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Short Stories

There is always some difficulty about ‘short stories’ and how to define them, except simply by length. Dean’s category includes Lais, Fables, Fabliaux, and Dits; from the sublime through the ridiculous to the comparatively ordinary. There are a number of short stories in this book, that are not in this chapter: notably the folk-tale in Protheselaus (Romance), the miracle of Saint Mellit (Hagiography), and the animal story in Bozon’s Conte (Homiletic). The adventure story in the Appendix is a fine example of the kind of tale that is handed down orally (it would have been enjoyed and no doubt capped in local pubs): it was not written down until this century. Gray’s Simple Forms contains much useful commentary on short forms, although naturally he concentrates on what may be termed popular culture. The present chapter bridges a generic gap between romance on one side and satire (in the next chapter) on the other.

Tristan Rossignol1

Here is another Tristan story, included because the poem in which it appears is published as a Plain Text (PTS 17) without glossary. Like the Folie, too, it is edited and translated in Tristan et Yseut, ed. Marchello-Nizia et al. but, as previously noted, this useful volume is not very convenient to read and handle.2 The episode is unknown elsewhere among Tristan stories, and pairs conveniently with the Folie above (crossing Dean’s sections, from Romance into Fable and the like).3 The passage is reproduced in full, including the digression upon the evils of jealousy.4 It would be tempting to expand the theme of birdsong by adding the Lai of Laüstic (which is about a nightingale), but this is already very well known and much anthologized; instead, I offer a passage from the devotional piece Rossignos (entitled The Nightingale) elsewhere in this volume.

Garden scenes are of the greatest importance in medieval literature. Such settings often preface lyrics, romances, and dream-visions. A garden is a liminal space in which meetings and other key narrative events take place, between the enclosed space of the house and the sometimes dangerous spaces of open country or forest. In the Middle Ages, the interior of houses cannot always have been very comfortable, even for rich people: they were dark with inadequate windows, smelly unless over-ventilated and thus cold, furnished (except for the richest) with hard chairs and benches. In the rare moments of a beautiful English or northern French summer, the sounds and scents of a garden must have been enchanting, and soft grass provided somewhere delicious to sit or recline. Here, the scene is a garden where a lover is asking his lady to prove her love for him, invoking heroines of romance (Dido, Ydoine, Helen, and Ysolt);5 Tristan is discovered in the same garden (as in the previous story), outside Ysolt’s chamber as before.

The text below is taken from the ANTS edition, and I have consulted the other edition for comparison and notes. The story is part of a conversation, but I have removed opening and closing quotation marks so as not to interfere with speeches within the story; I retain only those necessary for the lady’s remarks at the end.


[20a] Oi, bele, poi vus sovent

E relement en memorie tent

Quele chose Ysoud fit pur Tristrant,

456Quant ne l’aveit veu d’un an,

E il repeira de Bretaine

Sanz compaignun e sanz compaigne.

Entur la nuit, en un gardin,

460A une funtaine suz un pin,

Suz l’arbre Tristan seeit

E aventures i atendeit.

Humaine language deguisa,

464Cum cil que l’aprist de peça:

Il cuntrefit le russinol,

La papingai, le oriol

E les oiseals de la gaudine.

468Ysoude escote, la reine,

Ou gisout juste le rei Mark,

Mes ele ne sout de quele part;

De cele voiz ne sout en fin

472Si fu el parc ou el gardin,


Ah, my lovely, you are too forgetful; you hardly seem to remember the things Ysolt did for Tristan. She had not seen him for a year, and he came back from Brittany with no companion, either man or lady. About night-time, in a garden by the fountain under a pine tree, Tristan sat under the tree and waited to see what would happen.6 He disguised his human voice, something he had long ago learned to do, and imitated the nightingale. He imitated the parrot, the oriole, and all the birds in the garden.

Ysolt the queen heard him, as she lay beside King Mark. But she couldn’t tell which direction this voice was coming from, whether it was in the park or in the garden.


Mes par cel chant ben entendi

Ke pres d’eluec ot sun ami.

De grant engin esteit Tristrans:

476Apris l’aveit en tendres anz,

Chascun oisel sout contrefere

Ki en forest vent ou repeire.

Tristrans feseit tel melodie [20b]

480Od grant dousur, ben loinz oie,

N’est quer enteimes de murdrisur

Ke de cel chant n’eust tendrur.

Ore est Ysoud en grant anguise

484E pru n’entent que fere pusse,

Kar leinz sunt .x. chevalers

Ki unc ne servent d’autre mesters

Fors de guaiter la bele Ysoud;

488N’istrat pas fors quant ele volt.

Defors oit sun ami cher,

Cil sunt dedenz pur lui guaiter,

E li fel neims que mult plus doute

492Ke trestut ceus de l’autre rute.


But by the sound of the song she knew very well that her lover was near.7 Tristan was very clever, and had learned at a tender age to counterfeit every bird that comes into the forest or lives in it. Tristan made such melody, very sweetly, and carrying far; no heart, not even that of a murderer, could hear this song without feeling tenderness.

Now Ysolt is in great distress, really not knowing what she can do. For in here there are ten knights who have no other task than to guard beautiful Ysolt. She can’t go out when she wants to! Outside she can hear her beloved friend, but these men are inside to guard her. And so is the horrible dwarf, whom she fears more than all the others.8


Entre ses bras le rei la tent,

Tristran dehors e chante e gient

Cum russinol que prent congé

496En fin d’esté, od grant pité.

Ysoud en ad dolur e ire,

Plure des oilz, del quer suspire

E si ad dit mult belement,

500Tut suspirant, sanz overir dent:

‘Ja nen ai jo fors une vie,

Mes cele est dreit par mi partie:

L’autre part ai, e Tristran l’une;

504Nostre vie est dreit’ commune.

Mes cele part ki est la fors

Ai plus chere que le men cors;

Poi preisereie ceste de ça

508Si cele part perist de la.

Jo ai si le cors, il ad le quer,

Perir nel lerrai a nul fuer.


The king was holding her in his arms, and outside Tristan sang and sobbed like the nightingale when it takes its leave, piteously, at summer’s end. Ysolt was miserable and angry, her eyes weeping and her heart sighing. Then she said very quietly, in a breath between her teeth, ‘I have only one life! But it is torn exactly in half! I’ve got the other half, but Tristan has the one half, so our life is exactly shared! But that half out there is dearer to me than my own body; if that one died there I would hardly care about this one. I’ve got the body, but he’s got the heart. I won’t let him die, not for anything!


La vois jo, quei que m’en avenge,

512Ki que fole ou sage me tenge,

Reseive jo ou mort ou pleie.

Or seit tut en la Deu maneie!’

Mult belement des braz le rei

516Se deslaça tut en cecrei;

Tote nue fors sa chemise

Del lit le rei Ysoud s’est mise. [20c]

En un mantel forré de gris

520Alee se est, covert le vis,

E par les chevalers trespasce

Dunt ad leinz une grande masse.

E si les trova tuz endormiz,

524Asquans en l’eire, asquanz en liz,

Cum aventure adunc esteit,

Ke mult belement aveneit,

Kar il esteient custumer

528Tut autrement la nuit veiller:

Quant cinc reposent en dormant,

Li autre cinc furent veillant,


I’m going out there, whatever happens to me, whether I’ll be treated as mad or sane, even if I’m wounded or killed! Let it be in the hands of God!’9

Adroitly and secretly she unwound herself from within the arms of the king. All naked except for her chemise, Ysolt slipped from the king’s bed. In her fur-lined cloak, out she went with her face hidden, and passed through the mass of knights who were there. She found them all asleep, some just where they were and some in bed. It was a stroke of luck it happened thus, for usually they kept watch in quite a different way: when five of them rested in sleep, the other five stayed awake.


Asquans as us, asquans ad fenestres

532Pur despier defors les estres

Dunt il furent mult curius,

Kar dure vie unt li gelus.

Ire, tençun ont chescun jor,

536La nuit suspeciun e por.

Tresben veium que lui dolent

Turmenté sunt assez greffment.

Si tel dolur, pur verité,

540Suffrirent cil pur l’amur Dé,

Gelus que unt lor quer frarin

Serreient dunc martir en fin.

Ki me demande de ço non

544E si en vult oir raisun,

Purquei seit cil nomee gelus

Ke pur sa femme est envius

E si la guarde estreitement

548De home estrange e de parent,


Some at the doors, some at the windows, they spied on who was going around outside, and they were very curious to know about them. For the life of a jealous man is a miserable one.

These men suffer anger and quarrels by day, and at night they suffer suspicion and fear. We can see clearly that these wretches undergo terrible torments. Such torments, really, that if these miserable-hearted men suffered them for the love of God they would be counted among the martyrs!

If you want to know about the name of this thing, and an explanation of it — why the man who is so avaricious about his wife, and guards her closely from strangers and even family,


La dreite reisun si orrez

Purquei gelus est apellez:

Gelus est nomee de gelee

552Ke l’ewe moille tent fermee.

