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The Man of Lawes Tale

2006-07-09 16:24

  Oure Hoste saw that in heven the brighte sonne

  Of his artificial day the arke had ronne

  The fourthe part, of half an hour and more;

  And though he were not depe expert in lore,

  He wist it was the eightetenthe day

  Of April, that is messanger to May;

  And saw wel that the shade of every tree

  Was in the lengthe the same quantitee

  That was the body erecte, that causèd it;

  And therfore by the shadwe he took his wit,

  That Phebus, which that shoon so fair and brighte,

  Degrees was five and fourty clombe on highte;

  And for that day, as in that latitude,

  It was ten of the clok, he gan conclude;

  And sodeynly he put his hors aboute.

  “Lordynges,” quoth he, “I warne you al the route,

  The fourthe party of this day is goon;

  Now, for the love of God and of seint Jon,

  Lose no tyme, as farforth as ye may,

  Lordynges, the tyme passeth, night and day,

  And stelith from us, either pryvely slepyng,

  Or else thurgh negligence in oure wakyng,

  As doth the streem, that torneth never agayn,

  Descendyng from the mounteyn into playn.

  Wel can Senek and many philosópher

  Bywaylen time, more than gold in cofre.

  For losse of catel may recovered be,

  But losse of tyme it grieveth us, quoth he.

  It wil nat come agyn, withoute drede,

  Nomore than wil Malkyns maydenhede,

  When she hadde lost it in her wantonnesse.

  Let us nat waste it thus in ydelnesse.

  “Sir Man of Lawe,” quoth he, “so have ye blisse,

  Telle us a tale anon, as covenant ys.

  Ye be submitted thurgh your free assent

  To stonden in this case at my judgement,

  Acquyt you then, and hold to youre byheste;

  Then have ye doon your devour atte leste.“

  “Hoste,” quoth he, “De par Dieux I assente,

  To breke covenant is nat myn entent.

  Byheste is dette, and I wol holde fayn

  Al my byhest, I can no better sayn.

  For such lawe as a man giveth a wight,

  He shuld himselve it usen as by right.

  Thus wil oure text: but non the less certeyn

  I can right now non other tale seyn,

  That Chaucer, though he knows but foolishly

  Of metres and of rymyng certeynly,

  Hath seyd them in such English as he can

  Of olde tyme, as knoweth many man.

  And if he have nought sayd them, leeve brother,

  In one bok, he hath seyd them in another.

  For he hath told of lovers up and doun,

  Mo than Ovide made of mencioun

  In his Epistelles, that be so olde.

  What shuld I tellen them, since they be tolde?

  In youthe he writ of Coys and Alcioun,

  And since hath he also spoke of everyon

  These noble wyfes, and these lovers eek,

  Who-so his large volume wile seeke.

  Clepèd the seintes of Cupide;

  Ther may he see the large woundes wyde

  Of Lucresse, and of Babiloun Tysbee;

  The sorrow of Dido for the fals Enee;

  The grief of Phillis for hir Demephon;

  The pleynt of Dyane and of Ermyon,

  Of Adrian, and of Ysyphilee;

  The barryn yle stondyng in the see;

  The drowned Leandere for his fayre Erro;

  The teeres of Eleyn, and eek the wo

  Of Bryxseyde, and of Leodomia;

  The crueltee of the queen Medea,

  The litel children hangyng up above,

  For thilke Jason, that was so fals of love.

  O Ypermystre, Penollope, and Alceste,

  Youre wyfhood he comendeth with the beste.

  But certeynly no worde writeth he

  Of thilke wikked ensample of Canace,

  That loved hir owen brother synfully;

  On whiche cursed stories I sey fy!

  Or elles of Tyro Appoloneus,

  How that the cursed kyng Anteochus

  Byreft his doughter of hir maydenhede,

  As horrible a tale as man may reede,

  When he hir threw upon the pavement.

  And therfore he of ful avysement.

  Wolde never wryte in non of his sermouns

  Of such unkynde abhominaciouns;

  Nor I wil non reherse, if that I may.

  But of my tale how shal I do this day?

  Me were loth to be lykned douteles

  To Muses, that men clepen Pyerides.

  (Methamorphoseos wot what I mene);

  But nontheles I rekke not a bene,

  Though I come after him and somwhat lacke,

  I speke as prose, and let him rymes make.“

  And with that word, he with a sobre cheere

  Bygan his tale, as ye shal after heere.

  O hateful sad condicion of povert,

  With thurst, with cold, with hunger so confoundyd,

  To asken help it shameth thee in thin hert,

  If thou non aske, with neede so art thou woundyd,

  That verray neede unwrappeth al thy woundes hyd;

  To save thy lif thou most for indigence

  Or stele, or begge, or borrow thyn expens.

  Thou blamest Crist, and seyst ful bitterly,

  He mis-divideth riches temporal;

  And thy neyboúr thou enviest synfully;

  And seyst thou hast too litel, and he hath al.

  Parfay, sayst thou, som tyme he reckon shal,

  Whan that his tayl shal burn in fyres red,

  For he nought helpeth the needful in his neede.

  Herken what is the sentens of the wyse,

  Better to dye than suffre indigence;

  Thy nexte neybour wol thee soone despyse,

  If thou be pore, farwel thy reverence.

  Yet of the wyse man take this senténce,

  Alle the dayes of pore men be sicke;

  Be war therfore ere thou come to that prikke.

  If thou be pore, thy brother hateth thee,

  And alle thy frendes flee from thee, allas!

