. While Winifred’s vita is set in seventh-century Wales, Audelay and the residents of Haughmond Abbey would have viewed her as a local saint because her relics rested in Shrewsbury, four miles to the north, having been translated there in 1138. Moreover, Winifred’s popularity had widened when her feast day was made binding throughout England in 1415. An effigy of Winifred stands among those carved in the outside arches of the abbey chapter house, where her foot rests upon the head of Prince Caradoc, an iconographic gesture that ironically reverses the most famous moment in her vita: when the prince found he could not deflower her, he decapitated her in a furious rage, but her uncle restored her head to her body, and Winifred lived thereafter with a thin white thread of scar adorning her neck as a necklace. One of Audelay’s prayers to Winifred emphasizes the saint’s miraculous restoration to bodily wholeness, which pertains to her power to heal others, such as himself.

Womanly healing in the form of miraculous fertility, leading to the birth of the Savior, forms the focus of the devotion to Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. This sweetly graceful worship service possesses two parts: an English verse salutation and a Latin prose prayer. Audelay emphasizes in both elements the miracle of Anne’s fruitful womb, which gave birth to Mary after a long period of barrenness. As with Winifred, Audelay composed two poems in honor of Anne — an anaphoric salutation and a carol — but he situates Saint Anne Mother of Mary in the next section of carols, where it is located, significantly, in a series given to the topic of chaste female fecundity. The wondrous quality of Anne’s unexpected fertility, leading to the birth of Mary and later Christ, contributes to the conceptual theme of miraculous healing that runs through the salutations.

In the last devotional sequence, dedicated to the Holy Face, God’s image is venerated by means of a salutation and a drawing — the only non-marginal illustration to occur in MS Douce 302. The sequence opens with Latin prose instructions that identify the English salutation (with drawing) as an indulgence from Rome granted by Pope Boniface IV, which should be said twenty days in a row. The drawing of Christ’s face on the Veronica Shroud follows these instructions and forms a visual meditative site. It resembles one of a series commonly found on indulgence rolls that venerate the Arma Christi, a tradition also occurring in Audelay’s Seven Bleedings of Christ (lines 67–72). When Scribe A came to this point in the manuscript, that is, the end of the salutations, he left space for the drawing and inscribed the verbal exercise Salutation to the Holy Face and the final Latin prose prayer below that space. The drawing appears to have been inserted later by Scribe B. Thus the image and the English salutation support vernacular devotion, but it is mediated through a clerical frame of Latin prose instruction and prayer.

It appears that Audelay has designed the series of salutations so that a meditant is deliberately brought to this climactic image and textual moment, which rehearses the much-anticipated sight of God’s Holy Face on Doomsday, to which the opening Salutation to Jesus for Mary’s Love referred. Viewed as a unified set, Audelay’s salutations develop aesthetic wholeness from sacred logic, progressing from God in Mary’s womb, in the Salutation to Jesus for Mary’s Love, to God upon the sudary of Veronica, in the Salutation to the Holy Face. In each, God is imaged in human form and made accessible by the mediation of female sanctity and clerical guidance. Soulehele as conceived of in this section arrives by means of holy women.


Twenty-five in number, Audelay’s carols are a thoughtfully arranged collection, the first known grouping of its kind. They are arranged by topic: articles of faith; feasts of the Church; support of king and social order; honor to the holy family; praise of virginity, chastity, and love of God; a holy fear of death; and, last of all, honor to Saint Francis, promoter of vernacular Christian song. The Audelay manuscript eventually fell into the hands of a minstrel, late in the fifteenth century, and one reason for this may be that the minstrel, William Wyatt of Coventry, wanted copies of these carols.27 Their character is more religious than secular, and while the manuscript does not contain music, they were likely meant to be sung: as the headnote proclaims, “Syng these caroles in Cristemas.” It may be that some of the longer ones were designed more for reading; these include the ceremonial carols dedicated to Henry VI and Saint Francis. Another long carol, dedicated to Saint Winifred, is copied in the salutations section, where it fits into a longer devotion to that saint. The fact of its existence, and the nicety of the number twenty-five, would seem to suggest that Audelay might have composed, during the course of his chaplaincy, other carols that are now lost, and that this well-planned sequence results from a process of selection mixed with a process of new composition directed purposefully toward the making of this anthology.

