The Tale of the Man of Lawe

The wordes of the Hoost to the companye.

Our Hoste sey wel that the brighte sonne

Th’ark of his artificial day had ronne

The fourthe part, and half an houre, and more ;

And though he were not depe expert in lore,

He wiste it was the eightetethe day

Of April, that is messager to May ;

And sey wel that the shadwe of every tree

Was as in lengthe the same quantitee

That was the body erect that caused it.

And therfor by the shadwe he took his wit

That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte,

Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte ;

And for that day, as in that latitude,

It was ten of the clokke, he gan conclude,

And sodeynly he plighte his hors aboute.

‘ Lordinges,’ quod he, ‘ I warne yow, al this route,

The fourthe party of this day is goon ;

Now, for the love of god and of seint John,

Leseth no tyme, as ferforth as ye may ;

Lordinges, the tyme wasteth night and day,

And steleth from us, what prively slepinge,

And what thurgh necligence in our wakinge,

As dooth the streem, that turneth never agayn,

Descending fro the montaigne in-to playn.

Wel can Senek, and many a philosophre

Biwailen tyme, more than gold in cofre.

“For los of catel may recovered be,

But los of tyme shendeth us,” quod he.

It wol nat come agayn, with-outen drede,

Na more than wol Malkins maydenhede,

Whan she hath lost it in hir wantownesse ;

Lat us nat moulen thus in ydelnesse.

Sir man of la we,’ quod he, ‘ so have ye blis,

Tel us a tale anon, as forward is ;

Ye been submitted thurgh your free assent

To stonde in this cas at my jugement.

Acquiteth yow, and holdeth your biheste,

Than have ye doon your devoir atte leste.’

‘ Hoste,’ quod he, ‘ depardieux ich assente,

To breke forward is not myn entente.

Biheste is dette, and I wol holde fayn

Al my biheste ; I can no better seyn.

For swich lawe as man yeveth another wight,

He sholde him-selven usen it by right ;

Thus wol our text ; but natheles certeyn

I can right now no thrifty tale seyn,

But Chaucer, though he can but lewedly

On metres and on ryming craftily,

Hath seyd hem in swich English as he can

Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man.

And if he have not seyd hem, leve brother,

In o bok, he hath seyd hem in another.

For he hath told of loveres up and doun

Mo than Ovyde made of mencioun

In his Epistelles, that been ful olde.

What sholde I tellen hem, sin they ben tolde ?

In youthe he made of Ceys and Alcion,

And sithen hath he spoke of everichon,

Thise noble wyves and thise loveres eke.

Who-so that wol his large volume seke

Cleped the Seintes Legende of Cupyde,

Ther may he seen the large woundes wyde

Of Lucresse, and of Babilan Tisbee ;

The swerd of Dido for the false Enee ;

The tree of Phillis for hir Demophon ;

The pleinte of Dianire and Hermion,

Of Adriane and of Isiphilee ;

The bareyne yle stonding in the see ;

The dreynte Leander for his Erro ;

The teres of Eleyne, and eek the wo

Of Brixseyde, and of thee, Ladomea ;

The crueltee of thee, queen Medea,

Thy litel children hanging by the hals

For thy Jason, that was of love so fals !

Ypermistra, Penelopee, Alceste,

Your wyfhod he comendeth with the beste !

But certeinly no word ne wryteth he

Of thilke wikke ensample of Canacee,

That lovede hir owne brother sinfully ;

Of swiche cursed stories I sey “fy” ;

Or elles of Tyro Apollonius,

How that the cursed king Antiochus

Birafte his doghter of hir maydenhede,

That is so horrible a tale for to rede,

Whan he hir threw up-on the pavement.

And therfor he, of ful avysement,

Nolde never wryte in none of his sermouns

Of swiche unkinde abhominaciouns,

Ne I wol noon reherse, if that I may.

But of my tale how shal I doon this day ?

Me were looth be lykned, doutelees,

To Muses that men clepe Pierides —

Metamorphoseos wot what I mene : —

But nathelees, I recche noght a bene

Though I come after him with ha we- bake ;

1 speke in prose, and lat him rymes make.’

And with that word he, with a sobre chere,

Bigan his tale, as ye shal after here.

The Prologe of the Mannes Tale of Lawe.

O hateful harm ! condicion of poverte !

With thurst, with cold, with hunger so confounded !

To asken help thee shameth in thyn herte ;

If thou noon aske, with nede artow so wounded,

That verray nede unwrappeth al thy wounde hid !

Maugree thyn heed, thou most for indigence

Or stele, or begge, or borwe thy despence !

Thou blamest Crist, and seyst ful bitterly,

He misdeparteth richesse temporal ;

Thy neighebour thou wytest sinfully,

And seyst thou hast to lyte, and he hath al.

‘ Parfay,’ seistow, ‘ somtyme he rekne shal,

Whan that his tayl shal brennen in the glede,

For he noght helpeth needfulle in hir nede.’

Herkne what is the sentence of the wyse : —

‘ Bet is to dyen than have indigence;

‘ Thy selve neighebour wol thee despyse ; ‘

If thou be povre, farwel thy reverence !

Yet of the wyse man tak this sentence : —

‘ Alle the dayes of povre men ben wikke ; ‘

Be war therfor, er thou come in that prikke !

‘If thou be povre, thy brother hateth thee,

And alle thy freendes fleen fro thee, alas ! ‘

O riche marchaunts, ful of wele ben ye,

noble, o prudent folk, as in this cas !

Your bagges been nat filled with ambes as,

But with sis cink, that renneth for your chaunce ;

At Cristemasse merie may ye daunce !

Ye seken lond and see for your winninges,

As wyse folk ye knowen al th’estaat

Of regnes ; ye ben fadres of tydinges

And tales, bothe of pees and of debat.

