03 December, 2011

Poems Of Edward II's Era

Edited to add: I've just remembered that this is the sixth anniversary of my blog!  Yippee!  Six years of Edward II - and here's to many more.  :-)

A post about some of the poems written in or around the time of Edward II's reign.

The Sayings of the Four Philosophers

Written partly in English and partly in French - to me, a fascinating sight - this poem seems originally to have been written as a complaint about Edward I breaking the terms of the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, and to have been re-written as a condemnation of Edward II breaking the Ordinances of 1311 and his dependence on Piers Gaveston.  It begins:


L’en peut fere et defere,
Ceo fait-il trop sovent;
It nis nouther wel ne faire
Therfor Engelond is shent.

Nostre prince de Engletere,
Par le consail de sa gent,
At Westminster after the feire
Made a gret parlement.
La chartre fet de cyre,
Jeo l’enteink et bien le crey,
It was holde to neih the fire,
And is molten al awey.
Ore ne say mes que dire,
Tout i va a Tripolay,
Hundred, chapitle, court, and shire,
Al hit goth a devel way.
Des plusages de le tere
Ore escoutez un sarmoun,
Of iiij wise-men that ther were,
Whi Engelond is brouht adoun.

Translation:

A person can make and unmake,
This he does too often;
It is neither well nor fair,
Therefore England is ruined.

Our prince of England,
On the advice of his people,
At Westminster after the fair
Made a great parliament.
The charter made of wax,
So I have heard, and well believe it,
Was held too near the fire,
And is melted all away.
Now I don't know what more to say,
Everything goes to Tripoli,
Hundred, chapter, court and shire,
It all goes the devil's way.
The wisest men of the land
Are now listening to a sermon
Of four wise men that there were
Why England is brought down.

The four wise men go on to explain why England is lawless, without strength, mercy, love, kindness, alms and much else, and full of wrong, sin and revenge.  The solution is for us all to love God, and to remember that he loves us, to live 'in love and good manner', and to see him that bought us dearly, in joy everlasting (Sen him that bouhte us dere, In joye withoute ende).

Adam Davy's Dreams of Edward II

Five prophetic poems in English dated most probably to 1307/08, the years of Edward II’s accession to the throne (7 July 1307) and his coronation (25 February 1308) and written by one Adam Davy, who identifies himself as the marshal of Stratford-at-Bow in London.  (A name I can never see without thinking of Geoffrey Chaucer’s commentary on the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales: "And Frensch she spak ful faire and fetysly, After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For Frensch of Parys was to hire unknowe").  Davy's five dreams about Edward II, the new king and prince of Wales, as Davy calls him ("His name is ihote sir Edward the kyng, Prince of Wales, Engelonde the faire thing") liken Edward to Christ, under the special protection of God and invulnerable to attackers (if only!), the head of his realm and sacrosanct thanks to his birth and status, a mediator between God and his people, and a pilgrim to Rome, where he is crowned emperor of Christendom.  The dream poems are so flattering to Edward II it seems highly likely that they date to the start of his reign, before it all started going so wrong.


Elegy on the Death of Edward I

A song written shortly after and lamenting - you'll never guess - the death of Edward I in July 1307, apparently written originally in French, with an English version preserved in another manuscript.  Here's part of the English song, relating to Edward II:

Nou is Edward of Carnarvan
King of Engelond al aplyht,
God lete him ner be worse man
Then is fader, ne lasse of myht
To holden his pore-men to to ryht,
Ant understonde good consail,
Al Engelonde for to wisse ant diht;
Of gode knyhtes darh him nout fail.

Now is Edward of Caernarfon entirely king of England,
God never let him be a worse man
Than his father, nor less of might,
To hold his commons to right,
And understand good counsel,
All England to direct and manage,
Of good knights there need not fail him.

And in the French version:

Le jeofne Edward d'Engletere
Rey est enointe e couroné
Dieu le doint teil conseil trere, 
Ki le pais seit governé;
E la coroune si garder
Qe la tere seit entere,
E lui crestre en bounté
Car prodhome i fust son pere.

The young Edward of England
Is anointed and crowned king
May God grant that he follow such counsel
That the country may be governed
And so to keep the crown
That the land may be entire,
And himself to increase in goodness
Because his father was a worthy man.


On The Evil Times of Edward II

Also known as the Simonie or Symonie and Couetise, written in English sometime in the 1320s, this work of almost 500 lines is a poem of social protest, with many references to the Great Famine and the corruption and vices of the nobility and clergy.  The poem begins:

Whii werre and wrake in londe and manslauht is i-come, 
Whii hungger and derthe on eorthe the pore hath undernome...
(Why war and vengeance and manslaughter have come to the land,
Why famine and dearth on earth have seized the poor...)

These themes also appear in a much better-known social protest poem of the later fourteenth century,
Piers Plowman, whose author William Langland was the grandson of Peter de la Rokele, one of the men who joined the Dunheved brothers in their attempt to free the former Edward II from captivity at Berkeley Castle.

Finally, the poem known as the Lament of Edward II, once thought to have been written by Edward himself, deserves a blog post entirely to itself sometime.  :-)

7 comments:

Anerje said...

These type of poems provide 'great commentary' on the times - thanks for posting them.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje - so true, they're a great insight into the era!

Clement of the Glen said...

Congratulations on six years of this fantastic blog Katheryn. Your incredible enthusiasm and amazing research never ceases to amaze me.

At last your hard work is getting noticed and published. Here's to the next six years!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much, dear Clement! I really appreciate your kind words!

Gabriele C. said...

Happy Bloggiversary.

I love that Frenglish poem - on a linguistic level, that is, not the contents. ;)

MAD Museum said...

Well done Kathryn on six years. You have done a good job and I am sure Ed11 would give you such a great present for doing this if you could. Duchess Kathryn of....?
Love Karen

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Gabriele! I love the poem too. :)

Thanks, Karen! So glad to have met you via the blog and Facebook. Hmmmm, Kathryn, duchess of Barrow, maybe - where I was born, though it was only a fishing village 700 years ago.