Determining when and for what occasions Audelay originally composed these carols is complicated by several factors. Because six of the carols appear in similar or variant forms in other manuscripts, it would seem that Audelay may have borrowed them from other sources. In most cases where duplicates exist elsewhere, scholars have tended to question Audelay’s role in the composition process,28 but it is also possible that some of these songs were indeed Audelay’s own and that the other copies indicate a multi-regional dispersal of Audelay’s works, his carols especially. There are certain carols that bear sophisticated lyrical or metrical charms that seem to soar beyond Audelay’s normal poetic range. Examples include Day of the Lord’s Circumcision, Day of Epiphany, Jesus Flower of Jesse’s Tree, and Joys of Mary, all of which appear in other manuscripts. Moreover, scribal actions sometimes tell us that copies were sought by unusual means. When Scribe A redacted Day of the Lord’s Circumcision, it appears that he lacked it in complete form, and Scribe B later located and supplied it. What this initial tentativeness may indicate about authorship is, however, uncertain.29 The carols most definitely Audelay’s own are those composed in either of the two dominant metrical modes — a 7-line stanza and a 6-line stanza — for which there were surely tunes that were familiar. Audelay’s own idiom, however, is ever-present, and the idea of the sequence and its execution are certainly Audelay’s own creations.

The unity of the collection can be conceived of, roughly, as five groups of five carols, set in thematic order. The first five carols, Carols 1 to 5, form a group centered on basic articles of faith: Ten Commandments, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Works of Mercy, Five Wits, and Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. All are composed in Audelay’s 7-line carol stanza (the fifth line is a tag, the sixth and seventh are the burden). All are similar in length: the first four have five stanzas; the fifth has six. In a pedagogical manner, all address standard topics of doctrine that priests were enjoined to impart to the laity. These topics are treated elsewhere in Audelay’s verse, and sometimes the chaplain has drawn from earlier works to construct carols almost verbatim. For example, portions of True Living (the first poem in the manuscript) crop up in five different carols.30 Comparative study of the carols with the rest of Audelay’s oeuvre can therefore tell us much about the chaplain’s compositional methods and his sense of meter matched to genre.

Carols 6 through 10 constitute another internal group, all written in 6-line stanzas. The topics of these carols follow the Church calendar of observance for December 25 to 29. First comes a song of convivial Yuletide joy and welcome, in which Audelay names the saints honored in the next songs:

Welcum be ye, Steven and Jone,
Welcum, childern everechone,
Wellcum, Thomas marter, alle on —
      (Day of the Nativity, lines 13–15)

Stephen and John [the Evangelist]
children (i.e., Holy Innocents)
Thomas martyr, all together
Here Audelay invokes the feast days that immediately follow Christmas Day, which his next four carols honor: Saint Stephen’s Day, Saint John’s Day, Holy Innocents Day, and Saint Thomas à Becket of Canterbury’s Day. In The Golden Legend, Jacobus de Voragine explains that the martyrdoms of Stephen, John, and the Innocents, all associated with Christ’s birth, exemplify “all the different classes of martyrs . . . the first is willed and endured, the second willed but not endured, the third endured without being willed. Saint Stephen is an example of the first, Saint John of the second, the Holy Innocents of the third.”31 John the Evangelist was, moreover, the patron saint of Haughmond Abbey, and his statue appears among others in the columns outside the chapter house. An effigy of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, with mitre and archbishop’s cross-staff, also stands there. Following the orthodoxy of the English Church, Audelay cites Thomas’s martyrdom in Marcolf and Solomon (line 342), reminding readers how the archbishop courageously defended the Church against pressure from secular powers.

