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Mummings for the Mercers of London


1 There were no fish, since the drawing of the net was hindered

2 Lines 83–84: However high or low a man may be, / He should always be grateful to God

3 And closely linked with this phrase: great gain


ABBREVIATIONS: CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken.

Shirley claims that the Mumming for the Mercers of London was presented to Mayor Estfeld on Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany, that is, on January 6, 1430 (for the year, see the Explanatory Notes to the Mumming for the Goldsmiths). The verses, which appear to have been devised by Lydgate to assist the mercers in entertaining the mayor, consist of a long introductory speech that was probably spoken by a presenter (a poursuyaunt) and seems designed to usher into the hall three ships, possibly with mummers disguised as merchants from the Far East aboard them. As Wickham notes, Lydgate “allegorizes” this visual spectacle by combining the idea of the Magi with the miraculous draught of fishes to enhance the presentation of gifts to Estfeld (Early English Stages, 3:49). The text is a kind of geographic, mythological, and literary grand tour that describes how Jupiter’s messenger travels from the Euphrates to the Thames, passing various mythic sites, including those important for the origins of poetry, and encountering along the way three ships with slogans on their sides. The messenger finally reaches London, coming ashore where the mercers have gathered to honor the mayor. The actual performance, which probably followed the reading of the letter and which the running titles refer to as a disguising, seems to have been as elaborate as Shirley’s comment that it was “ordeyned ryallych” (i.e., royally arranged) suggests: the verses imply that three pageant ships, disguised Orientals, music, dancing, action in which the first ship casts its nets and draws nothing while the third draws a full harvest, and gift-giving were part of the entertainment.

As first in precedence among London’s companies, with many members becoming mayor or sheriff, the mercers certainly possessed the means for an elaborate mumming like this one. By the fifteenth century, the mercers had a hall, a chapel, and at least one other room (as well as a chest for keeping records) in the church of St. Thomas of Acre in Cheapside, near the birthplace of Thomas à Becket in an area once occupied by prosperous Jews (Keene, intro. to Imray, Mercers’ Hall, pp. 1–13); while their hall would have been suitable for feasts and entertainments, this mumming was probably performed in the mayor’s hall, as line 102 suggests. Estfeld was an especially illustrious mercer, serving as alderman, sheriff, mayor, and member of Parliament for the city. He built the conduits at Aldermanbury and at the Standard in Fleet and was a benefactor of St. Mary Aldermanbury, where he was buried (Chronicles of London, p. 312, note to p. 146, line 13). He appears to have been knighted in the 1430s (Barron, London, p. 144). Unfortunately, although the Mercers’ accounts show payments toward royal mummings in the 1390s and in 1400/01 (see A. Lancashire, London Civic Theatre, p. 42), and although the mercers seem to have had an interest in the short-lived London puy, as records from a case in 1304 show (see Keene, intro. to Imray, Mercers’ Hall, pp. 12 and 438n29), there is no record of this performance.

The mumming may make reference to contemporary events, perhaps commercial transactions involving Mayor Estfeld, as Welsford has suggested (Court Masque, p. 55), but its larger function appears to have been to enhance the cultural capital of Londoners by envisioning the city as a cosmopolitan trading hub capable of assimilating exotic visitors and its elites as sophisticated consumers of aristocratic culture (see Nolan, John Lydgate, pp. 101–03). We cannot say whether or not the mercers and Mayor Estfeld grasped all of that cultural material, but Shirley seems to have assumed that readers in the Beauchamp household would need help and supplied extensive glosses to explain Lydgate’s references.

The Mumming for the Mercers survives in Trinity R.3.20 (1450–75), pp. 171–75, as well as in Stow’s copy of it, Additional MS 29729. Trinity R.3.20 is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:695–98), collated with Additional 29729.

running titles: Desgysing made to Estfelde thane / mayre of London made by Lidgate / desgysinge to the mayre.

headnote See McLaren (London Chronicles, pp. 57–58), for the use of the term ryallych in London chronicles to emphasize majesty and to appropriate royal privilege. Clopper notes that the sudden appearance of the pursuivant at the feast “recalls the romance conventions of other courtly revels” and that the journey is through “an allegorical romance landscape” (Drama, Play, and Game, p. 161).

1 Latin marginalia: Iubiter i. omnia iubens. [Jupiter is the ruler of everything.] Jupiter was the supreme deity in Roman mythology.

