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KING ALFRED: 849-901.

Alfred translated from the Latin the historical works of Orosius and Bede, and some religious and moral treatises.

From his translation of Boethius's work On The Consolation of Philosophy.

Fela spella him sædon tha Beormas, ægther ge of hyra agenum lande ge of them lande the ymb hy utan wæron; ac he nyste hwæt thæs sothes wær, for-them he hit sylf ne geseah. Tha Finnas him thuhte, and tha Beormas spræcon neah an getheode. Swithost he for thyder, to-eacan thas landes sceawunge, for them hors-hwælum, for-them hi habbath swythe athele ban on hyra tothum, tha teth hy brohton sume them cynincge: and hyra hyd bith swythe god to scip-rapum. Se hwæl bith micle læssa thonne othre hwalas, ne bith he lengra thonne syfan elna lang; ac on his agnum lande is se betsta hwæl-huntath, tha beoth eahta and feowertiges elna lange, and tha mæstan fiftiges elna lange; thara he sæde that he syxa sum ofsloge syxtig on twam dagum. He was swythe spedig man on them æhtum the heora speda on beoth, that is on wild-deorum.

Many things him told the Beormas, both of their own land and of the land that around them about were; but he wist-not what (of-) the sooth was, for-that he it self not saw. The Finns him thought, and the Beormas spoke nigh one language. Chiefliest he fared thither, besides the land's seeing, for the horsewhales, for-that they have very noble bones in their teeth, these teeth they brought some (to-) the king: and their hide is very good for ship-ropes. This whale is much less than other whales, not longer than seven ells long; but in his own land is the best whalehunting, they are eight and forty ells long, and the largest fifty ells long; (of-) these he said that he (of-) six some slew sixty in two days. He was (a) very wealthy man in the ownings that their wealth in is, that is in wild-deer.


ALFRIC, Archbishop of Canterbury: died 1006.

Alfric wrote a collection of homilies, a translation of the first seven books of the Bible, and some religious treatises.

From his Paschal Homily.

Hæthen cild bith ge-fullod, ac hit ne bræt na his hiw with-utan, dheah dhe hit beo with-innan awend. Hit bith ge-broht synfull dhurh Adames forgægednysse to tham fant fate. Ac hit bith athwogen fram eallum synnum with-innan, dheah dhe hit with-utan his hiw ne awende. Eac swylce tha halige fant water, dhe is ge-haten lifes wyl-spring, is ge-lic on hiwe odhrum wæterum, & is under dheod brosnunge; ac dhæs halgan gastes miht ge-nealacth tham brosnigendlicum wætere, dhurh sacerda bletsunge, & hit mag sythan lichaman & sawle athwean fram eallum synnum, dhurh gastlice mihte.

(A) heathen child is christened, yet he altereth not his shape without, though he be within changed. He is brought sinful through Adam's disobedience to the font-vessel. But he is washed from all sins inwardly, though he outwardly his shape not change. Even so the holy font water, which is called life's fountain, is like in shape (to) other waters, and is subject to corruption; but the Holy Ghost's might comes (to) the corruptible water through (the) priests' blessing, and it may afterwards body and soul wash from all sin, through ghostly might.




From The Saxon Chronicle, 1154; a compilation of monastic registers from the time of Alfred to 1154.

On this yær wærd the King Stephen ded, and bebyried there his wif and his sune wæron bebyried at Tauresfeld. That ministre hi makiden. Tha the king was ded, tha was the eorl beionde sæ. And ne durste nan man don other bute god for the micel eie of him. Tha he to Engleland come, tha was he underfangen mid micel wortscipe; and to king bletcæd in Lundine, on the Sunnen dæi beforen mid-winterdæi.

In this year was the King Stephen dead, and buried where his wife and his son were buried, at Touresfield. That minster they made. When the king was dead, then was the earl beyond sea. And not durst no man do other but good for the great awe of him. When he to England came, then was he received with great worship; and to king consecrated in London, on the Sunday before mid-winter-day (Christmas-day).

LAYAMON: between 1155 and 1200.

Layamon, a monk, wrote a metrical English translation of Le Brut d'Angleterre (Brutus of England), a French poem by Wace, a native of Jersey. The translation was composed about the time when the Saxons and Normans began to adopt a common language.


