The Freres Tale

The Prologe of the Freres Tale.

This worthy limitour, this noble Frere,

He made alwey a maner louring chere

Upon the Somnour, but for honestee

No vileyns word as yet to him spak he.

But atte laste he seyde un-to the Wyf,

‘ Dame,’ quod he, ‘ god yeve yow right good lyf !

Ye han heer touched, al-so mote I thee,

In scole-matere greet difficultee ;

Ye han seyd muchel thing right wel, I seye ;

But dame, here as we ryden by the weye,

Us nedeth nat to speken but of game,

And lete auctoritees, on goddes name,

To preching and to scole eek of clergye.

But if it lyke to this companye,

I wol yow of a somnour telle a game.

Pardee, ye may wel knowe by the name,

That of a somnour may no good be sayd ;

I praye that noon of you be yvel apayd.

A somnour is a renner up and doun

With mandements for fornicacioun,

And is y-bet at every tounes ende.’

Our host tho spak, ‘ a ! sire, ye sholde be hende

And curteys, as a man of your estaat ;

In companye we wol have no debaat.

Telle th your tale, and lat the Somnour be.’

‘ Nay,’ quod the Somnour, ‘ lat him seye to me

What so him list ; whan it comth to my lot,

By god, I shal him quyten every grot.

I shal him tellen which a greet honour

It is to be a flateringe limitour ;

And his offyce I shal him telle, y-wis.’

Our host answerde, ‘ pees, na-more of this.’

And after this he seyde un-to the Frere,

‘ Tel forth your tale, leve maister deere.’

Here endeth the Prologe of the Frere.

Here biginneth the Freres Tale.

Whilom ther was dwellinge in my contree

An erchedeken, a man of heigh degree,

That boldely dide execucioun

In punisshinge of fornicacioun,

Of wicchecraft, and eek of bauderye,

Of diffamacioun, and avoutrye,

Of chirche-reves, and of testaments,

Of contractes, and of lakke of sacraments,

And eek of many another maner cryme

Which nedeth nat rehercen at this tyme ;

Of usure, and of symonye also.

But certes, lechours dide he grettest wo ;

They sholde singen, if that they were hent ;

And smale tytheres weren foule y-shent.

If any persone wolde up -on hem pleyne,

Ther mighte asterte him no pecunial peyne.

For smale tythes and for smal offringe

He made the peple pitously to singe.

For er the bisshop caughte hem with his hook,

They weren in the erchedeknes book.

Thanne hadde he, thurgh his jurisdiccioun,

Power to doon on hem correccioun.

He hadde a Somnour redy to his hond,

A slyer boy was noon in Engelond ;

For subtilly he hadde his espiaille,

That taughte him, wher that him mighte availle.

He coude spare of lechours oon or two,

To techen him to foure and twenty mo.

For thogh this Somnour wood were as an hare,

To telle his harlotrye I wol nat spare ;

For we been out of his correccioun ;

They han of us no jurisdiccioun,

Ne never shullen, terme of alle hir lyves.

Peter ! so been the wommen of the styves,’

Quod the Somnour, ‘ y-put out of my cure ! ‘

‘ Pees, with mischance and with misaventure,’

Thus seyde our host, ‘ and lat him telle his tale.

Now telleth forth, thogh that the Somnour gale,

Ne spareth nat, myn owene maister dere.’

This false theef, this Somnour, quod the Frere,

Hadde alwey baudes redy to his hond,

As any hauk to lure in Engelond,

That tolde him al the secree that they knewe ;

For hir acqueyntance was nat come of-newe.

They weren hise approwours prively ;

He took him-self a greet profit therby ;

His maister knew nat alwey what he wan.

With-outen mandement, a lewed man

He coude somne, on peyne of Cristes curs,

And they were gladde for to fille his purs,

And make him grete festes atte nale.

And right as Judas hadde purses smale,

And was a theef, right swich a theef was he ;

His maister hadde but half his duetee.

He was, if I shal yeven him his laude,

A theef, and eek a Somnour, and a baude.

He hadde eek wenches at his retenue,

That, whether that sir Robert or sir Huwe,

Or Jakke, or Rauf, or who-so that it were,

That lay by hem, they tolde it in his ere ;

Thus was the wenche and he of oon assent.

And he wolde fecche a feyned mandement,

And somne hem to the chapitre bothe two,

And pile the man, and lete the wenche go.

Thanne wolde he seye, • frend, I shal for thy sake

Do stryken hir out of our lettres blake ;

Thee thar na-more as in this cas travaille ;

I am thy freend, ther I thee may availle.’

Certeyn he knew of bryberyes mo

Than possible is to telle in yeres two.

