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Stanzaic Life of Margaret


1 He had a premonition that their child would be baptized as a Christian

2 Lines 48-49: Where she kept her nurse's sheep gently (honorably) in public. / They offered her much and promised her more

3 The Saracens went forward to do their errand

4 [So that] I may defend myself from these evil spirits

5 Lord, she does not give a hawthorn berry (a type of something worthless) for all your power

6 "Bring her before me," he said."I will change her mind very soon"

7 You act as you know how in the manner of Satan your uncle

8 Lines 133-34: With your sharp instruments tear the flesh from her bones as completely as if dogs had chewed it off

9 Neither your concern nor your whips cause me any grief

10 Everything that you consider misery is a great joy to me

11 Have mercy on these sinful [people] who wish me ill

12 My joy in the Lord none [of your gods]/no [human being] can express

13 "You must go to prison," he said, "where you will be displeased (sad)"

14 Do not ever permit the evil spirit to change my steadfast heart

15 If he seized anything on earth, no matter how lightly, it would have to die

16 He repaid them for their service [to him], however much that displeased them

17 If a mere girl can overcome us like this, our power is minuscule!

18 Where I knew any woman whose child was not yet born

19 "Cut it out!" said Olibrius. "My men will prepare suffering for you"

20 Since you will not change your disposition, you will bitterly regret it

21 All followed from everywhere who could ride or walk (i.e., all classes)

22 I.e., they were too dazed to tell joy from sorrow

23 I.e., open her womb, so that the child can be born safely


Abbreviations: A = Auchinleck (National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1), fols. 16v-21r; Bl = Blackburn, Public Library MS (formerly Petworth 3), fols. 167r-183r; Bo = Bodleian Library MS Bodley 779 (SC 2567), fols. 204v-208r; C = Cambridge University Library MS Addit. 4122, fols. 6r-38v [base text]; R = Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson poet. 34 (SC 14528), fols. 1r-4r; T = Trinity College, Cambridge MS 323, fols. 20r-24r.

1-4 The poem's formulaic opening, a general call for the audience's attention, reminds us that it was probably designed to be read aloud.

5-16 Compared with other versions of the legend, the stanzaic Life pays unusual attention to Margaret's parents, emphasizing her father's powerful position among the enemies of Christianity and presenting a narrative of subterfuge in which Margaret's pagan mother plays a positive role, secretly sending the infant away to preserve her life. In more typical versions Margaret is sent away to a nurse because her mother has died, and her father does not reject her until he learns of her conversion in the nurse's household; for example, see Mirk's retelling, lines 14-23, and Lydgate's retelling, lines 85-91.

8 This line sounds very much like a later description of the saint's main persecutor, Olibrius (line 34, below). A, Bl, Bo, R, and T all describe Margaret's father as a worshiper of insensate idols ("Deve thinges and doumbe he served night and day" [A]) instead of a priest-magician who conjures up demons, but the anticipation of Olibrius here suggests the power and unity of the pagan culture that persecutes the saint. It also foreshadows the legend's later emphasis on demons as the real enemies that are confronted and ultimately overcome by Margaret.

17-24 The role of the nurse sounds almost like a metaphor for the Church, which was often personified as a nurturing mother of many children. Here she is just given general credit for Margaret's education and subsequent conversion; it is in the nurse's home that she hears the stories of earlier martyrs and commits herself to Christ. In other versions of the legend, including MSS T and R of the stanzaic Life, the nurse plays a more explicit role in Margaret's education as a Christian.

24 St. Stephen, a deacon and the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death in Jerusalem around the year 35 (see Acts 6-7). St. Lawrence (d. 285), also a deacon, was martyred in Rome under the Emperor Valerian by being roasted on a gridiron, according to his famous legend. He and Stephen are often paired - probably because both were deacons as well as martyrs, and both had major feast days in early August. The error of blaming the Jews for both deaths seems not to have been widespread, however. Among the six surviving manuscripts of the stanzaic Life of Margaret, only the present text has this reading. A lacks the whole stanza, and the other four MSS just have Margaret learning "How they tholid [suffered] martirdom, Seint Laurens and Seint Steven" (Bo).

27-28 The idea in these lines seems to be that Margaret sets an example of piety that influences her fellow shepherds. The point is clearest in Bo, which reads, "And alle the other herdis wel yerne [eagerly/intently] here behelde, / Hou ofte she made here preyere to Jhesu that al may welde." This theme is developed much further in some versions of the legend than it will be in this one, however. For example, see Lydgate's version, lines 99-109.

39 Sarasyne. On the use of this term to describe pagan adversaries of the saints, see explanatory note to line 194 of the early SEL account of Mary Magdalen, above.

44 Like the term "Sarasyne" (line 39), swearing by Mahound (a corruption of the name "Mohammed") was part of the generic vocabulary used to characterize villains who were pagans, idolaters, or adherents of other false religions. The rest of this line seems to be promising to pay the equivalent of a marriage settlement for Margaret's virginity, if she turns out to be too low-born for him actually to marry.

47 An infinitive verb of motion is implied here, completing the sense of dydde.

58 names seven. Medieval commentators sometimes listed and discussed various names of Christ (as, e.g., in Piers Plowman B.19 and C.21), but the only apparent purpose of the phrase here is to complete the rhyme.

66 foule gostys. "Evil spirits." By using this wording C again suggests the demonic nature of Margaret's enemies. The other MSS just refer to them again as Saracens.

70 Margaret's words echo Psalm 21:17 (22:16 in Protestant translations): "For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant hath besieged me."

72 sche gevys not a hawe! Proverbial. See Whiting H190.

