We redeth oft and findeth ywrite –
And this clerkes wele it wite –
Layes that ben in harping
Ben yfounde of ferli thing.
Sum bethe of wer and sum of wo,
And sum of joie and mirthe also,
And sum of trecherie and of gile,
Of old aventours that fel while;
And sum of bourdes and ribaudy,
And mani ther beth of fairy.
Of al thinges that men seth,
Mest o love for sothe thai beth.
In Breteyne bi hold time
This layes were wrought, so seith this rime.
When kinges might our yhere
Of ani mervailes that ther were,
Thai token an harp in gle and game,
And maked a lay and gaf it name.
Now of this aventours that weren yfalle,
Y can tel sum ac nought alle.
Ac herkneth lordinges, sothe to sain,
Ichil you telle Lay le Frayn.
Bifel a cas in Breteyne
Whereof was made Lay le Frain.
In Ingliche for to tellen ywis
Of an asche for sothe it is;
On ensaumple fair with alle
That sum time was bifalle.
In the west cuntré woned tuay knightes,
And loved hem wele in al rightes;
Riche men in her best liif,
And aither of hem hadde wedded wiif.
That o knight made his levedi milde
That sche was wonder gret with childe.
And when hir time was comen tho,
She was deliverd out of wo.
The knight thonked God almight,
And cleped his messanger an hight.
‘Go,’ he seyd, ‘to mi neighebour swithe,
And say y gret him fele sithe,
And pray him that he com to me,
And say he schal mi gossibbe be.’
The messanger goth, and hath nought forgete,
And fint the knight at his mete.
And fair he gret in the halle
The lord, the levedi, the meyné alle.
And seththen on knes doun him sett,
And the Lord ful fair he gret:
‘He bad that thou schust to him te,
And for love his gossibbe be.’
‘Is his levedi deliverd with sounde?’
‘Ya, sir, ythonked be God the stounde.’
‘And whether a maidenchild other a knave?’
‘Tuay sones, sir, God hem save.’
The knight therof was glad and blithe,
And thonked Godes sond swithe,
And graunted his erand in al thing,
And gaf him a palfray for his tiding.
Than was the levedi of the hous
A proude dame and an envieous,
Squeymous and eke scorning.
To ich woman sche hadde envie;
Sche spac this wordes of felonie:
‘Ich have wonder, thou messanger,
Who was thi lordes conseiler,
To teche him about to send
And telle schame in ich an ende,
That his wiif hath to childer ybore.
Wele may ich man wite therfore
That tuay men hir han hadde in bour;
That is hir bothe deshonour.’ 1
The messanger was sore aschamed;
The knight himself was sore agramed,
And rebouked his levedy
To speke ani woman vilaynie.
And ich woman therof might here
Curssed hir alle yfere,
And bisought God in heven
For His holy name seven
That yif hye ever ani child schuld abide
A wers aventour hir schuld bitide.
Sone therafter bifel a cas
That hirself with child was.
When God wild, sche was unbounde
And deliverd al with sounde.
To maidenchilder sche hadde ybore.
When hye it wist, wo hir was therefore.
‘Allas,’ sche seyd, ‘that this hap come!
Ich have ygoven min owen dome.
Forboden bite ich woman
To speken ani other harm opon.
Falsliche another y gan deme;
The selve happe is on me sene.
Allas,’ sche seyd, ‘that y was born!
Withouten ende icham forlorn.
Or ich mot siggen sikerly
That tuay men han yly me by;
Or ich mot sigge in al mi liif
That y bileighe mi neghbours wiif;
Or ich mot – that God it schilde! –
Help to sle min owhen child.
On of this thre thinges ich mot nede
Sigge other don in dede.
‘Yif ich say ich hadde a bileman,
Than ich leighe meselve opon;
And eke thai wil that me se
Held me wer than comoun be.
And yif ich knaweleche to ich man
That ich leighe the levedi opon,
Than ich worth of old and yong
Behold leighster and fals of tong.
Yete me is best take mi chaunce,
And sle mi childe, and do penaunce.’
Hir midwiif hye cleped hir to:
‘Anon,’ sche seyd, ‘this child fordo.
And ever say thou wher thou go
That ich have o child and namo.’
The midwiif answerd thurchout al
That hye nil, no hye ne schal. 2
[The levedi hadde a maiden fre,
Who ther ynurtured hade ybe,
And fostered fair ful mony a yere;
Sche saw her kepe this sori chere,
And wepe, and syke, and crye, ‘Alas!’
And thoghte to helpen her in this cas.
And thus sche spake, this maiden ying,
‘So n’olde y wepen for no kind thing: 3
But this o child wol I of-bare
And in a covent leve it yare.
Ne schalt thou be aschamed at al;
And whoso findeth this childe smal,
By Mary, blissful quene above,
May help it for Godes love.’
