John Skelton - THE BOWGE OF COURT

THE BOWGE OF COURT

 [From the ed. of Wynkyn de Word, n.d., in the Advocates Library, Edinburgh, collated with another ed. by Wynkyn de Worde in the Public Library, Cambridge, and with Marsh's ed. of Skelton's Works, 1568.]

<1>

HERE BEGINNETH A LITTLE TREATISE
NAMED
THE BOWGE OF COURT.

THE PROLOGUE TO THE BOWGE OF COURT.

IN autumn, when the sun in Virgine
By radiant heat enriped hath our corn;
When Luna, full of mutability,
As empress the diadem hath worn
Of our pole arctic, smiling half in scorn
At our folly and our unsteadfastness;
The time when Mars to war him did dress;

I, calling to mind the great authority
Of poets old, which full craftily,
Under as covert terms as could be,                                                              10
Can touch a truth and cloak it subtilly
With fresh utterance full sententiously,
Diverse in style, some spared not vice to write,
Some of morality nobly did indite;

Whereby I rede their renown and their fame
May never die, but evermore endure.
I was sore moved to aforce the same,
But Ignorance full soon did me discure,
And showed that in this art I was not sure;
For to illumine, she said, I was too dull,                                                      20
Advising me my pen alway to pull,

And not to write: for he so will attain
Exceeding further than his
conning is,
His head may be hard, but feeble is his brain,
Yet have I known such ere this;
But of reproach surely he may not miss,
That climbeth higher than he may footing have:
What an he slide down, who shall him save?

Thus up and down my mind was drawn and cast,
That I ne wist what to do was best;                                                             30
So sore enwearied<
2>, that I was at the last
Enforced to sleep and for to take some rest,
And to lie down as soon as I me dressed.
At Harwich port slumbering as I lay
In mine host's house, called Power's Quay,

Methought I saw a ship, goodly of sail,
Come sailing forth into the haven broad,
Her tackling rich and of high appareil:<3>
She cast an anchor, and there she lay at road.
Merchants her boarded to see what she had load:                                       40
Therein they found royal merchandise,
Freighted with pleasure of what ye could devise.

But then I thought I would not dwell behind
Among all others I put myself in press<
4>.
Then there could I none acquaintance find:
There was much noise; anon one cried, Cease!
Sharply commanding each man hold his peace:
Masters, he said, the ship that ye here see
The Bowge of Court it hight for certainty:

The owner thereof is lady of estate                                                             50
Whose name to tell is Dame Sans-peer;
Her merchandise is rich and fortunate,
But who will have it must pay therefor dear;
This royal
chaffer that is shipped here
Is called Favour, to stand in her good grace.
Then should ye see there pressing in apace

Of one and other that would this lady see;
Which sat behind a travis<5> of silk fine,
Of gold of tissue the finest that might be,
In a throne which far clearer did shine                                                        60
Than Phoebus in his sphere celestine;
Whose beauty, honour, goodly
port
I have too little cunning to report.

But of each thing there as I took heed,
Among all other was written in her throne
In gold letters, these words, which I did read:
Gardez le fortune, qui est mauvais et bon!<6>
And, as I stood reading this verse myself alone,
Her chief gentlewoman, Danger by her name,
Gave me a taunt, and said I was to blame                                                   70

To be so pert to press so proudly up:
She said she
trowed that I had eaten sauce;<7>
She asked if ever I drank of sauce's cup.
And I then softly answered to that clause,
That, so to say, I had given her no cause.
Then asked she me, Sir, so God thee speed,
What is thy name? and I said, it was Dread.

What moved thee, quod she, hither to come?
Forsooth, quod I, to buy some of your ware.
And with that word on me she gave a glum                                                80
With browes bent, and
gan on me to stare
Full dainously, and fro me she did fare,
Leaving me standing as a mazed man:
To whom there came another gentlewoman;

Desire her name was, and so she me told,
Saying to me, Brother, be of good cheer,
Abash you not, but hardily be bold,
Advance yourself to approach and come near:
What though our chaffer be never so dear,
Yet I advise you to speak, for any dread:<8>                                             90
Who spareth to speak, in faith, he spareth to speed.

