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Ichot a burde in a bour: notes
London, British Library, Harley MS 2253, f. 63r-v

a burde in a bour:
burde by this period, particularly in the alliterative collocation burde in bour, is a poetic word (the bour, a private chamber within the hall, is an indicator of the lady's status; cf. Lutel wot hit any mon, lines 23-6, Mosti ryden by Rybbesdale, line 6).

1. beryl: a mineral used for gemstones: the green variety gives emeralds, the blue-green aquamarines.

3. iaspe: jasper, an opaque quartz, green, yellow, red, or brown, used for gemstones.

10. charbocle: from Latin carbunculus, the diminutive form of carbo 'coal'. The word was applied to various red precious stones in the Middle Ages, including rubies, garnets, and a mythical stone which glowed red in the dark (see OED s.v. carbuncle).

10. bi chyn ant by chere: cf. the later-medieval alliterative collocation chynne and cheke (see MED, s.v. chin n. 1 (a)); the phrase probably means no more than 'because of her face'---i.e. because of the rosy glow of her complexion.

14. alisaundre: alexanders (also called horse-parsley), smyrnium olusatrum, an umbelliferous garden herb formerly eaten like celery, and used as a remedy against wind (see OED s.v. alexanders).

15. columbine: aquilegia vulgaris; grown as an ornamental plant; its seeds were also used as a remedy against quinsy and sore throats.

16. vnder gore: the phrase is sometimes used as an equivalent for 'woman' (e.g. Bytuene Mersh ant Aueril line 37; cf. vnder bis line 17 below); but in this line it may retain a literal meaning.

16. in gro ant in grys: this apparently tautologous phrase (both words mean 'grey fur', though the first is derived from Old Norse, the second from Old French) is one of a number of Middle English alliterative collocations used as a shorthand way of referring to fine clothing; see MED s.v. grei n. (2) (a).

17. blosme opon ble: probably = '[like] a flower in her colouring'.

18. celydoyne: probably the greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), used for eye disorders and other medicinal purposes.

20. solsecle: the marigold (Calendula officinalis) is still used as a herbal remedy for a wide variety of afflictions, both externally and internally.

23. thryuen in thro: Brown (1932), p. 225, cites the thirteenth-century ME verse debate between the thrush and the nightingale on whether women are virtuous or not (see The Thrush and the Nightingale), and The Owl and the Nightingale 1658-64, to support the thrush's 'reputation for contentiousness'; but the thrush in the first attacks women (which makes the parallel questionable), and the second reference does not really back up his point. However, the quarrelsome thrush reappears in Harley 2253 in Lenten ys come with loue to toune line 7.

26. gome: a poetic word, inherited from the special vocabulary of Old English alliterative poetry (OE guma 'man, warrior').

27. From Weye (. . .) into Wyrhale: The Wye runs south-eastward from Wales through southern Herefordshire; the Wirral was a royal forest on the peninsula between the Dee and the Mersey. The choice of the Wye and the Wirral as geographical extremes suggests that the poet was writing somewhere in the Welsh Marches---i.e. the general area in which Harley 2253 itself was produced (see General Introduction). See also note on line 33 below.

29-30. Annote (. . .) Iohon: presumably the names of the lady and the poet; Annot, a diminutive form of Anne, is (as Brown (1932), p. 225, first pointed out) concealed punningly in the words a note.

31. mondrake: the mandrake, Mandragora officinalis, a tuberous-rooted plant belonging to the potato family, was believed in the Middle Ages to have aphrodisiac properties and to enhance fertility.

33. licoris: liquorice, the dried rhizome of Glycyrrhiza glabra, was used in the Middle Ages for cooking and sweetening the breath, but also for medicinal purposes.

33. from Lyne to Lone: the mention of the rivers Lyn (North Devon) and Lune (Lancashire) sets a wider boundary than in line 27 above (see note), but a line drawn between the two still crosses the Welsh Marches; see Introduction for map.

35. baytheth: MS bayeth.

