Back to top

Mumming at Windsor


1 Lines 55–56: But as for finding steadfastness in women, / Decide for yourself whether it comes to them by nature

2 Lines 62–63: She did not relent until her lord (i.e., Clovis) had adopted / Christianity and had forsaken the error of his ways

3 Legitimately succeed to the throne, as the story teaches us


ABBREVIATIONS: MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken.

The Mumming at Windsor tells the story of the conversion of Clovis by St. Clothilde and the miraculous appearance of the fleur-de-lys and the golden ampoule from which French kings were traditionally anointed at Rheims. Since the mumming mentions that the sacred oil kept at Rheims will soon be used to anoint Henry VI, it presumably dates to the Christ­mas season of 1429/30, after Henry’s coronation on November 6 at Westminster in 1429 and before his departure for France early in 1430; this date gains some slight additional support from Schirmer’s claim that Windsor was Henry’s permanent winter residence from 1428 onward (John Lydgate, p. 106). The mumming, which is addressed to Henry, adroitly com­bines instruction, entertainment, and propaganda, using French history to shore up Henry’s claims to the dual monarchy (see Wickham, Early English Stages, 3:50, who notes its educative aspect but thinks it “exists simply to pass time agreeably;” Nolan, John Lydgate, pp. 86–87, who discusses the mumming’s topical instrumentality; and Green, Poets and Princepleasers, p. 189, who describes this as one of Lydgate’s “apologist” poems for the Lancastrian dynasty). The mumming is concerned with lineage and hereditary rights, the ever-present worries of Henry’s minority, but the mumming also contains a strong subcurrent of praise for women (Clothilde is called the “floure of wommanhede,” constant in word and deed), which draws a bantering marginal comment from Shirley and reminds us that Henry’s mother Catherine, who is directly addressed in Lydgate’s two other royal mummings and who was Henry’s most visible link to the French crown, was probably present.

Shirley’s description of the poem as “the devyse of a momyng” has led to a number of hypotheses about the nature of the performance to which the text relates, with most scholars agreeing that Lydgate’s verses served as a kind of preface for “the story” of the fleur-de-lys that was subsequently “shewed” before the king and were recited by a presenter (“almost certainly Lydgate himself,” according to Pearsall [John Lydgate, pp. 185–86], a view seconded by Westfall [Patrons and Performance, pp. 35–37], who notes that Shirley doesn’t mention a herald or pursuivant). There is no consensus as to the precise nature of the ensuing show. Kipling follows Wickham (Early English Stages, 1:205) in thinking that Shirley’s description of Windsor as a mumming is a mistake given the lack of a visit by strangers and the absence of gift-giving and argues that Windsor resembles a disguising, not a mumming (“Poet as Deviser,” p. 97).

To enact the events described in Lydgate’s verses would seem to call for mechanical effects to make the angel and the dove descend from heaven, a font for the baptism scene, and height for heavenly characters; Westfall suggests that the costuming would have been extravagant, special effects of a flash of light would have accompanied Clovis’ conversion (as in the Digby Conversion of St. Paul), and harmonic singing would have been used to imply heaven. Westfall also argues that chapel members participated in Lydgate’s three mum­mings for the royal household, noting that as a monk, Lydgate would have been familiar with the capabilities of choristers and thus in a position to employ them in his mummings; Windsor, in particular, seems to have required the participation of the chapel, Westfall believes, given its staging demands (Patrons and Performance, pp. 35–37).

The Mumming at Windsor survives in Trinity R.3.20 (1450–75), pp. 71–74, as well as in Stow’s copy of it, Additional MS 29729. Trinity R.3.20 is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:691–94), collated with Additional 29729.

running titles: Howe th’ampoule and the floure delyce came to the kynges of fraunce / of the Ampoull / And the flour delyce. Not noted in MP.

headnote Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror as a fortress and was expanded under later kings into a royal residence. In the 1360s, Edward III built the St. George Chapel at Windsor for the use of the Knights of the Order of the Garter. The hall was repaired and rebuilt by Richard II, under the supervision of Chaucer, then clerk of the king’s works.

12 Cloudovee. Clovis I (c. 466–511) was king of the Franks, who, according to a legend that arose in the ninth century, in a battle against the Alamans vowed that he would convert to Christianity if he were victorious. On the day of Clovis’ baptism, the crowds were said to have prevented the priest with the chrism from reaching the baptistry and so a white dove appeared holding in its beak an ampoule with the chrism for completing the ceremony. Thus the first Christian king of the Franks was anointed through a divine miracle (see Oppenheimer, Legend of the Ste. Ampoule, pp. 23–24 and 173–77). At Christmas in 1430, Henry VI received a book of hours with a miniature depicting St. Clothilde bestowing the fleur-de-lys on Clovis, given to him by Anne of Bohemia, wife of the duke of Bedford; the book had been commissioned by Bedford in 1423 as a gift for Anne (see McKenna, “Henry VI of England and the Dual Monarchy,” p. 155 and plate 28a).