Mistress, quod I, I have none acquaintance
That will for me be mediator and mean;
And this another, I have but small substance.
Peace, quod Desire, ye speak not worth a bean:<9>
If ye have not, in faith, I will you lene
A precious jewel, no richer in this land;
Bon Aventure have here now in your hand

Shift now therewith, let see, as ye can
In Bowge of Court chevisaunce to make;                                                   100
For I dare say that there
nis earthly man
But, an he can Bon Aventure take,
There can no favour nor friendship him forsake;
Bon Aventure may bring you in such case
That ye shall stand in favour and in grace

But of one thing I warn you ere I go:
She that steereth the ship, make her your friend.
Mistress, quod I, I pray you tell me why so,
And how I may that way and means find.
Forsooth, quod she, however blow the wind,                                             110
Fortune guideth and ruleth all our ship:
Whom she hateth shall over the seaboard skip;

Whom she loveth, of all pleasure is rich,
Whiles she laugheth and hath lust for to play;
Whom she hateth, she casteth in the ditch,
For when she frowneth, she thinketh to make a fray;
She cherisheth him, and him she casteth away.
Alas,
quod I, how might I have her sure?
In faith, quod she, by Bon Aventure.

Thus, in a row, of merchants a great rout                                                    120
Sued to Fortune that she would be their friend:
They throng in fast, and flocked her about;
And I with them prayed her to have in mind.
She promised to us all she would be kind:
Of Bowge of Court she asketh what we would have,
And we asked Favour, and Favour she us gave.

Thus endeth the Prologue; and beginneth the Bowge of Court briefly compiled.

DREAD

The sail is up, Fortune ruleth our helm,
We want no wind to pass now over all;
Favour we have tougher than any elm,
That will abide and never from us fall;                                                        130
But under honey ofttime lieth bitter gall;
For, as methought, in our ship I did see
Full subtle persons, in number four and three.

The first was Favell, full of flattery,
With fables false that well could feign a tale;
The second was Suspect, which that daily
Misdeemed each man, with face deadly and pale;
And Harvy Hafter,<10> that well could pick a male;
With other four of their affinity,
Disdain, Riot, Dissimuler, Subtlety.                                                            140

Fortune their friend, with whom oft she did dance;
They could not fail, they thought, they were so sure;
And oftentimes I would myself advance
With them to make
solace and pleasure;
But my disport they could not well endure;
They said they hated for to deal with Dread.
Then Favell gan with fair speech me to feed.

FAVELL

No thing earthly that I wonder so sore
As of your conning, that is so excellent;
Dainty to have with us such one in store,<11>                                           150
So virtuously that hath his days spent;
Fortune to you gifts of grace hath lent:
Lo, what it is a man to have
conning!
All earthly treasure it is surmounting.

Ye be an apt man, as any can be found,
To dwell with us, and serve my lady's grace;
Ye be to her, yea, worth a thousand pound;
I heard her speak of you within short space,
When there were divers that sore did you menace;
And, though I say it, I was myself your friend,                                          160
For here be divers to you that be unkind.

But this one thing—ye may be sure of me;
For, by that Lord that bought dear all mankind,
I cannot flatter, I must be plain to thee;
An ye need ought, man, show to me your mind,
For ye have me whom faithful ye shall find;
Whiles I have ought, by God, thou shalt not lack,
And if need be, a bold word I dare crack.

Nay, nay, be sure, whiles I am on your side
Ye may not fall, trust me, ye may not fail.                                                  170
Ye stand in favour, and Fortune is your guide,
And, as she will, so shall our great ship sail:
These
lewd cockwats<12> shall nevermore prevail
Against you hardily, therefore be not afraid.
Farewell till soon, but no word that I said.