From his translation of Wace's Brut d'Angleterre.

Tha the king igeten hafde
And al his mon-weorede,
Tha bugan out of burhge
Theines swithen balde.
Alle tha kinges,

And heore here-thringes.
Alle tha biscopes,
And alle tha clarckes,
Alle the eorles,

And alle tha beornes.
Alle tha theines,
Alle the sweines,

Feire iscrudde,

Helde geond felde.

Summe heo gunnen æruen,
Summe heo gunnen urnen,
Summe heo gunnen lepen,
Summe heo gunnen sceoten,
Summe heo wrestleden
And wither-gome makeden,
Summe heo on velde
Pleouweden under scelde,
Summe heo driven balles
Wide geond the feldes.
Moni ane kunnes gomen
Ther heo gunnen drinen.

When the king eaten had

And all his multitude of attendants,

Then fled out of the town

The people very quickly.

All the kings,

And their throngs of servants.

All the bishops,

And all the clerks,

All the earls,

And all the barons.
All the thanes,
All the swains,
Fairly dressed,

Held (their way) through the fields.
Some they began to discharge arrows
Some they began to run,

Some they began to leap,

Some they began to shoot (darts),
Some they wrestled
And made wither-games,1
Some they on field
Played under shield,
Some they drive balls
Wide over the fields.
Many a kind of game
There they gan urge.

1 Games of emulation.




From a Proclamation of Henry III., A.D. 1258.

Henry, thurg Godes fultome, King

Engleneloande, lhoaurd on Yrloand, Duke on Normand, on Acquitain, Eorl on Anjou, send I greting, to alle hise holde, ilærde & ilewerde on Huntingdonschiere.

That witen ge well alle, that we willen & unnen that ure rædesmen alle other, the moare del of heom, the beoth ichosen thurg us and thurg that loandes-folk on ure Kuneriche, habbith idon, and schullen don, in the worthnes of God, and ure threowthe, for the freme of the loande, thurg the besigte of than toforen iseide rædesmen, beo stedfæst and ilestinde in alle thinge abutan ænde, and we heaten alle ure treowe, in the treowthe that heo us ogen, thet heo stede-feslliche healden & weren to healden & to swerien the isetnesses thet beon makede and beo to makien, thurg than toforen iseide rædesmen, &c.

Henry, through God's support, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy, of Acquitain, Earl of Anjou, sends greeting, to all his subjects, learned and unlearned,1 of Huntingdonshire.

This know ye well all, that we will and grant, what our counsellors all or the more part of them, that be chosen through us and through the land-folk of our kingdom, have done, and shall do, to the honour of God, and our allegiance, for the good of the land, through the determination of those beforesaid counsellors, be steadfast and permanent in all things without end, and we enjoin all our lieges, by the allegiance that they us owe, that they steadfastly hold and swear to hold and to maintain the ordinances that be made, and be to be made through the beforesaid counsellors, &c.

ROBERT, a monk of Gloucester Abbey.

From his Rhyming Chronicle, written about the close of the 13th century.

Thus come lo! Engelonde into Nor

mannes honde,

And the Normans ne couthe speke
tho bote her owe speche,
And speke French as dude atom, and

here chyldren dude al so teche; So that heymen of thys lond, that of her blod come,

Holdeth alle thulke speche that hii of hem nome.

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Vor bote a man couthe French me For but a man know French men tolth of hym wel lute;

Ac lowe men holdeth to Englyss and
to her kunde speche yute.
Ich wene ther ne be man in world
contreyes none

That ne holdeth to her kunde speche,

bot Engelond one.

tell of him well little ; But low men hold to English and to their natural speech yet.

I ween there not be man in world countries none

That not holdeth to their natural speech but England one (only).

Ac wel me wot vor to conne both But well I wot for to know both

wel yt ys;

well it is;

Vor the more that a man con, the For the more that a man knows, the

more worth he ys.

more worth he is.

1 Clergy and laity.


Longlande, a priest or monk, wrote (about 1360) a long poem, The Vision of Pierce Plowman, a series of visions, in describing which the poet satirises the vices of the time, particularly those of the clergy.

From The Vision of Pierce Plowman.

