And that for lewd men namely
That can no mailer of clergy
to teche hem were most nede
For clerkis can both se and rode
In diverse bokis of holy writte
How thei schuld liven if thei loke it .. .
Such pious reading brought religious instruction out of the church, into the household and the gildhall, and thereby into direct competition with secular entertainment, something the author of the Speculum felt bound to warn his listeners about.
I warne yow first at the begynnyng I wil make no vayn spekyng
Of dedis of armes ne of amours As done mynstrels and gestours that makyn spekyng in many place Of Octavyan and Isambrace
and of many other gestis
and namely when thei come to festis Ne of the life of Bevis of Hamtoun That was a knyght of grete renoun Ne of Gy of warwick . . .
In fact many didactic poems, like Mannyng's Handlyttg Spine, did mix entertainment with edification, by providing vivid and often amusing exempla as illustrations of their serious points. Moreover, as the number of laymen able to read grew in many communities and even in many households, so too did demand for reading-matter, and well-to-do households and larger bodies like gilds acquired collections of material which might include both entertainment and uplift, romances of Sir Isumbras or Bevis of Hampton alongside saints' lives and sermons. One such collection from the ,later fifteenth century has been preserved in the Cambridge University Library and was recently published in facsimile. Its editors consider that it provides "a good index to the religious and literary tastes and preoccupations of the bourgeoisie in the late fifteenth century", with religious and devotional material alongside items
42 Quoted in Doyle, "A Survey". p. 78; there is no printed edition of the Speculum but its opening lines, including those quoted above, were edited by J. Ullmann in Englische Studien, VII, 1884, pp. 468-72.
stressing the "domestic virtues and practical wisdom", and "popular romances which are pious, lively and full of incidents and marvels". The collection is highly stereotyped, for many of the same items, in more or less the same order, are found in other devotional and didactic collections of the period. This was the conventional religion of the day, and its contents admirably illustrate the way in which the programme outlined by the Council of Lambeth in 1281 had been absorbed into lay religious consciousness.'
The collection opens with a series of texts in verse, most of which are paraphrases of the parts of scripture familiar to the laity from their inclusion in the primers – the nine lessons from Job included in the "Dirige"and the penitential Psalms, together with some long devotions addressed to God and the Virgin. There follow a series of much simpler and more accessible texts probably aimed at children and young people, and directly geared to catechizing: rhymed versions of the Ten Commandments, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the five bodily and five spiritual wits, the seven deadly sins and their contrary virtues, a prose exposition of the Creed from the Merure de Seinte Eglise of St Edmund Rich, and an account of the seven sacraments from the same source. Then comes a series of saints' lives, some in prose, taken from Mirk's Festial, a poem on the Assumption of Mary, and a verse life of St Katherine. After these conies a verse devotion to Christ's Wounds known as the "charter of Christ", a poem about the end of the world called "The xv tokenys before the day of dome", a popular subject much illustrated in woodcuts and windows and forming part of the material covered in the Chester play of Antichrist. After this comes a series of cautionary tales illustrating the benefits of being moral and the disadvantages of wickedness, whose titles tell all one needs to know about them: "how the goode man taght hys sone", "the Adulterous Falmouth Squire", "how a merchande dyd hys wyfe betray", "a gode mater of the marchand and hys sone". This part of the collection is interspersed with some affective poems on the sorrows of the Virgin, and a miraculous tale of a woman whose wavering faith in the Blessed Sacrament was miraculously confirmed. The collection concludes with a series of verse romances, several of which combine entertainment with edification – the Earl of Toulouse, Syr Eglamour, Syr Tryamoure, Octavian, Bevis, the Seven Sages of Rome, Guy of Warwick, Le Bone Florence of Rome, Robert of Sicely, and Sir Degare.
43 F. McSparran and P. R. Robinson (eds), Cambridge University Library MS 1:12.38, 1979. An analytical table of contents is on pp. xxi—xxv.
