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Item 35b, The Adulterous Falmouth Squire


1 Lines 129–31: Do not pray for me once before this day seven years from now / At Mass, at matins, nor at meals.


Abbreviations: C: Cambridge, University Library MS Ff.2.38; CT: Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; L: London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 306; MED: Middle English Diction­ary P: Cam­bridge, University Library MS Ff.5.48; R: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C. 86;

Title No title or incipit. The text follows item 35a with no discernable break except for the two-line initial “M” at the beginning of the first line. The text begins near the bottom of folio 136v. The poem has been known to modern scholarship as The Adulterous Falmouth Squire on the basis of lines 54–59, but not on the basis of any manuscript authority.

6 And fro hell I wyll you tech. Compare the readings of P and R, largely shared by C: “For soule-hele Y wil you tech.”

8 that his teching do breke. Compare the readings of P and R (largely shared by C): “that is cause of spouse-breke.”

13 Hys awne word. Rate or his copy-text has omitted the first line of this stanza. Compare R: “For that bonde we may not breke / If we hys owne worde wil holde, / Tyll deth come that all schall wreke, / And lappe us done in clay full colde.”

18 Kyng Rycherd. This is Richard II, who was deposed by his cousin Henry Boling­broke, the earl of Derby and future Henry IV, in 1399. King Richard I died of bat­tle wounds in 1199, but his death was not commonly cited as a divine punishment by later medieval historians.

19 Kynge Saber and Absolone. “Saber” is probably a reference to King Sapor I, though it is somewhat obscure and clearly posed problems for the scribes. Rate has written “Faber”; R and C, “Saber”; P, “Sother”; and L reads “Sacre.” Sapor (Shapur) was a third-century Persian king who captured the Roman emperor Valerian; in le­gend he then fell victim to Zenobia, the warrior princess of Palmyra. The legend is told by Petrarch and Boccaccio, and subsequently by Chaucer in The Monk’s Tale (CT VII[B2]2319–26). The fall of Absolom, the rebellious son of King David, is recounted in 2 Samuel 13–18.

20 And Kynge Davyd that made the Sauter boke. Though David did not, as line 22 sug­gests, lose the crown of Israel, the civil wars and family strife that followed his adultery with Bathsheba (described in 1 Samuel 11–12) were often seen as divine punishment. His authorship of the Psalms was widely accepted in the Middle Ages.

35 For all is bot a dygnité. The sense of this stanza seems to be that marriage is equally honorable and equally available for both king and beggar. Canon law held that both the poor and servile were allowed to marry freely; see Sheehan, “Theory and Practice: Marriage of the Unfree and Poor in Medieval Society.”

54 In Felamownte. Falmouth is located on the south coast of Cornwall.

55 Thirti wynter sene the dede. P and R share this reading, but L reads “Thirty wynter befor the dethe” and C reads “Thirty wynter sythe the dethe.” These readings presumably refer to the Black Death of 1348 and would make more sense as an attempt to suggest a fixed date, though the narrative needs no such precision.

58 Be one fader and moder getyne. Rate (or possibly his copy-text) has omitted the rhyme word (which should be “borne”) and copied lines 57–59 out of order. Compare the reading of C: “Be oon fadur and modur geton and borne / Squyres they were of grete renown, / As the story tellyth me beforne.”

122 One oure space. R, C, and P read “Oon heere-brede,” conceiving of the impos­sible escape spatially (a hair’s breadth) rather than temporally.

147 beralle. Beryl is a clear stone, like crystal, commonly said to be the foundation stone of the New Jerusalem.

153 The tymour. This is presumably a songbird of some kind; the MED records this instance as the only citation for “timor” (n.).

177 pynakyll. The MED’s definition of “pinacle” (n.) d., citing this instance, suggests that the word may mean “tent” or “pavilion” here. It is otherwise hard to under­stand a spire or promontory made of golden cloth, and R reads “pavelyone.”

192 Man, fro myscheff thee amend. It is not clear when the angel ceases talking and the narrator's voice resumes. R has an alternate stanza here, followed by two addi­tional concluding stanzas warning the reader of death’s inevitability and finality.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

1 MS: Initial M is larger than usual.

8 MS: the first appear as catchwords in the margin following this line.

19 Saber. MS: Faber.

27 he. MS: ha.

28 avowtry. MS: vowtry.

47 umbrace. MS: unbrace.

55 dede. MS: deth.

63 hys. MS: hyr.

79 To. MS: Tho.

86 Of hys. MS: Off his (last f is scratched out).

89 fader grave. MS: fader gravys grave (gravys is marked for deletion).