The sequential logic of the next five carols, Carols 11 to 15, seems to work by an association of ideas about the Christ Child, kingship, the boy king Henry VI, social order, and childhood innocence. Carol 11 commemorates the feast day of the Lord’s Circumcision, January 1, honoring the newborn King and carrying forward the chronology found in the last internal group (Carols 6 to 10). Although Audelay’s version of this lovely carol is the best of the variant texts, scholars have doubted that Audelay wrote its innovative lyrics, which appear to mix parts for a soloist and a chorus, allowing a joyous dialogue to develop between a company and a “messenger.” Nonetheless, a modern musical adaptation of this Christmas choral work ascribes it to Audelay, and that is how it has been recorded in recent years.32 The carol dedicated to King Henry VI occurs in the twelfth position, and it appears that Audelay wanted this spot to be understood as the center of the whole carol sequence, for Scribe B highlights it with a prominent leaf-point drawn in the foliage of the ornamental initial A. Audelay’s loyalty to the monarch has emerged earlier in the manuscript, in the Salutation to Saint Bridget. The next carol, with borrowings from True Living, expresses Audelay’s conservative attitude that those of each estate should serve in it properly and not seek to do other than their own calling. The fourteenth carol, Childhood, covers a topic quite unusual in lyrics of Audelay’s time, and it is especially interesting to see how Audelay gives the general theme found in this group of carols a personal turn.33 The grouping ends with a return to the theme of Christ the Child King and the Christmas season, in a commemoration of the Visit of the Magi and the feast day of Epiphany, January 6 (Carol 15).

The fourth internal set of five carols, Carols 16 to 20, takes a genealogical turn, encouraged by the preceding theme of Christ’s birth, with a steady focus on Marian devotion. Carol 16 celebrates Saint Anne, mother of Mary, and one can see that Audelay wanted it placed here for thematic reasons, rather than beside the Salutation to Saint Anne that appeared with the other salutations. Rosemary Woolf praises this carol as “a Marian variation of the Tree of Jesse,”34 and by introducing this theme, Audelay pairs it explicitly with the next carol, Jesus Flower of Jesse’s Tree. With Saint Anne Mother of Mary using the Tree of Jesse to describe Mary’s conception, this one brings the image to full bloom: the branch is Mary, the flower Christ.35 The next two carols celebrate the Virgin Mary directly: Carol 18 is about her five joys, recalling Audelay’s handling of the subject in the Salutation to Jesus for Mary’s Love; Carol 19 salutes her with an “Ave” (that is, “Heyle”) and centers all feminine beauty and floral fecundity in her person, “Heyle, of wymmen flour of alle, / Thou herst us when we to thee calle!” (burden). The last carol of this grouping declares how the male speaker (a monk or a cleric) has chosen chastity for the love of Mary.

After these twenty carols, Audelay finishes the carol sequence in an eloquent manner. Carols 21 and 22 redirect the message about chastity, which was drawn from the holy example of Mary, so that it is now aimed at secular women. The first of these carols speaks to single maidens, preaching that they have a moral duty to preserve virginity before marriage. The next focuses on the moral and social mandate that wives be chaste, with Audelay betraying his disgust for ladies who “wil take a page” (line 36) for lust or fashion. The seventh stanza declares that England is in decline as the result of such wanton behavior (lines 43–47), which not only disgraces the upper classes, but also creates unlawful heirs and causes English nobility to waste away. So Audelay continues to develop the genealogical theme, moving it from the biblical and spiritual realm (the Tree of Jesse) to the current social realm (the nobility of England). Finally, he addresses chastity’s highest purpose: love of God (Carol 23). In this austere yet touching carol, the word love suffuses every line, with its different meanings devotionally intertwined, to create, in the words of John Hirsh, “a gentle reflection . . . upon what [Audelay] and many of his contemporaries would have regarded as the greatest of medieval themes, the love which exists between God and all of humankind.”36

After this enraptured moment, and as Audelay nears the end of the carol sequence, the chaplain turns to a natural closing topic in his Dread of Death, the best-known and most-praised carol of the collection. Its tone is direct and sincere, personal and moving:
As I lay seke in my langure,
With sorow of hert and teere of ye,
This caral I made with gret doloure —
Passio Christi conforta me.
             Ladé, helpe! Jhesu, mercé!
             Timor mortis conturbat me. (lines 43–48)
  sick; languishing
tear of eye