I were right now of tales desolat,

Nere that a marchaunt, goon is many a yere,

Me taughte a talc, which that ye shal here.

Here beginneth the Man of Lawe his Tale

In Surrie whylom dwelte a companye

Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,

That wyde-wher senten her spycerye,

Clothes of gold, and satins riche of hewe ;

Her chaffar was so thrifty and so newe,

That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare

With hem, and eek to sellen hem hir ware.

Now fel it, that the maistres of that sort

Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende ;

Were it for chapmanhode or for disport,

Non other message wolde they thider sende,

But comen hem-self to Rome, this is the ende ;

And in swich place, as thoughte hem avantage

For her entente, they take her herbergage.

Sojourned han thise marchants in that toun

A certein tyme, as fel to hir plesance.

And so bifel, that th’excellent renoun

Of th’emperoures doghter, dame Custance,

Reported was, with every circumstance,

Un-to thise Surrien marchants in swich wyse,

Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.

This was the commune vois of every man —

‘Our Emperour of Rome, god him see,

A doghter hath that, sin the world bigan,

To rekne as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,

Nas never swich another as is she ;

I prey to god in honour hir sustene,

And wolde she were of al Europe the quene.

In hir is heigh beautee, with-oute pryde,

Yowthe, with-oute grenehede or folye ;

To alle hir werkes vertu is hir gyde,

Humblesse hath slayn in hir al tirannye.

She is mirour of alle curteisye ;

Hir herte is verray chambre of holinesse,

Hir hand, ministre of fredom for almesse.’

And al this vois was soth, as god is trewe,

But now to purpos lat us turne agayn ;

Thise marchants han doon fraught hir shippes newe,

And, whan they han this blisful mayden seyn,

Hoom to Surrye been they went ful fayn,

And doon her nedes as they han don yore,

And liven in wele ; I can sey yow no more.

Now fel it, that thise marchants stode in grace

Of him, that was the sowdan of Surrye;

For whan they came from any strange place,

He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,

Make hem good chere, and bisily espye

Tydings of sondry regnes, for to lere

The wondres that they mighte seen or here.

Amonges othere thinges, specially

Thise marchants han him told of dame distance,

So gret noblesse in ernest, ceriously,

That this sowdan hath caught so gret plesance

To han hir figure in his remembrance,

That al his lust and al his bisy cure

Was for to love hir whyl his lyf may dure.

Paraventure in thilke large book

Which that men clepe the heven, y-writen was

With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,

That he for love shulde han his deeth, allas !

For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,

Is writen, god wot, who-so coude it rede,

The deeth of every man, withouten drede.

In sterres, many a winter ther-biforn,

Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,

Of Pompey, Julius, er they were born ;

The stryf of Thebes ; and of Ercules,

Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates

The deeth ; but mennes wittes been so dulle,

That no wight can wel rede it atte fulle.

This sowdan for his privee conseil sente,

And, shortly of this mater for to pace,

He hath to hem declared his entente,

And seyde hem certein, ‘ but he mighte have grace

To han Custance with-inne a litel space,

He nas but deed ;’ and charged hem, in hye,

To shapen for his lyf som remedye.

Diverse men diverse thinges seyden ;

They argumenten, casten up and doun

Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden,

They speken of magik and abusioun ;

But finally, as in conclusioun,

They can not seen in that non avantage,

Ne in non other wey, save mariage.

Than sawe they ther-in swich difficultee

By wey of resoun, for to speke al playn,

By-cause that ther was swich diversitee

Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn,

They trowe ‘ that no cristen prince wolde fayn

Wedden his child under oure lawes swete

That us were taught by Mahoun our prophete.’

And he answerde, ‘ rather than I lese

Custance, I wol be cristned doutelees ;

I mot ben hires, I may non other chese.

I prey yow holde your arguments in pees ;

Saveth my lyf, and beeth noght recchelees

To geten hir that hath my lyf in cure ;

For in this wo I may not longe endure.’

What nedeth gretter dilatacioun ?

I seye, by tretis and embassadrye,

And by the popes mediacioun,

And al the chirche, and al the chivalrye,

That, in destruccioun of Maumetrye,

And in encrees of Cristes lawe dere,

They ben acorded, so as ye shal here ;

How that the sowdan and his baronage

And alle his liges shulde y-cristned be,

And he shal han Custance in mariage,

And certein gold, I noot what quantitee,

And her-to founden sumsant seurtee ;

This same acord was sworn on eyther syde ;

Now, faire Custance, almighty god thee gyde !

Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,

That I shulde tellen al the purveyance

That th’emperour, of his grete noblesse,

Hath shapen for his doghter dame Custance.

Wei may men knowe that so gret ordinance

May no man tellen in a litel clause

As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.

Bisshopes ben shapen with hir for to wende,

Lordes, ladyes, knightes of renoun,

And other folk y-nowe, this is the ende ;

And notifyed is thurgh-out the toun

That every wight, with gret devocioun,

Shulde preyen Crist that he this mariage

Receyve in gree, and spede this viage.

The day is comen of hir departinge,

I sey, the woful day fatal is come,

That ther may be no lenger taryinge,

But forth ward they hem dressen, alle and some ;

Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,

Ful pale arist, and dresseth hir to wende ;

For wel she seeth ther is non other ende.

Allas ! what wonder is it though she wepte,

That shal be sent to strange nacioun

Fro freendes, that so tendrely hir kepte,

And to be bounden under subieccioun

Of oon, she knoweth not his condicioun.

Housbondes been alle gode, and han ben yore,

That knowen wyves, I dar say yow no more.

‘Fader,’ she sayde, ‘ thy wrecched child Custance,

Thy yonge doghter, fostred up so softe.

And ye, my moder, my soverayn plesance

Over alle thing, out-taken Crist on-lofte,

Custance, your child, hir recomandeth ofte

Un-to your grace, for I shal to Surrye,

Ne shal I never seen yow more with ye.