The levedi graunted anon therto,
And wold wele that it were ydo.
Sche toke a riche baudekine
That hir lord brought from Costentine
And lapped the litel maiden therin,
And toke a ring of gold fin,
And on hir right arm it knitt,
With a lace of silke therin plit;
And whoso hir founde schuld have in mende
That it were comen of riche kende.
The maide toke the child hir mide
And stale oway in an eventide,
And passed over a wild heth.
Thurch feld and thurch wode hye geth
Al the winterlong night –
The weder was clere, the mone was light –
So that hye com bi a forest side;
Sche wax al weri and gan abide.
Sone after sche gan herk
Cokkes crowe and houndes berk.
Sche aros and thider wold.
Ner and nere sche gan bihold.
Walles and hous fele hye seighe,
A chirche with stepel fair and heighe.
Than nas ther noither strete no toun,
Bot an hous of religioun,
An order of nonnes wele ydight
To servy God bothe day and night.
The maiden abod no lengore,
Bot yede hir to the chirche dore,
And on knes sche sat adoun,
And seyd wepeand her orisoun:
‘O Lord,’ she seyd, ‘Jesu Crist,
That sinful man bedes herst,
Underfong this present,
And help this seli innocent
That it mot ycristned be,
For Marie love, thi moder fre.’
Hye loked up and bi hir seighe
An asche bi hir fair and heighe,
Wele ybowed, of michel priis;
The bodi was holow as mani on is.
Therin sche leyd the child for cold,
In the pel as it was bifold,
And blisced it with al hir might.
With that it gan to dawe light.
The foules up and song on bough,
And acremen yede to the plough.
The maiden turned ogain anon,
And toke the waye he hadde er gon.
The porter of the abbay aros,
And dede his ofice in the clos,
Rong the belles and taperes light,
Leyd forth bokes and al redi dight.
The chirche dore he undede,
And seighe anon in the stede
The pel liggen in the tre,
And thought wele that it might be
That theves hadde yrobbed sumwhare,
And gon ther forth and lete it thare.
Therto he yede and it unwond,
And the maidenchild therin he fond.
He tok it up betwen his hond,
And thonked Jesu Cristes sond;
And hom to his hous he it brought,
And tok it his douhter and hir bisought
That hye schuld kepe it as sche can,
For sche was melche and couthe theran.
Sche bad it souke and it nold,
For it was neighe ded for cold.
Anon fer sche alight
And warmed it wele aplight.
Sche gaf it souke opon hir barm,
And sethen laid it to slepe warm.
And when the masse was ydon,
The porter to the abbesse com ful son
‘Madame, what rede ye of this thing?
Today right in the morning,
Sone after the first stounde,
A litel maidenchild ich founde
In the holwe assche ther out,
And a pel him about.
A ring of gold also was there.
Hou it com thider y not nere.’
The abbesse was awonderd of this thing.
‘Go,’ hye seyd, ‘on heighing,
And feche it hider, y pray the.
It is welcom to God and to me.
Ichil it help as y can
And sigge it is mi kinswoman.’
The porter anon it gan forth bring
With the pal and with the ring.
The abbesse lete clepe a prest anon,
And lete it cristin in funston.
And for it was in an asche yfounde,
Sche cleped it Frain in that stounde.
(The Freyns of the ‘asche’ is a freyn
After the language of Breteyn;
Forthe Le Frein men clepeth this lay
More than Asche in ich cuntray).
This Frein thrived fram yer to yer.
The abbesse nece men wend it were.
The abbesse hir gan teche and beld.
Bi that hye was of twelve winter eld,
In al Inglond ther nas non
A fairer maiden than hye was on.
And when hye couthe ought of manhed,
Hye bad the abbesse hir wis and rede
Whiche were her kin, on or other,
Fader or moder, soster or brother.
The abbesse hir in conseyl toke,
To tellen hir hye nought forsoke,
Hou hye was founden in al thing,
And tok hir the cloth and the ring,
And bad hir kepe it in that stede;
And ther whiles sche lived so sche dede.
Than was ther in that cuntré
A riche knight of lond and fe,
Proud and yong and jolive,
And had nought yete ywedded wive.
He was stout, of gret renoun,
And was ycleped Sir Guroun.
He herd praise that maiden fre,
And seyd he wald hir se.
He dight him in the way anon,
And joliflich thider he come;
And bad his man sigge verrament
He schuld toward a turnament.
The abbesse and the nonnes alle
Fair him gret in the gest halle,
And damisel Freyn, so hende of mouth,
Gret him faire as hye wele couthe;
And swithe wele he gan devise
Her semblaunt and her gentrise,
Her lovesum eighen, her rode so bright,
And comced to love hir anon right,
And thought hou he might take on
To have hir to his leman.
He thought, ‘Yif ich com hir to
More than ichave ydo,
The abbesse wil souchy gile
And voide hir in a litel while.’