  O riche marchaunds, ful of welth be ye,

  O noble prudent folk as in this case,

  Youre bagges be nat fild with double ace,

  But with six five, that helpeth on your chaunce;

  At Crystemasse wel mery may ye daunce.

  Ye seeke land and see for your wynn?nges,

  As wyse folk ye knowen alle the estate

  Of kingdoms, ye be fadres of tydynges,

  Of tales, bothe of pees and of debate.

  I were right now of tales desolat,

  Hadde not a merchaunt, ded for many a yere,

  Me taught a tale, which ye shal after heere.

  In Syria dwellèd once a companye

  Of chapmen riche, and therto sober and trewe,

  That everywhere thay sent their spycerye,

  Clothes of gold, and satyn rich of hewe.

  Their goodes were so profitable and newe,

  That every wight on lond hath covetíse

  To buy their ware and sell his merchandise.

  Now fel it, that the maystres of that sort

  Have mynded them to Rome for to wende,

  Were it for merchandise or for disport,

  No other message wold they thider sende,

  But came themself to Rome, this is the ende;

  And in such place as they thought avauntage

  For their entent, they tooke her harbourage.

  Sojoúrnèd have these marchaunts in the toun

  A certeyn tyme, as gave them their plesaúnce.

  But so bifell, that the excellent renoun

  Of the emperoures doughter dame Constaunce

  Reported was, with every circumstaunce,

  Unto these Syrrien marchaunts, in such wyse

  Fro day to day, as I shal you devyse.

  This was the common voys of every man:

  “Oure emperour of Rome, God him see!

  A doughter hath, that, since the world bygan,

  To rekon wel hir goodnes and beautee,

  Was never such another as was she.

  I prey to God hir save and eek susteene,

  And wolde she were of al Európe the queene.

  “In her is hy beautee, withoute pryde;

  Youthe, withoute wantonnesse or eny folye;

  In alle her werkes vertu is hir gyde;

  Humblesse hath slayne in hir al tyrrannye;

  She is myroúr of alle curtes?e,

  Hir herte is very chambre of holynesse,

  Hir hand mynístre of generous almesse.“

  And al this word is soth, as God is trewe.

  But now to purpos let us turne agayn:

  These marchants have fulfilled their shippes newe,

  And when they have this blisful mayde seyn,

  Home to Syria be they gon agayn,

  And doon their needes, as they have don yore,

  And lyven in welth, I can you say no more.

  Now fel it, that these marchaunts stoode in grace

  Of him that was the Sultan of Syrie.

  For when they come fro eny straunge place

  He wolde of his benigne curtesye

  Make them good chere, and busily espye

  Tydynges of sondry kingdoms, for to here

  The wondres that they met or far or neer.

  Amonges other thinges specially

  These marchaunts have him told of dame Constaunce

  So gret noblesse, in ernest, seriously,

  That this sultán hath caught so gret plesaúnce

  To have hir figure in his rémembraúnce,

  That al his wil, and al his busy cure,

  Was for to love hir, whiles his lyf ma dure.

  Paráventure in that same large booke,

  Which that is cleped the heven, y-written was

  With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,

  That he for love shulde have his deth, allas!

  For in the sterres, clerere than is glas,

  Is wryten, God wot, who-so coude it rede,

  The deth of every man, withouten drede.

  In sterres many a wynter therbyfore,

  Was writ the deth of Ector, Achillés,

  Of Pompey, Julius, ere they were i-bore;

  The stryf of Thebes, and of Ercules,

  Of Samson, Turnus, and of Socrates

  The deth; but mennes wittes be so dulle,

  That no wight can wel rede it at the fulle.

  This sultan for his pryvee counseil sent,

  And shortly of this mater for to pace,

  He hath to them declarèd his entent,

  And told them certeyn, if he hadde not grace

  To wed Constance withinne a litel space,

  He was but deed, and chargèd them to hie

  And shapen for his lyf som remedye.

  Dyverse men dyverse thinges seyd,

  The argumentes casten up and down;

  And many a subtyl resoun forth they leyd;

  They speken of magike, and deceptioún;

  But finally, as in conclusioún,

  They can nought see in that non ávauntáge,

  Nor eny other wey, save mariáge.

  Then saw they therein such diffícultee

  By wey of reson, for to speke al playn,

  Bycause that ther was such dyversitee

  Bitwen their countrees lawes, as they sayn,

  They trowe that “no cristen prince wold fayn

  Wedden his child under our lawe swete,

  That us was taught by Mahoun oure prophéte.“

  And he answerde: “Rather than I lose

  Constance, I wol be cristen douteles;

  I must be hers, I may no other choose;

  I pray you hold your arguments in pees,

  Save ye my lyf, and do your businesse.

  Go gette me hir that wil my lyf ensure,

  For in this wo I may no longer dure.“

  What needeth gretter dilatacioún?

  I say, by tretys and by embassye,

  And by the popes mediacioún,

  And al the chirche, and al the chyvalrye,

  That to destroye the fals idolatrye,

  And in encrease of Cristes lawe deere,

  They be acordid, as ye shal after heere,

  How that the sultan and his baronage,

  And alle his lieges shuld i-crystned be,

  And he shal have Constánce in mariáge,

  And gold, I know not what in quantitee,

  And they have founden súffisánt suretee.

  This same acord was sworn on every syde;

  Now, fair Constánce, almighty God thee guyde!