Allas ! un-to the Barbre nacioun

I moste anon, sin that it is your wille ;

But Crist, that starf for our redempcioun,

So yeve me grace, his hestes to fulfille ;

I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille.

Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,

And to ben under mannes governance.’

I trowe, at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal

Or Ylion brende, at Thebes the citee,

N’at Rome, for the harm thurgh Hanibal

That Romayns hath venquisshed tymes three,

Nas herd swich tendre weping for pitee

As in the chambre was for hir departinge ;

Bot forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or singe.

O firste moeving cruel firmament,

With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay

And hurlest al from Est til Occident,

That naturelly wolde holde another way,

Thy crowding set the heven in swich array

At the beginning of this fiers viage,

That cruel Mars hath slayn this mariage.

Infortunat ascendent tortuous,

Of which the lord is helples falle, allas !

Out of his angle in-to the derkest hous.

O Mars, O Atazir, as in this cas !

O feble mone, unhappy been thy pas !

Thou knittest thee ther thou art nat receyved,

Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.

Imprudent emperour of Rome, allas !

Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun ?

Is no tyme bet than other in swich cas ?

Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,

Namely to folk of heigh condicioun,

Nat whan a rote is of a birthe y-knowe ?

Allas ! we ben to lewed or to slowe.

To shippe is brought this woful faire mayde

Solempnely, with every circumstance.

‘ Now Jesu Crist be with yow alle,’ she sayde ;

Ther nis namore but ‘ farewel ! faire Custance ! ;

She peyneth hir to make good countenance,

And forth I lete hir sayle in this manere,

And turne I wol agayn to my matere.

The moder of the sowdan, welle of vyces,

Espyod hath hir sones pleyn entente,

How he wol lete his olde sacrifyces,

And right anon she for hir conseil sente ;

And they ben come, to knowe what she mente.

And when assembled was this folke in-fere,

She sette hir doun, and sayde as ye shal here,

‘ Lordes,’ quod she, ‘ ye knowen everichon,

How that my sone in point is for to lete

The holy lawes of our Alkaron,

Yeven by goddes message Makomete.

But oon avow to grete god I hete,

The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte

Than Makometes lawe out of myn herte !

What shulde us tyden of this newe lawe

But thraldom to our bodies and penance ?

And afterward in helle to be drawe

For we reneyed Mahoun our creance ?

But, lordes, wol ye maken assurance,

As I shal seyn, assenting to my lore,

And I shall make us sauf for evermore ? ‘

They sworen and assenten, every man,

To live with hir and dye, and by hir stonde ;

And everich, in the beste wyse he can,

To strengthen hir shal alle his freendes fonde ;

And she hath this empryse y-take on honde,

Which ye shal heren that I shal devyse,

And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse.

‘ We shul first feyne us cristendom to take,

Cold water shal not greve us but a lyte ;

And I shal swich a feste and revel make,

That, as I trowe, I shal the sowdan quyte.

For though his wyf be cristned never so whyte,

She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,

Thogh she a font-ful water with hir lede.’

O sowdanesse, rote of iniquitee,

Virago, thou Semyram the secounde,

O serpent under femininitee,

Lyk to the serpent depe in helle y-bounde,

O feyned womman, al that may confounde

Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malyce,

Is bred in thee, as nest of every vyce !

O Satan, envious sin thilke day

That thou were chased from our heritage,

Wei knowestow to wommen the olde way !

Thou madest Eva bringe us in servage.

Thou wolt fordoon this cristen mariage.

Thyn instrument so, weylawey the whyle !

Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt begyle.

This sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warie,

Leet prively hir conseil goon hir way.

What sholde I in this tale lenger tarie ?

She rydeth to the sowdan on a day,

And seyde him, that she wolde reneye hir lay,

And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,

Repenting hir she hethen was so longe,

Biseching him to doon hir that honour,

That she moste han the cristen men to feste ;

‘ To plesen hem I wol do my labour.’

The sowdan seith, ‘ I wol don at your heste,’

And kneling thanketh hir of that requeste.

So glad he was, he niste what to seye ;

She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.

Explicit prima pars.


Sequitur pars secunda.

Arryved ben this Cristen folk to londe,

In Surrie, with a greet solempne route,

And hastily this sowdan sente his sonde,

First to his moder, and al the regne aboute,

And seyde, his wyf was comen, out of doute,

And preyde hir for to ryde agayn the quene,

The honour of his regne to sustene.

Gret was the prees, and riche was th’ array

Of Surriens and Romayns met y-fere ;

The moder of the sowdan, riche and gay,

Receyveth hir with al-so glad a chere

As any moder mighte hir doghter dere,

And to the nexte citee ther bisyde

A softe pas solempnely they ryde.

Noght trowe I the triumphe of Julius,

Of which that Lucan maketh swich a bost,

Was royaller, ne more curious

Than was th’assemblee of this blisful host.

But this scorpioun, this wikked gost,

The sowdanesse, for al hir flateringe,

Caste under this ful mortally to stinge.

The sowdan comth him -self sone after this

So royally, that wonder is to telle,

And welcometh hir with alle joye and blis.

And thus in merthe and joye I lete hem dwelle.

The fruyt of this matere is that I telle.

Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste

That revel stinte, and men goon to hir reste.

The tyme cam, this olde sowdanesse

Ordeyned hath this feste of which I tolde,

And to the feste Cristen folk hem dresse

In general, ye ! bothe yonge and olde.

Here may men feste and royaltee biholde,

And deyntees mo than I can yow devyse,

But al to dere they bough te it er they ryse.

O sodeyn wo ! that ever art successour

To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse ;

Th’ende of the joye of our worldly labour ;

Wo occupieth the fyn of our gladnesse.

Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse,

Up-on thy glade day have in thy minde

The unwar wo or harm that comth bihinde.