Ben aparceit k’i met sa cure

Qu’ele est gelee en sa nature.

Tost pora sa nature entendre

556Ke alques velt de garde prendre:

Gelé est freide e si est dure

E mult estreit’ a demesure. [20d]

Ewe corante si ferm lie

560Ke ne se put remuer mie,

Coure de li ne departir

Plus ke dame de chambre issir

Ke gelus tent en sa baillie

564E garde en prent par gelusie.

Gelee terre mole endure,

Cum cailloy eschet e dure,

E tant l’estreint par sun geler

568Ke buef ne la put reverser;

Dure e freide est asprement.


is called jealous — then you shall hear the true reason why it is called Jealousy. Jealous is named from ‘gel’, or frost, that grips liquid water so fiercely.10 You can see why if you pay attention, that it is frozen by nature. You can easily understand its nature, if you take the trouble to look at it. Frost is frigid, and also hard; it has an incredible grip. It binds running water so firmly it can’t move at all, it can’t flow away or escape, any more than the lady can escape the room where her jealous husband holds her in his power and has her guarded so jealously. Frost hardens soft earth, making it ruinous and hard as a stone. It holds the earth so stiff that no ox can turn it [with a plough]. It is painfully hard and cold,


E li geluz est ensement:

Par sa feme est refreidiz,

572Durs est a granz e a petiz,

A sa femme nomeement,

Kar il la guaite estreitement.

Enteins que lui fait un reguard,

576Le gelus tut se deive e art;

Ne put fere a sa feme ren

Ne il ne suffre que autre i ait ben,

Joie ne ben ne nul deduit,

580Estreit la garde e jor e nuit

E mult espie sun afaire,

Trop li est durs e de mal eire.

Pur ço qu’il est durs e freiz

584E tent sa feme en grant destreiz,

En fermine la garde e prent,

Cum gellee l’ewe tent,

Par tel reisun tut a estrus

588De gellé est nomé gelus.


just like the jealous man. He is cold because of his wife; he is harsh to everybody great and small, especially to his wife, for he guards her tightly. If she even looks at him, he goes mad and burns with fury. He’s no use to her, but he can’t bear anybody else to have anything to do with her; no joy, no good, no pleasure. He guards her jealously day and night, and spies on everything she does. He is terribly harsh and bad-tempered with her. Because he is hard and cold, and holds his wife in such misery, he holds and keeps her locked up in a fortress, as frost holds water. This is certainly why, because of the frost, the jealous man is called jealous.


Ma dame Ysoud fu ensement

Guaité mult estreitement,

Mes cele nuit, quant fu levé,

592Par mi les guaiturs est alee.

Belement vint ci que a l’us,

E quant la barre trait sus,

Li anelez un poi sona,

596E li culvers neim s’eveilla.

Esgarde de totes parz

Cum fel culvert de males ars. [21a]

A ço que Ysoud le us deferma,

600Li neims s’escrie: ‘E ki est la?’

La reine s’en ist tut bel,

E cil saut sus cum arundel

E s’afuble de sun mantelet,

604Corant aprés Ysoud se met.

Par cel braz destre le saka:

‘Avoi! dame,’ fet il, ‘esta!

A quel ure de chambre issez?

608Mar i portastes unc les pez,

E, par mun chef, ne poi ne grant

De leuté ne voi semblant.’


My lady Ysolt was like this, guarded just as closely. But that night, when she got up, she went right past the watchers! She had got safely as far as the door, but when she lifted the bar the ring chimed, just a little. The horrible dwarf woke up! He looked all around, beastly artful creature that he was! As Ysolt undid the door, the dwarf yelled ‘Halloo! Who’s there?’

Ysolt managed to get out, and he darted forward like a swallow. Flinging on his cloak, he began to run after Ysolt. He grabbed her right arm.

‘Oho, my lady!’ he cried, ‘Stop right there! What time do you call this, to be coming out of your room? Curse your footsteps, wherever you’re going! I’ll swear by my own head I can see no shred of loyalty in what you’re doing!’


Ysoud en ad al quer irrur,

612La palme leve par vigur

E pus tele buffe a le neim dona

Ke quatre denz li eslocha,

E si dit od murne chere:

616‘Soudé aiez de chamberere!’

Li naim trebuche sur un banc,

La gule aveit plein’ de sanc;

Gust le crapouz e crie en halt,

620Il chet e leve e pus tressaut.

Tel noise e brai e cri leva

Ke li rei Mark s’en esveilla,

Si demande quel noisse i ait.

624‘Sire,’ fait il, ‘malement vait:

La reine m’ad si tué

E de son poin tut endenté

Ke ele issi tut a larun,

628Sanz compaignie ou compaignon.

Tantost cum jo la vi issir,

Si la voleie jo tenir;

Del poin me feri a tel ire

632Ke quatre denz me sunt a dire.’


Ysolt was mad with fury. She raised her hand forcefully, and struck the dwarf such a buffet that four of his teeth were knocked out. She growled ‘That’s the punishment for a chambermaid!’

The dwarf sank down on a bench, his mouth full of blood. As the filthy toad tasted it he screamed aloud.11 He fainted, and rose, and then jumped up. He made so much noise and cry, and raised such a racket, that King Mark woke up asking what the fuss was all about. ‘Sire,’ he said, ‘all is not well! The queen has injured me so badly, and has knocked my teeth out, because she was creeping about like a thief all on her own without a soul for company. As I saw her going out, I went to catch hold of her. She bashed me so furiously with her fist that I’m now four teeth short!’


Li reis respunt e si li dit:

‘Tais tei, wicard, que Deu te ait!

Quant dame Ysoud est si hardie,

636Ben sai n’ad ren de folie.

Tu as que fous vers li mespris;

Tristran n’est pas en cest pais; [21b]

Cele en est mult plus iré

640Quant tu a tort l’as chalengé.

Les la dame, s’ele ad mester,

Par cel gardin esbaneier!

Ceo peise mei ke plusurs feiz

644Trop l’avum tenu’ en destreiz.’

Ysoud surrist e vet avant,

Le chef coverte e enveisant,

E vet tut dreit a sun ami.

648Tristran saut tost encuntre lui,

Entrelacent mult ferm les braz,

Cum il fussent cosu de laz.


The king replied, saying ‘God help you, knave, shut up! If Lady Ysolt is so bold [as to hit you] I am quite sure she is not doing anything stupid. It’s stupid of you to be so suspicious. Tristan is not in the country. No wonder she was angry that you were accusing her falsely! Leave her be, if the lady wants to enjoy being in this garden! I feel bad that we have several times been too strict about keeping her in.’12

Ysolt smiles, and goes forth happily, with her head covered. She goes straight to her lover. Tristan jumps forward to meet her, and they wind their arms round each other so closely it looks as if they are bound together with laces.


Beissent estreit e entre’acolent,13

652Ovrent assez e poi parolent;

Meinent lur joie e lur deduit

Mut grant pece de cele nuit,

Meinent lor joie e lur amurs

656Malgré le neim e les guaiturs.

Ysoud mustra ben par cel fait,

Ke deit a essemple estre treit,

K’amie n’est fine ne pure

660Ke ne se met en aventure

E en perilus hardement

Si ele aime del tut lealment.

Sertes, amis, veir avez dit;

664Ore m’escutez un petit.


They kissed closely, and embraced each other. They hardly spoke, but there was much to do. They enjoyed their pleasure joyfully for much of that night; they enjoyed their love joyfully in spite of the dwarf and the guardians. Ysolt fully demonstrated, by her actions, that she must be taken as an example: no lover is so fine and so pure if she won’t put herself at risk, or bravely into danger, if she loves fully and faithfully.14

‘Certainly, my friend, you’ve spoken the truth. Now listen to me for a while.


Ysoud fit ben qui tant ama

Tristran, qui tant ne fausa.

Tristran pur li fit grant atie,

668Plus que ore freit pur s’amie:

Rere se fit, dreit cum fol,

Barbe, gernuns, chef e col,

E bricun se feseit clamer,

672Ewe de bro sur sei geter;

Apertement dunt il mustra

Ke pas en gaberes nen ama.

Vostre semblant pus ben noter,

676Le quer dedenz nent aviser.

Meinte fez quer e semblant

En dous veies vunt descordant, [21c]

Kar li alquant gettent suspir,

680Dolent, pleinent cum al morir,

Vunt sovent amunt e aval,

E al quer n’unt point de mal,

Kar il nen eiment fors a gas.’