75 T, A, and Bo preserve a version of this line in which the curse is an interjection, directed at Olibrius by the narrator: awarie/acorsse him sonne ant mone! This kind of exuberant story-telling, which can also be seen in the longer SEL account of Frideswide in this collection, has been suppressed almost entirely in C, presumably for the sake of decorum. For other instances, see below, explanatory notes to lines 243, 263, and 271-72.

81 Only C and R make Margaret such a model of politeness that she graciously initiates the conversation with the pagan persecutor whose men have just arrested her. More logically, the other four manuscripts have it be Olibrius who greets Margaret politely (Bo) or - more often - eagerly.

92 Longeous. Longinus. The name traditionally given to the Roman soldier who pierced Christ's side while He hung on the cross in order to confirm His death (John 19:34). In some legends he was a blind man, led by others to this act, whose sight was mercifully restored by the water and blood which came from Christ's wound.

98 In four of the other five MSS this line ends, and thider thou shalt wende! or that thou schalt in ende - an explicit prediction or threat by Margaret, that is, that Olibrius will end up in the same hell from which Christ's followers have been freed. As usual, the reading in C is more polite.

131 Ne geveth sche not an hawe. See explanatory note to line 72.

132 sche sette not bye a strawe! Proverbial. See Whiting S813.

137 The sense is clearer in some of the other MSS, which have them flaying the skin from her flesh (T, R) or her bones (Bl).

139-46 The pity of onlookers and the saints' rejection of their advice are standard features of a virgin martyr legend, serving to emphasize the martyr's heroism. The onlookers focus on her tormented body, while she is concerned only for the state of her soul.

164-78 This account of the angelic visit before Margaret confronts the dragon may suggest some nervousness about the scene to follow. The angel not only assures her that she has nothing to fear, since her place in heaven is already assured, but also provides her with Christ's cross to use as a weapon. In other versions of the legend she herself initiates the confrontation by asking for the sight of her adversary and is able to protect herself just by making the sign of the cross as the dragon tries to swallow her. See Lydgate's account, e.g., lines 277-82 and 288-94.

182 alle greene as the gresse. Middle English writers often use "green" or even "green as grass" to describe a complexion that has become deathly pale. Compare, e.g., Chaucer's description of the grief-stricken Criseyde: "And thus she lith with hewes pale and grene, / That whilom fressh and fairest was to sene" (TC 4.1154-55).

187 Margaret's most common iconographic symbols portray her either as emerging from within the dragon or (especially from the mid fourteenth century on) standing triumphantly on top of it. Mirk comments explicitly on this iconography in lines 49-51 of his account, given below.

193 The standard Latin version just says his hands were fastened to his knees, perhaps an echo of Mark 3:27. But the MSS of the stanzaic Life tend to describe him as a monstrous creature having (variously) spikes on his feet and knees (Bo), or hands or heads on his knees and eyes on every toe (A, Bl), or extra eyes on his claws and also on his toes (T), or many horns on his head and eyes more than two (R).

195-96 In Eastern iconography, Marina is often shown grabbing the demon by the head with one hand and holding a hammer in the other. In the stanzaic Life of Margaret, the cross of Christ has evidently replaced the hammer as her weapon. The detail of her binding the demon with her wimple reinforces his later lament about his humiliation at the hands of a weak female (line 214). Images of Margaret with a leash-like cloth around the demon's neck are fairly common.

207 Ruffyn. The demon says the dragon destroyed by Margaret was his brother Ruffinus (or Rufo, Rufonis in the standard Latin version of the legend). The name, presumably derived from the word for "reddish" or "red-haired," is also used for a devil in the Chester Cycle (Fall of Lucifer, line 271, in The Chester Mystery Cycle: A New Edition with Modernised Spelling, ed. David Mills [East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1992]) and in The Poems of John Audelay (ed. Ella Keats Whiting, EETS o.s. 184 [London: Oxford University Press, 1931; rpt. 1971], pp. 75, lines 298-300).

210 Other MSS of the stanzaic Life say more directly that he repaid these human followers with great sorrow (T, A) or by having them hanged (R).

212 In the standard Latin version he says the goal was to swallow Margaret and obliterate her memory from the earth. In C and other MSS of the stanzaic Life, this has become a mental rather than a physical attack, attempting to rob Margaret of her sanity and her ability to remember and remain faithful to God.

215 Belsabub. The name "Beelzebub," which means "lord of the flies" in Hebrew, first appears in 2 Kings 1:6 (4 Kings 1:6 in Vulgate and Douay) as a distortion of the name of a Canaanite god. Later the name came to be used for a ruler of the demons opposed to God (see Matthew 10:25, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15-19), and sometimes as another name for Satan himself.

217 with wynde I flye. An allusion to Ephesians 2:2, where the devil is "the prince of the power of this air, of the spirit that now worketh on the children of unbelief."

218 Alle I wolde do qwelle. His expression of enmity to all living creatures is typical demonic discourse, since the devils were understood to be envious of the earth and its inhabitants, who were made to replace them after their fall from heaven. (See, e.g., lines 351-71 of Lydgate's account.)

219-22 Here the devil confesses his particular attacks on pregnant women (a point that will be mentioned again in line 234) and on newborn children who have not yet been baptized. Since the legend ordinarily either has him describe his assaults on the chastity of celibate men and women (as in the standard Latin version and the Katherine Group) or omits all such specifics, this unusual addition supports the hypothesis that the stanzaic Life was designed specifically for a lay audience. In this connection, see also explanatory note to lines 311-18, below, on Margaret's final prayer.

223-32 King Solomon of Israel built the first temple and was credited with writing three books of the Hebrew Bible - Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. The apocryphal Testament of Solomon records Jewish tradition about Solomon's power over demons, which is the source for this story about how the demons were locked in a vessel and buried by Solomon but later escaped when greedy men opened it, assuming it was filled with treasure. For an English translation of the Testament, see D. C. Durling and J. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 935-97.