For shortly for to tellen at o word,

The sowdan and the Cristen everichone

Ben al to-hewe and stiked at the bord,

But it were only dame Custance allone.

This olde sowdanesse, cursed crone,

Hath with hir frendes doon this cursed dede,

For she hir-self wolde al the contree lede.

Ne ther was Surrien noon that was converted

That of the conseil of the sowdan woot,

That he nas al to-hewe er he asterted.

And Custance han they take anon, foot-hoot,

And in a shippe al sterelees, god woot,

They han hir set, and bidde hir lerne sayle

Out of Surrye agaynward to Itayle.

A certein tresor that she thider ladde,

And, sooth to sayn, vitaille gret plentee

They han hir yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,

And forth she sayleth in the salte see.

O my Custance, ful of bepignitee,

O emperoures yonge doghter dere,

He that is lord of fortune be thy stere !

She blesseth hir, and with ful pitous voys

Un-to the croys of Crist thus seyde she,

‘ O clere, o welful auter, holy croys,

Reed of the lambes blood full of pitee,

That wesh the world fro the olde iniquitee,

Me fro the feend, and fro his clawes kepe,

That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.

Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,

That only worthy were for to bere

The king of heven with his woundes newe,

The whyte lamb, that hurt was with the spere,

Flemer of feendes out of him and here

On which thy limes feithfully extenden,

Me keep, and yif me might my lyf t’amenden.’

Yeres and dayes fleet this creature

Thurghout the see of Grece un-to the strayte

Of Marrok, as it was hir aventure ;

On many a sory meel now may she bayte ;

After her deeth ful often may she wayte,

Er that the wilde wawes wol hir dryve

Un-to the place, ther she shal arryve.

Men mighten asken why she was not slayn ?

Eek at the feste who mighte hir body save ?

And I answere to that demaunde agayn,

Who saved Daniel in the horrible cave,

Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,

Was with the leoun frete er he asterte ?

No wight but god, that he bar in his herte.

God liste to shewe his wonderful miracle

In hir, for we sholde seen his mighty werkes ;

Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,

By certein menes ofte, as knowen clerkes,

Doth thing for certein ende that ful derk is

To mannes wit, that for our ignorance

Ne conne not knowe his prudent purveyance.

Now, sith she was not at the feste y-slawe,

Who kepte hir fro the drenching in the see ?

Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe

Til he was spouted up at Ninivee ?

Wei may men knowe it was no wight but he

That kepte peple Ebraik fro hir drenchinge,

With drye feet thurgh-out the see passinge.

Who bad the foure spirits of tempest,

That power han t’anoyen land and see,

‘ Bothe north and south, and also west and est,

Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree ? ‘

Sothly, the comaundour of that was he,

That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte

As wel whan [that] she wook as whan she slepte.

Wher mighte this womman mete and drinke have ?

Three yeer and more how lasteth hir vitaille ?

Who fedde the Egipcien Marie in the cave,

Or in desert ? no wight but Crist, sans faille.

Fyve thousand folk it was as gret mervaiile

With loves fyve and fisshes two to fede.

God sente his foison at hir grete nede.

She dryveth forth in -to our occean

Thurgh-out our wilde see, til, atte laste,

Under an hold that nempnen I ne can,

Fer in Northumberlond the wawe hir caste,

And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste,

That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde,

The wille of Crist was that she shulde abyde.

The constable of the castel doun is fare

To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,

And fond this wery womman ful of care ;

He fond also the tresor that she broghte.

In hir langage mercy she bisoghte

The lyf out of hir body for to twinne,

Hir to delivere of wo that she was inne.

A maner Latin corrupt was hir speche,

But algates ther-by was she understonde ;

The constable, whan him list no lenger seche,

This woful womman broghte he to the londe ;

She knelefch doun, and thanketh goddes sonde.

But what she was, she wolde no man seye,

For foul ne fair, thogh that she shulde deye.

She seyde, she was so mased in the see

That she forgat hir minde, by hir trouthe ;

The constable hath of hir so greet pitee,

And eek his wyf, that they wepen for routhe,

She was so diligent, with-outen slouthe,

To serve and plesen everich in that place,

That alle hir loven that loken on hir face.

This constable and dame Hermengild his wyf

Were payens, and that contree everywhere ;

But Hermengild lovede hir right as hir lyf,

And Custance hath so longe sojourned there,

In orisons, with many a bitter tere,

Til Jesu hath converted thurgh his grace

Dame Hermengild, constablesse of that place.

In al that lond no Cristen durste route,

Alle Cristen folk ben fled fro that contree

Thurgh payens, that conquereden al aboute

The plages of the North, by land and see ;

To Walis fled the Cristianitee

Of olde Britons, dwellinge in this yle ;

Ther was hir refut for the mene whyle.

But yet nere Cristen Britons so exyled

That ther nere somme that in hir privetee

Honoured Crist, and hethen folk bigyled ;

And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three.

That oon of hem was blind, and mighte nat see

But it were with thilke yen of his minde,

With whiche men seen, after that they ben blinde.

Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,

For which the constable and his wyf also

And Custance han y-take the righte way

Toward the see, a furlong wey or two,

To pleyen and to romen to and fro ;

And in hir walk this blinde man they mette

Croked and old, with yen faste y-shette.

‘ In name of Crist,’ cryde this blinde Britoun,

‘ Dame Hermengild, yif me my sighte agayn,’

This lady wex affrayed of the soun,

Lest that hir housbond, shortly for to sayn,

Wolde hir for Jesu Cristes love han slayn,

Til Custance made hir bold, and bad hir werche

The wil of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.

The constable wex abasshed of that sight,

And seyde, ‘ what amounteth al this fare ? ‘

Custance answerde, ‘ sire, it is Cristes might,

That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare.’