  Now wolde som men thinken, as I gesse,

  That I shulde tellen al the purveyaúnce,

  That the emperoúr out of his gret noblesse

  Hath made for his doughter dame Constaúnce.

  Wel may men know that so gret ordynaúnce

  May no man tellen in so litel a clause,

  As was arrayèd for so high a cause.

  Bisshops be redy with hir for to wende,

  Lordes and ladyes, and knightes of renoun,

  And other folk ynough, this is the ende.

  And notefièd is thurghout the toun,

  That every wight with gret devocioún

  Shulde preye Crist, that he this mariáge

  Accepte wel, and spede this voyáge.

  The day is comen of hir départ?ng,

  (I say the woful fatal day is come)

  That ther may be no longer tarryyng,

  But forthe they be preparèd alle and some.

  Constance, that with sorrow is overcome,

  Ful pale arose, and dresseth hir to wende.

  For wel she saw ther was no other ende.

  Allas! what wonder is it though she wepte,

  That shal be sent to straunge nacioún,

  Fro frendes, that so tenderly hir kepte,

  And to be bounde undur subjeccioún

  Of one she knew not his condicioún?

  Housbondes be al goode, and have been of yore;

  That knowen wyfes, I dar saye no more.

  “Fader,” she seide, “thy wretched child Constaunce,

  Thy yonge daughter fostred softely,

  And ye, my moder, my soverayn plesaúnce

  Over al thing, excepte Crist on hy,

  Constaunce your child hir récomaundeth ofte

  Unto your grace; for I shal into Syrie,

  Nor shal I never see you more with eye.

  “Allas! unto the Barbre nacioun

  I most anon, since that it is your wille:

  But Crist, that dyed for our redempcioún,

  So geve me grace his hestes to fulfille,

  Me, wrecched womman, though my lyf I spille!

  Wommen be born to thraldom and penaúnce,

  And to be under mannes governaúnce.“

  I trowe that Troye whan Pirrus brak the wal,

  Or when was burnèd Thebes the cité,

  Nor Rome for the harme thurgh Hanibal,

  That did the Romayns vanquyssh tymes three,

  Had herd such tender wepyng for pitee,

  As in the chamber was for hir partynge;

  But forth she must, whether she weep or synge.

  O firste moving cruel firmament,

  With thi diurnal sway that crowdest ay,

  And hurlest al from east to occident.

  That naturelly wold hold another way;

  Thy crowdyng set the heven in such array

  At the bygynnyng of this sad voyáge,

  That cruel Mars hath slayn this marriáge.

  Unfortunat ascendent tortuous,

  Of which the lord is helples fallen, allas!

  Out of his angle into the derkest hous.

  O Mars, O Influence, as in this case;

  O feeble moone, unhappy be thi pace,

  Thou shynest bright where thou art not receyved,

  Wher thou art welcome, from thence thy light is sped.

  Imprudent emperour of Rome, allas!

  Was ther no phílosóphre in al thy toun?

  Is no tyme better than other in such case?

  Of voyage is ther no eleccioún,

  And that to folk of high condicioún,

  Nought when a fate is wel from birthe i-knowe?

  Allas! we be too ignorant or slowe.

  To shippe is brought this woful faire mayde

  Solemnely, with every circumstaúnce.

  “Now Jesu Crist so be with you,” she sayde.

  Ther is nomor, but farwel, fair Constaunce;

  She stryveth hir to make good countenaunce.

  And forth I lete hire sayle in this manére,

  And torne I wil again to my matére.

  The moder of the Sultan, ful of vices,

  Espyèd hath hir sones playn entent,

  How he wol stop his olde sacrifices;

  And right anon she for hir counseil sent;

  And they be come, to knowe what she ment;

  And when assembled was this folke neere,

  She sette hir doun, and sayd as ye shal heere.

  “Lordes,” quoth she, “ye knowen every one,

  How that my sone is redy to forget

  The holy lawes of our Al Korán,

  Given by Goddes messangere Máhométe;

  But this avow before grete God I sette,

  The lyf shulde rather out of my body stert,

  Than Máhométes law go myn hert.

  “What shal us happen from this newe lawe

  But thraldom to oure body and penaúnce,

  And afterward in helle to be outlaw,

  For we denied in our faith credénce?

  But, lordes, wil ye maken ássuraúnce,

  As I shal say, assentyng to my lore?

  And I shal make us safe for evermore.“

  They sworen and assenten every man

  To lyfe with hir and dye, and by hir stande;

  And every one in the beste wise he can

  To strengthen hir shal help through al the land.

  And she an enterprise hath taken in hand,

  Which ye shul heere that I shal devyse,

  And to them spak she in this wicked wyse:

  “We shul first feyne us cristendom to take;

  Cold watir shal nat greve us gretely;

  And I shal such a fest and revel make,

  That, I shal hym, the sultan, satisfie.

  For though his wyf be cristned whitely,

  She shal have need to wasshe away the red,

  Though she a font of watir with hir hadde.“

  O sultanesse, root of iniquitee

  Virago thou Sem?ram the secoúnde;

  O serpent under femininitee,

  Lyk to the serpent deep in helle i-bounde;

  O feynèd womman, alle that may confounde

  Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malice,

  Is bred in thee as nest of every vice.

  O Satan, envyous synce that one day

  When thou were chasèd from oure heritage,

  Wel knewest thou with wommen the olde way.

  Thou madest Eve to bryng us in serváge,

  Thou wolt destroy this cristen mariáge.

  Thyn instrument so (weylaway the while!)