Ysolt did well, who loved Tristan so much; he had never betrayed her. Tristan went to great trouble for her; more than any man would now do for his love. He had himself shaved just like a fool, beard and whiskers, head and neck, and made himself out to be an utter loony. He allowed kitchen-slops to be thrown over him.15 So he demonstrated that he was not fooling as a lover. It’s quite easy to see what your expression says, but it’s harder to see what’s in your heart, and the two things can be very different. There are some men who heave out sighs, moaning, complaining as if on the point of death, wandering up and down. But their heart is not suffering in the least, for their love is nothing but foolery.’16

Two Fabliaux

No anthology would be complete without one or more of these naughty stories.17 Much has been written about their genre, and who their audience might have been (the edition gives a brief and useful outline in the introduction); it is clear they were popular.18 It is now generally accepted that fabliaux do not represent a genre especially enjoyed by the lower (or emerging bourgeois) classses, in contrast with the upper classes who enjoyed romances: any reader might enjoy either or both, as is more or less the case today. Fabliaux may have been copied and retold as moral or cautionary tales, as here, or just for fun (or both). The moral of these two stories would be: Beware of Women’s Deceitfulness! The pious and even affectionate husband is fooled; the lover gets away with it, but he plays a rather passive role. In both these stories, the trickster is the wife’s mother: the wife seems to have no ideas of her own. It is interesting that Dean has contrived to catalogue these as both Fabliaux and Proverbs.19 They fit this book, insofar as they fit at all, after the Tristan stories (which have characteristics of the ‘lai’, and are also full of a woman’s cleverness in deceiving her husband). Together with the humorous Dit, below, they make a link into the next section which begins with the irreverent and anti-heroic work of André de Coutances; they would be more out of place if I inserted them immediately after the (apparently) serious Apprise de Nurture. There is not room, in a single volume, to present any more of the stories collected in Dean’s fourth section.

The two I have chosen are pp. 10–11 in Short and Pearcy; both are edited from MS. Oxford Bodleian Digby 86.20


De l’engin de femme: del velous21

[83a] Uns hom — dist il — out en corage

Que aler vout en pelrenage:

Aler vout requere seint Pere.

4Sa femme baila a sa mere

Que la gardast e enseingnast

Quë entretaunt ne folëast.

La femme un sen amy avoit

8A qui deduire se soiloit; [83b]

Mander le sout privëement,

Manger e beivere od ly sovent.

La mere ben le consentoit

12E od eus mangoit e bevoit.

Cum assemblerent en un jour,

Eistes vus a l’us le sengniur!

Hurta a l’us e apela

16E seus dedens mout efrëa.

Primes mucerent le lecheour

Pus overerent au seignour.

Ly sires estoit mout lasé

20Car mout avoit le jour erré;


Pulling the Wool Over his Eyes

He told us about a man who decided that he wanted to go on a pilgrimage, to visit Saint Peter.22 He entrusted his wife to her mother, to look after her and to make sure she didn’t get up to anything foolish while he was away. The wife had a friend of her own, with whom she liked to enjoy herself. She would often send for him on the quiet, to come and eat and drink with her. The mother was quite happy about this, and would eat and drink with them.

As they were together one day, suddenly here was the husband on the threshold! He banged on the door, calling out, frightening those indoors like anything! First, they had to hide the lecher. Then they opened to the husband. His lordship was very tired, having been travelling all day.


Son lit comanda apariler

Car talent out de reposer.

La dame fu tot esbaïe

24Que consiler ne se sout mie;

E la mere se purpensa

Cumfaitement le enginera;

Sa file apele si li dist,

28Quant si esbaïe la vist:

‘Pur le amour Deu le glorïous,

Ou est devenu le velous

Que tu feïs apariler?

32Moustrez lui, einz qu’il aut cocher!

Ja deïs tu qu’il le verroit

Sitost cum a mesoun vendroit.’

La viele corust aporter

36Le velous cum pur lui monstrer:

L’une dé corneres leva

E le autre a sa file baila.

Taunt le ount par devaunt lui tendu

40Que li lecheres est issu.


So he ordered his bed to be made, as he was longing to rest. The lady was worried to distraction, not knowing what on earth to do. But the mother had an idea how the man could be tricked. She called her daughter, seeing what a state she was in, saying ‘For the love of God in Glory, what’s become of that coverlet you were working on? Show him, before he goes to bed! You said he was to see it just as soon as he came home!’

The old woman ran to fetch the coverlet, as if to show it to him. She lifted up one of the corners, passing another to her daughter. They managed to stretch it out in front of his eyes so that the lecher was able to escape!


De l’espee: autre engin de femme23

[83c] De un autre hom oÿ counter

Que en oresons voloit aler,

E sa mulier, qu’il out mout chere,

4Baila en la garde sa mere.

Icete un juvencel ama

E a sa mere le moustra.

La mere pas ne li vëa,

8Mais bonement li ottrïa.

Un jour le juvencel manderent

E un beu digner apresterent:

Deduient soi privëement;

12Od bon vin cler e o piment;

E autre esbaignement i out:

Cil qui en parti ben le sout!

Atant vint a l’us le seignur,

16Hurta a l’us; cil ount pöour:

Trestout lor esbanniement

Est ja torné a marement!


Another example of Women’s Trickery

I heard the story of another man, who wanted to go away to pray.24 His wife, whom he held very dear, he left in the care of her mother. This wife was in love with a young man, and introduced him to her mother. Mother didn’t forbid it in the least, but graciously gave her permission. One day they invited the young man, and prepared a splendid dinner; they had a lovely time just the three of them, with wines both clear and spicy. There were other enjoyments, too — if you were of the party, you’d know!

Suddenly the husband comes to the door, and knocks at it — they are terrified. All their fun has turned into trouble!


N’i out liu ou celui botasent,

20Ou si en haste le mussasent.

La viele pas ne se obblïa:

Derere l’us le valet mussa.

Baila lui une nuwe espee.

24La veile n’ert pas esgarree,

Einz dist li qu’il mot ne sonast

Si li sires l’areisonast,

Mes qu’il feït itel semblant [83d]

28Cum c’il ëust pöour mout grant.

Pus ala l’us defermer

E lessa soen seignur entrer.

Sitost cum entra le seignur,

32Regarda, vist le lechëour;

Demanda li: ‘Ki est ceo la?’

E cil nul mot ne li sona,

Mes estut cum homme esbaÿ.

36Le prodom tout le sen perdy.

Donc dist la veile au seignur:


There was nowhere they could put this man or conceal him quickly. But the old lady kept her nerve, and hid him behind the door. She handed him a naked sword. No, the old dear hadn’t lost her wits. She told him not to breathe a word if the husband spoke to him, but to make believe by his look that he was in great fear. Then she went to unlock the door and let his lordship in. As soon as the husband got inside, he looked and saw the lecher! He asked him:

‘Who is this here?’ and he answered him not a word, just stood there as if paralyzed with fright. The good man was baffled.

The old lady said to the husband:


‘Sire, merci pur Deu amour!

Deus hommes vindrent hui corant

40E cetu devant eus chasçaunt:

Tout le voileient destrencher.

Nous le lessames cieinz entrer;

Par tant li rendimes la vie,

44Car autrement ne l’ëust mie.

Quant il vus oï a cel us,

Esfrëé fu si saila sus;

Grant pöour out, ceo me est vis,

48Que feusez de ses enemis.’

E le prodom se fist mout lee,

Quida que ele deit verité

E dit: ‘La Dampnedeu merci,

52Que vus le avez de mort garry!’

Pus li dit qu’il venist avant:

Mar ëust pöour tant ne quant.

Ensemble burent e mangerent,

56E annuit aler le lesserent.


‘Sir, be merciful for God’s sake! Two men came tearing along, just today, with this man in front of them — they were chasing him. They wanted to hack him to bits! We let him come in here, and so saved his life. He wouldn’t have one, if it weren’t for us! When he heard you at this door he was scared, so he jumped forward. He was frightened because, I suppose, he thought you were one of his enemies.’

The good man was very pleased, believing she spoke the truth, and said: ‘God be praised, you have saved him from death!’

Then he told him to come out, and not to be fearful any more. They ate and drank together, and when night came they let him go.

Le Roi d’Angleterre et le Jongleur d’Ely

Cy comence le flabel du Jongleur d’Ely et de monseigneur le roy d’Engleterre, lequel jongleur dona conseil au roi pur sei amender e son Estat garder.25

This text is found in and reproduced from ‘Le Roi d’Angleterre et le Jongleur d’Ely’, ed. de Montaiglon and Raynaud (Recueil),26 with reference to [Harley 2253] Facsimile, ed. Ker;27 see Dean number 195.28 Some passages are translated in Bloch, Scandal. Bloch (p. 130) refers to the ‘inscription’ on the MS page, that is clearly not in the facsimile — nor is the equally mysterious preface.

For a discussion of the fabliaux genre, see my introduction to the pair of short anti-feminist tales, above; and Le Jongleur, tr. Noomen (avertissement, and introduction).29 However, this ambiguous story of the King and the Juggler is a different kind of fabliau altogether, being homiletic as well as humorous:30 the Juggler gives advice about life, the universe, and everything in a disconcertingly cock-eyed sort of way.31 Not only is the genre a matter of differing opinions, so also is the audience: to Nolan, the dialogue recalls fourteenth-century upper-class conversation and thus indicates the target audience; to Fein’s team, the intriguing miscellany in which it is contained (Booklet 6 of the MS) suggests an audience of young men, to mention only two possibilities.32 The poem is full of double meanings, mostly deliberate on the Juggler’s part. It will be seen that some can be rendered into English (‘draw’ a cart, or a bow), others need explanation for those who know no French (‘sain’ meaning healthy, or holy), and a number that are more or less incomprehensible except that they are obviously mischievous.