Woolf ranks this poem beside the verse of George Herbert and observes that “for perhaps the first time in an English lyric poem, the poet truly speaks in his own voice.”37 Audelay signs this poem, asking his reader to “Lerne this lesson of Blynd Awdlay” (line 61). He also signs the last carol, which honors Saint Francis. One cannot be certain why it is that Audelay concludes by honoring this saint, but the purpose seems both religious and literary: Audelay has praise for friars elsewhere, and credit went to Francis as the originator of popular religious song. The full sequence ends with a petition to gentlemen-readers that they be reverent receivers of this carol:
I pray youe, seris, pur charyté,
Redis this caral reverently,
Fore I mad hit with wepyng eye,
Your broder Jon the Blynd Awdlay. (Saint Francis, lines 73–76)

Viewed in their totality, the carols create a narrative of faith. To judge them in terms of how Audelay responds to authority, one may note that they are much like the salutations in how they honor the saints and avow fealty for the monarch. There are liturgical carols celebrating Stephen, John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and Thomas of Canterbury. Female saintliness is honored in carols to Saint Anne and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and chastity is lauded in the name of the virgin saints Katherine, Margaret, and Winifred (Chastity for Mary’s Love, line 19). The series ends in celebration of Saint Francis. Thus Audelay makes prominent among his aims the naming of saints and the invocation of their beneficence. Before any of these saints were invoked in specific carols, the sixth carol, Day of the Nativity, seemed to enfold all the company of saints as a prelude to what is to come. With the burden “Welcum, Yole, in good aray, / In worchip of the holeday!” this carol sings a welcome by name to Mary and Christ Child, to Stephen, to John and Thomas, and lastly to the present company:
Welcum be ye, lord and lady,
Welcum be ye, al this cumpané,
Fore Yolis love, now makis meré —
    Welcum, Yole, foreever and ay! (lines 25–28)
After enumerating the doctrines of faith in Carols 1–5, Audelay summons the community of saints, with himself playing a kind of cosmic host who draws together a grand assemblage of living and convivial carolers with the saints and martyrs of heaven.


The final section of the Audelay manuscript provides texts for private meditation, which are, again, in meaningful sequence. Its focus is on endings — the end of the book, the end of one’s life, for the reader and for Audelay. It begins with two short treatises in English prose, one by Richard Rolle (but not attributed to any author) and another by an anonymous writer. These two items are prefaced by an instructional pair of couplets from Audelay, written by Scribe B:
Rede thys offt, butt rede hit sofft,
And whatt thou redust, forgeete hit noght,
For here the soth thou maght se
What fruyte cometh of thy body. (Instructions for Reading 4, lines 1–4)   

The verse asks a meditative reader to absorb these items tenderly and often as a way to think upon the spiritual rewards (“fruyte”) that may follow one’s bodily life. They seem to preface the prose alone, but it is possible that they refer to the whole closing movement redacted by Scribe A during the first stage of the manuscript’s making. In this movement, which I will term “Phase 1,” there are two prose texts followed by two poems in alliterative stanzas. The successive phases for ending the manuscript appear to be three in number.

Phase 1 texts are in the hand of Scribe A, with Scribe B performing his normal oversight duties of correcting errors and adding incipits and explicits. The first of the prose texts is an excerpt from Rolle’s Form of Living, the Yorkshire hermit’s last work, written in 1348–49 for the instruction of a young female recluse. Drawn from this popular treatise’s sixth chapter, Audelay’s extract, The Sins of the Heart, catalogues moral transgressions according to a threefold scheme of bodily origin in the heart, mouth, or hand. Rolle’s exposition offers a fine preaching text to someone of Audelay’s vocation. Intriguingly, one finds embedded in Rolle’s prose an alliterative stanza matching the type found in Marcolf and Solomon. This little bit of verse, Over-Hippers and Skippers, concerns the abuse of prayer. It would seem that here is another remnant of Audelay’s professional method of composition. Drawing material together for effective sermonizing, Audelay borrows a pertinent snippet from Rolle and interjects a lively verse exemplum. We may thus imagine this item not only as a private meditation but also as a likely vestige of pastoral performance. And, again, when matter derived from elsewhere appears in the Audelay manuscript, it is subsumed and transformed “according to” Audelay. The next prose piece, an allegory of the soul, also bears the chaplain’s creative sensibility in how it works in juxtaposition with The Sins of the Heart. Comparable in manner to the Abbey of the Holy Ghost, An Honest Bed allegorizes the penitent soul as a bed made ready for Christ. Set in tandem with the Rolle extract, this fine piece of soul-cleansing enacts a process of penance and calm readiness for death and union with Christ.