36. when . . . done: the MS has for this line when derne dede is in dayne derne are done. Brown (1932) keeps the MS reading, punctuating when derne dede is indayne, derne are done ('when a secret deed is unworthy, secret things are done'); his interpretation of in dayne as reflecting OF indigne is followed by MED. Brook (1968), p. 76, objects that 'the phonology of this development is irregular and the line as interpreted by Brown does not fit very well into the context'; instead, he follows Boeddeker (1878) in emending dede is to dedis, and takes the -ne of dayne as an erroneous anticipation of the following derne. But in day remains a problem; if the deeds are secret, why are they done in the daytime? One would expect rather a phrase like the EME on diglon 'in secret' (see MED s.v. di3el (b)). I have followed Brook's reading, but suspect the line is corrupt beyond repair. Whichever reading is taken, it is likely that its cryptic phrasing refers to an erotic assignation; the poet is probably using the conventional imagery and language of medieval love-poetry, where the lady grants the lover's prayer and the couple engage in derne loue (secret or illicit love; see MED s.v. derne adj. and adv.).

37. gromyl: gromwell (Lithospermum), a member of the borage family, is a herb producing hard stone-like seeds, used in the Middle Ages for the treatment of kidney stones.

38. comyn: cummin (Cummin cyminum) is an umbelliferous plant, cultivated for its aromatic seeds; see OED s.v. cumin n.

40. sedewale: zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria) an East Indian aromatic root similar to ginger; see OED s.v. setwall n., zedoary n.

41. medicyne: MS medierne; Brown (1932) in his Glossary interprets this as 'covetous'; but Brook (1968), p. 76, is not convinced that the MS spelling could reflect a derivation from EME med-yeorne, and compares the use of medicine in another lyric in this collection, Nou skrinketh rose 30, 31. The palaeographical error for medicyne would be a very easy one (see MS (detail), f. 63r), and I have followed Brook's emendation.

42. Regnas: identified by Brown (1932), pp. 226-7, with Ragna, the early-twelfth-century wise woman who appears in the Orkneyinga Saga, c. 1200 (trs. Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, Penguin Classics (London: Penguin, 1981)). See also note on line 44 below.

43. Tegeu: Tegeu Eurvron, wife of Caradoc, and one of the three chaste ladies of Arthur's court; if her full-length mantle was worn by an unfaithful wife, it would shrink to knee-length. See Brown (1932), p. 226, for references; and note on line 47 below.

43. Wyrwein: identification uncertain; another form of Tegeu's second name (see previous note)? Garwen, daughter of Henen Hen and one of the three mistresses of Arthur? See Brown (1932), p. 226, for discussion and references.

44. Byrne: Brown (1932), p. 227, identifies tentatively with Bjorn, another character in the Orkneyinga Saga (see note on line 42 above), brave, but not explicitly associated with boars.

45. Wylcadoun: unidentified. Brown (1932), p. 227, following a suggestion by G. P. Krapp, notes the similarity in form to Guilliadun, the name of the princess the hero falls in love with in Marie de France's lai Eliduc (see The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Glyn Burgess and Keith Busby, Penguin Classics (London: Penguin, 1986)), but points out that though Guilliadun was beautiful, 'she does not appear to have been wise or doughty of deed'.

46. Floyres: identification uncertain. Brook (1968), p. 76, suggests Floris, lover of Blancheflur; Brown (1932), p. 227, prefers Floripas in Sir Ferumbras, 'who had a magic girdle which exempted all who wore it from the effects of hunger and thirst'.

47. Cradoc: probably Caradoc, knight at Arthur's court and husband of Tegeu Eurvron (see note on line 43 above). A version of his story in which both the mantle of chastity and the boar's head figure is found in the ballad of The Boy and the Mantle (reprinted from Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript, ed. J. W. Hales and F. J. Furnivall (1867-8), vol. 2, pp. 304ff.,  in The Oxford Book of Ballads, ed. James Kinsley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), no. 9); Caradoc's wife passes the test of the mantle and Caradoc carves the boar's head which no cuckold's knife can cut.

48. Hilde: Brown (1932), pp. 227-8, identifies her with the Hilde  who figures in both Scandinavian and German heroic literature, described in one Icelandic saga as the daughter of King Arthur.

50. Ionas: identification uncertain. As Brown (1932), p. 228, says, the reference is unlikely to be to the prophet Jonah (whose conduct was more memorable for cowardice, egoism, and ungraciousness than gentilesse); Brown tentatively suggests Jonaans, one of the kings in the Grail legend.


Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 25 July 2003 .