For in this world nis dogge for the bowe,

That can an hurt deer from an hool y-knowe,

Bet than this Somnour knew a sly lechour,

Or an avouter, or a paramour.

And, for that was the fruit of al his rente,

Therfore on it he sette al his entente.

And so bifel, that ones on a day

This Somnour, ever waiting on his pray,

Rood for to somne a widwe, an old ribybe,

Feyninge a cause, for he wolde brybe.

And happed that he saugh bifore him ryde

A gay yeman, under a forest-syde.

A bowe he bar, and arwes brighte and kene ;

He hadde up -on a courtepy of grene ;

An hat up-on his heed with frenges blake.

‘ Sir,’ quod this Somnour, ‘ hayl ! and wel a-take ! ‘

‘ Wel-come,’ quod he, ‘ and every good felawe !

Wher rydestow under this grene shawe ? ‘

Seyde this yeman, ‘ wiltow fer to day ? ‘

This Somnour him answerde, and seyde, ‘ nay ;

Heer faste by,’ quod he, ‘ is myn entente

To ryden, for to reysen up a rente

That longeth to my lordes duetee.’

‘ Artow thanne a bailly ? ‘ ‘ Ye ! ‘ quod he.

He dorste nat, for verray filthe and shame,

Seye that he was a somnour, for the name.

‘ Depardieux,” 1 quod this yeman, ‘ dere brother,

Thou art a bailly, and I am another.

I am unknowen as in this contree ;

Of thyn aqueyntance I wolde praye thee,

And eek of brotherhede, if that yow leste.

I have gold and silver in my cheste ;

If that thee happe to comen in our shyre,

Al shal be thyn, right as thou wolt desyre.’

‘Grantmercy,’ quod this Somnour, ‘by my feith!’

Everich in otheres hand his trouthe leith,

For to be sworne bretheren til they deye.

In dAllance they ryden forth hir weye.

This Somnour, which that was as ful of jangles,

As ful of venim been thise wariangles,

And ever enquering up-on every thing,

‘ Brother,’ quod he, ‘ where is now your dwelling,

Another day if that I sholde yow seche ? ‘

This yeman him answerde in softe speche,

‘ Brother,’ quod he, ‘ fer in the north contree,

Wher, as I hope, som-tyme I shal thee see.

Er we departe, I shal thee so wel wisse,

That of myn hous ne shaltow never misse.’

‘Now, brother,’ quod this Somnour, ‘I yow preye,

Teche me, whyl that we ryden by the weye,

Sin that ye been a baillif as am I,

Som subtiltee, and tel me feithfully

In myn offyce how I may most winne ;

And spareth nat for conscience ne sinne,

But as my brother tel me, how do ye ? ‘

‘ Now, by my trouthe, brother dere,’ seyde he,

‘ As I shal tellen thee a feithful tale,

My wages been ful streite and ful smale.

My lord is hard to me and daungerous,

And myn offyce is ful laborous ;

And therfore by extorcions I live.

For sothe, I take al that men wol me yive ;

Algate, by sleyghte or by violence, .

Fro yeer to yeer I winne al my dispence.

I can no bettre telle feithfully.’

‘ Now, certes,’ quod this Somnour, ‘ so fare I ;

I spare nat to taken, god it woot,

But-if it be to hevy or to hoot.

What I may gete in conseil prively,

No maner conscience of that have I ;

Nere myn extorcioun, I mighte nat liven,

Ne of swiche japes wol I nat be shriven.

Stomak ne conscience ne knowe I noon ;

I shrewe thise shrifte-fadres everichoon.

Wel be we met, by god and by seint Jame !

But, leve brother, tel me than thy name,’

Quod this Somnour ; and in this mene whyle,

This yeman gan a litel for to smyle.

‘ Brother,’ quod he, ‘ wiltow that I thee telle ?

I am a feend, my dwelling is in helle.

And here I ryde about my purchasing.

To wite wher men wolde yeve me any thing.

My purchas is th’ effect of al my rente.

Loke how thou rydest for the same entente,

To winne good, thou rekkest never how ;

Right so fare I, for ryde wolde I now

Un-to the worldes ende for a preye.’

‘ A,’ quod this Somnour, ‘ bertcitey what sey ye ?

I wende ye were a yeman trewely.

Ye han a mannes snap as wel as I ;

Han ye figure than determinat

In helle, ther ye been in your estat ? ‘

‘ Nay, certeinly,’ quod he, ‘ ther have we noon ;

But whan us lyketh,,we can take us oon,

Or elles make yow seme we ben shape

Som-tyme lyk a man, or lyk an ape ;

Or lyk an angel can I ryde or go.

It is no wonder thing thogh it be so ;

A lousy jogelour can deceyve thee,

And pardee, yet can I more craft than he.’