122 One oure. MS: One oute oure (oute marked for deletion).

133 Therfor. MS: The for.

156 tre. MS: hylle.

161 syght. MS: syght.

169 Grew. MS: Grow.

171 it wote. MS: it knowote (kno is marked for deletion).

184 fader. MS: fayre.



fol. 137r










fol. 137v











fol. 138r










fol. 138v   








Man, fro myscheff thou thee amend,
And to my talkyng thou take god hede.
Fro synnes seven thou thee defend;
The lest of all is for to drede.

For of the lest I wyll you speke,
And fro hell I wyll you tech.
Bewere, man: God wyll hym wreke
Of hym that his teching do breke.

The fyrst sacrement that ever God made,
That was wedloke in gode fey;
Beleve thou that, withouten drede.
For that schall last to Domesdey,

Hys awne word, if we wyll hold,
Tyll deth com that all schall werke
And us all in cley to fold.

The gretyst kyng in all this werld,
Be som cause hys croune may forgon;
I take wytnes of Kyng Rycherd,
And Kynge Saber and Absolone,

And Kynge Davyd that made the Sauter boke.
For synne that he dyde with Bersabe,
Cryst fro hym hys croune he toke;
Thus holy wryte tellys me.

The gretyst clerke that ever thou seyste,
To take hym under heven cope,
He may never take order of preste,
(Bot he have leve of the pope)

And he begetyn in avowtry,
Or els a basterd he be borne.
Thus I canne well telle to thee,
The ordyre of preste he hath forlorne.

And the begger at the tounes ende,
To hym wedloke is as fre
As the ryall kyng of kynd,
For all is bot a dyngnité.

Man, if thou wyst what it were
To take another than thi wyffe,
Thou woldyst rather sofer it
To be sleyn with a knyffe.

For if thou take another mans wyffe,
A wrong eyer thou muste nedys gete.
And thus thou bryngys thre saulys in stryffe,
In hell fyre to ly and hete.

Bot wreches thinke in there herte,
That fele them gylty in thus case,
With schryft of moth and penans smerte
They wene there blys for to umbrace.

Bot and thei dyed a sothen deth
Withouten schryft or repentans,
To hell thei go withouten lete,
For thei canne chese non other chans.

A god sampull I wyll thou telle,
To my tale if ye take hede:
In Felamownte this case befelle,
Thirti wynter sene the dede.

Ther duellyd two brether in the toune,
As the story tellys me beforne,
Be one fader and moder getyne;
Squyres thei were of grete renoune.

The elder brother had a wyffe,
The feyrest woman in all that londe,
And yit usyde a cursyde lyffe
And brought hys saule in bytter bonde.
He rought not what woman he toke,
So lytell he set by hys wyffe.
The devyll caught hym in a croke
And merkyd hys mode with grete myscheffe.

The two brether upon a dey
With enmys were sleyn in fyght.
The elder to helle he toke the wey;
The yenger to paradys ryght.

And this was knaune in sothnes.
Herkyns, syres, what I schall sey:
Take gode hede, both more and les,
For Godys love bere this tale awey.

The elder brother hade a sone, a clerke,
Fully fiftene yere of age.
He was ryght holy in hys werke;
To hym schuld fall the herytage.

For hys fader he made grete mone,
As fallys a gode sone of kynd.
Every nyght to hys fader grave wold he gone
For to have hys soule in mynde.

Thus he prayd both dey and nyght
To God and to hys Moder dere
Of hys fader to have a syght
In what place that he in were.

The chyld, that was so nobull and wyse,
Stod at hys fader grave;
Ther com one in a whyte surples,
And prevely toke hym by the sleve.

“Come onne, chyld, and go with me,
For God hath herd thi prayer.
Chyld, thi fader thou schall se
Were he bryneth in helle fyre.”

He lede hym to a comly hylle;
The erth opynd and he in yede.
Smoke and fyer gan ther oute welle,
And many saules glowand in glede.

Ther he saw many a sore turmente,
How soulys were put in grete pyning.
He saw hys fader, how he brent,
And be the membrys how he hyng.

Fendys bold with crowkys kene
Rente hys fader fro lyth to leme.
“Chyld, thou covetys thi fader to sene:
Loke up now and speke with hym.”

“Alas, fader, how stand this case,
That ye be in this peynes strong?”
“Son,” he seyd, “I may sey alas,
That ever I dyde thi moder wronge.

“For sche was both feyre and gode,
And also both trusty and trew.
Alas, I was wers than wode;
Myn awne bale there I dyde brew.”