Audelay then shifts from pastoral prose to dignified verse: alliterative stanzas deliver a solemn prayer and an exemplum on death. These texts are the last ones redacted by Scribe A. They advance the book to the point of human death, squarely confronted, humbly acknowledged. The prayer-poem Paternoster creates an important moment in which the Lord’s Prayer is enunciated in English. As Audelay asserts in Marcolf and Solomon, the Paternoster will protect one’s soul from damnation: “Fore better is a Paternoster with repentyng / To send hem, to the mercé of God, to purgatoré” (lines 927–28). Its ruminative recitation here, in stanzas that articulate its seven points, touches the chords of faith. In its “seven-ness,” moreover, Paternoster seems to summon, cumulatively, all the theological sevens previously enumerated to Audelay’s reader for penitential contemplation: Seven Words of Christ on the Cross, Seven Bleedings of Christ, Seven Hours of the Cross, and so on. This poem, a specimen of alliterative high style, bears formal affinity — and almost certainly a shared exemplar — with the next item, Three Dead Kings. Although Audelay’s authorship of these two pieces remains in doubt, he deserves credit for the way they effectively close his book and produce a sobering devotion. Numerous efforts to correct wordings show that the two scribes found the language and metrical exactitude of the verses to be challenging and foreign, yet both poems receive the scribes’ care and, indeed, reverence. Three Dead Kings narrates a classic ghost-story motif, the Three Living and Three Dead, in a tour de force of dense alliteration and rhyme. This popular theme of memento mori brings three kings face to face with unsettling mirrors of themselves in future time, when they meet the Three Dead, that is, the walking, speaking corpses of their fathers.

These works complete Audelay’s plan for the book as first conceived.38 Read as a textual sequence, The Sins of the Heart, An Honest Bed, Paternoster, and Three Dead Kings capture the mystery, awe, and dread of death. The last-place positioning of Three Dead Kings invites a reader to look in the book as if in a mirror that brings dead author and living reader into a reciprocal relationship.39 The third figure of the Dead issues a warning to the Living that reaches out to the reader: “Makis your merour be me!” (line 120). The message implicit in the vernacular icon suits Audelay’s own daily office of singing trentals, that is, the living have a double responsibility to offer prayers for the dead (to alleviate their purgatorial sentences) and to continually ponder their own dying. As the first ending of the Audelay manuscript, the point where Scribe A’s work ends (Phase 1), this ending is austere and magnificent in its simple, stark appeal.

But the Audelay manuscript does not quite stop here. Judging by the scribal work, Audelay twice expanded its manner of closure by adding new texts, and for each operation he relied upon Scribe B (with Scribe A now absent). An interval must have fallen between Phases 1 and 2 because the verse text inserted after Three Dead KingsCur mundus militat sub vana gloria — was apparently put there after Scribe B had completed his extensive work of correcting, decorating, and numbering the texts redacted by Scribe A. Phase 2 takes the book into Latin, as if the language of the Church helps to solemnize and sanctify the process toward death. Using a formal hand rarely seen elsewhere in the book, Scribe B adds this commonplace poem on the vanity of life, an aphoristic piece that surfaces often in English and Continental manuscripts. It dates from at least the thirteenth century and has been ascribed to various authors, Bernard of Clairvaux and Robert Grosseteste among them. The Latin poet declares that one should “put more trust in letters written on ice than in the empty deceit of the fragile world” (lines 5–6), and in two stanzas of ubi sunt, he uses the passings of Solomon, Samson, Absalom, Jonathan, Caesar, Dives, Tullius, and Aristotle to illustrate this sad, transitory life (lines 13–20). Near the end, the poet chastises the flesh and exhorts good works: “O food for worms, O pile of dust, O dew, O vanity, why are you so extolled? You have absolutely no idea whether you will be alive tomorrow, [and so] do good to all for as long as you are able” (lines 29–32). And he offers trust in God as his final advice: “Think on heavenly things; may your heart be in heaven. Happy is the one who will be able to despise the world” (lines 39–40). The insertion of this familiar piece proceeds from the same clerical logic by which several of Audelay’s works conclude with Latin prayers. Cur mundus moralizes poetically upon the world’s transitoriness in the professional manner of Audelay the chaplain.