239 Margaret emerges from prison and her victories over the devil on the third day, recalling Christ's emergence from the tomb and the Harrowing of Hell on the third day. Most other versions of Margaret's legend, including the other MSS of the stanzaic Life, say she was in the cell just overnight.

243 Some MSS have the narrator curse Olibrius at the end of this line: Crist yive him ivel dede! (A), that Criste worthe hym wrothe! (Bl). On such interjections, which C nearly always omits, see explanatory note to line 75 above.

254 Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River is recounted in Matthew 3:13-17 and Mark 1:9-11.

260-66 This is an unusual version of Margaret's torments. More typically, she is burned with torches and then tied up and thrown into a vat of water, either to drown or just to increase her suffering. Here the tormentors are ordered to scald her with boiling oil; but instead of harming her, the oil anoints her head and runs down in plentiful streams - an image that would remind a Christian audience of Psalm 23:5 [Vulgate 22:5].

263 MS A curses the torturers at this point: sorwe hem mot bitide!

271-72 This curse may be spoken by Margaret herself, but it seems out of keeping with the mildness of her other speeches, especially in C, to everyone except the devil. Three other MSS of the stanzaic Life have the narrator calling down curses at this point on Olibrius (Bo), his men (A), or both (Bl), and that may be the most plausible interpretation here too.

275-76 As with the oil, the elements of Margaret's ordeal are transformed into positive Christian symbols. Margaret, who has just recommended baptism to Olibrius (lines 253-54), is now baptized in the water that was intended for her destruction.

279-81 The number of Margaret's converts at this point is usually given as five thousand, not counting women and children - echoing the wording used in Matthew 14:21 to describe the multitude miraculously fed with a few loaves and fishes by Jesus and his disciples. Mirk retains that traditional wording (lines 82-83), but the MSS of the stanzaic Life give numbers ranging from 1005 to 10,005.

284 Malchus is the name of the high priest's slave in John 18:10, who comes with other men to arrest Jesus. Peter cuts off his ear with a sword, but Jesus restores it.

287-90 The scene of Margaret's execution is reminiscent of Christ's: she is led out of town, escorted by a crowd, and the occasion is marked by fearful omens. See Matthew 27:31-54, Mark 15:20-39, Luke 23:26-48.

303-22 Margaret's final prayer is the main source of her power as an intercessor. Note the different ways in which she says her memory and assistance may be invoked: by reading or hearing the story of her passion, building a church or chapel, giving any alms, or (lines 319-20) just honoring the day of her death or devoutly praying to her. The list is broad enough to cover the whole economic and educational spectrum of believers.

311-18 The Auchinleck MS (A) of the stanzaic Life places further emphasis on Margaret's specific role as an intercessor for women in childbirth by omitting most of the other petitions and introducing her final prayer with these lines:

Mergrete the milde that was Godes mayde
Thought opon the wordes the dragoun in prisoun seyd:
that devels yede in erthe women for to breyd
that were traveland of child or doun in childebed leyd.
Than bad Mergrete to Jhesu that was so fre:
"Yif ani woman travayl and hard clepeth to me,
Deliver hir, Lord, with joie thurch vertu of the Tre
That thou dest thi body on to make ous al fre."

Among MSS of the stanzaic Life, however, only C includes the stanza which extends the petitions specifically to the condition of the newborn child, asking that it be delivered with all its limbs and senses intact.

313 In a house where a woman was giving birth, it was customary for all knots to be unfastened in hopes that the "unbinding" would carry over to the delivery.

322 Here Margaret's general efficacy as an intercessor for the forgiveness of sins seems to be extended to those who cannot be buried in consecrated ground. If this promise was interpreted as applying to sinners who died without being shriven, it might have raised objections from church authorities.

323-26 The Rawlinson MS (R) reinforces and extends the promise to Margaret's devotees by adding another stanza after this one:

"More to thee ys grauntede off allemyghty Godde in Trynité,
Off thinge that thou nameste noughte, and worde is sente be me.
In what hous thi lyffe ys redde and a childe yborene schalle be,
Off the womane ne of the childe the ffynde getethe no postee."

328-34 See Jesus' words to the thief on the cross who confesses faith in Him: "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). In many versions of the Margaret legend, the executioner Malchus, converted by Margaret's prayer and the answering voice from heaven, falls dead at her side after striking the fatal blow.

335-36 It is unusual to name the angels who come to fetch a saint's soul, but Margaret's sanctity is emphasized in this version by the importance of her chief escorts, the three great archangels, as well as the great number of lesser angels in the retinue (a thousand in T, R, and Bl, and ten thousand here). Michael is a particularly appropriate escort for Margaret because he too fought great battles against demons and a dragon; in the eastern church, he and Marina were often paired as guardians of church doors.

337 Most MSS of the stanzaic Life say specifically that it is Margaret's soul that is borne to heaven by the angels. Her body remains on earth as a source of relics, of course, but some early versions of the legend say that the angels took her head to heaven immediately.

348 Margaret's feastday is July 20. This line says so a bit more clearly in T: The twenteuthe dai is hire in the time of Julie.


Abbreviations: see explanatory notes.

29-32 As the broken rhyme scheme in this stanza suggests, there is a textual problem at this point. Bo, R, and Bl all have a full quatrain describing Margaret's relationship with Jesus which uses the rhyme words yeme, deme, and queme in its first, second, and final lines. But these MSS all have different readings - and different rhyme words - for the second half of the third line, suggesting that this part of the stanza was missing in their common ancestor. The same gap must have existed in the ancestor behind C. Instead of filling the gap as the other three MSS do, however, C changes the rhyme in line 31 and for line 32 borrows a line from the next stanza, where other MSS have Olibrius was loverd, ase the boc us tellet (T) or Olibrius was tho lord, so ich you may telle (Bo).