DREAD

Then thanked I him for his great gentleness.
But, as methought, he wore on him a cloak
That lined was with doubtful doubleness;
Methought, of words that he had full a poke;
His stomach stuffed oft times did reboke.<13>                                          180
Suspicion, methought, met him at a
braid,
And I drew near to hark what they two said.

In faith, quod Suspect, spake Dread no word of me?
Why? what then? wilt thou let men to speak?
He saith he cannot well accord with thee.
Twist, quod Suspect, go play! him I ne reck!
By Christ, quod Favell, Dread is sullen freke.
What, let us hold him up, man, for a while?
Yea so, quod Suspect, he may us both beguile.

And when he came walking soberly,                                                           190
With hum and ha, and with a crooked look,
Methought his head was full of jealousy,
His
eyen rolling, his hands fast they quoke;
And to meward the straight way he took:
God speed, brother! to me quod he then;
And thus to talk with me he began.

SUSPICION

Ye remember the gentleman right now
That communed with you, methought a pretty space?
Beware of him, for, I make God avow,
He will beguile you and speak fair to your face;                                         200
Ye never dwelt in such another place,
For here is none that dare well other trust;
But I would tell you a thing,
an I durst.

Spake he, i'faith, no word to you of me?
I wot, an he did, ye would me tell.
I have a favour to you, whereof it be
That I must show you much of my counsel:
But I wonder what the devil of hell
He said of me, when he with you did talk.
By mine advice use not with him to walk.                                                  210

The sovereignest thing that any man may have,
Is little to say, and much to hear and see;
For, but I trusted you, so God me save,
I would nothing so plain be;
To you only, methink, I durst
shrive me;
For now am I plenarly disposed
To show you things that may not be disclosed.

DREAD

Then I assured him my fidelity
His counsel secret never to discure,
If he could find in heart to trust me;                                                           220
Else I prayed him, with all my busy cure,
To keep it himself, for then he might be sure
That no man earthly could him
bewray,
Whiles of his mind it were locked with the key.

By God, quod he, this and thus it is;
And of his mind he showed me all and some.<14>
Farewell, quod he, we will talk more of this:
So he departed there he would be come.
I dare not speak, I promised to be dumb:
But, as I stood musing in my mind,                                                             230
Harvy Hafter came leaping, light as
lind.<15>

Upon his breast he bore a versing-box,<16>
His throat was clear, and lustily could feign.
Methought his gown was all furred with fox,
And ever he sang, Sith I am nothing plain.<17>
To keep him from picking it was a great pain:
He gazed on me with his goatish beard;
When I looked on him, my purse was half afeared.

HARVY HAFTER

Sir, God you save! why look ye so sad?
What thing is that I may do for you?                                                          240
A wonder thing that ye wax not mad!
For,
an I study should as ye do now,
My wit would waste, I make God avow.
Tell me your mind: methink,ye make a verse;
I could it scan, an ye would it rehearse.

But to the point shortly to proceed,
Where hath your dwelling been ere ye came here?
For, as I trow, I have seen you indeed
Ere this, when that ye made me royal cheer.
Hold up the helm, look up, and let God steer:                                            250
I would be merry, what wind that ever blow.
Heave and how rumbelow,<
18> row the boat, Norman, row!<19>

Princess of Youth can ye sing by rote?<20>
Or shall I sail with you a fellowship assay;<21>
For on the book I cannot sing a note.
Would to God, it would please you some day
A ballad book before me for to lay,
And learn me to sing re, mi, fa, sol!
And, when I fail, bob me on the noll.<22>

Lo, what is to you a pleasure great                                                              260
To have that
conning and ways that ye have!
By God's soul, I wonder how ye get
So great pleasure, or who to you it gave:
Sir, pardon me, I am an homely knave,
To be with you thus pert and thus bold;
But ye be welcome to our household.