  Makest thou of wommen when thou wilt bygyle.

  This sultanesse whom I thus blame and hate

  Let privily hir counseil go their way;

  What shuld I in this tale make long debate?

  She rideth to the sultan on a day,

  And seyd him, that she wold her faith deny,

  And cristendom of priestes hands receyve,

  Repentyng hir of Máhométs bileeve;

  Bysechyng him to do hir that honoúr,

  That she most have the cristen men to feste;

  “To plesen them I wil do my laboúr.”

  The sultan seith, “I wil do at your heste,”

  And knelyng, thanketh hir for that requeste;

  So glad he was, he knew not what to seye.

  She kyst hir sone, and hom she goth hir weye.

  Arryvèd be the cristen folke to land

  In Syrie, with a gret solemne route,

  And hastily this sultan sent commaund,

  First to his moder, and al the realm aboute,

  And seyd, his wyf was comen out of doute,

  And preyeth hir for to ride to mete the queene,

  The honour of his realm for to susteene.

  Gret was the press, and riche was the array

  Of Syrriens and Romayns far and neere.

  The moder of the sultan riche and gay

  Receyvèd hir with al so glad a cheere,

  As eny moder might hir doughter deere;

  And to the nexte citee ther bysyde

  A softe pace solemnely thay ryde.

  Nought trow I the triúmphe of Julius,

  Of which that Lukan maketh moche bost,

  Was royaller or more curious,

  Than was the assemblee of this blisful host.

  But yet this scorpioun, this wikked ghost,

  The sultaness, for al hir flaterynge,

  Thought under this ful mortally to stynge.

  The sultan comth himself sone after this

  So royally, that wonder is to telle;

  And welcometh hir with alle joy and blys.

  And thus with mirth and joy I let them dwelle.

  The fruyt of this matér is that I telle.

  Whan tyme com, men thought it for the best

  That revel stynt, and men go to there rest.

  The tyme com, the olde sultanesse

  Ordeynèd hath this fest of which I tolde;

  And to the feste folk themselven addresse

  In generale, bothe yong and olde.

  Ther men may fest and royaltee byholde,

  And deyntees mo than I can wel devyse,

  But al too deere they bought it ere they ryse.

  O sodeyn wo! that ever art súccessoúr

  To worldly blis, sprinkled with bitternesse,

  Ende of oure joye, of oure worldly laboúr;

  Wo dwelleth at the tayle of oure gladnésse.

  Herken this counseil for thy stedfastnesse;

  Upon thy glade dayes have in thi mynde

  The unseene wo that cometh ay bihynde.

  For shortly for to tellen at one word,

  The sultan and the cristen every one

  Be al y-slayn and stikèd at the board,

  Save it were dame Constaúnce hir allone.

  This olde sultanesse, this cursed crone,

  Hath with hir frendes doon this cursed dede,

  For she hirself wold al the contree lede.

  Nor ther was Syrrien noon that was converted,

  That of the counseil of the sultan wot,

  Who was not al y-slayn ere he up sterted

  And Constaunce have they take anon foot-hot,

  And in a shippe, stereles, God wot,

  They have hir set, and bad hir lerne to sayle

  Out of Surry agein-ward to Ytaile.

  A certein tresour that she thider ladde,

  And, soth to sayn, vitaile gret plentee,

  They have hir geven, and clothes eek she hadde,

  And forth she sayleth in the salte see.

  O my Constaunce, ful of benignitee,

  O emperoures yonge doughter deere,

  He that is Lord of fortun be thi steere!

  She crosseth hir, and with ful piteous voys

  Unto the croys of Crist then seyde she:

  “O clear, O welful altar, holy cross,

  Red with the lambes blood, ful of pitee,

  That wasshed the world from old iniquitee,

  Me fro the feend and fro his clawes keepe,

  That I be not y-drownèd in the deepe.

  “Victorious tree, proteccioun of the trewe,

  That only were worthy for to bere

  That Kyng of Heven, with his woundes newe,

  The white Lambe, that hurt was with a spere;

  Banisshyng feendes out of him and her,

  On which thy lymes feithfully extenden,

  Me kepe, and gif me might my lyf to menden.“

  Yeres and dayes floted this créatúre

  Thurghout the see of Grece, into the strayte

  Of Marrok, as it was hir áventúre.

  O many a sory mele may she eate,

  And for hir deth ful ofte may she wayte,

  Ere that the wilde wave wil hir dryve

  Unto the place wher she shal arryve.

  Men mighten asken, why she was nought slayn?

  And at the fest who might hir body save?

  And I answere to that demaunde agayn,

  Who savèd Daniel in the horrible cave,

  When every wight, save he, mayster or knave,

  Was with the lioun torn ere he upsterte?

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

  God wolde shewe his wondurful mirácle

  In hir, for we shulde see his mighty werkes;

  Crist, which that is to every harm treácle,

  By certeyne menes ofte, as knowen clerkes,

  Doth things for certeyn ende, that ful derk is

  To mannes witt, that for our ignoraunce

  We can nought knowe his prudent providence.

  Now since she was not at the fest i-slawe,

  Who kepte hir from the drownyng in the see?

  Who kepte Jonah in the fishes mawe,

  Til he was spouted up at Ninivé?

  Wel may men knowe, it was no wight but He

  That kepte the pepul Hebrew fro their drownyng,

  With drye feet thurghout the see pass?ng.

  Who bad the foure spirits of tempést,

  That power have to annoyen land and see,

  Bothe north and south, and also west and est,

  Anoyen neyther londe, see, nor tree?