36 Having used the line which originally rhymed on "telle" to complete the preceding stanza, C has to supply something else for the fourth rhyme in this one. Again the solution is to borrow and slightly revise the first line from the next stanza, which in all other MSS gives the distance as "miles ten and five."

41-42 The other five MSS of the stanzaic Life have a full quatrain at this point, rhyming see, me, free, and be, which begins with Olibrius calling his men's attention to the maiden he has seen and sending them to fetch her. C, which has borrowed these lines to complete the preceding quatrain, settles for a mere couplet here and finally gets back in step with the other MSS.

43 thral. A correction in C, written by a later hand over what seems originally to have been iral.

52 smyte. The other MSS preserve the rhyme more exactly by using the verbs (bi)swike (A, Bl, Bo, R) or fike (T), both of which mean "to flatter or deceive."

54 wynne. In the other five MSS, Olibrius' men say explicitly at this point that he wants to marry [wyve] her. C's use of wynne creates more ambiguity.

68 Cryste. Corrected in C from Cryste Cryste.

73-74 The other MSS maintain the rhyme on "-awe" to the end of this quatrain, but only with difficulty. The most satisfactory version (found in T and Bo), which may preserve the original rhyme words, ends these last two lines with drawe and plawe - the latter, a variant form of the noun "play" that would have been completely unfamiliar in some Middle English dialects.

77 he sayde. No other MS of the stanzaic Life includes these words, which make the line too long and would have been unnecessary in an oral performance that dramatized changes of speaker. C has an added "he said" or "she said" or "they said" in a number of other lines as well, including 91, 124, 127, 151, 155, 159, 167, 175, 199, 203, 235, 275, 285, and 328.

78 The other MSS of the stanzaic Life all have Olibrius vowing at this point to make her change her religion rather than to love him.

85 thral. C: ryal.

86 so longe as it schal bee. Instead of this vague phrase, at least one MS of the stanzaic Life (T) has so long so Ic be, "as long as I live." The words it and ic look so similar in late-medieval handwriting that one could easily be mistaken for the other.

91 This line is obviously too long in C. See textual note to line 77, above.

106 forsake Him nowe for aye. The other MSS all use more colloquial wording: thou do him al awei (T, A, Bl), thou lete him al away (Bo), or do him alle clene away (R).

114 oute. Corrected in C from oute oute.

117 by the here. The other five MSS all have him ordering her to be hung up by the feet instead.

171 dred thou not it. Other MSS have the angel telling her to fear no wight, "no creature," or nowid "nothing (nought)."

177 warde. The rhyme in C is obviously defective. The other MSS have that alle us mai amende (T), or something similar, all with amende as the rhyme word.

184 sche craked everye boone. Other MSS of the stanzaic Life say she was so afraid that she quakede (T, Bl) or schok (Bo) in every bone.

192 The reading in C is another dragon moo; but the other five MSS all refer to it either specifically as a devil (T, Bo), as in the Latin, or more generally as a foul or hateful creature (A, Bl, R).

194 In place of this line, the other five MSS just say that he was the foulest or most hateful or most grisly creature that ever walked on the earth.

224-25 C has fraffate, which looks like a corruption of bras fat, the reading found in A and Bo. R and Bl have fatte of bras and tonne of brasse respectively. T omits this stanza and the next one.

241 Other MSS portray Olibrius's officers more neutrally at this point, referring to them as "sergeants" rather than torturers and describing them as snelle (T) or fulle redy (R) - that is, quick to obey, rather than sadistic.

250 Other MSS have less anticlimactic versions of this line which warn Olibrius that his gods are leading him to death (Bo, R) or to hell (T, A).

282 Unemended, this line in C says they were all brought on lyve, which might suggest a mass baptism. But other texts of the legend, including the other MSS of the stanzaic Life, make it clear that all these converts were put to death (brought of lyve or o live) by Olibrius's men.

285-86 Olibrius threatens to carry Margaret out of town and kill her himself, if Malchus will not do it. C has the spear paired with a schelde, a familiar formula that does not suit the context here; the other MSS all have the more logical swerde.

299-300 The defective rhyme is not easily emended, since all the MSS of the stanzaic Life have different readings at this point.

339 Theophyle. Other MSS of the stanzaic Life name her biographer "Theophole" (Bl), "Theodius" (T), or "Theodocius" (R, A), all corruptions of "Theotimus," whose name derives from the Greek for "God" and "honor." He is a fictional character who first appears in the Mombritius recension of the Latin legend, claiming to have witnessed her trials and collected all the writings about her.

her vye. C: her bye ("about her"), which is probably just a misreading of her vye ("her vita, or life"), the reading in T and Bl, which looks almost the same in a late-medieval English hand.

347 vye. In C this line ends with weye, another scribal substitute for the French word vie, preserved in T and Bl, which makes better sense and a better rhyme.







































































Here begynnes the lyfe of saynte Margarete

Olde and younge, I you praye youre folyes for to lette
And byleve on Jhesu Cryste, that gave you wytte youre synnes for to bette.
Lystenys, I wylle you tellen wordys fayre and swete -
The lyfe of a mayden that hyghte Margarete.

Her fader was a patryarke, as I telle you may.
In Antioche a wyfe he chees in that false laye.
Febylle was his herte and false was hys faye;
The fendys oute of helle, thei servyd hym both nyghte and day.

Theodosy it was his name. One God loved he noghte;
He beleved in false goddys that were with hondys wroghte.
They had a chylde schulde crystened be, it ranne hym welle in thoughte.1
He comaunded whann hit was borne it schulde be broghte to noughte.

Her moder was an hethen wyfe that her to this uorld bare.
As sone as the chylde was borne, sche wolde it schulde not forfare.
Sche it sente into Asye with massyngeres fulle yare,
To a noryse that her fedde and sette her to lare.