21 Cloote. Clothilde (475–545) was the Burgundian Christian wife of Clovis.

34–35 The royal arms of France since 1376 consisted of an azure shield with three fleur-de-lys of gold.

49 Marginalia: A daun Johan, est y vray? Brotanek (Englischen Maskenspiele, p. 318) translates what is apparently Shirley’s question as “Lieber Freund Johan, ist das auch wahr?” [Dear friend John, is that really true?] but Brusendorff (Chaucer Tradition, pp. 460–61 and 466) claims that yvray is the Old French synonym for ivrogne and translates the line as “Oh, Dan John must have been in his cups when he wrote that!” claiming that bantering remarks such as this indicate a close relationship between Lydgate and Shirley. For similar scribal outbursts against clerical misogyny, see Hammond, “Reproof.”

66 three crepaudes. Clovis’ heraldic device had included three black toads, which he abandoned on his conversion, replacing them with the fleur-de-lys.

69 Reynes. From the Carolingian period on, Rheims was the traditional place for the anointing of French kings and queens (see Oppenheimer, Legend of the Ste. Ampoule, p. 245 ff.).

70 Saint Remigius. St. Remi (c. 437–533), a Gallo-Roman of noble birth, was bishop of Rheims; he converted Clovis to Christianity (see Oppenheimer, Legend of the Ste. Ampoule, p. 155).

71 Th’aumpolle. Ampoules were small glass phials used since Roman times for oils and ointments; the Ste. Ampoule was described in the seventeenth century as being the size and shape of a fig (Oppenheimer, Legend of the Ste. Ampoule, pp. 149–51).

82 T’annoynte. During the anointing, a small particle of the sediment in the Ste. Ampoule was extracted by the archbishop and mixed with chrism. Using his right thumb, the archbishop anointed the king in seven places (head, chest, between the shoulders, on both shoulders, and the jointures of both arms) and in later years, on the palms (Oppenheimer, Legend of the Ste. Ampoule, p. 268).

85 ff. Charles VII had been crowned at Rheims on July 17, 1429, and it was initially the plan to crown Henry there as well, but the English were not able to secure the area and the coronation was moved to Paris instead (see Jacob, Fifteenth Century, pp. 248–50).

91 By tytle of right. A reference to Henry’s right to the French crown; compare Lydgate’s Title and Pedigree of Henry VI, translated at the command of the earl of Warwick, according to Shirley (MP, 2:613–22).

92 Saint Lowys. Louis IX (1226–70), king of France, also known as Saint Louis. The point here is to link Henry VI (through his mother, Catherine of Valois) to the lineage of St. Louis.

94–98 These lines imply that the miracle of the fleur-de-lys will now be presented (shewed), suggesting that the preceding verses served as a kind of prelude to the performance.


ABBREVIATIONS: A: Additional 29729 (Stow’s copy of R.3.20); M: MacCracken’s 1934 edition.

5 mescreaunce. A reads mestraunce.

23 wacche. A reads wacchinge; not noted by M.

53 Whas. A reads was.

71 Th’aumpolle. M reads Þampolle.

78 yit. A reads ther.
  [Nowe folowethe nexst the devyse of a momyng to fore the Kyng Henry the Sixst, being in his Castell of Wyndesore, the fest of his Crystmasse holding ther, made by Lidegate daun John, the Munk of Bury; howe th’ampull and the floure delys (the ampule and the fleur-de-lys) came first to the kynges of Fraunce by myrakle at Reynes (miracle at Reims). (see note)




















Mooste noble Prynce of Cristen prynces alle,
To youre Hyeghnesse lat hit beo plesaunce,
In youre presence men may to mynde calle,
Howe that whylom oure worthy reaume of Fraunce
Converted was frome theyre mescreaunce,
Whane the Lord of Lordes caste a sight
Upon youre lande and made His grace alight.

For in the heghe, hevenly consistorye,
Be ful acorde of the Trynitee,
As in cronycles maked is memorye,
The Lord, which is called oon, twoo and thre,
His eyeghe of mercy caste on Cloudovee,
Shadde His grace of goostely influence
Towardes that kyng, having his advertence,

That he shoulde passe frome paganymes lawe
By prescyence, which that is devyne,
His hert al hoolly and himself withdrowe
Frome his ydooles, and alle hees rytes fyne,
Whane hevenly grace did upon him shyne,
By meene oonly and by devoute preyer
Of Saint Cloote, moost goodly and entier.