  Soothly the cómaunder of that was He

  That from the tempest ay this womman kepte,

  As wel when she awok as when she slepte.

  Wher mighte mete and drinke this womman have?

  Three yer and more, how lasteth hir vitaille?

  Who fedde the Egipcien Marie in the cave,

  Or in desért? no wight but Crist saunz faile.

  Fyf thousand folk, it was as gret mervaíle

  With loves fyf and fisshes tuo to feede;

  God sent her plentee at her grete neede.

  She dryveth forth into oure ocean

  Thurghout oure wilde see, till atte laste

  Under an holde, that I cannot namen,

  Far in Northumberland, the wave hir caste,

  And in the sand the ship stykède so faste,

  That thence it wold not flote al in a tyde;

  The wille of Crist was that she shold abyde.

  The constabil of the castel doun is fare

  To see this wrak, and al the ship he sought,

  And found this wery womman ful of care;

  He found also the tresour that she brought:

  In hir langáge mercy she bisought,

  The lif out of her body to let go,

  Hir to delyver of al her grete wo.

  A maner Latyn córupt was hir speche,

  But nontheles they did her understonde.

  The constabil, whan he wold no longer seek,

  This woful womman broughte he to the londe.

  She kneleth doun, and thanketh Goddes hand,

  But what she was, she wolde no man seye

  For foul or faire, thou she sholde deye.

  She was, she seyde, so masèd in the see,

  That she forgat hir mynde, by hire trothe.

  The constable had of hir so gret pitée,

  And eek his wyf, they wepéden for ruth;

  She was so diligent withouten slothe

  To serve and plesen ever in that place,

  That alle hir love that loken on hir face.

  The constable and dame Hermegyld his wyf,

  To telle you playne, pagenes bothe were;

  But Hermegyld loved Constance as hir lyf;

  And Constance hath so longe harbouréd there

  In orisouns, with many a bitter teere,

  Til Jesu hath converted thurgh his grace

  Dame Hermegyld, constáblesse of the place.

  In al the lond no cristen men were found;

  Al cristen men be fled from that contré

  Thurgh pagens, that had conquered al around

  The places of the north by land and see.

  To Wales fled the cristianitee

  Of olde Britouns, dwellyng in this yle;

  Ther was their refuge for the mene while.

  But yit were cristens never so exiled,

  That ther were none who in there pryvitee

  Honoúrede Crist, and hethen folk bygiled;

  And ny the castel such ther dwellide three.

  That one of them was blynd, and might nat see,

  Save it were with the eyen of his mynde,

  With which men seen after that they be blynde.

  Bright was the sonne, as in that someres day,

  For which the constable and his wif also

  And Constaunce hadde take the righte way

  Toward the see, a forlong wey or two,

  To pleyen, and to romen to and fro;

  And in that walk this blynde man they mette,

  Croked and olde, with eyen close y-sette.

  “In name of Crist,” cryède this old Britoun,

  “Dame Hermegyld, gif me my sight ageyn!”

  This lady wax affrayèd of the sound,

  Lest that hir houseband, shortly for to sayn,

  Wold hir for Jesu Cristes love have slayn,

  Til Constaunce made hir bold, and bad her werk

  The wil of Crist, as doughter of holy chirche.

  The constable wax abasshèd of that sight,

  And sayde, “What amounteth al this fare?”

  Constaunce answérd, “Sir, it is Cristes might,

  That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare.“

  And so ferforth she gan our faith declare,

  That she the constable, ere that it was eve

  Converted, and on Crist made him bileve.

  This constable was not lord of this same place

  Of which I speke, where he Constance found,

  But kept it strongly many a wynter space

  Under Alla, kyng of Northumberlond,

  That was ful wys, and worthy of his hond,

  Agein the Scottes, as men may wel heere.

  But tourne agein I wil to my matére.

  Satan, that ever us wayteth to begile,

  Sawe of Constaunce al hir perfeccioún,

  And cast anon how he mighte her revile;

  And made a yong knight, that dwelt in the toun,

  Love hir so hot of foul affeccioún,

  That verrayly he thought he shulde dye,

  Save he might once doon her vilonye.

  He vowith hir, but it avayleth nought,

  She wolde do no synne by no weye;

  And for despyt, he compassed in his thought

  To maken hir a shamful deth to deye.

  He wayteth whan the constable was aweye,

  And pryvyly upon a nyght he crepte

  In Hermyngyldes chambre whil she slepte.

  Wery, al tirèd by her orisoun,

  Slepeth Constaunce, and Hermyngyld also.

  This knight, thurgh Satanas temptacioún,

  Al softely is to the bed y-go,

  And kutte the throte of Hermegild a-two,

  And leyde the bloody knyf by dame Constaunce,

  And went his way, ther God gave him meschaunce.

  Sone after comth this constable hom agayn,

  And eek Alla, that was kyng of that lond,

  And say his wyf dispiteously i-slayn,

  For which ful oft he wept and wrong his hond;

  And in the bed the blody knyf he fond

  By Dame Constaunce: allas! what might she say?

  For verray wo hir witt was al away.

  To king Alla was told al this meschaunce,

  And eek the tyme, and wher, and eek the wyse

  That in a ship was founden this Constaunce,

  As here bifore ye have herd me devyse.

  The kinges hert in pité gan advyse,

  Whan he saw so benigne a créatúre

  Falle in suspicioun and mysáventúre.