The noryse that this mayden toke, sche kepte her with wynne.
Alle thei her loved, as seyes the boke, in house that sche was ynne.
Sone sche coude grete wysdome, and mykel sche dredde synne;
Sche gave herre herte to Jhesu Cryste and lefte alle her kynne.

The noryse that her kepte hadde chyldren sevyn;
The eyghte was Margarete, Crystys mayde of hevyne.
Talys sche herde manye one, moo than I can neven,
Howe the Jewes dydde martirdome to Saynte Laurence and Stevyn.

As sone as this mayde was of fyftene wynter elde,
Sche kepte her noryscys schepe on dayes in the felde.
Her felowes that satten her by, fulle faste thei her behelde
Whenne sche maade her preyers to Jhesu, that alle doth welde.

Sche bytoke her maydenhede as Jhesu wolde her deme.
Sche loved Him with herte and gladlye wolde Hym queme.
Fulle welle He herde her preyer, I telle you at a worde.
As bokes dose us telle, Olibrius than was lord

Of Asye and Antioche, to geven and to selle.
He served both nyghthe and daye the foule fendys of helle.
And alle that beleved on Jhesu Cryste, he fondes hem to qwelle.
From Antioche to Asye were myles tenne and twelve.

For to dystroye Crysten peple he hastyd hym belyve.
He sawe Mayde Margarete the schepe before her dryve.
Sone sayd that Sarasyne he wolde have her to wyfe:
"Goo, summe of my men, and brynge her me belyve.

"Bye my lay, if sche be comen of kynrede free,
Of alle women that I knowe beste thanne schalle sche be.

"For her fayre bewté, if sche be come of thral,
By Mahound, her maryage schalle sche not lese alle.
Fulle fayre I wylle her clothen, in purpylle and in palle;
Sche schal be my lemman, I telle you nowe alle."

The Saryssones dydde as he hem badde to mayden Margarete,
There sche kepte her noryscys schepe so fayre in the strete.
Mykel was it that thei her boden and more thei here behete;2
The trowthe of her herte ne wolde sche not lette.

The Saryssones, her erande to done, forthe thei gunne stryke.3
"Damysel," thei sayden, "we wolle thee not smyte.
Olibryus oure lord of Antioche so ryche,
He desyres thee to wynne; fulle welle it maye thee lyke."

Than answered mayden Margarete, as bryghte as onye levyn.
Sche them sadlye answered with fulle mylde stevyn:
"I have geve my maydenhed to Jhesu Cryste of heven,
To kepe it, if His wylle be, for His names seven.

"Jhesu Cryste my Lord, that dydeste for us alle,
Hyghe Kynge of heven, to Thee I clepe and calle.
Of my steedfaste herte ne latte me never falle,
And of my stabylle corage not turne for hem alle.

"Jhesu Cryste my Lord, to Thee I me wende,
That never hadde begynnynge nor never schalle have ende.
If Thi swete wylle were, an angel me Thou sende,
From this foule gostys I may me defende.4

"Alle my kynne I have forsake; to Thee, knelynge on my knee,
Jhesu Cryste, my good Lord, to Thee I betake me.
Gladlye I wylle for Thi love in erthe a martyre for to be,
Nowe has he his houndys on me sette, that I ne may not flee."

The Saryssones to hym wenten and seyden alle her sawe:
"Lord, of alle thi posté sche gevys not a hawe!5
Sche belevys on Jhesu Cryste, to her warant sche Hym dos make;
For alle the payne thou mayest her done, sche wylle Hym not forsake."

Than bespake Olibryous. He waryed both sonne and moone.
For this virgyne glorious his wittys was nere goone.
"Brynge her me byforne," he sayde. "I wylle turne her mode fulle sone.6
I schalle her make me to love longe or hit be none."

Tho Saryssonnes agayne wentyn to that mayde Margarete.
Thei leydenne handes her uppon and leddyn her into the strete.
Sche come befor Olibryous; fulle fayre sche gan hym grete.
He asked her what sche hyghte, and sche sayd, "Margarete."

"Mayde Margarete," he sayde, "my lemman thou schalte be,
And I thee wylle wedde if thou be comen of free.
If thou be of thral born, I geve thee gold and fee.
Thou schalte be my lemman so longe as it schal bee."

That mayde hym answered fulle sone and anoone:
"I am a Crysten woman, baptised in the funtestone.
Blessed be my Lord that I beleve uppon.
I wylle not lese His love for noon erthelye man."

"Beleveste thou," he sayde, "on Jhesu Cryste, that done was uppon the Rode?
Longeous thirled His syde - the stremys ranne on blode.
The crowne was of thornes that on His hede stode.
If thou troweste that He levyth, I holde thee but wode."

Thanne bespake that mayde as an angel hir kende:
"He dyed on the Rode oure soules to amende,
And sythen into helle His holy goste He sente
To take us oute of prysone to joye withowten ende."

Thanne bespake Olibryus. He sawe it was no bote
To stryve with that mayden, so stedfastely sche stode.
He baad men schulde bynde her, both honde and fote,
And sithen don her in preson - "that ye mowe turne her mode."

Mayde Margarete alle nyghte in pryson laye.
Sche come befor Olybryus uppon that other day.
"Mayde Margarete," he sayde, "truste uppon my laye;
Jhesu that thou beleveste on, forsake Him nowe for aye.

"Truste on me and be my wyfe - fulle welle than thou schalte spede.
Antioche and Asye thou schalte have to mede;
Syclaton, purpel and palle, that schalle be thi wede;
With the beste metys of the londe we schalle thee noryse and feede."