Cobby’s bibliography provides a much fuller list of works, both primary and secondary, than can be included here; Butterfield’s article cites both Ulrich’s edition and Nolan’s article (neither in Cobby’s main list).33 The modern edition, with facing-page translation into English, in [Harley 2253] The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, may not be easy to find.34 I offer my own translation here, based on the faulty but ‘standard’ edition because it is well known and a digitized copy is available (I make reference to other editions, and to the MS itself).

There is no trace, in the MS, of the first twenty lines printed in the edited text. Although they show a correct folio number, editors have copied this preface from elsewhere. It also appears in Michel’s edition cited above; for Palgrave’s, see below. The manuscript shows, and Dean’s incipit confirms, that the text begins where I have begun it. On further investigation, I found that the first edition of 1818, by Palgrave, contains both the title cited by Bloch and the preface interpolated by de Montaiglon and Raynaud — both spurious.35 This first edition contains no apparatus whatsoever, except for a few dagger-marks against certain words (with no note attached). A rare book, the Bodleian copy is one of only twenty-five printed; a note on the flyleaf says Palgrave later destroyed most of them. It was given to Francis Douce the antiquary, by ‘his friends, the Editors’. It thus arrived in the Bodleian along with the rest of Douce’s collection after his death in 1834. Palgrave’s contains no more and no fewer errors than other editions, as far as I can judge from my own readings. Palgrave’s additions are not in the MS, but early editions print them (Bloch prints the title too, likewise without consulting the MS). Nolan points out that the invented heading and preface to Palgrave’s edition are so convincing that subsequent editors copied and even corrected the lines.36 Butterfield refers to a history of rewriting, that began with the ‘Roi and Jongleur’ as a version of La Riote de monde (Dean 195.1) and continued into the nineteenth century (Palgrave’s, and thereafter including Bloch in the twentieth).37

The edition (in the Recueil) gives no line numbers, so I have added them; I have also modernized the punctuation and format slightly to make for easier reading.38 However, I make no attempt to provide a new edition, nor to correct more than very lightly from the MS;39 I consulted the facsimile when readings looked odd or difficult. Other editions show different readings in all sorts of places, some better and some worse than this one; I footnote the most interesting of them. I have translated very freely, hoping to catch the tone without archaizing.40 One or two words remain puzzling,41 but the context allows one to guess.



Seygnours, escotez un petit,

Si orrez un trés bon desduit

De un menestrel que passa la terre

4Pur merveille e aventure quere.

Si vint de sà Londres, en un pree

Encountra le Roy e sa meisnée;

Entour son col porta sun tabour

8Depeynt de or e riche atour.

Le roi demaund par amour:42

‘Ou qy este vus, sire Joglour?’

E il respount sauntz pour:

12‘Sire, je su ou mon seignour.’

‘Quy est toun seignour?’ fet le Roy.

‘Le baroun ma dame, par ma foy.’

‘Quy est ta dame par amour?’

16‘Sire, la femme mon seignour.’

‘Coment estes vus apellee?’

‘Sire, come cely qe m’ad levee.’

‘Cesti qe te leva quel noun aveit?’

20‘Itel come je, sire, tot dreit.’


Hello everybody! Have a listen to this! You’re going to hear a good one, about a minstrel who went wandering through the land in quest of wonders and adventure.

He was coming here from London, and in a meadow he met the king with all his court. He was wearing his drum round his neck, painted with gold and bright colours.

The King asked him politely ‘Who do you belong to, mister Juggler?’ He replied fearlessly ‘I belong to my boss, sir.’

‘Who is your boss,’ asks the King. ‘Well, he’s the husband of my lady.’43 ‘But who is your lady, then?’ ‘She’s the wife of my boss, sir.’

‘What’s your name?’ ‘It’s the same as his, who christened me.’44 ‘So, what’s his name, who christened you? ‘Just exactly the same as mine, of course, sir.’


‘Où vas-tu?’ ‘Je vois de là.’

‘Dont vien tu?’ ‘Je vienk de sà.’

‘Dont estez vus? ditez saunz gyle.’

24‘Sire, je su de nostre vile.’

‘Où est vostre vile, daunz Jogler?’

‘Sire, entour le moster.’

‘Où est le moster, bel amy?’

28‘Sire, en la vile de Ely.’

‘Où est Ely qy siet?’

‘Sire, sur l’ewe estiet.’

‘Quei est le eve apelé, par amours?’

32‘L’em ne l’apele pas, eynz vint tous jours

Volonters par son eyndegré,

Que ja n’estovera estre apelée.’

‘Tot ce savoi je bien avaunt.’

36‘Don qe demandez com enfant?

A quei fere me demaundez

Chose que vus meismes bien savez?’45


‘Where are you going?’ ‘I’m going thataway.’ ‘Where are you coming from?’ ‘From thereabouts.’

‘Where are you from? Tell me straight!’ ‘Sir, I’m from our town.’

‘Where is your town, mister Juggler?’ ‘It sits around the church, sir.’

‘Where is the church, my dear friend?’ ‘It’s in the town of Ely, sir.’46

‘Where is Ely to be found?’ ‘Sir, it sits upon the water.’

‘And how do you call that water, if you please?’

‘You don’t call it, it comes every day quite happily of its own accord; it never needs to be called.’47

‘I already knew all that!’ ‘So why do you keep asking these childish questions, if you already know the answers?’48


‘Si m’aïd Dieus,’ fet le Roy,

40‘Uncore plus vus demaundroy:

Vendras tu ton roncyn à moy?’

‘Sire, plus volenters que ne le dorroy.’

‘Pur combien le vendras tu?’

44‘Pur taunt com il serra vendu.’

‘E pur combien le vendras?’

‘Pur taunt come tu me dorras.’

‘E pur combien le averoi?’

48‘Pur taunt comme je recevroy.’

‘Est il jevene?’ ‘Oïl, assez;

Yl n’avoit unqe la barbe reez.’

‘Vet il bien, par amours?’

52‘Oïl, pis de nuit qe de jours.’

‘Mange il bien, ce savez dire?’

‘Oïl, certes, bel douz sire;

Yl mangereit plus un jour d’aveyne

56Que vus ne frez pas tote la symeyne.’

‘Beit il bien, si Dieu vus gard?’


‘God help us,’ says the King, ‘I want to ask you something else: would you sell me your nag?’

‘Gladly, sir, and more willingly than I would give it to you.’ ‘How much would you sell it me for?’

‘For as much as the sale price.’ ‘And how much would that be?’

‘As much as you’ll give me.’ ‘So how much shall I have it for?’

‘As much as I shall have for it.’

‘Is he young?’ ‘Oh yes, quite young. He’s never shaved off a beard!’

‘Does he go well, I’d like to know?’ ‘Yes, but not so well by night as by day.’49

‘Can you tell me if he eats well?’ ‘Oh yes, certainly, my dear man. He’ll eat more oats in one day than you will eat in a whole week!’

‘Does he drink well, God help you?’


‘Oïl, sire, par seint Leonard;

De ewe à une foiz plus bevera

60Que vus ne frez taunt come la symeyne durra.’

‘Court il bien e isnelement?’’

‘Ce demaundez tot pur nient:

Je ne sai taunt poindre en la rywe

64Qe la teste n’est devaunt la cowe.’

‘Ami, ne siet il point trere?’

‘Je ne vus menterei, a quei feyre?

D’arc ne d’arblastre ne siet il rien;

68Je ne le vi unqe trere puis qu’il fust mien.’

‘Passe il bien le pas?’

‘Oïl, ce n’est mie gas;

Vus ne troverez en nulle route

72Buef ne vache que il doute.’

‘Emble il bien, come vus est avis?’

‘Yl ne fust unqe de larcyn pris;

Tant com ou moi ad esté

76Ne fut mès de larcyn prové.’


‘Yes, sir, by my saints,50 he’ll drink more in one go than you could the whole week long!’

‘Does he run easily and swiftly?’ ‘There’s no point your asking, because I can’t gallop down the road fast enough for his head not to be going in front of his tail.’51

‘My good man, has he been taught to draw?’52 ‘What would be the good of that? I kid you not, he knows nothing of the longbow or the crossbow either. I’ve never seen him draw ever since he’s been mine.’

‘Can he pace well when pacing?’ ‘Oh yes, you won’t find any bull or cow, not on any of the roads, that he needs to fear in that regard. I’m not joking!’53

‘Can he steal along at a soft amble?’54 ‘Well, he’s never been caught stealing all the time he’s been with me, so he’s never been proved a thief.’


‘Amis, si Dieu vus espleit,

Je demaund si il porte dreit.’

Feit le Jogler ‘Si Deu me eyt,

80Qy en son lit coché serreit

Plus suef avereit repos

Qe si yl fust mounté soun dors.’