  For as the lomb toward his deth is brought,

  So stant this innocent bifore the kyng.

  This false knight, that hath this tresoun wrought,

  Swereth aloude that she hath don this thing;

  But nevertheles ther was gret murmuring

  Among the people, and never one can gesse

  That she hadde doon so gret a wikkednesse.

  For they have seen hir ever so vertuous,

  And lovyng Hermegyld right as hir lyf;

  Of this bar witnesse al men in that hous,

  Save he that slewe Hermegyld with his knyf.

  This gentil kyng hath caught a gret motyf

  Of this witnesse, and thought he wold enquere

  Deppere in this to find the trouthe there.

  Allas! Constaunce, thou hast no champioún,

  And fighte canst thou nat, so welaway!

  But He that once for oure redempcioun

  Bounde Sathan, that yit lieth where he lay,

  So be thy stronge champioun this day;

  For save that Crist thee a mirácle sende,

  Withoute doute thy lyf shal have hys ende.

  She set hir doun on knees, and than she sayde

  “Immortal God, that savedest Susanne

  From false blame; and thou, mercyful mayde,

  Mary I mene, doughter of seint Anne,

  Bifore whos child the aungels syng Osanne;

  If I be gultles of this felonye,

  My socour be, for else I moste dye!“

  Have ye not seen som tyme a pale face,

  Among a press, of him that hath been lad

  Toward his deth, wher him gayneth no grace,

  And such a colour in his face hath had,

  Men mighte knowe his face who was bestead,

  Amonges alle the faces in that route;

  So stant Constance, and loketh hir about.

  O queenes lyvyng in prosperitee,

  Duchesses, and ye ladies everyone,

  Have som pitee on hir adversitee;

  An emperoures doughter stond allone;

  She hath no wight to whom to make hir moan;

  O blod royal, that stondest in this drede,

  Far be thy frendes at thy grete neede!

  This Alla kyng hath such compassioun,

  As gentil hert is filled ful of pitee,

  That from his eyen ran the water doun.

  “Now hastily do fetch a book,” quoth he;

  “And if this knight wil swere how that she

  This womman slew, yet wil we us avyse,

  One that we wille shal be oure justise.“

  A Britoun book, i-writ with Evaungiles,

  Was brought, and on this book he swor anon

  She gulty was; and on this mene whiles

  An hond him smot upon the nekke bone,

  That doun he fel anon right as a stoon;

  And bothe his eyen brast out of his face,

  In sight of every body in that place.

  A vois was herd, in general audience,

  And seide, “Thou hast slaundred gilteles

  The doughter of holy chirche in this presence;

  Thus hast thou doon, and yit I helde my pees“

  Of this mervaíle agast was al the press,

  As masèd folk they stooden everyone

  For drede of vengeance, save Constaúnce allone.

  Gret was the drede and eek the répentaúnace

  Of them that hadden wrong suspeccioún

  Upon the simple innocent Constaúnce;

  And for this miracle, in conclusioún,

  And by Constaunces mediacioún,

  The kyng, and many other in the place,

  Converted was, thankèd be Cristes grace!

  This false knight was slayn for his untruthe

  By judgement of Alla hastyly;

  And yit Constaunce hath of his deth gret ruth.

  And after this Jesus of his mercy

  Made Alla wedde ful solemnely

  This holy mayde, that is bright and shene,

  And thus hath Crist i-made Constance a queene.

  But who was woful, if I shal not lye,

  Of this weddyng but Donegild and no mo,

  The kynges moder, ful of tyrannye?

  Hir thought hir cursed herte brast a-two;

  She wolde nat hir sone had wedded so;

  She thoughte despyteous, that he shulde wedde

  So straunge a créatúre unto his bedde.

  I list not of the straw or of the chaffe

  Make so long a tale, as of the corn.

  What shuld I telle the triumphe that men have

  In this mariáge, or which cours goth biforn,

  Who bloweth in a trompe or in an horn?

  The fruyt of every tale is for to seye;

  They ete and drynk, and daunce and synge and pleye.

  They gon to bed, as it was juste and right;

  For though that wyfes be ful holy thinges,

  They moste take in pacience a-night

  Such maner necessaries as be plesynges

  To folk that have i-wedded them with rynges,

  And half their holynesse ley aside

  As for the tyme, there may no other betyde.

  On hire he gat a manne child anon,

  And to a bisshope, and to his constable eek,

  He lefte his wyf to kepe, whan he is gon

  To Scotland-ward, his fomen for to seeke.

  Now faire Constaunce, that is so humble and meeke,

  So long is goon with childe til that stille

  She held hir chambre, abidyng Goddes wille.

  The tyme is come, a manne childe she bere;

  Mauricius atte font-stone men him calle.

  This constabil bringeth forth a messager,

  And wrot unto his kyng that cleped was Alle,

  How that this blisful tydyng is bifalle,

  And other thinges spedful for to seye.

  He taketh the lettre, and forth he goth his weye.

  This messanger, to do his ávauntáge.

  Unto the kynges moder he taketh his weye,

  And hire saluteth fair in his langáge.

  “Madame,” quoth he, “ye may be glad and gaye,

  And thanke God an hundred tymes a daye;

  My lady queen hath child, withouten doute

  To joye and blis of al the realm aboute.

