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Item 23, The Incestuous Daughter


Abbreviations: MED: Middle English Diction­ary; MWME: The Manual of Writings in Middle English; P: Cam­bridge, University Library MS Ff.5.48;

Title No title or incipit. Though the beginning has been lost, it seems unlikely that a title ever existed, as none of the other exempla in the manuscript receives a title. It is referred to as The Tale of an Incestuous Daughter in MWME ( For a summary of the first 117 lines from P, see the introduction, Text.

118 with thee dele. To have intercourse with — sexual, conversational, or social.

124 Thow hast me made. This line suggests that the murders were not simply acts of volition by the daughter but that she felt at least partly coerced.

137 On pylgrymage. Pilgrimage was a common form of penance, particularly for heinous sins; see also Sir Isumbras (item 5), lines 122–29. Most of the other surviving versions of the tale omit this detail.

157 All the women that wold be folys. The reading in the Cambridge MS, “Alle wyckud men that were folis,” is surely more reasonable, but the notion that the inces­tuous daughter becomes both a prostitute and a bawd is not entirely implausible.

158 hyr scolys. An ironic use of scole (n.) in the MED’s sense 3, “a place or envir­on­ment where one’s character or disposition is molded.”

164 An holy buschop. The version of the tale that appears in a cycle of homilies in Lincoln Cathedral MS 51 names the bishop as “the holy doctur Seynt Austen” (i.e., Saint Augustine), but this attribution seems unusual in the surviving ver­sions of the tale.

203 God Frydey. This detail does not seem to appear in other surviving versions of this exempla. For the significance of Good Friday as a day of forgiveness, see the introduction to The Knight Who Forgave His Father’s Slayer (item 18).

226 The byschop therof was full glad. The text appears to be corrupt here, as lines 226 and 227 repeat lines 220 and 221 in reverse order.

269 Is now in hevyn bryght. In many other versions of the exemplum, the voice from heav­en suggests that rather than praying for the soul of the dead woman, the preacher and his flock should pray to her for their own sakes, since she is already in heaven.

271 Crysten men. Rate seems to have omitted a stanza in which the voice from heaven instructs the bishop to give the incestuous daughter a proper Christian burial.

272 wanhop. Wanhope, or despair, was considered the most dangerous of sins, since it presumed that God’s mercy could not save the sinner. Its very nature precluded confession, and despair could encourage the sinner to fall into further depravity.

294a AMEN. This colophon is separated from the following text by a drawing of a grinning fish.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes.

130 thi. MS: the.

163 throught. MS: thought.

171 in. MS: into (to is marked for deletion).

171–72 MS: Rate repeats lines 166–68 here, but they have been dotted underneath to indicate deletion.

219 God. MS: go.

267 here. MS: he.

293 joy. MS: joy joy.

fol. 66r











fol. 66v










fol. 67r












fol. 67v      





. . . “That I schall never with thee dele
At bede, at bord, mete ne mele;
     My synne I have forsake.”

“A!” sche seyd, “thou wyked man!
Haste thou here abowte gon?
     Evyll it schall thee lyke.
Thow hast me made my moder sle,
And my chylder all thre,
     And wold me thus beswyke.

“Now,” sche seyd, “seth it is so,
Otherweys it schall go,
     Or tomorow prime.
Thow hast brought me in all thi gyle,
And evyll thou schall have the whyle,
     When that I se my tyme.”

When that the nyght was icom,
The god man gan to bede gon,
      His reste for to take.
For erly he wold in the dey
On pylgrymage wend his wey
      For his synnes sake.

Thorow the fendys egyng,
Hys doughter thought another thyng
      Wers for to do.
When hyr fader on slepe was,
Hys doughter went a wele god pace
      And kerve hys throte in two.

And toke hyr tresoure ther,
Al so myche as sche myght bere,
      And other felos thre.
They went sone out of the town
To a syté of grete renown,
      And wonyd in that syté.

Of that tresowre thei spendyd faste,
Whyles that it myght laste,
      With grete bobans of pride.
Gentyll men of that contrey
Com fast with hyr to pley,
      Yern onne every syde.

All the women that wold be folys,
Fast thei com unto hyr scolys,
      Fast many and fele.
Sche forsoke nether preste ne clerke,
Ne non that were brech ne scherte,
      That with hyr wold dele.

Upon a dey throught Godys sond,
An holy buschop of that lond
      Preched in a cyté.
And all the gode men of the toune
Com for to here hys sermon,
      Hym for to here and se.

All, bot that woman alone
And hyr feleys everichon
      Duellyd at ther in.
Wo was them that ylke dey:
Ther com no man with them to pley;
      No sylver they myght wynne.

Sche seyd to hyr feleys anon,
“I rede that we to the chyrche gon,
      And haste us in the wey.
Ther we schall som yong man fynd
That is both god and kynd,
      And with us wyll pley.”