‘Ces paroles,’ dit le Roy, ‘sunt neynz; [108r]

84Or me dirrez si il est seinz.’

‘Seinz n’est il mie, ce sachez bien;

Car si il fust seinz ne fust pas mien,

Les noirs moynes le m’eussent toleyt

88 Pur mettre en fertre, come s(’)en serreit,55

Auxi come autres seintz cors sunt,

Par tot le universe mount

Pur pardon receyvre e penance fere

92A tote gent de la terre.’

‘Seinte Marie!’ fet le Roy,

‘Comment parles tu a moy?

Je dis sauntz de gales e sorenz

96E d’autres mals e tormentz.’


‘My friend, may God bless you, I want to know whether he is nice to ride.’ The Juggler says ‘May God bless me, whoever is tucked up in his bed will have softer sleep than if they were mounted on his back.’56

‘Your words are rubbish,’ said the King. ‘Now tell me if he is sound.’57 ‘Oh he’s no saint, I can tell you that. If he were holy he wouldn’t be mine. Those black monks would have taken him to put in a box, that would be sensible, just like other holy bodies everywhere, so as to get pardon and do penance, for all the people in the land.’58

‘Oh Saint Mary!’ says the King. ‘How can you talk to me like this? I mean, without galls or sores,59 or any other aches and pains.’


Fet le Jogler al Roy:

‘Yl ne se pleynt unque a moy

De maladie qu’il out en sey,

100Ne à autre myr, par ma fey.’

‘Bels amis, ad il bons piés?’

‘Je ne mangay unque, ce sachez,’

Ensi le Joglour respount;

104‘Pur ce ne say je si bons sunt.’

‘Qe vus est, daun rybaut?

Sunt ils durs, si Dieus vus saut?’

‘Durs sunt il verroiement,

108Come je quide à mon escient;

Yl usereit plus fers un meis

Que je ne feisse mettre en treis.’

‘Est il hardy e fort?’

112‘Oïl, il ne doute point la mort;

S’il fust en grange soulement,

Yl ne dotereit verreiement,

Ne ja n’avereit il poour

116Ne de nuit ne de jour.’

‘Dites moi s’il a lange bone.’


The Juggler says to the King ‘He has never complained to me, of any malady he might have got. Nor has he complained to any other doctor, I can assure you.’

‘My dear chap, has he got good feet?’ ‘Well, I’ve never eaten one, you know,’ said the Juggler, ‘so I don’t know if they’re good or not.’

‘What’s the matter with you? Are they hard,60 for God’s sake?’

‘Oh yes, they’re hard all right, as I know to my cost: he uses more iron in a month than I put on him in three.’

‘Is he brave and strong?’ ‘Well, he’s not in the least afraid of death. Just as long as he’s in the barn, he’d certainly never be frightened, and he’d fear nothing all night and all day.’

‘Tell me if he has a good tongue.’


‘Entre si e Leons sur Rone

N’ad nulle meilour, come je quyt;

120Car unque mensonge ne dit,

Ne si bien noun de son reysyn61

Ne dirreit pur cent marcz d’or fyn,

Mès qu’il ly voleit apertement fere

124Mavesté de chescune matere

Ou larcyn par le pays,

Ou homicide, qe valt pys;

Sire Roy, ce sachez,

128Par ly ne serrez acusez.’

Fet le Roi: ‘Je ne prise pas vos dys.’

‘Ne je les vos, que vaillent pys.

Je di bourde pur fere gent ryre,

132Et je vus en countray, bel douz syre.’

‘Responez à droit, daunz Joglours;

De quele terre estez vus?’

‘Sire, estez vus tywlers ou potters

136Qe si folement demaundez?


‘There’s no better between here and Lyon on the Rhone, I’m sure. He never tells lies, and nor would he say anything but good about his neighbour, not for a hundred golden marks! Unless he needed to get something bad out into the open, such as thieving locally, or manslaughter which is even worse. My lord King, you can be quite sure he’ll never accuse you of anything.’62

The King says ‘I don’t think much of what you say!’ ‘Same to you — but yours are a lot worse! I joke to amuse people, and then I met you, my dear sir!’

‘Tell me straight, mister Juggler: what is your land?’63

‘My lord, are you a tiler or a potter? What kind of an idiot question is that?


Purquoi demander de quele tere?

Volez vus de moi potz fere?’

‘E qe diable avez vus,

140Que si responez à rebours?

Tel ribaud ne oy je unqe mès.

Diez de quel manere tu es?’

‘Je vus dirroi, par seint Pere,

144Volenters de ma manere:

Nous sumes compaignons plusours,

E de tiele manere sumes nous

Que nus mangerons plus volenters

148Là où nous sumez priez,

E plus volenters e plus tost,

Qe là où nous payons nostre escot;

E bevoms plus volenters en seaunt

152Qe nus ne fesons en esteaunt,

E, après manger que devant,

Pleyn hanap gros e grant;

E, si vodroms assez aver,

156Mès nus ne avoms cure de travyler,


Why are you asking about earth? Do you want to make pots of me?’

‘What the devil is wrong with you, that you always answer widdershins? I’ve never heard such foolery! Tell me what thou art!’64

‘I’ll tell you willingly … in my own way, for Pete’s sake. We are a band of companions, and our own way is to eat more willingly where we are invited. More willingly, and more quickly, than where we have to pay our score. We drink more willingly sitting down than standing up. Also, rather after eating than before, with a big fat goblet full up. Also, we like having possessions, but we don’t like having to work.


E purroms molt bien deporter

D’aler matyn à mostier;

E ce est le nostre us

160De gysyr longement en nos lys

E à nonne sus lever

E puis aler à manger;

Si n’avoms cure de pleder,

164Car il n’apent à nostre mester;

E nus vodroms estre tot dis,

Si nus pussoms, en gyws e rys;

E si vodroms aprompter e prendre [108v]

168E à nostre poer malement rendre;

Nus n’avoms cure d’aver,

For que nus eyoms assez à manger;

Plus despondroms à ung digner

172Qu’en un mois pourroms gayner;

E uncore volum plus,

Quar orgoil est nostre us,

E à beles dames acoynter,

176Ce apent à nostre mester.


We can easily dispense with going to church of a morning.

‘It is our custom, to lie in our beds all morning and get up at None;65 then we’ll go and eat. We don’t care for lawsuits — they are nothing to do with our profession.66 We like playing and joking all the time, if we can.

‘We like borrowing and taking things, and we take care to be slow about returning them.67 But we don’t care about getting goods, just so long as we get enough to eat. We’ll spend more on one dinner than we could earn in a month! We want more still; we are so arrogant, and that is our way … as well as wanting to get to know lovely ladies, which also goes with the job.


Or savez une partie

Coment amenons nostre vie;

Plus ne puis par vilynye

180Counter de nostre rybaudie.

Sire Roi, or me diez

Si nostre vie est bone assez.’

Le Roy respoygnant ly dit:

184‘Certes, je preise molt petit

Vostre vie ou vostre manere,

Quar ele ne valt mie une piere.

Pur ce que vus vivez en folie,

188 Daheit qe preyse vo vie!’68

‘Sire roi,’ feit le Jogler,

‘Quei val sen ou saver?

Ataunt valt vivre en folye

192Come en sen ou corteysie.

Et tot vus mostroi par ensample

Qu’est si large e si aunple

E si pleyn de resoun,

196Que um ne dira si bien noun.


‘Now you know a bit about how we spend our lives. It would be wicked of me to tell you any more of our foolery. Now, my lord King, tell me if you think we have a good life!’

The King’s reply was like this: ‘Well, really, I don’t think much of your life and your ways. Not worth a pebble, in my opinion, since you live in such foolery; be damned to anybody who praises your life!’

‘My lord King,’ says the Juggler, ‘What’s the point of wit or wisdom? It’s just as good to live in foolery as it is to live sensibly and courteously. Now I’m going to give you a f’r instance,69 which is so big and wide, so very sensible, that nobody could find fault with it:


Si vus estez simple et sage houm,

Vus estez tenuz pour feloun;

Si vus parlez sovent e volenters,

200Vus estes tenuz un janglers;

Si vus eiez riant semblaunt,

Vus estez tenuz pur enfaunt;

Si vus riez en veyn,

204Vus estez tenuz pur vileyn;

Si vus estes riche chivaler

E ne volez point tourneyer,

Donqe dirra sacun houme

208Vus ne valez pas un purry poume;

Si vus estes hardy e pruytz,

E hantez places de desduytz:

“Cesti cheitif ne siet nul bien;

212Taunt despent qu’il n’a rien.”

Si vus estes houme puissaunt

E serez riche e manaunt,

Dount dirra hom meyntenaunt:

216“De par le deable! où ad il taunt?”


‘If you’re a simple wise man, you’ll be taken for a criminal.

‘If you’re a cheerful and willing talker, you’ll be called a blabber-mouth.

‘If you’ve got a laughing face, you’ll be treated like a child.

‘If you laugh for no reason, you’ll be taken for a boor.

‘If you’re a rich knight and don’t want to play at tournaments, then everybody will say you’re not worth a rotten apple.