And so ferforth she gan our lay declare,

That she the constable, er that it were eve,

Converted, and on Crist made him bileve.

This constable was no-thing lord of this place

Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond,

But kepte it strongly, many wintres space,

Under Alla, king of al Northumberlond,

That was ful wys, and worthy of his hond

Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel here,

But turne I wol agayn to my matere.

Sathan, that ever us waiteth to bigyle,

Saugh of Custance al hir perfeccioun,

And caste anon how he mighte quyte hir whyle,

And made a yong knight, that dwelte in that toun,

Love hir so hote, of foul affeccioun,

That verraily him thoughte he shulde spille

But he of hir mighte ones have his wille.

He woweth hir, but it availleth noght,

She wolde do no sinne, by no weye ;

And, for despyt, he compassed in his thoght

To maken hir on shamful deth to deye.

He wayteth whan the constable was aweye,

And prively, up-on a night, he crepte

In Hermengildes chambre whyl she slepte. –

Wery, for-waked in her orisouns,

Slepeth Custance, and Hermengild also.

This knight, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,

Al softely is to the bed y-go,

And kitte the throte of Hermengild a-two,

And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,

And wente his wey, ther god yeve him meschance [

Sone after comth this constable hoom agayn,

And eek Alla, that king was of that lond,

And saugh his wyf despitously y-slayn,

For which ful ofte he weep and wrong his hond,

And in the bed the blody knyf he fond

By dame Custance ; allas ! what mighte she seye ?

For verray wo hir wit was al aweye.

To king Alla was told al this meschance,

And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wyse

That in a ship was founden dame Custance,

As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.

The kinges herte of pitee gan agryse,

Whan he saugh so benigne a creature

Falle in disese and in misa venture.

For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,

So stant this innocent bifore the king ;

This false knight that hath this tresoun wroght

Berth hir on hond that she hath doon this thing.

But nathelees, ther was [ful] greet moorning

Among the peple, and seyn, ‘ they can not gesse

That she hath doon so greet a wikkednesse.

For they han seyn hir ever so vertuous,

And loving Hermengild right as her lyf.’

Of this bar witnesse everich in that hous

Save he that Hermengild slow with his knyf.

This gentil king hath caught a gret motyf

Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere

Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.

Allas ! Custance ! thou hast no champioun,

Ne fighte canstow nought, so weylawey !

But he, that starf for our redempcioun

And bond Sathan (and yit lyth ther he lay)

So be thy stronge champioun this day !

For, but-if Crist open miracle kythe,

Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swythe.

She sette her doun on knees, and thus she sayde,

‘ Immortal god, that savedest Susanne

Fro false blame, and thou, merciful mayde,

Mary I mene, doghter to Seint Anne,

Bifore whos child aungeles singe Osanne,

If I be giltlees of this felonye,

My socour be, for elles I shal dye ! ‘

Have ye nat seyn som tyme a pale face,

Among a prees, of him that hath be lad

Toward his deeth, wher-as him gat no grace,

And swich a colour in his face hath had,

Men mighte knowe his face, that was bistad,

Amonges alle the faces in that route :

So stant Custance, and loketh hir aboute.

O quenes, livinge in prosperitee,

Duchesses, and ye ladies everichone,

Haveth som routhe on hir adversitee ;

An emperoures doghter stant allone ;

She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.

O blood royal, that stondest in this drede,

Fer ben thy freendes at thy grete nede !

This Alla king hath swich compassioun,

As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,

That from his yen ran the water doun.

‘ Now hastily do fecche a book,’ quod he,

‘ And if this knight wol sweren how that she

This womman slow, yet wole we us avyse

Whom that we wole that shal ben our justyse.’

A Briton book, writen with Evangyles,

Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon

She gilty was, and in the mene whyles

A hand him smoot upon the nekke-boon,

That doun he fil atones as a stoon,

And bothe his yen broste out of his face

In sight of every body in that place.

A vois was herd in general audience,

And seyde, ‘ thou hast desclaundred giltelees

The doghter of holy chirche in hey presence ;

Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees.’

Of this mervaille agast was al the prees ;

As mased folk they stoden everichone,

For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.

Greet was the drede and eek the repentance

Of hem that hadden wrong suspeccioun

Upon this sely innocent Custance ;

And, for this miracle, in conclusioun,

And by Custances mediacioun,

The king, and many another in that place,

Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace !

This false knight was slayn for his untrouthe

By jugement of Alla hastifly ;

And yet Custance hadde of his deeth gret routhe.

And after this Jesus, of his mercy,

Made Alla wedden ful solempnely

This holy mayden, that is so bright and shene,

And thus hath Crist y-maad Custance a quene.

But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,

Of this wedding but Donegild, and na mo,

The kinges moder, ful of tirannye ?

Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast a-two ;

She wolde noght hir sone had do so ;

Hir thoughte a despit, that he sholde take

So strange a creature un-to his make.

Me list nat of the chaf nor of the stree

Maken so long a tale, as of the corn.

What sholde I tellen of the royaltee

At mariage, or which cours gooth biforn,

Who bloweth in a trompe or in an horn ?

The fruit of every tale is for to seye ;

They ete, and drinke, and daunce, and singe, and


They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right ;

For, thogh that wyves been ful holy thinges,

They moste take in pacience at night

Swich maner necessaries as been plesinges

To folk that han y-wedded hem with ringes,

And leye a lyte hir holinesse asyde

As for the tyme ; it may no bet bityde.

On hir he gat a knave-child anoon,

And to a bishop and his constable eke

He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is goon

To Scotland-ward, his fo-men for to seke ;

Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,

So longe is goon with childe, til that stille

She halt hir chambre, abyding Cristes wille.

The tyme is come, a knave-child she ber ;

Mauricius at the font-stoon they him calle ;

This constable dooth forth come a messager,

And wroot un-to his king, that cleped was Alle,

How that this blisful tyding is bifalle,

And othere tydings speedful for to seye ;

He tak’th the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.