3 Latin marginalia: Phebus i. sol. [Phebus is the sun.]

5 Marginalia: Eufrates is oon of the foure floodes of Paradys. Here and in lines 43–49 Lydgate introduces biblical topography into a landscape of classical mythology and European poetry; Nolan suggests that the “biblical geography [serves] as a kind of gateway to Europe” (John Lydgate, p. 104), although the Christian references seem overwhelmed by the other geographies (see Sponsler, “Alien Nation”).

8 Marginalia: Mars is god of batayle.
8–14 Lydgate’s sources for the description of Parnassus were Virgil and Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae; see Norton-Smith, John Lydgate: Poems, p. 126.

10 Marginalia: Venus is called the goddesse of love. She is called Cytherea after Cytheron, the hill wher she is worshiped.

12 Marginalia: Perseus is a knight which that rood upon an hors that was called Pegase.

15 Marginalia: The nyen Muses dwelle bysyde Ellycon, the welle; wheeche beon the nyen sustres of Musyk and of Eloquences and Calyope is oone of hem. Shirley’s gloss makes the same mistake as Chaucer (House of Fame, line 522) and other medieval zwriters in identifying Helicon as a well; see Norton-Smith, John Lydgate: Poems, p. 126. Helicon was actually one of the ridges of Parnassus. Nolan claims that Lydgate’s is a literary, rather than a “real,” geography, and his interest is in linking the landscape with the origins of poetry (John Lydgate, pp. 101–02).

22 Marginal gloss: Bacus is cleped god of wyne and Thagus is a ryver of which the gravelles and the sandes beon of golde. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses (11.84 ff.), Bacchus gave Midas the golden touch, and it was removed by the river Thagus.

27 While it is tempting to imagine that use of the first-person pronoun in this line hints that Lydgate himself may have read the verses aloud, as Schirmer suggested (John Lydgate, p. 108), there is no other evidence to support that assumption; see the notes to lines 43 and 96 for the pursuivant’s role.

29 Marginalia: Tulius a poete and a rethorisyen of Rome.
29–35 Lerer views the lists of “poets laureate” as examples of Lydgate’s tendency to construct historical space between great writers of old and his own age (Chaucer and His Readers, p. 36). Nolan argues that the omission of Chaucer from this list stresses an unmediated relation to a European poetic tradition and Lydgate’s “own centrality to the didactic project of the text and performance” (John Lydgate, p. 103).

30 Marginalia: Macrobye an olde philosofre.

31 Marginalia: Ovyde and Virgilius were olde poetes, that oon of Rome, that other of Naples afore the tyme of Cryst.

32 Marginalia: Fraunces Petrark was a poete of Florence. So were Bochas and Dante withinne this hundrethe yeere; and they were called laureate for they were coroned with laurer in token that they excelled other in poetrye.

34–35 aureate. Lydgate’s coinage, probably from the late Latin aureatus, to refer to eloquence. Here Lydgate associates the spoken sound of eloquent language with botanical “baum” (i.e., “fragrance”); see the discussion of Lydgate’s aureate diction in Norton-Smith, John Lydgate: Poems, pp. 192–95. Lerer notes that “laureate” and “aureate” tend in Lydgate’s poetry to rely on sound rather than sense for their force and to serve as general terms of praise, often being used, as here, in rhyming pairs, devoid of specific meaning (Chaucer and His Readers, p. 45).

39 Marginalia: Poetes feynen that the gret god Jupiter came doune from heven for to ravisshe a kynges doughter cleped Europa, after whame alle the cuntreys of Europ berethe the name.

43–49 See note to line 5. The reference to Jupiter’s pursuivant in line 43 (and again in line 96) perhaps suggests that the pursuivant was a participant in the mumming and that someone else read the verses aloud.

46 valeye of the Drye Tree. Latin marginalia: In baculo isto transivi Jordanem istum [On his staff he passed over the Jordan].

51 Marginalia: Phebus in Aquario is als miche to seyne as thanne the sonne is in that signe.

55 Marginalia: Cyrsees is a goddesse of the see, which turnethe men into liknesse of bestis, and nymphes ben goddesses of smale ryvers.