The preoccupations and concerns evident in this collection extended beyond the urban bourgeois for whom it was compiled. The title of one of its treatises, "How the goode man taght hys sone", was symptomatic of a general desire among the pious laity to further within one's own household or sphere of interest godliness and good learning. The Oxfordshire landowner and minor courtier, Peter Idley, who died in 1473, devoted a good deal of his leisure to the compilation of a series of verse "Instructions to his Son" which similarly encapsulate these concerns. The instructions are in two books, the first based on moral and homiletic material by Albertanus of Brescia, and dealing in general terms with the meaning of life, the values his son should have, the evils of poverty and the need for faith – much the same mixture of devotion with "domestic virtues and worldly wisdom" evident in the Cambridge manuscript. The second book is derived from Robert Manning of Brunne's Handlyng Synne. Idley left it unfinished, but like Manning's work it was intended to treat the Commandments, the sins, and the sacraments, diversified and enlivened by vivid and entertaining exempla.'
At the other end of the social scale, the commonplace book of the rural artisan and church-reeve, Robert Reynes of Acle, active in the last third of the fifteenth century, reveals many of the same concerns and convictions, but also something of the limitations and difficulties of the catechetical impulse at the time. Reynes, a reeve's son, was agent and man of business for the ecclesiastical lord of the manor of Acle, and was a man of some consequence in his own community, but he was clearly far less sophisticated and far less well educated than either Idley or the compilers of the Cambridge manuscript. He is as near as one is likely to get to the typical representative of the class of men who became churchwardens in the parishes of late fifteenth-century England, and his commonplace book is an invaluable indicator of their religious concerns.' It is much more varied than either of the other collections we have been considering. This is in part because it contains a good deal of secular material, reflecting Reynes's own daily activities – notes on the assize of bread, on fires in Norwich and Acle, family dates, notes on manorial court procedures, Latin proverbs of a generally pessimistic and moralizing kind, a coded instruction about the location of a silver cup, lists of major events in world history, the principal battles in the Wars of the Roses, memoranda on taxes, markets, and assorted contracts and legal formularies. The religious
44 Charlotte D'Eyelyn (ed.), Peter Idley's Instructions to his Son, 1935.
45 Robert Reynes, The Commonplace Book of Robert Reynes of Axle, ed. C. Louis, 198(1.
items, which form the largest part of the book, are similarly varied, and elements representing the central didactic aims of the fifteenth-century Church jostle charms and other items which the upper clergy and the catechists might well have disapproved of.
Much in the book reflects Reynes's activities as parishioner and churchwarden: notes of church repairs, the purchase of vestments, details of the Peter's Pence tax in Acle and obituaries of rectors of the parish, a rhyme to be attached to a rosary placed in the parish church for the use of those who had forgotten to bring their own, encouraging them to gain the indulgences attached to recitation of the rosary against the day of doom, parts of the scripts or epilogues to pageants and plays organized for church funds. There are lists of fasting days and saints' days, and a "Cisio-Janus", designed to help Reynes memorize the major feasts in the calendar. The longest set of items consists of material connected with the cult of St Anne, including a verse life of Anne for reading at the patronal feast of a local gild, of which Reynes was probably an officer.'