  “Lo heer the lettres sealèd of this thing,

  That I must bere with al the hast I may;

  If ye wil ought unto youre sone the kyng,

  I am youre servaunt bothe night and day.“

  Donegyld answerde, “As now this tyme, nay;

  But here al nyght I wil thou take thy rest,

  To morrow I wil say thee what is best.“

  This messanger drank depe of ale and wyn,

  And stolen were his lettres privily

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

  And countrefeeted they were subtily;

  Another she him wrote ful synfully,

  Unto the kyng direct of this matére

  Fro his constable, as ye shal after heere.

  The lettre spak, the queen delyvered was

  Of so orryble and feendly créatúre,

  That in the castel non so hardy was

  That eny while dorste therin endure;

  The moder was an elf by áventúre

  Chaungèd by charmes or by sorcerie,

  And every man hatith hir companye.

  Wo was this kyng whan he this letter had seen,

  But to no wight he told his sorrow sore,

  But of his owen hand he wrot agayn:

  “Welcome the hand of Crist for evermore

  To me, that am now lernèd in his lore;

  Lord, welcome by thy wil and thy pleasaunce!

  My wil I putte al in thyn ordinaunce.

  “Kepe this child, al be it foul or fair,

  And eek my wyf, unto myn hom comyng;

  Crist whan he wil may sende me an heir

  More ágreáble than this to my likyng.“

  This lettre he seleth, pryvyly wepyng,

  Which to the messager he took ful sone,

  And forth he goth, ther is no more to done.

  O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,

  Strong is thy breth, thy limbes faltern ay,

  And thou bywreyest alle secretness;

  Thy mynde is lost, thou janglest as a jay;

  Thy face is tornèd al in a newe array;

  Wher drunkennesse regneth in eny route,

  Ther is no counseil hid, withoute doute.

  O Donegyld, I have no English digne

  Unto thy malice and thy tyrannye;

  And therfor to the feend I thee resigne,

  Let him endyten of thi treccherie.

  Fy, vilain, fy!-o nay, by God, I lye;

  Fy! feendly spirit, for I dar wel telle,

  Though thou here walke, thy spirit is in helle.

  This messager comth fro the kyng agayn,

  And at the kinges modres court he light,

  And she was of this messenger ful fayn,

  And pleseth him in al that ever she might.

  He drank, and rounded out his gurdel aright;

  He slepeth, and he snoreth in this wyse

  Al nyght, unto the sonne gan arise.

  Eft were his lettres stolen every one,

  And countrefeted lettres in this wise:

  “The kyng comaundeth his constable anon,

  On peyne of hangyng and of hy justice,

  That he shulde suffre in no maner wyse

  Constaunce within his realm for to abyde

  Thre dayes, and a quarter of a tyde;

  But in the same ship as he hir found,

  Hir and hir yonge sone, and al hir gear,

  He shulde putte, and push hir from the londe,

  And charge hir that she never eft come there.“

  O my Constaunce, wel may thy spirit have fere,

  And, slepyng, in thy dream be in penaúnce,

  Whan Donegyld wrot al this ordynaunce.

  This messanger a-morrow, whan he awok,

  Unto the castel held the nexte way;

  And to the constable he the lettre took;

  And whan that he the piteous lettre say,

  Ful ofte he seyd allas and welaway;

  “Lord Crist,” quoth he, “how may this world endure?

  So ful of synne is many a créatúre!

  O mighty God, if that it be thy wille,

  Since thou art rightful judge, how may this be

  That thou wolt suffre innocents to spille,

  And wikked folk regne in prosperité?

  O good Constance, allas; so wo is me,

  That I must be thy tórmentour, or deye

  On shamful deth, ther is no other weye.“

  Wepen bothe yong and olde in al that place,

  Whan that the kyng this corsed lettre sent;

  And Constance with a dedly pale face

  The fourthe day toward hir ship she went.

  But nevertheles she taketh in good entent

  The wil of Crist, and knelyng on the sand

  She sayde, “Lord, ay welcome be thy hand!

  “He that me kepte fro the false blame,

  Whil I was on the lond amonges you,

  He can me kepe from harm and eek fro shame

  In the salte see, although I see nat how;

  As strong as ever he was, he is right now,

  In him trust I, and in his moder deere,

  That is to me my sayl and eek my steere.“

  Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,

  And knelyng piteously to him she sayde:

  “Pees, litle son, I wil do thee no harm.”

  With that hir kerchef drew she off hir hed,

  And over his litel eyen she it layde,

  And in hir arm she lullith it wel faste,

  And unto heven hir eyen up she caste.

  “Moder,” quoth she, “and madye bright, Marie,

  Soth is, that thurgh a wommannes evil intent

  Mankynde was lost and damnèd ay to dye,

  For which thy child was on a cross to-rent;

  Thy blisful eyen saw al this torment;

  Then is ther no comparisoun bitwene

  Thy wo, and any woman may sustene.

  “Thow saw thy child i-slain byfor thyn eyen,

  And yet now lyveth my litel child, parfay;

  Now, lady bright, to whom alle wofulle cryen,

  Thou glory of wommanhod, thou faire may,

  Thou heven of refuge, brighte sterre of day,

  Pity my child, that of thy gentilnesse

  Hast pity on every synful in distresse.

  “O litel child, alas! what is thi gilt,

  That never wroughtest synne as yet, pardé?

  Why wil thyn harde fader have thee spilt?

  O mercy, deere constable,“ seyde she,

  “And let my litel child here dwelle with thee,

  And if thou darst not saven him for blame,

  So kys him once but in his fadres name.“

  Therwith she lokede bak-ward to the londe,

  And seyde, “Farwel, housbond rutheles!”