Hir hertely love, hir meditacyouns,
Hir wacche, hir fasting and hir parfyt lyf,
Hir stedfast hoope, hir hooly orysouns,
Hir conversacyoun moost contemplatyf
Stynt in Fraunce of mawmetrye the stryf,
Causing the lawe, moost soverein of vertue
To sprede abroode of oure Lord Jhesu.

Hir meryte caused, and hir parfit entent,
That Crystes feyth aboute ther did sprede,
Whane that an aungel was frome heven sent
Unto an hermyte, of parfyt lyf in deed,
Presented it, whooso can take heed;
A shelde of azure, moost soverein by devys,
And in the feelde of golde three floure delys.

At Joye en Vale, withoute more obstacle,
Fel at this cas, where th’aungel doune alight,
A place notable, chosen by myracle,
Which thorughe al Fraunce shadde his bemys light.
God of his grace caste on that place a sight,
For to that reaume in passing avauntage
In thilke vale was sette that hermytage.

Al this came in, whooso list to seen,
I dare afferme it withoute any dreed,
By parfytnesse of the hooly qweene,
Saynte Cloote, floure of wommanheed.
Whatever she spake, acordant was the deed:
I mene it thus, that worde and werke were oon;
It is no wonder, for wymmen soo beon echoon.

Hir hoolynesse Fraunce did enlumyne
And Crystes fayth gretly magnefye.
Loo what grace doothe in wymmen shyne,
Whas assurance noman may denye.
To seye pleyne trouth nys no flaterye;
But stabulnesse in wymmen for to fynde,
Deemethe youreself wher it komethe hem of kynde.1

For thorughe meeknesse, yif it be adverted,
Of Saynte Cloote, and thorugh hir hyeghe prudence,
Kyng Cloudovee was to oure feyth converted.
In hir ther was so entier diligence,
Fully devoyde of slouthe and necglygence,
Ne stynt nought, til that hir lord hathe take
The feyth of Cryst and his errour forsake.2

This made, the kyng that Crystes feyth tooke,
For he was boothe manly and rightwys,
The three crepaudes this noble kyng forsooke,
And in his sheelde he bare thre floure delys,
Sent frome heven, a tresore of gret prys;
After at Reynes, the story tellethe thus,
Baptysed lowly of Saint Remigius.

Th’aumpolle of golde a colver brought adoune,
With which he was, this hooly kyng, ennoynt.
Gret prees ther was stonding envyroun,
For to beholde the kyng frome poynt to poynt.
For where as he stoode, in gret desjoynt,
First a paynyme, by baptyme anoon right
Was so converted, and bekame Crystes knight.

At Reynes yit that hooly unccyoun
Conserved is for a remembraunce,
And of coustume, by revolucyoun
Of God provyded, with due observaunce,
T’annoynte of coustume kynges wheeche in Fraunce
Joustely succeede, the story doothe us leere;3
Of which Sixst Henry, that nowe sittethe here,

Right soone shal, with Goddes hooly grace,
As he is borne by successyoun,
Be weel resceyved in the same place
And by vertu of that unccyoun,
Atteyne in knighthoode unto ful hye renoun
Resceyve his coroune, he and his successours,
By tytle of right, lyche hees progenytours.

Nowe, Royal Braunche, O Blood of Saint Lowys,
So lyke it nowe to thy Magnyfycence,
That the story of the flour delys
May here be shewed in thyne heghe presence,
And that thy noble, royal Excellence
Lyst to supporte, here sitting in thy see,
Right as it fell this myracle to see.
may it be pleasing
[that] men may call to mind
formerly; realm
misbelief (i.e., paganism); (t-note)

high; court

eye; Clovis (see note)

foreknowledge; divine
idols; lavish rituals

Clotilda; sincere; (see note)

vigils; perfect; (t-note)
conduct; devout
Stopped; idolatry
greatest in virtue
far and wide

miraculous power; pure intent

shield; superior by design; (see note)

further delay
It so happened; the angel descended

shed; beams

as an excellent addition
that same valley; established

came about, whoever desires to see


all women are like that; (see note)


Whose faithfulness; (t-note)
To speak plain truth is

high (i.e., great)

such complete

This having happened
heraldic toads (see note)
treasure; price (i.e., value)
Rheims (see note)
humbly; (see note)

The ampule; dove; (see note); (t-note)
crowd; all around
head to toe
pagan; immediately

still; oil; (t-note)
custom; revelation
By; reverence
(see note)

(see note)
next in hereditary succession

Receive; crown
like his forefathers; (see note)

Descendant; St. Louis (see note)
So may it please
(see note)

Allow; on your throne
To see this miracle just as it happened


Go To Mumming for the Goldsmiths of London