62–63 Grande travayle . . . Nulle avayle. [Much labor, no result.] The mottoes or “reasons” on the ships echo the practice of providing “scriptures” on pageants or subtilties to explain their meaning. Wickham thinks that the lines describing the ships refer to three pageant ships in which the mercers, disguised as Orientals, enter the hall (Early English Stages, 1:201–02), but Kipling (“Poet as Deviser,” pp. 94–95) doubts that ships were there, since Lydgate doesn’t use the rhetorical “Loo here . . . that yee may see” strategy that he uses elsewhere for introducing characters. While it is unclear whether or not ships were depicted in the mumming, other entertainments in halls used such devices (compare Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale: “For ofte at feestes have I wel herd seye / That tregetours withinne an halle large / Haue maad come in a water and a barge / And in the halle rowen up and doun” [CT V[F]1142–45]).

71 sakk. A geographical formation thought to be in the shape of a sack; see MED, sak, n. 3(b). The Isle of Portland lies in the English Channel just south of Weymouth and was an important harbor in Lydgate’s day.

72 The French town of Calais, located at the narrowest part of the Channel, was for English merchants an important gateway to the Continent, especially for trade in such staples as tin, lead, cloth, and wool. It was assigned to English rule in 1360 by the Treaty of Brétigny and remained an outpost of England until the middle of the sixteenth century.

73 The Godwin (Goodwin) Sands, a series of sand banks in the English Channel near Dover, were the frequent site of shipwrecks.

76 Although he is not mentioned in any classical texts and is presumably not a historical figure, according to legend Brutus of Troy, a descendant of Aeneas, was known in medieval England as founder and first king of Britain; see Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.

87 Marginalia: Neptunus is also a goddesse of the see.

90–91 grande peyne . . . grande gayne. [Great effort, great gain.]

101 A reference to the mercers.

102–05 The phrasing implies that the mercers/mummers have come to visit the mayor and deferentially hope that they will be admitted.


ABBREVIATIONS: A: Additional 29729 (Stow’s copy of R.3.20); M: MacCracken’s 1934 edition; T: Trinity R.3.20, copy text for all of the disguisings and mummings except Bishopswood, and for Bycorne and Chychevache, the Procession of Corpus Christi, and Of the Sodein Fall of Princes.

headnote And now. A reads Here; not noted by M. A has marginalia as in T, but Stow also notes that William Estfeld was mayor in 1430 and 1478.
Daun Iohan. A reads daun John Lydgat.
. M reads poursuyaunt.

4 swyft. A reads swyfte.

6 coosteying. A reads costynge.

42 Europe. A reads erope.

67 currant. T reads curraat.

71 thilk sakk. A reads that lakk.

88 til. A reads to; not noted by M.

91 And. T and A lack nd; added by M.
  [And now filowethe a lettre made in wyse of balade by Daun Iohan, brought by a poursuyvaunt (messenger) in wyse of (in the style of) mommers desguysed to fore the Mayre of London, Eestfeld, upon the twelfethe night of Cristmasse, ordeyned ryallych by the worthy merciers, citeseyns of London. (see note); (t-note)





















Moost mighty Lord, Jubyter the Greet,
Whos mansyoun is over the sonnes beem,
Frome thens that Phebus with his fervent heet
Reflectethe his light upon the swyft streeme
Of Ewfratees towardes Jerusalem,
Doune coosteying, as bookys maken mynde,
By Lubyes landes, thorughe Ethyope and Ynde;

Conveyed doune, where Mars in Cyrrea
Hathe bylt his paleys upon the sondes rede,
And she, Venus, called Cytherrea,
On Parnaso, with Pallas ful of drede;
And Parseus with his furyous steede
Smote on the roche where the Muses dwelle,
Til ther sprange up al sodeynly a welle,

Called the welle of Calyope,
Mooste auctorysed amonges thees Cyryens;
Of which the poetes that dwelle in that cuntree.
And other famous rethorycyens,
And they that cleped beon musycyens,
Ar wont to drynk of that hoolsome welle,
Which that alle other in vertu doothe excelle;

Where Bachus dwellethe besydes the ryver
Of ryche Thagus, the gravellys alle of gold,
Which gyvethe a light agens the sonne cleer,
So fresshe, so sheene, that hit may not beo tolde;
Where Bellona hathe bylt a stately hoolde,
In al this worlde, I trowe, ther is noon lyche,
Of harde magnetis and dyamandes ryche:

And of that welle drank some tyme Tulius
And Macrobye, ful famous of prudence;
Ovyde also, and eeke Virgilius,
And Fraunceys Petrark, myrour of eloquence;
Johan Bocas also, flouring in sapyence.
Thoroughe that sugred bawme aureate
They called weren poetes laureate.