The final phase of completing the Audelay manuscript probably occurred not too long after the addition of the Latin poem, for Audelay, though gravely ill, was still acutely engaged with the bookmaking endeavor, and he still had the services of Scribe B. Phase 3 returns the book to Audelay’s own distinctive voice. The chaplain-poet lays authorial claim here to its composition and compilation, even as he returns to his typical formula of modestly ascribing true authorship to God, saying that he “made this bok by Goddus grace” (Audelay’s Conclusion, line 51). Audelay’s Conclusion is an original poem in 13-line stanzas with Latin headings, which the ailing chantry priest composed especially for the occasion here. Its four stanzas are, in their autobiographical manner, much like Audelay’s Epilogue to The Counsel of Conscience at the end of The Counsel of Conscience.40 In it, Audelay signs off with a bold flourish of retrospective finality, proclaiming his purpose consummated, in implicit likeness to God’s act of the creating the world by a word (lines 1–8). He also invokes, by means of the physical manuscript, the heavenly book recording the names of the saved (line 19). Following these audacious similitudes comes another vigorous assertion of authorship: the claim that this book displays Audelay’s own “wyl” and “wrytyng” (line 33). As he departs for the last time, the poet makes a penitential, pious appeal for prayers for “Jon the Blynde Awdelay” (line 48) and draws a portrait of himself situated in the abbey, serving as chantry priest for Lord Lestrange, but now lying close to death (lines 45–52). Thus does a fine aesthetic sensibility unify the three-phase process of closure. Like the third Dead in Three Dead Kings, Audelay holds himself up in Audelay’s Conclusion as a mirror of mortality for all readers who come after him and behold this image.41 And one of his Latin epigrams directly recalls the last line of Cur mundus: “Hic vir despiciens mundum” (This man despising the world) (Audelay’s Conclusion, heading to line 27).

The Audelay signature found at the end of this last poem is the only signing to appear in the meditative close, but it is typical for the book as a whole. Nine signatures occur in The Counsel of Conscience, and the salutations and carols sections each contain two or three more. When one absorbs the reading experience offered by MS Douce 302, one quickly comes to know the identity of its central creative agent, for his name, John the Blind Audelay, is much recorded, usually in the verse itself though occasionally in a colophon or incipit. Both scribes partake in this grand goal of naming Audelay. Authorial identity — indeed celebrity — thus becomes blended with the verse experience, and, in fact, Audelay’s distinctive style — exhortative, preacherly, admonitive, insistently repeating the pronoun “I” — works strenuously to imprint the author’s convictions on piety and contrition within the mind and heart of a reader or auditor.


The salutations had culminated in a devotion consisting of prayers, a drawing, and an address to the Holy Face, in which God is called the mirror of holy men (Salutation to the Holy Face, line 7). Ultimately, the climactic approach to God’s Holy Face offers a meaning that supersedes Audelay’s human agency, in a manner analogous to Audelay’s own declarations of modesty in his signature stanzas. It is God who is the author of all things. Audelay’s acts of working or making verse look to God and his word for guidance. The core of this idea surfaces in the last poem, Audelay’s farewell to the reader:
Only in God ys all comforde.
For ther nys noon odur Loorde
That can do as he can.
All thyng he made here with a worde. (Audelay’s Conclusion, lines 4-7)
is no other

God — Creator of the world, Font of the word — grounds the devotional spirit of this signed poem. Set where it is, Audelay’s Conclusion operates like the salutations’ climactic face of God, that is, as a final mirror in which sinners may view themselves and assess their contrite readiness before God’s judging countenance. All we may bring to the judgment are our deeds, our words, our will, and our thoughts, as Audelay counsels in his Dread of Death (lines 31–33). So Audelay’s final affirmation of his own modest “makyng” — here and in all the signature stanzas — is enclosed within a context of God’s higher Word. The words inscribed in MS Douce 302 represent the pious acts that Audelay will offer when he is to be judged.