"Alle thi counselle," sche sayde, "it turnes not my thought.
I betake me to Jhesu Cryste, whiche that has me bought.
And alle this myddel erthe, forsothe He maade of noughte,
And sythen with His precyos bloode oute of helle us broughte."

Thanne bespake Olybryous, "Nowe it schalle be seen
Who it is that thou leveste on and why thou arte so keene.
Honge her uppe by the here, her Lord for to tene!
Bete her with scorgys tyl ye her dede wene!"

The Saryssones dydde as he hem badde and to her gunne dryve;
Thei beten her with scorges and with her gan stryve.
The blode ranne from her bodye as watyr dos of schyve
Tylle that thei alle wendyn sche hadde departed the lyve.

Than bespake Olybryus, bye her as he stode:
"Mayde Margarete," he sayde, "is this payne good?
Beleve on my goddys and turne nowe thi mode.
Have mercye on thi whyte flesshe and spyllynge of thi bloode."

"Blessed be my Lord," sche sayde, "that borne was in Bethleem,
Of Marye that mayden, as bryte as the sunne beme.
Thou doyste as thou kenneste after Sathanas thin eme.7
Me thinketh thise paynes swetter then mylkes reeme."

Than bespake Olybryus: "Ne geveth sche not an hawe;
For alle the peyne that ye her doon, sche sette not bye a strawe!
With youre scharpe nayles the fleshe of her ye drawe,
Also cleene from the boone as houndys had it gnawe."8

Thise turmentoures dydde as he hem bade; to hir thei gunne goo.
With her scharpe nayles thei dydde her moche wo.
Of her fayre whyghte flesshe thei drowe ever froo,
That the bloode from her heede ranne doune to her too.

Summe that stode beforne her, fulle sorye that thei were
Of that maydens whyte flesshe and of her yelowe here.
"Fayre Margarete," thei sayde, "of thee we have grete care.
Have mercye on thiselfe and on thi bodyes welfare."

"A, ye wreched counselloures, why rede ye me soo?
With bysynes ne with scourgys ye doo me no woo.9
My Lordys angeles comyn me to and froo.
Alle is to me grete joye that ye wene is woo.10

"Jhesu Cryste my Lord, if it Thy wylle ware,
Have mercy on thyse synefulle that wolde myne evel fare.11
Hye Kynge of hevenne, I praye Thee me here;
I sofer this paynes for Thi love, Thou boughteste me ful dere."

Than spake Olybryus: "Mayden," he sayde, "this is my posté.
Haste thou nou yghen, that thou mayste hit see?
Beleve on my goddys, yit I rede thee,
Or for thi God that thou leveste on martyred schalte thou bee."

"Thye goddys," sche sayde, "ar made of stoone.
Of my Lordys joye telle may ther noone.12
Though thou have posté of my flesshe and boon,
To take from Cryste my soule power haste thou noone."

"Thou schalte," he sayde, "into pryson, there thou schalte lyke ylle13
To be bounden with yren bondes. Thi flesshe schalle I spylle."
"Jhesu Cryste my Lorde, to whom is that I telle;
He maye me delyver whan it is His wylle."

Fayre mayden Margarete was than in pryson doone.
The Holye Gooste to her sente a bryte angelle swythe anoone,
Schynynge bryghte as the sunne evyn aboute mydde noen.
The Rode was in his honde that Cryste was on doen.

"Mayde Margarete," he sayde, "herke that I thee telle:
In hevenryche blysse thou schalte ever dwelle.
Jhesu Cryste that is my Lord, He hathe herde thi spele;
He sente thee this holye Crosse the foule dragon to qwelle.

"Thou, mayde Margarete, drede thou not it:
Thi sete is made in heven before my Lord so bryghte.
There is nothinge in erthe nor no erthelye wyghte
That maye telle the joye that was made of thee this nyghte.

"Iblessed be my Lord," sche seyde, "that me this word sente,
For this holye angel that to me is wente.
Fader and Sone and Holye Goste, Lord of alle this warde,
Ne late never the foule gooste my stable harte wende."14

Holye mayde Margarete loked her besyde.
There sche sawe a lothelye dragon in a corner glyde,
Brennynge as the blake fyre. His mouthe he gaped wyde.
That mayde wexed alle greene as the gresse in someres tyde.

The lowe fleye oute from his tonge as the fyre of brymeston.
That mayde felle to grounde tylle sche craked everye boone.
He toke her up in his mowthe; he swalowed her anoon;
Thorugh vertue of her he braste, that harme hadde sche noon.

Holye mayde Margarete uppon that dragon stoode;
Blysfulle was her herte and glad was her mode.
"Iblessed be Thou, Jhesu Cryste; Thi myghte is fulle good.
Now slayne is this dragon thorugh vertu of the Roode."

Thanne mayde Margarete wente the dragone froo.
Yit was there in a corner another devil moo.
He hadde hondys, fete, and nayles on everye too;
If he toke, never so lytylle, a thynge uppon the erthe, it schulde goo.15

Sche wente to that foule thinge with the crosse in her honde.
By the vertue of Jhesu Cryste with her wympylle sche him bonde.
Sche toke hym bye the heede, and doun sche him slonge;
Sche sette her foote in his necke and to the erthe hym wronge.

"Sey me nowe," sche seyde, "thou lothelye thynge,
Who that is thi lord and who is thi kynge
And who that thee hyder sente to make me ferynge,
For sawe I never in erthe yit so foule a thynge."

"Ladye," he sayde, "for thi Lordys love, Lord of alle londys,
Lyfte a lytyl thi foote that on my bodye stondys.
Wyde have I walkyd by water and by sondys,
Yit was I nevyr bounden in so harde bondes.