‘ Why,’ quod the Somnour, ! ryde ye thanne or


In sondry shap, and nat alwey in oon ? ‘

‘ For we,’ quod he, ‘ wol us swich formes


As most able is our preyes for to take.’

‘ What maketh yow to han al this labour ? ‘

‘ Ful many a cause, leve sir Somnour,’

Seyde this feend, ‘ but alle thing hath tyme.

The day is short, and it is passed pryme,

And yet ne wan I no-thing in this day.

I wol entende to winnen, if I may,

And nat entende our wittes to declare.

For, brother myn, thy wit is al to bare

To understonde, al -thogh I tolde hem thee.

But, for thou axest why labouren we ;

For, som-tyme, we ben goddes instruments,

And menes to don his comandements,

Whan that him list, up-on his creatures,

In divers art and in divers figures.

With-outen him we have no might, certayn,

If that him list to stonden ther-agayn.

And som-tyme, at our prayere, han we leve

Only the body and nat the soule greve ;

Witnesse on Job, whom that we diden wo.

And som-tyme han we might of bothe two,

This is to seyn, of soule and body eke.

And somtyme be we suffred for to seke

Up-on a man, and doon his soule unreste,

And nat his body, and al is for the beste.

Whan he withstandeth our temptacioun,

It is a cause of his savacioun ;

Al-be-it that it was nat our entente

He sholde be sauf, but that we wolde him hente.

And som-tyme be we servant un-to man,

As to the erchebisshop Seint Dunstan

And to the apostles servant eek was I.’

1 Yet tel me,’ quod the Somnour, ‘ feithfully,

Make ye yow newe bodies thus alway

Of elements ? ‘ the feend answerde, ‘ nay ;

Som-tyme we feyne, and som-tyme we aryse

With dede bodies in ful sondry wyse,

And speke as renably and faire and wel

As to the Phitonissa dide Samuel.

And yet wol som men seye it was nat he ;

I do no fors of your divinitee.

But o thing warne I thee, I wol nat jape,

Thou wolt algates wite how we ben shape ;

Thou shalt her-afterward, my brother dere,

Com ther thee nedeth nat of me to lere.

For thou shalt by thyn owene experience

Conne in a chayer rede of this sentence

Bet than Virgyte, whyl he was on lyve,

Or Dant also ; now lat us ryde bly ve.

For I wol holde companye with thee

Til it be so, that thou forsake me.’

‘ Nay,’ quod this Somnour, ‘ that shal nat bityde ;

I am a yeman, knowen is ful wyde ;

My trouthe wol I holde as in this cas.

For though thou were the devel Sathanas,

My trouthe wol I holde to my brother,

As I am sworn, and ech of us til other

For to be trewe brother in this cas ;

And bothe we goon abouten our purchas.

Tak thou thy part, what that men wol thee yive,

And I shal myn ; thus may we bothe live.

And if that any of us have more than other,

Lat him be trewe, and parte it with his brother.’

‘ I graunte,’ quod the devel, ‘ by my fey.’

And with that word they ryden forth hir wey.

And right at the entring of the tounes ende,

To which this Somnour shoop him for to wende,

They saugh a cart, that charged was with hey,

Which that a carter droof forth in his wey.

Deep was the wey, for which the carte stood.

The carter smoot, and cryde, as he were wood,

‘ Hayt, Brok ! hayt, Scot ! what spare ye for the

stones ?

The feend,’ quod he, ‘ yow fecche body and


As ferforthly as ever were ye foled !

So muche wo as I have with yow tholed !

The devel have al, bothe hors and cart and hey ! ‘

This Somnour seyde, ‘ heer shal we have a pley ; ‘

And neer the feend he drough, as noght ne were,

Ful prively, and rouned in his ere :

‘ Herkne, my brother, herkne, by thy feith ;

Herestow nat how that the carter seith ?

Hent it anon, for he hath yeve it thee,

Bothe hey and cart, and eek hise caples three.’

‘ Nay,’ quod the devel, ‘ god wot, never a deel ;

It is nat his entente, trust me weel.

Axe him thy-self, if thou nat trowest me,

Or elles stint a while, and thou shalt see.’

This carter thakketh his hors upon the croupe,

And they bigonne drawen and to-stoupe ;

‘ Heyt, now ! ‘ quod he, ‘ ther Jesu Crist yow blesse,

And al his handwerk, bothe more and lesse !

That was wel twight, myn owene lyard boy !

I pray god save thee and seynt Loy !

Now is my cart out of the slow, pardee ! ‘

‘Lo ! brother,’ quod the feend, ‘what tolde I thee ?

Heer may ye see, myn owene dere brother,

The carl spak oo thing, but he thoghte another.