And, I dare say, there is no man herein
But would be glad of your company:
I wist never man that so soon could win
The favour that ye have with my lady;                                                        270
I pray to God that it may never die:
It is your fortune for to have that grace;
As I be saved, it is a wonder case

For, as for me, I served here many a day
And yet
unneth I can have my living;
But, I require you, no word that I say;<23>
For, an I know any earthly thing
That is again you, ye shall have weeting:
And ye be welcome, sir, so God me save:
I hope hereafter a friend of you to have.                                                     280

DREAD

With that, as he departed so from me,
Anon there met with him, as methought,
A man, but wonderly
beseen was he;
He looked haughty; he set each man at nought;
His gaudy garment with scorns was all wrought;
With indignation lined was his hood;
He frowned, as he would swear by Cock's blood;

He bit the lip, he looked passing coy;
His face was belimmed, as bees had him stung:
It was no time with him to jape nor toy;                                                      290
Envy had wasted his liver and his lung,
Hatred by the heart so had him wrung,
That he looked pale as ashes to my sight:
Disdain, I ween, this cumbrous crab is
hight.

To Harvy Hafter then he spake of me,
And I drew near to hark what they two said.
Now, quod Disdain, as I shall saved be,
I have great scorn, and am right evil payed.<24>
Then quod Harvy Hafter, Why art thou so dismayed?
By Christ, quod he, for it is shame to say;                                                   300
To see yon Johan Dawes<
25>, that came but yesterday,

How he is now taken in conceit,
This doctor Dawcock, Dread, I ween, he hight:
By God's bones, but if we have some slight,
It is likely he will stand in your light.
By God, quod Harvy, an it so happen might;
Let us therefore shortly at a word
Find some means to cast him overboard.

By Him that me bought, then quod Disdain,
I wonder sore he is in such conceit.                                                             310
Turd,
quod Hafter, I will thee nothing lain,
There must for him be laid some pretty bait;
We twain, I trow, be not without deceit:
First pick a quarrel, and fall out with him then,
And so outface him with a card of ten.<26>

Forthwith he made on me a proud assault
With scornful look moved all in mood;
He went about to take me in a fault;
He frowned, he stared, he stamped where he stood.
I looked on him, I weened he had been wood.                                           320
He set the arm proudly under the side,
And in this wise he
gan with me to chide.

DISDAIN

Rememberest thou what thou said yesternight?
Wilt thou abide by the words again?
By God, I have of thee now great despite;
I shall thee anger once in every vein:
It is great scorn to see such an hayne
As thou art, one that came but yesterday,
With us old servants such masters to play.<27>

I tell thee, I am of countenance:<28>                                                          330
What
weenest I were? I trow thou know not me.
By God's wounds, but for displeasance,
Of my quarrel soon would I venged be:
But no force, I shall once meet with thee;
Come when it will, oppose thee I shall,
Whatsomever adventure thereof fall.

Trowest thou, drevil, I say, thou gaudy knave,
That I have deigned to see thee cherished thus?
By God's side, my sword thy beard shall shave;
Well, once thou shalt be charmed, ywis.                                                     340
Nay, straw for tales, thou shalt not rule us;
We be thy betters, and so thou shalt us take,
Or we shall thee out of thy clothes shake.

DREAD

With that came Riot,<29> rushing all at once,
A rusty gallant, to-ragged and to-rent;
And on the board he whirled a pair of bones,<30>
Quater trey deuce<31> he clattered as he went.
Now have at all, by Saint Thomas of Kent!<32>
And ever he threw and cast I wot ne'er what:
His hair was grown through out his hat.<33>                                             350

Then I beheld how he disguised was:<34>
His head was heavy for watching over night,
His eyen bleared, his face shone like a glass;
His gown so short that it ne cover might
His rump, he went so all for summer light;<35>
His hose was garded with a list of green,<36>
Yet at the knee they were broken, I ween.