‘If you’re strong and brave, and go about in places of entertainment, they’ll say “This waster doesn’t know anything, he spends so much he’s got nothing.”

‘If you’re a powerful chap, well-to-do and well-off, now everybody will say “Where the hell does he get all that!”


S’il est povre e n’ad dount vyvre:

“Cest cheitif tot ditz est yvre.”

Si il vent sa tere pur ly ayder:

220“Quel diable ly vodera terre doner?

Yl siet despendre e nient gaigner”,

Chescun ly velt cheytyf clamer.

S’il achate terres par la vile,

224Si lur estoit autrement dire:

“Avey veu de cel mesel

Come il resemble le boterel

Qe unque de terre ne fust pleyn?

228Ensi est il de cel vileyn.”

Si vus estes jeovene bachiler

E n’avez terre à gaygner

E en compagnie volez aler

232E la taverne haunter,

Vus troverez meint qe dirrat:

“Où trovera il ce qu’il ad?

Unque ne fist gayne à dreit

236Ce qu’il mangue et ce qu’il beit.”


‘But if he’s a poor man without any livelihood, “That loser is pissed all the time.”

‘If anybody sells some land so as to help himself out, “Who the hell would want to give him land? He can spend, but he can’t earn a penny.” Everybody will call him a wretch.

‘If he buys some land near the town, they’ll think of something else to say: “Have you seen that sickie, who’s like the proverbial bushel that’s never full of earth?70 That’s him, miserable sod.”

‘If you’re a young fellow with no property to get income from, and you want to go out socializing in the pub, you’ll find plenty who say “Where’s he going to find what he’s got? He never did a decent hand’s turn for what he eats and drinks.”


Si vus alez poi en compagnie

E taverne ne hauntez mye:

“Cesti est escars, avers et cheytif,

240C’est damage qu’il est vyf.

Yl ne despendi unque dener,

S’il ne fust dolent al departer:

De son gayn Dieu li doint pert,

244Yl n’out unqe la bourse overt.”

Si vus estes vesti quoyntement,

Donqe dirrount la gent:

“Avez veu de cel pautener,

248Com il est orguillous e fier?

Ataunt usse je de or real [109r]

Com il se tient valer fient de cheval!

Il n’i averoit si riche houme, par Dé,

252En Londres la riche cité.”

Si vostre cote seit large e lée,

Si derra ascun de soun grée:

“Ce n’est mie cote de esté.”


‘If you don’t get out much, and never to the pub, “He’s stingy! He’s mean and miserly! Pity they let that one live! He never spent a farthing without grudging where it went. God can take away everything he’s got, the rotter who never opens his purse.”

‘If you are nicely dressed, then people will say “Have you seen this rogue? Isn’t he just so arrogant and proud? I wish I had as much royal gold as that pile of horseshit he thinks himself worth!71 By God, you wouldn’t find a man as rich as that in all the rich city of London.”

‘If your coat is large and wide, somebody will think it hilarious to say “That’s never a summer coat!”


256Donqe dirra le premer:

“Assez est bone, lessez ester;

Il resemble un mavois bover.”

Si vostre teste soit despyné72

260 E soit haut estauncé:73

“C’est un moygne eschapé.”

Si vostre teste seit plané,

E vos cheveus crestre lessé,

264Yl serra meintenant dit:

“C’est la manere de ypocrit.”

Si vostre coyfe seit blanche e bele:

“S’amie est une damoysele,

268Qe ly vodra plus coyfes trover

Qe ly rybaud pust decyrer.”

Si ele est neyre, a desresoun:

“Yl est un fevre, par seint Symoun!

272 Veiez come est teint de charboun.”74

Si vus estes cointement chaucé

E avez bons soudlers al pié,

Si serra ascun par delee

276Que vus avera al dey mostree,


Then the other will say “Ah, leave it. It’s good enough for a lousy ox-driver like that.”

‘If your head has been well de-bristled,75 and shaved up to the top, “Ooh! There goes an escaped monk!”

‘If your head is sleeked, and your hair let grow long, it will now be said “That’s how a hypocrite wears his hair.”

‘If you’ve got fine white headgear, “His lady-friend is the sort who’ll find him more head-dresses than he could ever wear to shreds, the fool!”

‘But if it’s black, would you believe, “He’s a blacksmith, saints alive! Look how stained with coal he is!”

‘If you are neatly shod, with good shoes on your feet, there are instead those who will point the finger at you,


E à soun compaignoun est torné:

“Ce n’est mie tot(,) pur Dé,76

De estre si estroit chaucé.”

280Dirra l‘autre: “A noun Dé,

C’est par orgoil e fierté

Que li est al cuer entree.”

Si vus estes largement chaucé,

284E avez botes feutré

Et de une pane envolupé,

Donqe dirra ascun de gree:

“Beneit soit le moigne de Dee

288Qe ces veyle botes par charité

Ad à cesti cheytyf doné.”

E si vus les femmes amez,

E ou eux sovent parler

292E lowés ou honorez,

Ou sovent revysitez,

Ou, si vus mostrez par semblaunt

Qe à eux estes bien vuyellaunt,

296Donque dirra ascun pautener:


and turn to their friend, “It can’t be all for the sake of God, to have such narrow shoes!” Then the other will say “For God’s sake, it’s because his heart is soaked in pride and arrogance.”77

‘But if you’re generously shod with felted boots, wrapped in a cloth, it will amuse them to say “Ah, bless the holy monk who gave these old boots for charity, to this poor fool.”

‘And if you like women, and you like talking to them, and you praise and respect them; if you often go and see them, or show by your manner that you care about them, then there is always a bad-mouth to say


“Veiez cesti mavois holer,

Come il siet son mester

De son affere bien mostrer.”

300Si vus ne les volez regarder

Ne volenters ou eux parler,

Si averount mensounge trové

Que vus estes descoillé!

304Auxi di je par delà,

Come l’ensaunple gist par desà,

Si ascune dame bele

Ou bien norrie damoysele

308Par sa nateresse e bounté

De nulli seit privée,

Ou si ele tant ne quant

Fasse à nully bel semblaunt,

312Ou si ele vueille juer:

Cele est femme de mester

E de pute manere

E à gayner trop legere.


“Look at that lousy whoremonger! Doesn’t he just show by his manner what he gets up to, and how it suits him!”

‘But if you don’t like looking at them, or prefer not to talk to them [the women], they [the gossips] will soon find out a truth about you,78 that you haven’t got any balls!

‘Now I’m going to put an example on the other side, to put beside what I’ve said on this side.79 If any lovely lady, or well-stacked lassie, in the kindness of her heart has ado with somebody privately, or if she shows favour to anybody in any way, or if she’s in a playful mood; why, then that makes her a whore, and just like a pro she can be got too lightly.


316Si ele soit auqa hontouse80

E de juer dangerouse:

“Veiez come ele se tient souche!

Burre ne destorreit en sa bouche.”

320Coment qe ele ameyne sa vie,

Rybaudz en dirront villeynie.

Si volenters alez à mostier,

E à Dieu volez prier

324De vos pechiés remissioun

E de fere satisfaccioun,

Si dirra ascun qe vus regard:

“Ja de vos prieres n’ey je part,

328Qar vus n’estes qe un papelart;

Vos prieres serrount oys tart.”

E si vus alez par le moster81

E ne volez point entrer,

332Donqe dirra vostre veysyn:

“Cesti ne vaut plus qe un mastyn;

Si Dieu me doint de son bien,

Cesti ne vaut plus que un chien.”82

336Si vus volenters volez juner [109v]


But if she is a bit prudish, and backward in her games,83 then “Look at her shooting a line! Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth!”84 However she goes on, somebody will put a bad interpretation on it.

‘If you go to church willingly, and pray to God for remission of your sins, and to do penance,85 anybody who sees you will say “I’m not having anything to do with your prayers, you’re nothing but a pope-holy. Your prayers won’t be answered yesterday!”

‘But if you’re walking past the church and don’t feel like going in, then your good neighbour will say “That one’s no better than a cur. God give me strength, he’s only fit for a dog’s blessing!”

‘If you decide to fast,


Pur vos pechiés amender,

Dount dirra li maloré:

“Où à deables ad il esté?

340Yl ad soun pere ou mere tué,

Ou ascun de soun parentee,

Ou femme, file ou enfaunt,

Pour ce qu’il june taunt.”

344Si vus sovent ne junez,

Donqe dirrount malorez:

“Cesti mavais chien recreant

Ne puet juner taunt ne quant,

348Le bon vendredy ahorree

Prendreit il bien charité

Trestot par soun eyndegré

Ja de prestre ne querreit congé.”

352Si je su mesgre: “Bels douz cher,

Mort est de faim; il n’a qe manger.”

E, si je su gros e gras,

Si me dirra ascun en cas:


so as to atone for your sins, the bad-mouth will say “Where the hell has he been? Has he killed his father or mother, or some relation? Or perhaps a woman, or girl or child, to make him fast like this?”