Lat us go forth abouten our viage ;

Heer winne I no-thing up-on cariage.’

Whan that they comen som-what out of toune,

This Somnour to his brother gan to roune,

‘ Brother,’ quod he, ‘ heer woneth an old rebekke,

That hadde almost as lief to lese hir nekke

As for to yeve a peny of hir good.

I wol han twelf pens, though that she be wood,

Or I wol sompne hir un-to our offyce ;

And yet, god woot, of hir knowe I no vyce.

But for thou canst nat, as in this contree,

Winne thy cost, tak heer ensample of me.’

This Somnour clappeth at the widwes gate.

‘ Com out,’ quod he, ‘ thou olde viritrate !

I trowe thou hast som frere or preest with thee ! ‘

‘ Who clappeth ? ‘ seyde this widwe, ‘ ben 1 cite !

God save you, sire, what is your swete wille ? ‘

‘ I have,’ quod he, ‘ of somonce here a bille ;

Up peyne of cursing, loke that thou be

To -morn bifore the erchedeknes knee

T’answere to the court of certeyn thinges.’

‘Now, lord,’ quod she, ‘Crist Jesu, king of kinges,

So wisly helpe me, as I ne may.

I have been syk, and that ful many a day.

I may nat go so fer,’ quod she, ‘ ne ryde,

But I be deed, so priketh it in my syde.

May I nat axe a libel, sir Somnour,

And answere there, by my procutour,

To swich thing as men wol opposen me ? ‘

‘ Yis,’ quod this Somnour, ‘ pay anon, lat se,

Twelf pens to me, and I wol thee acquyte.

I shall no profit han ther-by but lyte ;

My maister hath the profit, and nat I.

Com of, and lat me ryden hastily ;

Yif me twelf pens, I may no lenger tarie.’

‘ Twelf pens,’ quod she, ‘ now lady Seinte Marie

So wisly help me out of care and sinne,

This wyde world thogh that I sholde winne,

Ne have I nat twelf pens with-inne myn hold.

Ye knowen wel that I am povre and old ;

Kythe your almesse on me povre wrecche.’

‘ Nay than,’ quod he, ‘ the foule feend me feeche

If I th’excuse, though thou shul be spilt ! ‘

‘ Alas,’ quod she, ‘ god woot, I have no gilt.’

‘ Pay me,’ quod he, ‘ or by the swete seinte Anne,

As I wol bere awey thy newe panne

For dette, which that thou owest me of old,

Whan that thou madest thyn housbond cokewold,

I payde at hoom for thy correccioun.’

‘ Thou lixt,’ quod she, ‘ by my savacioun !

Ne was I never er now, widwe ne wyf,

Somoned un-to your court in al my lyf ;

Ne never I nas but of my body trewe !

Un-to the devel blak and rough of hewe

Yeve I thy body and my panne also ! ‘

And whan the devel herde hir cursen so

Up-on hir knees, he seyde in this manere,

‘ Now Mabely, myn owene moder dere,

Is this your wil in ernest, that ye seye ? ‘

‘ The devel,’ quod she, ‘ so feeche him er he deye,

And panne and al, but he wol him repente ! ‘

‘ Nay, olde stot, that is nat myn entente,’

Quod this Somnour, ‘ for to repente me,

For any thing that I have had of thee ;

I wolde I hadde thy smok and every clooth ! ‘

‘ Now, brother,’ quod the devel, ‘ be nat wrooth ;

Thy body and this panne ben myne by right.

Thou shalt with me to helle yet to-night,

Where thou shalt knowen of our privetee

More than a maister of divinitee : ‘

And with that word this foule feend him hente ;

Body and soule, he with the devel wente

Wher-as that somnours han hir heritage.

And god, that maked after his image

Mankinde, save and gyde us alle and some ;

And leve this Somnour good man to bicome !

Lordinges, I coude han told yow, quod this Frere,

Hadde I had leyser for this Somnour here,

After the text of Crist [and] Poul and John,

And of our othere doctours many oon,

Swiche peynes, that your hertes mighte agryse,

Al-be-it so, no tonge may devyse,

Thogh that I mighte a thousand winter telle,

The peyne of thilke cursed hous of helle.

But, for to kepe us fro that cursed place,

Waketh, and preyeth Jesu for his grace

So kepe us fro the temptour Sathanas.

Herketh this word, beth war as in this cas ;

The leoun sit in his await alway

To slee the innocent, if that he may.

Disposeth ay your hertes to withstonde

The feend, that yow wolde make thral and bonde.

He may nat tempten yow over your might ;

For Crist wol be your champion and knight.

And prayeth that thise Somnours hem repente

Of hir misdedes, er that the feend hem hente.

Here endeth the Freres Tale.