This messager, to doon his avantage,

Un-to the kinges moder rydeth swythe,

And salueth hir ful faire in his langage,

‘ Madame,’ quod he, ‘ye may be glad and blythe,

And thanke god an hundred thousand sythe ;

My lady quene hath child, with-outen doute,

To joye and blisse of al this regne aboute.

Lo, heer the lettres seled of this thing,

That I mot bere with al the haste I may ;

If ye wol aught un-to your sone the king,

I am your servant, bothe night and day.’

Donegild answerde, ‘ as now at this tyme, nay ;

But heer al night I wol thou take thy reste,

Tomorwe wol I seye thee what me leste.’

This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,

And stolen were his lettres prively

Out of his box, whyl he sleep as a swyn ;

And countrefeted was ful subtilly

Another lettre, wroght ful sinfully,

Un-to the king direct of this matere

Fro his constable, as ye shul after here.

The lettre spak, ‘ the queen delivered was

Of so horrible a feendly creature,

That in the castel noon so hardy was

That any whyle dorste ther endure.

The moder was an elf, by aventure

Y-come, by charmes or by sorcerye,

And every wight hateth hir companye.’

Wo was this king whan he this lettre had seyn,

But to no wighte he tolde his sorwes sore,

But of his owene honde he wroot ageyn,

Welcome the sonde of Crist for evermore

To me, that am now lerned in his lore ;

Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce,

My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce !

Kepeth this child, al be it foul or fair,

And eek my wyf, un-to myn hoom-cominge ;

Crist, whan him list, may sende me an heir

More agreable than this to my lykinge.’

This lettre he seleth, prively wepinge,

Which to the messager was take sone.

And forth he gooth ; ther is na more to done.

O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse.

Strong is thy breeth, thy limes faltren ay,

And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.

Thy mind is lorn, thou janglest as a jay,

Thy face is turned in a newe array !

Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,

Ther is no conseil hid, with-outen doute.

O Donegild, I ne have noon English digne

Un-to thy malice and thy tirannye !

And therfor to the feend I thee resigne,

Let him endyten of thy traitorye !

Fy, mannish, fy ! o nay, by god, I lye,

Fy, feendly spirit, for I dar wel telle,

Though thou heer walke, thy spirit is in helle !

This messager comth fro the king agayn,

And at the kinges modres court he lighte,

And she was of this messager ful fayn,

And plesed him in al that ever she mighte.

He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte.

He slepeth, and he snoreth in his gyse

Al night, un-til the sonne gan aryse.

Eft were his lettres stolen everichon

And countrefeted lettres in this wyse ;

‘ The king comandeth his constable anon,

Up peyne of hanging, and on heigh juyse,

That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse

Custance in-with his regne for t’abyde

Thre dayes and a quarter of a tyde ;

But in the same ship as he hir fond,

Hir and hir yonge sone, and al hir gere,

He sholde putte, and croude hir fro the lond,

And charge hir that she never eft come there.’

O my Custance, wel may thy goost have fere

And sleping in thy dreem been in penance,

When Donegild caste al this ordinance !

This messager on morwe, whan he wook,

Un-to the castel halt the nexte wey,

And to the constable he the lettre took ;

And whan that he this pitous lettre sey,

Ful of te he seyde ‘ allas ! ‘ and ‘ weylawey ! ‘

‘ Lord Crist,’ quod he, ‘ how may this world endure ?

So ful of sinne is many a creature !

O mighty god, if that it be thy wille,

Sith thou art rightful juge, how may it be

That thou wolt suffren innocents to spille,

And wikked folk regne in prosperitee ?

O good Custance, allas ! so wo is me

That I mot be thy tormentour, or deye

On shames deeth ; ther is noon other weye ! ‘

Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place,

Whan that the king this cursed lettre sente,

And Custance, with a deedly pale face,

The ferthe day toward hir ship she wente.

But natheles she taketh in good entente

The wille of Crist, and, kneling on the stronde,

She seyde, ‘ lord ! ay wel-com be thy sonde !

He that me kepte fro the false blame

Whyl I was on the londe amonges yow,

He can me kepe from harme and eek fro shame

In salte see, al-thogh I see nat how.

As strong as ever he was, he is yet now.

In him triste I, and in his moder dere,

That is to me my seyl and eek my stere.’

Hir litel child lay weping in hir arm,

And kneling, pitously to him she seyde,

‘ Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee non harm.’

With that hir kerchef of hir heed she breyde,

And over his litel yen she it leyde ;

And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,

And in-to heven hir yen up she caste.

‘ Moder,’ quod she, ‘ and mayde bright, Marye,

Sooth is that thurgh wommannes eggement

Mankind was lorn and damned ay to dye,

For which thy child was on a croys y-rent ;

Thy blisful yen sawe al his torment ;

Than is ther no comparisoun bitwene

Thy wo and any wo man may sustene.

Thou sawe thy child, y-slayn bifor thyn yen,

And yet now liveth my litel child, parfay !

Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cry en,

Thou glorie of wommanhede, thou faire may,

Thou haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,

Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse

Rewest on every rewful in distresse !

O litel child, allas ! what is thy gilt,

That never wroughtest sinne as yet, pardee,

Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt ?

O mercy, dere constable ! ‘ quod she ;

‘ As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee ;

And if thou darst not saven him, for blame,

So kis him ones in his fadres name ! ‘

Ther-with she loketh bakward to th°! londe,

And seyde, ‘ far-wel, housbond routhelees ! ‘

And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde

Toward the ship ; hir folweth al the prees,

And ever she preyeth hir child to holde his pees ;

And taketh hir leve, and with an holy entente

She blesseth hir ; and in -to ship she wente.

Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,

Habundantly for hir, ful longe space,

And other necessaries that sholde nede

She hadde y-nogh, heried be goddes grace !