"Ruffyn that was my brother was the dragon that thou slowe.
Whanne he was alyve, he wroughte sorowe inowe.
He made men on nyghte to stele, so thereto he hem drove;
He qwytte them her servyse, were thei never so lothe.16

"In a dragones forme I hym sente to thee,
To reve thee of thi memorye or make thee wode to bee.
Thou brakest hym in peces, and bounden thou haste me.
A mayden us so to overcome, lytyl is oure posté!17

"Belsabub it is my name. No bote is me to sure;
Thise peynes that I have I maye not longe endure.
My myghte is not in erthe, but with wynde I flye.
Alle I wolde do qwelle that I may see with ye.

"There I wyste ony wyfe unborn was her barne,18
Thedyr wolde I come belyve, in childyng to do her harme.
If it were unblessed, I brake it foote or arme,
Or the woman herselfe in some wyse I dydde harme.

"Salamon the wyse kynge, whyle he was on lyve,
He closed us in a bras fat and dalfe us in a clyve.
The men of Babylon that bras fat gunne ryve;
And whanne that broken was, oute we gan dryve.

"To have founde golde thei wenden; oute thei leten us goo -
Soth it is to sayne ten thousand and moo -
Some swyfter then the wynde and some as swyfte as roo,
And alle that byleve on Jhesu Cryste we werke hem mychel woo.

"If thou wylte wytte what I am, as thou mayste wete welle,
Loke uppon thi bokys and thou schalte wyte everydele.
I praye thee for thi Lordys love, thou bynde me with stele,
That I may no man in erthe nor no woman with chylde do ylle."

"Be stylle!" sche sayde. "Thou art so lothelye thou schalte goo into helle,
Be thou never so hardye, no man for to qwelle.
I praye my Lorde that in heven doth dwelle thi power for to felle."
And than he sanke into helle as stone dos into welle.

It was uppon the thridde day, at the hye mydde noone,
Olybryus comaunded that may out of pryson schulde come.
The turmentoures were fulle wylde and fette her ful sone.
Sche helde the crosse in her honde that Cryste was on doon.

Than bespake Olybryus, there he was fulle wrothe.
He sayde to mayde Margarete, "Haste thou turned thi othe?
Beleve on my goddys too, I geve thee bothe golde and clothe,
And if thou wylte not do soo, thi lyfe it schalle be fulle loth."

"Cursed be thi goddys that thou beleveste ynne!
Thei come oute of helle and been of Sathanas kynne.
They be alle togedyre fulle of lothelye synne.
Whan thou trustyste hem beste, thei wylle brynge thee in synne.

"But do thou welle and beleve on Hym that maade thee to man,
Fader, Sone, and Holye Goste that alle this worlde wanne,
And do thee baptysyn today in a funtestoone,
As was Jhesu Cryste hymselfe in the flome of Jordon."

"Do away!" sayde Olybryous. "Bale my men schalle thee brewe.19
Thi Lorde schalle thee turne to payne grevous, and to no nother sewe.
Myne goddys be verry good, and thyn is untrewe.
For thou wylte not turne thi moode, sore it schalle thee rewe.20

"Where are my turmentoures? A payne I wolde kenne:
Welland lampes of oyle on her ye latte renne.
From the necke to the foote scalde her as an henne.
But sche turne her mode, loke ye do her brenne."

The Saressones dyde as he hem baade, lampys for to wellyn
And uppon her hede oyle thei lete fellyn.
The oyle ranne down by her hede as water doth fro welle;
The angel her kepte, they myghte her note qwelle.

"Wylte thou," he seyde, "mayde Margarete, yit thyn herte wende?
Truste uppon me and be my wyfe, and thi payne schalle amende."
Sche answered him fulle sone: "Cryste it me defende.
I beleve on Hym that maade me, His joye has noone ende."

Icursed be thi Saryssones! God geve hem yvel endynge,
And alle the same dayes that clerkys reede or synge.
In a grete fatte fulle of water he baade thei schulde her brynge.
But sche wolde turne her herte, to dethe thei schulde her slynge.

Sche sayde, "Lorde, if Thi wyl be, with this water that I see
I may be baptysed this daye in the name of Thee."
The thundyre byganne to breste, the folke gunne to flee;
The angeles her toke oute of the water that alle men myghte see.

Manye for that myracle turned ther moode fulle swythe
And byleved on Jhesu Cryste, both men, chyldren, and wyfe -
Forsoth for to telle, ten thousand and fyve.
For the love of Hym men broughte hem o lyve.

Ful welle sawe that Sarysyne that he myghte not her stere.
He clepyd forth Malcus, that was his manqweller.
"Lede," he sayde, "oute of the towne - or elles I schalle her bere -
And brynge her oute of lyve with swerde or with spere."

They come withoute the towne, there men schulde her sloo.
Alle folowed up and downe that myghte ryde or goo.21
The thunder began to brestyn, the sunne wexed alle bloo,
The folke felle down to grounde - thei wyste of welle nor woo.22

Jhesu with his aungeles He sente hir a fayre steven -
To mayden Margarete, Crystes mayde of heven:
"Blessed be thou todaye with alle that I canne nevene.
Todaye schalte thou wende into the blysse of heven."

Malcus sawe the angeles. He sette hym on his knee.
"Mayde Margarete," he seyde, "thi Lorde has grete thee,
And alle this angeles that been aboute thee.
Streche thi necke, reseyve my swerde, and have mercye on mee."

Than spake that mayden, holye Saynte Margarete:
"Brother, if thi wylle it bee, yit a lytel byde for me
Whyle I make my prayers. I schalle have doon fulle sone."
"Bydde," he sayde, "what thou wylte. I falle to thee anoone."

"Fader, Sone, and Holye Gooste, Lord of alle weldande,
Thou madeste alle this worlde of noughte, and Adam with Thin honde.
Of mayde Marye thou was borne, that was floure in londe;
And alle men that to me callen, louse hem, Lord, oute of bonde.