‘But if you don’t often fast, then the bad-mouths will go “This dirty unbelieving dog! He can’t restrain himself in the least! On blessed Holy Friday he’d help himself to charity,86 all off his own bat, never asking the priest’s permission!”

‘If I’m thin, “Oh my dear chap, he’s dying of hunger, he’s got nothing to eat!” But if I’m nice and fat, there’s somebody who says


356“Dieu! come cesti dorreit graunt flaut

En une longayne, s’il cheit de haut!”

Si j’ay long nees asque croku,

Tost dirrount: “C’est un bercu.”87

360Si j’ay court nees tot en desus,

Um dirrat: ‘C’est un camus.’’

Si j’ay la barbe long pendaunt:

“Est cesti chevre ou pelrynaunt?”

364E si je n’ay barbe: “Par seint Michel!

Cesti n’est mie matle, mès femmel.”

E si je su long e graunt,

Je serroi apelé geaunt;

368E si petitz sei d’estat,

Serroi apelé naym et mat.

Dieu! come le siecle est maloré,

Que nul puet vivre sanz estre blamé!

372Plus y avereit à counter,

E assez plus à demaunder;

Mès je ne vueil estudier

Si vus ne volez del vostre doner;


“Good Lord, he’d make one hell of a splash, if he fell down into a jakes!”88

‘If I’ve got a long nose that’s a bit crooked, they’ll all say “Look at old bottle-nose!”89 If I’ve got a short little nose up there, they say “Snubby face!”

‘If I’ve got a long hangy beard, “Is that a goat, or is it a pilgrim!” And if I’ve got no beard, “For the love of Mike, that looks more like a woman than a man!”

‘If I’m tall and broad, I’ll be called a giant; but if I’m small of stature then I’ll be called a useless dwarf.90

‘Ye gods, what a mad mad world!91 Nobody can live without being calumniated! There’s a lot more to tell, and even more questions to ask, but I want to stop scholarizing unless you want to give me something of yours.


376Car ensi va de tote rienz

E des malz et des bienz;

Car nulle rien ne purroi fere

Qe um ne trovera le countrere.’

380Donqe dit le Roi: ‘Verroiement

Vus dites voir, à mien ascient.

Quei me saverez vus counsiler?

Coment me puis countener

384Et sauntz blame me garder,

Que um me vueille mesparler?’

Respound le Joglour al Roy:

‘Sire, moun counsail vus dirroy:

388Si vus vostre estat veillez bien garder,

Ne devreez trop encrueler,


So it goes, everything, good and bad: there’s nothing anybody can do that somebody won’t go finding fault with.’

Then the King said ‘You speak the truth as far as I can tell. What would you advise me to do? How can I conduct myself, and protect myself from blame, so that nobody speaks ill of me?’

The Juggler answers the King ‘Sir, I’ll give you my advice: if you want to keep your good status, you must not be over-cruel,


Ne trop estre simple vers ta gent;

Mès vus portez meenement;

392Car vos meymes savez bien

Qe nul trop valt rien:

Qy par mesure tote ryen fra

Ja prudhome ne l’y blamera,

396Par mesure meenement

Come est escrit apertement,

E le latim est ensi:92

Medium tenuere beati.

400Qy ceste trufle velt entendre,

Auke de sen purra aprendre;

Car um puet oyr sovent

Un fol parler sagement.

404Sage est qe parle sagement,

Fols com parle folement.’


nor be over-gentle with your people.93 Behave with moderation, because you yourself know that excess can never be virtue.94 Whoever does all things in moderation will never be blamed by any honest man. Moderation, moderately, as is clearly written; here is the Latin: Blessed are they that keep the middle path.

‘Whoever listens to this trifling tale may learn something wise, for we often hear a fool speaking wisely. Wise is he who speaks wisely, and whoever speaks foolishly is a fool.’


1 In Le Donei des Amanz (ed. Holden, vv. 453–683), see Dean 180; and an overview in Trotter, ‘Review: Donei des Amanz, ed. Holden’.

2 Text and translation pp. 967–73, commentary and notes pp. 1566–9. See, again, DMH for a concise account of the legend.

3 See Legge, pp. 128–32 (and 333–4 for the Donei as debate poetry).

4 In the romance of Yder, jealousy is a narrative theme. Not only is Kay’s jealousy (of everybody) treated at length, but also Arthur’s jealousy of his wife leads to the adventure that nearly kills the hero, because she regards him with (innocent) favour.

5 Dido of Carthage appears in Virgil’s Aeneid, and the even more famous Helen of Troy is from Homer’s Iliad (originally in Latin and Greek respectively, but retold in many languages over the centuries). Ydoine belongs to an Anglo-Norman romance, Amadas et Ydoine (Dean 161).

6 The episode where Mark hid in this very tree, to catch the lovers, is described in the Folie (above).

7 In the Folie, Tristan’s disguised voice is the last barrier to her recognizing him.

8 There is a malevolent dwarf in the previous Tristan piece, who leads Mark to the sleeping lovers.

9 In this text, as in the foregoing, God certainly seems to be on the side of the lovers.

10 Medieval literature is full of bad derivations; some really outrageous ones are found in the Roman des Franceis, below.

11 The other edition corrects ‘gust’ to ‘gient’; he groaned and shouted out.

12 For a jealous husband, Mark is not so very unreasonable: he is easily appeased (and fooled).

13 The editor notes a single-line initial; they usually take up two lines (Introduction, p. 1).

14 Now the tale is over, the lady speaks.

15 This detail is not in any other version of the Tristan legend.

16 The lady goes on to relate how Aeneas treated poor Dido.

17 These are from Eighteen Fabliaux, ed. Short and Pearcy (PTS 14).

18 See also the entry by Norris J. Lacy, in Medieval France, An Encyclopedia, pp. 332–4. Selected Fabliaux, ed. Levy and Pickford, although it does not include Anglo-Norman examples, contains a good introduction to this difficult genre. The introduction to Roi et Jongleur, below, gives further references.

19 These items are not listed separately in Dean. The ANTS volume is mentioned (and incorrectly numbered 16) in the introduction to her section on Fabliaux, on p. 107, and there is a cross-reference to her number 263 which is under the heading Proverbs.

20 Previously edited by Hilka & Söderhjelm, 1922. Digby 86 and Harley 2253 are the best-known mixed ‘miscellanies’ (this word ought not to imply any randomness in the selection and ordering of texts).

21 Number 6 [Disciplina Clericalis], vv. 1123–62.

22 This means a pilgrimage to Rome, to St Peter’s tomb; ‘requere’ can mean to pray, to seek, but (in this context) usually to visit. The narrator is quoting from a book he has read or heard.

23 Number 7 [Disciplina Clericalis], vv. 1271–83.

24 To go and make his prayers, at some shrine (cf. the pilgrimage, above).

25 This is the ‘inscription’ that does not appear at the top of the manuscript page (see below). It is copied here to indicate that the text contains good advice as well as good jokes.

26 The volume is available online.

27 In ‘La riote du monde’, ed. Ulrich, the text of Riote, on which this piece is closely based, is edited with it. I refer passim to [Harley 2253] The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, ed. and tr. Fein et al., in which this piece is edited and translated together with the rest of the MS’s contents. Harley 2253, and Digby 86, are the best-known mixed ‘miscellanies’.

28 Dean calls it a Fabliau, but lists it among Dits (a sub-section) thus indicating its difference from other fabliaux; she says nothing about what kind of stories they are. For the Dit as genre, see inter alSpearing, Medieval Autographies, pp. 53–64.

29 Noomen gives useful information about fabliaux, minstrels or jugglers, and ‘dits’; his text is not a new edition (his p. 86). See also the following: Cobby, The Old French Fabliaux; Butterfield, ‘English, French and Anglo-French’; Nolan, ‘Anthologizing Ribaldry’.

30 Among diverse generic titles offered by scholars, Butterfield includes ‘pastourelle’: the poem opens with a scene reminiscent of such encounters between two socially different persons (The Familiar Enemy, pp. 92–5). A search for adventure, a green meadow, and (instead of a knight and a shepherdess) a minstrel meets a king.

31 A more recent collection of fabliaux omits this piece (Nouveau recueil, ed. Noomen and van den Boogaard), judging it not to be a true fabliau. However, it does conform to one classic definition: ‘un conte à rire en vers’ (cited inter al. in Eighteen Fabliaux, ed. Short and Pearcy, p. 2).

32 See Reichl, ‘Debate Verse’, p. 231, for the poem as a debate; also Revard, ‘French Fabliau manuscripts’, for the arrangement of texts in the MS.

33 See also Busby, ‘Esprit gaulois for the English’; other essays in the volume are of interest too.

34 Lockhart, ‘The King and the Minstrel’, gives a delightful verse rendering: very freely translated, with omissions. His mention of a ‘recent’ Roxburghe Club edition is erroneous (see also La Riote, le Roi, ed. Michel, Preface): I examined a large number of Roxburghe volumes in case the poem had been tucked into one without being listed in the title. Lockhart’s confusion may have arisen because many Roxburghe volumes were published by the same firm as published the Palgrave edition, at around the same date.