For wind and weder almighty god purchace,

And bringe hir hoom ! I can no bettre seye ;

But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.

Explicit secunda pars.


Sequitur pars tercia.

Alla the king comth hoom, sone after this,

Unto his castel of the which I tolde,

And axeth wher his wyf and his child is.

The constable gan aboute his herte colde,

And pleynly al the maner he him tolde

As ye han herd, I can telle it no bettre,

And sheweth the king his seel and [eek] his lettre,

And seyde, ‘ lord, as ye comaunded me

Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein.’

This messager tormented was til he

Moste biknowe and tellen, plat and plein,

Fro night to night, in what place he had leyn.

And thus, by wit and subtil enqueringe,

Ymagined was by whom this harm gan springe.

The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,

And al the venim of this cursed dede,

But in what wyse, certeinly I noot.

Th’effect is this, that Alla, out of drede,

His moder slow, that men may pleinly rede,

For that she traitour was to hir ligeaunce.

Thus endeth olde Donegild with meschaunce.

The sorwe that this Alla, night and day,

Maketh for his wyf and for his child also,

Ther is no tonge that it telle may.

But now wol I un-to distance go,

That fleteth in the see, in peyne and wo,

Fyve yeer and more, as lyked Cristes sonde,

Er that hir ship approched un-to londe.

Under an hethen castel, atte laste,

Of which the name in my text noght I finde,

Custance and eek hir child the see upcaste.

Almighty god, that saveth al mankinde,

Have on Custance and on hir child som minde,

That fallen is in hethen land eft-sone,

In point to spille, as I shal telle yow sone.

Doun from the castel comth ther many a wight

To gauren on this ship and on Custance.

But shortly, from the castel, on a night,

The lordes styward — god yeve him meschaunce ! —

A theef, that had reneyed our creaunce,

Com in-to ship allone, and seyde he sholde

Hir lemman be, wher-so she wolde or nolde.

Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon,

Hir child cryde, and she cryde pitously ;

But blisful Marie heelp hir right anon ;

For with hir strugling wel and mightily

The theef fil over bord al sodeinly,

And in the see he dreynte for vengeance ;

And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.

O foule lust of luxurie ! lo, thyn ende !

Nat only that thou feyntest mannes minde,

But verraily thou wolt his body shende ;

Th’ende of thy werk or of thy lustes blinde

Is compleyning, how many-oon may men finde

That noght for werk som-tyme, but for th’entente

To doon this sinne, ben outher sle}^ or shente !

How may this wayke womman han this strengthe

Hir to defende agayn this renegat ?

O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,

How mighte David make thee so mat,

So yong and of armure so desolat ?

How dorste he loke up-on thy dredful face ?

Wel may men seen, it nas but goddes grace !

Who yaf Judith corage or hardinesse

To sleen him, Olofernus, in his tente,

And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse

The peple of god ? I seye, for this entente,

That, right as god spirit of vigour sente

To hem, and saved hem out of meschance,

So sente he might and vigour to Custance.

Forth goth hir ship thurgh-out the narwe mouth

Of Jubaltar and Septe, dry ving ay,

Som-tyme West, som-tyme North and South,

And som-tyme Est, ful many a wery day,

Til Cristes moder (blessed be she ay !)

Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,

To make an ende of al hir hevinesse.

Now lat us stinte of Custance but a throwe,

And speke we of the Romain Emperour,

That out of Surrie hath by lettres knowe

The slaughtre of Cristen folk, and dishonour

Don to his doghter by a fals traitour,

I mene the cursed wikked sowdanesse,

That at the feste leet sleen both more and lesse.

For which this emperour hath sent anoon

His senatour, with royal ordinance,

And othere lordes, got wot, many oon,

On Surriens to taken heigh vengeance.

They brennen, sleen, and bringe hem to meschance

Ful many a day ; but shortly, this is the ende,

Horn ward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.

This senatour repaireth withi victorie

To Rome-ward, sayling ful royally,

And mette the ship dryving, as seith the storie,

In which Custance sit ful pitously.

No-thing ne knew he what she was, ne why

She was in swich array ; ne she nil seye

Of hir estaat, althogh she sholde deye.

He bringeth hir to Rome, and to his wyf

He yaf hir, and hir yonge sone also ;

And with the senatour she ladde her lyf.

Thus can our lady bringen out of wo

Woful Custance, and many another mo.

And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,

In holy werkes ever, as was hir grace.

The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,

But for al that she knew hir never the more ;

I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,

But to king Alla, which I spak of yore,

That for his wyf wepeth and syketh sore,

I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance

Under the senatoures governance.

King Alla, which that hadde his moder slayn,

Upon a day fil in swich repentance,

That, if I shortly tellen shal and plain,

To Rome he comth, to receyven his penance ;

And putte him in the popes ordinance

In heigh and low, and Jesu Crist bisoghte

Foryeve his wikked werkes that he wroghte.

The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born,

How Alla king shal come in pilgrimage,

By herbergeours that wenten him biforn ;

For which the senatour, as was usage,

Rood him ageyn, and many of his linage,

As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence

As to don any king a reverence.

Greet chere dooth this noble senatour

To king Alla, and he to him also ;

Everich of hem doth other greet honour ;

And so bifel that, in a day or two,

This senatour is to king Alla go

To feste, and shortly, if I shal nat lye,

Custances sone wente in his companye.

Som men wolde seyn, at requeste of Custance,

This senatour hath lad this child to feste ;

I may nat tellen every circumstance,

Be as be may, ther was he at the leste.

But soth is this, that, at his modres heste,

Biforn Alla, during the metes space,

The child stood, loking in the kinges face.

This Alla king hath of this child greet wonder,

And to the senatour he seyde anon,

‘ Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder ? *

‘ I noot,’ quod he, ‘ by god, and by seint John !