  And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde

  Toward the ship, hir folweth al the press;

  And ever she preyeth hir child to hold his pees,

  And took hir leve, and with an holy entent

  She crosseth hir, and to the ship she wente.

  Vytaillèd was the ship, it is no drede,

  Abundauntly for her a ful longe space;

  And other necessaries that shulde nede

  She had ynowgh, praysèd be Cristes grace;

  Fair wether God give hir in this yvel case,

  And bryng hir hom, I can no bettre say,

  But in the see she dryveth forth hir way.

  Alla the kyng cometh hom soon after this

  Unto the castel, of the which I tolde,

  And asketh wher his wyf and his child ys.

  The constable gan aboute his herte grow colde,

  And playnly al the maner he him tolde

  As ye have herd, I can telle it no better,

  And shewede the kynges seal and his letter;

  And seyde, “Lord, as ye comaunded me

  On peyne of deth, so have I done certayn.“

  This messager tormented was, til he

  Moste rémembér and telle it plat and playn,

  Fro nyght to night in what place he had layn

  And thus by witt and subtil ènquer?ng,

  Ymagined was by whom this gan to spryng.

  The hand was knowen that the lettre wrot,

  And al the venom of this cursed dede;

  But in what wyse, certeyn I knowe not.

  The effect is this, that Alla, out of drede,

  His moder slew, as men may pleynly reed,

  For that she traytour was to hir ligeaunce.

  Thus endeth olde Donegild with meschaunce.

  The sorwe that this Alla night and day

  Makth for his wyf and for his child also,

  Ther is no tonge that it telle may.

  But now I wil unto Constaunce go,

  That floteth in the see in peyne and wo

  Fyve yeer and more, as pleasèd Cristes hand,

  Ere that hir ship approchèd unto lande.

  Under an hethen castel atte last,

  Of which the name in my text nought I fynde,

  Constaunce and eek hir child the see upcast.

  Almighty God, that saveth al mankynde,

  Have on Constaunce and on hir child som mynde!

  That fallen is in hethen hond eftsone,

  In poynt to dye, as I shal telle you soone.

  Doun fro the castel comth many a wight,

  To gazen on this ship, and on Constaunce;

  But shortly fro the castel on a night,

  The lordes styward, God give him meschance!

  A theef that hadde denièd oure credence,

  Com into ship alone, and syd he sholde

  Hir lover be, whethir she wold or nolde.

  To stryve this wrecched womman had bigunne,

  Her childe crieth and she pyteously;

  But blisful Mary help hir right anon,

  For with her strogelynge wel and mightily

  The theef fel over-boord al sodeinly,

  And in the see he drownèd for vengeaunce,

  And thus hath Crist unhurt kept fair Constaunce.

  O foule luste, O luxurie, lo thin ende!

  Nought only that thou spoilest mannes mynde,

  But verrayly thou wolt his body rend.

  The ende of al thy werk, and lustes blynde,

  is cómpleynyng; how many may men fynde,

  That nought for sin som tyme, but for the entent

  To doon his synne, be eyther slayn or spent!

  How may this weyke womman have the strengthe

  Hir to defende against the renegat?

  O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,

  How mighte David bringe thee to thy fate?

  So yong, and of armure so desolate,

  How dorst he loke upon thy dredful face?

  Wel may men seyn, it was but Goddes grace.

  Who gaf Judith coráge or hardynesse

  To sley him Olofernes in his tent,

  And to delyveren out of wretchedness

  The peple of God? I say in this entent,

  That right as God spiryte and vigor sent

  To them, and savèd them out of meschaunce,

  So sent he might and vigor to Constaunce.

  Forth goth hir ship thurghout the narrow mouth

  Of Jubalter and Septé, dryvyng alway,

  Som tyme west, and som tyme north and south,

  And som tyne est, ful many a wery day;

  Til Cristes moder, blessèd be she ay!

  Hath shapen thurgh hir endeles goodnesse

  To make an ende of al hir hevynesse.

  Now let us stynt of Constaunce but a throwe,

  And speke we of the Romayn emperour,

  That out of Syrrye hath by lettres knowe

  The slaughter of cristen folk, and déshonoúr

  Doon to his doughter by a fals traytour,

  I mene the cursed and wikked sultanesse,

  That at the fest let sley bothe more and lesse.

  For which this emperour hath sent anon

  His senatour, with royal ordynaunce,

  And other lordes, God wot, many a one,

  On Syrriens to taken high vengeaunce.

  They brenne, slay, and bringen them to meschaunce

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

  Hom-ward to Rome they shapen them to wende.

  This senatour repayreth with victorie

  To Rome-ward, saylyng ful royally,

  And mette the ship dryvyng, as seith the story,

  In which Constance sitteth ful piteously.

  But nothing knew he what she was or why

  She was in such aray, she wold not seye

  Of her estate, although she sholde deye.

  He bryngeth hir to Rome, and to his wyf

  He gaf hir, and hir yonge sone also;

  And with the senatour ladde she hir lyf.

  Thus can our lady bryngen out of wo

  Woful Constaunce and many another mo;

  And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,

  In holy werkes, as ever was hir grace.

  The senatoures wif hir aunte was,

  But for al that she knew hir never more:

  I wil no lenger taryen in this case,

  But to kyng Alla, which I spak of yore,

  That for his wyf wepeth and sigheth sore,

  I will retorne, and let I wil Constaunce

  Under the senatoures governaunce.

  Kyng Alla, which that had his moder slayn,

  Upon a day fel

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