Thus yrobed in russet, I romed me aboute
Al a somer seson, for to seche Dowel1
And frayned ful efte,2 of folk that I mette

If eny wightte wiste, where Dowel was at inne,3
And what man he myghtte be, of many men I askid,
Was never wyghtte as I wente, that me wyse couthe1
Where this leed logged,5 lasse other more,
Til hit bifel on Friday, two freris? I mette
Maistris of the menours,8 men of gret witte,

I halsed hem hendeliche, as I hadde lerned

And preied hem per charite, er thei passeden ferther
If thei knewen eny countreye or coostes as thei wente
Wher that Dowell dwellyth.


Sir John Mandeville, after he had been educated for the profession of medicine, spent thirty-four years in travelling in eastern countries, and on his return to England wrote a Narrative of his Travels, which is the oldest book in English prose.

From his Account of a Conversation with the Sultan of Egypt.

From his Travels, written in 1356.

And therefore I shalle telle you what the Soudan tolde me upon a day, in his chambre. He leet voyden out of his chambre alle maner of men, lordes, and othere; for he wolde speke with me in conseille. And there he askede me, how the Cristene men governed hem in oure contree. And I seyde him, righte wel, thonked be God. And he seyde, treulyche 10 nay; for ye Cristene men ne recthen righte noghtell how untrewly to serve God. Ye sholde geven ensample to the lewed peple for to do wel; and ye geven hem ensample to don evylle. For the Comownes, upon festyfulle 12 dayes, whan thei sholden gon to Chirche to serve God, than gon thei to Tavernes, and ben there in glotony, alle the day and alle nyghte, and eten and drynken, as Bestes that have no resoun, and wite not whan thei have y now.13 Thei sholden ben symple, meke and trewe, and fulle of Almes dede, as Jhesu was, in whom thei trowe; but thei ben alle the contrarie, and evere enclyned to the Evylle, and to don evylle.

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Chaucer, the father of English poetry, flourished at the courts of Edward III. and Richard II. He served under the former in his French campaign, and during both reigns was repeatedly employed in embassies and other business connected with the public service. He died in London, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His chief work is The Canterbury Tales, a series of narratives related by a company of pilgrims to eliven their journey to the shrine of Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. The tales, of which two are in prose, present a wonderful picture of English life in the 14th century.

From The Canterbury Tales.


With him ther was a Ploughman, his brothur,
That hadde i lad of dong, ful many a fothur.
A trewe swynker and a good was hee,
Lyvynge in pees and parfight charitee.
God loved he best with al his trewe herte
At alle tymes, though him gained or smerte,
And thanne his neighebour right as himselve.
He wold threisshe, and therto dyke and delve,
For Cristes sake, with every pore wight,
Withouten huyre, if it laye in his might.
His tythes payede he ful faire and wel,
Bathe of his owne swynk and his catel.
In a tabbard he rood upon a mere.



'The mellere was a stout carl for the nones,
Ful big he was of braun, and eek of boones;
That prevede wel, for over al ther1 he cam,
At wrastlynge he wolde bere awey the ram.
He was schort schuldred, broode, a thikke knarre,
"Ther n'as no dore that he n'olde heve of barre,3
Or breke it with a rennyng with his heed.
His berd as ony sowe or fox was reed,
And therto brood, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop right of his nose he hade
A werte, and theron stood a tuft of heres,
Reede as the berstles of a souwes eeres.
His nose-thurles blake were and wyde.
A swerd and a bocler baar he by his side,
His mouth as wyde was as a gret forneys.
Wel cowde he stele corn, and tollen thries;"
And yet he had a thombe of gold 5 pardé.
A whight cote and blewe hood wered he.
A baggepipe cowde he blowe and sowne,
And therwithal he brought us out of towne.

1 All (genitive case plural of all).

carried, cart-load labourer

thresh, dig

both, labour
loose frock







(an oath)

2 The usual prize at wrestling-matches. 4 Toll thrice. In addi

3 There was no door that he could not raise the bar of. tion to the money payment for grinding corn, millers are allowed a 'toll' of 4 lbs. out of every sack of flour. 5 He was as honest as other millers, though he had a thumb of gold, according to the old proverb, Every honest miller has a thumb of gold.

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