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Winner and Waster
London, British Library, Additional MS 31042


1-2. Geoffrey of Monmouth's early-C12 Latin History of the Kings of Britain claimed that the kingdom of Britain had been founded by Brutus, the great-grandson of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who fled from Troy after its capture by the Greeks; medieval versions of the story of the Trojan war implicated Aeneas in the betrayal of the city. A similar opening is used in some other poems of the Alliterative Revival; cf. the fuller treatment of the same theme in the opening stanza of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

10. The prophecies which follow are not Solomon's, but attached to his name to give them greater authority.

68. An English version of the French motto (Honi soit qui mal y pense) of the Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III in 1348.

71. The 'Wild man' (wodwyse) appears more than once in medieval romance, usually as an enemy of the court. His natural habitat is the woods; he is large, savage, and covered in hair or leaves, and his usual weapon is a club. However, he is also often used as a decorative and heraldic motif, where he may be assimilated (as here) more closely to courtly culture; here he wears the royal arms of England.  See further Richard Bernheimer, Wild Men in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass.: 1952).

83. MS kynge is corrected by the editors to knyghte, since the King is inside the pavilion, and the reference is more probably to his herald. The identity of this herald is uncertain; Edward III's son, Edward the Black Prince, has been suggested, but the textual evidence is insufficient for a firm identification.

86. The 'handsome king' is presumably to be identified (in so far as he is not simply a generic figure) with Edward III.

144. MS bibulles ('bibles'?) is emended by the editors to bulles 'bulls': a 'papal bull' is a formal document issued by the Pope (so called from the lead seal (bulla) attached to it).

147. 'The head of Holy Church': i.e. the Pope. A standard theme for satire in the Middle Ages was the avarice and corruption of the Papal Court (the Curia).

149. Green was the colour of the expensive wax seal required for legal writs. The avarice of lawyers, again, was a standard theme for medieval satirists.

159. 'St Francis's men' are the Franciscan friars (who wore sandals rather than boots as a sign of austerity), founded by St Francis of Assisi in 1209. The author lists the four orders of friars (Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, and Augustinian) as part of Winner's army. Although the friars professed an ideal of apostolic poverty, by the later Middle Ages there had been some relaxation of this ideal, and the friars' mendicant lifestyle (they gained their income by begging rather than, like monks and regular canons, by endowments) meant that their financial demands were noticed more by the population in general; they were often (as in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale) satirized for their greed. On the friars in general, see C. H. Lawrence, The Friars (London: Longman, 1994); on  hostility to the mendicants, see his Ch. 8.

167. St Dominic was the founder of the Dominican friars, the 'Order of Preachers' (Ordo Praedicatorum) in 1216; the significance of the device on their banner here is uncertain. Both the Dominicans and the Franciscans were founded under the aegis of Pope Innocent III, and worked closely with the Papacy on the implementation of the programme of pastoral reform decided by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

171. On the political influence of the friars, see C. H. Lawrence, The Friars (London: Longman, 1994), Ch. 9.

176. The Carmelites were originally a contemplative order, 'the Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel', but from 1247 joined the orders of friars, accepting mendicancy (see note on 159) and a preaching mission. They were known as the White Friars, from their white mantle.

186. The Augustinian Friars were founded in 1256; they took their name from their Rule, the Rule of St Augustine ---also followed by the other orders of friars, apart from the Franciscans, and by the Augustinian canons (with whom they should not be confused). They wore a black habit with a leather belt.

206. An indication of the date of the poem? Edward III came to the throne in 1328, so this would place the action in the early 1350s. But Trigg (pp. 30-1) notes that round figures of this kind are not always precisely used in medieval poetry; the sense may only be 'for a long time'.

222. Wynnere (recorded in this work for the first time in English) has a different sense from its modern usage: a 'winner'  in this poem is someone who gains wealth, by labour, trade, or other means (see OED s.v. Winner n.). The connotations of the word are more ambiguous than those for 'waster' (wastoure, also recorded first in this poem), whose connection with extravagance and dissipation has remained constant through its history; the role of the wynnere here can be seen as either meritorious or morally doubtful depending on the social or ethical viewpoint from which it is considered.

276. 'The dead month' is March; cf. Chaucer's mention of 'the drought of March' in line 2 of he General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

286. The reference is to the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis Ch. 4).

293. Northern European accounts of hell in particular tended to see its torments as including alternating cold and heat; e.g. the early-C13 description in Sawles Warde in Medieval English Prose for Women, ed. Bella Millett and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (Oxford: Clarendon, rev. ed. 1992), 92/7-10: 'There is wailing in the fire and gnashing of teeth in the icy waters. Suddenly they shift from the heat to the cold . . . And in this dreadful exchange, each state gives more pain because of what went before.'

311. The 'friend on the far side' is Saturday (a fast-day).

317. Sir William Shareshull, Chief Justice 1350-61, see Introduction.

334. Frumenty is 'a dish made of hulled wheat boiled in milk and seasoned with cinnamon, sugar, etc. (OED, s.v. Frumenty n. 1).

345. Martinmas is the feast of St Martin, 11 November, when cattle were slaughtered for the winter.

413-4. The sense of line 413 is obscure (I have translated it literally), and the passage as a whole (409-414) is probably corrupt. Was the original point that women are all the same under their clothes, fine or ragged?

474. Cheapside was a thriving shopping district in the City of London.

Set up by Bella Millett, enm@soton.ac.uk. Last updated 29 March 2001 .