To the chyrch thei forth wente,
Thorught the grace of God omnipotente
      And hys modour Mary.
The holy bysschop ther he stode,
He prechyd wordys well gode;
      On hyr he cast hys ey.

Fowre devylles that were fals
He se hang aboute hyr hals,
      And by cheynes hyr lede.
Be every cheyn stede hyr one.
The holy man sey them everychon;
      Grete wonder therof he hade.

Abowte hyr neke a coler strong,
The fendys lede the cheynes long,
      Behynd and before.
Wele the byschop wyst than
That sche was a synfull woman;
      For hyr he syghed sore.

Sche pukyd a squyre and on hym lew,
And be the sleve sche hym drew,
      And other yonge men mo.
They bade hyr leve and go hyr wey,
For it was on God Frydey —
      With hyr thei wold not go.

When the bysschop sey all this,
In his hert was sory iwys,
      When he upon hyr sey.
Of the fendys he wold be wreke;
Of Godys mersy he gan speke,
      Both lowd and hyghe.

Thorow the grace of God allmyght,
A word in hyr herte lyght
      That the bysschop spake,
That a tere fell fro hyr eye
And be hyr lares it gan don fle,
      And the coler brake.

The fendys fley and were adrad;
The byschop therof was full glad
      And thankyd God full styll.
The holy man prechyd of Godys lore,
The woman sate and syghed sore,
      And wepyd all hyr fylle.

So bytterly sche wepyd withall,
By hyr lyres the terys gan fall
      Fast on ylke a syde.
The byschop therof was full glad;
The fendys fley and were adrad —
      No lenger ther durste byde.

Sche sett hyr don onne hyr kne.
To God sche besought in Trinyté;
      Mersy gan sche crave.
Sche seyd, “Sir Bysschop, I ame sche —
All this dey thou hast spoke of me
      And here thou mayst me have.

“I have don all dedly synne
That ever myght woman begynne
      Ageyn Godys law.
By my fader I dyde foly:
Thre knave chylder I had hym by,
      And all I have them slaw.

“My modour I stykyd with a knyffe,
My fader I rest hym hys lyffe,
      Bysschop, I thee sey.
And now in this sted, for charyté,
Swythe of schryft, I pray thee,
      For sorow or I dyghe.”

The bysschop seyd anon ryght,
“Woman, abyde a lytell wyght,
      Tyll my sermon be done.”
Sche was so full of sorow and care,
She fell adoune befor them ther;
      Hyr hert braste in two.

When the bysschop had seyd hys wyll,
He bad the folke sytte and be styll,
      And to hyr he lepe,
And gan on hyr to clepe and call.
He fond hyr ded among them all;
      Full sore for hyr he wepe.

He bade the folke that ther were all
On ther kneys thei schuld fall,
      A bede for to seyne:
That God schuld them wyte and wys
Whether the saule were in blys
      Or in hell peyn.

When thei had made ther oryson,
A voys com fro hevyn don
      That thei myght here,
And seyd, “The saule of that synfull wyght
Is now in hevyn bryght
      Befor Jhesu full dere.”

Crysten men, I wern you all
That non of you in wanhop fall,
      They ye be in synne.
Who so wyll of a preste be schryfe,
And do penans by his lyfe,
      Hevyn he may wynne.

Thoff a man had don alone
All the synnes evrychon
      That ever yit were wrought,
And he may in his last dey
To a preste his lyve sey,
      God wyll forgete hym nought.

And if a man have no preste,
To a man that sytte hym nexte
      Yerne to hym schryfe.
And if he may do no more
Bot for hys synnes rew sore,
      God wyll hym forgyffe.

Kyng that is of myghtys moste,
Fader and Son and Holy Goste,
      Yiff us myght and space,
When we have do oure ende,
Unto joy that we may wende,
      Lord, for thi holy grace.
(see note)
at the table

i.e., reversed yourself
please you
slay; (see note)


Before; morning
deceit; (t-note)
in time

go; (see note)

fiend’s urging

went quickly



vain display (ostentation)


fools; (see note)
schools; (see note)
wore breech nor shirt
have sex

mission (will); (t-note)
(see note)


each one
Stayed; inn; (t-note)
same; (t-note)

saw hanging; neck

At every chain one stood by her



picked a squire; smiled

(see note)





fled and were afraid

quietly; (t-note)
God’s religion (teachings)

(see note)

may behold me


robbed him [of]

Be quick to confess
before I die

time (a moment)



reveal and inform


(see note)

(see note)
despair; (see note)

Though; by himself

i.e., confess his life’s sins

Eagerly confess to him

sorely regret

      Give us ability and the opportunity
i.e., arrive at our deaths

(see note)

Go To Item 24, Sir Cleges, introduction
Go To Item 24, Sir Cleges, text