“Whether is there any seynt in hevyn
That ye were wont to have in mynde
That myght you lowse oute of prison —
Oure Lady Mary or som gode frende?”

“Sone, all the seyntys that be in hevene,
Ne all the angellus under the skye,
One oure space out of this peyn
They have no power to lyft me.

“Sone, if every gras were a preste
That growys upon Godys grounde,
Of this peyn that thou me seyste,
Canne never make me unbounde.

“Sone, thou be a preste, I wote wele.
Ons or this dey seven yere,
At Messe at matyns, ne at mele,
Thou take me never in thi prayer; 1

“Loke, sone, thou do as I thee sey.
Therfor I werne thee wele beforne,
For ever the more thou prayst for me,
My peynes schall be more and more.

“Farewele,” he seyd, “my dere sone,
The Fader of heven betech I thee,
And werne every man wher so thou com
Of wedloke-brekyng were to be.”

The angell began the chyld to lede
Sone out of that wrechyd wone,
Into a forest was long and brede;
The sone was uppe and bryght it schone.

He lede hym to a feyre arbour:
The pathys were of clene crystalle
That to hys syght was passyng feyre,
And als bryght as any beralle.

The wallys semyd of gold bryght,
With dores and with tourys strong.
They herd upon the gatys on hyht
Mynstralsy with angellus songe,

The pylycan and the popynejay,
The tymour and the turtell trewe,
A hondreht thousand in a rewe,
The nyghtyngale with notys newe.

On a gren hyll he saw an tre;
The savour of it was strong and store.
Pale it was, and wanne of ble;
Lost it hat the frute and floure.

A reufull syght that chyld gane se,
And of that syght he hade grete drede.
“A, god lady, how may this be?
The blode of this tre lokys so rede.”

The angell seyd, “This is the tre
That God Adam the frute forbede.
And therfor dryven oute was he,
And in the erth hys lyffe he lede.

“For in the place there thou seys it spred
Grew the appull that Adam bote,
And that was thourhe Evys rede,
And the devyll of hell it wote.

“When any synfull com hereine,
As thou seyst, chyld, with me,
For vengawnce of that cursyd synne
The blode ryneth oute of this tre.”
He lede hym forth upon the pleyn.
He was were of a pynakyll pyght;
Syche one saw he never none
Of clothes of gold that burnest bryght.

Ther-under sate a creatoure
Als bryght as any sonebeme;
The angell dyd hym grete honour.
“Lo, son,” he seyd, “this is thin eme.

“Thy fader brother, thou may sene,
In hevenes blys withouten ende.
So myght thi fader wele a bene,
And he to wedloke had be kynde.

“Therfor he hath gete hym helle
Endles in that depe dongeon,
Ther ever more for to duelle,
For in helle is no redempcyon.”

Man, fro myscheff thee amend,
And thou may syte all save fro care.
Fro dedly synne God thee defende,
And unto blys thi saull schall fare.
(see note); (t-note)

least [serious]

guide; (see note)
(see note); (t-note)

good faith

(see note)
shall affect (transform)

(see note)
Sapor; Absolom; (see note); (t-note)

Psalter (Psalms); (see note)

under heaven’s cloak (i.e., in the world)
enter priestly orders
permission; (t-note)

If he is begotten in adultery; (t-note)


town’s edge

only one rank; (see note)


heir; necessarily beget
in danger

confession of mouth; strict
expect; embrace (obtain); (t-note)

But if; sudden

without delay
take no other course

good example

Falmouth; (see note)
[It has been] thirty; since the events [happened]; (see note); (t-note)

begotten; (see note)

yet [he] followed
cared not

in his hook (in his clutches)
marked (darkened) his spirit

By enemies

known as fact

remember this tale

heritage (i.e., property); (t-note)

moan (lament)
As befits; by nature


surplice (robe)

Where he burns

pretty hill
glowing in flame


by the members (genitals); hung

crooks (forks)
limb to limb

own sorrow; create

Is there

loose (release)

One hour’s time; (see note); (t-note)

[blade of] grass; priest

you see me [in]
[They] could never unbind me

nor at meals


I commend you to

to beware

[that] was long and broad

beryl (precious stone); (see note)

doors; towers
up high on the gates

songbird (see note); turtledove

smell; pungent
of color

good lady (i.e., the angel)
blood (see note)

where you see
bit; (t-note)
by Eve’s advice

sinful [person]

aware; fixed tent; (see note)
never before
shone brightly



have been
been true

earned himself

(see note)
sit (remain) entirely safe

Go To Item 36, The Legend of the Resurrection, introduction
Go To Item 36, The Legend of the Resurrection, text