'Proud Gallants and Popeholy Priests': The Context and Function of a Fifteenth-Century Satirical Poem

By Scase, Wendy | Medium Aevum, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

'Proud Gallants and Popeholy Priests': The Context and Function of a Fifteenth-Century Satirical Poem


Scase, Wendy, Medium Aevum


The 'gallant' is a late mediaeval villain whose appearance and offences are well known to readers of moral and satirical literature. He is thought to be first named in England in the late fourteenth-century satirical poem 'On the Times'.(1) This first appearance of the 'gallant' is followed by many descriptions of his showy apparel, and records of his crimes throughout the fifteenth century and beyond.(2) Among the written records critics have included Index of Middle English Verse 4255, the poem that Thomas Wright edited under the title 'On the Corruption of Public Manners' and that A Manual of the Writings in Middle English calls 'Against Proud Gallants'.(3)

Apart from being cited briefly in discussions of the gallant tradition, IMEV 4255 has attracted little editorial or critical interest. Editions (of which Thomas Wright's of 1859 is the most recent) have been made from a single manuscript, although two others are now known.(4) Connections with a popular song on apparel have been noticed, and historians of dress have studied the poet's references to mediaeval fashions. The poem has generally been treated as one of those scraps of popular verse on ephemeral subjects that lie outside mediaeval literary tradition and beyond the concerns of those who study that tradition. In this article I shall take a rather different approach, exploring the nature of the poem's marginalization, and arguing that it is its very peripheral position that gives the text its significance and interest. I propose to investigate the alleged relationship of the poem with popular song and to suggest that there are important but hitherto unnoticed relationships between the language and strategies of the poem and those of certain 'official' writings from the period on the subject of priests' apparel. I shall retitle the poem 'Proud Gallants and Popeholy Priests' to highlight its yoking of dandies with clerics.

Thomas Wright based his edition on a copy of the poem found on a column of paper which has been unfolded and stuck into a fifteenth-century miscellany of English poetry, London, British Library, MS Harley 372:

Ye prowd galonttes hertlesse,

With your hyghe cappis witlesse,

And youre schort gownys thriftlesse,

Have brought this londe in gret hevynesse. 4

With youre longe peked schone,

Therfor your thrifte is almost don,

And with youre long here into your eyen,

Han brought this lond to gret pyne. 8

Ye poopeholy prestis fulle of presomcioun,

With your wyde furryd hodes voyd of discrecioun,

Unto your owyn prechyng of contrary condicioun,

Wheche causithe the people to have lesse devocioun. 12

Avauncid by symony in cetees and townys,

Make schorter youre taylis and broder your crounys;

Leve your schort stuffide dowbelettes and your pleytid

gownys,

And kepe your owyn howsyng, and passe not your boundis. 16

Repreve non other men, I schalle telle you whye,

Ye be so lewyd youer selfe, there settithe no man you bye,

It is not but a schame y[e] wold be callyd holly,

And worse dysposyd people levythe not undir the skye. 20

Ffirst make fre your selfe, that now to syne be bounde,

Leve syne, and drede it, than may ye take on hand

Othir to repreve, and that I undirstonde,

Ye may amende alle other and bryng pese to londe.(5) 24

Fairholt and Owst both drew attention to a correspondence between the poem as edited by Wright and a popular quatrain directed against the attire of Englishmen recorded in The Brut: 'Longe berde hertles, peyntede Hode witles, Gay cote graceles, makep Engl[i]ssheman priftles.' Owst listed the poem as another version of this song.(6) Three of the four rhyme-words of the quatrain correspond to those of the opening stanza of 'Proud Gallants' in the Wright edition. But there the correspondence ends. …

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