How Audelay himself would have perceived authorial authority emerges, therefore, from the folios of MS Douce 302 in a way apparent only if one looks past the self-namings and examines other namings in the book. In order to comprehend what rationale exists for Audelay’s obsessive recording of his own name, one has to understand the joyful reverence he reserves for uttering other auctoritee — naming the names, that is, of those held to be most holy and saintly. Therefore, the reasonable modern classification of MS Douce 302 as an “author collection” has to be qualified by an understanding of just what “authorship,” “authority,” and even “canonicity” would have meant in around 1426 to the Shropshire chaplain who obsessively inserts his name into the book. His name is there beside those of the holy fathers and saints, to whose authority he defers, and it is there in humble, blissful, awed, and fearsome expectation of facing the holy countenance in judgment, where he will discover his deeds, words, and thoughts recorded in a roll. Bringing sinners out of pain constitutes the most beneficent deeds of the saints, and this is the role the chaplain carves for himself, in humble likeness to God, Christ, Mary, and their heavenly followers:
These halowne — al the sayntis in heven,
Angelis, patrearchis, and prophet,
The postilis al, with marters steven,
The confessours, with vergyns swete —
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ther bodé and soule in fere schal met.
When Jhesu schal schew his wondis wete,
Maré, thou be our mayne-paroure,
With these sayntis to have a sete.
             (Salutation to Mary, lines 109–12, 116–19)
These [ones sing] praise

martyrs’ voices

Where; together; meet
legal surety

The attribution of the Audelay manuscript to the poet John the Blind Audelay thus occurs because Audelay situates himself as a holy man whose role is to mediate between two worlds. His words apprehend and animate the lively host of saints in heaven, and his book is designed to set these virgins, martyrs, prophets, and apostles in prayerful, redemptive conversation with an audience of those who dwell in sin on earth.


The texts are printed in the modern alphabet and follow the conventions of the Middle English Texts Series. I list here a few details of presentation that require special notice.

Transcription. Final l or final k with a medial horizontal line is rendered as le or ke. Following the practice of past editors (and especially Halliwell and Whiting), the abbreviation p with a horizontal line through the descender is rendered variably as per or par in Middle English, and as per in Latin. Other editors’ variant readings of these forms are listed in the textual notes. When scribal þe denotes the pronoun, it is rendered thee.

Abbreviations. Roman numerals appearing in texts (not as title numbers) are normally treated like other abbreviations and are silently expanded to the scribes’ usual Middle English forms; for example, scribal v. is rendered as fyve.

Foliation. Material from the manuscript is cited by folio number, recto or verso (“r” or “v”), and column (“a” or “b”).

Titles. The titles of works in MS Douce 302 usually derive from the Latin incipits. Works assigned a roman numeral by Scribe B have titles rendered in all capital letters.

Ordinatio. Signs of authorial and/or scribal arrangement of matter are reproduced so far as is practical. Roman numerals attached to titles replicate those inserted by Scribe B in red and blue ink at the tops of columns, where they denote the beginning of texts. Underlining replicates the original underlining of textual lines in red ink. Where Scribe B provides marginal indicators, they are reproduced in this edition by the insertion of a typographical hand sign. In the manuscript these indicators take different visual forms: a hand with extended forefinger (twice), a horn, and pointing leaf foliage.

Stanza forms. Stanzas are presented in forms that respect scribal indicators of stanza length and rhyme schemes. Different interpretations of stanza lengths and line breaks in previous editions are discussed in the explanatory notes.

Carols and burdens. In the manuscript each carol opens with its burden (i.e., refrain), followed by the verses. The burden was sung after each verse, and the scribes assume an audience that knows the pattern. In just three of the carols (Carols 11, 13, 18), one of the scribes writes “ut supra” to indicate a portion of the repetitions. In this edition the carols are printed in their full sung form: opening burden and then its repetition after each verse stanza. The carols are copied in the manuscript by Scribe A (burden and verses) with Scribe B supplying the titles.

Cross-references to the Whiting edition. Numbers prefixed with “W” refer to Ella Keats Whiting’s editorial system of numbers assigned to the verse contents of MS Douce 302. Other previous editors are cited in the explanatory and textual notes.

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