Oute of Surrye, by many straunge stronde,
This Jubiter hathe his lettres sent,
Thoroughe oute Europe, where he did lande,
And frome the heven came doune of entent,
To ravisshe shortly in sentement
Fayre Europe, mooste renommed of fame,
After whame yit al Europe berethe the name.

And thorughe Egypte his poursuyant is comme,
Doune descendid by the Rede See,
And hathe also his right wey ynomme
Thoroughe valeye of the Drye Tree
By Flomme Jordan, coosteying the cuntree,
Where Jacob passed whylome with his staff,
Taking his shippe, to seylen at poort Jaff.

And so forthe downe his journey can devyse,
In Aquarye whane Phebus shoon ful sheene,
Forthe by passing the gret gulf of Venyse;
And sayled forthe soo al the ryver of Geene;
In which see regnethe the mighty qweene,
Called Cyrses, goddesse of waters salte,
Where nymphes syng, hir honnour to exalte.

And ther he saughe, as he gan approche,
Withinne a boote a fissher drawe his nette
On the right syde of a crystal rooche;
Fisshe was ther noon, for the draught was lette.1
And on th’oon syde ther were lettres sette
That sayde in Frenshe this raysoun: Grande travayle;
This aunswere nexst in ordre: Nulle avayle.

Thanne seyling forthe bysyde many a rokk,
He gane ful fast for to haaste him doune
Thoroughe the daunger and streytes of Marrokk,
Passing the parayllous currant of Arragoun;
So foorthe by Spaygne goyng envyroun,
Thorougheout the Raas and rokkes of Bretaygne,
The Brettyssshe See til that he did atteyne

Thoroughe thilk sakk, called of Poortland;
And towardes Caleys holding his passage,
Left Godwyn sandes, by grace of Goddes hand —
Havyng his wynde to his avauntage,
The weder cleer, the stormes left hir raage —
Entryng the see of Brutes Albyon,
Nowe called Themse thoroughe al this regyon.

And in a feeld, that droughe in to the eest,
Besyde an ylande, he saughe a shippe unlade
Which hade sayled ful fer towarde the West;

The caban peynted with floures fresshe and glaade,
And lettres Frenshe, that feynt nyl ne faade:
Taunt haut e bas que homme soyt,
Touz ioures regracyer dieux doyt.2

And in a boote on that other syde
Another fissher droughe his nette also,
Ful of gret fisshe (Neptunus was his guyde),
With so gret plentee, he nyst what til do.
And ther were lettres enbrouded not fer froo,
Ful fresshly wryten this worde: grande peyne;
And cloos acording with this resoun: grande gayne.3

The noble yllande, where he saughe this sight,
Gaf unto him a demonstracion,
Taught him also by the poolys light,
He was not fer frome Londones towne.
And with a floode the pursuyaunt came downe,
Left the water, and at Thems stronde,
With owte aboode, in haaste he came to lande,

Where certayne vesselles nowe by the anker ryde.
Hem to refresshe and to taken ayr,
Certein estates, wheche purveye and provyde
For to vysyte and seen the noble Mayr
Of this cytee and maken theyre repayr
To his presence, or that they firther flitte,
Under supporte, that he wol hem admytte.
Jupiter the Great; (see note)
sun’s beam
thence; heat; (see note)
the Euphrates River; (see note)
Passing along the border; remind; (t-note)
Libya’s; India

(see note)
(see note)

(see note)
Struck; rock

(see note)
who are called

(see note)

(see note)
lodestones and diamonds

(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
mirror; (see note)
flourishing in wisdom
sweet aureate balm; (see note)

Syria; exotic shores

(see note)
in short
whom still; (t-note)

messenger; (see note)

made his way
(see note)
River Jordan

(see note)

(see note)


this reason: Great effort; (see note)
Nothing avails


straits of Gibraltar
perilous; Aragon (i.e., Spain); (t-note)
Spain; around
English Channel

Portland; (see note); (t-note)
Calais; (see note)
(see note)

(see note)
Thames [River]

that lay towards
island; unloaded

did not dim or fade

(see note)
did not know what to do; (t-note)
embroidered nearby
great pain; (see note)


the pole’s (i.e., lodestar’s) light

Thames’ shore

To refresh themselves
(see note)
visit; (see note)
make their way
before they go further
With his permission; will admit them


Go To Of the Sodein Fal of Princes in Oure Dayes