The devotional fashions of the late fifteenth century have also left their trace in Reynes's book – a rhymed devotion on the number of the drops of Christ's blood, an account of the shrine images at Walsingham, which Reynes must certainly have visited, a moralistic poem on the transience of life and the evils of the world, the need for virtue in the three estates, and an appeal for mercy to Christ. There arc a number of other poems of a pessimistic character on the brevity of life and the need to prepare for death by receiving the sacraments. Reynes included a long version of the legend of the "woman solitary and recluse" often prefaced to the "Fifteen Oes", the Passion prayers attributed to St Bridget, but he does not give the prayers themselves, though doubtless he had a respectable copy of the prayers in his primer or elsewhere, lacking the legend with its colourful tale of the defeat of demons and the efficacy of the "Oes" in freeing souls from Purgatory. He also had an incomplete version of the popular poem on the fifteen tokens of the day of doom: he copied the final sections, which treat of the appearance of Christ in judgement, where the major emphasis in Christ's speech is on those who have done no merciful deeds and those who have wounded him by swearing. This was a frequent theme of preaching in the period, often illustrated in wall-paintings and glass, in which Christ's bleeding and dismembered body is surrounded by the figures of people who have sworn by the afflicted part. This moralistic material reflects the preaching and catechetical concerns of the period, and so it is not surprising to find alongside it a series
46 P. Meredith (ed.), The Mary Play, pp. 9-12.of mnemonic texts designed to inculcate the fundamentals as set out in Pecham's schema – brief summaries, in both English and Latin, of the Ten Commandments, the seven sins, the works of mercy, the virtues, the sacraments, including notes on which of the sacraments were repeatable and which could be received only oncee.y47
Reynes, then, was certainly affected by the Church's official programme of catechesis. But there is some indication that the process may have been fairly elementary in his case. Standard treatments of the Commandments in the confessional manuals and catechetical textbooks consistently warned against the use of charms and against divination, but Reynes's commonplace book is rich in evidence of his use of both. Most of the charms would probably have passed muster with the parish clergy – a prayer charm to St Apollonia against the toothache, an invocation of Christ, the Apostles, prophets, angels and saints against fever, a narrative charm in the form of a conversation between Christ and St Peter against malaria. But he also collected zodiacal material and prognostications which were certainly widely disapproved of by the clergy, and one of the odder items in the book is an elaborate formula for conjuring angels, for purposes of divination, into a child's thumbnail. This was evidently a widespread practice, but it is explicitly condemned by Idley, in his Instructions to his Son
Allso if in ony swerde or in a basen Or in a thombe or in a cristall
Thow made ony childe to loke therein – Wichcraft men cleped this all.
Beware of this, it woll have a fall.'
Reynes knew the Ten Commandments, but had evidently not internalized the standard comments on the First Commandment, which prohibited quasi-magical practices of this sort.
It is tempting to attribute the cruder and less inward piety of Reynes's book to the social and educational gulf between his world and that which produced the more sophisticated and securely orthodox piety revealed in Idley's book or the Cambridge manuscript. But as we shall see in the context of the primer devotions such assumptions about elite and popular religion can be misleading. The contents of a commonplace book from the Norfolk–Suffolk border near Scole, contemporary with Reynes's book but
47 On the images of Christ see Anderson, Imagery of British Churches, p. 172, and Woodforde, Norwich School, pp. 183-92.
48 Peter Idley's Instructions to his Sou, p. 113.
from a gentry household, is sufficiently similar to Reynes's collection to suggest that the contrast may in fact be less to do with high and low, elite and popular, than with town (or, in Idley's case, court) and country.
The so-called Brome commonplace (from its place of discovery) contains many fewer items than either the Cambridge manuscript or Reynes's book, and most of these are extended poems rather than the sort of short pieces which Reynes collected, but there is a striking similarity of interest and ethos in the two rural East Anglian collections.' The catechetical and moralistic material in Reynes's book is matched in the Brome book by a handful of moralizing rules in verse, including one which also occurs, in a somewhat different version, in Reynes's collection.
Fyrst arise erly
Serve thy God deuly,
And the warld besylly .. .
The main catechetical item in the Brome book, however, is an extraordinary poem, attributed to St John the Evangelist (!) "The Catechism of Adrian and Epotys", in which the child Jesus instructs the emperor Adrian in the story of Creation and Fall, the seven sins of Adam, the virtues, the methods of avoiding Hell, and the thirteen reasons for the Friday fast. This catechetical material is rounded off with a poem on the cardinal virtues by Lydgate. The fragments of religious plays in Reynes's collection are matched in the Brome book by a play of Abraham and Isaac, his hagiographic material on St Anne is matched in Brome by a verse life of St Katherine, his long account of the power of the "Oes" over demons and the souls in Purgatory by a metrical version of the story of St Patrick's Purgatory, "The Knight Sir Owen". Reynes's astrological and divinatory material is matched in Brome by a set of instructions in verse on divination by the casting of dice. And a later hand has completed the correspondences with Reynes by adding an incomplete charm prescribing an elaborate series of devotions, including the recitation of fifteen Paternosters and Ayes daily in honour of a series of obscure saints, and a set of instructions of the performance of St Gregory's Trental. The religious section of the manuscript ends with _a type of item not found in Reynes, a carol of the Annunciation.'