A moder he hath, but fader hath he non

That I of woot ‘ — but shortly, in a stounde,

He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.

‘ But god wot,’ quod this senatour also,

‘ So vertuous a livere in my lyf,

Ne saugh I never as she, ne herde of mo

Of worldly wommen, mayden, nor of wyf ;

I dar wel seyn hir hadde lever a knyf

Thurgh-out her breste, than been a womman wikke ;

Ther is no man coude bringe hir to that prikke.’

Now was this child as lyk un-to Custance

As possible is a creature to be.

This Alla hath the face in remembrance

Of dame Custance, and ther-on mused he

If that the childes moder were aught she

That was his wyf, and prively he sighte,

And spedde him fro the table that he mighte.

‘ Parfay,’ thoghte he, ‘ fantome is in myn heed !

I oghte deme, of skilful jugement,

That in the salte see my wyf is deed.’

And afterward he made his argument —

‘ What woot I, if that Crist have hider y-sent

My wyf by see, as wel as he hir sente

To my contree fro thennes that she wente ? ‘

And, after noon, hoom with the senatour

Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.

This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,

And hastifly he sente after Custaunce.

But trusteth weel, hir liste nat to daunce

Whan that she wiste wherefor was that sonde.

Unnethe up-on hir feet she mighte stonde.

When Alla saugh his wyf, faire he hir grette,

And weep, that it was routhe for to see.

For at the firste look he on hir sette

He knew wel verraily that it was she.

And she for sorwe as domb stant as a tree ;

So was hir herte shet in hir distresse

Whan she remembred his unkindenesse.

Twyes she swowned in his owne sighte ;

He weep, and him excuseth pitously : —

‘ Now god,’ quod he, ‘ and alle his halwes brighte

So wisly on my soule as have mercy,

That of your harm as giltelees am I

As is Maurice my sone so lyk your face ;

Elies the feend me fecche out of this place ! ‘

Long was the sobbing and the bitter peyne

Er that hir woful hertes mighte cesse ;

Greet was the pitee for to here hem pleyne,

Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.

I prey yow al my labour to relesse ;

I may nat telle hir wo un-til tomorwe,

I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.

But fynally, when that the sooth is wist

That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,

I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,

And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two

That, save the joye that lasteth evermo,

Ther is non lyk, that any creature

Hath seyn or shal, whyl that the world may dure.

Tho preyde she hir housbond mekely,

In relief of hir longe pitous pyne,

That he wold preye hir fader specially

That, of his magestee, he wolde enclyne

To vouche-sauf som day with him to dyne ;

She preyde him eek, he sholde by no weye

Un-to hir fader no word of hir seye.

Som men wold seyn, how that the child Maurice

Doth this message un-to this emperour ;

But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce

To him, that was of so sovereyn honour

As he that is of Cristen folk the flour,

Sente any child, but it is bet to deme

He wente him -self, and so it may wel seme.

This emperour hath graunted gentilly

To come to diner, as he him bisoghte ;

And wel rede I, he loked bisily

Up -on this child, and on his doghter thoghte.

Alla goth to his in, and, as him oghte,

Arrayed for this feste in every wyse

As ferforth as his conning may suflyse.

The morwe cam, and Alla gan him dresse,

And eek his wyf, this emperour to mete ;

And forth they ryde in joye and in gladnesse.

And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,

She lighte doun, and falleth him to fete.

‘ Fader,’ quod she, ‘ your yonge child Custance

Is now ful clene out of your remembrance.

I am your doghter Custance,’ quod she,

‘ That whylom ye han sent un-to Surrye.

It am I, fader, that in the salte see

Was put allone and dampned for to dye.

Now, gode fader, mercy I yow crye,

Send me namore un-to non hethenesse,

But thonketh my lord heer of his kindenesse.’

Who can the pitous joye tellen al

Bitwix hem three, sin they ben thus y-mette ?

But of my tale make an ende I shal ;

The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.

This glade folk to diner they hem sette ;

In joye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle

A thousand fold wel more than I can telle.

This child Maurice was sithen emperour

Maad by the pope, and lived Cristenly.

To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour ;

But I lete al his storie passen by,

Of Custance is my tale specially.

In olde Romayn gestes may men finde

Maurices lyf ; I bere it noght in minde.

This king Alla, whan he his tyme sey,

With his Custance, his holy wyf so swete,

To Engelond been they come the righte wey,

Wher-as they live in joye and in quiete.

But litel whyl it lasteth, I yow hete,

Joye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde ;

Fro day to night it changeth as the tyde.

Who lived ever in swich delyt o day

That him ne moeved outher conscience,

Or ire, or talent, or som kin affray,

Envye, or pryde, or passion, or offence ?

I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,

That iitel whyl in joye or in plesance

Lasteth the blisse of Alla with distance.

For deeth, that taketh of heigh and low his rente,

When passed was a yeer, even as I gesse,

Out of this world this king Alla he hente,

For whom Custance hath ful gret hevinesse.

Now lat us preyen god his soule blesse !

And dame Custance, fynally to seye,

Towards the toun of Rome gooth hir weye.

To Rome is come this holy creature,

And fyndeth ther hir frendes hole and sounde :

Now is she scaped al hir aventure ;

And whan that she hir fader hath y-founde,

Doun on hir knees falleth she to grounde ;

Weping for tendrenesse in herte blythe,

She herieth god an hundred thousand sythe.

In vertu and in holy almes-dede

They liven alle, and never a-sonder wende ;

Til deeth departed hem, this lyf they lede.

And fareth now weel, my tale is at an ende.

Now Jesu Crist, that of his might may sende

Joye after wo, governe us in his grace,

And kepe us alle that ben in this place ! Amen.

Here endeth the Tale of the Man of Lawe ; and neoct

folweth the Shipmannes Prolog.