35 Palgrave, ed., Cy ensuyt une chanson; our text is at pp. xi–xxx.

36 ‘Anthologizing Ribaldry’, in Fein, ed., p. 292 and note 9.

37 ‘English, French and Anglo-French’, p. 255.

38 I have allowed the Juggler’s final speech to continue to the end of the poem (as in the edition), so his voice merges with that of the narrator.

39 This would produce a hybrid text, which is generally undesirable.

40 For those who read modern French, Noomen’s translation may help with difficult passages: it is generally closer than mine. I have noted where our opinions differ (as with the Fein translation into English).

41 These are not in Larousse, or AND; this piece is not among those currently listed for the latter’s compilation.

42 Palgrave punctuates the speech to begin at ‘Par amour’, a reasonable alternative meaning (more or less) ‘if you please’.

43 ‘baroun’ can mean simply baron, but a woman’s husband is often called ‘son baroun’.

44 Some children were named after a godparent, or after the priest who baptized them. Legend has it that Gawain was baptized by a priest of that name. ‘lever’ in this context is more likely to mean ‘lifted from the font’ than ‘raised’; children are usually ‘norri’ by the adults who bring them up (Audree, v. 152; Des Grantz Geanz, v. 22; and cf. Eight Deadly Sins, v. 70: ‘levee acun dé funz’).

45 The edition prints ‘sa vez’.

46 This is the first answer that gives any information whatsoever.

47 The tides, of course. The French say ‘How are you called?’ when asking your name. This is a nuanced way of asking what people say when they want to attract your attention.

48 Switching between polite and familiar forms happens here and there. Some changes may be for the metre, or simply accidental. But it is clear the minstrel is getting confident about what he can say to the king, and the king is beginning to respect the minstrel’s superior wit. Some address forms are untranslateable; I approximate.

49 This is a play on ‘vet’: the king means ‘go’, but is understood by the trickster as meaning ‘voit’: does he see well? AND gives ‘vet’ as a form of ‘aler’ but not of ‘voir’; Noomen translates ‘vet’ as ‘see’, thus losing the double meaning. Riote has, at this point (p. 280), ‘Voit il bien?’ This increases the likelihood that ‘vet’ is being understood to mean ‘see’.

50 Saints’ names are often, though not always, chosen for the rhyme. The Juggler’s speech is so quirky that I hesitate to copy the names as they stand. The Fein version claims St Leonard was the patron saint of horses (but see ODS: the saint is said merely to have ridden a donkey around lands donated to him).

51 The Juggler is pretending to understand ‘isnelement’ to mean something else.

52 The king wants to know whether he can draw a cart.

53 Here the pretended confusion may be with a verb such as ‘pestre’, to feed: the horse fears no competition from other animals in the field. Noomen thinks the Juggler is deliberately confusing ‘route’ (one meaning of this is ‘crowd’) with ‘troupe’ (sc. of animals), and that the king is asking whether the horse can walk steadily past difficult places.

54 To amble is a nice steady foot-pace; the Juggler pretends that ‘embler’ means ‘steal’: is he a good thief? But the king is certainly referring to the horse’s gait (see Noomen’s note on pp. 92–3).

55 Noomen’s reading makes more sense: the MS contains no apostrophes. My guess is that ‘fertre’ in this line is a better reading than Palgrave’s ‘sercre’.

56 Noomen reads ‘confortable comme monture’. The word ‘son’ is naturally ambiguous: it could mean one’s own bed, or the horse’s! The word for the horse’s back is written ‘dors’ (cf. ‘dorsal’), which is also a form of the word ‘sleep’. The rhyme would be better with ‘repos/dos’, so another word-play is clearly meant.

57 ‘sain’ means healthy, ‘saint’ means holy.

58 Black monks were Benedictines.

59 ‘sorentz’ is not in AND. Noomen gives ‘suro’, a tumour that afflicts horses’ legs.

60 Noomen reads this to mean ‘do they get tired easily?’

61 Palgrave reads ‘veysyn’, as I do; the v is clear, and it makes more sense.

62 This malicious dig suggests that others might find something bad to say about the king.

63 ‘terre’ also means earth.

64 The king says ‘tu’, but the trickster prefers to answer in the plural ‘we’.

65 The canonical hour of Nones was the ninth hour of the day, therefore long after ‘noon’ or midday (see, for example, Cher Alme, note 23 on p. 259); Noomen translates ‘midi’.

66 ‘pleder’ also means to beseech, plead (AND does not give the added meaning ‘beg’, as do Fein’s team).

67 This catalogue of bad behaviour has moments that resemble the ‘sermon’ delivered to the French in Roman des Franceis, below.

68 MS Daþeheit (see Fein edition). Editors have had trouble with the word: Palgrave prints ‘Dathcheit’, adding one of his mysterious dagger-marks; Noomen prints ‘Dapcheit’.

69 See Noomen’s note for exempla.

70 ‘boterel’ is not in AND; Noomen translates ‘crapaud’ (Larousse: bote III, crapaud; boterel would thus be a little toad). Fein’s team read ‘bocerel’ and translate ‘little goat’ (as in ‘bouc’). The consonant looks more like t than c in the MS, but neither animal fits the context; I have guessed a meaning, and invented a proverb to match.

71 Noomen judges that the royal gold must refer to a gold penny (1257–70) which could date the text. But it is hardly likely that a joking reference of this kind, to a heap of gold as against a heap of manure, would be anything but figurative.

72 The edition shows a dotted line after v. 259, signalling an omission. There is no gap in the manuscript, but there lacks one line of the running rhyme in this passage: an odd number of lines rhyme ‘er’, ‘ée’, and the like.

73 Palgrave prints ‘estamite’ with a dagger-mark; the present reading is I think preferable.

74 There is a dotted line here (as after v. 259); no doubt because there are only three lines rhyming ‘oun’.

75 Nooman reads this as unkempt (that is, de-peigné); Fein’s team translate ‘spiked’. If it is shaved (next line), however, it will not be bristly.

76 Noomen prints this line without a comma (as does Palgrave), which makes more sense.

77 This may be a reference to the fashionable pointy shoes of the middle and later Middle Ages.

78 That is, ‘a truth’ meaning a lie (mensounge).

79 Notably, the Juggler makes the point that life is unfair in just this way for women, too; Dove remarks on this (‘Evading Textual Intimacy’, n. 50 on p. 344). The frequent change of person (if you, if one, if I …) indicates that the lessons are universal; it would be perverse to try and disentangle each ‘person’ to sketch the different experiences of author and audience.

80 MS ‘auqe’.

81 MS mostrer; Noomen corrects to ‘mostier’.

82 MS ‘valt … qe’.

83 Bel Semblaunt may be a conflation of two personifications: Faux Semblaunt and Bel Accueil. These, and Danger, are personified in (for example) the Roman de la Rose. One welcomes the lover, the other holds him at arm’s length. Note the modern proverb (Noomen explains that the lady is a ‘sainte nitouche’).

84 Noomen reads this line as I do, although he points out that ‘de(s)tordre’ is not attested to mean ‘melt’ in the dictionairies. But the AND meanings are close enough, to have been used in a wider sense.

85 ‘satisfaction’ is when the sinner makes reparation, generally as instructed by the priest, for the sins they have confessed.

86 Noomen takes this to mean charity in the form of food handouts. However, ‘charité’ is used for the (pretended) handout of boots, above.

87 Palgrave prints ‘bestu’, Noomen ‘bescu’; neither is any better (see note in my translation).

88 The text says ‘from a great height’; some privies were very deep. Fein’s team read ‘cheit’ to mean ‘shit’, but in Riote the verb is ‘chaoit’ (p. 285); this makes it slightly more likely that in this text it means ‘to fall’.

89 MS ‘bostu’, or similar (it looks more like ‘os’ than ‘es’). AND gives ‘a person with a bulbous nose’ as a meaning for ‘bossu’, which is very likely the intended word. Noomen translates ‘beçu’ (not in dictionaries) without explanation; Fein’s team give ‘bescu’, tr. beaked. In Michel’s edition, there is a fragment of Riote printed after this piece: at the same point in this fragment the word is ‘botchus’, perhaps meaning ‘bossu’. This means one redactor at least understood it as this and not as ‘bercu’ or similar.

90 ‘mat’ has a number of meanings, also in Middle English (glossary to Sir Ferumbras, ed. Herrtage).

91 Riote, p. 285: ‘Tel est la riote del monde’, hence the title of the companion piece. AND gives a variety of meanings: noisy, discordant, contentious, nonsense, and revel!

92 MS ‘latyn’.

93 ‘simple’ does not mean foolish here; it has positive meanings of openness, guilelessness, honesty (both Noomen and Fein’s team translate ‘familiar’). Edward the Confessor was said to be ‘simple’ in this way. The context of this passage indicates that an opposite to cruelty is meant.

94 Edward’s virtues included moderation, which tops almost all the lists in the Nun’s life of him (in Edouard, passim).