His coat was checked with patches red and blue;
Of Kirkby Kendal was his short demi;<37>
And aye he sang, In faith, deacon, thou crew;<38>                                   360
His elbow bare, he wore his gear so nigh;<
39>
His nose a-dropping, his lips were full dry;
And by his side his whinard and his pouch,
The devil might dance therein for any crouch.<40>

Counter he could O lux upon a pot;<41>
An ostrich feather of a capon's tail
He set up freshly upon his hat aloft:
What, revel rout!<42> quod he, and gan to rail
How oft he had hit Jennet on the tail,
Of Phyllis fetis, and little pretty Kate,                                                        370
How oft he knocked at her clicket-gate.<43>

What should I tell more of his ribaldry?
I was ashamed so to hear him prate:
He had no pleasure but in harlotry.
Ay, quod he, in the devil's date,<44>
What art thou? I saw thee now but late.
Forsooth, quod I, in this court I dwell now.
Welcome, quod Riot, I make God avow.

RIOT

And, sir, in faith why com'st not us among,
To make thee merry, as other fellows done?                                               380
Thou must swear and stare, man, all day long,
And wake all night, and sleep till it be noon;
Thou mayest not study, or muse on the moon;
This world is nothing but eat, drink, and sleep,
And thus with us good company to keep.

Pluck up thine heart upon a merry pin,<45>
And let us laugh a pluck or twain at nale:<46>
What the devil, man, mirth was never one!
What, lo man, see here of dice a bale!
A bridling-cast<47> for that is in thy male!                                                390
Now have at all that lieth upon the board!
Fie on these dice, they be not worth a turd!

Have at the hazard, or at the dozen brown,<48>
Or else I pass<49> a penny to a pound!
Now, would to God, thou would lay money down!
Lord, how that I would cast it full round!
Ay, in my pouch a buckle I have found,
The arms of Calais, I have no coin nor cross!
I am not happy, I run aye on the loss.

Now run must I to the stew's side                                                               400
To
weet if Malkin, my leman, have got aught:
I let her to hire, that men may on her ride,
Her arms' ease far and near is sought:
By God's side, since I her hither brought
She hath got me more money with her tail
Than hath some ship that into Bordeaux sail.

Had I as good an horse as she is a mare,
I durst adventure to journey through France;
Who rideth on her, he needeth not to care,
For she is trussed for to break a lance;                                                         410
It is a
curtal that well can winch and prance;
To her will I now all my poverty allege;
And, till I come, have here is mine hat to pledge.

DREAD

Gone is this knave, this ribald foul and lewd;
He ran as fast as ever that he might:
Unthriftiness in him may well be showed,
For whom Tyburn groaneth both day and night.
And, as I stood and cast aside my sight,
Disdain I saw with Dissimulation
Standing in sad communication.                                                                  420

But there was pointing and nodding with the head,
And many words said in secret wise;
They wandered
aye, and stood still in no stead:
Methought alway Dissimuler did devise;
Me passing sore mine heart then gan agrise,<50>
I deemed and dread their talking was not good.
Anon Dissimuler came where I stood.

Then in his hood<51> I saw there faces twain;
That one was lean and like a pined ghost,
That other looked as he would me have slain;                                             430
And to
meward as he gan for to coast,
When that he was even at me almost,
I saw a knife hid in his one sleeve,
Whereon was written this word, Mischief.

And in his other sleeve, methought, I saw
A spoon of gold, full of honey sweet,
To feed a fool, and for to prove a daw;<52>
And on that sleeve these words were writ,
A false abstract cometh from a false concrete:
His hood was side, his cope was russet grey:                                              440
These were the words that he to me did say.