"Alle that to my passyon wylle herken or reede,
Or settes chirche or chapel, or geveth ony almysdede,
Jhesu Cryste mye Lorde, with honoure Thou hem feede.
The joye that is in heven graunte hem to her meede.

"Jhesu Cryste, if ony woman that schal delyvered be,
That Thou helpe than, if sche cale to me,
And unbynde her anoone23 thorugh the vertue of that Tree
That thou dyedeste uppon to make us alle free.

"Lord God, I praye thee, for Thi grete myghte,
As Thou madeste sonne and moone here in erthe to geve a lyghte,
So graunte her that her chylde be borne with alle the lymmes aryghte,
And not to be dumme, nor nothynge broken, nor blynde withouten syghte.

"Also tho that have this day of my dethe in memorye,
Or with good devocyon doth me worshipe or praye,
Jhesu Cryste my Lord, the maydens Sonne Marye,
Have mercye on tho soules, where ever the bodye lye."

Than spake oure Lorde Jhesu Cryste, Saynte Maryes Sone:
"By heven and by erthe, by sonne and by moone,
Mayde Margarete, I graunte thee thi bone -
To cume to that joye that thou haste wonne."

Than bespake mayde Margarete; her prayers gan sche blynne.
"Malcus," sche sayde, "smyte of myn hede. Forgeven is thee that synne."
"That wylle I not doo," he sayde, "for alle this worlde to wynne.
Thi Lord has grette thee, that thou beleveste ynne."

"But if thou do," sche sayde, "elles schalte thou never have
That joye that is in paradyse, that thou after doeste crave."
Malcus herde this wordys; his swerde than dydde he drawe
And smote of her hede with drede and mykel awe.

Mycael and Gabryel and Raphael in fere,
Cherubyn with ten thousand that there were,
With senserys and taperys to heven thei her bere,
Fulle hyghe tofore Jhesu Cryste; sche is to Hym fulle dere.

Theophyle the good clerke, he wrote her vye,
And the noryshe that her feede in the cytee of Asye,
They bare her bodye to Antioche, and nowe in golde dos lye.
Thei settyn a chirche in her name, ever to be had in memorye.

Alle that seke were and thedyr wolde goo,
Jhesu hem delyvered or thei come therefroo.
Jhesu Cryste of heven, latte us lyve soo
To have that joye that lastes evermoo.

Of that swete mayde this is her vye,
The twenteuthe daye of her in the moneth of Julye.
Jhesu Cryste, that was yborne of the virgyne Marye,
For Saynte Margaretes love on us have mercye. Amen.

cease; (see note)

was called

pagan chief priest; (see note)
chose; religion
(see note)

made by [human] hands


messengers; ready
nurse; learning

pleasure; (see note)

knew; abhorred

name (tell)
(see note)

nurse's sheep
(see note)

committed; (t-note)

with absolute power

tries to kill them

hurried eagerly

(see note)
at once

law; from a free-born family; (t-note)

descended from slaves or serfs; (t-note)
lose entirely; (see note)
rich fabrics/splendid clothing

(see note)



please you; (t-note)

any lightning flash
soberly; voice
preserve; (see note)


firm intention; despite them


(see note)

commit myself; (t-note)

dogs; [so] that; (see note)

(see note)
protector; (t-note)
inflict on her

spoke up; cursed; (see note)
before; midday; (t-note)

courteously; greet; (see note)
was called

sweetheart; must
of gentle birth
possessions; (t-note)



Cross; (t-note)
pierced; (see note)

consider; mad

spoke up; taught

(see note)

was useless
put; may change

the second day
religion (law)
forever; (t-note)

then; prosper
as a reward
expensive/rich fabrics; clothing
foods; nourish

commit myself
from nothing
then; (t-note)

spoke up
believe in; bold
hair; to anger her Lord; (t-note)
until you believe her dead

from a sieve

sweeter than cream

hawthorn berry; (see note)
does not care a straw; (see note)

their; caused
(see note)
So that; toe

(see note)



suffer these

Have; now; eyes
still; advise
believe in

power over

the one whom I proclaim

(see note)
on which Christ was placed

hear what
the joy of heaven

place; prepared

has come
world; (t-note)

beside her
hideous (loathsome)
Burning; pale
grass; (see note)

flame flew
rattled; (t-note)

burst; [so] that

(see note)

in addition; (t-note)
toe; (see note)

(see note)
head-dress; bound
threw (slung)


hither; afraid

by water and lands (i.e., everywhere)

killed; (see note)

(see note)

deprive; (see note)
broke; hast

It will not help me to surrender; (see note)

(see note)
Everyone; cause to die; eye; (see note)

(see note)
at once; childbirth

alive; (see note)
brass vessel; buried; cliffside; (t-note)
split open





bold; harm

noon precisely; (see note)
violent; fetched; (t-note)
put on

called out; (see note)
changed; vow
will give


as a man
baptismal font
river; (see note)

do homage

I want to teach [you]
Boiling; (see note)
Unless; burn

boil; (see note)

guarded; not harm



give them a bad end; (see note)
days of judgment or wrath
Unless; throw

(see note)


quickly; (see note)

out of; (t-note)

executioner (man-killer); (see note)

outside; kill (slay); (see note)

burst; grew; lead-colored



knelt down

Pray; prostrate myself

governing; (see note)
from nothing
the virgin

listen or read
establish; give any
as their reward

(see note)
[I pray] that; then
(see note)


those who
do me honor or pray to me
the Virgin Mary's Son
those; (see note)

(see note)


spoke up; ceased
off; to thee; (see note)



off; great

together; (see note)

censers; tapers; (see note)

life (vita); (t-note)
nurse; brought up (fed)
golden [shrine]
established; kept

sick; thither
before; returned

life (vita); (t-note)
(see note)