49 L. Toulmin Smith (ed.), A Common-Place Book of the Fifteenth Century, 1886. List of contents on pp. '13- and 7-8.
The Brome book was used by two separate owners, the second of whom, Robert Melton, a wealthy yeoman farmer and probably steward to the Cornwallis family at Sturston in Suffolk r.1506, added little religious material, and used the book largely for business entries.
Reynes was a poor man, the compiler of the Brome book was a gentleman. Both books display, however, a remarkably similar religion. It was a religion in which there was little evidence of the deep religious introspection and interiority encouraged by monastic and mystical devotional writers, concentrating rather on the objective things of religion, the observance of feast and fast, the changing pattern of the annual liturgy. It was somewhat credulous, avid for colour and spectacular incident, preferring religious instruction to come in the form of entertainment, rhymed saints' lives, or religious plays. It was interested in the afterlife and especially in the avoidance of Purgatory, about which both compilers were entirely orthodox. Both valued the Church's sacraments, both believed in the power of the Mass to save and heal, both placed a high value on the virtues of the rosary and devotion to the Virgin. Both feared the Devil, were much concerned with
judgement, thought the end of the world might be near, and believed that the surest way to avert God's wrath was by being merciful to the poor and avoiding swearing. Both accepted and sought to remember the doctrinal outlines offered them by the contemporary Church, but neither was greatly interested in the intricacies of doctrine. Somewhere near the heart of their religion was a sober and conformist morality, encouraged no doubt by the clergy's concentration of their catechetical endeavours on the confessional, and the location of instruction on the Creed within a more elaborate scheme which put as much or more emphasis on the Commandments, the virtues, the sins. And both collections provide evidence of an entrenched area of lay religious belief and practice resistant to attempts at reform, and likely to be frowned on by the more austere medieval clerical catechists and devotional writers, just as it would be by humanists and reformers, the world of charms and divination.
One other commonplace book will help to complete this survey of lay assimilation of the catechetical programme of the late medieval church. Richard Hill was a London grocer, active in the 1520s and 1530s, for much of which time he seems to have lived in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft. His commonplace book, now at Balliol College, Oxford, is one of the most remarkable collections of the period, containing a wealth of devotional verse and carols, including the unique text of the Corpus Christi carol.''
Si R. Dyboski (ed.), Songs, Carols and other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms .354. Richard Hill's Commonplace Book, EETS, 1908. (hereafter = Dyboski, Songs). As the title suggests, this includes only the verse items from the Balliol MS 354, but there is an analytical table of the complete contents of the MS on pages xxxiv-lix of Dyboski's edition. The manuscript is now in a very fragile state, and in quoting items not included in Dyboski's selection I have used the typed transcript by D. C. Browning, kept at Balliol.