He compast another enchesoun:
To be brother of that religioun. 4
‘Madame,’ he seyd to the abbesse,
‘Y lovi wele in al godenisse,
Ichil give on and other,
Londes and rentes, to bicom your brother,
That ye schul ever fare the bet
When y com to have recet.’
At few wordes thai ben at on.
He graythes him and forth is gon.
Oft he come bi day and night
To speke with that maiden bright.
So that with his fair bihest,
And with his gloseing atte lest,
Hye graunted him to don his wille
When he wil, loude and stille.
‘Leman,’ he seyd, ‘thou most lat be
The abbesse, thi nece, and go with me.
For icham riche, of swich pouwere,
The finde bet than thou hast here.’ 5
The maiden grant, and to him trist,
And stale oway that no man wist.
With hir tok hye no thing
Bot hir pel and hir ring.
When the abbesse gan aspie
That hye was with the knight owy,
Sche made morning in hir thought,
And hir biment and gained nought.
So long sche was in his castel
That al his meyné loved hir wel.
To riche and pouer sche gan hir dresse,
That al hir loved, more and lesse.
And thus sche lad with him hir liif
Right as sche hadde ben his wedded wiif.
His knightes com and to him speke,
And Holy Chirche comandeth eke,
Sum lordes douhter for to take,
And his leman al forsake;
And seyd him were wel more feir
In wedlok to geten him an air
Than lede his liif with swiche on
Of was kin he knewe non.
And seyd, ‘Here bisides is a knight
That hath a douhter fair and bright
That schal bere his hiritage;
Taketh hir in mariage!’
Loth him was that dede to do,
Ac atte last he graunt therto.
The forward was ymaked aright,
And were at on, and treuthe plight.
Allas, that he no hadde ywite,
Er the forward were ysmite
That hye and his leman also
Sostren were and twinnes to!
Of o fader bigeten thai were,
Of o moder born yfere.
That hye so ware nist non,
For soth y say, bot God alon. 6
The newe bride was grayd with alle
And brought hom to the lordes halle.
Hir fader com with hir, also
The levedi, hir moder, and other mo.
The bischop of the lond withouten fail
Com to do the spusseayl.
[That maiden bird in bour bright,
Le Codre sche was yhight.
And ther the guestes had gamen and gle,
And sayd to Sir Guroun joyfully:
‘Fairer maiden nas never seen,
Better than Ash is Hazle y ween!’
(For in Romaunce Le Frain ‘ash’ is,
And Le Codre ‘hazle,’ y-wis.)
A gret fest than gan they hold
With gle and pleasaunce manifold.
And mo than al servauntes, the maid,
Yhight Le Frain, as servant sped.
Albe her herte wel nigh tobroke,
No word of pride ne grame she spoke.
The levedi marked her simple chere,
And gan to love her, wonder dere.
Scant could sche feel more pine or reuth
War it hir owen childe in sooth.
Than to the bour the damsel sped,
Whar graithed was the spousaile bed;
Sche demed it was ful foully dight,
And yll besemed a may so bright;
So to her coffer quick she cam,
And her riche baudekyn out nam,
Which from the abbesse sche had got;
Fayrer mantel nas ther not;
And deftly on the bed it layd;
Her lord would thus be well apayd.
Le Codre and her mother, thare,
Ynsame unto the bour gan fare,
But whan the levedi that mantyll seighe,
Sche wel neighe swoned oway.
The chamberleynt sche cleped tho,
But he wist of it no mo.
Then came that hendi maid Le Frain,
And the levedi gan to her sain,
And asked whose mantyll it ware.
Then answered that maiden fair:
‘It is mine without lesing;
Y had it together with this ringe.
Myne aunte tolde me a ferli cas
Hou in this mantyll yfold I was,
And hadde upon mine arm this ring,
Whanne I was ysent to norysching.’
Then was the levedi astonied sore:
‘Fair child! My doughter, y the bore!’
Sche swoned and was wel neighe ded,
And lay sikeand on that bed.
Her husbond was fet tho,
And sche told him al her wo,
Hou of her neighbour sche had missayn,
For sche was delyvered of childre twain;
And hou to children herself sche bore;
‘And that o child I of sent thore,
In a convent yfostered to be;
And this is sche, our doughter free;
And this is the mantyll, and this the ring
You gaf me of yore as a love-tokening.’
The knight kissed his daughter hende
Oftimes, and to the bisschop wende:
And he undid the mariage strate,
And weddid Sir Guroun alsgate
To Le Frain, his leman, so fair and hend.
With them Le Codre away did wend,
And sone was spousyd with game and gle,
To a gentle knight of that countré.
Thus ends the lay of tho maidens bright,
Le Frain and Le Codre yhight.]
We redeth oft and findeth ywrite –