DISSIMULATION

How do ye, master? ye look so soberly:
As I be saved at the dreadful day,
It is a perilous vice, this envy:
Alas, a
conning man ne dwell may
In no place well, but fools with him affray!
But as for that, conning hath no foe
Save him that nought can, Scripture saith so.

I know your virtue and your literature
By that little conning that I have:                                                                450
Ye be maligned sore, I you assure;
But ye have craft yourself alway to save:
It is great scorn to see a misproud knave
With a clerke that cunning is to prate:
Let them go louse them, in the devil's date!

For albeit that this long not to me,
Yet on my back I bear such lewd dealing:
Right now I spake with one, I trow, I see;
But what, a straw! I may not tell all thing.
By God, I say there is great heart-burning                                                  460
Between the person ye wot of, [and] you;
Alas, I could not deal so with a Jew!

I would each man were as plain as I;
It is a world, I say, to hear of some:
I hate this feigning, fie upon it, fie!
A man cannot wot where to be come.
Ywis I could tell—but humlery, hum,
I dare not speak, we be so laid await,
For all our court is full of deceit.

Now by Saint Francis, that holy man and friar,                                           470
I hate these ways
again you that they take;
Were I as you, I would ride them full near;
And, by my troth, but if an end they make,
Yet will I say some words for your sake,
That shall them anger, I hold thereon a groat;
For some shall, I ween, be hanged by the throat.

I have a stopping oyster<53> in my poke,
Trust me, an if it come to a need:
But I am loath for to raise a smoke,
If ye could be otherwise agreed.                                                                 480
And so I would it were, so God me speed,
For this may breed to a confusion
Without God make a good conclusion.

Nay, see where yonder standeth the t'other man!
A flattering knave and false he is, God wot;
The
drevil standeth to harken, an he can:
It were more thrift he bought him a new coat;
It will not be, his purse is not on float:
All that he weareth, it is borrowed ware;
His wit is thin, his hood is threadbare.                                                        490

More could I say, but what this is enow:
Adieu till soon, we shall speak more of this:
Ye must be ruled as I shall tell you how;
Amends may be of that is now amiss;
And I am yours, sir, so have I bliss,
In every point that I can do or say;
Give me your hand, farewell, and have good-day.

DREAD

Suddenly, as he departed me fro,
Came pressing in one in a wonder array:
Ere I was ware, behind me he said, Bo!                                                      500
Then I, astonied of that sudden fray,
Start all at once, I liked nothing his play:
For, if I had not quickly fled the touch,
He had plucked out the
nobles of my pouch.

He was trussed in a garment strait:
I have not seen such another page;
For he could well upon a casket wait;
His hood all pounced and garded like a cage;
Light lime-finger! he took none other wage.
Hearken, quod he, lo here mine hand in thine!                                            510
To us welcome thou art, by Saint Quentin.

DECEIT

But, by that Lord that is one, two, and three,
I have an errand to round in your ear:
He told me so, by God, ye may trust me,
Pardie, remember, when ye were there,
There I winked on you—wot ye not where?
In A loco, I mean juxta B:
Woe is him that is blind and may not see!

But to hear the subtlety and the craft,
As I shall tell you, if ye will hark again;                                                      520
And, when I saw the whoreson would you
haft,
To hold mine hand, by God, I had great pain;
For forthwith there I had him slain,
But that I dread murder would come out:
Who dealeth with shrews hath need to look about.

DREAD

And as he rounded<54> thus in mine ear
Of false collusion confettered by assent,
Methought, I see lewd fellows here and there
Come for to slay me of mortal intent;
And, as they came, the shipboard fast I hent,                                             530
And thought to leap; and even with that woke,
Caught pen and ink, and wrote this little book.

I would therewith no man were miscontent,
Beseeching you that shall it see or read
In every point to be indifferent,
Sith all in substance of slumbering doth proceed.
I will not say it is matter indeed,
But yet oft-time such dreams be found true.
Now construe ye what is the residue!

Thus endeth the Bowge of Court

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