Like Reynes's collection, it mixes secular matter with religious, and in addition to the devotional material and notes of family baptisms, confirmations, and deaths, has recipes for brewing beer, making gunpowder, and dosing sick horses, notes on weights and measures, the sale of cheese, the assize of bread, and legal formulae. Like the Cambridge manuscript, it contains metrical romances and gestes — the Seven Sages, the Siege of Rome, the story of the Basin, the Friar, and the Boy. It has an enormous collection of devotional verses, sonic of them modelled on prayers found in the primers, some of them general reflections on the transience of worldly things. It has a version of the poem on St Gregory's Trental, and it has a series of Latin prose texts directly bearing on the catechetical programme we have been considering in this chapter. Hill was clearly a traditional Catholic, untouched by the reforming currents already evident in the city in the 1520s, as the presence of texts like the "Pope Trental" or the "Merits of the Mass" indicate. As might be expected, therefore, his collections include a significant number of catechetical texts. The most striking of these are in Latin, notably a "Tabila [sic] Christiane religionis valde utilis et necessaria" which looks as if it has been derived fairly directly from one of the shorter clerical manuals like the Manipulus Curatorum, and which gives a schematic but exhaustive analysis of the faith on the familiar Pecham model of Creed (complete with allocation of each article to an Apostle), Lord's Prayer, Commandments of law and Gospel, the laws of the Church, the sacraments, the sins, the virtues, the works of mercy. Each item is subdivided and minutely defined, giving the skeleton framework for an exhaustive treatment of its subject.'2 This tract also includes material on reserved sins, the ways of incurring excommunication, laws of fasting, days of obligation, and all the other rules and regulations governing orthodox Catholic practice. A briefer Latin tract expounds the Ten Commandments and the ways of breaking them.53 A third Latin piece, longer than either of these, comprises a complete treatise on confession, obviously designed for use by a priest, and providing the sort of pattern of inquisition into the penitent's sins which we have already encountered in the St John's manuscript or the primer form of confession, as well as a good deal of supplementary material on the theology and practical conduct of confession.'
This rather dry and schematic material is supplemented by English and Latin verses designed to help the layman memorize and
'2 Balliol MS 254 transcript pp. 249-57.
"3 Ibid. pp. 257-9. 54 Ibid. pp. 361-6.
flesh it out, such as a set of quatrains characterizing each of the deadly sins, poems on the Eucharist and other sacraments, metrical lists of the sins, virtues, sacraments and the rest, and moralizing rules and aphorisms like the "Aryse early, serve God devoutly" poem we have already encountered in Reynes and the Brome book, or the equally common riddling verses on the Commandments, sins and five bodily wits:
Kepe well X and flee from sevyn Spend well V and cum to hevyn.'
Hill's religion was much richer in content and wider in range than that of Reynes. In particular, the extensive collection of carols and prayers addressed to Christ and Mary in his book, including items like the haunting Corpus Christi carol, add a depth and resonance largely lacking in the other collections. But much of that material is in turn indebted to the primers, which would have supplied the owners and compilers of books like Reynes's or the Brome collection with the affective warmth and interiority we miss in their commonplace books. What is perhaps more striking is the extent to which Hill, like them, has absorbed, assumed, and built on the catechetical framework and priorities mapped out for clergy and laity alike three centuries before.
The Coming qt. Print
In a famous passage of Ades and Monumentes, John Foxe asserted the incompatibility of popery and printing: "How many presses there be in the world, so many block houses there be against the high castle of St Angelo, so that either the pope must abolish knowledge and printing, or printing must at length root him out."' Had Foxe attended to the history of printing in and for England until the early 1530s, he would not have made this claim. The advent of printing in the 1470s and the enormous surge in numbers of publications after 1505 did not flood the reading public with reforming tracts or refutations of the real presence. Instead, alongside the grammar-books, almanacs, conduct-books, statutes, and law reports which formed so much of the stock-in-trade of printers, there flooded out liturgical books to serve the parish churches, letters of indulgence for hospitals, gilds, and other charities, a vast range of devotional and didactic tracts, designed to promote traditional piety and a better knowledge of the faith and practice of Catholicism, and
55 Dyboski, Songs, p. 140.
56 Acts and Monuments, III, p. 720.
78 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY
above all tens of thousands of Latin primers, vying with each other to advertise the indulgenced prayers and pictures with which they were furnished. Caxton, Wynkyn de Worde, and Richard Pynson, who between them dominated the English printing trade until the break with Rome, were all religiously conservative, as well as being shrewd businessmen determined to tap and cater for the expanding lay market for traditional religious material.'